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Creative Companions: How Companion Planting Increases Harvests through Natural Pest Control

February 20th, 2017

companion planting

We all know that certain foods taste delicious together, like basil and tomatoes. But did you know that basil and tomatoes grow well together, too?

Companion planting—combining different species of plants to benefit one another in the garden—is a long-practiced organic gardening technique. Remember U.S. history class? Native Americans grew food for a balanced diet in a single plot of land. By planting corn, beans, and squash together on a hill, they maximized their harvest in minimal space. The practice became known as a “Three Sisters Garden.” The plants proved mutually beneficial: the tall corn supported the climbing beans; the beans added nitrogen to the soil, providing nutrients for the corn; and the low-growing squash vines served as a living mulch, preventing weeds while retaining moisture.

Companion planting is a great way to pack lots of veggies into a small space, but it also serves many other purposes in an organic garden.

Companion Planting Deters Pests

beneficial insects, useful insects

Scent attracts many pests to their host plants. Insects lay eggs on the host plant, knowing that the plant will provide food for the newly hatched larvae. By interplanting strongly scented herbs and flowers among crops in the vegetable garden, pests become confused, leaving your future dinner in peace.

If you want to protect your harvest, try these companion plantings that repel pests:

However, French marigolds win the prize as companion-planting champs. They deter Mexican bean beetles, aphids, potato bugs, squash bugs, and nematodes (microscopic roundworms in the soil that damage many plants). Plus, they add a beautiful burst of color to the garden. After all, an organic edible garden should be lovely to look at, too.

Companion Planting Attracts Beneficial Insects

bee, pollinator, pollination

Not all insects are bad. Along with repelling pests in the garden, it’s also important to attract beneficial insects. Beneficial insects serve many purposes. Bees, butterflies, and some beetles provide pollination, which increases harvests.

Besides pollination, many beneficial insects feast on pests, making your work easier. For instance, when you find a tomato hornworm happily snacking on your beautiful heirloom tomatoes, have you noticed small white spikes on its back? Those small spikes are actually killing the hornworm—organically. Parasitic wasps lay eggs on the hornworm, and as the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the hornworm, eliminating your garden nemesis without an ounce of pesticide.

Nature is amazing, isn’t it?

As gardeners, we can minimize pests and eliminate pesticides by encouraging beneficial insects to visit. The trick is to know which insects are the good guys, and what plants to include in the garden to attract garden helpers.

Some beneficial insects include:

  • Ladybugs: both the larvae and adults eat aphids, small caterpillars, and pest eggs.
  • Braconid wasps: a parasitic beneficial insect, it lays its eggs on host insects. When the larvae hatch, they consume the host insect, killing it.
  • Hover fly: larvae eat mealybugs, small caterpillars, and aphids.
  • Lacewings: larvae eat aphids, small caterpillars and caterpillar eggs, small beetles, and insect eggs.
  • Ground beetles: consume many pests, from asparagus beetles to squash vine borers.

How can you recruit an army of organic helpers to keep your garden pest-free? Adding flowering plants to your food crops attracts beneficial insects that will keep the pest population low, while also encouraging pollinators to boost your harvest. Plus, some of the recommended plants serve a dual purpose: attracting beneficial insects and providing flowers and food for you, too. A few recommended plants include:

  • Dill
  • Yarrow
  • Queen Anne’s Lace
  • Asters
  • Fennel
  • Feverfew
  • Angelica
  • Cosmos
  • Sunflowers
  • Golden Marguerite
  • Butterfly weed
  • Tansy
  • Lemon Balm*
  • Mint*
  • Also, allowing parsley, carrots, and celery to overwinter in the garden produces blooms the following year, which are attractive to many beneficial insects.

(*Plant mints and lemon balm (also a member of the mint family), in containers, as the plants can overtake a garden with their vigorous growth.)

Remember to include a succession of blooms so that beneficial insects visit your garden spring, summer, and fall—and winter in mild climates. Feed your flowers and crops with Espoma Flower-tone 3-4-5 to keep plants healthy and productive.

Companion Planting Increases Harvests and Improves Flavors

companion planting, marigold

While we often think of companion planting primarily as a method of pest control, companion planting also improves harvest flavors—and even yields. For instance, in a limited-space garden, combining tall, sun-loving crops, like tomatoes, with shorter plants that enjoy a bit of shade in the heat, like lettuce, allows maximum use of space in a 4′ x 4′ raised bed. Add nasturtiums to your bed, and now you have beautiful, edible flowers to brighten your meals. Place a trellis for cucumbers along the back edge of the raised bed, and you’ve added another treat for your organic salad. The nasturtiums entice pollinators to visit, increasing the yield of your tomatoes and cucumbers, plus they serve as a trap crop for aphids, protecting your harvest.

Add a few radish seeds near the lettuce. Not only do radishes and lettuce grow quickly, but the lettuce protects the flavor of radishes in summer when they can turn bitter. Add a dill plant or two in the corner, and encourage braconid wasps to hunt tomato hornworms for their nursery. You’re protecting the tomatoes while growing an ingredient to add to a homemade salad dressing.

