Saturday, July 4, 2015

Best Options for Watering the Backyard Garden


Every gardener must water his plants occasionally and there is a lot of information out there about the best options for watering the backyard garden. Each author seems to believe there is one correct way to do it, and of course each “right way” is different.

As in most garden related processes, there is not one correct way for everyone. This type of thinking alienates people and keeps them from gardening either because of cost or ability. My philosophy is, just do the best you can. Nature is forgiving.

Overhead Watering vs. Drip Irrigation

Most professionals suggest drip irrigation and there is a good reason for this. When plants are watered overhead, soil splashes up on the leaves potentially causing fungal diseases, such as blight, to spread. Drip irrigation systems also use less water, which saves money for those using municipal water. The problem with drip irrigation is the initial cost and the complication of design. A more frugal solution is to mulch the garden well and use a typical overhead sprinkler. There are so many benefits of mulch, and, since nature waters from overhead in the form of rain, the design can’t be that flawed.

Water Sources

Water sources fall in the categories of good, better and best.

  • Good: Municipal water from the house. There’s no setup fee, but your monthly bill will increase depending on how much water you use. Plants do not care for chlorinated water, since it’s sterile and lacks the beneficial minerals of rainwater, but in a pinch, it is enough to keep your garden alive. 
  • Better: Rainwater from rain barrels. Saving rainwater is obviously a great thing because it conserves resources and money. You can either purchase pre-made rain barrels or make some yourself from food-grade containers or trash cans. Some skills and tools are required to make your own but it is rather uncomplicated. Unless you invest in a water pump, you will have to also invest in a drip irrigation system to use with a rain barrel, or fill watering cans and water the garden by hand. 
  • Best: Rain straight from the sky. As long as it rains at least once a week, I don’t bother with watering. I wait as long as I can without putting the plants in stress.

Tips for Watering Your Garden

  • If you are an early bird, water in early in the morning. Morning watering allows the water to be absorbed by the soil with very little evaporation and moisture will not remain on leaves causing mildew. You can water at night, which offers the least amount of evaporation, but water remaining on the leaves overnight could lead to mildew issues on leaves. If you are watering at night and start noticing an increase in mildew, switch to morning watering.
  • Frequent, shallow watering causes plants to put down shallow roots. Water deeply less often for stronger plants.
  • Mulch well to prevent evaporation, erosion and the spread of fungal issues.
  • Water well anytime the soil is dry 1 inch below the soil surface. If you aren't sure about watering, consider getting one of these soil moisture sensors.
  • Containers require much more frequent watering than in-ground plants. In the heat of summer they will likely require watering once or twice a day.

The best options for watering the backyard garden really depend on the ability of the gardener, the type of garden and availability of funds. Do the best you can with the resources you have and do not worry about doing it "right."

Do you have a watering tip to share?


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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

July Garden Plan for Songbird Gardens

It's all about maintenance this month -- watering and weeding, mostly. I always have a hard time getting things to germinate in the heat of July but we've had such a rainy summer that that might not be the case this year. I do have a couple of empty beds where I'll pull out green beans and garlic this month. Those will get planted with zucchini and cucumbers. Late this month I will start thinking about fall crops. Already!

I document my harvests and the growth in my garden almost daily on Instagram and I'm broadcasting live on Periscope (search for songbirdtiff). Follow me on either of those apps or using the social media links below to see the garden grow!


Click to enlarge

How is your garden growing?

 
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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Properly Harvest Fruits and Veggies to Prevent Damage

Properly harvesting fruits and veggies without damage, for the most part, requires the use of two hands. You need one to hold the stem securely, the other to pull. Be methodical and do it right to keep healthy plants.

Thick Stemmed Plants

Thicker stemmed veggies should be harvested with a sharp set of pruners. Squash and okra have thicker stems, so snip the stem just above the fruit. Winter squash and gourds must have a little extra stem attached in order for them to store well, so leave at least 1 inch of stem when you harvest.

Thin Stemmed Plants

Vegetables like peppers and tomatoes with thin stems can easily be pulled off without a cutting tool. You can’t go in and just give it a good yank, unless you want to pull the plant out of the ground or break a branch. Hold the stem with one hand and gently remove the fruit with the other.





