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


Organic Insecticide Control for Bean Leaf Beetles

red-beetle
Photo by Tonya Olson

When I was a kid, I hated picking beans. It was hot, humid, and eventually, I was sunburned from picking them. The work was intense, because my sister and I put off picking them until the bounty was heavy and the heat was high. Learn from my mistake: Don’t wait to harvest.

Beans also will stop producing if you don’t pick them. After all the picking was done, I had to trim the ends off. I heard it once said that green beans were a country kid’s worst nightmare. I know it was mine! I had eaten canned beans for most of my short life, and I didn’t really see the point to growing them.

Since then, I have become an adult and can now say homegrown garden beans are much tastier. Bush and pole beans are a couple of my contributions to our MOTHER EARTH NEWS garden. The inspiration for the pole beans came from my friend Benedict Vanheems, and as friend and former Mother Earth Living Editor Hannah Kincaid once said, try something new! The pole beans are my something new. We have yet to plant them in a circle, but because our garden grows in Zone 6a, we may very well be A-OK to do just that.

Because I have a vested interest in these beans, when I saw a ton of holes in them, the momma bear in me came out! I snapped pictures and marched back into the Ogden Publications office to ask our Editorial Director, Hank Will, for his advice. With Hank’s insight, we discovered the issue to be bean leaf beetles munching away to their hearts’ delight.

Identify the Treacherous Bean Leaf Beetle

Bean leaf beetles are 1/4-inch long and display many colors. They have four black spots on their backs with a triangle behind their head and are hard to control without chemicals. They thrive in moist climates such as ours and emerge in mid- to late-spring. Adults usually feed from underneath the leaf, while larvae feed on the roots, nodules, and stem below the soil. Luckily the beetles have not done much damage below the surface. We continue to see new growth, but the same shotholes are appearing on those as well.

orange-beetle
Photo by Tonya Olson

The bush beans are fairing much better than the pole beans, which may have to do with where they are planted. Our pole beans are planted inline along the outskirts of the garden so that they can climb something — still to be determined. Bean leaf beetles tend to hang on the outskirts of fields, so it's good practice to keep the perimeter around the garden trimmed or perhaps plant beans towards the middle of the garden.

neem-spray
Photo by Ingrid Butler

Naturally Neem

As a Great Plains country kid, I was not raised in an organic environment (were you?). My first thought typically would be to sprinkle some insect bug killer on the beans, but this is blasphemy in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS garden. I knew that wasn’t going to fly. I want to learn organic agriculture principles so that I can do it and share it! We found that the University of Wisconsin-Madison page directs organic growers to use rotenone, pyrethrum, or neem. Hank pointed me towards neem, so neem it is!

Neem is natural toxin that causes insects to lose their appetite, stunting their growth. Farmers in India also have harnessed the medicinal properties of neem for years. Read more in How to Use Neem Oil to Prevent Garden Pests. For such a small bottle it packs a punch! Neem conjures familiar smells for me, perhaps because it’s derived from an evergreen tree.

Neem Oil Insecticide Spray

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons pure organic neem oil concentrate
  • 1 teaspoon mild liquid soap (to emulsify the oil in a spray bottle)
  • 1 liter tepid water

Directions:

Shake to mix. Apply once per week in the early morning or late afternoon to reduce drying time and make the topical treatment more effective. Apply while the temperature is below 90 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent damage to the plant (a risk if it happens to be water stressed). Be sure to hit the bottom of the leaf, because bean leaf beetles like to feed from the bottom.

neem-spray
Photo by Ingrid Butler

I have a feeling we will be trying Benedict’s pole-bean trellis idea in the middle of the garden very soon. Wish us luck!


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Use Flowers as Part of Your Organic Integrated Pest Management

 

Sunflowers planted into a bean bed to attract birds and beneficial insects.

