Category Archives: Gardening

3 Homemade Vegetable Garden Remedies

By Mike the Gardener

No gardener is immune to the
agony of watching their garden getting eaten away by insects that seem
invisible, rodents that steal in the night and the plant disease that
appears out of nowhere.

We have all been there. Whether the holes in the cabbage plants seem to
get larger by the second, or squash bugs infiltrate the zucchini plants
by the thousands, these unforeseen circumstances can arise at anytime
for any gardener.

While weather, that force of nature you have no control over, can play a
factor in a lot of the plant diseases you may face, you can take some
steps in helping put more of that control back into your hands, as well
as rule over the harmful insects that will arise.

Here are three homemade recipes you can put together yourself to help you with your efforts.

Compost/Manure Tea
This is a great recipe to use. You simply fill a burlap sack with a
gallon of compost or well seasoned manure and drop it into a bucket
containing 4 gallons of water. Cover the bucket and let it sit for 72
hours. Once complete, remove the burlap sack, pour the mixture into a
watering can or a sprayer, and use on your vegetation. This works
great as a fertilizer for your plants and when sprayed on foliage, it
helps prevent many types of diseases.

Baking Soda Spray
If you are looking for an easy to make spray that helps prevent and
manage various plant diseases such as powdery mildew, then try this one.
Simply mix one and a half tablespoons of baking soda, a tablespoon of
vegetable oil and one and a half gallons of warm water in large
container. Mix thoroughly. Make sure the mixture is well blended
prior to pouring it into a sprayer. Use this right away while the water
is warm.

Garlic/Pepper Spray
At a local garden center here where I live, they sell a commercially
made organic pepper spray. These types of sprays work great for keeping
a lot of insects and rodents off your vegetation. There are but two
downfalls. First, it has to be applied after every time your plants are
watered, regardless of whether you are doing the watering or mother
nature. Second, because you will use a lot of it, sprays purchased at
the store can get expensive over time. So instead make your own.

Using a blender, food processor etc., mix together eight cloves of
garlic, one and a half tablespoons of cayenne pepper (or another very
hot pepper variety), and three and a half cups of hot water. Mix these
ingredients thoroughly and allow the mixture to steep for seventy-two
hours. Strain the mix as you pour it into your sprayer, then use on
your plants you are …read more

Source: Mike the Gardener

Signs Showing Your Plants are Nutrient Deficient

By Mike the Gardener

Even with a heavy dose of
proper composting, many factors can lead to your plants becoming
deficient in valuable nutrients. Too much rain could wash away valuable
nitrogen, and not enough rain, well, could lead to a whole lot of other

Here are some popular signs that you should be looking out for in your vegetable garden, their causes, and potential solutions.

Are the leaves on your vegetable plants light green to yellow? Does the
growth of your plant seem stunted? Chances are your soil lacks
nitrogen and/or sulfur. A good quick fix is adding blood meal or fish emulsion.

Speaking of the leaves, are they red or purple when they are supposed to
be green? Looks like your soil is low on Phosphorous. Add some bonemeal or rock phosphate to your soil.

If your vegetable plants are producing fruits have you noticed if they
are too small or production seems to be slow? Your soil may lack
magnesium or potassium. Greensand, Epsom salt, wood ash or seaweed are
all helpful answers.

A lot of the same symptoms noted above will appear for the lack of other
nutrients such as iron, copper, and manganese. You should get a soil
reading if you starting seeing a lot of issues. Your local co-op can do
this for you or they sell home kits where you can test the soil yourself.

…read more

Source: Mike the Gardener

Causes of Tomato Leaf Roll

By Stephanie

Tomato leaves may roll for three main reasons:  physiological stress, viruses, or herbicide damage.  Of the three, physiological stress is the easiest to remedy.

Physiological stress refers to anything in the environment that is not optimal for tomatoes:  too much or too little water, high winds, fertilizer burn, root damage, and transplant shock.  The rolling first appears on the lower leaves and involves cupping inward.  However, the leaves retain their green color.  They may become leathery and thickened.  Over time, all the leaves of the plant may be effected.

The most common time for leaf curl from physiological stress is as spring turns into summer.  Vine tomatoes seem more vulnerable to leaf curl than do bush tomatoes.

