Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Things That Go Chomp in the Night...and the Day Too...

Okay, so being the bibliophile and researching nerd that I am, when I started this garden venture I tried to be very thorough in my studying. But the truth is, while they may have given me a great learning curve, experience is a wonderful teacher. (And perhaps painful, too?) I have lost my entire summer squash bed this year. Again. Georgia has a beautifully long (albeit hot) growing season, so I planted another round this morning.

Last year I surveyed pictures of the basic garden pests so I would be familiar if I spotted one, preferably before it destroyed the whole harvest. As I've said before, The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Ed Smith has been a helpful beginning gardening guide without being too overwhelming. I also love all the pictures - they came in very handy when identifying these unwelcome guests and how to combat them.

While I was disturbed at how big the tomato horn worm can get, let alone how quickly it can devour a plant, I was just plain disgusted with the squash bug fiasco of 2010. *full body shudder* They were EVERYWHERE. I have to admit, these guys really snuck up on me and I lost the battle before I even realized there was one. Fortunately, that attack was more delayed and I harvested quite a bit before calling it quits. Also, the prolific zucchino rampicante (the only vining zucchini) held up the longest against the squash bugs. Not to mention the ridiculous amount of fruit it bore. Seriously.

This year I was ready for squash bug battle. But not for the squash vine borer. I carefully surveyed every day, killing the very few squash bugs I found and crushing any eggs on the leaves. It really never got out of hand...but they were dying left and right and I couldn't figure out why. They went from healthy to wilty within 2 days. That was when I noticed the damage at the base on ALL of them. Most had hollow cores and were on their way out. I realized the very dead ones had no grub in the stem, but the slightly perkier ones did. I decided to pull everything in hopes of capturing the grubs simultaneously. :-\

So my squash bed is empty, but with the hope of a second round to come. I'm a big fan of companion planting, and opt for these beneficial relationships over traditional pest control methods. Nasturtium is reportedly a great deterrent for pests that feast on cucurbits, so I have seeded it in heavily with my squash, hoping to ward off another raid. Onions and garlic are also helpful for repelling, but I have already planted my onions in another bed.

The other veggies seem to be faring well, despite the heat. I purchased a Mister Landscaper kit at Lowe's, and it is fantastic! It's a drip irrigation system just for gardens that's very customizable. This will really help to reduce water waste, plus, it will help prevent diseases on the leaves from traditional sprinkler watering. It also won't matter what time of day I turn it on because it waters directly on the soil and won't scorch the leaves in the sun. Time to go oogle all my green tomatoes and dream of the fresh salsa to come...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Trellis Netting

Last year, I used twine trellising for our beans, cukes and tomatoes. It worked okay, but midway through the season, it began to degrade and break. Originally, I had liked the idea of being able to toss the whole mess into the compost come season's end, but this was a bit soon for my taste. I'm also not a fan of traditional tomato cages. I imagine everyone has their preference, I just felt like they were less than adequate.

So, this year, we opted for some nylon trellis netting I found at Lowe's (or Home Depot, can't remember which). It was fairly inexpensive still, and I hopefully can use it next season too. There were a couple different brands and sizes, and I chose the one that best suited our bed size without having to trim or throw any away. Our beds are roughly 4' x 12', with a 5' x 10' pipe trellis frame. The netting was very stretchy, and I attached it to the frames with small zip ties on the top and middles, and larger ones for the sides. (The netting didn't quite stretch wide enough, so this gave me a few extra inches.)

Almost June Garden

Well, the garden is off to a beautiful start, and I'm looking forward to reaping soon! The peppers and tomatoes are already producing and I know the boys will be happy when we pick our first cukes. I'm sifting through canning books/recipes to determine what I might like to try this year. There are dozens that sound delicious, but I know that's quite unrealistic ;) I really hope to do some pickles at least though. And maybe some peppers...

I'm being much less neurotic this year when it comes to all things garden, but I feel much more prepared this year overall. My okra did so well last year I hardly gave it any attention this spring. I just threw some seeds in the dirt in another place in the yard, thinking it didn't really need the deep beds. It responded by sprouting 2 very sad seedlings out of 40. So, plan B is to stick some more seeds in the empty middle of the potato bed. I definitely don't need as many as last year, though! There's still okra in the freezer.

I planted my climbing zukes and cukes in the front bed at our porch and hung trellis netting on both sides. I also used this for my tomatoes and beans. Hopefully it endures better than last year's twine. That worked, but by the end of the summer it was starting to disintegrate. These plants will grow tall and thick, and give some much needed shade to the front of the house, which gets very heavy afternoon summer sun. I got this idea from my last copy of Mother Earth News, and I was very intrigued. This is my first attempt in that direction.

Here are some early pix of the garden, and while not overly impressive yet, I'm excited! More bountiful pix will come soon...

