Heartbreak in the Garden

I deal with a fair share of pests in the garden, a valiant battle against rodents, worms and the like.  I’d come to a place where I felt that my understanding of these foes and subsequent method of dealing with them was becoming like second nature.  Now all of that is ABOVE ground.  This week I have been humbled, to put it mildly, by the forces of mother nature that I essentially can never fully control.  I’ll just get to the point.  Root Knot Nematodes.

Brandywine tomato beginning the process of dying back in early August, just after it started ripening it’s first tomatoes.

I know that every season differs and crops can alter from year to year depending on the conditions and weather.  But this year things have been WAAAAY different than last.  My indeterminate (produces long season yields) tomatoes produced one crop and then died.  ALL of my pumpkins grew with vigor and then all baby pumpkins yellowed and fell off (and the leaves).  My green bean plants yellowed already and stopped producing.  The cantaloupe vines suddenly stopped growing.  We’re not even at the end of August!  It’s been a sad, sad state.  99% of all vegetables are susceptible to root knot nematodes.  Total bummer.

Just a partial sample from one of the tomatoes.  Imagine this times 100 and that’s what I saw when I began pulling up my dying veggies.

When I pulled up some of my plants, I noticed round, nodule-like growths all over the root systems of these poor veggies.  Not good, I thought.  Not at all.  The internet ushered in the bad news.  Root knot nematodes are microscopic, eel-like roundworms that live and feed around plant roots.  The knots that they form on the roots effects the water and nutrient conducting abilities of the roots, causing plants to grow more slowly and weaker, dying off quickly with smaller crops of edibles.  Management is difficult.  Of course.

The best site I’ve found in my research on identification and management is through UC Davis.  Go if you have these pests in your garden!

Today I covered the effected area with thin, clear plastic sheeting that will remain there for 6 weeks, aka solarization.  Yup.  There goes my fall plantings for half of my plots.  The idea is that you heat the upper two feet of soil in the hottest months of the year under this sheeting, which in turn kills the nematodes and also weed seeds (an added bonus).  It’s not a guarantee, but it’s the best organic alternative according to multiple reliable sources.

My newly solarized bed. It was relatively easy to install. I have found evidence of nematodes in my other main bed as well, but nothing near the concentration of this bed.

** Make sure you bury the perimeter of the plastic in a trench under the dirt.  Deeply water the level area before covering, as this will help heat the soil.  The key is to pull the sheeting taught so that it’s as close to the dirt as possible to maximize heating.  I purchased my plastic at a home improvement store in the paint section.  1 mil thickness is best, as it allows maximum heat without tearing or blowing away.

I will also plant French marigolds among the future veggies, which emits a deadly oil for the little buggers.  I could go on and on about this topic, but instead head on over to the above link and do a little reading if you’ve got root knot nematodes like I do.  Wish me luck!

Summer Beauty

I’ve allowed the Cinnamon Basil to flower because darn it if I can’t bring myself to pinch those lovely purple flower stems.

An enticing pumpkin flower beckoning the sun and the bugs.  Look closely and you can see a baby pumpkin peeking out in the lower left corner.

Love. The plant, the berry, the colors.

Pole green beans

Lemon cukes hanging out on a lazy Friday morn.

Mandevilla. This year I took a stab at growing it for the first time and I’m a fan. The secret? Fertilizer. It likes to dry out between watering, too. Here is graces the hen hang out around their coop, adding some soft lines and color to the dirt digs.

All 5 girls are broody. They just sit in here. All. Day.

Sighs from the absence of delicious eggs aside, I’ve come to accept, even feel relief when broodiness ascends upon my Silkies.  It gives them a break from so much production (an egg a day for each hen) and it gives me a break as well from overlooking while they’re out and quieting morning squawking.

I don’t try to break them, dip them in ice baths or isolate in a cage.  I wait the few weeks for them to finish their cycle and start laying again on their own.  No stress.  I let nature do it’s thing.  That is, after all, why I have them in the first place.  To live a bit closer to nature and to go with the ebb and flow.  Have a good, calm, natural life, sweet hens.

