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Join Nicole as she revisits gardening tips and tricks from some of her favorite gardening episodes from the Backyard Bounty Podcast.
What You’ll Learn
- Tips for what to plant.
- How to get started with a garden.
- Gardening tips and tricks for natural pest control.
Check out the show notes for each of the episodes to find out more about our expert guests.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Episode #035 Planning a Backyard Garden ft. Gardenerd
- Episode #042 Organic Garden Pest Control ft Jill McSheehy
- Episode #050 Most Important Steps To Growing A Healthy Garden ft Joe Gardener
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Welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast from HeritageAcresMarket.com, where we talk about all things backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now here's your host, Nicole.
Hello, and welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast, where we aim to inspire and educate, sharing practical information to help your homestead thrive. I'm your host, Nicole, and today, I'm going to be doing things a little bit different. And I just wanted to showcase some of my favorite episodes today focusing on the gardening topic and bring you some little sound bites of those episodes. So if you haven't heard them yet, maybe you'll want to go back and listen to them. But in any case, these are kind of my favorite episodes and top tips regarding gardening. And I hope that you guys enjoy the show today. So I'd like to first introduce Shanny with Baker Creek Seeds and this is our Episode 24. And in this episode we talk about saving seeds and get a little bit more familiar with things like GMO and kind of some helpful gardening and seed starting tips. So, here is the episode.
Can you explain the difference between like an heirloom and a hybrid and a GMO?
Sure thing, yep! At Baker Creek we sell only heirlooms. Heirloom actually is a tricky little definition because a few people have different definitions of heirloom. An heirloom seed is always no matter whose definition, it's always an open pollinated variety, meaning that the seeds can be saved reliably year after year. As in when I buy a tomato seed for Baker Creek, I plant it, I grow it, I save that tomato and I save those seeds. When I plant those seeds, the next season. I'm going to get the same tomato that I ate the season before. So we are getting the same variety reliably saved year after year. And now sometimes you'll have to take precautions to prevent cross pollination. But basically that is a stable, a genetically stable variety. And it has been typically heirlooms are passed down generation to generation. So it's got to be open pollinated, that's the most important thing. That's what everyone agrees on. And then the one part of the definition of heirloom that some people disagree on is some folks maintain that an heirloom is only a variety that has been around for over 50 years, passed down generation to generation or through the hands of several gardeners, but has been around for 50 years. I love heirlooms that have been around for 50 years. They have beautiful stories and a lot of history. However, there are some really fantastic open pollinated breeding going on right now. And these are innovative gardeners and farmers and breeders who are making nutritionally dense, healthy, beautiful, colorful heirlooms, and they're new, they're not 50 years old. And Baker Creek, we want to celebrate those breeders and their work and we want to celebrate those beautiful new heirlooms. So we just go by the definition of heirloom as an open pollinated variety. So we're inviting heirlooms that have been newly introduced.
So what is a GMO then and what is the hype or whatever between non GMO?
So we've got our heirlooms, and then we've got our hybrids, which would be something that was manipulated, cross pollinated. Nothing wrong with hybrids, you know, they're fantastic. And a lot of ways they have hybrid vigor, they tend to grow really, really well. But we love our heirlooms because we can reliably save those seeds. It's a really secure source of your seed supply, you grow an heirloom once and then you're going to have those seeds forever as long as you maintain them correctly. Now, hybrid is going to be more recently cross pollinated, especially when you get into things like the F1 hybrids. And so those seeds, when you plant them, you're going to get a random genetic mix and you're not going to be able to reliably save those seeds. So we have a fundamental difference between the heirlooms and hybrids. And then thirdly, we have GMOs, and a very controversial topic with GMOs. But if I can put it, most simply, a genetically modified organism is different than an heirloom. It's different than a hybrid because the genes of a GMO have been altered in a way that could never be performed in nature. So a hybrid is someone maybe taking a purple tomato, and yellow tomato and crossing them and making a striped tomato, we'll say but a GMO would be to take an entirely foreign genetic piece of material and inserting that into the tomato to make it entirely different and something that could not be replicated in nature. Now, GMOs are often created, in concert with chemicals, agricultural chemicals, and they're oftentimes created to be grown with those chemicals and use and the chemicals used heavily. So a great example of a GMO that's extremely popular in the U.S. is Roundup Ready corn. Now this isn't a corn that you're going to grow in your home garden. This is grown in major swathes across America. And essentially it is resistant to the very popular herbicide, glyphosate. Roundup is the trade name. And so you can spray this corn with Roundup and it won't die, but all the weeds around it will die. And there have been a lot of studies that have come out showing the very likely carcinogenic effect of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, and then we talk about the environmental impact of spraying your entire field and eradicating all the weeds in your field. One small example, and I say small, it's actually a huge example, would be milkweed. The sole food source for the Monarch butterfly, Milkweed was most often found around the edges of agricultural spaces, like big cornfields. And with the introduction of Roundup Ready corn, we're seeing farmers able to just generally spray their entire area. wiping out all their weeds, including the Milkweed. So the food source of the Monarch butterfly being wiped out, probably not a consequence that anyone intended. The population is in rapid decline due in part to the loss of their food source. So there you have it, heirlooms hybrids, GMOs. I hope I kind of explained that well enough.
So can you maybe explain more of the proper way to save and store your seeds?
