Monday, October 3, 2011

Ah ... cool relief

The unending string of 90+ degree weather has finally broken, as well it should given that it is October already! The garden is flourishing in the cooler weather especially since a resident here has risen to task and taken it over. We have gourds, sunflowers, squash, tomatoes (still),  peppers galore, herbs, more herbs, and asparagus.  It's just lovely. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I've been thinking a lot lately about how people connect and how that connectedness is both sweet and painful. My daughter visited for the first time in about a year and despite the time, I was struck by how connected she and my other daughter still are, how connected my five-year-old granddaughter feels to her, how we always become a family. A couple of weeks later my oldest brother visited.  I have three brothers but one is dead and the other removed himself from the family years ago.  The oldest one is the only one with whom I feel connected. And he is ill, very ill. 

Connections.  They mean so much.  So it is with gardening.  In the fall through spring we do a knitting group with the women here.  In it I get to know the residents - all of whom are suffering from some disability or mental health disorder.  Once I know them and they know me I can identify which ones might like the garden.  We have some turnover here, so getting someone to help in the garden can be iffy.  Two who had virtually taken over from me are now much less help: one is gone and one is working full-time. So I need to find someone else but I'm no longer connected to these newer residents.

The garden needs weeding and I have three beds I need to replant.  The corn is looking good and we've had bunches of cukes but despite my best efforts, the zucchini succumbed to the vine borer yet again.  I have had more success with the tomatoes, thanks to spraying with neem oil and peppermint soap.  But the garden needs more tending than I alone have time for.  I need to cultivate some gardeners.  I need to connect.   

Friday, June 17, 2011

What's bugging me

I was on vacation last week and it's been over 90 degrees every day this month - and it shows in the organic garden.  Despite the irrigation system, the plants are all stressed.  We've gotten a big bowl of tomatoes but one of the residents who didn't know any better refrigerated all of them! Argh!  The flowers all look dead or weedy, the oregano is dead and the kiwis don't look very happy, either.  All this amounts to another weekend work day for me.

This has also made me grateful for the simple fact that I know stuff. I'm no master gardener by any means but I do know some stuff and I guess I've just taken it for granted that everyone knows this stuff. Maybe it's because I'm so old, or because I grew up around gardens, I don't know, but somewhere along the line I learned to never refrigerate a fresh tomato.  I also learned how to stake plants and trim them.  And I know that in this kind of heat you gotta watch plants carefully and maybe water them more. 

Anyway, I think it's time for some classes.  The residents here keep very busy schedules and one of my main ladies is gone now and the other one is working so I need to cultivate some new gardeners.  I also need to buy more tomato plants, more herbs, and more flowers.  And I need to spray with neem oil.

Yes!  I'm happy to report the neem oil works like a charm.  No stink bugs!  Fewer grasshoppers. And it doesn't hurt or repel the bees. I love that it's safe for my new little dog.  It smells pretty bad, though.  For Sweetie, I put a few drops in her shampoo when I bathe her.  If she picks anything up between baths I add a few drops to some vitamin E oil and rub her down with it.  It's helpful to her coat, too.   I did find something that just wipes out the grasshoppers but it's not organic - Demon WP.  I use it at home in my yard.  I hate the big black and red grasshoppers that come in droves every single year.  I can't walk without a wave of them jumping in front of me. They strip what few plants I have of every bit of green.  But this stuff works.  Plus, it's murder on fleas!  And I swear since I've been using it I have fewer mosquitoes, too. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bugger off!

Last year at this time I wrote an entry about my beloved dog, Black Jack, who died at age 16.  He was a chow. Three years before that I lost my little Lhasa Apso, Honey, to Cushings disease.  I thought I would never get another dog but a few weeks ago I met Sweetie, a young healthy Lhasa Apso who was without a home.  So, now I have Sweetie - and fleas!  In spite of putting her on very effective flea treatment from the vet's she is a tender little thing and all we have to do is visit the dog park once and she comes back with a few hitch-hikers.  So I wanted something that would be safe to put on her that would repel fleas, not just kill them once they bite her.

Why am I writing about this here in my garden blog?  I'll tell you why: stink bugs, grasshoppers, beetles, moth borers and a host of other bugs that want to eat my garden.  So I need something that is organic for my garden and safe for my Sweetie.  Neem oil promises that and more.