Organic Integrated Pest Management involves tackling pest problems one step at a time with ecologically-based practices, starting with actions chosen to reduce the chances of the pest ever getting a grip on your crops. You can find various listings of steps online and in print. They are all in basic agreement – start with prevention, follow with avoidance, and finish with pest-killing if needed. Here's our current flight of steps:

Cultivate a good environment for your crops: healthy soil, sufficient space, nutrients and water, suitable temperature, soil pH. Practice crop rotation to reduce the chances of pests and diseases carrying over from one crop to the next. Clear old crops promptly, so they don't act as a breeding ground for the pest. Choose suitable varieties that resist the pests you most expect.

1. Cover or protect the plants physically from the pests (mulches to stop soil-dwelling pests moving up into your crops, netting, rowcover, planting diverse crops, and even trap crops)

2. Provide habitat for natural enemies and other beneficial insects

3. Monitor crops regularly at least once a week and identify any pests you see.

4. Introduce natural enemies of the pest (bacteria, fungi, insect predators or parasites)

5. Hand pick (or trap or vacuum) and kill the pests if the pest population is above the action threshold. Many fruit and root crop plants can take 20-30% defoliation before any loss of yield. Where the crop is the foliage, this may be too much!

6. Use biological controls (often derived from natural enemies) if the damage is still economically significant after trying the earlier steps in the process.

I recommend the ATTRA online publication Organic Integrated Pest Management. Each of the 22 pages is a poster, complete with good photos and concise clear info.

From Deer, the Big Pests to Aphids, the Tiny Pests

One of our biggest garden pests is the deer, which are especially fond of sweet potatoes. We use motion-sensor water sprayers initially or in years when the deer pressure is low. For worse years we install an electric fence with a solar-powered charger.  Last year our electric fence didn't keep the deer out, so this year we have a double layered fence to make sure.

At the other end of the size scale are aphids.  We plant sweet alyssum in our beds of broccoli and cabbage to attract insects that will eat aphids. In early March we sow about 200 plugs for 1500 row feet (450 m) of brassicas, planted as two rows in a bed. We pop one alyssum plug in the bed centers every 4ft (1.2 m)of bed length or about one alyssum per 5 plants. We transplant these the same day that we replace any casualty broccoli and cabbage plants

For Everything In-Between: Insectaries

In late May or early June, we transplant some flowers in our vegetable garden to attract pollinators and pest predators. We use circles cut from plastic buckets to surround these clusters of flowers so that inexperienced helpers don't pull them out as weeds.  We use a combination of sunflowers, dill, borage, cosmos, calendula, tithonia (Mexican sunflowers), zinnias. See my earlier post Insectaries: Grow Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects

We also sow sunflowers about every 10ft (3 m) in our bean beds at each succession. These attract birds and pollinators, while also acting as landmarks for our harvest progress. This is especially useful when several people fan out along the bed to pick.

A circle of flowers in a bed of peppers.

Pest-Repelling Flowers

We plant some repellent flowers too (nasturtiums, French marigolds) and some trap crop flowers (cleome for harlequin bugs).

We transplant some bush nasturtiums in with our first plantings of cucumber and summer squash. They are said to repel some cucurbit pests such as squash bugs, but I can't vouch for that. Radishes in cucumber or squash rows are said to repel cucumber beetles and squash bugs. I haven't tried that. There are a lot of companion planting ideas out there, but most have no scientific evidence for effectiveness.

Nematodes in the Hoophouse

In our hoophouse we have been tackling nematodes for several years. In 2011 when we were digging up young spinach from our hoophouse to transplant outdoors, we found some of the roots were misshapen with lumps in them. The Plant Disease Clinic diagnosed peanut root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne arenaria). See my earlier post Managing Nematodes in the Hoophouse.

We have tried various approaches to rid ourselves of the nematodes, including winter cover crops of wheat; spring cover crops of Lemon Drop French marigolds and Iron and Clay cowpeas; solarization in summer; fall crops of Brassica juncea mustards (Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills); and avoiding growing susceptible crops. My book The Year-Round Hoophouse contains a detailed section on dealing with nematodes, including charts of RKN-resistant crops and of varieties of various vegetable crops.