Custom Designed Fabric Grow Pots

After finding out about fabric grow bags through other fellow vegetable gardeners, I tried them for myself and was blown away with the result.  I’ve grown the healthiest, most vigorous tomatoes and potatoes in these sturdy, felt-like pots, thanks to their superior drainage and ability to air-prune.  They can grow ANY vegetable or favorite plant!  Even still, I knew that these plain black grow bags could be improved upon-DESIGN!

I’ve taken the phenomenon one step further by creating an array of bright, fun and personalized designs for these hip grow bags. I use ECO Felt, made from 100% post-consumer recycled bottles, a soft fabric that is non-toxic, sustainable, fade-resistant and will not stain.  Thanks to my new eco-friendly garden designs, these fabric pots become a highlight of your garden.  Bountiful Backyard’s custom designed bags are available in my Etsy shop!

 Why These Containers Grow The Best Plants:

The felt-like, lightweight fabric pot has rigidity to hold its shape, may be stored folded flat and is reusable. The black fabric quickly warms up early season soil enabling plants to get off to a quicker start. Yet the same fabric, due to its porous nature, allows heat to escape from the container through evaporative cooling during the summer’s hottest days. Roots are never soggy like in traditional pots since the water is allowed to drain out of the bag. These containers have the unique ability to air-prune, which leads to a strong, healthy root structure.

Featured by San Diego Edible Garden Society!

In my quest for other like-minded veggie garden folk, I came across the San Diego Edible Garden Society.  The founders have turned the traditional model of a Southern CA yard upside down by growing a plethora of edibles in every part of their front and back yards.  Their website provides valuable information specific to growing edibles in San Diego.  In addition, they host a monthly meeting in Balboa Park (for those of you who live in SD) with guest speakers covering a variety of topics.

April kindly visited my edible garden to feature it in the Garden Spotlight section of her blog in hopes of disseminating ideas and inspiration on how everyday San Diegans are living a more sustainable life.

Here’s the link to our garden spotlight: www.sdedible.org

They Just Grow Up So Fast

Persian “Green Fingers” cucumbers with Cosmic Purple carrots in between.

The Lemon Cucumbers already have their first flowers.

One of the cherry tomatoes has begun fruiting! They are the earliest of all the tomatoes I’m growing this year.

A row of green beans (pole) are starting to make their way up the trellis.

One of my healthiest heirloom tomatoes going crazy!  This variety is Cherokee Purple, which has a potato leaf.  This type of leaf is more resistant to disease and mildew.

This Persimmon and Old German are taking over! I’ve had early blight and blossom drop effect these two, so I’m hoping with the much warmer weather and copper and calcium sprays, they will pull through.

A few main broccoli heads are just about ready for harvest.

Patty Pan scallop squash seedling (pay no attention to the weeds!).

The pumpkin patch! Red Warty Thing and Jarrahdale. I’ll train these to grow up the slope to save room in the beds.

One half of my veggie garden lies in the flat bed next to the grass at the base of the slope of insanity.

Even with all of my beds planted to capacity, I try to stay vigilant in the art of successive planting. The idea is that you continue sowing the season’s seeds in 2-3 week intervals to ensure a long harvest of vegetables. If you just grow one set of veggies, once they’re done producing, you’ll have nothing left. Plus, as earlier producers come out first (like the broccoli that’s almost ready), that will make room for more seedlings to lengthen the harvest season.

Late January Happy Harvest

A nice harvest for our dinner!

Calabrese broccoli

This broccoli harvest is exclusively made up of side shoots, grown just by leaving the plant after the main head is harvested. The heirloom Stupice tomatoes are STILL producing, along with the hearty snap peas. I bought that package of snap pea seeds for $1 and have been harvesting them twice a week for over a month. (Most of them don't make it to their photo op and are our garden snack). There are still two other sets of snaps that I planted in succession that will each produce just as much as the first, which is just about petered out. All for $1.

