Feeding Your Soil- 101

“Regard your soil as the living, breathing entity it is- to be nurtured, fed and sustained.” – Peter Fossel

Garden Boxes Rock

 

Soil is the Soul of your Garden!

It doesn’t matter what you plant or where you bought your plants or seeds, if your soil isn’t healthy- you will not be successful.  Soil may not be very exciting to a new gardener, but once you really understand the complexity and the vitality of healthy soil – you will look at soil with new eyes!

Micronutrients and Microbial Organisms are essential to healthy soil!

Microbes- the unseen, unsung heroes of soil and organic gardening.  They serve first to break down organic matter into a form plants can use, and then to improve the soils structure and the ability of plants to draw sustenance from it.

Micronutrients are those minerals and elements that are not needed in great quantities but are essential for plants to be healthy.

Where to begin?

The first step in bringing your soil into the best shape possible and into a state of high fertility is to know what type of soil you currently have.

A soil test is important to do in the very beginning.  Once you have a base line, deciding on amendments will be easier.  After the initial soil test, it isn’t necessary to keep having the soil tested- the plants will tell you if the soil is lacking.

To do a soil test- get a sample bag from the county extension office or from the lab that you want to use.  With a bucket in hand, dig 6-8 inches down with a small shovel and place the soil in the bucket.  Take samples from all over the area you are testing.  Even on a small piece of property, the soil can vary from on area to another.  Collecting from multiple points will give you a better picture.  Stir all the soil together and then fill the bag and mail it to the specified address and follow the lab’s instructions.

When the results come back- take the results to your county extension office and the agent can help you read and analyze the test results.

Now, it is important to understand that you don’t have to have a soil test to begin improving your soil.  The following amendments are perfect for every garden and cannot be over used as they are organic in nature and mild in their effects.

But, you do need to look at your soil and determine what kind you have:

Sandy Soil

Clay Soil

Loam

Or a combination of these types

 

Regardless of what you grow- fruits, herbs, vegetables, or flowers- it all starts with the soil.  The plants will only be as healthy as the soil that their roots are anchored in.  Therefore, it is imperative that attention is given to the health of the soil.

Key elements are:

Friability– the texture of the soil.  It should be soft and crumbly- think potting soil.

Most people do not begin with perfect soil of just the right texture but that does not mean you cannot be successful at gardening.

If your soil is too coarse (sandy) texture will be improved by adding compost and other organic materials such as mulch, leaves, etc.

If your soil is too fine (clay), which causes it to be compacted’ then it is going to need organic matter and other amendments such as green sand or expanded shale to loosen up the soil.

The Ph Balance- the Ph balance in the soil should be slightly alkaline.  If the soil is acidic the Ph can be adjusted by adding lime. However, I don’t think this point is worth getting worked up over unless you are growing a plant or crop that is extremely picky.  There are also many acid loving plants out there.  So, know what you are dealing with but then focus on using what you have versus feeling like you must change your soil.  If a soil is alive with microbial activity, plants can tolerate a Ph balance that is not quite right.

Drainage- this is more of a location issue.  If the location of your garden does not have good drainage you can fix this with using raised beds.  Sandy soils tend to drain too fast and clay soils tend to not drain fast enough.

If you have sandy soils you need to slow the drainage down by incorporating organic matter into the soil.  Any type of compost will work.  Compost acts like a sponge and holds onto water which helps correct the problem of drainage with sand.

Clay soils do not drain fast enough, so incorporating expanded shale or rock phosphate, you can spread the molecules out and allow the water to flow through.  Clay is very nutrient dense, so if you can solve the drainage issue, you can grow beautiful things in clay.

5 Key Amendments for Organic Soil

Organic Matter– compost, manure, etc

Lava Sand- The sand-sized and smaller waste material left from lava gravel mining is an excellent, high-energy soil amendment material.

Rock Phosphate– a finely ground rock powder, contains minerals and will enhance the soil texture

Greensand- a material from seabed deposits, contains minerals and improves soil texture.

Limestone (Lime)- rock powder used to sweeten acidic soils

 Micronutrients- these may be missing from your soil but are essential for crops and blooms.  Magnesium found in Epsom Salt is a good example.

