Tag Archives: organic gardening

July Garden Update!

Today, I will write with pictures, not words. So here is the pictorial update on my garden…and how it’s growing.

Despite cool nights (high 50’s and low 60’s, still), there are wonderful things are happening in my backyard.

Onions in May

Onions in May

Onions ready for harvest

Onions ready for harvest

 

Asparagus crowns need trenches

Asparagus trenches-April

Asparagus Growing-July

Asparagus Growing-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-July

Bianca Rosa Eggplant

Bianca Rosa Eggplant-June

Tiffen Mennonite Tomato

Consueleto tomato-June

Consueleto Genovese ripens

Ripening Consueleto-July

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2018 Garden Underwater, Again

Normally, mid-May into mid-June are the weeks where you grab a tall, cool glass of Kombucha and sit down in your comfy deck chair and watch things grow…normally.

2018 garden underwater

My garden in the mist

This year, 2018, what I am frequently doing is sighing, drying off my dogs and hoping that the cold (low 50’s right now), wet weather doesn’t finish off all the plants I raised from seed.

This is my garden, in the mist. It looks pretty good, from a distance.

But my tomato plants are really starting to show the wear of 4 weeks of wet weather. The yellowing and spotting on the leaves is spreading and, because of the persistent wet growing conditions, I don’t think I will be able to stop the destruction.

What my tomatoes have is called Septoria Leaf Spot.   

Septoria fungus

Septoria on my tomato babies.

Septoria is a fungal disease. In normal weather conditions, you can usually prevent or at least slow it down by following good gardening practices like:

  • removing diseased leaves quickly
  • watering with soaker hoses,
  • never watering at night,
  • spacing your plants so each one catches the breezes and dries out,
  • rotating where you put tomato plants from year to year.

But I’m not experiencing normal weather conditions. And this fungal disease loves it when it’s wet out.

According to Michigan State University Extension (MSUE), my back yard is the perfect storm for Septoria, “When conditions are wet, spores are exuded from the Septoria fruiting bodies present on the infected tomato leaves. Once the spores land on a healthy leaf, spotting can appear in five days if weather conditions are ideal.”

Septoria will affect my 2019 garden

Septoria will affect 2019 garden, too

Worse than experiencing Septoria, this year, is the fact that the spores shed by the fungus live on in the ground cover and even in the soil. So, even if I remove the infected foliage, even if I rotate my plants, the chances of recurrence in 2019 are high.

I certainly have ideal conditions for this fungal invader!

I will fight back this year by using an organic fungicide called Serenade. I don’t like resorting to this solution but it is non-toxic to birds, bees, beneficial insects, fish, and wildlife.

As an organic gardener, I hate introducing this into my eco-system but I know the long-term damage Septoria can cause and I have to take necessary measures to reduce or eliminate this “perennial” from my garden.

And I will soldier on with the rest of my plants because that’s what gardeners do and because there are other plants growing quietly, albeit slowly, in my garden that need tending to. Here are some photos of these brave, green soldiers.

2018 Garden is In – But Oy The Weather…

2018 Garden enjoying sun

2018 garden enjoying sun

So, my garden is now, totally in the ground.

This year I planted garlic, onions, lettuce, beets, spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers (still considering zucchini), green beans, asparagus, of course and herbs like basil and Italian parsley.

I finished putting the last Bianca Rosa in the ground Saturday morning.

Bianca Rosa eggplant

Baby Bianca Rosa eggplant

Saturday evening, we got 70 MPH winds, driving hail and torrential rain with a side order of thunder and lightning and the threat of a tornado!

The baby eggplant survived…and seem to be settling in to their truck bed.

But I live outside of Philadelphia…in Pennsylvania! We don’t get tornadoes. Oh, wait, we do now courtesy of the non-existent global warming and the ever increasing turbulence of our weather and of the very earth itself.

It has rained every day since last Tuesday. It is going to rain again tonight. In fact, we are under a flood watch from 4PM today to 2AM tomorrow morning. We might get a day or two of clearing, then all that rain that is currently drowning Floridians will be…here.

Tomato plants hanging on to their trellis

Tomato plants hanging on, literally

Even my tomatoes have toughed it out…although they are looking just a bit “wan.”

As with every year, there are, of course challenges – bugs…rabbits, deer. But this year, it seems that Mother Earth is setting about re-balancing her planet – with or without us.

But there will be vegetables and fruit in my backyard this summer. Most of these plants will survive. And so will I.  I will keep on gardening, keep growing.

