Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Month in Review- July

White cosmos at the garden gate
July has been a pretty easy gardening month. Certainly this July has been much easier than the last few hot, impossibly dry Julys. While my family has reveled in the beautiful, unseasonably cool days, my tomatoes have not. It's a trade I will gladly make, though. We have had lots of time to enjoy the outdoors together this summer.

What I have noticed about this year is that everything is growing awfully slowly. Compared to other local gardens, my garden is always a little behind. I believe this is due to a combination of issues:

  • My half acre is surrounded by large trees and overgrowth along the fence lines of all my neighbors. While I love the privacy, the morning shade and nutrient-depleting plants tends to slow the growth of my veggies. 
  • I still think there is an imbalance of nutrients in some of my beds. When I've done soil tests the last three years, I've taken small samples all around my garden for one soil test for all 4,000 square feet. This year I am going to start getting individual soil tests for each 10' x 4' bed so I can amend each one individually for the optimum nutrient density. This will mean getting something like 30 different tests, so I'll just do a few at a time over the course of the year. Details on how to get a soil test can be found here
  • It was a late, cool summer and some of my favorite veggies, like peppers and tomatoes, don't do as well without the heat. 
  • Birds stole a bunch of my seeds! I'm going to have to cover my plantings with burlap. 


Aside from my ever-present cabbage moth and worm infestation, pests haven't been much of an issue. I haven't seen any squash bugs and I've seen only a handful of cucumber beetles. Both of these pests were a huge problem two years ago, a minor problem last year and non-existent this year. Something is obviously working for me. Remember, I don't use any pesticides in the garden so nature is obviously taking care of itself. 

We still have asparagus beetles, but I'm leaving them for the birds. The asparagus seems to be doing OK in spite of them. 

The dry weather has given us a reprieve from slugs, so that's been nice. 

Squash vine borers have always been an issue and this year has been no exception. Again, the Benning's Green Tint and Tatume squash have survived the damage and continue to produce plenty of squash for us and for our Garden Boxes.


Veggies: Tomatoes have been slow to produce and have been affected by early blight due to early rains. I haven't had enough to do any canning, but I we've had enough for garden boxes and fresh eating. Peppers are producing very slowly, it's going to be a lean year for peppers, I think. 

Ornamentals: I have finally had some time to add ornamentals this year. Our white cosmos is one of my new favorites. 

To do differently next year:

  • Cover direct sown beds with burlap until the seeds sprout to prevent the birds from stealing my seeds. 
  • Get soil tests for individual beds. 
  • Grow at least one determinate variety of tomatoes to ensure a bumper crop for canning. 

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Indoor Winter Tomatoes

For years I have heard that  tomatoes can be grown indoors over the winter and for years I have tried and failed. Being a determined sort of person, I am trying again.

I've actually had decent luck getting tomatoes to grow indoors, but I have had problems with pests and what appeared to be fungal issues (like blight). My past attempts have involved propagating my indoor tomatoes from cuttings from my summer tomatoes outside. It probably took me too long to figure out the problem, but I finally discovered that I'm propagating plants that:

  1. Are used to growing outdoors.
  2. Already have minor pest issues (aphids, mites, etc.).
  3. Already have fungal issues. 
So this year I have decided to try indoor tomatoes again, but this time I am starting them from seed under grow lights. This way, the plants are used to growing indoors from the very beginning and will not be subjected to any of the issues listed above. I don't know that I will successfully be able to grow tomatoes indoors over the winter, but it's certainly worth another shot. With eliminating potential problems, I'll have a better idea of what works and what does not. Of course I will share the process and outcome here so you know whether or not it's worth trying it yourself. 

I will be growing my tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets in a south-facing window right next to my seed starting shelf, so they will have the added benefits of indirect light from grow lights. I am planning on fertilizing once per month with organic vegetable fertilizer. 

Do you have any indoor edibles?

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to Get Rid of Bermuda Grass

Establishing a backyard garden in this part of the world means dealing with Bermuda grass. As a novice gardener I once tried to use an organic herbicide meant for Burmuda and other invasive grasses. After a heavy dose of this spray the grass just looked at me and laughed. That's when I knew I was in for a real challenge.

In the years since I've been tried to find earth-friendly ways to get rid of Bermuda grass. I tilled, it came back with a vengeance. Pulling by hand worked but the runners that Bermuda uses to spread always came back into the garden within a month. The larger my garden got, the more time it took to fight. Clearly I had to find a permanent solution. I actually found two:

1. Cardboard and mulch: Cardboard has been a saving grace in the garden. In the three summer  seasons I've lived here, I have done two garden expansions with cardboard and mulch. I haven't used anything else, and I certainly haven't used any chemicals. I expanded 50 x 25' to 50 x 84' using cardboard and mulch. Details can be found in my two part series of using cardboard in the garden: Part 1 and Part 2. 