Organic matter from a wide array of sources and greensand will ensure that you have micronutrients galore.

 

Earthworm Castings

Worm castings have been long known to be a highly fertile component of organic soil.  Compared to the average soil, worm castings are said to contain 5 times more nitrogen, 7 times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium.  They are rich in humic acids and improve the structure of the soil as well.

How To Apply- use these methods with any of the amendments

Top-Dress- this is simply sprinkling the amendments over the top of the soil.  This method would be used in existing beds.

Working It In- In using this method, you would apply the amendments to the soil and then turn the soil over.  The soil can be turned over by hand with a shovel or by machine such as a tiller.  This method would be used in new beds or in row cropping.

Fertilizers:

Compost!  LOTS of it-  This is one of the best fertilizers you can use.  If you have your own compost pile then it is free- which makes it even better!

Animal Manures– any animal that chews its cud produces manure that can be added directly to the garden.  This would include Llamas, goats, and sheep.  Other animal manures need to be composted first for about 6 months then added to the garden.  Rabbits are an exception to this rule, their manure can be added directly to the garden.

American Blue Rabbits
Not only do these cute things produce excellent fertilizer for your garden- they are easy to keep!

Carl Poole Fertilizers- this is a good company that makes some great products.

These should be applied in September thru November for Spring and Summer gardens and June – August for Fall Gardening.  Top dressing is the best way as tilling can disturb soil biology.  The less disturbance the better.  Most beds are still in good shape from the summer garden and just need to be cleaned up and top dressed.

Bringing soil to a point of great texture and high fertility is an ongoing process- once you have achieved beautiful soil, you will still need to maintain it with these same amendments and fertilizers.

Even though your plants will tell you if something is wrong, don’t wait for a struggling plant to address the soil.  Make amending the soil part of your garden schedule and then happy plants will greet you all year long!

An herb garden
Beans, and Texas natives make good companions with herbs.

 

Lettuce Get Planting! How To Grow Lettuce In Texas

Lettuce, Herbs, Green Onions, and Radishes- great fall crops

This post in from the archives- and oldie but a goodie!

There are some nasty rumors going around about lettuce.  I hear that it is really hard to grow with lots of insect problems.  It has also been said that lettuce grown in Texas tastes bitter because of the heat.  Lies, all of them.

The misinformation comes from the fact that  the instructions on the back of seed packets and those great little farming magazines are written for folks living in the areas of the country that actually have four seasons and one growing season.  Now do not misunderstand me, I love my gardening magazines, but the time lines do not line up. Well, welcome to Texas Gardening.  There is a rhythm to gardening in Texas that is as unique as our Texas spirit.  Once you learn the rhythm you will be amazed at what you can grow.

However, for now we will focus on lettuce and its cousins.  It perturbs me to no end to have to purchase greens of any kind in the grocery store.  Homegrown greens are so easy and tasty!  Also, it is so much easier to have a bed of lettuce and just go pick you some whenever you want, than to have to go to the store when you want a salad.  If you are like me, lots of times what’s for dinner is not something planned very far in advance.  So, having items growing in the garden to have on hand is just the ticket.

One of the perks about lettuce and all the other greens, such as arugula, chard, spinach, etc. is that they can by eaten at all stages.  Baby greens make for a scrumptious salad or sandwich.  Many people, like my children, do not like mature spinach but love baby spinach.  So, while the plants are growing you can pick the outer leaves and enjoy the garden abundance for many weeks.  The greens( the term greens refers to all types of lettuce, herbs, kale, greens, spinach etc)  do not take a lot of space.  One 5X12  foot bed of greens will keep my family of 6 in fresh greens.

Now to dispel the lies.

First, that lettuce is hard to grow.  Not so, you just have to know when to plant it.  If you read many of the labels on lettuce sold in Texas, the labels  say to plant after all danger of frost has passed.  The problem with this is that if you wait that long in Texas you can have as little as 2 weeks until the temps are consistently in the mid- 80′s.  The proper planting times in Texas are February- April and September- December.  Lettuce is a cool season crop.  When most areas of the country are having dead of winter, we are having our cool season.   When we have had a mild winter, I harvest greens from September until June.  That is only 2 months of store-bought greens in a year.  That makes my heart happy! Most lettuce varieties,as well as spinach and collard greens, can stand temperatures down to 23′ degrees.  Some winters we don’t even get that cold once so you can have a productive garden all winter.