Perhaps you want to create a pretty, edible container garden. For a cool season combination, plant kale as a “thriller”—the central, taller plant in the combination. Add aromatic herbs, like sage, to protect the kale from cabbage moths as your “filler.” Finally, plant pollinator-friendly violas along the edge of the container as the “spiller.” The violas will tumble over the edge of the container as they grow, attracting pollinators and adding aesthetic appeal—and the flowers add a lovely, edible ingredient to meals.

companion planting, marigold

Companion planting packs many benefits into a small space. It does require a bit of thought about your garden. What crops will you grow? What pests also enjoy the same food you do?  Which plants can help you fight off the bad guys while attracting the good insects? The time spent planning your companion plantings is worth it. Adding beautiful, beneficial flowering plants into your garden plan is much tastier than eating a toxic dressing of pesticide on your produce, don’t you agree?

Besides, creating an organic garden filled with blooms is a beautiful way to eat healthfully while saving money, too. Enjoy!

A Streamlined and More Generous Garden Harvest Supply

October 20th, 2016

butterfly-on-echinacea-plantsFor many years we have not only been selling you plants, but everything that has to do with plants—from fertilizer to tools to fencing, right down to birdbaths and books.

Recently we did some thinking about our mission and vision, and reflected on what we like to do the most (and what we are best at.)

We came to the conclusion that the thing we like to do the most is grow and sell plants. Not surprisingly, that is also what we are best at. We have therefore decided to zero-in on both our strength and our passion, and focus our business on the growing and selling of plants.

We also realized that simply turning a profit is not enough for us: we want Garden Harvest Supply to make a difference in the world.

Although growing and selling plants is certainly a positive livelihood, we decided to take it a step further and form ties with organizations that are teaching people in need how to grow their own food. We will soon be revealing the details of this community service component of the newly streamlined and restructured GHS.

We’ve been featuring a lot of 50% off sales in order to clear out our non-plant inventory. These will continue until we are left with just plants. If you need organic seeds, growing supplies, high quality tools, books, or any other items in our inventory, stay tuned…because we will continue to offer exceptional discounts while supplies last.

And stay tuned for news about our upcoming charitable program. Not only will we be growing and shipping the very best potted plants, but together with our customers—you!—we will be making a difference in people’s lives through helping the needy to be self-sufficient by growing their own gardens.

We appreciate your business and look forward to continuing to serve you in the future.

Joe Stutzman and Everyone at GHS!

5 Benefits of Planting a Radish Fall Cover Crop

August 27th, 2014

5 Benefits of Planting a Radish Fall Cover Crop

jhn5 Benefits of Planting a Radish Fall Cover CropThe majority of backyard gardeners will not plant a fall cover crop. Though this practice is frequently used with overwhelmingly positive results by farmers producing cash crops, the benefits are yet to be widely recognized by the backyard gardening community.

One of the most beneficial rising stars in the world of cover crops is the radish. We aren't talking about the garden variety, globe-shaped radishes; we're talking about the open-pollinated, large-rooted, daikon-type radishes. You may recognize the formlarge, white, long radishes commonly used in Asian cooking. However, many of these culinary radishes are hybrids and prohibitively expensive, at least when being utilized solely for purposes of soil enhancement. The cover crop radishes we will discuss are not the products of formalized breeding and are relatively inexpensive. Not grown to be harvested, when used as a cover crop, these radishes will be left in the ground to die and decompose over the winter, with the beneficial results extending into the spring planting season:

Biodrilling is the name given to the robust growth, soil aeration and improvement of compacted soils of this root crop. Nature's aerator, the roots of these radish plants can grow to more than three feet deep in as little as 60 days. The largest part of the root, what you may know as the tuber, can be more than one inch in diameter and extend more than 12 inches into the soil. Once the root withers, it leaves holes, often extending into the subsoil, which will improve drainage, and air and water infiltration. The biodrilling effect also improves the root growth of your spring-planted vegetables and even allows the roots better access to subsoil moisture, resulting in less water usage, especially noticeable when drought conditions exist. The naturally perforated soil dries out and warms up more quickly, enabling you to plant both seeds and plants earlier than normal.2jhn5 Benefits of Planting a Radish Fall Cover Crop

Weed suppression is also a natural result of cover cropping with radishes. Studies have found that if you plant radishes early, at least 6 weeks before the first frost, and plant them in high concentrations, with at least five plants per square foot, weed suppression will be almost total into the month of April. This is not the result of bio-chemicals produced by the radishes, but is due, instead, to their rapid and weed-competitive fall growth. What that means for you is less preparation for springtime planting.

Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium (NPK) production. Early springtime nitrogen, the result of radish residues, will give your vegetables an early growth boost. The nitrogen boost attributed to radish cover crops has been compared, by researchers, to that of planting a legume cover crop or of nitrogen fertilizer application. The result was shown to be most effective on sandy soils. Regardless of your soil type, however, planting a radish fall cover crop will save the time and money associated with a more labor-intensive cover crop planting and/or application of nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Radishes have also proven to be exceptional sources of P and K, further reducing your reliance upon commercial applications.

Soil erosion, runoff and organic matter are all improved with radish cover cropping. The leafy canopy, which can be established in as little as three weeks, significantly reduces the effect that rainfall, even if heavy, will have on surface impaction and subsequent runoff. Even after the radishes have been killed by a hard freeze, usually happening when temperatures drop into the mid-twenties, the layer of dead leaves on the surface throughout the winter and early spring serves to control erosion. Researchers also noted the water runoff and the resulting sediments were captured by the holes left by the rotting roots before it was able to leave the field. And though minimal, due to radish's highly decomposable nature, some increase in soil organic matter is inevitable.


