Spring!

Whew. It’s been awhile. Sorry about that guys.

This year has been a tough year getting things going, I have a million things going on! It’s also an especially warm winter here in Utah so it’s been throwing my growing groove off.
Do people still say groove? groove.

Anywho… Anywho?

ANYWAYS.

I’ve had some up and downs. I tried soil blocking under the pretense that there was a good chance I would fail the first year. And I did. I got the blocks to form beautifully, and I even followed a recipe. I hate following recipes. But, I did anyways, and after the first few days in their little hut they started to smell STRONGLY of ammonia. Not a little ammonia. But like someone pee’d on it and stuck a plastic cover over it for a few weeks. I’ve read a few reviews on how you are supposed to let your soil blocking mix sit for a month to break down before you use it, so I’m going to try that and test it out. In the mean time, I’ve already gotten my seeds going in a pre-made seed starting potting mix, and they are chugging along quite nice.

Chugging…why do I keep saying weird things?

My tomatoes have formed true leaves and I’ve transplanted a few of the extra sprouts into their own container. Which, holy smokes, I thought I had lost them. With in 10 min they were flat on their backs and weaker than a candle in the wind. But with in a few hours they were back to their upright positions. Tip I learned: DO NOT GRAB BY THE STEM, only by the leaves. The stem is very sensitive and can be easily shocked.

Right after transplanting:

Shocked tomatoes, poor guys.

Shocked tomatoes, poor guys.

A few hours after transplanting:

Bouncing right on back!

Bouncing right on back!

And here they are now, a few weeks later. Lookin’ good ladies! (And gents..) I’ve also been giving them a few tablespoons of fish fertilizer once a week, and it’s been a great thing! Especially for the tomatoes that had some shock.

German PInk

German Pink

Bonny Best

Bonny Best

 

Sorry for the blinding light, but here are a few other things I’m growing so far: kale, oregano, chives, cilantro, broccoli, celery, parsley, basil, lavender and peppers. I definitely started the kale and broccoli a couple of weeks to early. So I’m going to try and transplant them outside and put covers over them till it’s a bit warmer out.

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I spent all yesterday working on our strawberry patch, removing the old mulch, weeding, and removing some of the strawberry plants that died. There are a few things that I’m going to do differently this year/next year. 1) Transplant some of the runners after the last harvest, that way that are in their semi-dormant phase. Yesterday, I removed some of the plants that were to close to each other and tried to replant them. I think they will be fine, but it took a tole on them. 2) Their roots are sensitive to moisture and light, so I’ll be more careful not to lay the bare roots out while I’m working on getting them replanted.  3) This year I want to fertilize them more. My strawberries did great last year, but I think they will really benefit from the fertilizer.  Tip: 1 lb of balanced fertilizer per 100 sq feet. With that water an inch per week throughout the growing season.

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Over the next 2 days I’ll be planting my lettuces, spinach, carrots, peas and potatoes! I’m a couple weeks behind on the peas, so we’ll see how well they do. Also, I’m growing potatoes for the first time this year. What is your preferred growing method? I’m short on space, so I was thinking about building some wire potato cages out of thick wire fencing. If you have a method that works, please share!

Overall, I think this is going to be a great growing season and I can’t wait to see what everyone else is doing and growing!

And to end, here’s a cute picture of my daughter 🙂

 

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Organic gardening: how to get rid of slugs.

Has anyone else noticed the gross, slimy, new neighbors that just moved in? They’re really annoying. Always asking for food and leaving their trash everywhere. Really inconsiderate if you ask me.

The problem with slugs is they affect just about everything, feeding on the soft tissue of your fruits and vegetables leaving huge gnarly holes on your leaves. When I was a kid my brother would pour salt on them and I would sit there crying, begging him to stop, wondering why someone would be so cruel. I’ve now had a change of heart and I might be just as cruel as he was.

So how do you get rid of them once you’ve caught them? There are a ton of organic and natural options out there, although they might be more work, they are completely worth it! Here are a few options:

Picking and Soaping. My preferable option of termination is handpicking them off my plants and dropping them into a soapy cup of water. I do this in the evening or in the early morning before the sun is up. Also keep in mind, that for every slug you find there are 20 more you haven’t seen, so be vigilant! I’ve also noticed they love soaker hoses, so check near those as well.

Booby Trapping. Turning over pots and wooden boards are great ways to temporarily catch slugs and snails, just make sure you check before the sun rises or after the sun sets to catch them and scoop them into some soapy water before they leave. Also, sprinkling wood ash or sawdust around the plants sucks moisture away from the slugs and deters them from crossing.

Poisoning. Wormwood tea is made from Artemisia. It’s a botanical poison that repels most bugs, snails, and slugs. If you use it in the fall it will also kill all burrowing slugs that are hiding and/or hibernating. To make this wonderful tea Steep 1 cup of Artemisia in 1 quart of warm water for 24 hours. Strain the liquid and add 1 tbs of castile soap. Add 8 ozs. of tea to 1 quart of water and spray on the soil.

Shocking. Place copper strips or foil around your garden. The copper is supposed to send an electrical shock which keeps them at bay.

Pesticiding. If you have a more serious infestation you can buy iron phosphate baits at your local gardening store. THIS IS NOT ORGANIC.

Mother Nature. The most important thing you can do is create a happy ecosystem by encouraging certain bugs into the garden. Ants, beetle grubs, earwigs , birds, snakes, toads and turtles all love snacking on slugs!

Good luck in the hunt!

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Portia Westesen

Onions

I’ve run into some issues growing my onions this year. First year growing them and I’m definitely learning a LOT. Saying I love onions is an understatement. I remember hating fresh onions all my life until I was probably 16. I’m not really sure how it happened, somehow one sneaked into a sandwich and when I bit into it, it was like I never had an onion before! So for all you onion haters out there, just give your old potent, spicy, smelly friend a try one more time. Or maybe 15 times, I’ve heard it takes 15 or so times before your tastebuds get retrained to like something.

