Archive for the ‘Garden Tips’ Category

End of Season Composting Tips

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when trying to decide what to put on the compost piles:

  • Avoid adding any plants that seem diseased.  Bring a trash bag and bag those plants, take the bag home and dispose in your own trash.
  • Try not to add plants or vegetables with seeds that will sprout next spring.  These can be thrown into the fields.  For example, all my tomato plants and damaged tomatoes went into the field, as did my marigold plants.  I know that some of you have already put tomato plants and tomatoes into the compost but it’s a good idea not to continue to do that.  Squash are also notorious for sprouting “volunteers”.  I find I am always sympathetic to these volunteers in the spring time (after all they have weathered the hard winter along with me) but generally regret letting them grow later in the season.
  • Chop up vines, stems, large leaves, in order to speed up decomposition.  A sharp shovel blade or edger works well for this.

Here are a couple of examples of how the raised beds should be “finished” off for the season:


  • Cold weather crops can be left in the beds until November, but the rest of the bed should be cleaned out.
  •  People who have in ground plots should also cover the soil with mulch to protect it.
  •  This is a good time to top off your beds and add manure since it will have time to “mellow” by spring.  I bring the bedding from my chicken coop and add it at this time.  Also you will want to cover your beds with leaves and/or straw.(Straw is available for your use at the garden).  Some gardeners have found it helpful to lay stakes or tack string across their beds to keep the straw from blowing off.
Thank you gardeners for another wonderful season at Wagon Hill Community Garden.  Because of you our garden is one of the most beautiful, productive and well maintained gardens in the region.

2015: International Year of Soil

We are focusing on soil health this year at Wagon Hill Community Garden. Soil and it’s role as a solution to climate problems is big news everywhere. Check out this link for more information about the International Year of Soil:

Flower Density Improves Tomato Yield

Dear Gardeners,  Last season we encouraged gardeners to plant flowers, for pollination and beauty’s sake.  Now, a study done in San Francisco’s community gardens and urban setting has shown that flower density has a significant impact on tomato yield.  I’m sure we can extrapolate to other vegetables.

Even more surprising, neither the size of the garden nor the amount of green space in the surrounding area impacted the amount of pollinator service a plant received. Instead, the key factor was the “floral resource density,” or the abundance of flowers present within the garden in which the tomato plant was located. The more densely flowers were grown within each garden, the higher the yield of tomatoes.

Here is the link to the entire article.

Let’s continue to include flowers in our garden plans!  See you tomorrow afternoon.  EllenIMG_0961


Vegetable Lasagna

Growing vegetables is the first accomplishment but then comes eating them.  I start to get nervous when food builds up in my refrigerator and I am not finding a way to use it.

This weekend I was able to use 4 summer squash,(2 zucchini and 2 yellow squash) and a bunch of chard to make this vegetable lasagna.  I was so happy to be able to use that much squash at one time so I thought I’d pass it on.  The trick with using squash and chard is to manage the water content.  To make the squash filling, I cut the squash into rounds and spread it on a paper towel lined cookie sheet and lightly salted it.  The salt drew out a portion of the water.  When the squash began to “sweat” I wiped it and added it to a skillet in which I had sautéed lots of onion, garlic, and mushrooms.  While the squash was cooking, I cut the stems off the chard , cut them into 1″ pieces and put them into a pan of boiling salted water.  When the stems were softened, I removed them and added the chopped up chard leaves and cooked until they were limp but still bright green.  I removed the leaves to a colander and pressed the water out of them before adding them to the skillet with the chard stems. Once the vegetables were softened.  I dumped the contents of the skillet into a colander to drain the liquid off.  Then I proceeded to assemble the lasagna as usual:  a layer of noodles, the vegetables, cheeses. and tomato sauce.  When assembled, I baked it for about 45 minutes on 350.  This lasagna was dense, not runny, and the chard was a great addition, adding a lot of flavor to the squash.  I served this right away at a family gathering where,even my son, who NEVER eats cheese and isn’t particularly fond of squash, ate it and liked it. He said it smelled so good he couldn’t resist trying it.   The next time I have squash and chard lurking, I will make this again and freeze it so I can enjoy the taste of my garden even when the season is over.

Vegetable Lasagna 
Vegetable Lasagna

Tomato News

Well here I am again with more challenging news about the gardens.  Tomato season is almost upon us.  Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in our garden and very much anticipated.  That’s why it’s disappointing to see some tomato problems starting.  Just this week, my tomatoes began to exhibit Tomato Leaf Septoria.  This disease is caused by a fungus that thrives in humid, moist conditions.  The bottom leaves of the plant develop small black spots , turn yellow, and then brown.  The fungus doesn’t get on the tomatoes themselves but does weaken the plant and shorten it’s production period.  Removing the yellow, diseased leaves and branches is the first thing to do.  These should not be put into the compost pile but should removed from the garden area.   When watering, try to avoid watering the leaves of the plant and focus the water around the base of the tomato plant.  The idea is to improve air circulation and discourage the moist conditions that promote the fungus.  A copper spray can be used on the healthy foliage to help protect it from the fungus.

