weeds

Vacation Woes & Garden Envy

Two aspects of gardening we don’t often discuss, but I know exist. At least they do for me.

Recently I helped out a fellow gardener by harvesting some of their crop while they were out of town. Didn’t have to ask me twice. Free bounty? Count me in! However, I was reminded of what it means to be a gardener on vacation.

Weeds. And lots of them. The longer you enjoy your time away, the worse your garden woes at home. Especially after a big rain. Yikes. My back hurts just looking at all the weeding that needs to be done! Every summer the same thing happens to my garden. I’ve resorted to covering most of my beds with heavy black paper to ease the burden, but invariably there are weeds. Usually in my peanuts–about the only crop I grow over the summertime, due to the heat.

But the good news? The bounty was some of the best I’ve seen in a while.

Look at the size of these eggplant plants! They were over three feet high. And take a gander at all that bounty! If you recall, my eggplants were a measly 18 in. tall. “Shrimps” by comparison.

But my envy didn’t stop there. The jalapenos were also amazing and abundant. And tall. Way taller than my plants. In fact, all of the plants were bigger than mine. I’m not sure if his plants are organic or not, however I do know one thing. I’m jealous!

However, looking on the bright side. I do get to enjoy the fruits of his labor–literally. The eggplant was delicious, as were the peppers!

Beds of Burlap

As my pumpkins grow, I want them to be comfortable. Cozy. I want them to stretch out without encumbrance. The easy solution is to keep adjacent rows clear and “open” with my handy-dandy black paper. This prevents the vines from running into other plants. Easy enough, but I’m afraid it might overheat my sweet baby pumpkins. As an alternative, I’ve planted my pumpkins in the end rows next to the grass borders, giving them plenty of room to spread. Grass is nice and comfy, right?

burlap over grass

But my grass is filled with weeds, weeds that grow tall and fast. From experience, I’ve learned the two (pumpkin vines and weeds) are incompatible because as your vines grow and the grass grows, your pumpkin leaves get overwhelmed by the mess growing up from below. You can’t mow under them. You can’t clip the weeds free. Last year at the school garden, the kids and I placed lattice beneath them which seemed to help, but I don’t have enough of the stuff for my home garden. Remember, we’re talking 100 ft. X 4o ft. That’s a lot of lattice! 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.

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.

Vacations and Gardens

They sometimes don’t mix.  Unless you plan accordingly, vacations can wreak havoc on a garden.  Shoot, even when you do plan accordingly they can shower your garden with weeds and bugs, slugs and grubs.  The mere thought of leaving my garden for a week at a time gives me the heebie-jeebies. But hey, I’ve got to live, don’t I? 

Yes.  More than live for my garden, I’ve got to traipse across the wilderness, scour new horizons in search of greener grass and bluer skies and drag my kids alongside me.  My heart soars at the sheer whisper of exotic destinations and far off places. 

Until they introduced those intrusive body scanners, anyway.  Ick.  Unfortunately, body scanners and groping TSA agents are not the only things capable of making one mutter, “ick.”  No.  Vacations away from your fabulous and fertile garden can make you turn away in horror, too.  Just look at what happened to Julie’s gorgeous greens. 

She wasn’t gone for long.  It all happened so fast… 

It’s enough to make a girl want to up and quit this whole garden experiment, toss the newfound joy aside like an uncomfortable pair of heels.  They’re scuffed.  It will take effort to refurbish them to their original shine.  Is it worth it?

Chin up, ladies–of course it’s worth it!  You’re a gardener now.  You must understand that Mother Nature likes to toy with a gal, test her fortitude and make sure she’s worth those glorious tomatoes she’s perfected over the centuries. After all, once she’s entrusted you with her precious commodities of fruits and vegetables, she’ll expect you to perform in turn. 

And perform you will.  As Julie has proved with these lovely near ripe tomatoes.

Just look at these budding beauties.  Kinda makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it?

P.S.  Remember:  Mother Nature does this all day long, all by herself.  You’re included in the growing process at her whim.  If she wants your garden to grow, it will.  If not, oh well.  One only has to consider my compost pile tomatoes to be sure this woman knows how to garden. (Yep.  This plant is growing completely unaided in my compost pile.)

Then look at my corn.  Granted this shot includes only a few stalks flattened by wind–but trust me–there were more.  My husband claims I need to plant more rows, shorter rows, insisting a denser planting formation will protect the interior stalks leaving only the outer corn susceptible to annihilation.  (Apparently men from Ohio know a little something about growing corn.)  Fine. I’ll take it under my cap and consider it.

 

Next season.  For now, I suggest you take this as a warning–in case you had any doubts about the ferocity of Mother Nature’s temper.  Not sure what I did to deserve this, but don’t think I didn’t fight back and right those stalks at once!

I can be impossible, too. 🙂

Weeding, anyone?

Kids are busy these days.  Not only after school with their various activities, but during school as well.  From bakes sales to book sales, science projects to theater productions, these kids are occupied and while this is all wonderfully intellectually and emotionally stimulating, sometimes it translates into limited time in the garden.  There are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish all we’d like to accomplish.  A familiar concept to most adults I know.

Yet the garden continues to grow — or should I say, the weeds continue their assault.  They don’t hold for busy students and they do need to be pulled.  If they’re not, the lettuce doesn’t stand a chance at reaching full maturity. 

Can you say garden coordinator?

Yep.  Know this going in:  garden volunteers will be required to do more than their fair share on occasion, sometimes due to scheduling conflicts, but sometimes due to necessity.  Little fingers are not as deft when plucking weeds around delicate young plants, not to mention they’re easily distracted by all the new growth exploding around them.  Which we encourage at every stage in the growth process!

