preparing the garden for fall


This summer has flown by so fast my head is spinning!  Melissa from Corbin in the Dell and I are both posting about Fall Gardens today so be sure to follow the link to see her garden.  While the garden has been productive this summer, it is still late in terms of harvesting produce.  We are just now seeing the tomatoes ripen and squashes are slowly beginning to form on the vines.  Even the peppers and eggplants are just now beginning to ripen while the few stalks of corn that survived are nearly ready to pick.  Frost is still two months away and if we are lucky, we will see a real bounty during the month of October but overall, the whole straw bale gardening has been less successful than I had hoped.

One other factor we did not expect in our garden this year was deer.  When we moved in, neighbors told us that deer would be visiting the garden but we never saw them.  For months, nothing, not a nibble and then, they began visiting and of course, eating.  Fencing in the garden has always been part of the plan, I have always wanted a true cottage style garden out front complete with a fence, gates and an arbor but it just isn’t in the budget this year-at least not one that is professionally installed.  While I plan for something permanent, I had to take action in the short term to prevent more damage and I settled on a method I saw on an organic farm in Nashville several years ago.

Deer have poor depth perception, at least that is what I was told by the man who managed the farm and he said when you present them with obstacles, if they cannot judge the distances between them, they are not likely to move through them or jump over them.  My solution is a series of boundaries made with twine and wooden stakes and so far, it is working.


These stakes are 60″ tall, the two layers of twine are approximately 4.5′ and 2′ off the ground and they completely surround the garden.  We will be adding another layer behind this one with 8′ stakes and twine at the 7′ and 3.5′ levels, if all goes well, these layers of twine will cause enough confusion that the deer will stay out completely.  Stay tuned for future posts with more on the fencing as well as the bales.

IMG_4362The deer came into the garden to feed but oddly enough, they only ate leaves off of plants-not a single fruit!  The damage to the sweet potatoes was pretty extensive but the vines are recovering.  While the sweet potatoes were obviously the favorite choice, squash, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, okra and beans also saw damage but oddly enough, the corn was avoided altogether.

IMG_4130Fall gardening means removing plants that are spent and replacing them with new starts.  The potatoes vines were drying up and many had withered away so i broke down the bales and harvested the potatoes.  What a disappointment!  We had these plants in bales for a full 6 months and this was the size of the potatoes.  We may just keep them for seed potatoes and try planting them in the beds again-they aren’t worth the trouble of cooking.


We planted Yukon golds and Red Norland potatoes into 5 bales.  Most of them rotted and never produced a thing but the few that did, mostly looked like that.


The entire harvest of oddly shaped and really small potatoes.


When you plant a garden to produce your own food, you quickly learn that in order to grow a large variety of vegetables and fruits, you must plant crops in every season if possible.  Here in Virginia, we have a long growing season and I am planning to take advantage of the somewhat mild winters. My seeds are germinating quickly and should be in the beds soon and if all goes well, we should be picking greens in a month.


Because we will not see frost until the second week of November, I have started another crop of beans.  These are some Asian long beans and I hope these do better than all of the other beans I tried to grow this summer because I did not get anything from those plants!

IMG_4371By planting heirloom varieties, you can let some go to seed and have seeds for next year.  This lettuce plant is flowering and I will collect the seeds when they are mature.

IMG_4364Not only is it important to keep the garden clean and free of debris that bad bugs can hide in, it is best to attract beneficial insects to help keep the bad ones in check.  This preying mantis has been living in our cucumber vines and she has been snacking on stink bugs.  She recently mated, and yes he was her dinner that night and soon, we hope to find an egg case in the garden.  If we do, we will keep it in a bee cage in the garden over the winter so that we can have them in the garden next year.

IMG_4399Our hens have reached the 20 week mark and should be laying soon.  To keep them healthy, they need to forage and get some exercise and Darry built them a series of tunnels.  It was simple to do and it is not a permanent structure so we can rearrange them as needed.

To build them, he cut 6′ lengths of livestock fencing and formed hoops.  He lined the hoops up and ziptied them together then used landscape pins to hold them in place.