Absolutely. So you want to do a bit of research when you're going to save seeds. Here's a great example. I have a beautiful watermelon right now, I did not expect to thrive on a small island off the coast of Rhode Island. We have pretty cool summers they don't get incredibly hot, and we get a decent amount of moisture. That's just not watermelon weather. However, I got this beautiful bumper crop of Ali Baba watermelons. They're thriving, I'm getting tons of fruit off of each plant and the flavor is out of this world. So I naturally I need to save every seed possible and they need to bring those seeds to my local library because we have a seed library here. So what I need to think about when I'm going to save those seeds is, are they going to be cross pollinated? And what do I need to do to get them to be able to stay reliably stored for the winter, so that my friends and I can grow them next spring and the seeds haven't brought it over the winter or anything. So cross pollination first: it's going to really range between the crops that you choose, things like tomatoes and beans and peas are super easy. They're typically self pollinating. You can grow a couple varieties in your garden and reliably get the same variety year after year. Unless you get a really aggressive rogue bee that really wants to cross pollinate your stuff. Then you get things like the Cucurbit family, those are the squash, watermelons, those are actually pretty readily cross pollinated. They require insect pollination to set fruit and they want their little flowers cross pollinated. So if you grew a few varieties have Cucurbits in your garden you may be looking at some cross pollination issues down the line. Fortunately, there are some methods you can implement. To prevent the cross pollination, you can bag your flowers, you can tape your flowers shut and just hand pollinate with a little paintbrush or a feather. I'm not getting into in depth with any of this because it's just very, it's lengthy. So what I really recommend is that people go on the Rare Seeds website, that's the Baker Creek website and go to our growing guide and any crop that you want to save seeds on. I have actually written a little growing guide and it tells you how to save seeds on that. So it'll tell you what the isolation distance for the plants are whether you're going to need to bag the flowers and it will also tell you how to harvest the seeds. Basically, do your research, find out what the likelihood of your plants being cross pollinated are. Next, find out how to harvest. Something like flower seeds like Calendulas or Sunflowers are so easy breezy to save beans are another one that are really easy. You're going to want to think about your climate conditions when you're saving stuff. If you live somewhere that has a dry fall, so you have your beans, they mature to a dry bean state. And then you let the pods turn brown and brittle and dry and you can probably let your beans just self dry right on the plant and then you store them for the season. And then you've got things like tomatoes which require a little bit of doing. So when you're saving a tomato seed for example, it's basically a dry seed saving which has beans, flowers, things like that, and you have wet seed saving and that's things like tomatoes and cucumbers and oh eggplants are another one. So tomatoes eggplants, you're going to let the fruit really ripe and mature you want those tomatoes to be like a little gross like your wouldn't want to eat them anymore. Same with the eggplants are going to want to let the eggplants kind of turn yellow and be quite ripe, soft to the touch. That's when the seed is really mature. Then you're going to squish the tomato into your cup or your bowl or whatever you have and you're gonna squish that tomato and you're going to let it sit and kind of get a little lost. On the fermenting side for a few days and basically what that's doing is it's breaking down the germination inhibitor that all tomato seeds are covered in. Tomato seeds are naturally covered in a germination inhibitor which is a brilliant evolutionary mechanism. It basically keeps the seeds from germinating too soon, and this helps with seed dispersal for moving the seeds around. A bird can eat the seed and then expel it and it gets moved and evolutionarily the plant goes on. So, in order to get that chemical, that germination inhibiting chemical off of your tomato seeds so that it can germinate for you when you want to germinate it, you're going to ferment the seeds just by again putting them in the cup letting them ferment for a few days. Then you're just going to rinse and strain the seeds and dry them on say a paper towel or paper plate and you can reliably save them over the winter. So whether you're doing dry seed saving or wet seed saving, those are your techniques for harvesting the seeds: dry seed saving, wet seed saving. Hopefully I covered enough of that.
Okay, great, great. And then you're going to think about storage so cool, dark and dry is always how you're going to store seeds. They need to be out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight is a surefire way to destroy the viability of your seeds. Warm weather is also going to destroy the viability of your seeds, keeping them cool, like around 50-60 degrees is lovely. If you can keep them cooler like in a refrigerator, that's great. Some people even freeze their seeds. And as long as you don't freeze something like okra or sorghum, you can even freeze get away with freezing. I don't freeze, I refrigerate and I think it works great if I don't have access or space in my refrigerator because my roommates want to murder me because we already don't have enough space in our fridge and then I'm trying to put seeds in there. I put them in a cupboard that doesn't get too hot, cool, dark, and then dry. So if I'm storing my seeds in the refrigerator or freezer, they have to be maybe put in a Ziplock bag and then put in a glass jar that sealed or at least in a glass jar. But make sure to keep those seeds dry. What you're really wanting to avoid is inviting any moisture and warmth because we don't want things to rot. So cool, dark, dry. The light would probably dry out the seeds and then the moisture or the warmth would rot them. So avoid rot and avoid drying out. Cool, dark, dry. And then you're going to go online, or in a seed saving book. There's a really great seed saving book called "Seed to Seed" by a group of authors from all different regions across the country. It's called "Seed to Seed". Everyone needs to read it. If you are an aspiring seed saver, if you're a home gardener, you need to read "Seed to Seed" because it was a compilation of seed saving techniques depending on the region. So we've got representatives from all over the country, giving their two cents about how to save seeds in their area. So anyways, look for one of those books or go online and find yourself a seed viability chart. And a seed viability chart is going to tell you how long the average lifespan of a particular crop seed is if saved properly. For an example, parsnip seed, even if you do everything right, it's only going to be viable for one or two years. And when I say viable, I mean like most of the seeds will sprout a good percentage of your harvest will sprout in the first year and two years of parsnips, then they decline rapidly. Lettuce is another one that doesn't have fantastic germination after a few years, then you get things like beans and watermelons that have crazy long viability. And when they're stored, right, like say, in a cave, in New Mexico, they can last for decades, and it's even been shown hundreds of years. So it really ranges a lot and it really depends on the crop. So be sure to figure out the harvest technique, store them properly, and then learn a little bit about what you can actually really expect from the viability of that crop.
