Creepy Crawlers in the Garden and Controlling them Kindly

The first years of gardening can be a time of trial and error. I have found that a little failure in the garden department can truly be a great teaching tool. At least you learned what not to do right?

Neem and DE for Creepy Crawler Blog.jpg

During my first gardening attempts I found that I was capable of creating the right environment for the plants to thrive but there was nothing stopping creatures from treating my garden like an all night buffet. There were so many bugs. There were bugs on the leaves of my squash and zucchini, chewing ugly brown lines all around the leaves edges. Worms were caught lurking inside of my pumpkins, eating them from the inside out. There were June bugs on my knock out roses just as they were starting to bloom, devouring any sign of soft pink or yellow from the buds. Then there was the white moldy blight on the gourd vines from the high southern humidity and …..well ok, the insects are  not to blame for the mold. But, I was loosing the battle and I almost lost the will to garden. Granted, the only method of control I was using was handpicking. Literally, handpicking off the bugs one by one. I know it sounds silly but I honestly believe that they have a right to survive just as I do. Just, not in my garden please! Or at least they could confine their eating habits to one corner of the garden and not destroy all of my effort, right? I thought about how my  grandfather would handle some of these gardening snafus. Back in the day he would have hit all of it with a healthy ( or not so healthy) dose of Seven Dust. But that's just not my style. I wanted to honor my southern farming roots but I needed to go about it in a way that I could manage on my own without getting overwhelmed. I also needed to garden in a way that holds true to my own ideals.

Lucky for me, I work at Barnes Supply Company! At my disposal is a stockade of organic gardening solutions. When those pesky bugs start inviting themselves to the garden party, a thorough spray of Neem Oil will repel them for a time, though reapplication after a heavy rain is suggested. We carry Neem Oil here at Barnes in several sizes. Neem Oil is a natural pesticide derived from the Neem tree. It not only detours bugs but it also doubles as a fungicide in some cases. The smell is peculiar but not entirely off putting. Another great “go to” for insect control is Diatomaceous Earth. Diatomaceous Earth is one product that really flies off of the shelf here at Barnes because it has so many different uses. The product is commonly referred to as D.E.. It has a fine powdery consistency and is a naturally occurring, soft  siliceous sedimentary rock. It is basically made from finely crushed fossilized diatoms. D.E. functions as a repelant and dewormer because it is abrasive to insect exosceletons and is dehydrating. It can be shaken or sifted directly onto plants.  As with any insecticide , bees still need to be considered when using any pesticide product, even if it is organic. Read the lables of any pesticide you use. It is best to apply these products when the bees are inactive. Many online sources site that later in the afternoon is a good time for this. Organic gardening can be a bit of a tight rope walk. You don't want the bugs, but you definantly want and need the bees.

One pest management technique that I have had great success with is planting flowers and herbs that are both beneficial for the bees but double as a repellent to other pests. Marigolds are a great annual to plant in and around the garden. I have tried this for the past several years and have seen a reduction in garden pests. Also herbs like chives and bee balm can be planted throughout the garden for the same purpose. We have a great selection of all of  these herbs and flowers here at the store.

Hey, and let us not forget that birds eat bugs! Placing your feathered friend's feeders near and around the garden will encourage them to frequent the area. Having a heavy bird presence in the garden will be like having little security guards policing the area for you, keeping the insect riff raff from chewing up the place.

By incorporating these techniques into your garden routine you will be sending a memo to all of those crawling little neighbors. “ Sorry Sir Creepy and Madam Crawly, you are simply not invited to this garden party.”


 

A "Bed Time" Story of the Raised Variety

Part 2

Raised Beds, Yes Ma'am You Sure Can
 

Late winter and early spring is a great time to repair and build new raised beds. The past few years I have been able to add 1-2 raised beds each spring. It's great to get this type of prep work done before planting.  The ideal planting time for late spring and summer crops is after April 15th. This is the frost date for our area, or rather it is the date that we cross our fingers and hope that the late frost does not wipe out the eager beaver plants that we set out too early. “Ahem” ….in other words those of us who put the tomatoes out in February. For shame. The older beds in my garden  are mended and tended while housing all of the cold hardy plants. Spinach, onions, lettuce and any broccoli left over from the fall all live together in the older beds and this provides a great transitional situation for the garden. While building the new raised beds for summer veggies, the cold weather plants are still busy doing their thing without being disturbed. Speaking of great transitions, I actually found this year that if I let the broccoli “ go to seed “ and flower without picking it or pulling it, this provided some much needed food for the early bees and butterflies that woke up to a world before the flowers had opened.