Fortunately, this condition has minimal impact on tomato production. The tomato plant can recover if you maintain a consistent moisture level, are careful not to over fertilize (expecially with nitrogen), protect the root zone of the tomato and properly harden off seedlings.  It will probably continue to produce fruit even if the leaves do not uncurl, and new growth will be normal if the stressful situations are eliminated.

The second most common reason for tomato leaf roll is a virus. There are two main tomato viruses that cause leaf roll.

Tomato yellow leaf curl virus causes new leaves to become cupped and pale green in color.  The entire plant may be stunted, show yellowing leaf edge, purplish veins on the undersides of leaves, and a decline in fruit production.

A second kind of virus, tomato mosaic virus, also causes rolling of the leaves.  However, it causes mottled-coloring of leaves, small leaflets, and internal browning of infected fruit.

There is no cure for either of these viruses.  If your tomato plant has them, the best thing to do is to pull the plant and destroy it.  Do not compost it as this might spread the virus.  The goal here is to contain the virus to as few plants as possible before it spreads.  These viruses are spread by insects feeding on an infected plant, then moving to a healthy plant to feed and infecting it.

Weeds often act as reservoirs of disease for tomato plants so the elimination of weeds around the garden reduces the incidence of tomato viruses. There are no sick plants for the insects to feed on and spread the virus to your healthy tomato plants. Disinfecting tools used on weeds and diseased tomatoes before using them on healthy tomato plants can also prevent the spread of the virus.

The third most common reason for leaf curl is herbicide damage. When a tomato plant is exposed to the herbicide 2,4,D, leaves curl downward (as opposed to upward for physiological stress).  In addition, the vine may turn white and split and the fruit may be deformed.  The plant may not survive the herbicide exposure.  However, if it survives, new growth should be normal.  Always be careful when using herbicides to prevent drift and other accidental exposure to desirable plants.

…read more

Source: Weekend Gardener

What is a Praying Mantid?

By Mike the Gardener


Mantidae is the largest family
of the order Mantodea, commonly known as praying mantises; most are
tropical or subtropical. Historically, this was the only family in the
order, and many references still use the term “mantid” to refer to any

Technically, however, “mantid” refers only to members of the Mantidae
family, and not the 14 remaining families of mantises. Some of the most
recent classifications have promoted a number of the mantid subfamilies
to the rank of family, e.g. Iridopterygidae, Sibyllidae, Tarachodidae,
Thespidae, and Toxoderidae,[1] while other classifications have reduced
the number of subfamilies without elevating to higher rank.

Many species are found in North America, the three most common being the
European Mantis (Mantis religiosa), the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera
sinensis), and the Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina). Of these,
only the last is native to the continent – the European and Chinese
species were introduced in the 20th century as predators in an attempt
to control pest populations in gardens.


This is a beneficial insect. Do not treat!
Click here for the original Source

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Source: Mike the Gardener

Solve these 3 Common Compost Problems

By Mike the Gardener

A compost pile is a staple for
most home vegetable gardeners. Compost is the easiest, safest and best
way to add nutrients to your soil which allow your fruits, herbs and
veggies to grow bigger and produce more.

Along the way you may encounter some issues with your compost. Most are
easily fixable with some simple solutions, or a little bit of “elbow
grease”. Here I will discuss the most common compost pile issues you
will face along the way, and their popular solutions.

Your Compost Pile Stinks
This is the most common compost pile issue for home vegetable gardeners.
Your compost pile smells to high heaven and if you lived in the middle
of nowhere, you would really care less, but since your neighbor does
not share that same sentiment, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

Most of the time the smell is due to lack of air. If your pile becomes
too wet or too compacted, anaerobic bacteria become abundant which
accounts for the smell. Too a much lesser extent, your pile could also
lack nitrogen and if your pile has an ammonia smell that means it has
too much nitrogen.

All of these issues are fixable. If your compost pile is compacted,
simply use a pitchfork and manually turn the pile over. If your compost
pile has become too wet or smells of ammonia, add straw or shredded
brown paper bags (leaves or wood chips would be more ideal) and turn
your compost pile with your pitchfork as noted earlier.