Yeah, and I'm definitely gonna check out the website too with your information on there.
Our next episode is Episode 35, which is the episode with Garden Nerd where we talk about planning and garden. And this is a really great resource if you're brand new to gardening or a little bit new to the scene, and you're not really sure how to lay out your garden beds. This is a great episode and is full of information. And I hope that you enjoy this one as well.
I thought maybe we could talk about kind of the basics of getting started when it comes to gardening and jumping right into planning our garden.
So there's, there's so much in that question really, but I like to talk about starting small and growing as much as you can in that small space. So my specialty is small space, bio intensive, organic vegetable gardening. And so it's all about using the space to its highest potential. What that starts with is soil, you really have to have the best soil possible. And if you're dealing with soil that's not great, I can't recommend enough putting down compost and worm castings. And if you can, brewing compost tea, if you know how to do it right or finding someone who does, because compost tea inoculates your soil with beneficial microbes that help do a number of things. They help aerate the soil they help cycle the nutrients from whatever it is that you put down to the plants, they help mine deep soils for nutrients and bring them back to the plant roots and they just help keep pests in check. So it's all about balance and it starts with having a balance of microbes in your soil. I would start with that. Of course you want to pick a good spot for your garden. I think that the sunniest spot is the best. It depends on where you live though if you're in the desert, you might want to have some shade or shade cloth. But if you are in a place that has mild regular kind of average temperatures, you want at least six hours of sunlight a day for your crops. That's a minimum.
Your tomatoes, your peppers, your eggplant, your beans, your corn and your squash. Those things all produce a fruit and so you want to have more than six hours of sunlight a day if you can, but that's the minimum.
When's the best time to do that?
Well, if you're starting in spring, and your ground doesn't freeze, you can start adding amendments pretty much right away. If you do have soil that freezes over or, or has a lot of water collected in it, if it doesn't drain well, you need to wait until it does thaw and drain before you start working it because you can really mess up soil structure, if you work it while it's too soggy. It's gonna be whenever you're frost free date passes and you can work your soil. There are you know, there are videos out there and websites out there that give you soil tests that you can do. And basically you grab a handful of soil and you squeeze it in your hand. And then when you open your hand up and put your thumb into the block of soil, if it falls apart, it's ready to work. If it doesn't fall apart, if it just makes a dent, it's not ready to work and it's um, it needs some more time to dry down. That's the trick.
Okay, so what's the best way to decide which plants that we want to get?
So for people growing in spring, the first thing I do is I clear the table I get a you know, a pad of graph paper and all of my seeds, and I lay them out on the table. So we're going to start with our cool weather crops and that's your your lettuces, mustard greens, arugula, all of your herbs except for basil, your leafy greens like chard and kale, and your brassicas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, brussel sprouts. Sugarsnap peas and snow peas and shelling peas all do really well in cool weather. Root vegetables, so carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, radishes, those are your starting point. And I usually make a list of things I want to grow and then I compare them to my seeds and what I have, and I map out my space. So ideally, you want to find a space that is south facing or at least gets that six hours of sun that I mentioned earlier. And always know where north is. North becomes important because I plant things tallest to shortest, from north to south. So toward the northern part of the garden is all the tall stuff that's going to go in like corn and peas and beans on a trellis anything tall. And then as you get to the middle of your beds or whatever it is that you're planting in containers or otherwise, you put the mid height things like your squashes that get tall but not too tall, your onions or garlic, that kind of stuff. And then short things go in the front towards the south, which are your lettuces, and you know most of your greens are pretty short. Spinach is very, very short, radishes and that kind of stuff. So once you have that idea, that framework to plan by, you can go from tallest to shortest and from north to south and be good. As you get into the warm weather stuff where you're planting squash and watermelons and things that vine and sprawl, I mean, those I tend to plant furthest to the south so that they can spill over the edge of my raised beds into the pathways and not take up the whole bed. So you get a lot better use of your space if you do that.
So maybe moving on to our warmer weather crops. What are some of those?
Warm weather crops are your beans, corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, you know you can grow potatoes in warm weather. Yeah, and the melons you know all the things in the cucurbit family so like cantaloupes and honeydews and that kind of thing. Those all do well then.
Once you decide that you want to grow these plants, I know that you mentioned planting them by hand. from north to south, but what about square footage? Do you do any sort of garden planning with graphs and things like that?
