Late summer vegetable garden and Monarch butterflies

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The potager after yesterday's rain is definitely in transition.

The potager after yesterday’s rain is definitely in transition.

The vegetable garden is in transition. It’s late summer, and all the tomatoes were taking over, so I removed most of them keeping only those plants that were still producing heavily and seemed healthy. Most of my tomato plants have leaf diseases now, but still provide more tomatoes than I can eat. My gardener friends in Oklahoma are surprised I had so much tomato success this year. All that rain and manure were good for those planted in the potager. I’ll have to move them next year though because of root knot nematodes. I can’t plant tomatoes, eggplants and peppers in the same spot two years in a row. Next summer, they’ll be back in the big garden again.

Some of the tomato harvest.

Some of the tomato harvest. Yes, that’s a fly swatter above. We had tons of flies this year. Wonder why.

Most of our summer temperatures were in the 90s except for a hot spell in August that lasted about two weeks with temperatures over 100F. I just tried to keep everything wet and mulched in order to keep it cool. During those days, the tomatoes stopped setting blooms, but revved back up as soon as the mercury went below 100F again.

Zinnias were about the only happy plants in the large vegetable garden.

Zinnias were about the only happy plants in the large vegetable garden.

As for the large vegetable garden, it was pretty dismal. I live on a hill, and the rain just kept coming for weeks and weeks. That’s the thing about a prairie climate. The weather always comes in extremes. All of my seeds slid downhill, and the germination rate for many varieties was very low. I replanted my okra twice, and I finally got enough the other day to fry some. I planted bush beans three times. I still await a harvest.

The one good piece of news in the veggie garden–other than the zinnias and sunflowers–was the ‘Glass Gem’ corn.

In frustration, I turned half of the large veggie garden into a cutting garden of cosmos, zinnias, amaranth, celosia, hollyhocks and nicotiana. It performed much better than the vegetables and became a way station for butterflies and other pollinators. I took my best butterfly shots with most of them posed on the zinnias.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Zowie Hybrid zinnias, one of my favorite types of zinnias.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Zowie hybrid zinnias, one of my favorite types of zinnias.

I think butterflies love zinnias because the blooms are flat and make a great staging area. Next to the zinnias, I planted two yellow milkweed plants, Asclepias tuberosa, for any Monarchs that might stop by. I have aphids of course. Irritating creatures. I keep washing them off after checking for Monarch eggs beforehand. I don’t want to wash off any precious Monarch eggs. Buying milkweed plants is complicated because so many nurseries and box stores use Bt. or Neonicotinoids on plants. If applied recently, these pesticides will kill your caterpillars. Ask your nursery what’s been used before you buy. This fall I bought seeds for three milkweeds native to Oklahoma, A. incarnata, rose milkweed, A. sullivantii, prairie milkweed and  A. hirtella, tall green milkweed. After soaking the seeds for a few hours, I sowed them in three different spots in the garden. Yes, it’s a lot of seed, but I’ll thin out the plants, and I wanted a better chance at germination.

Soaking milkweed seeds.

Soaking milkweed seeds.

It’s my hope that the seed will break down over winter with small seedlings emerging next spring. If this works, I will know for sure that my milkweed is safe for Monarch caterpillars. When people are discouraged about disappearing Monarchs, I think of all my friends who are working diligently to bring their numbers up again. If you’d like to learn more from these dedicated gardeners, join The Beautiful Monarch discussion group on Facebook. Two other great groups are Oklahoma Friends of the Monarchs and the Monarch Initiative of Tulsa. My friend, Kylee Baumle, at Our Little Acre works very hard, and she’s inspired me this summer with her beautiful photographs and Monarch tagging and raising. When I get discouraged, I remember, it was backyard birders who helped bring back the Eastern Bluebird from extinction. I think we can do the same for Monarch butterflies. I haven’t seen more than three Monarchs in my garden this year, but I’m planting milkweed so that they will come. Kylee was kind enough to share her photos of a Monarch caterpillar and chrysalis so I could show you since I’ve got nada.

Monarch caterpillars are things of beauty. I took them for granted until they were nearly gone.

Monarch caterpillars are things of beauty. I took them for granted until they were nearly gone.

Aren’t they beautiful? That gold on the chrysalis always gets me. To learn more about Monarch butterflies including where they got their royal name, head over to Monarch Watch’s FAQ.

Monarch chrysalis hanging from a leaf.

Monarch chrysalis hanging from a leaf.

