Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lessons from 2011 Gardening - Part 2

Pest Control
As with any year it’s important to record your pests and how you handled them. This year we had 2 main kinds 1)Japanese beetles and 2) yellow jackets.

Japanese Beetles – Last year we had beetles bad and almost lost all my fruit trees so I didn’t bother to research or plan for beetles this year since I heard they are an every OTHER year pest. Not true at all. We had more beetles this year than any other year. Turns out we will need to treat our yard to kill the babies as worms. Beetles LOVE grapes, raspberries, blackberries, peppers and okra all of which I grow. After half of a summer looking we have a nice little home remedy for the darned beetles. Pots of chives and cat nip/mint placed threw out my garden. We had tried multiple natural sprays involving pepper which would work for a day or 2 but not much more. Storms, water, dew all of that knocks the sprays off the plant. When you grow as much fruit as I do that’s a lot of spraying and a lot of hours. I bet I did 1hr a day for a week before I gave up for solution #2.

Now some might ask why not use chemicals? Good question. Most fruit have delicate skin and crevices like raspberries and blackberries. You cannot get chemicals out of those areas. The delicate skin will absorb the chemicals and become part of the fruit you eat. I will never advocate putting chemicals on any fruit. Better to lose the crop and find a natural solution than to put chemicals into what will become your body.

We did find out that we caused a portion of the beetle infestation. We plant marigolds to prevent deer and aphids out of our garden and they got out of control. Almost EVERY box has a perimeter of marigolds. Now 80% of garden pests HATE that smell but there’s 1 bug that it’s their favorite scent and that’s beetles. With all the rain we had this summer our marigolds grew as tall as some plants which turned out to be a bad thing. They brought in the beetles and our pest #2 yellow jackets.

Yellow jackets might not seem like a pest but they are. They are extremely territorial and nested in one of my beds beside my cantaloupe and the overgrown marigolds. They had their main 2 food sources there and weren’t leaving. I managed to save one cantaloupe but they devoured the others and chased anyone that came near the bed. That meant I lost 32ft of great planting soil. I had no choice but to wait it out and start pulling marigolds. Once the cantaloupe season was over they left on their own and took my cantaloupe with them.

The only other pests we had this year were birds that ate ALL of my grapes. Right before Hurricane Irene the grapes were nice but not quite ready; they needed about another week or two before they were finished. The very weekend after Irene the grapes were all gone. Lesson learned: net the grapes prior to them getting ripe. We really didn’t think our crop that was in it’s 2nd year was big enough to worry about birds but we were wrong.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lessons from 2011 Garden - Part 1

At the end of each gardening season it’s a good idea to write notes as to what worked, what didn’t and what changes you would make for the following year. This year we tried several new crops of which some worked and some didn’t.
Two of our new crops were onions and garlic. Both plants start out as a bulb that you plant into the ground but not too deep. Our onions did amazing. I had more onions than I knew what to do with but our garlic bombed.

The thing to remember about onions is to not plant them too deep. The ones that were more on the shallow side did better.

You can tell an onion is ready when it starts to rise up out of the ground. But they also last in the ground where you can only pull up what is needed for dinner. Try to pull up every other bulb allowing those that remain in the ground more growing space. By pulling every other onion the ones on either side expand in size and keep growing. I left my onions in the ground for 2 months only pulling what I needed for that night’s meal. Finally I took a day and harvested the rest.
If you are freezing onions all you need to do is cut them in half and freeze in a freezer safe container.

Our garlic didn’t do so well this year. We planted garlic in a bed where we were going to put our peppers later in the season but sometimes things don’t go as planned. Shortly after we put in the garlic we began to see green leaf lettuce sprouts everywhere. The lettuce ended up covering all 32ft of the bed equaling hundreds of salads and choking out all garlic.

