techniques

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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Categories: gardening, plant problems, techniques

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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.

Categories: gardening, techniques

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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, 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.

Categories: perennials, techniques

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How to Stop Seed Thieves

how to prevent critter seed theft

Photo by Sally Getz of part of her garden.

There are times when no sooner does a seed get planted than the battle with critters begins.

My Facebook friend Sally Getz of Colorado had been facing an annual mass seed theft in her garden until she came up with the fabulous idea.

She purchased cheap clear plastic cups from a dollar store.
After planting and watering her seeds, she dug in a cup over each one, bringing more soil around the cup to hold it in place and not let the winds blow it over.
She kept them watered as needed.

Not only did the cups protect the seeds, they acted as mini-cloches to keep the seeds warm and moist.
Of course this helped them sprout sooner.

Sally is one really determined gardener, she did this for over 800 seeds.
No replanting this year and we hope it will be her best garden ever
You grow girl!

Categories: gardening people, places & things, techniques

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6 Ways to Help Insure Your Veggies Will Succeed

baby luffa plants

Baby luffas happy in their environment.

1. Plant in good soil.

With the possible exception of wasabi, few plants want to ‘get their feet wet’. Be sure to add plenty of compost and organic matter to your beds. This helps insure they will drain better. If you plant in a low lying area, try making mounds of soil to plant in, allowing excess water to collect away from the roots.

2. Don’t plant too soon, or too late.

Some veggies like the cold, such as peas and greens. Most beans however will actually rot if the soil is not warm enough for them. Similarly, plants such as lettuce and basil will bolt, or go to seed, if the weather gets too hot. A simple way to remember is to make a time chart of what to plant when.

3. Keep them moist until established.

This is true for both direct sewn seeds and transplants. The weather tries to do this naturally with spring showers, but it may not be enough. Once you can tell your transplants have settled in, just water as needed. When the majority of your direct sewn seeds are up, do the same for them.

4. Give them room to grow.

Thinning is a bother, but not thinning makes things much worse. Although we admit to planting closer together then is normally recommended, we still thin our carrots, beets and greens especially. Not thinning carrots will; have a negative impact on root development; not thinning beets can be disastrous to the entire crop. Thinning can be fun in a way, since in these 3 cases you can eat the plant tops you pull.

5. Keep them weed free.

Probably the least favorite chore of gardeners, weeds are better to prevent than deal with. Both mulch and landscaping plastic can help in this regard. Planting in containers is also a good way for many plants to grow with less threat of weeds getting in their space. Where possible, intercropping is a good way to help prevent weeds. We scatter basil seeds at the feet of our tomatoes, thinning as needed after they come up. The tomatoes offer the basil some shade in return, delaying bolting. It’s a nice symbiotic relationship.

6. Finally, know what you are growing.

A zucchini isn’t just a zucchini. Did you know some do well growing vertically? And a bean isn’t just a bean, either. A fava bean prefers the cold, a green bean hates it. Most of the information you need should be on the seed packet, but if you are growing something new, make a few notes.

Since you’re here reading this, you are obviously an informed gardener.
Kudos to you for that, and your plants will thank you!

corn and beans

Intercropping helps the health of some veggies.

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How to Prevent Cross Pollination of Corn

how to prevent cross pollination of corn

A wee bit of crossing.

Corn silks get pollen on them that is carried by the wind from the tassels of corn in the area. It may be from the same plant or from plants a distance away.

If you are growing multiple kinds of corn, or a nearby neighbor has plants, you may want to insure you get what you expect.
There are a few ways to do this.

If it is just you growing more than one variety, time the seeding so that they don’t mature at the same time. If both varieties mature at 90 days, for example, plant them about 2-3 weeks apart.
If one variety matures at 80 days and the other at 100, it is safe to plant them at the same time.

If you have a lot of land, you can simply plant them apart. I have read they need to be anywhere from 150 ft. to a mile apart. The corn in the picture above were about 6 ft. apart and generally upwind from a red dry corn. You can see there was a little cross pollination on the ear to the right, but it did take place.

If you are really into maintaining your seed supply to be true by preventing cross pollination, watch this video to learn how.
We’re going to do this with our glass gem corn, to keep the seeds pure. There is a bed of dry corn about 120 ft. away, and we want to be sure they don’t cross.

And, well… also because nerdy stuff like this is fun.

Categories: corn, techniques

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6 Ways to Protect Your Plants

You put a lot of work into growing food, so it is all the more difficult to bear when nature hampers or even destroys your efforts.
Here are some ways you can protect your plants from what life throws at them.

1. Season extenders.
Early in the season and again in the fall, depending on where you garden, you may need to protect against frost. Using cold frames and other season extenders such as Wall O’ Waters can help when your plants are still small.

The Jones' Garden System model at work.

The Jones’ Garden System model at work.

This picture is of the rough model of our garden system.
As it was going to dip into the 30′sF last night, the beds of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants were easily protected with plastic panels.
This kept the plants snug and happy, and helped the soil warm up faster in the morning.

Metal bars in the ground securely hold the bent PVC.

Metal bars in the ground securely hold the bent PVC.

Constructing a small fame, such as one from PVC pipe, can likewise help protect your plants. A sturdy frame will make it easy to drape over a sheet, keeping plants comfy when frost threatens. If the weather is really cold, adding plastic turns the frame into a mini high tunnel, extending the season by as much as 3 weeks on both ends.

2. Bird netting.
Frames like these can also be used to support bird netting, which keeps out other small critters, such as rabbits.

Protection on a larger scale.

Protection on a larger scale.

This picture is of the support ready to hold bird netting in an effort to keep the squirrels away from the fruit on our dwarf trees. The frame is kept more securely in place with the use of metal cross wires. It is new this year, so we’ll let you know how it worked later in the season.

3. Screening.
For plants that do not need pollination, mesh screening can be draped over a frame in an effort to also keep the bad bugs out.

4. Aromatics.
You can add plants with strong odors to your garden, such as onions and marigolds, to help deter critters. Likewise an intense pepper spray will cause many of the plant damaging critters to stay away.
Of course, if they are hungry enough they will do what it takes.

We have had success with a liquid spray call Repels All. It is an appropriate name as it made us not want to go into the garden either. It worked when we had a large population of squirrels a few years ago.

5. Fencing.
The only way to keep deer out of the garden here is to have a good high fence. Even then, if they think they can jump it they will.
Placing decorative objects, such as chairs or potted plants inside the fence at the approximate spot a deer would land makes them think twice.

Fencing doesn’t just help vertically.
Laying chicken wire on the ground around your garden will also keep deer away, as they are afraid of getting their hooves caught.
If underground animals are a problem, you can use the plastic coated mesh as a base for a raised bed. The coating prevents the metal from rusting away, keeping your garden safer longer.

6. Props
A few simple props can help keep your veggies safe.
The owl in the picture above is said to help deter squirrels. Simple whirligigs, even ones from a dollar store, can also help deter critters; they don’t like the movement.
And finally, motion activated sprinklers can not only help keep some critters out, they may keep strangers out of your garden as well.
If nothing else, you’ll know when your garden is being invaded.

If you want some serious but simple protection in a small area, follow the progress of the Jones’ Garden System.
It does all this and more.

Categories: pests, techniques

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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.

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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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.

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