Sunday, June 10, 2012

It's summer, The leaf footed Stink Bugs Have Arrived

I was in the garden this morning, picking produce when i found this little crowd gathered on one of my tomatoes.  

This is the nymph of the leaf footed stink bug.  After they hatch out, they prefer to hang out in groups, sucking the juices out of tomatoes (their preferred crop) or peppers.  Have you ever noticed little, hard white spots on your tomatoes after they've ripened?  I've seen them in years past, on the plum tomatoes I was growing. This and the resulting adults are the culprits.

I had invested in a spray bottle earlier in the year, figuring I'd try a good spray of ivory soap solution on most pests before moving on to Bt or some other organic deterrent.

It worked!  I kept spraying until they stopped moving.  Now the trick will be to stay ahead of Momma Stink bug and destroy her children every time I see them until I can put an end to her and her sisters.  

I LOVE square foot gardening.  When you follow the system as described by Mel Bartholomew in his book Square Foot Gardening, you are closed to your plants, the plants themselves are closer together, there's hardly any weeding to be done, you can take care of problems quickly - sometimes even finding the bad guys before they have a chance to wreck havoc on your garden.  It really is a wonderful system!  I have an ambitious 6 - 4' x 4' garden but even few boxes produce a satisfactory harvest.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Eliminating Fire Any Colonies, Pests from Your Garden: Organic Gardening

Eliminating Fire Any Colonies, Pests from Your Garden: Organic Gardening (click on link)

fire antFor those of us living in the south, we struggle with a problem our friends in the north do not...Fire Ants.  These ants have a nasty habit of swarming when their mound is disturbed and biting, biting, biting which leaves welts on your skin that itch like the dickens.  If you scratch them the resulting scab remains for weeks and weeks at a time.  Rubbing alcohol applied immediately after being bitten seems to reduce or even prevent the welt from forming.  They are a gift from south of the boarder and have been making their way into the US.  Areas that don't experience a hard frost are plagued with them.  Most folks use "Fire Ant" killer, a harsh chemical that does destroy the mount but it's not something you want to put in your vegetable beds and by transfere eat it yourself.

I wanted to share this information from the Organic Gardening magazine people cause I used one of the suggestions.  Earlier in the year as I was moving from my winter garden to my summer garden I had several fire ant mounds in at least two of my 4' x 4' boxes.  With the help of a visiting family member, we poured at least 3 - 4 gallons of scalding hot water on each of the mounds and it worked.  The ant colony was destroyed and I have been ant "free" in those boxes ever since.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Growing Sweet Corn for the Very First Time

Getting Started
With 6 - 4' x4' grow boxes I felt there was plenty of room in my square foot garden for a box just dedicated to growing sweet corn.  I ordered "Country Gentleman", an heirloom, shoe peg white corn from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.  According to the chart from the AgriLife Extension,  I could plant corn in my part of Texas anytime in March, so I planted on March 17th.  Although the typical planting instructions for corn is one seed kernel per square foot, in a square foot garden you can plant four kernels per square foot.  

                                                                                                Outsmarting the Critters
I had read that birds and squirrels love newly sprouted corn and will gorge themselves on the fresh sprouts as they  begin to poke through the soil.  I had previously built chicken wire covers for just such an occasion and after carefully planting half of my 4' x 4' square I placed the cover over the box.  It worked like a charm.  My corn sprouted and grew to the height of the cover without any birds or squirrels helping themselves to the tender plants.  I planted the second half of the grow box the following week as I didn't want to have all the corn ready at the same time.  Next year, I'll probably start planting earlier (weather permitting) and plant the second half of the box two weeks later instead of one week later.

Kitchen Skewers for Pest Control
It has been fascinating to watch the stalks grow taller and taller, seemingly overnight, after each watering.  I found that some of the leaves on three of the plants were being eaten and after careful examination found the little green worms causing the problem.  They had wedged themselves deep into the curls of the new growth and were hard to just pick out and destroy.  I found that a long wooden skewer from the kitchen, commonly used for shiskabob, was long enough and sharp enough to move the worm to within range of destruction.   

