Missouri versus the Azores

During a recent trip to the Azores, I learned that San Jorge Island grows the same lineup of summer vegetables as are grown in Central Missouri. Their most common garden veggies are potatoes (red, russet and sweet), tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow and zucchini squash, white and red onions, garlic, bush beans (4 or 5 types), herbs (rosemary, oregano and dill) and peppers.

Before I go any further, allow me to mention that the Azores are a chain of nine islands and are ruled by Portugal. These islands are about 800 miles off the coast of Portugal.

I guess I expected some exotic veggies to show up on display, but this didn’t happen. I, of course, wanted to speak with local growers however this opportunity didn’t present itself.

Oh well, there’s a list of reasons to visit the Azores which, of course, don’t relate to veggie production. It’s a great place to see, enjoy the ocean, meet another culture, be surrounded by friendly people and delight in their culinary fare.

Remember, take time to enjoy life as there are a lot of interesting and good people to meet.

Battling red spider mites and flea beetles in eggplant

As most gardeners already know, each type of garden plant is affected by specific and/or common insect pests. In the case of eggplant, this veggie is extremely susceptible to foliar damage by the red spider mite (RSM). If left untreated, this pest can devastate the plant’s entire leaf canopy. However, if damage is light, this plant seems to tolerate RSM damage as the plant matures.

Here in Central Missouri, where I’ve been gardening for some 23 years, I unfortunately have not witnessed a ‘light’ RSM infestation in this crop. Hence, to successfully grow a crop of eggplant, it is necessary to purchase seedlings that are free of mite damage or grow your own nursey stock. Once the weather conditions are favorable, we transplant eggplant seedlings into the garden and immediately cover the crop with a permeable white cloche. The cloche allows entry of water, sunlight and air but excludes most insects. Once the plants begin producing fruit, we remove the cloche since the plants are then beginning to reach the top of the cloche. By that time, eggplant seems to either develop a greater tolerance to, or avoidance of, this particular pest.


Eggplant under cloche

Of course, we don’t assume that the battle is over, so we continue to monitor all plants for presence pf RSM. Even during the time spent under the protection of the cloche, we will monitor all plants. If a breech was to occur in the cloche, for whatever reason, this will certainly provide entry of RSM.

In the case of eggplant, I recommend an insecticidal soap (foliar spray) to keep populations of RSM at bay. I’ve employed neem oil in the past however it doesn’t seem to be as effective in controlling RSM as does an insecticidal soap. Because eggplant also can suffer from flea beetle and whitefly insect pressure, it may be useful to tank mix these two insecticides, or perhaps use singly in alternate spray applications.

Also, keep in mind that the eggplant leaves are heavily pubescent thus providing a great place for all aforementioned insects to reside. Unfortunately, these pests seem to enjoy hanging out on the underneath side of the leaf. So, be sure to apply insecticide to both sides of each leaf for greater control.

The Regenerative Garden

I believe that, even in the smallest section of your property, it’s possible to grow healthy and productive vegetables. The basic ingredients needed for success are a well-drained and nutrient rich soil, a location that receives at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight, a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.2 and a willingness to garden all season. This is where Regenerative Gardening (RG) comes in.

Dense planting of lettuce, collards, kale and beets

Remember, your garden’s soil is a living, thriving media containing thousands of different natural organisms working in harmony to sustain an almost perfect environment to grow vegetables. The other highlight, soil is a renewable resource. This means that no matter what your soil’s starting point is, you can make it better and keep it that way!

A new asparagus bed surrounded by lettuce, cauliflower and cabbage

RG is a combination of cultural practices that are implemented simultaneously, throughout the growing season, in order to maintain a highly productive soil. I consider the following as essential elements in establishing a Regenerative Garden:

  • Permaculture
  • No synthetic pesticides
  • Succession planting
  • Crop rotation
  • Soil incorporation of compost
  • Optimizing plant density
  • Companion planting
  • Cover crops

Our blog already includes information on most of these topics and eventually, we will cover them all. As you already know, there is a wealth of information available from an array of sources on each topic. So, if you want to dig deeper, it should be simple to do.

