Category Archives: 30 Days to a Better Garden

A Wrap Up of 30 Days to a Better Garden

Can you believe June is pretty much over already? This was a fast month, which is unfortunate because it’s one of my favorites. Summer is still new and therefore not too hot, ice cream tastes better, we get foggy mornings and warm afternoons, the farmers market is starting to really come alive as is our garden. How is your garden? How does it look? Did this 30 Days challenge help you get motivated to make your garden better? It helped us for sure, well except for the end there. Sorry about that. Let’s blame it on this heat wave, shall we? We were moving at the pace of slugs.

I thought I’d use this last day to wrap things up and write out a list of everything we talked about. From my blog stats it looks like most everyone found the Homemade Insect Repellants to be their favorite, what was yours?

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Research Something You Are Growing (Day 24 of 30 DTABG)

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Every year we try growing at least one new thing and usually we just stick it in the ground and hope for the best without doing a bit of research. That means that half of the time we are disappointed and the other half of the time we fall upon dumb luck and are rewarded with a great harvest. While this is our second year growing fenugreek, we had a pretty lack luster ‘crop’ last year and this year it isn’t going so fantastic. Or is it? Is it only supposed to grow about 6 inches tall and produce only two seed pods? Can you eat those tiny little leaves or do you only harvest the seeds? Does it require shade or sun? Do they like water or to be on the drier side.

See, how can we ever be successful with growing it when we don’t know a darned thing about it. So I’m going to go research fenugreek (and horseradish for that matter) so I know how we should nurture them. What do you want to research?

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Sort Your Seeds (Day 23 of 30 DTABG)

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We have a lot of seeds and sometimes it’s good to go through them all. We did this of course at the beginning of the growing season when we were first getting started, but it is a nice habit to keep going through them. Just yesterday we realized that it’s time to start the radiccio seeds (seed packet says late June) and we wouldn’t have remembered that if we hadn’t gone through everything. Luckily we have a few open spots in the garden now that the garlic, onions and shallots are out.

This is also a good time to ditch the seeds of plants that didn’t work out. Like those St. Valery carrots I just wrote about? They got filed in the round can this time. Its a shame to throw away good seeds, but we are finding more and more that it’s best to just get rid of things we don’t like rather than keep trying them year after year and end up disappointed.
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Give it a try, go through your seeds and see if you forgot to plant anything. See if your autumn garden crops need planting now. Tell me what you find.

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How to Water Correctly (Day 22 of 30 Days to a Better Garden)

Day Lily on Solstice
Happy Belated Solstice (and Fathers Day too)! It’s hard to believe that the days will only get shorter from here on out and yet, in Sonoma, the weather will only get hotter. Being that today is supposed to be a hot one, I thought it might be a good day to talk about watering your vegetable garden.
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The Basics of Watering
Most all vegetables like to be watered right at the ground because if their leaves get wet they will suffer from wilt or mildew. So while it’s tempting to let the overhead sprinkler water your veggies, it’s best to either water by hand or install a drip system. We water by hand just because we haven’t taken the time to install drip, although our good friends at Bellamadris have really inspired us to get it going. The best time to water is in the evening after the heat of the sun has dropped down a bit and after any winds have died down. This gives the water a good 12 or so hours to percolate in the soil and reach the roots. How long you should water is really dependent on your soil. You’ll have to experiment.

Checking on your Watering
So here our task for the day, after you do your watering, either by hand or with your drip system, go take a trowel and dig down and see how deep your water is getting. I’m the queen of thinking I’ve watered enough only to find that the water only penetrated 1/4 of an inch. I can’t tell you how many perennial flowers I’ve lost due to my bad watering. So I’ve learned that I really need to dig down and see how far I’ve actually watered. To really test your watering, on your next early morning walk, stick your finger in the soil and make sure that the soil is still wet at least 2 inches down. If not, water longer.
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We’ve found that creating dirt ‘walls’ around our plants helps to keep the water in around the plants root area without running out all over the place. Don’t forget to mulch well so that you won’t loose that water to evaporation too. If you are in a water restricted area, check out my post on having a Drought Tolerant Vegetable Garden.

Tell me, how do you water? Drip or hand watering? How often do you water? Have you learned any watering tricks along the way?

Oh and I have been curious…for my Southern Hemisphere friends, was yesterday the shortest day of the year for you?

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Make Notes (Day 20 of 30 Days to a Better Garden)

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I’d thought today would be a good day to check in with our garden notes again. What do you have to note about how your garden is growing? I’d love to hear.

