Like a Bad Amazing Race Detour

Like a Bad Amazing Race Detour

Remember how I said in the last post about how I was glad not to have to lug soil around this year to fill the garden box? Well, irony can be a mofo.

We had to get the compost delivered because we needed such a large amount. I made sure to give very careful instructions at the garden center on the precise location in the yard where the compost should be dropped off. Steve even agreed to be home at the time of delivery to direct the driver. The next thing I receive about the delivery is a text with this image:

Pile of compost in the driveway

Whaa?!?!?! My response- why is this in the driveway? Surprised face emoji, angry face emoji. Turns out, the driver couldn’t get is truck into the backyard, so he left it in the most convenient place. Can’t fault him for that.

Once that wave of emotion passed, we had to figure out how to get the compost from a pile in the driveway to the garden box on the opposite side of the house.

I love me some Amazing Race, but I did not want to recreate a hellish seeming detour, but that’s exactly what we had to do. Our tools- wheelbarrow, shovel and brute strength.

The task- to move the compost pile one shovel full and one wheelbarrow full at a time until the box was full. Steve and I took turns shoveling compost and rolling the wheelbarrow into the backyard. It took both of us to lift it over the edge of the garden box and tip in the dirt though. Luckily it wasn’t too hot- mid 80s with 100% humidity. Oh, I forgot to mention that we did this in the rain. But with teamwork, we got this done in a little over two hours on a couple of different evenings.

And look at the beautiful results!

Better soil, fewer problems

After finishing the garden box and enjoying the upgrade, it was time to head to our favorite garden center for soil and plants. I really like this place because the staff is always knowledgeable, friendly and its locally owned.

Soil test results

With fresh soil test results in hand, I spoke with staff about what was best for the garden. Based on what the results stated, they recommended compost to fill the bed, calcium nitrate to provide additional nutrition for the plants and Vermiculite to absorb excess water. We were set!

Being the mathematical genius I am, I consulted on online calculator to figure out how much cubic feet of soil we’d need to fill the new and improved raised bed. I was trying to figure out how to get 36 2.0 cu ft. bags of soil in my gas efficient sedan, but luckily the garden center delivers bulk orders. Yay! No lugging around heavy bags of soil to fill the garden box like last year.

Year three is not going to have any of the problems as the nutrient lacking soil of year two.

Steve picking out vegetables

The only thing left to do was to pick out what to plant. To keep things simple, we decided to plant what we like to eat- lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, squash and three varieties of tomatoes. What can I say? We love tomatoes.

Off to a great start!

 

Strudel, Beer and Gardening Advice

Strudel, Beer and Gardening Advice

IMG_0967Veggie Garden Virgin is back! I know people gave me grief last year about the name, but I don’t feel like a veggie garden veteran quite yet. But I’ve taken what I learned over the last two years to make this year the best one yet.

I started off the season by attending the Southern Ideal Home Show in Raleigh. My goals were to possibly pick up some new tools and some gardening advice. I got so much more!

Stop 1- Strudel
First we spotted the Helmut’s Strudel stand. Never one to turn down a good pastry, Steve and I picked up an apple strudel to share. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the best strudel I ever had- light, flaky and delicious. Steve had no interest in getting another one and deep down I knew I didn’t need a second. But that didn’t stop me from gazing longingly at the booth as we walked away.

Stop 2- Beer
Two guys with a table of glistening beer bottles somehow talked me into signing up for their beer delivery service. Do you love Netflix? Do you love beer? Well, Brewpublik combines the two! You tell them what type of beer you like and each month a case magically appears at your home that matches your preferences. It took a lot of arm twisting (meaning almost none) to get me to sign up. Hello beer on my doorstep each month!

Stop 3- Gardening Advice
Now this was the reason I attended the event. No longer distracted by mouthwatering strudel or fresh, craft beer, I received great advice from North Carolina Cooperative Extension staff. Cooperative Extension’s master gardeners can answer any gardening questions you may have by email, phone or social media. They’re like gardening superheroes, rescuing doomed plants and solving problems. Exactly what I needed.

Thanks to the Ideal Home Show for giving me what I needed gardening-wise and for providing a couple of things I didn’t know I wanted, but needed in my life!

Round 2 with the Garden Pests

It’s not to the level of Ali-Frazier, Cubs-Cardinals or even Nicki Minaj-Miley Cyrus, but the battle is on. The garden pest I struggled with last year is back. In case you need a refresher, here’s last year’s post on the pooping bandit.

Rocks in Hole

Not so foolproof plan

At the beginning of the Spring, the ground near the garden was sunken in from the tunnels or home the pest had dug next to the garden. I figured we outsmarted it when we (okay Steve) filled in the area with stones and multiple layers of dirt. Problem solved!

