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Archive for the ‘vegetable gardening’ Category

seed-catalogueIt has been a wonderful Christmas season here in North Georgia. While many parts of the country are suffering under the weight of major winter storms and frigid winds, we have enjoyed unusually pleasant conditions. In fact, it was 73 degrees on Christmas day.  Today is the 28th and it’s still gorgeous.

After terrible drought that lasted from late spring, we’ve had plenty of rain in December and with the recent warm up, our pastures and lawns are showing signs of life again. It’s such a blessing.

There are many things I love about this time of year, including: eggnog, carols, colored lights, Emmanuel, decking the halls, and getting the mail. Each afternoon I rush to the mailbox in eager anticipation of what the postman has delivered. And most days, among the Christmas cards, seasonal flyers, and bills, is at least one or more catalogs from seed companies around the country. I cherish each one of them, and devour them like a hungry man devours a bologna sandwich.

You see, it’s garden planning season. It’s time to see what’s new and to ensure our tested and true varieties of fruits, vegetables and flowers are still available. It’s time to decide what we’re planting, what we’re NOT going to grow this year, and what new things we want to try.

Please, I beg you, don’t wait until April or May and go all impulsive at the garden center. Make your plan now. Order your seeds.  Think it through. If you don’t, I promise, all those colorful plants and seed packets in the centers will mesmerize you into buying all kinds of things you don’t need. After those long winter nights and short days, our resistance is down and the first signs of spring will make us vulnerable to many shiny, colorful, growing things.

Lest I deceive you into thinking I have an iron will and self-discipline of steel, I should disclose that I am as weak as any other man. Even the catalogs have me creating wish lists that would require 40 acres of gardening space.  The photos of delicious looking veggies, beautiful flower assortments, and highly productive trees combined with elaborately written descriptions of the varieties, make my head spin.

Fortunately, I’ve done this long enough, that by the time I’m ready to purchase; I’ve come down from my catalog high and have regained a modicum of reason.

Since I’ve kept notes on what worked and what didn’t from the previous season, I am able to know what I DON’T want, as well as what I do.

If you’re new to gardening, you’ll likely be overwhelmed at all the choices. You think you want to grow green beans, and then you discover dozens of varieties that you have to choose from. Oh and let’s not forget you have to choose, bush, pole, or runner varieties.

And that’s just the beans. Wait till you get to the corn, lettuce or tomatoes.  It’s almost enough to drive you to the frozen food section of your nearest supermarket to fill your cart with frozen vegetables and forget the whole crazy notion of your own edible suburb.

Don’t panic. It gets easier. And in the early days, look for people to help. Ask questions. Read blogs. Watch videos. I am going to do a whole series of short blogs featuring varieties I recommend. Plus, if you go to the contact us section, and join our mailing list, I’ll send you a .pdf of my ’10 Bomb Proof Varieties’ to help guarantee you success.

For now, if you’re not already getting annual seed catalogs, let me give you a few of my favorites. I literally get dozens, but I do MOST of my buying from these places:

Johnny’s Seeds, Totally Tomatoes, Refining Fire Chiles, Buckeye Pepper Company, Victory Seeds (for heirlooms I love this site), and, Burpee. If you are looking for ‘complete’ heirloom variety garden kits, you might check out The Seed Guy.  This is where I bought my ‘Emergency Garden.’ I have one of his packages in my freezer in case of emergency. It’s all heirloom varieties. While it contains many things I won’t grow, the excess is worth it for the great number of things I would turn to in case of ‘Zombie Apocalypse’. There are many other I buy from, and there are a host of honorable seed companies out there,  but these places are where I get the bulk of my seeds and starter plants.  Please feel free to use the comments section and tell us all some of your favorite sources.

In the meantime, Happy New Year. And happy planning.

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Gordon Castle's Walled Garden

Gordon Castle’s Walled Garden

Brittan and I are in Scotland at the moment. We’re halfway through a 5 week stay and it’s been awesome. I lived here for 13 years, a long time ago, and it’s wonderful to be back. It really is a most beautiful country.