Here’s our report:

We harvested the rest of the onions and all of the shallots and the garlic this week. We’ve never grown shallots before, so we are curious to see if we picked them at the right time. They are on the smallish side, but very plentiful. I hope they keep for a while, have you grown them before? We also have enough onions to feed an army. I don’t know what we were thinking when we planted them, but there’s a pretty good bet that if you come to visit, we’ll do our best to send you home with a few.
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We also harvested the majority of the amaranth that was growing around the melons. We noticed that the melons weren’t growing much at all. Either it’s the cooler weather we are having or they weren’t getting enough sun because the amaranth was crowding it out. Since we can’t control the weather, we decided to do what we could by pulling the amaranth.
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Our two portofino zucchinis are kickin it into high gear and no matter how much we eat, there are still more squash sitting on the counter. Zucchini bread anyone?

The St. Valery carrots that we planted in February are ready to be picked but they are not good. Not good at all. They are slightly bitter and don’t have any sweetness to them at all. Grow fast you Purple Haze, we miss you!

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Side Dress with Compost (Day 19 to 30 DTABG)

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Now that our little seedlings have grown into full blow adolescence, it’s a good time to add a little boost of nutrients to keep them growing and on their way to full production. The best way to do this is not with fertilizer, but with compost. Fertilizer may provide a quick boost but over the years ends up depleting the soil of it’s nutrients. However compost adds to the soils fertility, by giving it natural nutrients thus eliminating the need for fertilizer. Got it? Pretty cool, that compost stuff. Remember Compost is Proof that there is Life After Death.

Anyway, pull away your mulch a bit and add a few healthy handfuls of compost around the base (but keep it about an inch away from the stem of the plant – you don’t want to burn the stem). If you mix a little manure or grass clippings into the mix all the better. Grass clippings provide an excellent source of nitrogen into the soil. Our peppers that we mulched with grass clippings are growing like bananas. After you’ve ‘side dressed’ your plants, pat the mulch back in place and give your plants a good watering.

Have you given your plants a mid season boost before? Have you seen a difference? What did you use?

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Tend to the Compost (Day 18 of 30 DTABG)

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Today’s garden tip is a reminder to tend to your compost pile. If you don’t already have a compost pile, there’s not time like the present. There are all sorts of fancy compost bins that you can buy or construct, but we’re pretty basic around here, we just have piles on the ground in the back of the yard. So if you don’t already have a compost system in place, go take your days worth of vegetable and fruit scraps and walk it back to a forgotten part of your yard and just put it in a pile. Then read more about composting here.

If you do have a compost pile, go turn it today. Yes, I know, it’s can be a big job, but it’s worth it. You need to stir things up and add oxygen to the mix to help everything break down. Take your kids out with you (if you have them) to discover all the fantastic bugs that creep and crawl around. It’s a great time for a little lesson in decomposition. After you turn it, water it down until it’s damp, but not soggy.

Tomorrow we’ll be using finished compost, so go ahead and make sure it’s in good shape! Then go take a long hot bath, you deserve it!

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How to Grow More Vegetables (Day 17 of 30 DTABG)

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Part of any new hobby or craft that you take on is continuously educating yourself on the subject. Just as soon as you think you’ve got a handle on what you are undertaking, you read a new bit of information and realize that what you know is just the tip of the iceberg. At least that’s the way it goes with me. In an effort to better ourselves, we try to read a new gardening book or two each year. While we’ve had this book around the house for a few years, last summer I wrote a three part series on How to Grow More Vegetables that you ever thought possible on less land that you can imagine for the blog. It’s been, well, since last summer that I’ve read the posts myself, and I thought we could all benefit by giving it a read over.

Would you care to join me? Click here to read about Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

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Homemade Insect Repellants (Day 15 & 16 of 30 DTABG)

Oh those pesky pests. They can be insatiable sometimes, can’t they? We don’t have too bad a time with them, but from time to time we do fall victim (remember that horrible aphid/kale disaster we had last year? or the aphids and cabbage worm infestation?) Now in the ideal organic garden, the beneficial insects take care of most of the bad bugs. And the few bad bugs they don’t get don’t do too much harm because by growing organically, you are growing strong healthy plants that don’t fall prey to those insects. But this is real life and sometimes your garden won’t be the garden of Eden, so you need to call in back up. If you are like me, when you see large infestation of aphids, earwigs, cabbage worms and other bugs, there is a very strong temptation to just obliterate the area with the most toxic stuff you can find. However I’ve found some great recipes for homemade insect repellents.

Garlic Pest Control Spray
Many cultures around the world have used garlic as a natural antibiotic and anti-fungal remedy. When garlic is combined with mineral oil and soap, it becomes a very effective pest control product. However, when it is sprayed, it is not a selective insecticide. It can be used to control cabbage worm, leaf hoppers, squash bugs, white fly, but will also affect beneficial insects so be careful where and when you apply this product.

3 ounces finely chopped garlic
2 tsp mineral oil
1 pint water
¼ ounce garden safe soap

Allow the garlic to soak in the mineral oil for 24 hours. Add water and garden safe soap. Stir well and strain into a glass jar for storage. This is your concentrate. To use: Combine 1-2 tablespoons of concentrate in 1 pint of water to make the spray. Do be careful not to make the solution too strong. While garlic is safe for humans, when combined with oil & soap, the mixture can cause leaf injury on sensitive plants. Always test the lower leaves of plants first to make sure they aren’t affected.

