Archive for October, 2016

Marigolds Attract Pollinators

Saturday, October 29th, 2016
Marigold and Bee

Marigold and Bee

About five years ago I bought a flat of marigolds at a garden show in Rockford, Illinois. The flat cost only five dollars. I presumed the marigolds were neither organic nor open pollinated, but they looked strong and there were a lot of plants for the money. I thought I would stick marigolds at the ends of the raised beds to add some easy and quick color.

Marigolds in the Beds

Marigolds in the Beds

This was in June. The plants performed well and bloomed until hard freezes came. They put out seed heads with lots of viable seeds meaning they were open-pollinated, not a hybrid variety. On a whim I saved some seed and replanted it the following spring. Marigolds are slow to germinate and the germination rate on these seeds wasn’t great, but I still got a lot of new plants from which I’ve continued to save seed and replant.

Marigolds Everywhere

Marigolds Everywhere

Both the seeds and the plants I’m growing now seem more vigorous than the first ones I planted. Marigolds are adaptable, which means they improve their hardiness over time in a new environment. I went overboard this year and ended up with several hundred seedlings, most of which I replanted all around the garden.

Bee and Marigolds

Bee and Marigolds

The marigolds are proving to be great for their ability to attract and feed pollinating insects right up to and through the early frosts. They continue to provide heavy blooms offering pollen and nectar as well or better than just about any garden flower this late in the season. Marigolds are also touted as having beneficial properties when grown alongside tomatoes and other vegetables and their roots are supposed to be soil cleaning, eliminating certain bad root nematodes.

Bee on Marigold

Bee on Marigold

Moth on Marigold

Moth on Marigold


I found numerous articles on the Internet claiming marigolds are a bee repellent and not attractive or useful to pollinators, but there are even more articles debunking the “bad marigold” claims. While there may be some hybrid or double blossom marigolds which may not attract or be useful to pollinators, I can attest that bees love marigolds as do numerous other insects. I have often found the blossoms swarming with various flies, moths and butterflies.

Bumblebee on Marigold

Bumblebee on Marigold

Marigolds are very useful when used as an herbal and they are edible. So why not grow some? They’re too good and too easy not to.

Balsamic Sautéed Beets, Greens and Onions

Thursday, October 27th, 2016
Beet Greens and Onions

Beet Greens and Onions

We have a nice patch of fall beets. The thinnings are great for sautéing  and if there’s a baby beet attached, so much the better.

Way back when, my mother used to serve cooked spinach with a splash of cider vinegar. I just changed it up to balsamic vinegar which has a natural sweetness to better complement the beet greens.

Here’s the recipe:

1-2 T. olive oil or butter

1 cup sliced onions

1/2 pound of beet greens and baby beets

1-2 T. balsamic vinegar or to taste

Sautéing Onions

Sautéing Onions

Preheat cast iron frying pan on medium.  Add onions and sauté for 2 minutes, then add any peeled and sliced baby beets you may have. Cook for another 5 minutes.  Add the washed beet greens to the pan and any water that’s still clinging to them, along with the balsamic vinegar.  Cover the pan and simmer for about 5 minutes until the beets are cooked through and the greens are wilted.  Serve as a tasty side dish.

Sauté with Beets Added

Sauté with Beets Added

Greens Added to the Mix

Greens Added to the Mix

Balsamic Sautéed Beet Side Dish

Balsamic Sautéed Beet Side Dish

The Beet Patch

The Beet Patch

Sweet Potato Harvest 2016

Saturday, October 15th, 2016
127 Pounds of Sweet Potatoes

127 Pounds of Sweet Potatoes

This year’s sweet potato harvest was certainly different than most. It was the largest we’ve ever had, over 125 pounds. Our previous best was 85 pounds. We normally yield between 75 and 80 pounds, so this was “really shocking”. We also had the largest single potato we’ve ever grown, eleven pounds. The quality was definitely not the best ever as we had a lot of cracked skins, which we are attributing to unusually high rainfall.

