Did You Know? How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’m excited about today’s post. It’s a visual of our vegetable garden this year. We were way late planting this year, especially since we had awesome weather this spring. We finally got our plants in the ground on May 7. Last year, it was the first week in April. I also have to give full credit to Sean and Anna Taylor…their home houses the vegetable garden and they have done pretty much all of the maintenance and watering this year. I just haven’t had the time. It’s no excuse, but it’s absolutely true. OK…so here are the pictures.

 

vegetable garden
Look at the little baby tomato plants!

 

Can you even see the little baby tomatoes? They looked so pitiful when surrounded by the tremendous cages. I did a post about the veggie garden after planting and I mentioned that I was embarrassed by how small the plants were. Can you see why?

 

vegetable garden
Here are the plants a month later in early June

 

 

vegetable garden
Here are the same plants at the end of June

 

There are bush beans in the background that were doing fairly well until Bambi paid the garden a visit. Here’s a picture of the damage:

vegetable garden

 

The hugelkultur beds that we installed earlier this year are progressing along nicely. One is filled with eggplant and the other with peppers. I can’t say that the wood is helping give back moisture quite yet but these beds are a process. I’m sure that once the wood starts breaking down more and can finally fill completely up with water, the results will be phenomenal.

vegetable garden

 

Do you want to know what I love most about this picture? The weed-free pathways. Ah…they are so dreamy. It makes me so happy to not see weeds. There are still weeds in the garden but at least we know that this area doesn’t require our attention.

We tried planting squash, zucchini, watermelon and cucumbers from seed instead of starting them indoors first. I heard Paul Wheaton talk about veggies that are sown directly in the garden having better drought resistance than those started indoors. So we tried it…and…epic fail. We had a few plants come up but the overwhelming result was nada. Nothing. Zilch. Lesson learned. Here are a few pictures of what did come up.

vegetable garden
One of our two Mandurian Round cucumber plants. We wanted many more of these but…

 

vegetable garden
Suyo Long cucumber…again, we wanted more but…

 

vegetable garden
Here’s what our squash and zucchini have turned into…a wonderful home for squash bugs. I dusted these heavily with diatomaceous earth before I left

 

Here’s a picture of “Eddie” our scarecrow. He swivels and keeps a watchful eye over the garden.

vegetable garden

 

My son, Myles, picking peaches in the garden.

vegetable garden

 

Maddie in the jungle of German Johnson tomatoes.

vegetable garden

 

So, that’s an overview of the vegetable garden this year. How does your garden grow? Send me pictures so that I can share them with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. 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!

 

 

 

 

Pests and Diseases: Squash Bugs

I hate them. I hate them, hate them, hate them. Squash bugs are my nemesis in the vegetable garden. Hate is a very strong word that I reserve for only the most vile of creatures. Squash bugs fit that description. In past years in the veggie garden, they have decimated the squash and zucchini. Once they finished up there, they moved onto the cucumbers, then the muskmelons and then the watermelons. I hate them.

Squash bugs resemble stink bugs and they smell like them too. Side note: if they release their smell on you, the smell is pretty yucky. But if you get them first and smush them, they smell like green apple Jolly Ranchers. There’s your useless trivia for today. Squash bugs are particularly fond of the cucurbit family which explains why they traveled throughout the garden destroying our veggies as they did. They usually start with squash and zucchini and kill them first. They don’t seem to prefer the cucumbers, muskmelons and watermelons but once the population has exploded, the critters need something to eat. I have to tell you this story about just how bad they were a few years back. The kids had helped get the garden established and took a lot of pride in it. They noticed that the zucchini leaves were wilting and turning yellow so they ventured in to see what was the matter. Once they got close to the zucchini, they discovered that the leaves were covered in squash bugs of all ages…old, new, and in between. They blazed a trail out of the garden screaming the whole way. Hilarious! I didn’t take the picture below but I could have…they were that bad.

squash bugs
Photo courtesy of www.umn.edu

 

If your garden is infected with squash bugs there are several approaches that you can take.

