Why Your Garden Shouldn’t be Perfect- Summer 2018

Why Your Garden Shouldn’t be Perfect- Summer 2018

Your Garden Shouldn’t Be Perfect

How’s your garden?

Don’t miss the crazy pictures of my tomato plants at the end of this post.  

This is our row garden. We are growing tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, and cucumbers here. There is also an unidentified gourd that volunteered.

When I visit a perfect garden I have one thought:

Chemicals.

I know I shouldn’t judge.

The truth is, if you are normal, and you are not dousing your garden with lab-created liquids, you’re probably having some problems.

There are 2 kinds of gardeners:

Ones with problems and ones that are going to have problems.

We live in a world with bugs, diseases, fungus, molds, critters, weeds, and all sorts of uncooperative weather. This means that there will not be a perfect garden.  At least, not an organic one.

Even though we may not have picture perfect gardens, we can still grow food!

Let’s Look at Our Unperfect, Wonderful Gardens & Some Strategies to Combat the Elements:

BUG PROBLEMS

BUG #1:  Cucumber Beetle

Here is one of my cucumber beds.  I am growing 3 crops of cucumbers all about this size.  As you can imagine, I have more cucumbers than I know what to do with.

If your cucumbers have stopped producing or the leaves are turning brown it could be a few things.

  1. Did you know that the cucumber beetle will kill your cucumber plants?  It’s true.  When they eat the leaves their saliva gets into the plant and kills it.  The entire vine will stop producing fruit.  Keep them off with DE (Diatomaceous Earth).
  2. When you plant a cucumber seed, that vine will produce about 12-16 cucumbers and then the leaves will turn yellow and the plant will wilt.  When it has finished producing – pull it up and plant something else for fall (like lettuce or kale).
  3. If it has been a wet season this can cause powdery mildew on cucumber plants.  Be sure to water early in the day and make sure your cucumber plants are not overcrowded so they can get plenty of air circulation.

More on growing cucumbers here.

BUG #2: SQUASH BUGS

Here is one of my 3 squash patches:

The squash bugs are always somewhere in my garden haunting me.  I just can’t get rid of them.

I have managed to keep them under control.  I use DE (Diatomaceous Earth) and sprinkle it heavily around the stem and arms of the squash plants.  This seems to deter them from climbing the plant, to begin with.

If they can’t get onto the plant, they can’t lay eggs under the leaves.

I have had an average year for squash.  I lost half of my plants.  Partly because of the squash bugs (if you don’t reapply DE after each rainfall, the bugs will get on the plants).  And partly because I don’t water my garden.

Why I don’t water my garden here.

How to deal with squash bugs here.

My squash plants who weren’t destroyed by the lack of water or the squash bugs have grown into giants.  You can see my shoe next to this guy.

FUN FACT:  Plants that fight bugs and difficult circumstances are healthier for you to eat.  They actually contain more antioxidants (the good guys that fight disease).  More on that here.

Speaking of squash…

I am growing spaghetti squash again this year.  Last year I planted it too close to the zucchini and they cross-pollinated.  I ended up with a horrible, light green colored spaghetti squash that was not spaghetti like at all.

This year I sowed the spaghetti squash seeds in a bed on the other side of the garden away from any other gourd.

It’s not always about appearances.

As I mentioned, the plants that fight the hardest are the ones that will contain more antioxidants.  Antioxidants fight disease and keep us healthy.

When fruit and vegetables are grown organically, they must fight.

This is one of the reasons organic foods are better for you.

They won’t be doused in pesticides, or herbicides and they will contain more nutrition.  This easily justifies the higher price often charged for organic foods.

When organic gardening practices are used, the fruit is often not as pretty as the flawless veggies sold at supermarkets.

And that is fine.  My oldest daughter is the one around here with all the smart comments.  Here is what she had to say as we picked the nicest apples from our tree (which had not been sprayed with any chemicals).

“The apples may be bruised, full of bugs, and rotten, but they’re organic.”

There is some truth to that.

My tomatoes are lopsided.  There are bad spots on my potatoes.  There are holes in my cabbage leaves.

Organic food does not always look like the stuff in the stores.  And, it probably shouldn’t.  But it’s healthier!

BUG #3: CABBAGE WORMS

Here are my sad little Brussels sprouts.  They have been fighting the cabbage worm army and are barely making it. I am going to let them duke it out and harvest them in a couple weeks.  They may not look very pretty, but they will be tender and healthy food for us to eat.