Neem oil is well known in India, where it is made from the neem tree, and other parts of the world know it, too. Here in the U.S. it is sold mostly in health food stores.  There is no FDA approved uses for this but that only means they have never looked at it.  So I purchased some yesterday and am declaring war on the little suckers.

As neem is an oil, it is not water soluble without adding a little detergent.  I find that Dr. Bonner's Peppermint Soap works well and is milder.  The way to apply it to plants is by adding a squirt of soap or dish detergent to a little water then adding the neem, about 3-4 teaspoons per gallon. Add water to make one gallon and spray directly on plants and soak the soil around them. Reapply after a rain.  According to everything I've read, this is not an instant kill; it works over time.  So we'll see.

Back at home I added a few drops of the neem to some vitamin E oil and rubbed Sweetie down with it. She's still pretty itchy but that might be from previous bites.  I couldn't find any fleas on her but they are easy to miss.  Tonight I'll bathe her with it in her doggie shampoo.  I'm thinking that should do it!

I will report back here on any results both on Sweetie and in the garden.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Just a note

Everyone who sees the Hope House garden wants to know where I got my raised beds.  I've mentioned it before but for those who are interested I'll mention it again here: Earth Easy These are the "Farmstead" beds. Also, I created the tents with the Super Hoops from Gardeners Supply and Lil curtains from IKEA.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Tented tomatoes
Last year I was so focused on avoiding the tomato blight I missed the danger posed by stink bugs and I lost most of my crop to them.  This year, I vowed to outwit the little stinkers.  I have two Roma plants, four heirloom (pink, black and purple) one cherry and one Better Boy.  All are thriving.  At the sign of the first stink bug I tented the entire bed. Yes, I know it looks a little like a wagon train, but inside those tomatoes are getting all the sun and water they need and I have some mighty frustrated stink bugs that can't get to them.  I'm hoping they just give up and go away.

I knew about stink bugs as their little shield-like bodies are no stranger around my house.  But they seemed harmless. I didn't know they could inject tomatoes and suck out the juice, leaving them mottled and inedible.

The only problem with this arrangement is, of course, the bees can't get to the plants, either.  So, the flowers and fruit I have now are fine and well pollinated but as new flowers bloom I will have to hand-pollinate if I expect fruit.  Small price to pay for fine tomatoes, I say!

After the last couple of days and much shoveling, I now have 11 beds, all double-high; nine are 4'x8' and two are 4'x4'.  We're going to give pineapple a go this year in one of the small beds.  I've never grown pineapple before so I hardly know what to expect.  I'll be planting zucchini, too, and giving it the tent treatment to stave off the wasps that lay their eggs in the roots, ruining the plants.  The peas and beans are done so I have more room for summer plants.  And the heat is here, full-force, so I will be looking for heat-tolerant varieties in everything.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Safe from vampires!

It's impossible to stay in a funk when you harvest armloads of just about anything!  Today all conditions were right for harvesting the garlic.  It had dried out just enough, the bottom leaves were browning, indicating all energy was going into the bulbs, and the tops of the leaves had died back.  It's supposed to rain tonight so I wanted to get it all out so I wouldn't have to wait for another dry spell.  It's beautiful! See for yourself!  It took two trips just to get it all back to my office which now smells like an Italian deli.  While I was at it, I also harvested the rest of the red potatoes and the first batch of radishes.  Can you hear my contented sigh from where you are?

The women here were astonished and so excited that the garlic was such a success.  They had never seen garlic grown before.  Or potatoes for that matter.

Now I'm free to move the bed the garlic was in to make room for another large bed.  I got the dirt for it last week, thanks to a co-worker who let me use her truck.

Oh!  Another activity we do here with the ladies is knitting and crocheting. Right now we're working on market bags like the one shown here that I made as an example for them.  If the garden keeps going like this they won't need market bags!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sanity breaks

I've never been a smoker and have often envied smokers' ability to just drop everything and "go out for a break" for ten or 15 minutes.  Since having the garden at work I take what I call "sanity breaks" and putter about in the garden for a few minutes a day. 

