Marigolds Attract Pollinators

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

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

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

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.

Hot Tomato Sandwich

September 25th, 2016
Tomatoes and Garlic

Tomatoes and Garlic

Are you looking for something to do with all those cherry tomatoes?  In addition to salsas, cobblers, pasta sauces, etc., how about a hot tomato sandwich?  This is a vegetarian version of your typical hot beef or hot turkey sandwich and just as satisfying.

Recipe:

1-2 T. Olive Oil

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered (about 2 pounds)

1/2 tsp. salt

Freshly ground pepper

Basil garnish – optional

Shredded parmesan cheese – optional

Whole grain bread slices, toasted

Simmering Tomatoes and Garlic

Simmering Tomatoes and Garlic

Preheat cast iron pan on medium.  Add oil and garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute.  This should keep the garlic from getting too brown or burning.  Add the prepared tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes.  Serve over your favorite toasted whole grain bread.  Top with fresh basil and/or shredded parmesan if you wish.  The open-faced sandwich is  pictured here with freshly picked steamed green (plus purple and yellow) beans.  Enjoy – we do!

Hot Tomato Sandwich and Beans

Hot Tomato Sandwich and Beans

Cucumber Salad

August 30th, 2016
Cucumber Salad

Cucumber Salad

Need a quick cucumber salad for lunch or dinner that’s just a step up from plain sliced cucumbers?

Try this:

1-2 peeled cucumbers, thinly sliced

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt

1 T. white wine vinegar

Slice your cucumbers as thin as you can.  if you have a mandoline so much the better, and faster.  There’s something different about the slices when they’re thinner versus thicker.  Sprinkle with salt and lightly stir.  Let stand for 15-30 minutes.   Drain most of the liquid – no need to squeeze or dry the cucumbers.

Then kick those slices up a notch with a splash of white wine vinegar.  Gently and thoroughly mix it in.  Add more vinegar if you like but less is better.  This makes a simple but refreshing side salad.

Ergonomic Garden Tools: Your Best Friend When Planting to Attract Pollinators

August 3rd, 2016

Planting to Attract Pollinators

  • According to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, 75-80% of all flowering plants and staple crop plants depend on animal pollinators to produce seeds and fruit. We tend to think the pollinators are hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, but often times, pollinators such as ants, beetles, moths and bats do their jobs unseen by the human eye. Using an Ergonomic Garden Tool like the CobraHead, there are several easy steps that you can take to attract a wide range of important pollinators.

How to Create Pollinator Friendly Gardens

  • Use a wide variety of plants that flower at various times
    • Select plants that flower from spring to fall, and remember that night blooming plants will attract moths and bats. Plant in groupings, rather than individual plants, using Ergonomic Gardening Tools, which will make the job easier.
  • Avoid modern hybrid flowers
    • Hybrid flowers, especially those with double blooms, often lack the pollen, nectar and fragrance that pollinators need.
  • Eliminate pesticides whenever possible.
    • Pesticides will eliminate the pollinators that you are trying to encourage, as well as pests that you don’t want. Cultivating often and keeping weeds under control with an Ergonomic Gardening Tool can help keep unwanted pests at bay.
  • Include plants for the larvae
    • If you want butterflies, use plants that attract the caterpillars, and plant them in a place where the patterns of munching larvae won’t be an eyesore.
  • Create non-plant items that can attract pollinators
    • You can have some fun creating items for your gardens that will attract pollinators. Things like bee condos, bat houses, damp salt licks, and hummingbird feeders can be decorative as well as useful. Don’t forget that butterflies love rotting fruit, so toss those scraps into your garden, where the butterflies will enjoy the treat. Once decomposition begins, you can work them into the soil using your Ergonomic Gardening Tool like a CobraHead, giving a nice nutrient boost for the plants!
  • Education is key
    • If you want to encourage pollinators in your gardens and landscape, it is best to learn more about pollination. There are scores of books and online resources that will help you define what pollinators live in your area, and choose the correct plants for your climate that will attract them.

CobraHead – The Ultimate Ergonomic Garden Tool

When you are gardening to attract pollinators, the CobraHead will be useful for every gardening task: weeding, cultivating, scalping, edging, digging, furrowing, planting, transplanting, de-thatching, harvesting and more. The CobraHead long handle Ergonomic Garden Tool is available in 3 handle lengths to be comfortable for people of any height, as well as interchangeable between left and right handed use. The short handled CobraHead is designed to be an extension of your hand, giving you unbeatable flexibility getting into tight areas. Once you have experienced the ease of using the CobraHead Ergonomic Gardening Tool, you will never go back to any other tool again! Don’t waste another day using less effective tools – shop with us today!

Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad and Kohlrabi Pancakes

August 2nd, 2016
Sweet Potato Salad and Kohlrabi Pancakes

Sweet Potato Salad and Kohlrabi Pancakes

‘Tis the season for garden veggie meals.  We’ve been mixing the old and the new, i.e. some veggies from last year’s harvest and some fresh from this year’s crop.  It’s not always easy to come up with brand new recipes but by virtue of what’s available in the pantry and/or the garden, the dishes end up being different most of the time.

One of our many favorites is Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad.  I first posted the recipe here.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad

Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad

This time, I tried something different.  I didn’t have a prebaked and chilled sweet potato so I peeled a raw one (from last year’s harvest), cut it into 3/4″ chunks and steamed them for 10 minutes.  I let the chunks cool naturally in a bowl while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.

The chopped red onion was also from last year’s crop.  Instead of a serrano pepper I sliced a banana pepper and threw in some parsley, pepper cress and lettuce from this year’s garden.  It was fine but I still love cilantro the best in this salad.  Unfortunately, unless you plant cilantro every 2 weeks or so (succession planting as they say) it never seems to be available when you really want it!