One of my favorite things has been to visit places I haven’t been or don’t remember, especially gardens and scenic locations.  At the top of the list so far, has been the Walled Garden at Gordon Castle, in Fochabers, Moray.

Even if you’ve been to Scotland, the odds are you haven’t visited Fochabers, or any of the Moray district, for that matter.  Most tourists don’t get past Edinburgh, or Loch Lomond, unless they manage a train journey to Inverness in search of the Loch Ness Monster.

Make no mistake, you can see some awesome sights wherever you go in Scotland, especially if you love gardening. Let me mention two of them during this rambling introduction:

1.       The Royal Botanical Gardens in Glasgow. This is a Victorian garden and has some of the most interesting greenhouses I’ve ever seen. Many of the plants are very old and the aging architecture of the greenhouses will transport you back to before the turn of the 20th century. If you hit the mean streets of ‘Glesga’ don’t miss this treat.

2.       Inverewe Gardens near Ullapool on the West Coast. The drive from Inverness alone is worth the trip to Scotland. The views are breath taking. You will find yourself stopping to snap photos every mile or two. But when you get to Inverewe Gardens, you will swear you have been transported to Eden. I may write more about it later, but I promise you, you’d better take extra memory cards for your camera.

Earlier this week, though, I was introduced to one of Scotland’s best kept secrets, Gordon Castle’s Walled Garden at Fochabers, Moray. I lived within 10 miles of this glorious site for 7 years and never knew it existed. Mind you, it’s only been open to the public a few years, but still…

Fochabers is situated nearly halfway between Inverness and Aberdeen just off the main road between them. During my time here it was on the main road, but a bypass has been built since then. The area has always been one of my favorites. Baxters of Speyside, sort of the ‘Campbell’s Soup of Scotland’ is probably the primary tourist draw, but the Fochabers Woods trails and scenic overlook are also personal favorites. But when friends took Brittan and me to the Walled Garden earlier this week, my heart was stolen, along with my breath.

The castle itself is very nice, but the fact that the estate is still a working farm, made me giddy. The  round bales of hay still fresh and standing in the fields, lent an extra charm to the whole magic scene; open fields surrounded and divided by strategic strips of properly maintained hardwood forests, made for a gorgeous drive back to the Visitor’s Center and  the Walled Garden itself. 

The Visitor’s Center has the mandatory gift shop and café which are in themselves, very nice, if I say so myself, and I so say so myself.

walled-garden-2The gardens themselves stole my heart away. As you can see from the arial photos I downloaded from their website (I was too overwhelmed to remember to snap any), the garden is not overly large, maybe a couple acres, but it is spectacular. Even in mid-October, there were still flowers blooming and fall vegetables growing.

The walls were lined with trained apple and pear trees clinging to them with the garden laid out artistically in a series of beds, making up the centerpiece. At the parking lot end, a roomy chicken coop housed a happy flock of laying hens, which always makes me happy.

There were als a couple large well designed greenhouses, much more handsome than the ones we usually have in north Georgia.  In one of them, a couple dozen tomato plants were still in full production. I was extremely jealous.

In the other house, hundreds of onions (several varieties) and shallots were drying, probably to be used at the castle and in the café.

But, as you might guess, the main attraction for me, were the containers growing a wide variety of hot peppers. Some of the plants were still producing, outside, at this latitude. Scotland, because of the gulf stream is a zone 8, but here on the Moray Firth, plants must be protected from the harsh, cold winds. Gordon’s setting, combined with walls, buildings, and greenhouses provide just such protection.

I recognized Jalapenos, Habaneros, Yellow Ghost, Cayenne, and Moruga Scorpions. There were also some names and pods I didn’t know. On the whole, the pods were smaller than what we grow in Georgia, but they looked great.

I wanted to stay there all day. Heck, I wanted to apply for a job. Gordon Castle, and its walled garden, is my dream farm. I fell totally head over heels.

