Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer squash and zucchini

One of my favorite veggies and one of the easiest to grow in the southern United States is summer squash. When I think of summer squash I think of two varieties yellow straight neck squash and zucchini (or courgettes if you prefer). Both belong to the family cucurbita pepo along with pumpkins,  spaghetti, butternut, and acorn squash.  Yellow straight neck squash are said to taste best when about five to six inches long, it likes hot weather and full sun and needs to to well watered on a schedule. If either type gets un-regular watering it will make the fruit suffer. It is best to water consistently in the early to mid morning or early evening (3:30 ish is when I water mine) if you drown it sometimes and let it dry out others your plant will more than likely not produce or produce poor quality fruit. Zucchini are the same as yellow squash in their water and light requirements but size wise are a bit different they can grow to be a meter in length but are best when they are half that size.  

Both have edible flowers which I have heard taste much like the fruits themselves only more mildly flavored they are most commonly fried in fritters or tempura fried and used as a garnish to a dish containing the fruits of the plant. They are commonly eaten in soups and quesadillas in Mexico.  Zucchini like all summer squash has it's cultivation roots in America but the common variety of zucchini that you see being grown today was breed and cultivated in Italy after its discovery in the new world. Zucchini and squash should be stored no longer than three days in the crisper other wise it will suffer from cold damage losing part of its water content and creating sunken pits in the fruits. Zucchini is Britain's 10th favorite vegetable, in Mexico the flowers are preferred over the fruits, in Italy it is usually breaded and fried and the flowers are fried and called flor de calabaza, in the southern US you will most commonly see it cooked in a iron skillet with a bit of pork (bacon, fat back, ham bits) and a bit of water and sweated onions, it was a stable of our diet growing up. In France it is a key ingredient in ratatoullie. In Turkey they make it into pancakes that are served savory fried in olive oil with yogurt dipping sauce. In Levant it is stuffed with minced meat and rice and herbs and eaten as a main dish. In Egypt they cook it in tomato sauce with garlic and onions. Anyway you slice it Zucchini and squash are delicious.

  It is easy to grow in temperate climates but does suffer from some problems. One is insufficient pollination in places where there is a lot of spraying for mosquitoes or near a lot of farms you may not have enough pollinators to handle all the plants. You can tell if this is an issue if you get fruit coming on and then wilting half way through. You can hand pollinate (an electric toothbrush or other vibrating thing works well) or increase your bee population by getting a small hive from your local bee keeper. Another problem plants in this family have (esp yellow squash and pumpkins) in the squash bug, creative name right? It is a small grey brown bug in the coreidae family. They attach themselves to the undersides of leaves and suck the juices out of the plant. They like to crawl down off the plant in the night and shelter under boards or thick leaves (think magnolia) and this is one way you can trap them place boards under the plants and in the early morning right before dawn turn the boards over and smash the bugs. I have not had any (knock one wood) in my garden yet but I would imagine one of the pepper/garlic sprays I have mentioned before would make the plant taste bad to them and make them move along. You can also use organic, vegetable safe, insecticide purchased from your local big box store. Another big problem you can have with this type of plant is the squash vine borer. I just lost a plant to this stupid little grub. The way to tell f you have one is you will notice your plant wilting in direct sunlight even if it has water, if you look at the base of the plant there will be either a small hole, split, or yellowish orange colored frass (excrement) that can be dry and look like sawdust or can be wet and mucky. If you see these signs you have a problem. There are a couple things you can do if it is in the stem of a leaf (the stems are hallow shine a light on them at night and you can see the bug through the stem as a dark spot) you can cut off the leaf stem with the bug in it and drown it. It is is in the main stem you can make a small slit in the stem and pull out the insect and drown it, rinse the stem after words to remove the frass and pack dirt around the hole and water well, if it is higher up the stem and you can't pack dirt rinse and tie a piece of pantyhose loosely around the hole. You can also try a non-cutting method of burying the stem up past where you think the bug is water well and wait for it to root when it does gently dig it out and cut off the end where the bug is. Some people also take a bit of sharp wire or a toothpick and stab it through the plant and the bug and leave it in there and bury the area over with dirt. In any of these cases make sure to water throughly and fertilize a couple days after to increase the chance of saving the plant.  All of these are a fifty fifty shot. If done gently and well you might save your plant and your harvest. Or you can scrap the whole lot of plants cutting off the buggy bits and composting the rest of the plant and till the whole area and re-plant depending on what time of the season it is you may be to late to harvest you may not, they may still be laying (the moth that makes the grub that is) or their peak season may be over.  Some people use floating row covers until their hollow vine plants flower and they say the moth season is over by then. Some people swear by tin foil placed at the bottom of the plant to confuse the bugs into not laying on that plant. If you decide to use a pesticide organic or not make sure to ONLY spray the bottom of the plant stem or in the case of squash bugs the underside of the leaves. Anything sprayed on the flowers or fruits will either kill or dissuade pollinators from coming to your plants and you won't have any fruit that way either! Good luck with your squash plants. Last night my husband picked all of the vine borers out of our infected plants and rinsed and packed them with dirt I  will update you in a few days about how these plants and this method faired. 

