Winterizing the Garden

It’s spring in Australia, and just cool enough now that our southern neighbors are starting their fall gardens.

Areas north have already received snow.

Here in Northeastern Pa. it’s time to put most of the garden to bed for the winter.

winterizing the garden

cardboard keeps the weeds away

There are a number of ways you can do this, this is what’s happening here.

Towards the end of the summer, we place cardboard over harvested beds to keep out any weed seeds until the frost kills them off.
If we plan on tilling a bed, which is rare, we leave the cardboard on through the winter to also keep out the spring weeds, and till in the soil amendments when the weather gets warm again.

winterizing the garden

summer's mulch and fall leaves add organic matter naturally

Between the falling autumn leaves and the straw that was used as mulch, some beds have a head start on winter. For the ones that won’t be tilled, we begin with nature.

winterizing the garden

so that's where my knife went

We add more rough compost to the beds. It will break down further over time, and can just be worked into the soil if needed before planting.

winterizing the garden

spread rough compost on top of your soil

To top this off we add a nice layer of leaves. These will also break down over time.
Just remember that some of your furry friends may decide to make a home underneath.

winterizing the garden

leaves act as mulch

You wouldn’t want to find a little bunny’s nest there…

winterizing the garden

...or something worse.


Categories: faq's, gardening, techniques


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3 Common Corn Problems

corn smut

1. Corn Smut

This is a fungus issue more likely to be found in heirloom and open-pollinated varieties. It destroys the ear, and can have negative effects on the entire plant.
It can also survive to cause issues again the following season.

What we didn’t know, until it was too late this year, it is an edible fungus, and considered to be quite the delicacy in some cuisines.

Now we’re hoping we get lucky and have some smut again next year!

2. Small ears

There are a number of possibilities that could have happened here. Lack of nitrogen in the soil, under-watering or over-crowding. In our case it was the latter, a failed experiment to see just how much corn we could fit into a 4×4 space.

Okay, yeah; well not quite that many.

unsuccessful corn pollination

3. Not full ears and/or misshapen ears

This is a pollination issue, and an easy one to avoid in the future. Be sure to plant your corn in blocks rather than rows. Once you see tassels, give each stalk a little shake when you walk by. Unless it is windy, of course.

This helps spread the pollen and you are more likely to get those nice full ears you hope for.

Here’s a short video showing how we grow corn.

Categories: gardening, plant problems



5 Ways to Handle Upcoming Light Frost

green tomatoes

Ready to ripen indoors.

Well, the weather forecasters are saying the F-word again.
Last year frost didn’t hit until the end of October, but we can’t always be that lucky.

Here are a few ways to handle your veggies with the cold temps coming:

1. Harvest them.

All of the heat loving crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, summer squashes and eggplant cannot handle the cold. Let them ripen indoors, use them up or preserve what you can for the winter.

2. Bring them indoors.

Potted plants can come inside and you get a wee bit more life from them. We have heard of people overwintering pepper plants and having them live for years.

We’re going to give it a try with one pepper plant and a transplanted eggplant.

We also have 3 tomato plants in the greenhouse, just to keep that fresh taste going longer. May as well, right?

jones gardening system

Inserting the plastic panels for frost protection.

3. Cover them.

You can use something as simple as a sheet, or more elaborate like our garden system. This picture is of the sweet potato bed in the original test system. The longer we can keep them alive, the better the harvest will be.

4. Let them be.

Many veggies can handle the cold. All of the cold weather crops will survive a light frost. These include peas, most greens, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, scorzonera and parsley.

If you’re not sure weather they will survive or not, one frost will answer that question. Just don’t allow the lettuce to fool you. It may look like it is dead in the morning, and then perk back up when the sun comes out.

5. Water them in.

This is something we have never tried, but it makes sense and is often recommended. Water your garden at ground level thoroughly before a frost is predicted. Presumably the wet soil will hold the warm temperatures longer, and release heat at the base of the plant, offering them some protection.

We have also heard, but have not tried, watering the garden again before the sun hits the plants, in effect washing the frost droplets off and helping the plants survive.

We have had sufficient success with the first four methods, so have not had to try the fifth.

