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Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.


Grow a Kiwi Arbor for Shade and Fruit

Kiwi Arbor 

Before Sarah moved away, she bought the farm a gift: a pair of kiwi plants. Not only did she give us this gift, but she planted it too. She was wise. How often has a potted plant gone unplanted? She made sure the job was done, neatly planted on either side of the entrance to The Veggie Shed. It takes years to establish a beautiful kiwi arbor. I would say it took three years to get fruit and about five years to establish a good shady structure. Here is a little bit about how the past eight years has gone, raising up a kiwi arbor.

Sarah explained that one of the kiwi plants was the male and the other, the female. Both would grow flowers, leaving it to pollinators to carry pollen from the male’s flowers to the female’s flowers. The female plant will produce fruit. Sounds like a familiar story of the birds and the bees. 

The first few years, we matchmakers weren’t sure they liked each other. The first year, the two kiwi plants got settled in. The second year, the female produced flowers but not the male. The third year, the male produced flowers but not the female. It’s like they were trying to date but not getting the timing right. Then, hooray, in the fourth year, they both flowered. Synchronicity! A matchmaker’s success. Over the next few years, they grew, matured, intermingled vines, and offered fruit in most years. Like most delicate fruity flowers, if there is a freeze when the plants are flowering in the spring, you might not get fruit that year. We had a couple years like that. This year looks like a bountiful fruit year.

We anticipate cute little squishy fruit in the fall. We are not talking tropical kiwis here. This is Maryland, not Florida or Mexico. This plant is a Northern Hardy Kiwi. It thrives in northern (USA) states, producing one inch little kiwis, called kiwi berries. They aren’t fuzzy like tropical kiwis. Find the soft berries that look kind of rotten: those are the sweetest ones. Squeeze the fruit out of its skin and eat the soft fruit, quite sweet and impressively similar to the tropical kiwi flavor. 

My brother Ron built a trellis for the kiwis out of strong locust tree beams that we had planted and harvested for such a purpose. As the plants grew, Ron added branches as trellis supports. Expect a kiwi plant to need weight-bearing support for fifty pounds. The trellis provides structure and support to the kiwi arbor. The trellis is fully covered now. It took years to cover the trellis, but it is great to have a strong trellis established and waiting for the kiwi vines to creep over it. We added two more females a few years ago. It is their third year and they are looking awfully like males, since they had flowers but no fruit this year. We are hoping they just haven’t reached maturity and will fruit in the next couple years. Like a coming of age. Gotta give a girl some time.

Kiwi Arbor Frame

We are going on eight years now. Who knew the kiwi arbor would be such a lovely addition to the farm. Well, probably Sarah knew. A gift that keeps growing. Sarah had volunteered at the farm for two years while she lived in Frederick, gracing us with her joyful learning spirit. As she apprenticed at the farm, she learned from us and she taught us things too. Like how to make fermented vegetables she called “Farm Chi”. Here is the blog on that. Our friendship continues, we have exchanged visits a few times, and we have watched Sarah create her own homestead and family. We are grateful for her gift and her friendship. Now the kiwi arbor is a beautiful structure on the farm, providing shade, beauty and fruit. 

Jack and the Arbor

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods Farm organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Curing, Trimming and Selecting Garlic for Replanting

Hanging Clusters Of Drying Garlic

Curing garlic in bunches hanging from the ceiling. Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

After  you’ve harvested, you’ll need to cure your garlic and trim it. If you want to save your own seed stock, rather than buying new, I’ll tell you how to do that.

Author’s note: See Garlic drying and curing methods on my website, SustainableMarketFarming.com for more about signs of garlic maturity, harvesting garlic and more photos. See Everything You Need to Know About Garlic for caring for garlic the rest of the year.

Garlic-Curing Methods

Cure your garlic for 3 to 6 weeks or even longer, with fans if the humidity is high. Don’t set the fans too close to the garlic — your goal is to improve the air flow, not blast the bulbs and shrivel them up. The key is to dry down the necks. Leaving the roots and the leaves attached till after curing helps the drying-down process.