Animals and unwanted Insects
From time to time you will notice your compost pile attracts squirrels,
chipmunks and other insects. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
However, if you start seeing rats, mice and roaches, there is something
wrong. Chances are if you are experiencing these types of pests, you
have added something to the pile you should not have, and that would be
meat and/or dairy products. Do not add these to your compost pile.
Remove these items from your compost pile and discard in your regular

Not breaking down
You are taking care of your compost pile as you should, however you
notice that some items are simply not breaking down. This could be due
to a couple of reasons. If they are items that would normally break
down, i.e. food scraps, leaves etc., your compost pile could be lacking
in nitrogen and/or moisture. If the compost pile is dry, add water and
turn the compost pile over with your pitchfork. If nitrogen is the
issue, add either manure (horse, chicken or cow etc) or fresh grass
clippings and turn.

The second problem could simply be the item is just too large for your
compost pile. Large branches from trees and bushes …read more

Source: Mike the Gardener

Learn how to Grow Hardy Gloxinia

By Stephanie

Hardy gloxinia (Incarvillea delavayi) is also known as Chinese trumpet flower.  It is from Southwestern China.  The scientific name for this species, delavayi, is after an 18th century Jesuit monk who first described the plant scientifically.

This plant has short, deeply divided, fernlike green leaves and pink trumpet shaped flowers with a yellow throat.  The flowers grow on tall stalks.  They bloom from late spring through late summer if deadheaded regularly.  These flowers are good for color accents in flower beds, borders, or in rock gardens. Because the large tap root needs good drainage, hardy gloxinia grows best in raised beds or rock gardens.

Hardy gloxinia grows in zones 5-7.  Some literature says they will also grow in zones 8-10, but they are not tolerant of the extreme heat of the summers in those zones.  While hardy gloxinia should be planted in full sun in zones 5-7, it should be planted in a place that has afternoon shade in zones 8-10.

Hardy gloxinia is a perennial.  It may be grown as an annual in zones where the winters are too cold for the plants to survive.

Till the ground to a depth of six inches and add three inches of compost.  This should provide the drainage and room for the tap root this plant requires.  Plants can be grown from seed or from crowns.  If you grow from crowns, plant the crown six inches under the soil and cover.  Plant the crowns twenty-four inches apart as the plants can be 12-18 inches tall and 16-18 inches wide. Pleant after all danger of frost has passed.  Water in.  Water consistently during the growing season, keeping the soil moist but never soaked.  In the winter, water sparingly.

To grow from seed, sprinkle the seed on the ground where you want the plants to grow in the autumn or the spring.  The seed needs light to germinate so do not cover it with soil.  Germination takes 25-30 days.  As the seeds start to grow, thin as needed.  Seeds will bloom the following year if planted in the spring.

To maintain these delicate plants, mulch the crowns in the winter.  Remove the mulch after all danger of frost is past.  The plants are relatively late to emerge after the winter, and the crowns are very delicate, so mark where you plant them.  Water regularly during the growing season as these plants are from areas that receive regular rain.  Fertilize monthly while blooming with a balanced fertilizer.

Hardy gloxinia are self seeding, so if you do not want them to spread, remove the seed heads before they open.  Eventually, the plants will divide enough that they become too crowded.  When that happens, you carefully divide the plants in the spring after they bloom.  Make sure you get all of the taproot when you dig up the plants to divide them.  The tap roots can make division difficult because they are so long.

Hardy gloxinia are vulnerable to snails and slugs.  Otherwise, they are fairly pest free.

…read more

Source: Weekend Gardener

What is an assassin bug?

By Mike the Gardener


Reduviidae (from the contained
genus, Reduvius, which comes from the Latin reduvia, meaning “hangnail”
or “remnant”) is a large, cosmopolitan family of predatory insects in
the suborder Heteroptera. It includes assassin bugs (genera include
Melanolestes, Platymeris, Pselliopus, Rasahus, Reduvius, Rhiginia,
Sinea, Triatoma, and Zelus), ambush bugs (subfamily Phymatinae), wheel
bugs (Arilus cristatus), and thread-legged bugs (the subfamily Emesinae,
including the genus Emesaya). There are about 7000 species altogether,
making it one of the largest families in the Hemiptera.


This is a beneficial insect. DO NOT TREAT!
Click here for the original Source

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Source: Mike the Gardener

How to Organically Control Spider Mites

By Mindy

Spider mites can take a terrible toll on house and landscape plants.   But before you drag out the sprayer and fill it with a toxic soup, consider treating the problem with an organic pest control technique.

Recognizing Spider Mites

Spider mites are little creatures that are very difficult to see with the naked eye but their presence found in spider webs and white and/or yellow spots dotting the foliage.  In worse case situations, the plant will become defoliated.

