Tag Archives: easy organic gardening

Tips for Fall Garden Clean Up

Green and organic garden in summer.

My garden in July, 2016.

T.S. Eliot got it wrong. April isn’t the cruelest month; it’s September. It’s the time of year when your garden goes from lush, green, verdant…

Tips for cleaning up your garden

Garden clean up in progress

To brown and gold broken up only by beets, Swiss chard, kale and lettuce.

Not only is the growing season drawing to a close for many of us…but it’s time to clean up!

I used to hate cleaning up my garden in the fall. When I  looked out my kitchen window and  saw more brown than green, I would grimace and think, “…next weekend.”  Inevitably, clean up kept getting pushed back by other, more pleasing events like the Brewfest in Kennett Square or the Hagley Car Show .
But not anymore.

Tomato horn worm eating tomatoes.

A tomato horn worm in my garden.

I’ve discovered that cleaning up is the perfect time to find unwanted visitors like the varmint that was eating my tomatoes. This fat and happy tomato horn worm is enjoying his last meal.

While tearing down my tomato trellises, I found a dozen of these beautiful but sinister worms as I cleaned up the tomato bed. But I also learned that all but 2 were covered with trichogramma wasp eggs, like the little fellow below.

Trichogramma wasp eggs on hornworm

Wasp eggs on hornworm

Fall cleaning, removing leaves, vines and stems, raking up fallen bits and pieces of this year’s green bean and tomato plants, all these activities help me get a jump-start on my garden next spring.

Garden Clean Up Tips
Anyone who has gardened for a few years has come up with their own tips and tricks for making garden clean up a bit easier.  Having 30 years of experience behind the hoe, I have discovered a few things that might make life easier for any organic gardener.

My first bit of advice? Be prepared.  When I go out to clean up, I always bring the tools I’ll need to make it easier.  So my tool bag (actually my wheel barrow) contains:

  1. Scissors – the knots you used to tie up tomatoes will be real tight after a summer of rain and heat.  Trying to pull them off just frustrates the gardener.
  2. Secateurs – if you try to cut back blackberries or blueberries without them, the chances are you’ll do more damage than good.  These small, sharp sheers can cut through up to an inch of stalk or wood and are always in my bag of tricks.
  3. Baling Twine – picked up at the stable and used to bundle all the leggy tomato, pepper and eggplant carcasses.
  4. A shovel – I sometimes need to coax some of the plants from the ground.  Eggplant and tomatoes get stems more than an inch in diameter and their roots can extend up to 10 feet from the base of the plant.  So, a bit of shovel power comes in handy.
  5. A rake – I prefer the good, old-fashioned garden rake because it’s heavier than a leaf rake and the tines won’t work against me as I rake up fallen tomatoes and peppers.
  6. A bucket – I use an empty kitty litter container and I use it to pick up all the green or rotten produce that hits the ground at the end of the season.
  7. Garden gloves – I consider these optional.  I always start out wearing them but, inevitably, rip them off about 30 minutes into clean up.  I like the way the dirt feels on my hands.  But the manicure does suffer so it’s up to you whether you wear them or not.
  8. Large trash bags – I didn’t use to bag any of my garden waste but I learned that trying to compost vines from tomatoes, zukes, cukes and even green beans meant giving diseases like wilt a head start next spring. It also meant providing warm, cozy homes for Mexican Bean beetles and cucumber and squash beetles among others.

Clearing The Ground
This is always the worst step for me.  I really hate pulling off tomato cages, cutting vines out of my fence sections and tearing up the roots of the dying plants.  But once I get started, I actually enjoy it!

Bag garden waste

My dogs helping me to bag .

I pull all plants (except perennials), shove the waste into bags and stack them on the edge of the garden. I know some people put their plant bodies in the compost but I don’t. Why not?

If you’re a slow composter like me, letting nature and God do the work for you, you probably shouldn’t put your garden detritus in the bins, either.  Seeds will germinate.  Diseases will survive.  When you spread your compost next year to welcome your new seedlings, you may be welcoming some very unwanted visitors.

One last task remains before you can move from clearing to covering.  If you grew tomatoes, grab a bucket and pick up all of the fallen tomatoes off the ground.  If you don’t you will have a whole lot of baby tomatoes to pull up next year.  This is a gooey task but well worth the effort.

Once the ground is cleared, it’s time to cover it. I use straw and a lot of it. It mulches the ground, protects perennials and annuals like garlic and beets and sets me up for weed free gardening in the spring.

