Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

I’ve had the same problem for all three years of my garden. I do a good job of trimming plants and keeping them under control when they’re first growing. But about halfway through the growing seasons I think, I got this. The plants are fine. As long as they’re growing that’s good.

Junglesque tomato plants

Wrong. As in past years, I let my garden get out of control. In Steve’s words, my tomato plants “looked like a forest.” My plan was to train the squash to grow on a trellis but I didn’t quite get around to doing that. So right now, the squash has taken over the middle of the garden.

If you don’t prune back your plants, they’ll focus on growing foliage instead of vegetables. All those pretty, deep green leaves aren’t actually adding to the plant’s ability to produce delicious crops. I spent some time last weekend trimming back the tomatoes and squash. We’ll see if that increases the yield.

On another note, this will be the final year for Veggie Garden Virgin. I started the blog two years ago to share lessons learned. I also hoped it would take off. Even though it never did, I had fun writing it. Looking back I’ve written less and less each year to only about once a month this season.

I hope the blog has been helpful and somewhat entertaining. I’ll do one final post next month. Thanks for reading!

99 Problems But NC Cooperative Extension Ain’t One

99 Problems But NC Cooperative Extension Ain’t One

I have more gardening problems, although not 99 like Jay-Z. Yes, I know I’m still stuck in the 90s but these references are the first ones that pop into my head. I suppose I should make it a top goal this summer to familiarize myself with more recent music so I have fresher pop culture references.

Holes in cucumber plant leaves

Shriveled tomato plant leaves

Back on topic, the garden is in semi-struggle mode. I realize I’m a about month behind because I had to replant in late June. On the bright side, the squash, basil and rosemary plants look strong.

Unfortunately I had to email NC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners again last week about the remaining plants. There were holes in the cucumber plant leaves and shriveling leaves on the tomato plants. I thought the shriveled leaves may be the result of the heat and the holes from some type of pest. The Master Gardeners responded quickly as usual and delivered the bad news.

“This damage doesn’t look typical to that of insects eating leaves. In the first picture the leaves look torn with little tissue missing and that looks like mechanical injury to me. I see you have chicken wire around the garden so it’s hard to imagine something walked through there but that’s the kind of thing that would cause mechanical injury. The other pictures look like some sort of disease (fungal, bacterial or viral). Note the wilting of the leaf edges – they are not bitten. It’s hard to tell from these pictures just which disease it is…”

To combat the fungus, I first tried using a milk and water mixture. When that didn’t stop the progress of the fungal invasion, I had to take it up a step. I purchased an organic fungicide, Serenade by Bayer which can be used up to the day of harvest. It’s been less than a week so we’ll see if this is the solution to the garden’s pest and fungicide issues.

I just want to give a shout out for the quick diagnosis by NC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners. They are a great resource. If you’re in North Carolina, you should definitely take advantage. Despite my ongoing gardening problems, NC Cooperative Extension definitely isn’t one of them!

The bounty from my garden this year- hopefully more to come :/

Non-Selfie Taker Celebrates #NationalSelfieDay

Non-Selfie Taker Celebrates #NationalSelfieDay

Selfie attempt #1

I always thought of June 21 as simply the first day of summer. But apparently a new holiday has popped up that may surpass the summer solstice in importance. My coworkers informed me that June 21 is also National Selfie Day.

I am an anti-selfie taker. I can never find the correct flattering angle and end up with crazy Charles Manson eyes whenever I attempt one. But at my coworkers’ urging, I decided to take a gardening selfie in honor of the special day. As you can see, results were mixed.

Selfie attempt #2, again with the crazy eyes

On to more relevant gardening news. After my old seeds debacle, the garden looks great! We’ve had a lot of rain lately so everything is growing well. Even the squash seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago have sprouted. Using fresh seeds makes all the difference.

I had to do some additional garden maintenance such as spraying an organic pesticide to protect the plants and staking the tomato plants for extra support.

One thing about gardening that always makes me sad is weeding out seedlings. Instructions for the squash seeds said to plant three seeds per hill and narrow down to one seedling per hill at about 2” in height. I wish I could keep them all but I remember how large the plants got last summer.

I feel like I’m on the way to success, just not with selfie taking.

Still Making Rookie Gardening Mistakes

Still Making Rookie Gardening Mistakes

Garden full o’ weeds

It’s about a month into the garden and I have to say it’s not turning out like I hoped. I’d even say it’s a disaster. Not a Fyre Festival level disaster; there are no stranded tourists or class action lawsuits involved here. But where I should have the beginnings of my vegetable garden, I have nothing.

