Better Late Than Never

Here we are, it’s the last day of November and I just got our garlic in the ground a few days ago.

Regular readers  of this blog already know that fall is the time of year that you plant garlic.  Garlic can be planted in the spring, however you will end up with bulbs half the size of those planted in the fall.

I think there is still some time to get your garlic planted, I wouldn’t wait too much longer though.

If you have a helper in the garden, decide who is going to go out and find some garlic cloves to plant while the other stays behind and prepares the area to be planted.  If you are by yourself,well then, you’ll have to do both.

Check the garden centers for garlic cloves, if they are out, a farmer’s market stand may have some that can be used for planting. The garlic purchased in a grocery store produce department will most likely have been treated with a sprout inhibitor and will not be good for planting. Sprouting is what we want. I used my garlic that I saved from this years crop.

Your garlic spot must be free of all weeds and kept that way during the growing season because garlic does not compete well against weeds. If you are planning on amending your soil with compost or peat, now’s the time to do so.

Break apart the garlic bulbs into individual cloves just as you do in the kitchen, only this time you won’t be running them through the garlic press.

Plant the cloves into the soil about 2 inches deep and about 6 inches apart. Place the root end down. You can just push them down into the soil with your finger or dig a furrow like I did here.

Planting garlic into a 2'' deep furrow
Planting garlic into a 2'' deep furrow

Cover them up with soil and let them  go until the soil freezes.  During this period, the cloves will grow roots.  Hopefully we will have a mild December which will allow our late planted garlic some time to develop those roots. No fertilizer is needed for now, we’ll apply that in the spring.

Garlic cloves ready to be covered
Garlic cloves ready to be covered

Once the ground freezes, cover the bed with straw, compost or other type of mulch.  It’s much better for the garlic if the soil is kept at a consistently cold temperature (which the mulch will provide) than to be freezing and thawing over and over through the winter.

In the spring we will remove our mulch and add fertilizer, garlic is a crop that needs a lot of plant food.

We’ll revisit this project again at mulching time and fertilizing time.


Knobby Roots in the Garden

Now that we are at the end of the summer gardening season, at lot of us will begin pulling out  old and worn out plants and tossing them in the compost pile.

I found this root attached to a sweet potato plant:

Notice the knobby, bumpy nodules.  This is not normal for a sweet potato root. The abnormal growth is caused by a nearly microscopic worm-like creature called a nematode.

Nematodes are the bane  of sweet potato farmers in the southern states where sweet potatoes or other vegetables are grown year after year in the same spot.  In addition to gnarled roots, nematodes also cause reduced yields.  Often the damage shows up as black spots under the skin of the tuber that are not seen until the root is peeled leaving an unusable potato.

This nematode damage can occur on almost any common vegetable plant.  If you find a root that resembles the one in the photo, destroy it and don’t attempt to compost it, otherwise you risk spreading the pests to other parts of your garden.

There is no method of control for nematodes in the garden except rotating your crops.  You must rotate to a grass-related crop such as sweet corn in order to break the life cycle of the nematodes. “Regular” garden crops will support nematodes in the soil.

Knobby roots on legume plants such as peas and beans are  normal and not caused by nematodes, so don’t dispose of  them.  Beans and peas have nodules on their roots that harbor beneficial bacteria. In this case the bacteria  are beneficial to the plant and actually produce fertilizer in the form of nitrogen that the beans use to grow.

Chances are you won’t see these symptoms in a new garden because the nematodes have not had enough time to multiply.

Happy Composting,


Balance of Nature in Your Garden

I came across this horn worm on our grapes this morning. There were over 2 dozen white objects attached to its body.

It had been parasitized by another insect, most likely some species of wasp.

These types of wasps reproduce by depositing their eggs with their stinger into a host insect.  In this case the unsuspecting insect is a horn worm.

The eggs soon hatch inside the caterpillar’s body. The newly released wasp larvae then begin to feed on the “innards” of the host insect while it’s still alive.