IMG_4382A close up shot of the tunnels.  The chickens really do forage a lot in the tunnels.  They have also dug up an area for dust baths.

IMG_4376We only let them out during the day and they will spend the majority of the time out there looking for bugs and eating grass.


Three of the hens at work.


Because the fencing has large openings, they will stick their heads out to reach for grass and insects near the tunnels.


And as it seems to be a tradition, it looks like the best tomatoes of the season will be picked in the compost pile.  This happens every year because the compost is not getting hot enough to kill the seeds from the tomatoes we toss in there.

IMG_4409These look like jelly bean cherries and most likely are sweet.  Trader Joe’s sells packages of mixed heirloom tomatoes and small sweet cherries and when we are not picking our own, I buy those.  Until they ripen, I will not know for sure but it really does not matter; ripe tomatoes picked from the vine are always better than anything from the store!

Keep gardening friends and don’t forget to visit the Corbin in the Dell blog to see what Melissa is up to!

keeping up with the joneses; maintaining the garden in summer

It’s summer, finally.  The spring that wouldn’t come has finally gone and we are now enduring 100 degree days.  For the gardener, summer weather presents many challenges.  Whether it is the high heat and humidity, long, dry spells or of the many insects and blights of all kinds, there is always something that needs doing.  This week, Melissa of Corbin in the Dell and I are exploring the many needs of a garden in summer.

Each winter, as seed catalogs arrive, I patiently await the warmer weather to plant my vegetables.  When the dreary weather passes, garden centers begin selling starter plants and gardeners snatch them up quickly, myself included.  The funny thing is that not all of these plants are best suited for spring weather here in the south but it never stops me from trying and this year was no exception.  Brassicas, commonly referred to as cole crops, which include broccoli, brussels sprouts,  cauliflower, cabbage and the like do not do well in warm weather.  By the time the garden centers set them out in March and April, it is almost too late to grow them here and honestly, they are better suited to the fall season.   While listening to a Q & A with organic farmer Jeff Poppen, he declared to all that brassicas need to come out of the ground by May or they will attract all sorts of undesirable insects to the garden and he is right-some day I need to listen to this advice!  Our spring weather was a few weeks behind and I just pulled out the last of our broccoli and kohlrabi.

Remember, gardening is a continuous cycle and the seasons flow somewhat seamlessly.  As temperatures creep up then down, plants thrive, mature and ultimately begin the process of dying.  For many vegetables, succession planting will keep you harvesting produce for longer periods and I try to use that method in my garden.  Thankfully, Virginia has a long growing season and since our first frost date isn’t until November, I am still starting seeds and planting summer crops and dreaming of fresh picked corn and tomatoes.


Pulling out last seasons plants to make way for the next wave is just one task on the gardening “to do” list.  Keeping the bad bugs at bay will also keep you busy.  Even if you just garden with flowers, there will be battles with bugs!  In my new shade beds, I discovered some wooly aphids in one of my hanging planters.  The fluffy white stuff on the stem in the photo above is actually a few wooly aphids.  As you walk through your garden looking for signs of pests, be sure to lift the leaves and look carefully at the whole plant including the undersides of the leaves.


One of the worst offenders in a summer vegetable garden is a flea beetle.  They can quickly devour leaves and the damage can kill a plant.


This is a leaf on one of my eggplants that flea beetles damaged.  The damage reduces the plant’s ability to produce chlorophyl and it can die as a result.  While I do practice organic gardening, I will occasionally use pesticides but only those considered acceptable for organic gardening.  To combat these horrible creatures, I sprayed the plants with pyrethrin and the plant is now recovering from the damage.


And just as insects can damage a plant, so can sunshine; this celery plant shows signs of sun scald on the leaves.  Over the winter, I grew a celery plant from the bottom part that was cut off the bunch.  By slicing off a thin piece of the root end and placing it in a dish of water, and in time, some roots appeared.  Eventually, I planted it in a pot of soil and then put it out in the garden still in the pot.  As it grew and grew, I decided to take it out of the pot and plant it in one of the bales.  Unfortunately, I put it in a bale that gets a little too much sun and I will most likely move it to a bale that offers more shade.  

