Month: April 2019

How to Keep Pests Out Of Your Garden

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garden-pests

Every Year thousands of people around the world spend a ton of time working in their garden just to have it ruined by pests.  You go out in the morning and half of your vegetables are gone and what is there is half-eaten.  The frustration mounts and you say “never again”.  So what is a nature-loving gardener to do when rabbits, groundhogs, moles, and other furry pests and insects destroy your garden?  Well, here’s how you can fight back without resorting to harsh tactics or chemicals.

Animal Pests

Deer:

Deer are graceful, endearing, and destructive animals.  They are animals that strip leaves and buds from trees, vines, and roses.  Covering fruit bushes, vines, and young trees with simple nylon netting will discourage them.  The netting should be lifted slightly once a week to keep random branches and vines from growing through it.  You can also hang balls of human hair or soap around your garden which will also help to deter them.  To protect larger gardens, you can use a homemade or commercial spray of capsaicin, the “hot” ingredient in peppers.  Garlic sprays and fish emulsions also deter deer but many sprays need to be reapplied after you water or it rains.

Rabbits:

These little pests are cute but can wreak havoc on your garden.  Eastern cottontails can quickly clear out your vegetable garden and sometimes they can do it in a single night.  Luckily there are many things you can do to deter them from having their way in your garden.  Typically cottontails will avoid areas with unpleasant odors.  Coyote urine, soapy water, vinegar, and cayenne pepper are all deterrents, but need to be applied frequently, as rabbits eventually become used to the smell and taste.  You can also protect individual plants or rows with cages, or mesh.  Physical barriers are generally the most effective though.  Another strategy that you can do is place fake snakes in the garden.  They work like a charm but if you’re like me it could lead to bullet holes in your garden if you forget you put them there.  Plants such as rhubarb, tomatoes, garlic, hot peppers, basil, mint, and catnip are all unpleasant to rabbits so they can also keep them at bay.

Nocturnal Raiders: Raccoons, opossums, and skunks

These pests sure appreciate those ripe tomatoes, summer squash, plums, and berries for their midnight shindigs.  A fence is the best protection against such unpleasant guests, as these omnivores are easily discouraged and will wander off in search of another food source.  You can use netting to protect individual trees or garden rows, but you must be sure to fasten the netting to the trunk or the ground, so the hungry invaders cannot crawl underneath it.  Capsaicin sprays will also discourage them.  You will need to wash vegetables thoroughly when harvesting.  Other good tips to remember are to not leave pet food outside overnight, to clean up any picnic debris before heading inside, and to cover garbage tightly. 

Birds

Blackbirds, starlings, blue jays, and other fruit-eating birds

These guys can strip an entire dwarf plum tree or row of raspberry bushes in a matter of a couple of hours.  Birds quickly become accustomed to scarecrow-type deterrents, like foil strips and plastic owls.  However, if you use foil strips early in the season, and change deterrents every month throughout the growing season, they do work.  Netting can be put over fruiting plants and trees as soon as the green fruits begin to soften.  You will have to be sure to fasten the netting securely around the tree trunks and bushes to prevent birds from hopping up onto the plant from underneath.  I have also seen people enclose their garden with fence and then run fishing line across the top of the garden at 1 inch increments.  This allows the sun to get to the plants without any problems but can also keep birds out.

Moles:

These animals are also called meadow mice.  They are bashful creatures that dig shallow tunnels in areas with lose, abundant, ground cover.  They gnaw on garden plants, bulbs, vines, and young tree trunks.  Weeds and heavy mulch provide them with food and protection, so clear a 4-foot diameter circle around young trees; and mow or cultivate field edges, ditch banks and other adjacent areas.  Moles eat insects and snails, not garden plants, but since they tunnel high in the subsoil they can separate plants from their roots.  They seldom cause significant garden damage, except for the unsightly dirt mounts in otherwise pristine lawns.

