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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pests, Updates, and First Harvests.

Surprise. Surprise. I have pests. Up until now my biggest pest has been my dog
(Fresh potting soil is soooo delicious).

My big question is… how did they find me and how do I get them to go away.?

The other day I went out to the garden and my plants were covered with aphids. They are hungry and sticky little suckers. I have white, green and red ones. It's a rainbow of friends. I also have powdery mold and green caterpillars on the cucumbers.

Not wanting to add harsh chemical pesticides to my garden, I am experimenting with other solutions.  I originally planted marigolds around the tomatoes in order to discourage caterpillars (I learned this last year after they ravaged my tomatoes) but they haven't bloomed yet. 

One of my gardening books(Gayla Trail) has loads of recipes for homemade pesticides and moldicides. Her recipes use natural ingredients so they are safe to use around kids and pets. I have tried two of them. 

I made one solution for the mold. It was a combination of water, Murphy's Oil Soap, and baking soda. It worked well and most of the mold went away. I will have to spray again as the mold is coming back. 
Making a homemade pesticide from natural ingredients.

The aphids are very stubborn and I am trying several things to see what happens. 
1. Pesticide. I made a homemade solution of brewed coffee, thyme, and Murphy oil soap.  I'm not sure how well this worked. I am thinking that maybe my spray bottle doesn't spray enough of the solution. (I used a travel size sprayer)
2. Garlic. My mom suggested that I plant garlic around the infected areas as that worked in her garden. I stuck several cloves that I found in the fridge here and there. They are now happily growing and I am seeing less aphids in those areas.
3. Marigolds My husband said his father suggested Marigolds. Since I know that caterpillars hate them I bought a bunch of them. They are now scattered throughout the containers like little soldiers. The caterpillars are gone but aphids are still hanging out. Too bad marigolds aren't carnivorous.
4. Praying Mantis.  I haven't gone this far yet, but may buy a couple Mantis egg sacks so that they will hatch and eat all those nasty bugs. My only concern is that I'm not sure what introducing a couple thousand baby mantis to my garden will do. I'll keep you posted.

As for the garden. Things are growing. The cilantro and basil are very happy. The lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers are doing well and I have a couple small lemons developing on the tree.

The okra is sad. It is trying very hard to grow but I don't think the weather is right.  The peppers are touch and go. I moved them to more sun with less water and they seam happier. The banana pepper seems to be very happy while the other two are just hanging out waiting for conditions to improve. 
Sad okra (Left), Happy Lemon tree with lettuce (Right)

The tomatoes are doing well. I'm surprised by the hanging tomatoes. In all those "Topsy Turvy" commercials the tomatoes grow straight down. My tomatoes  are trying to defy gravity by growing up toward the sky. I thought they would just grow straight (i.e down). Is this the same reason our eucalyptus trees don't grow straight here like they do in Australia? Just a thought.

Finally the first harvest. We had a nice salad the other night with fresh lettuce. We were both surprised at how flavorful and tangy it was. About a week later I got my first cucumber. I think the pot its growing in is the main reason for its success as its self watering so the cucumbers are always getting the water they need. Growing up we tried growing cucumbers and never succeed. They were always eaten by slugs or burned by the sun.   (BTW. when I called the local nursery about buying lady bugs and praying mantis they said they also carried carnivorous slugs. They are slugs that eat all the slugs that eat your garden. Interesting.)

Fresh lettuce from the garden.

My first home grown cucumber..... ever.

Happy Gardening and tune in next time for...

Projects and resources!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Spring has sprung, planted and spouted!

 Spring has sprung down here in Long Beach. About two months ago I had a seed planting party. We spent an afternoon labeling, sorting, planting our seeds, and of course drinking champagne to quench our thirst.  

According to the planters guide one is supposed plant their seeds after the last freeze. After a bit of math( and the fact that Long Beach doesn't freeze) it was determined that I was to plant my seeds the end of January/ start of February.  My seeds came from several different venders(, Home Depot and Burpee) . We decided to plant the following:

Heirloom Mortgage Lifter Tomato
Patio Princess Tomato
Big Beef Tomato
Better Boy
Jalepeno Peppers
Sweet Banana Peppers
Butter Lettuce
Mixed Lettuce.
Carrot(Not yet Planted)
Celery( Not yet Planted)

My collection of recycled paper goods for planting.
We used all three or the containers I mentioned earlier. I found that the Starbucks cups worked best. I really liked the idea of the toilet paper rolls and the egg cartons but they dried out quickly. I planted the marigolds and the lettuces in the rolls and cartons. They all sprouted ok, but then quickly wilted and died.  I think they would have worked better if  one, they were used in a more moist climate(Northern CA),  and two I had spritzed them  with water every day. We had a bit of a heat wave down here that really dried things out and we haven't had much rain (I'm looking forward to fire season, aren't you?)

