Garden Update: Challenges, Solutions, Bounty and Beauty

I haven’t given a garden update in awhile. Today we have our first sunflower of the season, but really the first sunflower in four years!

This little guy comes from an “Elves Mix” that offered seeds from a variety of dwarf sunflowers. I thought these would grow well in the raised beds out front, so I sprinkled them amidst herbs, perennials and annuals. I haven’t tried to grow sunflowers since our first year here. I heard they attract groundhogs, and I also didn’t want to dedicate too much space to them in my Big Bag Bed garden. These little guys seemed like a great compromise, especially since I doubled the size of the front garden last Fall.

I have a bunch of full size sunflowers growing out back, but those haven’t yet bloomed. Meanwhile, the squash and sweet potatoes are going crazy. You can see some of the sunflowers thriving in the Big Bag Beds, even though that area gets only about five or six hours of full sun per day. I’ve got lettuce tucked behind the other growth, and I keep hoping it won’t bolt since it gets less sun. We shall see.

Despite the prolific growth of the butternut squash vines, I ran into an annoying issue with blossom end rot. This was entirely preventable, and I’m kicking myself for not listening to my intuition. A few weeks ago, an obsessive thought kept crossing my mind: “You should really put down some gypsum for those squash plants. Your soil needs calcium.” I found a bag at the local gardening center, but I walked there. It was a 20 pound bag, so I opted not to get it. Instead of asking David to drive me home or ordering some online, I did nothing. I thought, “There’s no overt sign of a calcium deficiency. I’ll just wait, and if I see a sign of it, I’ll correct things then.”

Well, I got my overt sign, alright! I ended up needing to throw out twelve butternut squash with blossom end rot — whose solution is adding more calcium to the soil. Once it starts, you can’t correct it on an individual squash, though. In the past, I’ve added diluted milk to both tomato and squash plants, both of which can suffer from low calcium in the soil. I had used worm castings and an organic fertilizer mix, but — duh! — I should have trusted my intuition. I ended up tossing two tomatoes, a zucchini and those twelve butternut squash. 😦

In order to correct what had become a much larger issue, I needed to add two half gallons of milk on consecutive weeks, plus a bunch of gypsum (which takes longer to incorporate into the soil). So far the new growth looks fine, but I learned my lesson. When my intuition starts nagging me to add a certain nutrient to the soil, just do it!!! A wise lesson for broader life, as well. I’m happy to report delicious harvests of other zucchini, peppers and tomato. Hopefully I’ve resolved the issue.

Some clients asked me how I handle various pest pressures in the garden, so I’ll share a few tips here. Long time readers of this blog know that grrrrrrrrrroundhogs(!) are my biggest concern. I’ve inured myself to the cuteness factor …

… because these whistle pigs will decimate a garden, given half a chance. Here’s the most recent one alerting friends and family that “Mr. McGregor lives here! Mr. McGregor! Stay away! Crazy gardener alert. Oh, no, this yard is NOT worth a visit!” He turned to face me just as I snapped the photo. Indeed, with groundhogs, I’ve learned to give them no quarter. When they first appear, I run outside like a wild banshee and scare the dickens outta them. I hate doing it, but I’ve learned that once they feel comfortable in my yard, nothing gets rid of them except my old neighbor Randy trapping and relocating them.

Randy died on the Full Moon Lunar Eclipse of May 2021, so I’m on my own unless Randy’s ghost makes an appearance. I do feel like he haunted the yard last year, because I only saw one groundhog, once, last year. Randy had watchdog energy while he lived, and he continued watching over our place last Summer. It feels like he’s moved on now, so “Shock and Awe” is in effect. I put on a Faery Glamour to appear much larger and scarier than I am, and so far, I’ve not had the same groundhog repeat an adventure in our yard. Just in case, I sprinkle organic hot pepper flakes on all my front yard lettuce and chard. I also have various stinky sprays, but those aggravate me more than the critters. 🙂

In terms of bugs, I prefer to attract predator wasps by planting things like yarrow and letting some of my dill, parsley and carrots flower. Some insects can only feed on these types of flowers that face upwards with a wide landing pad:

I also intersperse borage all around the garden. These pretty blue flowers taste like cucumbers, and honeybees LOVE them. So do nearby plants. Something about borage makes it an ideal companion plant to just about everything. Whether you want more pollination, greater mineral uptake or something pretty to create a cottage garden, borage works well.

My only caveat with yarrow and borage is that both can be a bit invasive. I only plant yarrow in containers. It kind of took over parts of the yard in Goshen! You can pull it out and compost it, or make an analgesic tea from the leaves. I have magenta yarrow, which also makes a long lasting cut flower that even looks good as the blooms fade. I just keep it in pots now, because yarrow can be a garden thug. Like borage, it’s a fantastic companion plant — as long as you contain it!

Borage is an annual, so you can keep that under control by deadheading most of the flowers after they’ve bloomed. I like to let a few of them go to seed, so they reseed next year. This goes for parsley and cilantro, too. I have perpetual parsley and cilantro because I let a few branches go to seed and just weed out or transplant the extra seedlings in Spring. I do this with love in a mist and miners lettuce, too. I don’t really enjoy growing things from seeds indoors. A little weeding in exchange for keeping the hardiest, naturally seeded plants feels like a good trade-off.

What about the dreaded cabbage moth caterpillars?! Uggh. Those are not my favorite. The mesh cage around the Garden Tower keeps out the moths unless they sneak in while I’m watering or harvesting.

A downside is that my collards and kale tend to grow much larger when planted in raised beds — but then the moths go to town with their egg laying. The best defense for me seems to be spraying water where the little black eggs collect at the base of the kale stems. I also manually pick off the green caterpillars, and I have a resident frog who also likes to munch on them. Predator wasps and spiders take care of the rest.