2. Digging by hand: It's as much fun as it sounds. Basically, I use a combination of double digging and trenching to dig up all Bermuda grass and its roots. The key here is digging and maintaining a trench around the garden where grass grows to keep runners from getting into the garden. I started experimenting with this method last year and have been surprised at how well it works. I've had virtually no problems with Bermuda grass getting into the adjacent garden. It can't leap over the trench and as long as the trench stays at least 4" deep, the shallow roots do not spread below that depth. Here is the trenching method I'm using:

  • With an edging tool, I go along the outside edge of my new garden space. The edging tool goes about 6" deep.
  • In the area that I'm converting to garden space, I loosen the soil with a small garden shovel, again about 6" deep. 
  • I pull up the clumps and remove all grass (including the roots!) and put grass and roots in a large container to dry out. Once it's dry it goes into compost, but I make sure it's good and dead. If it has seed heads, trash or burn it. 
  • A hand cultivator is the perfect tool for loosening soil to get to stubborn roots. My favorite is this one from Corona Tools. The forked end works to get roots while the flat edge is useful for getting a super sharp trench edge.
  • I pile all my soil in the bed while leaving about a 4" wide trench. We end up with a nice, loose, deep bed of soil. 
  • To maintain my trench, I go over it with the flat side of a hoe and move any soil from the trench back into the bed. It takes a few minutes and I only have to do it about twice a year. So much easier than fighting back Bermuda grass!
Bermuda grass grows in full sun areas, so everywhere that requires Bermuda removal is a great place for full sun crops including herbs, flowers, and veggies. It's an excellent trade: Bermuda grass for beneficial plants.

New edged bed.

Having a shallow trench keeps Bermuda grass at bay

Basic trench edge.

Front: A new expansion Back: Last years bed

A bed I made last year using the trenching method.

As you can see, trenching around the garden is a pretty simple way to keep Bermuda away from the garden. By using a combination of the cardboard/mulch method and the trenching method, you can kill Bermuda grass and keep it out. 

How do you keep invasive grasses out of your garden?

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July Garden Plan

The garden is really full this month. All the rain this spring and summer has made for a happy garden and I'm thankful for it! Compared to previous years, gardening has been a breeze. The only planting I'm doing this month is for succession crops: lettuce, green beans, cucumbers, and summer squash. If I can get it done in the next few days, I may try to find a few spots to squeeze in pumpkins.

How is your garden growing?

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Garden Boxes from Songbird Gardens

I am offering weekly boxes of produce grown organically right here in the heart of Springdale. Email me if you are interested in signing up to pick up a box of fresh produce picked the same day that you pick up. You can't get any more fresh or local than that! Each box is $25 for at least 5 quarts of produce, whatever is ripe the day you pick up. I guarantee 5 quarts, but it usually ends up being between 6 & 7. There will always be a variety, at least 4 or 5 different veggies, herbs or fruit so you don't have to worry about getting 5 quarts of hot peppers one week! To get an idea of what I'm growing, see my garden plan here.

Here are a few of the benefits of buying from Songbird Gardens:
  • I feed the soil, based on soil tests that I have done yearly, in order to make sure the nutrients we need in our produce are available in the soil. This provides you with nutrient-dense produce.
  • The produce you get is picked the same day you pick it up, so it's always fresh. From the moment it's harvested, produce starts loosing nutrients. Fresher is always better. 
  • All produce is grown organically. I NEVER use pesticides, not even organic ones, which kill beneficial insects like bees and ladybugs in addition to pests. We use alternative pest control methods like hand picking pests, floating row covers to keep pests from damaging crops and we make efforts to attract beneficial insects for biological pest control. 
  • On our little half acre, we take a lot of effort to create a healthy environment for beneficial insects, including making sure water is available and providing certain plants that beneficial insects like. We have a holistic approach to gardening, when nature is taken care of, she rewards us with good, healthy plants and produce. 
  • You can always see where your food is grown. I would be happy to give you a tour of the garden anytime you want to come by. This is a great way to show the kids how their food grows!

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Favorite Spring Varieties

The problem with being a garden blogger is that I either have time to write or garden, but not both. I've been working full time for the last few months and helping to organize a FREE community event happening next week. Clearly there has just been no time. I do apologize for not giving more regular updates, but this should be motivation for you to follow me on facebook, twitter or instagram. I share a lot of photos on social media. Microblogging is a growing trend, right?

We have definitely made the full transition to summer gardening. My sugar snap peas are drying up and I loved this variety so much that I'm going to let them dry completely to save seeds. I don't love eating them, but the boys do and this variety grew a TON in a small space. Really excellent for selling! The Mammoth Melting Snow Pea from High Mowing Seeds was an epic win. My vines got well over 7 feet tall, so you'll have to grow it on a trellis.

Another spring plant variety I have been happy with is Gentilina head lettuce from Baker Creek Seeds. I started this variety from seed and transplanted mid-April. Even though we have had a number of almost-90° days, this variety hasn't bolted. I still have a lot of beautiful heads of lettuce in the hot garden. The flavor is great. This variety is a keeper.

I have been able to grow a few heads of cabbage. Not impressive since I started with something like 40 plants, but a late hard freeze and cabbage worms wiped out my crops. The green cabbage I chose this year was a complete bust, but the red cabbage has done ok. I'll probably try growing this variety under plastic this winter, when cabbage worms aren't a problem. For this year, I used a little trick my grandpa told me. He said to put ladies knee-high stockings on the head when it starts to form. Cabbage worms can't get in and destroy the head if it's covered! It has worked and this is a trick I'll be using forever.

How is your garden growing?

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Monday, June 2, 2014

June Garden Plan

This month we are switching over from spring to summer crops. There are still a few blank spots I need to fill in but I haven't decided what to plant. Maybe some melons?

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