Gardening Tip of the Week

Weather Work-Arounds

March 29

Spring in Missouri is always unpredictable but the extra warm February warmed up the soil early, which can inhibit germination for some of our favorite spring crops like peas and spinach. There are a couple of strategies to work around the weather. 
First, try succession planting. Planting some now and some in a week and maybe yet another week will increase your chances of finding the right weather window for your plants to get a established. Do watch the weather and avoid sowing seeds right before a cold rain is forecast. Imbibitional chilling injury or dousing a seed that is ready to germinate with cold water can also bring that process to a halt.
Second, if picking up some new seeds, look for “heat tolerant” varieties.
Third, consider shading the soil. You can use shade cloth over hoops for low hoop bed or lattice or trellis materials to accomplish this.



Transplanting Seedlings

March 22

As you get ready to transplant seedlings out in your garden beds, remember to harden them off first. This will involve a 7-10 day process of acclimating seedlings to the outside world, gradually exposing them to more sunlight, cooler temperatures, and less watering.
Start by root-pruning seedlings in their trays or pots and decreasing watering times. Place seedlings in partial shade during the day, bringing them in at night for the first 3-4 days. Then begin to expose them to more direct sun and cooler temperatures. After 7-10 days, they should be out overnight. This process builds cutin in the leaves, a waxy layer that protects the plant from sunscald, dehydration, and disease.


Consequences of an Unseasonably Warm Spring

March 9

With the extended unseasonably warm weather we’ve been experiencing, we are going to face some additional challenges in the garden this spring. Soil temperatures are already quite warm, which means the planting calendar may lead you astray.
First, the bees are coming out far earlier than usual and they are coming out to fewer flowers. Though many trees are also blooming early, the drops in temperature we’re still experiencing can freeze the flower buds. There are three things you can do to help. 
First, when thinking about planting this year, make sure to add additional native flowering plants. Plant some that flower in each season. If selecting plants from a nursery, make sure to avoid plants treated with neonicotinoid pesticides.
Second, add more shelter for bees around your garden that can be bee hotels, piling leaves up in a corner, or bundling the stalks of your perennials together in an out of the way place. Finally, mow your grass less frequently. Longer grass provides more sources of food for the bees and more cover for them to get from place to place. While these practices will not help the bees emerging now, increasing the flowering plants and other bee-friendly practices will be that much more important moving forward.
The other issue is that the soil may be too warm for some of our cool season crops to germinate well. You can shade the soil to bring the temperature down until your peas and spinach other crops have germinated. You will probably also want to look for “heat tolerant” varieties of your cool season crops, particularly those you want to direct seed. 


Starting Seeds Indoors

February 24

Next week marks the six-week countdown until our last average frost date of April 15. That means if you haven’t yet started your tomatoes and peppers indoors, now is the perfect time. Tomatoes and peppers should typically be started indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date and transplanted about 1-2 weeks after the last frost date for best success. 
Keep the rooting area of the seedlings warm, about 75⁰ for best germination rates. You can do this with a propagation mat or put it on top of the refrigerator or another warm spot. You can relocate once sprouted but do not move it to a chilly spot.
Seedlings will need additional light, a sunny window sill and the ambient light in the room will not be enough to grow stout, healthy plants. A full spectrum fluorescent light works well but it does need to be close to the plants, 1-2 inches will keep them from getting leggy.
Transfer them up into larger pots when they are 2-3 inches tall and have several sets of leaves. At this point, you’ll want to decrease watering to allow some drying to occur between watering. Also, take care to keep the foliage dry and help limit your chances of fungus and disease outbreaks. Directing a small fan on the seedlings on low will both strengthen the seedlings and help ward off fungal growth.


Early Spring Garden Clean-ups

February 15

With everything dead and dormant in the garden, now is the perfect time to check on your native and ornamental plantings. Look for damage to trunks and roots, as well as dead limbs. For many plants, now is the best time of year to prune, so take your pruning shears with you to cut back any problem spots. 
If you left the stalks of your natives or perennial ornamentals in place over winter for visual interest or to create habitat and food for birds, now is a good time to cut that back. Getting the garden cleaned up now before new growth starts emerging makes spring garden maintenance a snap!


Early Spring Gardening Techniques

January 27

For those chomping at the bit, it is time to start the early crops. Aside from sowing some of those slower growing crops – like onions – indoors now, the other thing to consider is building or installing a cold frame or a low tunnel. These structures can be add a few weeks to your growing season on either end. 
In the spring (or late winter), they will warm the soil and allow seeds to germinate sooner. They are also a great place to harden off seedlings you started indoors. They protect from the wind and temperature extremes and shield from the sun as it gets stronger.
A couple of notes of caution:
First, while we do not normally need to worry about water in the spring, anything in a low tunnel will need to be watered because it isn’t receiving any rainfall. However, the bed will not need as much as it will in the late spring and summer because you are losing far less to evaporation and transpiration. Similar consideration should be given with the cold frame though it is less likely to need additional water because the surrounding soil is often saturated. 
Similar consideration should be given with the cold frame though it is less likely to need additional water because the surrounding soil is often saturated. 
Second, both the cold frames and the low tunnels need to be vented when the temperatures climb. We’ve been known to have the 70°F day but even on a sunny 30 or 40 degree day, the temperatures in the cold frames and low tunnels can rise the point of damaging plants.


Growing the Garden in Winter

January 13

While community gardeners have some downtime in the winter, it is short-lived and now is the time to start gearing up for the next growing season.
 First and foremost, community gardeners can use the winter to tend their community. Garden leaders can use the slower time after the holidays to get in touch with fellow gardeners and determine whether they will be returning this growing season.
This is also an opportunity to start recruiting new members or set up new roles within your garden. Maybe this is the year to increase on-site composting – create a compost team of people who commit to turning the compost on a weekly basis. Or maybe your garden is ready for a social committee that will organize potlucks and other community-building events.
This is also the time to look around the garden to determine what is missing or what needs to go. Are there ornamentals that will need to be divided or gaps to be filled? Are there hardscape materials like picnic tables or additional signage needed? Does the garden need some new tools? If so, consider Gateway Greenings annual expansion grant or keep your eye out for other funding and donation opportunities.
All gardeners can start thinking about their own plot. Gardening allows you to grow everything from the generic slicing tomato to an exotic vegetable that you have never tried. This is the time of year to let you imagination run wild and consider the options that growing your own food gives you.
Are their varieties of your favorites that you have never tried? Think about vegetables that you have had trouble with in the past. Is there a variety that is more resistant to the problems you have been having or is that an opportunity to try something completely different? Put your head together with your fellow gardeners, as you are only likely to use a few seeds of a packet or planting a handful of seedlings. Organize a seed or seedling swap and share the wealth just as you are kicking off the growing season.


Starting from Seed

January 4

Believe it or not, now is the time to gear up for spring planting if you are starting from seed. Several of the brassicas and leeks and onions are started indoors in mid-January, the remainder of the brassica family needs to be in the seedling tray in February. 
While the seedling catalogs maybe coming in now, first, check out what you have left over from last year and check your garden notes – what grew well, what did you like. Do a germination test: put 10 seeds in a folded, damp paper towel, keep the paper towel warm and moist for about a week. If fewer than half sprout, order new seed. 
Then, clean your seedling containers well. You can reuse old nursery trays, yogurt containers, or anything that is relatively small and that has drainage holes (you can add these!). However, you do want to clean them thoroughly to minimize the chance of seedlings suffering from damping off. 
Eventually, your seedling will need light and some may need heat for germination. You may decide to invest in a shop light and you can buy grow bulbs. However, any cool spectrum light bulb will work work as long as it is close enough to the seedling tray. 
You can provide heat by purchasing a propagation mat but putting the seedling tray on top of the refrigerator or other heat-producing appliance. Just be aware, the warmer the environment, the faster the tray will dry out and drying out means death for new seedlings. Once the seeds have germinated, the plants do not need the additional heat as long and can be moved to a place with better light and where it is easier to water.



Winter Carrots

December 13Carrots

If you still have carrots in the ground, you might want to leave them there to harvest throughout the winter! By using a good, deep layering of straw or leaf mulch (4-8″), you can keep the roots from freeing or heaving in the ground. It might help to mark their place with a stick or colored marker in case the green vegetation dies back during extreme cold.
As the carrots concentrate sugars to survive the winter, you might also find that their taste will improve, especially over those grown during the warmer months. Since they are a biennial, it will be important to pull them up before next spring – once they flower the root will become inedible!







Storing Vegetables During the Winter

December 6

The following
link gives a good summary about storing vegetables in the home. An interesting technique to try with some stored vegetables during the winter is a technique called “forcing”. This is used primarily with root vegetables that are harvested from the garden just before the ground freezes. Cleaned roots (beets, turnips, celeriac, etc.) are planted in moist sand or compost and set on a window sill. From the stored energy in the roots, edible greens are produced that can accent a winter dish or be added to salads. This may also work with a harvested cabbage plant: pull the entire thing, roots and all, cut off the head, and plant in moist sand in the window. Harvest th
e greens as they sprout.



Something to be thankful for

November 22

img_0179This extend bout of warm weather has us a month behind on our first frost. Many of the chores to do around the garden this time of year are usually working with the overnight freezing temperatures and even with our first real frost across the region happening this weekend, the near term forecast doesn’t have overnight temperatures falling into the 20s on a consistent basis. 
So, hold off on heavily mulching things like strawberries and root crops. Watch the forecast for when the ground is likely to freeze for mulching those root crops as those cold temperatures cause those root crops to sweeten. And give the strawberries a several nights in the 20s to ensure you aren’t harboring pests in the mulch. 
And that is something to be thankful for – the warm fall weather has allowed us to draw out our gardening chores a little.

Cleaning Up for the Winter

FoxParkFarm_Garden_11172010 (1)

November 9

As we are winding down for the winter, now is the time to do the last clean up.
  • Take a tour of your garden and make sure all the plant debris is collected and composted or sent to the green waste (anything diseased or pest infested). You may choose to leave a lot of perennial growth in place as food and habitat for wildlife and winter interest but otherwise remove dead plant material.
  • But one of the most important and frequently overlooked tasks is cleaning and winterizing the tools. Remove any soil, scrubbing with a wire brush if necessary, and wipe down with vegetable or linseed oil. If you have a lot of tools, you may want to fill a bucket with builders sand and add oil. Then run the tool, particularly shovels other bladed tools into to the sand, using the abrasive surface of the sand to further clean the tool and add a fine layer of oil to protect from rust while in winter storage. Hand tools can be left in the sand for storage.
  • Drain and coil all hoses, watering wands, and hand sprayers.
  • Pack up and store any trellising material
  • Clean and disinfect and seed starting trays so you are ready in January.

autumn-big-maple-leaves_w725_h544Making Leaf Mold

November 2

When raking up your leaves this fall, remember to save some to make leaf mold, a fantastic soil conditioner and organic mulch. The easiest way to do this is to build a cheap wire bin about three feet wide and high that will hold the leaves. Moisten them and check periodically to make sure they don’t dry out. You can also fill a few garbage bags, moisten the leaves with a hose, and cut slits in the sides. Put these bags behind the house or garage and forget about them until next spring. Either method will take 6-12 months, but you can decrease this time by chopping them up.


Soil HealthSoilTesting

October 26

This time of fall is the best time to think about soil health. If you haven’t had your tested in a while or ever, now is a good time to do it. The University of Missouri provides this service and Gateway Greening is a drop off site. Here are instructions on how to do it.
With or without testing, you can do a few things now to improve soil quality for next year. Add any finished compost you have to your beds. It will improve your soil quality next year. If you use it as a mulch for beds where you do not have a cover crop, it will protect the soil.
If you’ve had a lot of pest issues, turning or tilling the soil once we get a freeze will expose the pests that live in the soil to freezing temperatures and reduce their numbers next year.
However, it is generally best to avoid too much digging or tilling in the garden. Tilling and turning disturbs soil structure built up over time with root grow, microbes, worms and other invertebrates, and regular addition of organic matter. With our heavy clay soil, it leads to clumping and hardpan. If you aren’t suffering from excessive pest problems, it is best to cover your soil with a natural mulch (compost, seedless straw, leaf mold) or cover crop and disturb it as little as possible

Planting Garlic

GarlicOctober 19

In late spring, when the garlic is almost ready for harvest, we frequently have people comment that they too would like to plant garlic… and now is the time to do it. Ideally, plant in the latter half of October but any time before the soil freezes (around New Year’s) will work.
Planting garlic is straight forward. Break apart your garlic bulbs, keeping the papery skin intact. Select the largest, best looking cloves. Plant pointed end up, 3-4 inches deep, 6 inches apart in rows that are 12 inches apart. Mulch heavily with compost or straw.
Mark your rows with something that will stick around through the winter and into the spring because garlic does not tolerate competition well. When spring comes, resist the temptation to interplant and make sure your garlic rows are free of weeds.


