Saturday, April 12, 2014

If the Straw Works, Use It!

straw bale gardening
Soak Straw Bales before planting. 
The gardens look more like a barnyard than gardens right now. We have spread the straw mulch deep and wide. It won’t be long until the plants grow up and conceal some of the barnyard decor. Or I’m hoping and counting on that, anyway. 

It isn't just mulch happening in the gardens. We are experimenting for the first time with straw bale gardening. I have five bales set and curing. Waiting for that perfect moment to plant. When is that? I don’t know yet. 

According the YouTube experts, straw bales must be watered heavily for a week or so. Then they have a time that they heat up in something similar to a composting process. Then they cool down. That is when you plant. I used to have a soil thermometer. Used to. Can’t find it. Big surprise there. I’m guessing and using the touch method. 

Once the bales seem like they’re ready, I’ll spread some compost over the top and water it in. Then I will plug plants in and hope for the best. I’m really hoping this works. If it does I’ll be jumping up and down with glee if I don’t have to get on my hands and knees to harvest sweet potatoes and bush beans. I have no problem with the getting down part; it is the getting back up part that is the challenge. 

We will keep you posted on our progress. 

Photo by Julie McMurchie. Copyright 2014, all rights reserved.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Don't Forget the Bug Stuff: Protect Those Plant Babies Without Poison

I was just chatting with a friend who told me all of her green bean seedlings were devoured by bugs as soon as she set them in the garden. I have had this happen to more plants than I could ever count. 

Most of you know that our gardens are completely chemical free. Poison is not allowed on our property. However, that does not mean I have to let my little plant babies become bug fodder. There are things you can do to help protect them. 

Paper collars around the stems help protect from cut worms. Cut worms will mow through the stems of baby plants, leaving the top of the plant toppled onto the soil and the stem and root die. 

Diatomaceous Earth. Make sure you get the food grade if you are growing food or have animals. DE, as it is sometimes called and easier to pronounce, is fossilized crustacean shells ground into a fine powder. It is completely organic and safe for humans and animals. The DE cuts their little bodies when they come into contact with it, causing to essentially bleed out and die. Sprinkle it around the area you are going to plant a day or two ahead. Sprinkle some more down around new seedlings when you set them in the garden. Vet supply stores often carry food grade DE. 

Mulch can also help keep the bugs in the soil and away from your plants. You may also want to try ground eggshells or coffee grounds as a deterrent.

Some plants are very beneficial in deterring pests. I always try to make sure I have cilantro/coriander established before I put any cabbage family plant in the garden. Coriander deters cabbage moths who love to lay their eggs at the base of brassica plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae climb up and devour the leaves. 

Traps. Earwigs are also a problem with new plants. Set rolled newspaper out in the garden to trap earwigs. In the morning, go out and shake the earwigs that have found the paper into the garbage or somewhere far away from your gardens. 

Snails and slugs will also attack new plants. You can use the little dishes with beer to drown them, or you can set out lettuce leaves and corn meal. Go out early in the morning and you’ll find slugs and snails eating the food you've left for them. Collect and dispose of them. 

Photo by Julie McMurchie. Copyright 2014, all rights reserved. 

A Sad Day for the Nasturtiums

They come every year. And every year more and more come. Every winter the nasturtiums start growing and blooming. They are so lovely and fragrant. This year they came up everywhere.

Today, sadly, I am taking some of them out to free up space in the garden for new vegetable seedlings. As much as I have enjoyed the blooms and sharing them with friends, they have to go. I am not taking out all of them. I can’t bring myself to do that. And we need them in the garden anyway because they help with pest control.

Yesterday I watered the soil in the planter and this morning I am clearing it out. I think I’ll save lots of the flowers to dry and bring in a big bunch to put in vases around the house. I will save lots of seeds as well. Maybe I will use them to seed bomb the alley across the street this year. Pretty flowers would be so much nicer to look at than a dirty old alley.

Photo by Julie McMurchie. Copyright 2014, all rights reserved.