Bee balm is another pollinator favorite. In the backyard you see the more traditional purple color, whereas I have the showier red variety up front. Little orange nasturtium flowers peek out the bottom. (If you’re wondering about all the orange flowers — “red hot poker,” naturtiums, and orange day lilies — I plant these because orange is David’s favorite color.)

I currently have an earwig issue, but it’s not terrible. These little pincher bugs love decaying matter and curly leaves like some lettuces and Napa cabbage. They’re terrible around wood mulch! I don’t grow Napa cabbage, so it’s not an earwig pregnancy resort here, but if they get any worse, I’ll sprinkle some diatomaceous earth in areas where they congregate. Diatomaceous earth is an organic powder that kills most insects, so you need to make sure not to put it near flowers. You don’t want to kill the pollinators. I prefer not to kill anything, but sometimes you need to catch issues before they go crazy. Diatomaceous earth adds minerals to the soil and quickly gets rid of slugs and earwigs.

My main advice for garden pests is to plant a wide variety of crops, intersperse them with flowers, and pay attention to soil and light conditions. Plants growing in optimal conditions manage to fight off pests more easily than ones struggling to get what they need. Below you can see purple kale, marigolds, borage, zinnias, garlic, a dwarf sunflower, and cosmos getting ready to bloom.

Tucked away in those same beds are also parsley, lettuce and pepper plants. I like that you can look at the front garden and have no idea it’s an edible garden. All the flowers and different colored varieties of veggies make it the kind of spot that only an experienced gardener would recognize as food. This also helps keep the animal buffet to a minimum. I can’t prove it, but I strongly suspect the motion detector light David installed above our garage door has kept away the deer. But maybe it’s Randy Baker — the best neighbor we’ve ever had. Cheers to you, Randy! We miss you.

12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Vivtoria on July 16, 2022 at 5:38 pm

    what a magical garden space you have created but I am not surprised at all 🧚🏻‍♀️🧚🏻‍♀️ Thank you for these wonderful tips as I will apply some to my own garden! I have to say your little visitor looks kind of adorable!! xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Thank you! I hope they help your growing mini paradise. They use their cuteness to break down my Mr. McGregor facade, but I’ve learned! We practically had groundhogs as pets for awhile, and, oh, my! They’re destructive in both garden and shed. No more. When I see them, they get the Faery Glamour, wild banshee treatment. xoxo

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  2. What a wonderful garden and a wealth of knowledge entwined within every stem you have growing..
    Borage I have in our allotments too…. We cut the leaves down and put in a bucket of water with a lid on .. Keep well away from your home lol.. as it smells awful as it ferments.. But you then strain and put into container and it acts as a great liquid fertiliser which we dilute further down in water before feeding plants..
    The Bees certainly love them..
    Loved your Elves mix Sunflower…. And I remember well the trouble you had with Groundhogs…. And you made me smile as I visualised you running out like a demented Banshee lol… Very funny… But very understandable…. It takes patience and hard work maintaining a garden to see it nibbled away over night.

    I love the companion planting and earwigs I have noticed more this year, the biggest problem we have this year on things is the flea beetle, a small little hardbacked beetle also known as a clover beetle .. It has covered my sweetpeas and Dahlia’s this year.

    I sympathise with the cabbage moth or as we call it the Cabbage White Butterfly.. It hasn’t been so prevalent this year here in this part of England at least, as in the past, when I have gathered handfuls of caterpillars up from my cabbages.. So we win some and lose some like your Butternut Squash, sorry to hear about the blossom-end-rot.

    Gorgeous photos, and its wonderful when we start picking and eating what we have grown..
    We had about a dozen small cherry yellow tomatoes ready we had with a salad we had grown the other day. The home grown tomatoes, just so much more taste than any shop bought ones… 🙂
    Happy Gardening Laura… You certainly have got your green fingers… So enjoyed reading and looking around your great garden..
    Much love my friend ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Thanks for the borage fertilizer tip, Sue! I wondered if something like that could work. I used to have a “non-spreading” Russian comfrey plant that reminded me of borage. That made a great fertilizer, but one of the non-spreaders started taking over in Goshen, so I’m afraid to plant it here where we have a “lawn.” Anything I did to the Goshen yard was an improvement, so it was much easier to experiment with things that might go awry. David’s protective of his suburban lawn now!

      We have been blessed with massive lettuce harvests so far this year. The front yard gets afternoon shade, and this, combined with slow bolting varieties has given me continued lettuce even when it bolted in the Garden Tower. For this, I’m very grateful!

      Much love to a fellow garden faery! ❤

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  3. Beauty-full L! And that groundhog is a cutie! You sure know your stuff. 👏 Another of our shared and different dynamics… we both love our plants… we each do gardening our own ways. Fun fun!

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. Posted by Kieron on July 18, 2022 at 7:05 pm

    “… I put on a Faery Glamour to appear much larger and scarier than I am”

    So you you admit that Tim Glenn is right: you’re “a poorly-disguised faery.” 🙂 When I visited you that one time in December and the Indiana time zones got me all turned around, that was another clue. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. Posted by Cynthia on July 19, 2022 at 2:52 am

    In 2017, Jupiter in Libra was high in the western sky in Perth, Western Australia, at sunset…showing me the location of Arcturus. So I wonder if you can see Jupiter in Aries in your western sky? Loved the picture of the groundhog!

    Blessings

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Thank you! I’ll have to look for it. Western Michigan skies are often quite cloudy at night, but I did see the looser Saturn-Jupiter Conjunction in Aquarius on the lead up to the exact one on Winter Solstice 2020 (Summer Solstice for you). It rained on Winter Solstice here, so I didn’t see it on the actual day.

      Blessings

      Like

      Reply

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