Planning for First Frost450px-frostonleaf

October 12

Our first frost date – October 20th – is quickly approaching but that may be a little misleading. The first frost date is the date at which the likelihood of the temperatures falling below 32°F is 50% (whereas the last frost date is the date as which the likelihood drops below 10%). This year’s longterm forecast indicates that our first frost is still more than a month away.
So, our warm season crops may have a bit more time that we generally plan on. However, you are not going to see a great deal of production because production is mostly governed by the amount of daylight plants are receiving. As the days shorten, which we know to the minute, plants have less available energy to produce sugars not only to grow fruit (tomatoes, peppers, etc.) but also to grow leaves and roots and stems.
In addition, even though the warm season crops are not likely to be killed off by frost in the next week or so, many are at the end of their life cycles and others don’t tolerate temperatures below 50°F well. They won’t necessarily die but they aren’t thriving.
That being said, you can use this still warm temperature to get the last of those tomatoes ripened. The cooler temperatures assist in producing the red tomato pigments, lycopene and carotene, that we expect in ripened fruit. Plants loaded with green fruits will work against the ripening process, so remove the larger ones that have turned light green to white by clipping off at the stem and storing indoors at 55-70 degrees until ripe. Prune back vigorous plant growth to redirect energy into ripening fruits still on the vine.
Protecting plants from frost may keep the plant from dying, however unripe fruits can be injured at temperatures as high as 50 degrees. And if your plants have flowers but no fruit, it might be time to pull up the plant.

Remember to Water

October 5Water

With warm, sunny, and dry temperatures in the forecast, it will be important to water cool-season crops diligently. Leafy greens and root crops like constant moisture (but still need to dry off at night). Emerging seedlings will benefit from frequent watering as well. Unlike fruiting summer crops, daily sprinklings will give you quicker yields than if you let the beds dry out for a few days. Make sure that the water still percolates a few inches into the soil for best results.


Protecting Soil for the WinterCompost-dirt

September 28

Fall is the time to think about soil health because healthy soil means healthy plants – plants that are more resistant to disease and pests and have higher yields. Healthy soils have the right balance of nutrients, have good texture, and a lot of healthy microbial activity. 
The key to protecting and improving soil health is not leaving the soil exposed for an extended length of time, like over the winter. Leaving soil bare over the winter results in compacted soil, which makes it less hospitable to plant roots and all the other good things that live in the soil. The wind, rain, and snow also leach away important nutrients.
Now and in the coming month, there are some tasks you can do to protect your soil for the whole winter:
  • Add compost – 3 to 4 inches on top will provide a layer of protection for the soil, bolster the microbial communities in your soil, and add organic matter for the coming growing season. This will easily work into the soil as you plant next spring improving overall soil texture and condition.
  • Even better: plant a cover crop. You can seed your cover crop before you have removed the last of your fall crops so that they have a change to germinate.
The easiest is annual rye. It sprouts quickly and will die over the winter. It will add organic matter to the soil and even though it is dead, it will provide nice cover from the elements. Be careful when looking for rye seed those. There is also a winter rye, which is a perennial and will come back in the spring, and a cereal rye that will re-seed your garden bed if left too long.  Make sure you select annual rye.
What you do not want to do is leave your annual vegetable crops in the beds to clean out in the spring. There are many pests and diseases that will thrive in this conditions. Next year, you will find that your problems start sooner and worse because those insects and microbes had a jump start.

Harvesting and Curing Sweet Potatoes

September 21

wilson sweet potatoes1If you planted sweet potatoes, you may be anxious to start harvesting. While you can technically harvest as soon as the tubers reach a decent size, the longer they are in the soil the sweeter and higher in vitamin content they are.
Ideally, wait until frost kills (blackens) the vines and harvest immediately, otherwise they will begin rotting in the ground. If you aren’t sure you’ll be able to get to digging up those sweet potatoes right after the first frost (estimated October 15th though there is a possibility it could be as early as the first of October), wait as long as you can after the vine starts to yellow.
The other consideration is that it is far better to harvest sweet potatoes when the soil is dry, so keep an eye on the forecast. The sweet potatoes are much easier to effectively cure, which improves their taste and shelf life, if they aren’t coated in mud. Use a potato fork to loose the soil and lift the potatoes from the soil. The tubers can be a foot or more from the plant, so start some distance from the plant to prevent damaging the tubers.
While you can eat sweet potatoes straight from the ground, you are likely to be disappoint in them at least as sweet potatoes because they need to be cured. Curing triggers the sugar-producing enzymes and heals nicks. Skipping this step results in starchy, tasteless sweet potatoes with limited shelf life.
Curing is a two step process. First, leave the tubers in the sun for several hours to dry the skin in order to prevent rotting during the next step. Then move to a warm, humid place for 4-10 days. This is when the starch is converted to sugar. Ideal conditions for the first step are 85-90°F and 85% humidity.  A hoop house usually provides optimal conditions but a pantry with a small bucket of water and space heater will achieve this (keep an eye on the temperature). The closer you get to these conditions, the faster the potatoes will cure but don’t despair if you cannot achieve them, just find the warmest spot you can, place the potatoes in newspaper lined boxes or crates, and give them a bit more time to cure, checking frequently for spoiling potatoes.
At the end of the curing process, place them in a cool spot. The second step’s ideal conditions are 55-60°F and 75% humidity. Basements frequently approximate these conditions




MonarchReestablishing Monarch Habitats

September 14

If you have milkweed in your garden, this is the time of the year that you normally see monarch caterpillars on them. Unfortunately, there was a storm in early spring in Mexico that killed off many of the monarchs that overwinter in Mexico. This is the 2nd big storm in 5 years to hit the overwintering monarchs in addition to the loss of millions of acres of forest habitat to drought this year. They had a rebound year last year but this year you may notice fewer caterpillars and butterflies.
That makes reestablishing habitat along their migratory path that much more important. Milkweed is the only host plant for the monarch caterpillars and the adult butterflies need a nectar sources, which can be milkweed but are not limited to that. Planting a variety of natives supports those beneficial insects all year round but late-blooming natives in particular provide food sources for both butterflies and bees as they prepare for winter.
Now is a great time to think about planting some native perennials. They may look a little ragged this fall but the warm fall soil will encourage root growth. Just keep them well-watered this fall and next spring for a healthy, well-established plant next spring.
If you want to help with tracking the monarch as it makes it fall migration, you can contribute your sighting data to the Annaberg Foundations Journey North.

Harlequin eggs

How to Protect Against This Kind of Bug

September 7

Many gardeners call all insects “bugs”, but there are only a few that are technically known as “true bugs”. One of these, the harlequin bug, is particularly beautiful, with black and orange patterns. However, this is where the good qualities stop.
This bug is known for making your collards, cabbage, and other cole crops brown and ragged looking as they suck sap from the plants. A big enough infestation can eventually take down your crops.
As usual, the prevention is the best pest control strategy. Keep down weeds in and around the garden beds reduces the harlequin bug’s habit. Clean out your beds at the end of the season as they will overwinter in plant debris.
You can use row cover as an additional preventative measure but only as prevention. If there is already evidence of damage or sitings of bugs, it is too late. Row cover will just trap them with their favorite foods.
Another option is to spray your crops with kaolin clay, which creates a barrier on the leaves and easily washes off at harvest. Make sure to spray the underside of the leaves where the harlequin bug likes to lay its eggs. The next step is to hand pick the bug and its eggs. It is helpful to know what each stage in the insects’ life cycle looks like from egg to nymph to adult
You can also use trap crops. Mustard and cleome make great choices but you will need to keep an eye on them and pull them out once infested so they do not provide a home base from which they attack the rest of your garden.
Insecticidal soap will work on the nymphs but as they are hardbodied, it does not affect the adults.
As always, strong healthy plants are the least vulnerable to pests. So, select strong, healthy seedlings. Keep them well watered and fed and protect your soil health.

Season Extension

coldframeAugust 31

If you are looking to extend your fall harvest, now is the time to think about a cold frame. Cold frames are easy to construct from upcycled materials and you don’t have to have it ready to go right now but if you would like to have lettuce, spinach, or radishes that you are harvesting into the late fall and winter, you will want to plant them in the eventual footprint of the cold frame.
Keep in mind, that once we drop below 10 hours of sunlight per day, which happens on November 18th, plants go into dormancy and are not actively growing. You can still harvest but as the amount of sunlight decreases the slower the growth will be.



basil2Herbs 101

August 24

Herbs are some of the easiest and highest value thing to grow and now is the perfect time to capture that value for the winter months by preserving them. There are several ways to do this. Some are great candidates for drying, others are better if frozen whole, in water, or in oil. Making and freezing pesto is another alternative. And you can be creative with your pesto, thinking beyond the traditional basil & pine nuts. Or you can make herbed butter and herb infused oils and vinegars. Harvest your herbs when they are at their peak and put some up for the coming months. Then you can have a bit of summer in January by tossing some garden-grown herbs in a soup or bread.




Photo taken from

Photo taken from

Avoiding Blossom End Rot

August 17

Most of us have not seen the tomato crops that we would have liked — the heat in June set us back, with many suffering from blossom drop and poor pollination. Your vine may have finally been able to set some fruit during some of the breaks in the heat but you may now see the bottoms of the tomatoes looking damaged or rotten
This is called blossom end rot. While it is called a rot and frequently mold spores taken advantage of an opening, it is actually a structural problem caused by a nutrient deficiency. The plants aren’t taking up enough calcium as the fruit forms. Some tomato varieties are more prone than other and it may happen on other crops as well.
Thanks to the prevalence of limestone (calcium carbonate and calcium-magnesium carbonate) in St. Louis area soils, rarely is the problem a lack of calcium in the soil. Most frequently, it is that the plant is not able to take up the calcium. Frequent fluctuations in soil moisture is the most common reason though root rot from overwatering and root scald from over-fertilizing can also be culprits.
The solution: add a thick layer (3-4″) of compost around your tomatoes and any other crop showing similar patterns – leaving a ring around the stem. Along with regular watering, this will keep the soil moisture more constant during the last weeks of summer heat and hopefully allow you a final wave of tomatoes before the frost and short days end our warm growing season.


The Dreaded Hornworm

August 10

hornwormAugust is typically when we begin seeing signs of tomato and tobacco hornworms. They are the grandest of our leaf-devouring caterpillars, and while kids will be amazed at the site of them, your tomato plants will not be happy. As they feed, the defoliation can eventually cause sunscald on the tomato fruits. They might also choose to take a bite or two out of the fruit. This series of pictures will give you a better understanding of all the life cycles of this fascinating, but frustrating pest, including pupa and adult.
As you scout, retain those hornworms that have become infested with parasitic wasp eggs. Leave those caterpillars be! Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillar will soon be down for the count and the resulting wasps will go after the more hornworms.

Last Chance for Warm Season Crops

beans1July 27

While we are right on the cusp of fall gardening, we still have one last chance to squeeze in some quickly-maturing warm-season crops. We have about 2.5 months of frost-free weather left, so if we looking for crops that mature in the in the 50-60 day range, such as pickling cucumbers, okra, bush beans, and summer squash, we can fill in some gaps in our garden and get one last harvest in at the end of September and beginning of October.
This may also give you some relief against damaging pests, such as the squash vine borer, which by mid-August should no longer be laying eggs in your tender plants. While you may not achieve yields like those in the summer months, it’s nice to be able to extend summer harvests into the fall.

Time to Think About Cool Season Cropscarrots1

July 20

Even though we are still facing weeks of heat, late July is a great time to think about your fall garden. There is less than three months of frost-free weather remaining. Pull out those seed packets from the spring to plant another round of cool-season crops. 
Johnny’s Seed has a great fall planting calculator in which you put in the first frost date (Oct 20th) and it calculates when you need to plant those fall crops to have well-established before the days get too short and cool. Or you can simply add 14 days to the maturity on the seed packet. This is because the plants will grow more slowly than in the spring as they have successively less light with the shorter and shorter days. 
One challenge to getting a start on your fall garden, particularly with the hot summer is that the soil is too hot to germinate seedlings. Try shading it with boards, burlap, or growing in the shadows of taller crops. 
Good plants to try include lettuce, carrots, beets, turnips, spinach, kale, and collards. Water daily until germination and mulch to keep the roots cool during the heat of late summer.






Dealing with Summer

July 13

Tomato plant

Summer time in St. Louis is always a roller coaster – this year, we’ve had a blistering hot June and July has started off wet. This is not great weather for many of our favorite vegetables, particularly tomatoes.
First, the heat and humidity can cause blossom drop. Then the sudden influx of moisture can cause cracking of the immature tomatoes that have formed. With rains of up to 2.5” in some parts of the St. Louis area, the drastic change in soil moisture levels from weeks of near drought could cause maturing tomatoes to grow too quickly, causing them to stretch out of their skin and cause noticeable cracks. The tomato will still be edible, those hoping to sell might find them less marketable.
Another more unsightly occurrence that happens in connection with excessive rainfall is blossom end rot. These sunken areas in fruiting crops may look like a disease, but are actually caused by a calcium deficiency. Often there is adequate calcium in the soil but it is unavailable to the plant when the soil is saturated.
The best solution to these problem is a good layer of organic mulch – 2-3″ of compost, straw, or leaf mold – around your plants. This improves the soils structure, making the moisture levels in the soil more constant over time – whether we have a deluge or drought. It also serves prevent splash back, which is when water hits the soil and splashes back onto the plant, carrying soil-borne pathogens with it. Finally, it can keep the soil a bit cooler, reducing heat stress.






What to do with Excess Harvest?

