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

Dealing With Aphids: Pest Control Tips & How to Protect Your Plants

 

Squash and remove: Squash aphids by hand, or nip off and destroy clusters at shoot tips. Pinch out the tips of fava beans once the first pods appear to make the plants less attractive to black bean aphids.

Blast off: Use a jet of water from a hose to blast aphids off your plants. The aphids will be unlikely to return to the plant.

Spray soapy water: Add a couple of drops of washing-up liquid to a spray bottle full of water and spray the solution all over the effected plant, including the leaf undersides. The soapy water will trap and suffocate the aphids.

Use row covers: Winged aphids can quickly spread plant diseases, such as cucumber mosaic virus. Cover susceptible plants such as cucumber, spinach, and celery with row covers in midsummer, when the risk of this disease is highest.

Attract predators: Ladybugs (especially their larvae), lacewings, and many types of tiny parasitic wasp have an appetite for aphids. Plant flowers and herbs to attract them to your garden, for instance, calendula, marigolds, alyssum, buckwheat, echinacea, fennel, dill, parsley, thyme, and mint.

We’d also love you to take part in The Big Bug Hunt, an international research project which aims to track the spread of all bugs, with the aim of developing a pest early warning system for gardeners. You can report any bugs you find in your garden on the website.

Learn more about dealing with aphids in this video.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

 

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Harvesting and Storing Onions

 

To store onions successfully, they first need to be cured properly.  At harvest time, carefully dig your onions up and lay the bulbs on the soil surface or on a wire rack. If the weather is wet, dry them under cover instead; for example, in a well-ventilated greenhouse or hoop house.

Curing Onions 

If you’ve started drying your onions outside, after about a week move them under cover. You can dry onions on racks or on layers of newspaper in a greenhouse, hoop house or cold frame.

Spread the onions out as much as possible and ensure good ventilation to prevent mold or rotting. Continue to dry them for up to two weeks. They are ready to store when the skins become papery, the leaves are completely shriveled, and the roots are dry and wiry.

At this point, cut off the roots and remove any loose skins. If you plan to store your bulbs in onion strings, cut the stems to within 2 to 3 inches of the neck of the bulb. If not, cut the stem to the neck.

Storing Onions

Use up any soft or thick-necked bulbs as soon as possible, as they won’t store well.

Healthy cured onions can be stored in net bags and hung up in a garage, shed or unheated room in the house — anywhere that is dry, cool, well-ventilated and out of direct sunlight. Check the nets occasionally and remove any onions that have gone bad.

Make an Onion String

To make an onion string, take a length of string about 3 to 4 feet long and tie the two ends together to form a loop. Hang it from a hook to start braiding your onions onto the string.

Insert the first onion through the center of the loop, then weave the stem around the string to return it through the loop. Push the onion to the bottom of the loop. Repeat with the next onion exactly the same way. Make sure to rotate the position of each additional onion so they sit neatly in a spiral. Hang up your completed string in a cool, dry place.

 View the video below for a demonstration.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

How to Water for Better Tasting Crops

 

The taste of fruits and vegetables is determined by the combination of sugars, vitamins and aroma compounds found naturally within them. Too much water will dilute these flavor components, while less watering helps to concentrate flavor and nutrients.

When crops are watered very sparingly, yields may be a little smaller, but the flavor becomes more intense. Soils rich in organic matter hold onto soil moisture for longer. This means you need to water less often to enhance taste.

Minimizing Watering to Enhance Taste

Minimizing watering of tree fruits, such as cherries and peaches, fruit bushes in containers, such as strawberries and blueberries, and fruiting vegetables, like tomatoes and chilies, makes the plants concentrate on fruit production. The plant roots will delve deeply into the soil in search of water and minerals. When the fruits have set, reduce irrigation to a minimum without allowing the plants to wilt.

Root crops, such as carrots and beets, also taste better in drier soils. Water them for the first three to four weeks after planting, then reduce irrigation to a minimum.