Well, got to go harvest the grapes and make some juice.
Happy gardening!

Categories: extending the season, harvesting, techniques


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1 Problem with the Three Sisters of the Field

Three Sisters of the Field

It’s a jungle in there.

The Three Sisters of the Field is a traditional method for growing corn, squash and beans that was introduced to the pilgrims by the indigenous people of this country. It is gaining in popularity as more home growers learn about it.

Intercropping veggies in this way helps save space, cuts down on weeds, and the plants benefit each other.
It also looks wonderful.

There is just one wee problem.

Many gardeners don’t realize that this method is meant for dry beans, field corn, and winter squash.

If they plant sweet corn and pole beans, they will most likely run into this issue:

Three Sisters of the Field

Playing hard to get.

The beans can wrap themselves around the corn cobs so tightly that harvesting them can be difficult.

There are two ways to avoid this issue:

1. Plant the traditional method by using field corn and dry beans. This way, the corn and beans, along with the squash, are all harvested about the same time.

2. Change it up with sweet corn but use bush or half runner beans. You won’t have any interference harvesting your corn.

Keep in mind that half runner beans can take up a lot of space; if you use them consider planting a bush type squash such as acorn or most summer squash.

One lesson we learned the hard way, that you don’t have to.

Categories: gardening, techniques


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5 Points to Help With Container Gardening

There are some wonderful gardeners out there who grow solely in containers; they are to be admired.

Even if you have a nice sized garden, container gardening can allow you to grow more invasive plants, as well as some items you might otherwise not be able to.

Here are a few things we’ve learned that are good to know if containers are going to be a part or all of your garden:

1. Use the right soil.

Containers need something light, so that it will not get packed down, and so the roots have freedom to roam.
Garden centers carry an assortment of potting soils to choose from. My Dad always mixed his own- a blend of vermiculite, sphagnum moss, and perlite, that he would add compost and/or fertilizer to.
There is a mix called BM1 that is good for an abundant number of containers or large raised beds, you should also add the compost and fertilizer as needed.

what were sunchokes


2. Containers need more frequent watering.

Mulching can help this, but by their very nature containers do not hold on to water as well as the ground does.
Check your containers often. The best advice we heard was to water your containers until the water comes out the bottom. When you’re done with all your containers, go back and do it again. This gives the soil a chance to absorb more moisture.

When you are incorporating containers into a larger garden setting, grouping them helps with watering. Don’t learn the hard way that a container out of sight is also out of mind. Sorry Sunchokes.

3. Choose wisely.This has two components:

a. If you’re growing exclusively in containers- choose plants and plant varieties that do well in containers. Adjectives that describe a smaller stature, like ‘Fairy’ and ‘Baby’ are often good clues that the plant will be better suited to a container. A good seed catalog or website, like Johnny’s Seeds will clearly indicate which plants do better in tight spots.

b. If you’re mixing it up- you may want to plant some of the more invasive plants in the containers.
If that’s the case remember they still have drainage holes, and their roots can grow through them. Really.
You can plant the more invasive plants, like horseradish, in large barrels that sit on top of flat stones.

Some plants can also flower and re-seed themselves, mint and marjoram are quite prolific here. For years I thought Dill was a perennial. These we plant in large pots.

prickly pears

containing the growth

4. Keep them light-

Unless you are planting a perennial and placing it in a permanent location, you’re going to need to deal with the weight of the pot and its contents at some point.
Using a product like ‘Ups a Daisy‘ or simply placing a small upside down plastic pot inside you container before adding the soil will help keep it light.
Bonus- this also makes for better drainage. Which brings up the point-

5. Give them good drainage-

Of course you’ll use pots that have drain holes in them, but if those holes get blocked, drainage could be compromised. This can happen from within, if the soil fills the holes in. This can also happen on the outside, if you place the pot in such a way that the holes get blocked,on soil or mulch for example.
Many gardeners use pebbles, glass stones, even pieces of broken pots to line the bottom of their containers and hep with drainage. Depending on what the pot is made of, you can also drill a few holes along the outside near the bottom.

olive trees

ready to come indoors as needed

Categories: container gardening



5 Mid Summer Garden Tasks

A mid summer garden.