My garden will grow

My garden will grow

And I will keep praying that we, the humans who inhabit this planet, slow down a bit, become more aware of the risk and start backpedaling from taking, using, devouring and otherwise destroying this magnificent home on which live and orbit the universe.

Grow So Easy – Growing Garlic

Garlic is easy to grow and has much more taste if it's homegrown.

Growing garlic is easy.

I got lucky when I married Italian because garlic is, was and always will be one of my favorite foods in the kitchen. And it’s one of my favorites to plant.

Garlic is another crop that basically takes care of itself. If you get the right cloves to plant then give those cloves a good start in the right soil at the right time, you should harvest enough nice-sized bulbs of garlic to last through the year.

The Bad News
Garlic is planted in the fall. If you didn’t put your garlic seed (cloves actually) in the ground in October, it’s too late to plant it now.

If you plant in the Spring, you are doomed to fail.  Seed garlic is dormant.  It MUST be exposed to cold temperatures in order to grow and change from cloves to bulbs. 

No cold means no bulbs, spindly growth and frustrated gardeners.
Besides, planting in the fall means that Mother Nature gets to do all the work while you sit inside browsing through seed catalogs and dreaming of spring.

The Good News

Garlic growing in the spring

Garlic in the Spring

If you planted your cloves in the fall, you should already have healthy, happy garlic babies growing in the soil.

Planting when the world is getting frosty, the snow is falling and the wind is cold  seems wrong and it would be if that’s all you did.

But there’s an easy, cheap trick to keeping your garlic safe through the blustery winter months; you blanket them in straw. The straw protects the bulbs from the cold, lets them overwinter safely and ensures they will be ready to start growing as early as March.

Garlic growing through straw

Garlic poking through its blanket

Once Spring arrives, it’s important to uncover the garlic as soon as possible so the sprouts don’t rot.  If they rot, you will lose your garlic crop.  Here’s an easy tip for knowing when to uncover garlic (and onions).  When the forsythia bloom, pull back the mulch.  You may even find a few garlic bulbs already sprouted under there.

Protect cool weather crops with window frames

Sheers stapled to window frames

Depending on your zone, you will probably get a few frosts after you uncover the garlic.  Just toss something over the young plants to protect them.  I use window frames that I’ve stapled old curtains to or an old queen-sized mattress cover and drape it over the corners of the bed where the garlic is planted.

Harvesting Garlic
How do you know when to pull the garlic up?  Honestly, this has always been a struggle for me. And the more I researched and read, the more confused I got.

Pull it up on this day/date.  When the leaves on one or two start to brown, push the rest of them over, wait a week and pull them up.  Wait until all the leaves on the plants are brown then pull them up.   Aaaaaaargh…as one our most famous philosophers used to say!

What finally cleared it all up for me was a simple, beautifully written article by one of my favorite garden gurus, Margaret Roach, who clearly understands the garlic harvest conundrum.

Too early, and the bulbs won’t have time to develop to their full size.  Too late and the bulbs will be over ripe, cloves will separate and the harvest won’t store as well.

Here’s the gist of Roach’s advice for harvesting garlic:  Harvest when several of the lower leaves go brown, but five or six up top are still green. Depending on the weather, this typically happens here (New York state) in late July.”

Rip & Regret
A word to the wise: healthy garlic develops a pretty serious root structure.  Do NOT try to pull garlic up by its greenery!  You will break the tops off and the garlic bulbs really need their tops to cure.

So, what’s the easiest way to pull these babies out of the ground?  With a garden fork – not the hand-held kind.  You want a flat-tined, digging fork like the kind you would use to dig out potatoes, like the one you see resting next to my garlic in my wheelbarrow.

  1. Start about 2 to 3 inches away from the garlic bulb.
  2. Push the tines down into the earth, almost as far as they will go.
  3. Rock the fork front to back and side to side to loosen the dirt around the roots of the bulb.
  4. Keep loosening until you can easily and gently pull the bulb from the ground.
  5. Equally gently, lay the cloves into a wheelbarrow.  Banging them will bruise them.

As soon as all your bulbs of garlic are out of the ground, you need to get them out of the sun and into a nice, dry, temperature controlled space with good air flow.  I use my shed.  I lay down an old sheet, then place the bulbs side by side but not touching.  I want air flow around each bulb.  And if one’s going south, I don’t want it to take the others with it.