Second lie- lettuce has many insect problems. Now there are certain worms- Cabbage Loppers for example- that do like lettuce.  However, these are easily dispatched with Bt.  Bt- (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a naturally occurring bacterial disease that only attacks caterpillars.  Bt is organic and you can eat the produce with no worries that synthetic pesticides bring.  There are other insects that can be a problem at times, but I have found in my gardens that Bt is all I need to keep things in balance.  Also, there are other methods of insect control, but again the Bt is simple, easy and effective so that is what I use.  You can find it at most hardware and garden supply stores.  If you have fertile soil fed and amended with organic compost and fertilizers, most other insects won’t pose a large problem.

Third Lie- lettuce grown in Texas tastes bitter- hogwash.  Again, you just need to know when to plant and what varieties to plant.  The types that are considered “slow to bolt” are the best for planting in the spring.  Bolting refers to sending up a conical shaft with blooms that will produce seeds.  Warm weather signifies to the lettuce that it is time to make seeds.  So, those lettuces that are slow to bolt will be the most tolerant of warm weather.  While you are looking in seed catalogs for heirloom selections (heirloom refers to varieties that will reproduce consistently if the seeds are saved) look for ones that were developed in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas- of course- or Israel.  These areas have climates similar to ours and those varieties will usually do well here for the spring planting.  Look for varieties labeled “Cool season” or “cold tolerant” on the lettuces, these will be the ones for planting in the fall.  When it comes to the spinach, swiss chard, and kale- these are not even stopped by a freeze so they will grow all winter.

lettuce in compost raised beds

Some of my favorite varieties are:
For Fall Planting: Black Seeded Simpson, Drunken Woman, Tom Thumb, Oakleaf
For Spring Planting:  Oakleaf, Jericho- awesome, Tom Thumb
Spinach- Longstanding Bloomsdale is great year round.

Most of your annual herbs like dill, Salad Burnett, chives are best planted on the same schedule as lettuce.
I like to sow the seeds in wide beds.  I thin the seedlings and use them in salads as baby greens.  Keep the lettuce or greens watered one inch once per week and a little shade is very helpful for extending the growing season in the summer.  The seeds usually germinate and emerge in 7-10 days.

So there you have it- the truth about lettuce.  Now what are you waiting for?  September is coming to a close and October is upon us,  I can just taste the homegrown lettuce now.

Raised beds are great for gardening, this one in the front is filled with baby greens.

Off To Whispering Pines (the butcher)

Today was the day!  We have been looking forward to this for months.  Effie the Pig and the heifer ( and I mean that in EVERY sense of the word) went to Whispering Pines today.  Shortly, we will have a freezer full of good clean meat.  Meat having been raised on love, clean water, lots of grass and in the case of Effie, lots of kitchen scraps and melons too far gone for us to eat.

I am often asked, “How can you eat your animals, animals that you know?”  Well, I must admit that sometimes it is hard.  Francis Bacon was a pig that I loved.  I patted him as we unloaded him and told him thank you.  Effie, she was another story and pig all together.  You see, some animals push your buttons and make life miserable.  As you chase those animals around the farm, through your gardens, and out of the sheds – you find yourself thinking, ” I can’t wait to eat you!” Really, some animals are so determined to upend  a farm’s balance and happiness that you even have ideas of just getting the shotgun and having roast pig luau style.  I keep using pigs as an example and that should tell you something.  Effie was one of those animals that was made for pulled pork sandwiches. So when she got out of the trailer, with much ado and drama I must say, I was like “Good riddance and don’t let the screen door hit you in the behind on the way out.”  Very kind and loving, I know.  But until you have chased a pig in  Texas summer heat not once but three times in 5 days- don’t judge me.

