Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to Control Aphids in your Home Vegetable Garden

According to a study by the USDA, aphids rank as the top insect to do damage to people’s home vegetable gardens. You may agree with those findings. Aphids are very common throughout the world and come in all shapes and sizes. They feed on pretty much everything and when they are done feeding on a plant their young will develop wings, move to the next plant and the process starts all over.

No need to fear though as you are in luck. There are a number of ways to get rid of aphids, all of which are safe, easy to use and obtain. Some solutions you can buy, but many others you can make on your own.

Let’s start with the #1 way to get rid of aphids. Number 1, not because it is the easiest to implement or the cheapest, but number 1 because it works and that is bringing in the aphids predator. In other words another insect that will feed on the aphids. You can attract this predator by planting various herbs such as fennel or cilantro (in some cases), but the fastest way is to hit up your local garden store and buy some. The predator I am referring to are ladybugs. For about $20 you can get a few hundred to a few thousand and they eat their weight in aphids almost daily.

Another good and safe way to take care of your aphid population is to use sprays. There are a variety to choose from such as hot pepper and garlic sprays to soapy and neem oil sprays. All will work, some better than others, and if you buy one in the store expect to pay anywhere from $7 to $20 depending on the brand name, size etc. You can also make your own by doing various combinations of dish soap and water, or dish soap, baking soda/powder and water.

A third way, and the most inexpensive way, is to use yellow sticky traps. In my local home store you can get a 3 pack for $2. Hang a few around the plants where the aphids are and give it a shake. The ones that can fly will get stuck and eventually when the others start to fly they will end up there as well. Just keep in mind the yellow sticky trap does not distinguish good and bad bugs so use with caution.

The final way is to use diatamaceous earth. Without going into great detail on it, DE, is a safe way to control pests in your garden. It is fairly cheap and easy to get. The cost is about $10 to $15. The downfall of using DE is, just like yellow sticky traps, it does not distinguish between good insects and bad insects. It will affect them all. I try to use DE as a last resort if nothing else works.

Start with getting some ladybugs. That will be your best and safest bet. Within a few days after applying the ladybugs, your aphid issue should be handled.

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the owner of Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club, which has appeared on NBC, ABC and MSN Money as a great way for consumers to save money.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Seeds of the Month Club:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Your Vegetable Garden is Talking, Are you listening?

It is a fact that your home vegetable garden is going to go through ups and downs throughout the growing season. Not just the current season but also over many years. I find in my own experiences that from one year to the next that certain crops do better than others.

For example, last year I had one of the greatest tomato crops in my many year history of gardening. This year, the tomatoes, well, lets say they are being stubborn. My cucumbers are going through the roof, almost literally, as I had to extend the height of my trellis just to keep up! Last year many of the cucumbers were sour and stopped growing altogether around the end of July. Something I had never experienced.

I have taken a different approach this year after talking to some very seasoned gardeners and that is to “listen” to what my vegetable garden is telling me. No, my home vegetable garden is not actually talking, but little things occur that I need to be more aware of if I plan to have a more consistent garden.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular things your home vegetable garden actually tells you. The first one is pretty obvious and that is drooping plants. This is most common during hot temperatures. Many plants can not withstand the extreme heat and respond in kind by drooping or the beginnings of wilting. If those plants are in pots, pull them indoors if possible, otherwise make sure you give them a good watering to keep them hydrated.

A second popular thing your garden is telling you is lack of nutrients. Your plants aren’t going to tell you they need a daily multi vitamin, but they will tell you what they need in the form of deformations in leaves and in the fruit itself. Are your leaves yellow or yellowing? Chances are it lacks nitrogen. Do your tomatoes have blossom end rot? Then your soil may very well lack calcium.

Finally, one of the more popular issues home vegetable gardeners have are bugs. If the leaves have holes in them you have an issue. Shake a plant and if you see some insects flying around you probably have aphids. You get the point. Neem oil, diatamaceous earth, and pepper spray are just three safe solutions you can use to get it under control.

