For the past … oh … year or so, I’ve been working on a garden upgrade project. The entire thing has been chronicled on Grit Magazine’s web site (list of links below). Feel free to click through to go read all about it. Make sure you have a beverage handy. And a sandwich. They can take a while to read through, but they’re chock full of tips and advice on doing this.
Today, Julian the Boxer and I completed this project.
Early this spring my friend and mentor, Benny LaFleur, gave me a load of berry starts. These are roots and shoots that creep out from around his established rows. To clean up the rows he digs out these ambitious upstarts. Some of these ended up in my garden. In fact all of my berry plants have come from Benny over the past couple of years. Benny’s berry patch is much (much) larger than mine: almost a farm. And he has a ton of experience to share. Here is what he’s taught me. (Continue Reading …)
The opening act for this year’s garden was to plant onion seed and seed potatoes.
The onion seed was harvested from some onions I allowed to go to seed last year. I did not plant in neat, orderly, well spaced rows this time. I scattered the seed liberally (I have plenty!) and will harvest many of the young plants as green onions to attain proper spacing for the mature onions.
The seed potatoes, too, were kept from last year’s crop: those too small to do much else with. I put them in a box of dry wood chips (my surface planer makes small chips ideal for this). I closed up the box and tucked it away in a cool, dark spot for the winter.
When I opened it this week and sifted carefully through the chips for the spudlets, I found most of them had just started to sprout: perfect timing!
In the past, I planted potatoes in a deep raised bed in a more or less traditional manner. But to accomplish crop rotation that means moving add-on box sections and shuffling soil around – or (eventually) making all my garden boxes “deep” boxes. This year I decided to jump on board with the current fad in potato growing: wire bins. Continue reading …
I love lasagna, don’t you? A flavorful concoction made of noodles, meat, cheese, and tomato sauce, layered in a deep pan and baked so the flavors meld. Yumm! My garden beds this year will be going lasagna.
Over the years I’ve tried several different techniques for the raised beds in my mountain-side garden. I have to use raised beds because the slope is steep enough that even a light rain washes away top soil that is not firmly pinned down by a thick carpet of grass.
Keeping the soil in these beds rich and productive has been my primary focus. When I established the beds I made my “dirt” using commercial compost, peat, and some native clay soil. I’ve added home-made compost each year. This involves digging-in the compost and turning the soil.
Lately I’ve been reading that turning the soil is not the best approach, but is a hold-over from large scale agriculture where the time and effort saved by plowing a field makes sense. In a garden, tiling and digging are less important as time savers when the soil structure is considered.
I started my quest when I began finding white fungus-like strands growing in the soil, especially near the wooden boxes, and asked myself, “What is that? And is it good or bad?” Research showed it is indeed fungus and it is good. Read More …
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person on the planet who is not raising chickens. Everywhere I look are articles about raising chickens, plans for chicken coops, chicken tractors, chicken feeders, pictures of chickens, and people talking about how wonderful it is to have really fresh eggs.
That last part is what comes closest to hooking me. I love eggs. We eat eggs for breakfast twice a week, and use them in cooking. We’d eat them more often if they weren’t getting so expensive. I read that the commercial egg farms have been hit hard by avian diseases that required them to kill off significant amounts of their flocks. That kind of thing will drive the price up, and when this sort of thing happens, the prices generally do not come back down. It’s like the delivery services adding fuel surcharges because fuel was so expensive, but when fuel costs came back down the surcharges stayed in place. We will just be eating fewer eggs in our house now. Unless I raise chickens.
People garden for a lot of different reasons: reducing household costs, increase food quantity, increase food quality, providing food for the less fortunate of their community, those who tend flower gardens seek to beautify their property, give shelter to certain insects and birds, and improve the aesthetics of their life. But one common thread that runs through it all at some level is that we do it because we enjoy it: when we grow flowers or vegetables we are also growing satisfaction and contentment.
There is something therapeutic about working the soil with our hands, watching as seeds we planted push up through that soil, develop into plants and thrive under our attentive care. Then we EAT THEM, mua-hahaha! Sorry, I got carried away there. (read more…)
Some time ago I read that when winter approaches and you still have many green tomatoes on the plants, you can (if you’re growing determinant: bush type tomatoes) pull the whole bush up and hang it upside down in a garage or basement where they will be protected from frost and the tomatoes will continue to ripen. Over the course of the next few weeks you will continue to harvest ripe tomatoes from your upside-down bushes.