Watering Heavily for More Succulent Greens

Leafy salads and greens, on the other hand, benefit from plenty of water. In these crops, lots of water helps to dilute very spicy or bitter tastes. This means you can water more or less, depending on if you prefer your leaves super-spicy or mild-tasting. Watering also encourages more leafy growth that is tender and succulent.

Learn more about watering for flavor in this video.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Heritage Harvest Festival 2017

 Heritage Harvest Festival logo

On September 8 and 9, 2017 I will be participating in the Heritage Harvest Festival held at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home near Charlottesville, VA. It is a celebration of food, sustainable agriculture, and the preservation of heritage plants. Visitors can learn about our Virginia history, and more importantly, learn how we can make use of that history to move forward as a sustainable society. There will be exhibits, speakers, vendors, and food trucks (including beer) up on the mountain in Thomas Jefferson’s backyard.

This is the 10th year I have been a speaker at the festival. My programs always have to do with sustainable gardening--growing food, seeds, and cover crops. This year my topic is From Seed to Garment: Cotton and Flax/Linen in Your Garden and I will be talking about growing fiber and making it into clothes. Monticello has been adding more exhibits to tell the story of the slave families on the plantation and that is as it should be. Mr. Jefferson added textile production to Monticello’s operations in order to produce clothing for his worker population. That exhibit should open in 2018. However, production of clothing from seed to garment is not something that has to be relegated to the past and my talk will give you information to bring that skill into your life now. Learn more at Homeplace Earth.

Also coming up near me is Field Days of the Past, which is the following weekend. This is the place to see a good tractor pull. This event began as a celebration of old steam engines and you will find a working saw mill there, as well as a sorghum press in operation with a gasoline powered engine. Not everything is about engines, however. My friend Jan Thomas will be there with her flax brake and homegrown flax, demonstrating how to turn flax into linen. I will join her for a while on Friday, September 15.

Festivals and fairs are good places to be exposed to new-to-you ideas and broaden your horizons, so to speak. Mother Earth News now has fairs in six locations around the country. Coming up September 15-17 is the Fair at Seven Springs, PA. Attending a Mother Earth News Fair is a good opportunity to meet and learn from people who have been out there testing the limits of what is possible. You might already be familiar with some of them from the books they have written. Coincidentally, that same weekend, in nearby Stahlstown, is the annual Flax Scutching Festival where you can see the whole flax-to-linen process demonstrated.

Take a look around your community and I am sure you will find some sort of festival or fair to visit. This is the season for fiber festivals, by the way. Often it is the connections you make with others at these events that make your day special. Take the time to listen to the speakers and interact with the exhibitors and vendors. It always amazes me how far people travel to attend the Heritage Harvest Festival or a Mother Earth News Fair. They tell me they made it their vacation destination. Learning new things is good for your heart, your mind, and your soul, especially when it takes you out of our comfort zone. 

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.


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.

Start a Permaculture Orchard Using the NAP Method

Permaculture Orchard Wide Angle

In a quest to increase our self-sufficiency, my husband and I discovered permaculture. We immersed ourselves in permaculture literature and videos and came away inspired to try some new techniques for resilient living.

Our ultimate goal in life is to decrease our consumerism and increase our ability to live off our land and enjoy the fruits of our own labours. Permaculture, an agricultural ecosystem intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient, looked to be just what we were searching for.

We were particularly struck by the concept of food forests and permaculture orchards. We purchased the DVD from Stefan Sobkowiak (The Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic, 2014) and were inspired to begin our own orchard.

Prior to discovering permaculture, we had pondered creating an orchard of heritage apples for hard cider, however, a monoculture of apples is neither sustainable nor self-sufficient and would require many inputs. A permaculture orchard, on the other hand, has multiple layers of vegetation that not only produce something edible, but also improve the soil, and can either attract the beneficial insects or repel the harmful ones.

