Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mumsey's Magic Mix

This year I am making an extra effort to keep my tomatoes healthy.  This is no small feat considering how hot and humid it gets in Charlotte, NC in July and August.  Most years I adopt a strategy of benign neglect, pretty much letting my tomatoes fend for themselves with an occasional spray of Bt, neem, or fish emulsion.  If I do anything I am usually reacting to a disease that has already set in.  To be honest, this works for us.  We get far more tomatoes than we can eat and I feel like processing.  By the time they peter out I am sick of tomatoes (yes, I said it!).  But, the plants do look awful by the end of August.

This year I am going to try to be more proactive and actually prevent, or at least delay, the onset of diseases in my tomatoes. I took my first step when I transplanted my tomatoes and used Mumsey's Magic Mix.
The magic ingredients

Monday, May 28, 2012

What's Wrong with My Zucchini?

One of the most frequent questions on the Vegetable Gardening Forum at GardenWeb goes something like this:
My zucchini started out just fine. They seemed to be growing. Then, out of no where, they started to turn yellow/brown and are rotting on the blossom end. They have enough fertilizer and water. Other than the rotting zucchini, the rest of the plant looks fine. What happened to my zucchini?
Do you recognize this sad little zuke?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

First Summer Harvest

We picked the first item out of the garden today, a zucchini!  This is a small miracle for us.  For the last 3 years (since my daughter was born in 2009) I have been dreadfully late planting things in the garden.  In fact, Memorial Day weekend has been the weekend when I got around to planting everything in the garden.  This year I was able to plant the seeds in March.  This is a little early but the weather was so warm I figured what the heck.  We had two nights close to freezing but everything survived.

Here it is playing hide and seek.

I was poking around to see if there were any bees and noticed it hiding under some stems.  I have not seen a lot of bees around the squash patch so this was a pleasant surprise.  I have about 4 zukes that have aborted because of lack of pollination.

Here it is in all of its glory!
This is my first time growing this type of zucchini.  It is called a Costata Romanesco.  I first heard about them lurking in the vegetable gardening forum at GardenWeb.  Folks raved about the taste it so I decided to try it this year.  Here is the description of Costata Romanesco from Johnny's Seeds:
Distinctive Italian zucchini, prominently ribbed. Medium gray-green, with pale green flecks and ribs. Big, large-leafed bush with only about half the yield of hybrids, but much better tasting; clearly better textured, nutty, and delicious, raw or cooked. Also a good producer of heavy male blossom buds for cooking

While I have not tasted it yet, their description of the leaf and blossoms is spot on.  Hopefully we will get quite a few zucchinis off these plants before they succumb to squash vine borers (more on those in a future post).

Are you getting anything out of the garden yet?

The War Against Weeds

While I love gardening, I hate weeding. Which is probably why I hardly ever get around to it. I know I should. I make plans to. But somehow never get around to it. That is why I love sheet mulching. That is right sheet mulching. I started sheet mulching 2 years ago and it has changed my life.

Sheet mulching involves laying down a sheet of a solid, but biodegradable, material like newspaper, corrugated cardboard, or burlap (I like cardboard). This material must be water permeable and should block light. It needs to be biodegradable so over time it will feed the soil.

Here is the cardboard layer. I am sure the neighbors love this look!

You then cover this with mulch (this year I used free wood chips from the city). During the growing season it will smother weeds and deprive them of light. It will also slowly break down and build up your soil. An extra bonus is that you help keep materials out of land fills.

Here is the finished product!

I have found this works much better than mulch alone. I have weedy grasses in the garden that laugh at regular mulch, pushing it aside to grow tall. With sheet mulching they cannot push through the cardboard, are deprived of light, and die a slow death. Bwaahahahaha!!

That is the good part of sheet mulching. The bad is minimal.  You do have to plan ahead and accumulate enough of the material you use for the bottom layer. I collect big boxes from work and grocery stores for weeks in preparation to sheet mulch.  Not difficult, you just have to plan ahead.  Second, weeds do still pop up in places where boxes meet (and I do not do a good job of overlapping them).  They also thrive around the edge of the garden.  This, however, is a heck of a lot less weeds than I would have if I did not sheet mulch.
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