Think About a Winter Garden

There are several plants that can go into the garden now as seeds and will reward you with greens into the fall and, if you’re lucky, up to  Christmas and beyond.

seeds for fall planting

The yellow wax beans are finished in my community garden bed. I was away for a week and just picked the last of them a few days ago. They were old so I cooked them a long time with a slice of bacon, but they were too stringy to eat. It was worth a shot, but they ended up in the garbage. I didn’t put them in my compost bin as they had fat from the bacon on them.

I’ll pull those beans up in the next few days and plant some kale and lettuce. I’ve already done that at home and here are some photos of Russian Red Kale which is a terrific green to plant now. Kale is one of the healthiest things you can eat. You can even make Kale Chips out of the leaves. These seeds were planted 8-14-14 and a week later had secondary leaves.

Russian Red Kale 8-14-14

The tomatoes in my community garden bed are still producing so they won’t get pulled out yet. When I do, I will make sure the cut up the plants before they go into the compost bin.

So…consider a fall/winter garden. You will be rewarded.



Compost Bin Update

On Saturday morning Penny Haase, Robert Messick, Lynda Barrow, Val Kenn Gray and Mala and Roger Burt chopped, turned and cleaned up the compost bins. There is already compost in some of them.

organizing compost bins

Some reminders are in order.

1. It speeds up the composting if the things you put in the bins are cut into smaller pieces. Whole tomato plants, squash plants, for example, should be cut into smaller pieces and spread on the pile. You can use a shovel to break up a pile of debris you want to add to the bin. Don’t put big sticks in the compost bins. Put them next to or behind the bins and someone will get rid of them.

This is a photo of what we don’t want.

compost no-no

2. Do not put trash in the compost bins. This includes plant markers, bags from soil amendments (composted manure, LeafGro, etc.) Here is a photo of some stuff we pulled out of the compost bins. There is a trash can inside the shed. Please use it or take your trash home.

compost no-no's 2

3. This is what the bins should look like.

compost ready to work

Thanks for your cooperation.

Penny Haase shared beets from her bed with the workers. It pays to show up!

Penny Haase and beets

Leaves Are Compost Gold

We have big maple trees in our yard. I love their shade, but hate the helicopter seeds that sprout everywhere in the spring. The trade-off is the leaves that cover my yard in the fall. I run the mulching mower over them (with the bagger on the mower) and dump them in wire cages scattered around my small property. I’m too lazy to carry the bag very far. The leaves shrink down to half by spring when you can spread the leaves as mulch. On the very bottom will be black compost. These three bins were overflowing in October.

mulched leaves

A couple of months ago I found a Ted talk about composting. It convinced me that I was on to something by hoarding my leaves. (I’ve even been known to pick up bags of leaves left out for the trash.) Watch this talk and next fall you’ll guard the gold under your trees.

A couple of weeks ago I succumbed to yet one more garden book. I was seduced by the title, “Gardening Without Work,”  but moved to place an order on Amazon by the sub-head which read, “For the Aging, the Busy and the Indolent.” Like I’ve said before, I consider myself a lazy gardener and Ruth Stout considered herself the laziest gardener of them all.

Gardening Without Work

Ruth died in 1980, but I knew her from her articles in the 1970’s in Rodale’s Organic Gardening Magazine. Ruth was the first person to talk about how she used rotten hay to mulch her garden. She pulled the hay aside to plant seeds or plants and then snugged the hay back around transplants or seedlings. She didn’t use fertilizer. She didn’t spade or double dig. She didn’t irrigate or weed. If the hay sprouted she simply turned it over. She grew potatoes by laying whole potatoes on the hay and piling more hay on top.

Reading this book made me think about getting some hay for my community garden bed and trying this method. I went on Craig’s list to see if anybody had rotten hay. People had hay for sale, but nothing was free. I could live with that. But then I started following some comment threads about the fact that now most hay is sprayed with who knows what and you probably don’t want to put it on your vegetable garden. Ruth must be turning over in her grave. I think I’ll pass on the hay, and mulch my community garden bed with shredded leaves.

Winter Garden

Although we dodged a big snow bullet with this latest storm, we are all more than ready for warmer weather. It will be interesting to see what impact the recent colder-than-normal temperatures have had on our gardens.