Antique plate of the cucurbita family. 

Squash bugs 

Squash vine borers, note the oddly colored frass in the vine. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cucumber sandwiches

Open faced cucumber sandwiches 

2 medium size cucumbers off the vine is good but I like them cold from the fridge for this
1 tub whipped cream cheese 
Fresh Dill for garnish 
1 packet of dry Italian dressing mix
1 pkg rye or white cocktail bread

Wash cucumbers well. Using a fork, scrape down the cucumbers lengthwise leaving "stripes" all the way around. Slice the cucumbers into 1/4 inch slices or thinner. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together cream cheese and dressing mix.

Using a butter knife, spread the mixture onto the individual slices of small cocktail bread. 
Don't cake the slices with the mixture, just a thin layer concentrated in the middle of the slice.

Next, lay one slice of cucumber in the middle of the slice, garnish with dill sprig

Just remember to cover them tightly because the bread will dry and the cucumbers will get soggy,  leave the slicing of the cucumbers and the assembly of the sandwiches for the last minute if you decide to make the cream cheese in advance. 

* If you have all ingredients but the bread try coring the center of regular bread, or using melba toast or large crackers instead. I actually like it better on melba toast than on bread. Works great for potlucks and summer lunches! 

Cucumber season!

I have some lovely cucumbers coming up right now so I thought I would write about their care and problems.  The ones I chose were Burpee Burpless hybrid and I got them in a four pack when they were very tiny. When I planted them I dug the holes deeper and wider than they needed to be and turned very finished compost into the soil at the rate of about 30% compost to 70% soil and planted them in a five by five foot square at equal distance apart. I also tucked a tiny basil in the middle of them because it needed shelter at the time and it is growing splendidly there feeding off the cucumbers water and fertilizer. When the plants were about half grown and started to put on flowers I side dressed them with a combination of guinea pig used litter (with guinea manure obviously) and half broken down compost. I use a bedding made of soft balls of recycled paper (about pea sized) that takes a while to break down in the garden and helps hold moisture in, everything I have put it on has flourished and my guinea pigs like it to! A similar effect can be achieved with compost mixed with shredded newspaper and compost but I think the bedding works better.  Cucumbers are said to need 6 hours of full sun but mine have done well with four hours of direct and two in indirect sunlight. Cucumbers like to spread out and take over and this can lead to the fruit rotting on the ground so I trellised mine with tomato cages on a lark just to get them off the ground and it has worked really well! When the shoot anchor vines out they can attach to their neighbors cage and their own and they make a support system and it has kept all the fruit off of the ground so far. Also I use no herbicides since I am growing organically so when it gets weedy (which is not often since they are shading the ground around them pretty well) I pull the weeds and mound them up around the bottom of the plants to break down and be turned into mulch. It seems to work really well so far and I have started to do it to the tomatoes as well making sure not to mound it to high or to close to the stems of my plants. At first I was concerned about mulching to close because of root rot and mildew but I have been checking throughout the growing season and I have yet to find any. When you water cucumbers it is important not to drown them and don't let them "go to bed with their feet wet" you also don;t want to let them dry out. If your cucumber is wilted water it immediately no mater the time of day. They need about the equivalent of 1 inch of rain a week. If you get a good long rain you may not need to water the plant for the rest of the week. They don't have a lot of pests, my theory is nothing wants to eat those prickly hairy leaves! They do suffer from powdery mildew and bacterial wilt which usually kills plants when they are about half grown. If you see traces of powdery mildew on a leaf in my experience it is best to pinch the leaf and throw it away. A lot of plants have a hard time coming back from that. They also have a pest that loves them so much it is named after them striped or spotted cucumber beetles. I have written a previous post on organic home made pesticides and you should be able to find a solution for that in there. I haven't (knock on wood) had any problems with mine yet and I hope it stays that way. 

Now for a bit of history ( I will try to make it brief! ;D) the term "burpless" as defined by Burpee themselves is: Burpless' cucumbers, both American and Asian types, contain low or no cucurbitacin, the compound that causes bitterness and increases one's susceptibility to 'burping' after eating the fruits.

