Zone 6B Garden Calendar: July

It’s July in Pennsylvania and it is hot. It is humid. It is make it or break it time in the garden. For my garden, July is the time of year that sets the stage for the remainder of the season. I usually get a short break between all the planting, weeding, and harvesting of spring vegetables. Take too much time off and a disaster awaits.

Almost everything from this point on, aside from harvesting, will ensure that my garden finishes strong, and starts the preparations for next season.

Fertilizing. I side dress everything with compost and continue with my mix of fish emulsion, kelp, and Epsom salt sprays every two weeks.

Weeding. Weed control is a never ending battle, and I have learned the hard way if you don’t keep up with it, you have just lost the battle. As I get older I have gotten a little more mechanized, adding cultivators to my tractor, and building new raised beds every year. At this rate, I should have enough by the time I’m 90.

Cover Crops. As crops come out, I fill the space with a cover of buckwheat and winter rye. There are a gazillion different opinions on cover crops and their applications, but I have found the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Super Simple) method of cover cropping has worked best for me. Right now I will be pulling potatoes, and starting a cover in that bed.

Harvest. Like I mentioned previously, I have already harvested potatoes, beets, peas, lettuces, some herbs, cabbage, and broccoli, just to name a few. I am relatively new to blueberries, strawberries, grapes and asparagus, so there was little to harvest this year. My corn should be ready toward the end of July, early August.

Seed Saving. I leave a few plants from the spring crop that I let go to seed and they are starting to come in now. Broccoli, cabbage, and arugula are close to being ready. I have already taken seed from the crops that have already bolted like lettuce and peas.

IPM. Integrated Pest Management continues through out this time of year, and honestly is more difficult to keep up with than the weeding. I am exclusively using neem oil, hand picking, and Bt for all of my crops. I am amazed at the effectiveness of these products. This is the first year that I have made a concerted effort to maintain this practice of neem spray, and the results are fantastic.

My biggest nemesis each year are Japanese Beetles. Using neem sprays every 10 – 14 days and after each substantial rain has made a significant difference. Last year my cherry trees were decimated, every leaf skeletinized. I am still seeing a ton of beetles, but they have virtually ignored my plants. I hate to think what the neighbors garden looks like. One question you may ask is why not treat the grubs? Well the answer is simply, it won’t matter. In my general area 4 acres is the minimum, and unless everyone is treating for grubs, then it is a waste of time, money and effort.

Preserving. I am seeing quite a few large peppers, banana peppers, and others so I would imagine I will be harvesting soon. I grew over 150 assorted peppers this year with the goal to pickle and dry as many as I can. I already have a few quarts of beets put up and corn and tomatoes will be in soon. Last year I harvested 43 dozen ears of corn and have a substantial amount remaining in the freezer, so this year will be for fresh eating only.

Fall Garden. I am starting to prepare harvested beds with cover crops and preparing others for the fall garden. My fall crops will consist of peas, beets, cabbage, broccoli, and assorted lettuces. Next year I think I will change my M.O. a little, growing a larger fall garden than I do in the spring. There is simply too many things to do in the spring, and often my spring crops suffer because of this. I will still grow enough for fresh eating but I think I’ll save the majority of these for the fall, we will see how it goes. I am especially interested in seeing how the broccoli and cabbages will do this time of year.

Poultry. I have been raising chickens for a few years now and this is the first year I have been successful (up to this point) with turkeys (Predator issues). Due to a few vacations and trips, the time-frame didn’t work out for hatching chicks either. I have a batch in now, due in another two weeks, so we will see how that goes. Turkeys should be ready to process in another 6 weeks. I got four this year, hoping to come out with two in the end, but I guess my predator controls worked better than I thought. I have a few friends that may benefit from my good fortune as well.

Well, that wraps it up for July. All of this thrown in with a few hours each week of grass cutting, and there you have it. Let’s see what happens in August.

 

 

Colorado Potato Beetle

The Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) has found its way to my garden.

 I had been out checking the garden last evening and noticed these nemesis on my potato plants…

I had minor issues with the Colorado Potato Beetle the last two years, so I rotated the crop this year.  Rotation and routine neem applications have helped significantly, but I was surprised to see them back this year. I picked about 30 beetles off and fed them to my chickens last week and have seen little since.

The Gardens Alive website describes the Colorado Potato Beetle as an Adult beetle that  has a yellow body with black stripes running downward. Red larva grows to ⅗” long with rows of black spots along its sides. Favorite foods are potato, eggplant, pepper and tomato. Adults and larvae feed on leaves and stems, often stripping entire plants. Small garden plantings seem to be particularly vulnerable to damage.