The point of this post is to introduce Regenerative Gardening (RG) from a multi-cultural practice’s perspective. As a general rule, I attempt to incorporate as many of the cultural practices mentioned above, for any given vegetable planted at St. Joseph Street Community Garden. My objective is to manage our garden plot as an ever-changing plant growth environment which supports high levels of quality production.

Last, but not least, please be sure to take a soil test on year 1 of your garden’s establishment and every three to four years thereafter. It is important to monitor any shifts in soil available nutrients and soil pH. If you are adding compost on a regular basis, be aware that the quantities of available nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, from this source, may not be at the levels required by many vegetables (e.g., sweet corn, potatoes, etc.). There are several brands of granular organic fertilizers that can easily provide the balance.

Today, I’m headed to the garden to plant some squash seed, pull weeds, water a few areas and turn the compost. Not totally exciting, but that’s regenerative gardening for you.

Perseverance Pays

If your seed didn’t pop through the ground, as anticipated, or if your transplants didn’t survive the transition from pot to soil, don’t give up! In many cases, the best thing to do is replant. Get past the frustration and the feeling of failure and try, try again.

I’ve been gardening for a long time, and there hasn’t been a season without some type of mishap in the garden. There are many reasons why these failures happen and perhaps too lengthy to address in a single post. Hence, I won’t bore you to death.

The most important point is, don’t give up. I recently attended a lecture by a local botanical garden expert and one of his remarks has stuck with me. He stated that much of their success results from a lot of plant failures. Yep, even the experts make mistakes! So, without perseverance, their gardens would never have evolved to their present state.

By the way, and not too long ago, I lost a 25’ row of snow peas, a handful of red loose-leaf lettuce plants and a few crowns of asparagus. To correct these mishaps, I replaced the snow peas with a 25′ row of pole beans and transplanted a few lettuce plants and asparagus crowns to resolve the aforementioned poor stands. Today, all is well, and all three areas are looking great.

I do not claim being the most patient person, but I do encourage folks not to give up in the garden due to a few failures. Also, don’t be afraid to try new approaches to gardening. You just never know when an idea of yours will pay off. Of course, we’ll want to learn of all discoveries and new methods.

Have a great time growing veggies and thanks for reading our posts.

The Mini-Greenhouse

As many gardeners already know, there are a myriad of cold frame and mini greenhouse designs available online. Recently, our co-author (John L. Dose) wrote a piece on a similar topic, DIY Greenhouse and Cold Frame. My spin on this theme will examine my recent experience with a decent mini-greenhouse purchased on-line from Quictent.

Mini Greenhouse by Quictent

The overall design of this structure is pretty good, however, a few improvements are in order. Once the panels are zippered shut, there is no possibility of cross ventilation. In the early spring, in Zone 6, this can prove fatal to young seedlings. The enclosed structure does an excellent job of staying warm but can get pretty hot on a 60 F degree day with good sunlight. Hence, if the grower isn’t close by to vent the front panels, he or she runs the risk of damaging young seedlings. To remedy this I’m going to insert two side vents. The other concern deals with securing the structure to the ground. Tent spikes are not provided to achieve this end. Thus, a trip to a local vendor needs to be done before setting sail (literally).

Overall, I do recommend this particular growing structure as it goes up easy and is easily packed away between uses. It also serves to harden off seedlings when transitioning plants from the greenhouse to the field. In a manner of speaking, the mini-greenhouse (MG) design serves a similar function as a cold frame. Next season, 2023, we will build a cold frame (CF) and place the MG on top of the wood frame. The dimensions of the CF will equal the dimensions of the MG’s perimeter. This will permit us to secure the base of the MG to the top of the CF. (More on this development in 2023).

Top Choice Vendors

When it comes to buying seed or plants you should seek out reputable companies that can boast of excellent service. John and I would like to share our top 10 picks. Since John lives on the Atlantic coast and I’m in central Missouri, our list will vary somewhat.

