Very Hungry Caterpillars by Patty G. Leander

cabbage-worm-damage

Caterpillars bring insatiable appetites to the vegetable garden.

Along with colorful butterflies, smaller and more ordinary looking moths flit around the vegetable garden this time of year, laying eggs that hatch into caterpillars whose sole purpose is to eat and excrete. If you are growing brassicas your plants have probably already been under attack by these very hungry caterpillars.

Cross-striped-caterpillar-cabbage-looper

Cross-striped caterpillar (left) and cabbage looper (right).

The main culprits here in Texas are the cabbage looper (mottled brown moth with a small white marking on each wing), cross-striped caterpillar (brownish-gray moth with darker brown spots) and cabbageworm (whitish-yellow moth with a single black dot on each wing).

cross-striped-cabbageworm-eggs

What looks like a small yellow blob (less than 1/8 inch across) on the back of a broccoli leaf is actually a mass of cross-striped caterpillar eggs waiting to hatch.

These creatures are stealth; I seldom notice the moths that lay the eggs (they are more active at night) and the freshly hatched caterpillars are so miniscule and blend so well into the foliage that they can do severe damage before they are detected. Inspect your plants often, especially on the underside of leaves; if you miss them you may be surprised to find your plants decimated the next morning.

cabbage-worm

As the caterpillar grows so does its appetite.

Though these tiny munchers are good at camouflage there is one sure way to affirm their presence before too much damage is done: miniature dark green balls of excrement. Yep, what goes in must come out and caterpillars are prolific poopers.

caterpillar-poop

Dark green droppings mean caterpillars are feasting nearby.

And the bigger they get the more they eat and the more they eat the more they poop. I have had more than one novice gardener tell me that they thought those little green balls were eggs, but if you look above or near the excrement you will almost assuredly find a caterpillar or two or three chewing away.

If you only have a few plants a good defense is to hand pick and destroy caterpillars or infested leaves every time you inspect your plants, but if you have many plants an insecticide will be more effective and a more efficient use of your time. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt for short) is the recommended control for caterpillars, especially in the earliest stages of growth. It is an organic insecticide made from a naturally occurring bacteria found in soil; when caterpillars ingest the Bt-coated leaves it destroys their gut, causing them to stop feeding and die within a couple of days.

cabbage-worms-bt

Note the tiny egg mass inside the black circle (left); so tiny yet so destructive (right).

 

Bt is only effective against caterpillars; it will not harm humans, cats, dogs or beneficial insects but it will kill any caterpillars that ingest it, including butterfly larvae, so apply it only to edibles that are being damaged. Be sure to follow label instructions for application rate and frequency as follow-up applications may be necessary for control. Bt is sold under different trade names, including Dipel and Thuricide, and can be applied as a spray or a dust. Liquid Bt seems to roll off some of the thick, waxy leaves of cabbage, kale and collards, so I have found it beneficial to apply Bt as a dust.

Dustin-Mizer

The Dustin Mizer is a good tool for applying Bt as a dust.

Several years ago my brother gave me a tool called the Dustin Mizer that I use quite often for this purpose. When cranked it emits a fine dusting of powder over and under the plant.  It is especially important to direct Bt to the underside of the leaves as that is where the caterpillars are usually feeding.

It’s always a good idea to vary insect control methods in the vegetable garden so consider alternating Bt with a product containing the active ingredient spinosad (also derived from a soil bacterium and also organic). One other option is to use lightweight floating row cover to protect cabbage crops; cover plants as soon as they go in the ground so the moth never has access to the plants to lay her eggs.

 

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Dealing with Early Blight by Patty G. Leander

Though I am still singing hallelujahs for the abundant rains earlier this year (lakes are full and, for now, exceptional drought is a faded memory), the moist environment did contribute to an unfortunate outbreak of Alternaria solani, known in gardening circles as early blight, or EB for short.

Early-Blight

Warm, wet conditions encourage the spread of early blight.

Early blight is a fungal disease that afflicts members of the nightshade family and though it’s never been a problem on my eggplant or peppers, tomatoes are especially susceptible. The fungal spores can be introduced into the garden in a number of ways – they can arrive on infected transplants, can be carried by wind, rain, people or equipment and can also overwinter in the soil. If you have grown tomatoes for several years you probably have fungal spores in your soil. Infected fruit that is left in the garden can transmit the disease to seeds yielding volunteer seedlings that carry the spores and perpetuate the cycle.

Early-Blight-Symptoms

Infected leaves have dark, dry spots surrounded by a yellow halo.

The fungus starts as a small dark spot on the leaf; round or angular in shape and often surrounded by a pale yellow halo. A pattern of concentric rings may be observed as the lesion enlarges.

Early-Blight-SideBySide

The fungus generally strikes lower leaves first, infecting healthy foliage as it spreads up the plant.