A flowering sesame plant surrounded by French marigolds, part of our strategy for fighting nematodes in our hoophouse.

This year we have planted the nematode areas in French marigolds and sesame (apparently particularly good in deterring root knot nematodes, the type we have.) Some other nematode areas have been planted with Iron and Clay cowpeas. Unfortunately we now have an aphid infestation on the cowpeas! We are trying blasting the aphids off the plants with a strong stream of water from a hose. Later in the summer we will solarize some of the nematode areas.

Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs, as well as sustainable agriculture conferences. Pam also writes for Growing for Market and other magazines. Her books, Sustainable Market Farming, and The Year-Round Hoophouse are available at www.sustainablemarketfarming.com. Her blog is on her website and also on facebook.com/SustainableMarketFarming.


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.

5 Reasons to Eliminate Some Garden Crops

butternut squash chili 

In the deep winter, there's nothing like a nice hot bowl of butternut squash chili to ward off the cold.

There are all kinds of reasons to plant a particular vegetable: abundance (zucchini), nutrition (Swiss chard), cut it and it grows back (lettuce), speed (arugula, green peas, radish), tastiness (tomatoes, watermelon), variety (there’s so much, like cucamelons, that you won’t find in your supermarket), and so on. But how do you narrow your gardening priorities?

My husband and I are adventurous gardeners. We’re always interested in trying something new. So we’ve tried artichokes, kiwano melons, amaranth, flint corn, popcorn, celeriac, tomatillos, ground cherries—just to name a few. We’ve grown as many as fifty different vegetables and fruits in one season, all for family eating.

We have our favorites: Swiss chard is a reliable, nutritious, cut-and-come-again crop that grows all season long. We can’t get enough of Christmas lima and scarlet runner beans. The same can be said for asparagus. Butternut squash is tasty, stores easily, and lasts a long time in storage. This year, it was May before we finished off our butternut squash harvest!   

But we’ve found there may be just as many reasons to NOT grow certain vegetables as to grow them, aside from what our taste buds like (a good reason in itself). Determining how to eliminate a few vegetables from your overgrown wish list will give you more room to plant what works best for you and your family.

fun to grow

Love-Lies-Bleeding amaranth was fun to grow, but as as a grain crop the yield was too time-consuming and too small.

Climate

We love tomatoes, but they don’t love us—at least not our growing season. Our summers are short and wet. If the tomatoes succeed in ripening before frost, which is always an iffy proposition, they’re almost certain to get blight. It’s more cost-effective and less frustrating to get our tomatoes from our local farmers’ market.

Growing Conditions

Is there anything as delicious as fresh sweet corn to go with those juicy tomatoes? We don’t think so. However, corn can’t stand up to our frequent, high winds. That might not be a problem if we had a huge field of corn where each stalk could protect the other, but we can only grow about three deep. Besides, corn takes up a whole lot of room for not much in the way of harvest. From now on, we’ll rely on the farmers’ market for corn, too.

Too Much Too Fast

Lesse known crops like, tomatillos  are exciting to grow, and they’re so tasty in Mexican dishes. But our family of two was overwhelmed at the volume of our harvest—it was just too much to handle. We donated most of them to the local food pantry.

basket of tomatillos

Basket of tomatillos.

Pesky Pests

Cabbage moths love kale as much as we do. Try as we might—and we’ve tried lots of deterrents—we haven’t found a way to stay ahead of them. We opted to substitute Swiss chard instead. The worms aren’t nearly as fond of chard. And cabbage on the shelf is pretty inexpensive. We could handle that trade-off.

