techniques

5 Reasons to Be Cruel to Your Veggies

The expression ‘Kill them with kindness’ isn’t meant to be taken literally, but when it comes to your veggie plants, it just may be.

Sometimes it is better to do what may seem harmful, for the sake of the plant.

Here’s what and why:

One less strawberry bud here.

One less strawberry bud here.

1. Pinch off their faces.

Before you transplant edibles such as strawberries, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, it is better for the plant to pinch off any buds that already exist.

Hard to make yourself do? I hear ya.

It is worth it though because it helps the plants put their energy into establishing better root systems that will in the long run provide you with a healthier and more productive plant.

Similar but a little different is the technique of pinching back plants like basil. By removing the top budding leaves, it encourages the plant to produce more branches and a fuller, bushier plant grows. It also helps hold off bolting, giving you a fresh supply over a longer period.

This technique is much easier on you emotionally. ;-)

2. Drown them.

Over-watering plants really is killing them with kindness, and possibly has caused more plant fatalities than any other habit.
So why do we say ‘drown them’?

Because it is better for a plant to give them less frequent, but more intense, waterings. Not all plants of course, there are some like wasabi that like to be kept moist all the time.

But for most veggies it is better to let them get a wee bit dry than for them to have moisture all the time.

Give them a good soaking.
If they are in containers, give them another good soaking.
Then walk away, leave them alone, until they need you.

Long awaited for parsnips fresh pulled in April.

Long awaited for parsnips fresh pulled in April.

3. Freeze their butts off.

Some plants not only prefer the colder weather, they require it. If peas aren’t planted early enough, as soon as the ground thaws and can be worked, they will not have enough time to produce a good crop. Other crops don’t like the heat as well, greens in particular.

Letting some of your veggies, like parsnips, get hit with a little frost actually is said to improve their flavor.

Whether that is the case with over-wintering parsnips or not I can not prove, but I do know that pulling them out of the garden when nothing else is producing in early spring, is priceless.

4. Decide who lives and who dies.

Thinning plants stinks, but you are sacrificing one seedling to save another. If the plants don’t have enough room to grow, or are fighting over the same nutrients, they will both suffer.

Making seed tapes or buying them is one easy option. This is especially helpful for tiny seeds like carrots.

5. Pack ‘em in.

Just the opposite, if you look into square foot gardening or intensive gardening, you will find that you can plant seeds or transplants closer than is usually recommended.

With both these methods it is important to be sure the plants have sufficient nutrients and room to grow, but they will allow you to get more veggies in a smaller space.

Raising veggies sometimes requires you to make tough decisions, but we bet you’re ready for the challenge.

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Categories: common misconceptions, gardening, techniques

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Don’t Put All Your Bees in One Flower Basket

Guest Post by George Brooks Jr.

Butterfly Weed

Butterfly Weed

Contrary to popular hype, we need to broaden our view of pollinators. We are putting almost all our efforts into the Imported European Honeybee demise and not enough emphasis on our native bees. There are upwards of 100 native species of bees. Anyone who has ever been on my Micro Farm comments on how many bees I have, and I do not have any hives.

There is much talk about all the things that are killing bees and how we need to eliminate them. Can’t remember seeing much on how most people in our suburbs are helping to cause the decline of pollinators as much or more than any other factor (my opinion). We have conditioned ourselves to expect our yards to look like a manicured Golf Course. Unfortunately this landscape isn’t capable of supporting much of any life form, it is sterile. Millions upon millions of acres have been turned into these neatly manicured dead zones. The loss of rural areas around population centers has helped accelerate this transition to a monoculture that doesn’t support plant diversity needed to support a healthy pollinator population.

It also causes the decline of many other life forms like birds etc. Our land is full of life, birds, snakes and thousands of pollinators including honeybees. This is with an orchard and large garden on the property. I’m about 75% organic and increasing their use whenever I can. I still use some non organic pesticides and fungicides following Integrated Pest Management & Disease Risk Management practices. These practices help me maintain a healthy environment for life.