But take heart.  Time spent in the garden is never wasted and with the right perspective, can be the most enjoyable time of the day.  Even weeding.

You heard me right.  Alone among verdant green plants, soft morning light and cool luscious temps…is glorious.  Digging through rich black dirt, the faint scent of musty fresh earth clinging to the air, you feel connected to nature, at one with the world.  For those of you whose nostrils are flaring at the mere description, your mind reeling off a thousand things you’d rather be doing, remember:  life is 90% attitude and %10 activity.  No matter what you’re doing, you can either enjoy it, or loathe it — you’re choice.  Like I remind my kids, slip on your “right attitude cap” and let’s get busy!

And better yet, when you’re finished, the sense of reward and accomplishment you’ll feel is worth the effort.  Aaaaah….just look at that sumptuous bed of savory salad waiting to be reaped and devoured.  Sure there’s still a few weeds, no one here is advocating perfection — only production.

My mouth waters just thinking about the fresh wholesome goodness soon to be reaped!  And the students do like their veggies.  Just look at these girls devour their pole beans during snack time — not only healthy, but these kids taste pride and joy in every bite because they had a hand in growing them. 

The sight of young people gorging on greens…  Does it get any better?   Next week:  watch for fresh green peppers to make their debut on the menu!

Progress Report

The kids are going strong.  Crops are coming in, as well as weeds — but we’re on top of them.  First, we loosen their grip in the soil and then we pull them free, forming small work piles ultimately headed for our compost pile. 

Granted it’s not the most exciting part of our garden, but it is a necessary one!  These weeds are battling for the same sun and water as our plants and we are rooting for our vegetables to win out!

Go veggies!

And there is plenty of weeding to go around.  While we mulched these corn stalks to prevent weed growth, they still have a plethora (abundance) of weeds growing around their base.  Most of these should be removed.  A few survivors won’t hurt, but  a “carpet” of weeds is definitely not helpful to our plants.

Maintenance is the key at this point.  For our tomatoes, we learned how to pinch the suckers from the vines.  These small growths at the elbow of main stalk and branches “suck” away energy from the main branches.  Very bad. 

We want our efforts directed toward tomato production, not branch production!

As the tomato plants grow larger, we must also stake them.  This basically means to tie the stalk of the plant to a sturdy stake (we used bamboo) so that when to tomatoes start coming in, they won’t topple over our plant. 

We could have used a cage, but using ties is easy and allows the plant plenty of space to breathe and spread its branches.  You can also utilize a trellis, encouraging the plants to climb.

As usual, we’re always on bug lookout.  It only takes one day for a hornworm to devour an entire plant.  Which would be wholly disappointing after all our hard work.

This little brownish varmint below had to be removed else he do damage.  I’m not sure exactly which type of worm he is, but we take no chances when it comes to saving our tomatoes!

If we’re lucky, we’ll spot a ladybug.  Maybe a frog, or two.  But so far, nada.  Could it mean we have nothing for them to eat?

Probably not.  We have holes in our poles bean leaves so something is chomping.

Another task is training the pole beans to grow up the fence.  We do this by gently tugging the leading vine toward the links of our fence and winding it through.  Aren’t they gorgeous?

Our sweet peas aren’t ready for training, yet.  As it is, they’ve only just peeked out from the ground.  But once they get going, we’ll do the same for them.

All in all, I’d say we’re off to a great start!

Mandie’s in a bind and on a roll!

Okay.   Things are good, sort of.  Still no dirt and the weeds are sprouting.  Maybe not sprouting, more like shooting for the stars.  I mean, look at these things!  They’re taking over!  Aaaaaaaagh!

Of course they are.   They’re weeds.   That’s what they do.  But have no fear.  Mandie assures me she’s on dirt patrol.  It will be delivered any day now…

Well, I’m not holding my breath on that one but I am looking toward the positive — the other box!   Good news — these babies are growing with awesome results. 

The lettuce is fanning open, begging to be plucked for a beautiful salad, the tomatoes are blossoming, the broccoli is blooming and the potatoes are growing larger, safe and sound, tucked away in their underground incubator after being properly hilled. 

Carrots are sparse.   More fertilizer, more water and they’ll be fine.  Just give them some time.

Conch peas?  They’ve been touch and go and Mandie is concerned for their welfare, certain they won’t make it. 

Me, I think they’ll pull through, so long as she keeps an eye on the aphids.  Ladybugs, anyone?  They’re one cure, but so are insecticidal soap and finger smudging.  Either way, keep up the maintenance, Mandie!  Once they gain a little more stature and strength they’ll be fine.

More good news?  No Chihuahua tracks in the dirt.  Very good.  They can be lethal to the delicate greens struggling through the sprout stage, not to mention pure terror for those meant for human consumption!  Who wants to eat salad stepped on my the pup who’s been who knows where…???

Not me and if Mandie knows what’s good for her — not her, either.   But she assures me it won’t be a problem.  The boy is on a leash when outdoors.  Hmmm.  I have kids and I have a dog.  I know how habits slip and slide until the next thing you know, the dog is sitting smack square in the middle of the kitchen floor which is off-limits to him!  (But he’s so cute, Mom.  How can you be mad?)

Hmph.  As one who has lost this battle, time will tell if she proves any tougher.   Good luck with that girlfriend!  Where no dog seems to have made tracks, one of the boys apparently has.  Left this Easter bunny plant creation next to the lettuce (in case he gets hungry, I presume). 

They’re so smart and creative at this age, aren’t they?  And green.  Chalk up one more for Mama’s column!