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
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!
It’s not to the level of Ali-Frazier, Cubs-Cardinals or even Nicki Minaj-Miley Cyrus, but the battle is on. The garden pest I struggled with last year is back. In case you need a refresher, here’s last year’s post on the pooping bandit.
Not so foolproof plan
At the beginning of the Spring, the ground near the garden was sunken in from the tunnels or home the pest had dug next to the garden. I figured we outsmarted it when we (okay Steve) filled in the area with stones and multiple layers of dirt. Problem solved!
It took most of the summer but the holes and sunken area have returned. I have a feeling the pest will keep coming back so I’m not sure whether to just worry about protecting the garden or to try eliminate the pest completely.
Another pest I’ve been dealing with late this summer in the garden and around the house is the guy to the left. It looks very scary and dangerous and possibly even poisonous, right? That’s what I assumed when I saw it camped out over the garage side door a couple of weeks ago. The web got so big and thick that we could no longer use that entrance into the house. We had to use the automatic garage door instead.
After a few days of not being able to enter the house where we wanted, one evening I turned the hose on and pointed the jet and all my fury directly at the spider for several minutes. Finally it fell out of sight. I was proud I had taken use of our door back. Later I did find out the spider was harmless.
Sam was staying with us and the next morning when he came out of the side door he asked where the spider was. And he asked again that evening. I told him the spider had found a new home. He concluded it was just out hunting for prey and would be back. I was impressed that he knew about the predatory habits of spiders but felt bad about lying to a small child. Who knows, maybe spider did find a new home in my garden.
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
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!
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
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
Even though I addressed this a few posts ago, I’m still getting grief about the title of my blog. I decided to keep the name because I still feel like an amateur gardener and because I feel like veggie gardening virgins and newbies could really benefit from some of the stuff I’ve learned. Plus I like the alliteration of the name. So sorry folks, the title’s not going anywhere.
So back to the evil slugs eating my strawberries. I needed to figure out a way to get rid of them but still keep everything I use in the garden organic. Off to my local garden center. I asked the staff about the best organic pesticides and they recommended Bon-Neem spray. It uses tree seed oil to suffocate bugs and pests.
The instructions were pretty simple, even I could handle it. Make sure it’s not windy out when applying and make sure it won’t rain for up to 24 hours after application. The spray has to be able to stick to the leaves.
Since I visited my local garden garden center, I’ve gotten really good advice from readers of the blog- from planting mint, making sure the mint is planted in containers around the garden to using eggshells. Thanks for the tips, you all rock! I plan on using these in the future as well in a multi-prong pest removal approach. The pests don’t stand a chance!
See my plants post-application below. We’ll see how well this strategy works!
Plants sprayed with Bon-Neem
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
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.
I finally finished the fence around the garden a couple of days ago. I haven’t noticed any animal related activity in the garden since then. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this holds true and the fence holds up. The only bad thing is that the fence is about belly button high. I’m going to have to either figure out how to high jump over the top or use a step stool to get in there. I thought about building a gate into the fence but I read that could be a weak point and become a point of entry for pests. I figure if I have a hard time getting in, the critters will too.
Now that my garden has a defense from pests, I went ahead and planted more seeds. I currently only have two watermelon plants and three cucumber plants that are doing well. I planted more watermelon and cucumber and also carrots and red peppers. I’m choosing to remain optimistic and look forward to a bounty of fresh fruits and veggies in the next several weeks.
My next steps are to add fertilizer to the garden to boost growth and continue watering daily. Before we hit the summer heat, I was only watering every other day. Between daily watering and the multiple rainstorms we had last week, I’ve noticed a big difference.
I admit I got pretty down about the state of the garden after the week of neglect. I thought about quitting and just trying again next year. But I’m pushing forward so we’ll see what happens. With the World Cup finally over, I’ll have fewer distractions. And fewer things to blame when I screw up.
Take a look at the current state of the garden below.
Long view of the nearly bare garden
Completed garden with fence
Last post I wrote about some animal using my garden for their own personal bathroom. I guess the garden’s location and aesthetics appealed to whatever animal plopped down and marked their territory there. My assumption that it is indeed a what and not a who. I really hope I’m right on that one.
If I want to stop this animal from getting into my garden, I have to figure out what it is so I can choose the best strategy. I don’t want to go all Taken on whatever it is; I’d rather deal with it humanely.
Entry to the home of my garden pest
There is a hole about 10 feet from my garden. I put out an appeal to find out what it could be and my good friend Becky sent me this site. Thanks Becky! The page helps identify animals pests by what their ground holes and waste look like. The ground hole in my yard is to the right.
Our backyard is wooded and near creek so the possibilities are endless. By using deductive reasoning and the above guide, I’ve narrowed down the possible critters to a raccoon, rabbit or woodchuck.
I’m thinking the best strategy is to build a chicken wire fence, 2-3 feet high around the perimeter of the garden. I haven’t seen any evidence of burrowing, just damage on top of the garden.
If anyone has any other ideas on how to stop a garden pest, I’d love to hear them.