Waiting for Test Results Like a Maury Guest

One of the great tips I received from North Carolina Cooperative Extension at the Ideal Home Show was that I could send a soil sample from my garden off for free, wait a couple weeks and find out the results. The first thing that came to my mind was that this must be how Maury guests feel when they submit DNA to find out/confirm the identity of their baby daddy. Sending off a sample, waiting anxiously  and not knowing what exactly the results would show.

I guess the main differences are that I wouldn’t receive a free trip to New York City and there would be no dancing around in joy at the receipt of the results while someone else breaks down in tears.

Soil sample for mailing

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services provides the no-cost tests. The only thing I was required to do was pull a few samples from my garden according to their explicit directions (collecting the samples incorrectly may affect the accuracy of results) and mail off the sample. Two weeks later, magic! I would know what my soil was made of and what I needed for a successful, vibrant garden.

Find out what the results said in the next blog post.

On a side note, I would like to add that despite that I think reality television has contributed to the decline of civilization, I can’t be mad at Maury. He found his niche and went with it. I was amazed to find out he’s been on the air for 25 years. You go Maury.

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!

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

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