In all honesty, I do take this seriously.  The fact is that it takes life to sustain life.  I am grateful to the animals that feed my family.  I show them this by providing shelter, good food and clean water and plenty of kindness.  They lead a joyous life, even if their joy is derived from causing me to cuss a blue streak, until the day they die and they never saw it coming.  Most humans can’t say that about their own lives.  Everyone has a job and purpose in life, farm animals are no different.

Most folks have problems with knowing the animals that they eat because in their minds they only have two files- Pet & Wildlife.  The reality is that there are three files- Pet, Wildlife, and Food.  All of our animals are stewarded as best we know how and treated humanly every step of the way.  Some are destined to a long life as a breeder (which are sometimes considered pets and sometimes considered family members) and some will have a much shorter life and are destined for the freezer.

The butcher we use is very important to us.  When you have taken the time to raise your own meat and treat the livestock in a certain manner, you want to know that they are handled humanly in the end.  We do not have the resources to process the large animals we raise so we take them to Whispering Pines.  This is a Mennonite community that are committed to peace.  You might not agree with their philosophy, but that peace and calmness permeate the place and even the animals feel it.  Cattle are very jumpy critters when stressed and will cause quite a ruckus.  Every time we have taken our cattle in, they have trotted onto the scales and then right on out to the holding pen with 5 or 6 other steers just standing there like everyone took a large dose of Valium before they arrived.  This is a wonderful bunch of folks and they make certain that you get the meat from the animal that you brought in to the shop.  It makes it so much easier to leave you animals when you can do business with people like these.

So, the circle of life goes on and I am looking forward to getting the lard from our pig.  I have never requested the lard before so this will be a new experience.  I hear tell that baked goods made with lard and just addictive they are so good.  We shall see!

Jonathan making pork chopsFried Pork Chops- a Southern Love.  Can’t wait for Jonathan to cook us up some more!

 

Selling On Saturday

This Saturday began with an unusual event- I woke up before the alarm went off @ 4:50 am.  Usually, the alarm sounds and I feel bad for Tony being the one to get up and go to work.  Then the realization sets in that in fact it is I who must get up and get going.  I always enjoy my time at the market, I just don’t enjoy getting up at 5 am.  I know, for some of my fellow farmers and homesteaders, this is a daily time to rise.  But around here, our animals are trained not to even look for feeding until about 9 am.  I am usually up and about by 6:30 am but the feeding is done by the farm kids and they don’t rise nearly so early.

It was a good market at the White Rock Local Market, our weekly Saturday venue.  So many good folks come out to find real food and support local farmers.  Plant sales, as to be expected, are slow at this time.  Thankfully, the gardens are giving us lots of fresh cut herbs and extra produce to sell.  Any cut herbs that don’t sell are hung on the racks to dry and then to be sold as teas or seasoning.

I intended to take more photos of the market, but alas, I was busy or I was talking to my neighbors that I really like.  Maybe I will do better next week…

market july 20 2013Bell Peppers, Illini Gold Tomatoes, Tender Grey Zucchini, Yellow Crookneck Squash, Muncher Cucumbers, Sweet Banana Peppers, Matt’s Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, Lemon Verbena, Tulsi, Sage, Thyme, Garden Sorrel,  Lemon Basil, Salad Burnett were the produce taken and sold.

 

For the love of Salsa!

This is a post from the archives, but Cheyenne made a batch of salsa yesterday and she just nailed it.  That Salsa is so good, it needed to be shared again!

 