I always use graph paper when I plan out my garden and I use a combination of two biointensive methods, square foot gardening and grow biointensive square foot gardening most people are familiar with it's Mel Bartholomew's system that uses square feet instead of rows to plant things and then grow. biointensive is john Jevons work almost 50 years now of research based on biodynamics and French intensive gardening that's pulling those different modalities together. And his system uses hexagonal planting or offset rows that puts things close together. So if you're growing a lot of one thing you can use that everything has a specific spacing and I usually go by the space after thinning a number that's on the back of seed packets. So for example, lettuces It says, you know, plant them a couple inches apart, but then thin to, or space after thinning is six inches apart. So I plant things a lot more closely together than most people. Because we have relatively dry weather most of the time. So if you have a lot of rain through the summer, or a lot of fungal issues in your garden, you may want to give them a little more space. But again, fungal infestations are due to an imbalance of fungi in your soil. So if you get the good fungi in there, they'll help balance out the bad.
So what are some other considerations for planning your garden?
Alright, so crop rotation is something that's really important because some plants leave behind diseases, or they can take up certain nutrients or a lot of them. And so I tend to plant my plant families together in one bed so that it will be easy to rotate them to a new bed the next year. For example, in our cool weather season. We're talking about like all your brassicas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, brussel sprouts, those all go in the same bed. And then next season I'll be allowed I can, you know, it'd be so much easier to move them to the next bed because they're all together. Whereas if I put you know, broccoli over here and a cauliflower over there and a kale over there, then I have to remember that and that's too hard, so I don't. So keep your plant families together: beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are all in the same family. They're Solanacea, and then I keep my spinach, chard, and beets together those are in the same family and if you do grow Orric Mountain Spinach that's also in the same or amaranth and quinoa, those are all in the same family, and so it makes it easier to rotate crops if you do that. Also, the second part of crop rotation has to do with heavy feeder versus heavy giver or light feeder. So a heavy feeder something thing that uses a lot of nutrients in order to produce a fruit that's going to be pretty much anything that does produce a fruit. Whereas your greens are light feeders they don't take much out of the soil and then heavy givers are your cover crops and your leguminous families things like peas and beans put things back. They put specifically nitrogen back in the soil, and cover crops which can be a combination of seeds that include beans and peas, but also Hairy Vetch which is nitrogen fixing, oats which helps create biomass, and you know, dive down and aerate soils, and clovers and that kind of thing. Those are cover crops that help build soil structure and and put nutrients back in the soil. So I usually dedicate one of my beds per season to a cover crop, and that rotates to a new bed every year.
So what do you do at the end of season care?
Right so at the end of the season when everything's dead, I've pulled plants that have been have shown signs of disease and I put them in the city green bin to compost because I do compost but I don't want anything diseased in there. I can't guarantee that the temperatures are going to get hot enough to kill diseases. So I let the city do that. Diseases die and weed seeds die and 130 degrees which my active batch thermal compost piles will get that hot, but I'm just not taking any chances. Now there's this really interesting philosophy around leaving your garden over winter looking like crap if you close down your garden for winter, because (I just got this from someone I interviewed on my podcast), that if you leave stuff growing or you know dead things like if you grow asparagus, the foliage dies over winter. And there's always a difference in school of thought over whether you should cut it down before winter comes or leave it until spring. I always left it because it becomes habit for critters like the good kind over winter, and I had ladybugs breeding in my asparagus patch all winter long and then in spring they would just chow down on any aphids that would show up so it was kind of cool. So but it's up to you, I pull disease plants, and then do bed prep again before planting new crops.
Next, we're going to be listening to Episode 42, the Organic Pest Control with Jill, and Jill is the host of the Beginner's Garden Podcast. And she covers a ton of really great information about gardening. If you're looking for a garden specific podcast, I definitely recommend checking out the Beginner's Garden Podcast with Jill. And in this episode, we're going to be talking about organic garden pest control and some alternative treatment and prevention options, which are really helpful and I was able to take away a ton of great information on this one to utilize in my own garden at home. So what are some organic solutions that you found for some of your common pests?
I think for me, it's a matter of me changing my mindset, honestly. I mean, I know that we all want the quick tricks when it comes to what do I do if I have an infestation with this that for me, I think the biggest solution was a mindset understanding that before I spray anything, I need to consider what will the collateral damage be. And I think I learned this in a more profound way than ever last year because I found that in a couple of my tomato plants, I had quite a few aphids earlier in the season. And I know just from the research that I've done, that anything that you spray on aphids like insecticidal soap or Neem oil or things like that, it could possibly if you get it on some beneficial insects, their larva that it could kill those beneficial insects and their larva and those larva are what are are actually going to prey on the aphids. And that's probably why they're there in the first place. And I'd always heard about that, you know, you hear about how ladybugs are so great for your garden. But I actually saw that firsthand. As I went out of my garden every day I was watching the aphids on this particular tomato plant. And I knew we had ladybugs out there and I was able to identify this ladybug and this ladybug larva, which doesn't look anything like a lady, but you have to know that I was watching it, hunt those aphids, and then not long after that, I saw something else and I'm like, I wonder what kind of larva that might be. And I started doing some internet research. And it was I think it was a syrphid fly larva. And it was just amazing. Because every day I go out there and I would see these larva hunting these aphids, and within a couple of weeks, the aphid population was pretty much gone from those plants. And so for me, I learned that I think a lot of times our knee jerk reaction is to "Oh, we got to get rid of these" instead of, "Do I really need to step in, or can I wait little bit and depend on the beneficial insects that I've already tried to make a home for in my garden, wait for them to come?" Because if the ladybugs don't see a food source, are they really going to lay their eggs and in my garden so I think there's some amount of toleration that we need to have for, for some insects in our garden when it comes to you know, you know, what, what are we going to do and then another thing too, is, my tomato plants were pretty healthy. I planted them at the right time, they weren't stressed and so they were able to withstand the damage that did occur. So don't get me wrong, there was some damage there, but they ended up being fine. I think for me, the challenge is when do you need to step in? Because obviously it completely hands off approach sometimes won't work to your benefit. So that's kind of been the dance that that I've I'm starting to learn how when to step in and when not to.