Gophers and Groundhogs:

These little furry animals are a gardener’s nightmare.  These mammals will uproot or pull under full-grown plants.  Since they are attracted by the aroma of pungent greens, they head directly to your favorite vegetables and flowers.  They also dig deep tunnels, which make underground barriers impractical, but chain-link fence sunk 12” does help to deter some of them.  Flooding the tunnels discourages them from burrowing by making the soil too sticky for digging and causing it to found their fur.  Bulbs, tubers, and ornamental plantings can be protected by fine wire mesh around root balls.  Many burrowers prefer perennial plants, so when planting or replacing perennials, you can dig a bed at least two feet deep and cover the bottom of it with wire mesh before planting.

Insect Pests

There are a ton of insects that attack your vegetable plants and flowers.  Being able to identify them is important because some insects, like ladybugs, are beneficial.  The well-known red ladybug does not eat any vegetation but does protect plants from aphids by consuming up to 75 of them in a single day.  There are lady bug impostors though as well such as the Asian Lady Beetles, that can do a lot of damage.

Slugs and Snails:

Nearly every gardener has experienced the disappointment of watching curling sprouts emerge from the ground, only to see them disappear overnight beneath trails of sparkling slime.  Hand picking slugs and snails is an effective natural control, but it must be done early in the morning.  As they sun rises, they retreat to holes under cool debris, and can be impossible to find.  When handpicked, they can be dropped into a bucket of brine or sale or even fed to chickens.  Saucers of beer are also very effective traps; or bury a cup of beer in the dirt and fill it with stale beer.  Slugs fall in and don’t come out.  Copper strips also work because they cause a slight electrical charge with deters slugs and snails from crossing the strips.  Copper wire from a hobby supply shop is less expensive than the strips sold at gardening centers, and does just as good.  You must be careful to keep the copper barriers away from plant stems. 

Mexican bean beetles:

These things look like copper ladybugs and feed on bean leaves, pods, and steps, causing severe damage to all varieties of bean crops.  One method that has been used since 1841, and is still effective today, is to cover a row of plants with a light fabric like cheesecloth or spun, bonded polyester fabric that admits light and water, but keeps insects out.  Get rid of overwintering sites by eliminating weeds and burning crop residues in the fall and winter. 

Tomato Hornworms:

These little things aren’t little at all.  They are 3-4”, pale green caterpillars that strip tomato, eggplant, pepper, and potato plants of new leaves and flower buds.  Cabbage loopers are very common and feed on cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli.  Hand picking is the most effective way to get immediate relief from these pests.  To rid a garden of repeated infestations, you can use Bacillus Thuringiensis, a bacterium parasite.

Yellow Jackets:

In late summer, yellow jackets swarm around gardens and your house.  Worker yellow jackets don’t need to feed a nest’s larvae in late summer so they wander, searching for ripe, fallen backyard fruit, beer, soft drinks, and meat.  In addition to having painful stings, yellow jackets are sometimes responsible for transmitting anaerobic bacteria that can cause blood poisoning.  Fruit should be picked as it ripens, and all buckets or containers used for picking fruit need to be kept washed.  Trash cans must be tightly covered, and meat, eggshells, and cheese kept out of compost bins.  Pet food must not be left outside.  A good rule to follow is to feed pets in the cool hours of the morning and evening, and keep the pet dishes clean and rinsed out during the heat of the day.

One thing that many people do is turn chickens loose in their garden during the day and then lock them in their coop at night.  Some chickens are better than others for insect control.  Bantams are some of the best because they typically won’t destroy your garden and instead will focus on the bugs and insects. 

If you found this article helpful, I would appreciate it if you shared it on your favorite social media sites.  Thank you for taking the time to read and I hope it helps your garden produce even more this year.