Another new addition to our garden was peanuts. I’ve wanted to grow peanuts for about 2 years but since I don’t know anyone who has done it I have chickened out. Not this year. Turns out peanuts are very easy and bountiful. Peanuts can’t be harvested until October but what I have right now will equal a lot. The peanut plant itself looks like a regular plant with beautiful yellow blooms. The plant will shoot up and out producing pegs (small strands) which attaches to the ground and grows a peanut pod in the soil. Once I harvest them I’ll need to let them dry out. We can’t decide if we will roast them and eat them or make peanut butter. I have a feeling the kids want to eat and not wait for peanut butter.

The last new crop/fruit we took on is a fig tree. Finally I got my fig tree I’ve wanted for year. Our tree started in a nursery so we’ve ended up with 2 rounds of figs but not enough to make fig preserves or fig cookies/newtons. Still if you buy shortbread and eat the figs together you’d think they were fig newtons.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Recipe: Blueberry Crisp

This recipe is a family favorite when the blueberries come in. It's fast and easy what's not to like?

3 C blueberries
21 oz of blueberry pie filling
⅔ C flour
⅔ C brown sugar
½ C quick cooking oats
½ t cinnamon
½ C mayo

In 8x8 dish arrange blueberries and pie filling. Mix flour, sugar, oats and cinnamon. Stir in mayo. Using fingers gently squeeze dough to form crumbs. Sprinkle crumbs over blueberries. Bake 30 min at 375˚ until topping is golden.

Yield: 8 servings

Friday, June 24, 2011

Growing Lettuce in North Carolina

Months to Grow
Contrary to popular belief you can grow lettuce 10 months out of the year. The only time I have found that I can't grow lettuce is during the frost months (December and January). Any lettuce still alive will die.

Types to Grow
I grow Romaine, Green Leaf and Spinach. Makes a wonderful salad.

How to Start
Turns out that lettuce is extremely easy to start from seed. The only variety I can't find in seed is the multi- red and green leaf combined in 1 plant. Everything else I start from seed.

How to Grow
Plant seeds in rows not buried too deep. Water rows as soon as planted. Some say to wet the seeds prior to planting to spead up the sprouting process. I plant seeds in moist soil. Seeds will sprout within a week. Now only plant 1/2 to 1 row for each kind. These rows produce a whole lot which is more than a family of four can eat in 1 week. Wait at least 2-3 weeks prior to eating off the new plants. I wait until they are over 12 inches which is at least a few rows. Plant more rows every 3-4 weeks.

How to Pick
You should pull leaves off of your plants from the bottom. Leaves grow in rows. Pulling the lower rows allows for new growth to come from the top and middle.

The only pest I'm aware of that does damage is a fuzzy cute looking worm/catepillar. The worm appears harmless, oh but it's not. What it does is eat into the stem and then will eat down to the soil, travel to the next plant and eat up into it as well. All that takes less than 2 days so watch your garden carefully. I lost 2 plants before I figured this out. Gross at it sounds (and smells) I dug down through the plant into the soil and tracked it to the next plant which it was somewhere in and yanked out the whole plant. Thus will remove the worm inside the plant.

Now I use marigolds throughout my garden as a natural pest control so there might be other pests you'll have if you don't have marigolds I just don't know about them.

Below are beautiful pictures of lettuce in varying stages. The first four are lettuce in different stages. Pictures 5 and 6 show worm damage to lettuce plant. Oh yes don't be surprised to see lettuce pop up in various places - it reseeds itself easily.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Blackberry Lesson

A few years ago we tried our hand at blackberries. We read about the 3 main types and had no clue what that would look like in our area. We chose the trailing version because it was the middle ground. Now 1-2 years later we produce more than we can eat, unless I make blackberry freezer jam. Here's one of the main things we've learned.

