April 09, 2012
One of the worst pests on our property has struck again. No, it’s not the cabbage worms or the root weevils or leaf miners. They’ll show up later. For now, it’s all happening indoors & my spray bottle is at the ready.
Okay, so I know you’re freaking out because I’m saying “spray”.
How unlike me, right? I’m never an advocate for spraying much of anything other than some compost tea or fish fertilizer now & again. So, why am I pulling out a spray bottle now?
Well, when the damn house cat starts downing my seedlings, that’s when the water sprayer comes out!
Twinky-the-cat is at it again.
We’ve been starting any number of warm season crops indoors. Tomatoes, Hibiscus tea, peppers, Okra and more. In the beginning, when the seeds are first inserted into the sterile soil mix, they’re placed on a rack, under lights with a clear, plastic protective cover over the top. The plastic top helps hold heat and moisture in, and it helps intensify the light that shines down on the emerging seeds.
But, once those young seedlings emerge from the soil, if the lids aren’t lifted to allow for airflow — aka ventilate the trays — then damping off can begin. That’s essentially a fungal issue that will kill an entire tray of new seedlings within a day or so.
So, once the young plants pop through the soil, I begin opening the lids. I leave them over the young plants with a few inches of airflow space between lid and tray. (Find a timeline of seeding events illustrated here.) I keep the lids on in hopes of keeping the cat from chewing on the young plants. It also deters him from climbing on top to take a nap under the sunny lights.
Unfortunately, I left the rack just a bit too close to the window sill where Twink naps. So, one afternoon, he leaned his adorable fuzzy head over into my tomatoes and Hibiscus and began chewing. Apparently, the Hibiscus tasted good because he left nothing of this behind. But he’s never found tomatoes tasty. So, he took a bit of a few and spit them out — soil and all — onto the floor below.
Yeah, very cat-like right? He knows how to really piss me off.
How do I know it was Twink? Take a look at the photos. Notice the clean bite mark. Notice the long, white cat hair strewn among the defoliated stems he left behind.
So, how to manage this pest? Well, spray of course!
No, don’t spray the crops (unless you’re watering them that way.)
Instead, keep a water-filled spray bottle nearby. And, if you can catch puss in action, and spray him with a jet of water to scare him off.
Also — note to self — move the racks another few inches away from his nap window, so he isn’t tempted to snack while he sleeps.
And, of course, plant more seeds if you’ve got’m. Fortunately, I’ve got more tomato seedlings to pot up than I’ll ever have room to grow on. And, I’ve got two more rounds of Renee’s Garden Seed Hibiscus Tea seeds germinating!
And, let’s be clear, spraying anything other than water at a bad cat is never my first line of defense against any kind of pest. Spray bottles are a rarity around here. If you’re ever going to pull one out, be sure you’ve tried everything else first, you know what you’re using, why you’re using it, how to safely use it, and that it is actually something appropriate to use on the pest you’ve fully identified.
April 04, 2012
Got questions about how to grow tomatoes successfully?
Here’s a timeline we put together to help you grow your way to a bumper-crop of these delicious nightshades. Time to get growing now!
(The following was originally posted 9/21/2010)
This afternoon I enjoyed lunch on my patio in the sun. I watched the honeybees visiting late bloomers as I gobbled up a sandwich and soaked up some much needed daylight. Then, of course, I had to take a stroll through my garden to see what’s what.
At this point most of my summer veggie crops are pretty much kaput. I am letting my runner beans fatten up for drying. A few chard continue to produce as do a couple of cucumbers, beets, yellow wax beans, zucchini and some sad corn. Really, it’s all about the tomato crop this year. And, honestly that’s kind of surprising given how cool and wet it’s been. Then again, with just a little extra care, several of the right kinds of plants and some luck against blight, its pretty apparent Seattlites really can enjoy a decent tomato harvest.
Here’s the rundown:
- March: Seeded tomatoes into sterile mix. Grew them on without supplemental light or heat in unheated greenhouse.
