The Verdict Is In…

I’ve been struggling with growing corn. Between the bugs and the food and water, my corn has not been happy with me. But no more. While it might not be the biggest cob of corn, it certainly is the most beautiful.

No worms, no black spots–not even missing kernels. Nope, this cob of corn is perfect! Sure, it’s somewhat on the small size, but I’m 100% organic and you’ll find no super-growth nutrient mixes in my soil which I’m convinced must be part of the issue with regard to size. That, and natural soil composition. I don’t know what California is made of, but they’ve got seriously good dirt. All the produce I’ve ever seen from California is HUGE. Ginormous. And delicious!

But I live in Florida and must make do with what I have. And right now, I’m feeling pretty good.

How did I do it? Liquid seaweed and fish emulsion fertilizer, plus a healthy blow of Dipel Dust. The worms are the worst offenders, followed by the grasshoppers/leaf hoppers. How about you? Any success stories to share?

Vigilance Required

This week, garden duty was all about vigilance.  What’s eating our tomatoes?  What smashed our pumpkin?  What burrowed beneath our squash?

All good questions, and thankfully, we have Upper Elementary on the lookout.  Many of our tomatoes are beginning to turn red and we want nothing to jeopardize their progress.  Ruh-roh.  Too late.  Moms–close your eyes.  The ick factor will scare you… More

Lessons in Bugs and Frogs, Gourds and FUN!

This week the kids continued bug duty, as their pumpkins are being devoured by the day.  It’s a sad sight when the kids clamor to inspect their pumpkins only to find the leaves eaten half off their plant.

Sad.  Very sad.  So they continued with their dispatch duty and in the process, found this little guy. More

Picky Eater?

Okay, call me crazy (most folks do), but I have a finicky eater chomping away at the greens in my garden.  This little pest is devouring my Brussels sprouts.  Not my broccoli, mind you, taking up residence in the very same row.  Only my Brussels.  Chomped this one clear to the stem.


Inspectors in the Garden

Well, you knew it would happen.  Yes, our plants have come under attack.  By what, you ask?

Not sure.  But these kids are on the hunt.  Folded within the leaves of the beans are bugs, the kind with numerous legs and countless more eggs.  As you can see, once fully grown, these little fellas can do some damage!


Companion Planting and Your Garden

As my fall garden season approaches, my mind is filled with visions of splendor.  With a freshly tilled garden, I can see my plants grow lush and full, their bounty promising a fruitful harvest.  What do I want to grow this year?  More important question is what do I want to eat?

Pumpkins.  Or should I say, homemade pumpkin pie.  The kids and I are set on pumpkins this year, both at home and school, so those babies are first on the list.  Second?  Beans, of course.  Who doesn’t love beans?  And onions–but not in adjoining beds.  No.  These two do not care for each other and will not yield the fabulous crop of my imagination.  Why not?

They’re not good companions in the garden and companion planting is KEY when it comes to organic gardening.  What is it and why do we do it?  In a nutshell–or bean pod–it’s organizing your beds according to plants that help one another and steering clear of those combinations that don’t.  For more details, my friends have Companion Planting have explained it pretty well:

Companion planting is based around the idea that certain plants can benefit others when planted next to, or close to one another.  It exists to benefit certain plants by giving them pest control, naturally without the need to use chemicals, and in some cases they can give a higher crop yield.

Generally, companion planting is thought of as a small-scale gardening practice, but it can be applied on larger-scale operations. It has been proven that by having a beneficial crop in a nearby field that attracts certain insects away from a neighboring field that has the main crop can prove very beneficial. This action is called trap cropping.

While companion planting has a long history, the benefits of companion planting have not always been understood. Traditional recommendations, for companion planting have been used by gardeners for a long time, but recent tests are proving scientifically, that they work.

Other ways that companion planting can be beneficial is to plant a crop like any Legumes, on an area where it will feed nitrogen into the soil, then it will not be necessary to use any chemical fertilizers for the next crop.  (Corn and beans are excellent companions.)

