Sunday, 25 June 2017

Keep your Baskets Flowering and Thriving

As we start to get warmer temperatures, true summer weather, your hanging baskets may begin to look a little peaked.

How to keep them happy and thriving, blooming all summer long? Good watering, some feeding, and a bit of pinching, too. 


Water all hanging baskets (coir, poly, or moss) till the water flows freely from the bottom.

Go from basket to basket and then start all over again. 
Thoroughly soak each basket two or three times each time you water. 

I water my baskets every second day in spring, once a day in summer, 
twice a day in +30°C weather. 


After the watering, give them a really good shower. 

Spray baskets and planters from all sides each time you water.
This re-hydrates tired baskets, hoses off stray bits of dry foliage and spent blossoms, 
plus blasts away any bugs trying to take up residence. 


Feed them well! 

To keep baskets and planters looking amazing, lush and full of blooms, 
watering is not enough. 
Feed every week or two with a fertiliser that has a higher middle number, 
such as a 15-30-15.

Slow release fertilisers help forgetful feeders keep baskets looking pretty, 
especially if re-applied in mid-summer. 
However, if you want amazing baskets, you'll need to use a water soluble feed, as well.    


 Pinch and dead head. 

Remove spent blossoms (dead head) weekly to keep flowers blooming. 
If you leave the spent blossom on, they will form seeds pods instead of more blossoms.  

Pinch back leggy growth for bushy dense growth and full looking baskets.
Some flowers, like petunias, can start to get a bit lanky and scraggly in summer. 
Pinch them back for nice bushy baskets. 


Happy gardening! 
Enjoy the sunshine! 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Is Your Garlic Ready To Harvest?

The hardest thing about growing garlic is knowing when to lift it.

Planting is easy, growing is easy, care is easy ... but knowing exactly when to harvest can be kinda tricky.

Garlic harvest can also vary, depending on the area that you live in, when you planted, the weather, and the variety that you planted.

 Garlic growing in late spring

In general, for most of us here on the west coast, harvest will be in early to mid July.



Scapes ...


About a month before harvest, you will find scapes forming at the top of your hardneck garlic plants.

These yummy curlicues are super tasty greens that can be used in stir fries, made into pesto, grilled on the barbie, or chopped into your eggs/salads.

Scape season is relatively short, just a couple of weeks at the most. You want to harvest when they are young and tender, just as they have made one curl or are starting to do so. If you wait till they get older, they'll be tougher, a bit woody.

The scape is easy to harvest, no knives required. Go to the spot where the scape comes out of the topmost leaf and simply snap it off between your fingers. If it is bendy and does not snap easily, that means it is getting older and woodier, go up a little bit higher on the stalk and snap there instead.



Common lore tells us to remove the scape or the garlic will put it's energy into flowering rather than making a good sized bulb. I must admit that I have never noticed any size difference, whether I snap them off, or not. While not always the size of the monster garlic in the picture above, they seem to size up well regardless.



Watering

After scape time is finished, it's usually about three weeks till harvest. Stop watering now, let the garlic grow dry for the last few weeks before you lift the bulbs. The 'stress' of growing dry forces more growth into the bulb.

You also do not want wet bulbs or wet soil on your bulbs at harvest, as they tend not to cure as well. Last year was a prime example of that here on the island. We had too much rain, followed by too many days of grey skies and humidity. The soil was wet when we lifted our garlic, the bulbs were plump with moisture, and the days were neither hot nor dry enough for the garlic to cure well.  

Bottom 2 to 3 leaves are brown

Getting close.... 

The answer is all in the foliage. Each leaf on the garlic stalk is a skin/wrapper on your bulb. You want to keep an eye on those bottom leaves. When the leaves look as they do in the picture above, you are getting close, only a week or so to go.

Do not pick yet at this stage, is just a titch too early, the bulbs are still growing. Wait until the foliage has dried half way up the stalk, so the bottom 4 or 5 leaves are yellow/brown and the top 4 or 5 are still green. The waiting is the hardest part!


This artichoke variety (softneck) of garlic was left in the ground too long 
so has split it's wrapper. 

If you leave them in too long, they will lose their protective skin/wrapping. Do not let too many of those leaves turn brown.

The split bulbs are edible, but they will not cure or keep. Take split ones inside, wash them up, use for cooking, mince into oil (use up in two weeks), or freeze for use at a later date.



When ready, gently lift your garlic from the soil. Do not pull on the stalk unless you have really, really soft and friable soil, or you risk ripping the stalk right off of the bulb. Loosen with a garden fork or transplanting spade.

Brush the soil off with your fingers, do not wash or hose off with water. Do not remove the stalks, roots, or wrappings at this time.

Set out to cure on tables, or hang in bundles, in a shady, airy location. Average curing time is two to three weeks, though I tend to leave mine out for much longer than that.


When fully cured, remove the stalks, trim the roots, brush off the remaining soil from the bulbs. Store in a cool, dry spot.

For more in-depth information about how to harvest and cure, please see HERE!


Happy Harvesting! (just not quite yet!)

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Organic Pest Control

Insect pests can be one of the most frustrating gardening issues one has to deal with.



Which is why I am often asked what I use to fight bugs. If you mean, what kind of product do I use? Then the answer for the most part is ... nothing at all.   

Why not? The problem with any kind of insecticide or pesticide, even the organic earth friendly kinds, is that they do not discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs. All forms of sprays and powders will kill the good guys, too. Therefore, I try to use no product of any kind, not even soapy water.   