- April & May: Potted tomato seedlings into 4″ and 1 gallon containers, keeping them in the greenhouse and cold frame. Fertilize with slow release, natural organic.
- June: Transplanted tomatoes into parking strip / Hellstrip. Buried stems deeply in shallow trenches. Installed square cages. Covered cages with plastic to continue greenhouse effect, leaving a few inches at bottom of cages exposed to allow for airflow. Fertilize with slow release, natural organic.
- July: Removed plastic wrapping from tomatoes. Trimmed tomatoes multiple times. Encouraged volunteer borage to go crazy among tomatoes. Bees love it. Bees visit borage and then tomatoes — honeybees as well as bumblebees!
- August: Continue trimming out tomatoes. Water as needed. Fertilize for final time.
- September: Tip out plants. Thin out any late suckers. Cut out all new flowers, which have zero chance of forming viable fruit this year. With hold fertilizer. Replace plastic, using hoop houses now that plants are large. Don’t cover completely as airflow is critical to keep out blight and to allow water to reach roots with minimal splashing on plants. Check regularly for any fungal infections. Remove and dispose of any immediately. Harvest every few days & preserve & EAT!
Next year this strip won’t be used for tomatoes. Gotta think crop rotation, right? Last year it was corn, squash and beans. Next year I’m thinking a field of edamame may be in order!
Need help planning ahead for next year? Get in touch with Garden Mentors to set up your edible garden consultation now. Believe it or not, its never too soon to get started!
Tonight I look forward to another large harvest of mixed Peron, Saucy Paste, Oregon Springs, Sweetie and Late Keeper Tomatoes. Likely, after harvest, I’ll be preserving yet another large batch like this one. The question is: do I make soup, marinara or just chunk them up for any number of fantastic winter meals. Or maybe, we’ll just eat a huge salad of them instead!
If you had this mountain of tomatoes to ponder, what recipe would be first on your list? Although I have any number of ideas, I welcome your input and look forward to new recipes! Remember: we have a mix of slicers and paste tomatoes going this year, so be creative and inspire us!
March 30, 2012
If you haven’t already, now’s the time to pick up starts to grow onions at home. Do it now before they’re all sold out for the season. Nurseries sell bundles of young onions in late winter through early spring.
Bulb onions are also available, but quite often here in Western Washington, I find these more likely to rot in our soggy, cold spring soils. Too, seed is an option, but ideally those seeds would have been sown last fall to grow over the winter for transplanting this spring. (Maybe we’ll do that this fall.)
This year, we’ve already put in two succession plantings of Walla-Walla Sweet onion starts in the garden. They’re in a bed that will soon be planted with starts from the brassica family — cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and various forms of broccoli. These are companions in the garden — while aphids love to invade the brassicas, they abhor alliums (onion family members). Hopefully, the onions will keep these nasty little suckers away from my beloved broccoli and family.
To plant & cultivate bundled onion starts: After you purchase your banded bundles of onions at the nursery, be sure to have time to get them into the ground shortly after. Begin by separating each onion start from the others. Plant the individual onions such that the white portion of the onion is beneath the soil, and be sure to plant into well-drained soil in full sun. Clip off an inch or more of the top green growth when you plant; this will encourage the plant to put more energy into the bulb. If you’re tight on space — like we are — you can choose to plant the onions about 3″ apart. Then, as they begin to mature, harvest them by removing every other onion at a time. This will give the remaining onions more room to get larger over the growing season. Onions begin to show their “shoulders” above the soil as the bulbs mature. Once this happens, they can be harvested at any time. Be careful not to overwater them, which can lead to rot. And, keep an eye out for any that show signs of flowering. If they begin to send up flower spikes, cut these out and harvest soon after. And, if some of the onions seem to disappear, they may just be going dormant. Last year, although I didn’t plant any onions, I found a few that had gone dormant in the prior summer only to grow stronger and larger over the winter. It was delicious!
