June 30, 2011

Aphids!! (Gesundheit)

Aphids are big (yet tiny) pests in my garden. Luckily, if you can stay on top of your pest control routine they won't do too much damage.
(I guess I should have warned you, it's gross)

What do aphids do to your plants?
Aphids will suck the fluids from a plant which can result in stunted plant growth. They also can carry diseases between plants.

Ways to get rid of them:

1. Blast them with a hose. They will easily come off, but this a temporary solution.
2. Ladybugs- Ladybugs love aphids and will inhale them. It's quite fun to watch. You can pruchase ladybugs at most garden stores and you can set them free in your garden. Hopefully they will stick around.
3. A homemade insecticidal soap. 1 part vegetable oil/2 parts water/2 parts dish soap. Spray the plant with your mixture.

My poor cilantro start. You can see the leaves are starting to curl from the aphid damage. 

4. Organocide. I have purchased severeal organic "insecticides" and have had little luck. However, this one seems to be the best. I had a jalapeno plant that was infested with aphids. I blasted off the aphids with a hose, and sprayed Organocide on the plant, and the aphids never came back!
Organocide is made up of Sesame Oil, Fish oil, Lecithin, and water. It claims to kill 25 different insects including spider mites, and white flies. Organocide also is said to kill powdery mildew and black spots on roses. It's safe for people and pets! I purchased mine at a gardening store.

When using soaps or sprays:
Apply them at night after the sun has gone down. This is because the contents in these mixtures,  combined with the sun, can scorch the plants leaves.

One more aphid shot you say?
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June 28, 2011

Tomato Tuesday: What To Do With Those Suckers

If you took my advice and trimmed some of the suckers off your tomato plant, you may have had a hard time composting the healthy branches. It seems like a waste! 
As if I didn't have enough tomato plants growing, over 20 to be exact, I have been saving all my suckers to start new plants (reminder: our entire lot is only 1800 square feet).
Here is how to do it:

  • Cut or pinch off the sucker. (Read this post if you aren't sure what the sucker is)
  • Place in a jar of water (preferably outside so the plant stays hardened off)

  • Wait until roots start to grow-this can take about two weeks

  •           Place in soil or a container.
    Since this new plant is much smaller than your other tomato plants, it will grow into late fall and will need to be protected from temperatures that dip below 50 degrees F. See this post for ideas on keeping your plants warm. 

Now I'm off to find room for my suckers....
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June 23, 2011

Globe Artichokes

I think it's a sign. 
I was out for a walk and saw a beautiful globe artichoke plant growing in my neighbor's garden. That night, a friend of mine was gifted an artichoke plant and she asked me how to care for it. The next day, my Grandma sent me an email about how she LOVES growing artichokes.
The Blog Gods are speaking to me, "Do a post on globe artichokes!"

The Facts:

  • Perennial (come back year after year). They can survive up to 6 years!
  • They will grow to be 3-4 feet tall.
  • The part that we eat is actually a flower bud.
  • California produces nearly 100% of the commercially produced artichokes in the US. 
  • Artichokes are said to be an aphrodisiac.
  • You can grow artichokes in a container! The container should be at least 1 foot deep, and 3 feet wide with really good drainage holes)

Growing Requirements:
  • In the growing season (summer), artichokes do best with temperatures between 50-75 degrees.
  • Artichokes prefer areas with mild winters (not below 20 F) and cooler summers (not above 75 F). 
  • Artichokes need to be exposed to less than 50 degree temperatures to initate the flower stock in the spring. This is called vernalization.
How to care for them:

  • It's very important to maintain even soil moisture (adequate drainage).
  • Once winter approaches it's a good idea to winterize your plants. Cut the foliage down to about a foot above the ground and cover with mulch (a lot of it). If temperatures are going to dip below 20 F, you may want to dig up the plant and store it in a bucket inside. 
  • Artichokes are heavy feeders and may require a nitrogen-based fertilizer every 4 weeks in the growing season.

Problems that may occur:

  • Slugs love artichoke leaves. My Grandma tried the sand method around the base, and has not seen a slug since!
  • Aphids, blast them off with a hose, and try an insecticidal soap.