GroundHog Radish growing in garden soilRootknot Nematodes
(Meloidogyne incognita), the parasitic culprit responsible for many vegetable deaths, especially the susceptible tomato, have proven to be sensitive to radish residues. Rootknot nematodes' numbers were found to be drastically reduced or completely obliterated. Researchers in eastern Texas planted radishes 58 days prior to planting sweet potatoes, with exceptional results. On the other hand, the beneficial nematodes, those which help to control disease and cycle nutrients to the plants (the ones we hardly hear anything about), were benefitted by the nitrogen-rich radish decomposition.

To learn even more, you can read GroundHog Radish – A Smart Choice Cover Crop. All in all, the combined positive effects should result in a higher crop yield with less work for you. Cash crop farmers have long known the benefits of cover cropping with radish; we think it's time you realize the same benefits.

Photos are compliment of Josh Gruver of Western Illinois University and Ampac Seed Co.

How Much Sunlight Do Growing Vegetables Need?

March 12th, 2014

Gardening_In_Full_SunHow much sunlight do growing vegetables need is one of the most frequently asked questions, since not everyone who wants to grow a vegetable garden is blessed with an area that receives full sunlight all day long, or with an area large enough to allow the adequate separation of taller plants to keep them from shading shorter plants. Such an example would be corn or tomatoes; these taller plants tend to shade anything planted east of them. Large-leaved plants will also provide shade if planted too closely to other crops.

You may also have to take into consideration the existing trees, fences and architecture that can affect the amount of sunlight reaching certain areas of your vegetable garden. For example, some trees have a high, open canopy, allowing dappled sunlight to reach the garden during all times of the day. On the other hand, trees with a lower, denser canopy can mean your garden area is plunged into full shade for more than all but an hour or two a day, a situation impossible to grow almost any vegetables in. Sometimes it is a simple matter of trimming the lowest branches of the tree, in many cases improving the health and overall appearance of the tree, but also enabling more sunlight to reach your garden plot. In extreme cases, gardeners have been known to cut down the offending tree, using the stump to mount a birdbath or birdhouse, instead. It's all a matter of priorities and what matters most to you. When it comes to existing architecture or a fence, the fix can often be as easy as applying a coat of white paint in order to reflect the sunlight and to help dispel some of the shade. You will also want to take your garden site into consideration when planning on planting trees or installing that new garden shed or privacy fence. These projects are often completed in the fall, after the active gardening season is over, but will directly affect your garden come spring.

So, for the purpose of describing shade or sunlightit is not an exact science; it can depend on where you live. For instance, full sun in the northern part of the country can be 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight per day. However, in the desert Southwest, full sunlight can mean at least 6 hours of morning sunlight, but almost full shade in the afternoon hours in the heat of the summer. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the middle, in Zones 4 through 8, with any adjustments being made up or down in he amount of sunlight depending upon the area:

  • Full Sunat least 8 hours of direct sunlight per day
  • Partial Sunat least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day
  • Partial Shadeat least 4 hours of direct sunlight per day
  • Full Shadeless than 2 hours of direct sunlight per day. If your prospective garden area experiences this type of shade, we do not recommend planting vegetables

sunlight calculation meterIt will be necessary to observe your garden area throughout a sunny day as spring approaches, and to take a look every couple of hours or so, to determine the total hours of sunlight different areas of your garden will receive. An easier solution, one that doesn't require your taking that walk out to the garden, and which is definitely more precise, is to use our SunCalc® Sunlight Calculator to accurately determine the amount of sunlight reaching any particular area of your yard.

As an easy-to-remember rule, leafy vegetables are the most adaptable to low light conditions, with root vegetables being the next in line and fruit-bearing vegetables requiring the greatest amount of sunlight. Most vegetables will grow in lower light conditions, except for fully shaded conditions, though their productivity could be adversely affected. When in doubt, err on the side of more sun.

As a solution to a garden site with less than desirable sunlight, consider planting your garden in two separate areas or think about planting your tomatoes and other fruit-bearing crops in containers on your sunny deck or patio. Bear in mind that you can also use shade-cloths to provide shade to overly sunny areas where you want to grow leafy vegetables.

As a guide to the amount of sunlight required for specific vegetable plants, you can use the following recommendations, making adjustments as needed for your particular situation:

Crops requiring at least 8 hours of direct sunlight per day (Full Sun):

  • Asparagus (perennial)Tomato_Plants_Container
  • Beans
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cantaloupe
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Goji Berries (perennial)
  • Honeydew
  • Okra
  • Peppers
  • Pumpkins
  • Rhubarb (perennial)
  • Squash
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips
  • Watermelon

Crops requiring at least 6 hours but can grow with less than 8 hours of sunlight per day (Partial Sun):

  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard Greens
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb (perennial-can also grow in full sun)
  • Swiss Chardyoung rosemary herb plants

Crops requiring at least 4 hours of direct sunlight per day (Partial Shadeideally midday sun):

  • Asian Greens
  • Herbs
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach

 

What Are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

March 10th, 2014

Young Girl Holding Sign Saying She Is Not An Experiment
GMOs: Here to Stay, For Better or Worse

Do you like the idea of a strawberry with a fish gene spliced into it? We don't either. But genetic engineering is here to stay, and we feel it's important that our customers understand a little bit about it so that, as informed citizens, we can try to prevent things from getting out of hand.