Basil is one of my favorite plants in summer for so many reasons.  It tastes good, smells wonderful and is actually a pretty plant but if you let the flowers grow, it will stop producing leaves so be sure to snip them off as they appear.  Since I am also a beekeeper, I tend to let a few of the flowers remain on the plants because honeybees love basil too and they will visit the blooms to gather nectar.

IMG_3859 While I have not seen honeybees visit a dill plant, I have seen many caterpillars on them.  But just like basil, if you leave the flowers in place, the plant will switch over to reproduction mode and it will concentrate on producing seeds so be sure to snip these off too!  Then be sure to harvest the leaves and mix up a batch of homemade buttermilk ranch dressing!


Potatoes are such an easy vegetable to grow and if you plan your beds, you can grow a companion plant above the soil while the potatoes grow below, a great way to maximize limited space.  In late spring, flowers will appear and soon after, the vines will begin to die.  Once the vines die, it is time to harvest the potatoes.  Our Yukon gold potatoes are coming along nicely and as these vines die off, I will pull apart the bales to find them.

As the season progresses, a gardener must pay close attention to details.  Weeds can be a problem at any time so it is important that you remove them quickly.  To keep the soil from drying out, use mulch in the beds.  Another plus to using mulch is that it can also help keep the weeds at bay.  Applying fertilizers or compost tea as well as treating for pests is an ongoing process so be sure to use these products properly for the best results.  Some pests are best treated by hand picking.  When asparagus beetles, harlequin bug and stink bugs descend on my garden, I fill a 1-2 gallon bucket with water and mix in a few tablespoons of dish soap.  After stirring it to mix, I simply drop the offending critters in and watch them drown.  This works for caterpillars too so if you see one munching on plants, give it the same watery grave.


Not all insects in the garden are a problem.  Dragonflies feed on mosquitoes and judging by the number of them flying around here, I must have a lot of mosquitoes in the garden!  At any given time, half a dozen or more dragonflies are hunting in my garden and when they are as colorful as this one, it is hard not to take a minute or two to chase after one with a camera…


This one is not as colorful but it sat still and watched me as I took several photos.


This planter box was the first one I added to the front of the house and the plants here are much more established than the others.  As a matter of fact, I have had to trim some of the plants just to keep them in check.  Recently, my mother noticed a house wren going in and out of the planter.  He would return each time with grass or small twigs, and yes, he not she because male wrens are the nest builders.  The whole wren courtship ritual is interesting to watch.  The males build a nest or two and then sing out in the hope of attracting a female.  Whether or not our little guy was successful remains to be seen, in the mean time, we have a spare nest available if anybody needs one…


At first glance, the nest is not noticeable and that is good for the wrens but in truth, it makes watering the box a little bit of a challenge.

IMG_3876Look at the work that went into this little nest.  Strand by strand, that lady wren is one lucky bird!  And much to our surprise, she said yes!  We discovered that the little lady wren laid some eggs in the nest when I approached the planter to water it and she flew out.  A quick peek inside revealed two speckled eggs!

When we moved into our home last fall, we knew that a garden would be part of our new yard.  Slowly, we sculpted the beds and layered them with the falling leaves, coffee grinds and compost which will be turned into the soil with hopes of lightning the dense, compacted clay.  While we waited patiently for spring to arrive, we added 45 straw bales to the beds and now that summer is here, the first of the bales are beginning to collapse.  A few are leaning like drunkards, threatening to spill over and dump out the plants in them and I couldn’t be happier!  Having followed the instructions found all over the interwebs for straw bale gardening, I suddenly have a large supply of compost to turn into the soil.  But, do not call this method a success, yet.  And if truth be told, I wouldn’t follow those directions again because the extreme amount of fertilizer called for has the ability to cause just as many problems as the instructions claim they solve.  Look for more on this method later in the year, I will keep updating and I plan on a complete review in the fall.

