April 30, 2013

And so It Begins, the Inevitable Destruction of Tomatoes by Bird and Wildlife

Something took its head off.
And there is the missing piece.
Ack! Three tomato plants have met their end. Two had their stems nipped with the top of the plants laying close by, I am assuming birds those vile plant destroying creatures. The third plant's top was missing, perhaps eaten or carried off somewhere.

But who is to say that birds are actually the culprit? While looking over the aftermath of plant destruction I saw a rabbit run across the next door neighbor's yard, a healthy robust wild brown rabbit. Although it seems more likely for a rabbit to eat little plants from the top down, instead of nipping at stems close to the ground. That's what I get for leaving tomatoes uncovered while running to the store.

Since it is supposed to be warm the next couple of days the plants are spending time under lightweight Agribon 15 row covers. On cold nights they will be covered with clear plastic cups.

And those little pellets on the ground are Sluggo, an organic method of slug control.

April 28, 2013

All the Tomatoes are Now Planted in the Garden

I planted the rest of the tomatoes today after planting twenty yesterday, so that is a total of 64 tomato plants in the garden this year. After watering them in, I covered them with vented plastic cups to keep the birds from eating them in the very early morning. Last year half of the tomato seedlings were lost to birds. Can you imagine the horror of coming out one morning and finding nipped growing tips and broken pecked stems? The cups will have to be removed before the sun gets too hot since it's predicted to reach 80 degrees tomorrow (26 Celsius). At least the warm temperatures will help the pole beans and okra with germinating.

The tomato plants are spaced 18 inches apart with rows 24 inches apart, and 2 rows per bed with beds 3 feet apart.

It took 4 hours to plant forty-four seedlings due to the mulch I had to work around. I am less then enthusiastic thinking about the peppers and eggplants that still need to be planted. It will probably go faster kneeling rather than crouching, so I will try that next time.

April 26, 2013

Planted Okra and Pole Bean Seeds

Pole beans planted around bamboo supports with okra seeds planted in front of them.
I managed to get the pole beans and okra seeds planted yesterday. The garden measures 15 feet wide by 45 feet long, so thirty feet of okra might seem a little high but with all the wildlife in these parts it's better to over plant. Today's rainfall has thwarted my planting plans for the day, shakes fist at the heavens. Hopefully it will clear up over the weekend and the tomatoes, eggplants, and pepper plants can be planted out in the next few days.

The okra was planted 12 inches apart with 18 inches between rows, the two varieties planted were Cowhorn and Stewart's Zeebest. Four or five pole beans are planted at the bottom of each bamboo stake with 15 inches between stakes. The pole bean varieties are: Cherokee Trail of Tears, Purple Podded, Romano, Marengo Romano, Kentucky Wonder, Kentucky Blue, and Wisely Magic scarlet runner. The soil in my garden is fairly heavy tending to clay, so I plant the seeds shallower than what is called for on the seeds packets, otherwise the sprouts have problems breaking through the crusty soil.

Cucumbers, luffa, bitter melon, edible gourds, and peas will probably all be supported with bamboo stakes same as the pole beans. Seeing the bamboo stakes in the garden amuses me to no end. There's something so charmingly rustic about them.

Looking back in 2012 which was an unreasonably warm year, it looks like I am about a month behind in comparison to last year. The seedling starts are a month behind and planting is a month behind. I was hoping for tomatoes in June again, but that seems highly unlikely.

April 25, 2013

Full Moon

Silvery gossamer clouds and the moon floats in the night sky as the trees whisper quietly.
While daylight may dazzle with a cacophony of sights and sounds, the night reveals the silent rhythms of the earth. From stars twinkling across vast distances of space to the wind brushing your cheek, and always ever the pull of the moon.

Plant Murderer

So in the car my husband was asking about the heavily powdered plants. I admitted to dusting them with diatomaceous earth after finding a few bugs. Then he gave me a raised eyebrow, "A few bugs. And you completely covered them in powder?"

I have to admit a few of the tomatoes were looking a wee bit sad, so sad that they were laying down. Then he started whispering, "Murderer. It's planticide. They're not afraid of the bugs, they're more afraid of you."

