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.

What a Cubs World Series Win and Reality Show President Have in Common

What a Cubs World Series Win and Reality Show President Have in Common

It’s amazing how fast time flies. More than six months have passed since I closed down the garden last fall. So much has happened in that time; even a couple things I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime.

First, my beloved Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908! It took 108 years but it was well worth the wait. Even as I write this, the Cubs are barely above .500 and third to last in their division. But I’m not panicking since I’m still basking in the glow of the win and am currently wearing my World Series Champion t-shirt. Thanks for the Christmas gift Mom!

The other thing I didn’t think possible was America electing a reality show star to the presidency. Honestly, I’m still dumbfounded. This is a man who thinks Frederick Douglass is still alive, wonders why the two sides couldn’t come to agreement in the Civil War and didn’t know being president would be so hard.

But this is not a political blog; we’re here to talk about gardening! Specifically vegetable gardening. To recap last year: briefly abundant squash, very abundant cucumber, out of control tomatoes and issues with various fungi and pests.

Since this is the third year of Veggie Garden Virgin, I’m hoping to avoid the pitfalls of last couple of years and have a very successful yield this summer. You’ll have to follow the blog this summer to see if I can achieve this!

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!

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?!?!?

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
IMG_2032-1
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.

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!

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!