Archive for Gardening

Prepping No Till Garden Beds for Spring

Prepping No Till Garden Beds for Spring

Prepping garden beds for spring planting can be a lot less work than traditionally thought. There are many benefits to growing a no till garden. One of the biggest ones is how much less work it takes when prepping garden beds for Spring. When you plant no till, all you have to do is move back your mulch and plant in the fresh, soft, moist soil that you’ve created underneath.

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How to Choose What to Plant

It’s the time of year when seed catalogs start pouring in. I read a book one time where they called them farmer porn. They are pretty juicy and appealing. You could spend a thousand dollars and get more seeds than you could ever plant easily. Be careful and put some planning into what you are going to get to make sure you have room to plant it and aren’t wasting your money. Chose what to plant wisely.

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Ordering Seeds, Stay Organized

Ordering Seeds, Stay Organized

Do you ever get so excited about ordering seeds that you double order? I do. It’s so frustrating! I pour over catalog after catalog. I make lists. I map out my garden. (Click here to see how to plan your garden) Later, I get all misty eyed at some garden ad or a new catalog I’ve never seen before, and I accidentally order something I’ve already ordered.

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What Can I Plant in Winter?

There are so many plants you can plant in winter in Oklahoma. February is a busy month for spring plantings. Check out the OSU extension chart for what goes in the ground from Feb 10-March 10. There are quite a few things on that list. If you are not in Oklahoma, check your local county extension office to find out what you should be planting at that time. 

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How Long Will Seeds Last in Storage?

How long will seeds last in storage? Where and how can seeds be stored?

I don’t know how many times someone has asked me how long will seeds last in storage. It’s a good question. I know seeds of grain have been discovered in ancient tombs and they actually germinated when planted. Isn’t that amazing? Thousand-year-old seeds are still alive?

There are many ways to store seeds, and some are better than others. If you want your seeds to last in storage the longest time possible, you definitely have to go to some effort to keep them dry. Keeping them out of the light is a good idea as well. Let’s start with how seeds work.

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How to Grow Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes are a tasty, starchy tuber similar in flavor and texture to potatoes. They taste sweeter than potatoes though. The great thing about them is you can harvest them in winter when there is not much else to harvest. The plants are pretty, the smell nice, and they produce like no one’s business. In fact, they can be very invasive. Have you ever heard of them? I hadn’t until I was researching what kind of perennial plants we could plant in our preschool garden.

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sunchokes-jerusalem-artichokes-straight-from-the-ground

jerusalem-artichokes

Plant Jerusalem Artichokes in spring. 


Order some tubers and get a large container filled with soil. You don’t want to plant these babies in the ground or they will take over the whole area you plant them in. They are planted in spring. Plant them like you would plant potatoes, about 5 inches deep and about 12-18 inches apart. Click the small image above for buying choices if you want to get some tubers to start your own plants.


sunchokes-growing-in-a-bucket

The tubers will grow all summer. They grow a tall flower similar to a cluster of small sunflowers. They smell nice and fragrant and look lovely in the garden. Harvest them after the first frost. A friend tells me if you harvest before a frost, the sunchokes will make you gassy. Nobody wants Jerusalem artichoke gas!

jerusalem-artichoke-plant

Another fun fact about Jerusalem artichokes is the flowers smell slightly like chocolate. Who doesn’t love a sunflower that smells like chocolate? You can take a few petals from the flower and rub it in your hands and smell a chocolatey smell. Sensory experiences are so important for kids, especially under age three. This is a wonderful sensory stimulus.

Sunchokes grow back.

Your Jerusalem artichokes will grow back year after year. Once you do the initial planting, you will have food for years to come. We have tried them raw. We are going to harvest most of ours after we get a frost and try them cooked. You are supposed to prepare them like you would potatoes. You can bake them, mash them, or however you enjoy your potatoes. 

freshly-harvested-jerusalem-artichokeskids-harvesting-jerusalem-artichokes

The kids really love the treasure hunt of digging for food under the ground. Carrots, radishes, potatoes, and Jerusalem Artichokes are super fun for kids. What kid doesn’t love digging in the dirt? I know I still do. The tubers are small and clustered together. They are easy to dig up all at once.

One tip i have learned is to wait until after a freeze to dig them. They taste sweeter and more flavorful and some gardeners have said if you dig them before the frost, they cause lots of gas when you eat them. So….  

