The Uninvited Guests

This past week has been a whirlwind of hot and humid days. We’ve had some crazy thunderstorms mixed with heavy winds, that have left my garden with muddy vegetables and soaked soil. It seems that summer is going out with a bang and a shout.

My newly planted fall garden is now three weeks old and although it is still in its infancy stage, it has been through some rough changes requiring some quick action on my part. Some of the issues could have been avoided, some not so much.

Thinning beans
The four leaves are two separate bean plants. On the right shows how they were separated and replanted.

One thing that had to happen since my blog “Fall Gardening” was once my bush beans reached about two weeks old, I noticed that each bunch of seeds had sprouted into two separate plants. I had hoped to have avoided having to thin them out by trying to space the two seeds the recommended 4-6 inches apart upon planting. This still did not stop two plants from emerging.

Luckily I left space in the front of my box because I planned on planting in succession, but now this space will be utilized for my additional bush bean plants. The second issue that occurred was an attack on four of my seedlings by my dog Scooby. I accidently left the entrance to the box open and his curiosity got the best of him. He dug up a few of my mesclun lettuce plants and a spinach plant.

Luckily the damage was minimal and I had some leftover seeds so I was able to replant them with ease. This will only assure that those Items will need to be harvested a little later than the others, so I guess that’s a good thing.

My biggest problem and concern is that there seems to be some culprit who is nibbling on my greens and bean plants. I am not certain rather it is an insect or some sort of critter, but steps have to be taken to save my veggies.

Damaged mustard greens, green beens and turnips.
Damaged mustard greens, green beens and turnips.

My first step was to dust my plants with a preventative powder. Because I am trying to use natural ingredients, I have decided to use diatomaceous earth as the means for controlling insects.

Diatomaceous Earth
http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/degen.html

The type of diatomaceous earth that I use is a food grade powder that does not affect the taste of the vegetables and is completely edible. Since this is my first time really using it, the jury is still in session.

What I dislike so far about it, is that it is quite messy and I have to wear a mask when applying. It is not recommended that this powder be inhaled.

If in fact it is some sort of small animal that is invading my garden, I have started to sprinkle the dirt and surrounding areas with good old fashioned cayenne pepper. This too looks messy but always seems to work. The downfall of it is that once it rains or I water the garden it has to be reapplied. Lucky, for me I can buy it at my local dollar store so the cost is minimal for the most part.

Three week fall garden
Fall Garden at three weeks old.

So that’s it for now. Please be sure to follow my blog for updates on my progress as I continue on my journey of being a Top Shelf Gardener.

Grandma’s Garden

As a child growing up in the 80’s, my siblings, cousins and I used to spend part of our summer vacation at my grandmother’s house on the east side of Detroit. If you know anything about Detroit, you know that traveling from the west to the east side is like going on a journey to a different country.

At that time, in Detroit, at 8850 Treadway Street, most of the neighborhood surrounding grandma’s house was beginning to see the early signs of what some call “Urban Decay“. I remember visiting my first abandoned school during one of these summer visits. The building was still of a sound structure with high ceilings and tall sturdy entrances. But, the rooms looked as if they had been paused in time with books and supplies strewn about.

Being that there were plenty of abandoned buildings and land in my grandmother’s area, she decided to use the vacant lot, which was adjacent from her home, as part of her own yard and garden. Grandma’s entire extended yard would now be filled with all types of healthy things to eat.

She would dig up the pretty grass that was once there, and plant rolls of tomatoes, green beans, squash, mustard, turnips, collards, cucumbers and more! I remember, even as a child, being in awe by this beautiful garden.

Grandma Deason and her garden
My grandmother Lucinda Lawson Deason. Date unknown

As time went on, it seemed that everything grandma grew and eventually cooked, would taste delicious and much better than the store-bought vegetables that were available in my own neighborhood. With more and more experience, my grandmother would soon learn how to preserve her harvest for the winter.

She would make her own jams, pickles and even eventually discover how to make wine from the vines she planted on her fences. As children, we would love when the holidays arrived because even us kids were allowed to taste this sweet homemade grape wine.

When I was a child, I did not know that my grandmother once worked full time and was a divorced mother who raised seven children alone. I learned as I got older that for most of her life, my grandmother was financially very poor.

Since she always had very nice things, which included the best china, linen, and furniture you could imagine. I never suspected that her garden was such a vital part of her and her family’s survival.

As I grew older, my mom told me stories of how while she was growing up, they had always had a garden. She even said that on many occasions during her childhood they would eat nothing but vegetables.

So much that one of her classmates asked her if they were vegetarians. My mom said she thought everyone had the kinds of meatless meals her family often enjoyed.