But without wild spots in your yard there would be no place for life to exist. If everyone set aside at least one small back corner of their property and let it grow native plants, it would make a difference. I wish everyone could see how alive our land is, there is always something in bloom to support life. Think about it.

Also, will banning the most toxic pesticide group help honeybees? Probably. An even bigger issue is the lack of information and knowledge of the average person. The truth is most anything will kill a bee, synthetic, organic or otherwise can be toxic. The real problem is people do not read the labels other than how much to use. Most every product that is toxic to bees has specific instructions on how to use the product without harming them. Will it prevent all issues? Maybe not but far better than what we are doing now. Education is paramount.

For many years we have practiced the following to promote beneficial wildlife & insects. This is done by providing areas that have a combination of cultivated and native plants. Traditional sterile landscaping provides a monoculture that insect pests thrive in because of the lack of food and cover for wildlife and beneficial insect populations. This creates a higher need for chemical controls.

The practice of Wild Spots is now being promoted on garden shows and in horticulture literature. You can learn more about this practice by doing a web search on “Insectary Gardening for beneficial insects”.

Black Eyed Susan

Black Eyed Susan

A few examples of Insectary gardening on our property:

1. Hay Rake Wild Spot:
A combination of cultivated and wild plants.
Cultivated Bi-color Black Eyed Susan’s, Butterfly Weed, Milkweed, Multi Head Black Eyed Susan, Morning Glory, Arrowhead Aster, Porcelain Berry Vine. All promote pollinators and predatory insects like wasps. The Berry Vine also provides migrating birds with one of the last fruits of the season.

2. Garden Hillside Wild Spot
Primarily Jewelweed and Multi-Flora Rose, which provides a nesting area for Catbirds. This also makes a great feeding area for House Wrens, Hummingbirds and beneficial insects including pollinators.

Spearmint

Spearmint

3. Well & Sickle Bar Mower Wild Spot
Primarily Spearmint and Goldenrod. Spearmint is by far the most popular plant for nectar and pollen eating beneficial insects.

Throughout the property we promote Arrowhead Aster, the last major supply of pollen and nectar at the end of the growing season for pollinators and beneficial insects.

Reprinted with permission from:
George Brooks Jr.
Green Hollow Orchard a Micro-Farm in North Tewksbury, MA USA.
All photos also by George Brooks Jr.

Categories: gardening, techniques

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How To Get Your Garden Organized

It is wonderful every year to get things just a little more organized and free up some wasted time that is better spent gardening.

Here are a few ideas we have found to help:

The garden notebook keeps growing.

The garden notebook keeps growing.

  • A garden notebook can keep a lot of the information from previous years as well as what is collected throughout the year for the upcoming season. Include a flash-drive for what you find online.
  • Likewise a clipboard can not only keep you planting maps handy, it is an easy way to hold seed packets that are slated to go out to the garden for planting. Just use the clip to keep them safe from spilling or blowing away.
  • A potting table allows for an area to organize your supply of soils, amendments and fertilizers.
Right at our fingertips.

Right at our fingertips.

  • We use a free seed rack from the local farm & garden store to keep seeds organized. This year the stash has been reduced from 3 racks to one, to further simplify garden planning and seed ordering.
Oh... there you are!

Oh… there you are!

One thing that eludes us is keeping track of tools.
It is as if the small ones intentionally hide, and the larger ones are like chameleons blending into their surroundings.

  • Here is a solution we are going to use this upcoming spring: Use duct tape, now also called ‘duck’ tape or paint to brightly color the handles on your tools, making them easier to find. We have in the past used the wonderful idea of adding an old mailbox to your garden area to hold tools.
    We did learn to be careful it is mounted level or pointing towards the ground, otherwise rain water can get in.
    Some lessons are always learned the hard way.

What tips do you have for staying organized?

Categories: gardening, jonesen', saving money & time, techniques

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The Green Wall – A Story of Volunteer Tomatoes

The seed source.

The seed source.

It was a cold and windy day…
Bad novel writing aside, it actually was.

We have a wonderful composting barrel, it was a gift to me from Mandolin.
Pretty romantic, right? :-)
But I do love practical gifts and when money is tight I would rather spend it wisely.

