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5 Ways to Prevent Pullin’ Weeds

There is nothing that seems like more of a waste of time in the world than pullin’ weeds! If you’ve ever worked for a Grounds Crew or Landscaper, we all know that this task is reserved for the grunts & freshmen. The typical, “I don’t have anything for you to do, so go break your back pulling weeds and let me know when you’re done”. Almost always confusing you, thinking that was the secret maintenance signal to go “get lost” & come back before lunch. But I digress…

As a gardener, weeding is viewed through a much different lens – but not too different, bottom line is that it still sucks! Weeding left undone will only continue to multiply, so as hard as this is to do, just keep on it every single day or pick a couple days a week to dedicate to the sacred art. When they start poppin’ up, it doesn’t seem like a big deal – but you also don’t think you need a haircut until you already look like one of the Beatles.

  1. Weed Barrier Fabric – There are so many options in this category. Woven & non-woven ground covers are pretty ideal because they will allow water & nutrients to pass through them while suppressing weed growth. This eliminates the need for installing irrigation, although adding that to the garden is never a bad idea! Plastic mulch will suppress weeds while helping retain soil heat & moisture. You may be able to water the plants @ their bases, but irrigation in the form of soaker hoses or drip irrigation would be much more ideal (article coming soon on irrigation in the garden). Biodegradable paper mulch is the last fabric-type of product that I have heard of. This is basically kraft paper & works to suppress weeds through a more natural means. Over the season it will begin to breakdown & the great thing is the convenience of not having to remove it at the end of the season – a much more sustainable option with no waste!20170523_163135-1
  2. Mulch, Straw, and Rice Hulls – The first 2 options may look familiar, but you’re probably wondering what rice hulls are or could do for the garden – we’ll get there! With mulch & straw it is important to make sure you’re getting clean product with no viable weed seeds. Mulch should be free of dyes – this is not like your landscaping mulch. The point is for weed suppression & water retention, not necessarily the aesthetics of the color. I’ve never used straw, but with fellow gardeners I follow on Instagram, it seems to be working! My only worry would be the wind blowing straw away – anybody with experience, please comment & enlighten me! Rice Hulls are relatively new to the horticulture world, and most growers use them in pots, not necessarily on the ground. Since the hulls are parboiled, they are free of weed seeds, and they come in compressed bales of 7 or 30 cubic feet bags – so that would go a long ways in the garden! Basically the rice hulls will work in the same way as straw or mulch – suppressing weeds, but loose enough to allow air & moisture to pass through.
  3. Square Foot Gardening – I try to plant things as close as possible, so that I can get as much food as possible, plus the dense planting proximity will help suppress the weeds. This year I had a bed planted with garlic bulbils (Bulbils form when a garlic scape is allowed to mature & they take a couple years to mature). Since the bulbils grow very thin, I also had a ton of weeds popping up. Once Kyla & I pulled the weeds, we planted Tomatoes & Lettuce in any possible open spots. It’s working well so far & I’ve been pulling weeds as I prune the tomato plants – luckily I have ground cover or plastic mulch on my other beds & won’t have to do much weeding there! 20170528_200254
  4. Harvest the Weeds – Believe it or not, a lot of ‘weeds’ are nutritious & some are even considered ‘superfoods’. Here is a link to flowers & weeds that you can harvest & eat: 13 Edible Weeds and Flowers.
  5. Water & Pull – This is the good ole-fashioned way to garden. Water your plants and then go down the rows & get to pullin’! Weed-pulling while the ground is soft is optimal because the weeds will easily uproot.

Happy Gardening!

 

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Buggin’ Out! (Or Pest Management)

The weather is warm, everything’s growing & flowering, and your mouth is watering for those fresh-from-the-garden vegetables. I’m starting to get strawberries & flowers on my raspberries, but just can’t seem to get the actual berries. After closer examination, I realized why.

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Ants crawling all over the flowers of my Golden Anne Raspberries

 

But ants do not cause the harm initially! This is caused by aphids eating at the plants & their sugary droppings attracting the ants (thanks to fellow WordPresser hermitsdoor for this tidbit of knowledge!) Although the ants were not technically causing harm, I needed to do something about the other guys buggin’ me.

