Hummingbirds

When we first moved in, a gigantic trumpet vine was intermingled with honeysuckle; it was lovely… and a red light for any hummingbirds in its path. I thought the trumpet vine was choking out the delicate honeysuckle so I removed it.

Our Honeysuckle

The honeysuckle is in full bloom now and the hummingbirds love it!

Our Hummingbird Feeder

A few weeks ago my daughter spotted a hummingbird in our area and I immediately retrieved the feeder, placed it on display, and rang the dinner bell!

I don’t leave the feeder out during the winter months… although I know of a few who do. It’s been my experience that our hummingbirds find us year after year (like we tend to return to the same beach house year after year).

Make your “nectar” by mixing one part sugar to four parts water. Boiling the mixture will ensure the sugar has dissolved. Store unused portions in your refrigerator and fill your feeder only partially—you should clean it every three to four days anyway and to fill the feeder would just be a waste.

The sugar-water you provide is not meant to “feed” your hummingbirds…merely provide energy to make it to their next feeding. So, keep your feeders clean and full and the area around the feeder “attractive” (remember, they love the color red) then sit back and wait for the hummmmmmmm….

Organic Pesticide with Tobacco

Tobacco Field and Barn of Yesteryear

When I was a child we’d make annual pilgrimages to South Carolina for family reunions. The trips from Virginia, along Interstate 95, were grueling for a girl, but one of my fondest memories is of the acres and acres of tobacco—as far as you could see. Those tobacco fields are all but gone now but the footprint of that heritage remains.

I began growing tobacco years ago, here in Pennsylvania, and loved seeing my few plants surge in growth in the warm months, finally giving way to a delicate blossom.

David cut the mighty stalks and hung the plants, inverted, to dry in the smokehouse over the winter months.

When I first mentioned I wanted to grow tobacco, I was met with the “why??” almost out of the gate. Hmmmmm. Had to act fast—I was about to take up a row of precious garden real estate with a plant I “just wanted to grow for the fun of it.” I researched the other uses of tobacco and came upon (drum roll, please): Organic Pesticide.

Nicotine in tobacco is highly toxic and will kill or repel the pests on flowering plants, fruits, and vegetables. It’s inexpensive and organic (but double-check your source).

Steeping Tobacco Juice

To make your “pesticide,” combine a handful of tobacco leaves, a tablespoon of dishwashing soap and a gallon of warm water. Cover your mixture and let it steep overnight. Strain off the solids and add to a spray bottle. Coat your plants you’d like to protect—remember the underside of the leaves as well!

The cucumber beetle which wreaks such havoc tore into our pumpkin plants during it’s first life cycle (see the Cucumber Beetles blog).

Either the beetles were on the backside of their first cycle in this photo…or the tobacco juice went to work….or both.

See the new green, baby shoots?

Pumpkin Plant Coming Back

Cucumber Beetles

Cucumber beetles…. mere mention strikes fear in the hearts of vegetable gardeners, countrywide. Or, at least, it should.

They attack flowers and ornamentals as well as cucumbers. In fact, over 270 plants in 29 families fall prey to this little trouble-maker.

To learn more, I consulted Golden Harvest Organics online library. It was fascinating to learn (among other things) that the beetles actually transmit bacterial diseases which overwinter in their intestines, infecting plants in their earliest of stages.

According to ghorganics.com, the striped cucumber beetles do the most damage to the cucumber families or cucurbits, appearing a good four weeks before their spotted relatives.

Aside from hitting potatoes, squash, asparagus, tomatoes, fruits, and melons, they go after corn with a vengeance. Larvae infestation will impact the root system so forcefully, the corn appears to be drought-stricken. Adult beetles burrow into the silks when pollination is due to occur—resulting in “poor grain set.”

There are repellent plants which could be planted to deter the beetle and various other organic methods. (Try placing aluminum foil beneath plants to reflect light—the beetles prefer the underside of leaves because of the shade.)

David prefers the route of “integrated pest management” (IPM). Which is our very next blog entry….

Stay tuned.

Nightshade

I first noticed “Nightshade” when living in Wisconsin.