Bundling. Growers of small amounts of garlic — or complicated harvests of relatively small amounts from many varieties — sometimes tie the garlic plants in bundles and hang them from nails or hooks in beams. This method takes a lot of twine, and can be slow.

Shingling. We once spread a single layer of garlic on a wood upstairs floor of the barn, when our harvest exceeded our storage racks. “Shingle” the garlic plants with each bulb resting on the leaves of other bulbs, so that the bulbs and roots are all uppermost, for best airflow.

Horizontal racks need to be sturdy. We made stackable wood slatted racks to dry our bulb onions, as onion necks are not strong enough to hang onions by. Later we made larger netted wood frames that we hang from a pulley in the beams. We can fill them layer by layer, starting at the lowest one, and gradually lower the upper racks as we need to fill them. This kind of system would work for garlic too, but is not practical on a large scale.

Horizontal racks can either have the garlic threaded bulbs up through the holes of the netting, or the plants laid flat, shingled. Shingling saves space (racks can be closer to each other vertically), but it is harder to dry garlic this way in a humid climate.

For a nice design of racks for drying onions, and perhaps garlic, see this post about the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, Va., on my website, SustainableMarketFarming.com.

Vertical netting. Nowadays, we hang our garlic in nylon netting fastened vertically around the walls of our old tobacco barn. This is a good method for humid areas as the garlic is in a single layer and can get good airflow. The walls of the barn limit the amount we can hang there. Other growers have used chicken wire or snow fencing.

We have considered making free-standing frames covered in netting, so we can deal with higher yields. This is a slower method than laying plants on horizontal racks.

Removing Cured Garlic From Netting

Removing cured garlic from vertical netting. Photo by Nina Gentle

Step-by-Step Garlic Curing with Vertical Netting

1. We like our garlic arranged in order of harvesting, to make it easier to find dry garlic when the time comes to trim it.

2. We start at knee height, working upwards, threading one garlic plant in each hole of the vertical netting hanging around the barn walls. (The netting stretches downward with the weight of the garlic. Starting lower would lead to garlic piling up on the floor.)

3. Take a garlic plant, fold over the top quarter or a third of the leaves, and push the leafy part through the netting. The leaves will unfold behind the netting. Leaves shouldn’t poke through to the front.

4. We work back and forth in rows, filling a 4- to 6-foot-wide (1.2 to 2 meters) section per person.

5. We continue as high as we can reach before moving sideways to the next section. We make walls covered with garlic, day by day until done. This sequential arrangement simplifies trimming, and makes the best use of the fans, giving the garlic the best chance of drying evenly. Damaged bulbs are “farm use” quality and are set on horizontal racks to dry. Arrange box fans to blow on the drying garlic. Even in an airy old tobacco barn, fans are essential in our humid climate.

6. Wait 3 to 4 weeks, then test some bulbs for dryness by rolling the neck of the garlic between your finger and thumb. It should feel dry, papery, straw-like. If many bulbs are slippery, gooey, or damp in any way, delay the trimming until at least 90 percent of the necks are dry.

Selecting Garlic for Replanting

We use the hot summer afternoons (and any rainy mornings) to take our cured garlic out of the netting lining the barn walls and prepare it for storage. We did a field calculation that we’ve grown enough garlic when we have one whole bulb a week for each person to eat. I thought that was a lot, so I recalculated in the cool of the office. To my surprise, the answer is closer to two whole bulbs each per week!

Here, I spell out the tasks, including setting up, trimming and sorting garlic into three categories for replanting, for storing and for using soon. Garlic can be stored in the 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (13 to 21 degrees Celsius) range, provided it has never dropped into the sprouting temperature range of 40 to 55 degrees F (5 to 13 degrees C).

