A garden is the best alternative therapy.

Posts tagged ‘organic’

Keeping My Interest

Some of the biggest, most beautiful blooms in my garden aren’t flowering perennials, but vegetable plants.   The squash and zucchini flowers not only catch my interest, but keep the local bee population busy all day long.  There’s plenty of nectar to go around, and the bees have to wipe their feet before exiting to dislodge caked on clumps of pollen.

honeybee tongue darts out like a sword


Baby Veggies

It is always exciting when our vegetable garden starts producing.  After a few failures in the past two summers due to pests, disease and/or uncooperative weather, it is encouraging to see the plants bursting forth with tiny veggies that will continue to grow into harvest-able crops. I’ll get to those mini-veggies in a minute, but first, BIG news.  Well, sort of.  The spring/summer garden offered up its first harvest over the weekend – a single zucchini measuring 9-inches long!  I am amazed at how fast zucchinis grow!  I literally watched it grow a few inches in a matter of two days and a few more are just a day or two behind it.  I think this one plant will provide enough zucchini for us to eat for a few months – and bigger than we’ve been able to get at the grocery store.  The first picture below was taken on Saturday.  I chose not to harvest it then because I wanted it to get an inch or two larger.

Then, on Sunday, I awoke to find the same zucchini had grown almost two inches to the size of a large dinner plate!

Well, that’s the big news.  Hey, I relish in good news, whatever it is!

Now for the mini-veggie photos!  We have tomatoes, habaneros, green bell peppers, cucumbers, yellow squash, jalapenos and what looks like cantaloupe starting to form!

baby cucumber (tied with nylon cord to tomato cage)

teeny jalapeno

small Early Girl tomatoes clustered together

healthy nub of a habanero pepper

tiny yellow squash (foil to deter vine borer)

beginning of bell pepper

could it be? a cantaloupe fruit?

All of these plants received a healthy watering on Saturday, followed by a 12 oz. cup of freshly brewed compost tea to top them off!  Here is the yeasty smelling, foamy, frothy mixture right before I served it up!

Trellising the Melons

The new garden bed, measuring 4’x8′ has run out of room.  As I thought would happen, the melon vines have monopolized the existing space in the garden, leaving nowhere to go but UP.  With a little bit of expediency this weekend, I fashioned a homemade trellis using 2×3’s and nylon cord.  Luckily, I planted right and put the melons on the south side of the bed.  By trellising the melon vines on the south side of the bed, I won’t be blocking any sunlight from the rest of the veggie plants.

The materials used consisted of two eight-foot sections of 2″x3″ boards, each cut into halves.  I staked the four four-foot sections into the ground a couple of inches, then screwed each into the side of the garden bed and, for good measure, reinforced each attached board with two galvanized steel braces.  I drilled a hole every eight inches or so up each four-foot section and ran nylon cord through each hole and pulled the cord taught before tying it off.

After the trellis was installed, I carefully tied the cantaloupe vines to the cords to begin training the vines up and through the trellis.  The watermelon (planted last) isn’t quite long enough to start training, but I attached cords to the vines to begin pulling them towards the trellis.  I imagine that within a week it will be creeping up through the cords alongside the cantaloupe.

I have lots of flowers so far and the bees have been very interested, so hopefully soon I’ll start seeing the first of the melons!

Looking West

Looking East

Looking South

The southeast corner of the veggie bed

Cantaloupe tied to trellis

Now hopefully we'll get some melons!

The New Garden Bed

Last week, I wrote about the new garden bed I built on the north side of the house.  Although I’ve been growing veggies in raised beds in other parts of the yard for the past couple of years, I decided that I needed to do something different this season.  The main reason for building a new bed is that the veggies simply weren’t getting enough sunlight.  Vegetables require at least 8 hours of sunlight a day to be really productive and the other beds only allowed for a max of six hours of direct sunlight before being shaded from the house or the fence.  In years past, I’ve had struggles with low productivity as well as powdery mildew on my cukes and squashes.  I think the low productivity was, in part, due to the shortage of direct sunlight and, also in part, due to the extreme heat (tomatoes stop setting at consistent temps over 85 degrees, for example).  I am also fairly certain that the powdery mildew proliferated due to the amount of shade the plants received.  Being exposed to full sun all day should help this situation.  If not, I’ll be trying some different techniques to get it under control.  More on that later should the need arise.

