Techniques & Issues

4 Natural Ways to Keep Squirrels Out of Your Garden

keepinh squirrels out of the garden.

Often referred to as Tree Rats by aggravated gardeners, squirrels can do a lot of damage. They can jump 6 ft. straight up, and have been known to use sunflowers as a mode of transportation; snacks included. Fencing does little to stop these pests, unless it is an electric fence.

Squirrels enjoy taking just a few bites from a juicy tomato, and then moving on to the next one. It can be very frustrating to pick a beautiful, long anticipated fruit, only to find bite marks.

But there are a number of things you can do to help keep your veggies safe.

1. Use hot pepper.
Squirrels hate that stuff. You can use it as a spray or just buy a cheap powdered spice. It will need to be reapplied after a rain or after watering, that’s the down side.

If you have a bird feeder, lace it with hot pepper as well. The birds don’t care, but it will help keep the squirrels away.

2. Use a motion sensitive sprinkler.

This will startle the squirrels and then may just move to some other garden instead.

3. Let nature do it’s thing.

If you already have a dog, try letting it get in the area of the squirrels. Cats can be great at scaring off squirrels, just be sure they don’t damage your garden themselves. Letting your pets into the garden, unless they are trained, can also do harm.

You might consider attracting some owls to your neighborhood instead. They do a great job at rodent control in general. Supply them with a place to live, and you get the added advantage of catching glimpses of these beautiful birds.

4. Give them what they want, but on your terms.

Squirrels only take a few bites of a tomato because what they are really after is the water content. Of course they do more damage in the hottest part of the season, which is also when the tomatoes are ripening.

You can help by providing them with a water source. We use an old birdbath set on the ground. Little by little, move the water source away from your garden and you’ll be drawing their attention away as well.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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

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.

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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:

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How to Help Veggies Grow Vertically

luffa plants

Luffas’ tendrils grab onto anything.

There are some plants that grow vertically so naturally, that all you need to do is have a support nearby.
Cucumbers, pole beans and peas, and luffas are wonderful examples of edible plants whose system of tendrils helps them grow up just about anything.

And then there are plants, most notably tomatoes, that are not meant to grow vertically but usually are. Prettify much every gardeners supports their tomato plants in some way, be it a stake, a cage, the Florida weave, or an overhead system.
Supporting tomatoes helps keep those soft fruits from rotting and makes them a little bit less susceptible to bugs and disease.
The stems are hearty enough to handle the weight of the fruit.
Well, in most cases that is.

We did once see a picture of a tomato so large and heavy that it snapped the stem on the plant.
But that’s the exception not the rule.

There are other vining plants like tomatoes that can be grown vertically with just a little assistance.

sugar baby watermelon

Sugar baby melon happily hanging.

Melons are a vining crop as are many varieties of squash, particularly the winter squash but also some summer types.
In both cases there are two main ways the gardener can help their plants grow vertically.

The first is to be sure the structure to be used can support the combined weight of the ripe fruit.
In this regard it helps if the variety you plant produces a smaller fruit.
For example, a Moon and Stars watermelon might not be as good a choice as a Sugar Baby watermelon. As the name implies, Sugar baby produces one of the smallest melons and therefore is easy to grow vertically.

The other thing a gardener can do is to help support the fruit on the vine.
Like the very large tomato mentioned above, heavy fruit can easily cause stress and damage to the vine.
By using an airy fabric such as the mesh store bought onions or oranges come in, or a sheer nylon like pantyhose are made from, the gardener can help take some of the weight off the plant and put it onto the structure.

It is important that what is used will dry easily after a rain.

Tatume squash

Tatume squash being supported.

Simply wrap the fruit in a sling-like fashion, and tie it to the support. This not only takes the weight off the plant, it gives the fruit plenty of room to grow.

If you do not have anything to use on hand, you can buy netting type fabric inexpensively wherever fabric is sold. Remember you can keep using it year after year.

Growing whatever you can vertically is a great way to get more from the space you have, and also help protect your plants from some critters.

And that’s a gardening win-win.

Here’s a wee bit more.

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$100′s of Food in a Small Space – You Can Grow That!

The Jones' Garden System

Early light harvest of greens while zucchini heads up vertically.

Since you are reading this you are probably already a gardener, congrats!
Perhaps you have a lot of space that you would like to optimize, or maybe you just want to get more from a smaller area.

There are gardening techniques that have been around for thousands of years that can help you do just that.

The Jones' Garden System

25 corn plants with bush and pole beans

Intensive gardening is a technique that incolves planting veggies close together, even in the shade of one another, to get more from the space. Of course you will need to be diligent so as to not have disease issues, and to be sure all plants have the water and nutrients they need.

Succession planting allows you to replenish then refill up spaces as they open.
So you have pulled those early planted carrots, how much time do you have for another crop?

Growing vertically, from the typical peas and beans to the more unusual squash and melons adds even more bounty in the same space.

The Jones' Garden System

Keeping plants warm in early spring.

When you utilize season extenders like those pictured above, you can increase the quantity you harvest by as much as 50% here in the zone 5/6 area. The actual amount depends on your climate.

That’s a lot.
These pics are of the test model of a garden system we designed primarily for those in suburban areas, but with everyone in mind.
After 3 years of testing we found we can pretty much double our harvest by using the techniques mentioned above, as well as the built in critter protection.

The Jones' Garden System

10 tomato plants with basil below.

Now we don’t want to be a commercial on our blog. :-P
If you would like to learn more, click here.

In the meantime, know that however much space you have, there are fun and really easy ways to make the most of that.

More veggies? Yeah…

you can grow that

You Can Grow That! is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world who want to help everyone enjoy growing.
For more posts on other gardening topics, just click on the logo above.
Happy Gardening!

Categories: Gardening, Techniques & Issues, You Can Grow That!

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5 Surprising Long-Term Veggies

parsnip flowers

Parsnip Flowers

Depending on your particular climate, there are many non-perennials that you need only plant once to harvest year after year.
Here in Zone 5/6, this is what we are working on:

1. Parsnips
These are biennial vegetables, meaning they produce roots and leaves the first year and flowers the next.
We overwintered our parsnips and after harvesting this spring, left a few to flower. We expect, as other gardeners have assured us, that the flowers will then turn to seed and grow more parsnips to be harvested next spring.

2. Carrots
Cousins to parsnips, the same principle holds true. Carrots are more difficult to winter over, so we will heavily mulch just a few that will be left in the bed to see if we can pull it off. These methods are also a good way to collect seed, so if nothing else you can try that.

3. New Zealand Spinach
Not a true spinach, but one that is used the same way. This particular variety does not bolt as fast as spinach does, but when that happens it will also reseed.
We expect to see it coming up next spring as well.

4. Tomatillos and Chokecherries
Similar but not the same, these two relatives of tomatoes also will reseed and offer you many new plants for next season. We are going to cover this bed with plastic late in the winter, to help them get a faster start.

5. Peppers
“What??” you may be thinking.
At least, that was our reaction.

But many a gardener has told us that they bring in a potted sweet pepper plant before the frost, and store it in a cool room or basement.
They say it goes into a dormancy period, and will spring back to life when the weather warms back up.

So this we had to see for ourselves, and have a beautiful Lady Bell just for that purpose.

Of course the results of all these examples, that others swear by, will be shared here with you.

Why not give some a go?
You might be pleasantly surprised.

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