Friday, June 28, 2013

Prevent and Control Powdery Mildew

Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that is one of the more common plant diseases that many home vegetable gardeners will experience. Powdery mildew is in the order of Erysiphales which contains one family named Erysiphaceae of which many cause powdery mildew.

Powdery mildew begins on a host plant, in this case one of your vegetable plants, when the sexual ascospores, or the asexual conidia germinating on the surface of the plants leaf or stem, resulting in septate mycelium of uninucleate cells.

Powdery mildew is one of the easier plant diseases to spot. If your plants are affected, what you will see are white powdery spots on the leaves and stems. Powdery mildew is most prominent on the lower leaves although powdery mildew will appear on the upper leaves as it progresses. If left untreated, the spots will get larger and more dense as more spores form.

Do you live in an area or environment where you will experience high humidity and moderate temperatures? If so, then you are more likely to experience Powdery mildew.

So what will powdery mildew do to your plants if not addressed? Chances are it won’t kill your plants, but will contribute to the reduction of fruit and vegetable yields.

While many home vegetable gardeners are looking for a cure for powdery mildew, one simply does not exist. So what you need to do is take steps to preventing and controlling powdery mildew. Two good things to make sure your plants are receiving in helping with prevention is air circulation and direct sunlight. Both have shown to inhibit powdery mildew formation.

But, let's say that powdery mildew already exists on your plants. What you have to do now is move into "control" mode. According to Organic Gardening, "Research studies in 1999 and 2003 on infected zucchini and winter wheat (respectively) indicated that spraying cow's milk slowed the spread of the disease."

By mixing 1 part milk and 9 parts water (by volume), you will create a spray that can then be applied to your affected plants. Also you can try a mix of 1 teaspoon of baking soda with 1 quart of water as a spray. This helps raise the pH, which is not a suitable environment for powdery mildew.

At the end of the season, remove all plants that were affected with powdery mildew, bag them up and throw them away. While some sources say they are ok to add to your compost pile, I take a more cautious stand and do not do so.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Is the word “Organic” losing it’s meaning?

I recently read in an issue of Mother Earth News magazine a great quote. “Every time you buy organic, you’re persuading more farmers to grow organic.” This quote goes well along with my lines of thinking. I am a true believer of not buying a product or hiring someone to perform a service from a business if that product or service does not meet my expectations for what I am paying.

In this case that product is freshly grown fruits or veggies. I grow a lot of my own food, but lack the space to grow it all. So, for the items that I am unable to grow in abundance I will search out quality farms in my area, that do not use chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. I am willing to pay a little more because I am getting quality food, great customer service and get what I am paying for.

What I have also noticed in my search for local farms, is the term organic being thrown around a lot. The question I was mulling over, is that term overused? Has it become nothing more than a marketing gimic?

My dad, and grandfather before him, practiced organic methods when tending to their gardens. No use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, heck they did not even use gas powered tools. Everything was done with a little elbow grease and plenty of sweat. They each kept compost piles, and since my dad was (and still is) a big fisherman, all of the fish waste went into his garden beds. Everything was natural.

But one thing was common, you never heard them use the word organic. If you asked them if they practiced organic methods, they probably would be the first to tell you they have no idea of what you are talking about. They used safe, healthy methods to grow their food, not because they wanted to be “organic”, but because they wanted to put good food on the table.

In order for someone to use the word “organic” they must meet some criteria as outlined by the USDA. You can read up on what it takes to become certified organic on the USDA website.

Me personally, I think the word “organic” is quickly a word that is being overused. But what do you think? I understand the importance of needing to certify items to be organic, but do you think “organic” is being overused?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How do you Stake your tomatoes?

How do I stake up my tomato plants is a question I receive all the time. My answer is, whatever works for you. When I was a kid, my dad would use my broken hockey sticks, cut off the blade, or what remained thereof, and use them as stakes for his tomato plants. He would then secure the tomato plants to the hockey stick by loosely tying them with some type of string, twine, old t-shirts and even mom's ripped pantyhose. He was a resourceful guy.

There are various other ways to stake up tomatoes and I wanted to cover just a few. First I wanted to start with the method I use to prop up my tomatoes, and that is the use of tomato cages. Regardless of whether you use the round tomato cages, triangular tomato cages or square tomato cages, the concept of their use is the same. Simply push your tomato cage into the soil so that your tomato plant sits in the center. As the tomato plant grows, you will have to do some maneuvering of branches so they don't get "stuck" as they try and grow upwards.

