If you do one thing to help out your garden this year, check for squash bugs. Last year, during the July Fourth weekend, my formerly beautiful and lush winter squash plants suddenly wilted and died back. What was once a plot full of squash vines was instead nearly empty. The plants lost about 2/3 of their size and looked terrible.
At first I thought my plants had powdery mildew. We'd had that the previous year and it also caused wilting and dying back, so I treated for it. When that didn't have any effect I started looking at the plants a little closer. I quickly found that they were covered with small dark insects. A little research told me that these were squash bugs. With a lot of hard work the plants did come back, but my yield was about half what it should have been.
This year I have vowed to stay one step ahead of those little monsters. I visit the squash patch at least every other day and carefully turn up each and every squash leaf that I can reach and search for eggs.
When I find an egg cluster, I rip the portion of the leaf that it is on and put it in the trash. Not the compost and not anywhere near the garden! I'm not taking any chances. As the plants have grown, this process has gone from taking about 10 minutes to more than 30.
It's all going to be worth it, though. I found at least a dozen egg clusters yesterday. I've also killed numerous adults.
Squash bugs are a menace. They will kill your plants and destroy your crop, but using poison on your squash plants to try to control them is not a good idea. Adult squash bugs generally don’t die from poison as they have a hard shell that protects them. Although you can kill nymphs (recently hatched) with insecticide, you are also going to kill bees, because the time when the nymphs are hatching is exactly when the plants are flowering. Your garden and mine need those bees, so please do not use chemical controls on your squash.
Hunting for and removing squash bug eggs may seem like a never-ending chore, but we rely on storing and freezing more than 100 pounds of winter squash and pumpkin every year, so it’s well worth the effort. Go on out to your garden and inspect your plants. Let me know what you find!
Gardening is a risky proposition. You invest time and money and then cross your fingers and hope for good weather and no pests. This year we’re trying to spread out the risk by cultivating different plots. We have a backyard plot with tomatoes, summer squash, beans, pak choi, cabbage, watermelons, broccoli and cucumbers. We have a container garden on the deck and along the driveway with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, herbs and broccoli.
We also have two plots at the community garden, about a mile from our house. One plot has several varieties of winter squash, pumpkins, peas, pumpkins, a lone tomato, broccoli and peppers. The other plot has a couple of winter squash, beets, carrots, onions, tomatoes, kale and peppers.
We tried to suit plants to the environment. The second community plot has raised beds, which are great for growing root vegetables, so we planted all of those in that area. Tomatoes are our most important crop, so we spread them around, a little in each plot, figuring that even if only one area succeeds we’ll still have at least something. Winter squash requires a lot of space and sun, but we harvest it all at once, so we don’t mind having it away from home, hence planting it at the community garden.
Having four gardens means that there’s always something to do in at least one of them. This week we’re picking peas (enough for dinner each night), and picking squash bug eggs. Last year’s winter squash crop was nearly destroyed by squash bugs. This year I’m trying hard to not let those bugs get the best of me. Every day or two I turn over every leaf on the plants and search for small, brown eggs. Last night I found seven clusters! But I also spied several small golf ball-sized winter squashes forming!
Of course I wish we had one huge, sunny plot with perfectly drained soil and no wind. But we work with what we have and we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket.
This was last night’s dinner. Freshly picked peas from the community plot, fresh-picked lettuce from the deck, and roasted red peppers from last year’s garden that had been frozen. We hope our whole summer features such great food!
Moving this year just about did in our rhubarb. We carefully transplanted it and took good care to water and feed it after the transplant, but even so we couldn’t get much of a harvest from it this year. In year’s past we’ve relied heavily on our (now former) neighbor’s rhubarb patch. She has a very large patch and never seemed to use it all. She kindly shared with us and in return we gave her rhubarb wine and rhubarb jam. Leaving the neighborhood we’ve lost that connection and find ourselves scrambling for a rhubarb supply this year.
A close family friend provided us with nearly enough for what we’ll need for wine. What we did manage to harvest at home will just close the gap. But we don’t have any leftover for a pie, muffins or jam. Tragedy! I just used up the last package in the freezer of our 2014 stash to make some muffins. We have only one jar of jam left down in the canning cellar. It’s hard to believe we’re going to have to go a full year without rhubarb except in the form of wine.
Years ago just about every family had a rhubarb patch out back. Rhubarb is high in Vitamins C and K. Back when fresh fruit wasn’t commonly transported thousands of miles, having a rhubarb patch provided tasty spring fruit for people in northern climates, like us. Unfortunately, it appears that most of those rhubarb patches are long gone, to weeds or, more likely, turned into lawn.
I urge you, dear reader, to start your own rhubarb patch next spring. You can order plants from most seed companies. If you’re not sure what to do with it, just look around for pie and muffin recipes. You won’t be sorry!
Meanwhile, if anyone out there has some extra rhubarb you can spare, please let me know! I’ll pay the shipping.
I find June the most tedious month for gardening. There’s not much to harvest, but there’s a whole lot of work to do. Right now all we’re harvesting is lettuce. What’s really growing in the garden? Weeds.
Weeds compete with your plants for nutrients and water and, if you let them get big enough, they’ll even shade your plants. Vegetable plants that have to compete with weeds end up stunted and won’t produce well. Fighting weeds is no fun, but it’s essential.