Curing Garlic
Once you have them in your controlled drying spot, leave them alone for 6 to 8 weeks while they cure.  (I do check them to make sure none are going bad…). When they are cured, If they’re soft neck, braid away.

If they’re hard neck (what I always raise), you can cut the tops and the hairy roots off and store them inside.  I actually put mine in a big tray and shove the tray under the dresser in my sewing room.

The temperature is moderate in this room (I keep the thermostat at 62 in the winter) and the light is dim under the dresser.  My garlic seems to keep perfectly there.

NOTE:  check the cloves about every 6 weeks, especially if there is any aroma of  “garlic” wafting through the air.  If you can smell the garlic, it means one of the bulbs is probably going bad.  If you leave it in the general population, it may turn other heads bad, as well.

Save 8 to 10 bulbs of your garlic for planting in October and November and enjoy the rest, all winter and spring.

Free Organic Gardening Book – How To Grow Peppers

Pepper seedlings ready for transplant

Pepper seedlings

It’s way too cold to put any warm weather plants out including peppers. But it’s not way too cold out to figure  out if you want to grow peppers and if you do, what kind you want to grow.

The only pepper I saw in my mother’s garden was the green, bell pepper.  And I never liked them.  The taste was too strong, bitter, almost biting.  So I never planted peppers until I found red and yellow bells.

Discovering peppers of color led to what is now my favorite pepper of all time, the Italian sweet pepper.

Italian Sweet peppers have a rich green color that gradually turns brilliant red.  The flesh of the pepper is medium thick and the fruit is slightly curved, tapering to a pointed end.

These peppers can grow as long as 12 inches but are usually between 7 and 8 inches long.  Raw, they are sweet all on their own or as an addition to a salad.  Cook Italian sweet peppers and add sweetness, richness and depth of flavor to just about any dish.

So, even though I still raise red and yellow bell peppers, I make a lot of space in my garden for the Italian sweet pepper also known as (aka) the frying pepper.

Starting From Seed
Peppers are a warm weather plant so I always start them from seed.

Start pepper seeds indoors in March

Start peppers indoors

And I always start peppers 2 to 3 weeks earlier than the date specified on the seed packets.  Why?

In my zone, peppers that are started 8 weeks before my last frost (around May 15th) just aren’t big enough or strong enough to set fruit before the middle to end of July.

As a result, if I started plant when the seed packet said to, I’d only get a few peppers from each one. If I start the plants indoors and early, I get a glorious crop from all my plants!

I use 24-cell APS starter kits from Gardener’s Supply and I highly recommend them.  Funny thing is, I’ve been using cells for seed starting for years and now, recent research revealed that growing peppers in larger tray cell sizes or containers will produce larger transplants.

Seed starting in cells

Cell system for seed starting

There are a couple of other reasons I use these kits.

For one thing, I’ve had the same kits for more than 20 years and only one has failed in that entire time.  For another, the kits ensure that your seeds and seedlings get just the right amount of water while sprouting and growing.  Not too much – not too little — because they use capillary mats in the cell system and take advantage of osmosis.  Because of the system design, I never have to contend with damping off when using these kits.

I fill the cells with Gardener’s Supply germinating mix, place 4 seeds in each cell…two in opposite corners.  Then I cover each cell with a bit of sphagnum moss, put on the plastic top and set the tray on my heat mats. I fill the tray with water and then check every day for water level and, in 4 or 5 days, to see if the seeds have sprouted.

As soon as the seeds sprout, I lift off the clear cover and drop the light to within an inch of the cells.  As the plants grow, I keep the trays watered and I keep the light as close to the seedlings as I can without touching them.  If the light touches them, even a fluorescent light, it will burn the baby’s leaves and slow its growth.

When the seedlings have two full sets of leaves, I give the plants a very mild fertilizer called Plant Health Care for Seedlings, also from Gardener’s Supply,

Once the plants are 3 to 4 weeks old, I transplant them into 2 inch peat pots.  NOTE:  If all the seeds sprout, either separate the seedlings and put one in each peat pot or clip the smaller of the seedlings off with nail scissors so the remaining seedling has more room to grow.

Transplanting Peppers
Before you put your pepper plants in the ground, make sure you are NOT planting them in the same area where you had tomatoes, eggplant or potatoes last year.

Peppers are in the Solanaceae plant family and are botanically related to these popular garden vegetables.  Because they are related, peppers can share the same spectrum of pest problems and should not be rotated into soil recently lived in by their kissing cousins.