The Nitrogen, Apple, Plum/Pear Method of Orcharding

We liked Sobkowiak’s N.A.P. method of alternating the trees so that one kind of tree is always separated from another of its kind. Using N.A.P., a nitrogen-fixing tree is planted, then an apple tree, and then a pear/plum tree — this pattern is repeated to several times to complete a row of trees. The rows to the left and right would start with either the apple or pear/plum to ensure the separation between kinds is maintained across the rows as well.

The separation of like kinds can restrict the spread of diseases and pests, but still allow pollinators to do their job. For our orchard we expanded upon N.A.P. by adding another “A”, apricots, and another “P”, peaches.

After drawing up a plan to replace 1 acre of lawn with three rows of 12 trees each, we purchased 36 bare root trees and shrubs. The fruit trees consisted of:

• 10 apple (two each of Calville Blanc, Golden Russet, Kingston Black, Ribston Pippin, and Michelin);

• three plum (two each of Black Ice and a single Toka);

• four pear (one each of Sunrise, North Brite, Clara Frij, and Magness);

• three peach (two each of Flamin’ Fury and a single Veteran);

• and three apricot (two each of Sugar Pearl and a single Harlayne).

The nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs consisted of: six sea buckthorn shrubs; two honey locust trees; two autumn olive shrubs and three Siberian peashrub.

Providence smiled upon us, because the weather for our planting was overcast and cool, with barely a breeze. The week following planting was also cool and wet. And with the exception of a single apricot, which sprouted leaves from its base and not from the branches, all of the trees appear to be thriving — even our struggling apricot passed the scratch test, and hopefully, we will see leaves on its branches next spring.

Silage Tarps for Understory and Orchard Irrigation

Beneath the trees we laid down used silage tarps given to us by a dairy farming friend. The tarps not only smother the grass and weeds, but also motivate weed seeds to germinate in the warm and moist environment; however, these seeds soon die back with lack of sunlight and leave a relatively weed-free plot of soil ready for planting.

Under the tarps we ran soaker hoses with drip irrigation and connected these to a 1,000 L water tote that catches rain water. On top of these silage tarps we’re spreading a thick layer of wood mulch. This task is taking longer to complete because we either pick up loads of free mulch ourselves or a tree service kindly dumps its load following a job nearby.

In the future, we hope to remove the silage tarps and use only the wood mulch as an understory in the orchard. Towards this end, we are making progress and adding the lower layers to our permaculture orchard, and if these plants can thrive, future competition from weeds and grasses will be more manageable.

To date, we’ve added comfrey, red currants, and honeyberries. Each fruit tree has a comfrey planted next to it because the plant’s long roots draw nutrients from deeper in the soil up to the surface, making them accessible to the nearby fruit tree.

Although our orchard is newly planted, and will take some years to become “fruitful”, it has already supplied us with currants to eat and comfrey to feed to our chickens. The work of planting and overseeing the young trees is an exercise in delayed gratification, but we already find joy in tending our orchard and watching the trees and shrubs grow.

Photo by Greg Harrold

Rebecca Harrold homesteads and homeschools on a 23-acre property in rural Ontario, where she is engaged with all types of wiser living skills. She believes that restoring the land to its healthy, sustainable state will increase its resilience, and in turn, the resilience of the people who depend upon it. Connect with Rebecca at Harrold Country Home and on Instagram.


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.

Use Coffee Grounds in Your Garden

 

Here in California, many of us know much more about the best restaurant in our neighborhood than we do about the best local garden. We know which cafe has the best coffee roast more than the ins-and-outs of good soil biology. Fortunately, there are some easy to follow steps to enhance your backyard soil, without breaking the bank.  In fact, there is a natural and beneficial soil amendment right under your nose! That's right: Coffee grounds are a great natural food source for the soil. So, follow these simple steps and stop throwing away your spent coffee grounds.

