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!

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

 

Veggie Garden All-Stars 2016 Edition

I decided to revive my garden all-stars edition, which I started last year. In this now annual tradition, I take stock of failures and celebrate successes over the first half of the summer gardening season. I borrowed this idea from Major League Baseball which takes a mid-season break to celebrate it’s best and reflect on the season thus far.

And since I mentioned the MLB All-Star game, I have to note that my Cubs locked down the entire starting infield. This is only the second time in the 87-year history of the game this has happened. This is a big deal people! For those of you hating on my Cubs, deal with it. They are incredible good.

Anyway, let’s get to it.

All-Star Performers
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IMG_2027-1My cucumbers were the first vegetables to ripen. They’re thick and coming in at the perfect shade of green. I picked the first one yesterday and placed it in my vegetable basket. Although lonely now, there will soon be plenty more cucumbers to keep it company.

Haven’t Reached Their Potential
IMG_2031IMG_2029My tomatoes, peppers and squash are still in the early growing stages, but are coming along nicely. In just a few weeks, they’ll be fully grown. Baby vegetables are so cute!

Poor Performers
I’ve planted lettuce twice now with no luck. The first seedlings sprouted and didn’t really progress. The second batch of seeds were starting to doing a little better. Unfortunately, we got a major thunderstorm and it destroyed the immature plants. I haven’t decided if I’m going to go for round three.

I’m going to add myself to the poor performers list. I had planned to have everything planted by mid-April. But I got behind and due to a long spring vacation, I didn’t get to plant until mid-May. I’m disappointed that the garden is a month behind of what I originally planned.

But hey, you can’t win them all. Unless you’re the Cubs! I’m just happy that this year’s mid-season report is much better than 2015.

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

 

 

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!

 

Goodbye to Another Growing Season

Well folks, this is a post I meant to write six weeks ago but never quite got around to. I can’t blame it on the World Cupfootball or anything else. Just my pure laziness and procrastination. Its several weeks late, but this is my farewell until next gardening season.

This year has seen both good times and bad. The good- lots of fresh tomatoes and a few cucumbers, some lettuce and strawberries here and there. The bad- realizing I could’ve had way more tomatoes if I had pruned the stalks properly, bugs and bacteria killing the plants and my non-functioning compost pile.

Since this is my last post for this year, I suppose I can make a confession hoping you’ll forget about it by next spring. Last month, we had about two straight weeks of rain. During this time, I assumed all the plants in the garden had died from oversaturation. Imagine my surprise when Steve walked in shortly after the rain spell ended with several red, ripe tomatoes in hand. At that moment I felt like the world’s worst gardener, having abandoned my plants which were still very much alive.

I realized then I still have a lot to learn when it comes to gardening. Year two was much better than year one but I know I have a ways to go. No worries though, I plan to turn this year’s mistakes into next year’s successes.

And to answer a burning question from commenters on my first blog post- I’m not a gardening virgin anymore, but I still plan to keep the name. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read my blog this spring and summer and encouraged me with kind words while doing so.

Tune in to next spring to see how it goes for this Veggie Garden (somewhat) Virgin!

Winding Down Another Year in the Garden

I realize I’ve been very slack the last few weeks on my blog. I kept telling myself I would post and then something would come up like watching college football or watching pro football or looking at slideshows of dresses worn by actresses at the Emmy Awards. (And so happy to see Viola, Uzo and Regina all won big awards Sunday night! It’s about time the Emmy’s got with the program.)

As an aside, your weekends go by quickly when you watch college football all day Saturday and take in multiple pro games on Sundays. I know, I know, my life is rough.

My sister-in-law’s beautiful tomato plants

Since the days have gotten shorter and cooler, I’ve noticed that my tomatoes aren’t ripening as frequently. It doesn’t help that I saw a picture of my sister-in-laws voluminous tomato vines and realized that’s how mine were supposed to look.

It seems like I’ve had the same green unripened tomatoes on the vine for several days now.  I am in the South, so I suppose I can fry them up for a delicious treat. But I’d rather have juicy, red tomatoes for sandwiches and salads. On the bright side, I have another cucumber on the vine so all hope is not lost.

I know I still have time and my garden can keep producing into the first frost; sometime in November in North Carolina. But my thoughts have already turned to what I need to do to winterize my garden.