Root Vegetables

Heavy clay soil can make harvesting root veggies difficult, especially when it’s dry. Before harvesting turnips, onions or garlic, loosen the soil around the plant with a spading fork. If the roots don’t come up with a gentle pull, while leaving the stems fully attach, keep loosening the soil.

Leafy Greens

Use a sharp pair of garden scissors to harvest green, leafy things like kale and lettuce, although breaking them off at the base of each leaf works pretty well. Veggies that form heads like cabbage and head lettuces can be cut with a sharp knife at the base of the plant, above the lowest leaves.


Teach everyone in your house, and everyone who visits your garden, to properly harvest fruits and veggies to prevent damage. There's nothing worse than coming out to the garden to find a lot of man-made damage. Work slowly and carefully to keep plants healthy.


What is your favorite harvesting tool?


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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Distinguishing Between Good bugs and Bad Bugs

When you are new to gardening, it can be difficult to tell if an insect is a friend or foe. Distinguishing between good bugs and bad bugs often comes down to memorizing a few important differences between insect look-alikes.

Subtle Differences

While some insects are easy to identify, others can be more tricky. Here are a few insects that can easily be mistaken for each other:

Ladybugs and Cucumber Beetles




Top: Cucumber Beetle (source)
Bottom: Ladybug (source)

Ladybugs are perfectly round in shades of orange and red, some with dots, some without. Similar beetles, called cucumber beetles, are sometimes mistaken for friendly ladybugs because they are also spotted beetles. Cucumbers are spotted or striped, and have an elongated body. Because both insects can be similar in color, look at the shape of the body when trying to determine what kind of bug you have. While ladybugs are excellent at keeping aphids away, cucumber beetles actually do damage to plant leaves and fruit.




Butterflies and Cabbage Whites



Top: Cabbage White (source)
Bottom:  Karner Blue Butterfly (source)

There are many types of butterflies that you should be happy to see in the garden, but if you see something that looks like a small white butterfly with one (male) or two spots (female) circling any brassicas (kale, cabbages, broccoli, etc.), this is a cabbage white, a.k.a. cabbage moth or cabbage butterfly. These butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves of their host plant which includes varieties from the brassica family: cabbage, mustard, kale, cabbage, etc. Naturally, only the females lay eggs.

Some butterflies like the Karner Blue butterfly pictured above are endangered and should be protected. Be sure that the insect you are removing from the garden is truly a pest.
 

Bees and Wasps


Top: Wasp (source)
Bottom:  Bee (source)

They both sting when agitated, but bees tend to be pretty passive while wasps are much more aggressive. In all my years of gardening, I’ve never been stung by a bee. I work around them all the time, often harvesting fruits in the morning while they are the most active collecting nectar. Wasps, on the other hand, will chase and sting. Naturally, you want to respect the coexistence of bees in the garden and give them the space they need to do their work. When working near bees take slow, steady movements. If there is a wasp in your way, just come back later -- there is no reason to risk a sting from an aggressive insect. Keep the bees, we need them as valuable pollinators, but steer clear of wasps and their nests.

There are a few subtle differences between bees and wasps. Bees have a fuzzy body and legs for collecting pollen, while wasps tend to be shiny and smooth. Bees also have a thicker body, but wasps have a more narrow body. Both bees and wasps have four wings.


Distinguishing between good bugs and bad bugs in the garden can be a challenge, but the best thing you can do is spend time in the garden observing closely. Take the time to really look carefully at the critters you see. To learn more about the good guys and bad guys in the garden, follow my Garden Insects: Good vs. Bad Pinterest page.


What is your favorite insect?

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Songbird Gardens is on Periscope!

Social media is a wonderful way to connect and learn and, if you don't already know, Songbird Gardens is all over social media. While this blog is a wonderful way to share knowledge and experience for reference, social media is the best way to connect and share.

My newest foray into social media is the exciting new app Periscope (no, this is not an ad) which allows me to broadcast live what I'm doing in the garden. That means you, as a follower, can actually gain the insight and understanding that is only available via video while also chatting directly with me while I'm broadcasting. How fun is that?! I will be sharing my garden walks, instructional videos (i.e. how to plant tomatoes, harvesting instructions, etc.) and seasonal garden advice. I will talk about pests and other problems and, most importantly, how to identify them while I'm in my garden. Periscope really opens up a whole new world of sharing gardening knowledge.

