Archive for May, 2010

High Quality H2O!

Now that monsoon season has passed us by (hopefully!), it’s time to think about irrigating your garden.  Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up over the years that help my plants thrive.

  • Water the roots. No matter what method you are using, avoid spraying down your plants with a sprinkler.  Wet leaves are havens for fungal diseases and slugs.  I use drip irrigation to accomplish this, but you can use soaker hoses or a simple watering can…just keep the water on the ground…not on the leaves.
  • Water deeply. It’s much better to deeply water once or twice a week during hot and dry weather than it is to water them a little each day.  Let your plants dry out thoroughly between waterings.  Poke your finger into the soil and if it feels damp or moist…don’t water.
  • Water evenly. Try to maintain a level of soil moisture that doesn’t fluctuate greatly.  Using mulch of any kind is a great way to maintain moisture stability.  Plants that dry out too much and then get water logged tend to get Blossom End Rot…a condition caused by lack of calcium.  Stressing the plant by uneven watering keeps it from absorbing calcium and you could lose fruit to BER.
  • Water in the morning. If your schedule allows it, water your plants in the morning…this gives plants and the surface of the soil time to dry out during the day and will discourage slugs and pill bugs that like to come out at night and hang out around wet soil.  If you have to water in the evening, it’s ok, but make sure you don’t get those leaves wet!
  • Use good water. If  possible, avoid watering plants with cold water from the hose.  The temperature change isn’t good for the plants and city water tends to have chlorine and other chemicals in it that aren’t that great for your soil.  Rain barrels are the best option, but putting city water in a watering can or empty milk jugs and letting it sit for 12 hours or so brings it up to temperature and allows some of the chemicals to evaporate.
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Rain! Rain! Go away…so in our gardens we can play!

I know most of you must be going as crazy as I am with this dreary, soggy weather.  I’m also sure that most of you are worried about your plants drowning in all of this water.  I hate to say “I told you so!”, but if you aren’t growing in raised beds, I’ll bet your plants are waterlogged!  If your garden has looked like a swimming pool in the past week, I’d strongly consider making some raised beds for next year’s garden.  You can put a raised bed over a moderately soggy area and have much more success than in the same area without the raised bed.

With that being said, there’s not much you can do to change things this year but you can do some things to make sure your plants pull through this.

Rule #1:  Stay out of your garden when it’s muddy! If you try to plant in soggy soil, you’ll do more harm than good.  The soil should have the consistency of chocolate cake…it should crumble nicely when you dig it with just enough moisture to hold it together.  If you walk on muddy soil, dig in muddy soil, or (heaven forbid) till muddy soil, you will turn it into concrete clods once it dries out.  Wait until it dries out a day or two before working in the soil.

If you can’t plant when the soil is dry, cover the soil with plastic of some sort (I use the SRM film).   The pepper bed I planted last week was planted the day of a heavy rain.  I tilled it a week or so before, then covered it with the SRM film.  When I pulled the film off to plant, the soil was wonderfully dry fluffy which made planting very easy. If you aren’t using the SRM film, you can use any other plastic such as a tarp or Visqueen.

Rule #2:  Keep the foliage off the ground! If you have leaves touching the ground, snip them off with some scissors.  Foliage that touches the ground can transmit fungal and other diseases to the entire plant.

Rule #3:  Use a fungicide! I know, I know, I know…we all want to be “organic”, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  Straying from being totally “organic” could mean the difference between you having a table full of tomatoes this year, or a bunch of dead plants in June.

I use a product that’s highly recommended by tomato growers across the country called “Ortho® Garden Disease Control”. This was formerly known as Daconil.  This is a preventative fungicide which means you have to treat your plants BEFORE they get fungal diseases. It won’t kill fungus that’s already on your plants.  The only way to get rid of diseased leaves is to remove them.

You need to have a regimen of using this product.  With the wet, cool conditions we’ve had and the inevitable warm and humid days to come, I recommend spraying this every 7-10 days until we get to a long dry spell this summer.  You dilute it in water in a pump sprayer and spray the leaves and the surrounding area…it’s not too expensive and is really about as safe as any chemical gets.  If you stop applying it and fungus takes over, all of your hard work and money can be wasted.

Ok…three rules is enough for now.  I hope this helps some of you sleep better at night knowing that this weather isn’t the end of the world.  If you aren’t in raised beds this year…start saving your pennies now and build one or tow beds next year…once they are built, you’ll never want to grow on flat ground again.