Setting up

1. Handle the bulbs gently so as not to bruise them, which would reduce the storage life.

2. Test bulbs for dryness by rolling the garlic neck between finger and thumb. If many bulbs are slippery, slick, or damp in any way, try again in a few days.

3. If 90% seem dry enough, proceed, starting with the ones that have been hanging up the longest.

4. Gently remove plants from the netting into a bucket or crate.

5. Set up a comfortable place to work, with a supply of garlic, a compost bucket, a pair of scissors, a ruler, a green net bag and a red net bag.

6. Some people like to mark off 2 inches and 2 ½ inches (5 and 6 centimeters) on the arm of a plastic lawn chair, a nearby wood structure, or their knee. This saves handling the ruler repeatedly.

7. Some people like to move the box fans for more or less fan action while working. Those that do this need to remember to reset the fans to blow on the garlic when they leave.

Trimming Garlic Roots With Scissors

Trimming garlic roots close to the bulb. Blue nail polish optional. Photo by Brittany Lewis

Trimming Garlic and Sorting

1. Cut the roots off the garlic into a compost bucket. Cut as close as possible in one or two snips.

Cut the leaves off the garlic, leaving a ¼- to ½-inch (0.5 to 1 centimeter) stub. Cutting too close reduces the storage life.

2. Do not remove any skin. We want long storage not pretty-pretty. Skin protects from damage and from early sprouting. If you need pretty, tidy it up closer to point-of-sale.

3. Decide if the bulb is dry. Feel the cut neck. The remains of the stem may have a Styrofoam texture. They should not be damp.

4. If damp at all, put the trimmed bulb on a rack to dry further.

5. If more than 10 percent are damp, cancel the shift or selectively pull dry bulbs from the netting.

6. If the neck is not damp, decide if the bulb is storable.

7. If damaged, sprung apart or mushy anywhere, put it on the “farm use” rack. If storable, decide if it’s seed size and quality. If it could be 2 to 2 ½ inches (5 to 6 centimeters), measure it. If obviously smaller or larger, don’t measure it, just put in a red bag. It’s for eating.

8. If the bulb is between 2 and 2 ½ inches (5 to 6 centimeter) and in good shape (not obviously more than 10 cloves), we put it in a green net bag to save for replanting. “Green for Growing”. Very large bulbs are more likely to have many cloves, some of which will be small and hard to use. Don’t plant these!

9. When a bag if full enough (we’re not all Amazons), tie the neck closed and lay the bag down on the floor away from the barn windows, which let rain in.

10. At the end of the shift, tidy up: Return all scissors and rulers to the jar, take all compost material out, consider doing a run to the compost pile area. Lay down any bags that are more than 1/3 full, as the weight of garlic in a vertical bag can damage the bulbs at the bottom. Leave no garlic in buckets. If necessary, gently set garlic on the floorboards, rather than leave it in a sweaty plastic bucket. Make sure no garlic will get rained on if rain blows in the window. Reset fans as needed. Unplug any no longer needed.

11. Periodically weigh the tied-off green bags, make neck tags from masking tape, saying “Hardneck Garlic” and the weight. Use the bathroom scales. Weigh a person with and without a bag of garlic.

12. When we have enough seed garlic, stop using green bags, stop measuring. Simply trim, sort and bag. We save 140 pounds (64 kilograms) of hardneck seed garlic to plant about 3,000 row feet (900 meters).

13. When all the hardneck garlic is dealt with, record in the log book all the weights of the bags of garlic as you take them to storage.

Storing Garlic

Short-term. Take the green bags of seed garlic to the garden shed. Lay them on the top central shelf. Take the red bags of eating garlic to the basement and lay them on the shelves. Fifty-five to 70 degrees F (13 to 21 degrees C) is a good temperature range for storage until the fall. Weigh the “farm use” hardneck garlic, record the amount in the log, take it to the kitchen. It does not need to be refrigerated now.

