Monday, March 28, 2011

State of the Garden, March, 2011

Garden Plot Assignments: Just to keep things interesting, I have renumbered the plots in the garden. When we expanded the garden last year the numbering of the new plots didn't mesh with the old ones. If you are a gardener returning to your same plot, you are still there. Only the number has changed. If you are a new gardener or have changed plots, be sure to check the list and plot map to see where you are. The plot map is not entirely to scale, but you should be able to figure things out. I have also hung a plot map and list of gardeners in the garden on the shed bulletin board for people to check.

Blog: The garden now has a blog. I will be posting the State of the Garden emails there. All gardeners are invited to comment, discuss, join, and add their own posts. Those who are more tech savvy than me may find other interesting ways to use it. Check it out. The address is easy: 

New Gardeners: Sunday, April 17, 1:30, I will be holding a new gardener orientation. Bring your questions! Find out specifically where your plot is! Learn the combination to the shed lock! And more! Everyone is invited, but people new to the community garden and their mentors are especially encouraged to come.

Opening Work Day Sunday, May 1, 1:00: Mark your calendars. Preliminary agenda includes spreading newspapers and wood chips on the shed/table area and improving the compost situation. More details later. This date is later than in past years, but the spring is so cool, and we don't have major construction to accomplish (yay!), that I think it will be fine. If your fingers are itching to get in the dirt earlier than May 1, go for it.

Vole Update: Wayne has been hard at work trying to disinvite them. Besides trapping several bucketloads of them, he has lined the bottom of the compost bins, both above and below ground, with hail cloth. Research that he has done suggests that cultivating the soil discourages them, raised beds encourage them. Encouraging predators (hawks, owls, snakes, etc.) may help some. But I fear the voles are winning at this point. I will post other suggestions as I learn of them.

Wish list: Early in the season I hope to have straw available for mulching all the plots. If you have access to a truck, trailer or other hauling-type vehicle, let me know. We can get straw fairly cheaply from a farm in Money Creek but we have to pick it up.

Plots available: There are a few half plots and flower strips available for adoption. If you have a friend who is interested, have them contact me, 454-5587 or mnherbster@

AND: If you have not registered and paid for 2011, please do so ASAP, before the garden gnome comes to haunt you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


For a gardener, February is the month when nothing is impossible. Gardens grow lush and beautiful in our minds. Weeds, sore muscles, pests don't exist. But, after a reality check, I'd like to suggest that we, as a community garden,
Focus on 3 things this year:
1. Tomatoes:
Last year we had a rather serious problem with early blight in the garden. This is a bacterial infection that turns the vines into brown skeletons, although they will still produce a reasonable crop of tomatoes. I called Johnny's Seeds and asked what varieties they carry that might be resistant to early blight. A very helpful person suggested these: red pearl (grape-type), defiance, (determinate, very good taste) JTO 99197 (determinate, average taste), mountain magic (indeterminate, excellent taste). Stripe German and stupice are also said to be resistant, but Johnny's doesn't carry them. Also, I heard in passing on the radio that roma, better boy, green zebra, and  stupice are resistant varieties, but I didn't catch specifically which problems they are resistant to.  The Johnny's guy didn't have any open pollinated varieties that are listed as early-blight resistant. If you have input here, let me know. 

Other things you can do for your tomatoes: mulch them heavily from the beginning and water at the ground level only (better yet, use a drip irrigation line.) Blight spores overwinter in the ground and bounce up in the rain drops or water sprinkles. Rotating crops is always a good practice, but the problem is so widespread in our garden, that I'm not sure you can get away from it. If we all focus on good practices for a couple of years, maybe we can lick this problem.

2. Thistles:
Thistles are a problem because they are so aggressive and so nasty to grab  when you are working in the garden. They are spread by a lateral underground root system that can go as much as 10 feet deep. This means that pulling off the top does nothing but stimulate the root to grow another shoot. I don't know of any quick and easy way to get rid of thistles. Timing is everything. A squirt of vinegar on young shoots kills them off easily, but the next day another will grow. In theory, if we killed off all the shoots every day, the roots would eventually die or get discouraged and go elsewhere. So something to add to your garden basket is a quart-sized squirt bottle of vinegar. Then spend 5 or 10 minutes whenever you're in the garden squirting thistle shoots on the paths and in the plots. I'll try to remember to put a bottle of vinegar in the shed, too. Also, heavy mulch is helpful. We have tried to do that in the paths with the newspaper layered under the wood chips. Mulching your plot paths with newspaper or cardboard may help. At least you wont' have to weed there.

3. Flower borders:
The flower border surrounding our garden is an excellent set up to attract beneficial insects to our garden. The insects are out there, they just need to be invited in. Beneficial insects are of 2 types-the pollinators and the predators that attack the "bad" bugs. A couple of principles to keep in mind for a beneficial border are: (1) a border that blooms the whole season; (2) a diversity (at least 3 species)  of flowers blooming at the same time; and (3) a grouping of flowers that is large enough to attract the insects, about 25 square feet. Below is a quick chart that I made up. It is by no means complete, but it might give those of you with flower strips a way to start thinking about what you will plant this summer.

Beneficial border

Early blooming
Middle blooming
Late blooming

Mint, catmint
Purple coneflower
All the herbs: basil, thyme, marjoram , etc.
Mint, catmint
Purple coneflower
Tithtonia (Mexican sunflower)
Russian sage
All the herbs: basil, thyme, marjoram , etc.

Starting seeds: Johnny's Seeds web site has a handy seed starting calculator go to: and click on the "seed starting calculator" on the right.

Voles: Wayne managed to slog through the snow the other day and assessed the vole situation (not good). He has a plan to wire the bottom of the compost bins. He also has some very good traps. Everyone send him good energy and thank him for his relentless efforts.! And invite some predators to visit our garden (owls mostly, sometimes hawks. Cats and snakes like voles, too.)

Local Foods Expo, March 12: Vicki will be managing the community garden booth there. Stop by and say hello.