I think in a lot of cases, things kind of work themselves out but people are so result driven and they want something done right now that it's difficult to take a step back and just let nature work itself out.
And a lot of times it will. But like I said, a lot of times it won't. I decided to do an experiment last year. This was something else that was so fascinating to me. I don't like to tree for aphids in my garden because like I said, I want to feed my beneficials. But I was curious about some of the most popular aphid control methods for example, and I was my tomatoes were already in the ground, but my peppers weren't because my peppers go in a little bit later than my tomatoes, but I was bringing my peppers outside and back in to harden them off before I planted them in the garden. And during one of those times where they were outside. Apparently some aphids got on them. So I noticed indoors in my grow room that my peppers were infested with aphids. And I thought, well, first of all, what am I going to do because these are inside, I don't have beneficials that can take care of them. But then I thought this was a really neat opportunity to do some testing and so on. What I did is I segmented those peppers into four different groups and I applied a different organic pest control solution to each one of those, well two, three of them and then I had a control group on one of them I applied Neem oil and this was the hundred percent cold press Neem oil. And then on the other I applied a homemade insecticidal soap. You can find recipes online but it was Castile soap, and I think that was all maybe just a little bit of Castile soap that was diluted in water. And then in the other one, I tried a tip that I was actually actually heard from the Wisconsin vegetable gardener radio show. And they said if you put worm castings at the base and water them in, then once the worm castings get into the system of the plant and the aphids eat it, they'll die and I thought that's really strange. Is that one of those old wives tales that may or may not work, but I thought, let's try it. So I tried that as well. And all three methods worked. The aphids were dead, and I actually document into this on a video which you can watch on YouTube. But the progression, all three methods worked that aphids were all dead within a few days on each of them. But the ones where the worm castings were applied, there wasn't any kind of damage to the leaves. I noticed that with the insecticidal soap in particular there was you could just tell there was a little bit of collateral damage with the leaves. And part of that could have been because I sprayed it and they were under grow lights. And I know sometimes you have to be careful with direct sunlight when you're applying some insecticides like that. But I was just really impressed with the worm castings. And just to give you a comparison, the control group the infestation had gotten worse. So it wasn't an outside factor that caused all the aphids to die the control group had gotten worse and then once I was done with the experiment, I added worm castings to them and all the aphids died and then had a great pepper year. So that was just so fascinating to me to be able to see if the aphids ever get to a point where I do need to step in here. are some things that I can do to possibly. Now obviously, I would probably try the worm castings first. But if that didn't work on a bigger scale these peppers were tiny little transplants, then what's the next method that I might go to? So that was a fun experiment.
Do you have any good resources for identifying bugs? I know that I just will try to Google "little green worm" and "Colorado" or something. And our extension office is a good resource. But it can be really difficult to identify a critter that you've found.
it is difficult, and I would love I would love it if there were an app. And maybe there is but I remember last year, I was looking for it because there is an app that I use for plant identification that has been really helpful. And I'm like, we need one of those for bugs. But so far, I haven't found one. And I kind of do what you do. I just try to Google but honestly, that's not always accurate. And I've misidentified bugs before. I do have a handbook that I consult sometimes but even then it's it's hard to find them. exact one because some of those I miss identified a bug last year because I thought it was a Mexican bean beetle. And it ended up being a squash lady beetle, which is different than a squash bug. But I had never heard of that before. And I just assumed it was a Mexican bean beetle. They're both bad. So killing it wasn't a bad thing. But I realized that one of them has more spots than the other. And just little details like that are kind of hard to determine if you're not trained in it. So I would, I would really love it if there was a better resource to be able to identify bugs, because I think that the everyday person could access because I think it would be more helpful. But for now, I've been able to do a lot of stuff from Google, like you were talking about.
Yeah, I agree. That would be a nice app. I know that if somebody lives close to their extension office, you can generally take one of the insects in and typically there's somebody there that might be able to at least get you started in the right direction and identifying it, but that's not always, you know, accessible for everybody. So you mentioned that you have issue with squash beetles there. That's an issue that we also have here. And I despise them to say the least, what options have you found to control the squash beetles?
I'm still open for suggestions on that I've not been able honestly to find anything organic than I'm willing to try. Just because I know that a lot of even organic methods can harm beneficials. For instance, I know some people suggest diatomaceous earth, I've tried that it didn't work all that great, but even that you got to be careful not to get near the flowers. If a squash is blooming, you don't want that to be something that a bee might accidentally be exposed to. So for me, I've just changed the timing of my planting. And I've also again, this goes back to mindset. I also plan that my squash is going to die one way or the other. And it's either usually it's from the squash vine borer. I've that's just one of those things that I've tried different things and nothing has been. Like digging out the little grub sometimes works but I can't always depend on that. It just depends on different factors. But I ended up planting like last year I planted a really early planting of squash and zucchini. I started them indoors with soil blocks. That way it minimize the transplant shock and I was able to get a lot of squash and zucchini early in the season. And then I also because we have a long season I plant a second crop in late July to have a fall harvest. So for me, I ended up planting at least two successions of squash and zucchini in different areas in the garden. But then I also when I see like this year when my squash and zucchini in that first planting just started getting overrun with the squash bugs, I ripped them out and I fed them to my chickens. Cross my fingers. I don't know if this is going to happen this way in 2020. But the last time that I did that, and my chickens were able to feast on that infestation. I didn't have squash bug problem for another will till this year. So probably two solid years I didn't have a big problem with squash bugs so I don't know if that was a fluke or if I really made a dent in the population by taking them out when they were so active and then letting my chickens take care of them I guess next year I'll be able to see but I think part of it like I said was just I'm planning on different settings and then I'm also I don't want to just hang on for dear life until the adults decide to go and you know, complete their reproductive cycle and start all over again, I want to take them out at their peak.