It is mid-November and I still have lots of tomatoes on my plants. Unfortunately mine are indeterminate (vine type) plants, so yanking them out by the roots is not an option for me. The full-size tomatoes only had a few dozen green tomatoes left, so I harvested those. We made a green tomato pie with some and I wrapped the rest in newspaper and set them in a cardboard box. I check them every couple of days and remove those that have ripened. These don’t have the robust flavor of a sun-ripened tomato, but they’re not bad.
My cherry tomatoes are still loaded with greenies. Earlier I pinched off the smallest fruits and all blooms to force the vines to concentrate on ripening the maters. I have been harvesting those that ripen at a rate that keeps my family, my mom, and a lady at church well supplied. Still, there are many green ones left and a hard freeze is expected. What to do? (read more…)
In Tennessee, October is an iffy time for gardening and the weather-guessers don’t offer much help. During the summer their inaccuracies may mean having to water on a day we didn’t plan to, but little else. In October a new foe comes a-calling: frost.
Some of the crops in my garden will handle frost just fine: lettuce, spinach, Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic to name a few. These will grow just fine on into the winter. But the last of the summer crops are not so hardy.
I still have tomatoes, bell peppers, banana peppers, jalapenos, red potatoes and sweet potatoes growing heartily and producing. I hate to rip these out for fear of a frost that dos not come, then get an additional two weeks of Indian summer where more of those items would have ripened. I still have two flats of green tomato relish canned up from last year’s frost aversion.
So I keep covers handy: bed sheets, light blankets, plastic sheeting all work well. I keep a box of spring clamps in the barn as well to secure these to my box frames. Until we get an actual freeze, this will keep the plants alive by keeping the frozen dew off the plants. Play it safe: cover up anytime a frost is possible. (Read More…)
When it comes to deterring garden damaging insects, we can employ chemical agents, we can employ companion plants, or we can invite predatory critters. By chemical agents, I do not mean just the commercially produced poisons (which I avoid) but things like Neem oil and pepper spray made from my jalapeno and cayenne cast-offs.
This year I companion planted borage with my tomatoes. That worked exceptionally well. My only mistake was in planting them at the same time: I should have given the tomatoes a month’s head start. By the time the tomatoes were bearing ripe fruit, the borage was dying off. Shortly after it was gone, the hornworms started appearing. But I still had help.
When I find a hornworm that is covered by white cases, I either leave it be or move it to a sacrificial tomato plant so the pupae it carries will mature and hatch. These are pupae cases of the Brachonid Wasp: a small, non-stinging, parasitic wasp that favors hornworms as the preferred meal for its young. The female Brachonid deposits its eggs just under the skin of the hornworm. When they hatch the larvae chew their way out (feeding on the worm as they go) and spin those white pupae cases. By the time you see those, especially if there are lots of them, the hornworm is in a weakened state. Many that I find in this condition will do little more damage, some never move from that spot.
For years now I have done battle with the tomato hornworm. You know Hornworm: big, green brute with a spiky horn on his butt. Sort of a cross between a backward rhinoceros and The Hulk. He can get to be 4 inches long and will decimate a tomato plant overnight.
In the past I’ve used a number of methods to try to keep this marauder at bay.
• Sevin Powder: works pretty well but is a chemical insecticide.
• Neem oil: works pretty well and is a natural repellent, but has to be reapplied after every rainfall.
• Hand picking: It is harder than one might think to spot these well-camouflaged beasties. Even as big as they get, they can be hard to see in amongst the leaves. I look mostly for the leaf damage and poo-pellets they leave, then go hunting in that region.
• Braconid Wasp: a natural control in that these iridescent blue wasps lay their eggs on the hornworm and when the eggs hatch, they feed on the form and kill it. When I find a worm packing a load of eggs on its back I move that one to a sacrificial plant where it can live out its life and help proliferate the Braconids. I’ve never been stung by a Braconid despite having them nest in my barn eaves. I consider them good fellows and welcome them.
• Bacillus thuringiensis: a naturally occurring bacterium that attacks the digestive systems of numerous leaf-feeders, including hornworms. It is available in spray or powder form under the trade names of Dipel and Thuricide.
This year I tried a new weapon: Borage. Read More…