The reason for this destruction is due to how the animal feeds.  It simply sucks out the juices of the leaves, which contain chlorophyll.  Areas that have been attacked appear as white or yellow spots depending on how much chlorophyll has been removed.

To find these little creatures, one must look at the underside of leaf but as stated before, they are very difficult to see with the naked eye.  To help identify the pest, one must place a sheet of white paper underneath a branch or leaf and gently shake.  Once that is done, pull out the magnifying glass and study the paper.  Spider mites will show up as little dots with eight legs.   These dots can be green, brown or red in color.   If you happen to see some dots with two spots then you have the very aggressive twospotted spider mite, which is a very big problem.


Once you have identified the pest you can begin with the treatment process.  The first line of defense is to protect your plants.  Spider mites hit plants that have been weakened through dehydration and/or nutrient deficiency.  To prevent this, make sure that your plants are watered properly and fed as needed.

Environmental factors such as dry, dusty areas are favorite places for spider mites to hide and if plants are in these locations, they will quickly be fed upon.

Once you have spider mites, the treatment can occur in four ways.  In some situations all three ways will need to be used to get the situation under control.

Removing the Plant and/or Branches

If possible remove any damaged plant material and place in a plastic bag. Tie off the bag and dispose of it in the trash.  This will prevent the spider mites on these plants and/or branches from spreading throughout the garden.

If this is not possible, there are two other techniques that can be used on larger or more valuable plants.

Spraying with Rosemary Oil

Rosemary is poisonous to harmful spider mite.  To use this technique, spray rosemary oil or a pesticide with a rosemary base on the plant material.  Prior to spraying the entire plant, test on a small area.

Spraying with Dish Soap

A spray solution of 3 tablespoons of dish soap to 1 gallon of water can be mixed up and applied to the plant.  Repeat 6 days later.  This process works by suffocating the spider mite.

Beneficial Insects

There are several beneficial insects that love to feed on spider mites.  This includes lady beetles, predator mites, and sixspotted thrives.

…read more

Source: Weekend Gardener

What is the Click here to Unsubscribe from this Newsletter

By Mike the Gardener

Tobacco mosaic virus

Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) is a
positive-sense single stranded RNA virus that infects plants,
especially tobacco and other members of the family Solanaceae. The
infection causes characteristic patterns, such as “mosaic”-like mottling
and discoloration on the leaves (hence the name). TMV was the first
virus to ever be discovered. Although it was known from the late 19th
century that an infectious disease was damaging tobacco crops, it was
not until 1930 that the infectious agent was determined to be a virus.


One of the common control
methods for TMV is sanitation, which includes removing infected plants,
and washing hands in between each planting. Crop rotation should also be
employed to avoid infected soil/seed beds for at least two years. As
for any plant disease, looking for resistant strains against TMV may
also be advised. Furthermore, the cross protection method can be
administered, where the stronger strain of TMV infection is inhibited by
infecting the host plant with mild strain of TMV, similar to the effect
of a vaccine.
Click here for the original Source

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Source: Mike the Gardener

What is root rot?

By Mike the Gardener

root rot

disease characterized by root decay; caused by various fungi.


It is usually lethal and there is no effective treatment.
Click here for the original Source

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Source: Mike the Gardener

How to Make a Simple Rain Chain

By Mindy

A rain chain is a great addition to any landscape design.  It addresses the sound element that many landscapes are lacking.  While you can purchase a rain chain, they can be expensive.  Instead, consider making a simple one from very simple materials that will add personality and memories to any garden space.

To begin this project, one must first gather the supplies.  The basic materials for this simple rain chain consists of a collection of rocks, small rings or fishing swivels, a hook for the top, and wire.

As far as the rocks go, take a walk and collect those that speak to you.  If you find large rocks, increase the size of the wire and vice versa for small rocks.  If you want to enhance the look of the rocks, paint them and/or apply a coat of shellac.

The first step in process begins with the wrapping of the rocks with the wire.  You want enough wire around each rock so that the weight of the rock is supported but also you want it to have a designer look.  This can be achieved by wrapping the wire in different directions and/or using an assortment of colored wires.

Once that is done, line up the rocks into a pattern that is pleasing to you.  After you have your design laid out, begin assembling the design by attaching wire rings between each rock and attaching them to each other.  If you want a little movement, use fishing swivels instead of rings.

