Monday, July 8, 2013

The Family Garden: What We've Learned

Even as the temperatures reach the upper 90's here in Louisiana, our little garden that could
is still pumping out produce like a champ.  This was our first year venturing into raised 
bed garden territory and we've found lots of things that worked and a few that utterly 
failed.  We've lost plants, tried to tame those that grew beyond belief, fought bugs and 
pests, and enjoyed meal after meal of organic goodness.  It has been quite the adventure!  
Here are a few notes I made along the way:
1.  Next year, we plan to add on.  I will be the first to admit that we were a bit overzealous
with the number of plants we put into our humble sized box.  Though everyone thrived, we
had a few issues due to overcrowding including a few moldy plants.  Next year, we plan to
build a separate box for squash and zucchini and a narrow box with fencing for
cucumbers, giving us three separate boxes and plenty of room.
2.  Speaking of squash and zucchini, I had no idea what real estate hogs those plants are.
I TOTALLY underestimated how big they get and how much they spread out throughout
the garden and bully all the other plants.  We had to transplant three of our squash plants
and put them elsewhere when they completely covered up the tomatoes.  I went out one
night to water them and noticed that they were covered in a white powder: I later learned
this was mold and most likely caused by overcrowding.  I first had to prune the affected
leaves off the plants.  I then sprayed them with baking soda diluted with water.  Then,
I moved several plants out of the garden to give the other girls more room to breath.  They
all survived and even thrived after several applications of the baking soda mix.  Next
year, these girls will have their own raised bed.
3.  Once we cleared up the mold problem, we noticed a family of slugs making themselves
at home.  First solution: stop watering the garden too close to sunset.  This is a tricky
situation in hot and humid Louisiana.  If you water your garden during the day when the sun
is still hot and high, you will fry your plants (literally) and lose everything.  But if you
water them TOO late in the afternoon, they will stay moist throughout the evening and
attract bugs, particularly slugs.  So, we had to experiment with watering times, finding
the perfect balance between late in the afternoon but not to late.  We also dug a few small
holes in the garden, buried shallow yogurt cups at soil level, and filled them with beer.
Slugs are attracted to these little beer jacuzzis and can be extracted from there.  Cheap
and easy solution!
4.  Next came the leaf footed bug AKA tomato killer.  These bugs are a member of the
stink bug family and swarm the tomato plants and eat their way through your beautiful
fruit.  These bugs appeared in early June and threatened to kill all of our plants.
Solution: spray the plants with dish washing soap diluted with water.  We had to do this
daily for several weeks to keep the bugs off but it actually worked.  Next year, we will
plant companion plants next to the raised bed garden to ward off these bugs: I've been
told that sunflowers are a sure shot to keep them away.
5.  We got the girls really involved.  They helped us water the garden every night, learned
how to prune, pulled weeds, and learned when to harvest the veggies.  Allowing them to be
so hands on was a big help to Shawn and I and an excellent learning experience for them.
I overheard Belle telling me mom the other day, "You can really taste the difference
between our home grown veggies and the store bought stuff.  It's from the earth and it's
real and good".  Bursting with pride mother moment.
6.  You don't need a lot of fancy tools to make a garden work.  We used bamboo sticks with
cut up t-shirts to hold our tomato plants into place, our own compost for fertilizer,
and homemade concoctions to take care of the pests.  The beauty of gardening is in
the mistakes, the experimenting, finding and fixing small problems and watching nature
work. Enjoy the process, make notes along the way, and enjoy the ride.


Vanessa said...

You make me yearn for a yard. Not so sure I'd be a brilliant gardener like you, but it is worth a shot, right?

Sara said...

Gardening is so addictive in that you just want to keep expanding and growing and growing...and growing. :) I love that your girls are so excited about it too and while these days I am just walking Izzy around and showing her the plants (while also letting her taste a thing or two), I look forward to the days when she can be more involved. No hurry though! :)