Sweet Potato Bed

Sweet Potato Bed

Our planting routine for sweet potatoes varies little. We grow 18 plants set under black plastic in a 20 foot long raised bed. Starts go in the last week of May and we harvest around the first frosts, usually mid-October. We never feed the plants and rarely water them. Sweet potatoes require almost no maintenance during their outdoor growing period. We had two nights of near frost the day before the harvest and the bed was covered with plastic. Above, the protective plastic is removed and the bed is ready to be harvested.

Cutting Off Vines

Cutting Off Vines

The thick tangled mass of vines is removed by cutting the vines from the roots using pruning loppers. The plastic circles we put around the plants when they are babies makes this job easier.

Vines Removed

Vines Removed

The vine mass is rolled up and out of the way as it is cut away from the roots.

Plastic Removed

Plastic Removed

We knew even before the plastic was removed that this was going to be a very large harvest with some very big roots.

Big Root

Big Root

They can grow ‘em big down south, but for us this is a rare sight.

11 Pound Sweet Pototo

11 Pound Sweet Pototo

Biggest one we ever grew.

Lots of Big Plants

Lots of Big Plants

Noel shows off more big ones.

Snake

Snake

We found several of these nested in the bed. There was no insect or mammal damage to our crop. Maybe the snakes helped.

Drying the Harvest

Drying the Harvest

We knock off the excess dirt and dry the potatoes in the sun. The potatoes are trimmed and turned.

Cracked Sweet Potatoes

Cracked Sweet Potatoes

A lot of the larger potatoes had big splits. The splits weren’t deep and had already healed over, so we don’t think our losses will be great, but we won’t know for sure until we cut a few big ones open to check the quality inside and start pulling them from storage.

The 2016 sweet potato harvest was probably our most interesting. Now we have to figure out what to do with all these potatoes.

Layered Compost Pile

Monday, October 10th, 2016
Compost Pile

Compost Pile

It looks like a pile of straw, but it’s really a very structured compost pile. I built it over the weekend. It’s layered and there is actually not that much straw in it.

My raw ingredients included a pile of two seasons worth of garden debris – weeds, stalks, trimmings and anything else organic collected around the yard and garden that was not super woody. It was mostly already broken down and partially composted. I had a completely broken down 55 gallon drum of household scraps, which was now only about 40 gallons, full of worms, and no stink left. I had a huge collection of recently pulled still green weeds, consisting mostly of galinsoga (quickweed), which I’m letting become my weed of choice in the garden. I had a couple small square bales of rotting straw, lots of stalks of sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes, and finally, comfrey, which I harvested and layered in as I was building the pile.

I made a platform of soil with raised up edges. The base of the pile is 6 feet by 10 feet. Then I started layering everything. We had just finished a couple weeks of very rainy weather so I didn’t add any water, it was wet enough. My first layer was sunchoke stalks, followed by a layer of compost, followed by green material, either weeds or comfrey. After the pile was about 18 inches tall, I began working in layers of straw. Between each layer of straw, green material or stalks was a layer of compost or partially composted soil. As I was building the pile, I walked on top of it to compress it, trying to keep the pile as square as possible and leave no gaps or air pockets.

I ended up with a very dense pile almost 4 feet tall. I put a lot of straw on the top layer so it would shed water. By the time I finished, the pile had already begun to heat up and this morning most of the lower half of the pile had reached a temperature of 85 F., so I’m not worried about it breaking down. It will cook very quickly.

Compost Pile Tools

Compost Pile Tools

Here’s a picture of the tools I used to make the pile. The garden cart was used to haul straw, the wheel barrow used to haul garden debris. The manure fork is a most perfect compost fork for tossing everything but loose soil. The small pointed “SpearHead” shovel is better than a wider traditional spade for slicing into soil and moving a lot of soil without wearing yourself out.

And my favorite tool, the antique five-tined cultivating hoe, was used to clean the ground to prep the pile bed, rip apart debris, and loosen compacted soil. It would have been a lot more difficult without it. This tool will let me easily keep the paths around the pile weed free.

Compost is the key to successful gardening and is the safe and sustainable approach to garden nutrition. One doesn’t need an elaborate pile like this. Compost as they say, just happens, by letting organic material break down, but the process can be sped up and the finished product made more usable when a structured system like this is used.