Tag Archives | Spring

3 Reasons to let your Plants Go to Seed

Over the past number of years, I have strategically let some of the plants in my garden go to seed. It all started with me just being lazy and leaving plants in the ground longer than I was hoping. However, there were a number of benefits that came from letting these plants go to seed. Here are 3 reasons to let your plants go to seed:

1. Beautiful Flowers

3 Reasons to let your Plants Go to Seed3 Reasons to let your Plants Go to Seed

Most of the plants I have let go to seed have surprisingly beautiful flowers. These include a variety of lettuces, kale, arugula, basil, radishes, and cilantro. When these plants have flowered, they add a striking beauty to my entire garden space with white, yellow,and pink flowers. For this reason alone, it is worth letting some of the plants in your garden go to seed.

2. Seeds for Next Year

3 Reasons to let your Plants Go to Seed

The second benefit to letting your plants go to seed is that you can collect and save seeds for next year. If you haven’t let your plants go to seed and saved the seeds before, you will be surprised at how many seeds you can collect from each plant. The key is to allow the seed pods to dry out as much as possible before picking them. Then, let the seeds dry out a little more before putting them into an envelope to preserve for the next year’s planting. Last year I saved almost an entire mason jar full of scarlet runner beans. I have even just saved the entire stalks of basil that went to seed and then planted the whole stock in a little trench in the garden the next year. The basil sprouted perfectly and I enjoyed incredible basil all summer long.

3. Free Volunteer Plants each Spring

3 Reasons to let your Plants Go to Seed

Beet Start from last year’s beets going to seed

The last reason I let my plants go to seed is that I always get free volunteer plants each spring. This has been particularly true for my beets, tomatillos, tomatoes, radishes, nasturtium, and arugula. In fact, bought 3 tomatillo plants 4 years ago and have not bought another start since then. Each year I allow some of the tomatillos to remain on the plant until they drop into the garden bed. I leave them in the garden bed all winter long. Each Spring, I get dozens of tomatillo plants – so many that I have to weed many of them out and give them to friends and neighbors. This year, I also have about 7 nasturtium plants that came up from last year’s plants that went to seed and dropped into the garden bed. Nasturtiums give beautiful and edible flowers all season long.

For these 3 reasons, I highly recommending choosing to strategically let some of your plants go to seed each season. It will save you time and money buying starts each year as well as add incredible beauty to your garden beds throughout the growing season.

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Organic Pest Control

Garden Beds

Garden Beds

Organic pest control is now something to think about since Portland gardens are now underway.  Our garden has come a long way since we planted back in March (see our previous post about gardening with recycled materials) and it would be a shame to see all the hard work go to waste.  Let’s start off with our rapidly growing greens.

First, as you can see in the above picture it’s important to start with fresh seeds.  All of our crops with the exception of one quadrant took off, leaving a barren patch where we planted more spinach.  Make sure to buy from a reputable gardening store, avoiding the flashy displays at grocery stores and other discount stores that don’t sell out of seeds yearly.  In our case, we have more produce than we can possibly consume so it’s not a big deal.  However, if you are in an apartment or small space, you want to make sure you put your best foot forward.

Now that the greens are well on their way, it is time to start monitoring for some of the following pests.  Obviously, things will be different based on where you live and the time of year, but below are some common ones to monitor.

Leaf Miners

spinachleafminerinjury

I have observed this in our backyard crops in the past and simply thought it our plants were burnt during some of our hot days (and forgotten watering schedules).  After some resarch I found these injuries are actually caused by a group of insects generally referred to as leaf miners.  Wikipedia says, “The vast majority of leaf-mining insects are moths (Lepidoptera), sawflies (Symphyta) and flies (Diptera), though beetles and wasps also exhibit this behavior.”  The larva lives in the leaf tissue and eats this until it reaches maturity and starts the cycle again.

Controlling these pests without the use of insecticides can be difficult, but it is not impossible.  Organic Gardening suggests the following methods:

  • Exclude adult flies by using row covers.
  • Encourage parasitic wasps by planting nectar-and pollen-rich flowers with small, shallow blooms, such as dill and yarrow.
  • Cultivate the soil in fall to disturb pupae.
  • Control weeds such as lamb’s-quarter and dock that are known to be leaf miner hosts.
  • Rotate spinach, chard, and beet crops.
  • Use a neem-based spray in severe cases. Neem acts as a repellant and also slows the leaf miners’ ability to feed, interrupting the cycle.

Companion planting is another method of organic pest control.  Think of this as planting a treat so much more tasty than spinach that the insects are distracted and drawn to that plant instead.  Some of these plants include lambsquarter, columbine, and velvetleaf.