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how-to-grow-jerusalem-artichokes

How to Get Rid of Squash Bugs

I really really really really hate squash bugs! They are the bane of my existence. We scarcely ever even get a single squash from a single plant in our garden. If there was a way to remove those suckers from the face of the earth, I sure would do it. They are disgusting! Boo!

I have heard 100 tales of how to rid my life and garden of those creepy creatures, and I have tried every single one. Rotate crops, intercrop, hand picking, use Seven, even that doesn’t work! I have not tried it but a friend of mine used it when our first year gardening and I handpicked mine and we ended up with the same results, a million more came. It seems like there is nothing, and I mean nothing that will rid my life of squash bugs.

Squash bugs STINK!

Squash is attacked early in the season in Oklahoma by the squash vine borer. These little monsters are a black and red wasp looking bug that lay their eggs in the stems of the squash and when they hatch they eat the stems from the inside, killing the plant all at once within a few days.


Squash bug damage

squash bug

They are stinky little bugs. When I was a kid we always called them stink bugs. They make a yucky smell when you squish them. I have heard hand picking in the best way to decrease the population. Last year after we picked thousands of them, we went out and saw thousands more. Squash bugs are relentless.

Hand pick squash bugs.

The best way to hand pick them is wrap your hands in duct tape with the sticky side out and just press it onto the adults, nymphs or eggs and they stick right to it. You can do it until your tape is full and then make another “sticky glove” and start again.

squash bug eggs

Another method for hand picking is pick and smash, this is a little much for me. You can also hand pick them and throw them in a bucket of soapy water and they will die immediately.

Many people have said if you rotate your crops, they will go away. I rotate every year, but in the case of the squash bug, I really think you would have to rotate to China to outrun the suckers.

Some people have suggested planting a large variety of squash and the squash bugs will eat one kind and leave the others alone. I have planted 10-20 types of squash yearly and they eat it all, they eat summer squashes first, then winter, then onto the cucumbers, then the melons and finally whatever else is left in the garden. Those things are evil.

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Try everything you can think of. 

This year I decided to do an experiment and test the numbers. We planted 15 kinds of squash all over the garden in different places than we planted squash last year. We planted one kind in the three sisters plan, with corn for the trellis, beans for the nitrogen and they climb up the corn, and the squash grows on the ground to shade the roots of the other plants. The other plants are supposed to deter the pests of the squash plants.

I had placed pumpkins all around the perimeter of our fence on the outside last fall after our trunk or treat at church and let those sprout up on their own. I thought maybe the bugs would go there and stay outside of the garden. Sadly, the borers took those out very quickly.

growing squash

 

We also did an old wives tale where you let the seed sprout, then you cut and x in an aluminum pie pan. Then you feed the seedling carefully through the hole in the pan. The pan is supposed to deter the bugs from getting to the plant.

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In addition, We did a method where you inter-plant your squash with white icicle radishes. So we had five different factors to check.

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No squash ever survives.

I will report to you that no squash survived in our garden. The variety did not seem to help as all of the squash is eaten. The pumpkins, of course went first, then next to go was the pie pan method. I don’t know if the pans and the hot sun burned those up or what but inside the garden, they were the first to go.

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Next to die off was the three sisters squash. The corn and beans did great, and the beans are still going strong, but we got no squash from there. Last but not least, the longest lasting squash survivor were the ones that were planted with the white icicle radishes. We planted the radishes all over our garden where there were squash, melons, or cucumbers after that. Not many of them germinated because it’s so blasted hot right now, but I do think it will help deter the little bugers. So far it has anyway. We are just now losing our cucumbers to them and usually we never get to harvest this long.

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Plant a lot of squash.

We planted new squash plants all over the area as well, hoping maybe to get some type of harvest later in the season. In Oklahoma we have a really long growing season, so you never know. It depends on when old man winter decides to show up. Quite frankly, it’s hot and I miss him a lot! Hopefully it was not too hot for the seeds, but we will try to plant again in a few days if we get a cool spell of under 95 degrees. Maybe they will have a chance then.

Some people suggest using Diatomaceous Earth to cut down the population. It’s a great natural product and does help with the nymphs but not adult squash bugs. Also, it can harm pollinators, so you have to be careful not to get it in the flowers. Another draw back of DE is that you have to reapply when any moisture gets on it. Here, it’s so humid, that means everyday. Click here to see more about DE. 