July 5

PicklesThe summer crops are starting to come in! And if you’re lucky you may have a glut. Try an old school solution: pickle them!
Use this simple 24-hour refrigerator pickle recipe:
In a large pot, mix
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup white (5%) vinegar
  • 1/3 cup pickling or Kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar (if desired)


1. Heat on high until the solution is clear (just before boiling).
2. Cut up freshly harvested veggies: peppers; cucumbers; beans; cauliflower; onions; garlic; and fresh dill.
3. Sterilize a self-sealing Mason-type jar in the dishwasher or in boiling water. Empty jar and stuff full with the veggies.
4. Pour the water/vinegar solution into the jar.
5. Wait until cool, seal tightly, and put in the fridge.
6. Wait at least 24 hours before eating.
7. Always store in the fridge when not using.
As you get a bit of experience, experiment with different combinations of veggies, herbs, and spices.


onionsHarvesting Onions

June 29

If the tops of your onions are beginning to fall down and turn brown, it is time to harvest. Stop watering the onions, and pick out a dry day to harvest.
Onions are one of the easiest crops to harvest; simply pull the onion by the neck out of the ground. At this point, it’s important not to wash off the dirt as you would most other crops. Gently brush off the crusted dirt and place all the onions in a harvest crate or wheelbarrow.
When finished, locate a good place for curing. This will be important if you plan to store your onions longer than a few days. The best curing place is an outdoor spot, preferably shaded and protected from rain and allowing good air movement. Old window screens allow air to move underneath the onions as well, hastening the process.
The curing is complete when they are dry and papery, not unlike the state you find them at the grocery store.

Blossom Drop

June 21BlossomDrop

Last year, we were struggling with rainy and even cool temperatures. Last week, on the other hand, was a scorcher, so much so that 90°F temperatures seem like a respite… at least to us. Not enough of a respite for many of our favorite vegetable plants, unfortunately. You may notice many of your fruiting crops not setting fruit while temperatures are in the 90°s and above, especially with high humidity. Beans, peas, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, melons, squash, cucumbers, and corn may all experience blossom drop when temperatures soar. As Deborah Kean at Oregon State University Extension explains, it can be a function of temperature alone but drought stress can also lead to plants failing to set fruit. While you can keep your plants watered to get them through the heat, there isn’t much to do about the temperatures other than wait for a break in the heat. Hot and humid weather will also decrease pollinator activity, causing deformed fruit or a lack thereof. One way to increase pollinating bees is to provide suitable habitat, since the majority of our native bees nest in the ground. This squash bee is an excellent pollinator of squash and pumpkins. Mulch your summer garden, but leave some ground exposed near these plants to increase their populations.



Protecting Our Pollinators

June 14

June is Pollinator Month! It is also the month with a lot of our most troublesome insect pests appear. How are those two related? Well, when those pests appear, our first inclination is to do something! And often that means reaching for a spray or dust to kill it.
Unfortunately, those insecticides can have unintended consequences –  namely stressing if not outright killing beneficial insects, particularly pollinators. Bee counts are down and bee keepers report losing 44% of their honey bee colonies between April 2015 and April 2016.
Our pollinator species are in decline due to the loss of habitat and food sources and spreading of disease. As individual insects and as groups, their ability to withstand exposure to pesticides is greatly diminished. As pollinators are responsible for every third bite of food and nearly everything that we grow in the garden, that is also a problem for us.
What can the average person do?
1. Avoid using broad spectrum insecticides, even organic. Many people do not realize that the insecticide that they apply in one place – inside your home, the lawn, or that high-maintenance ornamental – can drift or travel to pollinator-attractive places. Without thinking, they apply and insecticide liberally to the lawn to kill a pest and then wonder why there are no bees in their vegetable garden. If it is meant to kill insects, it will kill the good and bad alike.
While it may be tempting to think “organic means safe,” this is not always the case. Even when applying more targeted insecticides, you should always apply them with caution and according the directions. Limit application to your problem spots, use the lowest effective dose, and select the one that degrades quickly. This is definitely not the time with “if a little is good a lot will be better.”
2. Know thine enemy. When you see damage, identify exactly what is causing the damage. Many interventions – both chemical and not – work well for some pests and make no difference for others.
3. Increase your tolerance of pest species. In a healthy ecosystem, there will be some pest species present. They are a food source for your beneficials. Pest species only become pests when the number threatens human health or crop yields. Don’t jump immediately to total eradication but plant enough to share and help keep those pest species populations in check by doing the number 4.
4. Use integrated pest management strategies. This means, first use good cultural practices when gardening that focus on creating a healthy ecosystem in your garden. This means you will likely have some pest species in your garden but they will be kept in check by beneficial organisms and not cause significant damage. If cultural practices are not enough, you may consider introducing or encouraging predator species to set up residence in your garden.
If that isn’t enough, the next step is to use your hands or hose or even vacuum to manually remove pests. Only after those have failed do you move on to chemical (still organic!) control. And you always have the option of deciding that the best course of action is to sacrifice the plant(s) under attack.
5. Plant native flowering plants around your garden. Aim for a good mix of early-, mid-, and late-season flowering plants. These offer many benefits.
First and foremost, they provide food and habitat for native pollinators. While exotics may be attractive, even when flowering they usually do not provide the same quality or quantity of food and habitat as their native counter parts. Many native pollinators require very specific native plants for certain parts of their life cycles like monarch butterflies require milkweed during their caterpillar phase.
Second, native plants are well-adapted to our soil and climate conditions and thus require less care, particularly once established. Then they thrive on neglect.
Third, thriving plants are far less vulnerable to pests and disease. Native plants are also adapted to our native pests and can withstand their assault.

Keeping a Close Eye

VerticilliumJune 8

With so many potential problems that may arise with tomatoes, it’s a wonder why they are still the #1 crop in vegetable gardens. Maybe it’s just because they taste so good. If you set out your plants about a month ago, it’s a good idea to begin close inspection to find problems early. Two problems that are a real threat are Verticillium and Fusarium wilts.
These diseases are similar, both causes by fungi. Fusarium thrives in warmer conditions and is more prevalent the farther south you go. Verticillium likes cool, damp weather like the Pacific Northwest. St. Louis, of course, has a climate that accommodates both.
Both wilts typically begin on the lower or outer leaves and work upwards. With Fusarium, look for yellowing, wilted leaves and/or a wilting, sickly appearance on one side of the plant, caused by fungus clogging the water-transport mechanisms of the plant. Browning of the stem interior may also occur. Verticillium will create distinct V-shaped yellow patches on leaves, eventually turning them brown.
Gardeners using heirloom varieties should be particularly adamant about checking for these diseases, as they lack resistance. Choose varieties that show VF on the plant tags or seed packets if problems have occurred in the past.
All Solanaceous crops (tomato, pepper, eggplant, potato) are susceptible to these diseases, and there is no easy way to rid your soil once it’s there though solarization may reduce if not eliminate the prevalent. Always rotate these crops, 3-4 years if possible.
Immediately dispose of infected plants in the trash. Composting these will only spread the problem.


compostJune 1

Composting can seem a bit daunting, particularly if you read a lot about it before you get started. But the best adage about compost is: Compost happens
Short of placing your organic material in a sterile vacuum, it will eventually rot and turn into humus. Composting is managing that decomposition so that it happens as quickly as possibly with few of the… ahem… unpleasant aspects of decomposition (strong oder, pesky flies). 
Many people are under the impression that there is only one right way of composting: hot and fast. Composting like this does retain more mass and nutrients and quickly converts the material that is most likely to attract pests. It also provides a steady stream of compost for your garden, a new batch in as little as every 6 weeks*. Hot composting also involves a lot of thermophilic bacteria, which heat up compost piles to 145°F or more, killing off many pathogens and weed seeds.
However, you have to work a bit for all of these benefits. Hot composting needs a good amount of material, requires regular management of the compost pile, and usually involves a workout. To get this process started, you need at least 1 cubic yard (3’x3’x3′) of material that is of a mixture of 3-4 parts browns/carbon and 1 part greens/nitrogen** layered like a cake. It also requires regular turning with a pitchfork to keep the pile well oxygenated and to move materials into the middle where they will also be subjected to the 145°F+ temperatures.
Cold composting means that it will take longer (a year or so) but basically requires little but making sure you have a good balance of greens and browns and that the greens are well-covered. You still get a great, free soil amendment – just somewhat less and a lot slower – and you are still diverting a lot of organic waste from the landfill.
To cold compost, you simply add material as you have it, covering kitchen waste and other green waste with a healthy layer of browns to keep the pests away and the smell down.  Since a cold pile doesn’t heat up reliably, you do need to make sure that you are not adding diseased or infested plants or weed seeds. You can help the process along by turning or aerating it every once in a while.
With either method, if your bin/pile starts to smell, is attracting too many pests, or doesn’t seem to be composting, just do some simple troubleshooting. Usually the solution is as simple as turning it, adding some addition browns or greens, or wetting it down.
*Many methods promise much shorter turn around but 6 weeks is a reasonable estimate for an actively managed pile.
**You may come across widely varying ratios, from as little as 1:1 to as great at 30:1. This has to do with ambiguity about what constitutes a part – volume or mass.
The very detailed oriented may find it interesting to build a pile based on the actual mass of carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens) of every kind of organic material added, and there are many charts that provide this information. This would be where the 25-30:1 ratios come from as all organic material is some mixture of carbon and nitrogen, but mostly carbon.
However, in the community garden, we don’t usually have the time, control, or inclination to manage pile-building that way. Thus, we are looking for a pile that has about 1″ of greens – green plant material, kitchen waste, overripe veggies – to 3-4″ of browns – dried plant material like dried leaves, straw, wood chips, shredded paper or cardboard. The browns tend to contain a lot more air and, if compressed, it would usually end up being similar in volume to the greens, hence the 1:1 ratio.

May 24

Garden Observations

Pollinators_04Gardeners are amateur scientist, observing and experimenting in the garden bed. Why not harness some of that observation for the greater good and participate in some Citizen Science
The most obvious for the gardener is to participate in The Big Bug Hunt. With this project, you can sign up to receive alerts when pests start to appear in your area so you can take preventative measures to keep pests in check and prevent damage. In turn, you can also report sightings of pests to both help other gardeners and create a fuller picture of what is going on in the pest world.
While there are many others with citizen scientists with topics ranging from aging to zoology, some others relevant to gardeners are Project Bud Burst, a phenology project which tracks the timing of plant changes through the seasons. This is creating a fuller picture of how changes in climate are affecting plant life cycles.
The University of Illinois is conducting the The Bee Spotter project, which tracks and identifies bees spotted in Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa. This just requires you to photograph bees you see and submit them to their website.
A similar project that covers all of North America is Bumble Bee Watch, which is documenting the presence of the very important North American bumble bee population (great tomato pollinators!).
e-Butterfly is documenting butterfly populations in North American. As with The bee Spotter and Bumble Bee Water, you photograph and submit your photos to their website.
If you want to expand beyond pests, pollinators, and plants, iNaturalist, is a program in which you can record and share observations of many different species.
Go forth and collect data!

May 17

harvest9Direct Seeding Warm Season Crops

Do you have space opening up in the garden as you harvest some of those cool season vegetables? You can still direct seed some warm season crops to take advantage of that open space.
Beans mature in about 60 days, bush varieties tend to take a bit less, pole varieties a bit more. Bush varieties produce a big crop all at once and then taper off. They do not require anything more than water in a well-prepared garden bed. Pole beans produce over a longer period and do need something to climb – a trellis, teepee, or corn as in the three sister’s garden. Both varieties produce more when they are harvested regularly. Have some fun and plant some purple (though they turn green when cooked) or yellow beans.
The latter half of May and June is also the perfect time to plant okra. Okra prefers soil that is more acidic than St. Louis soil tends to be, so the more compost you can mix into your bed, the happier it will be. It may grow slowly until it really starts to heat up but when it does, it can get quit tall, so account for the potential shade it will cast when selecting your spot. Pods appear in about 60 days and should be harvested early – when they are between 2-4″ long – and often as that will spur more production. Once the pods get past 4″ they tend to get quite woody and are really only good for chicken feed though you could dry and harvest the seed as well. Okra can be quite prolific and okra freezes easily – you can put some in the freezer and pull it out for a nice gumbo in the winter – and pickled okra is a favorite!
Finally, most of cucurbit family – cucumbers, squash, melons – do just fine with a planting in late May and into June. The exception is the pumpkin, which needs the entire growing season to produce those sizable fruit. Just watch out for the adult squash vine borer in late June. If you’ve had problems in the past, stick to cucumbers, melons, and butternut squash as they are not usually attacked by borers or put a collar around the base of your vines to keep the vine borer from entering and killing the vine.

