Quality Time in the Garden

You’ve made your beds, planted your seeds, nurtured your seedlings through the perils of sprouthood and now you spend your time watering and feeding.  (My Arctic Amigos might be a bit behind on this schedule but think of what you have to look forward!!) You meticulously weed, prune and pinch and stand watch—for bugs and spots, all things that go bump in the night—all the normal stuff a gardener does throughout the growing season.

Ashley's beautiful garden

And what a fine gardener you’ve become!  You’re diligent, vigilant and looking forward to harvest.  But as you linger among the layers of leaves and sprays of bloom, your mind wanders, your longing builds, your connection to nature grows deeper.  Where you didn’t expect it, you’ve grown quite attached to your garden, lovingly caring for it as you would a child.  Why, if you could, you’d spend hours out here—days—toiling about the promise of produce.

Strolling down a row of squash, you notice a bright red ladybug busily traveling the expanse of the broad green leaves.  Bending near to watch her work, you get that tingly thrill of discovery.  Sure in the grand scheme of things, it’s a common bug doing a common job, but to you she’s incredible—beautiful!—and you revel in the miracle of nature (and she’s eating those bugs before they can do any more damage!)

ladybug in action!

Now if only there was a bench nearby.  You glance from one end of your garden to the other.  Boy, would that be handy right about now.  You could sit, relax and enjoy the wonders unfolding before you.  A pretty bench, one with an intricately carved iron frame supporting slatted teak strips. Better yet, one that rocks to and fro, gently keeping pace with the breeze.  More

Organic Pest Control 101

This week the kids learned about organic pesticides.  Besides the obvious “plucking and chucking” method, they learned there are other ways to control the pests attacking their plants. First and foremost are the “beneficials.”  This a fancy term for good bugs that eat bad bugs.  Which bugs are good?

How about the ever popular ladybug?  She LOVES to eat aphids, but so do green lacewings. These two also enjoy whiteflies and mites, tomato fruitworms and pinworms, as do trichogramma wasps.  But praying mantids also like to eat these critters.  Have a problem with mosquitoes? Look no further than your friendly dragonfly–they gobble these stinging beasts by the hundreds! Frogs will delight in a menu of mosquitoes, too, but these fellas also like slugs and snails–very bad bugs in the garden.  Besides their cool names, assassin and pirate bugs are all-around general pest-fighters so invite them to stay for sure.

But good bugs are not your only weapon against bad bugs.  You can also plant herbs and flowers to repel the pests you don’t want, not to mention beautify your garden!  Some bugs are “repelled” by certain scents so you’ll want to be sure to include these in your garden.  One of the all around best is French marigold. 

Not only does it repel nematodes (microscopic bugs in the soil), it also discourages whiteflies, flea beetles and aphids.  Geraniums repel red spider mites and horseradish repels potato bugs.  Snails and slugs hate wormwood. 

Speaking of “good scents,” you can also use aromatic plants to prevent pests.  Ants don’t like peppermint and spearmint.  Cabbage moths will steer clear from rosemary.  (Hey, this reminds me of companion planting!) And the one plant that repels them all, including some kids?  Garlic.

If you don’t want to grow garlic, consider using it to make a spray for your vegetable plants.  Ground a few cloves and cayenne pepper together, steep them in hot water (like you do tea bags) and allow the mixture to sit 24-48 hours.  Then watch out bugs, this yucky smelling spray is coming to a plant near you! Or how about steeping some wormwood instead of garlic? Caterpillars will run! You can also create a spray by mixing your compost or old coffee with water.  Let it sit for a few days and **presto** anti-bug spray.   Caution:  wear gloves and don’t touch your eyes before washing your hands. 

Yuck for you and yuck for bugs.  And all your sprays will work a little better if you add a bit of dish soap to the mix—or combine it with water and use it on its own!  Soapy water stops pests in their tracks.

I’ve also heard that bugs don’t care for the aroma of onions, so this week the kids planted a bunch.  Scallions, sweet onions…and right next to our bed of lettuce.  Hmmm…  Salad anyone?

And if the bugs like our onions as much as we do well then we’ll just break out one of our other methods!  Be sure to check out the Kid Buzz section for a complete list of our garden lessons!

Broccoli has gone to flower


Oh, boy.   Mandie missed the boat on the broccoli.   It bolted to flower. — a definite problem with the heat of Florida.   Broccoli prefers cooler weather — cooler soil, actually — and does not do well in extended warm temperatures.   When it starts to flower, you don’t want to eat it.  It’s basically bitter and tough.  Eck.

The same thing happened to my spinach.  It was moving along quite well until we had a week of warm weather in early April and then — BAM — shoots sprung straight up from the center.  The leaves changed shape and I had to remove the plants from the garden and place them in the compost pile.  At least they’re contributing to future growth if not my dinner plate.

But I guess that’s what they mean when they say “there’s a season for everything.”  You eat strawberries in the spring and spinach in the winter — in Florida.  Some crops like potatoes and onions, etc. can be grown spring and fall, but others like broccoli and spinach simply can’t hack the heat.  Not that I blame them.  Summer is vacation time in my book — vacation time away from the heat! 

But there is good news.  (No, she didn’t get her dirt, yet.)  The carrots are filling in nicely and the tomatoes are growing bushier by the day.  They need trimming and pinching, respectively, but both are doing quite well.

Remember:  when your carrots get to this stage, you want to “trim” them to thin them out.  Basically, the goal is to cut down on overcrowding, allowing each sprout the room to fill out mature into a nice sized carrot. 

If you don’t thin them, your carrots won’t have room to grow and you’ll end up with a bunch of tiny carrots.  Cute, maybe, but not great for eating.

Meanwhile, you should be pinching those tomatoes.  Any shoots that form between the main stems should be “pinched” off so that nutrients can be directed toward the larger stems. 

An overgrown tomato plant may look full and lush, but I’ve found the tomatoes tend to be weaker and more susceptible to disease than when they have strong branches and good air flow.

The healthier your plants, the less likely they are to fall prey to nature’s pests!   It’s one of the hallmarks of organic gardening.   Keep them healthy and strong and you’ll have less need for pesticides.   

In my garden, I noticed a sweet little ladybug had come to feed.  Perfect.   She’s welcome anytime.   Along with her friend the dragonfly.   Both are “natural pesticides” in the garden.   So are spiders, but I find myself stepping on those bad boys.   A habit I’m working to break!

So keep up the good work, Mandie!   Things are looking good!