To Cover or Not to Cover – That is the Question

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Now that your summer garden is over, you have the choice to plant a cover crop or just leave it to the elements of the weather until next spring.

If you choose to cover, these are your advantages:

  1. Adds organic matter to your soil
  2. Prevents wind and water erosion
  3. Blocks out unwanted winter weeds
  4. Roots of cover crops aerate compacted soils

Some disadvantages of planting a cover crop:

  1. Cover crops should be plowed under six weeks prior to planting spring garden or prior to seed production, whichever occurs first.
  2. Not all gardeners have the necessary plows and equipment to plow under cover crops.

Some cool season (winter) cover crops to plant now are in the table below.


Seeding Rate per 1000 Square Feet

Rye Grain

3 to 4 pounds

Hairy Vetch

1/2 to 1 pound


4 to 5 pounds


1/2 to 1 pound

Rye Grass

1 to 2 pounds

Daikon Radish*

2 to 3 ounces

*Daikon Radish is sometimes referred to as a “subsoiler in a bag.” It grows 2 inches in diameter and more than 14 inches long.


Tired of weeding your garden? (Part 3)

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In the last two posts, we defined a raised bed square foot garden and talked about the advantages of a square foot garden. Today we will discuss the disadvantages.

    1. Raised beds tend to dry out more quickly in the hot summer time, thus increasing the need for more frequent water. However, keep in mind that it takes less water for the smaller space, and this small increase in labor is still much less than the overall labor to keep up a traditional garden planted in rows.
    2. The frame and the soil can be expensive, but it is a one time start up cost that can be spread over ten or fifteen years. I have two beds that are 12 years old and are still working great. Amend the soil with compost and Purely Organic each year to replace the nutrients that are used by the plants.
    3. Square foot gardening will need better management because increased plant density may result in some pest concerns, especially foliar diseases.
    4. I have had good crops of snow peas, green beans, and limas on a fence or trellis along one side of the bed. I think you could do musk melons cradled and tied to the fence or trellis with old pantyhose, but not watermelons, which would be too heavy. Raised beds are not very user friendly for vine crops except beans, cucumbers, peas, and maybe musk melons.

Tired of weeding your garden? (Part 2)

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In the last post, we defined a raised bed square foot garden. Below are some advantages of square foot gardens. In the next post, we will talk about the disadvantages.

    1. Square foot gardens maximize all available space. They are typically smaller than traditional gardens, making raised bed gardens especially good options for areas with limited space
    2. Raised bed gardens can be an ideal solution in areas with poor soil or hard and rocky soil. One of my customers in Florida told me that she couldn’t grow roses in a marshy area of her yard. I suggested she fill in about 3 feet of topsoil in a raised bed rather than the usual 10-12 inches. She tried it and was able to grow some beautiful roses there.
    3. Raised beds warm up much faster in the spring, thus getting plants off to an earlier start.
    4. Raised beds (above ground level) drain much better, a real asset during the rainy season. I’ve watched my own garden survive in a raised bed when my yard was flooded with excessive rain that year.
    5. Square foot gardens use less water and requiring less weeding due to dense planting. The density of this type of garden keeps the soil shaded so that weed seeds don’t germinate. I have found that my five beds, each 4’x16′ produce more veggies than my family can use and requires only about 1/4 of the time and labor that I spent with a traditional garden in past years.
    6. Planting by the square foot method will result in higher production, up to twice as much. This is because of less competition from weeds, better moisture control, and more efficient use of space.
    7. Also, I don’t need an expensive garden tractor or tiller. Many of my customers will say they don’t have thousands of dollars for a tiller or tractor or whatever. After reading Jeff Lowenfels’ Teaming with Microbes, I have experimented with the “no till” practice of not disturbing the soil food web. I don’t plan to use my rotor tiller, shovel, or any other tillage tools when planting my Fall garden this year. So far it looks good. I’ll give you an update later this Fall.

Tired of weeding your garden?

posted in: Planting, Vegetables | 0

Let me suggest a raised bed square foot garden, which offers several advantages and some disadvantages over traditional gardens.

A square foot is 12 inches by 12 inches, and in that square foot, you can plant, for example, one broccoli, one cabbage, 9 green beans, or 16 carrots. See my handout for the planting guide.

A raised bed is usually 6 to 36 inches deep (preferably 10-12″) of soil enclosed by any material to contain it, such as stacked landscape timbers (8’x4″x4″) or 2″x10″ or 2″x12″ boards. The raised bed should be no more than 4 feet wide and can be as long as you like. The 4 foot width enables you to reach in from either side and access the entire garden, so that you don’t have to walk up on the bed.

In the next post, we will talk about the advantages of a square foot garden; and in the following post we will go over some of the disadvantages.