As mentioned earlier with the method my father used, you can use stakes or poles to prop them up. As with the tomato cage method, you will have to do some maneuvering. With the stake method, you have to attach them to the tomato stake with string or twine. They even sell velcro plant ties which are great. You can move them rather easily when you have to make adjustments.

Although I have not used these myself, I have seen in use spiral tomato plant supports. The way these work is very simple.The idea is to eliminate the part where you tie them to the stake by weaving your tomato plants as they grow, through the spiral. They come in heights of 4 to 6 feet, which is ideal for most varieties of tomatoes.

Another excellent method is creating your own trellis where there are poles on each end with some twine at various heights connected between them. This tomato propping method is most commonly called the Florida weave. As the tomato plants grow, you weave them in between the strings on the trellis.

Finally, just let them be. Some gardeners I know do not even stake up their tomatoes at all. They lay down some black plastic tarp over the soil, then let the tomatoes simply grow along the ground. Of course this method makes your plants susceptible to a lot things, but if going 100% natural is what you are looking for, then this is it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Few Tips to Avoid Root Rot

Here in New Jersey we are experiencing a boat load of rain. Last I heard on the news, for our area, we are over a few inches above last year’s total at this same time. Last year’s total rainfall at this time were normal measurements. As Luke Bryan sings, Rain is a Good Thing. However, too much rain, is not a good thing for your vegetable plants.

Good drainage in your vegetable garden beds can prevent the most obvious issue which is root rot. Root rot is a disease that can occur in vegetable plants both indoors and outdoors, which is the decaying of a vegetable plants’ roots. Root rot will occur when the roots of your vegetable plants get too wet, which creates a perfect environment for various fungi that carry out this process.

As stated earlier, making sure the area where your vegetable plants reside has adequate drainage is a major key in preventing root rot. There a few solutions you can implement to prevent excess water around your vegetable plants’ roots.

For vegetable plants that you are growing indoors, let’s start with the obvious. Make sure that whatever your vegetable plants are planted in have enough drainage holes. You may have purchased a pot (or pots) from a home or garden center and think that it may have enough holes, but that is not always the case. Do not be afraid to drill a few more in the bottom of the pot, no less than ¼” in diameter. To prevent soil erosion in your pots, line them with newspaper before you put your potting soil in. This will allow the excess water to drain out, while keeping the soil in.

For your outdoor vegetable garden there are a number of solutions you can go with. For starters, build your garden beds up using raised beds. As vegetable gardening author Chris McLaughlin writes in her book Vertical Vegetable Gardening: A Living Free Guide, raised beds give you better drainage especially in areas wher clay soil dominates.

Many people that have raised beds, build them in such a way as there is no need to actually go into the bed itself and that helps by not compacting the soil every time a step is taken near their vegetable plants.

Finally, whether you are using raised beds or not, mix up a soil solution that aides in wicking away excess water. There are three great products that you can add to your soil before you plant that will help with this. They are peat moss, coir and perlite.

The peat moss and coir are interchangeable. Although you can, you would not use them together as they serve the same purpose. They make your soil loose and friable. Peat moss is far less expensive than coir, and one distinct advantage coir has over peat to justify the price, is coir is more environmentally friendly as a renewable resource since it is derived from the fiber of the outer husks of coconuts.

Peat moss, also referred to as Sphagnum (peat moss’ genus name), grows in dense masses on boggy ground. Peat bogs are valuable to wildlife habitat that rely on them. I was unable to locate any study findings as to how quickly or slowly peat regenerates itself once it’s stripped.

You would mix either peat or coir with perlite though. Perlite is a form of obsidian (A hard, dark, glasslike volcanic rock formed by the rapid solidification of lava without crystallization) consisting of glassy globules, used in plant growth.

Perlite helps loosen heavy soils (high clay content), aerate soil, prevent soil compaction, and aid in preventing overwatering. When it comes to perlite, a little goes a long way. So you do not need to add a lot to your garden beds.

The combination of using raised beds along with items that aid in preventing over watering will help with reducing the potential of root rot on your vegetable plants.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Build a Cold Frame with Recycled Materials

Last night I was on a radio program and we were discussing fall gardening. What to plant, what not to plant, when to plant and so on. During the course of the interview, we began talking about how to protect plants in the colder months. Without hesitation I replied "use a cold frame".

