Powdery Mildew

Powdery mildews live on the surface of leaves and prefer dry, drought-like conditions (Rateaver, 1993). Often I have read that simply spraying the plant down with water can help. However, I tend to work towards prevention and finding the root of the problem.

I must say first that choosing varieties of plants that thrive in our climate is the smartest decision I have ever made! Attempting to bend nature to my will has proven time consuming and frustrating in most cases. While our climate tends to be quite unpredictable, I believe we experience a wide variety of pests and disease based on plant health, selection, and soil quality and not so much on climate. What impacts the health of a plant is much to be debated but in general, I find success in looking to the soil.

The elements that impact a plant and cause stress are relatively simple and any time we see pests and disease, that plant is under stress for sure. Plants need water, sunlight, air, and nutrients. I believe most of the time the easiest and most common issue tends to be water; whether it’s too much, too little, or poor quality water (chemicals, alkalinity, etc.), water problems can quickly create stress on a plant. Next in line is soil structure; the ideal structure for a healthy soil according to the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association is 45% minerals, 5% organic matter, 25% air, and 25% water. I’ve read several opinions but I think those percentages are pretty close to what it considered a good standard. In grade school science class, I remember our teacher showing us how to look at soil structure using a quart jar filled with soil and water; we shook up the jar and waited 24 hours for it to settle. The layers were clear and we could see each level of sand (minerals), organic matter, and water (the air being replaced by water). While I’m sure that isn’t a perfect method, and some may find it a bit inadequate, I belive it’s simple enough to give us a good idea of the soil profile. I tend to see a specific weeds growing in areas where aeration is a problem in soil; nutsedge, foxtail, thistle, dogfennel, bindweed, nightshade, and peppergrass are common weeds I see that are primary indicators of soil lacking air (McCaman, 2013); our sandy soil tends to compact easily and adding organic matter and improving the soil biology helps reduce soil compaction. I can recall several examples where plant problems were resolved by choosing the right amount of sunlight for each plant; a relatively easy resolution if sunlight is either too much or too little. There are plenty of references to consult about hours of sunlight needed for each variety. I find the more challenging part of diagnosing plant problems is nutrients.

Powdery Mildew is caused by an imbalance of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin C available to the plant according to Dr. Arden Andersen in his book, The Anatomy of Life & Energy (2014). The calcium and phosphorus are commonly understood, not so much with Vitamin C. The presence of the mildew indicates there is a problem with the plant’s ability to produce Vitamin C, a substance that reduces plant stress. While I’ve not yet found anything concrete, it is my thought at this time that improving vitamin C involves a balanced soil microbiology. I come to this conclusion through several sources I have studied including Dr. Ingham’s Soil Food Web information (2006), Lowenfel’s Teaming with Microbes book (2010), Dr. Andersen’s work, the teachings of Dr. Howard Garrett (known as The Dirt Doctor), and numerous scientific articles such as the Horticultural and Food Research Institute Laing and Bulley (2007) article about what controls vitamin C levels in plants. I would simply add elements to the soil that improve the soil biology; a simple first step would be a good compost tea application containing plenty of molasses.

Most people don’t spend the time and money for a soil test and prefer guessing; my routine method until I realized how much time and money I was spending. Now I’m not saying we can’t look at the plant conditions and make decent choices because I believe that is helpful in many ways but to accurately diagnose an issue, testing is a critical component in my experience. Additionally, the soil tests where the results indicated the nutrients in the soil without their availability to plants were leading me down the wrong path and certainly not producing the results I expected. Last year, I discovered information about the Reams soil testing that uses a combination of methods taking into consideration nutrient availability, soil structure, and soil microbiology (Andersen, 2007). So far, I’m very pleased with the results and customizing amendments based on facts rather than my former and expensive guessing methods.

In the case where guessing is the preferred method, and since it’s typical that we have enough calcium in the soil here but it’s just not available, I wanted to share some ideas:

–  Try adding some epsom salts (magnesium sulfate at 1 cup per 100 square feet) to the soil and watering that in. We commonly see a lack of magnesium availability in our soil; magnesium helps the calcium become available in plants just like it does in our bodies.