Also, and for those who are of a suspicious nature, The Garden Dreamer does not receive any benefit, whatsoever, from our list of vendors. We are only interested in helping others secure good quality products.

Midwest Vendors

  • Stark Brother’s – Fruit trees and vines, veg. seed, (heirloom and conventional)
  • 20947 US-54
  • Louisiana, MO 63353
  • Telephone 800-325-4180
  • http://www.starkbros.com
  • Gurney’s Seed & Nursery Co. – Fruit trees and vines, veg. seed, (heirloom and conventional)
  • P.O. Box 4178
  • Greendale, IN 47025
  • http://www.gurneys.com
  • Superior Garden Center – Fruit trees, veg. seed and seedlings (heirloom and conventional) and landscaping plants and services
  • 2450 Trails West
  • Columbia, MO 65202
  • Telephone 573-442-9499
  • Morgan County Seeds Fruit trees, veg. seed (packets and bulk), greenhouses and gardening supplies
  • 18761 Kelsay Road
  • Barnett, MO 65011-3009
  • Telephone 573-378-2655
  • http://www.morgancountyseeds.com
  • Email: errolahlers@reagan.com
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. – Large selection of heirloom vegetable, herb and flower planting seed
  • 2278 Baker Creek Road
  • Mansfield, MO 65704
  • http://www.rareseeds.com
  • Seed Savers Exchange – Large selection of heirloom vegetable, herb and flower planting seed
  • 3094 Noth Winn Road
  • Decorah, Iowa 52101
  • Telephone 563-382-5990
  • http://www.seedsavers.org

Atlantic Coast Vendors

  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds- Large selection of heirloom vegetable, herb and flower planting seed
  • 955 Benton Avenue
  • Winslow, ME 04901
  • http://www.johnnyseeds.com

Made in the Shade

Not every gardener is fortunate enough to have a great piece of property without a few limiting factors. Some of us have good ground and exposure, but no water is insight while others have an excellent supply of water as well as herds of deer to deal with. At St. Joseph Street Community Garden, Columbia, MO, we have excellent soil, plenty of water, while 1/3 of our garden receives about 4 hours of good sunlight and dappled light for the remainder of the day. To be more specific, morning light doesn’t reach this part of the garden until about 10:30 am. At this point, we have good sunshine for the next 4 hours. After this burst of sunlight, we then receive dappled light for the remainder of the day. Regardless, we still have an opportunity to grow a number of veggies and herbs that are able to produce a decent crop.

Potatoes

Last season, we grew early red potatoes as well as russets. The reds performed well however the russets appeared not to reach their anticipated production level. We decided that the russets languished due to insufficient solar radiation. The yield and quality of the red potatoes was more than acceptable, and their taste was great.

Note: During the vegetative stage of development both varieties appeared extremely healthy, however, their production of spuds was notably different.

Basil, Genovese

We actually grew basil under full sun (7 to 9 hrs) as well as in our shady part of the garden. In the Spring and early summer months basil plants seemed to do well, however, as the hot summer continued, the basil in the hotter part of the garden began to produce fewer leaves whereas the shade crop continued to produce a decent crop. Next year, we’ll plant two crops of basil in our shady area. The first, in the spring and the second, in late summer. This will ensure a plentiful supply of leaves throughout the season.

Bunching Onions / Chives / Scallions

This category of plants does extremely well in our conditions. We presently have white garlic and garlic chives, which were planted in the Fall of last year, and just recently transplanted white bunching onions accompanied by early spring plantings of red and yellow bulb onion starts. By the way, the bunching onions are looking splendid!

Digging a little deeper, we plan to periodically harvest about half of each mound (hill) of bunching onions. The part not harvested will be replanted back in its original spot. It’ll be interesting to learn how much productivity we can reap from this process. We’ll certainly let you know how it went.