You literally unfold this thing, fill it with soil and plant away!

You literally unfold this thing, fill it with soil and plant away!

Meanwhile, back in the garden, old containers such as wash tubs and pickle buckets can be prepped and used for potatoes. In fact buckets are ideal for potatoes. Simply turn them upside down and drill a few drainage holes. Fill with some fresh soil and place in 2-4 starter potatoes, depending on the size of the bucket. This takes the digging out of the early summer potato harvest. When the potato leaves start turning brown ( usually around June), this is a great sign that the bucket is ready to be dumped. Of course digging a few dinner potatoes out of the bucket here and there is a great way to see the progress they have made. Any containers in the garden work great as long as they have drainage holes and are watered often. You can get funky and creative with old lamp bases , ceramics and industrial metal parts or you can keep it vanilla with a good old plain bucket. Large pottery in the garden can add great aesthetic quality. Barnes always has a great selection of pottery. Setting up containers in the garden specifically for flowers is a great way to invite pollinators to your garden. At Barnes we have bulbs and wildflower seeds that are ideal for this. My co-worker Christine maintains our Garden Center and has recently added a great “Pop Up” raised bed to our inventory. It is called the Big Bag Bed Mini. I have added two of these between vegetable beds in the garden and have filled them with bulbs and wildflower seeds. Seedlings are already poking through and I cant wait to see the pollinators bed hopping in a few months. You always want to see pollinators in your garden and this is one way to make it happen!

These pop up bags retail for only $15. They are cute and convenient. Great for porches, patios and gardens.

These pop up bags retail for only $15. They are cute and convenient. Great for porches, patios and gardens.

Beautifully planted and growing!

Beautifully planted and growing!

Building a raised bed is not as simple a pop up bag but they are easily constructed with the help of a friend. I have made several on my own and though they have lasted a few years, they are falling apart in the areas where I could have used an extra hand, or arm. Not to mention the rusty nails protruding from the sides present a bit of a hazard. Raised beds can be made using brick, wood and almost anything you can use that can weather the elements and hold the weight of wet soil and heavy vegetation. Some folks use  reclaimed wood or old pallets. There are many methods to making raised beds and several great online tutorials. From trial and error I can say several things for certain. Using screws rather than  nails is so much easier. Investing in a drill will save you hours of time and possibly a few fingernails. Do not underestimate the benefit of small support boards added in the corners of a bed and in the middle of longer edges. These support boards help hold the weight of the soil over time. Most importantly, you really do get what you pay for in regards to purchasing new wood. Beds made o cheaper picket fence panels will not hold up as well as a good solid cut of wood. Lining the beds with landscape fabric is a great idea. Once the soil is in the bed there is no going back. At least, not without undoing a lot of work. I failed to line my earlier beds and I find that I am constantly battling weeds. My newer beds are lined and are growing beautifully without weed issues. All and all the cost of a raised bed lands somewhere between $30-$50. Soil and amendments considered. This is not cheap but it is important to remember that these will be used for several years and hopefully provide you with a healthy bounty of produce that you can take pride in growing at home.

The fun part of a new raised bed is filling it!

The fun part of a new raised bed is filling it!

Generally speaking, the soil base for a raised bed is plain old topsoil. Topsoil is available here at Barnes in 50# bags. For a fair to large size raised bed, you may need to call in the big guns and purchase a truckload of topsoil. A truckload of soil usually costs around $45 and is the most efficient way to purchase soil for multiple projects or just one large project. Along with topsoil it very important to add nutrient rich composts to the topsoil. The ratio that I have often heard is 80/20. That is 80% base (topsoil) and 20% nutrient rich compost and amendments.

This combination of  soils and composts is my idea of a super blend. I have yielded some great results with it in the past with little need for extra fertilizing.

This combination of  soils and composts is my idea of a super blend. I have yielded some great results with it in the past with little need for extra fertilizing.