Last week, I planted some cold weather vegetables for my fall garden. I have beets, broccoli rabe, chard, kale, turnips, rutabaga, two kinds of lettuce and spinach. I piled leaf mold on top of the garden soil to keep veggie seeds cooler so that they would germinate. A cool front finally moved through the state yesterday. I also watered everyday until I began to see seedlings popping up through the mulched leaves. You can also soak seeds overnight, but I didn’t take that extra step. I sowed parsnip and carrot seeds in my cold frame including ‘Cosmic Purple’ carrots. Have you priced rainbow carrots in the store? Outrageous. I’ll just grow my own.

 

 


Vegetable garden in early spring

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I know it’s been forever since we’ve chatted, but Oklahoma is sporting a very cool and wet spring. Until now, there hasn’t been much progress to report in the vegetable garden. I harvested peas and mache–corn salad–for supper tonight. I also have some radishes and several other varieties of lettuce. Not much production outside of that. In the few warm days we had, my spinach and tatsoi bolted. I ate them anyway and gave some to the chickens.

Variegated 'Alaska' nasturtiums

Variegated ‘Alaska’ nasturtiums

I planted all of my tomatoes. Some didn’t appreciate the cooler weather, and the rain washed one away. Part of the larger vegetable garden is on a hill. I guess I didn’t plant it in the ground securely enough. Things happen. Gardeners kill plants, and then we buy more. We learn not to weep over small deaths, like when a cutworm or rain removes one of your plants for you.

one strange and beautiful pea blossom (1 of 1)

A strange and beautiful pea blossom on my snow peas.

I’ve been using the Jobe’s organic all purpose fertilizer in the vegetable garden when I dig holes to transplant. I just work it into the soil. I like it because it’s granulated and doesn’t blow around. I’ll give the tomatoes, eggplants and peppers another dose when they start blooming. I also like Jobe’s tomato food.

View of the large veggie and cutting garden. The plants are still very small.

View of the large veggie and cutting garden. The plants are still very small.

I planted the ‘Glass Gem’ corn Carol from May Dreams Gardens sent me. I also made half of my large vegetable garden a cutting garden because three people don’t need such a large a vegetable garden. Remember I have the potager too. In the cutting garden, I sowed seeds of cosmos, several kinds of zinnias and sunflowers, celosia, nicotiana and red amaranth. This week I thinned the plants so they have room to grow. You might notice, above, that we used horse panel fencing cut in half instead of chicken wire around the garden. The chicken wire was so flexible it was hard to keep the garden edge trimmed. Plus, we tore up the chicken wire with the weed eater. We hope this arrangement will be easier. The red okra is up and growing. It has its first true leaves. I also planted vining and bush green beans. That garden is on a hill which explains why one tomato plant couldn’t hold on. You can see the slant of the vegetable garden in the background of the photo below.

New garden cart with assorted plants.

New garden cart with assorted plants and fertilizer.

My orange tree is performing well. I have tiny oranges on it.

Tiny orange on my potted tree. Republic of Texas.

Tiny orange on my potted tree of Republic of Texas.

I overwintered it in the greenhouse, and I was afraid I would lose it to black aphids. I began spraying with Neem oil and another organic spray to save it. I also doused it with water twice a day first to try and convince the aphids to take a hike. I barely kept them under control, and at one point, the tree lost most of its leaves. It still leafed back out and bloomed. This is one tough orange tree. Once the pot was outside, everything settled down, and it’s performing well. Lady beetles are the best garden aphid eliminators.

Ruby Swiss chard. Isn't it pretty?

Ruby Swiss chard. Isn’t it pretty?

We’ve received more than fourteen inches of rain in the month of May so far. It is raining again today, rain is forecast for the entire Memorial Day weekend. My plants and I need more sun, but I won’t complain. The spigot will soon be switched to the off position. In the meantime, I plan to soak up all this moisture. Oklahoma has been too dry for too long.

Rain chain flowing with water in Oklahoma is a sight to see.

Rain chain flowing with water in Oklahoma is a sight to see.

Hugs to all of you and keep growing.


Planted seeds today

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Cabbage, onions and poppies in the kitchen garden. Planted seeds today

Cabbage, onions and poppies in the kitchen garden

I planted seeds today in between the snows. Snow last weekend, and snow in the forecast for tomorrow. Then, seventies later in the week. If I don’t get the chard and other cold crops planted now, the weather in Oklahoma will get too hot too soon. I want beets, radishes, lettuce, spinach and other tender spring greens for salads and such.

Here’s the seeds I sowed directly outdoors in my spring vegetable garden the first week of March. This sowing makes me one week behind my normal dates. Let’s hope for a long and cool spring.