Through winter. When temperatures seem likely to drop to below 55 degrees F (13 degrees C) in the storage room, clear high and dry shelves in a walk-in cooler, CoolBot storage building, or, if you are working on a small scale, a refrigerator. Thirty-two to 39 degrees F (0 to 4 degrees C) is a good temperature range. Avoid 40 to 55 degrees F (4.5 to 13 degrees C), or the cloves will start to sprout.

Pam Dawling has worked at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia for more than 27 years, growing vegetables for 100 people on 3.5 acres and training many members in sustainable vegetable production. She is the author of Sustainable Market Farming and The Year-Round HoophousePam often presents workshops at MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRs and at sustainable agriculture conferences. She is a contributing editor with Growing for Market magazine, and a weekly blogger on SustainableMarketFarming.com. Connect with Pam on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

5 Tips for Planting Seeds Inside

Planting seeds inside is a valuable strategy for home gardeners. It allows you to get your garden started earlier, and saves you money over buying seedlings at a garden store. We’ve been planting seeds inside for 10 years now, and after many lessons learned, have our seed starting strategy down to a pretty solid plan. We add variation each year, but for the most part we know what we are going to do even before we get started.

Over those 10 years, we have learned a few valuable lessons about indoor seed starting that I share with you here today.

Choosing to Start Seeds or Buy Starts

Not all seeds should be started inside. It goes without saying that some seed varieties simply do better being directly planted in your garden (think greens, root veggies, or green beans). But there are other things to consider when it comes to your garden as well. Depending on how much you want to grow of a specific vegetable, or what varieties you are looking for, you may make individual decisions in your seed starting adventure.

If you only need a few eggplants, for example, you might decide not to buy a whole packet of seeds only to use one or two of them. Leave that one to the garden center to grow, and save space for things that you want a lot of (like, say, plum tomatoes), especially if your space is limited. You’ll get more bang for your buck from the packet of tomatoes when it turns into 15 or 20 plants for your garden!

On the other hand, if you are looking to try a really unique variety of a certain veggie, you might need to buy a packet because you won’t find that unusual variety at a garden store. Read more about seed starting choices here, and remember: Your garden is your unique plan — that’s the beauty of having your own!


Grow light stand.

Grow lights and heat mats are worth the investment. We bought our first grow light 10 years ago and it is still up and running and serving us well.  Grow lights truly do make a difference and, in my opinion, are practically essential for indoor seed starting.  Likewise, when we added heat mats to our operation a few years ago, the warmth they provided to our seedlings sped up germination impressively. 

The trick to making this sort of long-term investment is not spending too much on it. You can do this by getting creative about your set-up. We were able to build a tiered grow-light system using pieced together parts and supplies for half the price of a pre-packaged version.

Planning Pays Off

As any glimpse at the back of a package would show you, not all seeds should be planted at the same time.  A little pre-planning goes a long way when it comes to your seed starting strategy – you need to know not only when to plant each veggie, but that you will have the necessary supplies when it comes time to do so.

 
Seed packets

A seed starting schedule can be helpful in your planning, and can be tailored to the veggies that you want to plant. We also group all of our seeds into plastic bags that we label by the planting date to make it easy to grab all of the seeds we need any given weekend.

Likewise, it can help to count out your containers and estimate how much soil you will need right from the beginning. This way, you won’t be running to the store for more supplies every weekend or running out of supplies half-way through a planting.


Newspaper seed pots.

Don’t Spend Tons of Money on Pots

While it can be tempting to pick up a ton of those ready-to-go seed trays and pots at the garden center, you don’t have to spend money to provide a great growing spot for your plants. You can use recycled pots from previously purchased seedlings, or ask friends to collect them from you. We have also had great success with newspaper seed starting pots – click here for a quick tutorial on making newspaper pots.

If you take good care of your pots and trays you can use them year after year and will soon have all the supply you need. But this leads us to our last hint.