It took most of the summer but the holes and sunken area have returned. I have a feeling the pest will keep coming back so I’m not sure whether to just worry about protecting the garden or to try eliminate the pest completely.

NC Garden SpiderAnother pest I’ve been dealing with late this summer in the garden and around the house is the guy to the left. It looks very scary and dangerous and possibly even poisonous, right? That’s what I assumed when I saw it camped out over the garage side door a couple of weeks ago. The web got so big and thick that we could no longer use that entrance into the house. We had to use the automatic garage door instead.

After a few days of not being able to enter the house where we wanted, one evening I turned the hose on and pointed the jet and all my fury directly at the spider for several minutes. Finally it fell out of sight. I was proud I had taken use of our door back. Later I did find out the spider was harmless.

Sam was staying with us and the next morning when he came out of the side door he asked where the spider was. And he asked again that evening. I told him the spider had found a new home. He concluded it was just out hunting for prey and would be back. I was impressed that he knew about the predatory habits of spiders but felt bad about lying to a small child. Who knows, maybe spider did find a new home in my garden.

Four Gardening Lessons from My Father-In-Law

My in-laws came to visit from the U.K. a couple of weeks ago. We had a great time in their week-long visit. They enjoyed seeing the small towns in central North Carolina and even attended their first baseball game. I think my proudest achievement is converting half the family into baseball fans.

Steve and Steve 25 years from now

Steve and Steve 25 years from now- Photo by Michael Torbert

My husband likes to say his dad knows everything. I didn’t believe him for years, but after this visit, I’m finally starting to think my husband is right. Even though I’ve improved nearly everything I’m doing over last year, there are things my father-in-law said I should have done or should do differently.

Compost pile- I thought my compost pile was the correct dampness. According to my father-in-law, steam should rise from the pile when you turn it in summer. It turns out mine was bone dry. I’ll need to purchase a compost solution or a worm farm to get the decomposition going.

Strawberry plant with offshoots and new roots

Strawberries- My strawberries are still growing even though there isn’t actually any fruit. I should pinch off the new growth and replant the growth and its root so as not to take energy from the original plants. This means twice as many plants or more for next year!

Tomato plant two stalks

Tomato plants– I wondered why my tomato plants weren’t growing any fruit on the bottom half. While they were first growing, I didn’t pinch off the new shoots. I ended up with at least two main stalks on each plant instead of one strong one. If I had  known what to do while the plants were growing, I could’ve gotten twice as many tomatoes. Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about it now.

Deeper roots– All of my plants need deeper roots. The garden boxes are about 12 inches deep, but that is not enough. A winter project will be to build up the garden boxes so I can add more dirt and plants can have deeper roots for next year.

I was disappointed to find out I’m still doing a lot of things wrong. But on the bright side, year two is better than year one. Year three will be even better than this summer.

I hope my father-in-law’s never ending reservoir of knowledge will benefit you as it has for me.

The Best Laid Plans…

You probably noticed a break in posts in the second half of June. Or at least my 10 dedicated readers did. (And I appreciate you all!) I was on vacation late in the month and had the best laid plans of blogging while I was away.  You know how it goes when you bring workout clothes on vacation telling yourself you’re going to use them and never do? Well, I did that as well. But now I’m back on track with working out and gardening.

Apparently it stormed a lot in North Carolina on my 10-day BBQ road trip across the deep South and Midwest. I had someone coming over to water the garden on days it didn’t rain. I assumed the plants would be fine because they had plenty of water but I came back to this on my cucumber and tomato plants:

Cucumber plant leaf damage

Cucumber plant leaf damage

Spoiled tomatoes

Spoiled tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure what happened to the cucumber plant in the time I was away. I sprayed more organic pesticide on the leaves since it looks like pests were eating them. I figured the tomatoes stayed on the vine to long. So that’s an easy fix.

If you think the holes in the leaves could be the result of something else, let me know. I’d appreciate your advice!

My Five Reasons for Starting a Compost Pile

Compost piles are gifts that keep on giving. At least that’s what I’ve read. Since last summer I’ve been giving some thought to starting a compost pile, but that’s about as far as I got. Until now! After thinking about it for so long, I finally decided to put one in the corner of the garden.

Compost piles have lots of benefits but I wanted to share my reasons for starting one.

1. Composting is easy–  There aren’t very many steps to starting a compost pile or to keep one going. Staff at my favorite garden center told me they’re hard to mess up which seems pretty close to idiot proof. Good news for me.

2. Composting is free- There isn’t a cost to composting if you use yard materials such as decomposed leaves and grass. The food scraps come from already purchased groceries. Some people choose to buy a compost bin, but I’ve just cleared a corner of the yard and started the pile there.

3. Composting means a healthier garden- Composting provides really rich soil for the garden which means a nutrient-rich base for the plants. Yay for stronger, more nutrient dense fruits and vegetables!