Be sure to visit Melissa’s blog to see how she takes care of her mid-season garden.

patience is a virtue; words to garden by

tomato seedlings for my garden

Last year, in January, I attended my very first blogging conference.  While this isn’t big news or even an interesting tidbit about my life worth sharing, it is an important event to me personally.  You see, at this very event, I was lucky to forge a friendship with Melissa of Corbin in the Dell.  We already knew of each other since we traveled in the same foodie circle in Nashville and would occasionally run into each other at Nashville Food Bloggers events but it wasn’t until that weekend that we realized just how much we had in common and how much fun we could have together (remind me to tell you about our pranks at the 2015 conference.)

beneficial insects are attracted to the garden by planting flowers and with any luck, these zinnias and marigolds will draw many.


During many conversations, we would discuss gardening, something we have in common and it led to the decision to collaborate on a project.  While we both practice organic methods in the garden, our approaches could not be more different.  Melissa is a true farm raised, country girl, and as you may know, I am your typical city girl who grew up in an apartment with no garden to play in.  Then my husband’s job led us to Williamsburg; this put a serious wrinkle in our plans to work on a book together but luckily, with the use of email and telephones, we came up with a plan; we would attempt to grow the same plants and let our personal gardening styles be the focus as well as our inspiration for the project.

before we left Nashville, I took cuttings from our fig tree and rooted them over the winter.


During a recent phone conversation, we were both speaking of the unseasonably cool weather and how it was hindering our ability to get growing.  Temperatures fluctuating wildly, rain that hasn’t fallen and plants that failed to thrive are just a few things we discussed.  Gardeners play a waiting game, always.  We wait for the weather to be right.  We wait for seeds to germinate.  We wait, and hope for rain.  And even when things go perfectly as planned, we still wait for fruit to ripen, vegetables to mature and so on.

not all of the plants in my straw bale garden are from seeds, these are chard transplants and I can actually harvest some leaves now.


We won’t even talk about compost because if you think waiting on vegetables is tough, properly cured compost can take as long as a year.  In the world of gardening, one must be patient, very, very, patient.  Since Melissa and I are collaborating on this, we will post updates on our blogs simultaneously, please be sure to check back and see our progress.  To read Melissa’s post, follow this link

when Melissa and I saw each other in February, she gave me seeds that her husband saved from their garden and here is an okra plant that just sprouted.


how does my garden grow?


The big news in our garden this week is our new rain barrel.  Months ago, I purchased a used barrel from the Habitat store.  It was bright blue and made of food grade plastic which made it safe for use in the garden.  We just needed to install the spigot and an overflow valve then attach it to the gutter pipe.  Having a bright blue barrel in the garden isn’t so bad if the garden is in the back yard but our garden is in the front yard and bright blue was not an option for me.  It was just a little too blue for my liking and without shrubs to hide it, I painted it white.  It now blends in pretty well.  The best part about this barrel was the screw on top.  We wouldn’t need to make a screen cover to keep mosquitoes out.  The hose is attached to the lid and the gutter so that the mosquitoes shouldn’t be able to get in and breed.


Darry sealed the hose in place with outdoor grade silicon caulk and it held up during the 1 1/2 inches of rain we had last week.


Here is the barrel up on blocks in the corner of our front yard.  It is so exciting to have water available; water that is not only chlorine free but free of charge!


When I ordered 24 straw bales, I thought it would fill most of the beds.  How wrong I was!  Until I can get another load of bales, I am hoping to get some of the leaf filled beds moving along and on this one, I added a bunch of coffee grinds to give it a boost.

IMG_3194The process of straw bale gardening starts off with curing the bales by fertilizing them with a nitrogen supplement.  The feeding is alternated with watering for 10 days.  Once this part of the process is completed, a rest period of a week is given to the bales before they are planted with seedlings or a shallow soil mixture can be spread over the bales to plant seeds.  These bales hold a lot of water which means the plants will have a better chance of surviving dry spells.

IMG_3197Bales actually have a top and a bottom in the world of straw bale gardening.  The cut side is considered the top while the folded side is placed on the bottom.  The cut straw stalks are hollow and when placed right side up, they can fill with water.  The other advantage of placing them with the cut side up, it is easier to insert the plants into the bale on this side.  For more information on this method of gardening, visit the website.

In the meantime, visit here to see the progress of the bales in our garden as well as the arrival of our bees and hens.