The peas are growing but as soon as it gets, and stays, hot, they'll be toast.  The beans were stunted this year.  I don't know what happened.  My herb bed is happy.  I ate a few of the new potatoes last night and they were good, along with some cabbage, which was a little strong but still OK.  The tomatoes look beautiful.  I'm scared to death of the stink bugs, though.  I'm trying to leave them uncovered so they'll get pollinated, but those stink bugs will drain the life right out of them if I'm not careful.  Must be watchful.


Heirloom tomatoes
So I take my sanity breaks in the sunshine, do a little weeding, a bit of watering and I can't help but think it is so much better than lighting up.

Monday, April 11, 2011

New Beans

The beanies: Cecily and Clara
When my granddaughter was learning to talk she had a hard time calling me anything - until she came up with "Granbean."  As here in the South we refer to these little people as our "granbabies" I turned the tables on her and call her the "granbeanie."  She likes it.  When her mom announced she would be a big sister she decided that we couldn't have two granbeanies, so she would have to come up with another name for her little sister.  Well, she did: the jellybeanie!

Cecily Rose was born April 3rd - on my birthday!  Even though she has a proper name we still call her the jellybeanie.  Out in the garden my peas are doing swell, the tomatoes look good and the flower and salad beds are A-OK but my beans look a little peaked.  Too much water in the last month, I think.  No matter, I got the beanies that really matter ;-)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Post work day

We had a good day in the garden on Saturday.  We put out two of the three new large beds and moved two of the smaller beds close to the greenhouse shed and doubled them up.  Now the smaller bed is sporting our herbs and one of the larger ones is ready for planting.  I still have two beds to fill but no dirt to fill them with.  I'm hoping one of our supporters will come through with some good dirt for us.  I figure each bed needs about 64 cubic feet of dirt.  If anyone near Augusta can help, email me.

In this photo you can see the layout of our garden.  In the foreground to the right is our tomato bed.  I'm waiting on the heirloom tomatoes and then I will cover them until they start blooming.  Those huge hoops are available from Gardener's Supply.   The bed just to the left is the last of our collards (under curtains to forestall the cabbage worms we got last year). The part not under curtains is potatoes. Next to it you see the garlic.  It's almost ready.  I'm just waiting for the leaves to die back a bit.  You can tell the two new beds by their bright color.  These are cedar and weather nicely to the gray you see on the other beds.  So many people have asked me where I got these fine beds.  I ordered them from Earth Easy and I love 'em! The remaining covered bed is our cabbage, which, due to our warmer-than-normal-temps is beginning to bolt.  One bed has flower seedlings and the bed in the very back will be our salad bed with lettuce, radishes, etc. 

You gotta love spring!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I know snow is still falling in places and sorry as I am for y'all, it is spring here in Georgia! We are so excited to be at the beginning of a new season.  We are planning some changes: we'll double up our four smaller beds and move them so we can add three new large double beds.  That will give us a total of 9 large (4' X 8') beds and two small (4' X 4') beds.  We have one of the large beds already planted this year with flowers.  We're hoping to have cut flowers for when we have visitors here.  I know we planted a little early, but I do believe Mother Nature is going to cooperate with us.  (If she doesn't and we get a frost, I have the means to turn the beds into little hot houses with plastic.)

I'm including some pictures.  This one shows Diane, our garden angel, who has watched over our garden all winter.  She's done a good job if the bountiful harvests of collards are any reflection of her work.  Also, the next photo shows our garlic.  It's a common soft neck variety and is finishing up setting its bulbs.  Here in Georgia we plant anytime after September for a spring or summer harvest.  We'll harvest when the leaves are a little more brown.  I'm thinking that will be right around the time my grandchild is expected: mid-April!

Last spring we planted collards in March and the only one who got to eat them were the cabbage worms!  So this year we planted them in February and I've covered them with my favorite IKEA curtains to mature safely. Truth be told, I'll be glad to see the last of the collards for the summer.  I crave fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and all the rest summer promises.  Among the changes this year is that I'm getting out ahead of the grasshoppers and beetles with diatomaceous earth.  And my squash will go undercover (IKEA curtains) until the flowers set and I need to uncover them for pollination.  Also, I'll plant fewer herbs, just to make room for more veggies.