Your garden wants to thrive just as much as you want it to thrive and will tell you things. Keep an eye out for them and when you see something that may look out of the ordinary do a little research or ask a fellow gardener and tackle it as soon as the issue arises. Your garden will thank you for your efforts.

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the owner of Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club, which has appeared on NBC, ABC and MSN Money as a great way for consumers to save money.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Seeds of the Month Club:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Slugs in the Home Vegetable Garden

When I say slugs in the home vegetable garden I am not talking about the crabby old man around the corner that constantly wants your fresh fruits and veggies. I am talking about that annoying shell lacking gastropod mollusk that wreaks havoc on the plants you are growing.

Slugs will eat just about everything you grow in the garden and the carnage they leave behind to look at isn’t pretty. Who would think something so small could be so bad right? Well they are.

Slugs thrive in areas where there is plenty of moisture. Some common areas would be in gardens that have plenty of mulch or under potted plants that get regular watering's and areas of the garden that have become overgrown.

Predators to slugs make for great slug control however for many home vegetable gardeners attracting such predators may be too time consuming or near impossible. If you are lucky enough to attract some toads then you are business, but for me, in the suburbs, it doesn’t work out too well.

If obtaining some predators is not a viable option then one method that has worked well for many is putting out a tin pan filled with beer. Yeah I know, such a waste of a good drink, but this method truly works. It attracts the slugs and they eventually drown in it.

Another method that works great that I picked up from my grandfather many years ago was pouring salt on them. Since slugs need moisture, the salt dries them out, killing them. This method works well when you can get right at them and pour the salt directly. It doesn’t work so well when you blindly dump salt in areas that may or may not have slugs.

Along with beer traps and salt, diatomaceous earth, crushed egg shells, coffee grounds and copper also make for great slug deterrents.

As one friend of mine said previously, `if you have a vegetable garden, you have slugs`. This statement rings true. If you don’t have slugs consider yourself lucky or your vegetable garden is underwatered, but that’s a topic for a whole other conversation.

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the owner of Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club, which has appeared on NBC, ABC and MSN Money as a great way for consumers to save money.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Seeds of the Month Club:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bill Gates and the New Toilet

Although I know this has absolutely nothing to do with Vegetable Gardening I just simply could not resist with the joke given I have a 20+ year background working with Microsoft products.

Yesterday Bill Gates announced that he is going to reinvent the toilet to help impoverished countries.

The following is taken from and changed based on the information at

  1. For no reason whatsoever, your toilet would flush twice a day.

  2. Every time you changed the toilet paper, you would have to buy a new toilet.

  3. Occasionally your toilet would die for no reason. You would have to remove all the water, close the door to the bathroom, shut off the lights, unhook any pipes, and reconnect the toilet. For some reason you would simply accept this.

  4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a courtesy flush would cause your toilet to stop working. In this case you would have to install a new flapper.

  5. Steve Jobs would make a toilet that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to use - but would fit only five percent of the people.

  6. When you press the flush lever the toilet would ask "Are you sure?" before flushing.

  7. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your toilet seat would go down, lock you out and refuse to open until you simultaneously lifted the door handle to the bathroom, turned the key and grabbed hold of the toilet flush lever.

  8. Every time a new toilet is introduced, buyers would have to learn to use it all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old toilet.

  9. The toilet lever would be replaced with the "Start" button.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rights and Wrongs, the Early Edition

The wrong
Pepper Problem: Not so much problems as failure. I direct seeded and they did not come up. I have a 15-by-25 foot garden lush with plants, but none of the three varieties of peppers sprouted.

Seed budgeting: This might be the fault of the seeds of the month club, but I seem to collect honeydew, melon, and tomato seed packets in duplicate. Meanwhile, things I need to replant, like beans, spinach, radishes and lettuce never seem to come frequently enough. I may have to go to the store.