May 11Lettuce_Bolting

Ways to Extend Lettuce-Growing into Warmer Months

At Bell Garden, we have had some mammoth lettuce harvests thanks to the cool weather. Many of us are not sorry to see the end of lettuce season looming after weeks of salad 2-3 times per day! However, if you either haven’t experienced the glut or are such a lettuce lover that there is no such thing as too much salad, there are ways to extend lettuce-growing into warmer months. 
First, select varieties that are labeled “slow bolting.” Gardeners frequently complain this claim is overstated but you stand a better chance with these varieties than a variety that has not been bred for that characteristic.
Bolting is a function of cumulative hours of sunlight – so there is a genetic timer that goes off after the lettuce has reached the total number of sunlight hours that induces bolting. However, some combination of heat and drought stress can shorten that time. Thus, the second thing to do is keep your lettuce well-watered particularly when the heat sets it.
The next thing to do is work with and not against any shady spots you may have in your garden. Those spots are best for growing things you want the leaf or root of rather than the things you want the fruit from and are perfect spots to get a few more weeks of lettuce to harvest.
If you do not have a shady spot, you can make shade. Trellis pole beans or something from the cucurbit family in such a way that it will cast shade on part of your bed and plant your lettuce there — the amount of shade will grow as the lettuce needs it.
If you do not trellis or you didn’t plan for it this season, you can also use shade cloth or lattice propped on something that gives your lettuce enough head room.
Of course, if the lettuce gets away from you, you can replant at the end of summer for a fall harvest and try again just spring.


May 4
Zika and your gardenScreen Shot 2016-05-03 at 9.42.05 AM
With the Zika virus in the news, some may be wondering about controlling mosquito populations while still practicing water conservation in the garden, particularly with rain barrels. While there are currently no cases of locally-acquired Zika in Missouri, there are other mosquito-borne illnesses that are of concern, particularly West Nile virus. Even without these threats,minimizing breeding grounds for mosquitos helps to make our gardens and neighborhoods inviting places to be, the goal of any community garden.
Here are some strategies to employ to keep your garden mosquito-free(-ish) this summer:
Empty Water Collecting Containers
Mosquitoes need only a small amount of standing water to breed, so keeping an eye out for anywhere water can accumulate and stand for a week or more is the first step. The CDC recommends draining and scrubbing any water-holding containers like birdbaths and children’s pools once a week. Rain barrels that are primarily for stormwater diversion should be slowly drained after each rain event anyway so they can collect water during the next storm.
Cover Containers
Many gardens use rain barrels as a water source for the garden and not primarily or at all for stormwater diversion. These barrels may not be drained on a weekly basis. In those cases, it is particularly important to follow the CDC recommendation of covering any opening with a mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito. Standard window screen should work.
Change the Surface of the Water
There are some additional measure you can take. Blue Water Baltimore offers several solutions including making the surface of the water inhospitable to mosquito eggs by adding a 1/4 cup vegetable oil or 1 Tbsp of dish soap. This treatment needs to be refreshed every time the barrel is emptied and after each rain event.
Add Bti
Another option is floating Mosquito Dunks® in containers of standing water. Dunks® contain Bti, Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, a different subspecies of the the same bacteria you can use to control cabbage loopers and tomato hornworms. BTi is specific to mosquitos and other biting insect larva and are not thought to affect non-target species including caterpillars – good (e.g., monarch, swallowtail) or bad – or birds and mammals. This is a solution for any water container that you may have difficulty emptying on a weekly basis, but, ideally, it should be used sparingly to reduce the development of Bt resistance.

April 27
Thinning is a necessary evil in the garden when you direct sow, particularly when you have root crops. Some crops have compound seeds – each sprouting 3 or so seedlings. Some like carrots and lettuce have seeds so tiny that it is difficult to space accurately with out aids like pelleted seeds. Even with such aids, over-seeding, or placing seeds closer together than is ideal, is necessary to get a full crop, especially if you are using older seed.Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 1.10.01 PM
If left to their own devices, overcrowded sprouts will compete for resources and struggle. They may fail to produce a crop or, at best, offer a meager specimen. So, thinning is a necessary part of gardening.
As difficult as it may be to rip (or trim) seedlings from the ground, all is not lost. If thinning is done periodically, you will have a steady supply of baby greens – baby lettuce, beet greens, radish, chard – to add to your salad mix. Some may stand transplanting, beets and chard notable examples. But be realistic about how much of either you really want. Committing to transplanting every thinned plant can quickly eat up all of your garden bed.
When possible, thin on cool, cloudy mornings and when the soil is moist. This will give the remaining plants the best chance at recovery because their roots are disturbed as well. Think about the size of the mature plant – particularly the size of the root for root crops – and thin so that the baby plants are about that far apart with a bit of a buffer. Or, if you are wanting to optimize your baby green production, thin so they are 1/2 that distance, just remember to return to get the other 1/2 thinned. After you thin, give your remaining plants a light watering to help them recover.
Some crops do fine with gentle pulling but others, particularly peas, beans, and cucurbits, may be too disturbed by this. Using a pair of garden snips or scissors to trim off the tops can result in cleaner baby greens and save your seedlings the stress of having their roots disturbed.

April 20

Planting Okra

okraOkra is a fascinating crop, coming to America from Africa some 400 years ago. If your soil temperature has reached at least 60⁰, now is the time to plant this crop for an early summer harvest.  Okra yields better when followed by a nitrogen-fixing crop such as beans or peas, so rotate accordingly. Soak the tough seeds overnight, or scratch with a file to quicken germination. Plant ½”-1” deep on the north side of beds (okra can easily reach 5’ tall). Being a heavy feeder of nitrogen, okra plants can use sidedressings of compost or manure tea during its growth. Once the beautiful flowers twirl up into pods, harvest small and often to avoid toughness. Wear gloves and sleeves, as the hairy spines are not pleasant on bare skin. Otherwise, plant spineless varieties such as ‘Clemson Spineless’ or ‘Emerald Spineless’.





April 13

Last Frost – but BewareTomatoes_Vegetables_CitySeeds_2010 (3)

This is the week of the last frost! But beware — that magical last frost date is just when the probability of temperatures dropping below 32°F falls below 10%. 
Even if it does not freeze, many warm season crops will suffer transplant shock and struggle in cool soil, so do not necessarily rush to move your plants out. Warms season seedlings, particularly if not well hardened off, can be set back 2 or 3 weeks by the rapid change in conditions (light, temperature, humidity) when they are moved from indoors to their spot in the garden. If the soil is too cool, you can lose the jump on the growing season you were hoping to get as the seedlings acclimate and the soil warms.

Consider the forecast and wait till those night time temperatures are reliably above 60°F before transplanting most warm season seedlings. Give your plants a few day to acclimate to being outside by hardening them off, especially if you’ve started your own seedlings indoors. Place them outside in a shady spot, protected from the wind. A cold frame with the top vented is ideal. Over the course of 2 to 4 days, move them into increasingly sunny and more exposed spots before planting.

Ideally, you would transplant on a cloudy morning and give your seedlings a thorough watering to help them recover from having their roots disturbed.



April 6

Sowing Summer Crops IndoorsScreen Shot 2016-01-05 at 12.32.37 PM

It can seem to gardeners that the long winter months stretch with nothing really to do… and then many of us get caught flat footed at all of the things there are to do in the month of March! It seems we’ve just started planting our spring crops but with less than 2 weeks until our average last frost date (April 15) it is already time to move on to warm season crops. 
Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, should have been started a couple of weeks ago or more for optimal planting. However, cucurbits (melons, squash, and cucumbers) are ready to be set out fairly quickly. If you want to get a head start on harvests, sow these crops indoors over the next week or so and they will be ready once the threat of frost is past over. 
Cucumbers should be sown now, as they only need about two weeks before transplanting. Melons also take as little as two weeks for transplanting, while squash will need about four. Sow these in the next week or so to be put in the ground a few weeks after the last frost.Note of caution: Last frost date is the date after which there is a 10% or less chance of temperatures falling below 32°F. That is not the same as “no chance” as many of us found last year when we had a late frost last April. As that last frost date approaches, check the long-range forecast before transplanting tender vegetables. Also keep in mind, many of our warm season vegetables do not do well if planted in cool soil. Holding off another week or two allow the soil to warm will be better in the long run.



March 30

Onions: Good for More than Just Eating

There is a lot of questionable information and old wives tales circulating about companion planting. Some pairings work well in very specific circumstances and not in others and sometimes the science behind successful pairing is not well-documented. However, one of the tried-and-trues is planting onions among or around your other crops to deter pests – insects and rabbits. The strong sent of onions confuses pests by driving off some pest or by disguising the scent of other crop.
Even if you are not terribly interested in onions as a crop themselves, they are easy to grow interspersed with other crops. And they store well once harvested.
There are a couple of ways to grow onions – they can be started from seed indoors in late winter or direct sown outdoors in early spring. You can sometimes find seedlings to plant as well.
However, the easiest is onion sets, which is a year-old onion bulb grown from thickly sown seeds (the plants were not given enough room to grow full-size onions). These can be re-planted and with adequate space they will grow into full-size onions. Plant the sets with the point is just level with top of the soil about 3-4 inches apart (or vary depending on what you are planting next to). Like most root crops, onions like a soil that is consistently moist.
Onion sets are available at the Carriage House for $0.50/pound if you would like to give an onion boarder a try.


March 22


If you’re worried that the hot spring has limited your chances for planting cool-season crops, keep two things in mind while purchasing seeds and plants this year. First, look for vegetable varieties that are “bolt-resistant” or “heat tolerant”. This tells you that even during warmer-than-average weather, these plants will avoid flowering or bolting.
And second, according to Ross Penhallegon, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, choosing transplants that are thinner than a pencil will give more defenses against bolting than those that are larger. Thicker ones may be induced to bolt after about of warm weather.






March 16Potatoes

St. Patrick’s Day Planting

We generally use St. Patrick’s Day as our rule of thumb for when to plant potatoes. As with all rules of thumb, it is primarily used for ease of reference rather than its preciseness. There is a wide window of time in which you can plant potatoes in early spring but we associate potatoes with the Irish and so the week of St. Patrick’s Day it is. 
However, rather than strictly adhering to the calendar, what you are looking for is friable soil, or soil that is about the texture of a moist cake that crumbles with you work it in your hands. As we’ve had an unusually warm winter, the soil is ready assuming it is not too wet from this past weekend’s rain.
Get certified seed potatoes from a good source (such as Gateway Greening) and cut them into 2 inch chunks that have at least two eyes on each of them. Ideally, you would cut them a day or so before you intend to plant, and place the chunks in a single layer, allowing the cuts to “heal” before planting. In addition, before you cut them, you can green sprout them or allow the eyes to develop more substantial shoot. Neither green sprouting or healing isn’t absolutely necessary but it can reduce the loss to rot, particularly if the soil is wet or cool.
To plant, you dig a trench in your bed and  and plant chunks about 6” deep in good, friable, well-drained soil. Cover the hole or trench with a little less soil so the seed potato is covered by about 3-4” soil.
As the plants grow, pull soil from around the plant and hill around the base and developing tubers. This will allow better rooting and decrease sun exposure of the potatoes that will want to stick up from the soil. If you run short on soil, amend with compost as you go. Straw also makes an excellent hilling material.
You do want to make sure your potatoes are covered because potatoes exposed to the sun for too long, they develop chlorophyll – turning them green – and solanine. While the green from the chlorophyll is not a problem, it indicates that solanine is present and solanine is a toxic to us. If enough is ingested it can lead to an upset stomach. It is rare to eat enough to cause problems because it is bitter but in either case, allowing potatoes to green ruins the crop.
Once the plants bloom, you can steal a few “new” potatoes by carefully reaching into the hills and removing some tubers from the roots. Wait until the plant foliage dies back to dig out mature potatoes.


March 9

Dealing with Fall Cover Cropwinter rye in city garden

Now is the time to get your garden in shape for this growing season.
First, if you planted cover crop last fall, you have a couple of options for removing it before you plant. You can tear it up and either use it as mulch in your bed or tear it up and compost it.
An alternative is to turn it into the soil. It will enrich the soil as it decomposes in place. However, that initial phase of decomposition binds up nitrogen in the soil and makes it unavailable to new seedlings so you will need to wait 2-4 weeks before planting depending on how well the cover crop is mixed into the soil.
Another caution about turning cover crops directly into the soil, you also risk compacting your garden soil. If that is your selected method, make sure the soil is fairly dry before starting.
Other tasks to accomplish: it is time to prune and cut perennials back. If you have fruit trees in your garden, you will want to prune them while they are still dormant – before the leaves start to grow! Cut back asparagus stalks and weed and cultivate the bed now.
Finally, rake out the leaves and other debris that have accumulated around garden. Cut up the woody pieces before adding them to your compost.

PeasMarch 2

It’s Time!


Given the mild winter and warm weather as of late, many gardeners have been itching to get started and now that we are in March, it is finally time. Counting back from our last frost date, we have 6 more weeks which puts us in prime planting time.
This week is the time to start sowing peas. In the next couple of weeks, add in most of the other cool season crops including beets, carrots, lettuce, mustard, kale, and collards.
If you do not see germination within 2-3 weeks, sow, sow again. If you refer to the Gateway Greening’s Planting Calendar, notice there are several weeks shaded for sowing crops. Seeds sown later, in slightly warmer soil, often catch up with early sowings.
Possibly more exciting than our cool season seedings is starting those warm season vegetables indoors. This is time to sow tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant indoors. You can make this as simple or as complicated as you’d like. There are seedling trays and special growing lights, whole kits that combine them all. Or you can reuse yogurt cups, egg cartons, and other repurposed containers and salvage a simple shop light. To start seeds all you need to do is provide the seeds and seedlings with a growing medium, water, and light… and possibly a little heat.
Many of our warm season crops have tropical (or subtropical) origins and the seeds need a little heat to germinate. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants’ preferred soil temperature is 75°F. You can invest in a propagation mat  or place your seedling tray on top of or near a heat-producing appliance, like a refrigerator, to get them started. Just keep an eye on this because the dry winter air plus extra heat can quickly dry out the shallow trays of seedlings, killing them all.