Symptoms generally appear on the oldest leaves at the bottom of the plant and gradually progress upward. If conditions are favorable, meaning wet leaves and warm temperatures, spores can multiply rapidly and spread.

Early-Blight-SideBySide-2

Diligently removing infected leaves may slow the progression of the disease and prolong the harvest slightly but a stressed plant facing summer’s heat without good leaf cover is a no-win situation.

One of the basic concepts of plant pathology is the plant disease triangle. In order for disease to occur there must be a pathogen, a plant host and a suitable environment. Remove any one of these factors and voilà – no disease.  In the case of tomatoes we have a host and most likely a pathogen already present and if the environment is conducive the disease will occur.

disease-triangle

Developed by: University of Kentucky Multidisciplinary Extension Team

Controlling the environment thus becomes our primary way of controlling the disease. If early blight was a problem in your garden this year, here are some steps you can take to minimize its effects in future plantings:

  • Space tomato plants 2-3 feet apart to provide adequate air circulation around plants. Fungal spores will germinate and reproduce on wet leaves so the quicker leaves dry out after a rain event the less chance that spores will spread. Also cage or stake tomatoes to encourage air flow and minimize foliage contact with soil.
  • Plant in full sun for optimum photosynthesis and to insure that wet leaves dry quickly.
  • Mulch around the base of the plants to prevent soil (and potential spores) from splashing up onto the leaves.
  • Avoid overhead watering. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to minimize wet foliage.
  • Rotate nightshades to another part of the garden for a minimum of 2 years.
  • Fertilize and water tomatoes as needed to maintain healthy growth; stressed plants are more susceptible to disease.
  • Remove and discard infected plant debris and volunteer seedlings which may harbor plant pathogens. Weed the garden regularly as weeds can also harbor disease-producing spores.
  • Seek out tomato varieties that have resistance or tolerance to early blight, indicated by the capital letter “A” (for Alternaria) after the variety name on plant tags or seed packet descriptions. A few varieties to look for include ‘Iron Lady’, ‘Jasper’, ‘Mountain Magic’ and ‘Big Beef’.
  • Purchase seed and transplants from a reputable source.
  • Use a fungicide. Most fungicides work by altering the environment (in this case the leaf surface) to prevent development or spread of disease. They are most effective as a preventive control and should be used as soon as symptoms appear – once the disease takes hold it is dang near impossible to get it under control. Products recommended for control of early blight include Serenade®, sulfur or copper based fungicides, potassium bicarbonate and fungicides containing chlorothalonil. All are considered organic except chlorothalonil. For maximum control continue to treat plants as long as environmental conditions are favorable for disease development. According to Dr. Joe Masabni, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Vegetable Specialist, chlorothalonil is the most effective; potassium bicarbonate is the least effective. If the thought of using a non-organic control concerns you it may be worth noting that the dilution rate for chlorothalonil concentrate is low; one tablespoon product to one gallon of water. Whether to use organic or synthetic products is your choice, but no matter what you use, read the label and apply according to the directions.

    Natural-Gardener-Tomatoes

    These healthy tomato plants are mulched, staked and have plenty of room to grow.

Watering, fertilizing, mulching and otherwise tending tomatoes through the heat of summer can become a full time job, even more so if they have lost their healthy spring vigor.  If yours have succumbed to pest or disease it is better to pull them out than to let them fester in the garden.  Harvest the healthy fruit, dispose of the diseased foliage, enjoy a plate of fried green tomatoes and start thinking about plant rotation and tomato varieties for the 2017 season. fried-green-tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

This is a non-traditional take on a Southern classic from the folks at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.

6 large green tomatoes, sliced ¼” thick

White flour

Pat tomatoes dry and dip both sides in flour to absorb moisture. Set aside.

Batter

1 package (12-14 oz) silken tofu

2-3 Tbsp water

Crumble tofu in blender and blend, adding water gradually until the mixture becomes creamy. Pour batter into pie plate and set aside.

Breading

1 cup panko bread crumbs

½ cup cornmeal

2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes

1 tbsp onion powder

1 tbsp garlic powder

1 tbsp turmeric

½ tsp cayenne

½ tsp salt

Parsley flakes

 

Stir all ingredients together and transfer to a shallow pan. Dip tomatoes in batter then into panko mixture, patting the breading onto tomatoes so it adheres well. Heat about ¼” of oil in a cast iron skillet and fry tomatoes on both sides until browned. Serve warm.