Space

If you have more garden space than you know what to do with, you can experiment to your heart’s content. Otherwise, you have to make choices. As much as we like watermelon (and that’s a whole heck of a lot), the vines take up far more space than we’re willing to give them. Besides, watermelon needs to be eaten fresh, and just how much can two people eat in the few weeks when it’s ripe?

Consider the Pros and Cons

There might be other reasons to choose not to grow a given crop. Maybe it needs too much TLC for the time you have available. Maybe the cost-benefit ratio doesn’t add up.

In deciding what and what not to grow, think about the benefits and challenges each plant brings with it. When you find yourself overwhelmed by all the variety and deliciousness in those seed catalogues that fill your mailbox, it helps to have a few reasons to eliminate a few of those tempting fruits and veggies.

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.


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.

A Garden Created for Comfort

Gardening at a comfortable height

Being able to garden is not something that only able-bodied folks should have the privilege of being active in, in fact, I believe that everybody, regardless of mobility should have access to the joys that gardening can bring.

Let’s look at some of the dimensions that make for comfortable gardening for many different situations.

Standing: While a gardener is able to stand, a comfortable height for them would be what is called, “Counter-top” height, which is 36 inches. 36 inches makes a comfortable level at which to work and does not cause one to bend much at the back or to work with their elbows elevated. This height is commonly found in homes and shops where standing is necessary. Many home bathrooms are even now raising the height of bathroom vanities to this height also, up from the traditional height of 31 inches.

Sitting: If a gardener would prefer to sit while gardening and is not in need of a wheelchair or scooter, a comfortable height to sit is 18 inches. This height allows the legs to be bend at a comfortable angle and also allows the gardener to sit erect while working at the gardening chores.

Wheelchair or scooter: The height of the gardens I build are 36 inches to the top and this is needed to maintain a depth of soil of at least 6 inches and the framework needed to support it. A more vital number is the clear height beneath the garden which would be 27 inches to allow a standard wheelchair or scooter to be able to go beneath and allow the gardener to be close to the garden without reaching too much.

Reach: The reach or width of a garden that would allow a gardener to be able to reach to the middle of the garden is around 18 inches, which is roughly the length of a person’s forearm from elbow to fingertips. If you have access all the way around the garden on all four sides, you would be at about 36 inches or 3 feet wide. At this width the gardener would be able to reach everything and not need to overreach and compromise their balance or stability.

Although no two people are dimensioned exactly the same, these measurements can serve as a guide to building a garden that is friendly and will accommodate most folks. A better idea would be to work with an occupational therapist to determine the exact measurements that would best fir the individual gardener bring them the greatest comfort and ease of use.

The benefits of gardening are many and I invite you to take another try at gardening if you have thought it to be too hard to do.

For more information on Horticultural Therapy visit the American Horticultural Therapy Association

For more information on products that help you and those with mobility issues garden, check out my products page atwww.SFGRRV.com/products and remember that proceeds from these products benefit our brave and loyal veterans through the Semper Fi Fundwww.semperfifund.org  and is done so through the Square Foot Gardening Foundation.

“Keep Those Fingers Dirty!”

 


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.

Tip Rooting Blackberries

 

As a child I recall harvesting blackberries with my sisters and cousins along an abandoned railroad track.  We had a few scary moments when we unsettled snakes (in reality those snakes were probably moving as fast as possible, trying to get away from all of our noise and feet).  And we would return home with scratches all over our arms and hands, but with buckets full of juicy berries for mom to make into jelly and delicious cobblers. 

Last year, my husband and I decided to add a thornless blackberry variety to a raised bed in our garden.  Little did I realize how this particular plant would be so vigorous and send out so many canes for next year.  Our raised bed wasn’t small, but it wasn’t overly large either.

So in August of last year, I began to read in Extension publications the process of propagating blackberries.  Tip layering was the overall favored method, but in my raised bed, I didn’t want to unsettle my lasagna layering.  The whole purpose of lasagna layering is to prevent upsetting the soil and allowing nice earthworms and other microbes to enrich the soil.