–  Improve the soil! A healthy soil microbiology will encourage nutrient availability so adding quality compost (finished compost) and carbohydrates like dry and liquid molasses would improve the soil biology and thus the plants ability to absorb nutrients. I think many organic gardeners tend towards the idea that there can never be too much compost but I find it important to remember that balance is more important and keeping to around 5% organic matter in the soil profile is essential. In my opinion and experience, unfinished composts and cool manures with shavings may be beneficial over long periods of time but in the short term, simply causes more problems because while that carbon material is breaking down, nutrients like nitrogen are used and needed by the biology but taken away from the plant which can lead to deficiency. If unfinished compost, mulch, or manures are applied, I think adding a good nitrogen source, like cottonseed meal, along with other soil building materials can help mitigate the nitrogen problem.

– I find compost routinely high in phosphorus and potassium and since there has not been a soil test but we know an imbalance exists from the presence of powdery mildew, I would add zeolite in an effort to bring the balance back. You can read more about zeolite here in Dr. Garret’s articles in the reference section of this paper. I buy zeolite at Sutherlands General Store in the form of horse stall freshener called Sweet PDZ in which the single ingredient is Premium Grade clinoptilolite or another name, zeolite.

– I would also add dry or liquid molasses to this area to feed the soil biology and likely improve the plant’s ability to produce Vitamin C as a protectant against the mildew and other stressors. On a side note, since I started adding molasses to my routines around the garden, I see fewer fire ants, almost none as a matter of fact; you can read more about this topic on Howard Garrett’s web site (www.dirtdoctor.com). I didn’t believe it when I first heard it either but so far it’s been working for me!

– Spray the whole plant and soil with liquid seaweed at a rate of 1 ounce per gallon of water. Seaweed contains bio-stimulants that help reduce plant stress (Arioli, Mattner, and Winberg, 2015).

– Add calcium. While calcium presence may be shown in our soil, it’s availability to plants in an absorbable form is often low. Thus it would make sense to apply calcium in the form of gypsum because carbonized calcium and limestone tended to increase alkalinity where gypsum did not in my experience. I use to apply bone meal but after I started soil testing, I found that bone meal is not available to the plant quickly like the gypsum. The areas where I have added the gypsum are showing great improvement. It is recommended for citrus soil to have about 3000 parts per million (ppm) calcium and mine is up to 2940 ppm.

Sprays of baking soda and sulfur, biologicals (like bacteria), 3% hydrogen peroxide, and corn meal tea are simply temporary and I think beneficial to help the plant while working on nutrients; in the long run, choosing the right plants and addressing the soil biology and nutrients will reduce cost and labor and have potential to eliminate powdery mildew.

I always try to remember that spraying something to remedy a problem may keep sick plants alive but it can also kill beneficial microbes and lead to a variety of unintended consequences. I personally don’t want to eat from sick plants and would rather learn to hear nature’s message and provide what is needed.

I hope you have found these ideas interesting and helpful; your constructive thoughts and comments are welcome!

 

References:

Arioli, T., Mattner, S. W., Winberg, P. C. (2015). Applications of Seaweed Extracts in Austrailian Agriculture: Past, Present, and Future. 5th Congress of the International Society for Applied Phycology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4584108/pdf/10811_2015_Article_574.pdf

Andersen, A. B. (2014). The Anatomy of Life & Energy in Agriculture 3rd edition. Acres USA, Austin, TX.

Andersen, A (2007). Carey Reams’ Testing & Evaluation Methods. Acres USA Febrary 2007 Vol 37 No 2. https://aglabs.com/pdfs/Feb07_ReamsTesting_andersen.pdf

Bear, F.E., & Toth, S.J. (1948). Influence of calcium on availability of other soil cations. Soil Sci. 65:67-74. http://journals.lww.com/soilsci/citation/1948/01000/influence_of_calcium_on_availability_of_other_soil.7.aspx

Eckardt, N.A. (2008). The Plant Cell, Chitin Signaling in Plants: Insights into the Perception of Fungal Pathogens and Rhizobacterial Symbionts, American Society of Plant Biologists, Vol. 20: 241–243. http://www.soilfoodweb.com/Plant_Infection_Sites.html

Garrett, H. (2017). Zeolite. https://www.dirtdoctor.com/garden/Zeolite_vq848.htm

Garrett, H. (2016). The Organic Manual: Natural Organic Gardening and Living for Your Family, Plants, and Pets. Ogden Publications, Topeka, KS.

