Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gardening in 2013 (My year end review)

As I begin thinking about this year's garden, I have to think about how my garden did in 2013.  And I'm curious to know how yours did, too.

Every year I learn a good bit about myself and about myself and gardening...I love trying to grow new things and experiment.  Unfortunately, with my husband's help, my experiment with egg plant didn't go so well, as my husband thought it was a weed and pulled it. :(  Oh well, we'll try again this year with that one.

Thanks, Freefoto.com!

Last summer gave my zone 7 loads of rain!  Everything seemed to bloom and grow like crazy!  It really helped me to see how very important water is and how different quantities of water affect what I'm trying to grow.  Depending on what our prediction for rain is this summer, I intend to make sure my garden gets lots more water than I've given in the past.  I might even have to get a water line out there with soaker hoses to make sure my garden gets what it needs.


In planning my garden last year, I decided to try potatoes, onions, scallions, and garlic.  I really lucked out and found all of these on clearance at Lowes at the end of May.  I got it all in the garden and what I discovered was this:  onions, scallions and garlic make GREAT border plants.  Honestly, they take up so little room, that they could have bordered my garden in the back or sides and I could have planted something else in the spot I laid them.  However, they grew very well, even with all the rain we got and after being trampled on a time or two and also being covered up by some lone ranger tomatoes that unassumingly sprouted and I just didn't have the heart to pull them.  I ended up with loads!  I chopped the scallions, froze them in little snack size baggies and I shared and shared and shared bunches and bunches with my friends!  They were wonderful and a definite keeper for this year!

Let's talk about pests for a minute.  I have always struggled with powdery mildew on my squash.  If I grew pumpkins, it jumped on those, too.  Last summer a dear friend of mine shared with me an item that helped significantly keep my squash growing longer than usual because it helped keep the powdery mildew at bay.  Here it is:  Copper Fungicide.  I found a large bag of it at Big Lots for about $9.  I used it, maybe twice, on my squash and my squash lasted longer than it has in a couple of years.

Another helper in my garden with pests was Neem Oil.  I have to say that I really noticed a difference with my tomato plants.  Pests are just that, whether you're talking about aphids, stink bugs, squash bugs or the Japanese beetles that swarm in June and can be the bane of a gardener's life.  Neem Oil seemed to help keep these bugs at bay for a while.

So, what can we take away from this today?  Water, and lots of it!  Try something new!  Onions, scallions and garlic take up little space when planted as a border!  Neem Oil and Copper Fungicide can help with pests and mildew, and even better news is that both of these helpers can be used in organic gardening without negative affects.

I'd love to see hear what you use to keep pests out of your garden!


Starting seeds

Thanks robinhesselgesser.com for the photo!

Well, here I am again...one year later.  It seems I'm only interested in posting when I actually have something to post, instead of just digging around for something to write about.

Well, now I have something to write about--Seedlings.  I have always struggled with starting seeds for myself.  After 6 years of gardening on my own, I have rarely had success starting my own plants from seed.  This doesn't count green bean seeds or any other kind of bean type seed.  Bean or legume seeds are super easy to grow and do very well just dropping them in the ground and boom--they sprout!

Now, tomatoes are an entirely different story in my garden!  I always end up at Ace Hardware buying my squash, tomatoes and every other type of veggie I decide to grow after a failed attempt at starting my own seeds.  For whatever reason they never seem to make it and have the strength to sustain themselves.  I'm pretty sure, though, like any "green," novice gardener, I was missing a few key ingredients.  

My mistakes, I have learned, were timing, lack of light and warmth and I'm sure, consistent watering.  Honestly, that about sums up what a seed needs to start.  Keeping it growing...well, we'll have to talk about that later. :)

Well, this year I am homeschooling my son and we were reading a science book for kids and saw this experiment about planting seedlings in egg shells.  Of course, that totally makes perfect sense, that you could fill the half shell of an egg with seed starter, add some seeds, keep them watered and warm and well, you've got a baby seedling shooting up!  You are also using a biodegradable container!

Here are some pictures I've taken of my little babies.  



From left to right:  I have planted Bell Pepper, Romaine Lettuce, Four O'Clocks, another type of flower that I didn't see my daughter add, Baby Pak Choy, and Roma Tomatoes.
The Baby Pak Choy and 4 o'clocks germinated and came through the soil within 3 days after planting.  It took about 7 days for the tomatoes to come through.


I know this will sound strange, but I warmed this hot/cold pack in the microwave to help warm my seedlings.  I placed the egg carton on top of it.  I also placed my seedlings about 15 inches under my under cabinet lighting.  I keep the seedlings under this light most of the day, starting in the morning and I turn the light off before I go to bed.  I've read somewhere that these little guys need temperatures of at least 76 degrees to get started.  I'm sure they don't need as much light as I'm giving, but considering that it's February right now and we keep our house around 68 degrees, I figure this warmth and light together can't hurt.


I use a medicine dropper to water these babies.  I water about every other day, as long as the soil looks damp.  If it looks dry, I will add water.  