The African marigold, along with other plants, are well-known for companion planting, as they exude chemicals from their roots or aerial parts that suppress or repel pests and protect neighboring plants.  (My roses love marigold!)

Companion planting also exists in a physical way. For example, tall-growing, sun-loving plants may share space with lower-growing, shade-tolerant species, resulting in higher total yields from the land. This is called spatial interaction, and can also yield pest control benefits, for example, the presence of the prickly vines is said to discourage raccoons from ravaging sweet corn.

Another type of companion planting is called Nurse cropping, where tall or dense-canopied plants may protect more vulnerable plants through shading or by providing a wind break. For example, oats have long been used to help establish alfalfa and other forages by supplanting the more competitive weeds that would otherwise grow in their place. In many instances, nurse cropping is simply another form of physical-spatial interaction.

Beneficial habitats-sometimes called refugia—are another type of companion planting that has received a lot of attention in recent years. The benefit is derived when companion plants provide a good environment for beneficial insects, and other arthropods, especially those predatory and parasitic species that help to keep pest populations in check. (Ladybugs are super-beneficial insects, too!)

So as you contemplate your next crop, take companion planting into account and organize accordingly.  It really will make a difference, particularly when it comes to alleviating trouble spots.  From bugs to weeds, companion planting is the way to go.  And anything that takes the “work” out of gardening is a friend to me. 🙂  For an idea of who likes who in the garden, check out their complete list of companion plants.

Solarizing My Garden

After a rather distressing spring, I’ve been solarizing my garden, row by row, bed by bed.  The last straw was my beautiful sunflowers.  Strong and sturdy, yet they were no match for the underground beasts.  So as I harvested each row, I laid down heavy black paper, secured with anchor pins–not the best choice for Florida summer storms, but we’ll discuss that later.  The important point here is to rid my soil of varmints.

And I do mean varmints.  Lost my squash, my zucchini (to both above ground pests and below), then my peppers and sunflowers.  Even my garlic weren’t stellar, though I can’t imagine how they suffered underground.  🙁  Sad any way you look at it.

But I shan’t despair!  (Been listening to Gone with The Wind–yes, still–so my verbage may shift between past and present.)  I shall rid my garden of every last beast if it’s the last thing I do.  I’ve got a fall garden to think about and I WON’T put it off until tomorrow.  I need to think about it today! 🙂

So I have a plan.  I’m covering every last row with heavy black paper and using the power of the Florida sun to cook the beasts out of hiding.  If they want to survive, anyway, they’ll have to “abandon garden.”  Solarize is the technical term for what I’m doing.  Basically this means to cover your beds with plastic paper–I’m going with hot black–and leave it in place for six weeks.  The heat gathering beneath the paper will cook the soil and whatever is underground will cease and desist.  Simple, eh?

I do love simple.  What I don’t love is doing things over and over which is what I had to do because my anchor pins were not sturdy enough to keep my paper in place.  Every afternoon round about 4:00pm, the clouds would gather, the temps would dip, the winds would blow and there went my paper–across the yard, twirled and tangled…

You name it.  Everywhere but where it was supposed to be.  So I decided to go heavy-duty and dumped bricks and old tiles, rolls of 9 gauge wire and even piles of sand onto my paper to keep it in place.  It’s not pretty but it is effective.  And I’d rather have effective than pretty.

Additionally, my darling husband has offered to re-till my rows for me next month by adding a handy contraption to his tractor that will do the trick.  Wunderbar!  Imagine what would take me days to complete with a broken back to show for my trouble, he’ll be able to manage in a matter of hours, if that.  Gotta love technology!

Then, I’ll re-line my walking rows with this heavy-duty paper (the other eventually tears, rips and disintegrates) and we’ll be in business once again.  And I’m itchin’ to get back out there.  Not until it cools off, mind you, but itchin’ just the same.

