Tag Archives: organic gardening tips

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.

 

2015 Organic Garden in the Ground!

I got all of my plants in the ground – wrapping up planting today.  All organic seed, all raised by me in my basement and all hand-planted.

Granted, the garden doesn’t look like much right now but give it a few weeks and the size and shape of every plant will change as they fill in their spaces!

My garden is all planted.

All my plants are in the garden and ready to grow.

Here’s the inventory!  And, instead of talking about them, here are pictures of the newly transplanted, beautiful babies.

Eggplant baby.

Eggplant transplant just in the ground.

I put in 4 different types of tomatoes – 12 plants – Golden Slicer, Fir, Fox Cherry & San Marzano

Sweet Italian Peppers – 14 plants

Organic Italian sweet peppers

Inverted tomato cages help support my Italian sweet pepper plants.

Eggplants – 5 plants – Dusky and Melanzana Prosperosa

Zukes – 3 plants – saved seeds from last year’s Italian Zuchetta

Cukes – Saber F1 from Seeds of Change and Cetriolo from Grow Italian.

Kale – 10 plants – Curly, Russian, Dino & some unknowns from Adaptiv Seeds

Beets – lots and lots of plants – Cylindra and Early Wonder

Lettuce – Butterhead, Red Oak & a mix of saved seeds from last year and

Organic red leaf lettuce

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

Onions – 100 plants which I did not raise. I got these from an Amish friend.

Oh, and my thornless blackberries are growing and greening up!  And right below them, my gorgeous blueberries are covered with flowers.  Planted once, harvest every year for 20 years+ – organic gardening really is easy!

Thornless blackberries

My Doyle thornless blackberry bushes getting ready for summer.

Blueberry bushes laden with flowers.

Every flower on every blueberry bush becomes a blueberry — 60 quarts every summer.

Complete Guide to Seed Starting from High Mowing Seeds

Used to be seed catalogs were one of the first signs of spring for me.

Now, it’s posts by some of my favorite organic gardeners like this one!

This is from High Mowing organic seeds, one of my favorite East coast operations.  It’s a complete guide to seed starting.  And, as a bonus, it includes a link to Margaret Roach’s garden planting calculator!

High Mowing shares information freely and sells some of the best organic, heirloom seeds and what they call “future heirlooms” like their latest – Abundant Bloomsdale spinach.

Enjoy their wonderful tips and tools, buy their seeds knowing you are getting organic seed free of GMOs and get excited! Gardening season is here!

The Unique Challenge of Colorado Potato Beetles | High Mowing Organic Seeds Blog

I just love it when one of my favorite sources of seed and gardening wisdom puts up a post like this one on my sworn enemy — the Colorado Potato Beetle.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

The Colorado Potato Beetle looks pretty but is bad news in the garden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently, I am not alone in my extreme dislike, okay hatred, for this little striped tank of a beetle.  Colorado Potato Beetles can strip plants almost overnight, each female lays hundreds of eggs….and all of those little larvae eat like a hungry Olympic wrestler (think 6000 calories a day).

Check out High Mowing Organic Seeds post on what these babies are, where they came from and how to handle them if they show up in your garden one sunny morning!

Oh, and Grow So Easy Organic: Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us –the book — is in final transfer to the MOBI (Kindle) format, a bit later than expected but coming to you soon!

via The Unique Challenge of Colorado Potato Beetles | High Mowing Organic Seeds Blog – The Seed Hopper.

Grow So Easy Organic: How To Grow Great Green Cucumbers

One of my favorite, childhood memories is eating cool crisp cucumber slices on homemade bread slathered with mayonnaise.  My mom could raise just about anything but she really got a ton of cucumbers out of the dozen or so plants she put in the ground every spring.

Cucumber Flowers

Cucumber plants early in the growing season

When Mom was gardening (way back in the 50’s and 60’s), there wasn’t a slew of choices when it came to what you put in the ground.  Cucumbers were cucumbers.  Today, there are a whole lot of varieties that you might want to try.

Like tomatoes, cucumbers come in two varieties – hybrid and heirloom.  There are three general categories or types of cucumbers, too, slicing, pickling and  burpless.

I’m an equal opportunity cucumber person.  I grow and eat them all.  But if you’ve got a yen for a certain type of cuke or a bit less space than you’d like, it helps to know just how big the plants will get and what type of cucumber you will harvesting.

Let’s start with the ones that most people buy in the grocery store, the long green slicing cukes.  There are a couple of varieties that have gained popularity in the last few years.

Slicing Cucumbers
Burpless Cucumbers – burpless cukes are, according to researchers in the Department of Horticultural Research at North Carolina State University, actually Oriental Trellis cucumbers.  And they are a little less bitter and a little less prone to cause burping.  Whatever you call them, these sweeter, long hybrids grow well on trellises and are a nice addition to any garden.  But remember, this is a hybrid so seed-saving may not work.

Marketmore 76 & Marketmore 80 – this cuke likes to have a trellis to climb, too.  I use an old box spring for my cukes.  Like the burpless cucumber, Marketmore cukes are dark green and straight (unless they grow through a bit of the bedspring) and quite tasty.  And, they’re disease resistant, too.

Straight 8 –  another dark green, cuke that grows long and straight (hence its name) is a wonderful slicing cucumber.  It’s crisp flesh and mild flavor make it a favorite for cucumber salads and sandwiches.  Straight 8 is an heirloom so you can save its seeds.  Once most of your harvest is in, leave a cucumber on the vine and let it turn yellow.  Pick it, scoop out the seeds, clean them off then dry them, thoroughly.  Refrigerate and use next year.

