Here’s a simple and easy tip for preserving herbs from your garden. If you’re overrun with basil, sage, oregano, chives or any other herb, chop them up as you would to use them in your favorite recipes. Place some of your chopped herbs into ice cube trays, fill them with water and freeze. When you’re ready to use your herbs, you can either thaw them or add the whole ice cube to a soup or other hot dish. Yum! I love easy and common sense tips, whether they be for gardening, cooking or just everyday life. What are your favorite tips? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. Enjoy your weekend! Happy gardening!
Today’s question comes from Phil in Upper Marlboro, Maryland:
I have squash in the garden that have produced little to no fruit this year. I have 10 plants (one isn’t looking so good) but I’ve only harvested about 15 squash. With the exception of the one plant, the plants look perfectly healthy. Any ideas?
Great question Phil…it’s one that I’ve heard a few times this year. Since your squash seem to be healthy my first thought is that the female blooms aren’t being fertilized. Not fertilized as in N-P-K but not fertilized by the male flowers. Squash are really cool plants that produce two very distinct flowers. When the female flowers, she already has a little baby squash behind the flower. If the flower isn’t pollinated, the little fruit and the flower wither away and die. If she is fortunate enough to receive the pollen from her male counterpart, then the baby squash grows and grows and ends up on your plate. Let’s take a look at the female flower.
See the baby squash? The male flower is similar to the female except that is borne on a little stem. You can think of the stem as the male anatomy if that helps you remember which is which. With the male flower, there isn’t a baby squash behind the flower either. Here is a picture of the male flower.
Do you see the difference? Well, now that we’ve had our squash anatomy class, how can we make your squash plants produce squash? By helping nature along. Take a paint brush or a q-tip and get some of the male pollen and place it in the female flower. You don’t have to put on latex gloves and a white lab coat. Just be sure that the male pollen makes it to the female flowers.
I just realized that I assumed that your squash plants are flowering. If they aren’t flowering, then you have a whole ‘nother issue. If that’s the case, chances are that your nitrogen levels are too high and your plants are focusing on foliage production instead of flowers. If that’s the case, back off of the fertilizer and you should see your plants start to flower. If nature doesn’t take it’s course, then help her along like we talked about above.
I hope that helps you Phil. If any of the other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have other suggestions for Phil, leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!
Does this guy look familiar? On our way into church Sunday, my son, Myles, spotted one of these insects and asked “Momma, what is that?”. “It’s a Colorado potato beetle” I replied, wondering why it was there. You know that it’s the season for them when they’re hanging out on the car next to yours in the church parking lot. The name “Colorado potato beetle” may make you think that they’re only a pest of potatoes…it isn’t true. These buggers enjoy all members of the Solanaceae family which includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant.
I have found that they do the most damage to my tomatoes when the tomatoes are wee little fellows. Once the tomatoes get above a foot tall, the larvae of the beetles can’t compete with the tomatoes’ rapid growth. Here’s a picture of the larvae…they look nothing like their adult counterparts.
But eggplants are usually more of a pipe dream in our garden than a reality. Last year, the Colorado potato beetles stripped the leaves off before the plants had a chance at growing. This year, my gardening partners, Sean and Anna, bought some eggplants with some size on them and they are doing wonderful. Perhaps size makes a difference with the eggplants too.
Potatoes are the creme-de-la-creme for the Colorado potato beetle. I guess that’s fitting considering their name, huh? All types of chemicals have been deployed in the battle against Colorado potato beetles through the years including DDT. Who’s hungry?
There are more friendly ways that you can deal with Colorado potato beetles. Let’s look at a few, after we briefly discuss their life cycle. The beetles overwinter in the soil and then emerge in the spring to lay their eggs. The females lay bright orange egg masses on the undersides of the leaves. When these eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the leaves and after 10-20 days, depending on the temperature, the mature larvae drop from the plants and enter the soil to pupate. After a few days in the soil they emerge as full on adults. This first set of adults repeat the pattern and they finish the season by overwintering in the soil. To the control measures:
- Rotate your crops. Due to the fact that the adults emerge in the spring ready to carry on the love affair with your plants, be sure to not plant members of the Solanacaea family in the same plot as last year.