Last newsletter we talked about the traditional techniques of crossbreeding to produce better varieties. But as time went by, plant scientists started to do everything on a microscopic level. At first they were doing the same thing they'd done before, such as taking one type of tomato and splicing a gene into it from another type of tomato. But then they started splicing together genes of different plants. Then things went even further, taking a gene from a bacterium and splicing it into a plant, so that every cell of the plant produces an insecticidal toxin. And some went further still.  As The Sierra Club explains.

Genes from an animal, say, a fish, can be put into a plant, a strawberry for instance. An attempt to improve strawberries by inserting a gene from an Arctic fishis supposed to make the strawberries more resistant to frost by causing the strawberry plant to produce a form of antifreeze which the fish normally produce to endure cold ocean conditions.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

This became known as genetic engineering and the seeds and plants that resulted from it were called genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. But if we are going to mix up genes, how do we know what the ultimate effects will be on the people who eat the GMOs and on the environment in general?

Genetic engineers assured the public that they had nothing to worry about. And they managed to convince the USDA that GMO crops were substantially equivalent to those found in nature. When demands were made that testing be done, they assured the public that they themselves had tested the GMOs extensively.

Citizen groups pointed out the obvious: having GMO producers test GMOs for safety is like having Phillip Morris test cigarettes for safety. What's more, GMOs have not been around long enough for any long-term testing to be carried out. Like the splitting of the atom seventy-some years ago, genetic engineering opens up a Pandora's Box and we don't know what will eventually come out of it. What we do know is that whatever comes out will be difficult if not impossible to put back in.

Around the world, concerned citizens asked government agencies to err on the side of caution before allowing GMOs to be grown or sold. In Europe, this approach was adopted and the production and sale of GMO crops there is quite restricted.  In the United States and Canada, that did not happen, in part due to the immense lobbying efforts of Monsanto, the main GMO purveyor.

At this time, GMO corn, soy, and sugar are being grown and eaten extensively, along with a growing list of other crops. Only time will tell if they all prove to be safe. However, reports are already coming in that GMO cultivation is leading to the emergence of herbicide-resistant super weeds, that GMOs are setting off new allergic reactions in people, and that GMOs are changing the environmental balance. For example, milkweed has been dwindling as a result of GMO cultivation, a plant that species such as the Monarch butterfly depend on.

The anti-GMO movement has become popular among young people because they will be inheriting a GMO-laced world. Recently an eloquent 14-year-old named Rachel Parent successfully debated a pro-GMO TV host arguing that GMOs should at least be labeled so that consumers can choose whether to buy them. However, Monsanto has fought even that.

At Garden Harvest Supply we're all for better living through science, but this kind of science takes us into unknown territory. Though genetic engineering holds infinite promise for improvements, it also holds infinite possibilities for unforeseen negative consequences. Until long-term studies have been done, we will stick to selling tried-and-true varieties of seeds and plants. We know that these grow well, make great eating, and pose no risk of any kind. We don't think the same can be said of the strawberry that is part fish.

What's Better: Open-Pollinated or Hybrid Vegetables?

February 13th, 2014

Open_Pollinated_VeggiesWhen buying seeds and plants, gardeners can choose between open-pollinated and hybrid varieties. In this newsletter we'll fill you in on the differences between the two, including heirlooms, a type of open-pollinated plant.

Open-Pollinated: Designed by Nature

Open-pollinated plants and seeds are those that occur naturally. Many gardeners choose open-pollinated varieties because sometimes Mother Nature does a pretty good job all by herself. Over many years, varieties that did not do well dwindled while those that thrived in their particular environment multiplied. But in addition to this process of natural selection, Mother Nature has been helped along by people. That's because gardeners who liked something about a particular variety would save the seeds and replant them the next growing season. Varieties that no one cared about literally fell by the wayside.

When you buy an heirloom plant or seed, you are getting a variety that some particular family or community made a point of preserving over generations. However, all open-pollinated varieties that have been grown by gardeners over the years have been subject to this process of human selection, as well as the process of natural selection that happens automatically.

Advantages of Open-Pollinated Varieties

brandywine_pink_tomato_MBesides the fact that they are 100% natural, one main reason people choose open-pollinated varieties is because they can save the seeds and plant them the following year. This is not true of hybrid seeds, which can only be used for one growing season. People also like open-pollinated varieties because they are sometimes as good as or better than anything plant scientists have been able to come up with through grafting or crossbreeding. The superior taste of Brandywine heirloom tomatoes for example, is something that many people know about from articles, books, and word of mouthor from having had one in their mouth! Though not as disease resistant as most hybrids, people buy them for their flavor.

Finally, open-pollinated varieties are better for the environment because they encourage species diversity. As they continue to pollinate through the open air, new variations spring up, because that is what happens in the natural life cycles of open-pollinated plants. Some of these variations turn out to be improvements. In this way, plant diversity is increased, and Mother Nature gets to give us new gifts of superior varieties.

Hybrids: Better Living Through Science

Bee_Pollinating_CukeAs plant science developed, scientists came up with increasingly sophisticated ways of improving on Mother Nature. The earliest hybrids were done by selective plant breeding that simply involved controlling which varieties pollinated each other. For instance, scientists would take one variety of corn and pollinate it with another. They found that in almost all cases, crossbreeding made the resulting plants hardier. They referred to this as hybrid vigor.