I won’t lie and say any of these methods are sure fire or give you hope you can totally get rid of them. I’m being honest, some methods help and some don’t. I know that being vigilant and removing as many as you can is your best hope. Also, at the end of the season, clean up your garden well so they won’t have places to hide and winter over.

The best advice is to do these things early and often to have the best season possible. Be vigilant, and don’t give up because gardening is fun and you get to have veggies. 

If you have a great idea of how to get rid of these awful creatures or at least slow them down a bit, I would love to hear it! 

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How to Get Rid of Squash Bugs

 

9 Benefits of Companion Planting

Companion planting is the practice of planting certain things together that help each other.

companion vegetable planting, three sisters.

For instance, you can plant basil with tomatoes and it makes the tomatoes taste amazing. Basil repels some pests that like tomatoes. In addition, basil tastes great in tomato recipes, so it’s easy to harvest them when they are next to each other. This is companion planting.

  1. Companion planting helps control pests.
Companion planting is a legendary art.

It takes planning, but it will help you obtain a wonderful harvest. We have been growing the three sisters method for years. It’s an ancient Cherokee Indian practice. It involves planting corn for trellises and once the corn is a few inches high, you add squash and beans. The beans feed nitrogen to the corn, the squash keeps weeds out and shades the roots and the corn gives them both something to climb on. They repel each other’s pests and encourage growth in each other.


companion planting, three sisters method

It’s a great system. I recommend growing winter squashes and drying beans so you can pull all of your crops at once after the corn is done producing because it gets pretty crowded in the bed and that way you don’t have to worry about digging around in there and knocking over your corn.

2. Companion planting helps support the needs of the plants.

3. Companion planting supports plant diversity, which is beneficial to the gardener, the soil and our eco system. Plant diversity gives us insect diversity and that decreases the overall number of parasites while it increases the number of beneficials.

There are so many different combinations of plants that can be grown together and there are tons of benefits.

Years ago, there was a book written called “Carrots Love Tomatoes”. The book went into detail about all of the plants that made good companions and all of those that didn’t like growing next to each other. It is still the best resource for this. Click on the picture below if you’d like to get a copy. I couldn’t live without mine.

 Companion planting helps with pollination.

  1. Companion planting saves space.
  2. Companion planting increases productivity.

Companion planting can help with pest control, pollination, making the best use of your space, increasing crop productivity, and providing habitats for beneficials. Typically, these days, most products are grown in a mono crop fashion, meaning there are giant fields of one single type of plant.

Obviously, this makes it easy to water, care for and harvest the crops. The down side is that mono cropping causes farmers/growers to have to use a lot of chemicals to control pests. For instance, if the crop is tomatoes, every tomato hornworm in the tri state area is going to be attracted to that field. If you mix tomatoes with lettuce, for instance, the tomatoes provide shade for the lettuce and the lettuce repels some tomato pests. 

 

Companion planting is God’s natural way.

Think about how things grow in nature, they are mixed and hodge podge. Nature knows best.

  1. Companion planting supports nature’s natural cycles, plans and behaviors.
  2. Companion planting reduces improves flavors.
  3. Companion planting allows you to grow more variety.

Basil is good for most garden crops. It improves the flavor of lettuce and tomatoes and it repels mosquitos. Speaking of repelling mosquitoes, who doesn’t want that?

Beans should not be grown near onions, but should be planted with marigolds or potatoes, both of which repel the Mexican bean beetle.

Tomatoes make a great partner with carrots and onions. They provide shade to keep them from getting too hot.

Radishes are great companions to cucumbers, lettuce, melons and peas and they deter the cucumber beetle. I have also heard white icicle radishes deter squash beetles. We are working on a science experiment about that now.

Onions deter many pests, but shouldn’t be grown near beans or peas. They do great with Cole crops, carrots, and lettuce.

companion planting, onions and peas

Intermixing herbs in all of your crops is always a great idea.