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Gardening with Delightfully, Daffy Ducks

A couple of years ago we adopted two pairs of Peking ducks – sort of.  In reality the ducks adopted us.  The children of a deceased friend put her ducks on the 56 acre lake behind us.  Soon after the ducks arrived on the lake they started showing up at our house.  At first they simply waddled up to the house, ate whatever fell out of the bird feeders and then went home.  However, it wasn’t long until they discovered the chickens (and all the food they wasted) and their visits grew longer. Now, two years later, these ducks are an adorable part of our daily routine.

peking-ducks

We truly love our adorable, adopted ducks

Each morning around daybreak the ducks line up single file and waddle up to our house from the lake.  They spend their days hunting bugs, eating bugs, breeding (they do a lot of this in the spring), laying eggs and finally resting.  Our favorite duck behavior happens each time we drive up to the house.  When they hear our car coming they run quacking to the driveway.  They sit outside the car and they quack and quack and quack and wiggle their little tails until we follow them to the coop and feed them.  After their evening meal they lounge around a little more and then finally line up again and waddle back to the lake.  Yes, my wife and I have really fallen for our adopted ducks.  Their goofy antics are just downright enjoyable to watch plus, their love for bugs and nut grass (I have heard they love to eat nut grass but I have not actually seen them do it), makes them just as practical and useful as they are adorable.

Each morning our adopted ducks march up from the lake in a single file line

Each morning our adopted ducks march up from the lake in a single file line

While I am sure this will bring some comments, we have slowly come to the realization that ducks are much better pets for gardeners than chickens.  Don’t get me wrong, we still love our chickens.  However, if you love your gardens and you have free range chickens you will quickly understand why I have come to this conclusion.

Over the past three years I have been shocked to learn just how much damage chickens do to gardens.  Most of the articles I read before we got our chickens mentioned their “digging and scratching” behavior.  However, the articles I read kind of glossed over this.  Some tried to sell the behavior as “soil aeration” and other made it sound cute. Let me assure you, it is not cute.   The first thing a chicken does when it leaves the coop in the morning is head to your vegetable garden or flower beds to dig and scratch and dig and scratch and dig and scratch some more.  While I had hoped that my chickens would be different, they were not.  A chicken is gonna do what a chicken has to do.  So, after three years of fighting to keep them from destroying my gardens, I am throwing in the towel.  I have finally accepted the fact that chickens and gardens really do not mix.

chicken-proof-garden

Here you can see some of the defensive measures I have empoyed to try and prevent my chickens from digging up everything in my garden

Over the last three years I have watched our chickens turn newly tilled and mounded rows in flat, shapeless messes.  I have seen them eat freshly planted seeds, new sprouts and dig up every ornamental and vegetable transplant I set out.  I have also watched them kick fresh mulch out of my beds almost faster than I could put it down. I quickly learned that if I was going to have free ranging chickens and lovely gardens I would literally have to change the way I gardened.

Despite the head aches they caused me, we really loved those silly chickens — so I adapted.  For the past three years I have built fences, I have covered my freshly planted rows with chicken wire to keep them from scratching and I have built wire frames to protect transplants and new sprouts.  While I understand this is what chickens do, I have finally arrived at the point were I am tired of trying to beat them.  The good new is, ducks don’t do any of these things.  All they do is roam our gardens and eat our bugs.  Because of that, if I switch to ducks for my free ranging pets, I will never again have to cover my freshly planted rows or build wire frames or temporary fences.  In short, if I confine my chickens and let my ducks roam free I can garden they way I used to.

buff-orpington

Sally and I love our chickens! However, since they are so destructive I am afraid their free ranging days are coming to an end

Before these four adorable birds literally arrived on our doorstops, my wife and I knew absolutely nothing about ducks.  However, since they adopted us, we have become such big fans of these gentle, affectionate and somewhat goofy birds that we have decided to let them be our only free ranging bug catchers and keep our chickens confined to the very lovely and luxurious coop and yard that I built for them when we got them.  If you are a gardener (and I assume you are since this is a gardening blog) and you are considering raising chickens, I highly recommend investigating ducks too.  You can raise and house them in almost the exact same way as you raise chickens.  They lay pretty decent eggs (which make wonderfully dense and moist cakes) and they eat your garden pests without destroying your plants or garden beds.  I have also heard they love nut grass!  If that turns out to be true then everyone I know should get themselves a whole flock of ducks!!!

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Chicken-Coop

Don’t feel too sorry for the chickens that will soon be confined. They have a very nice coop, run and yard that is more than adequate for their needs

Spring Time is Weed Time!

If you need a reminder as to why gardening in Texas is so difficult, here it is.  According to something I heard on the radio the other day, this is the earliest spring since something like 1884.  Despite that, if you planted your “tomatoes” when you were “supposed to” in a normal year, they still got burned by a late season freeze during the earliest spring ever!  Gotta love Texas!!!

tomato-transplants

I hope your tomato transplants made it through the late season cold snap. If they didn’t, I hope you have enough left to replant

If you took my advice and planted your tomatoes last week then I hope you got them covered before the cold weather came in.  If not, I apologize.  There was a 95% chance it would not freeze.  Since it froze anyway many of you will probably need to replant if your tomatoes lost most of their leaves.  This late season cold snap also hit ornamentals.  If you had already put out tender flower transplants they likely got burned as well.  Pull them up and replant if more than 50% of their foliage was burned.