A toxic Nighshade Variety

I thought the little purple roadside wildflower was cute…until David said it was toxic (being pregnant, I quickly removed my hand from the plant). However, I came to learn the Nightshade family (2,300-plus species, in fact) encompasses many common plants as well: tomatoes, eggplants, tobacco, morning glory, and potatoes to name a few.

Another View of a Toxic Nightshade Variety

The common characteristic among Nightshade plants is alkaloids. Alkaloid production is a natural defense system that inhibits insects from feasting on the plants.

With human consumption, it is this biochemical production which inhibits the activity of cholinesterase, a chemical necessary to break down acetylcholine in the human body. Buildup of cholinesterase-inhibiting steroids and glycoalkaloids might also contribute to stiffness and inflammation, according to the Journal of Neurological and Orthopedic Medical Surgery.

Non-toxic Nightshade

There are both lethal and non-lethal varieties of Nightshade plants.

If you have animals on your property, investigate the types of Nightshade species in your region and the best way to rid grazing areas of them. Contact your local Cooperative Extension with any questions or concerns.

The Three Sisters

More than 800 years ago the native American Iroquois people developed and employed a “cooperative” way of planting their three main crops:  corn, beans and squash—known as “Three Sisters.” 

If planted close together, the corn would provide a stalk upon which the beans would climb.  The beans would provide essential nitrogen to the soil and the large squash leaves would provide a ground cover to prevent the growth of unwanted plants and weeds.

We’re pairing two of the three sisters together this year. 

We grow rows and rows of butternut squash to allow proper garden space (after growing butternut for more than 10 years, I am still amazed at the amount of space the squash will eventually require).

The beans are nestled close to the corn, and once trained, will likely be very happy to hitch a ride on the cornstalks. This saves us the trouble of arranging a trellis of some sort and is a connection to history we’re happy to make.

‘Three Sisters” was all about maintaining an efficient garden, and environmental harmony as well.

Florida Weave

Over the years, we’ve grown hundreds and hundreds of tomato plants.

It all begins innocently enough: nothing beats the sweet smell of a little tomato plant on one of your first trips to the greenhouse in Spring (we just don’t bother to start tomato plants by seed—just a preference).

The thick, sticky little leaves…the bright green signaling the approaching summer…the visions of bulbous, red orbs packed into quart jars. Before you know it, you’ve got a row of 50 tomato plants. Cute, right? Until they’re waist-high, uprooting the tomato cages that were, at one time, way too big for the tiny plant.

Staking tomato plants. You name it; we’ve tried it.

This year, we’re going with the “Florida Weave.”

David has hammered wooden stakes 12 inches into the ground between every other tomato plant. The twine you use should be resistant to weather (obviously) and “grip” the stakes. We’re using baler twine.

Begin your twine about a foot off the ground, wrapping around the end stake and continue down the row “weaving” between plants—the object being the course of a figure 8 in twine supporting your plants. It’s recommended the figure 8 support is necessary only on the first level. From then on, you can just run straight down the row, attaching to stakes.

Many thanks to our friends at the Penn State Cooperative Extension website for posting this and many other helpful suggestions. Remember, there is a wealth of information available through your Cooperative Extension offices and websites!

Winter Rye

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Tracy offers a few wry comments as she and Dave discuss the benefits of planting and harvesting Winter Rye.

Our Turkey Chicks Are In

Tracy introduces newly arrived turkey chicks to their new home.

Pasture Management Follow-up

Tracy and Dave continue the conversation about managing pasture land and show what a few weeks growth in a healthy pasture looks like.

A Few More Thoughts on Pasture Management

Pasture management is a system by which farmers and ranchers manage their acreage in order to gain the best possible yield for their animals with as little stress on the land as possible.

Regular “pasture walks” accomplish a great deal and allow the farmer to recognize the rate of consumption of the grasses and plants as well as address any problems that arise.

A conscientious farmer will also pay attention to the amount of manure collecting on the pasture.

Positive management practices will impede erosion and preclude runoff reaching streams and waterways. (This is especially important if you live near an environmentally fragile area like a riparian buffer, for instance.)

Rotational grazing will allow sufficient re-growth and minimize damage from animal “tramping” as well.

Pasture management is a year-round responsibility.

Remember to soil-test your pasture. See if there’s anything to “feed” it so that it may, in turn, provide feed for your livestock.

The local cooperative extension in your area is, as always, a great resource!

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