And, unlike last year, I hope not to be crying over our lack of onions in the garden. I cook with onions almost daily, so even if these Walla Walla’s aren’t good storage crops, we’ll have no trouble gobbling up over the summer ahead.
March 14, 2012
Now is the time to attract wild birds to your garden. Mated pairs and lusty bachelor birds are busily inspecting shrubs, trees, boxes and baskets for their ideal summer homes where they will forage for food and raise their young.
But, why would you want them in your garden?
Wild birds make fantastic pest predators. The small, perky and ever-singing house wren is known for its love of all things aphid. These light-weight little birdies can easily land on smaller stems to clean them of soft-bodied pests. While robins may be notorious for pulling beloved earthworms from the soil and getting drunk on fermented winter berries, they also turn over duff layers to seek out nasty grubs and caterpillars. Cute little chickadees enjoy seeds, but they’ll also devour small caterpillars and insect larvae too. On occasion, you’ll even see these small birds in hot pursuit of pesky cabbage butterfly flitting through the garden. And although starlings may seems a loud nuisance, they will aerate your lawn as they devour large quantities of grubs. And guess, what? They even have a taste for slugs! And who doesn’t love a hummingbird? They’re beautiful in flight, plus they’ll clean aphids from treetops and pollinate along the way! Swallows will dart through the air, snatching gnat hatches even into the twilight hours of summer.
And, birds tend to leave the bees alone. While they may try to eat butterflies, they’re unlikely to go after honeybees, bumblers or other types of bees.
It’s fairly simple to attract any of these birds to your garden by following these easy steps:
- Create habitat: Add in layers of plants that the birds can hide in from predators. Dense layering of evergreen as well as deciduous plants is ideal. Add in plants that provide flower nectar, berries and seeds the birds love. Just be sure to add some bird-specific edibles that you have no intention of eating.
- Add water: dish stones, bubbling water features or a stream if you have room will attract birds looking for a bath or a drink. Just be sure to rinse any dishes out regularly or keep the water moving at all times, especially in summer so mosquito populations can’t build up.
- Add in birdhouses: Tucking birdhouses into partially hidden spots is ideal. Hang them high and place them where you can view them from a window. And, put them into the garden by late winter when birds begin to look for the best nesting spots around. (Even if your birdhouse doesn’t go up before the first day of spring, you may still get some nesting pairs. Birds may hatch several broods in a single season, and they often nest in more than one spot through the season.) Be sure they aren’t hung in direct sunlight where little eggs might poach in the shell. And don’t hang them near feeders or watering holes. Birds won’t nest near spots where all the other birds eat, drink or bathe. Try to resist poking around the birdhouses once they’re hung. Peeping & poking humans may drive your birdies away. Do spend time in the garden and let your tenants get used to you puttering about. (Here’s how to grow a crop that you can craft into a birdhouse of your own. Or read on for ways you can enter to win one from Aha! Modern Living!)
- Your By-Products as Building Materials: If your dog or cat is shedding like crazy, leave some of the fur around the garden for birds to forage. Same with drier lint & hair from your own brush. I’ve actually seen nesting birds battle for the rights to fluffs of fur floating about. They love this stuff for building their nests. I’ve even found old nests packed with gum wrappers and bits of plastic wrap. Your trash (in moderation) is their treasure!
- Protect your own crops: Beneficial birds will snack on your crops as well as insects. They love to peck at young peas, ripe sunflowers, and they’ll clear blueberry bushes just as the fruit ripens. Fortunately, a bit of bird netting will keep them away from the crops you want to eat.
(The following giveaway is closed.)
Now that you’re excited to bring the birds to your garden, here’s how we can help you get started:
The generous folks at Aha! Modern Living have offered to give away a lovely Roost Basket Bird Hut to one of you! These beauties are similar to the twig birdhouses in my own garden, which are shared in this post, in which wrens and chickadees have nested for several years now. Though made out of natural fibers, these suckers withstand weather really well. Plus, the birds do an amazing job patching them up with fresh twigs, fur, spider webs, feathers, laundry lint and whatever else they find floating around the garden. Birds are crazy-good builders!