Lost My Strawberries…

To what, I’m not sure.  Could be fungus, nematodes, who knows.  The end result is the same.  They’re dead, or dying, a slow and painful death.  Who it’s more painful for, I’m not sure.

Our strawberries were a hit in the garden.  Kids loved showing them to their friends, plucking berries from the vine, popping them into their mouths.  Who can resist a plump, ripe strawberry on a spring day?

No one in this family, I assure you.  So now what?  Well, since I don’t know what killed them, I had to remove the entire bed.  But before I did, my daughter clipped runners from some of the healthier looking plants in a last ditch effort to salvage what we could.  These particular plants are the Quinault variety, an everbearing variety that I hope will survive to produce for another season.  Or two.  I am an optimist, first and foremost.

Of course, this could be the problem, too.  (Not the optimism part!)  It may be a simple matter of life cycle.  Perhaps, beneath the scorch of summer sun, my sweet berries sucked in their last breath of carbon dioxide, releasing it with a sigh of oxygen.  Plants are so giving that way.

After we removed the plants, I decided it would a good idea to solarize the bed, killing any bugs or fungus that may be present.

This process uses a clear plastic covering to heat the soil.  Try to attach it to the ground, retaining as much heat within the covering as possible.  For best results, leave the plastic covering on for about 6 weeks.  This is an organic (except for the plastic) way to kill harmful organisms that kill your plants.

Placing the plants and runners into soil, we hope to get them in the ground come fall, perfect timing for them to get reestablished and producing come spring.

We love our strawberries.  They’re such a great crop for Florida and kids.  So with our fingers crossed and our toes counted, we look forward to a successful rooting and healthy propagation of these baby berries of ours.

As well as strawberry smoothies, strawberry shortcake, strawberry topped sundaes, fresh from the garden goodness…  The list goes on!

Share the adventure with a friend


Mandie’s garden is doing SO well — why, look at those tomato plants grow!   They are awesome and healthy, except maybe for a few bugs here and there.  But wildlife is to be expected.  But when caught earyly, completely manageable.  Exercising due diligence, she went in to investigate immediately upon spotting the leaf damage. 

Ugh.  Tiny caterpillars are the varmints of late.   Awfully industrious little beasts, aren’t they?  But that Mandie’s on top of them, refusing the critters the run of her garden.  Removing damaged leaves, she quickly sprayed the plant with insecticidal soap. 

Conch peas are flourishing, despite the battle with aphids.  But it’s an easy problem to solve.  Mandie needs ladybugs.  Ladybugs LOVE aphids and if I had known she needed some, I could have pulled a few from my garden and handed them over!  Always willing to share

Speaking of sharing, I did bring her some sweet potato slips.  Now that the weather is warm, they’re thriving on my patio and simply aching to be planted.  Yes, sweet potatoes ache, I’m sure of it.  They yearn to be in the soil where they can spread like underground melons, enriching the world with their golden bounty of sweet, healthy goodness.  

Now that her lettuce and broccoli are gone, I thought she could use a littler “filler” plants.  Sort of a pick-me-up to tide her over the hot summer season.  And because they’re so easy to grow, we placed one just outside her planter box, anxious to see how they spread.  Besides, it will make for a lovely ground cover — so long as the boys don’t venture in that direction!  But of course they won’t.  Their playground is clear on the other side of the yard, along with Lucky’s run.  Kinda sounds like the name of a snow ski run, doesn’t it? 

Don’t mind me.  Just a dip into cooler territory (much needed this time of year).  Either way, it should be a safe environment for the sweet potato plant to stretch out and develop some tubers.  Of course, a bit of tilling in the area wouldn’t hurt matters.  Soft dirt is always good encouragement for growth!

A good thing.  These boys are having so much fun with their new garden, I know they’ll want to swim for sweets come fall.  Whether it’s more thrilling than carrots, one can’t be sure, but I’ll go with the notion that digging for treasure is digging for treasure, no matter what kind of gold you discover.