Weeding: We’ve all done it, gotten behind a bit and found a mess.
Failure to fence: I lost two bean plants early on to a rabbit because I wasn’t quick enough to get the fence up.

Tiller stall: I left my Merry Tiller in the rain after mixing in compost from the Amherst, New York Composting Facility this spring. The tiller now refuses to start. Carburetor appears fine but no spark. Pulling the flywheel to get to the points will be a winter job.

Climbing structures: Metal fence posts work fine. The beans are climbing them perfectly. The lattice of bailing wire between the posts, however, the beans show no interest in.
Artichokes: I tried and failed for about the 10th time to get artichokes to grow in a Zone 5 garden.

The right
First pickings: Lettuce, spinach, beets, are offering forth modest yields. Remember the greens are the best part of the radish, beet and turnip plants.

Second seedings: I’ve-planted more of the above. The first batch will be done yielding in another few weeks. Second seeding will lead to a continued harvest into September.

Reading the packages: I took my own advice and followed planting depths, seed spacing and thinning instructions to the letter. Higher yields and healthier plants are the result.

Fertilizer: Dried cow manure, $5 for a 30-pound bag. Beautiful and healthy plants appear to be the result of that manure and the aforementioned compost.

Water: We are bordering on drought conditions in our region. My sprinkler is set up to reach every corner. I’ve kept it on for 30 minutes almost daily.

Weeding: My trusty hoe is my constant companion, crutch and weed cutter. Staying ahead is the key.

Experimenting: This is a forgiving hobby. You don’t need to be an expert but to just have the gumption to try. If everything you do works perfectly, it probably means you aren’t taking enough chances.

To quote Mark Twain:
“In twenty years, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do, than by the things you did. So throw off the bowlines.... Explore, Dream, Discover…”

Joe Genco is a tenacious vegetable gardener and contributing writer to Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC. He works as a financial advisor by day. You can contact him at

Watch the video below to learn more about the Seeds of the Month Club:

Monday, July 18, 2011

People Tell Government, `Stay Out of Our Vegetable Gardens`

With so much talk going on right now in Washington, DC about debt ceilings and government spending one issue might be getting overlooked nationally right now and that is the case of Julie Bass, an Oak Park, MI woman, who was facing jail time because she had her vegetable garden in her front yard.

An existing ordinance in Oak Park, MI (a suburb of Detroit) reads that you can only have `decorative plants in the front of your house` as the reason behind the citation in the first place.

“Who determines what’s decorative? The mayor? Your neighbors? The guy around the corner?” says a frustrated Mike Podlesny, owner of Mike the Gardener Enterprises. “I think it’s an outrage that some government official not only tells you what you can and can’t grow on your property, but that they get to decide what is considered `decorative`”

A recent poll conducted by Podlesny, who is the administrator for the largest vegetable gardening page on Facebook ( at over 27,000 fans, and author of the book Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person, shows that 97.2% of respondents to the poll agree that Oak Park officials have way overstepped their authority.

Oak Park Mayor Gerald E. Naftaly claims that even though the citation could carry with it a 93 day jail sentence Ms. Bass will likely see no Jail time.

Podlesny continues, “I received countless emails from fans of our page and just couldn’t sit back and do nothing. If anything, Oak Park officials should be commending Ms. Bass for her vegetable gardening efforts and how easily one can grow their own food and feed their families especially in these tough economic times.”

Podlesny says that the vegetable gardening page fans rallied around Ms. Bass and called the mayor’s office as well as wrote letters.

According to a recent UPI story, the charges to Ms. Bass have been dropped. “I can’t say for sure that it was our efforts that lead to the charges being dropped, but it surely didn’t hurt,” says Podlesny. “We just know that we had to do our part to keep the pressure on the local government there so that, if nothing else, they would at least look at how ridiculous this charge was.”