  1. Conventional pesticides – sadly, I’ve taken this route. The ubiquitous Sevin dust was used one year and a chemical containing bifenthrin was used the next year. Neither had very good results. And I felt horrible afterwards…what if a honeybee walked through the insecticide and took it back to the hive…what if the ladybugs pranced through it…what if a praying mantis was looking for dinner at the time…what if, what if, what if?
  2. Trap crops – I’ve read of this technique but never practiced it. I understand the principle but not the logistics. From what I read, you plant a susceptible crop (Zucchini Black Beauty comes to mind) and let the squash bugs take over. Then you treat the trap crop or dispose of it. Sounds good right? BUT if you treat the trap crop, whose to say the beneficials aren’t there trying to feast on the squash bugs? If you dispose of the trap crop, how do you do that so that the majority of the squash bugs are killed? I don’t have the answers…please fill me in if you do.
  3. Hand picking – this works if you have a few squash bugs here and there. If your plants look like the picture above, you better enlist some extra hands and pray for more hours in the day.
  4. Wooden boards – I’ve read that you can lay down boards and the squash bugs will congregate underneath overnight. Then you can take care of them. My problem with this treatment method is two-fold: first, my garden is not at my home…too much shade. Secondly, I have a full time job that requires me to leave the house at 6:15 AM…not much time there to go hunting for squash bugs.
  5. Planning – I had the perfect plan this year to beat the squash bugs. We would plant squash and zucchinis everywhere in the garden and harvest, harvest, harvest. When the squash bugs became overwhelming, we’d pitch the plants and move on. What happened in reality? Pretty much, nothing. Life happened and we have a few squash and zucchini plants. Perhaps this technique will work for someone else…
  6. Diatomaceous earth – I did a post about this wondrous compound yesterday but I haven’t tried it…yet. My only concern with using DE is killing the beneficials too. I’m sure that I’m overthinking this, as is my nature, but it really bothers me to think that I could be killing all of those beautiful creatures.
  7. Chickens – this is the best option…ever…when it comes to getting a handle on squash bugs. Luckily, my garden buddies, Sean and Anna, are raising hens this year. They have six young girls that would love to get in the garden and peck the squash bugs. If you have chickens, let them out to free range in the garden. If you usually keep them in a tractor, you’ll have to let them out so that they can access the base of the plants. The key here is to monitor the hens and only allow them in long enough to get their fill; otherwise they’ll peck all of the veggies that are meant for your plate.

 

So…after all of that, what have you done to control squash bugs in your garden? What has worked and what hasn’t? Let me know so that I can share it with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. 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!

 

 

 

Pests and Diseases: Colorado Potato Beetle

 

colorado potato beetle
Photo courtesy of www.ca.uky.edu

 

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.

 

colorado potato beetle
Photo courtesy of www.ca.uky.edu

 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Floating row covers. These lightweight covers can save your plants from all sorts of insect pests and Colorado potato beetles are no exception.
  4. 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!

 

 

 

Friday Free For All: Companion Planting for Your Vegetable Garden

companion plantsToday’s post is about companion planting for your vegetable garden. If you listen to anyone for long enough about gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, they’ll tell you about which plants go well with others. That marigolds help repel bad bugs in the garden and that onions don’t get along with pole beans. It can all get very confusing, so I made this chart to help you keep it all straight. I don’t claim that it’s all-inclusive but it’s a very good start. So what shouldn’t you plant with peppers?

Companion Plants

Did you check the chart? If you did, you know that peppers are great with everything! I would love to gather all of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers’ experiences and continue to update this chart. If you’d like to help, please 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 at Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

Friday Free For All: Tips for Keeping Your Vegetables Fresh

tips for keeping your vegetables freshSo 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Did You Know? You Don’t Have to Till Your Garden

tilling your garden

Here is an example of our vegetable garden mulched. Look! No weeds (in the areas we had mulched when this picture was taken)

I’m excited about today’s post! It deals with tilling your vegetable garden and anything dealing with the vegetable garden gets me excited. Growing up we always had a vegetable garden and part of the spring chores before planting involved tilling. The tiller we had was a front tine tiller and only the adult men were allowed to run it. Being a girl that believes she can do anything a man can do, I convinced my stepdad Don to let me have a chance. I’m sure he chuckled to himself as he fired it up and explained to me how it worked. He warned me that it was hard to control but I just knew that it wouldn’t be a problem for me. As the tiller dragged me around the garden bucking and barely breaking the soil surface, I conceded that Don was right…using a front tine tiller was work for a grown man.

Fast forward years down the road and I purchased a rear tine tiller. This thing was like a Cadillac as compared to the front tine tiller of my youth. I tilled effortlessly, often with one hand. I loved the fluffy soil that resulted. I could plant with only the assistance of my hand…no shovels required. It was like a dream. I started learning more and more about vegetable gardening and came across what is known as sheet mulching or lasagna gardening. With these methods, you don’t till your garden. At all. Never. Ever. Could it be possible that you can retire the tiller altogether? Let’s take a look at how it’s possible to never till again. And we’ll look at some of the advantages and disadvantages.

