Archive for ‘Organic Gardening’

September 17, 2013

Urban Farm September Update

I checked my blog today to see when I last posted about my Urban Farm project.

June?  No!  I must have posted something since then, I thought to myself.  I surfed a little and realized that sure enough, the last you heard I planted 40 straw bales in my front yard.

Well, shame on me!  I do give myself a little slack because I have at least been posting periodical photos on Facebook.  If you want to catch up a little of what’s happened between June and now, be sure to checkout the Walnuts n Pears Facebook page.  While you’re there make sure and “Like” my page (if you haven’t already) and you can keep up with events, postings and photos of all that’s going on.

So… Let’s doing a little catching up, shall we?

Last you saw, my yard looked like this:


With this innovative raised bed from Organic Bob.


Well, seeds got started, transplants got planted, it rained for forty days and forty nights and then we went into a six week drought.  I fought aphids on eggplant, squash vine borer on zucchini and some evil critter on the watermelon.  Despite the challenges the garden or farm, rather, started to look like this:



And I harvested and harvested… and now it looks like this:




But it’s kind of hard to see what’s going on from this angle, so let’s go on a virtual tour, shall we?

The June-bearing strawberries are done, but spreading quite nicely.  The late Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco) is just getting ready to bloom and some Romaine lettuce is making a return.



Brussel sprouts have taken a spill because the bales have decomposed enough that they can no longer support their weight, but they aren’t damaged, so they should keep growing (I may try staking tomorrow).  They still have some maturing to do, but I can hardly wait for a few hard frosts to bring them to the table.  Redbor Kale is continuing to produce but the Romanesco Broccoli has yet to form a head (bummer)!



Up next we have the second set of Brassica family plants with more Brussel Sprouts on the left, Arugula in the middle and Cabbage tipping off to the right side.  In the lower right corner you can spot one of our two Pumpkins.



Russian Kale in the foreground, not to be forgotten!  My favorite kale is still producing nicely.



Cabbage up close and personal.



I decided to make the raised bed the Children’s Garden this year.  My son and his friend planted, cared for and harvested from this bed this summer.  I helped seed the sides, but with the drought and intermittent watering they lost a number of the seedlings.  No hard feelings on their part though, they had plenty to harvest from their garden this summer including tons of Sun Sugar Cherry Tomatoes, Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherries, some beautiful Zucchini, Sugar Snap Peas (which you can see in the dried format on the right side for saving seed for next year), peppers, radishes and their Ring of Fire Sunflowers were gorgeous!  Okay, you can’t tell here because now they are just seed heads…



… but THIS is what they looked like the majority of the summer.



On to the squash and melons… This bed is where most of my frustrations came from this summer.  It started with squash vine borers attacking the Zucchini.  I did some “surgery” slicing into the vine and mutilating the buggers with a knife which allowed the plant to continue producing, but it was never quite the same.  Next, some dirty little rats, squirrels or rabbits severed all of the watermelon plants leaving me with next to nothing.  Lucky for them I never caught them in the act!  Finally, we have more squash vine borers attacking, hence the sickly, wilty leaves, but since it’s so late in the season I’m choosing not to battle them because I’ve already harvested quite a bit of squash.  Oh, and Cantaloupe!  Well, so far the score is 1-1 Rodentia vs. Us but the one we had was wonderful!



The other Pumpkin.



Up next: Swiss Chard, Globe Artichoke and Celeriac… along with some migratory squash.


Sadly, one-by-one over the past few days, my Globe Artichoke were decapitated and left for dead.  This was pretty disappointing because Globe Artichoke is a perennial here in Minnesota and it’s the first year I’ve grown it so I was pretty excited to have it be a part of my garden.  I still have a lingering hope that the root, still in place to my knowledge, may still produce some leaves and try to survive.  It’s a stretch, but you never know.



This set of bales was interesting.  They get far more shade than the rest, they were last to heat up during the “conditioning” process, but also spiked up to 140 degrees.  I had to wait longer to plant them because they retained the heat as well.  The Lettuce is long gone (except for the couple I’m allowing to go to seed), Carrots are still doing well and the pickling cucumbers are still going strong.  If I counted correctly I should have quite a few ready in the next few days.  I’m trying to decide what to do with this set next year.  There isn’t enough sun for the majority of crops so it may have to begin a crop rotation of its own of part-sun crops.



And finally, Tomato Alley!

Home to about 13 different varieties of tomatoes, half a dozen or so peppers, a few varieties of eggplant and bunches and bunches of basil.



I almost forgot!  Another Cantaloupe, hanging out under the crib-rail trellis on the backside of the squash bales.  Not too much longer and I’ll be racing the critters for the harvest.



Well, that completes the tour for today.  I think it has progressed nicely, don’t you?

Oh, and in other news, I had my final walk-through evaluation two weeks ago and assuming things continue to go well I should be a certified Urban Farmer in a couple of weeks!