Scotland is full of gems like this for those who are willing to get off the beaten tourist track. But I warn you, if you are a gardener of vegetables, or flowers, your expectations will change forever. The bar has been raised. I need to start redesigning, now. After all, that’s what winter is for.

 

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first indoor set up. I moved the container off the aquarium and floated herbs in water

first indoor set up. I moved the container off the aquarium and floated herbs in water

For some reason, when the growing bug bites, it doesn’t take note of the weather conditions. The itch it produces wants to be scratched and no amount of Benadryl will help. My advice is, go ahead a scratch it. Start your growing indoors. It’s easier than ever to have an indoor garden, and it doesn’t have to cost the moon.

For obvious reasons, my first choice is always to grow outdoors, but most of us don’t live in an environment that promotes all year gardening. We have that dark, cold season, lovingly called, Winter, with short, cold days, and long cold nights. Brrr….

A hoop or green house will lengthen the growing season, but won’t necessarily extend it indefinitely. So, if you absolutely must keep growing in winter, or, if you have no outside space to grow at any time, then consider moving your garden inside.

Once upon a time, the lighting alone for growing indoors would set off alarms at the power company as well as your local bank. Grow lights were outrageously priced to buy, and extremely expensive to run.

Fortunately, those days are gone. With LED and full spectrum CFL options available, cost is no longer an impediment to indoor gardening.  Space will generally be the limiting factor.

If you have a garage, basement, spare room, or even an unused closet, you’re in business. Even counter or wall space in a studio apartment can be utilized to grow some herbs, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and more.  All that’s needed is a little creative thinking.

I highly recommend starting small. I would use two or three self-watering containers, like Earthbox, and grow some herbs in one, some lettuce in one, and a small cherry tomato like, ‘Tumbler’ in the third.  I might even grow a Jalapeno with the tomato plant. I’ve done that before and It works well. 

Get a grow light for each box, or build a bank of them for the whole set up. You don’t have to break the bank.  You might even make a reflector from some aluminum foil. 

Set the lamps about 4 or 5 inches above the plants and raise them as the plants grow. Keep the light fairly close without burning the plants.  LED and CFL bulbs don’t give off a great deal of heat anyway.

EzGro Hydroponics Unit another indoor option

EzGro Hydroponics Unit another indoor option

Your plants are going to want at least 12 hours of daylight, so either remember to turn the lights on and off, or invest $10 or so in a timer. One of the cheap Christmas light ones will do nicely. You might even have one of those already.

A couple alternatives would be a small hydroponic set up or an aquaponics system.  My first indoor garden was a combination.  I had a tomato and pepper in a self-watering container filled with coconut coir rather than potting mix.  I also had a 20 gallon fish tank with some goldfish.  I floated some basil and lettuce on a piece of Styrofoam in the fish tank, and pumped water out of the fish tank with a small aquarium pump for the pepper and tomato.  It worked really well. 

If you try something like that, you’ll have to top up your fish tank regularly. Make sure you dechlorinate your water first. I kept a 5 gallon bucket of water beside the tank. I would refill it and let it stand at least 24 hours to dechlorinate naturally. There are some excellent fish safe dechlorinating products on the market.

As you become more skilled you can expand your garden. Many people have some good sized systems in their basements or garages. Others just grow a few kitchen herbs on the counter. It’s your garden. It’s your call.

If you have  questions or testimonies to share, please send them via the comments sections. Feel free to include photos of your indoor garden. We’d love to see it. Let us know what your grow, and what doesn’t work for you.

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Sadly, you'll never see this in my garden.

Sadly, you’ll never see this in my garden.

If you hang around me more than a few minutes, I’m going to figure out a way to bring up the subject of raising food. It might be livestock, but more likely it will be fruits and vegetables. I love growing edibles, one look and you can tell I love eating them, and I love talking about growing food.

There are lots of people who are better gardeners than I am, and maybe one or two who aren’t, but nobody likes talking gardening more than me. Ask anyone.

There are, though, some things I can grow really well, and others that I just can’t grow even if my life depended on it. Today, just for giggles, I’m going to tell you my absolute best and worst.