A cold frame is a great way to extend your gardening season well in to the cooler months. It works similar to a green house, however it is lower to the ground, which in turn, at night, will keep the warmer air closer to the plants. It will also have a means to ventilate easily so that if it does get warm during the day, you simply open up the ventilation and let the heat out, which helps prevent "burning" your plants.

Here is a great step by step instructional that I found on building your own cold frame out of some recycled material. It's easy to build, and if you have some basic skills, you should get this done in no time.

Here are the Step by Step instructions

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Grow Your Best Peppers Yet!

I do very well here in New Jersey growing peppers. For the past two season, I have had peppers grow (and thrive) well into November, even after a couple of frosts also with no cover protection.

I grow a lot of sweet peppers and some hot peppers, but as a total, I grow a boatload of peppers. Enough to share with the neighborhood my wife tells everyone.

With that said, I wanted to share some of my tips on peppers, that I believe has lead me to have such great pepper harvests. Of course I can’t control the weather in the cooler months that would do peppers harm, I do believe that by using these tips, I am able to have my peppers grow very hardy, and that helps out a great deal.

Your Site
As with any other fruit or vegetable plant, peppers are no different, and that is, good peppers start with an excellent foundation. In this case, the foundation for your peppers is the soil itself. Obviously some might disagree and say “no, Mike, it starts with the seeds you use”. While I do agree with that statement, that good peppers start with seeds from a reputable company (or a friend), I am assuming that you have already completed that step.

Before you plant your pepper transplants (or direct pepper seeds), make sure to mix in plenty of compost. I like to do a mix of compost from my compost pile, vermicompost from my worm bin, and seasoned livestock manure (cow manure). I would like to add that I use so much vermicompost that I added a worm tower this year to my yard and plan on adding another worm tower next season. They can be a bit pricey.

As a side note. If you started your peppers from seeds indoors, be sure to harden them off, that is acclimate them to the outdoors before you plant them in your garden bed.

Bring the Heat
Pepper plants love heat. Which bodes well for us here in New Jersey, because around July to August, between the heat and humidity, it can become unbearable for humans in the summer. If you live in a cooler climate, you can always help increase the temperatures around the plant using cold frames, greenhouses and so on. You want to keep the temperatures for your pepper plants above 60 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 16 degrees Celsius).

Peppers are abundant producers when given plenty of space. You may produce bigger or more quantities of peppers if you grow just a few, spaced out wider. With that said, I have done well spacing them out eight to ten inches, although one gardening friend of mine has his spaced out further (more like 12 to 16 inches), and does great.

Keep your pepper area weed free. I like to use newspaper as a weed barrier, then place some straw on top of that. I won’t go into all of the benefits of using straw in the garden, but in this case it further helps keeping the weeds at bay.

Be sure that your pepper plants receive plenty of water in the early stages and then a maintenance watering of at least 1 to 2 inches of water weekly. Water a little more often if your conditions are extremely dry and/or hot.

The straw we used a couple of paragraphs up also help in retaining moisture in the garden.

To build a healthier, sturdier plant, pinch off the first few flowers in the early going. You want your pepper plants to direct their energy towards growing the pepper plant itself, not peppers just yet. This will pay big dividends later in the season.

Harvest and Enjoy
Once your peppers reach their full maturity, gently pluck them from the plant making sure you don't damage the plant itself. Some people like to use scissors to cut the stem, me I will simply pull the pepper with one hand while holding the branch that it is on with the other hand. Whatever works for you!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Build a Vertical Herb Planter

If you have been following our blog, facebook page, or our website, then you already know that we are very enthusiastic about growing vertically.

The sky is truly the limit when it comes to growing vertically with many varieties of fruits and vegetables, and herbs are no different.

Herbs grow great in containers, and this project combines the best of both worlds, container gardening and vertical gardening. If you have some basic tools and handy skills, then all you really need is to get started.

Here are the Step by Step instructions

Monday, June 3, 2013

Check out our new page for gardening eBay auctions

You no longer have to search all over eBay to get great deals on gardening supplies. We did the work for you and popped them into a single web page on our site. Simply visit eBay Gardening Auctions and take a look today.