It started with the decision to use seeds I had leftover from last year. I thought I was being smart and economical. Apparently I was being neither. I planted squash, cucumber, carrots, lettuce and pepper seeds during the first week of May and waited for the seedlings to make their way to the surface.

During week three I recognized several of the green things as weeds and picked them. I wasn’t sure about the others still left so I contacted one of the Master Gardeners in my local Cooperative Extension office. After a couple of email communications where I explained what was going on, this was their response:

“Sorry Marissa. I don’t think you are going to see anything from those seeds this year. Seeds are best purchased fresh each season or collect your own and plant them the following season.”

Perhaps I was getting a little cocky in year three of the garden and thought I knew it all. But I admit I feel like a complete failure and committed a total rookie mistake.

Newly purchased seedlings

I had two options to fix this. I could start from scratch and plant fresh seeds. That meant I wouldn’t have any produce until late August or September. Option two involved purchasing vegetable plants and transplanting them. I went with option two so I could still enjoy fresh vegetables during the summer months.

Purchasing the plants felt like cheating but at least I know I’ll have squash, cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and herbs to look forward to.

Two lessons I learned from my mistakes and hope you do too:

  1. Don’t use old seeds!
  2. If you don’t recognize what’s growing in your garden as a plant, it’s probably a weed.

It can only go uphill from here, right?

Newly planted garden

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

It’s that time of year again. Days are getting shorter and the temperature is cooling off which means vegetable production has slowed considerably. I really miss the July garden when I was picking cucumbers, tomatoes and squash almost daily.

On another sad note, my cucumbers and squash plants were slowly dying, so I pulled them up. In a fit of frustration, I also got rid of the three pepper plants. Maybe not the best idea, but I could feel them mocking me in how they continued to grow but refused to produce peppers. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have taken their failure to yield so personally.

After so much hard work this spring and summer, it’s hard to say goodbye as the garden winds down. So take a moment with me to reflect on this year’s growing season in a slideshow set to the Boys II Men classic, It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye.

Thanks for following my garden adventures this year!

The Case of the Disappearing Squash

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since I posted to the blog. In the past I’ve had long absences due to the World Cup or vacations. This time it was the Olympics. I make no apologies; I am an Olympicophile. I watched much as I possibly could even if it meant staying up late and dealing with an Olympic hangover the next morning.

The Olympics ended a week ago and I’m still going through withdrawal. On the bright side, the USA track and field team did awesome. Lots of middle distance and distance medals. Throw in some drama with dropped baton passes, disqualifications and even a brave finish after falling and tearing an ACL.

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Squash growing with baby squash blooming

During the time all of this was going on, something strange started happening in my garden. Disappearing squash. I would see squash blooms and then fruit similar to the photo to the right, but a couple of days later there would be nothing. I went on the case to investigate the cause of the disappearing squash.

There seem to be two basic causes. The first is that something is eating the immature plants and the second is that there hasn’t been enough pollination of the plants for them to survive. I think there is a mix of both happening here. Since decline of the bee population, there haven’t been enough to properly pollinate plants. I also think I have garden pests who are feeding on the plants.

To solve this, I need to be more vigilant about treating my plants with organic pesticides to keep pests out and do the job of cross pollinating plants if bees aren’t around.

Unfortunately it looks like the squash growing days are numbered. Below are photos of my plants in July and just yesterday. Production is definitely winding down. I’ve been told by a master gardener this is normal. While disappointing, I’ll just have to enjoy the last few squash of late summer.

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Non-productive part of squash plant

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Fruitful squash plant in July

 

Don’t Call It a Comeback

In keeping with the ’90s* rap theme from last week’s post which was inspired by Notorious B.I.G., this week’s post is inspired by LL Cool J. I was sure my garden was in decline, but I was very wrong!

I’ve had some recent issues with my squash and cucumbers. The leaves on both plants were changing colors and dying. It also seemed like they were producing less. Based on a master gardener recommendation, last week I used fish fertilizer around the base of the plants. Looks like the extra TLC made a difference; the plants are now thriving.

I’ll have to remember rather than panicking and jumping to worst case scenarios, to instead take a step back and be optimistic. This problem is why I concluded that Steve had early-onset Alzheimer’s when I saw he was watching the same movies over and over. I thought he’d forgotten that he had already seen the films. After calming down, I realized that he just likes watching his favorite movies multiple times. This is something I’ll definitely continue working on in the future.

Anyway, photos of my growing squash and cucumbers below.