BUG #4:  JAPANESE BEETLES

I have 2 beds of roma beans and the Japanese beetles love them.

They love my hair too, by the way.

I have a massive amount of hair.  Before you think I am humble-bragging, you should know that our family calls this mane ‘the curse.’  It’s been passed down for generations and it’s quite the beast.

I got a haircut last week, which I hate, and the woman who cut my hair told me I had more hair than any person she had ever seen.

Anyhow, the Japanese beetles must think my hair is some sort of refuge because I can not think of a day that I have gone outside to work in the garden and not come back into the house with a beetle in my hair.  Sometimes I don’t even know it’s there (or they are there) until I get into the shower and they fall onto the shower floor when the water hits my head.

This may make you shudder, or want to faint – I’m used to it.  If I have a Japanese beetle nesting in my hair – this is normal.  I am usually surprised when I don’t find one.

My green beans are still baby plants.  They are super easy to grow.  I planted my seeds late this year, so I will be canning beans after the tomatoes.  Most folks have harvested the beans, put them up for winter, and ripped out the vines already.

We have a long growing season here in Kentucky, so we can get away with late plantings and several harvests if we stagger sowing.

How to grow green beans here.

WEED PROBLEMS

I have been avoiding weeding for over a decade and have become relatively proficient at it.  To learn how to garden weed-free go here or here.

I have 2 beds filled with beets.  Like ten thousand beets.

The bugs don’t seem to like the beets, but the weeds do.

Beets are great and I like to pull them up as I need them.  I just leave them in the garden until then.  Doing this creates an environment for weeds to flourish.

Because the top of a beet does not provide much ground cover – anything will grow.  I solve this with straw mulch.  It blocks the weeds and keeps my beets from drying out on hot summer days.

How to grow beets here.

I literally cover my gardens, beds, and rows with a 6-inch thick layer of straw.  It works.

Somewhat Problem Free Plants

There are a few plants in my garden that haven’t been under attack.  Which means it’s probably coming.

I have a looooooong row of pepper plants.  I think I have 5 different varieties.  Several colored bell peppers, hot chili peppers, and jalapeno peppers.

I stake my pepper plants with tomato cages from the store because they are a perfect size.  I use homemade cages for my tomatoes because there is nothing from a store that can hold them.  How I make tomato cages here.

If you haven’t grown kale, you should.  It’s ridiculously easy and doesn’t have many problems.  It grows when other leafy things are bolting and pouting because of the heat.  It gets bitter during warm weather, but can be eaten anyway.  Some folks prefer it that way.

How to grow kale here.

I think I grow rainbow chard because I love the way it looks.

I seldom eat it, but I love to stick it in vases or just admire it in the garden.  Maybe I should start growing something else in the chard bed that I will eat more often.

My sweet potatoes are beginning to climb the cattle panels.  Eventually, the vines will be covered with purple flowers.  Sweet potatoes can be harvested in late summer or in the fall.  The longer the spuds stay underground, the bigger they’ll get.

More on growing sweet potatoes here.

I saved the best for last.

Wanna see my tomatoes?

I have decided that it is impossible to capture my tomato plants on camera.  I want to have all of you over to walk through the tomato garden.

For a little perspective, there is a big rubber mallet on the ground in front of the tomatoes.  They are getting to the point that they are stressing me out.  They are heavy with fruit and every time it rains one (or 3) tomato plants fall over.  I have staked them and re-staked them trying to give them support, but apparently, it’s hard to stay upright when you are a 6-foot tall tomato plant.

This is another view of the tomato patch – there is a square bale of straw sitting between the rows.

Another problem I am having is the tomato plants are too close together.  Trust me, I know all about circulation and air and space and blight…

I never thought they’d get this large.  Even with plants spaced 3 feet apart, they all grew together, and I know what this means.

It means that I have better get canning because all of these glorious tomato trees will be covered with brown leaves and wilting in a few short weeks.

I am already starting to see dying branches and brown spotted leaves on the bottom of several plants.  I have ripped out the worst looking plants to control the spread of the dreaded blight.

Before Great Clips cut off all my hair.

I am enjoying the ridiculous tomato plants while they last.

Don’t worry if your garden is beginning to show some wear or if there are some blemishes on your fruit.  Be proud to be an organic gardener.  Your food may not look perfect, but it will be healthier because it had to fight.

Enjoy your harvest guys!

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Learn more about becoming a member here.  Joining is cheap & your pants will thank you.

XO,

CJ

 

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