Ingham, E. R. & Rollins, C. A. (2006). Adding Biology for Conventional, Sustainable, and Organic Growing Systems. Sustainable Studies Institute, Corvallis, OR.

Lowenfels, J. & Lewis, W. (2010). Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

Laing, W. & Bulley S. (2007). What Controls Vitamin C Levels in Plants? Horticultural and Food Research Institute of New Zealand Ltd.

McCaman, J. L. (2014). When Weeds Talk. Sand Lake, MI.

Rateaver, B. & G. (1993). The Organic Method Primer Update Special Edition. Bargyla and Gylver Rateaver, San Diego, CA.

Weeds and their uses

Weeds are plants growing where we might not want to see them but their presence speaks to us about our soil. In sustainable gardening, we use the weeds to improve soil and we learn which weeds are edible. My all time favorite reference for weed identification is Dean Green’s “Eat the Weeds” web site, www.eattheweeds.com. Another great reference on the subject is “Weeds, Control without Poison” by Charles Walters. In his book, Mr. Walters writes about what each weed can tell us in regards to the quality of the soil, how weeds can benefit the quality, and what amendments or changes are needed to prevent weeds. For example, some weeds enjoy compacted soil; to reduce their population, you can aerate the soil. Other weeds grow in excess when soil is too low in calcium; to reduce their population, add calcium.

IMG_1874A specific weed I like to see is chickweed that grows on my property prolifically this time of year. You may see it around December each year and if you pull a clump out, it will likely stick to your gloves. In the photo, you can see it’s growing among other plants. Known to be a helper for digestive and inflammation issues, it can be included in salads so pull it out and eat it if found growing someplace you don’t want it. The presence of chickweed means nature has come to help improve soil deficiencies in calcium and phosphorus. I suppose I could just add more nutrients and in some cases, I do. For the season though, I leave the chickweed to grow big and healthy during the cool months so when the heat returns, it dies leaving nutrients behind. I have also read that chickweed indicates a good quality organic soil but a deficiency in minerals; I find that it does tend towards those areas on our property. This year in particular, we saw an increase in caterpillars I attribute to the warm and humid weather conditions. Chickweed, attracts predatory wasps that help control caterpillars which is yet another benefit to leaving this helpful weed in place! If you don’t have an abundance of chickweed, you can actually buy chickweed seeds and plant them as companions in your vegetable and herb gardens.

When preparing a new planting area or raised bed, I never pull weeds out. I just cover them with card board, compost and/or mulch so their death returns all those nutrients back to the soil. I rarely pull weeds except in between applying compost and mulch or when they are growing in landscaped areas. If I need to remove weeds from a landscaped area, concrete pavers, walkways, etc., I use a home-made spray, pull them by hand, or burn them (carefully). My favorite weed killing spray is made by mixing a gallon of 5% acid store vinegar, about 20 drops each of orange and cinnamon essential oil, and a drop or two of regular (non anti-bacterial) old fashioned dish soap. What I think will be a hot, sunny, dry day and first thing in the morning, I spray the weeds. They are dead by noon and the yard smells delicious!

In gardening areas, I use mulching materials to reduce weeds. I pay attention to what pops up in spite of the mulch because it may tell me something I need to amend in the soil. When I’m working around my plants, I pull the very few that pop up. The mulch also creates a moisture area, helps build organic matter in the soil, and feeds the soil microbes. I like to use a blend of pine straw, lawn clippings, chemical free hay, and/or shredded pine bark for mulch in the garden and raised beds. Extra nitrogen is needed when mulch is used so take care to add some extra nitrogen before you apply the mulch. I’ve used organic fertilizers, Azomite, granite screenings, rock dust, Epsom salts, calcium, manure, alfalfa, dry molasses, and cottonseed meal as amendments both under and on top of newly applied mulches. So far, I like a blend of those to help provide both the extra nitrogen and food for the soil microbes.