When to harvest:

  • You will be able to harvest in late July or early August, and it will continue until the first frost. Each stock will produce 3-5 buds.
  • Harvest when the artichoke is still closed and about 3 inches across.
  • Cut off the bud including 2-3 inches of the stem.
Wish I had room to grow artichokes! I'm all 'choked up!
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June 21, 2011

Tomato Tuesday: Watering Tips

Happy Tomato Tuesday! The sun is shining here in Seattle and I'll bet my tomato plants are going to love this 75 degree day.
Mason guarding my tomato plant.
With the temperatures warming up, it's time to start watering your tomato plants more. How you water your tomatoes can affect yields for the summer, so listen up!

Watering tips for tomatoes:

  • Tomatoes need about an inch of water per week. In the heat of the summer, you should be watering about 3-4 times a week. 
  • Water in the mornings. 
  • Water your plants with a drip irrigation system or a watering can (water at the base of the plant). Watering over the top of a plant can splash dirt on the leaves which can expose the plant to soil borne diseases and possibly kill your plant. 
The correct way to water
  • Add mulch around the base of your plant to keep the dirt moist. Most of my tomatoes have standard mulch around the base, however I am attempting the "red plastic" mulch on a few. It looks terrible and I don't like the idea of using plastic, but I wanted to test out the theory that the red increases the growth of the plant. 
  • Water slowly: tomatoes have deep roots and so you need the water to slowly absorb into the soil making its way down to the roots.
  • If you are growing tomatoes in containers, you will need to water them more frequently.
  • Over-watering tomatoes will result in your tomatoes not ripening. This is because the ground stays cool and moist so the plant believes it is earlier in the season than it really is!
  • Watering too much or sporadically, can lead to blossom end rot. 
Blossom end rot. image from http://ohioline.osu.edu

Thursday's post will be on growing artichokes!
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June 20, 2011

My One Strawberry

Oh, the temptation. 
Last week, one of my strawberries started to ripen. Just one. I'm so tempted to pick it, but I know it will be worth the wait. 

This one strawberry has become my baby. I'm doing everything I can to keep it safe and out of harm's way, so that my first taste of a garden fresh strawberry is a good one. 

As my strawberries are ripening, I'm concerned about birds, slugs, and rotting fruit. 

Birds: I have placed a bird net over my strawberries. This allows pollinators in, but keeps larger animals (mostly those pesky humans) from stealing my strawberries! You can also try one of Grandma's Secret Weapons if you are concerned about birds getting stuck in your netting (click here to read)
(you can purchase bird nets at your local garden store)
Slugs: If you missed last Thursday's post on slugs, click here: or scroll down to the next post.

Rotting fruit: It's so devastating to pick what appears to be a big juicy red strawberry only to realize that the fruit is rotten on the underside from touching the dirt. Here are some tips to keep your strawberries from rotting while you are waiting for them to ripen:
  • Mulch is the best resource for keeping your strawberries from rotting or growing mold. Straw is the best mulch for strawberries. That's easy to remember: Straw for strawberries. I used a top mulch that I purchased from a nursery, but will add some straw now that the fruit is ripening. 
  • Simply lift the vine the strawberry is on over another part of the plant to keep the fruit off the ground.
I have added mulch, I lifted the strawberries off of the ground, but am still not taking any chances with my one (almost) ready strawberry. I placed a piece of a paper bag under the fruit. I'm obsessed. 

  • Snap off the stem so there is about a 1/2 inch of stem attached to the strawberry. 
  • Harvest once the entire fruit is red (no white left).
  • Keep the strawberries out of the sun and place in the refrigerator as soon as possible. 
  • Once some of the strawberries start to ripen, you will be harvesting every other day (sometimes daily). Make sure to keep up on your harvest. 
Also, weeds can cause serious problems for strawberries, more so than other vegetables and fruit. This is because they have very shallow roots which causes them to compete with weeds for water, oxygen, and nutrients. If you are going to weed any part of your garden, choose your strawberry bed.

Can't wait to make strawberry shortcake with my one strawberry!
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June 16, 2011

Natural Slug Control

Slugs are a terrible garden pest.  They leave holes in your plants, slimy trails in your garden, and if you have ever harvested lettuce and found a slug in your salad, you know what I'm talking about. 
Here are some natural solutions for slug control. 

The ole' beer trick:
(Only the best for my slugs....Coors Light)

Why it works: Slugs are attracted to fermented yeast and will crawl into your beer container and well....drown. At least they are having a party on their way out.