So... What to do about those bugs then? 

Add organic material to build up your soil

First... 
Grow healthy plants in healthy soil. Pests prefer stressed out, unhappy plants and rarely bother happy, healthy ones.

Invest in good soil and feed that soil annually with lots of organic matter. When you add manure, compost, leaf mould, and other organic matter to your beds, you are feeding the worms and the microbial life in the soil, which in turn work hard at keeping your plants nice and healthy.

Top dress around your plants with manure or compost during the growing season, or feed with teas to keep your plants (and soil) happy and healthy.  

Planting diversity means happy, healthy, pest-free gardens. 

Second...
Create diversity in your garden and yard. Companion planting with herbs and flowers is the single most important thing that you can for your garden annually to keep it happy, healthy, thriving, and pest free.

Companion planting is cost effective, adds colour and beauty to your beds, but most importantly, fights pests organically with no great effort required on your part.

Companion plant with herbs and flowers

Herbs are very attractive to pollinators, birds, and beneficial insects alike.

Birds will eat lots and lots of garden pests, plus mosquitoes, too, so you really do want to attract them to your organic garden. Sweet little hummingbirds eat bugs, their eggs and larvae, and pollinate your flowers. They like zinnias, sage, lantana, and even marigolds! Sunflowers are a bee and bird favourite.  

Companion plants cilantro, borage, and violas, plus hyssop in the background. 

Bees, hover flies, tachinid flies, lacewings, most all predatory insects and pollinators, tend to like high pollen flowers, such as the flat umbels of dill and cilantro gone to seed.


If you plant it, they will come : ) The more variety you have in your garden, the more beneficial insects and birds you will attract. Different plants attract different beneficials. 

Perennials to add to your garden beds, or in pots around the garden... roses, lilies, lavender, cone flowers, salvia, rudbeckia, asters.   

Bulbs... gladiolas, dahlias (especially the single ones, like Bishop's Children), cannas, anemones, tulips, daffodils. 

The best annuals to incorporate into your organic veggie bed are marigolds, calendula, sweet alyssum, and zinnias. For more information on companion planting with annuals, see HERE!


Third
Pick and squish. Gross as it is, it is still one of the most effective ways of dealing with pests of all sorts.


Fourth
Spray bugs off with a strong jet of water. I blast my roses with water, my hanging baskets, my cabbages and Brussels sprouts... anything that needs to be hosed off for bugs, gets a strong jet or spray of water. This super easy step helps to eradicate the majority of soft-bodied pests, like aphids.


Fifth
Do a thorough garden clean up in the fall. Remove all old leaves, weeds, and spent plants, as they offer hibernation places for pests like stink bugs, cabbage worms, and grubs.

I had an issue with stink bugs a few years back, so now make sure to never leave any debris on top of the gardens for pests to over-winter in. I found that they really like to hide in the thick foliage of strawberries, so I moved the strawberries out of the potager and into another part of the yard. If they over-winter in my strawberries now, at least they are far away from my tomatoes, raspberries, sunflowers, and corn.

My onion bed is covered with bug netting to keep out the onion maggot fly

Six
Cover the crops that tend to be the most buggy. Always get aphids on your brassicas? Have a problem with carrot rust flies? Onion maggots? Stink Bugs? Cover those crops with hoop frames, bug netting, or white fabric.

Ladybug attracting plants. Pic from pikenursery.com

Do I use biological controls? Not much actually.

I sometimes buy nematodes for fungus gnats, a common greenhouse issue, but do not otherwise tend to use other bio-controls. I mostly rely on companion planting to attract native beneficial insects to my garden and into the greenhouse.

I no longer buy wild ladybugs, as I think that this practise causes more harm than good, or is at best, pointless. I do, however, do my very best to attract native ladybugs to my yard.

Put out water sources for them to safely drink from, saucers or birdbaths with flat stones or pebbles to land on (this is also important for the bees). Plant flowers that they find most attractive. They like yellow and white flowers best, and prefer flowers with a landing pad, like dill or cilantro, yarrow, calendula, marigolds...  


Soaps
If I really have a problem that is not solved by the above remedies, I will resort to using a Safer's Soap Spray. This usually is only used in the greenhouse, on my seedlings, to fight aphids or white fly, and so does not affect the lovely beneficial insects out in the garden.

As mentioned at the very beginning, I do not like to use even these safe and organic sprays, unless absolutely necessary. Even organic solutions do not discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs, and will kill them all.

Bee on an artichoke

I once, years ago, watched a bee land on a rose that had recently been sprayed with this soap. The soap had already dried, so I thought it was safe... however, the bee died anyways, right before my eyes. Perhaps it was in the pollen? Since that day, I decided that squishing bugs or water spray is the safest and best solution. Simply not worth it. Besides, there may have been lady bug larva on the rose, that I could not see, or some other beneficials. How many times do we kill more of the good guys by trying to get rid of a few bad guys?

Luckily, because of these measures, I rarely have any big pest problems. The ones that do pop up, like the stink bugs and onions maggot flies, I combat using the remedies mentioned.

Flowering garlic chives. Pollinator heaven. 

I try to do no harm. The reason for growing organic food and flowers is to be healthy to our world, our environment, and our selves. So please, try to do no harm. Plant companion plants, squish or spray with water, do a good clean up and feed your soil. It works, I promise you.



Happy Gardening!