- Hand pick the larvae and adults. You can either put them in soapy water or feed them to your backyard chickens. They’re free protein for your girls if you have them.
- Floating row covers. These lightweight covers can save your plants from all sorts of insect pests and Colorado potato beetles are no exception.
- Bt. If all else fails, you can apply Bt to control them. Make sure to apply Bt when the larvae are small as this is when control is most effective.
Have you experienced the misery that comes along with a Colorado potato beetle infestation? How have you dealt with them? Send me your ideas or leave me a comment below. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!
So the broccoli is ready in the garden and it’s delicious! My dilemma is harvesting it before it blooms. Some of the heads have escaped being eaten; I didn’t get there in time and they’re blooming but that’s OK…it’s more food for the beneficials. I’ve noticed that if I leave the cut broccoli overnight, it doesn’t have the same crispness that the grocer’s does; perhaps you have this problem too. I thought that we would look at some tips for keeping your vegetables fresh after harvesting them from the garden.
- BROCCOLI – so if your broccoli is more floppy than crisp the day after you harvest it, try soaking it in ice water for a few minutes before you’re ready to use it. Of course, if you’re cooking it, you can skip this step because you’re going to make it floppy anyway. I think that broccoli is best stored in the fridge.
- CUCUMBERS – cucumbers are best stored outside the fridge on the countertop. Unless you’re ready to eat one of course. I love a cold, crisp cucumber so we keep a few in the fridge when they’re in season (and the 5 gallon buckets of them are overflowing).
- LETTUCE – lettuce prefers the fridge to the countertop. We generally grow romaine and I like to wash it and then place it in layers of paper towels so that it’s ready to use when we need it. All of the paper towel and lettuce layers go into a ziploc bag and then into the fridge.
- TOMATOES – some people swear by keeping their tomatoes on the countertop…that it makes them last longer. Others say they keep longer when in the fridge. Personally, I don’t have a refrigerator big enough to handle all of them so I usually keep the majority of them out of the fridge in the aforementioned 5 gallon buckets. If we have problems with blossom end rot, I still pick those tomatoes for canning…I just cut the bad ends off. Those I try to keep in the fridge since they’ve been injured.
- PEPPERS – it’s been my experience that peppers are better stored on the countertop. If they’re kept in the fridge, mine tend to look shriveled up…like all of the moisture has been sucked out of the skins.
Here’s another tip that you can keep in mind the next time you’re bringing in your harvest. Many herbs and greens can be kept fresh in your refrigerator by placing them in water like you would cut flowers. A bouquet that you can eat…now that’s an arrangement I’m interested in!
What are your tips for keeping vegetables fresh? Do you have any secrets that you’d like to share with the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community? Leave me a comment below or send me an e-mail. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening! And happy Friday!
Have you noticed the onslaught of white butterflies flitting aroung your garden? It seems that they’re everywhere this spring but they’re particularly noticeable around the veggie garden. There’s a good reason…they’re after our cabbage. The butterfly is the adult version of the cabbage worm.
But it’s not just cabbage that they’re after…they enjoy all members of the Brassica family which includes cauliflower, broccoli, collards, kales and other salad crops. The larval form is the one that really does the damage. It’s green in color and is easy to miss when quickly glancing at your plants. If you see holes in the leaves of your plants, flip over a few leaves and see if this guy is hanging around:
If you only have a few plants to monitor, hand picking and squishing is the easiest method; it also has the least amount of negative impact on the environment…unless of course you’re a cabbage worm. If you can’t bring yourself to squish them, carry a small bucket or mason jar full of soapy water and just drop them in when you see them. If you have chickens, offer the cabbage worms to your flock as a tasty, high protein snack.