They deter many pests and don’t have plants that don’t like them. Oregano, parsley, thyme, sage (not with cucumbers), rosemary and dill (not with carrots) are all great deterrents for a number of pests. Parsley is especially good for corn, roses and tomatoes. Rosemary is good for beans, cabbage, and carrots. Sage helps cabbage, carrots and especially tomatoes. Tomatoes grow better with sage nearby. Dill is a great flavor enhancer for cabbage type plants, as well as cucumbers, lettuce and onions.

Many flowers improve growth of plants, especially nasturtiums and marigolds. They are good around all plants and deter a host of pests. Sunflowers make a great trellis for cucumbers, but they do inhibit the growth of a lot of plants, so other than that, plant them off to themselves. They still make a great addition to the garden.

Corn is a good companion for beans, cucumbers, potatoes, melons, pumpkins, squash and peas.

Cucumbers should not be grown near potatoes, but are great with beans, cabbage, corn and radishes.

Garlic should not be grown near peas or beans, but is great with cabbages, tomatoes, and fruit trees.

Peppers are great with carrots, onions, parsley, tomatoes, and basil, but don’t love cabbages or fennel.

Knowing what works well together is a great way to improve your productivity in the garden. It just takes a little research and some careful planning to rock your garden to the max.

For more information on what grows well together, check out this article from Mother Earth News

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9 Benefits of Companion Planting

Green Beans, Using and Storing Garden Produce

Right now green beans are in full production at Little Sprouts.

I used to hate green beans, in fact I did most of my life, I remember hating them as a young child. About 4 years ago, when my gardening career was just budding, I asked one of my daycare families if they wanted me to water their garden while they were out of town for a week and it was 100 degrees every day. They said sure, and said I could pick whatever was ripe from it. I jumped on that, but when I got over there, I saw they had a ton of green beans ready to pick.

Green bean production, growing, using, and storing

I thought to myself, ew, but I knew I should not let them go to waste on the vines. I picked a sack full and brought them home thinking I could feed them to the kids. I cooked them up and to my surprise, I ABSOLUTELY LOVED them! They were amazing. I have been helping the kids plant green beans and enjoying eating them with them ever since.

I LOVE green beans! Yum yum!


This year we planted a variety of green beans including a purple variety we got in our seeds of the month membership. We just picked our first batch of purple ones today and they look so beautiful! I can’t wait to try them. At Little Sprouts we plant most things in succession. That way we have a longer season of harvest as well as less glut all at once of one thing. Every two weeks we put in another row of green beans. As the plants get tired and worn out, the new ones are ready.

Growing green beans is fun.

The vines and bushes are really pretty and the little beans are so cute as they come on. I LOVE growing them. When we get enough to save, it’s super exciting to think about eating them in winter too. We are not allowed to serve home canned foods in daycare, so our green bean storage choices are dehydrating or freezing.

green bean cooking, world famous green beans

If you dehydrate your green beans, cut them into one inch pieces before you start. Dehydrate them until they are totally dried. You can use them in soups and stews. They retain their flavor and most of their nutrients. Another way you can use dehydrated green beans is to put them in the blender dry and make them into powder. Then add them to dishes for extra nutrients. No one will ever know. Trust me, it works great!

We freeze our extra green beans.

To freeze your green beans you wash and snap them into one inch pieces. Then blanch them. Bring a big stock pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon or so of salt. Toss in a few handfuls of green beans, and let them cook for 3-4 minutes or until bright green. Take them out of the water and shock them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain them and bag them up. Remove as much air as possible from the bag and get it to the freezer as quickly as possible.

Many people say they don’t like frozen green beans, but I find if you cook them right (long enough), they taste amazing and have a wonderful texture. Believe me, texture is a big ole deal to me.

There are so many ways to use your fresh or stored green beans. You can make a side dish with them. There are many green bean casserole recipes or you can just serve them plain with some salt, pepper and butter. My last post was my world famous green bean recipe. It’s so good, kids are talking about it all over the place. Click here to check it out.

world famous green bean recipe cooking

Green beans are great added to soups and stews.

They can be added to casseroles. Green beans can be used in stir fry. You can marinate them in a fresh salad, they can be pickled, they can go in pasta salad or pasta dishes. They can be used fresh or blanched in salads. You can roast them in green bean bundles. There are unlimited ways they can be served for something new and exciting.

Don’t shy away from the humble and familiar green bean. All it needs is some new perspective. What’s your favorite way to eat them?

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Green Beans, Using and Storing Garden Produce

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