To accompany the sweet potato salad I made Kohlrabi Pancakes which I first posted here.   I followed the recipe using 2 kohlrabies about 3″ across.  When shredded they made just about the right amount – 2 cups – for the pancakes.  They were delicate and delicious.  I don’t think anyone would guess what was in them.

Let us know what you’re eating from your larder and garden these days.   Good appetite!

 

Open Raised Bed Garden

July 19th, 2016
South Garden Area

South Garden Area

I advocate the use of open raised beds for home gardening.  I’ve been working with open beds for over 30 years.  There are lots of advantages over both conventional planting in rows, and also over assembled, boxed in beds.  I’ve got two plots with open beds.  The area I call the south beds is a very geometric layout of 18 beds, each about 5 feet wide by 20 feet long.

North Garden Area

North Garden Area

The north bed area is a lot more haphazard.  It borders on a weedy, woody area “where the wild things are”.  Most of the beds in the north area are 10 feet long and five feet wide.  I thought an interesting post for July might be to show what’s going on in each of the beds.

Coles, Sweet Potatoes, Empty Garlic Bed

Coles, Sweet Potatoes, Empty Garlic Bed

The bed in the foreground has cabbages, kohlrabi, Chinese cabbages, Pac Choi, fennel, nasturtiums and some volunteer mustard.   The next bed with the black plastic has sweet potatoes.  The third bed is where I just harvested garlic.  It still has a few lettuces in it.  I’ll harvest those, level off the bed and plant a fall crop of beets and carrots. Open beds make succession planting easy.

Potatoes, More Potatoes, Rhubarb and Raspberries

Potatoes, More Potatoes, Rhubarb and Raspberries

Next we have two beds of potatoes and a more perennial bed of rhubarb and raspberries.  I’ll probably relocate the rhubarb and raspberries this fall.  They’ve been in that spot since 2004.  It’s time for a change.

Peas, Onions, Strawberries

Peas, Onions, Strawberries

The trellised bed has peas, which are just about finished producing.  I’ll rip all the structure out and plant a fall crop of green beans and other greens in that bed.  In front of that are red and yellow storage onions.  The closest bed is a three year old bed of strawberries, from which any baby  plants will be used to start a bed this fall or early next spring.  I recently bought that green wheeled cart with a tractor seat.  I’m liking it and using it a lot.

Strawberries, More Strawberries, Squash and Cukes

Strawberries, More Strawberries, Squash and Cukes

Here are two beds of strawberries, new this year, and a bed of squash and cucumbers.  The big hubbard and kuri squash are sprawling on the ground.  The smaller squash and cukes are trellised.

Coles, Herbs, Zukes and Melons

Coles, Herbs, Zukes and Melons

The furthest bed is zucchini, and melons, along with some mustard and cilantro that I’m letting go to seed, a rather unkempt but very productive herb bed, and a bed of coles – cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Tomatoes and Two Beds of Corn

Tomatoes and Two Beds of Corn

Lastly on the south side are tomatoes and two beds of corn.  I have to fence the corn in, otherwise the thunderstorm winds easily topple the stalks over.

Potatoes, Shallots

Potatoes, Shallots

The far more shaggy north garden area contains my compost pile. It’s barely visible, but capped by two buckets in the upper left side.  In front of that is a bed of potatoes.  Directly in front is a half bed of shallots and I’ve got a couple blackberry starts doing pretty well in front of those.  I’ve got a huge crop of girasole (Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke, Helianthus tuberosus,) growing in several areas on the north side.  We don’t use them as much as we should.  Once you’ve got them, they are here to stay.

Candy Onions

Candy Onions

Behind the shallots I’ve got a bed of candy onions, bordering next to the wild lands.  Fortunately, the critters, so far, don’t seem to have a penchant for onions.

Asparagus, Peppers, Tomatoes, Okra and Leeks, Comfrey

Asparagus, Peppers, Tomatoes, Okra and Leeks, Comfrey

Rounding out the garden tour is more girasole.  Next to that, okra and leeks (which are past due for transplanting to a larger space).  Behind the leeks is a bed of comfrey, which is spreading well outside its borders, but I’m encouraging it, as it is a miraculous plant that I’m using a lot as a mulch and compost.  Next to this are beds of peppers and eggplants and more trellised tomatoes.  And finally on the left, our almost 30 year old bed of asparagus.

Open beds offer more flexibility than other systems.  They are relatively easy to maintain, and they truly do produce a heck of a lot of food in a pretty small area.

 

Garlic Harvest

July 13th, 2016
Harvesting Garlic

Harvesting Garlic

We harvested our 100 garlic plants yesterday.  The bulbs were almost all quite large and firm.  We didn’t wait for the stalks (on the soft necks) to fall over, the traditional sign that it’s time to harvest.  We were expecting some extended rains and we didn’t want to harvest wet bulbs, nor did we want the outer skin layers to start splitting.  The time was right.

Lettuce and Garlic

Lettuce and Garlic

We planted two rows of hard necks and one row of soft necks.  I started out using the broad fork to lift out several bulbs at a time, but I quickly switched to using a small fork and a CobraHead Weeder to pull out each bulb individually.  That was because I still have a lot of young lettuce plants that I had planted between the rows and I want to keep them going until I clean up the bed and do a late summer planting of beets and carrots.

Drying Garlic

Drying Garlic

We’ll dry the garlic for about two weeks on tables in the garage, but if it gets too hot we’ll bring them into the house to finish drying slowly.  High heat can overdry the garlic and practically cause them to disintegrate.

When the leaves turn brown we’ll cut them off leaving a 2″ stalk and store in the basement in mesh hanging baskets for good air circulation.

Garlic Bulbs

Garlic Bulbs