So the whole drive home I was biting my lip with worry. Once home, I misted them with water. Thank goodness they are all pretty much find, a couple are still bent over but one of those is still probably traumatized from being dropped this morning.

April 24, 2013

A Few Tomato Seedlings Succumb to Sunstroke

The plants had been hardening off outside during the past week, trying to get them used to the great outdoors. For a couple days the clouds rolled away and the sun has been bearing down, leading to the sad demise of a few tomato plants. Now they are a shadow of their former selves with their brown desiccated leaves and crumpled lifeless forms. Good thing there are so many extra tomato plants.
The eggplants and peppers are doing great, they are still fairly small but forming lots of new leaves. I will probably purchase a few sweet pepper plants and hopefully some serrano and anaheim peppers, if I can find them. The popsicle sticks are plant labels for when they go out in the garden.

Temperatures are forecasted to be dangerously close to freezing tonight, so the frost sensitive plants are spending the night indoors for their protection. I found green aphids on the pepper plants and a single flea beetle on an eggplant, so after squishing them I dusted the plants with diatomaceous earth to catch any new hatchlings or bugs I might have missed.

Organic Methods of Pest Control Against Slugs, Flea Beetles, and Aphids

In case you have been wondering, the growing bok choy from the supermarket experiment has ended. They had seen too many days of cold and began to send up a flower stalk once the weather had warmed. So I dug the bok choy out of their pots and replaced them with mint plants from the store, the larger bok choy had a fantastic root system that filled its planter.
This sweet mint has a beautiful spearmint scent. I am going to let it get a bit bigger before harvesting its leaves.
This chocolate mint has the sweetest scent and I find the darker leaves very interesting. Once the mint plants get established in their pots, I will start dividing the plants to get as much mint as possible. Mint is probably too invasive to plant out in the garden in Kentucky, although it was never a problem in the desert when I had it planted in the flower beds with the other perennial herbs.

At night I go out and check on the outside potted plants to see if the eggshells are working against slugs. Looks like the slugs were still hanging out in the newly seeded pots, they were usually found just on the outside perimeter of the pots so it looks like the eggshells are keeping the slimy creatures at bay. But keeping them at bay just isn't enough for me. Even with all the eggshells I've been hoarding all winter for amending the soil, there certainly won't be enough eggshells to protect the whole garden.

So I headed to the home and garden store to pick up some diatomaceous earth which is an organic method of pest control. Food grade diatomaceous earth is an inert abrasive powder oftentimes used in toothpaste and it is supposed to damage exoskeletons of insects like flea beetles, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, and stink bugs by absorbing lipids and thus causing them to dry out and die. This product is also supposed to work for gastropods (slugs) as well as aphids. It is supposed to be harmless to earthworms which is a must. Since it affects most insects I plan on only applying it to the plants that are usually directly affected by these pests. This product will need to be reapplied after watering or a rainfall.

Since diatomaceous earth works by the physical action of dehydrating insects, it is a slow process. I cannot see using it where there is already an infestation of insects, especially since getting the product wet inactivates its drying action. Perhaps it will work as a preventative measure against the eggplant's nemesis, flea beetles.

Sluggo is another organic method to use against slugs that works immediately, I used it on the bok choy planters and the very next day there were less slugs. Sluggo is a biodegradable slug bait pellet containing iron phosphate which is supposed to kill slugs. I ordered it off of Amazon. Once the garden is planted I will probably try to put the slug bait around the seedlings right before nightfall, since slugs mostly come out at night. Mostly.

The great thing about Sluggo is that it actually stops slugs from feeding right after they consume it and then they go off to die. Plus it's safe for wildlife, pets, and humans.

The cilantro is germinating ever so slowly. It has been more than 2 weeks and the cilantro is just finally starting to come up.
I cannot tell if this is the red bunching onion or garlic chives. One of the planters failed to sprout, I will just have to wait for them to grow up to figure it out.
The spinach seedlings are growing very well. I have directly seeded spinach in the ground every year we have lived in this house, and have never been able to harvest a single leaf because the slugs are such menace here. I finally got the bright idea of starting the spinach in pots.
So much spinach. Seeing them makes me downright giddy. The seedlings will need to be planted out in the garden soon, and then they will be protected with a nice sprinkling of Sluggo.