Dormant Oil
The purpose of an oily spray is to suffocate over wintering pests, such as aphids and mites. Most commercial products are made of kerosene or other petroleum oil. A much less toxic and more sustainable approach is to use a renewable resource such as vegetable oil.

1 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp garden friendly liquid soap
1 gallon water

Combine the soap and oil and stir to blend thoroughly. Add the water a bit at a time, stirring as you go (water and oil don’t really emulsify; the soap helps the process). Pour the mixture into a clean garden spray container. Spray a coat of the mixture over the entire plant. Shake the container frequently as you are spraying. This recipe makes 1 gallon.

Homemade Insecticidal Soap
Soap has been used for centuries as an all-purpose pesticide. It disrupts insects’ cell membranes, and kills pests by dehydration. The key is not to use too much soap, or you’ll also kill the vegetation near the pests. If you follow the proportions of soap to water in the Soap Spray recipe, below, the vegetation should be fine.

1 to 2 tablespoons garden safe soap (not detergent)
1 quart water

Combine ingredients in a bucket, mix, then transfer to a spray bottle as needed.

All Purpose Pesticide Soap Spray
Strong smelling roots and spices such as garlic, onions, horseradish, ginger, rhubarb leaves, cayenne and other hot peppers, are all known to repel insects.

A handful of roots and spices
Boiling water to cover the roots and spices
Insecticidal Soap Spray (recipe, above)

Add the roots and spices to the bottom of a mason jar. Cover with the boiling water, screw on the top, and let set overnight. Strain, and add to the Soap Spray. Note that this will rot, so use it all up or freeze leftovers for another time. Place into a spray bottle and apply to the plants to control pests.

Want to read about more homemade insect repellents, here’s more:

  1. Natural Aphid Repellant Recipes
  2. Easy Earwig Trap
  3. Another Earwig Repellant using Diatomaceous Earth DE Crawling Insect Killer – 1.5 lbs which you can buy online.

Have you found an effective natural bug repellent?

p.s. sorry for cheating and combining two days into one, I got caught up in helping Scott rebuild our perimeter fence today. What a yucky job!

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Practice Your Jam Skills, Making Cherry Plum Jam (Day 14 to 30 DTABG)

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Today’s task is to give jam making a try. If you haven’t done it before, I highly recommend starting with plums, specifically cherry plums. I don’t know if it’s just a California Bay Area thing, but they grow all over the place as landscape trees and the fruit usually falls to the ground and just makes a big smushy mess on the sidewalk. I won’t lie to you, the fruit itself isn’t all that spectacular. It’s not to say that I don’t usually eat a handful each spring, but I definitely wouldn’t pay for them. However since they grow so prolifically we can get them for free. In fact one grows just on the other side of our fence and the cherry plums fall right onto our lawn. It has become the task of our little boys over the years to pick them all up.

Last year Scott made about 14 jars worth of jam from them ( you can read all about it here) and we still have some left, but being that we had bowls upon bowls full on the counter, I decided to give my own jam making skills a run for it’s money and make a few jars myself. Making plum jam is easy, fail proof really. So if you are new to jam making, this is the one to start with. We have an entire season full of fruit to get ready for, so starting out the year with this easy jam will boost your jam making confidence.
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I started by rinsing off a pot full of cherry plums and putting it over medium-high heat. I pressed down on them with our mash potato press to squish each cherry plum. Over the corse of 10 minutes or so, I pretty much had a smooshed liquid on my hands. I set the timer for 20 minutes and let it bubble away.
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After 20 minutes, I strained the cherry plum mixture through a strainer into a new pot to get out the skins and seeds. I had to stir and press the mixture, with a heat proof spatula, through the seive to get liquid through. Copious amounts of liquid can come out of those cherry plums skins, so keep smooshing and stirring either until it all comes out or until you get tired.
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Then I put this new pot onto the stove and let it come up to a boil. After it started boiling I turned the heat down to a healthy simmer and added 2 cups of sugar. If I were you, I’d start with 1 cup and taste it before adding any more. Cherry plums can range in sweetness as do your taste buds, so how much sugar (or honey) you add is variable.
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Next, let it simmer away for about, 1.5 to 2 hours until it reaches a good jam like consistency. The beauty of plums is that they contain a natural pectin so you don’t have to add any extra. All you need to do is let it reduce down and it will automatically jell. Keep in mind that when you cool the jam down it will become firmer, so I recommend taking a little bit in a bowl and cooling it down in the fridge to check the consistancy if you think you are getting close.
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When you have reached the perfect jamming point, pour into clean canning jars, cover and let cool. I’ll be keeping these in the fridge instead of canning them.

I hope you try this, it is easy, frugal, fun and a confidence booster!

P.S. I made it into the June issue of Woman’s Day, check it out next time you are at the grocery store!
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