There is a problem though. Getting the compost out is somewhat tedious and bending at the required angle these days is difficult.
Plus, it has a wonderful reservoir encompassed in the base of the system, but getting the compost tea out is also painful.

So last winter I set about building, haphazardly I admit, a structure to raise the barrel higher to resolve both issues.
And it worked great…

Well, that was until the bin fell over; dumping a fair amount of it’s contents.

Mandolin then got out his “Man Tools” as he calls them, somewhat tongue in cheek because there is not one tool he owns that I don’t know how to and have used.

Except for the snow plow; but hey, I have to leave something for his ego.

So he fixed the base, making it much sturdier.

The Green Wall ascends the porch stairs.

The Green Wall ascends the porch stairs.

In the meantime I cleaned up the compost as best I could.
Then spring came and summer, and we noticed small tomato plants coming up through the gravel in the area where the bin fell over.
Now I figure if anything wants to grow bad enough to grow where the soil is hard to find, so be it.

There were just 2 problems:

1. There were a lot more plants that came up than I realized at first, and

2. They formed a line that completely crossed over the path we use to get from the front of the house to the backyard.

Free lovelies.

Free lovelies.

Tomato cages were not going to work in this area, so I propped the plants up with pieces from an old compost bin and broken garbage cans.

Still, they formed what Mandolin dubbed “The Green Wall”.
Yeah, he likes to name things.

The Green Wall hit by frost.

The Green Wall hit by frost.

Volunteer tomatoes are often cherry types, but these lovelies produced an abundance of different sized fruit, some weighing in at 3/4 pound.
Of course they had a late start, so most were harvested green.

But they were free.

The harvest.

The harvest.

And well, they were fun… even if we did have to take the longer way around to the backyard.

Categories: gardening, Keeping up with the Joneses, techniques

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Closing Down the Garden for Winter

As the main growing season comes to a close, it is time to do as much prep for next spring as possible. The more you can accomplish prior to winter, the sooner you can get going afterwards.

Although we have a lot of beds producing fall crops, as well as areas where the pole beans and tomatoes are still growing strong, there a few spots that can be readied up now.

Choose wisely what plant remnants you let remain.

Choose wisely what plant remnants you let remain.

This bed held corn, squash and beans. In fact, there are still a few bush beans producing.
Normally I would remove all spent plant debris, the exception is beans.
They get pulled up and left on top of the soil, as they will add a wee bit more nutrients by spring.

A layer of leaves to smother the weeds.

A layer of leaves to smother the weeds.

We just barely covered the bed with a layer of dry leaves, being careful not to smother the plants on the edge that are still producing.
My friend Angel cautions to be careful with leaves that have not been shredded, especially if you are using them for mulching. They can harbor disease and invite unwanted pests.

In this particular case, we know our leaves are healthy because our trees are in good shape. We also plan on tilling this bed in the spring.
We don’t like to till too often, but this bed is about due as it did have a bit of a weed problem early on.

Compost and manure hold the leaves in place.

Compost and manure hold the leaves in place.

The leaves are held in place with a layer of compost and aged manure.

Plenty to work with.

Plenty to work with.

As you can see, there are still lots of leaves ready to either be temporarily stored either in one of the compost bins, or in a garbage can we keep on hand just for the garden.

That way, we can continue to use them even the following spring to help supplement the soil. And by then, they will have already have broken down some.
Yep, we haven’t had frost yet and already are planning the spring garden.

It never ends, don’t you love it?!?

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Vertical Gardening pt. 2

For a general overview of vertical gardening, see pt. 1 here.

Now that the garden is in full swing, we can share what we are growing up with you.

The first round of peas finished producing, so we replenished the soil and replanted.

Snow Peas

Snow Peas

There are beans growing up some netting attached to PVC pipes, as well as more heading up an old ornamental windmill.

We used to have a neighbor that built pole bean teepees that were 10 ft. high, and used a ladder to harvest the beans.
We’re not quite that enthusiastic.