Butter-cup

Some weeds are too pretty to pull! Even though they are a bit invasive, I leave most of the buttercups that pop up in my beds

If last weekend was the perfect time for planting, then this weekend is the perfect weekend to get control of the weed problems that are “popping up”.  I get a lot of weed control questions on the blog.  For an organic gardener, the options are fairly limited.  You can pull them, hoe them or spray with an acetic acid mixture.  Only problem with acetic acid is it kills everything.  So if you are trying to kill a few dandelions in the middle of your beautiful lawn, cover them with a shield.  A great trick is cut the bottom out of a jug.  Place the bottomless jug over the weed and spray your herbicide into the top of the container.   This will limit the amount of grass, or other plants that are potentially affected by overspray.

acetic-acid-weed-spray

Concentrated acetic acid is a great organic weed killer.

If you go to the trouble of pulling and chopping all of those weeds this weekend, be sure to mulch afterwards.  The best way to control weeds is to prevent them and nothing does that better than a thick layer of mulch.  I am lucky enough to have a truck so I get my mulch in bulk from my local landfill.  I use wood chips in my ornamental beds and spoiled hay in my vegetable garden.  Any dead, organic material will work.  Another thing I often use in the vegetable garden is newspaper.  If you wet newspaper and then overlap several layers over an area it will dry and form a very good barrier.  Cover it with mulch to make your rows and beds look a little mote tidy.

Sweet-green-fertilizer

Sweet Green is a high notrogen, organic fertilizer that works as well on your vegetables as it does on your lawn

I also get a lot of lawn questions this time of year.  Here are my tips.  Do not put out pre-ememrgent weed and feed products now.  It is too late.  The fertilizer is going to feed the weeds that have already germinated.  Instead, mow your lawn on your lowest setting.  In fact I would do this for the next two or three weeks in a row.  This will kill most of the weeds that are growing now.  After mowing put out a high nitrogen fertilizer like “Sweet Green”.

Another great thing about spring is the chickens start laying again on a regular basis!

Another great thing about spring is the chickens start laying again on a regular basis!

A Garden Visit With Harry Cabluck

I love this sign that Harry has hanging in the back of his garden

I love this sign that Harry has hanging in the back of his garden

Over the next twelve months we will be visiting with 12 gardeners from all over Texas.  They will be sharing some of the knowledge that allows them to garden successfully in our beloved, but climatically challenging state. I have a masters degree in horticulture and I have gardened for years.  However, most of my gardening knowledge came from visits with other gardeners.   I hope these monthly visits will provide you, and me, with a few tips and tricks that will help us all become better gardeners.

Patty and I visited harry Cabluck and his incredibly well done garden earlier this month. We were blown away by how well down it was. Always humble, Harry gives much of the credit for his garden infrastructure to his good friend Tom Lupton.

Patty and I visited Harry Cabluck and his incredibly well done garden earlier this month. We were blown away by how well done it was. Always humble, Harry gives much of the credit for his garden infrastructure to his good friend Tom Lupton.

Our first gardener is Harry Cabluck.  Harry gardens in the back yard of his central Austin home.  While his garden is not the biggest I have ever seen, it is one of the neatest and most well managed gardens that I have ever been in.  Harry was gardening organically long before it was “cool”.  He collects rainwater for irrigation, makes tons of compost, has the nicest cold frame I have ever seen and grows tomatoes from seeds (click here to read how Harry grows his tomato transplants) and then grafts them onto other tomatoes that he has grown from seed.

Garbage bags over tomato plants Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Garbage bags over tomato plants Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

tomato-cage-cover

Harry uses a piece of string and a rubber band to quickly and effectively secure his garbage covers to his tomato cages

Harry gives his beloved tomatoes a head start by growing them in an ingenious cage method that he developed.  As early in March as he can, Harry plants the tomatoes he started in January in his neatly bordered beds that are extremely well worked with compost.  He then takes a 55 gallon trash can liner, splits the end and bunches it around the tomato plant.  Then he uses his heavy duty cages to anchor the the trash bag in place.  To keep his trash bag liner secured to his cage he uses an ingenious string and rubber band fastener that is incredibly effective and easy to use.  With bags in place he is able to easily pull the bags up over his frame at the earliest sign of cold weather, high winds or heavy rain.  I was so impressed with this cage method that I seriously considered changing the way I grow tomatoes!  Now let’s hear more from Harry:

Cabluck garden on Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Cabluck garden on Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Name: Harry Cabluck

Location: Central Austin.  **City garden of three 100-sq. ft. raised beds.  We rotate a plot holding 12-15 tomato plants a year.

organic-garden-austin

(Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Years gardening: 43+.  First gardened as a child in late 1940’s.  My mother had a green thumb and a source for manure, as her father was a dairy farmer.  As an adult we have had small plots in Dallas and larger plots in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Columbus, Ohio.  We made good use of our Troy-Bilt 6 hp rototiller.  Often improved the soil in these gardens by importing soil, manure and/or spoiled hay.