Colorado potato beetle.jpg

The adult Colorado Potato Beetle.

The pests found in my garden were the larvae of the C.P.B., with a few adults. Apparently this beetle was first noted in Mexico and Colorado in the 1840’s where it destroyed many potato crops.  Pesticides controlled this population until the 1950 when it was noted to be resistant to DDT.  The female Potato Beetle can lay as many as 800 one mm yellow/orange eggs.

I thought the British invasion of the Beetles happened in the 60’s and 70’s with John, Paul, Ringo and George but it appears that there had been yet another beetle invasion into East Germany during WWII.  It is claimed by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) that the US air dropped Potato Beetles into East Germany during WWII.  In fact, at the time, the Colorado Potato Beetle was known in the GDR as Amikäfer (Yankee beetles).

The C.P.B. became so famous (or infamous) in Europe that it actually had been featured on an Austrian stamp in 1967. Benin, Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates, and Mozambique also promoted the Potato Beetle on their countries stamps in the past as well.  Believe it or not, there is a dedicated webpage devoted to the Potato Beetle.  Now that I think about it, any insect accused of being air dropped into another country as an invader and having its face featured on several countries stamps, should have its own website

This is what the Potato Beetle can do to a crop if left unchecked.  My limited research has found that a majority of the recommendations suggest pesticide use.  If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you undoubtedly know by now that “dat ain’t gonna happen in my garden.”  I will stick with hand picking and neem oil for now.

I have to admit, even though I found a handful of beetles this year, the numbers are dramatically lower than last year through crop rotations and neem oil. The literature shows that tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are favorites of the C. P. B, but mine only seem to like potatoes.

Other organic solutions include, beneficial nematodes, placing birdbaths in the garden to attract birds, row covers, crop rotation, installing ponds to attract frogs and toads, insecticidal soaps and oils.  Again, I think I’ll stick with crop rotation and neem as they seem to have works reasonably well this year. No matter what Integrated Pest Management (IPM) resource you identify, crop rotation and neem oil are key components to defeating this bug, at least in my experience.

Zone 6B Garden Calendar: June

It’s June already and I’m behind. I’m sure some of you have already said this, but it seems to be my favorite saying this time of year as it always seems to repeat itself. Summer has snuck up on me again. I have to admit, I am actually in better shape than I have been in the past. The gardens are generally weed free, and everything is in, growing well. I only have about half of my tomatoes staked and tied, but they are all in good shape regardless. I will be able to finish this up sometime over the next week.

No major catastrophes this year so far except for the fact that something (groundhog?) got all of my muskmelons (cantaloupes) and about half of my watermelon plants., I have about six remaining, so I should still get a good yield this year. It’s a shame though, I tend to give a lot of them away, so I wont be able to do as much this year.

So, what tasks are we completing in zone 6b this month? Here is the checklist:

  1. The winter and early spring crops should be either picked or ready to be picked. I am preparing to start cover crops in the empty spaces. I like to use buckwheat this early in the season because I can usually get them to seed in about 6-8 weeks before replacing this with another cover of winter rye. I’ll save the seed from the first round and use next year. I am strongly considering adding some daikon radish to the cover mix this year as well. I have been researching the tilling properties of daikon and am very interested to see the results.
  2. As I mentioned before, tomato staking and pruning are always at the top of the list this time of year. I have about 30 – 40 left to go (75 total) but it is rather smooth sailing once I get in a groove.
  3. Fertilizing existing plants are a must for me for my in ground beds. I have reasonably good soil after a few years of work, but I still need to supplement feedings during the heavy growing season. I generally side dress with more compost during the middle of the season and then spray with a mixture of fish emulsion, seaweed, and epsom salts every two weeks until harvest.
  4. Neem Oil. The Japanese beetles are starting to emerge and I’m ready for them. I hand pick as many as I can, but I can’t get them all, therefore I use neem oil every 10 – 14 days or after any heavy rain. This combination really has been working well for me this year. Last year my rose bushes and cherry trees were skeletanized from beetles and I have vowed never to let that happen again.
  5. I have had good success with the neem oil, however, this is also a good time of year to be using Bt for any caterpillar pests. Traditionally these pests have been know to ravage my corn, cabbages pumpkins and melons, but like I mentioned, neem is doing the trick so far. I’ll keep this up for the rest of the year and see how it goes.
  6. Peas are already harvested. Broccoli has been taken as well, except for the few that I let go to seed so I can save for next year.
  7. Now is the time to consider your fall garden. Toward the end of the month, I will be direct sowing cabbage, peas, and broccoli again for another round. Next year I think I may just stick with a summer to fall crop of these as the spring just gets too busy around the homestead. This is one way I can borrow from Peter to pay Paul, so to speak; devote my spring time to getting everything ready for summer, and as the season is dying down, the fall cool weather crops should be coming in nicely.
  8. Beets are almost ready, I will be pulling them sometime this week, and in their place Ill put the broccoli for the fall. We try to pickle and can as many beets as we are able, our friends and family really love them, and they are a nice treat over the winter (Pickled beets and eggs).
  9. The cucumbers are a little sluggish this year, but I think they will pick up very soon. I built a few trellises this year for them, so I am very anxious to see how they grow up instead of all over. Pickles are the intent for these bad boys. My wife make a great bread and butter pickle, a real treat. Too bad my horseradish wont be ready until next year, I discovered bread and butter/horseradish pickles this year and love them. I’m really looking forward to making a few batches of those.
  10. Potatoes should be ready in a week or so. The tops are dying back, so hopefully soon, we will have our first serving of Yukon Gold baked potatoes. These things are fantastic, truly night and day compared to anything you can buy in the store.
  11. Our garlic is looking good as well, I would anticipate taking a harvest from these beds over the next few weeks.
  12. I have an array of peppers this year (150 total) and all or looking very good. Banana, cayenne, Jupiter, Jimmy Nardello, orange bell, and jalapeno. Most have small fruit already, can’t wait for the picking. Aside from the salsa we always make, Im going to dry and grind a bunch into pepper flakes. I did a small sample last year and absolutely loved it. These combinations of pepper flakes is fantastic.
  13. Turkeys are getting big, they are almost 10 weeks old and in another 10 weeks, they will be in the freezer. I build this “tractor” earlier in the year, I call it Ft. Knox. Last year I had a significant issue with a predator, killing all of my turkeys and eight of my chickens. I have had no issue this year now that my rooster is an adult (and very protective) and Ft. Knox is doing its job.

Well that’s it for now, see you again in the garden in July.

 

Zone 6B Garden Calendar: May

May is here and we are busy in the garden. Generally speaking there is an unwritten rule that folks in my area don’t plant until after Mothers Day for fear of a late frost.

At this moment I have about 75 potato plants in, plus a 10ft x 25ft plot of wheat and the same  size plot in corn. The wheat is a new venture for me this year. We we able to acquire a wheat grinder for a dirt cheap price this year and loved the benefits of it, so planting wheat was a no brainer for me.

I also have 25 or so cabbages, and an assortment of broccoli in half barrel pots and a host of beans, peas, beets and onions. The raspberries and currents are coming along nicely as are the grape vines and asparagus I planted this spring.

I think I may actually get a yield of apples from the 6 bare root trees I planted four years ago. A late frost likely took out at least half of the blossoms this year, but I’ll take anything I can get at this point. I’m not sure if my cherries will produce this year, it has only been about two years for them. I actually have about a dozen peaches as well on the two trees I planed a few years ago as well. The plums are a bust this year, but I only put them in two years ago (and they were small plants), so I wasn’t expecting anything anyway.

I have a large variety of vegetabes I started from seed in three inch pots ready to go in the ground as well. Tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumbers will all go in over the next two weeks.

So, this being May my garden calendar has me harvesting peas, hilling potato plants, and planting another round of beans and sweet corn.

It’s about this time that I start a rotation of applying neem oil to my insect susceptible plants on a 7-10 day schedule, or after any significant rain. I also try to weed/cultivate every 10-14 days as well.

In a separate post, Ill share my new cultivating hoe, it is fantastic, as well as an inventory of the fruits and vegetables I have going on the homestead this year.

That’s all for now, I’ll see you again in June!

 

 

Zone 6B Garden Calendar: April

April signals the last few weeks before the last average frost date (4-23) in zone 6B. By now most, if not all, the indoor seedlings have been started and are likely being hardened off, preparing to be planted outside or put into a cold frame. Tools should be sharpened and equipment maintained, ready to plow, dig, cultivate, etc.

If the weather has been particularly ugly this year, your luck should be changing at this point. If you haven’t already planted your cold hardy crops such as peas, beets, cauliflower, onions, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and root crops, now is the time to do it.