February 23
Imbibitional Chilling Injury
Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 10.38.57 AMGiven our mild winter and May-like temperatures this weekend, it may have been tempting to get a jump on spring planting. If you did get seeds in the soil this weekend, be prepared for some less than spectacular germination rates after the (forecasted) rain and snow thanks to imbibitional chilling injury. This is a fancy way to say “my plants didn’t germinate properly because I sowed them right before a cold rain”.
Imbibition is the phase at which dry seeds absorb water to germinate. If the water is very cold, problems may occur. First, it is a good idea to check the temperature of the soil before sowing seeds. But if you lack a soil thermometer, check the forecast, and if the next three days show a good possibility of rain during cold temperatures or at night, wait to sow until the weather is drier.

February 17
Mild Winters and Summer PestsScreen Shot 2016-02-17 at 9.21.22 AM
Recent snows and chilly weather notwithstanding, we have had a mild winter in St. Louis, which may have you dreading a boom in this summer’s pest insect populations. However, you may not need to as it is “more complicated” than just simple temperatures as the University of Missouri Extension explains. The highlights:
  • Insects that winter above ground may have a higher survival rate based on temperature alone. However, less snow means that they are more vulnerable to the low temperatures as, somewhat counterintuitively, snow serves as insulation to below-freezing temperatures.
  • Insects that winter below ground are likely to be unaffected unless the frost depth is shallower than normal. In which case, more will survive.
  • The large fluctuations in temperatures – 60 or even 70 degree days followed by 20 degree days – can disrupt the normal rhythms that help insects survive cold temperatures. Namely, insects go dormant during the cold months and emerge when temperatures rise. If exposed to frigid temperatures when not fully dormant, damage or death can occur.
  • Even if they survive the temperature fluctuations, insects that emerge from dormancy too soon may starve as there is no food available for them.
  • The same forces working on pests are working on beneficial insects. So even if there is a larger-than-average pest population, there may be a corresponding larger-than-average predatory and parasite populations.
Taking all that into account, this underscores the importance of gardening-best practices that include minimizing the space for over-wintering pests by removing spent plant material from beds in addition to providing habitat and food sources for all stages of the life cycle for beneficials.


February 10Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 2.51.00 PM
What Can I Plant NOW?
Given our mild winter, many are itching to get started in the garden. Luckily, there are a few things we can plant this month. It will work best if your soil is workable and friable but it is not necessary. You can simply poke holes in the soil and plant your seed. The vegetables below will germinate in soil as cool at 40°F, which usually means about 6 weeks before the last frost or about March 1st. However, this year, you can probably move that forward a couple of weeks.
Spinach is a common late winter plant that works great in cold weather. You can sow weekly from late February to the middle of April. Spinach needs regular moisture and likes cool weather. Harvesting spinach before the hot weather arrives will provide the best tasting leaves and limit the possibility of bolting.
Mâche, also known as corn salad or lambs lettuce, is a nice nutty flavored green. It is very cold hardy, tolerating snow cover just fine. It’s a slow germinator. While it can sprout in soil down to 41°F, building a small low tunnel might quicken your harvests. It does not tolerate warm weather, so if you want to try it, plant it early. Harvest with cut-and-come again, taking the outer leaves and leaving center leaves intact or do a one-time harvest and cut the plants off at the stem with a sharp garden knife.
Fava beans, unlike most beans, love the cold weather. Plant in late February to early March for a good harvest in May. Fava beans will not set pods once the weather warms.

February 3

Low Tunnels & Cold Frames


Get a jumpstart on spring planting by putting up a low tunnel or cold frame. Low tunnels and cold frames put up now will warm the soil several weeks early and allow your cool season vegetables to germinate. They will continue to protect seedlings from freezing temperatures and sun scald as we head out of winter and can also be used to harden off the seedlings started indoors.
Of course, you can put them back up in the fall to get a few more weeks out of those fall vegetables as well.
Low tunnels are simple to construct. Attach pipe straps – found in the plumbing section of the hardware store – to the outside of your bed. Bend small diameter PVC pipe (keep it warm until you are ready to bend it in place – cold PVC will snap!) and slide them into the pipe straps. Then cover with plastic sheeting. The heavier the plastic the better it will stand up to UV light and protect from cold temperatures. However, heavier plastic also lets less light in, which leads to slower growth. Greenhouse film is a plastic sheeting is designed to maximize light transmission and withstand the UV exposure and gives the best of both worlds but can be more difficult to find.
A cold frame can be constructed out of scrap lumber and an old window (avoid using windows with frames with lead paint). Construct a box from the lumber and add the winder to the top with hinges so you can vent the cold frame on bright, sunny days. Ideally, the window slopes and you position the frame so the slope is south-facing in order to get the most sun exposure. Add handles to the sides and you can use the cold frame to get a jump start on planting in your bed and then move it to harden off seedlings else where.
Even more simply, a cold frame from an old window and straw bales. Arrange the bale so the window rests on top. When the weather warms, remove the window and use the straw bales to mulch the garden.
Do remember that on bright, sunny days, even quite cold ones, temperatures inside cold frames and low tunnels can climb high enough to stress plants. They need to be vented during the day and sealed up as night approaches and temperatures drop.


January 27
Bird Feeders

This time of year, the birds and other small animals may have trouble finding food. Keeping them healthy and well-fed so they are ready to pounce on those insect in the spring can be a simple or involved as you’d like and the supplies are inexpensive, starting with bird seed from the hardware store.
If you don’t already have a bird feeder, a piece of plywood or cardboard provides a clear spot for to spread the seeds. Egg cartons are another easily repurposed container for birdseed though the cardboard may not last long in snowy and rainy conditions. Make sure they are hung or anchored so they don’t blow away when emptied. If you are feeling a bit more ambitious or want to involve children, there are many crafty projects. Some favorites are:
  • Toilet paper roll bird feeders – save those toilet paper rolls and cover them in peanut butter (or sunflower seed butter if those with peanut allergies) and then roll them in bird seed. Place the roll on a small branch. If you have pine cones, you can use them in place of the toilet paper rolls
  • Milk carton bird feeder – cut a hole in the side of the milk carton, decorate if you wish, provide a perch just below the hole, fill with bird seed and hang the carton outside.
  • Birdseed ornament – there are many recipes but here is one.
  • Garlands of popcorn, cranberries, Cheerios (birds are not that picky, so store brand will do just fine), stale bread, and chunks of fruit – thread them on string, twine, or fishing line string through branches.
Consider planting for the birds this year.  Many native shrubs and flowers provide fruit and seeds that tide birds over for the winter. electing native plants for the perimeter of the garden and leaving seed heads and fruit intact at the end of the growing season provides a winter buffet for birds. Stick with the natives, however. Many nonnatives do not provide the nutrition that the birds need and birds spread the seeds far and wide, contributing to the spread of some invasive species.

January 20
Time to Start Your SeedlingsBaby_Kale
In the midst of the doldrums of winter, it is actually time to start those first seedlings.  In order to have collards, kale, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli ready to transplant in the garden by around March 15, you will need to start them in the next couple of weeks. Seedlings typically take 5-7 weeks to grow to transplant size, so count backward in order to determine the best starting date. Check the Gateway Greening planting calendar for the few outliers that need a bit more time.
After planting seeds, keep the potting soil moist and warm. The seeds will germinate in 5-10 days. Artificial lights work best when kept 2-4 inches from the tops of growing plants. And don’t forget to fertilize starting a few days after the plants have sprouted by using a double-diluted concentration with every watering, or slightly more concentrated once a week.
January 6
Start Planning Now!Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 12.32.37 PM
While spring planting is still months away, this is the time to start thinking about this year’s garden. Dust off last year’s notes and figure out what you want to plant. If you missed the spring seedling order window or the want to plant varieties not widely available, start planning for seed starting at home.
There are multiple DIY methods  that use things that many people already have around the house. Egg cartons and yogurt cups make fine containers for seedlings. A trip to a thrift store for a fluorescent light fixture or an old bookshelf will set you up to produce enough seedlings to give away.
A few notes as you start planning:
Many seeds will require a little warmth to start germination. You can use a propagation mat – a waterproof heating mat that warms the soil. Or you can place those freshly planted seeds on top of a heat-producing appliance – like a refrigerator – to get them jump started
The other thing that seeds and seedlings need is consistent moisture, which can be a bit of a challenge during the winter months. Shallow trays and pots can dry out very quickly in the low humidity of winter air, particularly when your containers are being warmed to spur germination. It is a good idea to keep your seed-starting station in a spot where it is easy for you to check on daily. An out of the way corner may contain the mess but you may find your seedlings withered up and dead if you forget to check on them for a day or two.
Finally, light. New seedlings need more light than they will get even sitting in a sunny window sill. Fluorescent bulbs on the cool end of the light spectrum are a fine boost, the closer the better, 2-4″ being the recommended distance to keep the seedlings from getting leggy. Don’t despair if you can’t manage this. Experiment with what you have to see what works best for you.
A final tip: Placing a household table or stand fan near your seedlings will both help limit damping off and induce stronger stem production in your seedlings. Set it on low and and preferably on oscillate (rotating) to create a gentle breeze that keeps the air moving around the seedlings as they get established.

December 23beets9
Vegetable Dyes
Looking for a last minute holiday-themed project, particularly one that is edible? Have some beets hanging around? Make some red dye to color food or homemade play dough or paper – things that do not need to be all that durable. There are simple directions here.
If you are looking to compliment your beet red with some other holiday themed colors from the garden, consider carrots for orange, red cabbage with baking soda (fun experiement!) for blue, and spinach or parsley for green!

December 9Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 10.03.23 AM
Window Sill Gardening
Now that the gardens are really shut down except possibly for a few hardy greens and some overwintering root vegetables and there are still several weeks before we need to think about seed starting, you might feel lost. The solution: window sill gardening with scraps, which is a perfect use of some of the kitchen scraps you might accumulate in some holiday meal preparation. It is also a great project to get kids involved in.
Several vegetables will grow back from the nubs you usually toss in the compost. Green onions, fennel, and lemon grass can provide continual harvest if you leave about 1.5-2″ attached to the roots, place them in water until they resprout, and then transplant to a pot on a sunny windowsill.
Head and romaine lettuce, cabbage, and bok coy will also regrow if you leave a couple of inches of the base of the leaves attached to the core, probably a bit more than you would normally leave. Allow them to root in water, and again transfer to a pot. Watch the head lettuce closely as the leaves can get slimy pretty quickly while rerooting in the water.
If you find that you’ve had to buy a last minute bunch of basil or cilantro, set aside a couple of stems to follow the same process for fresh herbs the rest of the winter.
Click here to view directions to do these and others.
All of these will need light. But if you don’t have a sunny windowsill, do not despair. A lamp with a cool spectrum – the cooler the better – CFL or LED bulb can substitute.



November 25Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 3.37.28 PM
Trench Composting
Some of us may still be working on clearing the garden of the end of this years growth as we’ve finally had a freeze. Many of us are also cooking a lot this week and have excess kitchen scraps. That being the case, the compost pile may be a bit overwhelmed. A great alternative to the pile, particularly when you have a glut of material and open garden space, is trench composting or, as Grow Veg calls it “composting in situ.
Trench composting is a solution that’s beauty lies in its simplicity. In your garden bed, dig a hole or trench large enough to accommodate the amount of material you have plus room to cover it with several inches of soil. Fill with plant material including grass clippings and kitchen scraps if you wish. As always, make sure it is not diseased or infested and treated with synthetic pesticides. Then cover with soil.
This method incorporates organic material into the garden in one easy step, and you do not have to worry about maintaining moisture levels or turning. Buried deep enough, you do not have to worry about the smell or attracting flies and animals.
It also provides nutrients right at the root zone for next season’s crop. If you’ve started your planting plan for next year, lay your trenches or pot holes out accordingly and mark them with a simple stake so you know where your optimal planting spaces are. A row of crops planted right along the trench or in a ring around a hole will thrive.

November 18dirt2
Soil Testing


Thanks to our relatively warm fall thus far, you may still have quite a few plants in your bed. However, sooner or later, all but the hardiest will die off and there’s one last task to consider before the soil freezes solid: getting a soil test.
If you didn’t experience any problems and had great yields this past year, you might not need one. However, for many frustrated gardeners who aren’t sure why a plant performed poorly, or why some mysterious problem occurred, a soil test may give you the answers you’re looking for.
The test will give you recommendations for the next growing season and ideally it should be done months in advance before growing so changes can be made. Some issues take a few months to correct, so finding out in November or December is far better than March or April when you’re ready to plant.
Gateway Greening is a soil drop-off site, and you can bring your samples by Monday-Thursday 8:30am3:30pm. We send them off to the University of Missouri Extension’s Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory for final testing and analysis.

November 11

Mulch Volcano?

Image from Metropolitan Forestry Services, Inc.

Image from Metropolitan Forestry Services, Inc.