Let’s start with best, because it’s easy. Most of you already know what it is. My most prolific results come from hot peppers. So far, I have never gotten a bad result from hot peppers. Sweet varieties have been a little more difficult, though I’m getting the hang of them, but the hot varieties are like in my DNA.

I’ve cut back in recent years, because I get so many peppers I can’t figure out what to do with them. Around here where we live, there aren’t many people who like the hotter ones. In fact, we have friends who don’t even use black pepper. As a result, a lot of my peppers end up dried and turned into powder. I have dried cayenne peppers from 2009 in the pantry. I kid you not.

This year I only grew 5 varieties of hot peppers: jalapeno (3 plants), Habanero (4 plants), Thai (3 plants), Yellow Ghost (three plants), and Yellow Moruga (1 Plant) and I have harvested enough to last us years. I will make one more harvest at the end of this week and then simply pull the plants up.

As successful as my peppers have been, there is a fruit I simply can’t grow; cantaloupe. I have NEVER successfully harvested and eaten a cantaloupe that I have grown myself. A couple of years they all burned up, one year the chickens got them all, but the biggest heartache of all was the year I had several one day from a planned harvest and one of my dogs got into the garden and ate all the ripe ones. We know it was her because A. we caught her in the act, and B. she crapped seeds for days.

Do I sound bitter? You bet I am. The truth hurts. I didn’t even try to grow any this year. I will try again….eventually.

So there you have it; the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. What about you? Are there things you grow well? Varieties you can’t grow for love nor money? Jump on the comments page and tell us about it. Spill.

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fertilizerEverything in the food chain needs to eat. From humans all the way down to beneficial bacteria; we all eat. A few species along the way are mostly carnivores, a few are herbivores, but the majority are omnivores, including the soil and the many of the microbes that live in that soil. For the sake of time and the focus of this article, though, we’re going to stick to discussing our soil and the nutrients our fruit and veggies need to grow and thrive.

Many gardeners think of the earth as merely a growing medium, something to hold plants while they grow, but it’s so much for than that. Think of the earth as either growing or dying.  The way we treat the soil, whether in beds or containers, will either develop and grow the soil or it will kill it.

The soil is the receptacle that houses the nutrients that grow our plants. Water is the vehicle that transports the nutrients TO the plants, as they are on a liquid diet, so to speak.

Plants require several nutrients; primarily Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, (NPK).  Most commercial garden fertilizers advertise their NPK ratios right on the bag or box. As an example, you might see 5-5-5 or 4-1-1, etc. In the first case, it means 5 parts Nitrogen, 5 parts, Phosphorus, and 5 Potassium. The second example is 4 parts N, and one part each of P and K.

Each variety of fruit and veg you grow has its own requirements, so one size doesn’t always fit all. A good, healthy nutrient rich soil will go a long way to meeting most plants needs and your fertilizer will mostly supplement what’s there.  Before we go, I’m going to show you a great workaround in choosing your fertilizer.  But first I want to show you how to minimize your requirements for them.

If NPK was all plants needed, things would be pretty simple, but the truth is, plants need much more. NPK are called Macronutrients, while the lesser requirements are called micronutrients. However, there are some others I consider Macronutrients, because they make a huge difference in performance.

The first is Magnesium. Magnesium is to plants what Vitamin B complex is to humans. It boosts energy and vitality. The easiest way to get Magnesium to your garden is via Epsom salts, which by the way, are not salts at all.  While I add some to my garden beds, most of the time, I add the Epsom salts to my regular watering regime.  It is easily dissolved and is very easy for plants to take absorb it through their leaves, or to take it up via their roots.

Secondly, plants need Calcium, especially varieties that produce fruit like tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, etc. There are some great water soluble Calcium products, but it’s really easy to add garden lime, egg shells, oyster shell or something similar to the soil at the beginning of the garden season when you’re working your beds.

Third is iron. We don’t think of it enough.  There are many great natural products on the market to enrich the iron content of your soil. Remember, the general principle is, we feed the soil so the soil can feed the plants. Are we making sense so far?