When planting crops like carrots and beets, I like to mix my seed with 5 additional parts of sand for a 1:6 ratio (seed:sand). I spread this mix into rows as you would ordinarily plant. Doing this will dilute the seed being spread and reduce the headache of trying to spread these tiny seeds evenly. When they sprout, thinning will be much easier, and your seed will be used more efficiently. I wish I would have learned this technique years ago.

This is a good time to consider starting a second round of crops for mid summer planting, like broccoli and cabbage. Some of you heat loving plants such as squash, melons, cucumbers, pumpkins and gourds can be started as well.

If you are really brave, you can try some of the not so cold tolerant crops such as corn and beans to get an early start. I will generally plant half of my corn and beans toward the end of April or early May so that I can start succession planting preventing everything from coming in at the same time. In my area we are almost guaranteed not to suffer damage to these plants with a late frost as they will not necessarily punch through the ground for another week to ten days offering them a little protection. If I do lose some, I simply plant a little extra with the next rotation.

This is also a great time to consider any strawberry starts. Maintenance should be in full swing for garlic (cutting scapes) and potatoes (hilling). It is about this time of year that an initial round of weeding will be needed to the raised beds, but generally not a lot. I like to get to his early, nipping it in the bud so to speak.

If you have rhubarb, consider taking some stems for pie! Established asparagus should be approaching harvest time as well. For newly established plants, I wouldn’t consider taking any spears for the first two years, letting all of the energy go to fern and subsequently the root structure, you will be much happier in the long run with healthy plants lasting several years.

Consider your seedlings started indoors and in the cold frame. A gentle feeding of fish emulsion, kelp meal and Epsom salts should be applied every 10 – 14 days.

Sometime near mid April is when I start watching for insect damage. I usually start to notice damage to my cabbage and broccoli unfortunately. I generally start spraying all of my outdoor plants as well as seedlings in the cold frame with neem oil (1-2 tablespoons per gallon of water) and keep this rotation up every two weeks until the insects are god for the season.

I start to consider spraying my fruit trees as well toward the end of the month after the blossoms have set, the Japanese beetles will create skeletons from my cherry and apple trees almost overnight. I concentrate the neem oil two fold generally for fruit trees (3-4 tablespoons per gallon) as the lower concentration have little effect on the beetles.

I have recently discovered that there is a new strain of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis galleriae-Btg) specific for beetles. I am anxious to give this a try this year. The only product I can find on the market at the time of this writing is BeetleGone and it appears to be internet only. I have tried my local Agway and they are not able to get it in.

Well it looks like that’s about it, should be a lot to keep you busy for the month, but don’t sit back and relax too long May is just around the corner, and this month is even busier for me.

Spring Garden Update

It is the very beginning of growing season here in Pennsylvania, so I thought I would share a garden tour before it gets too crazy.  A little background first: My house sits in rural Pennsylvania right in the middle of Amish Country.  I recently planted 10 new fruit trees and a perennial garden. I do keep an annual garden as well with traditional tilled beds as well as several raised beds.  I have a few laying hens and just started another round of broilers last week.  Turkey chicks will be arriving in about two weeks.  So, lets get started…

This is a shot of my perennial garden, or at least the start of it.  I have a few varieties of blueberries as well as raspberries in (They are the sticks you see every once in a while popping up).  As you have likely already guessed, these were bare root plants put in this winter and they haven’t started to leaf out as of yet.  In the bed to the right of the raspberries, I have strawberries almost ready to go in.  From left to right, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries.

I’ll place two tarps over a 10 x 12 kennel for the broilers when they are ready to be outdoors.  I move this cage up and down the row about once a week to give them some fresh grass to feed on.  I have buckwheat planted in these bare gardens, ready to start sprouting.  I haven’t decided if I will till these under this year or chop and drop the buckwheat and plant directly in the beds. In all likelihood, it will likely be some combination of the two as a little experiment.

My compost pile is ready to go.  The pile in the back is a combination of horse manure and fallen leaves.  To give some reference of volume, I dumped 4 loads of manure from a 10 ft x 6 ft dump trailer, and 6 loads of fall leaves that I gathered.  The original pile was at least twice as big as this, before it composted down. Even with 10 full trailers of compost material I still do not have enough. I replenished my raised beds first, and will use any remaining compost as an adjunct when planting. The smaller pile is a load of fresh horse manure that I will compost in a separate area, and add to when the resource becomes available, so I can get a head start on next years supply.  I generally like to compost right in one of the garden beds because I would rather have any leachate and remnant compost to be right where I want it, in the garden.  I plan to use this bed for a crop of corn this year. An added bonus of composting in the bed is that it should aid in growing my heaviest feeder, corn.