Now, add the hook to the top of the rain chain and hang it from the gutter.  Please note that for a rain chain to work the downspout must be removed.  The rain chain is then hung under the opening so that the water from the gutter can hit the rain chain.

If you have a rain barrel, consider removing the downspout and hang the rain chain its place.  Just make sure that the end of the rain chain goes into the rain barrel.

On the other hand, if your rain chain’s water is just going to hit the ground, consider laying down a catchment or pebbles to slow down the water flow and prevent soil erosion.   This can be as simple as a stack of stones or as elaborate as a small pond.  Regardless of how you decide to slow the water down, always make sure that the water is diverted away from the house.

…read more

Source: Weekend Gardener

What is Powdery Mildew?

By Mike the Gardener

pow·der·y mil·dew

Mildew on a plant that is marked by a white floury covering consisting of conidia.


Controlling the disease
involves eliminating conducive conditions as much as possible by
altering planting density and carefully timing applications and rates of
nitrogen. Since nitrogen fertilizers encourage dense leafy growth,
nitrogen should be applied at precise rates, less than 70 pounds per
acre, to control decrease severity. Crop rotation with non-host plants
is another way to keep mildew infection to a minimum, however the aerial
nature of conidia and ascospore dispersal makes it of limited use.
Wheat powdery mildew can also be controlled by eliminating the presence
of volunteer wheat in agricultural fields as well as tilling under crop
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Source: Mike the Gardener

What is blossom end rot?

By Mike the Gardener

blossom end rot

Calcium (Ca) deficiency is a
plant disorder that can be caused by insufficient calcium in the growing
medium, but is more frequently a product of low transpiration of the
whole plant or more commonly the affected tissue.


Calcium deficiency can
sometimes be rectified by adding agricultural lime to acid soils, aiming
at a pH of 6.5, unless the subject plants specifically prefer acidic
soil. Organic matter should be added to the soil to improve its
moisture-retaining capacity. However, because of the nature of the
disorder (i.e. poor transport of calcium to low transpiring tissues),
the problem cannot generally be cured by the addition of calcium to the
roots. In some species, the problem can be reduced by prophylactic
spraying with calcium chloride of tissues at risk.
Click here for the original Source

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Source: Mike the Gardener

Got a Wet Spot? Grow Bog Rosemary

By Mindy

Do you have a spot in your landscape that stays wet?  Or are you looking for a plant that is low mainentace and looks good?   Well if either one these situations apply to your garden space, then I have the plant for you.

Bog rosemary is a wonderful evergreen shrub that is powdery blue in color year round.  In the spring, urn-shaped white flowers with a tinge of pick appear.   The needle like leaves along with its multi-branched nature allows this plant to standout especially in monochromatic landscapes.

When you plan to use this plant, study the area carefully.  Bog rosemary does wonderful in bogs, swamps, and alongside ponds.  It can even tolerate some standing water.  While this plant is flexible in its moisture requirement, it is inflexible in its pH requirement.  Bog rosemary requires a soil pH on the acidic side.  Once you have the plant in the ground, if the leaves begin to yellow this is an indication that the soil is not acidic enough.  If this is the case, mulch the area with pine needles.

When planting in urban environments, monitor the leaf health.  While this plant can tolerate some urban pollination, planting in highly polluted areas can be detrimental to the plant.  If you notice the leaves changing colors, consider planting in a different location.

When planting your bog rosemary, make sure to dig the hole at least twice the width and height of the container it has come in.  If you are dealing with clay soils, do not forget to scrap the sides to prevent glazing before moving on to the next step.

After the hole has been dug, mix in peat moss into the soil removed and place 2 to 3 inches back into the hole.  Once that is done, remove the plant from its container and place in the hole.   Test the height of the plant.  If the plant sits below soil level, add additional soil.  If the plant is level with the surrounding soil, then continue with the planting process by filling in.

Once the plant is in the hole, gently tap down and water in.  Add an organic mulch to the top to increase acidity of the soil and control weeds.

Bog rosemary spreads by rhizomes so plant in areas that have ample space for this type of growth habit.

One cautionary tale of this plant is the fact that it is not edible.  While the name implies a culinary aspect, this only comes from the leaf shape and ever part of the plant is poisonous, so handle with caution.