Oh, something that happens more frequently that we realize is what’s called, nutrient lockout.  The short version is, there are nutrients in the soil, but the plants can’t access them. This is where beneficial bacteria (microbes) come in.  One of the best supplements you can use if you have a particularly bad patch, would be humates.  Humates, mostly humic acid help bind the carbon to the nutrients so   your plants can take advantage of those nutrients.  Humates are available in bag form and in liquid concentrate.  In bag form it’s added directly to the bed and worked into the soil. In liquid form, it’s diluted and added either directly to the soil, or used as a foiliar spray.

Many studies have shown that humates improve nutrient uptake by 30% to 50%.  That’s huge. In an future update, I will focus on the benefits and types of humates, but for now, let’s get the principles.

There are many types of soil amendments available to build soil; straw, wood chips, perlite, leaves, all come to mind right away. If you’re going to use wood chips or straw, I encourage adding them the autumn before you plan to plant to give them time to better decay. Perlite and leaves can be added when you begin to work up your beds. I’ll explain about the wood chips in a future update.

Obviously, good rotted horse, cow, or chicken manure is awesome.  But make sure it is well rotted.  The best ways to do that are to make a compost pile and let nature take its course, or to add some compost worms to the edges of the pile after it’s been standing a few weeks.  A third way, and maybe the best, is to let chickens have access to your compost pile.

Better than any of those other manures is rabbit manure. Rabbit manure is not ‘hot’ like what comes from more traditional livestock. In simple terms, the nitrogen and ammonia in most manures is so rich and dense that it can burn the roots of plants. Rabbit manure is ‘cold’, as if it’s already been composted.   Goat manure is great, too, but they aren’t usually confined like rabbits, so it’s harder to get it raked up and used. Goat manure from a stall or paddock is usually full of straw or wood chips, and needs a great deal of composting.

If you have a pet rabbit, you’re already in luck. If you don’t maybe it’s time to consider it. J.  A pair of bunnies will provide hours of enjoyment, loads of baby cuteness, tons of fertilizer, and for true omnivores, many pounds of the healthiest meat on the planet. I know that here in the USA, we think of rabbits as either pests or pets, but with the possible exception of goat meat, rabbit is the most consumed meat in the world.  Ask any heart specialist about the value of rabbit meat.  (Note: we’re not going to debate eating rabbits. This is an omnivore site and I’m an omnivore. If you don’t want to eat rabbit, no worries, don’t. Just enjoy them as pets and as little fluffy manure factories.)

The great thing about rabbit manure is that you can apply it directly to the garden without composting.  Talk about convenience.  In the early days, I would just empty the trays below the cages into a wheelbarrow and take it straight to the garden beds.  These days, I prefer to put it in my worm compost bins.  The worms compost the rabbit poo fairly quickly and the compost is even better than the straight rabbit manure.

So, worm composted rabbit manure is my number one choice for the garden. Straight rabbit manure is my second choice, and worm castings are number 3.

In a future episode, I’ll give you a secret recipe for the perfect compost mix, but this is the fertilizer issue, so I’m going to share two very similar fertilizers that in my experience are the best options for new and intermediate gardeners.

The first is Sea Grow 16-16-16.

This is a water soluble, seaweed based formula that is perfectly balanced and contains micronutrients.  The only thing you need to add is calcium and magnesium. It is ideal for raised beds and containers.  If you have a good soil mix to begin with, you can dilute the Sea Grow to a 50% strength with some calcium/Magnesium and you’ll have great results.  I mostly use a hose end sprayer, but in the greenhouse, when I’m feeding, I will mix the sea grow in a watering can.

My second recommendation is very similar to Sea Grow and is called MaxSea 16-16-16. Instructions are the same.

I also use both products in small Deep Water Culture Hydroponics systems for growing lettuce and greens. IMO, the Sea Grow gets better results in hydroponics systems, but there is no difference between them when I use them in soil.

