BEWARE Squash Predators

It’s squash season in most gardens and if you ask me, this is one beautiful plant. Planted next to one of their favorite companions–corn–they are quite happy.

school squash and corn

But one must be vigilant, because there are critters out there aiming to devour squash plants and can do so in a matter of days. And the results can be devastating.

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For those of you who have never seen a squash bug and wouldn’t know how to spot one if he were crawling along your planter, take a good long gander…

squash bugs

Ugly. Plain and simple.  These bugs are not pretty and they’re ruthless in their attack.  (Apparently summer squash is one of their favorites.)  They also lay eggs.  Check the undersides of your leaves for these telltale signs you might have a problem.

squash bug eggs

Yes, I realize I’ve scared some of you clear out of the garden with these photos, but organic gardening requires vigilance and stiff spines. Sure it would be easier to spray these marauders, but then you’d be forced to consume toxic chemicals–and you don’t want to consume poison.  I mean, isn’t eating healthy part of the gardening process? It is. But gardening is also fun, so ask one of your kids to handle the duty of bug dispatch (squash em, Danno).  Or, another method is to wrap aluminum foil around your stems. Squash bugs will not crawl over the foil. Not sure why, but it’s worth a try.

wrap your squash stems

They enjoy it far more than you do!  Just be sure they’re wearing gloves.  You can also try planting marigold nearby, as squash bugs tend to keep their distance from these golden glories.

lima and marigoldHere they’re shown inter-planted with lima beans, another good friend in the garden. Pretty, too. Whichever way you choose, beware the squash bug. It is NO friend of gardeners.

Hydroponics, Aquaponics, What’s the Difference?

It’s called aquaponics, not to be confused with hydroponics.  Have you ever seen the very cool water white towers dripping with lush green plants? You know, the ones grown without dirt, without fuss?  Well this is one step above hydroponics because not only does it utilize the “fast feed” system of cultivating plants in water, it does so by adding fish poop into the mix.  Huh?

system of pipes

Stay with me.  It was an odd concept for me to grasp, too.  I’m used to digging in dirt, remember?  Aquaponics is actually a combination of aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water).  It’s the method of growing crops and fish together in a re-circulating system (think: ebb and flow) where the byproducts from the fish are filtered by the plants as vital nutrients, after which the “cleansed” water is returned to the fish.

Basically you set up a simple fish tank (shown above covered with blue blanket due to temps and the fact these fish aren’t fond of bright light), hook it up to plastic plan beds filled with special water retaining gravel and turn the power “on.”  I do love EASY!

According to GrowingPower.org:  “By using gravity as a transport, water is drained from the fish tank into a gravel bed.  Here, beneficial bacteria break down the toxic ammonia in fish waste to Nitrite and then to Nitrogen, a key nutrient for plant development.”  The key here being gravity and/or “raised beds” which equals “no bending!” More

These Dollars I DON’T Need

These are dollar weeds. Also known as hydrocotyle, or pennywort, they’re an incessant nuisance. They grow ferociously in moist, well-watered areas. Like my garden.

dollars everywhere

Basically, they’re lily-pad like leaves attached to vines that grow deep in the soil sprouting leaves every six inches. I spray them with garden safe weed-killer but it only succeeds in killing off the leaves I hit. The vines beneath the surface simply detour, or sprout new leaves. The only way to rid your garden of them is to pull them. UGH. No fun.

tractoring dollar

Or call tractor-man. He’s always helpful when it comes to churning up roots and dirt. More

Saving Garlic

Garden garlic take a long time to grow. You plant in fall, water, feed and weed and reap your bounty in summer. It’s a long haul. Not a particularly tough haul as garlic are pretty easy to grow, but it does require patience. And caution. At least in Florida where the spring/summer temps can reach into the 90’s without blinking.

One year I harvested my garlic only to discover I was harvesting “roasted garlic.” Yep. The sun was so hot, it practically cooked my garden underground! I don’t have any photos to share because I was too distraught to take any.

Blame it on lack of mulch, maybe, but toward the end of the garlic growing season you’re supposed to back off the water allowing the tops to die back allowing the bulbs to finalize development. And it wasn’t like I didn’t have any mulch, I did. Perhaps not enough. For the heat of Florida, that is.