When the young wasp larvae have grown to sufficient size, they form”cocoons”, those white structures you see on the back of the caterpillar. The wasp larvae undergo a transformation inside the cocoons and emerge as fully developed wasps.

You can see by the size of the cocoons that these wasps are tiny compared to the paper wasps or hornets we normally see buzzing around the picnic table.

Let the balance of nature help you in your garden. When you see a caterpillar that looks like this, don’t squash or spray it, let the new wasps be “born”.  They will soon be flying around looking for more caterpillars in your garden to parasitize.

By the way, this type of wasp does not sting or disturb people.


You can have your landscape and eat it too!

Anyone can grow fruits or vegetables in their own backyard.  No special garden plot needed!

Edible plants  can be tucked in a number of spots in an existing landscape.  The only requirement is enough sun which in most cases is 6-8 hours of direct sun.

Any vegetable can be grown but some look better than others, so they can be put in more noticeable spots.  Some plants that are being used for landscaping are swiss chard, parsley, everbearing strawberries, lettuce, kale, cabbages, peppers and many kinds of herbs.

Best results can be obtained if the soil is improved directly around the edible plant. Also, during dry spells, they will probably need supplemental water.

Blueberries and dwarf fruit trees such as apples, pears, peaches and plums are a good choice even though they need a few early season sprays.

Grapes on a fence or arbor can add quick privacy.  There is even a hardy Kiwi vine for our hardiness zone.

Just think of walking out into your own yard in the summer and picking peaches off your own tree.  Nothing tastes better!

bye for now,


-19F and Still Growing

I went out to the garden the other day to check out the beds that were planted last fall.

We had planted three beds, one bed of a leaf lettuce mix, one of spinach, and one bed of Bibb lettuce.

The Bibb  lettuce had a heat coil buried to keep the soil warm.  I fully expected that bed to be alive, and it was.

What surprised me was discovering that the other two beds were alive as well. They had nothing more than a plastic covering to protect them from the winter cold.  It got down to at least -19F at this garden location.

It was the snow cover that we had this winter that made the difference!  Under a foot of snow that was piled on top of the bed covers, the lettuce and spinach were still alive and waiting for a little warmer weather to start growing again.

You may want to think about making your own bed cover to get an early crop of lettuce this spring.  A bed cover placed over a garden bed can start to warm the soil. You can start some lettuce plants inside then gradually  let them get used to the cooler outside  temperatures. Put them in a bright yet cool location  (40’s to 50’s) for several days, then move them  into your outdoor covered bed to get a real early crop of lettuce.

Keep in mind that your lettuce that you grow in that bed will be better than anything you will find in the store. Check the prices at “Whole Foods” or some other high quality produce department to get an idea of what you might have to pay for lettuce that only begins to approach the quality you will be harvesting!

Once your bed cover is made, you can use it next fall to extend the growing season.


“…well fed and in the bed…

…the garlic bulbs that is. Today we mulched our garlic beds. The raised beds we have for vegetable production measure about 5’x9′. Five pounds of garlic bulbs plant six of these beds exactly. We used wheat straw about 6′”-8″ deep to cover these six beds. Four moderately heavy bales did the trick. By the way, these bales of straw were of the most beautiful golden wheat color I have seen in a long time. In a way it was amost a shame to use them for mulch, but that’s what they’re there for. The bright color ensures that we don’t import a new batch of weed seeds from weed stalks that could have been baled up out in the field by the farmer along with the straw. Straw that has lots of different color stems in the bale more than likely are contaminated with weeds.
If you promise not to tell anyone, I”ll let you know the secret to growing super size and delicious garlic. So just let me know if you can “keep it under your hat”, by writing me a short note in the comment section that you like garlic.

Well, now that the garlic bulbs are all tucked in their beds for the winter, I think I’m going to have lunch and take a nap. Bob