But for the time being, all the potted plants are sitting on a table in the back yard.

April 23, 2013

Garden Tilled, Go! And Preparing the Vegetable Garden Soil for Planting.

The garden has finally been rototilled by my husband, he is such a good egg. About 500 pounds (227 kg) of aged rabbit manure and 1200 pounds (544 kg) of compost were added to the 700 square foot garden to amend the soil. The city provides compost and mulch at $5 a truckload. The birds are all hopping about exploring the freshly tilled earth, the plant eating buggers. Hopefully they were not able to find any of the earthworms that came with the composted rabbit poop.
A couple of inches of mulch about 3000 pounds (1.36 metric tons) was laid over the top of the garden for weed suppression.

It took us 2 days to rototill, amend and mulch the garden soil. Now it is a race to get things planted before the rain.

April 19, 2013

An Accounting of the Vegetable Plants

All the plants are hanging out inside because there's threat of a frost tonight with forecasted temperatures down to 34 degrees (1 Celsius). So I went through all the plants and did an accounting of the varieties I have growing. None of the Aunt Ruby's German Green tomato seeds sprouted, and not one of the Melanzana eggplants germinated. There was also no germination from the spicy serrano and anaheim, or any of the sweet peppers.

Tomatoes, 27 Varieties:
10 Pink Brandywine
6 Pantano Romanesco
5 Hillbilly Flame
4 Break O Day
3 Granny Cantrell's German Red
3 Cour Di Bue
3 San Marzano Lungo #2
3 Cosmonaut Volkov
3 Ingegnoli
2 Moneymakers
2 Mortgage Lifters
1 Jersey Giant
1 Paul Robeson
1 Mystery
3 Big Zebra
3 Ananas Noire
2 Djeena Lee's Golden
2 Pilcer Vesy
2 Kellogg's Breakfast
2 Cherokee Purple
2 Black from Tula
2 Black Krim
2 Berkley Tie Dye
2 Pruden's Purple
1 Purple Calabash
1 Wapsipinicon Peach
1 Golden King of Siberia

Total: 72 tomato plants

Not all of the Brandywines have potato leaves, 2 of the non-potato leaves were from the actual seed packet and the other one is from saved seed. Interesting. I wonder if they will produce true to type. Kellogg's Breakfast, Golden King of Siberia, and Wapsipinicon Peach are very unhappy looking plants growing in a peat moss based soil medium, so they got repotted in potting soil with compost.

Peppers, 3 Varieties:
14 Jalapeno
9 Hungarian Hot Wax
8 Santa Fe

Total: 31 plants

Eggplants, 10 Varieties:
6 Applegreen
6 Thai Round Green
5 Thai Long Green
5 Cambodian Green Giant
3 Ping Tung
2 Pandora Rose
2 Bangladeshi Long
2 Malaysian Red
2 Thai Long Purple
1 Mazu Purple

Total: 34 plants

My husband wants to get more involved in the garden this year. We have decided to use all the extra wire fencing as support systems for the tomato plants, similar to the way people use cattle panels to sandwich growing tomatoes. We will probably end up with 6 rows of tomatoes supported by fencing, and one row staked and pruned. Bamboo stakes will be used for the tall peppers plants, pole beans, and cucumber vines. The 3 rows of eggplants will be covered with agribon floating row covers, which should take care of the flea beetles. The garden area gets 10 to 12 hours of direct sunlight daily so everything should grow fairly quickly.

I am not much of a weeder. I am more of a plant things close together to shade out the weeds kind of person, which really works for bush beans whose shallow roots don't take to hoeing kindly. To counteract my non-weeding tendencies the garden will be mulched this year, that should also keep the soil from getting crusty which makes it difficult for directly sown seeds to break through. The city makes mulch from collected yard waste which they sell by the truckload.