Me & Cheyenne (drinking bubbly apple juice)
Cheyenne and I share a lot of things.  For instance, neither one of us can hide our feelings very well, what we think is telegraphed on our faces, we love taking care of our animals, we are strong willed, and we love babies.  Also, we share a love of really good Salsa.  Mexican food makes us happy and we like a little heat.  She is her mother’s daughter, with just enough of her daddy mixed in to mellow her out in a nice way.
She has been making some noise about needing to make salsa with our bountiful harvest of tomatoes.  Apparently, Cheyenne has not thought that using the tomatoes to make tomato sauce was a very wise use of those beautiful ‘maters.  A love of spaghetti is not something we share.  So, I surfed the internet for a recipe and found one that was simple and looked promising. And yesterday we got busy over some tomatoes, hot peppers, and cilantro.
The recipe was simple and we followed it up until we tasted the salsa, then we went to tinkering.  Cheyenne is really good about making notes as she improvises so we were able to recreate the same flavor this morning, as we already needed more.
Below is the recipe- our rendition, not the one from the internet.  Before putting everything in the food processor, we cored the tomatoes and scored the other ends and dropped them into boiling water for about a minute.  The tomatoes are in the boiling water just long enough for the skin to start to curl.  Then the peeling just slips off, chop the tomatoes roughly and toss in the processor.  The longer you run the food processor the finer the salsa, so if you like chunky then just pulse a few times.  Also, for thicker salsa use paste tomatoes such as roma or Illini Gold.
Cheyenne’s Fresh Salsa
2-3 medium tomatoes, stems and peelings removed (see above)
½  onion coarsely chopped
2- fish peppers seeds removed- unless you want to up the heat then leave the seeds in. (if you don’t have fish peppers, jalapeno or any other hot pepper will work.
Juice of one lime
1 cup cilantro
1 tsp salt (adjust to taste)
½ tsp of cumin
Put tomatoes, peppers & onions in food processor and pulse for about 2 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse till you are happy with the consistency.  Taste- if too hot add more tomatoes, if not hot enough, add more peppers.
Let set in the refrigerator for one hour to let the flavors blend- if you can wait that long, we just eat right out of the blender bowl.
ENJOY!

So How Do You Move A Beehive?

With great care!

Of all the moving we have done since March relocating the herb farm, family, and animals- the thing that concerned me the most was moving the bees.  For obvious reasons of safety to us humans but also for the safety of the bees.  We have had our hives for 3 years and they have been so healthy and vigorous.  The idea of disrupting their lives or causing them serious damage weighed on my mind.

Savannah, my 18 yr old, started us on this course of bee keeping when she received a scholarship from the East Texas Bee Keepers Association.  Included in the scholarship was an in depth class on bee keeping, a new hive, and bees.  We did have to buy her bee suit and a few tools and then I purchased a hive and bees as well.  A funny thing about the two hives, Savannah’s hive is made up of very calm bees who just chill and go on their way and my hive is rather aggressive and do not appreciate any interference in their business.  These hives completely mirror the personalities of their owners.  Savannah is just like my husband in temperament and we get along really well.

Not only was physically moving the bees a challenge, the distance we were going was a concern.  Bees are very habitual beings and if you move their hive a short distance they will be so confused that they will die.  So, if you are going to move a hive it must be several miles away from the current location.  Well, our new farm is about 5 miles away by car on the roads but as the crow flies (or bee in this case) we were not sure it was really all that far.  One good thing is that the Canton City lake is in between us and it is quite large.  Hopefully this great expanse of water will keep the bees from being so confused that they go back home only to find the hives gone.

The night before we moved the bees, Savannah went over with her dad and stuffed towels in the entrance so that the bees could not leave at the crack of dawn.  The idea is that any bees left outside the hive will die and leave you alone when you go to move the hive.  It seems harsh, but there are only a few bees that did not go up at night.  However, they also did not die.  They were alive and well buzzing around the hive working to chew their way through the towel.

Bees At Hollyberry Herb Farm

Since Savannah had been up late helping her dad with other stuff the night before, I had gotten up just as the sun was rising to help Tony.  All zipped up in her suit, I checked the towels to make certain they were in good and tight- the last thing we wanted was for the towel to slip out while we were moving them and have to deal with thousands of angry bees.

We then slid the dolly up under the first hive and ever so gently wheeled it to the trailer and up the ramps.  Then we repeated the action with the second hive.  I was concerned about the loose bees giving us trouble, but the were so focused on getting into their hive that they didn’t really care what we were doing.  Once the hives were on the trailer, they were strapped down tight and we slowly made our way through town with me sitting up in the front still suited up looking like something from a sci-fi movie.

Bees on the trailerThe extra bees either couldn’t keep up or got up under the hive and made the trip with us.  There were plenty on the bottom of the hives when we got to the farm.  Now, we repeated the dolly process in reverse.