Prune the plants during the dead season. Yes you'll find information that tells you to prune the stalks that produced berries leaving the newer ones to produce the following year but there's no research we found telling someone how to prune the NEW shoots. The new shoots will be the ones producing berries the following year. Below are pictures of our current plants. 1 shows a plant that was not pruned as a new shoot thus drastically produces less fruit. The other shows the plant that was pruned thus produces 3x the fruit. How does one prune the new shoot? Well as the leaves die all you need to do is bend them in the opposite direction until they fall off. If the leaf isn't dead it won't bend. Bending it will snap the old leaf thus allowing a new shoot to replace it.

Now why did we try this? Well as a plant grower I learned that pruning dead leaves produces new growth so I thought let's try it with blackberries and see what happens. Amazing results. The plants are drastically different and I wish I could get them to produce the same but I can't. 1 is definitely greater than another and the ONLY difference is the pruning. Pictures are the proof.

This picture is of the plant that WASN'T pruned as a new shoot. Just 1 stick and 6 off shoots.

This plant was pruned as a new shoot and now it's outgrown the area we planted it in.

Here's a picture showing me pushing back the old dead leaf/stem thus allowing new growth. You just want to bend it slightly in the opposite direction of it growing. See I'm bending it down when it was growing up.

Here's another shot of me bending the dead stem in the opposite direction thus breaking it off for new growth.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Questions on Gardening......

Recently I was asked a few questions regarding gardening and since I know people try their hand at gardening this year I thought I'd repeat the questions and answers here.

Do you plan to add anything new to your garden this year?
Yes this year I'm adding garlic, onions, corn and possibly peanut bushes. I might try my own hand at making peanut butter. Each year I like to try new crops and push myself to try and do something that I've never done. Last year it was pickles and this year peanut butter.

What will you start from seedling and what from seed? How do you decide?
I do a mixture of both seeds and plants. Here's how I decide: Do I really rely on this crop? Does it belong in the category of I'm going to be crushed if I don't grow it? If my answer is yes I will purchase plants and maybe try to grow from seeds on the side.
I've done this for a number of crops and have found what grows well from seeds and what does. For example you cannot ever mess up lettuce so why buy the plants. Just throw the seeds down and water. It's no fail. Others like tomatoe would just crush my house if I grew from seeds and they didn't take (that happened once). We NEED tomatoes throughout the year so now I just buy plants.

Where do you buy your plants?
Hudson's Hardware in Clayton. I've had the privilege of talking to Mrs Hudson herself. She's gardened in this area for over 30 yrs and seeds everything herself. There's never been a seed nor plant that I've purchased from her that didn't take (unless I messed it up). AND if I've messed something up or have a question I either ask her or her son. The sweetest family ever.

Do you know your 2011 planting and pruning schedule yet?
Yes years ago Mrs Hudson introduced me to a planting schedule from Wyatt-Quarles Seed Company, Garner NC. She told me that it's pretty darn accurate so that became my base. Hardware trusts this guide so much that they give it free to their customers and it's on the internet. From that I took notes each year regarding the weather and how long the crops actually needed. Then I transferred that to a calendar where I received monthly reminders of what to do next. Hudson's

Where do you get most of your gardening information? internet/ books/ other gardeners/ nursery or garden center?
When I started I knew NOTHING. Had never done anything like this before but my family ate sooo much food that I had to do something to offset our costs each month. So I started asking questions and reading books. Most books where too general and gave information on a large scale like across the state or US. That wasn't accurate for this area so I started scaling back. I talked to every home and garden shop in this entire area. I stopped farmers in the field and asked them questions. I stopped in people's yards and asked them questions. Afterall no one could tell you how to garden in this area better than other gardeners. What I found was how friendly the gardening community is. Talking to others increased the knowledge faster than any book or website could. And I found contacts that could help when my garden was in trouble like NC State Agricutural employees or the Hudson family at Hudson hardware. Now I feel like I actually know what I'm doing and enjoy it. It's fun each year to sit with the kids and wonder what this season's garden will look like.

Well I'm off to build 2 new 8x4 boxes for this year's garden. Enjoy!