Wash your Seed Starting Pots and Trays. It is great to use recycled and re-usable plastic pots for seed starting, but if you don’t clean them you might notice that your seeds wilt shortly after germinating. This is called “damping off” and it happens when old soil or mold in a pot, combined with your lovingly-provided water and warmth, provides a nice place for pathogens to grow.  Pots and trays can be simply cleaned with soap and water, plus an added step for sanitization (either with a bleach solution or the sun). Read more about cleaning your seed starting equipment here.

As simple as it sounds to place a seed into a pot of soil and watch it grow, these tips will help you to experience more moments of joy than frustration when starting seeds inside. Happy Gardening!

Carrie Williams Howe is a blogger aThe Happy Hive Homestead.  She is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vt., with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about learning collaboratively. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

The Summer Edible Garden

 

A summer edible garden has the crops must of us associate with vegetable gardening like peppers, eggplants, cucumbers and the fresh favorite tomato. The summer garden is typically started in May. Summer crops love the warm soil and air temperatures. Most are subtropical in origin so a frost can kill them.

Crops for the Early May Garden

There are two basic categories of edible garden crops, cold crops and warm season crops. Cold crops like lettuce, spinach, peas, radishes, carrots, cilantro, kale, chard, cabbage will get bitter and bolt as the temperatures start hitting the 80s. For us in the Midwest, this is the end of May.

Warm season crops love the warm days of May through September and start waning in October. Most will continue to have some production into November or the first hard frost of the year.  

Since summer lovers thrive in warm temperatures, they don't really grow until the soil has warmed up so starting early outdoors isn't an advantage. Seeds will just sit in the chilly ground and many will rot if planted too early. Plant seeds or transplants after all danger of frost has passed and temperatures are on the rise.

Everyone loves to brag about their first ripe tomato, but tomatoes don't appreciate cold feet so resist the urge to plant too early. After it warms up, they will really take off.

You can start your warm season crops indoors or buy plants to get a jump start on getting harvests. There are many options nowadays at the local hardware store, nurseries and big box stores.

For indoor seed starting, here are some pointers: Indoor seed starting tips.

Crops that do well with just planting seeds directly into the ground are corn, cucumbers, melons, squashes, and beans. They have large seeds and very sturdy stems. Sweet potatoes are starting using slips that you buy and then plant directly into the ground.

Be sure to fertilize when planting and then monthly.  Water during dry periods.  Even moisture is important. Letting the soil get very dry and then giving a good watering can give you split tomatoes and peppers.

Warm Season Crops for the Summer Garden-Vegetables

The links here go to my site, Victory Garden on the Golf Course, where I offer plant profiles and growing tips in more detail.

  • Artichokes 
  • Arugula 
  • Beans (fresh and shelling)
  • Celeriac  
  • Celery  
  • Chard  
  • Corn  
  • Cucumbers 
  • Cultivated Dandelions
  • Edamame (soy beans)  
  • Eggplant 
  • Kohlrabi  
  • Malabar Spinach  
  • Melons  
  • New Zealand Spinach
  • Okra  
  • Peppers (sweet and hot)  
  • Sorrel 
  • Sprouting broccoli  
  • Summer squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes  
  • Zucchini  

Herbs are the easiest thing to grow. They thrive on heat and don't mind dry conditions. If you are just starting out, this is a great one to start with.

 

Mid-May Garden: Warm Season Crops for the Summer Garden-Herbs

  • Basil  
  • Bay
  • Bee balm
  • Borage
  • Catnip
  • Chives (Garden and Garlic) 
  • Cilantro (heat tolerant variety)  
  • Comfrey
  • Dill
  • Egyptian walking onions  
  • Horseradish
  • Mint
  • Lavender  
  • Lemon verbena
  • Lovage
  • Marjoram
  • Parsley (flat leaf) 
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Salad Burnet
  • Summer savory
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme

Mid to late summer is the time to plant for fall and winter harvests so be sure to have a spot in your summer garden for these tasty cool season vegetables. For more on late summer plantings for fall harvests, here is more information.