Using the dolly to move bees

Bees in their new homes

Removing the plugs from the entrance

 

The only challenge left in this parade was to remove the towels plugging up the entrances.  I must say I was a bit aprehensive about this part.  After all, I was about to release thousands of bees ready to die to protect the hive.  My fear was unfounded, I slipped the towels out and moved briskly but calmly away.  In all of this, not one bee sting was had between the two of us!  Now the bees are sitting pretty on a heavy duty pallet feeding on all the bloom herbs.

The underside of a bee hiveWhile Tony had the hive tilted back on the dolly, I snapped a picture of the bees on bottom.  I wish you could see the activity on the other side of the screen and hear the low drone of the bees- it is a beautiful sound.

Blooming Lemon BalmLemon Balm, or Melissa which is Greek for Bee, blooming for the bees.  There is plenty blooming in the gardens for the bees to feed on.  All of the herbs are blooming late due to our unusually cold spring.

What are you planting to feed the bees?  You are planting something for the bees, aren’t you?  After all, the bee is responsible for 2 of every 3 bites of food you eat!  We need the bees.

 

 

 

 

Grasshoppers & NOLO Bait

A nasty little beast eating the Kale
A nasty little beast eating the Kale

I once read in a gardening book that grasshoppers are usually present but don’t do much in the way of damage.  I thought, “You have got to be kidding!  There is a place on earth where grasshoppers don’t do damage?!”  If there is a place- it is certainly not in Texas.  Here, grasshoppers give a very living example of the plague that Moses sent on the Egyptians.  The grasshopper will eat any vegetation in site and leave nothing but skeletal stalks behind.  And once the grasshopper has matured, poisons will not kill them.

So what to do?  I have found NOLO Bait to be very effective.  NOLO Bait is bran flakes coated in Nosema locustae- a microbial agent that infects only grasshoppers and either kills them or makes them too sick to eat.  This is awesome! Then, the healthy grasshoppers move in and eat the sick ones (grasshoppers are cannibalistic) and then they get sick further spreading the disease.  All the while, no other good bug or bee or humming bird is bothered by this illness.

So how is this accomplished, exactly?

From the website: http://www.goodbug.com/nolobait.html#HowWork

How exactly does Nolo Bait™ work?

Once the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae spores are ingested by the grasshopper they become activated in the grasshopper’s mid-gut. The spores germinate or extrude a filament from the cell wall. In the process of extruding this filament, the spores pierce the mid-gut wall of the grasshopper and in very young grasshoppers death usually occurs very quickly. This is due to septicemia or bacteria invading the grasshopper and causing death. In more mature grasshoppers the spores continue to reproduce, utilizing the fat body of the grasshopper for energy. As the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae population increases inside the grasshopper it becomes lethargic, reduces its feeding and has lowered reproduction capability. In addition, grasshoppers are quite cannibalistic and healthy grasshoppers will feed on their slow, sickly companions. This enables the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae to spread throughout the population and infect other grasshoppers that migrate into the area. Infected female grasshoppers can also pass the infection along in the sticky substance that surrounds the egg pods. As the newly hatching grasshoppers chew their way out of the egg pod they also become infected and will mostly likely die before reaching the first molt.

The grasshoppers love the bran- it’s like crack cocaine for them.  Once you spread the bait out on your plants you will see them feeding heavily.  You will also see a lot of damage in that area to the plants at first.  The picture above is the first area I spread the bait this year and the grasshoppers have fed there the most.  I am now starting to see some damage and more grasshoppers but this bed is just about done, here in Texas is is now hot and the kale is turning bitter so I am leaving it for the grasshoppers to feed on knowing that the sick ones are there and any new comers will eat the sick ones and then spread the disease.  When you garden organically you have to get used to the idea that it is a process, one that takes time to turn the tide.  This is the first year for us at this new place so I may have some problems with grasshoppers, but by being patient I can kill them at the root of the problem while not harming our bees, birds, or other good bugs.