April 18, 2013

A Little About Germinating and Starting Seeds Indoors

I try to start peppers and eggplants so they are 12 weeks old by the time they're planted outside, but it can take a few weeks for their seeds to germinate. Tomatoes sprout out of the soil and grow fairly quickly so they are started 8 weeks before planting time.

The easiest way to start seeds indoors is by using a seed starting tray which can be a single or multi-celled tray with a light fluffy seed starting medium that allows the plants to easily sprout out of. Some gardeners use a tray without any subdivided cells and just plant lots of a single variety of vegetable or they plant different varieties in rows and label them, and then the seedlings are pricked out and deposited into larger individual containers.

Personally, I use a multi-celled tray. For germinating peppers and eggplants the seed tray is placed in a fairly warm area or where they will at least get consistently warm bottom heat, perhaps on top of the refrigerator or water-heater. The last 2 years I have been using pelletized coconut coir as a seed starting medium which is made from fibrous coconut husk and is light and fluffy, so makes for easy germination. The notable aspect of coconut coir is that it's a non-nutritive medium, meaning it will provide little nutrition to your growing plants so once sprouted the plants will need to be potted up in potting soil or compost in their own individual containers. The cotyledons or seed leaves will be the first set of leaves to emerge.
Tray of sprouting seedlings.
Then the newly potted up seedlings are placed in a sunny window or under lights. I try to get the lights as close to the plants as possible without touching them which will help them from getting too leggy as they try to reach for the lights. Some gardeners carefully run their hand across the top of the plants or have a weak fan running to promote stronger stems. Once the first set of true leaves start developing many people begin to feed the seedlings a watered down fish emulsion or some light liquid fertilizer on a weekly basis, I usually forget and feed the plants when they're a bit bigger.

Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants under lights. 

A note on potting soil. Usually I repot the plants in potting soil containing compost, but some of the plants this year got repotted in a peat moss based medium. The ones in peat moss are not doing as well as the other plants, and most of their cotyledon leaves have turned brown and fallen off. Peat moss is notoriously acidic which makes me wonder if this affects the growth of the plants, plus I'm not sure how nutritious that sort of soil medium is.
Kellogg's Breakfast tomato in peat moss based soil medium.
The warm weather plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants can start being hardened off outside when the daytime temperatures reach the 60's (16 Celsius). Let the young seedlings get a few hours of outdoor sunlight each day in a warm sheltered spot, it's best for the first couple days to be partly cloudy so the plants don't get traumatized and perhaps suffer leaf burn from the strong sunlight.

Once the last frost date has passed and the nighttime temperatures are consistently in the 50's (10 Celsius), the seedlings can be planted into the soil in the prepared garden area. I try to rototill the area for the garden a week before planting time, which will give the sun a chance to warm up the newly tilled soil. Hopefully by planting time the daytime temps are in the 70's (21 Celsius).
Moneymaker tomato getting some sunshine.
Bangladeshi Long eggplant you can see the difference between the cotyledon seed leaves and true leaves.

April 15, 2013

True Leaves Forming on the Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplants

Pink Brandywine tomato a potato leaf variety
Break O Day tomato with its finely cut true leaves.
Applegreen eggplant just starting to form its first spoon shaped true leaves.
Ma-Zu Purple eggplant with delicate purple veins. The downy leaves of eggplants are just adorable.
Jalapeno hot chili pepper
Seed tray planted with bulb fennel, kohlrabi, lettuce, chinese cabbage, chinese kale, and yu choy flowering broccoli.
The delicately green cotyledon seed leaves of the yu choy.
The tomato plants are finally sizing up and will be planted permanently out in the garden within 3 weeks, weather permitting. I love seeing the differences in the leaves depending on the variety. Looks like Pruden's Purple and Pink Brandywine are the only potato leaf types.

The eggplants and peppers are finally starting to form their first set of true leaves. They are a month or two behind because I got such a late start planting the seeds. I will probably wait a week after planting the tomatoes outside before planting out the peppers and eggplants. Eggplants especially prefer soil temperatures to be above 50 degrees at night (10 Celsius), otherwise it could slow down their growth. And to withstand flea beetle infestations, eggplants need to get big as fast as possible.