I did not know that before this year I must confess! Also the most common garden variety burpless is cucumis stativus in the Latin it is in the gourd family or cucurbitaceae family which includes squash and is in the same genus as muskmelon. Some varietals of cucumber grow up to 2 feet looooong. cumbers are fruits having seeds on the inside and developing from a flower ( the strawberry is the only fruit with seeds on the outside). Cucumbers are usually 90% water but carry a good bit of fiber in the peel. In 2009 a team of research geneticists formally announced they had sequenced the cucumber genome. China produces 60% of the world's cucumbers followed by (in order) Turkey, Russia, Iran and the US. Cucumbers originated in India and have been cultivated in Asia for a documented 3,000 years. Cucumbers are listed as one of the foods of UR and the legend of Gilgamesh describes people eating cucumbers. Charlemagne had cucumbers in his gardens in 9th century Francia. Cucumbers are a good source of manganese and potassium which help regulate blood pressure and promote nutrient functions. So eat up, after all it is better to have a cucumber dipped in ranch dressing than a glass of water!  

Friday, May 13, 2011

More sites I trust!

Even more sites I trust! These are sites I use on a regular basis for gardening information and green living. 

The first site is one I visit almost everyday it has lots of wonderful posts about green living, gardening, and new technology.

Next is a great forum for gardening information including info based on where you live.

Also one of the sites I have bought seeds and plants from that has a super selection of organic seeds. 

And for all things green,

Can't be missed! Small not flashy blog that I love!

Enjoy and I will post more as I come across them! 

Tomato pruning

Quick note on tomato types and pruning. When you talk about tomatoes you have two leaf types, potato leafed or PL and regular leafed or RL, and two growth habits determinate and indeterminate. The potato leafed varieties are slow growers at first and then take off like a rocket. they have also been rumored to be more disease resistant. I have one Pl which is a Brandywine. Most notably Pl have a smooth potato like leaf shape. You also have RL which are fast growers slightly more susceptible to fungus and rot, and have saw-toothed gaged leaves. This is your common tomato in everything from hybrids to organics. 
As far as growth patterns go you have determinate which is a small strong compact plant that produces 1-2 times a year on average. You will get high yields but not have them all growing season.  These plants are good for small spaces and containers and would be great if you wanted to can tomatoes or sauce to use later as you would have a lot of fruit at once.  Indeterminate growers are tall and leggy with stems that need to be trellised or staked The benefit of these is they make tomatoes the whole growing season slowing slightly between yields. A lot of times you will have ripe fruit, flowers, and buds all on the same plant.  Indeterminate growers being so tall and leggy need to have the tomato suckers pruned out of them or they will weigh the plant down and possibly cause it to break, or the shade from all the leaves will cause the plant to not photosynthesize correctly. If you have a short stubby indeterminate you mat be able to leave the suckers on the bottom half of the plant to increase yields. The bottom half should be strong enough to support the extra weight but be sure to prune the top to prevent drooping and to much shade. I think all plants should be caged, trellised, or staked to keep the fruit off the ground and help protect it from wind and to much rain. To prune suckers it is best to catch them early. if you catch them early you can easily pinch them off just be careful not to scrape the main stalk with your nails! If you miss some and they do get big use garden sheers or scissors to prune them. The suckers are located in the "crotch" of two main branches (picture below) and are easy to spot. Sometimes if your plant gets out of control tall you have to pinch the very top new growth out to force the plant to concentrate on lower foliage and fruits.  

RL leafed cherry tomato from my garden.

PL leafed Brandywine tomato from my garden

Cherry tomato with sucker tucked in the crotch of the main stem and a main branch also from my garden.  

 * all pictures are free to use.

Sorry for the interruption!

For the past four days my blog has been acting squirrelly and I have not been able to either log in or post as it sent them all to draft! But I am back!