Needless to say, my mother and her six siblings were very strong healthy kids. The meals her family shared had been not lacking nutritionally from what she has told me. Even my grandmother who lived to be 85 was still able to catch the bus and tend to her garden for most of her years.

In my life, fortunately, I have not had to work as hard as my grandmother did although I still have inherited the drive and desire to do so. I love to watch the emergence of a new sprout or feel the earth between my fingers when I work in my garden. Having the ability to control one’s own source of food is something that I too hope to accomplish in the near future.

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My Garden July 2015

As for now, I can only dream of having the skills that my grandmother did. In the meantime, I will continue to keep reading, learning and growing, as I press forward and tread my own way towards my journey to being a Top Shelf Gardener!

© 2015 Topshelfgardener

The Inexperienced Gardener

Over the last few years, I have acquired a strong interest in gardening. It started off as a love for flowers but then evolved into a full-blown desire to grow things almost anything. Last year I planted my very first vegetable garden. I started out with an expensive two level pine raised garden, but then when I ran out of space, I moved to a shady space under a fence in my yard.

Raised and Second at old home

The funny thing was that my second garden, in the shady area, consisted of nothing more than the native soil in my yard, but the vegetables grew much better than in the expensive raised garden which consisted of fancy store bought soil. The area was under a fence with bushes on the other side which provided just enough shade for vegetables such as cabbage, zucchini, and cucumbers.

This area also had enough sun for corn which grew lovely! The soil was very rich and had tons and tons of worms which were the first indication of fertility. What I gained from this experience is the notion that sometimes what is readily available to you can be your very best option.

Although I had learned a lot about my soil and gardening in my first year as a vegetable gardener and knew the next year would be even better, I ended up moving to a new home where uncharted gardening and home improvement awaited me.

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As of now, I have been at my new home for 8 months and have tackled many projects in this short time. After trying to figure out where I would put my new garden, my fiancee made the suggestion that we convert the pond (which I was not a huge fan of) into a raised garden! The area had large flowering bushes around it, and also a separate area for flowers. In theory, this area would be suitable for both sun and shade plants.

With this new space, a lot of new challenges came with it. We first had the task of removing over 4 ft of water, filling the pond with about 2.5 feet of fill dirt, plus 2 feet of top soil manure and other amendments.

Pond 1

Ribbet collage
I researched what items grew best in full sun or part shade. I carefully created a draft showing where everything was to be planted. I even made a calendar that kept track of the dates I planted my plants (I did not start from seeds) and a fertilizing and feeding schedule. I had it all figured out… So I thought.

Raised Garden 1 Graph

At the beginning of this spring season I had planted two types of tomatoes, (Roma and big boy) zucchini, cucumbers, bush beans, basil, two types of red swiss chard, okra, broccoli, collards, kale and hot peppers.

By late summer which is as I am writing this, I no longer had okra because they took too long to take off and I felt the space was overcrowded so I gave the plants away, and I learned that collards were the hardest to keep the insects off naturally so eventually I pulled them up. I did get at least three harvesting’s from them which was more than enough for me.

The red cabbage formed heads, but they did not get very big. This was the same problem I had with them last year, so I’m not sure I will try again with the red ones. The green ones tend to do well anywhere I put them. The bush beans did not produce very much so I pulled them up too.

The previous year I did a vine variety of beans which produced a lot, but they were not flavorful so I think I will try vine again next year but a different variety.

My zucchini suffered from powdery mildew all season but still produced some decent sized zucchini but nowhere near the large ones from the previous year. I think they were not getting enough air which caused the mildew and slower growth.

But still, all in all, I consider my new garden to be a huge success and it looks beautiful in my yard! People come by and marvel over its greatness! I am very pleased indeed! 🙂

Begining garden

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Even though it is in full bloom, it is still a lot of work. Over the season, I have had to cut down and prune my tomato plants because they were entirely too tall, and most of the nutrients were going into the height of the plant and not the fruit. Once I learned the art of pruning (kinda) they started to produce more fruit, and much faster. I continuously have had to add support to my tomatoes so I think next year I will use cages.

I also had a very slight case of rot bottom on just a few plants. I also moved one of my cucumber plants from the garden to a pot because it was competing with the zucchini. I originally thought zucchini could be grown on a trellis but was wrong.

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Now we are approaching the end of summer here in Michigan so I have decided to start a whole new vegetable garden! Yes, I am venturing into fall gardening this year. Stay tuned for my next posting which will take you step by step with me, as I challenge myself to dig deeper and become a Top Shelf Gardener!