There are other formulas in both products that are designed for different growth stages.  Frankly, in soil and container gardens, I haven’t seen the benefits of the ‘bloom’ formulas. If you’re going to grow blooming and fruiting plants hydroponically, then adding the bloom formula to the mix once buds appear, can improve results.  But we’ll save that for another day.

If you don’t want to deal with mixing water soluble formulas, then consider the Jobe’s line of products or the line from Espoma.  Both are available from most garden centers and big box stores.  In the long run, I believe the Sea Grow and Max Sea are more versatile and less expensive, but I’ve gotten great results with Jobe’s and Espoma.

There is an enormous array of fertilizer options on the market. Please do some homework before you just go buy something that promises miracles; especially if you want to use products that are good for the soil.

That’s it for this week. If you try, or have tried, my recommended fertilizers, let me know how it goes.  I’d also love to hear your recommendations.

As mentioned earlier, when we get closer to Spring, I’ll give you my recipe for a dynamite soil mix.  Talk to you soon.

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k0284391I should be nestled all snug in my bed as visions of sugar plums dance in my head, but I can’t sleep. Hey, it happens.  This time it’s all about seasonal allergies.  All the weed pollen floating around Georgia found its way into my lungs and I have some kind of chest infection.  As a result, last night my lungs were exploding and I didn’t sleep at all.  Mostly I just panicked.  Then today, I pretty much slept all day. Now tonight, I can breathe well enough to sleep, but I’m not sleepy. Figures. So…I have a cup of tea at hand and decided to talk to you a bit about what I learned from this year’s gardening season. That way, if you can’t sleep either, you can use this post as a sedative.

I learn something every year. Sometimes it’s a lot, sometimes a little, but always something.  If you don’t already keep some kind of a garden journal, I encourage you to start doing so. It can be elaborate, or very simple. I choose the simple route. I use a spiral notebook and a mechanical pencil. Maybe it’s my age, but for whatever reason, the information sticks better if I write it rather than enter it into the computer.

Usually in December I start planning my garden for the next spring.  And here’s a tip to save you some coin.  Many seed companies have end of season sales in December and you can pick up some pretty good deals. 

Anyway, I always write out my garden plan including all the varieties I intend to plant and when I will start the seeds. At the end of the season, I like to take note of what I learned.  That’s what I’m up to tonight as I sip my late night English Breakfast tea.

1.       This was a hard year. In part it was because it was so hot and dry.  Many of the plants really suffered. Besides the heat, my health has been up and down due to some back issues so I didn’t keep up on the weeding very well.  In all honesty, that got out of hand. All in all, it was pretty discouraging.  But I have a plan. Lesson: regardless of experience, some times you’re going to have a bad year. Live with it.

2.       This year it finally sank in that buckets are not very good as containers except for a few select items like snap peas or maybe a cucumber.  For several years I’ve used them for tomatoes, and except for the occasional cherry or grape variety, the results have been marginal, at best.  I like container gardens because of the flexibility, and I’ve always had a lot of buckets because they’re cheap. My logic was that buckets are deep and the roots can really dive deep, but in reality that’s not what most veggies, including tomatoes really want.  This year, my veggies in half barrels and self watering containers did much better than anything in buckets.  I could see the difference as soon as I pulled up the plants after they were done. The roots want to spread out more than go deep.  For example, I had a single zucchini in a 3 ft by 5 ft. 8 inch deep concrete block raised bed that out performed any three zucchini in buckets. The roots spread through the whole bed, the plant was at least 7 feet across and I maybe got 24 or 25 fruit off of it.  The ones in the buckets were a foot tall, 2 feet across and gave me 3 or 4 fruit each.  Soil, nutrients, water were all the same.  The plants in buckets couldn’t spread out.

Similarly, I have one Yellow Moruga Scorpion pepper plant all on it’s own in a container with a wide top and it is twice as large as any other pepper plant, and it has much larger fruit. 

As for tomatoes, I use a popular brand of self watering container that says grow two plants per container.  I always do that, but this year, as an experiment, I took two containers and planted just one tomato and a basil plant. The difference was extraordinary. This revelation has changed my gardening forever.  Lesson: some crops benefit from intensive planting, others want room to spread out. Buckets have limitations. Sometimes spending a little more on larger containers saves in the long run.