We had a nice long shower today and I went outside to see that almost all of my staked tomatoes were almost on the ground! I had staked them and and tied them with soft cotton string about a week and a half ago, well all of them had grown about a foot in that time and the weight of the leaves after the rain had dragged them down significantly. So I re-tied them farther up the stakes and there doesn't seem to be any damage. They all have flowers so it is time for stage three of fertilizing. When I grow tomatoes I fertilize in stages. when I start them off as seeds I do nothing, when I plant them in the ground I mix compost in the hole that is the first stage, second stage is mounding very broken down compost around the base of the plant when they are about a foot high. I top that with newspaper bedding that has been used by my guinea pigs. You could also use bedding and straw from any animal that is a vegan. They have to be vegan or it will not be good for your plants, and chicken leavings can burn your plants so beware of that. If you do not have small pets you could use chopped up leaves, commercial mulch (dye free), or just shredded newspaper. What you are looking for is a mulch effect that will hold in moisture, help block weeds, and keep your compost in one place until it is all used. Once the plants start putting on flowers you need to add some nitrogen back into the soil, green compost is good for this. Weed the beds and mound the weeds up at the bottom of your plants cover with compost, don't put it on the stem or it might burn but try to get it close without touching.  Or just use compost by itself just remember to cover with a mulch like substance. Some books advocate for what is called side dressing a treatment of fertilizer about four to six inches away from the stem in a circle around the plants. I have forced planting in my beds so this wouldn't really work. I also have herbs and such in between my tomatoes for pest repellent. So along with forced planting I do forced fertilizing. After your plants put on fruits you will want to cut back on your nitrogen to force the plants to concentrate on fruit production. This is also the time when you will want to pinch of the suckers in between the branches (if needed my next post will be on pruning) on your plant and re-stake as needed. Don't let your fruits touch the ground even if it is just a plastic bag between the fruit and ground it is better than nothing!  This garden is a test to see what works right I also have a bed of black prince tomatoes and I have much less tomatoes planted in that one. I am using three different trellis systems to test which one of those I like to. I also have peas growing in tomato cages and the cages are working a lot better for peas than they are for tomatoes! Some of my tomatoes have gotten chest high already though so I am pretty sure I just don't have the right size cage. The peas that I tried to grow up the 2x4 corner post for the one day green house we are building would not use the post as an anchor! They fell to the ground every time even if I hand wrapped them gently myself. I am guessing they do not enjoy the size of the post.  I also got some grow through supports that look like a round grate on three sticks. No recommended unless you are growing very small plants. Everything I have put them on has over grown them in a week. I am thinking of moving them to the squash and zucchini since the are low growing mounding varieties. I will report back on how that works out! This garden is a trail and error to see what works so I can adjust accordingly next year.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sites I trust

Like I have said before I truly hope that you will research foraging on at least two websites before eating something (unless it is the berries I have already mentioned that is just to easy) here is a list of sites I know and trust. 

Wildman Steve Brill. I am buying his book this week, and I suggest you do the same. But please buy it directly from his website least he receive pennies of your money. He also has a App that can be purchased from itunes. It is available for idevices right now and soon for desktops. His website is

Another website I like but doesn't give you really direct  answers is the USDA's website. it has really good clear pictures and is easy to search but will not give you much info on if something is good to eat or not. But you can find out if it is legal to eat or not. For instance in some areas cattails are illegal to pick.  The link is

I also really like discover life. You can put in leaf shapes and berry color and other search parameters and it is like a search engine for plants. It will give a list of possibles and if you click on one in the right window a bunch of websites will open that pertain to that plant. Very useful. Just click on the I.D nature guide. The website is

One more I really like esp for this area is Eating Alabama, this is another blogspot blog and it has a lot of recipes that sound amazing. And a little bit of stuff on foraging. Their website is

Ok guys get to! Post any links in the comments that you enjoy researching on. 

Berry Bountiful

My husband and I went foraging yesterday in one of the local Mobile parks and came back with a half gallon bag full of Mulberries, Huckleberries, Blueberries, and a couple blackberries. The spot where we had initially started berry foraging for blackberries seemed to have all dried up but we noticed a few flowers and some white and red berries so maybe they are amping up for a second round? It has been unusually dry this April in the deep south and unusually wet in the north so I am sure the whole states a little wonky, and its neighbors as well. I know that the blueberries and huckleberries are in full swing and you should get yourself to a park or piney "woods"! I think these taste the best fresh by the handful but blackberries are the best cobbler berry I know! So here is a quick recipe for a small two person cobbler.

Loaf pan cobbler

1/2 c sugar
1/2c milk
1/2c flour 
1/4c hot water*
1c blackberries 
4tbls butter 

*I used frozen berries for this so I used hot water if you are using fresh just use room temperature water and mix directly with the sugar and pour over the berries

Mix the frozen blackberries with about a cup of really hot water until the water is no longer hot pour out all the water and save 1/4c of it (the rest tastes good in tea) mix the blackberry water and 1/2 cup of sugar together and pour over the top of the blackberries let it sit while you do the rest

Per heat your oven, in my case a convection table top oven, to 375. 

Melt your butter in the microwave and pour it into your loaf pan, let it set till it isn't hot just melty. I line mine with foil for ease of clean up. Swirl it all around the sides.

 Mix in your flour and combine

Mix in your milk and use a fork to mash the flour butter clumps in with your milk but don't get it completely lump free. 

Pour the berries/sugar/water in and and mix it slightly. 