Floating row covers are especially effective at deterring the moth from laying its eggs in the first place. If you grow rows of brassicas, applying floating row covers before you see the moths will reduce your population of cabbage worms to virtually zero. If you’re not familiar with them, floating row covers are comprised of lightweight woven fabric that still allows the sunlight through. They are a great physical barrier to keep the butterflies away from your cabbage.
If the number of cabbage worms is too great for you to hand pick, you can spray Bt to control them. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a bacteria that only affects caterpillars so you don’t need to be concerned with assaulting your beneficials like ladybugs and lacewings. Just be aware that Bt is not effective on the adults or the eggs…it only works on the caterpillar stage of the cabbage worm life cycle.
Have you seen the white butterflies flitting around your garden this year? Have you noticed any cabbage worms? If so, what methods do you use to control them? Leave me a comment below or send me an e-mail. (I’m going to stop putting my e-mail address in the posts…the spam is eating me alive!) If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!
I’ve received quite a few questions in the last week asking is it too late to plant your vegetable garden? I understand why people are concerned…the weather has been spring-like for the past seven to eight weeks here in central Virginia and fellow gardeners have been planting their crops for weeks. Lest you feel alone if you’re just getting around to planting your veggie garden…we just planted ours last weekend and still have a few more plants to get into the ground. Life gets busy and time slips away from you and before you know it, its second week of May.
There are a few plants that you may have missed the boat on if they’re not in the ground. Let’s take a look at those before we move on to what you should be planting now and whether they should be started from seeds or transplants:
- Cabbage – I have a little disclaimer to make here; I know several people that plant their cabbage plants with other warm season veggies and they seem to do fine. Experiment and try some now if you want to…what do you have to lose?
- Fava Beans
So what can you still plant in your veggie garden? Virtually everything!
- Tomatoes – only from transplants
- Peppers – only from transplants
- Cucumbers – seed or transplants
- Squash – seed or transplants
- Zucchini – seed or transplants
- Melons – seed or transplants
- Sweet potatoes – sets
- Basil – seed or transplants
- Carrots – seed
- Pole or bush beans – seed
- Lima beans (aka butterbeans) – seed
- Lettuce – seed or transplants
- Cilantro – seeds or transplants
Now with cilantro, you need to watch it closely so that it doesn’t go to seed. If it does, it turns into coriander instead of cilantro. I wish that someone would develop a cilantro that wouldn’t bolt so early. I can’t ever seem to have cilantro and tomatoes that are ready at the same time. You can always dehydrate the cilantro and use it in salsa later but it would really be nice to have fresh cilantro available when the tomatoes start rolling in.
I want to give you a reminder that I know you already know. Don’t be discouraged by the size of your plants when you put them in the ground. It’s so easy to look at your 6″ tall plants and then see your neighbors that are 2′ tall and be discouraged. But don’t be. Our veggies are so small right now that I’m embarrassed to post pictures of them. I’m embarrassed but I’m not discouraged. Look at these two pictures of the broccoli that we planted on March 22.
Here they are on May 6:
Aren’t plants amazing? Now get out there this weekend and get your veggies in the ground! Let me know what you’ve been up to in your vegetable garden. Send me your pictures…I’d love to share them with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re a little less boastful, then just leave me a comment below. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!
Today’s Reader Question comes from Kate in Virginia:
I need your ideas on growing salad throughout the summer. My lettuce bolts when it gets hot outside and my spinach just stops producing. Do you have any recommendations?
Great question Kate! The Mid-Atlantic gardening region warms up quickly in the summer and we’ve already experienced 90+ degree days and it’s only the first week of May. As you know, salad greens are cool season crops that enjoy temperatures above freezing but below 70 degrees. A few spikes in the thermometer won’t put an end to your salad greens but sustained hot temperatures will. So what can you do to keep the temperatures cooler?