I work at AM Leonard – a horticultural tool & supply company – and won a Jacto backpack sprayer @ a lunch & learn event and couldn’t be happier with it after the first usage the other day. The salesman who presented to us did an awesome job of selling them, but that’s easy with a great product. Pressure gets up to 45psi with ~6 pumps, so you’re pumping less & spraying at an optimal pressure. Another nice feature is that it has an internal piston pump which prevents any leakage if the pump did fail – but that is rated for something crazy like 10,000 spray hours!

In order to control issues in the garden, you must take proactive, preemptive & preventative measures in order to guarantee your yields. A couple days ago I took the Jacto for a test-run & sprayed the following:

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Diatomaceous Earth – This is a dust that is made up of fossilized remains of a type of hard-shelled algae and it works as an insecticide in 2 different ways. One, it is very abrasive & sharp on the microscopic level. This will cut any insect with an exoskeleton. Diatomaceous Earth also has a property about it that absorbs lipids (fats) from the outside of the exoskeleton, causing it to dehydrate & die – pretty grim, bleak, morbid, whatever, but I want some Golden Raspberries.

Neem Oil – Neem comes from the fruits & seeds of the neem tree which is native to India & is used in a wide variety of products ranging from shampoos & toothpastes to insecticides. In the garden it is used as an insecticide, miticide AND fungicide. Several of the insects in controls are: mealy bug, beet worm, aphids, the cabbage worm, thrips, whiteflies, mites, fungus gnats, beetles, moth larvae, mushroom flies, leafminers, caterpillars, locust, nematodes and the Japanese beetle. Neem hasn’t been shown to be harmful to mammals, earthworms, or beneficial pollinators as long as it isn’t in their home or on food sources. It also controls several diseases & fungi, but just to make sure I added another.

Monterey Complete Disease Control Biofungicide/Bactericide – Another organic product, this Complete Disease Control is a beneficial strain of bacteria called Bacillus amyloliquefaciens strain D747. This product offers broad-spectrum preventative control for fungus & disease for all types of plants. Again, it is bee-friendly & OMRI-listed (approved for organic cultivation).

Neptune’s Harvest Organic Fish and Seaweed Blend Fertilizer 2-3-1 – This was brought to my attention through a lunch & learn @ AM Leonard as well. Being in sales, using the products is the best way to figure out what to recommend & organic food production is a big deal nowadays. Not only that, but this fertilizer company uses quality fish and cold presses them to help retain the fish’s natural oils & nutrition levels. Seaweed is known to provide 50+ micronutrients as well as some other benefits including: more disease-resistant plants, increased uptake of nutrients and bigger yields, and may help your plants retain more water. I know we have a lot of water in the ground from all the rain this year, but I swear the plants all grew exponentially overnight after that first application – we’ll see how it all shapes up!

All of these products were mixed up and sprayed from the sprayer. I wouldn’t recommend using the diatomaceous earth unless you have a diaphragm sprayer or a Jacto. My reasoning for that is because it is a chalky substance & may eat up a piston pump – a diaphragm will pump without the liquid touching the seals & grinding in the piston’s path. Jacto sprayers have an agitator attached to the internal pump. This will keep the diatomaceous earth well-mixed & keep it from gunking up the sprayer.

Pest control is no fun, but no food is even less fun, so it’s gotta be done! Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions, concerns, or would like to drop some knowledge on me! Also feel free to give me a call @ AM Leonard 888-558-8665 x155 (or dneth@amleo.com) if you need help with your gardening supplies – mention this blog & I’ll be happy to hook you up with 10% off and Free Shipping.

Happy Gardening!

 

 

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New Year’s Resolutions

How are your Resolutions shaping up?

Every year we talk about resolutions & what we dream of achieving, or people talking about how quickly they are broken, how they don’t work, blah blah etc. – but then you never hear about it again. Where is the follow-through?