These are some of my raised beds.  I established them in the fall two years ago, so this will be my first growing season with them.  I started with mushroom compost from a local nursery as a bottom layer, and then added added 6 inches of my home made compost to the top.  I repeated this process for the long wooden beds as well as the half barrels.  I obtained the barrels from a local dairy farmer.  They originally held an organic milking machine cleaner and they are food grade.  I think I paid $10 for each barrel, so that averaged $5 for each half.  I have 5 more barrels that need to be processed and will ad them sometime this spring giving me 10 additional round beds.

This is my mini orchard.  I planted 4 apple and two cherry last year, and added 10 additional bare root fruit trees this winter.  I actually got one apple (Gala) last year from a third year tree (first year for me), and surprisingly it was very good. I have 6 apple (Macintosh, Gala, Red Delicious, Fuji and 2 Honeycrisp), 4 cherry (Bing and Ranier), 2 plum, 2 peach and 2 chestnut.  I actually found an nursery in North Carolina selling American Chestnut so I was happy to add those.

Regarding my cold frame, I generally only use this for seed starting. I did have a setup in my basement with heating mats and shop lights, but have not been satisfied over the last year or so with this setup. The seedlings just didn’t seem to do as well as those started in the cold frame.  I’m not sure if it was an issue with the heat mat or the lights in general, but no matter, I prefer the cold frame anyway.

It still gets in the low 40’s and even the low to mid 30’s on occasion, so I added a ceramic heater at night.  I set it in the mid range and it keeps the cold frame in the 70 degree range.  I also have a fairly cheap remote thermometer I picked up at Lowes for $15 and have been very satisfied with it so far.  It really takes the guesswork out of trying to adjust the temperature of the frame based on observation alone.

These are my original raised beds I put in several years ago, and have grown just about everything in these. Since the addition of my other raised beds, I generally only put leaf vegetables, herbs and cutting flowers in these beds as they are close to the house and are easy access from the kitchen.

I also put in several varieties of bare root grapes this winter as well and am waiting for them to leaf out.  I am anxiously awaiting some fruit form these, but I know it will be several years before that happens.

I even have a little time to grow some oranges.  I wouldn’t suggest eating any of these though, well at least that’s what my brother said after I talked him into trying one. Apparently they are VERY sour!

If I see an open space anywhere, I try to put something edible in its place. Along the fence is a raspberry and a currant.  I have never had currents before so I thought I would give it a try, if I don’t like it, well I could always use another berry bush, maybe blackberry this time.

Neem Oil as an Organic Pest Control Application

Neem oil is by far one of my favorite methods of pest control in the garden. It is safe for human exposure with appropriate use, safe for the plants, the environment, and pollinators, but murder to leaf eating insects and larvae. There is some data to suggest it may be slightly toxic to aquatic life, so use caution around ponds and other bodies of water/run off areas.

Neem oil is a product of the (nut) seeds of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) that is found indigenous in India and the Indian subcontinent. Neem trees can also be found in parts of Asia, Africa, South Pacific Islands, Central and South America, as well as parts of Florida and California.

It is very likely that you have used neem oil in some form without even knowing it as it can be found in toothpaste, cosmetics, pet shampoo and soaps.

Neem oil works as an organic pesticide via multiple avenues. Depending on the insect it can simply be a repellent, it can affect insect growth and its ability to lay eggs, as well as interfering with their ability to feed.

Neem oil can be sprayed directly on the leaves of plants for an effective pest control option. Since neem oil has a half live of just a few days, frequent spraying may be required. In my practice, I have sprayed every 7-10 days, and after any significant rain and have had great results.

There is also some application for use in the soil to fight nematodes, but I have no personal experience with this use. One of my favorite YouTubers, Gary Pilarchik of The Rusted Garden, has an excellent video explain how he uses neem oil in his seed starting process.

It is important to note, that when I refer to neem oil, I am speaking specifically about 100% pure cold pressed neem oil. This is an example of a resource I like to use. I have searched the local garden mom and pop shops as well as the big box stores and cannot find 100% cold pressed neem oil. In my opinion the products they sell, as an example, are not effective and are much more expensive than the 100% cold pressed neem oil found online. In a nut shell, these store bought products simply do not work.

Application of neem oil varies on the vegetation and insects you are trying to control. For general garden plants I use 1 tablespoon per gallon of water (I have a LARGE garden) or 1 teaspoon per quart of water. For pesky insects you may need to double the amount of neem during some applications.