We decided to just “tip root” the berry canes.  I rounded up 1 gallon black pots and filled them with potting soil.  The black pots had been rinsed with a little bleach and water to make sure that they were clean.  The leaves at the tips of the canes were curled and red, but I pulled the leaves off and planted one blackberry tip into each pot. 

During August and September I kept the pots watered, but not saturated, and attached to the original plant.  In early October, I cut the cane about 1 foot above the pot and left all of the pots in place until January.  At that time, I moved all of the new plants into their home by planting and heavy mulching.  The roots were nice and thick in the bottom of each pot.  The experience makes me wonder if I can duplicate this same propagation process with other plants.

When spring rolled around, I was anxious to see if the new plants were thriving.  Yes, all of the plants had taken off and were setting out new flowers.  Some were more vigorous than others, but I was pleased to see new leaves and flowers on all plants.  The bees were loving the spray of new flowers and that alone made the process worth the effort.

If you have a friend or neighbor who has thornless blackberries, visit with them about tip rooting and sharing their good fortune. We have enjoyed expanding our blackberry raised bed and look forward to finding new varieties to try in the future.

Esther Coco Boe lives in Louisiana, where she works to enhance pollinator habitats, plants herbs in her home garden, grows heirloom tomatoes, and exposes children to gardening. Connect with Esther 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. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Getting Ready for Summer with St. Johns Spring

Peach tree 

When we moved to the house we live in now in St. Johns in the summer of 2003, I remember waking up to the sun coming up over the hills and the coyotes singing down in the flats. It was calm and warm and just seemed too good to be true. Winter was mild that year and I thought we'd just essentially moved to heaven. 

And then spring came.

Winds of 50+mph for weeks on end had my hand-dug duck pond filled to the rim with blowing sand, there was dust everywhere, plants were uprooted, trees were snapped in half, tomatoes would have their leaves shredded within hours and there wasn't enough water in the entire aquifer to keep up with the drying wind. And then one day it was freezing cold, and then it would be gorgeous for two weeks and trees would bloom and then it would suddenly and without warning, be 10º the next day. I learned that first spring that you don't plant anything outside until at LEAST May 20 unless you had some kind of cover, and only then if you had a solid windbreak that could withstand the gusts of sometimes 70 mph. I learned you could only expect fruit maybe once every 10 years, and only if you were able to provide both frost protection, insect protection, and wind protection.

Well, this year seems to be my one in 10 ...

Peach tree with baby peach 

The first time since I've had this peach tree and the third time since I've had these apples, I have fruit coming on. This year, we had a pretty hard freeze about April 4, then nothing but a couple light frosts up until May 20. During that time, both apple trees, the crabapple tree, and this cute peach tree I bought just because it was a pretty tree and I never dreamed I could get fruit from, both bloomed out in early April, and on May 20, the fruit had already set and seems to be big enough to withstand both the ridiculous wind and the cold. 

Because yes, it has gotten cold again. Three massive cold fronts have rolled in, one right after the other, dropping snow in Flagstaff, Eagar, and Greer, and bringing ridiculously bitter winds, light frost, and drizzly rain here to St. Johns.

We had an incredibly wet winter, which resulted in some great blooms from the iris we've had for a decade or better. 

Blue and white iris

This white iris was given to me by a lady in Eagar, which is how many of us get hold of plants that grow well in the area. This yellow one was given to me by a lady I work with, and though I've had them for four years, it is the first time they have bloomed, given the overly wet winter and relatively mild (until the last two weeks) spring. 

yellow iris

Spring here in St. Johns has provided some great learning experiences. For example, many gardeners string Christmas lights around their fruit trees when they begin blooming early and swear that the heat of the lights keeps their blossoms from freezing under a light frost. I have also learned that, although in wetter climates gardeners are cautioned to not water their plants in winter so they don't "heave" out of the ground, if we don't water in our arid area, plants will never break dormancy and will die before it ever gets warm enough to sprout and grow. 