I use about 40 bales of straw  to cover everything including the blueberry and blackberry patches, the vegetable garden, raised beds and asparagus.  That may sound like a lot but by next spring, the 18 inches of straw I lay down now will have settled and started to break down.

Bug Control – A Pre-emptive Strike
I offer one last bit of advice for wrapping up the growing season and getting ready for your garden next spring.

During the growing and harvesting season, I don’t use any bug control except what I detailed in Getting Bugged.  However, if it’s been a very bad year for Mexican bean beetles, Asian Beetles, Japanese Beetles and Stink Bugs, just before I cover my garden, I do spray the straw remaining from last year and the ground in my raised beds.

Before you gasp, click unsubscribe and cry, “…traitor,”  know that I use only one product — Pyola.    The active ingredient is pyrethrin which comes from chrysanthemums and is mixed with canola oil.  I use Pyola to control next year’s bugs by killing the larva that are now safely snuggled into my garden ground.

NOTE:  Pyrethrin is a contact poison which quickly penetrates the nervous system of the insect.  It will affect bees and some  beneficials so I wait until I have had two hard frosts to use it. I want to make sure there is no insect activity in the garden.   Also, pyrethrin is harmful to fish so if you have a pond or your garden borders on a stream, don’t use it at all.

Cornell University’s post on its ExToxNet provides a very thorough idea of what pyrethrin is, how it works and what it might do in the environment.  Read it before you use it so you’ll know if it will work in your garden.  And don’t use it if you don’t have to.

So that’s my version of garden clean up.  Clean up really isn’t that hard but I avoid it because it signals the end of the growing season and the approach of cold winds and falling leaves.    It also means time for dreaming and planning next year’s garden…

 

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When To Plant Veggies

It’s that time of year…finally!

I think I can actually start planning on putting out some of my home-grown plants. Weather in zone 6B has finally moderated. No more wild extremes like 81 degrees on Monday and 27 degrees on Friday night!

We’ve been on a roller coaster ride for temperatures and high (and constant) winds in the Mid-Atlantic states. The weather has made gardening more like a series of fits and starts than planning and planting.

Cold temperatures and high winds stunted the garlic.

Garlic stunted by cold and wind.

My lettuce and kale got burned almost to the ground in spite of having been covered by a tunnel of plastic! Wind swept under one end of the tunnel and flipped it off on night. I didn’t catch it until the next morning and by then, the damage was done. Even my garlic took a hit and that’s hard to do.

But now, it looks like we are getting to the time when something other than kale, beets, lettuce, onions and garlic can be put in the ground so here are some tips for getting your babies and their new “digs” ready.

Prep your soil!

If your garden soil has been covered during the winter, uncover it. I pull straw back about 12 inches from the fences I use to support my plants so the soil can warm up.

If you’re going to amend your soil, adding worm castings or compost (or both), now is the time to turn it and add the amendments. I use 1-year-old horse manure so I have to dig down, put manure in the trench, and cover the manure with about 8 inches of soil. I want to feed my babies, not burn their new roots.

Lay down your soaker hoses. It’s so much easier to put soaker hoses on the ground before you put your veggie plants in so take an afternoon to organize and lay them out especially where you’re going to plant tomatoes, which you don’t really want to spray with water.

Harden them off!

Hardening off your plants does NOT involve tools or torture.  It just means that you have to introduce your transplants to the outdoors, gradually.

Five or six days before you want to put them in the garden, start setting them outside for a an hour a day for 2 days, 2 to 3 hours a day for 2 to 3 days, 8 hours a day for 3 days and only then (and only if it’s not hailing or very windy) do they get their first overnight! Keep an eye on them.  Make sure they have water and are not staked out in high sun or high wind.

NOTE:  when hardening off, stop fertilizing.  If the plants have small flowers or fruit on them, pinch both off.  You want to help transplants direct all of their energy to rooting in the soil before trying to set flowers or fruit.

Plant When It’s Warm!

I also used to hurry and plant my babies by May 7th or 8th. Frequently, the ground was too cold for warm weather crops like tomatoes and peppers and they simply stopped growing for a couple of weeks (or forever in some cases).  Putting plants in the ground too early can be deadly so give the soil a chance to warm while you get your plants ready for the great outdoors.

Remember, plants that I call “Mediterranean”like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant like warm earth and warm air. The optimal air temperature for them to go into the ground is 75 to 85 degrees. In my neck of the woods, that means these warm weather babies are typically transplanted the last week of May, especially if the weather is dicey.

