Thursday, August 23, 2012

Coolest discovery this summer...

Being a lazy gardener paid off this summer with an amazing discovery.  Several weeks ago I noticed that one of my dahlias was getting powdery mildew really bad.  I was going to spray it with a baking soda/water mixture, but kept putting it off.  Then all the leaves were covered in the thick white mildew.  I was going to cut the whole thing back to the ground, but I didn't get around to it.  Then, whole sections of the dahlia starting splitting out and flopping on the ground because I never took the time to stake the thing.  So, I finally got sick of how horrible it looked and decided to do some pruning to cut off the sections that were laying on the ground.

Dahlia covered in powdery mildew (not very pretty!)

While pruning I noticed these little insects all over the leaves that looked like tiny lady bug larvae.  However they were white and not the typical black and orange.  Since lady bugs are good, I was conservative with my pruning.  A couple days later I noticed that the powdery mildew was disappearing and the larvae were clustering around the worst of the powdery mildew.  I was shocked.  I googled around and found that there are many different kinds of lady bugs and some eat fungus.  I couldn't believe it, I had never heard of such a thing before.  It took awhile to find out what type we have, but I'm pretty sure it's a tiny lady bug called the twenty-spotted lady bug (Psyllobora vigintimaculata).

You can see the adult twenty-spotted ladybug in the lower left corner.

I'm so amazed by these little guys.  It's a miracle how the powdery mildew has diminished significantly.     We even moved some of the larvae onto our squash plants to see if they'll help control the powdery mildew there.  We definitely have plenty of it for them to eat.  Now I if can only get some regular lady bug larvae to help control the black aphids around here.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Garden Eye Candy

Sunflower 'Starburst Panache'
(My favorite sunflower this year)

Birdhouse Gourd
(The coolest thing we're growing this year)

Today's Harvest (August 14th)
Lettuce, Strawberries, Lemon Cucumbers, Eggplant 'Millionaire', Tomatoes, Green Bean 'Fortex'

Potato Tower Harvest

We took apart one of the potato towers.  The tower was only 18 inches tall (three fence boards high)  and it contained Yukon Golds.  They filled half of a five gallon bucket.  I plopped the bucket on our crappy bathroom scale and it weighed about 13 lbs or so.  Not a bad yield from 8 seed potatoes.  There were quite a few large potatoes and medium sized ones too.  The potatoes were well distributed throughout the tower.

We still have three more towers to disassemble.  Two contain Reds and one contains Banana fingerlings.  I can't wait to see how those did.

If we do potato towers again next year, we'll put the fourth board on the towers to make them 24 inches tall.  Maybe we'll get 25% more potatoes.

It may seem like a lot of work for potatoes, but they sure taste a heck of a lot better than the ones in the grocery store.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Seed Surprises

When I shop for seeds, I look at the packets and get enticed by the beautiful photos and lovely descriptions.  I envision the little seeds growing in my garden and maturing into the beautiful or tasty plant I read on the packet it would become.  Well sometimes the seeds in the packet are not what is advertised.

I bought these Basil seeds.

They grew into this Basil (tiny leaves on little plants).

I bought these Pumpkin seeds (note "Bush Type").
I was really looking forward to Pumpkins on a compact plant that wouldn't take over.  However, the plant is as vigorous or more than our vining winter squash.  The vines are already 8 feet long and growing into my dahlias and zinnias.  "Bush Type?" I think not.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Planting Fall Crops

Here's a sampling of the seeds we planted recently to ensure we have a fall harvest.

I finally picked my first ripe cherry tomato today (August 2nd).  It's hard to believe that we've been planting fall crops the past couple of weeks when our warm season crops haven't produced much yet.

The key to growing fall harvest crops is planting at the correct time in fertile soil to ensure that the vegetables can grow and mature before cold weather and short days set in.  Slow growing crops that take 70 to 100 days such as cabbage and cauliflower need to be planted in late June or early July.  You can get around this by buying starts.  Good nurseries such as Gardensphere sell fall vegetables starts for a very short period of time (the last week of July to the first week of August).  Quick growing crops that take 25 to 55 days to mature such as radishes, arugula, bok choy, spinach, and lettuce can be planted throughout August.  These are easy to plant from seed which are also available at Gardensphere.  I love planting from seed in the summer because they germinate so quickly in the warm soil.  The only drawback is that you have to be careful to water consistently and not let the little sprouts dry out.

Kale and Purple Broccoli are super hardy and can be planted in the fall and will overwinter and mature in late February or March.  Garlic can be planted in October and will be ready to harvest in late May or June. 

Over the past several years, I've really enjoyed growing fall and winter cool season crops because mother nature usually takes care of the watering and there are fewer pests to contend with during the cool months.  It also gives you a reason to get out and into the garden during those short daylight hours.