Edible Pod Sugar Peas

It’s amazing how many names this particular veggie has. Years ago, I would refer to it as Chinese Edible Pod Peas. Today, names such as Sugar Pop Snow Pea and Sugar Snap Pea seem to be commonly used. Anyway, this is one of my favorite veggies to nibble while visiting the garden. Although the pods are usually picked while pods remain flat, I enjoy opening the fat pods to munch on their developing seed for a sugar rush. In our home, we use fresh pods in our salads and add them to our vegetable medleys, stir fry and soup dishes.

As far as growing veggies in our shady area, sugar peas are planted in a spot which receives the most-light. We tried a shadier spot however the plants did not do as well.

Cilantro and Parsley

Two herbs which we enjoy growing are cilantro and parsley. These plants do well in our shady area and the cilantro doesn’t seem to bolt as fast when compared to growing it in hotter, sunnier places on the property. There’s always room in the garden for cilantro and parsley since both are excellent additions (fresh or dried) to many dishes.

Carrots

I must have missed this one! I always thought that carrots would grow best in sunny locations however a random planting of carrots in our shadier area of the garden proved otherwise. Okay, now you know, I don’t know everything. This week, we will sow carrots in a dedicated row to see how they continue to perform during 2022.

We will be adding a few more favorites upon the end of the 2022 season. In the meantime, we’d like to hear from you about your experience growing veggies and herbs in shady areas.

DIY Greenhouse and Cold Frame

Hi! Johnny L. Dose here with another contribution to The Garden Dreamer.

Just a few words on two basic building materials needed for homemade cold frames and greenhouses: polycarbonate panels and wood.

Polycarbonate panels: (www.farmtek.com) sells the panels shown below in 4’ x 8’ sheets and larger. These panels are double walled. The double wall creates a micro greenhouse effect inside the panel, which helps to retain heat. They are also transparent, UV resistant, and will last much longer than polyethylene sheeting. Unfortunately, the cost of shipping is not free. So, you should consider including your friends or your gardening club on the order. These panels are light in weight; therefore, the increased volume of the order does not increase the freight cost by much…I think.

Wood: Since 2 x 4’s are expensive, at the moment, consider businesses that are throwing away pallets and ask if you can have them. HVAC companies, as well as places that sell riding lawn mowers, often have crates that can be re-purposed for a greenhouse or a cold frame. Clearly, you will need to find an easy way of pulling the pallets apart. For this not so easy task, you can try either an isolation tool (multi-tool) or a stepped pickle fork that can be used with an air-hammer. At least, these two options I’m going to test out once my pickle fork kit arrives next week from Amazon.

I’m planning to use a canopy frame (10’ x 20’), EZ-up, or similar to make a greenhouse using the material described above. I will use a combination of cable ties, deck screws, and duct tape to hold it all together. This approach will be easy to take apart, should a building inspector show up, i.e., this greenhouse does not count as a permanent structure to the property. The important thing is to secure whatever you do with a canopy against strong winds. So, tie it down like Lilliputian or it will take off like a big kite. The cat mocks me now as I type. What does he know?

Anyway, feel free to ask me any questions about my experiences with two basic building materials needed for homemade cold frames and greenhouses. I’ll stop now and save some material (pun intended) for my next post as well as gather some data to report back.

All the Best,

Johnny L. Dose

Top Tomato Tips

As is widely recognized, growing tomatoes is perhaps one of the most common activities in the garden patch. Due to their quick growth habit and excellent production potential, almost every gardener adds them to their list of plants to adorn their garden space. Like any other plant, there are cultural practices that need to take place during the growing season to ensure good productivity for these plants.

Which Tomato Should I Grow?

Almost every time I start thinking about which varieties, hybrids and/or heirlooms to cultivate, I will change my mind at least 5 times prior to arriving to a final selection. If I had the space, I’d grow more tomatoes! Truthfully, I don’t believe there’s a “one fits all” tomato to grow. For instance, in a 20-mile radius from where you live, you’ll find that many types of tomatoes are cultivated and every grower swears by their choices. At St. Joseph Street Community Garden you’ll find varieties, hybrids and heirlooms in the mix.