Years in this plot: 20.   **Our backyard was once the corral area for a nearby home.  When we moved in it was black gumbo clay that would hold ankle-deep water for a few days after each rain. De-ionized the soil with gypsum. Built multiple compost piles 20-feet long before starting to plant in 1995.

tomato-transplants

Tomatoes under lights Sunday, March 2, 2014, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Favorite crop: Tomatoes.  Usually start 60 seeds in trays under lights in the garage in January.  This is the first year to use LED’s instead of T-5 or fluorescent lights. Hope to yield 36 heirloom/hybrids along with 18 rootstock for grafting.  After starts in trays become root bound, transplant to four-inch pots.  Some 12-15 pots stay under lights, the remaining pots are moved to the cold frame.  Sometimes need to run an extension cord and heating pad to cold frame.  Usually give away the tomato plants that are not planted in our garden.  Crop rotation includes basil, green beans, arugula, spinach, marigolds.  January crops include greens, carrots, elephant garlic, shallots, gumbo onions.  Would like to attempt parsnips.  Have never had good luck with sweet peas.

Best tips:  Make good garden dirt.

Compost!!!  This year’s compost pile of ground leaves, mixed with kitchen scraps, cottonseed meal, bat guano and molasses, seems to be the best ever.  In previous years used cooked barley malt (byproduct of brewery) mixed with coffee chaff (byproduct of air roasting).  That stuff needed to be turned at least once daily, as it would putrefy.

compost-bin

Harry composts directly in his beds

Although not necessary, we get great results using our cold frame and 800-gallon rainwater catchment.  A two-inch rain on our 20X20-foot garage roof will fill the tank.  It is usually empty around July 4.

Make use of store-bought soil for seed-starting and transplanting. Happy Frog brand seems best.  Don’t waste time and money on cheap tomato cages. Read Bill Adams’, “Texas Tomato Lover’s Handbook.”

Garden-Cold-Frame

Cold frame in Cabluck back yard garden Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Austin, Texas. ( Photo/Harry Cabluck)

Pest control:  Havahart traps for varmints.  For bugs, mix a one-gallon cocktail containing 50-squirts Tabasco, one ounce of liquid seaweed, one ounce molasses, one ounce fish emulsion, dash of dishwashing liquid…when necessary add BT.  I love my Hudson sprayer.

Weed control: We control weeds by cultivating and mulching regularly.  **Best stuff seems to be wood chips. Long-tined rake, six-inches wide, four tines.

Biggest challenge: Thwarting the squirrels and leaf-footed bugs.  **Would like to have a moveable pergola, because a hoop house is always a challenge to erect and doesn’t look good.

Favorite amendment: Cottonseed meal AND anything with trace elements…especially glauconite, WHICH seems to help blossoms set fruit in heat and cold.

Do we preserve:  No.   **Not large enough garden, small yields.

Favorite advice:  Have a good friend who has great ideas.   ***Thanks to Tom Lupton.

What would you like to do better?  Would like to learn more about tomato biology. How to ensure more tomato blossoming and fruit set and how to improve brix.

Week 38 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

Well, I have a problem.  All of the broccoli and cabbage transplants that I put out a couple of weeks ago are now gone.  Something has eaten every last one of them.  So, this weekend I will be replanting and trying to figure out how to control whatever it is that is eating my brassicas.  Since I will be applying organic pesticides this weekend I thought this would be a good opportunity to review some of the major organic herbicides and pesticides available to the home gardener.

While our chickens eat a lot of bugs I still have to spray things like Bt and spinosad from time to time

While our chickens eat a lot of bugs I still have to spray things like Bt and spinosad from time to time

BUG CONTROL

  • Bt– Bacillus thuringiensis has been used to kill soft bodied pests in the organic garden for a very long time. I suspect that what is eating my broccoli is either a little green caterpillar called the cabbage worm or another green caterpillar called the cabbage looper.  Both of these pests can be controlled fairly well with Bt.  Like all pesticides, organic or not, Bt should be mixed for a single use.  Bt rapidly degrades in the sunlight.  Because of this, spray the plant late in the evening, covering all areas of the plant where the bug will eat.  If you mix too much Bt, add more water too the mixture and leave it out in the sun.  In 48 hours the mixture will be completely inert. NOTE:  Bt does not kill pests mmediately.  You may need to apply three times to get maximum effectiveness
  • Spinosad –. If you pests are tougher than caterpillars you will need to use spinosad. Spinosad is a live bacterium that speeds up a pest’s metabolism to the point where they stop eating and die within a couple of days.  Spinosad has been shown to be effective against caterpillars, leaf miners, fire ants, hornworms and even fleas.  Like Bt, spinosad breaks down in heat and sunlight.  However, it can remain active for five to seven days.  Only use spinosad if Bt has failed as it will kill bees and other pollinators
  • Neem oil – Neem oil is a plant extract that is mostly effective against aphids and scale insects. It can kill some insects if they are covered when they are very young (rigt after hatching).  It has also been shown to prevent some insect eggs from hatching.  It is not very effective against mature beetles like stink bugs or other leaf footed bugs
Large, broad leafed weeds like thistle and dandelion can be easily controlled with acetic acid