One last note…I’ll be sending out the E-vite for the Tomato Tasting by the end of the month.  It’s August 7th at Roe Park.  This year’s event is looking to be WAY bigger than last year so I’ll need some help getting it set up.  We’ll need some folding tables to put tomatoes on and everyone will need to bring lawn chairs to sit on so we’re not trying to use the benches for seating and serving.  Stay tuned…we will be eating tomatoes soon!

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Drip! Drip! Drip!….Drip! Drip! Drip!…Drip Irrigation! Drip Irrigation!

Sing the title to Shake Your Booty and you’re in the mood to do some Disco Gardening!!   Click the link and play it in the background while you read!

This new Silver Reflective Mulch is about as Disco as a garden can get.  The aphids will be shaking their booty in someone else’s garden this year.  I was so glad that so many of you came out and got the SRM yesterday…it’s a bit of work to install, but you’ll reap the benefits of it all summer long.

You don’t have to use drip irrigation with the SRM, you can run soaker hoses under it or you can hand water your plants if you don’t have too many.  One thing’s for sure…you won’t have to water nearly as much when you use SRM…moisture retention is phenomenal. Just make sure you don’t over water.  Once a week is plenty once your plants are established.  You might have to water twice a week if we get a REALLY hot spell this summer…let your plants tell you when they need water.

Drip irrigation is the most effective way to water plants, but the initial cost and difficulty of installation keeps a lot of people from trying it.  I used soaker hoses for several years before taking the plunge and buying a drip irrigation kit from DripWorks.  I bought the Heart of the Garden kit and the Individual Plants add on and the Sampler Kit.  The Sampler Kit was fun to use and introduced me to the different possibilities of DI, but it’s not really necessary to buy.

The kit comes with everything you need to irrigate about 50 plants.  It comes with a filter, a pressure regulator, mainline tubing, a hole punch, 1 gallon per hour emitters, goof plugs, and a bunch of other stuff you’ll use.  You can buy all this stuff individually at Lowes or Ace, but it’s so much easier to get the kit.

To start, you connect the filter and pressure regulator to your garden hose.  My hose comes out of the bottom of the valve at the bottom of the picture.  I put a shut off valve there for convenience.  You can connect the hose to your house spigot or to your rain barrels if t you have them.

Attach your hose or splitter valve to the filter.  A filter is necessary to avoid mineral deposits from clogging your emitters.  At the end of the filter, connect a pressure regulator to keep from blowing out your emitters with too much water pressure.

You then connect your mainline tubing to the end of the pressure regulator.  There is a special fitting for this that’s included in the kit. The connectors are really easy to use.  You just slide the tubing over the barb in the fitting, then tighten the knurled nut to secure it.  The tubing is easy to cut with a knife or box cutter or heavy scissors.  There are “T” connectors and inline connectors so you can configure the tubing for your garden.

From this point on, you just run your mainline tubing through your beds wherever you need it.  You can stake it down with special brackets or use garden staples to hold it in place.  I like to zip tie it to my tomato cages when I can.

Once the mainline tubing is installed, you have several emitter options.  The most common is the 1 gph take apart emitter.  You punch a hole in the tubing with the punch tool in the kit and then snap in the emitter.  If you put your mainline in next to your plants, you can just let it drip right down to the plant like in this picture:

If your mainline is too far from your plant, you can attach a section of 1/4 inch tubing to the emitter and run this to the base of your plant.  Put a “bug plug” in the end of the 1/4 inch tubing to prevent it from clogging.

Another option besides individual emitters is inline drip tubing with built in emitters or T-Tape.  This stuff works really well for smaller plants such as peppers and cucumbers.  It’s tubing that has inline emitters every 5, 9 or 12 inches.   You just run this tubing along your rows, plug one end with a goof plug, then attach it to an emitter…I use 2 gph emitter for these applications.  Here you can see my peppers spaced 1 foot apart in staggered rows.  I have three lengths of emitter tubing running down this bed.

One last thing you have to do is put a figure 8 end connector on the mainline tubing and turn on the water!  Make sure you go through your finished system and make sure each emitter is dripping where it is supposed to.  Use garden staples and zip ties to keep the tubing and emitters in place.

Below are some shots of my finished pepper garden I planted this morning.  Notice the 1 foot staggered spacing.  I planted the peppers first, installed the drip line, then laid the SRM film over the whole bed.  I use a box cutter or scissors to cut an “X” over each plant, then gently pull the plant through the “X”.  I place a stake next to each plant to tie it to as it grows.  It’s a lot of work now, but there is virtually nothing to do with this bed the rest of the year except pick peppers!

As always…if you have any questions about your garden, feel free to send me an e-mail or post a comment.  I’ll be sending out the E-vite for the Tomato Tasting in the next few weeks.  Mark those calendars for August 7th!

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