And if this carrot looks to be on the “thin” side, it’s because we may not have “thinned” the plants well enough prior to the growth spurt  —  a must if you want plump, rich carrots.

A fine example of why you should follow instructions and do as the Master tells you.  (Still love the whole “master” thing.  Considering persuading my kids to start using the term!)

Good luck with that.  

Though to their credit, they have been preparing my morning coffee for me!   Ah,  but it’s the little things in life…



“Hey,” came the insistent voice over the phone line.   “We’ve got bugs.”

Recognizing her voice and the panic within I replied, “What kind of bugs?” 

This is, after all, is my job.   Mandie has a problem in the garden, it’s my job to respond.   Remember:  Master is a term to which I want to become accustomed.   (Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?  Besides, no one else is calling me master.  Might as well be the master of the garden, right?)

“It’s a black bug with six white legs.”

“Number one, you’re too close to the thing.   Step away from the bug.”   I mean, really.   Who can see eight tiny legs well enough to know they’re white, if you’re not nose deep in the beast?   When I looked, they didn’t look that bad to me.

What is it?” she persisted.   “It’s destroying my conch peas.”  

“It’s a bug.   Doesn’t matter what kind.”   Logic; from one who doesn’t deal in species specific pest invasion.   “Use your insecticidal soap.”

She muttered intelligibly.

“You got the insecticidal soap I told you about, right?”

“Gary,” she turned from the mouthpiece.   “Did you buy the insecticidal soap?”

A blither of replies goes back and forth before it becomes apparent he did not.   “Okay,” she said back to me.   “We’ll get the soap.   But what do I do in the meantime?   The bugs are devouring my peas!”

“Use the soap,” I replied calmly.   “If the bugs persist, you may want to spray them again and then cover your peas with cheese cloth.   Do you know what that is?”

“Cheese cloth?   Sure.   I have some.”

“Okay, watch for bugs.   If it looks like you have a major infestation, spray again and cover your peas – over your trellis cage – with cheese cloth.”   Common screen material will do.   Anything with very small openings to prevent the bugs from flying through, yet still allowing sunlight to permeate.

Next crisis.   “And I wanted to mention, your tomatoes look weak.   Have you been fertilizing them?”

“Sure, but it’s the cold.”

“True, the cold will stress them.   Did you get the fish emulsion?”

A flurry of doubt flitted through her tone as she replied, “Yeah, we fertilized them.   You think they need more?”

“Yes.   And water.”   Now that our steady rain had ceased, I wanted to be sure she was doing the job.   “Have you been watering?”

“Oh, yes.   Gary’s been watering.”   She called out over her shoulder again, “Right, babe?   You’ve been watering the plants?”

Apparently playing with the boys in the background, all of them boisterous and romping about, he replied, “Watering?   Yes.   I watered the plants.”

“Deeply?” I interjected.   They’d rather be watered deeply every other day than a light splatter with the hose each and every day.

Mandie repeated my concern, to which Gary seemed hesitant.   Frustration welled.   “Babe, you have to water them deeply, every other day.” 

Boy, she sounded like an expert.   Atta girl!

“And we have ants,” she informed me.   “What do we do about the ants?”

Panic again.   “No problem.   Go to your local hardware and look for the garden safe ant killer.   It’s a white powder you sprinkle around the trouble spots.”

“Is that the diatomaceous earth?”

Kudos, again.   “Well, yes, that is a garden safe material, I don’t know if it’s the same material as I didn’t check the label ingredients.   I have used diatomaceous earth before, but I don’t think my results was that great.”

“Okay.”   Relieved, she sounded ready to tackle any obstacle coming her way.

Good, I thought privately.   Because there will be more to come.   But in the meantime, let’s celebrate our progress.   I mean, c’mon.  Look at these gorgeous potatoes!