Do you have any lightly shaded areas that you can use for growing salad? Not dense shade but a nice cool, lightly shaded spot. I know that my yard has several pockets of cooler growing areas…your landscape probably does too. Take advantage of these areas by tucking a few salad greens into empty spots.
Consider creating your own shade. There are several ways that you can accomplish this. Do you have any potted plants that you could place near your salad greens to cast shade on them? Or can you grow your salad greens in easily movable containers that you can move to shade when the temperatures climb?
Another way to create shade is with shade cloth. Shade cloth is used extensively in the nursery industry and it’s practical to use in your veggie garden. Create some hoops out of PVC and secure your shade cloth to it for instant shade. Here is a link to Gardener’s Supply where a 6′ x 12′ piece can be purchased for $27.95. If you have a nursery grower near you, give them a call to see if they have any shade cloth that they’d be interested in selling…often times, they have scrap pieces lying around that are too small for their beds but may be perfect for yours.
Let’s talk about plant selection. Try to find an heirloom seed supplier that is located in your gardening region…they may have varieties of salad greens that have been selected to perform better in the heat. Since you’re in Virginia, take a look at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They’re located in Louisa and have a variety of romaine lettuce, Jericho, that grows well in our summer heat. If you’re looking for spinach that will keep on keeping on, try Red Malabar spinach. It’s a vining type that needs to be trellised so it will take up less room in the garden too. Southern Exposure recommends growing them on your pea trellises…as the peas finish growing, the Red Malabar spinach will take over where they left off.
I’m sure that other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have other creative ideas for growing salad in summer heat. Please leave a comment below or e-mail me at email@example.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!
In yesterday’s post, we talked about pigaerators a bit…how Polyface Farms uses them to turn their deep bedding into beautiful compost. Today I want to continue the tour and head to the pigs in the woods. In my quest for knowledge regarding animal husbandry, I’ve read time and time again how hard it is to confine pigs. I’ve heard of people using barbed wire at the top and bottom of wooden fencing, electric fencing at the top and bottom and all sorts of other homemade devices. How does Polyface Farms keep their pigs contained? Two strands of electric fencing. Again, simple but oh so effective.
Here is a picture of the pigs in the woods:
Sorry that the picture is a little fuzzy…my hands were trembling a bit from the cold. But here you can see that the pigs are rooting through the understory of the forest. You may be concerned that so much disturbance would disrupt the natural balance of the forest. But Joel informed us that there isn’t much that is naturally balanced in the forest anymore. When the bison and other herbivores roamed the land, they kept all of the undergrowth from taking over and allowed for perennial grasses to dominate the forest floor. Those days are gone and now the forest is filled with brambles and dense understory plants. By allowing the pigs to root and just be pigs, they are able to clear out much of the dense understory which in turn enables the perennial grasses to re-establish themselves.
Polyface Farms moves the pigs when they have eaten all of the feed that is in their feeder: it’s a ton…literally. They have discovered that when the feeder is empty, the pigs have rooted through the woods enough to prevent the brambly growth but not do permanent damage. I’m not sure how many pigs are contained in a given area or even how big the area is. At this point in the tour, my daughter was fascinated with the fact that her boots were making the sucking sound as she pulled them up out of the mud/poo mix so I was a bit distracted. And then she fell bottom first into the mud/poo mix…fun for everyone.
Joel told us that buy piglets for $80 and get $500 for them at slaughter. That’s over a 6-time return on their money. What’s your savings account paying these days? Polyface Farms will raise 1000 pigs between the main farm and the other 8 farms that they rent. That’s a lot of bacon.