Bake until golden brown on top and it bubbles thick purple berry goo around the edges.  About 30-40 minutes let cool a bit and enjoy! Maybe top with some whipped cream or ice cream or have it for breakfast. Wanna make it bigger? Double everything, same technique. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Blackberries, raspberries, and mulberries

Of all the fruits in the area the blackberry is the most common I shouldn't have to tell you how to find it or what it looks like if you have lived here for any length of time. But I will anyway. Blackberries, raspberries, and mulberries (also cloudberries, dewberries and stone brambles which I have not seen here) are rubus fruits each of the little sections on the berry is called a drupe. They are also know as seedy aggregates and all of the know types of seedy aggregates are non-poisonous. So if it has drupes or crowns the berry is edible, easy hun? An easy way to spot blackberries from your car is look for red stems with bright green leaves on them lopping and twining around each other and everything else. They love drainage ditches, culverts, over grown backyards, abandoned property, disturbed soil (like where they say they are going to build a shopping center then they plow everything and then it sits there in probate *hint hint Mobileians*), and the edge of the woods. Blackberries (and most fruits) need a lot of sun so you aren't going to find them in deep woods. They do especially love clearings that are slightly over grown with tall slash pines ever so often. They must like the same soil conditions. 

Raspberries are a bit different I have not seen an wild but I have seen patches in abandoned backyards I don't think they like it in the deep south quite as much as other berries. Most that I have seen have green stems and jagged green leaves that look similar to that of blackberries. With very very similar flowers. 

Mulberries are a little harder to get to since they grow in trees... but never fear the branches are very supple and take well to being bent down with a hook on a stick, which means you probably do not want to climb this tree! They have almost heart shaped leaves with saw toothed edges and they get long droopy pollen stalks in the spring and short strange looking flower that look much like the berry with white fuzzy curled fingers sticking out all over it. The tree has a smoothish bark with a vertical pattern. That can be scratched with you thumb nail. There is an old saying for berries that goes 
"white and yellow kill a fellow,
 purple and blue, good for you 
Red... could be good, could be dead. "
And mostly this is true but when it comes to maturing berries this is not true. Mulberries start out white then turn red and if you have a long mulberry or black mulberry (the most common variety in the south) they turn black. But as I just told you aggregate berries are all non-poisonous so that is a moot point anyway.  

Another awesome thing is that all three varieties freeze well and I think they taste great straight from the freezer on a hot day. They also work great for pies, jams/jellies, cobblers (my favorite), and gelato. And never forget one of the best drinks of the summer black berry tea! The tart flavor of blackberries and raspberries compliments sweet desserts such as cheesecake and mousse.  While the sometimes overly sweet flavor of mulberries needs to be tempered with tartness like citrus fruits or plain Jane pound cake. 

Lovely plate of a raspberry.
 the parts of a raspberry are strikingly
similar to those of a blackberry. 

Black raspberry

Diagram of a mulberry showing its various parts.
Note the leaf shape and how the berries grow from the branch

Ripe black mulberries, these have been cleaned sometimes they look a bit hairy.

Single perfect ripe blackberry. 
Blackberry canes, note the red canes and how it loops on itself .

Blackberry flower, if you find these make a note in your foraging journal
where they were so you can go back when the fruits come on. 

Blueberries, Bilberries, and Huckleberries.

My favorite thing to forage is berries, you get a lot of calories for not much work. They freeze really well and can be made into muffins, pancakes, jams, jellies, sorbet, or just eaten frozen or right from the vine, bush or tree! I have found several types of berries in Mobile this year, blackberries, wild strawberries, blueberries, huckleberries, and mulberries. My favorite is blueberries, bilberries, and huckleberries simply because they have no thorns unlike black berries, produce lots of fruit unlike wild strawberries, and grow at eye level unlike mulberries. The naming thing is the only issue I have with these I have heard people call berries that look almost exactly alike june berries, blueberries, bilberries, trail berries, and huckleberries. So I am not sure what to call them. If they are blue and frosty, with a well defined round five pointed crown on the end of the berry away from the stem, without seeds inside, and small green leaves I call that a blueberry. If they are shiny purple/black berries, growing in chest high bushes, with green small pointed on both ends leaves with small red spots on the leaves, no seeds inside and a small pointy crown on the end away from the stem, I call that a huckleberry. If they look very similar to a blue berry but with seeds inside I call that a juneberry. One thing to remember about berries is there are no known berries with a crown on the end away from the stem that are poisonous. **look at the pictures below**  This doesn't stop Adam (husband) from being very nervous when I pop "trail berries" in my mouth! A lot of times these berries will be smaller than those you find in the supermarket and sometimes they will be a lot bigger. My favorite of these is the shiny purple/black huckleberry it has a sour/sweet taste with a lot of flavor. I am not so sure it likes this part of the country though because I have not found many plants and the plants I have found have been very petite. The blueberries I have found have been very good much better than supermarket blueberries which taste like nothing but sugar and I do not like. They have all been a lot smaller then there domesticated cousins though.  I found some unripe Juneberries in a local Mobile park which I shall not name (where's the fun in me telling you where to look?!) well all but a couple where unripe those that were quickly got eaten. 