Do you your pecans have holes?

posted in: Fruit Trees, Insects | 0

When pecans fall from the tree and have holes in them, the pecan weevil has gotten into them – sometimes most of the crop can be bad. The fruit will look decomposed or rotted if you break the shell open. The weevils lay their eggs in the soil under the tree, hatch in early August, and continue to make their way to the nuts on the tree through August, September, and even into early October. Peak emergence is from August 10 to September 20. They climb the tree and infect the fruit. It will usually occur under the same tree each year. The traditional way to monitor them is to place small cone shaped cups in the ground under the tree with the tops level with the ground. When the weevils migrate to the tree, they travel across the ground and fall into the cups. To treat, spray the ground and the trunk up to the first limbs with a good insecticide such as Seven. Apply it three times, ten days apart, starting when the weevils first appear.

Having trouble growing okra?

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Okra is a member of the hibiscus family, which includes cotton and flowers. Compare the blooms, the leaves, and the sections of the fruit on these plants some time. There are usually four pieces of cotton, separated in the bowl. You will find the same segmentation in the okra fruit. As a general rule, you don’t plant okra until you plant cotton. And you don’t plant cotton until the temperature reaches certain levels. Wait for 5 continuous days of 80 degrees or higher and nights of 50 degrees or higher before planting cotton. Otherwise, the seed may rot due to extreme temperature sensitivity during germination. If you plant okra or cotton too early, it either will not come up at all; or when it comes up, it won’t grow much and may die altogether.

Are your tomatoes rotting?

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Blossom end rot is when the blossom end of the growing fruit turns dark and begins to decay. The blossom end is the opposite end from where a young, growing fruit is attached to the vine. This can happen to tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and melons. Even a small amount is too late to correct on a fruit, but you can save the plant and grow new fruit.

Blossom end rot is caused by a lack of calcium in the fruiting area of the plant. You can have plenty of calcium in the soil but still have a plant deficient in calcium. This happened to me a few years ago, and I always use a little extra calcium when I plant tomatoes. However, the water line going to the garden from the lake had ruptured, and since there wasn’t enough water, the calcium in the lime didn’t get moved from the soil through the roots. Water is needed to transport vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other nutrients into the plant. As soon as I repaired the irrigation and cut the rotted blossoms off, the new blossoms came out healthy.

If you’re just now planting, place a small handful of lime or gypsum in each hole before planting. If you didn’t use lime or gypsum while planting, you can still go back and apply it to the base of the plant, working it into the soil with a hand tool or short tine rake. Then water it well. Gypsum is calcium sulfate and lime is calcium carbonate. If you don’t want to change the pH of the soil, use gypsum instead of lime. Only calcium carbonate will change the pH of the soil.

Are your squash plants mysteriously dying?

posted in: Insects, Planting, Vegetables | 0

During the first part of June (for Zone 7-8), there is a moth that lays an egg near the base of the squash plant. It is called a squash vine borer. The worm finds its way into the base of the plant and then travels up the stem, which is hollow. You can’t see him to kill him because he lives inside the stem. This can kill the plant in a matter of days. To thwart him, around June 1 spray the base of the plant from the ground up to 2-3 inches above ground with an insecticide. Repeat application after each rain, since the water will wash away the insecticide. Any synthetic pyrethroid will work. We carry Bifenthren and Permethrin. If you want to try an organic alternative, try an insecticidal soap. This is a type of liquid soap you can spray on plants. Be careful not to apply this when it is too hot – do it late in the afternoon or on a cool day. Pheromone traps may not be a viable option since the moth can lay an egg in the garden on its way to the trap. Another technique is to plant the squash as early as possible so that you can harvest the squash before the moths hatch.

Iceburg Lettuce Head Density

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Iceburg lettuce doesn’t make a hard, dense head in Zone 8. This is because of the lack of growing time in the cold. It will grow in a looser head. Simply harvest the exterior leaves, and continue eating lettuce until the plant bolts, or sends its seed up in a shoot from the middle. At that time, you can discard the plant. If you plant lettuce in the fall, it will taste bitter. It needs cold weather to bring out the sugar in the leaves.

Growing Russet Potatoes

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Russet varieties of baking potatoes are not usually grown in Zone 8 because the growing season is too hot. Potatoes grow bigger in cooler climates, such as Idaho, because they have longer cool growing seasons.

Planting Potatoes

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Potatoes are normally planted in Zone 8 beginning around Feb 14 until the end of March. Because of the unusual ice storms this year, many people have not planted their vegetables yet. However, even though it’s now the middle of March, it’s not too late to plant potatoes. When you cut the potatoes in preparation for planting, you let them dry out in a single layer for a week to ten days. This forms a scab and protects the potato, when planted, from soil born insects and diseases.

Purple Majesty Potatoes

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Purple Majesty is a type of potato that is purple inside and out. If you’ve ever had potato chips made from Purple Majesty, you know how delicious they are. This variety of potato is reported to have nearly twice the amount of anthoxyanidins, which are high-potency antioxidents that provide beneficial protections against cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol, and age related memory loss. It also strengthens the immune system.