Crops Planted in Mid to Late Summer for Fall and Winter Harvests

  • Broccoli, Cabbage and Cauliflower (for fall harvests)
  • Beets, Carrots, Radishes, and Turnips (for fall and winter harvests) 
  • Cilantro 
  • Escarole, Radicchio, and Frisee (for fall and winter harvests)  
  • Fennel Growing fennel
  • Greens (Lettuce, Kale, Mustard, Pak Choi, Spinach) 
  • Leeks (for fall harvesting)  
  • Winter squash  

You can procrastinate until June and still have a productive edible garden. I always interplant my garden with flowers. More precisely, I plant my fruit and vegetable plants in my flower beds. Flowers bring pollinators into the garden. For fruiting veggies like tomatoes, squash, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, the more pollinators around, the more fruits you get. If you want, you can grow edible flowers.

I use zinnias, marigolds, petunias, snapdragons, old fashioned Cock's Comb which is ruby red and grows 4 feet tall, red flowering Hummingbird Vine, Moonflower vine, Blue morning glory vine, heirloom sunflowers, and alyssum for annuals. For perennials, there are delphiniums, hollyhocks in a variety of colors-Summer Carnival and Peach, red hot poker, day-lilies, irises, dahlias, fairy lilies, and gladiolas.

Summer is an exciting time in the garden. Every day you go out, you can see things growing. Just be sure to keep ahead of the weeds and provide even watering. I garden in my flower beds so they are always mulched, providing protection against weeds and keeping even moisture.

Melodie Metje is a retired engineer from Ohio who started her blog, Victory Garden on the Golf Course, to help guide her family's gardening efforts and to keep track of what was happening in her own garden. She named it after the victory gardens grown to help the WWII effort. Melodie thinks we are in a similar situation today: Our country needs our help in battling the war on ill health. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Companion Planting Primer for Vegetable Gardens

Yellow Marigold Close Up

Companion planting is the practice of grouping plants together that have beneficial relationships. The goal of companion planting is to increase the yield of plants by controlling for pests, increasing the nutrients within the soil, and increasing pollination. It should be noted that companion planting is not an exact science, and takes experimentation and observation.

A well-known example of this practice is the “Three Sisters” garden, consisting of maize, beans, and squash. Various Native American tribes discovered this practice thousands of years ago. Planting these three crops together increases the yields of all three plants. The beans are legumes, which increase the nitrogen content of the soil through the nitrogen-fixing bacteria contained within their roots. The squash’s large leaves shade the ground and retain moisture in the soil. The maize provides a tall stalk for the bean vines to climb up and reduces the competition on the ground for space to grow.

Companion planting mimics nature by incorporating a variety of plants into one location. Plants often develop symbiotic relationships after adapting and evolving together. By separating crops, we are limiting the natural benefits these plants have developed in nature. Monoculture, or the practice of planting a single crop, corrodes the soil and reduces the nutrients over time.

Companion Planting with Vegetable Crops

There are hundreds of beneficial combinations for vegetable crops. Here is a quick summary of the main groupings:

Legume family plants, such as peas and beans, should not be planted in proximity to plants in the allium family or garlic crops. Onions and garlic can stunt the growth of peas and beans. Legumes pair well with the Brassicas family, carrots, lettuces, spinach, strawberries, corn, and cucumbers.

The Brassicas family, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, grow well with beans, carrots, lettuces, onions, spinach, and most herbs. They do not grow well with strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.

The Allium family should be planted with potatoes, carrots, lettuces, tomatoes, strawberries, and the Brassicas family. These crops do not pair well with legumes.

Place potatoes with onions, corn, lettuces, beans, and the Brassicas family. Potatoes do not grow well with tomatoes, pumpkin, squash, and zucchini.

Lettuces and spinach both grow well with carrots, radishes, the Brassicas family, onions, strawberries, and cucumbers.