Why it doesn't: You'll need to change the beer every few days. You will also want to clean out the traps every day as the dead slugs will start to smell.

What to do: Fill a container with beer and bury it in your garden so the top is lined up with the soil line.

Grandma's tip: For a cheaper option, she likes to use Jerry Baker's recipe (you should go to his website and see what he says on the front page, it's quite ironic). Recipe: in a gallon jug mix 1 lb brown sugar, 1.5 tsp dry yeast, fill the rest of the way with warm water and let it sit for two days.


Why it works: Slugs are attracted to citrus and so they will congregate to the citrus and not your plant. 

Why it doesn't: You need to get out to your garden early in the morning to pick away all the slugs before they slither away!

What to do: Cut oranges in half (hollow them out so they don't rot as fast) and place them throughout your garden. See the picture above for how to place the oranges. I'm sure any citrus fruit will work.  

Nut shells/eggshells

Why it works: Slugs don't like to cross difficult surfaces. This is a great option as you can just leave the shells where they are (they won't go bad, like the above options).

Why it doesn't: It's expensive. Also, there is a good chance the shells will move and once there is a clear pathway, the slugs will take it!

What to do: You can use any hard shell and sprinkle around the plant. Or, you can save your eggshells, crush them up, and sprinkle around your garden. 


Why it works: The copper gives off an electric charge when the slug comes in contact with it, so they will avoid crossing it into your garden. 

Why it doesn't:  If dirt gets on your copper or the copper wears off, the slugs can make it through to the plant. 

What to do: Take duct tape and tape pennies to the sticky side and place around your plants. Or you can buy the copper tape at the store for a few bucks, and place around the edge or your garden box.

**Sand/Wood Ashes

Why it works: Slugs will not cross sand or ashes.

Why it doesn't: These can be expensive or hard to find. 

What to do: Sprinkle the sand or ash as a barrier around your plant.

**Grandma's pick for slug control!

Mason has a funny habit of carrying things around in his mouth, and look what I found him doing after I was done "feeding" the slugs.
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June 14, 2011

Tomato Tuesday: Pruning Tomato Plants

Disclaimer...alert...warning...heads up: 
There are many theories on growing tomatoes. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules. What I share with you are things that have worked for my Grandma and I in the past. My goal is to provide you with the theory behind pruning, so that you can make the best decision for your plants. 
First step: Determine if your plant is determinate or indeterminate

  • Determinate: Also known as bush plants, will eventually produce all of their fruit at once and stop growing. The best way to tell if your plant is determinate is that it will produce a cluster of blossoms at the top/center growing point. This stops the plant from growing. Typical determinate types are: Roma, Patio, Celebrity, anything that has the word "bush" in its name. 
Roma Tomato-determinate
  • Indeterminate: Also known as vine tomatoes, will keep producing fruit throughout the summer until frost eventually kills the plant. Typical indeterminate tomatoes: Beefsteak, Yellow Pear, most heirlooms, Brandywine, Early Girl, and Cherry Tomatoes. 
Rambling Red Stripe-indeterminate

It is not necessary to prune determinate tomatoes, only indeterminate. 
By pruning your tomato plants, you are helping your plant shift its energy into producing larger, juicier tomatoes. 

Second step: find the suckers:
  • Suckers are branches the tomato plant develops for stability and if left to grow, will compete for energy and nutrients with the main stem and the side branches. If you have properly supported your plant with stakes or a tomato cage, your plant does not need the suckers. 
  • Although leaving the suckers on will result in more blossoms and fruit, the fruit will be smaller and may not ripen. 
  • My philosophy involves pinching off the suckers which results in fewer tomatoes, but my tomatoes are always large and yummy. 
  • I also grow more tomato plants to account for the smaller fruit production. I have over 15 plants growing on our tiny lot. They are in hanging baskets, 5 gallon buckets, in the garden and out on the area between the sidewalk and the street. I even have some growing inside.
A sucker is a branch that grows out from the main stem and a side branch . Simply pinch these off as they grow. 

 The sucker is the branch growing at a 45 degree angle (going up):
Shows pinched off sucker:
Can you spot the sucker growing? 

This is a tough one. Some people do not pinch off blossoms and have success. Most of those people live in areas with longer summers and warmer evenings. In Seattle, our tomato plants are exposed to stressful conditions such as cool evenings, rain, and wind. This can cause the plant to become stressed and prematurely blossom.

