The Garden is All Grown Up!

It’s late August so that means two things- summer is nearly over and it’s back to school time. One I imagine parents are unhappy about but the other, very happy about. Like clockwork, my Facebook feed over the past week filled up with pictures of kids at the end of last school year and kids preparing for their first day of the 2015-2016 school year. Seeing the children grow in just a few short months made me think of my garden.

Only four short months ago, I had a few seedlings. Now I have tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce for the picking. Enjoy watching my garden grow over the summer in the slideshow below.

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.

Cucumber Death Retraction

In my last post, I accused or I like to think, simply stated that my husband was the reason behind the death of two of my cucumber plants. I thought the vertical way he trained the plants made them weak and unsturdy. It turns out I was incorrect.

Cucumber wilt

Cucumber wilt

I came across something called bacterial cucumber wilt last week. It’s caused by a striped cucumber beetle who likes to feed on the leaves. The bug spreads bacteria on the plant which damages the leaves, causing the plant to wilt.

Ironically, once the plant is infected, beetles become even more attracted to the plant and feed even more, resulting in a death spiral.

So my husband, more than happy to point out when I’ve been wrong, wanted me to make a public retraction that he was not the cause of the dying cucumber plants. Even though I can tease him for many things such as his love of Jean-Claude Van Dam and Steven Seagal movies, killing my plants is not one of them.

 

 

 

 

The Gardening Struggle is Real

Basket of garden vegetables

Basket of garden vegetables

My basket is getting full! The cucumbers and tomatoes are producing consistently now. Looks like the perfect makings for a cuc and tom salad.

Sadly, I may not get many more cucumbers after this. Someone in the household who is not me or the cats (but shall remain nameless) staked poles in the ground so the cucumbers could grow upright. I thought the cucumbers would do better growing on the ground where the vines would have room to spread out.

Well, after getting to full size, the cucumber plants didn’t have enough support and started buckling. One plant shriveled like 50 Cent’s net worth, another is barely hanging on and the third appears to be holding it’s own.

It seems I have problems keeping everything in the garden healthy at this point each summer, once the weather really heats up. And to be honest, keeping my interest in the garden as well. Believe me when I tell you the struggle is real. Relaxing with a beer in the AC vs. tending to the garden. Luckily the garden has won each time.

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!

Veggie Garden All-Stars and Poor Performers

I can’t believe it’s nearly been three months since I prepped the garden and planted strawberries and vegetables for the summer. Since it’s about halfway through the growing season; I thought I would pause and reflect on successes and non-successes, like Major League Baseball does with its mid-season All-Star Break. Much like MLB teams at the halfway point, there are clear winners and losers.

IMG_1293All-Star Performers

The tomatoes are the clear winners at this point in the growing season. I purchased four plants and all have produced nicely. I’ve enjoyed the flavorful tomatoes in sandwiches and salads. There are many more unripened tomatoes on the plants so they should keep producing into the fall.

Haven’t Reached Full Potential

IMG_1289Just like my Cubs team, the cucumbers took a little longer than expected to come in, are in various stages of growth and doing well. The cucumbers will be used in cuc and tom salads, perfect for summer

Peaked Early

The lettuce came in as planned. I pulled the leaves off four plants and they were delicious. Since then, the leaves have been slow to grow back and it’s been a waiting game for more.

I was excited when the strawberries first sprouted. Due to battles with slugs, I lost quite a few but I picked the equivalent of a couple handfuls. In the last couple of weeks, nothing has come off the vines.

Poor Performers

The peppers and carrots in this category are because they didn’t bother to show. Not in the athlete didn’t even make a decent effort, but in the literally never showed up sense. I’m not sure what happened, but I never saw a hint of the carrots and peppers I was looking forward to.

I’ve got some things to work on, so we’ll see how the rest of the summer goes.

 

Garden Produce vs. Grocery Store Produce

I planted my strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers in mid-April. All the labels stated the period to peak harvest was 60-90 days. While a few strawberries have been ripening here and there, my tomatoes and cucumbers aren’t quite there yet.

Basket of lettuce from my garden

Basket of lettuce from my garden

But my lettuce came in!  I was really excited to enjoy something from the garden. I had to rinse of the lettuce before I could put it in a salad. I thought a brief rinse would do it, but the dirt was hard to get off and a thorough wash was needed.

I’m so used to buying grocery store produce that I forgot that that the fruits and vegetables are cleaned and packaged before they ever hit store shelves. Produce from the garden doesn’t work the same way or look quite as perfect. On the plus side, I know my garden produce is fresher and pesticide free.

See below for the delicious salad I made with my lettuce. (Cucumbers and tomatoes store bought.)

Delicious garden salad with homegrown lettuce

 

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.

Victim of the Garden Pests

Victim of the Garden Pests

Strawberry plant

Strawberry plant

I’m excited to have my first produce of  the season! I recently picked my first strawberries of the plants. The strawberries weren’t as sweet as I hoped, but they should reach their peak in the next couple of weeks. Even though I’m starting to see the results of all my work; I’m facing a familiar problem as last summer.

Garden pests! The villains of  every garden. They are the equivalent of the character in a Lifetime movie who shows up and then everyone starting getting killed. Fortunately this isn’t a Lifetime movie and I realize what’s causing the problem.

Strawberry eaten through by a pest

Strawberry eaten through by a pest

Last week, I found a rather plump slug having a feast on a strawberry and removed it from the garden. The slug had had done this to the berry. See the photo to the left. I actually found it kind of impressive that the slug had hallowed out the fruit. But also very annoying.

Last year, I solved the pest problem by building a fence around the garden. The fence still keeps critters out, but now I have to worry about insects inside the garden.

This calls for a visit to the local gardening center so I can find organic pesticides that will keep my fruit and vegetables safe. Check the next post to see what kind of advice I receive.