  Yellow, red, green, cayenne and jalapeno peppers:
 Yellow, purple and sweet potatoes:
 One of the 2 tomato beds: (Probably 10 or 12 different varieties)
 1 of 3 green bean beds, 4 different varieties including a few asain long beans:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hard Lotion Review

I first heard of MadeOn hard lotion sometime last year...and I was intrigued. Stephanie over at Keeper Of the Home raved about how it had transformed her hands. All four of us have dry skin, and patchy eczema. You can order the bars pre-made, or order the supplies in bulk and make them yourself following her tutorial. And most recently, she has put together a kit to make it yourself! I was very excited because I just had never gotten around to looking at her suppliers, placing orders, yada yada yada.

I ordered the DIY kit, which came with a small pre-made bar so you knew what it was supposed to look like. I followed her suggestion to freeze the packets before opening them, and that made it very easy. The whole process went very quickly! I actually dumped everything in my Micro-Cooker, put it in the microwave and melted it there instead of on the stove. I used ice cube trays for most of it, and the 4 lip-balm tubes. (LOVE!) I figured that would give me small sample sizes for family and friends.

It works fabulous. Absolutely amazing. I no longer use any other lotions or lip creams. I also use it on my eye area and sparingly on my face. (Come winter, it will be perfect.) It feels so good and is long-lasting. The ice cube bars are a little small for normal use, and get difficult to apply other than to your hands. I have a brilliant idea to save my deodorant container and melt some in it for body application. It is about the same melting point, and I think it will work really well. I love applying it to my legs after shower/shaving. My sister-in-law is using it on her prego belly and says it feels wonderful.

I can't wait to make my next batch! I think it would also make excellent gifts...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Crop Rotation

The garden bed layout is finished, with some pretty significant changes from last year. I had begun with Eliot Coleman's crop rotation as a starting point last year, which was good, but definitely needed some tweaking this year. Here it is:

Those are our nine beds, left to right. The pile in the upper left corner are 2 herbs I won't be including in the raised beds and 3 veggies that took over the garden last year. I hope to find a permanent home for some rosemary bushes in the landscaping (perhaps by the front door?) and somewhere open for the candy roaster pumpkin and zucchino to sprawl and thrive. The marigold and nasturtium I will intersperse throughout the garden, along with some other flowering plants along the fence to attract beneficial insects. (Come here, little ladybugs!) Perhaps some frogs will find a home there too.

I'm sticking with the same varieties as last year for the most part. I was very happy with pretty much everything, and what I was disappointed in had more to do with my error than a poor seed choice. Plus, I have some of almost everything left. There are only a few things we still need to purchase, but I've heard rumor the Family Tree garden center carries a good selection of heirloom seeds, including Baker Creek seeds. I'll give a review after we visit...

I merely dabbled in beneficial flower plantings (or companion planting) last year, and I hope to expand that this year. I have lantana down the driveway side of the garden, and I am going to put red trumpet vine and morning glories on the corner fence posts. The list is long, so I'm just going to pick ones that visually appeal to me. Another option is to choose some bait plants. These intentionally attract an insect you have a problem controlling in your area. For instance, larkspur (or delphinium) attracts Japanese beetles and is poisonous, so they die. (Warning: fatal to humans too, as are many beautiful and beneficial plants, so choose carefully in regard to small children or animals.)

I'm way behind on starting my seeds, but I'm trying to schedule that in for this week. As I walked to the mailbox today, my second-year asparagus was standing thin and tall to greet me. A long-term investment that I am looking forward to reaping in a year or two. I am tentatively planning on dropping some more asparagus seeds in the bed, as it doesn't seem to be taking up as much room as I initially thought. A well-maintained bed can be harvested for over 20 years, and can also be dug up and moved if necessary, in between seasons.

As a final note regarding my bed layout, sweet potatoes and potatoes are not good companion plants, so I have them separated. I also spaced out veggies of the same family in case I don't have to rearrange my bed layout too much next year.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Beds are Ready

We all worked in the garden this Saturday, getting it ready for spring planting. Such fun! Especially since this is the first year that the boys could actually be out there with us :) I've made my list of what I'll actually plant, and I'm ready to start my seedlings! Starting some varieties indoors will definitely be a big benefit, (like, maybe I'll actually have some celery this year?) and should give us some hardier plants.

Seed trays are expensive if you want to do any quantity of seedlings (plus, I'm cheap), so I've come up with some practically free alternatives. I started saving my egg cartons awhile ago because I realized they were a perfect size for starter seeds. The 12-18 size is also a great way to separate varieties. I came across this tutorial for toilet roll seed starters that I was thought was super cute, especially if you need something sturdier. (I'd have to save all year to have enough, but still worth sharing.)

You can spend a fortune on handy gardening tools, but thinking creatively can stretch your dollars far. I'm currently brainstorming ideas for a cheap trellising system for my vining zucchini this year. It was one of my most productive plants (although nothing came close to the okra extravaganza) last year, but it took over the garden. Literally. So, it clearly needs a sprawling home this year outside the garden. It looked rather like the Hulk riding a tricycle on the 'trellis' I had last year. Although, the tomatoes, beans and cukes were quite happy with it.