22 of my 24 Tomatoes sprouted and are growing strong. The peppers on the other hand are having a hard time. They wouldn't sprout outside (to cold?) so I put them inside in the window. They sprouted there but I may have watered them to much. They are still very tiny. The herbs are having similar problems.  To hot. To cold. To wet. To dry. Plants can be picky. I guess thats why nurseries grow them in greenhouses in controlled environments.    I am still working on my peppers but  I also bought a couple at our local nursery just  in case they don't pull through. My husband and I have a master plan of making hot pickled okra this summer so he can perfect his bloody mary making skills. 
Planting Party!

All planted and ready to grow!

Growing tomato varieties.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gardens Past and Future

As I promised, here is the master plan for my garden.
The I drew this in a scale of 1/2 inch = 1 foot.
We will be hanging the tomatoes from the top of the balcony.
Garden Plan
My first experience in urban gardening was small but important. My obsession with gardening started when I was studying abroad in Northern England. I lived in an old Victorian house that prior to having a bunch of homeless students moving in was a nursery school. Sadly the landlord didn't keep the front or the back yard maintained. One frustrating morning I took my scissors to the front flowers and pulled out all the weeds. My house mates thought their American was quite crazy, but really "who wants an untidy from yard". That spring we all took our scissors to the back yard and had a lovely BBQ. Canned hot dogs and all. When I win the lottery I plan to buy this house and restore it to is original beauty.
After that, I had a nice little plot at my first apartment in Long Beach, CA. I grew tomatoes there and a cat lived in the bushes.  In Philadelphia I had a plot with my neighbor in the community garden. We grew a bit of everything there. New Haven, CT and Los Angeles, CA brought window gardens and fruit flies. Finally when I got married my husband and I moved into a place with a balcony. It was here that I realized my love of gardening. This garden was mainly geraniums (started by my dad from cuttings) a some succulents. My partner in crime is below. His name is Scruffy and he is always trying to eat my seedlings and new transplants.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Start prepping for spring!

Start saving your: 

  • Egg Cartons
  • Toilet Rolls
  • Paper Towel Rolls
  • Paper Coffee Cups

My sister and I decided to start both of our gardens this year from seeds. It's cheaper than buying plants and will be fun to watch.

Many people start their seedlings with starter kits. These kits are plastic bins that create a small green house. They include little peat pots that you initially plant your seeds in before transferring them to your garden. After reading many reviews on these peat pots I have come to the conclusion that they may not be all they are cracked up to be. I have decided to go with a more non traditional route with recycled containers. I will be using egg cartons, toilet and paper towel rolls, and old coffee cups to start my plants. I got the idea for this method from several gardening books and websites I have been reading.

Egg Cartons: 
The spaces intended for eggs in egg cartons are the perfect size for sprouting your seeds. They are about the same size as peat pots and are free.

Toilet Rolls: This is another great space to start your plants. According to Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail,  toilet rolls "... are especially great for starting beans and sunflower seeds which dislike having their roots disturbed during transplanting."

Coffee Cups:
My dad likes to start his cuttings off in the paper cups he saves from Starbucks. They are sturdy containers for your larger seedlings. I plan to use these for tomato, squash, and melons.

In February we will start our seedlings. So get collecting.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Starting a Winter Garden

 About two weeks ago I decided to start a winter garden.  I pulled out my failing tomato plant and planted some radishes. I used a pack I purchased for $1 at Home Depot.

The radishes came up the other day and a few days later I thinned the seeds. For those of you not familiar with thinning it means that you pull out every few sprouts in order for the sprouts to have enough room to grow to their full potential. I actually had enough sprouts to add them to my sandwich. It was quite tasty.  Radishes are a quick and easy vegetable to grow. They come up quickly and are fun to watch.

A few days after I planted the radishes I threw a few lettuce seeds in a few pots. They have yet to come up. Again I bought them for $1 at Home Depot.  The packet says that they are good for colder temperatures. I think they may just take longer to germinate.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Let's get started.

Last spring it occurred to me as I was planting tomatoes from seeds on my balcony that I am a gardener. I have considered myself many things so far in life, but a gardener was not one of them. As a child I loved to garden, I couldn't wait to go outside, feel the earth in my hands and grow something. I always considered that in order to really garden you needed a plot of land, or a large raised bed, or a field. You needed something of considerable substance and if you didn't; it simply didn't count. Turns out you can garden anywhere and one can be a true gardener with little space. I know this seems like one of those "duh" moments but it was quite a revelation considering it was staring me in the face all this time and I garden wherever I live.

I have lived in many places over that last ten years and I have made a garden in every place I have lived. It's something I don't do consciously. I just do it. Over the next few days I will go over these gardens so you know where I am now.

My husband and I recently moved from North Hollywood down to Long Beach. Our new porch is 5 by 16 feet. It's a nice space. The iron railing allows in allot more light than our last porch (which had more of a wall than a railing). We now face almost due west. This is great as we get all the afternoon sun before the sun sets over the pacific ocean. Here are some pictures of our porch.

I have a master plan for this new space and will sketch it out for you to see. Many urban gardeners use  allot of recycled and found containers for their gardens. I love this idea. It is not only good for the environment but easy on  the wallet. The only problem is they aren't necessarily pretty.  My goal is to build an urban garden that is not only practical and cheap, but aesthetically pleasing as well.
So here we go.