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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

They Make it Look so Easy…

Justin and Eyry have been busy tending their garden, mostly by watching it grow. 🙂  You remember them, don’t you?  The creative couple with the backyard garden and veggie washing station?  Yes, love that idea.  Well, they are doing quite well, as you can see.

Sugar peas, corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumber, pumpkin, garlic and of course, marigolds.  Now you may think those marigolds are there to make the garden look pretty–which they do–but they serve a dual purpose as insect repellent.  Yep.  Below the ground they ward off pesky nematodes by excreting a chemical toxic to the microscopic pests.  Above ground they’re said to repel squash bugs, tomato hornworms, whiteflies and some beetles.  I do love a multi-tasker! More

Lookee What We Found in the Compost!

You know it’s a good day in the compost pile when this little fella is making his home in your homemade dirt.  Can you see him?  He’s the curvy-looking stick. 🙂

It means nice, damp conditions.  It means nutrients.  It means this compost will be AWESOME for garden use–all of which we learned this week in our lessons (listed below).  But better yet, a compost pile is just plain fun. More

Getting Creative with Bugs

So I have this cricket problem.  They’re eating me out of plant and garden.  Voracious little critters, they seem to be able to destroy a pumpkin vine in a matter of days, a helpless little Brussels in a matter of hours.  I tried bird netting.  But the squares are a bit too big.

Crickets can jump clear through them.  Not always on the first try, mind you, but give them enough chances and out they go!  Rascals.

So I had to get creative.  For my netting, I’ve doubled up.  This way, the pattern won’t match up identically and some of the squares will be rendered to triangles and the crickets won’t be able to escape.  More importantly, they won’t be able to get in.  The hoops are 9 gauge wire cut into pieces that I bend to suit my needs. 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

Meet My New Garden Project

Meet my new “garden coaching” subjects.  Justin and Eyry have decided to start a garden (yipee!) and have graciously accepted my offer to help, so long as I can take pictures and post online.  No problem.  Now they’ll tell you they’re novice gardeners, but one look at their new plot and you’ll cross your arms and knit your brow and say, sure they are…

Okay.  Those are some gorgeously formed beds, I’ll give you that–but they’re not that hard to make.  Seriously.  Not when you have the right tools, they’re not.  And I’m not talking about a well-trained husband–as shown above–I’m talking gas-powered tiller!  More

Friends Planting Friends in the Garden

This week the kids learned the concept of companion planting.  Simply put, grouping plants together by how they can help each other is one of the secrets to organic gardening.  (So is worm poop, but we’ll get to that later.)  Squash bugs LOVE squash plants but they HATE radish.  So how about we plant radish next to our squash?

Our radish help our squash by preventing an attack of squash bugs!  How great a friend is that? More

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.

Going Back to School

Kids head back to school next week which means I as garden coordinator head back with them.  While we didn’t spend a lot of time in the garden over the summer (peanuts are fairly low-maintenance), we have BIG plans for the year ahead, beginning with our pumpkin patch.  As you may recall, last year our pumpkins hit a rough patch of fungus and did not produce the orange beauties we were expecting.  Why not?

Well, we could chalk it up to ambitious gardeners, seed crowding, Florida humidity, the normal stuff–but this year we’re doing things a bit differently.  We have moved locations, giving the pumpkins ample space to stretch out and spread their vines.  We also plan to put mulch beneath them to ward off grass growth.  Kinda hard to cut the lawn around the pumpkins and vines which caused some of the problems.  But no worries.  We will master the art of pumpkin growth this year!  We’ll also harvest our peanuts and generally prepare the garden for our fall crop. 

As to our lessons, we will coordinate garden and classroom for a seamless and common sense approach to education.  Translated:  what they’re learning in class will correspond to what they’re learning in the garden.  Easy enough when it comes to botany and chemistry.  It’s life science in middle school that will prove a bit more, “challenging” shall we say?  Oh yes, we’ll be talking reproduction in the garden, 101. 🙂

If anyone has any suggestions for curriculum or craft ideas, I’m all ears!  On the current agenda we have:   art in the garden to express their creative side, journaling to practice their power of observation and writing skills, science projects with our attempt at building a solar oven, measuring and graphing for a slice of math among the beds, the power of self-sustainability beginning from seed to harvest, then learning to save their seeds for next season, and of course cooking.  We eat what we grow which makes everything taste better.  For added fun, we’re incorporating Spanish into our garden, with bilingual plant signs to vocabulary lists.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  Oh–and don’t forget the field trip to the worm fun.  Talk about a good time, worms are it.

So follow along with us as we share our garden lessons and crafts and by all means–share some of yours.  We’ll consider it a coop garden of sorts, albeit virtual in nature.

Do You Know the Secret?

If you’re a follower of my blog, you do.  It’s time to start my tomato sprouts and the secret to beautiful, healthy, blossom-end rot free tomatoes is the combination of Epsom salts and eggshells.  Yep, just mix some crumbled eggshells together and Epsom salts into your potting mix and you’re good to go!

This disease is the result of a lack of calcium.  Calcium’s most important function during the crop fruiting stage is its role in cell wall/cell membrane stability.  If Ca is deficient in developing fruits, an irreversible condition known as blossom-end rot will develop. Blossom-end rot occurs when cell wall calcium “concrete” is deficient during early fruit development, and results in cell wall membrane collapse and the appearance of dark, sunken pits at the blossom end of fruit so this blend does wonders to give your plants a head start.  The magnesium helps plants grow bigger, heartier tomatoes but go easy.  Too much Mg can cause trouble, too.

I start my tomato sprouts now because it’s too hot to put them in the ground outside.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Florida heat, we call these the “Dogs Days of August” which has to refer to the fact this weather is unsuitable for man or beast.  Not that my pumpkin dog is a beast, mind you, but he wants nothing to do with the outdoors right now–unless he’s in a lake.  Or pool.  He’s not fussy and either works, but my tender tomato sprouts?

The tiny green shoots would fry the minute they poked through the surface.  So now is when I set out my seedling trays and start my seeds.  I mix up the Epsom salts and eggshells with my compost and this seems to do the trick.  Come September, I’ll transplant into the garden and once again, add my secret blend of ingredients to ward off blossom-end rot.