Although the charge to Ms. Bass has been dropped the City as of yet has not changed the `decorative` ordinance so it is not clear if others could face the same charges in the future.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Chickens and the Home Vegetable Garden

I have recently begun a quest to learn as much as I can on the benefits of chickens that goes beyond their ability to lay eggs. A quest that my wife believes has turned into a near obsession. I’ll save that conversation for a later article and podcast. For now I want to concentrate on why chickens make for a great addition to a backyard home vegetable garden.

Before you even consider adding chickens, if you live in a suburban area like our family, check with any ordinances in your town to make sure it is legal to have them. In my town we are allowed up to 4, although I am sure if I had 6 or 8 I could bribe my neighbors with eggs, fruits, veggies and herbs from my backyard. Oops! Did I say bribe? I meant donate.

I have been vegetable gardening for over 30 years so that part of it I know very well. Chickens, however, are new to me. Although my grand parents had chickens on their farm in Wilkes Barre, PA way back in the early to mid 1900’s, I never had a chance to talk to them about it. The lesson here, make sure you learn as much as you can from those that have already done it and have been doing it longer before it’s too late.

One of my biggest challenges is understanding how big the coop has to be, the amount of room chickens need, what breed would be best and what do I do with them in the winter time. Sure it doesn’t get nearly as cold here in New Jersey as it does in Minnesota or North Dakota, but we do get plenty of snow and temps will drop to below freezing for most of January and February.

I recently had a chance to ask many of these questions to Lisa Richards of Mack Hill Farm which is located in Marlow, NH. Lisa has been keeping chickens for quite sometime and writes about them in her farm journal. On her farm she raises sheep, chickens, keeps bees, makes maple syrup and so much more. I felt as if I had hit the jack pot. An expert on the topic.

According to Lisa, a really good breed of chicken for colder climates is the Icelandic. They are a rare breed that are “used to low light” and will “continue to lay all winter.”

“The best thing about Icelandic chickens is that they go out and forage all winter long, despite deep snow and bad weather. They really are sort of amazing,” says Lisa. “They all roost high up in the roof of our coop, and we keep about 50 of them in a 6 x 12 foot building. They are only in there at night and to lay eggs.”

They make for a great choice because they do not get very large at all at about 3 pounds but are a strong. Lisa says she has seen 3 day old chicks following momma hen around in the snow. The Icelandic are a rare breed as Lisa says, there are only about 3,000 of them worldwide.

As I do more research I am learning quite a bit about chickens and their roll in the home vegetable garden. For starters chickens produce great manure which can be tilled into the soil to add much needed nutrients. Ok, that one was a given, but did you know that you should give their manure a minimum of 6 months before planting anything in that spot? And, chicken manure makes for a great addition to a compost bin from what I read, although I haven’t tried that one myself, yet (something new to try and look forward to I guess).

Chickens, in many cases will keep insects to a minimum in the backyard if you let them roam free, although many I have talked to said if you don’t keep an eye on your chickens they will wreak havoc on your garden as well.

As for other tips on keeping chickens, I turned to Susan Tordella, the “Chicken Eggducator” of She absolutely loves the white and brown leghorns as they are tremendous producers of eggs. So good at it that she claims “they lay eggs as regularly as humans laugh”. She recommends that you do not crowd your chickens. Give them at least 2 to 3 square feet each in the coop and more room in the yard. She says that during winter to remember that they are animals and have feathers to keep them warm, the important thing is to keep them dry. She likes to use an open air method. She says that if you live in a climate where temps get frigid you might have to invest in a water heater.

Chickens are just another avenue you can travel down as you embark on home vegetable gardening. Of course if you are new to gardening, jumping in with chickens may not be your best bet, just yet.

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the owner of Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club, which has appeared on NBC, ABC and MSN Money as a great way for consumers to save money.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Seeds of the Month Club:

Monday, July 11, 2011

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

If you have been a member of our vegetable gardening page on Facebook then you have surely seen Diatomaceous earth mentioned on multiple occasions. It is a great resource as a natural pesticide.