The King Kong of Hornworms

The. Biggest. Hornworm. Ever.

This morning as I was harvesting some cherry tomatoes and green beans, I decided to walk behind the veggies to get a better reach on the beans.  I immediately noticed huge hornworm poo on my cherry tomato.  I saw this monster right away.  Thankfully my daughter was not with me because I said some choice words!  This one is by far the biggest sucker I’ve ever laid eyes on.  It had eaten the new growth of the main shoot.  I hate to think of what damage it could have done left on my tomato for the rest of the day!  It could have been worse.  Just keep saying that and it’ll be okay!

I thought I'd include my hand for scale (but definitely not too close!). He's living here in the yard waste until my husband and I can drop him off in a new home later today (ie: somewhere in the brush far away from our garden). I've never had so many heebee geebees. I thought about feeding it to my little silkies and then I had an old movie scene play in my mind like King Kong of the hornworm eating my chickens!

Veggie Garden Happenings

I see you!

I’ve seen this rabbit munching on my grass the past few days in broad daylight and I can only assume that this is the same booboo  who ate all of my seedlings last week.  Each time I see him I chase him away and see where he escapes out of my yard under the fence to a neighbor’s yard.  Each time I do this, I block that small hole under the fence with a brick, rock, etc.  I’m hoping that by process of elimination I will be able to seal up all of his entrance points.  Fingers crossed!

My cat has NO CLUE that there's a rabbit in the yard. Not the biggest hunter instincts in this one. (The rabbit is in the top right of the picture in the shade of the grass.)

Other goings on in the garden as of late:

My pole green bean plants are still amazing! Still growing like weeds and continually producing heavy harvests. We have enough green beans each week for our family of 3 with these 6 plants. The more often you pick 'em, the more you'll get.

I have one yellow and one red bell pepper plant. The color will not show itself until the very end of ripening. Wish I had more bells per plant because I started out with lots of blooms, but alas only about 2 or 3 per plant. Not too bad for my first time.

My lemon cucumber has taken off like a weed and just recently began flowering these sweet little guys. I planted this one late, as I just stumbled upon it at my favorite local nursery about a month ago and had to have it. I'm so looking forward to round yellow cucumbers!

Sophie’s Seed Choice

As a new edible gardener, it's a bit heart-wrenching having to thin my seedlings. I know it's good for the plants and has to be done, yadda yadda, but I still dread it. Seen as though it's that time of year to sow cool season seeds such as lettuce, carrots, etc., I thought I'd share a tip: the best way to thin out seedlings is to use scissors! I had been pulling them out by hand and was worried about the disturbance to the delicate neighboring seedlings. The book titled, You Grow Girl, gave me the simple and "duh" idea of snipping them instead. And it works great!

I also want to talk about what I did to prepare my novice soil.  It had never been enriched with ANYTHING.  I decided to forego  a raised garden after I tried and succeeded well with amending my existing soil.  I haven’t ruled it out for the future, but for now I’m content with it as is.  Plus I’m not in to the idea of spending my weekend spending money and working on a raised bed.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

My Soil Saver! Kellogg AMEND was recommended to me by a garden employee and I couldn't be happier! Granted, it's not organic, but man does it grow awesome veggies! I use one bag on 12-15 square feet. I combine it with the existing soil down about 9 inches...more if I'm planting root veggies. It also helps to dig up the soil so that it's lighter and has more air in it for little seedlings to grow. My southern California suburban soil is very sandy with pretty much no nutritional value.

I’d love to eventually get to the point where I’m making my own compost, but for the meantime I’ll use this route.

The only thing more abundant than the sandy soil is snails.  Since I’m trying to make my way to true organic gardening, I do not use pesticides or chemicals for pests.  I found Ortho Elementals Slug and Snail Killer for Organic Gardening.  It seems to be doing the trick since I haven’t seen the tell-tale slime or bites around the garden.