Also, whether you’re growing from seed or using transplants (unless they were outside when you bought them), you have to “harden off” your plants before you stick them in the garden.

Hardening off seedlings

Hardening off seedlings

Hardening off 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 couple of hours the first 2 days and keep an eye on them.

Make sure they have water and are not staked out in high sun or high wind.  Then leave them out all day for 2 days then overnight for one night.

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

Remember, peppers like warm earth and warm air – even warmer than tomatoes.  So the optimal temperature for them to go into the ground is 75 to 85 degrees. Peppers are typically transplanted about two weeks later than tomatoes, for me that’s early June.

Peppers can be planted in single rows or twin (double) rows on a raised bed.

Peppers in tomato cages

Peppers in a tomato cage

Space the pepper plants 12 to 24 inches apart and space rows about 4 feet apart. If you decide to use a double row, make the rows about 18 inches apart on the bed and put the plants in the ground in a zigzag pattern.

By the way, peppers and tomatoes don’t work and play well together so don’t plant tomatoes on one side of your trellis or fence and peppers on the other.  The pepper plants will grow but their growth will be stunted.  And the peppers themselves will be small and prone to rotting.

Feeding The Peppers
If you don’t want to use fertilizer on your transplants, here’s a little trick I learned from a farmer friend.  Crush up eggshells and put about ½ of a cup of them in the bottom of the hole. Toss a bit of soil on top of the crushed shells before you put the pepper plant in so the baby roots (cilia) are not cut.

Crushed egg shells are slow to break down but will feed the plants.  And they are free so I love using them as my fertilizer.  By the way, you can also use crushed egg shells to stop slugs…just by sprinkling them around the base of your plants.

Peppers have shallow roots so water them when they need it and don’t hoe too close.  Also, stake peppers so that when fruit loads are heavy, the plants don’t topple from weight or high winds.  I use old, inverted tomato cages.  That sounds odd but the cages work better than anything else I have tried.

I put the tomato cage over the plant with the wide ring on the ground and fasten the ring down with ground staples.  Then I gather up the tips of the cage and secure them with a wire tie.  The pepper plant stays inside the cage, grows up straight and is supported even in the heaviest wind or thunderstorm.  And I don’t have to tie the pepper plants up.

NOTE of apology: due to a family emergency, I was out of town last week. I apologize for missing a post and hope you enjoy this one about growing peppers.

 

Practical Organic Gardening – Free tips on Growing Lettuce

Red Butterhead lettuce ready for harvest.

Red Butterhead lettuce makes a soft, beautiful head that’s perfect for salads.

I love raising my own lettuce.  It’s a love born out of hate.  That sounds like an oxymoron but it isn’t.

I started raising lettuce when the price for 12 ounces of the organic stuff hit $5.98 a bag.  For me, that’s $18 a week for under two pounds of green leafy lettuce.

Do the math.  I was spending almost $1000 a year on lettuce!  Try doing that on a fixed income.

I hated paying the price so I stared planting and growing my own.  And guess what?  Lettuce is one of the easiest crops I have ever raised.  And, it’s a
two-fer! Save your seeds and pay no more (well maybe you’ll have to buy every 3 or 4 years).  Just keep planting and harvesting.

So, let’s start with seeds.  I am pretty particular about whose seed I buy.  I want organic seed, especially if I plan on saving and sowing.

Organic red leaf lettuce

Organic red leaf lettuce grows quickly and tastes sweet by itself or in salads.

And I want flavorful leaf lettuce — not head lettuce you have to chop with a cleaver. And I definitely do not want Genetically Modified (GMO) seed.

There are three places I buy seed:

Hudson Valley Seed Library –  the variety they offer is impressive.  Their seed is  locally grown in a climate and soil not unlike mine here in Zone 6b.  And this company helps support school and community gardeners with donations of seeds.

Territorial Seeds – kind of the granddaddy of organic seed growers, this company was organic before organic went mainstream.  Family-owned, Territorial Seeds has a fantastic reputation for the seeds it sells and the customer service it brings to the table.

Grow Italian – I discovered this company more than a decade ago and it’s my go to seed company for all things Italian including lettuce and mixed greens.  When you buy a packet of lattuga from them, you get high quality, high-germinating seeds and a lot of them.

I think the hardest part of growing lettuce is picking the kinds you want to try. But once you have your seeds, planting is so easy, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. I tend to sow the seeds right in the garden bed.