Simple cross-pollination gave way to double crossing, and ever-more sophisticated techniques. Plant characteristics were carefully analyzed and it became possible to tweak a plant in order to increase disease resistance, or the size or amount of its yield. Time to maturity could be shortened, and even its color could be adjusted.

People buy hybrids because of all these advantages. Certain hybrids such as the tomato varieties Big Boy, Early Girl, andBig Beef, have become enormously popular because of how hardy they are, how big they get, and how quickly they mature.

As science has advanced, scientists found they could do everything on a microscopic level by identifying and splicing genes. This was the beginning of bioengineering and led to GMOs (genetically modified organisms), a subject we will discuss in a future article. Suffice it to say that we do not carry any genetically engineered seeds or plants.

Happy Gardening from Garden Harvest Supply!

Organic Lawn Care Part 2

October 15th, 2013

Soil Amendments

Garden_Lime

Now that you've read how to test your soil in part 1, you'll know exactly what your lawn needs to be at its best. Generally people add fertilizer, but before we discuss that, let's take a look at a couple of soil amendments that will help to adjust the pH of your soil if it needs adjusting.

Lime is the supplement of choice for soil that is too acidic. Lawns grow best when the pH is between 6.0 and 7.0. The ideal is between 6.2 and 6.5. If your soil's pH is below 6.0, an application of lime in the late fall or early spring will help to move it into the perfect pH range. To learn more about the use of lime, see our previous newsletter Strengthen Your Soil with Agricultural Limestone.

The most economical method of applying lime is NutriLime Pelletized Lime. It can be applied with any garden spreader, and, unlike pulverized lime, it will not generate any lime dust and is not messy at all. Each bag covers 4,000 square feet.

If you have a small lawn, smaller bags of Hi-Yield Agricultural Limestone or Espoma Organic Traditions Garden Lime, will get the job done. Each of these smaller bags of lime will cover approximately 100 square feet.

If your soil is too alkaline, the treatment of choice is to add sulfur. This has the additional benefit of being a natural insecticide and fungicide. It is also helpful to add acidic organic matter such as pine needles, shredded oak leaves, or our BioMax 3-in-1 Garden Mix, which contains sphagnum peat. Such mulches will help to slowly lower the pH of your soil, but don't expect immediate changes.

Fertilizer: Organic vs. Inorganic

spreading_lawn_fertilizerFall is an excellent time to fertilize, and if you're starting a new lawn, you'll certainly want to add fertilizer before seeding. At Garden Harvest Supply we endorse using organic fertilizers, and we'll take this opportunity to try to explain some of the reasons why.

Chemical fertilizer quickly releases necessary minerals into the soil but some of those minerals inevitably get washed away or leached because chemical fertilizers are concentrated and highly water-soluble. Besides being wasteful, this runoff causes problems wherever it goeseven once it finds its way into the sea.

Did you know that the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is a direct result of chemical fertilizer runoff from the fifty million tons of chemical fertilizer that are applied to lawns each year? The phosphorus in the runoff caused algae to bloom and then it died and decomposed. The resulting blanket does not allow anything else to grow over an area the size of Connecticut.

In contrast, organic fertilizers slowly release their minerals because they contain natural substances that break down into those minerals rather than being a direct concentrate of the minerals themselves. Once in the soil, microbes act on these natural substances and they slowly break down and supply the nutrients that your turf needs.

There are many advantages to this. First of all, your turf continues to receive nutrients over a period of time rather than all at once at high levels. Second, you don't have to worry about burning your turf, which is something that chemical fertilizers will do if not applied exactly according to instructions and in the correct amount. Third, the problem of leaching and runoff is greatly reduced. Considering that more land is devoted to maintaining lawns than to growing corn, if more homeowners went organic, it would greatly benefit the eco-system.

We are excited that one of the most trusted names in organic gardening, Espoma, has launched a line of organic lawn fertilizers. Need another fertilizer for your fall lawn care plan, we also recommend Neptune's Harvest, a marvelous organic fertilizer made from substances from the sea. One gallon will cover 8,000 sq. feet.

Some final advice about fertilizer is to not use too much. Many homeowners think more is better, and it simply isn't true. Besides the ecological consequences, over-fertilization encourages the development of lawn diseases such as leaf spot and brown patch. Also keep in mind that a shady lawn will require less fertilizer than a sunny lawn.

Natural Insecticides

As you can imagine, insecticide runoff also spells trouble, especially for birds, bees, and fish. What's more, it's often over-applied or used where it's not needed.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension gives this wise advice: “Healthy turf may (and should) contain a variety of beneficial or neutral (neither pest nor beneficial) insects.  Some of the beneficial insects include ground beetles, rove beetles, predatory and parasitic wasps, non-pest ants. Some insects may be beneficial and prey upon harmful ones or just be neutral to the turf environment. Predatory beetles and some small flies can be predatory on turf-consuming caterpillars. Unnecessary pesticide use may reduce the insects that are actually suppressing the pest caterpillars”.

Homeowners often fear that the presence of a pest insect requires treatment. However, insect pests are often found in a lawn at population levels below what would produce damage or be worth treating.

If you are having a pest problem with your lawn, take note as to whether it is all over or contained in one spot. To save money and save the environment, you only need to treat the problem area. For advice about choosing a natural insecticide, consult our previous newsletter on Natural Pest Control.