Here’s my resolutions list for 2017:

The blogging started off as a little bit of a challenge. I wasn’t really sure what to be writing or how I should write it. And what could I write that others haven’t done before me? I think this is a huge deterrent to people writing – there are so many writers out there sharing their opinion, so why does it matter what I have to say? The biggest takeaway for me has been to just start writing. My buddy Tony has been the biggest inspiration with his success he’s had with his blog & his advice to just start writing. Now I have a decent mix on my blog of personal opinion, mixed in with my gardening posts.

The goal of weekly yoga turned into almost daily yoga in order to combat some serious tightness I have in my shoulders, hips, & just general muscle tightness/soreness from weight lifting. Yoga has nearly alleviated all of the chronic pain I was having in my clavicle & neck and I’m even able to run again because my muscles feel so great! (My hips have been so tight & painful that it has limited my activities such as running & powerlifting.)

Morning lift is a tough thing to do. It means waking up early, preparing yourself for a highly intensive work out, and just following through. Lifting in the morning is truly a breath of fresh air – nothing better than taking a step outside into the dewy morning after a lift, everything else in the world is asleep, but you have already conquered part of your world today!

My censored goals relate to money & projects that are in the works – don’t prefer to share those sorts of things, but being able to set a goal on your income is an empowering thing! Being in sales, my pay depends on my performance & I look to increase my pay at least 10% every year. I haven’t made that happen every single year, but I have my sights set on a certain number this year & would love to double it.

And finally, sell @ the Farmer’s Market! This is something I wanted to do last year but had no plan in place to guarantee that I would have produce every single week. This year I’ve got a better handle on things, have added a mixed portfolio of vegetables that should be yielding produce all season long – should be are the key words here! Anything that can happen, will happen in the garden – it all just comes down to preparation & execution.

I think people hate resolutions because they seem so unattainable; they want to completely flip their lives upside-down with no real clue of how to execute these goals. I always think of the episode of the Office where the boss, Michael Scott, gets mad @ his employees for not being able to follow their resolutions, “I made a resolution to floss, and I did it. 12:01, January first, BAM! Blood everywhere.”

If you want to do it, just do it. The biggest differences for me the last couple years is that I’ve written my resolutions down & kept them in a safe place to check periodically through the year. Before that I would have one big goal to tackle, but life is so much more – you don’t have to punish yourself, figure out what you want & make it happen.

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Spring Gardens North & South 2017

This year is my first full year in my new home (and Garden of Gains South). I had moved in at the end of July 2016, had a garden that I quickly plowed in the first week, but now I have a full season, and am much more organized & intentional with my planting this year.

Fast forward to 2017 & finally got the home garden fully planted! I listened to Googled sources on my frost dates last year & paid for it when my tomatoes were hit with frost; this year I listened to local legend & waited until after Mother’s Day to plant the delicate plants – most everything besides the berries.

This garden consists of:

  • San Marzano Tomatoes
  • Early Girl Hybrid Tomatoes
  • Jalapeños
  • Habaneros
  • Bell Peppers
  • Sweet Peppers
  • Boyne Raspberries
  • Pink Champagne Currant
  • Apache Blackberry
  • Cilantro
  • Basil
  • Mammoth Dill
  • Romanian Red Garlic
  • Strawberries

It really doesn’t seem like I have that many different varieties, but I do usually get carried away when it comes to plants..

The Boyne Raspberries, Pink Champagne Currant, and Apache Blackberry were planted earlier in the spring, plus I had an Anne Golden Raspberry that is thriving in its second year.

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Boyne Raspberries, Anne Golden Raspberry in background of this row. Row to the left consists of Jalapeños, Habaneros, & Bell Peppers

 

I’m trying something new for my tomatoes & pepper plants this year. For the tomatoes & half of the peppers I am using red mulch film under them. This will suppress weeds, help the soil retain moisture, and heat. I also have black ground cover fabric over half of the Pepper bed to test if there are significant differences in yield. The good this about the black ground cover is that it is woven – meaning that water & nutrients can pass through the fabric. The red mulch film is plastic & therefore repels water – didn’t really think the irrigation issue through before doing all that. There is a small hole around the plant so I can still set up some drip irrigation if needed.