Aphids

The amazing aphid

The amazing aphid

We’ve written about this in the past (see our article, “Organic ways to get rid of aphids in your vegetable garden” for details) so we won’t spend much time on this here. I will note, however, that you need to get these guys under control as soon as you notice them.  I have some fledgling hops growing and I’m keeping an eye on them because as Freshops notes, “… mother aphids carry embryos that are carrying their own embryos. This telescoping reproduction strategy results in quick population growth.”  From a Darwinian perspective this is an amazing evolutionary tactic but from the perspective of someone that wants to supplement groceries with great home-grown produce, this is pretty annoying.

Slugs and snails

We featured an article last year on controlling slugs , which also happens to work on snails, too (see Organic ways for how to get rid of slugs in your garden).  There are also other ways to deal with these pests and they range from putting a dish of beer out by your plants to waiting until dark and then stalking them one by one to try to cull down the population.  Try out some of the more creative methods listed at Weekend Gardener just this last month.  Many of the solutions are a bit odd, if not highly entertaining.

Squash Bugs

We misidentified these as harmless box elder bugs when in fact, these little guys were tearing up our squash.  Lesson learned.  Here’s a comparison of the two bugs in case you are confused, too:

Squash bug

Squash bug

Box elder bug

Box elder bug

Controlling these pests (the squash bugs, not the box elders) requires careful monitoring of your plants.  Look for egg clusters underneath your leaves.  Feel free to scrape them off.  If they become too numerous and you see them crawling all over your vegetables, pull them off.  One person at Mother Earth News said using a shop vacuum to remove these pests en masse is also effective – and somewhat satisfying.

Caterpillars

In my experience, caterpillars are the most destructive of the group.  While aphids and others will swarm in the tens of thousands and cause damage, just a handful of caterpillars eating their weight day in and day out can quickly turn a bountiful garden into rows of mangled leaves.

They range in size, color, and shape, but for the most part strategies for control are basically the same for all species.  Organic control includes:

Hand picking as you see them

Attract birds to your garden with bird baths and bird houses – they eat them up like candy

Encourage caterpillar predators to take up residence in your yard through building basic insect houses.  Green Harvest notes:

Insect predators of caterpillars include: assassin bugs; tachinid flies; paper wasps, which chew up caterpillars and feed them to their larvae; lacewings and ladybirds eat moth eggs; tiny trichogramma wasps parasitise moth eggs; other tiny wasps like Apanteles sp. parasitise the caterpillar, the wasp larvae feed on non-essential parts of the caterpillar. When the wasp larvae are ready to pupate their exit generally finishes off the host caterpillar. Sounds gruesome but it is a part of nature.

They also have a number of other tips on controlling these pests, so hop over and check them out when you have a chance.

The Result

Fresh Spring Salads

Fresh Spring Salads

The results are seriously worth it.  If you stick with it and keep an eye on things, your organic garden will take care of you, too.  As noted in our article on block gardening (also known as square foot gardening) back in the fall, a small 2-foot by 2-foot garden that’s kept up can provide a daily salad.  The greens also taste much better than anything you can buy at your local high-end organic supermarket.  Add to that the satisfaction of growing it yourself and you’ve got a pretty satisfying dinner.

If you have any bug problems or suggestions on how to organically control garden pests, please share them in the comments.

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Benefits of growing rhubarb and how to care for it

Benefits of rhubarb and how to care for it

Rhubarb is easy to grow and delicious to eat

Rhubarb is a garden plant that is very easy to grow and care for. It is a perennial meaning that it grows for more than 2 years and survives winters. Rhubarb is hardy and will give you plenty to harvest all season long. The stalks (or petioles as they are technically called) are the parts of the rhubarb that you eat. Many people ask me why I grow rhubarb. My answer is always a question, “Have you tasted a strawberry rhubarb crisp?” That use alone makes it worth it. Here is a great Rhubarb Crisp Recipe in case you needed one: Rhubarb Crisp Recipe.

Benefits of growing rhubarb and how to care for it

Nutritional information of 1 cup of raw rhubarb

However, the nutritional content in Rhubarb is another reason I grow it. It is actually very healthy for you and contains a ton of vitamins and dietary fiber and even some protein. Check out the image for  nutritional information that Siri on my iPhone gave me when I asked for the nutritional information for 1 cup of rhubarb. You get low fat, low calories, high dietary fiber and high levels of calcium and vitamin C among many other vitamins. So, that is why I love growing rhubarb – it makes great desserts and has great nutritional value.

Benefits of rhubarb and how to care for it

Rhubarb flowering and going to seed in the Spring

In the Spring, rhubarb will begin to go to seed by sending up a tall stalk with little flowers on it. If you let the rhubarb go to seed, the plant itself will not produce as many stalks and will focus its energy on the flowers. So, to increase the productivity of your rhubarb plant, simply cut the flower stalk off each year when it appears. I do this with my rhubarb each year and it helps me to get incredible yields all summer long.