…read more

Source: Weekend Gardener

Prevent and Control Powdery Mildew

By Mike the Gardener

Powdery mildew is a fungal
disease that is one of the more common plant diseases that many home
vegetable gardeners will experience. Powdery mildew is in the order of
Erysiphales which contains one family named Erysiphaceae of which many
cause powdery mildew.

Powdery mildew begins on a host plant, in this case one of your
vegetable plants, when the sexual ascospores, or the asexual conidia
germinating on the surface of the plants leaf or stem, resulting in
septate mycelium of uninucleate cells.

Powdery mildew is one of the easier plant diseases to spot. If your
plants are affected, what you will see are white powdery spots on the
leaves and stems. Powdery mildew is most prominent on the lower leaves
although powdery mildew will appear on the upper leaves as it
progresses. If left untreated, the spots will get larger and more dense
as more spores form.

Do you live in an area or environment where you will experience high
humidity and moderate temperatures? If so, then you are more likely to
experience Powdery mildew.

So what will powdery mildew do to your plants if not addressed? Chances
are it won’t kill your plants, but will contribute to the reduction of
fruit and vegetable yields.

While many home vegetable gardeners are looking for a cure for powdery
mildew, one simply does not exist. So what you need to do is take steps
to preventing and controlling powdery mildew. Two good things to make
sure your plants are receiving in helping with prevention is air
circulation and direct sunlight. Both have shown to inhibit powdery
mildew formation.

But, let’s say that powdery mildew already exists on your plants. What
you have to do now is move into “control” mode. According to Organic Gardening,
“Research studies in 1999 and 2003 on infected zucchini and winter
wheat (respectively) indicated that spraying cow’s milk slowed the
spread of the disease.”

By mixing 1 part milk and 9 parts water (by volume), you will create a
spray that can then be applied to your affected plants. Also you can
try a mix of 1 teaspoon of baking soda with 1 quart of water as a spray.
This helps raise the pH, which is not a suitable environment for
powdery mildew.

At the end of the season, remove all plants that were affected with
powdery mildew, bag them up and throw them away. While some sources say
they are ok to add to your compost pile, I take a more cautious stand
and do not do so.

…read more

Source: Mike the Gardener

Tips for Growing Chayote

By Stephanie

Chayote (Sechium edule) is a squash like vegetable grown on vines.  It is often called the vegetable pear by North Americans, the christophine or mirliton to Caribbeans, chocho to Madeirans, pipinella to Italians, and pipinola to Hawaiians.  These fruit originated in Mexico and were a staple of the Aztecs.  They are still grown by many people in Mexico.  They have now spread to many tropical and subtropical areas around the world.  They are grown in the Southern United States.

Chayotes require a 150 day growing season between hard frosts.  Light frosts will destroy the greenery, but the root will put out new vines in the spring.  The chayote seed will not grow if dried and saved for later.  It only germinates inside the fruit.  This means you must sacrifice one fruit to get a vine to plant.

The first step in growing chayotes is to buy one in the market in late fall.  Many Spanish speaking markets carry them.  Buy five or six even if they have been in cool storage and wrapped in plastic.  They will still germinate.  Place them in a dark, cool, place and leave them there until February.  By this time you should have about a six inch vine from each fruit.

If you live in a climate where it freezes in February or past that, put the chayotes in a pot with just the end of the vine peaking out after you plant them.  Water and set in a sunny window.  Keep it moist but now swampy wet and let it grow until the date of your last frost.

Chayote vines will cover any vertical surface.  They need to be planted where they can climb on a trellis or up a building.  Do not put them in the garden as they will spread all over everything.

Plant chayote vines after all danger of frost is past.  Plant them so that just the tip of the vine shows and the rest is buried under the ground.  Water them in and then let them grow.  In October, the vine will suddenly be covered with fruits.  Each plant will have 50 to 100 of the fruits.

Chayote can be eaten green or ripe.  When one to two inches in diameter, the young chayotes make good relish.  When two thirds grown, you can slice them like a cucumber and eat them in salads.  Early ripe fruit can be sliced and boiled for ten minutes then salted, peppered, and spread with butter and eaten that way. When fully mature, the fruit can be steamed like potatoes or cut in half and baked like winter squash.

When the first light frost hits, the plant will die.  However, the chayotes can be picked and spread on newspapers in a cool place and they will store until well after Christmas.

