Here's more information about how to help your plants thrive. Keeping your garden alive through the whole growing season is a big accomplishment! Don't be discouraged if something doesn't turn out. There are actually a lot of things out of your control, like weather. But there are ways to help alleviate problems that do arise.
Pest & Weed Control
After you work so hard to give your plant everything it needs, it can be devastating to find your plant destroyed by bugs, invasive weeds, or animals. Especially if it's the only tomato plant in your garden. Because we are an organic farm, we do not use any chemical herbicides or pesticides on our farm. In our field farming we simply plant extra, allowing for some damage to occur. But in a smaller backyard setting, that's hard to do. There are a lot of diy pest control options like sprays made with vinegar and essential oils. There's also traps and powders you can buy, too. A really great resource is USU Extension Pest Guides that help you identify and solve pests and diseases.
As for organically taking care of weeds, we like to use manual and mechanical methods. For the long rows of carrots, beets, green onions, and radishes, this usually means by hand. But we use tillers, cultivators and hoes between the rows.
However, there are times when you run into a really stinky weed. Morning glory, for example, is vine that will wrap itself like a snake around every other plant. It also doesn't die if you cut it with a hoe because its roots can live up to 20 feet underground. It sends lateral roots upward to create new patches of growth. Another strongly rooted weed is Canadian thistle which is extremely sharp and miserable to have around. These are two weeds that we actually recommend killing with chemical sprays. The best way to avoid the chemicals leaching into good plants, it to let the weeds sprout in the spring, spray them, let them die, and then fallow that area (meaning don't grow anything in it). Sometimes this isn't an option so you may need to spot spray during the season. Just be aware that even the smallest drop onto a good plant can kill it.
You can do a lot with just a few basic tools. And having the right tools makes the job so much easier. Here's our list of "must-haves":
- A good hat
- Durable but unrestricting gloves
- Johnny's stirrup hoes
- Garden Bandit hand weeder
- Harvest bins, baskets, crates, wagons, wheelbarrow, etc.
- 2-3 pairs of good garden snips for harvesting & pruning
- A good shovel, spade, and rake
Optional : You can rent small tillers or hire it out, but if you are interested in your own, we have really liked this Husqvarna push tiller. You may also plant everything by hand, but if you have a lot of small seeds and longer rows, you could invest in a push seeder like this one that helps get uniform planting.
When to Harvest
How do you tell if your cantaloupe is ready to harvest? Good question! Too soon and its not sweet, too late and its mushy. Here are a few guidelines:
- Tomatoes are easy, pick when they are deep red (or deep orange, deep yellow if that's the variety)
- Zucchini, summer squash, and patty pan squash can be harvested at any time even if it's just the flower! Some people love squash flowers. Most people prefer soft, smaller squash. You can let them grow into jumbo squash but the skin will get pretty thick.
- Carrots and beets can be harvested "young" when they are small but it's better to wait until they size up. You can tell how big they are by digging next to them with your finger. Beets will just keep growing bigger and bigger if you leave them in. We've had beets as big a someone's head!
- Cabbage is ready when the head has a reasonable size. If you wait too long, the head will crack and split in the middle (but it's still edible if this happens).
- Corn is ready when all the kernels are full, don't be afraid to peel it and check. Some people like "young" corn and pick it when the kernels are smaller.
- Lettuce, herbs, kale, and swiss chard are usually ready as soon as they have leaves. You can harvest just the leaves of the lettuce and let it keep growing, or you can cut the whole head off. Some herbs turn bitter when they start to flower, like basil. But dill is still very delicious if it flowers.
- Winter Squash are ready when they have a deep color. You can harvest spaghetti squash when its pale yellow but the darker the yellow, the better. Banana squash should be dark pink, and often has pale blue spots. Butternut should have no more green lines coming from the top stem, but should be all tan.
- Melons like cantaloupe, honeydew, and crenshaw should also have good color. Cantaloupes shouldn't be green but tan, honeydews shouldn't be green but pale white, and crenshaw should be dark yellow. Another indicate is smell, your melons should have a strong smell at the stem base.