*Notice how the decade for the 1990s is properly notated at the beginning of the blog post? 90’s here would not be correct since the usage is not possessive. Just a slightly unrelated rant because I recently saw “Stop in and try our hamburger’s” on a restaurant sign. When did plural become possessive?!?!?

Mo Garden Mo Problems

This year is the best by far in my garden- a great thing! I’ve already picked more than a dozen cucumbers and a couple of squash. The tomatoes should be ripe by the end of the month. But like Biggie said, mo garden mo problems. Well, not exactly that, but something very similar.

I’ve been checking on my garden daily. Earlier this week, I noticed I had multiple problems. Here’s how I addressed each one:

Tomato plant bending over

Out of control tomato plant

Bending and Snapping Tomato Plants- My tomato plants have gotten far bigger than I thought they would. I bought cages at the beginning of the summer to support them, but each plant is now at least a foot taller than the cage. Luckily this was an easy fix. I staked the plant by tying the main stalk of each plant to a pole with a string. As the plants grow, I can use taller poles and retie the string to better support the plants.

Plant fungus

What is this?!?!

White Spots on Cucumber Leaves- I noticed several squash plant leaves had white spots or were covered in a white powder. After doing a quick search, I found out this was a fungus. There are multiple treatment methods, but I settled on a milk and water mixture because it seemed pretty effective based on feedback. Just spray on the leaves once a week and the problem should go away.

Yellowing and Browning Cucumber Leaves- Some of the leaves on my cucumber plants started turning yellow and brown, then dying. I had no idea what this was so I went straight to Google. This was about as big a mistake as going to WebMD to look up your medical symptoms. I found out the problem could’ve been anything to nothing to a rampant plant killing fungus. Much like what happens when I use WebMD, I jumped to the worst case scenario. My entire plant was dying. For a little extra help, I contacted Wake County NC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners. Luckily, these experienced gardeners calmed me down. The gardener told me that the soil likely needed more nitrogen and recommended fish fertilizer. I purchased some and applied as directed.

We will see if these remedies cure my garden problems. On the bright side, my crop over a two-day period this week.

Crop from the garden

 

Growing Chemical Free Vegetables

One of the top priorities since starting my garden is to grow vegetables without the use of any chemicals. I didn’t want toxins from the garden box material, pesticides or additives to leach into the soil or my plants.

Earlier this spring, we bought wood for the new garden box. To avoid chemically pre-treated wood, we used all-natural. The next challenge was to find an organic product that would protect the wood for years to come.

This wasn’t as easy as you would think. After some online research, I came across Eco Wood Treatment. It was exactly what I was looking for- a non-toxic wood stain that only needed one application and no maintenance needed. Unfortunately, it’s only available online. So I ordered and about two weeks later it arrived.

Eco Treated WoodI painted a coat on the wood we were using and watched the wood change colors as the treatment soaked in. Like infomercial guru Ron Popeil used to say, “Set it and forget it!” The wood was taken care of for the next several years. Just like my mealtime needs would have been if I’d purchased Popeil’s rotisserie or beef jerky machines. I still remember those infomercials fondly.

In other measures to ensure an organic garden, I’ve used naturally occurring vermiculite to soak up excess moisture in soil and a chemical-free oil spray to keep pests off my plants.

And look, my organic garden is thriving!

Thriving Garden

Organic garden thriving

 

 

What a Difference a Year Makes!

What a difference a year makes- at this time last year the UK still wanted to be part of the EU, no one seriously thought Trump would win the Republican presidential nomination and I was still enjoying my mid-30s.

As far as my garden, this year is a huge improvement over last. I think there are four main reasons why.

  1. Larger garden box- Steve built me a new garden box which is 24″ deep. Last year’s store bought kit was half the depth. This year’s crop has room for deeper roots, making for stronger and more robust plants.
  2. Better quality soil- This year we went the route of using compost instead of soil. The richness of the nutrients in the compost encourages healthy plant growth. As an added bonus, the compost is better at retaining moisture than the soil I used last year.
  3. Soaker hose- This is the first year I’ve used an irrigation system. In past years, I’ve watered by hand. You can imagine how fun that is on 100 degree North Carolina days. And when I neglected my garden during the World Cup or vacation, things got bad very quickly. Now I don’t have to worry about watering the garden with the use of the soaker hose irrigation system and timer. Bring on the summer Olympics and ignoring all else for two weeks this August!
  4. Putting gardening advice to practice- Thanks to everyone who has given me gardening advice over the last three years- from my father-in-law to friends to the master gardeners with Cooperative Extension. It took a while for it all to sink in, but it’s paying off! See below.

Can’t wait to see how the season turns out!