And, while I was cleaning the diseased leaves from my tomatoes, I was lucky enough to find the first tomato hornworm on my tomato plants .  The one I found was still on the small side and I couldn’t find others but I am sure they are there.  They are like mice, if you see one, that means you probably have dozens.  I will remind gardeners of my quick and easy way to deal with them:  a pair of scissors cuts them in half .  It’s  faster than trying to pull them off since they have strong grasping feet and pulling on them usually means they end up exploding in your hand –not pleasant.  However, if you see one carting around a bunch of grains of rice, leave it alone.  Those are the eggs of a parasitic wasp whose larvae feed on  the hornworm and kill it.  We want to encourage  those wasps.

By the way, I did harvest my first yellow Garden Peach tomato and a handful of Sungold cherry tomatoes.  Happy Gardening, Ellen

septoria leaf spot

septoria leaf spot

Septoria leaf spot

Septoria leaf spot

tomato hornworm with parasitic wasp eggs

tomato hornworm with parasitic wasp eggs

Tomato hornworm larvae and adult moth

Tomato hornworm larvae and adult moth

Salsa? Yes! Mexican Bean Beetles ? No!

I’m a fan of multiculturalism, diversity, ethnic cuisine, but my enthusiasm pales when it comes to Mexican Bean Beetles.  This morning I was reveling in picking my first crop of green beans when I came face to face with a Mexican Bean Beetle.  Darn!  Here is a great picture of their life cycle and, yes,as adults,  they do look a lot like ladybugs which is probably how they escape our wrath.  I’m providing some information about organic controls.

Consider these natural controls for Mexican bean beetles, listed in seasonal order:

Handpick adults and larvae whenever you see them. Squash egg clusters with your fingers. Once you see a few larvae, handpick daily to achieve good early season control.
Interplant petunias with beans. Another popular companion planting approach involves growing rows of beans between rows of potatoes.
Install floating row covers over bush beans in early summer, after the young seedlings have been weeded. Open the covers weekly to check for the presence of any adults or larvae, and remove them. Row covers work beautifully to prevent this bean pest, but lucky individuals occasionally emerge and prosper beneath them.

If you have a home chicken flock, have the birds work over pulled bean plants before they are composted.
In large plantings of more than a quarter acre, these organic interventions may be worth their substantial cost:

Spray with a product based on the fungus Beauvaria bassiana (such as Mycotrol) as soon as Mexican bean beetle larvae are seen. When the first generation of larvae becomes infected with this fungus, sufficient spores are usually present to infect later generations.
Release an imported, commercially-reared parasitic wasp called Pediobus foveolatus after Mexican bean beetle larvae have appeared. State support may be available to growers in New Jersey and Maryland.

More Advice on Organic Mexican Bean Beetle Control

Keep a close watch on your growing beans in spring, and do not allow the first generation of Mexican bean beetles to triple itself by the time your beans grow into big, robust plants. Do all you can to provide food and habitat for beneficial wasps, flies, ladybeetles, and predatory stink bugs. Scout for eggs if adults are seen, using a small hand-held mirror to get a good look at leaf undersides.

Planting plenty of flowers that attract beneficial insects is a sound strategy, along with maintaining seldom-disturbed islands that provide habitat for ground beetles and other beneficials.

More information on organic Mexican bean beetle control is available from the University of Massachusetts, Cornell University and Florida State University.

Read more:

life_cycle : Mexican Bean Beetle

Organic Pest Spray

This recipe for an organic pest spray comes from Strawbery Banke.  We are suggesting it for use in the Community Garden and will welcome feedback on it’s effectiveness.  Note that this spray will only work if it is applied frequently and reapplied after rain or heavy morning dew.

Cornell Mix
This is the organic pesticide mix that we use on our plants at Strawbery Banke. The ingredients are inexpensive and the uses are versatile. Works great for a wide range of insect pests and mildews.

You will need:
Spray bottle
1 gallon jug
1 TBS Dr. Bronner’s liquid concentrate soap (or other all-natural liquid soap without phosphates)
1 TBS olive oil
1 TBS baking soda
Warm water

Put small amount of warm water in the bottom of the jug. Add soap, olive oil and baking soda. Swirl ingredients to blend them. Fill the rest of the jug with warm water and then put the cap on. Shake thoroughly. Dispense into spray bottle.

When applying to plants, make sure to get the undersides of leaves, tight crevices and tender new growth. Keep shaking mixture to keep ingredients well incorporated (oil will try to separate). Apply once a week for prevention and more often for an active problem.