So, even though it’s not quite time to start putting your plants in the ground, you can go out and play in the dirt, yourself. Get your garden ready for the big day! Your babies will thank you.

How Easy Is Organic Gardening? Very!

Organic gardening is easy.

Organic gardening is easy to do.

I wrote Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us for a young woman who wanted to go organic but was sure it was just too hard to do.

I also wrote it because I remember being in exactly that same place almost 40 years ago.

Organic gardening was hard and organic gardeners were weirdos, people who lived on the fringe of “real” life.  But I was intrigued so I decided I needed more information. When I wanted to learn about organic gardening, all those years ago, there was no Internet (hard to believe, right?).

I’d never heard of Ruth Stout or Jerome I. Rodale.  Euell Gibbons wasn’t touting Grape Nuts, yet and Adele Davis had already been dismissed as a “nutrition nut.”  Jim Crockett (Crockett’s Victory Garden on PBS) hadn’t even shown up on television (yes, Virginia, we did have television back then)!

So, I had to start my search the old-fashioned way.  I got on my bike and went to the library.

Using the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature (oh god…I am a dinosaur), I searched for magazines to help me get started.  There weren’t many — a handful really — but I did find information and people to help pave my path to becoming an organic gardener.

Today, it’s a lot easier to find organic gardening resources.  Connect to the Internet, search for those terms and you will get more than 4 million links to sites that offer everything from tips to tools.

But beware, many of these so-called “resources” just want to sell you something. I think I had it easier (back in the stone age), to find one or two clear voices, crying in the gardening wilderness!

I learned a lot from these “old guys and gurus” of organic gardening. I want to share what I learned and launch your gardening careers fast and easy.  So, I’m going to start with this basic truth:

…organic gardening is as easy as you want to make it.  It’s all about what you want to grow.

Start by figuring out what you want to plant, how many plants you want to put in (based on how large your garden space is) and what works in your planting zone.

If you just want to get out there and get started…here are two staples in my garden that are easy to grow and don’t have many bugs that “bug” them.

I always have tomatoes – they’re a great vegetable to grow in a pot (if you don’t have enough room to garden or your dirt’s not ready yet) or a plot.  If you’re just starting, try to buy compact or “bush” plants.  They’re easier to handle and don’t grow nearly as tall as indeterminate varieties like Brandywine or Early Girl.

I always plant lettuce, too.  A bag of spring greens  in my grocery store costs $5.00 for 12 ounces.  Fifty two weeks of buying greens comes to just under $300.  You can raise enough for you and your significant other for less than $3.00 a year.  

You can buy seed and follow the directions on the packet to plant it.  Or your can buy small starts or plants and toss them in your dirt (in a pot or a plot).  All lettuce needs is dirt, water and a little sun.

And when it gets a bit too warm for lettuce and it starts to bolt (get tall and taste bitter), if you let it go to seed, you can plant a new crop in the fall for free!

One tip from someone whose motto is, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” Start small and only plant those crops you want.

Since it’s already planting season just about everywhere in the United States, I want you to gather up your courage, grab your car keys and head out to a nursery near you to buy your first plants (time enough for seed starting next spring).

Dig a hole, water your transplants in and sit back and watch mother nature take over.  Need more help? Download my e-book. Free for Prime members and only $2.99….for everyone else.

 

Water Saving Tips From EarthEasy

I tend to save water all year round and as much as possible.

But the heat waves of July and August and the temperatures in the high 90’s just remind us all that water conservation should be an integral part of our gardening regimen and, frankly, our lives.

This month, my favorite newsletter includes an article that is just packed with water saving tips and I wanted to share it with you.

Most gardeners know how to water during a hot spell or a drought — soaker hoses, gray water and conservatively.  But some of the products Eartheasy recommends, especially the ones for cutting down the gallons of water we literally flush away, were new to me and are now on my shopping list.  I want

Save water by flushing less.

Practically plugs in & reduces water waste.

to try the conversion kit installed in the toilet tank, which saves thousands of gallons of water a year.

Eartheasy’s newsletter is one of my favorites for a whole lot of reasons but it’s articles like this one that ensure I will keep opening and reading their monthly online tips.

Hope you enjoy this article and Eartheasy’s newsletter as much as I do!  And hope you stay cool during the dog days.

Japanese Beetles Decimating My Plants

It must be July.

This is the month when the Japanese Beetles swarm in, over and under all of my plants and make veritable skeletons where once there was beautiful green.