It is best to spread NOLO Bait at the first sign of grasshoppers- when the are about 1/2 inch to an inch long.  At this stage the grasshoppers will be killed by the infection.  However, if you feed it when they are larger you will still infect the population with the disease that will continue to spread for several years.  As you can see, if you start using this bait and your neighbors start using this bait and you put it out 2-3 times per season, you can really do some damage to the populations of grasshoppers in your area- for the long term.  Spraying poisons just kills what grasshoppers are there (if it kills them at all) but does nothing to stop the cycle of the grasshopper.  The use of broad spectrum poisons is a bad process and not an effective management tool.

Kale and grasshoppersThis bed of Kale looks like an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet to the new arrivals, but it is like a loaded gun.  “Come and eat my pretties” it says, but all the while death awaits.  I may seem a bit dark in the way I enjoy death and destruction of the grasshoppers- but once you have watched your gardens be invaded and every leaf stripped bare you realize its you or them.  Nature is a tough place to live.

Add NOLO bait to your arsenal this year, you will be glad you did in the long run. NOLO Bait can be ordered on line or purchased at a feed store or garden center that carries organic gardening supplies.

What is your biggest problem in your gardens?

Just To Be Straight With You..

If you are growing your own greens, such as Kale, Collard Greens, Turnip Greens, Or Chard, I am going to level with you- at some point you are going to find a worm in your pot.  No matter how many times you wash them and how thoroughly you pick over the greens at some point you will miss one.  Don’t worry, the meal is not ruined, just fish the little guy out and dump him in the compost bin. I just want you to know what you are getting into when you start growing your own organic greens.

Probably 95% of the time, the worms on your greens will be cabbage loopers.

Common Name: Cabbage looper Scientific Name: Trichoplusia ni (Hübner) Order: Lepidoptera cabage looper

Description: The caterpillar (larva) grows to be about 2 inches long, is light green and has three pairs of “true” legs behind the head plus pairs of fleshy “false legs” (prolegs) on the 3rd, 4th and last or 6th segments behind the segment with the last pair of true legs (the abdominal segments). This arrangement of legs causes the caterpillar to crawl with a “looping” motion, similar to that of inchworms. Some specimens are marked with light stripes along the body. Adult moths are mottled grayish-brown with a 1 1/2 inch wingspan. Each forewing is marked near its center with a pair of characteristic silver markings: a spot and a mark resembling a “V” or and “8” with an open end.

 

This article from Texas A&M goes on to say that the worms are “medically harmless” meaning that you can boil them in your pot and be fine.  You could even eat one and be fine.  I must say that unless I find myself in the Outback of Australia with Tom Selleck having just been saved from death by the Aborigines, I am not eating worms on purpose.  But, it is nice to know that no one will die if it happens while eating organic Kale from my garden.

You can control the worms organically with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).  This is a bacteria that makes the worms sick and either kills them or causes them to stop eating- which will result in death.  This bacteria only effects worms, so the lady bugs and other “good guys” in the garden are safe and will not be harmed.  But, of course, this should not be used in a butterfly garden as it will kill all worms, caterpillars included.  Bt will also kill tomato horn worms and other pests like these.  Chickens will also control the worms but the downside to this program is that the chickens will eat more Kale then the worms.

Also, you need to know that just because your Kale or other greens may have been chewed on by worms, it is not ruined.  Just pick the munched on leaf and chop it up as usual.  Once cooked, you will never know the difference.

You should be growing greens, by the way.  They are nutrient dense, easy to grow and like cool weather.  This means that in Texas, we can grow the from August/September until May or June.  I have greens such as Chard, Kale, and Spinach in my garden almost year round.  So, put them on your “must have” list for the seed order. You will be glad you did!

KaleDon’t worry about a few holes.  If you garden organically, you will have some.

Ahh, The Rain

As I write tonight, the thunder is rolling and the rain is falling.  Such a beautiful sound and the scent of rain in the air is just delicious. How grateful I am to have the rain to water all that has been planted.  Lately( like since Saturday), we have been having typical Texas weather- hot and humid.  I do not mind, the tomatoes and peppers are growing, setting fruit and acting as they should.  We are finally harvesting squash.