This year? I’m shading the gals with screen.

covered garlic

I back off the water and the screen “backs off” the sun allowing them to finish out the season without baking underground. Perfect!

I’ll keep you posted on my results, but I have a good feeling about this one.

“Three Sisters” in Garden Squabble

Three Sisters refers to the companion planting method early Native Americans utilized when planting corn, squash and beans. Theory holds that the corn provides support for the bean vines to climb, beans fix nitrogen in the soil to feed the corn and squash leaves shade the ground to prevent weeds from spoiling the fun. Great idea, right? I even planted a head of lettuce in the mix!

Three Sisters living together

Ingenious. Plants working in harmony as nature intended. Unfortunately, in my garden the results have not turned out to be so harmonious for all the girls. Beans are climbing…

beans climbing corn

However, they tend to strangle their host sister when her petite corn stalk can no longer support them. Talk about selfish and greedy! More

All Berries But No Leaves?

My blueberry bushes have been producing a bonanza of berries this spring, but I noticed that some plants are missing leaves. The blueberries are on the stems, but no leaves. Weird.

blueberry babes without leaves

Then I saw a question asked in the Southern Living magazine about the same problem and the Grumpy Gardener replied. The response? He said that young blueberry bushes tend to overbear, setting so many berries that the fruit is inferior.

Huh, I thought. Sounds about right. Youngsters can be over-eager at times, that’s for sure. So he advised using pruners to shorten the flowering stems in spring allowing for fewer flowers and bigger, tastier berries in the future.

big beautiful mature blueberries

Now I’ll be admit, I’m conflicted over this piece of advice, because some of those berries from these young bushes tasted perfectly fine to me. And as a HUGE fan of blueberries, I can’t fathom the idea of wanting less berries. Bigger, I like. Fewer, not so much. Hmph. What’s a poor gardener to do?

big bowl of blueberries

Plant more blueberry bushes! That has to increase my odds on getting the best berries from the best bushes, right? Plus, one day they’ll ALL be mature and I’ll be collecting bowl after bowl after bowl of berries. Ah… Life doesn’t get any better!

Low in Iron?

If you’re a vegetarian, the answer might be yes, putting you at risk for anemia, a condition where the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. Symptoms include feeling tired and weak, rapid heartbeat, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, pale skin, leg cramps. Generally speaking, women are more at risk for anemia than men, but take heart. If you’re lacking a proper amount of iron in your diet, the “absorption factor” might be to blame.

Did you know that eating plant sources for iron are more difficult for the body to absorb than meat? They’re considered nonheme iron and not well-absorbed during the digestion process. One way to increase absorption is by consuming excellent sources of iron — like spinach — with foods rich in vitamin C — like strawberries. Eat these two together and you help your body to increase its absorption of iron up to sixfold. Peppers, cooked tomatoes, papaya, kiwi and citrus fruits are also high in vitamin C.

spinach and strawberries

However, while vitamin C helps the body absorb nonheme iron, eating beans, grains and rice will inhibit the absorption. Which makes me sad, because I normally love the addition of chickpeas to my salad (also high in iron), but not if chickpeas work against my nutrition goals. These sources contain a substance called phytic acid which binds to the iron and prevents absorption. Caffeine and calcium-rich foods can also inhibit the absorption of iron. And to think they want us to eat our fortified cereal (great source of nonheme iron) with milk. Hmph.

Chickpea Salad

Another thing to consider when organizing your meal plan is that heme iron increases the absorption of nonheme iron. Add chicken, beef or salmon to that spinach salad and you’re golden.

roasted corn

Other great sources of iron include oysters, clams, chicken liver, beets (and their greens), soybeans, potatoes, black-eyed peas, artichokes and pumpkin seeds. The list continues, but start here and you’ll be on your way to a healthy level of hemoglobin. And don’t forget to power-boost your absorption with the above tips!

