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 :/
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.
Too many squash seedlings
One squash seedling left
Leaning over tomato plant
Supported tomato plant
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.
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.
Non-productive part of squash plant
Fruitful squash plant in July
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?!?!?
New squash coming in
Thinned cucumber plant
Thriving cucumber plant
Abundance of cucumbers
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:
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.
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.
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.
I 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!
Organic garden thriving
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
Garden in 2015
Partway through the season
Can’t wait to see how the season turns out!
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!
Detour tool 1
Detour tool 2
Garden box filled!
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!
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.