When we enlarged our garden a few years back, I underestimated how much more weeding we’d have. The weeds went gangbusters, and I let them get ahead of me. I ended up spending an entire weekend crawling around in the garden pulling weeds. When I tried to sleep at night all I could see was weeds when I closed my eyes. I vowed to never again let the weeds get so bad.
The following year I forced myself to weed every night after work, rain or shine, for at least 30 minutes. That meant I was getting about 4 to 5 feet of garden weeded each day. Just about enough so that when I got around the garden, the area I’d done first was ready to be weeded again.
The last few years we’ve tried a different strategy. We saved all of our newspapers and started bagging grass clippings from the lawn. We had a large lawn at the time and our neighbors also contributed their grass. Jim laid down a thick layer of newspaper around our plants and held it down with the grass clippings. It smothered the weeds completely. The only problem with this strategy is that in June you have a huge garden, tons of weeds, but not enough grass to cover everything.
This year we have almost no lawn at all (and no grass clippings) so we located a farmer on Craigslist and bought eight bales of straw. We laid down the newspapers and covered it with a straw blanket. You can see the difference between the straw area and the non-straw area pretty clearly.
Even with the newspaper/grass/straw, you still have to do some weeding up close to the plants, but it’s NOTHING like weeding an entire garden.
I almost forgot. I titled this entry “Weeds and Wine.” So how does the wine come in? Well, the rhubarb-blueberry wine we bottled last winter must have not quite been done fermenting. So we’ve blown a couple of corks out. We’re working hard to drink the remaining wine up (we have about two cases left) before any more bottles blow. It’s nice after weeding to sit on the deck with a glass of wine, isn’t it?
If you are looking for easy and quick breakfast options that are still healthy, try mixing yourself up some muesli. It’s easy to make ahead and store. I know you can buy pre-made muesli, but it’s very easy to make for yourself. You can also customize it the way you want it!
Here’s my muesli recipe. I make it over the weekend and store it in an old oatmeal container. I don’t add any sugar or sweetener because I find that using almond milk adds enough sweetness for me. I also don’t like storing it in the fridge so I don’t add ingredients like wheat bran that should be refrigerated.
I know some people eat muesli raw but I prefer it hot. I heat ½ cup of muesli with 1 cup of almond milk in the microwave each morning for about 2-3 minutes depending on the strength of your microwave. Delicious!
Quick and Easy Muesli
1 cup quick rolled oats
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup golden raisins (or other dried fruit)
1/4 cup chopped dried dates
1/2 cup raw pepitas (or chopped almonds, walnuts or other nuts)
1/2 cup raw or toasted sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix all ingredients (add more or less of the dried fruit and nuts as per your personal taste) in a large bowl. Store in an air-tight container.
To make hot muesli, add 1/2 cup mix to 1 cup almond (or soy or dairy) milk and heat in microwave for 2 to 3 minutes. Careful when you take it out, it will be hot!
Each year come May we work hard to plant the vegetable garden and then cross our fingers and hope for a good year. The vagaries of the weather, pests or just bad luck can do in a vegetable garden at any time, and we never know how the season will be.
All of the uncertainty of gardening helps explain why the first harvest of the year is so exciting. It means that no matter what happens, we know we’ll have at least one successful crop. I harvested enough lettuce yesterday for a large salad. There’s no comparison between fresh greens and the ones from the grocery store. Five minutes from being in the dirt to being on the table makes a difference!
Our container lettuce has been enjoying the cool weather we’ve had lately, and there’s just enough to start harvesting a little here and there. It needs to be thinned, so in the thinning there’s a bit of harvesting. I urge anyone with space for a container or two to consider starting lettuce. It has got to be the easiest vegetable to grow. It germinates and matures very quickly, and all it needs is a little water, decent soil and a few hours of sun a day to make it!
This year’s garden is a new plot in a sandy, shady spot, so we really don’t know how we’re going to make out. It feels good to know that for the next month we’ll likely have fresh salads on most days. Our first success of the year!
When we bought our house, we didn’t know we were getting a fixer-upper! But here we are, three weeks after our closing, and we still have a list of repairs (big and small) that’s more than two pages long. We have been working hard at trying to fix things, but it seems like when one task gets ticked off the list two more things somehow slide on. I’m not complaining – we love our new house, but the list is daunting, especially since it’s time to put in the garden.
In spite of our ever-expanding to-do list, our top priority has been making our new vegetable garden. We moved eight cat litter buckets of compost from the old to help get it started, such is our dedication!
We transplanted the rhubarb and the chives a couple of weeks back and they seem to be doing OK with the move. I’m not sure we’ll be harvesting much of either this year, but they should be recovered by next year. We also started 15 containers of greens on the deck, and Jim put two dwarf apple trees in the front yard.
Last weekend Jim got out the rototiller and ripped up a large section of the backyard. We left enough room for a new compost pile and to get around, but most of the rest is destined to be fruit and vegetables.
Our goal is to have as little lawn as possible and, instead, grow food. Our lot is small, only 40 by 125 feet, so we have to be careful with our planning. The backyard is a lot shadier than we would like for a garden, but we’ll make the best of what we have. We also plan (down the road) to put in two raised beds out front for attractive vegetables like Swiss chard and cucumbers.
The progress seems slow right now, but we hope that within a few years, our urban homestead will be providing a lot of homegrown food for us.