We don’t necessarily think of November as a time to plant but this is actually a really good time to plant trees and bushes so if you’re adding some fruit trees or bushes or adding to the naturescaping in your garden, now is a good time if you can find the plants.
The Arbor Day Foundation offers a handy guide for planting trees.One part of the guide bears highlighting: leave 3-5″ between the trunk of the tree and mulch. Creating a “mulch volcano” by mulching any tree up to the trunk keeps the bark at the base of the trunk moist and soft, offering a entry point for diseases, insects, and rodents. It also restricts oxygen to the roots and encourages root growth into the mulch so they can get enough, making the tree more vulnerable to drought and uprooting.
Mulching does help the soil retain moisture and moderate soil temperature as well as suppressing weeds, all important for newly planted trees. So, aim for a donut of mulch no more than 2-3″ deep

November 4
Sun_Scald_on_ashPreventing Cold Weather Injury
Now is time to think about protecting our vulnerable trees and perennials from cold weather injury.
If you have strawberry plants, you will want to mulch them in the next several week, after the nighttime temperatures have dropped into the 20s but before they drop into the teens. Layer straw loosely over the plants but deep enough to hide the plants from view.
If you have young fruit trees, you can protect the trunks from sun scald injury with a whitewash of 1:1 exterior latex paint and water on the southwest side of the trunk. Sun scald happens with ice crystals form on surface of a plant and perform as optical prisms, magnifying the sun’s rays and heating up the plant tissue underneath. The plant tissue can be both cooked under these conditions or stressed by the rapid change of temperature.

October 27
October’s Dry SpellScreen Shot 2015-10-27 at 10.28.53 AM
This has been a very dry October and the coming weeks are still forecast to be warm and mostly dry. So, despite the rain you may have received Friday and Saturday, the soil moisture is still low. Any semi-hardy and hardy vegetables in your garden will continue to need regularly watering. But of particular concern are your perennial plantings, especially recent plantings, planted within the last 2 or 3 years. They are stressed by the dry weather and stressed plants do not overwinter well.
Take the opportunity to get them well hydrated during this extended warm spell. If you can, continue to water your perennials as needed until the ground freezes, which usually happens around the first of the year. You can judge need by feeling the soil 2 inches below the surface (up to your second knuckle). If it is dry, water deeply. If it is moist, you can hold off.

October 21
Preparing Garden Beds for the WinterMeramecHeights_RowCoverDemo_Rover_12082010 (3)

Now is the time to think about preparing your garden beds for winter. You may have had your first brush with frost this past weekend. If your tender plants were left unprotected, it is time to clear them out as the plant debris provides an excellent overwintering place for many garden pests.

If the temperatures did not dip down to 32°F where you are, it is a good reminder to keep an eye on the forecasted nighttime temperatures. You can gain a few degrees of protection for tender plants – plants that do not tolerate freezing temperatures – and extend flowering for mums and asters with a row cover or sheet.


Depending on the plant, this may or may not be worth the effort. There is not enough sunlight or frost-free nights for fruit-producing crops to produce new fruit and the texture of ripening fruit, particularly on tomatoes, can begin to suffer when the temperatures dip into the 40s. However, if you are planning on more significant season extension like a low hoop for your semi-hardy and hardy crops, now is a good time to install them.

Whether or not you’re planning on season extension, it is time to add organic material. Aim for 2-3 inches of compost or leaf mold. You can also sow annual rye as a cover crop, though the window for successful winter cover is closing.

October 14
Free Soil ConditionerScreen Shot 2015-10-09 at 9.45.46 AM
It is that time of year when leaves are starting to fall, clogging gutters and smothering grass. It is definitely a task, often a chore, to rake those leaves and dispose of them. But this is a golden opportunity to get free soil conditioner. Leaf mold is a fantastic (and free!) source of mineral content for garden soil. It also holds a great deal of moisture and can vastly improve soil structure when turned into heavy clay. Do not let this opportunity pass!
Rake the leaves and put in simple bin with plenty of drainage. For a low-cost option, form a length of chicken wire or welded wire into a ring about three feet in diameter. Anchor it in place near the compost bin, where you can swipe leaves to add to your compost bin if you need some additional “browns”. Then fill it with raked leaves. Avoid leaves from trees that have been treated with synthetic pesticides.
You may find yourself cautioned against adding oak leaves or pine needles because of their high acidity. It takes a great deal of leaves to alter the soil pH and as St. Louis soil is very basic, adding acidic content is unlikely to cause any problems. However, having one’s soil test periodically is always advisable.
The leaf mold will generally take about a year to mature and can take longer if the conditions are not right as the leaves are low in nitrogen and decompose slowly. However, you can do something to help keep this process on track.
First, shred the leaves with a mulcher or lawn mower on mulching setting before adding them to the bin. This is particularly advisable for oak leaves as they break down very slowly if left whole.
Then keep the pile moist. This encourages the fungal growth in the pile that is responsible for breaking the leaves down. As this fall has been very dry so far, this very important.
You can also add some freshly cut grass to the mix, particularly if you are mulching the leaves with a lawn mower, to help boost moisture and nitrogen content. If you are motivated, turning the leaves periodically will speed the process but it is not necessary. If making leaf mold yourself is not possible, several municipalities in the St. Louis area make free leaf mold available to residents.

October 6


Caring for Fall Plants


Though we might be lulled into garden complacency by the cool morning temperatures the last several days, we are still seeing warm daytime temperatures. More importantly, it has been dry. It is important to keep those emerging seedlings and newly established fall crops well-watered under those conditions.Unlike summer fruiting vegetables, which do not do well with frequent watering, cool-season leafy vegetables produce just fine with daily sprinkling. The leaves still need to dry out before nightfall, so morning watering is better. Watering should also still moisten at least the top 2 inches of soil to ensure you have not just lost all of it to evaporation in the the dry fall air.If you haven’t already, mulch your beds. If you have seedlings, a loose, very thin layer of straw provides a layer of protection from the still-warm afternoon sun. If you have more established crops, a layer of compost will help keep the soil moist.

September 30garlic
Garlic Planting


Believe it or not, it is time to start thinking about planting next summer’s garlic. But do not worry too much over when you get to it. Timing of the fall planting influences the size and number of cloves less than the size of the overall bulb – earlier means more, smaller cloves, later means fewer, larger cloves.

The most important consideration is planting the garlic several weeks before the ground freezes which means by mid-November. As many community gardens are holding their final workday of the year around the end of October, it is a good last hurrah for the garden season. Just make sure you’ve reserved the same bed for next year. And don’t forget to clearly mark what you’ve planted so you don’t disturb your garlic with spring planting.

First, add a couple of inches of compost or well-rotten manure to a well-cultivated bed. Garlic is a heavy feeder and needs plenty of nitrogen to boost that fall root growth. So some additional, organic fertilizer may be in order depending on what was planted in the bed during the growing season. Alfalfa meal or fish meal gives a gentle boost.

Then select the best-looking bulbs and, from that, the largest cloves for replanting. This is asexual reproduction – cloning! – so it is very important to start with those with most desirable traits. Plant the individual cloves root end down, pointy end up with skin intact, 6″ apart about 3-4″ deep. Mulch well. This protects from frost heaving as the soil freezes, thaws, and refreezes, as well as keeps competition from weeds at a minimum. Garlic does not do well with any sort of competition so resist the temptation to interplant next growing season.

Also, this is a good time to note whether you are planting hard or softneck varieties. The St. Louis climate is cold enough for hardneck and warm enough for softneck, so either should do well but it is good to know what to expect.

Hardneck garlic produces scapes (flower stalk) that are a delicious crop in their own right. The cloves are a bit more “garlicy,” regular in shape, and easier to peel. However, the bulbs tend to be a bit smaller.
Softneck produce larger bulbs with more cloves than hardneck and they tend to be more mild flavored. The cloves are irregular and with tighter skins, making them both harder to peel and better candidates for storage.

September 23
Making the Most of What’s LeftScreen Shot 2015-09-22 at 3.55.50 PM

Though many have had a lackluster year of tomatoes, we still have a couple of weeks to salvage this year’s harvest. Cooler temperatures will boost the production of lycopene and carotene  – what makes tomatoes red. However, cool nighttime temperatures (below 50°F) can damage the fruit before that first frost.To maximize the end of season haul, pinch off blossoms now. The flowers, if pollinated, will not have time to produce even small green tomatoes before our first frost and will divert resources from the tomatoes already on the vine. Reduce your watering to induce ripening. Picking those stubborn green ones can also help speed the process along for of those remaining on the vine.

Tomatoes do not need light to ripen, so you can ripen them indoors. Select unblemished green fruits, pick, and remove the stem. Place them in a single or double layer in a space with moderate humidity and check frequently for ripeness and spoiling. Placing green tomatoes in a container with a ripe banana can speed this process along as ripe banana release ethylene, the fruit-ripening hormone.
If you have too many green tomatoes to ripen or ones that aren’t candidates for indoor ripening, you can pickle or turn them into relish or enjoy the classic fried green tomatoes!

September 161280px-Annual_catalogue_of_celebrated_seeds_(1896)_(18397976046)
Get Cool Weather Seed Crops in the Ground
This week may be the last chance to get a seed crop in the ground. Most cool-season vegetables will take two months to get good harvests, especially due to shorter day lengths and cooler temperatures.
Vegetables with short harvest times (radish, lettuce, mustard greens) will be a good choice, as well as root crops (carrot and parsnip) that can be mulched or covered with a cold frame and protected from freezing weather. Spinach can also be sown, however, with some good protection this crop can overwinter and provide your first harvests before spring next year.

September 9
Sweet Potatoes
sweet potatoes2

If you planted sweet potatoes, you may be anxious to start harvesting. While you can technically harvest as soon as the tubers reach a decent size, the longer they are in the soil the sweeter and higher in vitamin content they are.

Ideally, wait until frost kills (blackens) the vines and harvest immediately, otherwise they will begin rotting in the ground. If you aren’t sure you’ll be able to get to digging up those sweet potatoes right after the first frost (estimated October 15th though there is a possibility it could be as early as the first of October), wait as long as you can after the vine starts to yellow.

The other consideration is that it is far better to harvest sweet potatoes when the soil is dry, so keep an eye on the forecast. The sweet potatoes are much easier to effectively cure, which improves their taste and shelf life, if they aren’t coated in mud. Use a potato fork to loose the soil and lift the potatoes from the soil. The tubers can be a foot or more from the plant, so start some distance from the plant to prevent damaging the tubers.

While you can eat sweet potatoes straight from the ground, you are likely to be disappoint in them at least as sweet potatoes because they need to be cured. Curing triggers the sugar-producing enzymes and heals nicks. Skipping this step results in starchy, tasteless sweet potatoes with limited shelf life.

Curing is a two step process. First, leave the tubers in the sun for several hours to dry the skin in order to prevent rotting during the next step. Then move to a warm, humid place for 4-10 days. This is when the starch is converted to sugar. Ideal conditions for the first step are 85-90°F and 85% humidity.  A hoop house usually provides optimal conditions but a pantry with a small bucket of water and space heater will achieve this (keep an eye on the temperature). The closer you get to these conditions, the faster the potatoes will cure but don’t despair if you cannot achieve them, just find the warmest spot you can, place the potatoes in newspaper lined boxes or crates, and give them a bit more time to cure, checking frequently for spoiling potatoes.

At the end of the curing process, place them in a cool spot. The second step’s ideal conditions are 55-60°F and 75% humidity. Basements frequently approximate these conditions.

September 2640px-Compost_Heap

Give Your Compost a Boost

Give your compost some extra attention in the coming weeks as you will have both a good mix of greens and browns moving into the fall and large amount of material to accommodate as you clean out your garden through the fall.

In particular, end-of-the-season grass clippings (as long as not treated with pesticides), will give a quick boost of nitrogen to help process the spent plants. Take care to mix throughly with other compostable material as grass has a tendency mat and turn stinky as it decomposes anaerobically.

As your pull spent plants from your garden, keep an eye out for disease and pests, diverting those plants to the green waste bins instead of your compost bins. While you may be able to get a well-managed pile hot enough to kill insects, their eggs, and disease, community garden and home piles are not reliably so. Including those plants risks inoculating your pile and eventually your entire garden with pests and disease.

August 26

Cool Weather Pest Management

Harlequin eggs

Many pest problems drop off with cooler weather. However, we have some hardy ones that stick around. Their tougher nature makes them a little bit more difficult to manage, so good integrated pest management is all the more important.

Make sure you are keeping an eye out for the stink bug family members. They vary from the unassuming brown to quite pretty harlequin and can decimate fall cole crops. They have piercing mouth parts, so the damage is not holes but white or yellow window paned sections where they have sucked the contents of the leaf cells out. Stink bugs may stunt, misshape, or kill new growth.

Control starts with reducing habitat, particularly overwintering sites. If you have a stink bug problem now, think ahead this fall when you clean out your garden. Clear out your beds and around them so there are few places for adults to survive the winter to lay eggs next season. Then keep the weeds down in and around your garden all season. However, resist clearing out weedy areas around the garden now if you’ve seen stink bugs as you may drive them into your garden when you take out their current residence.
Small flowering plants will attract parasitic wasps, a predator of the stink bugs, but may other predators avoid them thanks to their smell.

Planting trap crops that will attract the stink bugs (for example, mustard near other cole crops) is a helpful line of defense. Trap crops are ones you plan to sacrifice to the pest. However, you will still need to keep an eye on them so you can dispose of them in the green waste bins when infested with stink bugs. Otherwise, that infestation will spread to your primary crop.