Japanese Beetles destroy Chinese Cabbage

Japanese beetles make lace with Chinese Cabbage.

My Chinese cabbage fell to the Japanese beetles but I am determined NOT to lose the battle over my green beans and my blackberry bushes.

Unfortunately, because the beetles are so bad this year, I have resorted to using my apple tree as a distraction.

Japanese Beetles eat my apple tree.

Every leaf on this apple tree is eaten.

 

And the Japanese beetles are attacking with a vengeance.  The leaves are being eaten on every branch.  I hate using the tree to attract the beetles but, as an organic gardener, I have to or I wouldn’t have a prayer of holding the line in my garden.

So, how do I kill the ones that make it into the garden and chew through leaves of just about any plant?  Well, it isn’t pretty but my method works and it is organic.

Every morning and every evening, I fill a small container with dishwater, grab my big spoon and head out to the garden.  I spend about 25 minutes smacking beetles into the bucket.

Drowning Japanese Beetles

Japanese Beetles to drown in dishwater.

When I’m done, I usually have between 100 and 150 beetles floating in the water.

Okay is sounds gross and the resulting “bucket of beetles” looks gross but it works.  And there is a perverse satisfaction in slapping them into the water, knowing their destructive activities are over.

So, the battle continues and I have good and bad days relative to control but I don’t spray; I don’t give up and I do, eventually beat them back.

Volunteer sunflowers

Sunflowers make me smile.

And when I am feeling outnumbered or a bit down, I just look out my office door at  one of the hundred or more volunteer sunflowers that are in my garden and yard and smile.

And to make you smile, I am sharing a picture of my sister Meg, now known as Commander Colander Head, and I heading out to the blueberry patch to do battle with the vicious and varied invaders we call hornets.

This year I’ve got Bald-faced and European hornets and even hornets that look like bumblebees. And of course, there are honey bees, yellow jackets and genuine bumblebees.

So, when we go out to pick, we “suit up” – Tyvex suits are tucked into socks.  Muck shoes are worn and, if it’s really warm, nitrile gloves.

Blueberry picking around hornets

Meg and I do battle with hornets for blueberries.

The protective gear really does make it safer to pick.  And starting just as the sun cracks over the horizon also helps.

I’ve gotten about 85 quarts of blueberries this year and not one bite or one “fatality”, either human or bee!

COLD Air in the Mid-Atlantic & My Garden is Shivering!

Holy cats! It’s so cold here that the heat came on last night!  Temps dropped into the low 40’s and the wind has been keeping up a constant dialogue, sweeping across my recently planted veggie babies at speeds between 15 and 20 MPH with gusts into the 30 MPH range.

Organic blueberries and zuchetta

Zuchetta share space with blueberry bushes.

All of my warm weather plants are speed dialing their lawyers.

But it is May.  And there always is a bit of back and forth with the weather before everything settles down and the warm nights and warmer days of summer arrive.

I did bank straw up around the peppers, eggplant, zuchetta, summer squash and tomatoes.  And I talked with them a bit about the current conditions and the expected warming trend.

I may lose some of my plants.  And some of them may just slow down their growth but, by and large, most of them will be okay.  And so it goes in the beautiful but not always predictable world of growing your own organic produce.

How are your newly planted gardens faring?

Avoid GMO Food – GROW YOUR OWN!

Lettuce, spinach and onions growing in raised truck bed.

Cool weather and cool raised bed of a 55 Chevy truck making for happy lettuce, spinach and onions.

Organic gardening is the easiest, best way to avoid all the GMO foods currently on the market – estimated to be 80% of US food chain.

I know – I wrote the book on just how easy it is to get going and get growing.  And I share tips and tricks on how to raise just about every possible vegetable and fruit you can find in the store (well, no kiwi, avocado or olives – too cold here).

Now, another doctor adds his voice to the growing chorus of educated, intelligent people who just don’t want to eat “frankenfood” that is definitely affecting our health and our children’s health.

Grow lettuce. Try blueberries – in pots or the yard.  20110628_0377

Heirloom tomatoes growing up happy with just sunshine and epsom salts!

Heirloom tomatoes on the vine in my backyard just weeks away from picking!

Add tomatoes and peppers.  And start being sure where your food has been and who it’s been hanging out with.

Share your ideas, your recipes and your success stories with other gardeners – just step out onto your patio or into your yard and start down the path to healthy food, health eating and healthy lives.  It is…oh so easy!