The tour ended with my favorite part: the eggmobile. I don’t know what it is about the eggmobile that fascinates me. Maybe it’s the fact that hundreds of birds (800 if I’m not mistaken) work so hard to sanitize the fields. Or that they produce an entirely new revenue stream for the farm. But it probably has a lot to do with the fact that they don’t have to be slaughtered to generate income. Don’t get me wrong…I eat meat at least twice a day and I have total respect for the farmers that produce the meat that I consume. I’m just not sure if I can be the one doing the slaughtering. I’ll find out next Tuesday, May 1, when I go to Avery’s Branch Farm in Amelia to help process chickens. I need to know if I can kill an animal to feed myself and my family. And I need to push myself past my comfort level. Otherwise, I won’t ever know what I’m capable of. Do you ever feel that way? I’m sure I’m not the only one. Back to the eggmobile…
Polyface Farms runs the eggmobile behind the beef cattle but they wait three days before bringing the girls in to work their magic. The reason for the three day delay is that it takes that long for the fly larvae to develop and the chickens can procure a sizable amount of their protein from the larvae. They take a cow patty that is a 1 foot circle and scratch through it until it’s about 3 feet in diameter. This helps to spread the manure fertilizer around and also decreases the amount of grass that the cows avoid when they are moved back to the same paddock. Cows don’t want their lips near their own poo when they’re grazing and the chickens help to reduce the repugnancy zones.
The chickens are wonderfully friendly and seem to enjoy human company. They cluck and carry on and wander into the eggmobile to lay their eggs and then get right back to business. Here are some pictures of the girls:
I love the picture of my son standing in front of the eggmobile. He’s muddy and cold but oh so happy. I really think that he would be right at home on a farm. If there’s mud around, my daughter would be as happy as a pig in, well, you know. While Myles and I explored the eggmobile, Maddie explored a mud puddle with a stick.
When I asked my kids what their favorite part of the farm was, Maddie replied “the mud mommy” and Myles said “the poop momma”. I love my kids. My favorite part was the fact that I was able to experience Polyface Farms in all of its glory. I love the fact that the buildings aren’t perfect and so much of it is made out of re-purposed materials. Sure it was a cold, wet and muddy experience but the warmth that emanated from the staff and their animals was amazing. We are already planning our return trip…my husband and I joke that we’ll end up there once a month to attend the “Lunatic Tours”. And we just might do it. Oh yes we can!
I still have a bunch of pictures and short video clips that I didn’t use in these posts. We have a busy weekend planned but if I can find the time, I may post them over the weekend as a pictorial tour. If you enjoy this type of discussion, please leave me a comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list, become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!
Today, my family and I are visiting Polyface Farms. For those who don’t know what Polyface Farms is, it’s Joel Salatin’s family farm. If you don’t know who Joel Salatin is, I highly recommend that you Google him. To sum him up, he’s the rock star farmer who has brought sustainable agriculture to the forefront. His farm was showcased in the movie Food, Inc. and he’s also in the movie FRESH. His premise is so amazingly simple but yet it is so far from where our current food production model lies. He is an acclaimed author who has written the following books:
- Family Friendly Farming
- You Can Farm
- Salad Bar Beef
- The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer
- Pastured Poultry Profits
- Everything I Want to do is Illegal
- Holy Cows and Hog Heaven
- Folks, This Ain’t Normal
One of my favorite YouTube clips is this one from FRESH. If you can spare 1 minute and 42 seconds, please watch this. What a wonderful life.
This week, Mid-Atlantic Gardening will be focusing on our trip to Polyface Farms and all of the wisdom that we can glean from the experience. Truth be told, we aspire to have a farm similar to Polyface Farms. We don’t aim to copycat Polyface completely…we would like to have dairy cows instead of beef cattle. Being that I’m a horticulturist, we’ll focus more on plants than animals but we would still like to have meat birds and laying hens. And possibly sell some to have multiple revenue streams.
You may be wondering what all of this has to do with gardening. To me, it has everything to do with gardening. By learning how to grow vegetables, fruit trees, nut producing trees and shrubs that provide you with food, we are one step closer to being able to feed ourselves. Also, as gardeners, we are stewards of the resources that God has provided us with. Whether those resources are plants or animals is irrelevant to me. To know that we have been entrusted to take care of them is awe inspiring. I know that I’ll be in awe and inspired visiting Polyface Farms. I can’t wait to fill you all in on the details. Let me know if you’ve been on a “Lunatic Tour” at Polyface Farms. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at email@example.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!