This new bed is about four feet wide by eight feet long.  It is now in a location where 100% of the bed receives direct sunlight all day long.  If it performs well, I just might expand it for the fall, perhaps putting another 4×8′ bed next to it.  This summer, I’ll be growing tomatoes, jalapenos, bell pepper, habaneros, cucumber, yellow squash, zucchini, watermelon and cantaloupe.  I skipped the bush beans this season, but might end up putting them in the additional bed if I decide to build it for fall.


the new garden bed

cantaloupe leaves



tomato plant

mmmm, fire.


yellow crookneck squash


green bell pepper

Progress in the Garden

Hello gardening world!  It’s been so long since my last garden post, I don’t even know where to begin.   I can’t believe it’s been almost a month.

I’ve made some changes to the garden in the past few weeks.  Most notably, the squash and zucchini both died.  I tried replanting the zucchini, but then something came by and ate all of the seedlings when they were just a couple inches tall, so I have given up on growing those – at least for now.  I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong.  Most of the time, squash and zucchini thrive and produce more veggies than you know what to do with.  The other curcubit I’m trying to grow, cucumber, is doing alright.  It’s just now starting to produce small cucumbers, although two of them that started already shriveled.  Thinking it may need a boost of phosphorous for fruiting, I gave it some bone meal and we’ll see if that helps over the next couple of weeks.

Straight Eigtht cucumber vines

The lettuce/parsley bed was empty, so I worked the soil over really well, added a bunch of compost, a little bat guano and a little bone meal and let the soil sit for a couple of weeks.  Then I planted three rows of beans and they are all doing really well.

Tendergreen Bush Beans

Three of the tomato plants are getting quite large and although they are flowering, have yet to set any fruit.  I sure hope this isn’t a repeat of last year.  I got only a dozen or so tomatoes last year!   I have a total of seven plants going, but four of those got started really late and may take awhile to start producing as well.

Three tomato plants

I’ve got quite a few pepper plants right now.  I thought I was losing several of the ones I started from seed a few weeks ago, so I got more transplants nd started more from seed for fall.  Well, the initial plants rebounded, are flowering and there are even a few pepper nubs forming, so I may end up with a pretty decent pepper crop.  I have probably ten cayenne, ten bell pepper, and four jalapenos going.

The sunflowers are tall and are flowering.  Unfortunately, I planted them along the fence line running north to south, and I’ve come to realize that once they start blooming, sunflowers permanently face east towards the rising sun.  As such, they are not facing the house, but the neighbor’s!  I hope he enjoys them!

Mammoth sunflower

The butterfly garden is coming along, too.  The verbena has spread out to create two good-sized mounds.  The black-eyed susans are finally looking like they’re going to flower soon.  The fennel is reaching high in the back, despite a continual defoliation from the dozens of black swallowtail caterpillars that have grown up here.  The other day, my wife and I counted fifteen new eggs on one plant alone.  We even found three large cats on our dill plant, and we had to remove them before they killed it.  The fennel appears ready to flower in the next couple of weeks.

Purple Moss verbena in the front ...

Black-Eyed Susans with Dusy Miller, Fall Aster and Texas Lantana

Fennel (a.k.a. Black Swallowtail nursery)

Four Nerve Daisies, Creeping Lantana, Milkweed and Butterfly weed ... followed by rosemary, Copper Canyon Daisies and Indigo Spires salvia

The Texas Lantana is growing a little slower than I expected, but the creeping lantana has really spread out.   I continue to love the Four Nerve Daisies that seem to bloom profusely in waves every several days.  The milkweed cuttings are established and will hopefully begin to fill out some more.  I have another fifty milkweeds going indoors, and I plan to transplant them in a few weeks.  I need to prepare a space along the northern fence line for them first.  My hope is have them well-established by mid-August when Monarch populations are highest.  Perhaps I can entice a few to stick around.  Milkweed is hardy in my zone, so it should make it through the winter to come back again in the Spring.