If you find them on your primary crops, hand picking is the first level of control. Drop them in soapy water to avoid releasing their pungent oder

Removing and destroying eggs is the next step in controlling the population. Stink bug eggs are readily identifiable. They are barrel shaped and clustered on the underneath side of leaves. Harlequin eggs are particularly distinctive, with a black-and-white pattern.
Finally, if you have on going problems, pyrethrin is the primary organic insecticide option as the adult insects, the fall season culprits, are not vulnerable to insecticidal soaps.
Remember, do not disposed of infested crops in your home or community garden compost bin. These bins do not get reliably hot enough to kill insects or their eggs. In this case, instead of trapping and removing stink bugs, you may provide a pleasant overwintering spot and then distribute the pest throughout your garden in the spring

August 18thharvest5

Extra Harvest?

Do you have excess harvest? Are neighbors hiding from you for fear of you foisting another zucchini on them? Would you like to help food insecure families eat better?

Check for listings of local food pantries that gladly welcome fresh produce. They list what they can use, what they can’t, and when they are able to receive fresh produce.

August 12th

beets6Cool-Season Fall Crops

Many gardeners are hanging up their trowels as the tomatoes and summer squash peter out, missing the opportunity to extend their garden into a 3rd (okay, maybe 2nd) season. Now is the time to plant cool-season fall crops.

These are many of the same crops planted in March and April – lettuce, root crops, and many in the brassica family. They tolerate short days and cool temperatures.  Most of these crops will survive light frosts (28°F-32°F), even improving in taste. Many tolerate hard frosts (20°F-28°F), allowing for harvest into late fall when the short daylight hours send them into dormancy. However, they need to have grow well-established before those frosty nights arrive.

First, keep on top of the harvest for warm season crops. This helps minimize hosts for pests and disease and you can pull spent plants at the earliest opportunity to open up space for cool-season crops.

Then, prepare the soil, taking care with watering. In the hot dry days of summer, watering can quickly compact and harden bare soil. Select cool season crop varieties that are both early maturing and heat tolerant. Take measures to reduce the soil temperature: plant near tall plants or use shade cloth or row covers to keep the soil cool and moist. Mulch seedlings with leaf mold or straw to protect them from the heat of August and September.
Extend your growing season even longer with row covers, hoop beds, and cold frames.  Row covers will add a handful of degrees of protects, depending on the weight of your row cover. Hoop beds add several more degrees and can easily take your garden into November or December though plants will grow far more slowly. Cold frames can take your plants through the winter, though they will go dormant when there are fewer than 10 hours of light in a day.

August 5th

One Last Chance

With barely two months left of frost-free weather left this year, this week may be your last chance to plant a warm-season crop. Look for those in the 50-60 day range, such as pickling cucumbers, okra, bush beans, and summer squash. This may also give you some relief against damaging pests, such as the squash vine borer, which by mid-August should no longer be laying eggs in your tender plants. While you may not achieve yields like those in the summer months, it’s nice to be able to extend summer harvests into the fall.

July 29th

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 2.13.52 PMCool Season Cover Crop

Now is the time to start thinking about cool season cover crops.  Left bare, garden soil can be leached of its nutrients as well as compacted and eroded by wind and rainfall. Bare garden soil is also inviting to early and late season weeds. However, leaving your spent vegetable crops in place gives pests and disease a place to overwinter.

Cover crops protect and even improve the quality of your soil in the off season while not being a good host for pests and disease. They, however, need to germinate and sprout before the cold weather hits. Many should be planted in the next month or two in between your warm season crops or as space opens up.

The University of Missouri Extension has a helpful table for selecting the right cover crop for your garden:

Bell_AllPrograms_080611 (5)July 21st

Scraggly Garden

As the mercury climbs, the garden can get kind of scraggly looking with spent plants and leaves. Clearing things out little by little can make life easier in the long run. However, a note of caution. When dealing with your nightshade plants, tomatoes in particular, if removing yellowing or dead leaves, take special care to not spread disease. Dunk pruning shears in a bleach solution or wipe down with alcohol.







July 15th, 2015IMG_1689

Fall Gardening

Believe it or not, it is time to start thinking about those fall crops. In the next couple of weeks, it will be time to plant your broccoli, lettuce, radishes, spinach, carrots, and kale for the fall growing season. Check your seed supply for leftover seeds from the spring. Consider planning for season extenders, like row covers and hoop beds that will keep the fresh greens coming albeit more slowly well into the fall, even winter.








July 8th, 2015

Staying on Top of Harvestsquash

Though the rain and cool temperatures may have slowed production on some of our crops, it is time to stay on top of that harvest. Check those zucchini and summer squash frequently or they can quickly get away from you. Pick them, cucumbers, and okra early and often. Pick and use split tomatoes immediately so they don’t attract pests that can carry diseases.

While you’re at it, pull up spent plants and compost the disease-free. If diseased, bypass your compost bin and place in the green waste to avoid infecting your compost as home and community garden compost piles do not get reliably hot enough to kill off those pathogens.

July 1st, 2015IMG_3220

Dealing with the Aftermath of Rain

After all the rain we’ve gotten, the ground is pretty moist. If you have melons, place them on top of an upside-down flower pot, coffee can, or other pedestal-like object to get them off the wet ground and prevent the fruit from rotting. If you don’t have anything handy, a layer of straw underneath the melons will help.

In the future, consider trellising vining plants like cucumbers, melons, and squash. The fruit stems generally grow to support the weight of smaller fruit. For larger fruit larger fruit like melons, you can support them by attaching melon hammocks to the trellis to support the weight of the fruit. Melon hammocks can be make from scraps of material like old t-shirts or pantyhose.




Spotting the Spotted Cucumber Beetle

The other day I found our first Spotted Cucumber Beetle flying around at Bell Garden looking for trouble. They look similar to lady beetles, but are more slender and have 11 or 12 dots on their backs. As their name implies, they like cucumbers and other related plants (melons, squash, etc.) as well as corn and other vegetables. While the larvae do feed on roots and can kill small plants, their biggest threat is spreading cucumber mosaic virus and bacterial wilt as feeding adults. Check for adults and their striped counterparts while watering. Ragged holes in foliage may be a sign. If wilt begins to occur successively throughout the plant, cut the stem and look for sticky, roping sap. Destroy affected plants immediately. The best way to protect plants is by covering them early with row covers or other means of excluding the pests. Pyrethrins may also work once the beetles become evident.

June 17th, 2015

Dry Your Herbs Nowbay

Harvest leaves from your herbs now and dry them. They retain the most flavor if dried quickly. They can be dried in a food dehydrator but another effective way to do this is place them in a single layer on a screen in a dark space between 70°F and 90°F with plenty of air circulation. Once they are dried, move them to screw top glass jars, leaving the leaves whole (crush when you use them). The fresher-than-store bought herbs will bring a touch of summer to your kitchen all winter long.

June 10th, 2015

Gardening Smart in Hot Weatherclouds-429228_1280

Though we’ve had a pretty cool late spring so far, the mercury will begin to climb soon. Make sure you are gardening smart in hot weather.

For plants that means mulching beds and watering early to minimize loss of water to evaporation. Though if your plants are thirsty, water them when you notice. However, squash plants may droop in the heat of midday and not need water. Always check your soil, if it is moist at 2″ (stick your finger into the second knuckle), wait to water. If it is dry, water.

For you, make sure you are drinking plenty of water. Save the hard work for cooler hours and take frequent breaks. Dress in light-colored, loose fitting clothing, wear a wide brimmed hat, and use sunscreen!

Other tasks for this week: keep an eye on your beans and harvest them before the pods start to bulge. Harvest cabbage but leave the outer leaves in tact, mini-heads will develop. If you have summer squash, harvest early and often!


June 3rd, 2015

Keeping a Close Eye on Tomatoes

With so many potential problems that may arise with tomatoes, it’s a wonder why they are still the #1 crop in vegetable gardens. Maybe it’s just because they taste so good. If you set out your plants about a month ago, it’s a good idea to begin close inspection to find problems early. Two problems that are a real threat are Verticillium and Fusarium wilts. Both can be deceptively similar, however they will typically begin on the lower or outer leaves and work upwards. With Fusarium, look for yellowing, wilted leaves and/or a wilting, sickly appearance on one side of the plant. This will be caused by fungus clogging the water-transport mechanisms of the plant. Browning of the stem interior may also occur. Verticillium will create distinct V-shaped yellow patches on leaves, eventually turning them brown. Gardeners using heirloom varieties should be particularly adamant about checking for these diseases, as they lack resistance. Choose varieties that show VF on the plant tags or seed packets if problems have occurred in the past. All Solanaceous crops (tomato, pepper, eggplant, potato) are susceptible to these diseases, and there is no easy way to rid your soil once it’s there. Always rotate these crops, 3-4 years if possible. Immediately dispose of infected plants in the trash. Composting these may only spread the problem.

May 27th, 2015buckwheat

Utilizing Warm Season Cover Crops

Some cool season crops are or will tail off soon, opening up space in the garden. Maybe you’ve lost a few of your other crops. If you do not have a few warm season laggards hanging around, ready to take their place, plant a warm-season cover crop.

Cover crops offer several benefits. First and foremost, they are a first line of defense against weeds! Open space of healthy garden soil is just waiting to be colonized. Second, they protect your soil from being leached of nutrients by the sun or heavy downpours. Third, they improve soil texture, particularly for water infiltration (keep more of that precious summer rain in your soil!). They add organic material to soil. Finally, those that flower offer a food source for pollinators.

The go-to summer cover crop for our climate is buckwheat. However, you can use anything from your seed stash that produces leaves and stems quickly (i.e., bush beans or a quick-growing annual flower) that is also easy to pull out or cut back when you are ready to plant something else.

You can compost your cover crop when you cut it back or use it as green manure, which means you turn the entire cover crop into the soil. If you choose to use it as green manure, be sure to leave two to three weeks between turning your soil and planting the next crop.

May 19th, 2015

Get Warm Season Plants in the Groundeggplant2

Now that we’re moving into reliably warm weather, it is time to get the last of your warm season crops in the ground. Plant those last few tomato plants, set out your pepper and eggplant plants, sow beans, squash, as well as fall cabbage as space opens up in your garden.

It is also time to sow lettuce again. Select varieties that are slow to bolt and place them in a shady spot, if you have it, or think about placing a piece of lattice raised on cinder blocks over that part of the bed to keep your lettuce cool as the temperatures start to rise.

Harvest your peas and greens when they are young and tender. Harvest leaves from the outside or your parsley and regularly harvest leaves from your basil to keep it from blooming.



May 13th, 2015

Plant Something Sweet this Summer!

sweet potatoes2Looking for a low-maintenance crop that yields a versatile and delicious food? Consider sweet potatoes! Sweet potatoes are a tropical plant, so they aren’t happy in Missouri soil until mid-May but will thrive in heat of July and August if given enough water, producing a quick vigorous vine that will shade out more weeds once established. They grow until the first frost kills the vine, when it is time to dig up the tubers and cure them for the best flavor and longer storage.

Sweet potatoes are grown from slips, cutting from sprouted vines that have developed roots. Slips can be purchased or started from organic* sweet potatoes at home though certified seed sweet potatoes are recommended as they do not carry disease. A dozen slips will cover a good portion of a of 4×12 bed.

Other tasks for this week: harvest the last of your asparagus, leaving a few remaining stalks to develop their fernlike shoots. As they mature, harvest peas and lettuce, removing leaves from the outside, leaving the plant in place so that it continues to develop leaves. Keep an eye out for pests like cabbage worms before they eat all of your cole crops.

If you find damage from those pesky worms, it is too late to add those row covers. Manually remove them and the eggs found on the underneath side of the leaves. Consider treating with BT ( Bacillus Thuringiensis) if the infestation is particularly bad. BT has a short lifespan, less than a week, once exposed to the sun, so be prepared for regular reapplication.

*Conventional sweet potatoes are often treated with an anti-sprouting agent.

May 6th, 2015

HoseIs Your Garden Water-Wise?

It is starting to get warm, so it is time to ensure your garden is water-wise.

First, mulch your vegetable crops. Mulching is well worth the effort. It suppresses weeds, helps your soil maintain moisture and nutrients, keeps the soil cooler as the temperatures rise, and prevents soil from splashing up onto your plants’ leaves. It’s not just about keeping them pretty, soil splashback can infect leaves with soil-borne diseases.

Organic materials such as straw or leaf mold are good choices because at the end of the season, you can work it in to your garden soil to improve its texture. If your soil is dry, water thoroughly before mulching.
Second, shade your lettuce, particularly if it is in a sunny spot so that it continues to grow through the warmer months. A lattice supported by cinder blocks or crates, will keep it cool so it does not get bitter.
Finally, check that your rain barrel is in working order. Even if it isn’t your primary water source, it can be a handy supplementary source for giving thirsty plants a quick drink when they start to droop in the heat.

April 29th, 2015

Warm Season Prep

Whew, now we’re really past the frost danger (our last frost day is really a “less than 10% chance of frost” date) and we can set out tomato plants, cucumbers, squash, and melons.