4. Composting is better for the environment- The food waste doesn’t end up in a landfill and decomposes naturally. Composting is better for the environment and I’m sure it will greatly cut back on the amount of garbage we generate.

5. Compost can be used in landscaping- Compost isn’t just for a vegetable garden. It can also be used in flower beds and landscaping. It’s good to know that the pile I’m starting now can be used for next year’s landscaping. I haven’t had much luck so far in growing flowers in the yard since we’ve been here, so hopefully the compost will help.

If you have other reasons or benefits for starting a compost pile, please share!

 

 

Starting a Compost Pile in Six Easy Steps

Starting a compost pile isn’t very difficult. There are tons of resources online on how to start one. I found Rodale’s Garden Life very helpful. Here is how to build a compost pile in just six easy steps.

Location of compost pile

Location of compost pile

1. Select a location- The location should be somewhere convenient and close to the garden. You don’t want to have to go really far to add your scraps to the pile or have move compost a long way when it’s ready to use. I chose the corner of the yard closest to the garden.

Base layer of leaves

2. Start with a layer of organic materials- This could be leaves, grass clippings, straw, etc. Good thing we were too lazy to remove our leaves from the yard last fall, the decomposed leaves were the basis for my first layer.

Layer of soil

Layer of soil

3. Add a layer of soil- I added a layer of soil on top of the decomposing leaves. I used soil from the front yard in what will eventually be our drainage ditch. So I didn’t have to buy soil or pull it from somewhere it was needed.

Layer of fruits and veggies

Layer of fruits and veggies

4. Add a layer of green materials- Starting a compost pile is like making a lasagna. You keep adding layers. The next layer should be green materials like kitchen scraps. We’d been saving ours for awhile so we had a good mix of fruits and vegetables.

My completed compost pile

My completed compost pile

5. Add a layer of organic materials- This was the final layer. I added some more leaves to the top and voila, compost pile done!

6. Moisten- The final step was to wet the entire pile. The pile needs to be moist, but not wet so it can do its thing and break down the food scraps.

So there it is! A compost pile in six easy steps. In a couple months time, I should have extremely rich soil to use in the garden.

Slugs Aren’t Picky About Their Beer

In looking for ways to get rid of slugs, I found out something very interesting. Slugs love beer! Their fondness for the alcoholic beverage has something to do with being attracted to the yeast. Even though I find slugs repellant; I found them slightly less so when I realized we have a love of beer in common.

The organic pesticide spray I used a couple of weeks back wasn’t quite doing the job. It didn’t do anything to prevent slugs from chomping on my strawberries, so I had to find a new strategy. This is where the beer comes into play.

Someone needs to learn how to pour a beer properly

Someone needs to learn how to pour a beer properly

I dug two holes deep enough in the middle of my rows of strawberries for small plastic cups. I filled the cups with beer we had in the fridge that Steve and I had both refused to drink. So oatmeal stout it was for the slugs.

Apparently, slugs aren’t picky about their beer. When I went back a couple days later to see if the the cups of beer worked, I found several dead slugs in each cup. Success!

When I informed Steve of my victory, he asked if the slugs were drunk or dead. I told him the slugs probably got drunk before they drowned. I felt a little bad for the critters, but it means that I get to enjoy the strawberries in my garden instead of them.

Below is a picture of the slugs post-bender. Don’t scroll down if that kind of stuff grosses you out.

Cup full of beer and slugs

Cup full of beer and slugs

 

 

Getting Rid of Pests Organic Style

Even though I addressed this a few posts ago, I’m still getting grief about the title of my blog. I decided to keep the name because I still feel like an amateur gardener and because I feel like veggie gardening virgins and newbies could really benefit from some of the stuff I’ve learned. Plus I like the alliteration of the name. So sorry folks, the title’s not going anywhere.

IMG_1077

Organic pesticide

So back to the evil slugs eating my strawberries. I needed to figure out a way to get rid of them but still keep everything I use in the garden organic. Off to my local garden center. I asked the staff about the best organic pesticides and they recommended Bon-Neem spray. It uses tree seed oil to suffocate bugs and pests.

The instructions were pretty simple, even I could handle it. Make sure it’s not windy out when applying and make sure it won’t rain for up to 24 hours after application. The spray has to be able to stick to the leaves.

Since I visited my local garden garden center, I’ve gotten really good advice from readers of the blog- from planting mint, making sure the mint is planted in containers around the garden to using eggshells. Thanks for the tips, you all rock! I plan on using these in the future as well in a multi-prong pest removal approach. The pests don’t stand a chance!

See my plants post-application below. We’ll see how well this strategy works!

Plants sprayed with Bon-Neem

Plants sprayed with Bon-Neem

IMG_1078

Plant post-application