Gardening tips

If you live in deer country, protect your garden from the critters with a high fence

You can extend the height of a 4 foot fence with rope and fence post extensions gathered from surrounding hedgerows.  We weave binder twine from our hay bales, between fence posts extensions to extend the height of the fence to 6 feet and successfully keep out deer, who begin to look lustily at the garden in late September, when the broccoli is beginning to head and the surrounding fields are brown from late summer drought.

Cover plants to prevent insect damage

By covering your growing beds with a light row cover, plants can be protected from marauders like the cabbage butterfly, that lays her eggs on all Kole plants.  The eggs hatch into cabbage caterpillars that decimate your crop.  Carrot rust fly can be blocked out of your carrot plants in the same way. Gardening tricks to protect your harvest are better than using poisons to control plant predators.

Get the slugs drunk

Don’t ignore slug damage.  Deal with them as soon as you see one.  Slugs have a two year lifespan and lay eggs in their second year.  They are most active in the early morning and during the night.  One slug can totally destroy may weeks of work.  The beer cure will help you to rid your garden quickly of slugs.  Place a shallow dish in a depression in your garden, pour a small amount of beer into the dish and go out twice a day and pick out the drunks and drown them in a bucket of soapy water.  Ducks love slugs and if you have a few you get let them patrol your garden.  But be aware that they may also eat your seedlings and munch at the leaves of lettuce and kale.  We’ve had the best success by handpicking the slugs and feeding them to the ducks.  None get away.

Encourage beneficial insects

One of the best gardening tricks is to encourage beneficial insects, they help with pollination, eat malicious insects, and predate on certain weed species.   Mason bees, bumble bees, parasitic wasps, spiders, to name only a few, work together with you to keep your garden plants free of aphids, and caterpillars.  For them to thrive, they need food, homes, and freedom from poisons.  You can give them food by planting flowers and nectar sources.  Don’t remove sources of weeds for them to lay their eggs.  By not cleaning up your garden completely in the fall, you give them room to lay their eggs and ensure that they will show up again next year.  I leave a riparian zone around the garden for this purpose.  You can also add insect nesting sites to your garden space to encourage their breeding.

Compost kitchen scraps

I live in bear country.  Composting of kitchen scraps is discouraged.  But we do compost.  By burying compost in ground right in the garden, or under the manure pile we avoid the bear problem and still get a rich soil.  You can build a compost bin out of many things from wood pallets to chicken wire.  Have some carbon rich additives like straw, dried leaves, or shredded paper.  To build your compost pile add nitrogen rich vegetables, coffee grounds, manures.  Then top them with the carbonaceous additives.  Repeat in layers, finishing with the carbon.  If you leave the pile and let it work naturally, you’ll have finished compost in about a year or two.  It takes longer if the temperatures are very cold.  Less time in a warm climate.  You can speed up the process by checking the internal temperature of the compost pile and turning it whenever the pile cools down.  I like to throw in red wiggler worms that I find under the mulch in the garden.  While not exactly a worm bin, the red wigglers help to speed up the decomposition of the pile. Free fertilizer is always good to have.

Don’t leave vegetables past their prime in your garden.

Chard is prolific for me.  But chard isn’t my favorite vegetable.  When its in its prime so is my lettuce, zucchini, and kale and so the poor chard gets neglected.  Harvesting it at its prime and preserving right away, would give me vegetables longer.  In February chard is more appreciated.  Harvest each vegetable when it is at its peak to maximize nutritional content.  And preserve each vegetable right away to extend the benefits of your gardening endeavours year-round.  Here’s a recipe that you’ll love to use up that prolific chard!

Have a plan for the harvest and preserve it.

In the middle of August there are a lot of vegetables coming into the kitchen.  Have a plan to use them up or preserve the harvest with drying, canning or freezing so that it doesn’t go to waste.  Don’t let it sit in the fridge after harvesting, losing condition.  Instead put aside what you can use within 3 days and preserve the rest at the peak of freshness.  This will maximize the available nutrients and give you good food to eat all winter, extending the benefits of your summer garden year-round.

Make compost tea from weeds, manures, and garden waste

One of the easiest gardening tricks is to make compost tea to give plants nitrogen and micro-nutrients to continue rapid growth during the season.  We make compost tea in a garbage can from fresh llama and rabbit manure, comfrey leaves, and garden weeds.  Fill the can 1/3rd full and top up with water.  After 2 weeks the tea is ready to use.  Cabbages, cauliflower, and broccoli, and other rapidly growing plants benefit from an application of manure tea at the root zone.  Avoid getting it on leaves of plants that you intend to eat.  Woad and other dye plants also benefit from applications of compost tea after the first harvest of leaves.

Hi-hoe, hi-hoe its off to weed, we go

Using a sharp hoe to cultivate around transplants twice a week can make weeding easy and prevent weeds from getting a firm grip on you garden.  Weeds will rob the soil of fertility and slow down plant growth.  A sharp hoe uses no gasoline or electricity and gives you easy exercise, too.  Its way easier to hoe around plants than to bend over and pluck up the weeds by the roots.  Hoe in the morning on  a warm day, that you don’t plan to water.  This will let the roots of your weeds dry and prevent them from regrowing.  If you neglect your hoe you will have more weeding to do as the season progresses.

Mulch, you can’t afford not to.

Mulching reduces your needs for fertilizer, water, and weeding.  It holds in soil moisture.  It breaks down, nourishing your plants, and it prevents weed germination.  Not that you won’t need to weed at all.  Depending on what you use for mulch there may be weed seeds that germinate, but weeding is easier.  Soil stays light and doesn’t compact under a layer of mulch.  Mulching can also change soil temperatures.   Plastic mulches allow heat through and can warm up soil temperatures in the Spring.  Carbon mulches like straw or wood chips, cool soil temperatures and should not be applied until after the soil has warmed up and the plants are off to a good start.