So have you found any other techniques or solutions that have worked well for some of the other common pests in your garden?
I think the only other one that is probably my go to as far as actually doing something to kill the insect is Bt for worms is is really good because I do have a lot of cabbage worms on broccoli and cabbage and lettuce, I mean anything like that, and I feel confident that Bt is safe and organic and also for a lot of those plants, there's not going to be any flowers. So I'm not worried about bees and things like that. But I found just spraying with bt is super efficient and helpful for worms. I know that a lot of people recommend using it for tomato hornworms I don't have a lot of them, I mean, one can kill your plants so you don't have to have a lot of them for it to be a problem but I found for tomato hornworms I just look for the damage and I pluck them off and feed them to my chickens. I don't know that that I really I feel like that's easier than having to spray all of my huge tomato plants down with Bt to me the Bt for me it's more helpful for the smaller plants just more more convenient. But if someone were to have a really bad infestation of tomato hornworms then that might be an option. And also Bt comes in a powdered form I just always have used the liquid.
And last but not least, this next featured episode is probably one of our listener favorites, and this one is Episode 50, and it's "The Most Important Steps to Growing a Healthy Garden featuring Joe Gardener". And if you're not familiar with Joe Gardener, he has a amazing show called "Growing a Greener World", which is an Emmy Award winning national television series on PBS. It's been out for about 11 years, and it's a fantastic show. I'd definitely check it out. But Joe is such a great wealth of information. He knows everything about everything when it comes to gardening. And this episode, it's great because it has some really actionable steps on how we can optimize our gardens and ways that we can increase the health of our garden so that we can then increase the health of our food that we harvest from it.
So I thought today it would be really fun to talk about, you know, kind of the things that we need to do to have a healthy garden. What's Some things that we need to consider for this?
Joe Lamp'l 39:02
You know, we want to think we're in control. But we know we're not because you know, there are higher powers and sources that are making us react to what really happens. But we can proactively set the garden up for success. First of all, and this would be like, kind of the first thing on my list would be to make sure that I was selecting the best site possible. And so what what does that mean? Well, the first thing is, you need a site that's going to get full sun if you're intending to grow plants that require or do best in full sun. So I would call that you know, vital, and so I'm looking for something that probably gets at least six hours or more, a full sun site would be the first thing. The next thing I would say, is making sure that you have a site that promotes good drainage versus, you know, putting your garden in a spot that may be sunny, and yet it's in a kind of a bog or a wet area where everything drains towards that garden. Now there are ways around that like you could build raised beds and that's one of the good reasons people build raised beds is to get around the challenges of poor drainage, but as you're assessing your site options, if you've got the freedom of picking a site that gets full sun and then you can find a site or place that is in full sun that's getting good drainage, you certainly want that because if we're talking vegetables especially they don't want to have wet roots, and so you want the water to move away because you may not have raised beds you may have in ground beds and you just mound up the soil. And all the more reason why you don't want you know, the water draining towards your plants you want to drain it away. So promoting good drainage is is probably what I would say is number two on my list if you're starting from a blank slate, and then we come down to kind of the non negotiable for me and that is to build healthy soil. And I know we hear about that all the time. But I cannot overemphasize the importance of having healthy soil, soil that drains well. Even if water does move towards it or you have you know, a few days of consecutive rain, you've got to have an opportunity so that that soil is loose enough and has enough airspace and pore space so that water isn't just going to sit there because it can't get out. yet, at the same time, you need that soil to be able to retain moisture too. So you need that just right kind of that Goldilocks not too loose and not too tight. So that soil is providing the water that it needs without it just sitting there. So healthy soil includes not only proper drainage, but then it's got lots of microbial activity in it. So that's your bacteria and your fungi and all those players in the soil foodweb that work together to create and to help promote that airspace and that drainage and that moisture retention, but they're also the ones in there that are breaking down the organic matter and producing nutrients in a soluble form that the roots can take up. So it's kind of this perpetual buffet of health food for your plants. And so one of the things that I'm always fond of saying is feed the soil so the soil can feed the plants. Rather than just trying to pump the nutrients at the plant at the expense of whatever's going on with the soil I, I look at this soil is like a bank account. And so if you think about your your real bank account, you want to make deposits into it as often as possible and minimize the withdrawals. Well, in a garden setting the deposits would be the nutrients in the in the good things that you want to add to your soil that improve it to make it better to make it richer. And the withdrawals, of course, are the nutrients being taken out because the plants are growing and they're you know, they need those nutrients, so they're sucking or consuming the nutrients that are in the soil. Well, if you don't come back and replace those nutrients, basically, to put it back in the terms of a bank account, if all you kept doing is making withdrawals and not thinking about coming back with deposits eventually you deplete your account and you have zero or negative balance. So it's a cycle of ensuring that you're providing as many deposits to the soil bank as you can so that when your plants are growing And thriving and they have a high demand for those nutrients, then they're there. But then you don't forget about it. It's not a one and done. You have to not only build healthy soil, but you have to continue to maintain it by, you know, adding new deposits. And so what is that, for me as an organic gardener, it's mostly compost. You know, it's mulch on top, we'll talk about that in a second, but anything I put into my soil, whether it's on top or in it, I want it to improve the soil, whether it's right away or over time. But compost for me is kind of the best of all worlds because it's providing not only nutrients, but it's providing humic acid and the microbes, all that microbial activity that I just talked about a minute ago that's going to work to feed the plants by breaking down the things in a way that the plants can take it up in a soluble form. So that's a lot of talking. But you know, that's a biggie. I'm a big believer in healthy soil and we have a lot to do with how we can make it so.