blueberry flowers, most "blueberry like" fruit has bell shaped flowers
 except for the juneberry whose flower looks similar to blackberries. 

Blueberries in various stages of ripening *note the crown on the end!*

This was called a bilberry on wikimedia commons *crown*
Also note the shape of the leaves and red spots. 

diagram of a huckleberry See the *crown* on the end?
Thats how you know it won't kill you! 

"blueberries" from outside of Sydney, AU. No crown, I wouldn't eat em!

wild blueberry was the name attributed to this one.
While it looks a bit strange notice it still has a *crown*

*a note on pictures: These are not mine, I did not take them, I do not have the rights to them.  I got all of them from wikimedia commons and they are public domain photos which means they are free for the public to use. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Organic pesticides

This is a subject I have had to come back to time and time again. If you garden organically you are bound to run into this problem sooner or later. There is some preventive things you can do and some you will have to employ as needed. I just had to paint my radishes with garlic juice, you could also spray them but my sprayer doesn't work with small amounts of liquid so I had to employ different tactics. Some things you can make yourself like the garlic juice, this is by far one of the easiest to do. If you have a large jar of (organic) crushed minced or diced garlic whether roasted or raw it should have a fair amount of liquid in the jar, that can be used as is for established plants or diluted up to 50% for seedlings. Do not spray this on in the heat of the day, for all pesticides sprayed on foliage it is best to wait for a cloudy day or first thing in the morning or late afternoon/dusk.
     A lot of your vegetable predators are active at night. Some show no mercy day or night such as  tomato and tobacco horn worms, when you spot these pick them off and smash them (or chuck them over a fence, or put the on a plate far from your garden for the birds) these guys can eat a whole plant in a day. I have found the best things that works for them is a combination of prevention and treatment. The hornworm is the caterpillar of the sphinx moth and they find a suitable host in the spring and lay their eggs they look like tiny green scales or bubbles on the bottom of the leaf, or you may find a clear bubble, that means the little bugger (pun intended) is somewhere on your plant chowing down. Also you can look for black frass (droppings) on the lower leaves and ground around the plant. If you see these eggs a forehand just pick them off and throw them away or smash them or put them in a tin on soapy water. When they first hatch (in four to five days) they are tiny and sometimes hard to spot but they are vulnerable to sprays.
     I like to make a spray of chili peppers and garlic juice it will not harm the plant and washes off of any fruits you have. Just boil either dried fresh or powdered chili peppers (hotter the better)  red peppers or cayenne peppers with garlic juice or fresh smashed cloves. Boil a few minutes just to leach out as much as you can, cool, strain and bottle in a unused (or used for food stuffs) sprayer. Be careful while boiling the steam from this can hurt eyes and mucous membranes, ideally do it on a hot plate outside or if inside use the hood range fan and do not stand over it and inhale! Sometimes you will get these little guys on your hot peppers, bell peppers, eggplants and potatoes use the same treatment. It also works for wireworms, cutworms, whiteflies, and slugs. This doesn't smell good but I have used it with success in the past and have not burned a plant yet. It does not break down in sunlight but will wash away in a hard rain just reapply after!
    Caterpillars have natural enemies to, braconid wasps prey on the caterpillars by laying their eggs (white sacs on the back and undersides on the caterpillars) on them and killing it, leave these be! The eggs will hatch and you will have an army of wasps to help with your pest control. Also birds love these types of bugs!  If you see birds in your tomatoes try to let them do their thing unless they are breaking your plants. I have never seen a bird eat one of my tomatoes yet.