Since neem is an oil, and we all know oil and water do not mix well, a few drops of a general dish soap may be added to the solution to limit separation. Regardless of soap use, consistent agitation (shaking) of the solution is recommended for thorough dilution during application.

For my fruit trees, I start with 2 tablespoons of neem per gallon to start, but may increase to 3 or 4 tablespoons depending on the nature of the insect damage. I can honestly say, I can’t remember ever needing the highest concentrations in my applications. Consistent application processes as well as good garden observations will make a significant difference in success vs failure.

If you would like to read a study published in 2013 regarding other uses of neem for medicinal purposes, that research can be found here. There has been some question lately regarding neem oil use and the contraceptive-abortive process in humans that may be attributed to neem oil. If that is your focus for reading this study, be careful not to confuse garden application and use with described contraceptive use as cited in this article. The use of neem oil in these separate functions are night and day when comparing application concentrations and actual use. I want to be perfectly clear when I say…….NEEM OIL IS SAFE FOR HUMAN AND ENVIRONMENTAL USE IN THE GARDEN, there has been no documentation or research to prove otherwise. 

My Favorite Vegetable: Marglobe

The Marglobe is by far my favorite tomato. It’s very versatile, either cut up in a salad or on a sandwich, or my favorite, preserving them into sauce for pasta.

I have been growing these predominantly for the last few years and have gotten many compliments from friends and family when I give them away. In fact the compliment I usually get is “What were those, that was the best tomato I have ever had.”

I gave my neighbor a few plants last year to grow and he raved about them calling it the best tomato he has ever had, and I’m sure he has had a few in his 70+ years. In fact he flagged me down about a month ago to confirm the name again saying he looked all over the area and couldn’t find anyone selling Marglobe’s. He even exhausted his Amish resources! I’m sure I will be taking a walk down to see him and bring a few more in a few weeks.

I’m not sure why these are so infrequently used today, in fact I haven’t heard of them until a few years ago when I, by total chance, gave them a try. I gave a few tomatoes to my uncle and he told me that his father, my grandfather, planted these on his farm for as long as he can remember. Unfortunately I never met my grandfather, he passed 6 months before I was born, but there is a sense of kinship knowing I am planting the same variety he did  as early as the 1930’s and 40’s.

Marglobe’s are a determinate variety that mature in roughly 75-80 days. One of my favorite seed companies (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange) lists the Marglobe heritage as a cross of the “Marvel” and “Globe” tomato. The plant will reach anywhere from 4-6 feet tall and give a nice 6 oz fruit on average. This is obviously an heirloom since my grandfather planted them pre-WWII, and they are open pollinated so you can save the seed year after year.

Apparently Marglobes were developed in 1917 and released by the US Department of Agriculture in 1925 and were some of the first verticillium and fusarium wilt resistant varieties. This actually makes sense to me now, whereas some of the other varieties I have planted over the years have succumbed to v. and f. wilt, my Marglobe’s were hardly affected at all. Some report getting 50 pounds per plant in their test gardens. I have never weighed my yield, but I have gotten a fair amount as well, but I don’t think it has been 50 pounds.

As I mentioned previously I like to slice them and use them fresh, but I also combine them with Amish Paste tomato’s and make a great sauce to be canned for use over the winter months. If you are inclined to try a new variety, or are simply looking to grow a few tomato’s for the first time next season, I don’t think you can do any better than the Marglobe.

If you do choose to grow a few why not support some of the companies that are working hard to preserve the heirloom varieties. Here are a few of my favorites:

And my favorite:

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

GROWING:

1. Seeds should be started 6-8 weeks before the last frost.

2. Consider transplanting outside when there is no danger of frost and average temps do not fall below 40 degrees. Consistent nighttime temperatures in the 50’s is when I like to plant tomatoes outside.

3. Plant tomatoes as deeply as possible or laid down in a trench, the stems actually form additional root structure when planted. I like to place 2/3 in the bed and leave 1/3 open to air.

4. Tomatoes are heavy feeders. See my recommended basic fertilizing process. Ensure appropriate calcium supplementation.

PESTS and PROBLEMS

  • Major concerns for tomatoes are blossom end rot, the tomato horn worm and fungal wilt.
    • Blossom end rot is caused primarily due to low calcium levels in the soil. Applications of lime products at planting time can be used as preventive measures as well as treatment if caught early. I like to crush egg shells and throw them into my beds as a long term preventive treatment. Egg shells take forever to breakdown (~12 months) and will have no benefit in the garden this year, but over time they will decompose and add calcium to your soil.
    • Tomato horn worm can be most easily controlled by hand picking (and feeding to your chickens) and Bacillius thuringiensis kurstaki (Btk) can be easily sprayed if there are any signs of insect damage or if the tomato horn worm is spotted.
      • If you see this moth flying around, a preemptive Btk spray would be prudent. The tomato horn worm is the larvae of this moth.