So how do you know when to pinch off the blossoms, when not to, and when you should stop pinching off the blossoms? Bottom line; if the plant looks like it's big enough and sturdy enough to support a tomato than it is, so stop pinching the blossoms.

Too vague? Here are some general rules I follow:
Pinch off blossoms if:

  • You've planted your tomato plant less than a month ago.
  • You live in a climate that has extreme growing conditions that would cause your plant to prematurely blossom. Such as: 
      • Temperatures at night are below 50 degrees.
      • There hasn't been consistent sunny days.
      • It has been over 80 degrees during the day.
      • It has been rainy or windy. 
      • You forgot to water your tomato plant for a few days, and blossoms appeared. 
  • Your plant is less than a foot tall.
  • Your plant is over a foot tall but "leggy".
This plant is tall enough, but very leggy and weak looking. I have pulled off a few blossoms to let this plant gain its strength:

This one looks good, I may pull a few suckers, but I will let the blossoms be ( I also will admit I have no idea what kind of tomato plant this is!):

This plant is NOT ready for this blossom:
I wish you luck in your tomato adventures! 

Thursday's post will be about slug solutions.
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June 13, 2011

Garden Photos

Photos from my garden, taken this past weekend:
 Bumble Bee
 Blueberry blossoms
Tomato plant in a wall-o-water
Mason taking a snooze in the window while watching me garden.
I hope you will join me tomorrow for Tomato Tuesday! I will talk about pruning your tomato plants!
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June 10, 2011

Basil Sorbet: An Experiment

I'm on a health kick. 
I bet eating fresh vegetables out of the garden, the added vitamin D from the sun, and longer days has something to do with it. 
I try to avoid sugar and use alternatives that are lower on the glycemic index. This coming from the girl who used to have a candy drawer growing up. 

Agave nectar is my go-to right now. Here are some things to know about agave nectar:

  • Agave nectar is derived from the Agave Cactus, and comes in the form of a syrup that you can buy in the natural food section in your super market. 
  • Agave nectar is actually a bit sweeter than sugar!
  • Agave nectar has a glycemic index of around 29 (considered low), honey has a GI of 58 (medium), table sugar has a GI of 80 (considered high)
  • Foods with a higher GI are more likely to store glucose as fat rather than as fuel. A high release of insulin can result in a drop in blood sugar, causing you to become hungry.
  • There are 20 calories per tsp. 

I decided to try making sorbet with agave nectar instead of sugar. And since I have an abundant amount of basil leaves from trimming them yesterday, I made three types of sorbet, all with basil.

Here are the flavors I made:

Lime Basil Sorbet

Grapefruit Basil Sorbet

Strawberry Basil Sorbet

I will share with you my recipe for each. Please just use this as a start because you can simply taste the juice as you go to see what you want to add more of! Here are the basic instructions for making sorbet:

1. Put all ingredients into a blender or Cuisinart (ingredients for each are listed below)

2. Blend really well, nobody likes chunks of basil in their sorbet.
3. Transfer to your ice cream maker and follow the instructions from the manufacturer. If you don't have an ice cream maker, keep reading!
4. Place the mixture into a container and then into the freezer for four hours. Once the mixture starts to freeze,  mix it up a bit with a fork so it doesn't become one big ice cube.

5. Finish freezing the mixture, this usually takes about 12 more hours.
6. When you are ready to serve, place the frozen mixture into the blender/cuisinart and blend. This will give it that "sorbet" texture.
Makes 1-2 servings.

Lime Basil:
1/4 c. lime juice
Zest from half of lime
1/2 c. basil chopped
1/2 c. of water
1/4 c. agave syrup (I used the darker agave syrup)
1/2 tsp salt

Strawberry Basil
2 c. of strawberries chopped
1/2 c. of chopped basil
1/2 t salt
1/4 c. Agave syrup (you could use less if your strawberries are fresh from the garden)
1/2 c. of water
a dash of lime zest

Grapefruit Basil
Juice from one grapefruit
1/2 c. of water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. of Agave syrup
1/4 c. of basil

I had some taste testers over and we all agreed, the grapefruit basil was the best! 

I'm also growing Stevia, which is a natural sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar and has a Glycemic Index of less than 1!

I hope you have a nice weekend!
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