Categories: Gardening

Beginning Gardening: The Basics of Planting

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garden

Many people ask: “Why should I grow a garden?”  There are a number of answers to this question but my favorite one is “It’s healthier for you”.  Now don’t get me wrong I’m not exactly a health nut but I do know that chemicals and pesticides aren’t good for you.  Also the flavors of fresh vegetables are so much better than what you can typically get in a store.  In this guide I’ll highlight the basics of planting your vegetable garden.  From how to pick the right location to how to select the right vegetables to grow.

Pick The Right Location

Picking a good location is critical to having a successful harvest.  A not-so-good location can result in a harvest that is dismal at best.  So here are a few tips for picking a good location:

  1. Plant in a sunny place. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.  The more sunlight that they receive the better your harvest will be, the bigger the vegetables will be and the better the taste of those vegetables.
  2. Plant in good soil.  Plants roots penetrate soft soil much easier than hard dry soil.  Enriching your soil with compost provides the needed nutrients that may not be already in the soil. Horse Manure is a great thing to compost and is very easy to come by for many people.  Proper drainage will also ensure that water doesn’t collect on top of your garden or drains away too quickly
  3. Plant in a stable environment.  You don’t want to plant your garden in a place that’s prone to flooding during heavy rains, or in a place that dries out a lot.  You also do not want to plant somewhere where strong winds could knock over young plants or keep pollinators from doing their job. 

Choosing a Plot Size: Start Off Small

One of the most common errors that beginners make is planting too much too soon.  Much more than anyone could ever eat or want.  This is a waste unless you’re like me and have hogs and a ton of other animals (including a teenager) that would be more than happy to help them disappear.  It’s always good to start small.  You can always increase the size next year if you need too but it’s better to not let food go to waste.  A good size for a beginner vegetable garden is about 16 x 10 feet and is filled with crops that are easy to grow.  A plot this size (along with the list below) can feed a family of four for about one summer, with a little leftover to can for the winter. 

You can make your garden 11 rows wide, with each row 10 feet long.  The runs should run north and south to take full advantage of the sun.  Vegetables that may yield more than one crop per season do include beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips.

How to Grow the Best Vegetables

In addition to choosing the right location and the right size here are a few tips that will help you grow your best vegetables so far.

  1. Space your crops properly. For example, corn needs a lot of space and can overshadow shorter vegetables.  Plants set too close together compete for sunlight, water, and nutrition and typically will fail to mature.  Pay close attention to the spacing guidelines on seed packets and plant tabs.
  2. Use high-quality seeds. Seed packets are less expensive than individual plants, but if seeds don’t germinate, your money and time are totally wasted.  A few extra cents spent in spring for that year’s seeds can pay off in higher yield come havesttime.
  3. Water Properly.  Watering your plants the correct amount, not too much and not too little, will give them the best chance at producing well-formed, mature vegetables
  4. Plant and Harvest at the right time.  Not too early or too late, every vegetable has its own planting dates so be sure to check the seed packet.

Suggested Plants for a Beginner’s Garden

The vegetables suggested below are common, productive plants that are pretty easy to grow.  You can talk to farmers in your area or contact your local Cooperative Extension Service to find out what plants grow best in your area, and when the best time for planting them is.  Think about what you enjoy eating and also what you have a hard time finding at the grocery store or farmers market. 

You can also plant Marigolds to help control pests

  • Tomatoes – 5 plants, staked
  • Zucchini Squash – 4 plants
  • Peppers – 6 plants
  • Cabbage
  • Bush Beans
  • Lettuce
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Marigold (For Pest Control)

So there you have it, the very basics of getting your vegetable garden started so you can enjoy fresh vegetables this year.  It’s not too much work and is something you can do even with a busy schedule. 

If you found this article helpful please share it on your favorite social media sites.

Categories: Gardening

How Do I Start Gardening?

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starting-garden

Millions of people across the country grow their own fruits and vegetables every year.  You may be wondering how you can do the same.  Did you grow up in the middle of town and never had to grow anything? Or, do you come from a family that provided everything for you from the store so you didn’t have to think about where it came from?  Even if those situations aren’t yours you can still enjoy growing your own vegetables and eat healthier because of it.  So how do you start?  Well buckle up and here we go.