One of the best ways to prevent weeds is to place other pleasing and useful plants all over the planting areas. For example, if I want to plant a fruit tree, I’ll organize the entire area, taking into consideration the future plant growth, compatibility, sunlight, moisture, soil quality, and value of the tree and plants I’m going to use. I recently planted a small citrus grove. Citrus enjoys a more acidic soil so the companion plants around the citrus also prefer that type of soil. I chose a sun loving coffee, some Brazilian red cloak to attract pollinators, some legume plants for nitrogen like cow pea, sudan grass, and pigeon pea, and I’m letting a sweet potato and Cuban oregano spread out in between to help keep weed control, retain moisture, and promote a biodynamic soil environment. I keep the area between the citrus trunk and the tree drip line free of other plants so the feeder roots can get air and nutrients. I apply potash, manure, compost, organic citrus blend fertilizer, calcium, azomite, and/or cotton seed meal to the trees around the drip line about every quarter during the fertilization days of the moon cycle. I tend to leave the chickweed that pops up in those areas; it’s roots are thin and shallow and it will die quickly when the heat returns and plants need more nitrogen for increased growth.

For more information about weeds, their uses and indications, here are some more references:

Homestead.Org – http://homestead.org/DianaBarker/LooktotheWeed/SoilIndicators.htm

Tenth Acre Farm – http://www.tenthacrefarm.com/2014/08/5-weeds-you-want-in-your-garden/

Rodale Institute – http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/listen-your-weeds

Nature’s Way Resources – http://www.natureswayresources.com/infosheets/shootmessenger.html

 

Feeding Plants with Chemical Free and Organic Methods

Since abandoning all chemical fertilizers in 2010, I’ve established a system that works quite well so far and includes building organic material in the soil so the microbes, worms, and nutrients have a place to live and remain available to plants. Once the organic material is established, additional microbes are added and fed regularly. Our plants are continually more healthy and resistant to many pests and diseases that once plagued them on a regular basis. While we still have limited pests and diseases, I’m optimistic that once the soil is finally as balanced as it can be, the problems will be minimal. Since I’m seeing consistent improvement in plant health, increased worm population, fewer pests and disease, I know this process is working!

References I’ve found helpful on this topic are:

Gardening by the Light of the Moon by Pam Campi
Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Loenfels and Wayne Lewis
Compost Tea Making by Marc Remillard

Time of application is important. According to the moon cycle calendar, there are days that are best each month for fertilizing plants. With a 12 month growing season in our climate, I’ve found success using this program monthly. I always apply these methods in the early evening; microbes do not survive in UV light. I imagine the microbes and critters have quite a party overnight after such a nutritious feast!

Mcardles (2012)

The PH level of soil, water, and fertilizer is also important. I’m very careful to monitor the PH of the soil and liquids I apply; PH is impacted by such a wide variety of factors, it can change very quickly. I test the soil PH with a meter most of the time. During dry season, I use a lot of well water that is too high of a PH. So, I amend the soil with organic sulfur and/or amend the water PH if it’s feasible. Temperature seems to impact PH of liquid also. For plants to properly absorb nutrients, the PH must be within the range of their preference. 6.5-7.0 tends to be a common preference for most home gardeners but certain plants are choosy like the miracle fruit, blackberries, and blueberries that prefer acidity. To test liquid PH, I use an electronic meter. To reduce the PH of liquid, I use white vinegar in very small amounts (like a few drops) and continuously test until the target PH is reached. If the PH is too low, I add well water. Our well water here ranges between 8.0-10.0+. I also like to apply right before or after rain if it works out that way. If not, I water the soil before or after application (depending upon the moisture in the soil) but avoid rinsing the leaves if I’m using a liquid fertilizer as the organic material on the leaves is beneficial.

The fertilizing process I’m using at present includes and alternates between compost tea, rock dust, manure, mulch, homemade compost, homemade weed tea, epsom salts (mostly for palms), lava rock, potash, Espoma dry organic fertilizer, biozome, fish emulsion, seaweed (liquid), Medina Has to Grow, Chemwize EmPak, EM-1, and Ladybug’s John’s Recipe. Soil building includes cover crops, nitrogen fixing plants, and creating bio-intensive growing environments.