Pull down the dead vines and compost them.  Mulch the roots heavily to protect them from the cold.  In the spring, they will produce another vine and the cycle will start over.

…read more

Source: Weekend Gardener

Is the word “Organic” losing it’s meaning?

By Mike the Gardener

I recently read in an issue of
Mother Earth News magazine a great quote. “Every time you buy organic,
you’re persuading more farmers to grow organic.” This quote goes well
along with my lines of thinking. I am a true believer of not buying a
product or hiring someone to perform a service from a business if that
product or service does not meet my expectations for what I am paying.

In this case that product is freshly grown fruits or veggies. I grow a
lot of my own food, but lack the space to grow it all. So, for the
items that I am unable to grow in abundance I will search out quality
farms in my area, that do not use chemical pesticides or synthetic
fertilizers. I am willing to pay a little more because I am getting
quality food, great customer service and get what I am paying for.

What I have also noticed in my search for local farms, is the term
organic being thrown around a lot. The question I was mulling over, is
that term overused? Has it become nothing more than a marketing gimic?

My dad, and grandfather before him, practiced organic methods when
tending to their gardens. No use of pesticides or synthetic
fertilizers, heck they did not even use gas powered tools. Everything
was done with a little elbow grease and plenty of sweat. They each kept
compost piles, and since my dad was (and still is) a big fisherman, all
of the fish waste went into his garden beds. Everything was natural.

But one thing was common, you never heard them use the word organic. If
you asked them if they practiced organic methods, they probably would
be the first to tell you they have no idea of what you are talking
about. They used safe, healthy methods to grow their food, not because
they wanted to be “organic”, but because they wanted to put good food
on the table.

In order for someone to use the word “organic” they must meet some
criteria as outlined by the USDA. You can read up on what it takes to
become certified organic on the USDA website.

Me personally, I think the word “organic” is quickly a word that is
being overused. But what do you think? I understand the importance of
needing to certify items to be organic, but do you think “organic” is
being overused?

…read more

Source: Mike the Gardener

How do you Stake your tomatoes?

By Mike the Gardener

How do I stake up my tomato
plants is a question I receive all the time. My answer is, whatever
works for you. When I was a kid, my dad would use my broken hockey
sticks, cut off the blade, or what remained thereof, and use them as
stakes for his tomato plants. He would then secure the tomato plants to
the hockey stick by loosely tying them with some type of string, twine,
old t-shirts and even mom’s ripped pantyhose. He was a resourceful

There are various other ways to stake up tomatoes and I wanted to cover
just a few. First I wanted to start with the method I use to prop up my
tomatoes, and that is the use of tomato cages. Regardless of whether
you use the round tomato cages, triangular tomato cages or square tomato cages,
the concept of their use is the same. Simply push your tomato cage
into the soil so that your tomato plant sits in the center. As the
tomato plant grows, you will have to do some maneuvering of branches so
they don’t get “stuck” as they try and grow upwards.

As mentioned earlier with the method my father used, you can use stakes or poles
to prop them up. As with the tomato cage method, you will have to do
some maneuvering. With the stake method, you have to attach them to the
tomato stake with string or twine. They even sell velcro plant ties which are great. You can move them rather easily when you have to make adjustments.

Although I have not used these myself, I have seen in use spiral tomato plant supports.
The way these work is very simple.The idea is to eliminate the part
where you tie them to the stake by weaving your tomato plants as they
grow, through the spiral. They come in heights of 4 to 6 feet, which is
ideal for most varieties of tomatoes.

Another excellent method is creating your own trellis where there are
poles on each end with some twine at various heights connected between
them. This tomato propping method is most commonly called the Florida weave. As the tomato plants grow, you weave them in between the strings on the trellis.

Finally, just let them be. Some gardeners I know do not even stake up
their tomatoes at all. They lay down some black plastic tarp over the
soil, then let the tomatoes simply grow along the ground. Of course
this method makes your plants susceptible to a lot things, but if going
100% natural is what you are looking for, then this is it.

A Few Tips to Avoid Root Rot

By Mike the Gardener

Here in New Jersey we are
experiencing a boat load of rain. Last I heard on the news, for our
area, we are over a few inches above last year’s total at this same
time. Last year’s total rainfall at this time were normal measurements.
As Luke Bryan sings, Rain is a Good Thing. However, too much rain, is not a good thing for your vegetable plants.