Strawberries in aquaponics 

These strawberries, grown in my year-round aquaponics system, bloomed early in April and have now set berries (which I ate yesterday) long before the ones in the ground have even bloomed. I learned this year that if I put a livestock tank heater in the fish tank, it kept the water warm enough to not freeze, but also to keep the bacteria alive in the grow bed. Result: early berries that didn't even draw the attention to fruit-loving birds!

Spring is really strange here in St. Johns, but the one thing we can always be glad of (thanks, Pollyanna) is that it doesn't last long and it is followed by a warm summer. And believe me, I am ready for that!


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.

Lessons Learned from a Peach Pit

peach tree seedlings 

Twenty odd years ago, we moved from the beautiful mountains of Western Maine to the very different world of Eastern Washington. You couldn’t ask for two more opposite locales.

Western Maine - predominately cold and snowy. We left on April 1st in a snow storm, still wearing our winter jackets.

Eastern Washington - predominately dry and sunny. We arrived 7 days later to trees covered in leaves, daffodils in bloom, and kids playing baseball. The jackets were ditched along the way.

The first thing I did in my new home was plant a peach tree. Now, I knew nothing about growing peaches, except that I liked them and finally lived somewhere with a growing season that was longer than 60 days. We went to a local department store, bought a tree, and put it in the ground. It grew. And grew. And quickly developed large, beautiful, fuzzy, sun-kissed orbs of deliciousness.

But I still knew next to nothing about growing peaches and didn’t thin the fruit enough. So branches broke, even as the tree continued to grow larger. For many years, branches broke off one by one, and most of the remaining tree grew in the neighbor’s yard, along with most of the peaches. I wanted to replace the tree, but didn’t know what kind of peach tree is was. I called them mystery peaches. That’s where Mother Earth News came in. An article inspired me to try to grow a new tree from a pit.

I followed the directions found in this 2008 article, Growing Fruit Trees with Seeds, with fantastic results. The first year they (I actually had 3 germinate) were just babies, grown in a corner of the garden. The next year I put all 3 into one large container and let them grow. By year three each tree had its own container now and was about 2 ½ feet tall. All was good. Until a week-long vacation coincided with a heat wave and an irrigation breakdown. We came back from vacation to find our trees cooked in their black plastic containers.

So, the peach tree experiment was a bust. But my grandson, an apricot aficionado at the age of four, had insisted on planting his own apricot tree from a pit. We followed the same process, eventually planting the tree in a light-colored container and moved it to a corner of the garden where it received less intense sunlight and regular watering. The tree grew, and by the time my grandson was 8 or 9 he was harvesting apricots. However, when it became time to move the tree, we found it had broken through the container and rooted itself in place, amongst the blackberry and raspberry bushes. The tree decided it would stay put – although a significant section has grown into the neighbor’s yard, along with many apricots.

apricot tree

So many lessons learned:

It’s easy to start a stone fruit seedling.

Avoid black containers in very hot environments.

Irrigation will always break when you are on vacation.

Save the tree identification label so you will know what kind of peaches are growing.

Always do what your grandchildren want – especially when it comes to the garden.

Although it is painful to toss all those potential apricots or peaches, thin the immature fruit before its weight breaks tree limbs.

A robustly growing tree will break through a plastic container and claim its space.

Some people, even those who should know better, will tell you that it is not possible to grow a tree from seed. While I wouldn’t recommend it for apple trees or pear trees (you will end up with a wilding), the process works for apricot and peach trees. Start your own today!

As for my original peach tree – we cut down the remainder last year. Based on my research, it was either an Elberta or a Hale. So we purchased two new trees and are growing them as little fruit trees, following Ann Ralph’s pruning method for small trees.

Renee Pottle is a freelance food writer and author. She writes about canning and cooking at SeedtoPantry.com and about food business issues at PenandProvisions.com.


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.







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