Last year I wanted to have a garden but couldn’t get my dear husband (DH) to build me any raised garden beds. He works a heavy labor job so was always too tired after a 6 day work week and I didn’t blame him for not wanting to do a bunch of manual labor work on his days off. So, I tried container gardening and was profoundly unsuccessful other than our tomatoes. We have used a 150 gallon livestock tank for 15 years to grow tomatoes. So far we’ve always had a successful and bountiful tomato harvest.
This year I decided that regardless I’d have my raised bed garden. Because of the corona virus shut down in March the young man who used to mow and do odd jobs for us when we was still in school, was temporarily laid off his job. So I asked if he’d build the beds for me and help me fill them with compost I could buy in bulk from a local tree and landscape service. Over a couple weeks he built them to my specifications. We shopped for the materials and used his truck, or rather his dad’s truck, to haul the soil. I’m sure I paid more to build my raised garden beds than most people do. Still, I was happy to help him financially and get what I wanted; extra tall raised beds. I’m sure they will last a few seasons before they have to be repaired or replaced.
I began planting a few things either from seed or as seedlings that I bought right after the last frost in April. It did get a little cold those first two weeks, but not down to freezing temperatures. Some things had a slow start in germinating and the seedling grew slowly those first few weeks. There are a few things I should have planted more of and a few that I should have planted less or none. This is my first time gardening in raised beds and I have a lot to learn.
I have 6 cabbages that are being decimated by cabbage butterfly caterpillars. I’ve been picking them off but I can’t keep ahead of them. I also found I had a squash vine borer in my zucchini. So I began doing a little research into natural ways to control them. There are products that can be used and apparently are used by organic gardeners. However, at this time of year they are hard to get. Even Amazon is out right now.
I found a recipe for a natural way to treat the plants for both of my current pest problems. It uses garlic juice and fish oil in a ratio of 1% each to 98% water. I don’t know how you get fish oil that isn’t in a capsule so I bought a bottle of capsules locally and got several garlic bulbs from a lady at our local farmers market. I haven’t juiced the garlic yet but it is my plan to do that tomorrow while DH is at work. I think I have a new unused spray bottle that I can mix this 1-1-98 formula and spray on my plants.
I did do something drastic with the squash today, though. I saw that roots were formed further out on the squash vine going both directions from the original root ball and the vine borer had entered right at the base above the original root ball. I cut the damaged section out completely and pulled up the original root ball. I’m hoping that the two ends, which are pretty long already and have flowers blooming daily, will survive from the new roots the plant has put down. It’s now two plants actually. Even if one doesn’t make it I’m hoping the other one does. I’ll make sure to spray those cut ends to prevent another attack at the place where I did the major surgery on the poor plant. That is if the formula actually works.
Next year will be better; I’ve learned a few things and will make changes next year. One thing, if I plant another butternut squash it will not be in the raised bed. That plant is a monster! It’s crowding out everything else in that garden bed. It’s beginning to remind me of a pumpkin we planted one year in Tucson when our kids were still young. That thing took over almost a third of our back yard. We had so many pumpkins that we couldn’t even give them all away. The butternut squash isn’t quite that big, yet, but it keeps wanting to send vines over to the neighboring beds, the basil in the bed with it is tall and healthy, but the squash vines have surrounded it. I’d also put some purslane in the center of that bed for the flowers to attract pollinators, plus it is an edible green that I thought I’d try in a salad. You can’t even see the purslane unless you move the squash leaves aside. I’ve pruned the squash plant leaves back some so pollinators can find the blossoms. As a result it just put out more vine and more leaves. Next year I think I’ll only have one type of squash and I’ll plant it in a bottomless container away from the raised beds. Somewhere that it will have room to spread out.
Before I planted anything I purchased red wiggler worms to put in my garden beds. I was putting fresh vegetable matter directly into the bed to feed them. Well, I had gotten some potatoes that were going bad and decided that the worms might eat them. DH had commented about the worms not eating them and that I might have potatoes start growing. He was right. I have 3-4 plants growing between 2 of the beds. So, accidentally, I’ll have potatoes too. They came up near my red pepper plants and my basil. I’m not sure the one by the basil will survive the monster squash though.
Another thing I did for the garden this year, to try and attract and keep native solitary bees for pollinators, was put up a small bee hotel. It is on the east side of our storage shed so it can get morning sunlight and not too far from the raised beds. Several of the ‘apartments’ have been filled and a couple units are already hatching the bees that moved in. I’ll have to clean it up after the season so there is no chance of disease for next year’s bee population. I will have to refresh my memory on when the best time to do that is and just how I need to clean it. Hopefully over time more of the tubes will be occupied and I’ll be able to have a bigger occupancy in the bee hotel. I’d love to see it fill up. But, as with all things new, it takes a while for the native solitary bees to move into a new location and use it year after year.
A few weeks ago there was a batch of praying mantises that hatched out somewhere around the bee hotel. I was looking to see how many of the tubes had been used and saw a tiny praying mantis maybe half and inch long. Looking around there were several others too. It was like they’d all just hatched, or whatever the proper term is for their emergence. I was happy to see them because they are great for garden pests and I’m especially glad because I found scale on the crabapple tree this year. I’ve been trying to combat that particular pest. I bought ladybugs, but too many of them were DOA, close to half. I also tried to get lacewing larvae and maybe some survived but I wouldn’t bet on it, I’ve not seen any. The problem was, not long after putting up the envelope they came in, just as the package said to do, it rained, heavily. I’m pretty sure those larvae drowned because the envelope filled with rainwater. After the leaves fall and the sap goes into the roots I will treat the tree for scale and hopefully next year it will be free of the pesky bugs. Last year a magnolia had to be taken out because it was infested with scale. I liked that tree but it was in an inconvenient location. I’m actually glad to have the space useable now. For now a free standing porch swing sits there.
The soil in the raised beds has settled from the level it was when I filled them. Next year I’ll add to the top soil. Hopefully I won’t have to buy any. Last fall I decided to save most of the autumn leaves for use as the brown element in an experiment in composting. There is a compost pile in the making now and has had grass clippings and some vegetable matter from trimmings of fresh vegetables for making salads added to it. There are a few coffee grounds and tea bags in there too. I finally got a garden fork to turn the mass periodically. I’m considering covering it to get it to heat up and decompose everything faster. There are a few small branches and twigs from the crabapple tree that were put in at the bottom last year and unless I get it hot in that pile it’ll take a couple years or more to decompose those pieces of wood. It’s an experiment, I’m certainly no expert at this gardening thing, but I do enjoy it and over the years I’ll get much better.
We’ve had gardens off and on over the years and I find that tending the garden is enjoyable and relaxing. Maybe it’s a built in desire to return to the Garden of Eden. I love growing things, a vegetable and herb garden or house plants, it really doesn’t matter; green growing things give me great pleasure in life, especially when they thrive. I sat some of my houseplants out under the base of the crabapple tree and they are doing beautifully. My problem will be space when I bring them in this autumn. Some are in bigger pots now and have grown much taller. There is the schefflera that I think I’ll have to prune and root the tops I cut off. I didn’t know I could do that until a few days ago. I’ll have to buy some root hormone to root the cuttings. That’s about the only reason I haven’t already trimmed it back. I read that in some places it is grown as a hedge; it just needs to be pruned to make it bush out.
Well, I think I’ve exhausted all that I had to say about my garden and the problems I’ve encountered and the things I’ve done, learned, and plan on doing. Hope this was an enjoyable read for you, even if I did ramble on and on.
May each of you be blessed,