Step 1: Research

So one of the first things you really want to do before you start throwing seeds in the ground is look up what region you’re in.  Different regions have different planting seasons.  You never want to plant before the last freeze of winter.  If temperatures drop below freezing it can kill your seeds and nothing will grow.  You also want to do a soil test to make sure the nitrogen levels are where they should be.  You can get soil test kits from most garden supply stores for only a couple of dollars.  Also each vegetable has different soil nutrient requirements which you should also look up for the plants you want to grow.

Step 2: Prepare

The next thing you should do is begin getting the garden ready to plant.  To start with many people put a border around their garden to make it look nicer as well as keep pests out.  Things such as fences are usually a good idea especially if you live in the country and have rabbits, rodents, and other garden pests running around.  There are a number of things you can do to keep them out, some of which work better than others.

Fence

If you decide to put up a fence then here are some things to think about.  Rabbits can dig and they can jump so you will want to put your fence at least 1 ft. under the ground level and at least 3 feet high.  So to make it simple take a 4 foot high fence and trench the perimeter of the garden down 1 foot then place the fence into the trench so the bottom of the fence touches the bottom of the trench.  Attach the fence to your posts then backfill the trench.  You want to make sure that your fence has small enough holes that rabbits and other pests cannot get through it. 

Border Stones

Border stones can enhance the visual appeal of your garden quite a bit.  The downside is they don’t typically keep pests out.  If you have a fenced yard this may be a viable option for you. 

Step 3: Fertilize

Once you know what kind of garden you want to grow and have the fence in place the next thing you want to do is fertilize the soil.  This will add the nutrients that will allow your plants to thrive.  Different plants have different nutritional requirements so this step will vary depending on what you decide to grow.  There are a number of ways you can fertilize your new garden.  If you have horses, you can compost horse manure.  In fact you can compost most anything.  If you’re into sustainable living you can put old vegetables, leaves, dead plants etc. into your compost pile to feed your garden.  You can buy calf manure as well however, horse manure, if composted property can be gold for your garden.  If you live in a rural area and do not have horses you can probably get some from your neighbors who do.  Many horse owners are more than happy to have someone come get their manure for them.  There are also commercially available fertilizers that you can purchase from garden supply stores.  If you decide to use horse manure then read this article where we discuss how to properly compost it so it doesn’t damage your garden.  If you decide to fertilize with manure you want to spread it evenly across your garden and till it in with the soil.  If you purchase a commercial product then you will want to follow the manufacturer’s directions on how to properly apply it to your garden.

Step 4: Set Up Irrigation

This is an optional step but most people do it so they do not have to run a hose to the garden to water all the time.  What I’m doing in my garden this year is running 1-inch PVC with some small holes drilled into it between the rows of plants.  Doing this allows me to connect a hose to the end of the pipe using a ball valve and water the garden that way.  You can also connect the PVC to an outdoor hose bib if you have one available.  But remember you will want to add a way to turn the water on and off for the garden itself.  You can place a timer on to the hose bib and connect the hose to that so you can actually have your garden watered without having to go out to do it manually.  I picked up a 2 station timer at Wal-Mart for $20.  A 2 station timer has 1 input and 2 outputs.  These outputs can be set to a different schedule for watering so if you have 2 different gardens you can water them separately automatically.

Step 5: Plant

Now that you know what you’re going to plant, the soil is prepared and irrigation is in place the next thing you want to do is get those seeds in the ground.  This can be the most rewarding step as the hardest part of the work is over.  Each plant will produce multiple vegetables or fruits so you don’t need to go hog wild with seeds.  Space each seed out evenly in rows and add some type of sign so you can tell what row contains what plants.  You will want to keep testing the soil after you plant to make sure the nutrients are there throughout the growing season.  You will also want to ensure that your plants get adequate sunlight and water every day. 