Before I reveal my short list of superstars, now I sound like Motley Fool, it’s important to know the basic tomato types available. Growth habit is the divining rod here. Tomatoes are either determinate, indeterminate or dwarf. A determinate tomato can reach 4 to 5 feet in height while the indeterminate can attain a height of 6 to 9 feet. The dwarf tomato, a material which I do not cultivate, is suited for container gardening. Determinate tomatoes typically have a shorter flowering and fruit production period making them more suitable for large production growers. The indeterminates have much longer flowering and fruiting cycles making them an excellent choice for the garden plot.

Indeterminate Tomato

An Excellent Read for the Tomato Enthusiast

Like anything else, you can find a ton of information about tomatoes in books, catalogs, university bulletins and online. However, one of my favorite sources of information is my tomato bible (see below):

  • Title: EPIC Tomatoes (How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time)
  • Author: Craig LeHoullier
  • Publisher: Story Publishing
  • Published 2015

I couldn’t resist. Here’s a photo of the front cover.

My Tomato Bible

Pruning Tomatoes

Please read my post entitled “Pruning Tomatoes”….

Disease Control

Well, and although disease can be an issue for tomatoes, I don’t seem to have many problems with foliar diseases. I attribute this to being careful not to over fertilize plants, irrigate at the base of plants (this reduces splashing which moves spores from soil to the plant), pruning (see above) and cultivating tomatoes which exhibit resistance to many of our common foliar and root diseases.

Insect Control

I’ve grown tomatoes for years and in many states across the USA. When it comes to insects, I’ve only had difficulties with Tomato Hornworm and occasionally with Western Yellowstriped Armyworm . Both larvae stages can do considerable damage to leaves and fruit. If larvae are not controlled promptly the amount of damage escalates quickly. Fortunately, we have an excellent means of organic control for both pests. I use Bacillus thuringensis, a soil borne bacteria, to control these pests. Several vendors manufacture and sell this product in liquid form making it simple to apply with a hand held sprayer.

Tomato Hornworm

I usually apply the first dose a few weeks after flowering initiates. As long as it doesn’t rain, the treatment seems to remain effective for up to two weeks. In a given season I may apply Bacillus perhaps 4 or 5 times. Any larvae which ingest the bacteria will stop feeding, almost immediately, and their development ceases.

Western Yellowstriped Armyworm

Growing the Best

Oops…… I almost forgot to tell you which tomatoes work well for me. Here they are, Better Boy, Ivan (MO heirloom), Mortgage Lifter (heirloom) and Jetsetter. Warning, this list will change!

Applying Fertilizer

As you already know, tomato plants have the potential to produce enough fruit for a small village. One of the ways to tap into this potential is by applying fertilizer throughout the tomatoes growth cycle. i may feed my tomatoes 5 times beginning at transplant.

Fertilizer Application for the Novice Gardener

For the novice gardener, it’s important to understand that all garden plants have feeding requirements. Although most soils contain a reservoir of essential nutrients, the levels of one or more readily available nutrients may not be at a sufficient level to sustain optimum plant growth. The other consideration is that vegetable plants vary in their total nutrient needs. Sweet corn, for instance, requires 140 lbs. of nitrogen (N) per acre whereas radish needs between 60 to 70 lbs. N per acre. Don’t worry, on most bags of fertilizer, application rates are usually expressed in easy-to-understand units based on feeding a single plant or on a plant-row basis.

The most important elements which are considered critical for good plant development and productivity are recognized as macronutrients as N, P, K, Ca, Mg and S and micronutrients (trace elements) such as B, Mo, Fe, Zn, Cu and Mn. The main difference between these categories is in the amounts taken up and utilized by garden plants. Macronutrients are taken up in larger quantities than are micronutrients. However, and regardless of their category, each element plays a critical role in the plant’s health and development.

There are only a few key items one needs to know in order to properly use fertilizer. These are: 1. Know how much fertilizer a particular vegetable needs, 2. Know which nutrients are abundant and which are lacking in your garden, and 3. When should fertilizer applications be made. As I mentioned in an earlier post, pH and Soil Amendments, having a soil test performed is an excellent way to gain insight into the nutrient levels and pH of your garden soil. Additionally, most soil test results will also include fertilizer recommendations of up to three crops.

