Gardening in the Summer Heat

How can your garden stand the heat?Here in Texas we have two main growing seasons.  Spring and Fall.  We plant things as soon as the fear of frost is past (and sometimes before, if we’re feeling lucky).  Then we hit a dry spell during the dog days of summer when it is too hot for many plants to produce.  Take tomatoes, for instance.  Once the nighttime low temps are above 70 degrees, tomatoes can’t set fruit.  Once the hottest part of the summer is past, we have another growing season before there is any threat of frost.

The plants aren’t the only ones who suffer in the heat.  Hard work in the garden in the heat of summer can be dangerous for the gardener too.

So, what is a gardener to do?

As far as your own safety is concerned, early morning is your friend.  Thankfully the sun rises earlier in the summer so you can get up very early and do all of your garden work before the rest of your family is up (and before the mercury goes up too).  Drink lots of water, wear a hat and loose clothing.  Be careful.  Leave really heavy tasks for the fall when the weather cools down.

Your plants are going to need vigilant watering while it is so hot outside.  The water evaporates quickly so it’s important that you don’t miss a day of watering.  Pots and other containers especially need regular watering.

Mulching helps keep the soil cooler and slows down the evaporation of moisture from the soil.   Dried yard clippings and ground leaves make a great mulch abundantly available free of charge.  (If you use herbicides of any type in your yard, don’t the clippings as mulch in the garden.)

While you do need to be vigilant about watering, you should avoid watering your plants with hot water.  You know how the water standing in the garden hose gets so hot during the day?  Don’t water your plants with that water.  Let it run into the yard or into the pool.  Also, try not to let water stand on the leaves.  Do you remember as a kid using a handheld magnifying glass to concentrate the heat of the sun to burn something like a bug or a piece of paper?  Well, a drop of water on the leaf of your plant can act just like that magnifying glass and burn those leaves.

On top of all that, know that there are crops that do better than others in extreme heat.  Here’s a list:

Basil

Peppers

Summer squash

Okra

Purple hull peas

Black eyed peas

Water melon

Cantaloupe

So, be careful with your health.  Be choosy with your plants, and keep the water flowing.  Happy summer!

Keeping Your Worm Bin Cool

How will I keep my worms cool this summer?

How will I keep my worms cool this summer?

It’s about to get really hot here in Texas for a few months.  This means it’s time for me to consider how I’ll keep my worms happy and eating and pooping.  Worms like temps between 40 and 90 degrees.  My worm bin in the garage is already right at 80 and we’re not even in the dog days of summer yet.

The school worm bins are going to be even tougher because they’re outside.  So, what will I do? I’ve done some research and this is what I’ve found.

For one thing, you could move your worm bin inside when it gets really hot.  Mine is right inside the garage.  It’s a matter of moving it maybe 5 feet to right inside the house when it gets really hot.  I’m sure I’ll do that when we start having 100 plus degree days.

Over at the school, I moved the worm bins to where they are in the shade.  This isn’t quite as optimal as moving them inside, but it’s the best I can do over there.  Maybe it’s the best you can do at your house too.  Having direct sunlight on your worm bin is a sure route to crispy worms.  Move your bin at least into the shade.

Moisture is also helpful.  Have you ever sat outside at a restaurant that had a misting system?  The evaporation of the moisture from your skin felt cool?  The evaporation of moisture from your worm bin will help keep it cool too.

Something else I’m going to try is that, before the school year ended, I got buckets of scraps from the school cafeteria and ground them up in my food processor, put them in ziploc bags and froze them.  I’m planning to feed these chunks of frozen food to the worms.  I believe the coolness of the frozen food, not to mention the moisture of it, will help alot.  I’ve read of people putting frozen water bottles in their worm bins and I’m sure I’ll do that too.

Do you have any other suggestions for keeping a worm bin cool in the summer?

Overwaterers Anonymous

Be careful of overwatering.

Beware overwatering.

My name is Cathi, and I’m an overwaterer.

I’m in recovery though.

Yes, it’s true.  Last year, in my first summer of gardening (which was, in my defense, was also the hottest summer on record) I was so eager to love on my garden each and every day that I never missed a day of watering.  Starting early in the Spring and lasting well into the Fall I watered every day unless it rained.

So of course, not surprisingly, my town community garden bed is suffering with fungus.

See the fungus-y fungus all through my wonderful tomato plants?

Therefore, based on the research I have done on the subject, I have reformed my ways.

How can you avoid overwatering your vegetable garden?

If your plant is wilting and brown, that means underwatering.  If your plant is wilted and yellow, that means you are an overwaterer.