As you can see, they're growing fast!  And I'm super excited to see how these seedlings make it under my immature gardener's hand.  Stay tuned!


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Protecting & Pruning Blueberry Bushes


So, after a week of working and a week of catching up, post-Christmas season, and a week of heavy rains I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things here.

In my area of the South, we had A LOT of rain this past week followed by freezing temperatures at night.  Since I have 4 blueberry bushes, I became concerned with these low temperatures and the fact that it could possibly affect my harvest this Summer.  Since our weather has been swinging since Christmas from Spring-like temperatures to very wintery freezing temperatures, I've already got these pretty red buds (which are somewhat normal for winter), but I'm concerned my bushes are thinking it's Spring!

A few things I've learned in my research...

1)  Rabbiteye Variety of blueberry bushes (which I have) are quite hearty.  However, they should be
     covered if the temps get down below freezing, which is 32 degrees.  The Highbush Variety are even
     heartier and probably don't need concern until temps get below 0 degrees but have survived temps as
     low as -20 and -30 degrees!

2)  When covering my bushes, one layer will increase temperatures by about 2-3 degrees, while two layers
      can increase temperatures underneath by nearly 10 degrees.  This is handy information since one the
      upcoming nights, it will be as low as 18 degrees (at least that's what has been forcast).

3)  If there is a constant temperature below freezing, more drastic measures must be taken--like portable
      heaters and the like to help keep the temperatures up.

I've included this link to The University of Georgia's College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.  This was a GREAT article!  Click HERE to read all about Blueberry Bushes and Freezing Temperatures!

As I was continuing my research, I was thinking about pruning, too.  Winter is the time for pruning bushes and I've always been sort of confused about which branch to trim.

So, I found this great video link from Growing Wisdom with David Epstein, NE Meteorologist I'm posting here and I hope folks will find it useful!  It sure was helpful for me!

Enjoy!

http://on.aol.com/video/how-to-prune-blueberry-bushes-10022990


Thursday, January 3, 2013

What Should I Plant?

Peas
Courtesy of Free-Extras.com


So, I'm thinking about WHAT to plant in my garden this year.  Since I'm thinking about this in January and have a goal to "ramp up" my efforts to improve my gardening skills and garden more frequently, I've decided to try and garden in every season.  Now, if you're just starting out---it's not too early to be thinking about the Summer months!  I don't want to overwhelm you with my personal goals, but I do want to testify to my experiences, so don't bite off more than you can chew!

About two years ago, I planted Green Peas toward the end of February.  Since that was the only thing I was planting, I planted my entire garden in Green Peas!  Crazy idea but I was hoping to freeze some!  Having never grown Green Peas before, little did I realize the need for support for these plants.  As they grew taller and taller, and I did my research as I went, I realized I needed to create some kind of support for these babies.  After trellising 5 or 6 rows of these peas, I was tired of it and just let the rest go.  Needless to say, this poor planning on my part created quite a mess for me in the end with a small harvest after all my hard work.

What did I learn from this experience?

1)  Research and plan first!  I will save myself a huge amount of grief and extra work!  Can you imagine 
     how hard it is to trellis something that has already trellised itself on whatever is around it?

2)  Don't plant more than you can care for.  Since I had never planted Green Peas before, it would 
     have been better for me to research this plant and its needs BEFORE planting my whole garden in 
     them!

It didn't help that tornadoes blasted through our area and laid them all over with their high winds.  The entire crop wasn't lost, but it sure compounded my problem.

Having shared all of this, I have decided I'm going to give Green Peas another try!

This time, though, I'm smarter and I've done my homework ahead of time.  I think Green Peas are an easy veggie to try during these Winter months and I'm only going to grow what I can manage, which is about a 5'x5' space.  

So, back on topic--what to plant?  My goal is by the end of January to sow Green Pea seeds directly into the soil along my trellis.  I'll update this and keep you posted on how it goes for me.  This Summer my standard garden includes:  

Yellow Squash
Zucchini Squash
Roma Tomatoes
Regular Tomatoes
Green Beans
All 4 colors of Bell Pepper

In the Fall, I want to attempt onions and garlic along with a few salad greens.

What about you?  What do you think you'll be planting this Summer?  Or maybe you've got some goals to expand in other seasons, like me.  I'd love to hear what folks are doing out there!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Where Should I Plant?


This is a pretty cool idea for container gardening or gardening in small spaces, don't you think?

Planning the location of your garden is a great place to start when trying to come up with a plan.  It's even more important than WHAT you're going to plant!

In a nutshell, no matter where you live on this earth, sunlight and water are the two most important ingredients for your garden.  Select a garden spot where the sun shines at least 6-8 hours per day and you have relatively easy access to a water source.

Sunlight is a SUPER important factor to consider when it comes to the placement of your garden.  Your veggies need lots of sunshine to grow.  Poor placement will yield poor results to a lot of very hard work!

Here is a quick check list of things to consider when finding a place for your garden spot:

1)  Look for the sunshine in your yard.  Where does it spend most of it's time?