Blueberries in Bloom

I love blueberries, plain, on yogurt, in a pie or straight from the bush…

blueberry breakfast

Blueberries are magnificent in every way. And best of all, they’re easy to grow. Seriously. Sun, pine (acid), water, done. That’s it. That’s pine mulch around the base of the plant.

blueberry pine mulch

And they’re forgiving, too. I moved these blueberries (shown below) away from my house and out to the garden this winter.

strings over blueberry plants

I decided that my romantic notion of blueberry bushes sequestered in a shady mountainside in the North Carolina where an off-trail hiker discovers their wonder and devours the glorious fruit hidden from view was just that–a romantic notion. Blueberries like sun and lots of it. Similar to my Knockout roses, they can survive in part sun, but thrive in full sun. Don’t they look happy?

new blueberry rows

They are–so happy. Just look at the bunches of blueberries they’re yielding!

bunch blueberries

I love it! All I did was dig the hole, add water and pine bark mulch (acid), and they’re good to go. Oh, and twine. I’m not the only one who loves blueberries. Birds love blueberries and are usually out and about at the crack of dawn dive-bombing the plump ripe berries before I ever get a chance to stop them. Sheesh! So I run twine over the bushes and it’s problem solved. I used to use netting until I learned it keeps the bees out, too. No good. Blueberry blossoms need bees.

blueberry blosooms to berries

Bees work to make those white blossoms incredibly become fruit.

blueberries 2016

Quick fun facts about blueberries:

July is National Blueberry month.

Blueberry muffins are the most popular muffin in America.

Blueberry muffins are the state muffin of Minnesota. (Who knew muffins had state status?)

Maine produces more blueberries than any place in the world. (I’ve actually visited some blueberry orchards in Maine and was quite frankly, surprised to find them there!)

Blueberries are relatives to the rhododendron and azalea bushes.

5th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop

Woohoo! It’s time for the 5th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop which means spring has sprung and you reap the rewards–with giveaways galore!

AIB Logo

Yes, this is one of my favorite times of year. Leave are a spectacular green, Crepe Myrtles sprout anew, grass grows lush and full and of course, my organic garden goes into full gear. Tomatoes and peppers are in, sweet onions are coming out, blueberries are blooming and I’m grinning. It’s utterly joyous!

You’re with me, aren’t you? You’ve donned your gloves, pulled out your hat and digging through the dirt–the glorious, compost-amended rich soil that your plants adore. Oh, yeah. You know what I mean. There’s nothing better than running your gloved fingers through the stuff as you drop those seeds or pull those onions. And garlic. My garlic will soon follow my sweet onions and I can’t wait. This year’s harvest looks divine. Wouldn’t you agree?

garlic 2016

I’m so happy with the little darlings, I’m going to share a tip with you on how to grow garlic without fail in one word. Phosphorous. Using an organic fertilizer high in phosphorous and low in nitrogen (bone meal) you will give the plant the power to develop a healthy root system without wasting energy growing a beautiful green leafy top. Remember, the glory of growth is going on underground.

Second, plant in early fall. Not late fall, not early spring, but early fall. This gives your garlic the time it needs to grow and mature into that earthy delicacy you so adore. Don’t worry about winter snowfall. Again, garlic does all the hard work below the surface. You can cover their sprouted tops if you like, just make sure to remove the cover when the snow clears. They do love a good dose of sunshine!

When planting garlic, do so in well-drained soil. Garlic belongs to the root family and soggy roots do NOT bode well for healthy bulbs of garlic. You’ll get soggy bulbs, mini-bulbs, icky bulbs. YUCK. For full details, check the How-To section on my website.

AIB garden giveaway

Now for my giveaway… A beautiful bronze Boehm limited edition “Peace” rose, Grow Giggles, Harvest Love dish towels and natural soaps. Soaps are gentle and perfect for cleansing those hands after a trip to the garden.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Squashing Compost Myths

“Compost piles stink. I would never have one. because I couldn’t tolerate the stench, I don’t have the time, and I DON’T want the rodents.”

black gold compost

Forget the black gold that a compost pile will deliver. Forget the organic treasure trove of nutrients this soil amendment will provide for your plants. Forget the health of the planet. Composting is crazy.

compost cross-section

Ever heard this sentiment before? I have. Often. And it’s because many people have a misconception about composting. It doesn’t have to be stinky and messy, attract bugs and wildlife. Quite the opposite. It’s an easy, simple, very worthwhile endeavor. Not only do the plants in my vegetable garden love it, my pile grows a few of its own veggies for me! Look at this gorgeous pumpkin plant. I didn’t do a thing to grow it, except dump the Halloween pumpkins onto the pile. Amazing.

compost pumpkins

Remember the incredible sweet potato I harvested from the pile a few months back? Stupendous. More