Seeding or Reseeding

Organic_Lawn_FoodYou are now ready to apply the grass seed. Grass seed grows well in fall because the temperatures are perfect for cool-season grass and because it has less competition from annual weeds. Just be sure to give the lawn enough time to establish itself before winter weather hits.

We sell a variety of spreaders. When you're ready to sow your seed, make sure your spreader is adjusted to the right setting. Generally what you want to do to ensure even coverage is to spread the first half of the seed by walking in one direction and then spread the second half crisscross.

After you sow your seeds, it's a good idea to top-dress the seed with a light application of peat moss or BioMax 3-in-1 in order to retain moisture.

After that, it's time to irrigate. The first watering should penetrate at least half a foot, but be careful not to wash away or drown the seed. From there on, irrigate lightly and frequently until you see that the seeds have begun to sprout. These irrigations only need to penetrate an inch or so but they should be done frequently to ensure the soil around the seeds will not dry out. Moisture is essential at the very beginning because seeds will not germinate without it.

As the grass starts to come up, reduce the frequency of watering but be sure to keep people, pets, and other animals from trampling your tender grass shoots. As the grass becomes established, you can cut down to watering twice a week, and later once per week, but be sure that when you water, you water deeply (6-8 inches).

When your grass is 3 to 4 inches high, it's time for the first mowing. Choose a day when your grass needs watering and mow it first, then water it afterwards. Mowing is always better done on grass that is not too moist.

That's all for now.  Happy Gardening from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply!

Organic Fall Lawn Care: Part 1

October 2nd, 2013

lawn grass growing in healthy soilWant a beautiful lawn? We're going to tell you how to do it, and if you use the organic methods we recommend, you'll also end up with healthy soil. Plus you'll help maintain the balance of nature downstream by not contributing to the problem of pesticide and fertilizer runoff.

So, let's take a look at six essential steps to creating a terrific looking lawn the organic way. In this first part, we'll discuss soil testing, grass seed selection, and soil preparation. In the upcoming part two, we will discuss fertilizer selection, fertilizer application, and the seeding process.

Test Your Soil

Fall is one of the best times for soil testing. If you test before doing anything else, you'll know exactly what your soil needs to be at its best. If there is a deficiency, you'll know how severe it is so you can apply just the right amount of fertilizer. It's amazing how many people apply fertilizer when their soil doesn't even need it. Or they overfertilize, thinking more is better, when that excess will cause thatching. By testing you avoid this kind of waste, and you will make up the modest expense of testing many times over.

We offer a variety of testers and testing kits, starting with the Rapitest Soil Tester Kit 1609CS. Or we have the Rapitest Soil Tester Kit Model 1601 which is good for 10 tests, and if you want unlimited testing capability, get one of the electronic soil testers such as the Rapitest Electronic Soil Tester Model 1860.

For more about soil testing, including how to interpret the tests, read the GHS Guide to Soil and Soil Testing.

Choose the Right Grass Seed 

Hand_Reseeding_LawnIf you're planning to seed or reseed your lawn, the next step is to decide what grass variety or mix of varieties would best meet your needs. Fall is not the time to plant or reseed warm season grasses such as Bermuda grass, zoysia grass, or St. Augustine varieties. However, if you're looking at any of the cooler season grassesfescues, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrassyour timing couldn't be better.

We like the Execu-Turf line of grass seed because Cisco uses the best varieties and they have formulated a grass blend for nearly every type of lawn: sunny, shady, sports use, no useyou name it.

To determine which blend is best for your situation, Cisco provides this Execu-Turf Mixes Information Chart.  If you want to know the specific grass varieties contained in each mix, click here.  Once you've chosen the best mix for your needs, go to our turf grass section to order.

We also sell ground cover grass seed including annual ryegrass. Though typically used for field and pasture, annual ryegrass will keep your lawn green all winter if sown now. Some gardeners simply throw it onto their existing grass; it takes hold quickly and will leave your soil enriched when it comes time to reseed in the spring. For more about planting annual ryegrass, check out our GHS Guide to Growing Fall Cover Crops.

Prepare Your Soil 

aerating_yard_with_forkBefore you plant any seeds, you will want to aerate and, if necessary, de-thatch your lawn. The health of your soil is directly related to its beneficial bacteria, because that good bacteria breaks nutrients down into a form that your grass can absorb. If your soil can't breathe or is suffocated by thatch, that bacterial action slows way down and the grass you plant won't do as well. Aeration and de-thatching also improve drainage, leading to healthier root systems.

Many lawn owners consider it worthwhile to de-thatch and/or aerate once a year around this time, either by doing it themselves with rented equipment, or by hiring a lawn service. Hollow core aerators that pull slugs of soil out of the ground are the best kind to use. Don't aerate soil if it is wet, but it is good for it to be slightly moist.

If your lawn is small and you want to do the job manually, aerate with a broadfork. Or, you might want to try out our aerating sandals.

One way to get a double benefit from aeration is to shred the leaves that have fallen on your lawn and then distribute them in a thin layer. If you have no leaves, use compost, manure, pine needles, or any other organic matter. Drop small piles intermittently around your lawn and then rake it out to approximately three-eighths of an inch. When you aerate, the slugs of the aerator will push the highly beneficial organic matter deep into your soil, even as the aerator punches cylindrical holes that will allow oxygen and water to enter.

In the second part of this series, we'll be talking about the different amendments your soil may need. So stay tuned, and Happy Gardening from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply!