2)  Check for trees nearby or possible "shade-makers."  If you're observing in the Spring, 
      remember that when the trees fill with leaves there will be shade areas you will need to 
      consider before placing your garden nearby.

3)  Where is your water source?  Can you drag at least one water hose to your potential 
      garden spot or will you need more than one?  Or maybe what you're growing will only 
      require a watering can.  How far will you have to tote that can?

4)  Do you have animals?  Our large English Setter toppled my tomato plants--all 8 of them 
      until I was able to fence in my garden area to prevent this!  Consider if you'll need some 
      small fencing to prevent your pet from invading your garden space.

5)  Does your subdivision or apartment complex have any restrictions that will limit your 
      ability to have a garden?  What about the neighbors?  Will they have a problem with your 
      plans for a garden?  Remember gardening can get a little smelly at times and this might 
      not be the best way to "win friends and influence people."  Bottom line--be considerate of 
      others around you.  

Don't forget, the sun's location changes throughout the year!

Any other ideas out there to simplify this process of "location selection?"


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My experience growing berries...



Ok, so this is my last post today.  I'm just inspired right now and hope I don't lose interest when the goin' gets tough! :))

So, I wanted to share my experience growing strawberries and blueberries.  It seems that when I talk to people about either of them, folks are really excited about them, but when I tell them it will take a few years to get a strong harvest, it's deflating for sure.

However, growing fruit of any kind is worth the wait!  And it's possible to take it with you if you'll grow it in a pot!

Our son LOVES blueberries and since they are SO expensive in the grocery store, it was always difficult for me to purchase them as frequently as he would want to eat them.  So, when we moved into our house nearly 6.5 years ago I was determined to have blueberries for him whenever he wanted them--or almost.  We purchased two different varieties in the same family.  I learned from an article in Southern Living that the Rabbit Eye variety was great for growing in a pot but they required cross pollination.  We purchased 2 of the Tift Blue and 2 of the Premiere bushes within this "Rabbit Eye" variety for cross pollination.  I called someone who raises blueberries and was advised that around the 6th and 7th year of having blueberries, I would have a huge harvest--as much as 20#'s per bush!  So, we invested the time and patience required--mostly patience for waiting and this past year (our 6th year) of having these bushes and had our largest yield yet!  We really enjoyed our blueberries this Summer!


Now, a word about Strawberries.  It's about as easy as what you see here in this picture.  Though my strawberries are in the ground, I would like to think that there's no difference in how they grow, whether pot or ground as long as you take care of them--which doesn't require as much care as one might think.  I began 4 years ago with 13 strawberry plants in my front landscaping.  I planted them like a border, set in just a little bit deeper into the landscaping, since strawberries have shoots that come off the main plant.  This is how they multiply.  Four years later, my strawberries have more than doubled themselves and we had more 6#'s of strawberries to enjoy.  That translates into about a month's worth of strawberries for our family.  

Once you establish your plant in the ground or pot, simple watering is mostly what is needed.  Once these fruits are established the main ingredient to a good production (based upon my experience) is making sure there's enough water and sunshine available.  Of course, fertilizing about twice a year will also make the difference.

If you haven't grown a fruit/berry of any kind, I would encourage you to give them a try!  There are so many benefits to having them in your garden!  And they're pretty easy to maintain!

Anyone out there want to add anything to this?    


So, Let's Start Planning!

Starting with a plan helps you stay organized and keep you on track with anything you want to accomplish.

Your plan may be as simple as seeing something sprout--if you feel your thumb is less than green.  Or, maybe you've decided you're crossing over into the land of backyard homesteading and have found a way to grow a grain in a corner of your lot--sounds crazy, but it's possible!!

Having a plan to simply start something and see it to the finish is so important to having a productive and successful garden!  And I want to encourage you along with myself to get that plan started now!





This past issue of GRIT Magazine (Nov/Dec 2012) issue gave me some great ideas about placement and trellises. In my garden I like to grow green beans.  In my 5 years of gardening, I have only grown one kind of green bean--Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans.  These beans are the absolute easiest thing to grow.  Just stick them in the dirt and give them a little water and off they go!  The only challenge is support!  Pole Beans need support--something to climb because that's what they do!  They climb as high as the trellis you give them goes.  So, I need some good ideas to create better support for my beans and in this issue of GRIT, they suggested cattle fencing as a semi-permanent form of support for my beans!  What a great idea!

So, what is my plan for this year?  I'll give you a brief summary:

1)  I want to improve my soil and ammend it with some mushroom compost and manure.
2)  I want to start turning my compost so I can use it.  (I've just been dumping stuff in there.)
3)  I want to grow green peas and start them at the end of January.
4)  I want to start tomatoes, bell peppers and squash from seedlings instead of buying the plant to grow.
5)  I want to build a chicken tractor with my son this Spring. (I'll get into that more at a later date.)

There are more details to some of these, but it's my start.  What's something you want to accomplish in your garden this year?  Leave a comment and let's talk about it!