    • Fungal wilt is usually caused by either the fusarium or verticillium fungus. The best treatment option is actually prevention. Good crop rotation, choosing resistant plant varieties, and avoiding high nitrogen fertilizers offer the best protection. Any signs of wilt should be followed by removal of the affected leaves, or even better, the entire plant.
      • Neem oil, and low dose sulfur sprays have proven to be somewhat effective, but not great. There is some mention in the literature regarding aspirin and baking soda sprays as options as well, but I have no personal knowledge of this.

SEED SAVING:

  • Seeds must ferment prior to drying
  • Differing varieties should be separated by at least 150 feet to increase your odds of getting an uncontaminated (cross pollinated) seed.

Zone 6B Garden Calendar: March

Generally speaking March is when spring fever starts to set in. The weather makes a turn for the good, the snow melts away, and you start to see more activity in the form of blooming flowers and woodland animals running around.

This year happened to be the exception. We had very little precipitation in the form of snow this year, but just as you think old man winter is on the way out the door, he drops 18 inches of snow on you in the 3rd week of March! The funny part of this story is we had two days of 80+ degree weather the week prior. Oh well.

On to the garden.

Consider tilling in cover crops. I like to till in any cover crop about 2-3 weeks before planting. This leaves enough time for the crop to decompose and have some availability for the newly planted seedlings to uptake this resource. I generally do not get everything planted until around June 1st, so I am in no hurry to till in cover crops. There are exceptions however in my potato, broccoli, cauliflower and pea sections of the garden.

Finish up any equipment maintenance that slipped through the cracks over the winter. Tractors, mowers and tillers should have fresh oil, air and fuel filters if needed and sharp blades.

Any cool weather seedlings that have been started up to this point should be in the cold frame or garden/raised beds by now making room for the warmer season seed starts like tomatoes, peppers, etc.

Now is a good time to work on trellises and stakes for climbing plants.

 

 

 

Consider turning the compost pile one more time to finish the cook, and see what is in the middle. It is always gratifying to see the final turn, knowing all of your work will soon be put to use.

Items to start indoors in early March are: celery, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, and onions. Late march seed starts include: brussel sprouts, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, basil and eggplant.

Outdoor direct sowing can be completed for potatoes, horseradish, onion sets, beats, peas, and strawberries.

The most difficult part of working in the garden in March, is not getting too far ahead of the game. I have to keep reminding myself that the last frost is still almost a month away. Had I tried to get ahead of the game, and planted during the 80 degree days, I would have been sorry a week later when 18 inches of snow obliterated it.

 

Spring Planting: Start Your Own Seeds

It is rare that I buy plants for the garden anymore, in fact I couldn’t tell you the last time I bought a live plant.

Let me take a step back, and correct myself. I can’t tell you the last time I bought a live vegetable plant.

Perennials are a different story however. Every year I add new perennials to the garden. Over the last few years I have focused on fruit trees. Currently, I have 8 apple trees (5 varieties), 4 cherry (2 varieties), and 2 varieties each of peach, plum, chestnut. I’m not sure right now, but I think I may have lost a chestnut and a cherry over the winter, we will see how it goes when I prune everything this spring.

I have also added several berry plants over the last few years including several blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, and a currant for fun. I’m looking forward to adding some strawberries this year as well.

I added 4 grape vines last year, but I am confident I will only have one left as the evil rabbits decimated them last fall and over the winter. My fault though, I di
d not keep up with them or protect them with cages. We will see how this goes, I will add a few more this spring, and pay more attention this time. I also plan to put in a few asparagus crowns, and am really looking forward to reaping the rewards of those, in three years….

Perennials are fantastic, however this post is about annuals, specifically starting them from seed. Seed starting is one of the easiest, and fun, tasks to do in the garden, but just like most things in life, we tend to over complicate the process.

Starting you own vegetable plants from seed can be one of the most fulfilling things you will do and it is as easy as filling a solo cup with starter mix, watering, and sitting it in the sun.

For me seed starting, actually starts in the fall with seed saving. I try to save as much seed as I can, as I grow mostly open pollinated, heirloom vegetables. But honestly, a packet of seeds from the big box store, and some medium to put it in is good enough.

