Friday, September 25, 2009

Question number two comes from my good friend and training partner, Graham, over at Impolite Company. He writes:


"I've recently discovered evidence of cats in my beds (no, silly, the ones outside with the plants--cats in my inside bed is par for the course and isn't even frowned upon around here), as in cat scratchings and poop. I've recently added more pine straw to the popular areas and this morning I sprayed it down with habanero juice. Don't know if this will work or not with repeated applications but while I'm waiting to see I thought I'd take advantage of your open-ended request for questions and see if you have other ideas."


Ugh, I've had this problem before too. Some years I do and some years I don't, and I have always lived where cats were a common outside presence, so I am guessing it has to do with what I have planted and whether or not there is a nearby better option. First of all, I think the habanero is a good idea. you may have to re-apply once or twice, but once they get the idea that you garden burns their booties, they will likely just keep away for good. Cats also dislike citrus smells, so you could spear a citrus rind or ten around the garden or spray with citrus oil, which may last longer than hot pepper oil and won't hurt you if you come across it accidentally yourself. Citrus oil will also keep some unwanted insect pests away. Speared citrus fruit will attract butterflies, which you may want to do if you are growing flowers, maybe not so much if you are growing green, leafy veggies you would like to save for your own dinner. You could also plant citronella or citrus-scented mints, thymes, and/or geraniums around the border of the garden. I noticed you built your beds with cinder blocks--perfect! Fill the holes with dirt and plant your deterrent plants in there. It will be lovely as well as functional. Your garden is beautiful by the way--I'm impressed!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Part of maintaining an organic garden is putting up with pests sometimes. Some pests are just pests to me, such as aphids, cabbage loopers, and slugs. I have no compunction whatsoever about squishing aphids by the thousands, and no doubt that they will be back by the millions every year. Some though, such as the star of my little video, I have a little more trouble doing away with. It's not this guy's looks that have saved him for the time being. In fact, as you can see, he looks exactly like bird poop. It's the fact that I love his ingenious camaflouge, and I have never seen one of these in person before. These caterpillars are also known as Orange Dogs, and though the film is poor quality, if you look close you can see him sticking his big orange antenae out at me when I touch the leaf. There's only just the one, for now, and I haven't been using much of my Thai lime leaves anyway, so I am going to let him hang out. I want to see what he looks like as an adult--an Asian Swallowtail caterpillar with purportedly lovely brown and yellow wings. If I can catch it on film I will.


Well, he got a lit bigger and ate quite a lot of my tree, but he's gone now. I hope he snuck off somewhere to pupate and I just can't find him, rather than got eaten by a bird.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My First Question! And it's a Doozy...


Dear Centex Organics,
Will my decomposing loved one work as an organic fertilizer? I would think that if they're not embalmed it wouldn't deteriorate the integrity of my soil but I've been unable to find any hard data on whether human remains will improve my gardening.
Die Hard Organic


Dear DHO,

No-questions-asked-information, that's what you'll get here! Just make sure he's really shaken loose his mortal coil first, I don't want any part of a live composting. To answer your question though, not really. A good garden compost--one in which you are going to grow edibles--should not contain any kind of dairy, meat, or fat. Part of the reason is that the smell will attract unwanted critters to your compost such as rats, skunks, raccoons, and curious homicide detectives. The other reason is that they can contain harmful bacteria that will not be properly neutralized in a typical garden compost pile. The hair and nails are fine though. Now if you are just growing flowers, trees, or shrubbery, not meant for any food crops, you may consider an eco-burial. It's all the rage in Sweden:

Or if you want, you can spend money on a special high-heat composter that decomposes meat, neutralizes bacteria, and contains the smell.

My condolences on your loss, and thanks for reading!


Fall Gardening and an End to Drought

Summer is finally coming to a close in Texas, and I know many of us were beginning to wonder if it ever would. The heat this year, as well as the drought, were tough on even professional farmers. Boggy Creek Farm lost their entire tomato crop, disappointing many fans of Larry's famous smoke-dried tomatoes. Gardeners all over Central Texas lamented bitter herbs, dry and crackly greens, and blossom end rot on tomatoes and summer squash. Finally though, the merciful rains have come again, and all at once it seems! Nothing feels better to me than the first rains of the "rainy season" here in Austin, coupled with the first Fall breezes. All that says one thing to Central Texas gardeners--it's time to plant!

This blog is meant for other gardening hobbyists, veteran and newbie alike, and I will try to keep it interesting and up to date. Primarily, I would like it to be based on your questions, so please write in with them! Unless you request otherwise, I will post them on the main page and answer them there as well. That way, others can chime in with additional advice, and I get to learn something too.

To get us started, let's talk about something that I have heard a lot about this summer and mentioned above--blossom end rot. Many people think it is a result of too much moisture, as rotting usually is, so they are confused when it happens in the middle of a drought. The actual cause of it though, is a calcium deficiency or lack of adequate calcium mobility in the plant, which can result from insufficient or inconsistent watering, excessive vegetative growth due to a nitrogen overdose, or simply calcium-poor soil. So to avoid it you must:

A) Ensure you have adequate calcium in the soil, which can be achieved with a simple soil test, available at gardening centers, or, if you are fairly certain that your soil is low in calcium, a simple soil amendment such as a natural fertilizer with high calcium, also available at gardening centers.
B) Ensure that you do not over-fertilize with nitrogen. This will also prevent burning of some plants and tender seedlings.
C) Water regularly and consistently. It is as important that your watering schedule is consistent as it is that it is sufficient in volume. Water small seedlings lightly, but once the plant has developed its true leaves and has a little better hold on the ground, it is best to water every other day in the summer or every three days in the winter, and to water deeply. Different plants have different requirements, but most need drainage to avoid root rot. Watering too heavily can also cause weak root structure. You want the roots to reach down and out for their water, so they grow long and strong and provide your plant with structure. Read seed packets for individual watering recommendations.

I got it this year too, so it is fresh on my mind. I think next year I am going to prune my tomatoes more to avoid that "excessive vegetative growth" issue, and I am going to try to rig up my rain barrel to a timer to water. I would love some advice on that!