     If you have a severe problem you can use BT bacteria on the soil, bacillus thuringienisis is one of the things they use in GMO foods. but in this case we are not altering the plant to make it produce BT we are just putting it on the plant so it is still considered organic. I would ONLY use this as a last resort though BT can kill more than horn worms. It washes away in rain, irritates skin, kills butterfly larvae and is more expensive than other treatments, and breaks down in direct sunlight!  
     If you don't want to make your own pepper spray you can also use insecticidal soap. This can also be used on plants right up to picking the fruits and it will not alter the taste after it has been washed. It can burn plants if used in the sun so take the same precautions as with the pepper spray. You can get it at any big store and a lot of small ones, you can go with ones that say organic in big letters across the top and pay more for them or you can go with the regular kind which is almost always organic biodegradable soaps but getting certified organic is hard and a lot of companies just don't fool with it. You can also make your own from Castile soap and water. I use Dr Bronner's which is also what I use on myself! They make an unscented kind but I think the addition of tea tree oil or lavender oil helps repel insects as well. Thin it down well and you will probably have to soak the sprayer head in warm water after every use since it tends to clog. 
      I have never used it but I have also seen neem oil used. It works to prevent the insects from maturing and only works on young insects from what I gather. I have also seen it used as a repellent though I can't speak to that having never used it. It is however considered organic but there is a warning to keep it away from your pets and it kills everything not just the "bad guys" also breaks down in sunlight and washes away in rain. 

     Seven (misspelled on purpose) dust is considered (by some) to be organic and effective. I also know it works well on fleas when applied to your yard. It also treats grubs, caterpillars, and beetles, and supposedly has had over 1,000 toxicology reports done and has been widely used for 50 years. BUT it kills honeybees and can leech into the soil wash down through the storm drains and  kill crustaceans. It is also illegal in several countries such as the UK, Denmark, Sweden and more. Also it is the same thing that caused the Bhopal indecent, and is as you probably gathered toxic to humans. 
      If you have issues with fungus there are a couple of natural things you can do, such as cornmeal. Spread it on the ground at a rate of 10- 20 lbs per 1,000 sq feet (you can do the math from there) and say buh bye to fungus and it will not kill your insects. Also good for the lawn sprinkle liberally in brown patches if your grass starts to return then fungus was your problem if not well keep lookin'! It also helps prevent damping off (seedlings dying in the ground for no apparent reason) and acts as a fertilizer and soil booster. It will also help with athlete's foot, toe nail fungus, and algae buildups in ponds. They also say it can be used for acne but personally I think it is the exfoliation that is helping and not so much the cornmeal. 

    You can also use baking soda, vegetable oil, and soap diluted in water to combat powdery mildew. It will prevent the spread but not kill what is all ready on there. 

   You can use garlic oil also called garlic barrier (Google it) which is different from garlic juice to help control, black spot on roses (fungus) , groundhogs from root veggies, and Japanese beetles.
    One that you CAN'T use on peppers tomatoes eggplants and any other members of the solanaceous family, but will work on the others for aphids, white flies and caterpillars is tobacco spray. Use 1 cup tobacco (top rolling tobacco is about 3.50 at sprawl-mart) and 1 gallon of water. let sit over night and strain and spray. It should be the color of weak tea if not let it step longer or dilute it down till it is.

   If you have cabbages and get cabbage worm or spider mites (not actually spiders) use two tablespoons of salt and one gallon of water and spray directly on plants. Wait until they are not in direct sunlight.
    You can also make a rather complicated and safe spray from red peppers, spearmint leaves, horseradish leaves and roots, a couple tablespoons of soap and half a cup of green onion tops boil it all in enough water to cover, strain add half a gallon of water and spray it on anything. It will keep outside of the fridge for about 4-5 days or a few weeks in the fridge. It will work on pretty much any plant as long as you don't spray it in direct sunlight. And pretty much any bug, if it doesn't kill them it should repel them.
   If you are having issues with slugs don't forget the tried and true beer in a pie plate, for those of you who are crying about wasting beer you can use the cheapest, stalest, left out over night beer for this so quit your belly aching. Just bury the pie plate with the rim level to the ground and add a couple inches of beer, when they go in for a drink they will drown. Works every time.

  Citrus peel at the base of plants is said by some to ward off insects.

  My absolute favorite way to control pests is specific planting. Plant basil, lemon balm, citronella, cilantro, geraniums, marigolds, dill, garlic, onions, lavender, bay leaf, mint (careful! this likes to take over), tansy, sweet woodruff, yarrow, rosemary, catnip, catmint, tarragon, pennyroyal (poison), santolina, sage, rue, cloves, eucalyptus, shoo-fly, feverfew, vetivert, wormwood (poison), lemongrass, thyme, pyrethrum,  chamomile (deer love this), marjoram, oregano, hyssop, savory, and any other strong smelling herb or flower. Just plant them alongside your vegetables and you have the benefit of fresh herbs, less insects and ground cover to help stop moisture loss and keep the weeds at bay. Some have small root systems  such as cilantro, basil, dill, garlic, onions, and thyme which will not crowd your garden and suck out your plant's food. Some will need to be planted in walkways to keep them tramped down and in check such as yarrow and rue. And some will have to be trimmed and fussed with a bit to keep them from taking over such as any type of mint, pennyroyal, geranium, chamomile and others. And some add back to the garden such as marigolds which balance the soil by killing nematodes that like to eat tomato roots. Your garden will be full of vegetables, herbs for eating, herbs for medicinal uses, and herbs that look and smell good. And not full of insects that like to eat your plants! Good luck! 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Garden journals and foraging drawings