One problem when planting lettuce is that the seeds are small and lightweight and they tend to drop into the dirt in clumps or blow off my hand. I used to have a hard time getting them to spread out on the soil but here’s a trick my sister taught me.

  1. Get some soil – take it from your garden if it’s rich and light or grab some potting mix.
  2. Fill a quart jar about 2/3rds full of the soil.
  3. Put lettuce seeds in the jar.  I put different types together so I grow my own “mixed greens.”
  4. Shake the jar until all the seeds are mixed, uniformly, through the soil.
  5. Gently shake the soil out of the jar and into your beds. If you can still see some of them, put just a tiny bit of dirt over the visible ones.
  6. Water the seeds in.

Then all you have to do is water every day until the seeds spout.  Then water weekly and wait for the lettuce to grow.

A few more tips:

Don’t plant in the summer!  Lettuce, like beets, likes cool weather.  You can plant in the spring and again in August for harvest in late September and October.

Start lettuce plants indoors if you want.  I use 40-cell growing trays.

Seed starting in cells

Cell system for seed starting

And I start mine in early February.  When I transplant, I cover the babies with a small tunnel to protect them from frost.

When you cut lettuce leaves, don’t cut them down to the ground.  Cut about an inch from the bottom and you will get a second crop.

If you want to save the seeds, plant for a spring harvest but only cut the first crop.  Let the second set of lettuce leaves grow up and flower.  Then wait.  It will be tempting to take the flower heads off when they get their puffy, white hair.  DON’T.

The seeds need to mature.  Wait until the heads are dry, brown and about ready to burst.  Then pull the seed heads off, take the seeds out and let them dry in a small strainer for a couple of weeks.  I refrigerate mine once they’re dry and plant them in the fall.

Free Organic Gardening Book

If you ever wanted to learn all about organic gardening, the good, the bad and the ugly…just sign up for this blog and sit back.

Every week or so, I am going to upload a chapter of my organic gardening book which you can read for free!

Today, I am starting at the beginning…that would be Chapters 1 & 2 (the chapters are short) of Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us. Enjoy!

Chapter I – Why This Book

Organic gardening is easy, practical and cheap!

My all organic, backyard garden.

Remember when you decided you wanted to start a garden?  You told a friend, spouse, garden center guy and then got bombarded with miscellaneous stories of gardening disaster.  All that support really made you want to go out and start tilling the soil, right?

I hate it when I hear someone telling another would be gardener how hard it is to get things to grow or how easy it is to kill this vegetable or that one.  Why?  Because, instead of gardening, you probably wanted to run home, mix up your favorite drink and sit down with the remote control.

Too many people in the gardening business write or talk about how hard organic gardening is or how complicated it is.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to make people who read their articles or buy their books put down the shovel or rake and walk back into the house.

They’re lying!  Organic gardening is easy!  It’s cheaper than going the chemical route and it’s fun!

Organic gardening is so easy the lettuce practically grows itself.

Organic lettuce is easy to grow.

The truth is gardening can be as easy as you want to make it.  It’s all about what you want to grow.  Figure out what you want to plant, how many plants you want to put in, how large a garden space you want and what works in your planting zone.

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.  Lettuce is so easy to grow that it practically raises itself! It’s a cool weather crop that loves early spring and late fall. And it helps save you $5.00 for organic greens in the store!

Think about it. Stores sell spring greens mix for $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.

Some seeds, some dirt and some water, a little kindness and a lot of sunlight and you are on your way to creating your own organic garden.  So, dig in!

Reading This Book

Organic gardening tips

Organic gardening is so easy.

This book is designed so you can pick it up, look up a specific plant or bush and read about the good, the bad and the ugly for just that one selection.  Or you can read it cover to cover – starting at the back if you want to and working forward.

Why?

Because a lot of us gardeners aren’t very linear.  And many of us would rather “give it a go” than sit down and read about gardening.  So I tried to give you what you need, when you need it.

Want to raise blueberries?  Interested in saving your own seeds?  Want to get a handle

Organic gardening is easy.

Organic gardening is all about getting your hands dirty!

on techniques like composting, using organic fertilizers or even doing battle with Japanese beetles?  Check the Table of Contents and flip to the right page.

Want the back stories?  The pain of losing a loved one to Verticillium Wilt?

Make a cup of herbal tea, start here and just drift through the book, laughing, learning and, I hope, getting a powerful yen to get out there and get dirty.

 

PS – if you can’t find it in my book, I didn’t kill it.