I am also thinking long-range.  This Saturday we'll have a garden work day and I will plant five kiwi plants.  That's right, kiwis!  The very same ones you buy for a buck apiece!  These have a vining habit and I will train them to grow along our back fence.  In about five years we'll be eating our own kiwis.

There is so much desire - dare I say lust - for sweet corn that I am going to devote a whole bed to it and hope for the best.  A local earth mother is providing us with some heirloom tomato plants, which thrills me. We'll go for the gusto with the squash again and all the usual suspects will put an an appearance.  Our asparagus from last year has thrived and so I am inspired to fill out half a bed with more.  Time passes so quickly, we'll be enjoying fresh, beautiful stalks before we turn around.

To the right is the first bloom of spring! Look carefully.  In the center of the photo is a single chamomile flower.  I have five volunteer chamomiles this spring.  (All in pots as they happened to volunteer in the children's strawberry garden.) This one is where the original plant was last year and I am so happy to have it back again.  What a delightful aroma the leaves have and the flowers are so pretty and make such great tea.

We'll also be eating blueberries this year.  We planted the bushes last year and we lost one but the two that are left are covered in baby berries.  We also have two blackberry bushes that offer promise.

And one last time I'd like to thank everyone at Women in Philanthropy in Augusta for giving us the grant that started all this madness!  What a great group they are and their faith in our dream made all this possible.  We're on our own now with the garden and any expense it incurs, but we are confident that it is as self-sustaining as possible. 

Stay tuned.  Much more to come!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Things are heating up!

It's February in the South - eat your heart out, all you Yankees!  This weekend we had sunny weather and temps in the 60s and it promises to continue all week.  So, the ladies and I put in a good day Saturday in the garden.  We harvested a wheelbarrow load of mustard greens and half a large basket of Brussels sprouts.  We cleaned all the beds, chopped the stalks and roots and put 'em in the composter for our spring compost.  We planted one more bed each of collards and cabbage.  Maybe we can squeeze out one more harvest before the summer plants go in.  And I worked on the shed.  I put up a shelf to hold part of the generous donation of soil additives given to us last month.  I set two of the children to work filling little pots with dirt so another woman here, with an injured foot, could plant seeds so we can produce our own seedlings.  Also I made the kids pull weeds out of the children's garden and plant some little flowers along our fence line.  All in all we had a great day.

Great things are ahead for the garden of 2011! Pictures with my next post.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The quiet season

So, it's January and we've harvested and eaten all the collards.  I still have two active beds, one with mustard greens, hardly little leaves that they are, and a bed of garlic, which supposedly should be fairly dormant by now but are still sporting some mighty green tops. Yesterday I checked the weather for the weekend, hoping for some 60-degree temps but alas, our cold winter is hanging on with the thermometer promising only the 40s.  Now I know a lot of people would love to see a snowless day in the 40s but I'm looking for a warm day to lay out some irrigation lines, manage my compost, turn the beds over and plan out some seedling plants for next month. 

Recapping what we've learned from this year, these items are among the top lessons:
  • Grow more of everything we plant
  • Grow sensitive plants - or the ones bugs are sure to get - under IKEA curtains
  • Till in more compost
  • Give some plants more horizontal room
  • Give others more and sturdier vertical room
  • Give a single woman charge of a single bed
  • Really enjoy the fall garden
  • Mulch more
 I've filled good-sized pots with soil for doing seedlings and I have many smaller pots as well for this.  It's a little early to start, though the catalogs are coming nearly every day with great ideas, stoking my imagination! I'm looking forward to getting an early start with the sugar peas and other beans and can't wait to plant more lettuce and radishes for early salads.  The zucchini will definitely go undercover as we always get the wasps that bore into the stem and lay eggs, ruining the plants, sometimes before they produce even one crop.  Carrots are so inexpensive and difficult to get right we'll be skipping them this year.  And the tomatoes will have more room, more water and I'm not above giving them a little shade since last year the heat wilted them so badly. 

Today Kate, from Garden City Organics, is stopping by with a donation for our garden.  She's moving to D.C. to do an internship and we'll miss her though we wish her well.

Gardens offer such hope, such promise.  It hooks me every year, no matter the struggles of the previous year. Stay tuned.  I promise pictures as soon as I have something new to photograph.