In the future, I plan to add biochar to the fertilizing routine once I finish the grinding process. The char I have now is too large and needs to be ground into finer particles and inoculated. I’m studying and learning more on this topic.

I attempt to provide fungi and bacteria to the needs of each plant. While garden veggies tend to prefer a bacterial environment, established fruit trees and other plants enjoy a more fungal environment. So, my aerobic compost tea recipe continually changes but this combination bacteria/fungi recipe has shown the best results so far:

compost tea1 cup “forest” soil including leaf mold
1 cup garden soil
1 cup kitchen scrap compost
1 cup worm castings
1 cup fungal compost (from decomposing mulch pile)
1 cup bacterial compost (from compost pile)
3 Tbsp Rock Dust
3 Tbsp Biozome (added during the last hour of brewing)
5 oz EM-1 per 5 gallon bucket (added after tea is finished)
3 oz Molasses
2 oz Fish Emulsion
2 oz liquid seaweed

The dry ingredients are thoroughly mixed and divided into two portions that I put in two old nylon knee high stockings. I fill two 5 gallon buckets with rain water and drop in one stocking for each bucket. Combine the liquid ingredients and then add 1/2 to each bucket. To aerate the tea, I use fish tank pumps, tubing, with aerator stones at the bucket end of the tubing. The tubing runs through an inch hole drilled into the top of the 5 gallon bucket lid. I place the lid on top of each bucket but I don’t seal it as some air should be able to get in. I brew for 24 hours, then I dilute by 50% with more rain water, test the PH and make adjustments as necessary, and apply to plants leaves, root zone, and soil. Mixing applying usually takes me 4 days at about 2.5 hours per day at 20 gallons per application/day to cover only the food producing plants on our property with one application for each plant. To compliment the application of compost tea, I apply manures, dry amendments listed above, mulch, and Free Fertilizer quarterly.

Reference(s):

Mcardles. (April, 2012). The Role of Soil Microbes & Beneficial Fungi. Retrieved from http://mcardles.com/blog/the-role-of-soil-microbes-beneficial-fungi/

Gardening by the Light of the Moon

Over the years when people ask me about what my gardening schedule is, I’ve provided some references but never really found one place I could depend on for a nice, easy to follow, and simple guide.moon While there are some great references to use for specifics like the Florida IFAS gardening guide, I wanted something more general and that I could use with vegetables, flowers, fruit trees, ornamentals, etc.

In my experience, working with nature always produces better results. For example, if I work on the soil health instead of spending time spraying for pests, the plants will be healthy and the pests less likely to attack. I’ve attempted to follow the gardening practices based on the moon’s phases over the years because I believe that practice is wise. I’ve purchased various calenders to help me follow the moon cycles but none were very specific. This year, I found the one I like best!

During one of my favorite Podcasts, Gardening Naturally, John (the show host) interviewed an expert on this topic who recently published the calendar I’ve been looking for!! Pam Ciampi’s “Gardening by the Light of the Moon” 2014 calendar is available at Amazon. While the calendar is not tailored to our specific climate or specific plant types, it is perfect in my opinion because it offers a general overview of how we might follow the age old practices of gardening in sync with the moon cycles. There’s nothing complicated about this guide and I find it very useful.

I’m looking forward to seeing the results! I do realize we don’t always find the time to follow such guides, and I don’t believe our plants will wither an die if we don’t, but perhaps this guide will help us work more in sync with nature to grow healthier and happier plants! Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

 

Deana, How do I grow in sand?

I was just going to post this on Facebook but realized, this topic really deserves much more mention than a quick post. My husband caught up with some of our chipping today and the results pleased us greatly!

Since we’ve started the organic gardening practices, we have watched our gardens turn from high maintenance costly and frustrating projects to successful adventures that are lower maintenance and cost less all the time! Now more than ever, I am convinced organic gardening builds a long term bio-dynamic environment where nature does all the work and I’m simply here to feed it.

By feeding it, I mean composting, mulching, applying manures, compost teas, green manures, vermi-compost, decomposing leaf materials, beneficial bugs, good bacteria, and other activities that mimic nature and encourage healthy soil that leads to healthy plant growth.