Some fast growing cool weather type plants were seeded in the starting tray 4 days ago. Most of the lettuces, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, yu choy, and bulb fennel have already sprouted in that short amount of time. Woo hoo!

Now my husband just needs to get the soil tilled and I can start putting things in the ground.

April 6, 2013

Hardening Off Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplants

It's 70 degrees outside! (21 Celsius) Such a gorgeously warm day with just enough cloud cover, the perfect day to set the plants outside for some real sunlight.

I finally pricked the last of the peppers out of the coconut coir starting medium and put them into their individual styrofoam cups. The granulated coconut coir I use is a light and fluffy starting medium, very easy for the plants to sprout out of. But it is a non-nutritive material made from coconut husk fibers which provides very little nutrition to the growing plants, so I go ahead and prick out the seedlings once they sprout and replant them.

There were enough trays to set a hundred plants outside to enjoy the afternoon sun, a mixture of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. That left only 35 of the biggest tomato plants inside still under lights.

There's enough Brandywine tomatoes for me to experiment with different support techniques which will give me a good idea of production effects while keeping the variety of tomato constant. The 3 support systems will by my husband's interpretation of the Florida weave, staking and pruning of suckers to one leader, and caging tomatoes with either bamboo and twine or wire fencing.

The cold winter we had this year really did a number on the insect population. I saw only two gnats and a single bee while outside today. Hopefully it won't be too hot this year. High heat sterilizes the pollen in peppers and eggplants, so fruit rarely set during the height of summer.

April 4, 2013

112 Tomato, Eggplant and Pepper Plants

I admit it, I way over planted this year. I thought the seeds weren't germinating because the tray got too hot, so I replanted the seeds and then added some other varieties and now have one-hundred twelve plants with more still popping up. Ah well, rookie mistake.

So exciting! Some of the tomato plants are beginning to form their first set of true leaves which are so frilly compared to their cotyledon leaves. A few red tomato varieties have been added, plus a few of the tried and trues like Brandywine. Most of the 27 varieties of tomatoes are ones I have never planted before. The Wapsipinicon Peach and Kellogs Breakfast are looking a little sad, maybe they don't like the cold in the shop and will perk up when they get out into the sun. Next week the temperatures are supposed to get up into the 60's and 70's (15-21 Celsius), so I'll probably start the inside and outside plant shuffle to harden off the seedlings. The tomatoes won't be going into the ground until the end of April when the weather should be consistently warm.

The only eggplants available in this part of the country is the ubiquitous Black Beauty, so I'm trying to grow some unusual types for fun. 11 varieties of eggplant have been potted up into their individual cups, and so far only one variety has failed after sprouting.

Three types of peppers have finally germinated: Hungarian hot wax, Santa Fe, and jalapeno peppers have finally emerged from the seed starting tray. None of the serranos, anaheims, or sweet peppers sprouted even with re-seeding.

Last year was abysmal in the garden, almost a total failure due to birds and rabbits eating most of my seedlings and the excessive heat, the only things that did truly well was the okra and green beans. Here's to hoping this year will be better and provide us with tremendous yields. Like in 2010, which I like to call the Year of the Tomato where everyone had so many tomatoes a person couldn't give them away, okra grew to 7 feet tall (2 meters), and peppers abounded.

April 2, 2013

Eggshells Keep Slugs and Snails from Eating Plants in the Garden

The eggshells are definitely thwarting the slugs in their attempt to eradicate the bok choy that were started in pots from the stubby ends of store bought vegetables. No more bok choy buffet for the slugs.

After just a week, the bigger bok choy has grown by leaps and bounds after the eggshell application. The small bok choy has quickly started to leaf out in just that short amount of time. I thought the plants were stunted from the cold. Nope. They were being munched on. I suppose the eggshells are tough on the soft bodies of the slugs.

Hmm. Now we know what must have happened to the spinach seeds that were planted outside in a pot. I thought they had failed to germinate but more than likely the seedlings were someone's midnight snack.