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The Garden of Gains South. Tomatoes in the foreground, raspberries along the left side & the Pepper bed in the middle. I have bamboo stakes at every planting site – 5-6′ for the tomatoes & 3′ for the peppers. And Twiggy is singing the national anthem.

Probably going to have to replace a few of the weaker transplants. My tomato & pepper seedlings were grown under T5 fluorescent lights for about 6 weeks & didn’t really know what to think of the Sun.

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Weird roots growing from my tomato seedlings

Gardening for Gains North is @ my parents’ house & is where is all began. I’ve currently got ~1000 onions comprised of 10 varieties planted along with much smaller amounts of beets, radishes, turnips & a bunch of sunflowers coming back again from last season. I mainly chose that combination because it is pretty low maintenance, the garden is 30 minutes away from my home & I planted things close enough that it should eliminate a ton of weeding – we’ll see how this theory pans out though.

Nothing better than watching & facilitating the growth from seedling to garden – it is so satisfying to be able to complete this journey for a good amount of seedlings! This is only the beginning, now the name of the game is prevention of disease & pests and managing growth. Happy gardening, hope you make some gains this year!

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Cobweb Gardens

Last night I had a vivid dream that I was able to remember – at least a picture & a thought from it. In my dream, my backyard garden was completely covered with a spiderweb-like substance. It really reminded me of a mold or fungus – and I remember thinking this was a great thing in my dream; in my mind it was Mycorrhizae, a fungus that grows within the roots of a plant in a symbiotic relationship helping plants with uptake of nutrients.

Mycorrhizae
Credit: Earthdance Organics

Why would I dream such an awkward & nerdy scenario? And why did this stand out to me as a dream I could actually remember & recall later in the day?

Over the past few months/weeks/days I have made monumental shifts in my normal way of living; I have tried to expand my output from the norms of work, weight lifting, yoga/stretching/maintenance, and gardening to opening up & actually publishing articles that I start working on. In this shift of developing my writing, perhaps it feels like my foci have changed; like I’ve left the garden to sprout weeds in favor of a more glamorous hobby.

And perhaps that Mycorrhizae in my dreams are just the figurative cobwebs of my garden’s progress so far this year.

Last year I listened to my Googled sources that the last frost date in my area was April 20th & my tomatoes paid the price, but this year I listened to local legend & am waiting for Mother’s Day, May 14th. There was a last frost date map I saw that drew a line just a few blocks from my current location – basically half of my city could plant 4/20 & the others couldn’t until 5/10. But that’s what to expect in Ohio, especially living near the northern tip of the Ohio Valley.

So, this weekend we will be brushing the cobwebs off the gardens & begin planting everything I’ve been patiently waiting to plop in the plot:

  • Roma Tomatoes 
  • San Marzano TomatoesIMG_20170420_191840_767
  • Green Peppers
  • Mini Sweet PeppersIMG_20170416_114542_382
  • Jalapeños
  • And my favorite – HabanerosIMG_20170413_173955_327

Once you plant plugs out – things get real. The bugs comes alive, the birds start raiding your strawberry stash, dogs are squeezing into your Fort Knox Fencing – and everything is starting to grow; that’s the best struggle of all to facilitate, but I’m feeling super confident about this year! I started seedlings a couple months ago & have actually kept everything alive. All of the above listed crops were sown from seed & doing amazingly so far.

The big differences this year for me are:

  • Follow Through
  • Daily Maintenance & Watering
  • Used Seedling Heat Mats in Winter
  • Low Doses of Fertilizer w/ Watering
  • Eyes on prepping for the Farmers Market

The weather has been a little crazy this spring, but it’s starting to stabilize & soon I’ll be picking tomatoes, peppers, onions & herbs, posting pictures of my girlfriend’s world-famous pico – Pico de Kyla 🙂

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Don’t let your garden dreams grow cobwebs! Brush them off because it is not too late – spring is just getting started and I can feel it… this is gonna be the best spring yet!