Regarding the nutrient needs of 100 fruit and vegetable plants, is a considerable amount of data and is not feasible to display in this post. However, I will share a reference that should more than satisfy your needs. This comprehensive document covers various vegetable crops and addresses fertilizer rates for both macro- and micronutrients.

What’s in a Bag of Fertilizer?

The first item which needs to be learned is how to interpret what’s in a bag of fertilizer. As many of you perhaps already know, all fertilizer products follow the same designation system regarding the quantity of key nutrients found inside a bag. This is true for both conventional and organic based fertilizer. To help explain this in a bit more detail, I’ve provided an image of a fertilizer bag containing soluble/available forms of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). Since this formulation was created specifically for tomato plants, it also contains 2% Ca, however, it isn’t listed on the front panel. Without an adequate supply of available calcium, the tomato crop will likely succumb to a physiological disorder called, blossom-end rot.

The 4-3-3 designation tells us that this bag contains 4, 3 and 3% of plant available N, P and K. In this instance, this bag weighs in at 5 lb. of total fertilizer (elements plus inert material). So, in the case of nitrogen, 5 lb. of fertilizer multiplied by .04 (4 %) = .2 lb of nitrogen. If you were required to apply 1.0 lb. of nitrogen to a 20 ft. row of okra, you would need to acquire 5-bags (25 lbs.) of fertilizer and spread the entire contents in said row. However, should your soil test results indicate that your soil already contains healthy levels of available P and K, then you’d be better off to search for fertilizer with a greater portion of N and less P and K (e.g., 20-2-2).

How Do I Apply Fertilizer?

There are three basic ways to apply fertilizer in the home garden; 1. Broadcast granules, 2. Incorporate granules and/or 3. Foliar feed. In most cases, I prefer soil incorporation of all required nutrients with the exception of broadcasting in certain scenarios. I am not fan of foliar feeding.

Broadcasting Granular Fertilizer

There are certain occasions when broadcasting fertilizer is called for. For instance, you may have an area in the garden which will be dedicated to establishing a certain crop that has nutrient requirements unlike the rest of the garden. So, let’s say it’s a potato crop, and the soil test recommends a preplant application of 5 lbs. of 10/10/10 in a 1,000 sq. ft. area. Weigh out 5lbs. of fertilizer and apply a uniform amount over the 1,000 sq ft area. Once completed, I highly recommend a light raking so that the fertilizer is somewhat incorporated in the soil.

Some gardeners may elect to broadcast fertilizer to row crops as well. For instance, in a row of beans, you might apply fertilizer on top of the soil (in the furrow) next to your plant row. However, I can’t say I agree with this method as you are bound to lose valuable nutrients to runoff and evaporation. The other scenario that calls for broadcasting fertilizer, without the opportunity of incorporation, is for beds of strawberries, asparagus, etc. For obvious reasons, you are now forced to broadcast fertilizer over the tops of plants.

Incorporating Granular Fertilizer

This is by far the most accurate means of delivering the intended quantity of fertilizer to your plants. For beans, corn, okra, eggplant, beets, etc., this is the preferred method (IMHO). Prior to applying fertilizer, I use my hoe to make a small trench in the soil approximately 1 to 2 inches deep and about 2 to 3 inches away from the base of all plants. Your digging should not disrupt the roots! Evenly apply the fertilizer in the trench and cover the fertilizer with soil immediately thereafter.

Foliar Feeding with Fertilizer

Although I am not a huge advocate of foliar feeding, it does have a few redemptive qualities. In some instances, a foliar feed for the specific use of delivering micronutrients (Boron, Manganese, etc.) to a plant can prove beneficial. This would certainly be the case if your soil test had called for the application of these elements, yet you didn’t apply them preplant. Additionally, some gardeners use foliar solutions of Calcium to spray on tomatoes to prevent the incidence of blossom end rot.

Thank you for taking time to look this over and I surely hope that you will share your comments and experiences with us.