Natural Disaster Flattens Corn
About two weeks ago, we had a very heavy rain storm, with a great deal of wind, during the night; when I got up the next morning my tall, beautiful stalks had been knocked down flat to the ground.  They weren't broken off, just pushed down by the wind and heavy rain.  I should have taken a picture but I was more concerned about getting them back up then photography.   I propped up what stalks I could but there were really too many to tip back up without support.  I built a PVC frame structure around the outside of my grow box, using those green stakes from the gardening department to hold the PVC in place.  Then I wrapped a sturdy rope about 3 feet from the ground around each of the vertical legs of the frame so that the corn would have something to lean against.  It took several days to get everything back up again.  Some of the bigger stalks needed to have additional support, which I provided by pushing thin bamboo stakes from the garden center into the soil near the base of the stalk and tying the stalk to the bamboo.  I am pleased to say every thing is now back to the way it was before the storm.

Things I've Learned Thus Far
I've learned that the flowering part of the corn stalk appears first, followed about a week later by a purple tassel of corn silk along the middle of the stalk.  According to the Master Gardeners at the extension service, corn is usually pollinated by the wind.  Every so often I've gone out and shook a stalk or two in hopes that the ears will pollinate more fully and completely.  I haven't picked anything yet but I hope to be able to do so soon.

And here is the product of my labors.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Growing Potatoes in a sack

In an earlier post I mentioned that I was planning to grow potatoes in sacks.  There was a link attached to that entry for how to make Tater tote grow sacks out of black weed stop material.  I didn't follow the measurement instructions carefully and instead of sacks that measured 14 - 16 inches across, I had sacks that measures about 10 - 12 inches across.  Even with the smaller sacks I still enjoyed a measure of success.

I found the smaller sacks were hard to keep up right, I think a sack with a larger base would stand up without falling over as the potato plants grew.  I had watched an uncle grow potatoes in hay and I was able to located a large black garbage bag of loose hay at a local feed store, at a good price, and grew my potatoes in the hay.  I had sewn 8 sacks and I harvested  1.75 lbs of potatoes.  Next year, I will create more and larger sacks, weigh them down with bricks instead of stones, grow them in a different section of the compost heap and see if I can grown more and larger potatoes.

Surprisingly, I had no problem with potato bugs.  I have vivid memories of picking ugly, light orange potato bugs off my family's potatoes as a kid; but the worst I had to deal with were the occasional pill bugs that seemed to enjoy making holes in the leaves of the plant.

These were all about 2.5 - 3 inches across.  There were a few itty bitty ones but I was told by an Idaho potato farmer that those were common.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Now's the time to get the "Summer" garden in

I put "Summer" in quotes because here in SE Texas we are currently enjoying the warm, pleasant weather the rest of the country enjoys during the summer months.  During everyone else's summer, we are experiencing scorching heat - where we go from our air conditioned houses, to our air conditioned cars to the next air conditioned building and  the garden is pretty much left to fend for itself.

For those who follow this is the time to put in all those vegetables you enjoy eating.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peppers, etc.

My Tomatoes are ready to go, so ready in fact, they are beginning to put out blossoms. Today, I'm getting the beds ready and cleaning up the weeds that have snuck in.  Tomorrow it the BIG day.  If you're
 in the north, St. Patrick's Day is traditionally the day to plant peas.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Look what happens when you keep watering those poinsettias you get at Christmas time

Although this isn't exactly about my garden exploits, it is about something my DH has been successfully growing.  I just had to show you a picture.  This Poinsettia is probably about 3 years old and during the month of February it has come into full color.  The only thing special we've done to it is water and fertilize it regularly.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

It's time to start growing potatoes - Making Tater Tote Grow Bags

I was thumbing through a grower supply catalog not long ago and noticed an ad for Potato grow bags.  I've never grown potatoes before but I had heard that they weren't particularly fussy about how they were grown.  I remembered my Great Uncle Arthur growing them in straw.   I didn't particularly care for the price listed in the catalog so after searching the internet, I found this website for  Potato grow bags.  I've made 4 for my own purposes and an additional 4 for an intrepid friend the try as well.  Now is the time to start growing potatoes in this part of Texas, here goes a new experiment in growing.  I'll keep you posted and will post pictures as they become available.  For my local followers, if you are interested, I still have more of the fabric.