Large, broad leafed weeds like thistle and dandelion can be easily controlled with acetic acid

WEED CONTROL

  • Acetic Acid – Acetic acid is available in concentrations up to 20%. Concentrated acetic acid is very effective on a wide range of both grassy and broadleaf weeds.  I have seen dandelions and crabgrass begin to wither 30 minutes after the initial application.  Vinegar is best when applied to young plants.  Established weeds may need a second or third application to finally kill them.  Be careful when applying vinegar.  Overspray can kill things you don’t want to die.  I use a spray bottle and a shield when spraying close to my desirable plants.  If you want to spray a wide area, then a pump sprayer works well too.
  • Horticultural Molasses – Neil Sperry recently said that Nut Sedge (grass) is the cockroach of the gardening world. I agree.  I have tried everything to control nut sedge.  This year I read an article by Howard Garrett (The Dirt Doctor) about using horticultural molasses.  Well, I tried it and it works—kind of.  While it killed all nut grass in the cracks of my brick patio, it did not do much damage to the nut grass that was growing in my beds.  I applied the molasses at full strength.

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Week 34 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

Well, I learned an expensive lesson today.  If you water your black gumbo yard for 23 hours it still will not close up the cracks that the July and August heat have made!  Yep!  I ran the sprinkler ALL DAY,  And yes, my wife asked me if I had turned off all of the water before we went to bed last night.  Oh well, live and learn.  At least I know my trees and primrose jasmine are now DEEPLY watered as they head into fall.

Even though it is hot and dry, this is going to be a great weekend in the garden.  Forecast says highs in the low to mid 90s with a chance of showers. So start early, drink lots of fluids and get a big part of your fall garden in the ground.

Provide ample fertilizer and water to any veggies that are still producing

Provide ample fertilizer and water to any veggies that are still producing

Vegetables

  • Remove old mulch and burn it – I use spoiled hay to mulch my vegetable garden. Regardless of what you mulch with you will need to remove any that is left and bag it or burn it.  Do not put it in the compost.  Spent mulch is full of bug eggs and larvae.  A warm compost pile is the perfect place for garden pests to over winter
  • If its growing, feed it – I still have okra, purple hulls and tomatoes growing in my garden. This weekend is a great time to feed them.  Side dress with finished composed or give them a foliar application of fish emulsion or other water soluble product.  If using commercial fertilizers apply a high nitrogen blend at a rate of 1 cup for ten feet of row
  • Plant potatoes – You can plant potatoes now. It is better to plant small, whole potatoes, as opposed to cut up pieces, in the fall.  The extremely warm soil will rot potato pieces that are not thoutoghly scabbed.
yellow-canna

Cannas are great, heat tolerant plants that bloom all throughout the summer.

Ornamentals

  • Weed, feed, water and mulch – August is a tough time on existing plants and a tough time for establishing new bedding plants. Take advantage of slower growth rates to remove tough weeds like Bermuda.  Once an area is weeded, sprinkle a little fertilizer, mulch and water.  Water every three or four days.  This will get your beds in prime shape for planting later in the month

Trees and Lawns

  • Baby your pecans! – The shells of pecans are beginning to fill with fruit. Keep your pecan trees well watered to ensure your best possible crop
  • Cut out bag worms – If you see bag worms forming in your trees, cut them out before they get too big. If you have missed them and you have a large mass, use your long handled pruners to open up the webs to encourage the birds to come in and clean up larvae
  • Be on the lookout for chinch bugs – August is prime time for chinch bugs. While chinch bugs can definitely do a lot of damage to St. Augustine lawns, they can be controlled if caught early.  My buddy Randy Lemmon (host of Garden Line on KTRH) has a great article about how to identify and treat them.  Click here to learn more.

Pecans are filling their shells with fruit right now so keep your trees well watered!

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Week 29 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

Last week my wife and I left blogging and gardening behind and headed to New England for a little R&R.  It was so cool and lush and beautiful.  I saw lots of beautiful landscapes and vegetable gardens.  I have to admit, everything up there was so pretty I had serious “garden envy”.

If you are a gardener then you know that July is the best time to leave your gardening chores behind for a while.  The temperatures right now are so hot that even the bugs and the weeds have decided to take a break.  Even though it is hot and dry there is still a lot that can be done in the July Texas Garden.