The only other thing  you will need to do to care for your rhubarb plants is to give it water and to fertilize it each year. Any organic fertilizer will work or a if you want to simplify things, get some organic Jobe Fertilizer spikes. These are little dissolvable spikes that you put into the ground around your plants to give organic nutrients to the plant slowly over time. Buy the fertilizer spikes on Amazon through this link: Jobe’s Organic All Purpose Fertilizer Food Spikes, 50-Pack. That’s it, pretty simple.

With each new growing season, rhubarb will slowly spread forming new “crowns” (the portion of the plant where the stems meet the roots). These crowns can be divided to form new plants. Each year I have cut off a few crowns to give to friends and neighbors so they can plant their own rhubarb. Rhubarb also does well as a potted plant as long as their is enough room for the root system. A pot roughly the size of a 5 gallon bucket would be more than adequate to grow rhubarb. The large green leaves and the red stalks add beauty to any yard or patio.

Note: The leaves of rhubarb should not be eaten as they contain small amounts of oxalic acid which can be toxic to humans if consumed in large quantities (about 10 lbs of the leaves would need to be eaten by one average size adult to be lethal). 

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How to make a self-watering seed starter pot from a 2-liter pop bottle

We at TogetherFarm are always looking for ways to take post consumer waste out of the waste stream and repurpose it for gardening. Our recent post on using egg cartons, egg shells, and the cardboard from a toilet paper roll is a perfect example of this (see the article here: Using Recycled Materials to Start Your Plants). This post will add to that list by giving instructions on how to make a self-watering seed starter pot from a two liter pop bottle.

How to make a self-watering seed starter pot from a 2-liter pop bottle

Here are the items you will need to gather for this project:

  1. Marker
  2. Ruler
  3. Sturdy 2-liter plastic bottles with caps
  4. Utility knife
  5. Hammer
  6. Philip’s Screwdriver  or large nail
  7. Scissors
  8. Yarn or any other water absorbent string
  9. Label remover or vegetable oil (not necessary if you don’t mind some glue residue from the label)
  10. Potting soil
  11. Seeds

Once you have all of the above items you are ready to start assembling your self-watering plant starter kit.

1. Start by removing the cap and the label. Be sure to set the cap aside to use in a later step. Once you have the label off, measure 5 inches up from the bottom of the pop bottle. Hold the marker at the 5 inch mark and spin the bottle around marking a circular line at 5 inches up on the bottle.

How to make a self-watering seed starter pot from a 2-liter pop bottle

2. Now, use the utility knife to make a small cut into the pop bottle at the marker line. Then, use the scissors to cut the bottle in half at the marker line that you made in step 1.

How to make a self-watering seed starter pot from a 2-liter pop bottle

3. Take the cap that you set aside in step 1 and place the cap on a scrap piece of wood or on a surface that you don’t mind getting damaged by the screwdriver or nail. Then, puncture a hole in the center of the lid by hammering the screwdriver or nail through the lid. Thread the yarn or string through the hole you just made in the cap and tie a knot in the string on the side of the cap that has the threads. Leave about 5 inches of string or yarn on both sides of the cap.

How to make a self-watering seed starter pot from a 2-liter pop bottle

4. Screw the cap back on to the top half of the pop bottle with 5 inches of yarn inside the top half of the pop bottle and 5 inches hanging out. Then, turn the top half of the pop bottle upside down and set it in the bottom half of the pop bottle.

How to make a self-watering seed starter pot from a 2-liter pop bottle

5. Fill the now open side of the top half of the bottle with potting soil. Gently pack the soil in with your hand. Then, water your new planter once from the top until the water drains into the bottom half of the bottle. Once you have watered the first time from the top, you will water from that point on by separating the two halves of the bottle and pouring water into the base until the water line reaches the bottom of the cap.

6. The final step is to plant the seeds. Be sure to check the seed packet to determine what planting depth. The general rule of thumb is to plant seeds at a depth of three times the size of the seed. So, if you have a seed that is 1/4 inch long, then you should plant it 3/4 of an inch deep. For many seeds the size of lettuce or smaller, you can typically just sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil and spread a light covering of soil over the seeds.

Set your self-watering seed starter in a sunny spot and watch the seeds germinate and begin to grow. Another trick to speed up the sprouting process is to cover the top of your planter with plastic wrap until the seeds have planted. Doing this will help create a much more humid environment for the seeds to sprout quicker.

How to make a self-watering seed starter pot from a 2-liter pop bottle

When the plants begin to outgrow the pop bottle pot, simply transplant them into your garden. Or, for some types of produce, like lettuce, you can just let the plants grow in the planter and begin to eat the lettuce when the leaves get big enough. Be sure to periodically add some liquid fertilizer when you replenish the water in the bottom of the pop bottle planter to make sure the plant is getting enough nutrients. Click here for a great organic liquid fertilizer from Amazon.com – Dr. Earth 751 Liquid Solution Pro Biotic 3-3-3. Give the self-watering seed starter a try and let us know how it goes for you.

Via: skruben.blogspot.com

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