Getting the Most from Your Garden Seeder

August 12th, 2013

Earthway_Garden_Seeder

In this newsletter we'll go into depth about the Earthway Precision Garden Seeder.

If you own one, you'll appreciate the valuable and extensive information contained in the Tips and Suggestions section below, which gives you the rundown on this machine that you won't find in the instructions or in any promotional materials.

If you don't own a Precision Garden Seeder, read on to learn how it can save you a great deal of time and effort in your garden, and really put the fun back into planting time.

Earthway Precision Garden Seeder

This highly popular seeder has been around for decades, but this latest model 1001B is the best yet. It allows you to plant your row crops infinitely faster than by hand, and with no bending or stooping. It also allows you to adjust the planting depth, the density of coverage, and the width of the rows. It comes with six interchangeable plates that can handle most seeds. A set of five additional plates can be bought separately that will take care of the rest.

To watch the Precision Seeder in action, check out this video review from Alderman Farms. As you can see, what's so timesaving about this machine is that it digs the trench, plants the seeds, and covers them up, all in one pass. Customers rave about how they were able to sow large swaths of their garden in a fraction of the time it would have normally taken them. Weighing just 10 pounds, it's easy to push and, by the way, easy to assemble. But the heavy-gauge aluminum frame, nylon fittings, steel bushing shafts, and cleated drive wheel are built to last.

Tips and Suggestions

  • Earthway_Garden_Seed_PlatesYou won't want to use the Precision Seeder with hard clay soil or soil that is lumpy, clumpy, or full of clods, rocks, weeds, or debris. The finer the soil, the better it works, so if you have sandy soil or any smooth, level soil that has been freshly tilled, you will get excellent results.
  • It's best to first do a dry run in the place you are planning to sow, but without putting seed in your seeder. Your aim will be to make sure the planting depth is what you want it to be and to confirm that the seeder is able to furrow and then cover the soil effectively.
  • The Precision Seeder works best when it is well stocked with seeds, so don't let the hopper get low. It's best to put in more seeds than you need and then remove what's left after you finish.
  • To determine which plate is best for the seeds you're planning to sow, don't take Earthway's word for it but find out for yourself through some quick experimentation.  Keep the unit stationary, stock it with seed, put a basin beside it to catch the seed when it drops, and then slowly turn the front wheel by hand. You can then observe whether the seeds drop through one at a time at the rate they're supposed to.

Garden_Seeder_In_GardenThe Bayou Gardener has put together a very helpful six-minute video demonstrating this, as well as how to manually adjust seed spacing. As he explains, the circumference of the front wheel is 36 inches and the seed plate makes one revolution for each turn of the wheel. Therefore the number of pockets on each seed plate represents the number of seeds dropped in every 36 inches of travel. If you divide 36 by the number of pockets, you’ll arrive at the seed spacing in inches. To increase the spacing, you just cover some of the pockets with electrical tape. Thus if you cover every other one, you will double the spacing.

  • Be sure you have the plate on correctly, or else some seeds will end up behind it. Even if it is on correctly, some seeds or debris will collect behind it, so use a rag to periodically clean the space between the seed plate and the container to prevent the plate from binding up.
  • Once you begin to sow your seeds, it's a good idea to keep your eye on them to make sure they are coming out one by one at the rate you want them to. If they are not, try tilting the machine slightly in the direction of the plate and see if that helps. Another idea is to mix a little talcum powder in with your seeds. If you still are not getting the results you want, manually adjust the plate by covering some of the holes with electrical tape as discussed earlier. Note that even seed distribution depends on the front wheel being in contact with the ground.
  • To remove seeds from the hopper, you can tip the entire unit or turn it upside down. However, if you simply remove two bolts, the hopper itself can easily be removed as demonstrated in this one-minute video.

Garden_Seeder_SowingWe hope this newsletter has been helpful to you. Leave us a comment to let us know. And if you have any questions, write to Karen, our master gardener, or call us at 1-888-907-4769.

Until next time, enjoy your Precision Garden Seeder, and Happy Gardening from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply!

 

Best Natural Pest Control Methods

July 30th, 2013

garden_pest_controlIn this follow-up to Natural Pest Control we'll tell you some additional methods that will help make your backyard a Garden of Eden, not a garden that's been eaten!

But before we begin, it's important to note that the best defense is a good offense. Just as you're less likely to catch a cold if you've been eating well, sleeping well, and getting regular exercise, plants are less likely to succumb to disease and insect attack if they've been living in nutrient-rich, well-weeded soil, and are receiving ample sun and water. Actually, pest control begins even before that with the choice of which varieties of plants to grow because some are much more pest and disease resistant than others. So pay attention to the hardiness ratings of plants, and choose wisely. Buy pre-grown plants from a company like ours that guarantees your plants will arrive healthy and disease-free. Then make sure your soil is healthy and that your plants are getting all the sun and water they need.

Less is More When Eliminating Pests

When we think of getting rid of pests, we think pesticides, but it wasn't always that way. The Pilgrim Fathers and Native Americans managed their pests without pesticides and were still able to grow all the beautiful produce that went into those legendary Thanksgiving feasts.

The fact is, there are 200 million insects for every human being on the planet. Eighty percent of them are harmless, quite a few are beneficial, and only a small percentage go after our plants and trees. The ideal in organic gardening is to control only those bugs causing problems while not harming beneficial insects such as the ladybug, praying mantis, lacewing, aphid midge, parasitic wasp, rove beetle, and soldier beetle.