Sally and I spent a week in the Berkshires.  It was so lovely and so cool!

Sally and I spent a week in the Berkshires. It was so lovely and so cool!

Vegetables

  • Water correctly– It doesn’t matter how much rain we got in the spring, our gardens need watering now. Water deeply and more frequently.  Use drip or soaker hoses if possible.  Soaker hoses typically put out about an inch of water per hour.  In this heat you may need to apply an inch of water every second or third day
  • Stay Cool-This morning at my house it was 84 degrees at 8;00 am. If you are going to work outside take care to avoid heat exhaustion or dehydration.  Patty Leander wrote a great post a while back about keeping cool in the Texas heat.  Click on the link to read all of her tips:  No Rest for the Weary-Summer Gardening Chores by Patty Leander
  • Harvest okra, Southern peas, Malabar spinach and other heat loving veggies often– Some of these heat loving veggies are still producing. Pick often
  • Prepare beds for fall – This weekend I will pull out all of my spring cucumber vines. Once they are gone if will begin preparing the row for fall planting.  I remove all remaining weeds.  I also remove my old hay mulch and take it to the burn pile.  The old hay is full of bugs and their eggs.  Next I cover the entire row with about three inches of compost and then I cover everything with fresh hay.  Come planting time I will push back my hay mulch, give the row a light till and then plant
I have never been to New England.  I was impressed with all of the quaint cottages and lush landscapes.

I have never been to New England. I was impressed with all of the quaint cottages and lush landscapes.

Ornamentals

  • Water correctly and water frequently – If you see yellow or brown leaves, curled leaves, spotted leaves, etc. on your ornamentals, there is a good chance they have some water stress. The general rule of thumb in Texas is water deeply every five days.  During July and August you may need to up your frequency to every second or third day
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch!- I generally mulch my beds with finished compost. This gives me a two in one benefit.  Mulch conserves water and by using compost you feed your plants at the same time.
  • Control aphids and white flies – Use a strong blast of water to the underside of leaves or apply a mild horticultural oil like neem
We visited the FDR house, museum and library.  This is his horse stable.  Wish I could have been one of his horses!

We visited the FDR house, museum and library. This is his horse stable. Wish I could have been one of his horses!

Trees and Lawns

  • Water, water, water! – An inch of water every five days may not be enough for St. Augustine and Bermuda. Walk on your lawn.  If your grass does not bounce back and fill your footsteps quickly you need to water.  Trees and woody shrubs need frequent, deep waterings; especially ones that were planted in the last two years.  Check out this article on tree watering from Denton County Extension Agent Janet Laminack – Tree Watering Basics by Janet Laminack
  • Lift up the height of your mower deck – If you have been mowing at 3” raise it to 3 ½”. Taller grass will keep it and the soil cool
It is believed that these orange day lilies are the descendants of the first day lilies brought to the Americas.  They grow, and spread, with abandon which has led to their common name of "ditch lilies".

It is believed that these orange day lilies are the descendants of the first day lilies brought to the Americas. They grow, and spread, with abandon which has led to their common name of “ditch lilies”.

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

 

Tips for Week 25 in the Zone 9 Garden

This past weekend I harvested my first crop of elephant garlic.  This was a new plant for me and I thoroughly enjoyed growing it.  While it is not technically garlic (it is more closely related to leeks) it was a beautiful plant that can be used ornamentally or for its fist sized, mild, garlic tasting bulbs.  My elephant garlic was given to me by a man who has grown it in his garden for 47 years.  He got it from his parents who grew it for years before sharing with him. I absolutely love plants like this.  Whether they are called heirloom plants or pass a long plants, they are a living link to our horticultural past.  I love finding, growing and preserving these living links to our southern heritage.  If you have an heirloom plant that you love, leave me a comment.  I would love to hear about it.

elephant-garlic-scapes-2

With it long curvy scapes and big flower heads, Elephant Garlic is a useful as as ornamental as it is as a food source.

Pest Control

  • Invest in a few select organic insecticides– Bt for caterpillars, insecticidal soap for soft-bodied aphids, neem oil for beetles and squash bugs, spinosad for caterpillars and stink bugs. Follow label instructions, and spray only as needed. Mark the purchase date on the product container and store in a protected location, preferably indoors.
  • When using any insecticide, mix up only what will be needed for the plants you are treating – I rarely mix up a gallon of anything, and often get by using a one pint or one quart squirt bottle, depending on the product and number of plants needing treatment. Once I determine how much a particular product is needed per pint, I write it directly on the pesticide container so I don’t have to scour the label and recalculate every time.
  • Protect bees by applying pesticides in the late afternoon or evening, when bees are less active.
  • Control Spurge and Puslane-These two plants are some of the most difficult to control. Both grow rapidly and produce thousands of seeds.  Chemical control has little effect on mature purslane.  Pull these weeds and place in a plastic trash bag.  Do not compost!  Apply heavy mulch or solarize if possible after you remove the plants.
acetic-acid-weed-control