People ask me all the time, “Deana, how can I make food grow in sand?” and my answer is always “build the soil”. This process isn’t one of those things where you buy a product, apply it, and you’re done. It’s not set it and forget it. It’s definitely not about dumping a lot of fertilizer and planting in it. It’s a way of living, a way of working with nature that earns you the fruit you harvest from it. And…it’s so worth it!

If you are looking for a lower maintenance growing option for a smaller space, please do consider growing on a smaller scale using containers, planters, growing systems like the garden tower, grow boxes, and the garden tower project. You can still use organic methods, worms, kitchen scraps, and other materials mentioned here so don’t be discouraged!

In this example (the picture shown below), we discovered that composting wasn’t only something that required careful planning and IMG_1017mixing green manure with brown organic material to make soil. While we still do that, composting is something that happens naturally in the woods. If you haven’t taken a nature walk recently, do it with new eyes and you’ll see what I mean. In the woods, leaves and plant material falls to the ground. Bugs eat it, animals live in it and defecate on it, rain keeps it moist, the new growth keeps it shaded, and it decomposes slowly and provides the living plants the nutrients they need to thrive. This is as simple as it gets!

So, we started using our yard waste to build our soil. Sometimes we chip it up or bag it to use for mulch, composting, and vermi-compost and other times, we throw it in a pile on the back of the property. Then, when the pile gets too high to add more, we chip it up and start a new one. This is creating some fabulous results in areas that were once just sand.

You can see in this picture, the soil under this recently chipped up pile is black, full of bugs and worms, and ready for planting. My new fall cucubit bed! All we did was throw our yard waste on this area for a couple years; some of it started growing on it’s own. A few banana trees and an angel’s trumpet popped up that look healthier than anything I’m growing in the traditional way.

So, when you cut the grass, bag it and use it for mulch, to feed the vermi-compost bin, or to throw in the compost pile.

When you peel an apple, cut out parts of the celery that are bitter, toss an eggshell, throw out coffee grounds, discard a tea bag, peel an orange, use your juicer, peel a banana, etc. Throw those scraps in the vermi-compost bin, the compost pile, bury them in the soil in a plant container, or bury them in your garden.

When you prune your trees, take the prunings and put them in a pile to decompose or chip them up for a nice pile of mulch, compostIMG_1018 material, or worm food.

When you shred your paper documents, take the shredded paper out to feed the compost pile, worm bin, or mulch pile.

Use newspaper and/or cardboard under mulch to prevent weeds and help keep in moisture. The paper decomposes and feeds the microbial environment in your plant beds or garden.

When you rake the leaves, keep them and put them in your compost pile, worm bin, or use them to mulch. Oak leaves and pine needles help reduce the soil PH and discourage snails and slugs!

If you get discouraged, take a break and then get back to it. Building the soils takes time and is something that must always be done to replenish the nutrients plants need. When you have success, share it! Put your hands in the soil, smell it, and relish your success!

Happy Gardening!

 

 

July Gardening Activities – Preparing for Fall Plantings

Yesterday started the first quarter to full moon cycle according to the Farmer’s Almanac. I recommend starting your seeds for plants that have seed contained inside the mature fruit, such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, and melons. The reason I’m suggesting starting these seeds a month earlier this year is in past years, we’ve seen some freezing in December/January. While we didn’t experience that much last year, I’m going to start one month earlier this year to get harvest before the potential of freeze.

starting seedsYou can make yousoil mixr own seed mix using one part peat moss, one part vermiculite (fine), and one part perlite. Moisten the mix in a bucket and sterilize.

To sterilize, heat up your oven to 200 degrees, place on an old cookie sheet, cover with tin foil, and bake until the mixture is around 180 degrees. I use a compost thermometer to test – a meat thermometer or something like that would work also. Do not let the mix get hotter than 200 degrees. This keeps the soil sterile and reduces seeding problems. (Photo to the right taken from Mother Earth News)

Remember to sterilize your planters too; clean them with a weak bleach/water solution to make sure there are no fungus/bacteria present that will threaten your seedlings.