Beets ‘Blood Red’
Calabrese ‘Green Magic’
Chard (Bieta) ‘Blonda Di Lione’
Chard ‘Flamingo Pink’
Kale ‘Tuscan’
Kale Chinese ‘Kailaan’
Lettuce (Lattuca) ‘Franchi’
Lettuce ‘Parella Rossa’
Mache ‘Large Leaved’
Nasturtium ‘Alaska’
Nasturtium ‘Mahogany’
Pac Choy ‘Canton Dwarf’
Radish ‘Gaudry’
Snap peas ‘Sugar Snap’
Spinach ‘Merlo Nero’

Calendula is easy to grow from seed sown directly outdoors.

Calendula is easy to grow from seed sown directly outdoors.

I’m saving my other cold crops for the fall garden. I’ll hit my local nursery today for some organic potting soil, and my next post will again be about starting seeds indoors and when you should start. I also plan to buy some calendula seeds at the nursery, along with onion sets and potatoes. I’ll do the potatoes in bags like I did last year.

Potatoes in Smart Pots are easy to grow. Just make sure you have water for them.

Potatoes in Smart Pots are easy to grow. Just make sure you have water for them.


Beautiful vegetable garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden

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Today we visited the Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise, and I saw this beautiful vegetable garden. I thought you’d like to see it too.

Field fence arbor and vegetables at the Idaho Botanical Garden. Beautiful vegetable garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden.

Field fence arbor and vegetables at the Idaho Botanical Garden.

Whenever I travel, I always try to visit the local botanical garden. I get such inspiration from their plantings. You can see new varieties of vegetables and flowers to brighten your own garden. Botanical gardens often have AAS plant trials, and it’s a good way to see how new plants perform in a particular area.

I just thought this vegetable garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden was so pretty this time of year.

I just thought this vegetable garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden was so pretty this time of year.

They also have enough money in their budget to do things in a big way. You can see different planting styles, structures and techniques like waterwise gardening and then adapt these ideas to your own personal space.

The herb garden with two kinds of basil along with hoops for frost cloth in the spring and fall, or shade cloth in the hot summer.

The herb garden with two kinds of basil along with hoops for frost cloth in the spring and fall, or shade cloth in the hot summer.

Above is part of the herb garden complete with picket fence. In the back of this photo is kale and cardoons with hoops for frost cloth in the spring and fall to provide protection from freezing temperatures. In the summer, the same hoops can be used for shade cloth, or for bug protection as part of an integrated pest management system.

This circular garden is especially nice.

This circular garden is especially nice. Kales and chard are the stars here.

So, when you get a chance to travel, try out the local botanical garden. From North Carolina to Idaho, there’s one near you.


Summer containers thirst for drip irrigation

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If you’re already tired of watering those containers on your deck or patio, install a drip irrigation system. Summer containers thirst for drip irrigation. Because we have more than twenty containers on our back deck, we used two kits from our local box store when we installed our drip system.

Install Drip irrigation for container plants. See how in The 20-30 Something Garden Guide.

Even strawberries in a large container like this whiskey barrel benefit from drip irrigation.

You’ll need:

  • A drip irrigation kit
  • Backflow regulator
  • Garden hose with a brass Y-connector for strength
  • Battery operated timer
  • Filter to keep sediment out of the system
  • Drip emitters in various sizes and flow rates.

The timer is essential because, believe me, you’ll forget to turn on the water. I can’t tell you how many times I forgot to turn on mine over the years. Summer sun is unforgiving and will kill plants faster than you think. I explain how to install a drip system for containers step-by-step in The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff. Right now, the book is a steal on Amazon.

Summer containers thirst for drip irrigation. I couldn't grow these blueberries in containers without drip irrigation. These have overwintered on my back deck for three seasons.

I couldn’t grow these blueberries in containers without drip irrigation. These have overwintered on my back deck for three seasons.

More summer garden tips:

  • Use large containers. The whiskey barrel, above, is ideal.
  • Fertilize now with a balanced, organic fertilizer. You can use a manure or compost tea, or you can sprinkle dry organic fertilizer on top of potting soil. Containers leach out nutrients because they are watered every day–sometimes, twice a day.
  • Pick any fruit as soon as possible to keep plants bearing and disease free.
  • Place compost or other biodegradable mulch at the base of plants to keep roots cool and comfortable.
  • Stake or tie up any vegetables wandering onto the ground beneath your containers to prevent damage and disease.
  • Watch our for insects. Caterpillars and worms are very likely mid-summer. So are striped potato beetles. Frass is an indication that problems are afoot.

I hope these tips keep your containers happy for the rest of the summer. Install drip irrigation for best results.