We're hoping to add some fruit to the garden this year, even if we don't get much harvest yet. I have some melons seeds that should be fun to try, and also some berry bushes are in the plan.

Baby veggie pix coming soon!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Granola Bars

There are lots of granola bar recipes floating around out there, and every time I came across one, I wanted to try it. I finally got around to it yesterday - and they're delicious! I used Ina Garten's recipe this time. It could easily be adapted for different flavors. It was super easy, and the boys love it. It actually made quite a bit too. The recipe says to wait several hours before cutting, but next time I will cut right away because some of the crispier edges just crumbled. I plan on using the crumbs when we're done with the bag for a yummy bowl of cereal.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Young Gardener

Seed catalogs have been arriving in droves since before Christmas...and I am elated. I'm not big on cold weather, Georgia winters are about all I can stand. . I mean, I know God created winter too, and I try to see the positive in the season. I love the cozy fires, the hot drinks, the big fluffy sweaters, the occasional snow…but they’re just the good side I try to focus on while I’m freezing my rear end off. I love the fall harvest, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they get me through the first couple cold months because of all the fun hustle and bustle. But then January rolls around, and for years I’ve just muddled through those chilly quiet months looking forward to April. Well, now that I’m vegetable gardening, I have found my ray of hope…seed catalogs and garden planning!

I learned a lot last year, if nothing else, how little I really know. It seems the more I read and learn, the more I realize I have to learn! I love the quote from Thomas Jefferson, “Though an old man, I am but a young gardener.” Such a true statement. There are so many things to learn about all the different types of plants and the relationships between them. I devoured many gardening books and perused countless websites last year, hoping to narrow my margin of error. I’m sure it helped, but experience is a wonderful teacher.

This year I want to plant more of some things, and less of others. (How many cucumbers and okra can one family eat?!) I definitely want more squash and tomatoes. I tried to simplify my crop rotation by having one bed for everything with the intention of just shifting one over every year. But I feel a little more comfortable this year trying to plan successions for all year and using each bed more than once, thereby achieving more yield. I’m putting the grain on hold for now. I really want to try it, but until I have a mill, I don’t see the point. We also barely had enough green beans to eat, let alone put up or dry. I also see how much work drying would have been! Besides, dried beans are that expensive J

I’m also doing some seedlings early indoors this year too. I didn’t have time last year, so I just tried everything from seed outdoors. Generally, the advice I found in The Vegetable Gardener's Bible to be true. (I love this book!) If he recommended starting from seed outdoors, mine did wonderfully. Those he suggested starting indoors and transplanting didn’t do as well. Celery, which he said could be very difficult to grow, didn’t come at all! I planted over 200 seeds…so I guess that’s accurate.

The seed catalogs have so many wonderful varieties, it’s incredibly difficult to narrow down. I thought I was conservative last year, but I believe I still had too many varieties. I didn’t consider the chances of cross-pollination, and I ended up with over half of my ridiculously abundant cucumber crop to be inedible. The peppers were slow to come up, so the harvest was low, plus I don’t know what crossed. The English peas would be a lot of work for little reward. I probably won’t do them again this year.

As I make my selections and arrangements, I’ll be sure to share my plans. Now to drool over my catalogs…

Oh, want some in your mailbox? Check out these sites and request a catalog!

Monday, January 3, 2011

To Please the ONE

Why do we try so hard to please everyone? I suppose everyone's not like that, I mean, my husband isn't. He can shake off judgement with seemingly little effort when he's confident he's doing what he feels is best. But me, no. Sadly, I am not that confident. I do care. I want to somehow right it, I question myself, think over what was said. Perhaps I'm wrong? Maybe I'm the one who just doesn't get it? How can they think that of me? Do they not know me at all? Did I do something? I'm not even sure what I did...all incessant questions and analyzing to discover the I can fix it. 
I know that I am often wrong, but I know I'm not too. And that's where self-preservation kicks in. I am not wrong, they are wrong! That is not how that should have been handled! How dare they be so judgemental! Who are we to judge? God is set as judge, not us. Then, of course, am I not judging? We each do as we see fit, some with more arrogance than others. I do not feel jilted any less that one willing retaliate - I just keep those thoughts in my head out of courtesy. But, they're there all the same are they not? Am I not judging for judgment? Oh, the irony. Resenting those who are (sometimes) fellow believers for sinning.
And I know, I truly do know, that pleasing Him, the One whose opinion of me matters not most, but only, is what I should really care about. Not to recklessly live without concern for hurt, but to love without bounds. To see past the attack and wounds of this world that might cause me to lose focus, recede, and not be transparent for fear. One of my favorite quotes is from Mother Teresa, "When you love until there's no more hurt, there can be no more hurt, only love." God's love just doesn't make sense in our worldly terms. The world tells us to defend our rights (of which we have none in the Kingdom) and the love of God lays down all those rights. And yet, if we stopped fighting to defend ourselves (whether outwardly or by retreating inward), we would find ourselves more at peace with others than we have ever known.