Find me on the Periscope app by searching "Songbirdtiff" and follow me.

You can also find me on the follow social media sources:

Instagram
Twitter
Facebook
Pinterest
YouTube



Do you Periscope? Leave your username in the comments and I'll follow you!


 
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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Attracting Pollinators to the Backyard Garden



We would not have many fruits or veggies without a lot of help from insects so it is important to start attracting pollinators to the backyard garden. While some crops are self-pollinating, most need a pollinator -- the agent that moves pollen from a male flower to a female flower resulting in fertilization and ultimately, fruit.

Kinds of Pollinators

Birds, humans, even the wind are pollinators, but by far the most productive pollinators are insects. Bees are the primary source of insect pollination, but others include butterflies, wasps, moths, and flies. Squash, cucumbers, apples, peppers, peaches, and melons require these guys to produce fruit.

How to Attract Pollinators

The way to attract pollinators is to plant what they like. This means plenty of plants with nectar and pollen.

To attract bees plant...
  • Sunflower
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Goldenrod
  • Sage
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Comfrey 
  • Elderberry
  • Monarda (Bee Balm)
  • Borage
To attract other pollinators plant...
  • Passion Flower
  • Dill
  • Aster
  • Milkweed (This plant is also vital for attracting Monarchs)
  • Hollyhock
  • Spicebush

This is only a fraction of what can be planted and the Pollinator Partnership is a wonderful resource for selecting pollinator-friendly plants for your garden. After attracting pollinators to your garden, be sure to keep them around by providing a habitat.

The Effect of Pesticides on Pollinators

Pesticides are indiscriminate -- they kill every insect they come in contact with, good or bad. I strongly encourage you to never use pesticides in your garden, and instead opt for cultural and biological controls. If you feel you absolutely must, only use a pesticide derived directly from nature, like organic neem oil and never use it on or around blooms. Please exhaust every other possibility before resorting to pesticide use and learn alternative methods of pest control, including those I include on this website.



Attracting pollinators to the backyard garden is not only great for food production, but it also adds beauty! Select a few of these lovely blooms to add to your garden each year to increase your biodiversity and in turn, the overall health of your garden space.


What is your favorite bloom?


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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Organic Methods of Getting Rid of Japanese Beetles


There are two words, when used together, create a deep, guttural groan in vegetable and ornamental growers alike: Japanese Beetles. These guys swoop in all at once, eat our plants, then disappear, leaving gardeners angry and frustrated. Perhaps the worst thing about Japanese Beetles is that they seem impossible to get rid of but there are organic methods of getting rid of Japanese Beetles.

A few years ago Japanese Beetle bags were introduced on the market as a way to lure and trap beetles. Well, they certainly work to lure them! However, if you want to get rid of your beetles put one of these in your NEIGHBOR’S yard. The smell of the bags attract the beetles from all around, which will certainly snack on your plants on their way. I have an agreement with my neighbor, we won’t do that to each other.

Keep Japanese Beetles Off Your Crops

The key to preventing damage is to keep an eye out for the first signs of Japanese Beetles, often around early to mid-June. These pests are most active in the heat of the day so be sure to check your garden for them during that time as well as the lace-like leaf damage indicative of their eating pattern.

1. Smash! If you are lucky enough to find only one or two beetles at a time, just smash them or place them in a bucket of soapy water. This is nothing to worry about, as they cannot do great damage alone. If you see increased numbers, move on to step 2.

2. Fabric Row Covers- This product can be a lifesaver if you are faced with large numbers of beetles. Simply cover the plant for the few weeks the beetles are in town, then uncover for the remainder of the summer. Keep in mind that pollination will halt while the row cover is on since you won’t only be keeping out Japanese Beetles, but every other insect as well. Consider pollinating by hand if necessary.

3. Birds- Attracting and feeding birds in the garden will keep them around to eat pests, including includes Japanese Beetles. In fact, when I asked my grandpa, the most experienced gardener I know, “What can I do about Japanese Beetles?” his simple reply was, “Blackbirds.” Feed them and they will come.

When planning your organic methods of getting rid of Japanese Beetles, the best thing to do is be prepared. Have a plan in place and keep a close eye on your garden for damage, but don’t stress. They will be gone before you know it, just make sure they don’t take your plants with them! 

Do you get Japanese Beetles in your garden?



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