When the weather warms up, nights in the high 40’s, seeds can generally be started outside, but they may take some time to germinate and the growth will be slow. The risk of doing this is a hard frost that will kill most seedlings outside. Besides, one of the major benefits of starting your own plants from seed, is to get a head start on the growing season.

I have and old metal shelving system that I use in my basement for my seed starting. I placed a heat mat down (easy to find them on Amazon), and put a few shop lights above it. These are the cheap big box store shop lights, nothing extravagant here. I did splurge and placed a timer on the lights, set for 18 hours on and 6 hours off, just because I’m lazy. For a few bucks on Amazon, it does make my life easier.

A specific UV growing light can be added (at a significant expense) to replace the shop lights, but I find them unnecessary for simple seed starting, at least the way I do it. I do have a UV light, but I only use this for growing greens and arugula indoors over the winter.

I like to use 72 count cell trays and trays (also found at the big box store) for my containers, and add one to three seeds per isolate. Folded newspaper blocks, or solo cups will do just as well, but they will take up more room. Any organic potting soil or seed starting mix will do just fine, again we don’t want to over complicate this. Seeds will germinate without light or food, but they absolutely need water. It is imperative that your seedlings do not dry out. Be careful not to “flood” them, consistent damp medium is all you need.

Once the “true leaves” start to show, you will need to start feeding your seedlings if you are not using a feeding soil mix. I like to make my own mix with worm castings, crushed egg shells, peat moss or coconut coir and perlite. By making my own mix I am adding organic material (peat-coir), as well as a gentle feeding (castings) for when it is needed. The perlite makes the mix very loose, and easy for the seedlings to grow strong root structures. The egg shells are for long term calcium supplement and this adds a little more organic material in the garden beds.

The egg shells were actually added to my worm castings as a source of material for the worms to help process foods in their gizzard, so it serves a dual purpose. Besides, with 6-12 chickens at any given time, I have lots of eggshells to spare, and is a free source of calcium.

When my plants are a few inches tall, I like to transplant them into larger containers and get them outside as soon as possible into the cold frame. This will harden them off for planting, as well as give them a lot more UV light than I can create with a shop light. If you don’t have a cold frame, or a small greenhouse, consider making them. They are a fantastic addition to really make your plants healthy and shoot up when the weather turns for the good.

An even simpler solution is a piece of clear plastic draped over your trays and supported as to not touch the plants. This is only temporary until you can obtain the cold frame/greenhouse as you will quickly tire of adjusting the plastic with every watering or gust of wind.

There is a good bit of research geared toward placing a over your seedlings to help them grow strong. The theory is the constant movement (mimicking wind) places a little stress on the stalks, causing them to grow thicker, and ultimately healthier. I agree with the research, but I think this is unnecessary for me as I try to get them outside as soon as I can. See what I mean about over complicating things?

When your plants are in your cold frame or greenhouse, it is crucial that you monitor the temperature and moisture. A 65 degree day is just perfect for you and I, but the temperature in a good cold frame or greenhouse can reach well over 80 degrees during this time, killing off young seedlings.

I find that I usually have to water at least daily, and sometimes twice a day for weather over 60 degrees. I placed an inexpensive outdoor remote weather thermometer in my cold frame and set the alarm to go off if it starts to get too hot. When this happens, I simply raise the lid on my cold frame a few inches and let it breathe naturally. This seems like a frivolous expense, as I told myself for many years, but I also fried more plants than I care to mention, simply because I got too busy or neglected to take note of the outside temperatures. The thermometer is a foolproof way to keep yourself in check.

Once the plants have been outside for a week or more, I try to give them a gentle liquid feeding of fish emulsion, seaweed emulsion, and Epsom salt (magnesium) every 7 – 10 days.

In zone 6B, the last frost is generally around the end of April or mid May, but the rule of thumb is not to transplant any sensitive plants into the garden until after Mother’s Day. It might be an old wives tale, but again, I don’t want to think about all the plants I lost because I jumped the gun.

So again, I will say that starting seeds indoors is as easy as buying some organic started mix, placing it in a solo cup (red of course) and starting your seeds in a warm and bright window. There are plenty of things you can do to enhance this without over complicating the process, as I have tried to do over the years. Just keep in mind, these seeds are going to grow no matter what you do to some extent, I just try to keep them reasonable happy until I can get them in the ground.

Don’t get caught up in the minutia of things and find yourself suffering from paralysis by analysis. K.I.S.S. (Keep It Super Simple) it and have fun.