The Copper Canyon Daisies have created one big bush and I can’t wait for their show this fall.  As big as they are, I’m sure that they will be covered with yellow blooms!  The Indigo Spires has grown so much faster than I expected.  I ended up cutting off an entire section already because it was getting in the way of the other salvias!  Not wanting it to go to waste, I’ve started a dozen cuttings inside, so hopefully I’ll have more in the future.  I was thinking that a bed in the front yard would look good, and these would make a wonderful addition there.

The mint bed is standing three feet tall – taller than I thought it would, but makes a nice smelling mound of green in the corner of the yard.  So far, there’s been no sign of spreading, but I am watching for runners constantly.

Mint bed with rosemary, Copper Canyon Daisies in foreground

The Mexican Mint Marigold has all but died (pictured next to the rosemary above).  If it doesn’t come back, I’ve got to find something else to put there.  I’m thinking something red … Any suggestions?

And, the wildflowers are all done.  After a heavy downpour and fifty-mile per hour winds, they were all tore up, laying over and generally very, very sad.  I hacked them down with a machete and plan on sowing more seeds this fall.

Beneficial Insect Files: Lady Beetle

Beneficial Insect Spotlight: Lady Beetle

I have been seeing more lady beetles in the garden lately, both on the wildflower patch and on the sunflowers. Since I was able to snap a few good pictures, I thought that I should add the lady beetle to our Beneficial Insect Files. They are, after all, one of the most beneficial bugs for gardeners and the one we hear the most about. In fact, lady beetle harvesting has become a booming business in recent years, with hundreds of thousands of beetles being purchased and shipped throughout the U.S. every year for commercial and private growers.

Lady beetles are more commonly known as ladybugs in the United States and Ladybirds in other parts of the world. They are not true bugs, but beetles, so the most common names are actually misnomers (Beetles worldwide get offended at being called bugs, and it is quite obvious that lady beetles are not birds!). Other nicknames include: lady fly, ladyclock and lady cow.

Whatever they may be called popularly, they are formally known as coccinellids (pronounced cox-ih-NEL-ids), a member of the beetle family. Coccinellids are found natively on almost every continent and there are an estimated 5,000 species with nearly 500 individual species in North America alone.

Life Cycle

The life cycle of the lady beetle spans from three to six weeks dependent upon certain environmental factors such as humidity and temperature. With the arrival of spring, hibernating adult female beetles emerge and,after a good feast, begin laying up to three hundred light-yellow eggs on the underside of leaves in small clusters of up to fifty eggs. In under a week, small larvae emerge and they begin feeding their voracious appetite. Larvae can consume several hundred adult aphids during this stage, which generally lasts two to three weeks. All of this eating finally triggers a pupa stage that lasts a week to ten days, after which time the adult beetle emerges. Lady beetles emerge yellow to orange with no spots. It takes several hours for the spots to form and up to a few days for the outer wings (called elytra) to turn their familiar red color.

In some areas, there may be up to six generations per year(1).


Lady beetles are equipped with several defense mechanisms, the first of which is their bright red coloration, a universal warning to predators. When threatened, lady beetles also secrete a foul-smelling and bad-tasting chemical, which is called “reflex bleeding”. If this fails to divert the predator, lady beetles can also play dead like an opossum! Finally, they do have mandibles. While there are reports of humans being bitten by a lady bug, there is no venom, poison or allergic saliva to cause any harm. It may pinch a little, but more harm is caused by the shock of being bitten by such a cute insect!

Lady Beetle Collection for Commercial Sale

The majority of lady beetles collected for sale are obtained in the California mountains where they naturally gather in the millions in colonies. While lady beetles are beneficial insects to have in the garden, certain studies have shown that non-native beetles that are introduced into the garden are far less effective than native species in controlling and eliminating pests. According to these studies, “shipped-in beetles” tend to fly away, have no appetite for food, or eat far fewer pests than native species also studied – depending upon what time of year they are collected. Those collected in winter or early spring for spring release, for example, were found to be far less likely to stay put in one area. If you are a gardener buying in lady beetles to control aphids in your garden, however, you want them to stay in your garden not fly away! As such, the conclusion of the study was that “It would be better to rely upon local beetles to distribute themselves and multiply in accordance with nature’s balance” (2).

Attracting Lady Beetles To Your Garden

Given that certain studies show the ineffectiveness of releasing non-native lady beetles into the garden for pest control, it makes sense to do what one can to attract native species instead.

Lady beetles must have a food source. Their favorite is aphids, but some species are also known to eat a variety of pests including hornworms, cabbage worms and scale insects. Lady beetles also eat pollen for protein and are drawn to certain types of plants. If you want to attract lady beetles, the most effective plants are those of the mustard family, as well as certain grains and legume, cilantro, clover, fennel, dill, coreopsis, cosmos, marigolds, dandelions and yarrow. Try planting a variety of these to bring these beneficial insects to your garden (3).

Fact: An adult lady beetle must consume around 300 aphids before it starts laying eggs. A lady beetle must eat from three to ten aphids for each egg it will lay. In its lifetime, a lady beetle will consume up to 5,000 aphids.

Myth: A common myth is that the number of spots on its back indicates its age

Playing dead ...

Checking up on the Veggie Garden

I have been so fascinated with flower, bee and butterfly pictures for the past few weeks that I have not posted a vegetable garden update.  Before the rain moved in this week, I woke up early Wednesday morning and grabbed a bag of compost, a bag of bat guano, a bag of bone meal and headed out to the garden.   The pictures included in this post were taken Saturday morning.

One of the last pictures I posted of the veggies was of a newly forming yellow crookneck squash.  The plant soon died of neglect, I’m sad to say.  Now I have an empty spot and I’m debating whether or not to try another round, or go with a different variety altogether.  That same variety failed for me last year as well.

Meanwhile, the zucchini is doing well and has been flowering.  Maybe soon it will start producing.  There is no shortage of pollinators in the yard, though I wonder if they are too busy loving on all of the natives to come and pollinate my zucchini!   I went ahead and worked some compost into the soil, then sprinkled bat guano around the plant and watered lightly to let it absorb a little.  The rain did a better job at working it in anyway.  You can see the remaining Red Sail lettuce there next to the zucchini.  It looks beautiful and has a wonderful, glossy, deep red color.  Unfortunately, since weather has been so warm, it has turned bitter.  Yet, I think this shows how resistant this variety is to bolting.  We’ve had several days of ninety degree weather and it is still compact.    This weekend I will actually have to buy lettuce for the first time in six months.

The cucumbers have really started to vine out this past week, which is good because I was starting to worry about them.  I have since tied them to the tomato cage for support, which only seems to have encouraged them.  These, too, did not make it last fall, so I am wary of their success.   I do have my fingers crossed! I gave them more compost and a sprinkling of guano as well.

The Blue Lake bush beans are coming along and they are flowering like crazy and producing lots of green pods!   The Tendergreen variety didn’t survive all of the wind.  I had started them inside and they did get pretty leggy before I transplanted them.  Then all of the strong winds took their toll on their thin stalks.  I will be resowing more this weekend.  As with the other veggies, I applied a side-dressing of guano.

I pulled up the parsley and added it to the compost pile (first, however, I made sure there weren’t any black swallowtail caterpillars – there weren’t).  Then I pulled up the lettuce and worked the soil over really well, adding some bone meal, fresh compost and bat guano.  I’m not sure what I will plant there – quite possibly more tomatoes.  I thought about retrying squash in this location, so a butternut or another summer squash might be in the not-too-distant future.

The carrots are still forming, so I have left them.  I gave them a good fertilizing with bone meal, which is a good source of phosphorus for developing roots.  I hope to be harvesting some carrots within the next couple of weeks, but I think they should definitely be ready to pull up within a month.  I don’t know how long they will last into the warmer weather.

Also in the carrot bed are three tomato plants that are also now flowering.  I will continue to pinch those flowers until I’m happy with the sizes of the plants.  I want them to get bigger and bushier first.  To encourage that, I also gave them compost and a side-dressing of guano.

My pepper bed is coming along slowly.  The cooler nights still aren’t ideal.  They like the soil to be at least 70 degrees.  The larger jalapeno plants have been producing flowers and buds like crazy, but I’ve been pinching them off to encourage a bushier plant.  I went ahead and gave them all a good amount of fresh compost and applied guano around the base of each.

Check back later this weekend for an update on the flower beds and the development of the black swallowtail caterpillars of which I now have twelve on my fennel.