Dear Friend and Gardener: June vegetable garden update

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Vegetable garden update. The potager in June when we've had loads of rain. I harvested the lettuce and planted squash and melons in here now.

The potager in June after lots of rain. I harvested the lettuce and planted squash, cucumbers and melons for summer.

Dear Carol and Mary Ann,

I have so much to tell you for the vegetable garden update this month. It has rained almost weekly in Oklahoma since late spring. These aren’t true drought busters, but still good news for the vegetables, herbs and fruit grown in the potager and the rest of the garden. It’s bad news for grassy weeds. They’re growing like . . . well, weeds, and keeping up with them is more work than almost any gardener can do.

Pole beans climbing the teepee.

Pole beans climbing the teepee.

The green bean harvest is ongoing, but I planted squash late to avoid squash bugs. The little plants are up , but still small. There are also two kinds of melons growing, one being ‘Collective Farm Woman.’ I also noticed in the larger veggie garden, i.e., the jungle, that I have volunteer watermelons. This happens when you grow heirlooms.

Some of the French green beans I've harvested.

Some of the French green beans I’ve harvested.

The garlic is ready or nearly so. I’ll harvest it next week. The potatoes in bags have been very successful in spite of all the traveling I’ve done this month and last. Yes, my son watered while I was gone, but we also had rain which helped more than anything. The potatoes are blooming so I’ll be harvesting soon.

Garlic ready to harvest and 'Gray' zucchini which actually does have gray on its leaves.

Garlic ready to harvest and ‘Gray’ zucchini which actually does have gray on its leaves. The grassy weeds are also difficult to fight.

I planted heirloom yellow crookneck squash and ‘Gray’ zucchini because they are considered more resistant to squash bugs. I also planted seeds of a ‘Lemon’ zucchini that was given as a bonus in an order. I inspect the plants everyday for squash bug problems. I planted the squash, melons and cucumbers in the potager this year for crop rotation.

'Carmen' sweet Italian frying pepper.

‘Carmen’ sweet Italian frying pepper.

In the big garden is corn, okra, tomatoes, eggplant and hot peppers. Italian frying peppers are isolated from the hot peppers in case I want to save seed. I also planted some zinnias and sunflowers in the larger garden for beauty and to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.

One of the sunflowers in the Drop Dead Read collection from Botanical Interests seeds.

One of the sunflowers in the Drop Dead Read collection from Botanical Interests seeds.

I had an infestation of striped potato beetles on my eggplant. I picked them off for two weeks, but I finally decided to spray them with pyrethrum. I waited until there were no other insects on the plants, and I only sprayed what was needed directly on the potato beetles. I hated to spray even though pyrethrum is organic, because it is a broad spectrum insecticide. I try never to use even organic insecticides unless I must. I did save the eggplants which are already looking better this morning.

The jungle, a/k/a the large veggie garden. It is full of tomatoes, hot peppers, green pole beans, sunflowers, zinnias, eggplant, corn and okra.

The jungle, a/k/a the large veggie garden. It is full of tomatoes, hot peppers, green pole beans, sunflowers, zinnias, eggplant, corn and okra.

Well, that’s it in this report from Oklahoma. What do you have growing in your garden this month? Join our Garden Club and tell us what you’ve got growing.

 

 

 

 

 


You don’t need Miracle-Gro®

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You don't need Miracle-Gro. My son smoothing soil after  planting garlic. You get good soil from adding compost and manure to your garden.

My son smoothing soil after planting garlic. You get good soil from adding compost and manure to your garden.

I really hesitated writing this post, but my thoughts and reservations about Miracle-Gro® have percolated for years. It’s now time to write about this blue/green brew. Let’s begin with a conversation I have with nearly every gardener I meet. It usually goes something like this:

Gardener pats the soil. “The [insert plant] is planted. I’ll just come back later and give it some Miracle-Gro®. Right?”

“Well, I wouldn’t. I never use Miracle-Gro®.”

Gardener, with a confused look, “Doesn’t the plant need to be fed?”

“Maybe not. How’s your soil? Have you tested it?”

“Test my soil? Why and how would I do that?”

Me, mentally banging my head against the garden fence. “We don’t feed plants. We nurture the soil in which they grow. Testing your soil shows whether it has the right balance of nutrients and its texture from clay, silt, sand or more likely, a mixture of the three. Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service. These nice folks will help you with everything you need to complete a soil test.”

The conversation either ends with the gardener thanking me, or with them drifting away still determined to drench their plants with this chemical fertilizer. Miracle-Gro®, often overused, leaches nitrogen and phosphorous into storm drains where it eventually meets up with ponds and ground water. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous causes algae bloom and is called nutrient pollution. Many soils already have plenty of potassium and phosphorous so they may not need more, and both nutrients remain in soil for a long period of time. So, test your soil before using any fertilizer.