Diatomaceous earth naturally occurs. It is a siliceous sedimentary rock that has been reduced to a fine powder. It is lethal to pests because even at the microscopic level, Diatomaceous earth, DE for short, contains extremely sharp edges which cuts through the insect or will dry the insect out. If they ingest the DE it will kill them from the inside out via shredding their insides.

DE consists of fossilized remains of diatoms which is a type of hard shelled algae. Beyond DE’s pest control possibilities it has been used for other areas as well, including, but not limited to, absorbent for liquids and as a thermal insulator.

Although DE is microscopic, it is strongly recommended that you wear a dust mask when applying it. DE in large quantities, breathed in, is not good for humans. Even though most applications of DE occur outside the home where there is plenty of ventilation, do not take any chances. Wear a dust mask.

You can purchase Diatomaceous earth from any garden center or online retailer that sells gardening supplies. Expect to pay about twelve to sixteen dollars (US) for a 10 pound bag. Although you can apply the DE using a cup or even your hand (wearing gloves of course), it is recommended that you apply DE with a pest pistol. They are also available at garden centers and online retailers for about ten dollars to thirteen dollars (US). A pest pistol allows you to get into tight areas or apply inside or outside in cracks and crevices that allow DE to work as an insect barrier.

So, which insects is DE good for? Pretty much everything from small aphids to cockroaches. Keep in mind that DE is not a chemical pesticide. You do not simply put it down and the bugs die. It may take multiple applications before you start seeing results. If you are patient, and want a great safe way to rid your garden and/or home of pests, DE will be your product of choice.

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the owner of Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club, which has appeared on NBC, ABC and MSN Money as a great way for consumers to save money.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Seeds of the Month Club:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Three Tips to Getting your Kids Involved in Vegetable Gardening at Home

I was very fortunate as a child. My dad got me into vegetable gardening, thankfully, to show me where food comes from and that, yes, you are able to feed yourself without leaving your home. Of course he also made it clear that the more independent you want to be, the more work you will have to put into it. I didn’t understand that at the time but I certainly do now.

With two young sons myself I want to pass on to them the same lessons my dad passed onto me and my late grandfather passed onto him. The tips themselves have changed from one generation to the next but the importance of why getting children started earlier in life in learning this valuable skill, in my opinion, has not.

For example, when my grandfather was passing the skills onto my dad it was because they lived on a small farm in Wilkes-Barre, PA and they grew large amounts of food, not because it was a hobby, but because they needed it for their very survival. My grandfather, dad and uncle would tend the land and my aunt and grandmother would preserve the harvest through canning.

Today I do not do any canning but instead a lot of vacuum sealing which creates an air tight seal around my harvested fruits, herbs and veggies. That allows it to store longer in my freezer, meaning I can enjoy food from my garden all year round. But how do I pass this same enthusiasm to my own children? Well here is what I have done and it seems to be working.

1. Get them Involved
I am constantly getting my kids involved in the garden. Whether it is having them help with watering (with their own watering can of course), or carrying harvested veggies to the patio table, I do my best to make them feel like they are a part of every aspect of what I am doing.

2. Get them their own tools
One of the best investments I have made to keep them excited about helping dad in the garden is getting them their own tools. They are very young so of course their tools are of the plastic toy variety, but the toys do give them a sense that they are digging in the dirt, removing weeds and planting things. For just a few bucks, it was well worth the price.

3. Give them a spot of their own
Along with tips one and two, tip three really drives it home and that is giving your kids their own small garden area and letting them choose what they want to grow. I built a small three foot by three foot raised bed for my older son this year, filled it with some dirt and told him to plant whatever he wanted. He chose carrots, which is surprising because he doesn’t like eating them all too much, but maybe growing his own will change that. Now every time we go in the garden he goes over to his raised bed and asks questions about the carrots.

These three tips are exactly what I use with my own children. Hopefully, my children will find a passion in growing their own fruits, vegetables and herbs at home, and eventually pass it on to the next generation.