Sheet mulching or lasagna gardening, or any of the other names that it goes by essentially works like this:

  1. Add compost in a layer on top of the soil
  2. Add newspaper or cardboard on top of the compost
  3. Add more compost on top of the newspaper/cardboard
  4. Add mulch on top of the compost

 

You may be wondering where the plants are in this mix. The answer is that it depends. You can either plant and then add the layers or you can put down the layers first and then plant. People often get freaked out trying to figure out how to plant in these layers but it’s actually quite simple. If you are planting seeds, pull those layers back enough to plant your seeds. Don’t cover them up with mulch…leave the hole open. As the plants grow up, add the mulch back around the plants. If you are starting with plants, pull the mulch and compost back. Use a razor knife or other implement to make a hole in the newspaper/cardboard and then plant. Add the compost and other layers back and you’re done. It’s so easy that it seems too easy to actually work. But it does. Let’s look at advantages and disadvantages of this way to plant.

ADVANTAGES

  1. It eliminates the need to till your garden. Take a moment to contemplate this statement alone. Over time, tilling can degrade the tilth of your soil. It also stirs up all of those beautiful colonies of microorganisms that you’ve worked so hard to develop. Leaving the soil life undisturbed is enough reason for me to not till my garden.
  2. It reduces weeding to a reasonable level. I think that one of the reasons gardeners throw their hands up and walk away from their veggie gardens is the weeds. As summer wears on, the weeds outcompete your plants and eventually you have to hunt through the weeds to even find your plants. It doesn’t have to be that way!
  3. It reduces water needs in the garden. The second reason that people walk away from the garden is watering. Let’s face it…in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region, by the time the tomatoes start producing, the rain stops falling. And you are left watering a garden full of weeds. That’s discouraging to even the most seasoned gardener.

 

DISADVANTAGES

I can think of only one. If you are going to use wood mulch, you can’t till the garden while the wood is intact. If you do, your soil structure will be worse off then when you started. Make sure that you want to garden this way for years before you apply your wood mulch. If you are unsure that you want to garden this way for years, I think it is a wise recommendation to try a small portion of your garden using this method. After your first season, I think you’ll be convinced that this is the way vegetable gardening is supposed to be.

So go ahead, give it a try. Keep me posted on your efforts and let me know how your garden progresses. One word of caution before you begin…you’ll need to figure out what you’re going to do with all of your spare time that you used to spend tilling, weeding and watering your garden. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

April 16, 2012Permalink 9 Comments

Plant Profile: Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes

 

With the first day of spring behind us, I thought that we would look at tomatoes. In Zone 7 we are less than a month away from planting our warm season veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, etc. A tomato is a tomato right? Wrong! There are two very distinct types of tomatoes: determinate vs. indeterminate.

DETERMINATE TOMATOES

Determinate means that most of the tomatoes ripen at the same time…their timing is determined if you will. These types of tomatoes are excellent for canning as you can have a large bounty at the same time. But you can also easily become overwhelmed if you aren’t prepared to deal with the onslaught of tomatoes. Determinate types are generally shorter and bushier and don’t require the amount of staking that the indeterminate types do. Some examples of heirloom determinate tomatoes include:

  • Costuloto Genovese
  • Heinz 1350 VF
  • Hungarian Italian Paste
  • Principe Borghese
  • Roma VF
  • Rutgers Improved
  • Sophie’s Choice

 

INDETERMINATE TOMATOES

determinate vs indeterminate tomatoesIndeterminate means that the tomatoes will ripen over an extended period of time. Once the tomatoes begin to ripen, they will continue to produce throughout the summer, often up until the first hard frost in the fall. If you enjoy using tomatoes in a more laid back way such as salads, sandwiches or for cooking, indeterminate tomatoes will be the way to go. Be prepared ahead of time to stake your tomatoes. There are several ways that this can be successfully accomplished including tomato cages made from concrete wire (my favorite way), tying them to single poles or even the Florida tomato weave. Most of the tomatoes that you buy from garden centers will be indeterminate types including the infamous Better Boy and Early Girl. Here is a list of indeterminate heirloom tomatoes:

  • Amish Paste
  • Arkansas Traveler
  • Black Krim
  • Brandywine
  • Cherry tomatoes (virtually all of them are indeterminate)
  • Druzba
  • German Johnson
  • Green Zebra
  • Mortgage Lifter
  • Stone

 

Of course these lists of determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes are by no means exhaustive. What are your favorite types of tomatoes to plant? I’ll be growing around 12 different types this year and I hope to be able to give you a play-by-play regarding their performance. 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 at Twitter. Happy gardening!