Most vegetable gardens need one inch of water per week.  Stick a rain gauge in your garden so you can tell how much rain you’ve had.  I recently bought one for $2.99.

Stick your finger in the dirt.  Does it feel cold?  Then it’s wet.  Feel the soil 3 or 4 inches deep to see if you need to water.

There are many other ways to love on your garden that don’t involve overwatering.  You can pull weeds. make free organic fertilizer, make a worm box, browse through seed catalogs, thin your plants, or just sit and enjoy your garden.

Worms on the Plane

Transporting Composting Worms on a Plane

Worms on the Plane!

This weekend I flew to Oregon to see my niece and her family, including her new one month old son.  Trying to be a good great-aunt, I knew I needed to bring older sister a gift.

What better gift than composting worms?  Isn’t that what every little girl wants?

So, I went to home depot and bought a small white bucket.  I came home and set up a small worm bin in the little bucket.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get it on the airplane or not, what with security being what it is, but I knew I had to give it a try.

I arrived at the ticket counter with my suitcase, my laptop case and my worm bucket.  (What? Doesn’t everyone carry around a worm bucket?).  The agent that checked me in asked what was in the bucket.  I told him, “Composting worms.”

“You’re not going to be able to fly with those.” He said.

“Well, I’m prepared for that, but can you tell me why?”

“Health concerns.” He said.

Of course, you and I know that that is ridiculous.  There are no health concerns surrounding composting worms.  They don’t even smell bad!

I didn’t argue with him.  He didn’t take my worms, so I just took them and kept going. I went through security with no problem or comment from anyone.  The worms seemed none the worse for wear from the x-ray.  I tried to stay away from the area directly surrounding my gate just in case the ticket agent had sent some kind of message to the gate warning them of my clandestine worms.

I was the first one to board.  I slipped my worm bucket into the overhead bin and sat down, looking innocent.  No one said anything to me at all.  My worms safely made it to Salem, where they are composting today.

Del City Church of Christ Community Garden

img_2402 My nephew, Joshua, recently earned the designation of Eagle Scout.  I went up to Oklahoma City for the Court of Honor.  It was held at Josh’s dad’s church.  While I was there, I learned that there was an amazing Community Garden hiding around back.  Of course, I couldn’t resist going back and snapping a few shots.

The church uses what comes out of the garden for two primary purposes.  The first is Meals on Wheels.  They feed many elderly and shut ins every week, and many of the meals have amazing homegrown produce.  Second, they use it as an outreach effort.  They grow all of this amazing food, then they tell the surrounding neighborhood “come and get it”.

A few notes about the operation of the garden that I noticed:

1) It was set up well.  The surface between beds was scraped down and filled with gravel.  This keeps the weeds down and makes gardening easier and more of a pleasure.  It’s also attractive.

2) The garden had great leadership.  A recently retired gentleman spends much of his time overseeing the garden and making sure it stays looking great and producing.  The more community gardens I see, the more I am convinced that leadership is vital for a well functioning operation.

Here are the photos:

Farmers Branch Community Garden

Today I had an opportunity to visit the Farmers Branch (Texas) Community Garden.

I’m always eager to see other community gardens, how they work and how they’re set up.  Today when I visited the Farmers Branch garden they were having a work day.  People were working on their plots and there was a crew of gardeners working on their elaborate compost operation.

Here are some pictures I took:

School Community Garden Bed Update

You might remember a few weeks ago when I was battling the relentless bermuda grass that continually encroached on this bed.   The school paid to have a raised bed built around it.  Immediately after the construction was complete I filled a third of the bed with compost / soil and planted bush beans.  The remaining two thirds of the bed still had onions that were not yet ready to be harvested.

Last week I harvested the onions.

Onion Harvest

Homegrown Onions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, based on the fact that filling the original third of the bed made me quite sore for days and was hard and dirty work, I paid my yard man an extra $40.00 and he and his helper came and whipped it out in less than 30 minutes.

Juan helping me fill my raised bed.

Thank goodness for help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So then I planted 4 watermelons, 4 pumpkins and 2 bell pepper plants.  I eagerly the sprouts.

Waiting for pumpkins to sprout

Waiting for pumpkins to sprout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doesn’t this look so much better and easier to garden?  Try not to pay too much attention to the area between beds.  I’m applying for grants and just trying in general to get the school to have that all redone.  When the garden was originally done, the paths between beds should have been scraped down and gravel or something put down over landscape cloth.  That wasn’t done, so we’re constantly battling grass.