January 15, 2014

This fall I put row covers on my raised beds at home and at the community garden. I took pictures after the first bout of cold temps of my bed – #33. You can see a variety of plants still upright in this photo even after January temps in the single digits.

Jan '14 covered bed  Jan '14 bed

But underneath the row covers the broccoli and cauliflower were mush. However, there were greens and onions at the far end. Who would have guessed? I didn’t bother to take the mushy stuff to the compost – just left it in the bed for another day. I took a few greens, covered the bed back up and will wait for spring.

February 14, 2014

We had snow yesterday and in early February more single digit temperatures. We were dripping the faucets at night. I wondered if anything survived in my raised beds at home.

snow covered beds

Imagine my astonishment to find bright green mache – a salad green – snug under the row covers ready to go into a salad. In a week or so I’ll have the courage to see if anything else survived.


The brown leaves to the left of the mache are the remains of artichoke plants I raised from seed last year. What was I thinking? Artichokes are bi-annual and grow in California!. These survived the summer but clearly didn’t make it through the winter. If we’d had mild temps they might have and I might have had an artichoke or two this summer. We gardeners are always pushing the edge.

This is a carrot!  Really!

When the really cold temperatures were predicted I dug most of my carrots. Last year they wintered over in the covered beds and I pulled as needed. I was astonished at the size of this one. It went into several batches of hearty winter soup. Yep, that’s my hand next to it.

carrot giganticus

I’ve never been able to raise carrots before. Too many rocks in my veggie garden on the Western Shore. And they do really taste better than the store bought ones. The photo below shows carrots I pulled from my community garden bed in March 2013. Mild temps last winter and no row cover on bed #33.

carrots 03-9-13

We still have some cold weather before we can get out into our gardens, but the seed catalogs are arriving and I saw two robins today. Crocuses are poking up and spring will be here before we can blink. Start thinking about what you want to plant in your community garden bed this year.


The Fall Garden

Most of us have already harvested the last of the summer’s produce. Disclaimer…the garlic below did not come out of my garden. I had garlic, but hadn’t gotten around to cleaning it. The heads I bought at the store made a prettier photo.fall harvest
However, I was sorry to see a lot of tomatoes in the community garden go to waste. We need to figure out how to utilize the produce our own families won’t use. All the green tomatoes from my bed went on newspapers in the garage. As they ripened, I got enough to can two more batches of tomato sauce .

Now is the time to put in a fall garden. Broccoli, cabbage, and kale are among the plants that love this cooler weather. Seeds of some lettuces, arugula and other greens can be sewn with time to sprout before the really cold weather comes.mala's bed Sept 21-13Last year’s very mild winter meant we ate greens all winter from my raised beds at home. I had covered them with Agribon, a floating row cover. Originally I did this to keep the leaves out of the beds and then was too lazy to take the covers off. Little did I know the reward in store. We didn’t buy any greens until I pulled things out in April.

I laid the Agribon directly over my plants and secured the edges with a couple of bricks. When the plants grew bigger, I gave them more room by adjusting the Agribon and the bricks. Sun and rain go through the floating covers. Some people use metal hoops they purchase or make. I plan to put a floating row cover on my community garden bed and see how my fall plants make it through the winter in that location. This photo is from my raised beds at home. The covers went on October 8 because we were expecting a weekend of rain.row covers 10-9-13People also use floating row covers to keep insects off their plants. Next spring I’m going to give that a try. Maybe my broccoli will be worm free. That would be lovely!

Kids, Carrots and a Thank-You Sign

On Saturday I was at the Farmer’s Market and stopped to water my bed at the community garden. As I was leaving I saw a woman with two young children in tow. From the alley she was pointing things out about the plants so I asked if she’d like to come in. She was delighted. Our deer fence, which isn’t proving very useful in keeping the deer out, does seem to keep people out. That’s unfortunate.

I asked the little girls if they liked carrots. They were willing to try a bite, so I pulled some from my bed, washed them off with the hose (I love having water so close by) and the kids each had the freshest carrot they had ever eaten. I asked if I could take their picture and here it is. The smallest girl is not happy in this photo, but was a minute before when she had a bite of carrot.

visitors to the garden

These serendipitous moments are the best part of the community garden for me. Did I make a couple of fresh carrot converts on Saturday? Maybe.