For the record, my snap peas and cucumbers did great in the buckets. 

3.       I learned the hard way, that Deep Water Culture hydroponics is not the best way to grow tomatoes outside in Georgia.  The plants got off to a fast start in the green house and were huge and lush.  I had 13 in total. They filled with fruit early. I have never even come close to having tomatoes start off like these DWC ones did.  I was expecting to be canning tomatoes by mid June.  Then the hot weather hit and my hydro tomatoes disappeared as if by dark magic,  despite adding extra oxygen.  The water just got too hot and the roots cooked.  It was ugly and I was extremely disappointed.  Lesson learned.  Lesson: If I’m going to grow hydroponic tomatoes in Georgia, use Dutch Buckets, or another drip system.

4.       Speaking of hydroponic tomatoes, I learned that for me, they don’t taste nearly as good as soil grown ones.  The same is not true for green leafies or cruciferous ones.  I found that if you flush the system of all nutrients and run just water for a few days, like you do with aquaponics, it helps. Lesson: Always flush Hydroponic tomatoes with fresh water for about a week before eating.

5.       Let me stick with tomatoes for one more lesson. On the whole, cherry tomatoes are hardier than slicers. This has been true for me since I started serious gardening many years ago. Whether we’re talking about water shortages, heat index, or even calcium deficiencies, cherry tomatoes have always handled adversity better than their larger, more glamorous cousins. For that reason, I recommend ALWAYS having a few in your garden.  Lesson: Make Cherry Tomatoes a garden staple.

6.       It’s always better to oversize the water pumps on your aquaponics systems. I’ve found that with the exception of very small aquarium type systems, systems don’t turn over as quickly as advertised on the packaging, so It’s valuable to go a size up. The cost increase is marginal and the results are worth it. Lesson: Saving money on the front end, sometimes costs a great deal on the back end.

7.       I’m going to offer one more aquaponics lesson. This year I tried some water fountain/pond filter combinations as an experiment.  Essentially, they are great as a pre-filter or sprayer for oxygenation for the fish tank, but I had no luck using them as stand alone filters.  I tried a 1250 gph combo in a 300 gal system (150 gal fish tank, 2 x 50 gal raft beds, plus sump, and couldn’t keep up with even 30 common goldfish. It was a pretty water feature, but didn’t work as a filter.  Adding a small trickle filter between the Fish tank and first raft would have helped. Alternatively, swapping the sprayer for a media filter would have worked, too.  Fish waste simply requires more filtration than those little boxes can handle. Lesson: While it’s possible to have too little filtration, it’s virtually impossible to have too much. Make sure you have enough space for strong beneficial bacteria colonies.

8.       Mulching matters.  This year, despite having a couple tons of tree mulch available, I didn’t use it.  And I paid the price. Weeds were terrible, and with the dry summer, my watering needs were off the chain. 

In July, I was losing my roses. They were baking.  So I fed them, watered them thoroughly and mulched them well with some pine straw I had in the greenhouse. The benefits were almost instantaneous.  I had no more problems and twice the blooms of last year.  Similarly, I have 3 blackcurrant bushes that positively hate Georgia summers. I mulched two of them and they have tolerated and endured this season despite being on the face of the sun.  The one I didn’t mulch, died.  I fed it and watered it regularly, but it failed.  Lesson indelibly marked on my brain; Mulching is a part of garden essentials. It is not optional.

And there you have it; eight lessons that will make my future gardening endeavors more successful. They will work for you, too. I encourage you to incorporate them into your plans, immediately.

I’d love to hear what you learned this year. Just use the comments section and let’s talk.  Next week will be the first annual ‘Fertilizer issue’.  I will review 3 different commercial products I use(d) and make some recommendations.  Until then, have a great weekend. And remember, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

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suncartoonWe’ve had one heck of a hot summer here in Georgia; and it’s wreaked havoc on our garden.  The heat came early, in late April.  Oh, I forgot to mention, it’s also been dry.  Our summer squash really struggled. I had to harvest the zucchini and cucumbers much earlier (and smaller) than normal to ensure good texture and flavor.