School Community Garden Bed

Here is the current status of the school community garden bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My New Herb Garden

I was recently inspired by a post on a blog near and dear to my heart, “Addicted 2 Decorating”.  In the post, Kristi gathered some really good looking ideas for herb gardens.  Also, I was prompted by the changing of the seasons and the need for me to refresh the flowers in the clay pots I have in various places.  Add that to the fact that 4′ pots of herbs were on sale at Northaven Gardens, and I knew I had a plan.

I decided to replace the flowers with herbs.

With herbs, I hopefully won’t have to replace them so often.  Plus, I love the way they look AND they are useful to have around.

So, here are pictures of what I did.

My Herb Garden

I love the way these look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Front Door Herbs

Even by the front door!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rosemary, Mint, Chives, Sage

Rosemary, Mint, Chives, Sage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mint, Stevia, Basil, Oregano

Garden Gadgets I’d Get if I Won the Lottery Today

 

 

Oh man is it possible to spend money on your garden.  There are so many cool doodads and gadgets with which to drain your bank account.  If I came into a windfall, I would hit the gardening catalogs and here is what I’d get.

 
Nitrile Gardening Gloves:

The catalog says that these gloves feel like a second skin, and wear like leather.  The pair of garden gloves I’m using right now have a hole in one of the fingers.  These aren’t very expensive.  I may go ahead and order them.

 

 

Tomato Halo:

I think there are more gadgets that have to do with growing tomatoes than any other single crop.  This thing holds deeper soil around the base of the tomato plant.  It also holds water so that the roots can be watered while not getting the foliage wet.  The outer wall repels cutworms and suppresses weeds.  I wonder if it works?

 

 

 

Cucumber Trellis:

When I grew cucumbers for the first time last summer I used one of my big tomato cages to keep the vines headed upward rather than taking over the world.  I think it’s better for the cucumbers rather than them laying on the ground.  Also, cucumber plants take up so much space, it’s helpful to give them something on which to grow.

This particular one grows the cucumbers at such an angle that allows a shaded area underneath where you can grow lettuce.  Brilliant!

 

 

Rain Barrel:

So many cities have watering restrictions now.  Besides that, rain water is so much healthier for your plants than tap water. I would love to have a rain barrel or two.  (I would also love to have someone else come install them.)

 

 

Potato Grow Bag (or actually any of the grow bags):

It seems like I’m always wanting to fit more crops into my gardens.  I planted potatoes for the first time this year and they seem to be taking forever to give up the space they’re taking up in the garden.  Next year I’ll be planting in these grow bags.

 

 

 

So there you go!  If I won the lottery (of course, I guess I’d have to buy a ticket for that to happen) I would put an order in for these items immediately.  Of course I may order a few of these items before then…

 

 

It’s a Wormtastrophe! How I overheated my worm bin and killed my worms

How I cut my worm population in half in just two days.

It's a wormtastrophe!

I have a fungus problem.  My town community garden plot apparently has fungus.  Sadly, that is exactly where I planted all of the tomato plants this spring.  (I didn’t realize the fungus issue before I planted, now it’s too late.)  I was researching how to try to eliminate the fungus and I came across the fact that worm tea is anti fungal.

Great!  I have my little worm army always working to make me worm castings!

I figured that it is going to take a ton of worm tea to eliminate this fungus problem, so I decided to be more aggressive with feeding so that my worms would be more aggressive about making baby worms, so that I would end up with more worm castings.

At the same time, last weekend I made a couple of Starbucks runs since I was trying to build up the compost pile over at the school community garden.  I had a wealth of coffee grounds.  Worms love coffee grounds. Match made in heaven, right?

As it turns out, the phrase “All things in moderation” applies here as well.

I filled two trays of my worm bin with a rather large quantity of coffee grounds.  I knew the coffee grounds really heat up a compost pile, but I didn’t stop to consider that it would do the same thing to my worm box.  When I checked on my little worm friends last night, it felt like my bin was on fire.  I immediately started scooping out as much of the coffee as I could get my hands on.  The worms in the trays with the coffee had fled to the sides of the trays.  They were crawling up the side to escape the intense heat.  When I picked up the bottom tray to look at the catch tray underneath, it looked like the lifeboat departing the Titanic (if that lifeboat were filled with worms).

I removed as many of the coffee grounds as I could, I added shredded newspaper to the top bin and I placed a few ice cubes around the hot trays so as to attempt to bring down the temperature.  I can’t believe I did that!  No telling how many worms I lost.  Just when I need to ramp up production of worm castings, I’ve killed who knows how much of my stock.

I feel horrible!

I went out again this morning and the top bin is still warmer than I would like.  There are still worms up around the edge so they don’t feel it’s cool enough to re-enter the bin.

I’ll keep you updated.