No areas here are actually empty, they are just waiting to sprout.

Depending on your location, your garden is likely well under way and possibly even winding down.

Everyone tends to get busy this time of year, with vacations, picnics and even back to school preparations.

Still, your garden needs a little attention beyond weeding, watering and harvesting.

Here are a few things you should consider at this time of year:

1. Succession planting.

Some edibles, like parsnips, do better if allowed to grow throughout the winter and harvested in the spring. Many of the greens can take the cold and be harvested well after everything else has finished.
Check for your area, and replant any parts of the garden that are done producing.

2. Feed your plants.

Your veggies need your help. They are working hard to produce, and a good dose of compost tea would help keep them strong enough to provide you an abundant harvest.

We recommend a liquid feeding of Moo Poo Tea, shown here:

Haven brand Moo Poo Tea

Haven brand Moo Poo Tea

Here’s how to use it and why it works so well.

We will be using this later today to give the garden the shot in the arm it needs right now, from new seedlings to heavily producing veggie plants.

3. Prepare for Autumn.

-Be sure to have seeds for growing cover crops or mulch to help prevent weeds on hand.
-Check on tools, like pruning sheers, to be sure they are in good condition.
-Consider harvesting herbs now. You don’t have to wait until the threat of frost to get a jump start on bringing things in.
-Prepare a bed, or be ready to, for a fall planting of garlic.
-Have an area ready indoors for any potted plants you intend to bring in before the cold weather.

4. Get ready for next season.

This is especially important for anyone who starts seeds indoors and/or pushes the season with extenders such as cold frames.
Be sure you have the supplies you need on hand, as they may not be readily available when you need them.
Get your seed starting mix and supplies while the stores still have them in stock.

5. Consider indoor veggie growing for the winter.

We recently started seeds for a tomato that does well indoors, and have some herb seeds started as well. Updates on them will be forthcoming.

Growing tomatoes indoors.

Year round tomatoes?

Note: We were not paid to recommend these products nor given them for free. We are simply sharing what we like.

Categories: Addiction, gardening


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The Weather Changes Everything

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes in slow motion.

Here and in many other places in the northern U. S. the weather has been unseasonably cold.
People have mentioned the now dreaded term Polar Vortex, though technically that isn’t what is happening.

Still, we have yet to see temperatures hit 90F, and for some of the veggies growing, this is confusing.

The hardest hit are the real heat lovers like sweet potatoes, and the cold weather crops like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.

The sweet potatoes thrive in the heat, and with the cooler temperatures they are growing, but slowly.
Fortunately they are in a bed that can be turned into a high tunnel and the season extended.


Cauliflower, waiting.

The coles are just sitting there. Normally by this time of year they would have either been harvested, or if it was a very hot summer, bolted.
But neither has taken place; they are healthy plants, but confused at the same time.

It isn’t hot enough to make them bolt, and it isn’t cool enough to make them produce heads.


Cabbage, on hold.

It is going to be really interesting to see what happens in the fall, we’ll get back to you on that.

Categories: Addiction, gardening, plant problems



6 Warm Weather Plants to Grow in Colder Areas

Baby Clementines

Baby Clementines

You are not as limited by your growing region as you might think.
Over the last few years we have discovered there are more plants that can be grown in a cooler region, like here in the northeast zone 5/6, than we thought possible.

1. Meyer Lemons

We purchased a grafted tree that can be grown in a pot. Lemon trees can take cold temperatures to just below freezing, and we have heard of many gardeners in the north keeping theirs in a greenhouse through the winter.
Our intention is to bring it indoors instead, as the flowers have a wonderful scent and the plant is attractive.

There are already a number of tiny lemons just this first season, and hopefully they were pollinated well enough that they will develop into lemons.
Admittedly, we used our tuning fork to help hedge that bet.

2. Clementines

Growing similarly and close by is another grafted tree that will produce Mandolin Jones’ favorite fruit. This is also in its first season and already loaded with tiny fruit.
Like the lemon tree, this will be coming indoors for the winter.