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Start your Seeds!

It isn’t too late to start your seeds indoors! Spring seems right around the corner, but for us in Ohio, we’ve still got a while. The last frost date in my area is listed as April 20th, but local gardeners always go by the Mother’s Day rule for spring planting.

With that date in mind, we’ve got 8 weeks until we can plant outdoors – which just happens to be the perfect amount of time for tomatoes & peppers. Here’s a few tips for starting your seeds.

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  • Refer to your garden plan – or make a garden plan if you haven’t done so already. It’s quick & easy to do and ensures that you have enough of the supplies you need when it gets to planting time.
  • Select suppliers – there are tons of seed & seedling companies out there, do some research to find a good intersection of quality products with great pricing.
  • Determine last frost date –  this is the most important thing unless you’re growing under cover of a greenhouse, or using frost blankets. Check out your last frost date here.
  • Check planting instructions & set a planting date for each crop – this is important so you don’t have pumpkin vines growing in your closet in March!
  • Location, Conditions & Care – make sure you have a location that will get 8-12 hours of sunlight or from grow lights. Keep your seed trays in a well-ventilated area that is around 70 degrees for optimal germination. And finally, be sure that you are checking daily for water, fertilizer needs, and turning trays if seedlings are reaching.

There is nothing more satisfying than watching the seeds you’ve sown, sprout & evolve into the plants in your garden – and eventually become the salsa in your fridge!

Stay tuned for more gardening tips through the spring & season. And drop me a line if there’s something you are curious about and I’ll tackle that issue in a future post – thanks & happy gardening!

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Winter Gardening: 5 Steps to Planning Your Garden

Winter is a sad time for most gardeners, unless you have a greenhouse or some other structure to extend your growing season. There is always something you can do during the offseason to better prepare yourself for a successful springtime. Here are a few steps you can take, and projects you can work on to maximize your yields, minimize your waste, and Garden for Gains.

  • Pick the plants you want to grow – This seems like an easy task,but there is so much out there that you could grow! Do you want to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs, annuals, perennials, or trees or all of the above? No matter what your growing aspirations are, you can accomplish them with a plan. Research your growing zone, your last frost date, and the germination times of the seeds you select to sow.
  • Develop a farm plan with propagating, transplanting, & harvest schedules – It’s better to keep your seedlings inside or under cover until the threat of frost has passed. After that, transplant away! If you do run into a late frost you can cover your plants with frost blankets or make cloches – a mini greenhouse made by cutting a plastic bottle in half. If you plan on having a steady supply of fresh produce, then you’ll want to calculate how many trays to seed, how much space those seedlings will eventually take up, and decide how much of your space you would like to dedicate to each crop. cloche
  • Decide on a fertilization method – I think most gardeners tend to wing it in this area of gardening – spreading manure or granular fertilizer with no regard to what is actually necessary. Talk to your local Extension Agency to get a soil analysis. This will give you a true profile of the available nutrients in your soil along with the knowledge you need to supplement your plants’ needs.
  • Create a compost area – Composting is a great way to turn grass clippings, leftover food, leaves, coffee grounds, and garden waste into nutrient-rich organic matter for loosening up clay soil as well as feeding your plants & building soil microbial health. (More to come on composting in a future post!)
  • Order tools & supplies – This is the fun part, but not always the easiest. Everyone’s first instinct is to go to the big box stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Menards, etc. but I encourage you to go to your local garden center or nursery to get expert help from someone who also has the horticultural bug. My personal first & only stop is my place of employment AM Leonard (also have our sister company Gardener’s Edge). We have just about everything you can think of that you need to grow or landscape along with our own line of high quality tools – give us a call some time!

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New House, New Garden

The past few weeks have been a blur; so hard to believe that I now own a home. I was on the house hunt for about 2 months. Thought I wanted to buy a house in my hometown, but then kept getting hung up on the “what ifs” and the anticipation of the future. I stopped looking for a couple weeks, got my mind right and just started making a list of houses I wanted to see. I found quite a few that were in my price range, had good potential for a few key areas: live-ability, garden-ability, & a good investment – that way I could worry about the future in a more realistic way. If the “what ifs” came to fruition, you have to be able to turn a house around and hopefully profit.