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the owner of Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club, which has appeared on NBC, ABC and MSN Money as a great way for consumers to save money.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Seeds of the Month Club:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Who’s Telling You that You Can Not Save Money in a Vegetable Garden? It’s Not Who you Might Think!

There is an aged old question that I, along with many other home vegetable gardeners, constantly get asked. Can you really save money with a home vegetable garden? Some will say, absolutely not, and I will get into who those “some” are in a little bit. They aren’t who you might be thinking about.

In a study conducted by the USDA, one tomato seed can grow you about $50 worth of tomatoes. Is this number accurate? Maybe, maybe not, but I wanted to verify all of this for myself doing my own testing...’sort of’ real world testing.

With a pack of beefsteak tomato seeds in hand at a whopping cost of ninety-eight cents, I ventured on my not so scientific testing of whether or not I could grow $50 of tomatoes from a single seed. Using nothing more than what was already available to me, namely my backyard, I planted a single seed in an area that receives sunlight all day and close enough to my water source, namely the hose.

Currently at my local supermarkets, tomatoes of the beefsteak variety, retail for anywhere from $1.99 per pound to $2.99 per pound. So in order to be ahead of the game my tomato plant would have produce at least one tomato that weighed in no less than a half pound. That would equate to the total cost of the seed packet.

Now I know what some purists might be saying. What about the costs for water? While that is a legitimate question, my home resides in a township and we pay what is called a minimum water amount. This means I pay “x” amount of dollars for “x” amount of gallons regardless of whether or not I use that many gallons in a given month. I will say this, that watering one tomato plant at no time increased my water usage to the point where I went over the amount I was allotted before I was charged for additional usage. So in essence the cost of water has not been a factor.

What about your time? Your time is worth something right? Absolutely. However, it took me all of 10 seconds to plant the seed and then about ten seconds each morning to water it. I know my time is worth something, but I think I can afford 10 seconds a day. In order to get that 10 seconds back later in the day, I will be sure to visit my Vegetable Gardening Facebook page once less time.

Currently, as I am in the midst of tomato season here in NJ, my beefsteak tomato plant has 4 tomatoes on it, with plenty of yellow flowers on it that are about to produce more. If each of those four tomatoes weighs simply a quarter pound each (and they are well over that already), this one tomato plant will break even my costs. Of course I expect the plant to produce throughout the gardening season (barring any unforeseen disasters). Will it produce $50 in tomatoes? I say if it doesn’t it will come darn close. At the low end of $1.99 per pound this plant would need to produce 25 one pound beefsteak tomatoes, and if you have ever grown a beef steak tomato you know that really isn’t that hard to do.

But lets just say I planted five of those seeds instead of just one. Your cost per seed based on what a pack costs is still so nominal and really a trivial cost it becomes nearly irrelevant. Not to scoff at ninety-eight cents in these tough economic times, but you will easily get that back as I have already shown you and now you can multiply that success by five (or the number of seeds you planted).

Obviously different varieties of vegetables will have varying cost saving success rates. High producing vegetables such as cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes will give you the greatest savings as will planting varieties of vegetables in your garden that cost the most at your local grocery store.

So who really is telling you that you can not save money with a home vegetable garden? Large companies? Mass production farm cartels (I made this group up)? No. I polled a number of people from my area and those that believed it didn’t save you money and was simply a waste of time were neighbors and those in my surrounding community. They felt it was cheaper for them to jump in their cars (at $3.49/gallon of gas), drive to a local supermarket and buy the fruits and vegetables there. I didn’t find this interesting, in fact I found it quite disturbing that there are those that believe that walking out your back door, picking a ripe tomato of a vine is far more expensive then driving to a store.

With so many people still believing a home vegetable garden is too expensive, I see that I, and other home vegetable gardeners still have plenty of work to do in converting the naysayers.

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the owner of Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, the exclusive home of the Seeds of the Month Club, which has appeared on NBC, ABC and MSN Money as a great way for consumers to save money.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Seeds of the Month Club: