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Get More Tomatoes THIS Year

Get More Tomatoes THIS Year!

by Sandy Swegel

It’s time to prune your tomatoes if you live in Zone 5 and almost time in Zone 6.  Sure there are great recipes (and movies) for fried green tomatoes, but you and I both know we much prefer red tomatoes ripened by the sun. So it’s time to take your pruners out to the garden. We now officially accept that tomato season is almost over, so we’re going to prune off the top of the tomato plant…even the cute yellow flowers that would make tomatoes if frost didn’t descend upon us. It’s going to feel brutal, but you need to cut off leaves that are shading the green tomatoes from the sun.

But if your average FIRST frost is about a month away and you notice that night time temperatures are a bit cool, you want to make sure that all those green tomatoes are getting sunlight. And you want the plant to focus all its energy ripening the green tomatoes currently on the vine and filling them with the sugar that makes a red tomato (or black or yellow or orange if you grew those) so yummy.

One more late summer tomato task.  Taste test your own tomatoes.  We pick the varieties we grow because we liked the picture in the catalog or because a friend told us we just HAD to grow a certain heirloom.  Now you can decide.  Make a note of the tastiest varieties in your journal or put it on next January’s calendar for seed ordering time. Make a note too of which tomatoes got too many diseases or did poorly in your conditions.  Some tomatoes will grow better and taste better in your garden than others. Your job as a tomato grower is to get a little better each year and have even more and better tomatoes next year!

 

2 Easy Ways to Have More Flowers Next Year

2 Easy Ways to Have More Flowers Next Year!

by Sandy Swegel

Your task this week is to go stand in the part of your garden that has wildflower-y plants.  You’ll notice two things. The first thing is that there are lots of spent flowers and seed heads that need to be deadheaded. Everything from rudbeckia to dill to penstemon have mature seed heads. You can always collect these seeds and put them in little envelopes to save for spring or you can take my lazy way out and Snip off the seed head and Fling it in the general direction you’d like it to grow next year.  Flowering plants always seem to migrate to the edge of the garden bed and need some encouragement to move to the middle and back of the bed.  Keep flinging seeds knowing that some of them will germinate right in the place they fall…so Fling merrily.

Your second assignment is to find a spring or early summer bloomer and stand in front of it.  A columbine or penstemon, agastache and echinacea are good possibilities.  Often right at the feet of these now finished beauties are dozens of little plants or even seedlings that have germinated in the past month and are growing next year’s plants.  I take my hori hori knife and gently dig or carve out (we have lots of clay soil) a nice plug of soil that keeps the baby plants roots intact and plant it where I’d like more plants.  If the plant is young and you didn’t disturb the roots much, there won’t be transplant shock…just a new perennial that will bloom next year.

Whether you are flinging seeds or digging up plant plugs, you’ve saved yourself a lot of time and fussing with seed starting trays under lights and you’ve tricked Mother Nature into letting those perennials bloom next year.  New plants easy, quick and free.  That’s my kind of gardening.

Photo Credits:
Columbine: http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/reap-the-rewards-of-self-sowers.aspx
Meadow: Sandy Swegel

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s Wrong with this Leaf?

What’s Wrong with this Leaf

by Sandy Swegel

What do you do when one of your plants suddenly starts looking like it’s sick.  I mentally go through a list of things I’ve seen before. Is it powdery mildew? Is that grasshopper damage?  If the plant is next door to a yard that doesn’t have a single dandelion, I might ask myself if the problem is pesticide overspray or runoff from the neighbor’s chemical use.  But I learned yesterday there’s a whole category of plant injury I don’t often think about.  Ozone or air pollution damage.

Scientist from CU-Boulder and NCAR, as part of climate change research, planted two ‘ozone” gardens in Boulder to test the effects of air pollution on plants.  Yikes!  Unseen air pollution like ozone can really hurt plants. It may just be speckling on leaves, or it might be damage that kills the plant.  Our air looks and feels clean and crisp, but our plants tell the real story that invisible air pollution can hurt plants (and us).  Ozone air pollution especially affects plants close to the ground like watermelon, beans, even raspberries.

NASA has also done ozone research and concluded: “Ozone interferes with a plant’s ability to produce and store food. It weakens the plant, making it less resistant to disease and insect infestations.

Yikes, there’s not a lot you can do in your garden plot about ozone damage in mid summer on plants in full sun. The plants are breathing in the ozone just like you are.  Some plants are more susceptible than others so if you live in an area with a lot of air pollution, you can grow more resistant plants.

Now when something is wrong with your plants, you have to ask yourself:

Is is a fungus? Is it a pest? Is it the water? Is it the soil? Is it the air?

Photo credit
http://plantdiagnostics.umd.edu/level3.cfm?causeID=312
http://science-edu.larc.nasa.gov/ozonegarden/detect-effects.php

 

 

Is Gardening work or play?

 

by Sandy Swegel

 

I had to laugh this week when reader Mike Hood commented earlier on one of our sweet inspiring quotes about the virtues of gardening that “Gardening is a Battle.” Now maybe Mike was just trolling, but I am all too familiar with the feeling that gardening is a battle.  When I’m having that experience is usually when I’m about to injure myself.  I was fighting with dandelion roots in hard clay when I torqued my wrist and gave myself carpal tunnel for a few weeks. I was hacking out old lilac stumps with a mini pick ax when I nearly tore my rotator cuff.  And then there was the time when I was furiously trying to get all the work done before dark when I tripped on a stupid piece of metal fencing and impaled it in my leg.  I keep my tetanus shots current for a reason.  Mother Nature is quite solid and stubborn and I rarely win the battles.

However, all the battles are what have taught me how to garden wisely.

Wearing the brace for carpal tunnel on my dominant hand taught me several important things about weeding.

Keeping my tools sharp means less work.
Forget wussy dandelion diggers and get a real weapon for weeds: a Hori Hori knife does a much better job with less work.
It’s the torquing and anger that causes injuries.  A straight wrist and sharp tools and a mindful attitude isn’t so much work.
The non-dominant hand can learn to do an awesome job of pulling annual weeds in soft soil.

 

Over rotating my shoulder with the pick introduced me to a favorite tool, my battery operated Sawzall.  Dig up an entire bush? Easy if you just systematically go round and round the plant using the Sawzall and a Ugly blade for rough wood. Cut through a root, scoop out dirt to get to the next root, repeat.  No sweat.  Divide massive grass clumps or daylilies.  The Ugly blade slides through like going through butter.  The brain and a sharp tool are always better than brute force for getting the job done and for not  hacking though irrigation.

The best lesson came from getting impaled on the metal fencing.  A puncture wound in the back of my thigh meant I could stand up or I could sit down…changing positions caused all the pain.  That’s when I learned how much gardening can be happily done sitting on my butt right next to the garden bed.  Much less work than bending over. I can even do better pruning if I can see the structure of the plant from the ground level. Pests are easier to spot too.

So yes I do a lot of work in the garden, but it feels like play because I always work in the shade or cool parts of the day. I often sit before the garden bed while working in it. I use really sharp tools and I have colorful orange and purple trug buckets to make me smile. Those are my weapons in battle.

Photo Credit http://www.amleo.com/leonard-soil-knife/p/4752/

 

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Insects are People too

Insects are People, too.

by Sandy Swegel

Mid summer is when I most enjoy sharing the magic act of the garden.   If any garden newbie shows the least interest in the natural world, I like to share with them one secret of the bugs we live with and teach why they are our friends and they have special reasons for being on our property.

This week the emphasis has been creatures. Children and cityfolk can easily be put off by “bugs” and want to kill them right away.  There are lots of bugs in August so I spend lots of time introducing the insect people who live with us.

Sister Squash Bee.
A neighbor saw a recipe online for squash blossoms so wanted to pick in the zucchini patch.  She came in rather alarmed, “I can’t get the blossoms because the bees will get me.” Sure enough every single squash blossom had a single squash bee in it. I was delighted.  Squash bees are such unique pollinators.  So I introduced her to our neighbor and friend Sister Squash Bee and explained how to gently shake it out of the blossom before harvesting.

Brother Wasp.
There must be a wasp nest near our picnic table because small wasps have started showing up every time we start up the BBQ grill.  “Ack, get the bug spray”  was the terrified response one night.  I was able to achieve some peace by putting a piece of grilled hot dog on the table showing everyone how Brother Wasp just wanted some meat and wasn’t after us.

Cousin Spider.
The wolf spider seems a little early this year.  We had one child refusing to bathe because of the monster spider in the bathtub. I made the introduction to Cousin Spider who comes in looking for water and then can’t get back up out of the slippery tub.  I captured the spider in a jar and put it outside.  We then left a towel hanging in the tub so our other Cousin Spiders could climb out again when they came to drink in our drain.

Baby Butterfly.
The best magic trick this week is lifting the leaves of the milkweedsparsley and dills to introduce the baby butterflies.  Sometime I just show the little egg nursery.  Other times, one of the toddler caterpillars is climbing the stem. It’s so nice having all the babies around.

The world of creepy crawlers are mostly not scary at all.  They are our friends and extended family who live with us and who we can happily share our home and garden with.  Now if only I could make peace with Crazy Uncle Cockroach who tried to move into the silverware drawer this week. Some relatives don’t know how to behave and just aren’t allowed in the house!

Photo Credit
greengardenground.com/2011/03/
jtwoo.blogspot.com/2013_08_01_archive.html