All of that aside, I made a list of about 10 houses from Tipp City to Piqua – my hometown is Sidney which is just north of Piqua and I had seen about 6 open houses and wasn’t finding anything that spoke to me. A few of the houses really peaked my interest, but it wasn’t until the last house where I really felt that “I’m home” feeling. Ironically enough, my realtor sent me an email the morning of the day that we were going out to visit houses, and it was the first day that my current house was on the market. That was the only one that I looked at in Piqua, and was the last one on the tour that day, and I just knew that it was the one. Attractive price point, good potential house that didn’t need a ton of work – just basic maintenance, some paint, and a vision for the future projects.

Of course my starred project was the garden. Everyone who came to my house complimented the size of the backyard and my only reply was “yeah, it’ll look a lot better once I rip up all this grass for the garden”. And so I did.

New Garden

I started digging the first bed out with my all-steel AM Leonard spade (15” blade) and learned that the soil wasn’t too bad on the top layer – but a decent amount of clay and found a few rocky patches, including what I think are 2 arrowheads. Because of the amount of clay that was deeper in the soil, I incorporated sphagnum peat moss into the areas where I was planning beds – just enough to fluff the soil and break up some of that clay.

My first garden at my first house was the first time that I’ve planted a garden with someone; Kyla of course. We planted a pretty good-sized garden:

-4’x18’ strip for late-season tomatoes and cantaloupes. I’m thinking about trying to train the cantaloupe up a stake, never tried it before but excited to test vertical farming out!

Then there is the U which consists of:

-4’x22′ with the first 6 feet of the bed dedicated to the future growth of a golden raspberry bush and then 2 rows of cucumbers 16 feet long. One variety is called Pickle Barrel Hybrid and I will set up a trellis for that side, while the other row is a variety called the Picklebush and those – as you might have guessed – grow more like a bush.

-4’x16′ is the size of the bottom of the U and that has 2 rows of corn called “Baby Corn Bonus”. This should be harvested in 30-40 days and will be awesome in a stir fry! Also have a few rows of Garden Beans – had some for dinner tonight and they taste awesome, nothing better than a good homegrown meal!

-3’x22′ completes the U and I filled that with a mixture of “Space Hybrid Spinach” and “Dwarf Blue Curled Vates Kale”.

-A 4.5’x20′ rectangular “I” sits inside of the U and that is loaded with herbs: Bouquet Dill, Cilantro, Greek Oregano, & Dark Green Italian Parsley. We wrapped this bed up with a colorful mixture of Carrots & German Giant Radishes.

Here’s the status on the Garden of Gains II:

Tomatoes: growing strong and recovering from the 90-100+ degree days we have been having the last 7-10 days.

Cantaloupe: starting to expand their reaches and they have their “feelers” looking for something to hold onto – hopefully I can train them up a bamboo stake and save some space.

Cucumbers: sprouting and looking healthy!

Beans: sprouting quick & strong

Radishes: wouldn’t be surprised if every single seed I planted germinated within like 3 days of planting

Spinach & Kale: starting to peak through

The Rest: other things I planted should be coming up within the next couple of days, especially with all the much-needed rain we have gotten the past few days and hopefully we will get a little later in the week as well. No other method irrigation compares with a good soaking rain.

I’m happy with how the Garden of Gains II has shaped up so far. This is a pretty good-sized garden but the planting flew by with Kyla there to help out. Usually I garden alone, but it is definitely nice to share your passion with someone you love. And you learn a lot about each. You work together. You build something. You are assisting in the creation of something. The key thing is that you do this all together – as a unit, as one. Or at least that’s how it was with me and Kyla. There is never a moment when we can’t find a solution to our problems. It doesn’t mean that we don’t encounter problems, but when both people strive to be the best person for their person then you have a special relationship.

We are all just out here Gardening for Gains.