If you haven’t already, harden off your plants by placing them in a shaded, protected place outside and, over the course of several day, move to increasingly sunny places. Don’t forget to water them: the wind and sun can quickly dry out your seedlings while in the packs or pots. Try to transplant on a cloudy day or in the evening and finish off by giving your new transplants with a good watering.

Spindly tomato plants can be planted deep. The buried stem will form roots, strengthening the plant, keeping them from toppling over in the wind. Dig a hole wideenough to accommodate the root ball and a good portion of the stem sidewise. Lay the root ball in the hole on its side, gently curving the stem into a “J” with the leaves an inch or two above the soil line.Watch the forecast for when the overnight temperatures are regularly staying around 60°F to transplant those peppers. They are tropical plants that will not thrive when it is too cool. Plant pepper a bit deeper than they were potted (but not as deep as tomatoes) for best yields.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 3.47.01 PMApril 22nd, 2015

Taking Care of Your Little Seedlings

Now that we are past the last frost day and have lots of little seedlings out there are a couple of new tasks.

First, it is time or past time to thin cool season crops that you direct seeded. Though it may be hard to sacrifice these tiny plants, each plant needs space to grow. Not thinning will result in struggling plants and possibly nothing to harvest. Read the seed packet for adequate spacing or, if those have been lost in the flurry of spring planting, estimate the plants mature size and give it a minimum of that much space. Then water. Gently pull out extra seedling or snip with scissors if they are very tightly bunched, particularly if they are root crops. This is best done on a cloudy day. Give seedlings another light watering to help them recover from any disturbance.

You can attempt to transplant seedlings you pulled (success will vary) or eat them and the ones you snipped as microgreens!

The second task is to protect the your seedlings. Check for pests, put paper collars around seedlings to protect from cutworms, and shelter freshly transplanted seedlings from wind that can dry them out quickly as they do not have established roots yet. Put row covers, baskets, or thin pieces of wood near them to block the wind until they are established (and the windspeed goes down).


Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 4.06.25 PMApril 15th, 2015

Starting Warm Season Direct Seeding

This is the week of the last frost! If you’re really chomping at the bit, you are mostly safe putting out or direct seeding your warm season crops (10% change of temperatures dropping below 32°F). Keep an eye on the weather and cover these tender plants if a late frost threatens.

If you aren’t ready, don’t worry. Many of the warm season seedlings will pout in the not-yet-warm soil, so you can wait on putting those tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant seedlings in the soil for another couple of weeks but think about hardening them off by placing them outside and moving them into increasingly sunny and exposed areas (don’t let them dry out!) in the mean time.

You can also start direct seeding bush beans, cucumber, melon, and squash. Cover the planted areas with row covers or cover with cloches to help warm the soil and promote germination.


Tomatoes_Vegetables_CitySeeds_2010 (3)April 8th, 2015

Thinking about Summer

Though we are still in the midst of cool seasons vegetables, with only a week to go until our last frost date, it is time to get started with your warm season crops. If you have a cold frame or other protected outdoor area, you can start hardening off tomato plants now. Don’t expose them to temperatures much less than 60°F though. Other warm season crops like peppers and eggplant will be too shocked by early April temperatures, so hold off until later this month to move them outside.

April 1st, 2015

It is Time to Plant STRAWBERRIES!The_Downton_strawberry_plant_(Fragaria_cv.);_fruiting_stem_a_Wellcome_V0044479

Strawberries are hardy perennials that come back to produce for 3 to 5 years. So select a sunny, well-drained site you can pull out of your crop rotation for several years. Otherwise, select a container that you can keep well-watered and place in a sunny place. Strawberries need a lot of sun!

Secure bare-root or container grown-plants. When planting, locate the crown at the center of the plant and bury the roots so that soil line is just at the base of the crown and the roots are spread out. Deeper and you risk the crown rotting, more shallow and the plant may dry out. Spacing will vary by variety, so check the specific recommendations for your plants.

Mulch between all strawberry plants with pine needles, chopped leaves or another mulch that lower soil pH. This is important as St. Louis soil tends to be basic and strawberries prefer acidic soil. Water thoroughly and keep the bed mulched and weeded through the growing season.

Most varieties produce runners, which can be trained to take root in a bare batch or, once rooted, transplanted to populate a new bed. However, clipping runners and pinching off early flowers will direct the plants’ growth into their roots, making for a more vigorous plants and better harvests later. With June-bearing varieties, it is best to pinch off the 1st season’s flowers. Though difficult, sacrificing the 1st year’s usually underwhelming harvest will greatly improve the 2nd year’s.

March 25th, 2015

Men_and_women_planting_potatoes_(circa_1950)Planting Potatoes

It is potato planting time! This week is perfect for potatoes to be planted in the garden if your soil is not too wet. Earlier dates might cause the seed potatoes to rot in the cold, wet soil. Later dates means a later and possibly smaller harvest.

Get certified seed potatoes from a good source (such as Gateway Greening). Put them in a warm place where they receive some sunlight to stimulate sprouting, then cut those larger that a golf ball into chunks with 2-3 eyes each. Allow the cuts to dry.

There are varying methods for planting. The most important part is to allow for hilling – adding more soil to the base of the plants – to keep potatoes covered with soil. Dig holes or a trenches about 4-6″ deep. Plant each piece of potato with the eyes pointing up and the cut side down,12-15 inches apart. Space your rows about 2-3 feet apart. Cover potatoes with 3-4” soil.As the plants grow, pull soil from around the plant and hill around the base and developing tubers. This will allow better rooting and decrease sun exposure of the potatoes that will want to stick up from the soil. Sun exposure turns potatoes green and inedible!

Once the plants bloom, you can steal a few “new” potatoes by carefully reaching into the hills and removing some tubers from the roots. Wait until the plant foliage dies back before digging out mature potatoes.

tomatoMarch 18th, 2015

Starting Tomatoes Indoors

This week marks the five-weeks countdown until our last average frost date of April 15. That means if you haven’t yet started your tomatoes indoors, now is the perfect time. Tomatoes typically should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before being transplanted and transplanted about 1-2 weeks after the last frost date for best success. Keep the rooting area of the seedlings warm, about 75⁰ for best germination rates. Remember that close lighting (1-2 inches) will keep them from getting leggy.

Transfer them up into larger pots when they are 2-3 inches tall and have several sets of leaves. At this point, you’ll want to decrease watering to allow some drying to occur between watering. Also, take care to keep the foliage dry and help limit your chances of fungus and disease outbreaks.

March 11th, 2015

Preparing for a dry growing seasonLE-_Rain_Barrel_Workshop_(5740961372)

While warm weather may still seem a long way off, this week is a good time to think about preparing for hot, dry days. If you have not already invested in a rain barrel, consider one now. They not only provide rain water, naturally soft and low in chlorine and salts (great for thirsty plants, not for thirsty people), between showers, they reduce burden on our sewer system during storms.

If you have a rain barrel, wait for the first good rain to flush your gutters and downspouts and then connect or reconnect your rain barrel. Check old rain barrel connections for damage and repair as needed. Make sure to install the screen to keep debris from entering your rain barrel. Consider soaker hoses made for rain barrels (designed for low pressure) to drain your rain barrel between rain storms and water your plants.

River Des Peres Watershed Coalition offers instructions on how to make your own rain barrel here.

Or two local venders sell rain barrels: Robinson Rain Barrels and Rain Water Harvesting Supply Co. .

March 4th, 2015

birdhouseMaking Your Garden Hospitable to Beneficial Insects Can Start in the Dead of Winter

Consider constructing a bug hotel or bluebird house. The bug hotel gives beneficial insects a place to reside, even hibernate. It is easily built from upcycled and reclaimed materials and can be as simple or complex as you’d like. You can construct a box or use a container you already have. Gather bamboo canes, sticks, seed pods, leaves and other organic materials from you home and garden. Using multiple fill materials with varying depths and surfaces will help attract a several different insects and spiders species.

Arrange the material in the box with the ends of the canes, sticks, and leaves oriented toward the opening of the container in a visually appealing way (the open this side will show!). Make sure the material is not sticking out past the edge of your container so that is doesn’t funnel water into to your hotel. Add a roof or eve to your container for additional protection  ( time you are out in your garden, mount the hotel in your garden with the open side perpendicular to the ground.

If you have enough open space in and around your garden (1.5 to 2 acres), you may also consider constructing a bluebird house. But it needs to be done this week as bluebirds nest in the first half of March.

If you lack enough open space to attract bluebirds, the same house can be used by wrens, chickadees, titmice, tree swallows.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has a guide for constructing and mounting a bluebird house:

GG 11February 25th, 2015

Getting Your Tools Ready for Spring

Even though springs seems like a long way away during this cold snap, this is the time to check the conditions of your tools. Make sure they are clean, sharp, and in good working order.

While tools should be cleaned after every use and particularly before winter storage, sometimes one gets missed. Start with clean tools. If any tools are cracked or broken, asses whether they can be fixed or need to be replaced. If there is any rust on functional tools, sand the rust spots off with 80 grit sandpaper, a wire brush, or, for extensive rust, a drill with a wire brush attachment.

If your tools need sharpening, brace the tool and use a simple mill file. Draw it at an angle across the edge you want to sharpen in one direction, in one smooth stroke along the length of the edge, maintaining the angle of the factory bevel (cutting edge) until you’ve achieved the desired sharpness.
With cleaned and rust-free (or as close as you can get) tools, wrap up the chore by oiling the exposed metal with boiled linseed oil.

TheFreedomSchool_hoophousesFebruary 18th, 2015

Get a Jump on Spring Planting with Row Covers, Hoop Beds and Cold Frames

You can start your cool weather crops outdoors in the next couple of weeks if you add row covers, hoop beds, or a cold frame to your garden. They warm the soil and protect crops from frost. Don’t rush to put out tender plants just yet but your cool weather greens will flourish with a little extra warmth and protection.

Matt Even, Gateway Greening’s Community Outreach Specialist, is leading a workshop on building cold frames from salvaged material at Perennial on February 28th, 10am-1pm.

Adding a hoop cover to an existing raised bed in an easy an inexpensive project. Feed 1/2″ PVC pipe through pipe straps attached every 3-4′ to the outside of a long side of the bed frame. Bend the PVC over the bed and feed it through corresponding straps on the opposite side of the bed.

Lay plastic sheeting (minimum of 3.5mil) over the PVC frame and weigh down long edges with bricks, stones, or filled water bottles or milk jugs. Alternatively, sandwich the long edges of the sheeting between 2 pieces of lathe or other thin strips of wood and secure the wood to the outside of the bed. This has the added benefit of providing a rigid core to roll the sheeting up to access the bed and for storing over the summer.

Use clamps to gather and close ends for easy access and venting on warm days.


February 11th, 2015

Time to Plant Peppers

It is time to sow seeds indoors for pepper, both hot and sweet. Peppers like heat and do not tolerate cold temperatures well but they are slow growers. Starting them now means they will be a nice size for transplanting when nighttime temperatures are consistently above 55ºF.

Peppers are thirsty plants but do not like to be waterlogged. Use trays or pots with drainage holes and a separate water tray. Wash trays with hot water and soap, sanitize with a 9 parts water, 1 part bleach solution. Fill with starter mix or use peat pellets and sow pepper seeds. Keep growing medium moist.

Peppers also like warm soil, so set your tray on a propagating mat or on top of the refrigerator to encourage germination. Once sprouted, give them plenty of light (cool fluorescent close to the tray).

Pepper do well in pots and raised beds because the soil tends to be warmer. They need a site with full sun but avoid locations where tomatoes or eggplants were recently planted as the three are susceptible to the same diseases.



February 4th, 2015

Growing Onions Indoors

Start onions now if growing them indoors or in cold frames. The easiest way to get them going is to fill a typical flat or waterproof tray (preferably with holes for drainage) with potting soil and sow seeds thickly. If you want bulb onions, choose seed varieties that are best at our latitude (38⁰), since most onions are dependent on day length to produce a bulb. “Intermediate-day onions” are a good choice for the St. Louis area. As the seedlings grow, they can be pulled apart and potted or planted in the garden, about 4-6 weeks before the last frost.




Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.26.05 AMJanuary 21st, 2015

Pelleted Seeds

When purchasing seed this winter, consider pelleted seeds as an option. Lettuce, carrot, and onion seeds can be so small that they become difficult to seed properly, causing a need for excessive thinning later. Pelleted seeds are coated and much larger than normal, making it easy to sow only the quantities needed.



January 5th, 2015

Starting Cool Season Vegetable TransplantsScreen Shot 2015-01-06 at 9.35.30 AM

January is a good month to gather your supplies for starting vegetable transplants. Most cool-season transplants require about six weeks of indoor growth before being transferred outside. This means, the end of January is a good time to get your first seeds planted. Start by looking at a good reference document that outlines the materials, time, and space required to grow healthy transplants for home gardens. Assess whether you have the proper growing facilities for the amount you wish to grow. Lighting, access to water, and warmth will be your most important factors to consider. A heat mat is usually sufficient for warming the soil, which is often more important than warm air. For beginners, using a pre-mixed potting soil will make life easier. A good, light and fluffy potting soil that is evenly moistened before planting is ideal. For more advanced gardeners, plenty of recipes are online to make your own mix. Peat pellets and small greenhouse kits can save you money; just remember to invest in a water-soluble fertilizer to begin adding to your watering can once the seedlings have grown out their first set of true leaves.