3. Avocado

Now in its second year, the avocado tree will be flowering later in the season.
Last year it did produce 8 fruit, all of which were accidentally knocked off in 3 separate accidents.
We have learned to be much more careful with our special trees now, particularly when moving them back indoors.

4. Ginger

This is the second round for growing ginger from a store bought root.
You can read all about it here. The main thing we have since learned is that we prefer homegrown so much, that we are going to need at least one more pot of it to get through the year.

You’ve got to love the added benefit of never having to buy ginger again.

5. Turmeric

A relative of ginger, turmeric is grown pretty much the same way. Our roots that were covered in soil sprouted better than ones placed just on top, like the ginger root was.

It is supposed to produce a few months sooner and we are looking forward to prepping it in the same way we did the ginger.

6. Wasabi

This is the newest plant to join the array of unusual things to grow, and the one we are having the most difficult time with. Wasabi prefers to be in the shade and it requires lots of water.
That combination can easily lead to a mold issue, so we have found that it also needs air circulating about it.

Which in turn leads to a need for more water.

So yes, admittedly keeping this plant alive has been a test of our gardening dedication. Especially because at a DTM of 2 years, it will also be the plant growing the longest before it can be harvested.

Homegrown Turmeric

Homegrown Turmeric

Categories: gardening, How to Grow, The Experiments


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How to Plan a Fall Garden

Fall peas

Peas Round #2

In the southern states a fall garden means starting tomatoes and such indoors, as the fall is the best growing time for them.

To our neighbors far north, planning for the fall would involve at least low tunnels and cold frames.

This post is for everyone in between.

Succession planting, or following one plant with another, is a great way to make the most of the space you have.

At this time of year, your peas have probably started to die off. You cold weather crops are either in or beginning to bolt. And anything over-wintered is likely going to seed.

This means some space will be available for crops that can take cooler temperatures.

Here in the zone 5/6 Jones’ garden we have already sown our second crop of peas. Early maturing garlic was followed by plantings of winter squash.

fall squash

Squash catching up.

In between the rows of onions, which are starting to show signs they are ready to harvest, we have direct sown seeds of cabbage for a fall crock of sauerkraut.

As the potatoes are harvested, turnips and rutabaga seeds will go in. Where the spinach bolted, more carrot seeds were planted.

These are all veggies that can take the cold; and that is the main piece of information you need to know about following one crop with another.

The other things are what ‘days to maturity‘ actually means, and when your first frost in the fall is expected.

That way you can better time what you are planting to mature in the fall or even into winter.

When we first started gardening we used to think we could only grow food from the end of May until the frost in the fall.

Now we know we can garden pretty much all year ’round.
Experience really is the best teacher.

Categories: extending the season, gardening



Make Like a Bee & Help Pollinate Your Tomatoes

growing tomatoes

David L. Green is a gentleman we e-met on Facebook, who has a great deal of knowledge about the pollination process. In many cases, we consider him to be a go-to expert.

On a few occasions, when a fellow gardener asked about lack of pollination on their tomato, eggplant and/or pepper plants, he advised them to use a tuning fork to help move the pollen about the flower and increase the plant’s chances of producing fruit.

What a fascinating concept.

Music is much more complex than you might think.
It has a mathematical component and also a physical side, and is part of the fiber of nature itself.

The most common tuning fork will vibrate at the same frequency as the note middle C, which is about 250 hz.
What is interesting is that this approximates the frequency of the beating of a bee’s wings.

You see, bees can help move pollen in 2 ways. First by getting it on themselves and then getting it on a female flower. This is the way a bee can help squashes for example, and the way most people think of bees helping.

The other way is the vibration caused by the beating of their wings.
In this way bees can help plants whose flowers have both male and female components, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.
The vibration can help shift that pollen enough to get it on to the female reproductive part, helping it to develop fruit.

Of course this is not the only way to move pollen on these plants, the wind can help also as can other insects.

For those gardeners who live in an area where there is not a lot of breeze or bees, the tuning fork is a simple and successful solution.
Just whack it on something hard, and touch the fork to the flower’s stem.

Be the bee, so to speak.

Thanks David!

Here’s an inexpensive one that we purchased:

Categories: gardening, plant problems, techniques



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