Throughout July, continue cutting cover crops weekly and prepare to “kill them” the last week. This year, I’m going to spray my cut cover crops with white vinegar on a hot sunny day (hopefully we’ll see a dry one soon) instead of disturbing the soil by digging up roots. In our region, the soil and water tend to be high PH and the vinegar will not only kill the cover crops, allowing their nutrients to build the soil, but will aid in decreasing the soil PH. Plants in general enjoy a PH between 6.0 and 7.0 with some exceptions.

This is really the last month for heavy pruning of shrubs and trees. Otherwise, in my experience, the new growth will not be sturdy enough to weather a freeze in December/January. I also like to make sure everything is well fertilized if I didn’t get to that in June. With all this rain, it’s important to keep the nutrients available for fruit trees and other plants. Our sandy soil leaches nutrients quickly. While the composting and mulching schedule helps, quarterly fertilizing is very important. Since our property is so large, I use a combination of compost tea, manure, vermi-compost, and decomposed leaf materials; I have some assistance this year from Richard who owns www.freefertilizer.comsoil food web (see his ad on my resources page). Richard applies organic decomposed leaf material to my plants every quarter; his first application was April, he just completed another last week, then we schedule October and January. So far, I am very pleased with the results of this program. Using chemical fertilizers is counterproductive in my opinion; the chemicals do not assist the microbe culture for sustainable nutrients and the more chemical fertilizers applies, the more required. The theory behind organic fertilization is that eventually, very little fertilizer will be required because the microbes, good bacteria, worms, and other natural decomposing material will be present, multiply, and provide a constant source of nutrients for plants in most cases. Some areas that are landscaped with stones are difficult to fertilize this way but so far I’m having wonderful success using compost tea and Richard’s decomposed leaf mixture there.

I’m going to experiment with some direct seeding mid-august this year instead of waiting until September (melons, squash, beans, peas, carrots, radishes).

Happy Gardening!

Growing Plants with Air and Water

For many years now, I have researched hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics systems. I worked with one hydroponic system that was horizontal and mainly used to grow tomatoes. It was fantastic except two things, mobility and nutrients. I like something mobile so I can move it around depending on sun location and weather. Also, I don’t prefer purchasing nutrients but organic nutrients like compost tea break down too quickly to use in these systems without mineral supplements. I kept thinking I would build my own and just never got around to it.

Earlier this year, I discovered this system called a Tower Garden and I can’t tell you how much I love it! I also liked this company’s solution to nutrients; they use earth minerals, with the 16 major macro and trace elements that plants require.  Oh don’t think I’m not going to play around with this but in general, this solution seems to be the best of what I have seen so far. Most liquid fertilizers use ammoniacal nitrogen but this nutrient contains nitrate nitrogen. Conventional growing often uses ammoniacal nitrogen to force quicker growth. The problem with plants growing so quickly is they have a weaker cell structure and that makes the plant more susceptible to pests and diseases. Nitrate nitrogen keeps the plant healthier and required calcium levels higher. As my good friend Elsa would say, “This pleases me!”.

Talk about easy, it doesn’t get any easier than this! The plants are so healthy, I only have to check the water level once a week  and on average so far, I add about 2 gallons per week with nutrient solution. Then, the whole 20 gallons of water has to be changed out once per month. I take the used solution and fertilize the soil garden with it!

On January 26, 2013, I assembled my tower garden. I had a few seedlings of dill and lettuce already and I just washed off the dirt and put them in the tower. Some plants I started from seed. At first, I started the seeds in little trays but since our home has UV windows, the plants grew leggy and some died.  So, I decided to plant the seeds directly in the pods on the tower. They all germinated and are growing very well.

Here’s what the tower looked like when I started:

077

Here’s what it looks like 35 days later:

002

001

I think I want about 5 more of these things so I can experiment with each one. While I still grow many fruits and veggies in the soil, what a fabulous alternative this lovely Tower Garden is! Look for updates as growing progresses!