Miracle-Gro® has an N-P-K ratio of 24-.8-16 for the single packet serving you mix and spray or drench. The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company (Scotts) also makes other formulations along with potting soils and other products like Osmocote®–which I also don’t use–but today, I’m only focusing upon their liquid fertilizer. The nitrogen, potassium and phosphate are derived from ammonium sulphate (ammonia treated with sulfuric acid and often a by product of coal production), potassium phosphate, potassium chloride, urea and urea phosphate. This is information I gleaned from the label online.

My shredded leaf piles that I use for mulch and a compost starter.

My shredded leaf piles that I use for mulch and as a compost starter.

If you look at Scotts current website, they have their laser beam focused upon beginning gardeners, the ones I also coach in The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff. The company doesn’t money on experienced gardeners. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions why.

As a group, Americans hardly know where our food comes from anymore, and the idea that we need a fluorescent fertilizer to grow plants is yet another way we’ve been manipulated. Does Miracle-Gro® work? Yes, I suppose it does, but at what cost? Instead of dosing our plants with fertilizer, shouldn’t we enrich our soil and help earthworms and other beneficials in the bargain?

The potager last fall.

The potager last fall. You don’t need Miracle-Gro®.

The thing I hate most about Miracle-Gro® isn’t that their parent company, Scotts is aligned with Monsanto–although that makes my skin crawl–it’s that Scotts made a fortune making gardeners feel they need glow-in-the-dark fertilizer to grow. Scotts has unleashed a variety of commercials on the public. They have products to sell, but you don’t have to buy them. An early commercial I remember showed a dingy gardener with a dead plant. The idea was that if only the gardener had used Miracle-Gro®, their plant would have lived and thrived. Later commercials compared a normal plant in a pot with one that appeared to be pumped up on steroids. The steroid hopping plant was–you guessed it–given Miracle-Gro®. Egad, do we want our plants to look like they went to the gym and lifted heavy things? I know I don’t.

However, Scotts’ newest commercials irk me the most. One shows two Millennials growing their first garden. They are treated like idiots, and trust me, the most educated group of people on the planet isn’t dumb. The couple talks about how their plants died until they found Miracle-Gro®. It also shows them spraying it on everything like it’s just water. Their newest commercial incarnation is called “Grow Something Greater.” I’m not going to link to it because I don’t want to give it more page views. It’s smart, and the company did its marketing by tapping into things Millennials care about including doing something greater. The commercial shows 20-30 Somethings eating with each other in celebration. They show flirting. They show herbs on a fence. Don’t fall for it.

If you believe Miracle-Gro®, my grandparents wouldn’t have been able to feed themselves without it. I promise you they did. My grandmother never talked to me about feeding plants. She did speak a lot about the soil as she ran it through her fingers testing its texture.

If your soil is well and healthy, your plants will be too. Think of plants as people for a moment. We know that if we eat salad, complex carbohydrates and protein while limiting our sugar intake, we are usually healthy. A body with a healthy immune system is able to fight off viruses and bad bacteria. Sure, we sometimes need an antibiotic, but we shouldn’t use them all the time. Furthermore, being loaded up on steroids, i.e., too much fertilizer makes us sick. Steroids lower our immune system’s ability to fight infection and viruses. Plants are not so different. They need the best soil to stay their healthiest. I’m not saying they never need fertilizer, but the truth is, they don’t need much–unless you’re growing in containers that leach out nutrients when you water. I use alfalfa, manure and mixed organic fertilizers when needed, but these vitamins are made with ingredients that break down and enrich the soil naturally. Good soil full of compost and beneficial fungi helps your plants fight off infections and viruses. Any fertilizer is simply a vitamin pill.

Making manure tea.

Making manure tea.

My gardens look healthy and happy without a bit of Miracle-Gro®. I haven’t used it since I was a new gardener over 32 years ago. Yes, I used it then because I thought I had to. I guess that’s why I’m on such a rant. You see, Miracle-Gro® made me feel as if I needed them when I was only nineteen years old, and my grandmother lived far away. It was only after I learned more about gardening that I realized the quickest solution isn’t always the best. If you want to use a foliar or liquid drench fertilizer, use something good for your plants and your soil like Authentic Haven Brand Moo Poo tea, or John’s Recipe™ by Ladybug Natural Brand™. You can also make your own manure tea. I show you how in the book. You don’t need Miracle-Gro®, and they don’t need real gardeners either.