Tomatoes love being paired with basil, nasturtiums, marigolds, onions, and cucumbers. Don’t plant tomatoes with potatoes, corn, or the Brassicas family.

Most herbs can be placed together or amongst other vegetable crops. However, be careful placing dill with carrots and tomatoes.

Pest-Repelling Plants

Another important aspect of companion planting is the placement of pest-repelling plants in your vegetable gardens. Not all insects are bad, but some can eat away your garden. Plants that have pest-repelling properties include marigolds, alliums, and several varieties of herbs.

Marigolds deter nematodes, which can attack the roots of plants. Herbs such as basil kill mosquito eggs, and rosemary keeps away both flies and mosquitoes. Mint deters ants, mice, flies, and mosquitoes (although it must be potted because it is an aggressive grower). The allium family keeps away slugs, carrot flies, aphids, and cabbage worms.

Pollinator Plants

Incorporate local, pollinator-friendly plants into your vegetable garden. Pollinator plants support local pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. Increasing the number of local pollinators in your garden will increase the yield from your vegetable-producing crops.

Research which pollinator plants are the native to your area, but common ones include Purple Cone-Flower (Echinacea), Yarrow varieties, Goldenrod, Black-Eyed Susan, Salvias, Penstemons, Blanket flower, Borage, and Aster.

Temperature and Sunlight Variance

Plant crops that require similar temperatures and sun exposure together. For example, cool-weather crops, such as kale, lettuce, spinach, and broccoli, should be planted together in areas that are shadier and have lower temperatures. On the other hand, warm-weather crops, such as peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and squash, should be planted together in areas that receive increased sun and higher temperatures.

Keep in mind that the northern and eastern areas of the garden typically receive decreased sunlight and temperatures, while the southern and western areas of the garden typically receive increased sunlight and temperatures.

Photo by Krista Bratvold

Krista Bratvold travels North America in her converted van to raise awareness for sustainable living and protection of our lands. She is a landscape photographer and travel writer who educates on sustainable food production and native plants. Connect with Krista at The Suitcase Photographers and on Instagram @thesuitcasephotographers. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Vegetables-Love-Flowers

VEGETABLES LOVE FLOWERS

Fight garden pests and increase your yields the natural way with this tried and true technique! Planting vegetables and flowers together is one of the oldest ways to create a healthy, bountiful garden, but there's more to the method than you might think. Vegetables Love Flowers will walk you through the ins and outs of companion planting, from how it works to which plants go together and how to grow the best garden for your climate.

With the right information and some careful planning, you can help your plants thrive--and beautify your garden in the process. Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Garden Planning: It’s All About When

garden planningMany lawn and garden plants are pretty resilient, so maybe you don't worry too much about knowing the exact right time to take care of each and every garden task. But you will undoubtedly achieve the best results, the biggest harvest, the prettiest flowers, the least disease problems (you see where I’m going…) by paying attention to timing. Knowing when to plant, water, weed, fertilize, mulch and harvest can get pretty overwhelming when the season’s in full swing, so here are a few resources to help with garden planning. Now, go out and grow your best garden ever!

Long Range Weather Forecasts

Freeze/Frost Dates

Regional Planting Guides

Mildew, Rot, and Environment: 3 of the Most Common Garden Problems and How to Correct Them

Replicating nature’s seemingly effortless “green thumb” isn’t always simple. Along with rich soil, sunlight, and water, gardeners need to be attentive and patient or else their garden may succumb to a variety of issues. Choosing resilient plants and planting during the appropriate seasons improve the chances of a healthy garden, but natural problems can arise nonetheless.

The first step in treating a sick person is to identify the symptoms in order to categorize their ailment. From there, doctors can apply the appropriate treatment; hopefully before the sickness worsens. Similar to people, gardeners need to watch for symptoms of sickness in their gardens so they can identify what’s wrong and treat accordingly. The number one rule in coaxing plants back from ill-health: the earlier the treatment, the stronger the resolution.