First lets talk about what onions love. Then we’ll dive into the many things I did wrong.

1) Make sure the soil is always moist for the first two weeks. This’ll make the difference between good and great onions.

2) Keep the weeds at bay. Onions grow so close to the surface and their roots are very shallow.

3) Sandy soil is the best for these guys. Keep it fertile and loose. 😉

4) Onions from seed take a long time to grow, so give them a head start. 8-10 weeks indoors before last frost date.

5) Like number 1, even after the first two weeks they need consistent water, if the top inch is dry give it a good water.

6) Spacing for onion plants. If you want bigger onions you need to space them 4-5 inches apart. If you want a higher yield with average size onions, 2 inches apart, and if you want scallions, 1 inch apart.

7) Spacing for onion sets: Remember, if you are buying sets of onions, smaller is better! They are already a year old and are ready to set out flowers, which isn’t what you want, so to prevent that from happening find the smallest bulbs and plant as soon as possible. If you are planting in rows, space them 6-8 inches apart.

Okay, now onto my experience this year with onions. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I started out growing from seed in February, but between my wonderful dog, and my baby girl they didn’t really make it. So I went down to our local gardening store and picked up some onion sets.

1) My first problem was I thought I should buy the biggest set of bulbs so I could produce the biggest onions. Wrong. Smaller is better. They are less likely to bolt, so look for bulbs about the size of a dime.

Everything was growing great and strong and the leaves had started falling over so I thought it was time to harvest. When I went to pull them I noticed that most of them were fairly small. I was expecting baseball size onions and instead got golfball sized onions. Major disappointment.

2) To much nitrogen. I’m not sure if this was the reason for the smaller size, but I’ve heard that to much nitrogen can produce lots of leaves with small bulbs. Next season I will test my soil just to make sure that levels are normal.

3) Spacing. I believe I was spacing for onion seeds not for sets. So instead of giving them 6-8 inches of space, I gave them 3-4. (I’m feeling a little embarrassed.)

4) Know where your plants are from. I’ve heard a rumor that sets are known to grow smaller onions anyways but also, I have no idea where my onions came from! It is best to buy plants locally, but if that is not possible find varieties that are known to grow great in your climate.

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Portia Westesen

Common Zucchini Problems

If you live in the humid region of the United States, growing Zucchini can be a real pain. High humidity breeds and homes thousands of bugs, so you need to watch your zucchini carefully. I suggest going out every morning to watch for a few things:

1) Is your plant wilting a ton? Check the base of the plant. If it’s covered with saw dust looking bits then it is the squash vine borer. Use a sharp knife and make an incision on the base of the stem, right above the infected area. Carefully pull it back and you should see the maggot/bug. Take him out and bury the cut you made in the plant. It should recover just fine.

A friend of mine, Jen, is an avid gardener in Oklahoma and recently had this problem! She was able to save some of her plants after taking those little grubby bugs out. Here’s a picture of her beautiful garden and a picture where the squash vine borer lived.

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2) Is your plant shriveling up, turning brown and falling off? Then that’s a pollinating issue that you’ll need to use a paint brush to manually help them pollinate. First you need to distinguish the male blossoms from the female blossoms:

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The male plants just have a nice long thin stem where as the females have kind of a plumpness (that eventually becomes a zucchini) under the flower. From there you take a small paint brush and run it across the center of the male blossom, where the pollen is. Then gently brush it over the center stigma of the female. Done!


3) Is your plant speckled and turning black? It’s the squash bug! Handpicking them seems to be the best way to kill them, just knock them off into a can of soapy water, but you can also use insecticide, like Bacillus thuringiensis, which is an organic insecticide. The best time to catch them is in the early morning hours when they’re still a little sleepy and not as alert.

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Squash home grown is so much tastier than store bought, plus in our grocery store it’s about .55 cents per zucchini! Outrageous.  With how much zucchini one plant can produce I’ve realized that it is well worth my time to keep it alive 🙂

Portia Westesen

Are Earwigs bad for my garden?

I’m grateful at times for living in Utah. The climate is perfect, dry and sunny, and you don’t really have to worry that much about bugs. Which is a great thing for those vegetables that are prone to bugs. And although we don’t have a ton of bugs, we still have a few pesky ones that drive me crazy.

I went out into my garden yesterday and saw A TON of holes in my plants. WHAT?!

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I was a little on the panicky side for the entire day, thinking that my garden, along with a few gardens of some friends, would be eaten by bugs. Later that day I was trying to re-arrange my zucchini from taking over all my onions and shallots (BAD day for shallots) when I found these guys hiding in a trellis:

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….earwigs….

….I hate earwigs….

Not to mention the horror stories you grew up hearing about them crawling through your ear and eating your brain! (Which, FYI, is false).

But I have some good news about these guys, they aren’t all bad! And although they can make a few plants look like they have leprosy, they don’t  necessarily hurt them. Earwigs are also known for eating larvae, slugs, snails, and other garden foes. So in the long run, they might be worth keeping!

Portia Westesen

Tomato problems

My friend Lu recently sent me some pictures of a weird problem she was having with her tomatoes:

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It’s a problem that happens to tomatoes as well as squash, peppers, and some other fruiting vegetables. It’s called blossom end rot and is caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant.

It’s best to check your soil before planting season is underway (.. I forgot too..) since it takes a while for the calcium to be absorbed in the plant. But if you have already planted and are having the same problem, add lime, bone meal or manure to your plants base and scrape it in with a rake, then water well. I suggest planting a few extra tomato plants though, better more tomatoes then none at all!

Portia Westesen