When mixing herbicides or pesticides mix only what you need and clearly mark each container

Vegetables

  • Plant okra, sweet potatoes, winter squash and peppers-Realize this is the absolute end of the spring planting season. It may be too late to plant even these in southern parts of the state.
  • Water correctly- It is better for your plants, and your water bill, if you apply one inch of water every five days. Water slowly in the morning to reduce evaporation loss. 
  • Remove spent plants like green beans to avoid attracting pests.
  • Top dress empty rows with compost and cover with a heavy layer of mulch to prepare them for fall planting in late July
water-sprinkler

Water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth and conserve water

Ornamentals

  • Cut fresh flowers for the house-Cut your zinnia’s, sunflowers, gomphrena, celosia and other fresh cuts early in the morning. Cut stems on 45 degree angles, strip foliage and drop immediately into cool, clean water
  • Plant sweet potato vine from transplant-Sweet potato vine is a great way to add lots of low maintenance color to your pots and beds.  With its bright chartreuse or purple-black foliage this drought and heat tolerant plant will add LOTS of color to your summer landscape.  Sweet potato vine will provide you lots of color right up to the first freeze 

Fruit Trees

  • Pick remaining plums-Plums will continue to ripen after they are picked. Pull when they have half color and allow them to ripen inside;  especially if making jelly.  Over ripe fruit left on the trees, or on the ground, invites in raccoons, possums and mocking birds
  • Pick Peaches-Pick peaches when they are slightly soft to the touch

ripe-plums

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I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tip of the Week – Week 21 in the Zone 9 Garden

It finally finished raining long enough for Sally and I to harvest the rest of the potatoes.  While we were out there we also pulled our first cucumbers and picked a small mess of green beans.  We just finished an amazing dinner of cucumbers and onions, green beans and an okra/tomato/sausage/smoked poblano concoction.  Everything but the sausage came straight from the garden or the freezer.  And that my friends is why I garden!

On another note, I recently read an article that said internet readers want their information quick and easy.  With that in mind I am going to structure my weekly tips in a different format for a while.  If you like it, or even if you don’t, leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Potato-harvest

Vegetables

  • Pick Green Beans
  • Harvest and cure onions
  • Control aphids, thrips and scale insects with a strong blast of water. If this is not working spray entire plant with neem oil or a water/dish soap mixture
  • Harvest Potatoes-It has rained so much lately that it has washed much of the soil away from my potato plants. I literally have potatoes on top of the ground.  This will cause two problems.  First, the harvest is going to be a muddy mess.  No way around this.  I will have to dig them and then go directly to the hose for a good wash.  I do not normally recommend washing your potatoes.  When potatoes come out of the ground their skins are soft and can be damaged by washing.  Damaged skins let in fungus that will cause the potatoes to rot during storage.  That is why we cure them before we store them.  To cure potatoes we need to let them dry in the hot sun for a few hours.  All of this rain is causing an unusual lack of sunshine.  Because of this I will have to figure out a way to move the potatoes into the garage for curing.  This is a big problem for me because my garage is already covered with the onions that I had to cure inside because of the rain.

marigolds-1

Ornamentals 

  • Pull weeds while the ground is soft.  Throw them in the compost pile if they have not set seed
  • Dead head zinnias and marigolds
  • Plant zinnias (Benary’s Giant are my favorites) and marigolds from seed
  • Plant Sunflowers-There are about a million different varieties of sunflowers and I grow several of them (my favorite is a double called “Teddy Bear” that grows on three to four foot tall stalks and produces gorgeous flowers). For the next couple of months I will plant more seeds every other week.  This “two week planting schedule” will ensure that Sally and I have an ample supply of fresh cuts for our home right up to the first frost.
  • Plant Gomphrena (Bachelor’s Buttons) – I have two places in my yard where I grow gomphrena (Bachelor’s Buttons). Gomphrena is a great plant for our area because it can really take the heat and it will keep flowers until the first frost.  Even though it is an annual it is a great self-seeder and will come back on its own year after year.  That is, it will come back year after year as long as you don’t have free ranging chickens that scratch up all of the seedlings in your beds.  That is what has happened at my house.  Thanks to my chickens I currently have no gomphrena.  So this weekend I will be replanting.  Many of our reseeders (like gomphrena, zinnia, poppies and marigolds) can be planted by running a rake over and area and then putting the seeds out in a broadcast manner.  Once the seeds are down, run the rake across the soil to lightly cover the seeds.  Finally, gently water the area.  Keep the soil moist until the little plants develop their first set of real leaves.

Lawns

  • Do not fertilize until things dry out. Nitrogen, moisture and cool temps encourage brown spot

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I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

teddy-bear-sunflowers