So first starting with our native soil and not a raised bed, is it just compost or is there other things that we need to add to it as well?
Joe Lamp'l 44:01
I like to do kind of a cocktail of different things. So you've got your native soil. And I would say that that's going to make up when your bed is finished. And you have it to the point that you feel like it's just right, you're starting, of course with your native soil, and you're improving it. So native soil, let's just say that that's 50% of what will make up the total. Then I would say 30%, in addition to that would be what I would focus as good healthy compost. Now, if you're lucky enough to be able to make that much, good for you, and you might be able to, but whether you buy it or you make it, I would look for about 30% on top of the 50%. And so now we're at 80% total volume of soil like product. Now we have 20 more percent, could we just make it you know, all compost again? Well, you could, but this is where I get into that conversation about sort of mixing it up and creating a cocktail mix. And so I like to diversify beyond just compost. And so then I would look for one of several options. And so I'm a big fan of shredded leaves, and for me, those leaves are great mulch, but they're also great as a soil amendment. So that would be one of the options for an ingredient that would make up that extra 20%. Uh, worm castings, which is kind of like compost on steroids. It's worm manure that's full of nutrients more so than even compost or healthy garden soil by a healthy factor. So I would maybe look at 5-10% of that, if I could. I love composted horse manure or composted chicken manure, so some kind of organic animal manure that has had plenty of time to age and mellow so you don't run the risk of you know, burning plants from the high nitrogen but that's such a good source of nutrients and it adds its own texture and porosity that plays well with the other organic ingredients that you would put and so this is another reason why I like to mix it up. As you introduce these other components and, and so these other components might be shredded bark, or finally ground bark. It could be rotted straw It could be mushroom compost, these different components playing together all have different particulate sizes. And so as they're getting mixed together, they're also binding together because the humic acid and the things that are, you know, a little bit sticky in a good way and soil and is they kind of clumped together, all these different sizes are, by definition, creating space between each of the particulate so you've got that airspace in that area that water can move through, and yet, you've got the nutrients and all the things that your plants are depending on to thrive. So now you've got the native soil at 50%. You've got compost at roughly 30% and then you've got 20% that's made up of these other miscellaneous organic inputs. And now you've got what I call kind of the perfect soil recipe and there's your hundred percent. And so as you're starting a new garden and it's an in ground bed, I'm not just laying these new things on top, we could have a whole discussion on creating a no till garden where you don't disturb the existing native soil you just add to it for the first time garden. Talking about blending things together kind of mixing them together one time and one time only. But now you've got this beautiful blend all the way through. So wherever the roots grow, they're getting the same soil consistency and texture and quality.
And then so once we have our good foundation, what's the next step?
Joe Lamp'l 47:19
Okay, so now we're ready to plant we've got our soil in place, we've got it in a good location, because it's getting full sun, it's not sitting in an area where all water is going to drain towards it, or maybe we've mounted it up, but we know we have good soil that will drain so we're not going to worry about that. Now it's time to plant our plants. And so we want to orient them in the garden strategically. And so we talked about vegetable crops love full sun, at least six hours and more is better. But even within our garden is we think about the sun passing overhead. If we put tall plants in the way or in the path of the rays of the sun so that the plants behind them are shorter may not be getting the same exposure to the sun. Well, they're not going to do as well because they're not having as much access to the light. So as we think about the sun moving across our gardens in the Northern Hemisphere here in the United States, the rays are coming from a southerly direction. So as they come down to the ground and hit the ground, you'd want to orient your garden so your tallest plants in your garden are on the north side of your beds. And so the middle sized plants, assuming they're kind of tight together in a bed, I mean, if you really have a spacious garden, you can spread everything out. This part really doesn't matter as much, but a lot of homeowners you know, they don't have unlimited space. So they've got to work within the parameters that they have. And so they need to be thinking strategically as they make their plantings. And so, as I said, as the sun's coming down from a southerly exposure coming across our gardens, the tallest plants we would place at the back of the garden, which would be the north end, then the mid sized plants would be in front of that, and then the shortest plants would be in front of that. So now we've created an opportunity for all our plants in the garden to get the maximum amount of exposure possible and that way you know, you've got potentially eight hours of sun on everything pretty much give or take.
So then you mentioned something about mulch is that one of the next steps?