1. Separate coffee grounds from your other compost. Also remove paper sleeve if possible.

2. Identify heavy feeders in your garden. Heavy feeders are plants that welcome regular nutrients. 

List of some Heavy Feeders:

Apple, Pear, Plum, Cherry, Avocado, Tomato, Squash, Pumpkin, Corn, Roses, Camelias, Magnolias, Azaleas

Note: Many California Native plants and Mediterranean plants (*Ie: Sages and Lavenders) do NOT want such rich nutrients regularly added to their roots. Please avoid such plants and stick to heavy feeding perennials and vegetables.

3. “Sugar shake” the grounds around heavy feeders, so that it is sprinkled around. Note: Avoid clumping a whole handful of grounds in any given area, as it is very acidic.  Therefore it is important to sprinkle the grounds around the plants.

4. Repeat this application of coffee grounds 1 time per month. This way you keep finding new destinations for your coffee grounds.

Don't have a garden yet? Fret not! You can begin to feed and enhance the soil biology of empty plots as well with this coffee sugar-shaking method! Have a large project? Talk to your local coffee shop and arrange to pick up bags of spent grounds. They are usually very willing!

Want to learn more? Check out my video for how I go to Starbucks all over the Bay Area and glean free castings for all of my garden projects!

So sugar shake those coffee grounds out of your trash or compost and into your garden.  Give your summer crops a boost with coffee grounds!

Joshua Burman Thayer is a landscape designer and permaculture consultant with Native Sun GardensHe is the Urban Agriculture Supervisor for Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation in San Francisco, Calif. Find him at Native Sun Gardens and read his other 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.

Tomato Problems: Fix Issues Affecting Your Tomatoes

 

Common Tomato Pests

Aphids and whitefly: Blast off small infestations with a jet of water, or spray plants with soapy water, taking care to reach the undersides of the leaves. Control aphids and whiteflies by planting flowers close by to attract pest predators such as ladybugs and hoverflies. You can even purchase some pest predators to introduce into greenhouses and hoop houses.
Spider mite: Spray the foliage thoroughly with a fine mist of water, and then cover the plant with a row cover for a few days. The shady, humid conditions will repel the mites.
Tomato hornworm: Remove and destroy any caterpillars you find during regular inspections. Sometimes you may find hornworms covered in small white cocoons. These belong to braconid wasps, which feed on hornworms to bring them under control.

Tomato Diseases

Late blight: Avoid splashing the leaves when watering, and remove infected plants as soon as you spot the first signs of blight. Blight is uncommon on tomatoes grown under cover. There are also now some varieties described as “blight resistant.”
Blossom end rot: Keep tomatoes evenly moist and don’t let them dry out. Feed them regularly with a liquid tomato fertilizer. Keep a careful eye on plants grown in containers, as they are especially susceptible.

Watering and Feeding 

Split fruits: Keep soil consistently moist, and mulch with plenty of organic matter.
Magnesium deficiency: Magnesium deficiency can occur if the plant is receiving too much potassium. To correct this, spray a solution of Epsom salt directly on the foliage and then begin feeding using a tomato feed containing a higher proportion of magnesium.
Wilted plants: Plants can wilt when the soil is either too wet or too dry. Set up an irrigation system on a timer if you can’t be around to water regularly enough. Make sure containers of tomatoes have large enough drainage holes in the base and that water can drain easily. Raise containers up onto pot feet if necessary.
Poor Fruit Set: Avoid pesticide use and make sure to open the doors of greenhouses and hoop houses to allow bees access and provide plenty of ventilation. Tapping on supports to dislodge the pollen or gently twiddling the flowers between your fingers can help improve pollination. If your climate’s very dry, raise the humidity around plants with regular damping down. Feed your plants regularly with an off-the-shelf tomato fertilizer or a homemade high-potassium liquid fertilizer such as comfrey tea.

Learn more about keeping your tomatoes healthy in this video.

More Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.