Something that has been helping me a lot lately has been my garden journal/ foraging drawings. In my garden journal I write down when I plant when I fertilize and so on. That way when I wonder why my peppers aren't as tall as their neighbors I can refer to the journal and find out when I planted them and fertilized them and adjust accordingly. You can also use this as a reference the next year when you go to plant you will know when you can expect the plants to come up and bear and so forth. If I would have known this year that hot peppers can take three times as long to germinate as sweet peppers and five times as long as tomatoes I would have started them much earlier. On a side note did you know that a peppers scoville heat unit (peppers are rated by scoville heat units on how hot they are the higher the capsaicin the higher the shu) will help you determine how long it will take to germinate? The buht jolokia (ghost pepper) regarded by many as the hottest pepper can take up to 100 days to germinate! You can also use it to document what pests came to your garden at what time so next year you will know to spray your radishes by mid April if you want to keep the white flies at bay. It doesn't have to be long and flowery, it can just be something along the lines of " may21st planted 12 radish seeds directly into the garden and covered with loose mulch" that will be all you need to know. Or you can get long and poetic with it and leave it for future generations.
   Writing down your foraging finds is another great journal. I keep my garden journal and foraging journal is the same book simply because I know that that book is probably going to get dirty! When I find a patch of something tasty I write down where it is and how to get to it including landmarks. Be careful choosing your landmarks that dead tree in the park may not be there next month or next year! I also like to sketch my edible plants, each part and each stage of its growth. write down any pertinent information to the plant, such as where it likes to grow, the easiest way to harvest it, the plants it usually grows beside, plants you have spotted that are similar and every difference you can find. Don't worry if you don't consider yourself a good artist, start with simple shapes and use a ruler or French curve to help you along the way. Remember you are the only one who has to see and understand this journal unless you plan to get all fancy with it to share with others. Use color descriptors or better yet color it in. If you really really can't draw you could take pictures and post these in your journal and write about your findings.  If you are going to take it into the field try to pick a book with a hard back to make it easier to write in without a hard surface to lay it on. I will try to post some pictures of my field drawings and I would love to see yours!

Hello world! Lets chat!

Hi and welcome to my new blog! I hope to provide information about gardening and foraging in the south and hopefully to get some information back. First off just to be clear foraging and gardening can be a bit tricky at times. I don't make any promises that what has worked for me and my friends and family will work for you. Also there are important taxonomical differences in plants that need to be considered when wild foraging, I will expect you the reader to do research at more than one place before making the outdoors your buffet. Consider wild carrots, they look strikingly similar to hemlock but with careful research you can learn differences, such as hemlock has a smooth stem and carrots have fuzzy stems, that could save your life.  Also I cannot speak of mushrooms and other fungi simply because I do not have the experience, but if I learn it in time this will be the first place I put it!  Now that thats out of the way I would like to tell you a bit about myself. I was raised in the deep south by gardening parents and right across from a thick stretch of woods where I spent most of my time. I have always been interested in plants and gardening and I guess you could say it was in my blood. My grandparents on both sides gardened for food and ornamentals and their parents and their's and so on. My father's grandmother was a midwife and what would now be considered an "herbalist". My Mother's Mother grew a garden that feed her, her husband, and their 11 children! I have grown things as long as I can remember and tried to learn as much from my parents as I could and remember as much as I could, if I knew then how important it would be now I would have paid attention even more! :) Also I am a stay at home wife and a nanny to my sister's two kids who live with me so I have loads of time to research in books and on the internet and grill any one I know who knows anything about plants! I am new to foraging I must admit and most of this blog is going to be dedicated to gardening and gardening tips (all organic of course) with some tried and true foraging asides. If I post it on here then you can be absolutely positive that I have tasted it and will post as clear a pictures as I can get. As far as gardening goes this year is the first year I have planted a garden that is all my own. I have grown plants with my parents and plants at my in laws house but it was never really "my garden" until now. Everyday I check my garden and fuss over it and write down what works and what doesn't. Now I am happy to share what I have learned in my garden (and continue to learn) and links to places where you can learn more. Please feel free to add what ever you have to say in the comments and correct me if I am wrong that way we can all learn together.

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