Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
Some call these the Dog Days of summer. And I don't know about your garden, but mine is looking pretty mangy. The flowering plants are mostly spent, the tomatoes have gotten ugly and sprawly. But the biggest eyesore is the damage wrought by Japanese beetles.
These voracious invaders have been plaguing Minnesota gardeners with a vengeance for the last several growing seasons. They're handsome bugs, with metallic bronze bodies that shimmer in the sunlight. But they turn plants into lace doilies, chomping through the leaves until nothing remains but brown veins.
What makes them especially challenging for gardeners is that they feed on over 300 plants. In my garden, they appear to nibble here and there on a few species. But there's one plant that attracts them like a cheap, all-you-can-eat buffet: a contorted filbert tree.
I bought it a few years ago because I liked the look of its twisty branches, never dreaming I was adding the equivalent of insect catnip to my garden. The beetles -- and their telltale damage -- appeared almost immediately.
I generally avoid pesticides, so I tried picking them off by hand. But I didn't drop them into a bucket of soapy water, the extermination method recommended by many experts. I simply dropped them on the ground, which, of course, allowed them to fly right back on the plant.
If you want to deter Japanese beetles without killing them, University of Minnesota entomologist Jeff Hahn recommends a low-impact, botanical-based insecticide, such as Neem, which prevents them from feeding. (For more information about Japanese beetles, visit: www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/dg7664.html)
Are Japanese beetles driving you buggy? What are they eating in your yard? And what do you about them?
It's easy to get cocky with a growing season like this one. I've bragged in this blog about my early tomatoes and tasty lettuce. But this week I'm eating humble pie, not produce, as my gardening ignorance and limitations become shockingly obvious.
I'm talking about my Brussels sprouts. I'd never grown them before, but I love eating them, so I tried planting some from seed this year. They took off beautifully, and my mouth was already watering for the roasted sprouts I was sure would be coming to my table any day now.
Then I noticed holes in a couple of leaves. I didn't think much of it. Until one of my fellow Greengirls happened to blog the next morning about pests, and dropped a reference to Brussels sprouts and cabbage worms. Was that what was going on with my plants?
When I got home that night, I went to look. Yikes! ALL the leaves on every plant were now dotted with holes. I looked at the leaves' undersides, and sure enough, there were several tiny green worms, barely visible against the same-colored leaves. I plucked them off and threw them as far as I could.
The next day I looked up organic remedies for this new intruder. Neem oil was suggested. I'd get some that evening, I decided. But by the time I got home, it was already too late. The worms had completely decimated my plants. The formerly lush leaves now looked like lacy doilies, with only the veins remaining.
So now what? Are these plants a completely lost cause? Should I still get some neem oil and hope that they can recover? (They still have healthy-looking stems and are still producing tiny new leaves.) And if you've battled cabbage worms, what's worked for you?
My gardening has gone to pot, literally. (No, I'm not growing weed.) But I am growing my veggies -- ALL my home-grown veggies -- in containers on the deck behind my kitchen.
Early in my gardening career, I planted veggies in the ground and flowers in pots. But for the last few years, I've reversed the equation. And I've got lots of company. Growing veggies in containers is one of the hottest gardening trends.
Here is a helpful U of M video on container gardens.
For me, pot-centric agriculture started when we moved to the suburbs about 14 years ago, and my house came with a different kind of landscape than the one I was used to. We now had a giant lawn of turf grass that we couldn't keep dandelion-free enough to suit the neighbors (as I blogged last week.) After we finally broke down and hired a lawn service to chemically treat the weeds, we got rid of our dandelions. But it also eliminated my interest in growing edibles in our now-tainted soil. So I started putting a few tomato plants in pots. Our lawn care has since gotten more organic, but my pot habit has only grown.
There are lots of reasons. For starters, my garden beds are full of perennials, and there's little space for big sprawling vegetable plants. The maple tree we planted our first year is now so big and produces so much shade that the back yard is no longer veggie-friendly. The deck, meanwhile, gets full sun. And hungry deer and bunnies can't get to it.
Plus, I'm lazy. My deck garden is just a sliding door away from my kitchen. It takes only a few seconds to pluck a few basil leaves and toss them into a salad or stir-fry.
Every year, my deck garden grows. More pots, more crops. At first it was just tomatoes and basil. Then I tried peppers and eggplants. Last year, I grew beets (a smashing success!), fennel (a total failure) and chard, in addition to my usual produce. This year, I'm going to throw in some Brussels sprouts. My "farm" (as my husband started calling it last year) is now so dense that it's starting to crowd the deck furniture.
Yes, pot-grown veggies take a lot of babysitting (watering mostly). And my yields aren't spectacular -- but they weren't when I was growing veggies in the ground either.
How about you? What veggies have you tried to grow in containers? And how did it work?
Our delightfully early spring has produced an unusually early crop of dandelions. There they were last week, sunny yellow polka-dots popping up on lawns all over.
I have a love-hate relationship with dandelions. When I was a kid, I thought they were beautiful, and couldn't understand why people called them "weeds." I picked a fresh bunch for my playhouse every morning.
When I bought my first grown-up house, it came with a lawn and a few dandelions. But there was so much shade that the dandelions never got carried away. And my Minneapolis neighbors were tolerant.
Then we moved to suburbia. The yards are big, sunny and covered with turf grass. Dandelions love 'em. And my new neighbors clearly did not love dandelions. (One even sent us a toxic two-page letter, berating us for our failures at weed control.)
My husband I did not want to use chemicals (we had two little kids and two dogs), so we tried to dig our dandelions. All of them. After spending six hours (on Mother's Day, no less) digging dandelions and still having our back yard look like a meadow, we broke down and hired a lawn service.
That took care of the dandelions. But I was afraid to grow vegetables in my own yard, which I hated. We switched to a gentler, more organic lawn service. Our lawn is far from perfect, but it's within the acceptable norm for our neighborhood. The area around our shrubs is a constant battle, however. The ground is covered with river rocks, making it difficult to dig the dandelions that sprout there.
Last year, I tried corn gluten meal, an Earth-friendly alternative to weed control. I did it in early spring, right after the dandelions reared their heads. But corn gluten meal is supposed to be used as a pre-emergent, and apparently I was too late. The dandelions flourished. This year, I tried again, spreading corn gluten meal before the dandelions could surface. They came up anyway.
Meanwhile, one of my dogs has developed a taste for corn gluten meal. I was a little alarmed until I read that it's actually used as a filler in some dog foods. It's not the most nutritious chow around but it won't kill her. Or the dandelions, apparently.
What about you? How do you deal with dandelions? And have you had any better success with corn gluten meal than I have?
By Jaime Chismar
While the husband is away in the BWCA, the wife will... order six cubic yards of mulch?
Yes, this Greengirl's "Girls Gone Wild" weekend involved a wheelbarrow, a shovel and a mountain of wood chips.
Why mulch? Like it or not, our days are getting shorter. Frost is on the horizon with winter soon to follow. Fall mulch won't stop the ground from freezing, but it can protect your plants from freeze/thaw cycles. In the spring, fall mulch can also help regulate moisture and ground temperature.
With our dry summer, I should've mulched my new plantings earlier in the growing season. The shrubs I mulched last year look much healthier.
Many cities in the metro area have free wood mulch pick-up sites. Lucky for me, the city of St. Louis Park will deliver to residents for a reasonable fee. Half a load costs $60. A full load costs $110.
What mulch is right for you and your garden? Check out this handy chart from the U of M Extension Service.
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