Our strawberries were good and plentiful, but came in much earlier than the last two years.

Frankly, the corn was a disaster. I made some mistakes with it that I will confess in another post, but for now, just know I couldn’t keep enough moisture on it.

I lost my battle over our tomatoes.  They started better than ever.  They were gorgeous until early May.  Once the heat got crazy, I couldn’t get them to produce. They simply don’t like to make fruit in hot weather.  We had an excellent early harvest, but now, only the hardiest cherry tomatoes are prospering.

The green beans and potatoes have been fine.  Harvests were not as big, but quality was good.

Oddly, most years I have real trouble with winter squash. This year, I only planted ONE butternut and ONE acorn squash. They produced like crazy.  I think they liked the warmer weather.  They would have done even better, but our free range rabbits developed a taste for winter squash. 🙂

It’s our peppers, though, that have been most dramatically impacted by this crazy summer.  First, for reasons I’ll explain another day, we didn’t plant at many plants this year.  I planted three bell, 3 mini bell, 8 jalapeno, 4 Doux des Landes, 3 Thai, 3 yellow ghost, 1 yellow Moruga Scorpion, and 4 roasting peppers.  Oh, I almost forgot, we also have 5 habanero plants.

First, only one of my bell peppers survived the heat and a rabbit invasion. To my surprise, the one that survived turned out to be a Giant Aconcagua and not a bell at all. I was elated, because I prefer Aconcagua.

Not a single mini bell survived. I’m pretty sad, because they tend to be so very sweet.  On the other hand, we prefer Aconcagua, Roasters, and Doux des Landes anyway, so it’s all good.

Stumpy, but Potent Jalapeno

Stumpy, but Potent Jalapeno

With the single exception of the Yellow Moruga, all the pepper plants are stunted. Before you ask, they all had plenty of nutrients and compost.  It is my suspicion that the lack of rain played a role. I was forced to use the garden hose from late April, and our water is loaded with chlorine and chloramines. The only water I dechlorinate is for the aquaponics systems and they did very poorly. It was so hot, that even with extra oxygen the raft beds were too warm for the plant roots. Again, more in another post.

While the plants were small, they have been prolific, providing an abundance of pods. The pods on the sweet peppers have all been smaller than normal. The Doux des Landes, for example have mostly been only a little larger than a long red cayenne. They have also had more heat than one would expect. Instead of just a little warm aftertaste, these have had an actual kick.  A few have been full size, but only about 10%.

Ironically, the Moruga plant is gorgeous, large and green.  For whatever reason, though, the rabbits love the taste and we haven’t gotten a single fruit.   They are the only peppers we’ve lost to the bunnies.  Oh well.

The Ghost and habanero plants are smaller than normal, but the fruit is full sized.  The Jalapeno fruit is about half the size of normal summers. The big thing, though, is the heat. Oh my Gosh, are the hot peppers hot.  It’s like everything has been sized up.  My wife and in laws swear the Jalapenos are like Habaneros.  I don’t think they are quite that hot, but boy howdy, they pack a punch. Most years, I snack on them like a sweet pepper.  Not this year. No sir, not this year.

As for the Habaneros, although they are common orange ones, I’d compare them to Red Savina. And as for the Yellow Ghost, they are hot like red ones. The first one I ate, I was disappointed at first, because it didn’t hit at all for about 20 seconds. Then it suddenly turned to shock and awe. I love that. It’s deceptive.

All I can guess is that the extra heat stressed the peppers which often intensifies the heat. And this year’s heat is INTENSE. Yay!

Miniature Doux des Landes

Miniature Doux des Landes

My disappointment in the early setbacks has been replaced by delight due to the flavor.  All varieties hot and mild are bursting with it. And there are a lot of flowers and young pods still developing.

How has your garden done?  I’d love to hear about it.

Talk to you soon.

 

 

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