Trenched Garden PlotThis garden plot is one of four in an area of the farm that holds water each time it rains.  And by” holds water” I mean that water will sit in this area and be squishy to walk on for days after the smallest rain.  As I write the trenches are filled to the brim from the rain coming down.  We suspect that there may be an underground spring located here, as well.  Anyway, for whatever reason, this area is a challenge.  So, to possiby make this a usable area I have trenched deeply and piled the dirt up to raise the rows.  Hopefully, this will allow the plants to drain well enough to grow properly.  I am thinking that if the plants can survive the spring rains that this wet area will be a benefit in the summer.  So far, the bell peppers and egg plants are doing well.  These particular plants like the heat to really thrive, so they are just now beginning to grow vigorously. Also  planted in these wet plots are cucumbers, watermelons, mush melons, and butter beans.

You may notice the hay scattered about.  I had company coming and thought a quick mulch that would make the beds look nice would be hay and I could just run to the farm store and get a bale easy.  So, I did.  Then a day or two later as I was admiring the lovely garden plots it occurred to me that I had no idea where the hay had come from and what had been sprayed on it.  Yikes!  Thus, I raked it all out and fed it to the goats.  This may seem like a lot of work but considering that some of the herbicides that are used on hay fields kill any plant in the nightshade family (think tomato and eggplant) and stay in your soil for five years- this was hardly a waste of time. Now, I can rest easy.  I will have these plots mulched by weeks end, but I will use pine needles from my mother’s place.

potato towersOur potato towers are growing very well. I covered the plants about 5 days ago as shown in the photo above and already there is so much new green growth out of the top of the compost that it is time to cover again.  I am excited at the idea of home-grown potatoes!  In the tomato patch, “Large Red” and “Illini Gold” are loaded up with green tomatoes, Matt’s Cherry  is looking good as well and has an orange fruit getting ripe as we speak.  I love to look out the kitchen window in the morning and gaze at my gardens while I wash dishes.  We have so many song birds in the gardens, they love to sit on the trellises that we have built for the tomatoes, cukes, and melons.  I would like to think they are happy to sing to me in the morning, but I know that they are really just casing the joint.

cute kittenMaybe my fierce farm cat will keep the birds from eating my tomatoes?

 

What is growing in your garden?  If you don’t have a garden, what would you grow if you could?

Garlic & Texas

As we get out and about now selling our herbs a Farmer’s Markets and Garden Festivals, I am frequently asked if I have any garlic.  When I ask questions to clarify just what the customer is looking for, I am surprised that they are looking for seedlings so that they can grow their own Garlic.  How marvelous!  Just one problem…

If you want to grow garlic in Texas you need to plant is in September, the same with strawberries- but that is a whole other blog and soapbox.  Once planted in September, the bulbs will sprout and grow all winter long then in June or so, the tops will start to turn brown and it is time to harvest.  Yes, no matter where you live garlic takes that long to grow.  But, it is so worth it and it really is easy.

To get started, you will need something to plant- right?  Garlic can be purchased in the store as a bulb.  In that bulb are many cloves.  Each clove when planted will produce another bulb and the cycle just keeps going.  So, once you purchase your garlic you will not ever need to purchase more, just save some cloves from your harvest and you will be good to go.  You can plant the garlic from the grocer or you can order from a seed company.  If you order from a seed company you will know exactly what variety you are getting and in the supermarket you will have no idea.  I have planted plenty from the grocer and did just fine.

The looser the ground, the better for growing garlic.  However, I have grown in clay and done fine.  Just dig a little whole twice as deep as the clove is long and plant the clove pointy end up.  Then wait.  You can inter plant with something like lettuce that has a shallow root system to make use of the open soil and double your harvest from the same square footage.  For the best harvest, you will need to water- but no more than you would for any other crop.

You will know when to harvest by the fact that the stalks have bloomed and now are beginning to turn brown.  Use a pitch fork or something similar to loosen the soil.  Gently pull the garlic up.  Spread the stalks on a dry and flat surface and let the cure (dry out a bit and the outer “paper” will dry).  Garlic can by stored for the better part of the year easily meaning that if you plant enough you will never need to buy garlic again.

Happy Planting!

garlic bulbgarlic plantinggarlic young plantgarlic bloom