First Things First

The first step in dealing with a pest problem is to figure out what the pest is. The National Gardening Association has a Pest Control Library that contains mug shots of all the usual suspects.

The next step is to watch and see what's happening. Where is the bug and what is it doing? In some cases the pest might not be causing damage. For example, it might be eating your broccoli leaves but leaving the head and stalk alone. The idea is to intervene only if there is a problem, and then, only with enough force to solve the problem.

Fingerpicking Basics

Just as we weed our gardens regularly, the simplest, most sustainable way to control pesky insects is to simply pick them off by hand.

Sometimes that's all you need when it comes to controlling larger insects such as Colorado potato beetles, Japanese beetles, earwigs, cucumber beetles, stinkbugs, and weevils. Catch them in the early morning when they are cool and sluggish, or capture night feeders just before sunset as temperatures start to drop.

If you're dealing with significant numbers, shake the plants and catch the insects on a sheet or drop cloth. Then vacuum them up with a car vacuum and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.

Some organic gardeners vacuum the bugs directly off the leaves. This works with larger insects as well as those that tend to be too small to hand pick such as tarnished plant bugs, leafhoppers, whiteflies, and sow bugs. Move the vacuum gently over the tops of your vegetable and ornamental plants, taking care not to damage any leaves.

Hydro Power

A garden hose can be an effective way to knock aphids and other unwelcome guests right off their perches in your garden. With moderate force, direct a stream of water at your plants, bombarding the pests but taking care not to hurt the plants. Keep the spray moving and be sure to get the plants' undersides. Spray daily but not during hot, humid, wet weather, as this will encourage leaf rot, mildew, and other plant diseases.

Floating Row Covers

Floating_Row_CoverAnother great non-chemical pest solution is to use plant covers and row covers. These are made of a Spunbond polyester fabric that allows light, air and water to get throughbut not bugs. By simply covering your rows in this way, you will prevent bugs from getting on the plants. To learn the ins and outs of using row covers, check out this short article at organicgardening.com. We sell row covers in various sizes: 40″ x 50′, 5′ x 25′, 5′ x 50′, 6′ x 20′ and 10′ x 15′.

Neem Oil

Neem oil is a derivative of an Asian evergreen tree. Its natural steroidal properties interfere with the insects' appetite as well as their egg laying cycle. It is most effective on young (immature) insects, especially those that grow rapidly such as squash bugs, Colorado potato beetles and Mexican bean beetles. It also works on aphids and many varieties of small, leaf-eating caterpillars, whiteflies, aphids, thrips, fungus gnats, caterpillars, beetles, mushroom flies, mealy bugs, leaf miners, and gypsy moths. It will not affect ladybugs, butterflies, spiders, bees, or other insects that help pollinate plants, and it will not harm fish if it gets into the ground water.

Insecticidal Soap

Insecticidal soap is highly effective on small, soft-bodied insects (the kind that squish rather than crunch) if sprayed directly on them. (It has no effect if only sprayed on the plant.) It works best on aphids, mealy bugs, thrips, scale crawlers and spider mites, but it can also produce good results with cucumber bugs, earwigs, grasshoppers, harlequin bugs, leafhoppers, mites, psyllids, sawfly larvae, soft scales, squash bugs, stink bugs, and whiteflies.

As far as toxicity, the good news is that it will not hurt bees. The bad news is that it will harm other beneficial insects like lacewings and ladybugs if it is sprayed on their larvae. It also can burn the foliage of sensitive plants.

Diatomaceous Earth

natural_pest_controlFood grade diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring substance consisting of the remains of tiny fossilized water plants. If applied around the perimeter of the plants or rows you want to protect, it will act as a barrier to crawling insects. DE can also be sprinkled on and around the infested plant. It is effective on aphids, whiteflies, beetles, loppers, spider mites, leafhoppers, and many other pests.

We've been selling diatomaceous earth for more than five years, and customers continue to give us great feedback about it. In addition to being a pesticide and insecticide, it also can be used to eliminate parasites and/or worms in humans and animals and is safe enough for use even by children.

The downside of DE is that it can be harmful to bees, butterflies, and other desirable insects. Use only enough to get the job done and apply it late in the evening when bees and other beneficial insects are at a minimum. Avoid using it around any blossoming plants and flowers or anywhere you see bees. To learn more about DE, scroll down our DE product page.

Hot Pepper Spray

A little further up on the toxicity scale is hot pepper spray. The active ingredient is the same one that gives hot peppers their heat. It will get rid of aphids, cabbage loopers, beet armyworms, spider mites, whiteflies, and many other insects, and has the unique characteristic of repelling birds, voles, deer, rabbits, and squirrels.

The concerns with hot pepper spray are the same as with DE, plus it could end up harming fish, so be sure to keep it away from all standing water, and don't apply it before a rain. Also, be careful on windy days; if some gets in your eyes you'll be in for a very unpleasant time.

Learning More

In an earlier newsletter we explored other methods of natural pest control such as planting native plants and companion planting. We also discussed the use of milky spore powder to get rid of grubs. We hope you'll refer back to this newsletter to learn more about controlling pests the organic way. We also have specific newsletters about controlling ants, Japanese beetles, and whiteflies. If you have any questions, please contact our master gardener or call us at 1-888-907-4769.

Until next time, Happy Gardening from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply!

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