July 30, 2013

How To Keep Your (Old-Fashioned) Petunias Lush and Blooming All Summer Long

Petunias, ya either love ’em or hate ’em.  When I was a kid petunias were big flowers offered in a handful of colors: red, white, purple and pink, or at least that’s what I remember.  My mom used to plant them in our window box on the front of our house every year.  I remember watching them grow from little mounds of color to flowers overflowing from the box later in the summer.

For me, petunias have a bit of nostalgia.  Add the lovely scent of the grandiflora petunias (the big flowers, reminiscent of a twirling gown) to the childhood memories and petunias do a little tugging on my heart-strings.  But petunias get a bad rap in many parts of the green (as in plant) industry.  They complain that they get long and scraggly if you don’t prune them.  They get seed pods and tiny seeds all over and they “burn out” in the summer.  For many they just aren’t cool enough.  So people have been working to perfect the petunia, because, well a lot of people love petunias.  So they came up with newer versions: along came plants that didn’t require pruning, flowers of any size from large to tiny and loads of new colors, but something was lost along the way: that sweet summer scent.

Are there some fun, new petunias?  Sure.  Can you match them to your garden or home decor?  Practically.  And while I like those just fine, there’s something to be said for the “old-fashioned” large blossomed, sweetly scented petunia.  And if you love them, or even just kind of like them, here is a super simple tip on keeping your old-fashioned (grandiflora) petunias lush and blooming all summer long.

Petunias grow and bloom from the base of the plant out toward the end of the stem.  As petunias continue to grow and bloom the plant is busy working behind the scenes on setting seed so it can complete its life cycle (die).  If petunias are left to just take their natural course, they will continue blooming at the tip of the stem, but the rest of the plant will look long, spindly and frankly pretty ratty.  That will go on until the plant decides it has set enough seed to be able to have at least one plant grow up and continue the family name, in which case it will then die.  However, if you were, instead, to prune off the spent blossoms (those that have finished) all the way back to the stem, another set of leaves and blossoms will be ready and waiting to take their turn filling out and blooming, leaving you with a full, lush blooming plant.  Let’s take a peak as to how to do this, shall we?


Here we see our lovely petunia with her large ruffled flowers.  Behind those flowers you can see tan-colored spent blossoms, about to drop.  And if you look further behind, you’ll see a slightly shiny, tan, conical-shaped seed pod.


Prune Here

Here we are a little closer.  We snuck behind the blossoms so you can see what we are about to prune.  In this picture you can see two spent blossoms, one mature seed pod and one seed pod just starting to emerge from a blossom that has recently fallen off.  We will pinch or prune these back to the stem with a small (bypass) pruners or even just our fingernails.  You will find that pruning petunias is sticky business.  Nothing too repulsive, but it will leave your fingers a bit tacky.


Pruned Stem

This is our pruned stem.  Notice that the old blossoms and seed pods have been removed exposing the new set of leaves and buds to begin blooming.  Keep on top of this throughout the season and you will have lush petunias all summer long.

But wait!  What if your plant is already long and leggy?  Is it too late?  Not at all.  In this case you would want to cut the main stem back about a third (or so) to force the plant to fill out instead of continuing to get longer.  The down side of this is that your plant will appear to have gotten a haircut for a while and won’t have blossoms on it for a couple of weeks while it puts its energy back into green growth and new buds, but the upside is that you will have lovely petunias again in a couple of weeks.  If you don’t have the heart to chop back the entire plant at once or you want to sneak in the pruning, you could always do it in stages by trimming a few stems one week, a few stems the next week and so on.  If, however, we were were nearing the end of summer, the plant had gotten really leggy and the side stems, where the blossoms once sat, look and feel more like dead twigs than a green plant, and if the seed pods have all dried and popped open, then the plant has probably already reached the point of no return, in which case pruning may be ineffective.

But summer is nowhere near over yet, so get out there and pinch those petunias!  And while you’re at it, don’t forget to stop and smell the… blossoms of course!


July 28, 2013

Cover Thy Buds

Another cool night is forecasted for the Twin Cities, lows are to hit 52 degrees tomorrow around 6:00 a.m.

Grab some plastic or (row) covers and pull them up over your plants. Just like last night, if you live in the Twin Cities you need to Protect your tomatoes, peppers and eggplants tonight!. Make a mini greenhouse to keep them warm and keep the fruit coming.


July 27, 2013

Protect your tomatoes, peppers and eggplants tonight!

Brrr… It’s been more like September or October the past couple of days, with our cool, wet, windy days and chilly nights. But more than it being out of character for a summer day, it has an effect on our veggies too.

I’ll make this short and to the point, the Twin Cities are expected to have lows reaching 52 degrees tonight which means your tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are vulnerable to blossom drop, meaning the blossoms will drop off the plants prior to being pollinated and not produce fruit.

Tomatoes and eggplants are susceptible to blossom drop when evening temperatures drop below 55 degrees, peppers below 58 degrees.

Although it seems crazy to be saying this at the end of July, it would probably be worth covering those plants tonight (and possibly the next couple of nights) to limit the risk of loosing the flowers and missing out on tomatoes in a few weeks.

Just remember to pull the covers off later in the morning so the flowers have the opportunity to be visited by our pollinating friends.