February Garden Activities

Some years we have a freeze; once the threat of a freeze has passed, it is advisable to begin spring pruning. To see past temperatures and dates, wee the Old Farmer’s Almanac Weather History Tool

This is also a good month to fertilize fruit trees, palms, and ornamental plants. I like to follow these steps (remember this is dry season):

1. Add fertilizer – a very small amount of composted manure or Organic Fertilizer for Fruit Trees. For palms, the manure works fine but epsom salts are really great for palms because of the need for magnesium sulfate. I get it from Sams or Costco; some garden supply stores will have it as well.

2. Water in thoroughly

3. add compost. For sandy soil, 4-6 inches of compost but leave 1 foot from the tree trunk untouched

4. Water thoroughly

5. Add 2-3 inches of mulch (grass clippings, pine needles, oak leaves, wood chips)

5. Water thoroughly

compostSince pruning stimulates new growth, take care to only prune based on the tree requirements (see below list of resources about pruning). I keep all the cuttings and chip them up for mulch and composting:

Pruning Tropical Fruit Trees

Pruning Citrus Trees

Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs

For specific pruning information for each plant, visit University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences web site

If you still have vegetables growing the gardens, fertilize those every 7 to 10 days. I always water first to make sure the soil is nice and wet before I fertilize. This keeps the fertilizer around the plants roots for better absorption. I like to use compost tea the most but you can follow the recipe below if you don’t have compost tea, mixed in a 20 gallon hose end sprayer, for a general all purpose fertilizer:

  • 1 cup Good quality soluble fertilizer (20-20-20)
  • 1 can of regular beer (I buy the cheapest full bodied beer)
  • 1/4 cup of lemon dish soap
  • 1 Tbsp. hydrogen peroxide (3% concentrate)
  • 2 Tbsp. Fish Emulsion
  • 2 Tbsp. Minor Elements Liquid
  • 2 Tbsp. Seaweed or Kelp Liquid

Spray on the leaves and into the soil around the base of the plant for at least a 1 inch soaking into the soil. This is an all purpose fertilizer so you can use it on most things. The important thing to remember is that the dish soap softens the roots so the fertilizer can absorb better but may burn the leaves if applied mid-day. I like to apply as soon as the sun is almost down and then in the morning, I spray water on the leaves to rinse of any soap. This way, the soap can eliminate any pests overnight (like aphids, black flies, etc.)

drying herbsHarvest any overgrown herbs, insert the herbs into a paper bag, tie the ends, and hang upside down in a cool dry area to dry.

Plants that have gone to seed can also be harvested and placed in paper bags to dry as described above.

You can plant seeds for an early summer planting using plants that will do well in the heat. Some of those are okra, some varieties of beans, some tomato varieties, amaranth, black-eyed peas, cucumber, crowder peas, Chinese spinach, Chinese asparagus pea (goa pea), Chinese yard long bean, eggplant, Malabar spinach, melons, mustard greens, New Zealand spinach, okra, peppers, summer squash, sweet potatoes and watermelon, heat tolerant herbs, and heat tolerant flowers.

Don’t forget to consider companion planting to limit pests and encourage strong growth and production.

Supersoil and more on Vermi-compost

Supersoil and vermicompost temp November 2009

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Supersoil and Vermicompost temp Nov 2009

Edible Petunias & Nasturtium, plus a special recipe

Petunia and Nasturtium March 2010

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Petunia and Nasturtium Mar 2010

Peas and Strawberry Jam

Peas and Strawberry Jam January 2010

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Peas and Strawberry Jam Jan 2010

Lemonade and Freeze Recovery

Lemonade and Freeze Recovery February 2010

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Lemonade and Freeze Recovery Feb 2010

Jasmine, Herbs, Mulch, and Granola

Jasmine Herbs Mulching and Granola April 2010

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Jasmine Herbs Mulch and Granola Apr 2010 p1Jasmin Herbs Mulch and Granola Apr 2010 p2Jasmin Herbs Mulch and Granola Apr 2010 p3

Cover Crops (Building Soil)

Cover Crops June 2010

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Cover Crops Jun 2010 p1Cover Crops Jun 2010 p2

Worm Bins (vermicompost) and Butterflies

Vermicompost and Butterflies September 2009

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Vermicompost and Butterflies Sep 2009

 

Soil Building and Summer Plantings

Soil and Summer Planting June 2009

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Soil and Summer Plantings Jun 2009