Unfortunately, there are many problems that can arise in a garden. Some are openly visible, some can’t be helped due to the environment, and some are caused by poor garden maintenance. The following are some common plant problems and treatment options that every gardener should know.

Powdery Mildew

Easy to recognize, powdery mildew is a common fungus that invades any garden. It appears as white or gray abnormalities on leaves caused by a combination of reduced soil moisture and humidity. As the fungus advances, the leaves will turn brown, shrivel, and eventually die. It prefers younger leaves, so it’s particularly important to watch for during the early stages of plant development. Powdery mildew is also dangerous because it can travel from plant to plant via the wind and insects. Because of its ability to spread, treatment requires the fungus to be completely eradicated from the garden.

Vegetables such as tomatoes, pumpkins, and squash are especially susceptible to powdery mildew because their growth minimizes air circulation. Gardeners can use stakes or latticework to support the plants as they grow, increasing air flow to the plant and minimizing the chance for fungus growth. Adding a layer of mulch also inhibits any mildew spores in the soil from floating up onto the leaves. If powdery mildew is already present, prune the affected areas and remove from the garden entirely. For those who want to guarantee it powdery mildew is completely eradicated, destroy the plants once they have gone through their life cycle instead of reusing them in compost.

 powdery-mildew-leaves2

(img. courtesy of Root Simple)

Blossom Rot

Inconsistent watering, a lack of calcium, or high salt levels may result in this garden disease. Blossom rot can ruin an entire plant’s harvest, and is especially harmful to tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Gardeners who are worried about blossom rot can look for brown, sunken spots on the fruit’s bottom. Fortunately, blossom rot can’t travel to other plants because it isn’t a fungus. However, most treatment is preventative and removal is the only option if the fruit is already compromised.

To prevent blossom rot, keep soil consistently moist. This means watering evenly throughout the garden and avoiding soil dryness. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways from using traditional watering cans to sprinklers. If you’re someone who is on the run or likes to ‘fool-proof’ things, a garden watering system is what you’re looking for. Additionally, adding water soluble calcium to the soil prior to planting can inhibit the effects of blossom rot along with a layer of mulch to maintain soil moisture. Blossom rot can be easily prevented, but if it does occur, remove the affected fruit and keep a close eye on the remaining produce.

 Blossom-Rot-Tomato

(img courtesy of GardenInMinutes)

Environmental Injuries

Besides the threat of disease and fungus, gardeners must be wary of damage caused by extremes in the environment. The best advice? Protect your garden from extremes! Whether it be temperature or rain, gardens suffer from radical changes from the norm. They thrive in regimented, controlled environments that promote growth instead of stress.

Cold temperatures will cause stunted growth, cracks in the stem, and leaf loss. If these symptoms begin to appear coupled with cold weather, add a layer of mulch to insulate the soil. Covering the plants with a sheet can also help maintain warmth, ensuring the garden’s survival.

Hot temperatures will scorch the plants, rendering them incapable of growing. Symptoms caused by extreme heat include discoloration, dry soil, and crisp leaves. To combat these detrimental effects, gardeners can shade their gardens and increase the watering frequency. Keeping the soil moist up to two inches of depth or more is a good gardening tip to remember during the hot summer months.

Key Take-Away

Mildews, rot, and environmental factors are common problems every gardener should be familiar with. Proactive, preventative treatment is the best method of protecting a garden, but nothing is foolproof. The key to a successful garden is vigilant observance and a rapid response before the issue can grow further.

Wiley Geren III and Bryan Traficante. Bryan co-founded GardenInMinutes.com in 2013, a family-owned venture focused on making it easier to start a quality garden. GardenInMinutes is home to tool-free, cedar raised garden bed kits and the Garden Grid watering system - the only planting guide and garden irrigation system, in one. Along with unique gardening solutions, Bryan provides time saving gardening insights on their blog and social media pages. Find Bryan and GardenInMinutes on Facebook,  Instagram, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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