Assorted Pole Beans

Assorted Pole Beans

And More Beans

And More Beans

Many cucumbers will happily attach themselves to whatever structure they find, some need a little coaxing.
Lemon cucumbers need no help at all.

Lemon Cucumbers

Lemon Cucumbers

A new plant this year is Red Malabar spinach, seen here happily growing up an old kiwi vine. We have already harvested this plant a number of times.

Red Malabar Spinach

Red Malabar Spinach

We have seen squash attach itself to fencing, and often have had to pull them off for fear the weight will be too much.
This year we planted a small Japanese pumpkin and purposely encouraged it to grow up the fence.
We did put the fruit in a ‘sling’ that is attached to the fence, to take a little pressure off the stem.

Kikuza Squash

Kikuza Squash

Likewise, we are growing small watermelons up the fence. The sling is a leftover plastic net bag that previously held oranges or onions.

Sugar Baby Melon

Sugar Baby Melon

It’s fun to experiment and see how much we can get from the space we have planted.
But I think my favorite vertical edibles this year are ones that decided to grow to the left, instead of their usual growth pattern of vining towards the right.

Concord Grapes at the garden gate.

Concord Grapes at the garden gate.

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Planting a Fall Garden

Mid-summer planting of seeds and transplants to produce in the cooler months, also known as succession planting, is a great way to extend the harvest and get more from your garden space.

Carrots with beets and kohlrabi.

Carrots with beets and kohlrabi.

Most gardeners will tell you to not follow one crop with one from the same family.
I say Hogwash.
Partly because I like to say Hogwash but mostly because it’s true.

Where the taters were.

Where the taters were, now fall leaf cabbages and rutabagas.

If you have unlimited garden space, go ahead and rotate what you plant.
If you don’t, there’s just a few things you need to know.

The reasons gardeners recommend rotation in planting are:
1. diseases
2. pests
3. nutrient loss to the soil

If the plants you pulled out were healthy, and you did not have a problem with pests, crop rotation isn’t needed.
Likewise, if you replenish the soil with fertilizer and a good compost, it will be a perfectly healthy environment to replant in.

The Kale bed.

The Kale bed.

Three simple words sum it up:
Remove – Replenish – Replant

You do need to learn what can be planted in the garden mid-summer. Here’s a good guide to help.

Peas replace peas mid-summer.

Peas replace peas mid-summer.

So we have peas coming up where the peas were before, and kale where there were other cole crops. No harm done.
The other crops were chosen based on what can be planted this time of year, and where there was room.

If we had to depend on crop rotation, a fall garden would be much more difficult than it needs to be.

Categories: extending the season, gardening, How to Grow, techniques

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3 Steps to Understanding and Using Fertilizer

Trying to buy fertilizer can be a daunting experience, but needn’t be. With some basic knowledge you will know exactly what you need.

10-10-10 contains equal parts n-p-k

10-10-10 contains equal parts n-p-k

1. Learn the numbers.
Fertilizers are labeled with 3 numbers that represent the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, or N-P-K in it. If the bag is labeled 10-10-10, that simply means that all elements are in equal proportions. If it is 3-1-2, it means there is 3 parts of nitrogen for every 1 part phosphorus and 2 parts of potassium.

2. Learn what these elements do for your plants.
The simplest explanation of what each element does I have heard was from my FB friend Amy. She described their effect as “Up, down, and all around”.
The first number represents nitrogen, which helps plants grow better leaves and stems. The second is phosphorus, which helps plants develop better root systems and utilize nutrients from the soil. Potassium is good for general plant health.
It’s a lot more complicated than this really; there are trace elements and other nutrients found elsewhere. But we’re here to make it easy, so we’ll stick with this explanation.

2-7-4 is better for tomatoes

2-7-4 is better for tomatoes

3. Learn what your plants need.
Tomatoes, for example, don’t need a lot of nitrogen compared to spinach.
‘Shoots, roots, and fruits’ is another general way to remember what Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium do:
Plants that you primarily eat the leaves of require more nitrogen,root vegetables need to have have enough phosphorous, and if you harvest the fruit or flowers, be sure there is sufficient potassium.