Gardening is the gateway drug to prepping. Yes, I stole this phrase from Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast. But isn’t it true? You always hear that marijuana is the gateway drug for other drugs like cocaine and heroin. It seems so innocent at first but, according to the experts, it often leads to harder drugs. I’m not going to debate whether or not that’s true. My point here is that gardening is the gateway drug for prepping. Before we discuss this point further, I want to explain what I mean by prepping.
Thanks to shows like Doomsday Preppers and what is put forth by mainstream media, prepping is looked upon as something that only freaks do. People who live in remote areas and live the life of a recluse. But in reality, prepping is preparing for everyday disasters. Those disasters can include your car breaking down, your spouse losing their job or a natural disaster. There is a much greater chance of these scenarios happening to you than there is a nuke being launched to wipe us all off the face of the Earth. To me, prepping is putting away food that you already eat so that you have backups. This used to be the norm in America…it’s still the norm in most other areas of the world. Why am I looked at as old-fashioned or backwards for making sure that my family has food to eat? My kids often go to “the store” to get food that we have run out of…that store is located in another room of our house. Prepping makes life so much easier too; it is a rare occasion that I have to run to the grocery store to make a meal. By having the most often used items in our “store” ready and waiting, there is little that I don’t have on hand. So how does this all relate back to gardening?
When you start a garden, chances are that you’ll have more produce ready at one time than you and your family can consume. What do you do with the extras? Sure, you give some to friends, family and co-workers but after awhile, they have taken all of the handouts that they can consume. What’s left can be preserved. By preserving the extras, you are ensuring that you have delicious, healthy vegetables available throughout the year. There are lots of ways to preserve food. Let’s take a quick look at some of the ways.
- Canning – this is probably what most people think of when they consider preserving food. I LOVE canning…it makes me feel like I am back in the olden days when canning was something that everyone did. And hearing the jars ping when the seal is successful…that’s music to my ears! Canning isn’t difficult to do but there are some guidelines that need to be followed. I can’t recommend the Ball Blue Book of Canning enough.
- Freezing – many people freeze their produce in convenient to use packages. If you can use the produce within a few months of freezing it, it is a viable option. You need to be certain that you have a means of backup power in case there is a power outage…otherwise your hard work will be ruined. One of my favorite things to freeze is shredded zucchini. If you freeze it in 2 cup portions, you can have delicious zucchini bread anytime you wish.
- Dehydrating – I first heard about the Excalibur dehydrator on The Survival Podcast. Jack and his listeners raved about how awesome they were. But with a price tag upwards of $200, I decided to use my brother’s dehydrator. After a failed attempt at dehydrating bananas, I decided to splurge on the Excalibur. What a difference! My dehydrator has nine racks that you can use and the fan is in the back of the unit instead of the bottom. I have dehydrated all sorts of things from the garden. I’ve also dehydrated frozen veggies from the grocer’s freezer…they take up a fraction of the space and I don’t have to worry if the power goes out. The best resource that I’ve found on dehydrating is Dehydrate2Store.
There are certainly other ways to preserve your harvest but these are the three that I use the most. It is such a gratifying feeling knowing that I have food put away for my family. No, it’s not enough to sustain us for an extended period of time but it is enough to allow me to rest easy. There have been times when the all of the vehicles break at once and our grocery money has to go to car bills. “The store” has helped us bridge the gap until we can get over that bump in the road. So my question to you is, do you think that gardening is the gateway drug to prepping? How has your garden helped you to be more prepared for the many bumps on the road of life? Who knew that a tiny seed planted in the ground could lead to a more sustainable lifestyle? It’s pretty fascinating if you ask me. Let me know what you think and if you have any tips for other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy gardening!