Wrap-up

This is just a high level overview of the steps you should follow to get started with your new garden.  Each step can be a lot more in depth than this but this is the jest of it.  There are still a few things you will have to deal with once you’re planted such as pest control, bird control, etc. but for many people these things aren’t a big problem. 

What tips do you have for new gardeners?  Let me know in the comments below.  Also if you found this article helpful please share it on your favorite social media channels. 

Categories: Gardening

How to Compost Horse Manure

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garden

It’s that time of year when people are out getting their gardens going. One of the questions I’ve seen asked a number of times is how to compost horse manure. Horse Manure is one of the best types of fertilizer you can add to your garden and is called “Garden Gold” by a number of people. Horse manure can be very effective in your garden if its composted properly. In this article we discuss that very thing and give you a step by step process on how to compost your horse manure so it will supercharge your garden this year.

How long does it take?

Horse manure takes between 4 and 6 weeks to fully compost to the point where you can add it to your garden. It’s not a good idea to use fresh manure as it can burn the roots of your plants.

Hot Potato

If you are starting a new garden that you don’t plan to use for several months, then you could spread fresh horse manure on it. But, composting the manure before using it is the best idea. Although horse manure contain less nitrogen than poultry or sheep manure, they can still damage young plants. Fresh manure also attracts flies and has a strong odor, and manure runoff can pollute nearby streams and lakes.

Composting

Horse manure is very easy to compost and takes about 4 to 6 weeks to turn from stable waste into garden gold if it’s done properly. Composting does take a bit of work but it can pay off big time come harvest season. Constructing a small pile of 3 by 3 and 3 to 4 feet high helps the process to go much faster. A purchased or constructed bin helps keep the contents in place. Moisture is also necessary for composting, so if it hasn’t rained in a week or more, spray the pile with a garden hose until you dampen the material slightly to the consistency of a well-wrung out sponge. If you have accidently over-watered then you can add some dried leaves to the pile.

Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio

The most important part of the composting process is the carbon to nitrogen ration. This is what allows you to turn fresh horse manure and bedding into finished compost in a few weeks. Layering the manure with dried leaves allows the air to flow freely and keeps the pile from smelling too bad. The ratio for horse manure is 15 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, so for every inch of horse manure added to the pile, add a 15-inch layer of high carbon material, such as dried plants or leaves.

Turning up the heat

To go from fresh horse manure and bedding to finished compost in a month, make sure the pile gets enough oxygen. Turning the pile, ideally about three times per week, adds oxygen that speeds up the composting process. A properly built compost pile heats up to 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit as it works. When the pile no longer feels hot and the composted manure resembles dark brown garden soil, it is safe to use on your garden.

Hot Bed

Fresh manure transforms a cold frame for over-wintering plants into a hot frame where you can grow vegetables and plants even in the middle of winter. Cold frames, small garden enclosures covered by windows or heavy plastic lids, only keep plants from dying in freezing temperatures, but do NOT encourage plant growth. To make a hot frame, dig a two-foot hold underneath the frame, add about four inches of gravel for drainage, one foot of horse manure, tapped down and moistened with water, and six inches of garden soil. Check the temperature of the soil with a soil thermometer, and place your plants in the hot frame when the temperature registeres between 70 and 75 F.

Word of Caution

Hot compost piles can catch on fire, so make sure that you locate your pile away from buildings or combustible materials. Do not smoke near a compost pile, and if the contents begin to smell like alcohol, DO NOT add water but instead turn the pile to give it more air.

What is Composting?

Composting is the process of allowing organic materials to decompose in a more or less controlled environment, so that the resulting material can be used as a beneficial soil additive. For gardeners and farmers, composting is an essential activity; it is easy to do, and makes use of large amounts of organic waste. Growing with compost allows you to recycle naturally. This can be a convenient option for your home’s farm.

Categories: Gardening

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