Here’s how to throw your hat in the ring & try to win one of these Roost Basket Bird Hut: Share your favorite story about gardening with wild birds in the comment area below this post on gardenhelp.org. Be sure you include your email contact information so we can reach you if you win; no way to contact you means automatic disqualification. Entries must be received no later than 5pm PDT on Monday, March 19, 2012 when we will select a winner. Judging will be purely subjective and creativity in storytelling will be rewarded! The winner will be announced here by Wednesday, March 21, 2012.
December 08, 2011
There’s a handful of gardening apps that will have any gardener — from pro to novice — gladly smudging their pricey phone and pad gadgets with muck while working with shovel in one hand and app-filled gadget in the other. Whether your gardener works with veggies, design, bugs or vines, as the saying goes “there’s an app for that”!
Here are a few of my favorites, culled from the many commercial and relatively useless others on the market. I’ve even included one that won’t cost you a dime!
Dirr’s Shrub and Tree Finder from Timber Press: Any horty out there is going to bow their head in deference at the mention of a man named Michael Dirr. He’s the authority on woody plants in North America, and he’s written more than one book to prove it. If you’re going to buy one app for a gardener, this should be it! His heavy, tome — Manual of Woody Plants of North America — is a reference guide no serious plant geek can get by without. Fortunately for the plant & gadget geeks out there, Timber Press compressed this huge reference guide into a convenient and relatively inexpensive app. Plus, the app is filled with color photos, which the book doesn’t have. The app will run you $14.99 from the Apple App Store. The original book is now out of print, but a new edition (now dubbed Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs looks like it’ll run just over $56.00). And, yes, I do want the new book too! My old edition is held together with duct tape and many prayers for its future longevity. Fortunately, I no longer haul it everywhere I go. Instead, I pull up the app on my iphone.
Sketchbook (Express) by AutoDesk is the best app I’ve found so far for quick, on-the-fly garden design sketching on my ipad. I can snap a photo in a client’s garden & create drawing layers on which to rough sketch a visual concept drawing to show a client — or email them photographically later. It isn’t perfect for creating to scale drawings or real landscape designs. But, it does give me an inexpensive way to rough out ideas in a photographic way for myself and for my clients. And, for free in the Apple App Store, well…anybody can afford this one! Or, plop down $4.99 for the Pro version. I haven’t, but maybe Santa will decide to stuff this one in my stocking this year!
Bugs and Insects by Darren Gates makes for an impressive insect reference guide and repository for your own garden bug (and bug-like-creature) research. I was thrilled and shocked to find this pocket guide to the insect world costs just under $1.00 in the Apple App Store. Seriously, wrap this up with some chocolate covered grasshoppers, and you’ve got a great stocking stuffer for your favorite techy garden explorer. Perfect for serious insect lovers and inquisitive kids alike!
IVeggieGarden by MooritSoftware is one I’m on the fence about. It provides a lot of detail about growing veg by veg — from climate requirements to disease susceptibility to harvesting time details. Plus, it allows you to build shopping lists, add your own varieties, build your own garden and more. But, I found it kind of clunky for my needs, and I wasn’t able to figure out how to port calender year information to another year. Those features may be in there, but I couldn’t find them. Frankly, I get a lot of printed calenders every year for the holidays. If I make notes on one year, day by day, it’s really easy for me to reference that in the next year to help avoid repeating failures (and to be sure I repeat successes). If I could do that easily with this app, I’d likely be singing its praises a little louder. Now, just because this app didn’t quite work for me, it might be great for a new gardener (or someone who can get past the tech blockers I found). For the individual crop information alone, this app may very well be worth the $9.99 price point in the Apple App Store.
Full Disclosure: Iveggiegarden app was provided to me for free to try out and review. All others shown here I have purchased/downloaded at my own expense. No compensation has been provided to me for writing this review. Apologies for not including details on Android availability; I don’t have those devices, so I cannot speak to apps for them.