Monday, May 25, 2015

Sunshine and Thunderstorms

Love my ladybugs :)
Looking at the weather forecast for the week, I am very unhappy to see a 40-60% chance of thunderstorms every day. It's hard enough to keep weeds out of my garden without all this rain feeding them! If the rain holds off until around 7pm as it is supposed to tonight, I won't mind nearly as much, though. Saves me from having to water my garden. ;) Hope you all are enjoying what sunshine we are able to get in between all this Spring Shower weather.

I have a few new tips for you this month. Namely, if you haven't had the chance to plant a garden yet, it's not too late! Give our amazing climate in central Arkansas, I saw summer plants producing until October last year. At this point, I definitely recommend buying plants rather than seeds if you want a good harvest from your produce. ABC Greenhouse is having an end-of-season sale through Tuesday at 10pm on Conway Locally Grown. There are also still plants available at the Conway Farmer's Market, which is having it's grand opening this Saturday, May 30th. Located at 150 Amity Rd, the market is open from 7am-12pm (I'll be at the Cooperative Ext booth this weekend so come say hi!). Or, if you live in the surrounding area, looks like there are still plants available at the Wooster Farmers Market as well. At least grab a tomato plant and transplant it to a 5-gallon bucket. There is nothing better than a fresh from the plant ripe tomato in mid-summer (well, except maybe a freshly picked tree ripened peach...).

Here are what aphids look like...
For those of you who are already growing gardens and are wondering what you can do about pests, the Faulkner County Cooperative Extension Services offers a variety of fact sheets on different vegetables, which can be found at the bottom of this link. They even offer organic solutions these days. The worst two pests I currently have in my garden are aphids and flea beetles. They are eating my tomato and potato plants. As of today, the flea beetles have moved on to eating my bell peppers too. Quite the frustrating little critters since they jump like fleas and are much harder to squish because of it. I was very happy to see a handful of ladybugs on my tomato plants, though, since they are a natural predator of the aphids that have taken up residence. At this point, my tomatoes have grown large enough that I don't believe the aphids can do that much damage, but I still prefer to crush them if I'm in the garden. I don't crush them all because I do want to keep feeding the ladybugs. :)
First of many summer squash.
At this size, they are a sweet treat. 

I was very excited to catch a few bees in my garden this morning as well. I assumed there were some buzzing around since I have baby tomatoes and squash in the garden, but I hadn't seen them until this morning. According to the FoodTank Newsletter I received this morning, beekeepers are losing 30% of honeybee colonies during an average winter. Being able to provide food and shelter for local bees could help to increase their population size, if only marginally. I plan to put up my insect hotel (mentioned in this post) in the next few weeks, hopefully allowing the critters to make a home for next winter.

My garden is full of a diverse selection of plants, most of which are heirloom and endangered varieties that I purchased from Seed Savers Exchange. I have so many plants in my plot that I have run out of space to put anything else. I must say that this is quite a new experience for me. Companion planting and using square foot gardening in my beds has led to a lot of plants in a small space, all of which seem to be thriving (well, except for the corn that I planted under a tree I thought was dead, but is very much alive...). I cannot wait to record my yields this summer to show you how much food you can grow in 1200 sq ft of space in our climate. Thanks to this wet spring, I have had minimal amounts of water input into the garden, but a bit more weeding time.
Lots of henbit in this bed with my Brussels Sprouts.

I'm sure there are organic options for decreasing the amount of weeds in the garden, but I prefer my current method. I put down a mulch of straw (a little later than I should have), which keeps out a lot of the weeds. I have also opted to keep the henbit and clover as a living mulch in my beds. I once heard that nature doesn't like a vacuum and will do it's best to fill it; the intense ability of weeds to grow in any open space is testament to that. I'm sure a number of you and those you know think of gardens as pristine beds that have bare ground and only your edible plants visible, however, that bare ground leaves your soil open to degradation from rain and air erosion. It also causes the soil to dry out much quicker and isn't hospitable to the bugs you need to create a healthy soil. So, I recommend letting ground covers (plants that only grow about 30cm tall) grow if they pop up. Most will also flower and attract more beneficial insects to your plot. One of my favorite ground covers is the 300 species of clover which actually help to fix nitrogen in your soil. Heavy feeding plants like tomatoes need a lot of nitrogen and greatly benefit from this ground cover.

My okra is companion planted with squash.
I've also left a lot of clover as ground cover.
Or, if you want to create a super intensive garden, you can plant edible ground covers with your taller plants. Mother Earth News has an excellent companion planting guide, which you can find here. It describes which plants help each other while growing. A very old companion planting is the three sisters which I have mentioned before. Since I am growing corn in my garden, I am actually trying to follow the three sisters planting pattern by planting beans around my corn and squash in between the rows. I cannot wait to see the amount of food that comes out of that small section of my garden plot. I have heard that specific varieties work better and so am experimenting with two different legumes (Hatshida beans and sugar snap peas) and both yellow squash and zucchini. My whole garden this summer is a giant experiment and it makes me happy, haha.

Please let me know if you have any specific questions about gardening in Conway, AR. I may not know the answer, but I have a lot of resources to help me find the answer for you.

I hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day. If you have any interest in gardening, I recommend you spend an hour or two working in your garden today. One of the clients I work with in my nutrition and gardening classes told me that gardening has been very therapeutic for her and always improves her mood. I feel the same way and hope that it can be a stress-relieving activity for you as well.

Happy gardening!
First cantaloupe blossom!

Tiniest green beans, can't wait to eat them!

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