Good drainage in your vegetable garden beds can prevent the most obvious
issue which is root rot. Root rot is a disease that can occur in
vegetable plants both indoors and outdoors, which is the decaying of a
vegetable plants’ roots. Root rot will occur when the roots of your
vegetable plants get too wet, which creates a perfect environment for
various fungi that carry out this process.

As stated earlier, making sure the area where your vegetable plants
reside has adequate drainage is a major key in preventing root rot.
There a few solutions you can implement to prevent excess water around
your vegetable plants’ roots.

For vegetable plants that you are growing indoors, let’s start with the
obvious. Make sure that whatever your vegetable plants are planted in
have enough drainage holes. You may have purchased a pot (or pots) from
a home or garden center and think that it may have enough holes, but
that is not always the case. Do not be afraid to drill a few more in
the bottom of the pot, no less than ¼” in diameter. To prevent soil
erosion in your pots, line them with newspaper before you put your
potting soil in. This will allow the excess water to drain out, while
keeping the soil in.

For your outdoor vegetable garden there are a number of solutions you
can go with. For starters, build your garden beds up using raised beds.
As vegetable gardening author Chris McLaughlin writes in her book Vertical Vegetable Gardening: A Living Free Guide, raised beds give you better drainage especially in areas wher clay soil dominates.

Many people that have raised beds, build them in such a way as there is
no need to actually go into the bed itself and that helps by not
compacting the soil every time a step is taken near their vegetable

Finally, whether you are using raised beds or not, mix up a soil
solution that aides in wicking away excess water. There are three great
products that you can add to your soil before you plant that will help
with this. They are peat moss, coir and perlite.

The peat moss and coir are interchangeable. Although you can, you would
not use them together as they serve the same …read more

Source: Mike the Gardener

Guide to Growing Almonds

By Stephanie

The almond was originally native to the Middle East and Southeast Asia.  They have since spread around the world.  Almonds grow primarily in California in the United States.

Almonds are unusual in that the fruit of the almond is a drupe, consisting of a husk and then a hard outer shell protecting the inner nut.  Almonds are not true nuts — they are related to peaches and plums and are considered a stone fruit.  The almond is a deciduous tree that can reach heights of 33 feet.

Oddly enough, wild almonds are bitter and toxic.  Crushing and chewing the fruit causes deadly prussic acid and cyanide to form in the fruit.  As few as fifty wild, or bitter, almonds can be fatal.  Sweet almonds, or domesticated almonds, are not toxic.

Almonds are one of the few fruits that can be grown successfully from seed.  They are not grafted, so seeds breed true.  Most people, however, buy young almond trees to plant.

Almonds prefer well drained, deep sandy soil.  They will develop root rot in heavy clay soils or where drainage is not good.  Almond trees prefer a climate with mild winters with no severe spring frosts and warm, relatively dry summer.

Plant trees by digging a hole deep enough for the tree to be planted at the level the tree was in the pot.  Make the hole large enough around to spread the roots out in it.  Fill with the soil you took out of the hole.  Putting compost, peat moss, or potting soil in the hole will cause the roots to circle the tree and eventually girdle it.  Water the tree in.  Almonds need regular irrigation to produce a good crop..

Almonds will not pollinate themselves.  You always have to plant two trees of compatible species to ensure pollination.  Almonds are pollinated by bees.  In the United States, fully half of all hives in the US are transported to California in February to pollinate the almond crop.  As such, almonds have disproportionately suffered from colony collapse disorder in bees.  There are efforts underway to develop self-pollinating almond trees with desirable fruit.

Almonds are mature at three years and begin bearing.  They are five or six years old before they bear a full crop.  Almonds need considerable care during the year to thrive and produce a good nut crop.  In the winter, they must be pruned to open up the inside of the tree so air can circulate.  In addition, dead or damaged branches should be removed then.  Spray trees with dormant oil to kill peach twig borer, San Jose scale, and mite eggs. Remove all old nuts from the tree and ground and destroy them to prevent pests from overwintering in them.

In the spring, fertilize the trees with two pounds of urea per mature tree, spread around the tree and watered in.  Trees need to be watered daily with drip irrigation.  If this is not possible, sprinkler irrigate every 1-3 weeks after winter rains have fallen and lay down 2-3 inches of water per irrigation.  Trees …read more

Source: Weekend Gardener