The easiest thing to do is use a balanced fertilizer for your plants. If they develop any negative symptoms, like slow growth or yellowing leaves, look up what deficiency this is a symptom of, and go from there.

Categories: gardening, plant problems, techniques

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Confession # 134 Gardening Gone Wrong

Gardeners can blame a lot of their problems on the weather, and certainly on critters.
Occasionally, we all must fess up to the fact that some of the problems in our gardens are ones we create ourselves.

Notice I said “we”. I’m dragging y’all into this one.

Seriously though, every year has it’s issues.
So with a deep breath and much humility, here’s what the gardener (me) did wrong this year:

Drawing the line.

Drawing the line.

Early in the season we discovered we had a vole issue. We also had rabbits getting in. This meant no beans unless we took measures.

Covering the beans with bird netting seemed like a good idea.
Except it protected the voles from predators, allowing them to happily eat seeds and seedlings until the bean plants got too big.

In retrospect, we should have waited to cover when the beans got bigger.
Hindsight is 20/20.

Picked the wrong tree.

Picked the wrong tree.

“You better get those buckets off that tree.” my Dad said one afternoon, “See the big gouge in the trunk? The tree is dying.”

I could see he was right and had every intention of moving them to the other peach tree. Until a heavy storm moved in and it was too late.
Procrastination changes the to-do list.

Wood chips... bad idea.

Wood chips… bad idea.

“Put wood chips on top of your soil. They’ll break down and add nutrients. They only do damage if they get mixed in.”
This was some advice I heard and was intrigued.

Sure enough there is a lot of evidence that this is true.
I could even see in the pile of chips we had where they were already breaking down. Since I love experiments I covered two beds with a good quantity of chips.

In practice however, it’s pretty impossible to plant seeds without mixing the wood chips into the soil.

The bed shown above would have been full of carrots and beets.
Experiment concluded to be a failure.

And I made it worse.

And I made it worse.

This is the second bed that not only severely thwarted the growth of these peppers and eggplant tenderly started indoors and nurtured, but also harbored leaf-eaters that were devouring the plants.
I admit I got so aggravated I grabbed the Neem oil and sprayed them thoroughly.

Except I forgot to dilute it first.
Patience really is a virtue.

So my gardening friends, everyone makes mistakes. Fortunately we learn from them and hopefully don’t repeat them.

All is good though, I’m going to do what I would have suggested to someone who showed me these issues, and that’s to step back and do damage control.
Because taking your own advice really is priceless.

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I Pollinated a Squash, and I Liked It

Two is good, for now.

The first are always the best.

Mandolin Jones jokes that two zucchini plants are “at least one too many.”
It’s true, there have been years where we have been inundated with zucchini. This year probably won’t be any different.

I tried to restrain myself, really.
So we only have three plants of Cashflow Zucchini in the garden, and three more of an heirloom type called Tatume.

What’s interesting about squash is that they usually produce male flowers for a while before they start producing females.
What’s odd is that the Cashflow did the opposite.

And since I want to save the heirloom seeds, the two types are nowhere near each other.

So when there were male blossoms on the Tatume and no females, and females on the Cashflow but no males, what needed to be done was obvious.

Now you see, we are trying to avoid GMO foods, and since much of the store zucchini is just that, we don’t buy it.
From fall until the garden produces, we don’t eat fresh summer squash.

It really makes you want it all the more…
never thought we’d be jonesin’ for zucchini.

So those male blossoms were plucked, and brought to the females.
Now we have two really good looking squash soon to be ready to harvest.
And thoroughly enjoyed.

While I have no intention of mentioning this to Mandolin, I will admit that if need be, I’d do it again.

Categories: extending the season, How to Grow, squash, techniques

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Everything here is original (unless otherwise noted) and has legal copyright 2014 by Gardening Jones (tm), and cannot be re-posted or reproduced without permission. Any re-posting of information, photographs, and/or recipes is considered theft and subject to prosecution.

As gardeners, we love to share, so just let us know what your intentions are and we can work together. Please feel free to link any post you see. They say they call that Link Love.

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