Joe Lamp'l 49:09
it would be I would mix that in with watering. So whether you put the mulch down next or you water next, the order doesn't really matter as long as you do both in water properly and put mulch down. Watering is important in that we do it properly. And so how would that apply in a vegetable garden? Well, where you are where it may be very arid and dry, you know, it may be okay to get away with overhead watering anytime you want, which is taking your hose or your orbit sprinkler and just letting it overhead water and it's just soaking the beds and getting everything wet. But in areas where wet foliage is can be a problem for promoting diseases because water can be a real vector for you know, exacerbating the risk of disease. It sure is down in the southeast where it's already humid. We want to minimize the length of time. The plant foliage stays wet. And so the way to avoid that is to not overhead water and not let your sprinkler go over everything, at least other than early in the morning when there's a best chance of evaporation. I mean, it's not that it's wrong to do that I used to do that all the time on the fresh from the garden set, because it's the only time we really could water effectively and we would overhead water but we would do it at six in the morning. So by seven the foliage was completely dry because the sun was coming up and everything was drying off. But for the most part, I love to use drip irrigation or soaker hoses. And that's just that method of delivering the water right at the soil level through basically a garden hose that either is completely porous and so water is coming out the entire length, or drip irrigation where there are designated exit points along the length of the hose where the water is coming out through emitters. But it's a very controlled way to irrigate so that the water is only going down at wherever you position the hose. It's keeping the foliage dry and it's a much more efficient way to water. So if we're trying to conserve water and think about it You know the valuable resource that it is we certainly don't want to waste it. And yet at the same time we want the plants to get the water they need.
And so then I assume now we're to the mulching step?
Joe Lamp'l 51:10
We are you know, compost is my favorite thing to go into the soil and mulch is my favorite thing to go on the soil. And so for me mulch is as magical his compost is above the ground. Mulch is any organic material that you can put over the soil surface that blocks the light. And I don't consider rubber mulch for me a definition of mulch in my gardens is that it has to break down to improve the soil over time. I don't have a time limit on that it just has to do it over time.
Joe Lamp'l 51:40
So that would be and I've already mentioned, my favorite ingredient or input is shredded leaves, but it could be you know, lots of different bark options or ground up arborists wood chips from trees that are taken down or it could be rotted straw. It could be compost, it could be grass clippings. It could be a number of different things. But mulch is such a good input for holding moisture and we just talked about moisture. But you know in those areas like where you are where it can get really dry or hot, and we're trying to preserve all the water we can at the soil level and below, mulch is going to be that insulator, that's going to block the sunlight and reduce the evaporative effects of the water leaving the soil. And so a two inch layer of mulch will do wonders for that. And when it's really hot, it's like an insulating blanket. It's kind of like a thermos really, when the soil could be really hot. A mulch layer will reduce the heat in the soil so it kind of cools the soil. But if it gets really cold, the mulch helps the soil stay warm when you want it to be warmer. So it's the best of both worlds so moderate soil temperatures, it suppresses diseases that live in the soil from splashing up onto your foliage during a rain event or a hard watering event. And so it's very, very important for disease suppression is very important for protecting the integrity of the soil. Other than stepping on your soil or walking on it rain is the number one contributor to making your soil compacted. And so if you have a buffer between your actual soil and the raindrops and mulch would be that you create this cushioning effect and you reduce greatly the risk that your soil is going to be compacted. It keeps the weeds at bay, you know it prevents the light from hitting the soil surface and a lot of the weed seeds that we have need sunlight in order to germinate and so if the mulch is there, it's blocking the sunlight from hitting the soil surface and therefore the weeds are kept in check. I mean doesn't mean you're going to have a weed free garden but you are definitely going to have a garden with less weeds. And then I love the look of mulch. I just think it really it's like putting icing on a cake. I could eat a cake without icing, but I like a cake better with it. And I think it looks better. You know when you decorate your cake you're doing it because it makes it look better. Plus it tastes good. So, to me mulch is the icing on the cake. The other thing I wanted to mention is that that I want the mulch to do double duty or triple or quadruple duty and one of the things it needs to do is break down as organic matter to make my soil better as it decomposes and biodegrades. And so that's the other thing about mulch that makes it a requirement. And anything under my any garden under my watch, has to have mulch and to do all those things.
So do you have any other key takeaways or advice for people starting their garden and ways to improve the health?
Joe Lamp'l 54:27
What I would tell people is you can't become a better gardener until you start gardening and then embrace the mistakes. And what you have to do is know ahead of time that you're going to make mistakes. And if you don't make mistakes, you're not gardening hard enough. You're not trying hard enough, you're not pushing yourself enough or you're not challenging yourself enough. So you've got to be willing to accept things happening that you don't have the answers to yet. I want everybody to start because I think one of the biggest mistakes is we just never get started.
Alright, and that wraps up our "Top Tips of Gardening" from our last year or so in the Backyard Bounty podcast. I hope that you enjoyed this episode, I'd love to hear your feedback. Let me know, send me a message on our Backyard Bounty Facebook page, or click the link in the description for our Speakpipe listener messaging system. So you can leave your thoughts there too. And if you have any questions for the show, or any other feedback, those are great ways to get ahold of us as well. And always thank you so much for joining me for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I hope you have a wonderful day and I will see you again next week!
Thank you for listening to Backyard Bounty, a podcast by HeritageAcresMarket.com. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. If you have a question you'd like us to answer on the show, please email us at "Ask@HeritageAcresMarket.com". Also find us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at Heritage Acres Market. All the links mentioned in this podcast will be included in the description. See you again next week.
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