For demonstrative purposes (and so I can show off the merchandise and my garden!) I have included a couple of photos of this years new beds and exactly what we are putting in them. As you can see, we have two handsome new beds. I will be filling them with several things other than topsoil. As previously mentioned, I love Fox Farm's Ocean Forrest Potting soil. This is a rich blend made with peat moss, fish emulsion, crab and shrimp meal, sandy loam, Norwegian kelp meal, granite dust, earthworm casting and dare I say fossilized bat guano? Say what?! Really though, this stuff smells like running through the forest after a heavy rain. It adds a great consistency to the beds and with such great ingredients there is little need for constant fertilizing during growing time. As long as this is around, I will never use another potting soil. To complete the potion, I also add a bag or two of compost. We carry mushroom compost as well as Black Kow manure.

So, get on out there people! Raise your beds! Build your gardens! Then come in to the store and get us to help you fill er' up!

A "Bed Time" Story of the Raised Variety

Part 1

Once upon a time a young woman set out into her virgin, one acre yard with lofty dreams of extreme gardening. This garden would grow bushels of organic, perfectly imperfect veggies. She would follow in the farming footsteps of her great grandfather and till acres of clay soil with old fashioned hand tools. Like her mother before her, she would design a garden that would swell with the colors of lush flowers and always smell of sweet honeysuckle dew. The animals of the forest would follow at her feet as she sang to the birds and she would live out her years as their fairy queen and a steward of their land. Alas, I was this young woman, these were my gardening expectations and reality gave me a swift kick in the fanny.

The red clay soil that my grandfather tilled by hand (like some giant Wizard of the garden) proved to be more of a monster than I was prepared to battle. I broke many a shovel and garden hoe trying to soften it's sticky orange consistency. Then there were the rocks, so many rocks that for over a year in my new yard I wasted many an hour pulling and throwing rocks into the woods, just so I could run a lawn mower over the lawn without chipping the lawn mower blades.

Growing up in the country can make farming and gardening seem deceptively simple. I expected to bleed, cry and wet myself a little, but I did not expect to fail, not when my entire family walks around with a bunch of green thumbs. Living in a rural town, I was accustomed to seeing garden vegetation sown directly into the ground soil. Ground soil in these parts of the world is more often than not, red clay. North Carolina is by tradition an agricultural state. This red clay soil has produced much of the U.S.'s tobacco, corn, and soybean and many great gardeners are able to grow all kinds of perfectly delicious fruits and vegetables directly in this red clay. These gardeners and farmers will tell you that a big part of their success is contributed to amending the soil and good crop rotation. For some folks, there is old fashioned “know how” to this and for others it literally is a science. I have a lot of respect for these folks that take the time to study and know the soil that they are working with. I am not one of these people. At least not yet.

Ironically, I finally found a solution to my gardening dilemma in the city. The answer was right in front of me all along. Here in Durham, little  mill houses sit right on top of each other with not much space for the large traditional garden. In town, people resort to container gardening and using raised beds. This was my answer! A city solution for a country girl. Raised beds would be my salvation.

Once established, raised beds are super easy to maintain and basically anything that is grown in the ground can be grown in raised beds and containers. The greatest thing about raised bed and container gardening is that you can control your soil quality on an intimate level. You don't need to wine and dine a raised bed to get it to perform. All one really needs is a great soil and fertilizer source. Lucky for Durhamites, Barnes Supply is an eager dealer of many great soils and fertilizers. From experience I can attest that the FoxFarm brand fertilizers and soils are too legit to quit and have worked wonders in my garden and in gardening displays here at the store.

Some of the same rules for the traditional garden still apply to raised beds. Seasonal rotation and nutrient replenishing is still very important for the soil. Root veggies like potatoes and carrots easily drain soil of nutrients. Beds bearing root veggies will benefit from a season off with a cover crop such as clover. Rotating the type of vegetables grown in a bed is a known way to cut back on disease build up and other issues. Replenishing your soil seasonally is as easy as adding compost, or a compost tea to your existing soil. Personally, at the beginning of a new season I always add a fresh bag of the Fox Farm Ocean Forest a few weeks before planting . Which brings us to  Part 2 of “ A Bed Time Story”, which possibly should have been Part 1.....but you are still reading so bless your heart and thanks! Consider this dessert before dinner. Now, onto the main course.