Cukes for Limited Spaces
If you don’t have a lot of space to garden in or you’re working with container gardening, you can try a couple of the bush cucumbers.  They’ll still give you long, green slicing cukes but they’ll take up much less real estate doing it.

Bush Crop – these plants are ideal for small gardens or containers.  The Bush cucumber produces the same size cukes as it’s bigger brothers – 8 to 12 inch long – but it does it on a dwarf, mound-shaped plant.  There are no runners, either.

Fanfare is a hybrid but oh what a cucumber it is.  It’s got it all, great taste; high yield, extended harvest and disease resistant, the Fanfare produces fruit on compact vines.  It’s a great choice for someone with small gardening space or the container gardener.  The cuke is slim, dark green and grows to 8 to 9 inches long.  And it has a wonderful, sweet cucumber taste.

Salad Bush is another hybrid but it matures in just 57 days.  This tomato plant only grows that are 18 inches long but it still produces beautiful straight, 6 –plus inch long, dark green cukes. The seed is a bit expensive but if you’re garden space is small or your raising cukes in pots, this may be the one you want to try.  Direct seed the Salad Bus and sit back and wait for your beautiful, compact bush to produce beautiful, flavorful cucumbers for your table.

Pickling Cukes
Pickling cucumbers are smaller, have more spines and hold up to brining better than slicing pickles.  But I think of the pickling cuke as a “two fer.”  You can pickle them; you can also slice them and eat them right off the vine!  Here are a couple that you might want to consider but don’t limit yourself to just these varieties.

The Bush Pickle is fast to harvest – producing fruit in just 48 days.  It’s another compact plant so it’s good for container growing – no need for trellises or stakes! The Bush Pickle may be small but it produces a good-sized crop while taking up just 3 to 4 feet of space. The fruit is about 4 inches long, light to mid-green, with a crisp, tender flavor – perfect for pickles!

Carolina (Hybrid  matures just one day after the Bush Pickle, taking 49 days to produce its straight, blocky fruit.  The Carolina has medium-sized vines so you may want to trellis the plants.  Vigorous, with great yields, the Carolina produces medium green fruit that are generally about 3 inches long and a bit blocky.  The Carolina comes with spines, too and makes a great dill pickle.

Tips on Planting
Cucumbers are usually started from seed.  Like their relatives, squash and melons, cucumbers like warm soil so only plant them after all danger of frost is past.  In fact, I don’t plant my cukes until almost the end of May.  They have to have warm soil and planting them early just means the seed may not germinate.  Or if they do, growth will be slow and the plants will be small.

So, wait for the warm soil and warm air before putting cuke seeds in the ground.  The same is true for transplants.  But transplanting cucumbers is a bit tricky.

“Cucumbers resent transplanting.”  I laughed out loud when I read that sentence in Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden: Creative Gardening for the Adventurous Cook.

Then I transplanted some by pulling them out of their little plastic pots and shoving them in the ground.  Needless to say the seeds I planted in the ground on the same day grew a whole lot faster than the transplants.

Apparently, cukes have lots of little tendrils  – small branches off the central root that uptake water and nutrients and feed the plants.  Harsh transplanting damages the branches and the plant may not recover, at all.

Mine didn’t.

But since I like to have a jump on the growing season, I have worked out a way to do the least damage to the baby cuke plants while giving them about a 6 week jump on being put out in the ground.

I start seeds indoors in mid-March (Zone 5 ½) and once they get their true second set of leaves I simply place the 2 inch peat pot into a 4 inch peat pot and cover with soil.  No transplant blues, no disruption and by mid-May, when these babies hit the dirt, they are tall, healthy and frequently covered with blooms

NOTE:  when transplanting into the garden, do NOT remove from the peat pot.  Just dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the 4 inch peat pot, place the whole pot in the ground and cover with soil.

Make sure you cover the top of the peat pot with soil or, just tear the first inch or so of the top of the pot.  If you don’t, the wind will blow on the top of the peat pot and wick moisture right off the plant.

If you’re using seeds, you can put a single seed in the soil about every 12 inches and cover them with ½” to 1” of soil.  Or you can create a small “hill” of soil and put 3 or 4 seeds in each hill and cover with 1/2 to 1 inch of soil and water them, gently.  NOTE:  you MUST water these seeds daily.  If they dry out in the act of sprouting, they die.

If using the hill method. Leave 24” to 30” between each hill to give the plants a chance to grow without being crowded.  If you’re using transplants, plant them in warm soil about 12 inches apart.

I usually put transplants on one side of the trellis I use for cukes (actually an antique bed spring I found by the side of the road) and put seeds in on the other side.  This ensures that I have a longer picking season and, if I lose a plant or two to cucumber beetles, I have others to replace it.

By the way, unless you live in Maine or Canada, you can do a second planting for fall harvest by planting seeds in mid- to late summer.

Make sure you water cucumbers frequently.  They have shallow roots and have to have moisture, especially when they are setting and maturing fruit.  Try to use soaker hoses for cukes, too.

Cucumbers also like mulch – something that keeps the soil warm in early spring. And floating row covers can help keep your baby cucumbers warm, too.    Once the cucumber transplants have settled into their new home, you can side-dress with nitrogen fertilizer when the plants begin to vine.

Be careful not to handle cucumber plants when they are wet as you can transmit diseases from plant to plant that way.  I only harvest in the afternoon, after the sun has dried off the leaves, top and bottom.

Next week, how to find and destroy the bugs that bug cukes and my favorite refrigerator pickle recipe