We have some new signage in the garden. Val Kenn Gray, Lin Clineburg and Joanne Buritsch collaborated on this sign which thanks the groups whose generous help was instrumental in getting our community garden started. The sign was placed on the side of the garden shed where it is visible and adds some decoration to an otherwise blank wall. Well done! Let’s all remember to thank and patronize the groups that support our community.


Kids, carrots and thank you signs are all a good thing in our St. Michaels Community Garden.

Harlequin Stinkbugs in the Garden

The following information was suggested by Elizabeth Beggins whose bed (#29) in the St. Michaels Community Garden has been overrun by Harlequin bugs. The information below can be found in its entirety at The photos are also from that website. The photo of the eggs is helpful. Barrel shaped and distinctive. One more thing to look for.

Harlequin stinkbugadult  Adult Harlequin Harlequin nymphs Harlequin nymphs

About Harlequin Bugs and Stink Bugs

The Harlequin bug is a type of stink bug that causes trouble for many gardeners in the Southeast. Other stink bug pests in North Carolina include the Green stink bug, Brown stink bug, and Southern green stink bug.

All are pests of many crops, but they especially love plants of the brassica family. The brassicas include cabbage, collards, broccoli, mustard, turnips, and kale. During heavy outbreaks, or when all their favorites are gone, Harlequin bugs will eat other garden plants such as squash, okra, tomatoes, corn, beans, and tree fruits.

Both adults and  nymphs cause damage. They eat all parts of the plants, including stems, leaves, fruits, and seeds. They use piercing mouth parts to suck out plant juices. Damage on leaves and stems looks like uneven discolored spots around a hole. Young plants may wilt, turn brown, and die. Mature plants may survive but growth is slowed. Damage on fruits such as squash, tomatoes and okra appears as dark holes surrounded by bumps, pits, or white-yellowish spots. The lighter spots do not ripen to the same color as the rest of the fruit. Fruits may also dimple or grow in strange shapes.

The tips below are designed to help you control stink bug damage in your garden. Sustainable pest management strategies usually work best when used together. Think about your garden, your resources, and your time, and put several of these tips together into a plan that works for you.

Identifying  Harlequin Bugs and Stink Bugs

Adult stink bugs are about half an inch long and shield-shaped. Their colors range from dark brown, tan, to green. The Harlequin bug is black with orange, yellow and red markings (see picture above).

Nymphs are similar to adults but smaller and with a more rounded shape. Eggs are barrel-shaped. They are laid in groups on stems and the undersides of leaves, and may be yellow, green, pink,  gray, or striped. (see picture above)

Harlequin eggs Stink bug eggs

It is important to note that not all stink bugs are pests. Some predatory stink bugs, such as the spined soldier bug, actually attack other garden pests. They should be encouraged in the garden. The spined soldier bug looks similar to the brown stink bug, but has spikes standing out on its shoulders.

Stink bug good spinedsoldierbug Good guy!

Life Cycle

Stink bug adults spend the winter in old plants and other garden litter. They come out in the early spring to begin laying eggs. In early spring eggs take up to 20 days to hatch, but as the weather warms they may hatch in as few as 5 days.  Nymphs mature into adults in 5 – 8 weeks. Populations tend to grow through the season, getting heaviest during early to mid fall.


1) Grow healthy organic plants. Strong plants can handle some damage from stink bugs better than weak, struggling plants. Make sure that your crops are getting enough sunlight and water. Ensure that the soil is well-drained, and rich in nutrients and organic matter.

2) Grow resistant varieties. Some types of brassica plants are naturally resistant to Harlequin bugs. NC Cooperative Extension recommends the following varieties: Cabbage: Copenhagen Market 86, Headstart, Savoy Perfect Drumhead, Stein’s Flat Dutch, Early Jersey Wakefield. Collards: Green Glaze. Cauliflower: Early Snowball X, Snowball Y. Radishes: Red Devil, White Icicle, Globemaster, Cherry Belle, Champion, Red Prince.

3) Till in late fall. Tilling crop leftovers into the soil once cold weather has arrived can reduce the number of adult stink bugs who survive the winter. Then fewer come back out the following spring.

4) Control weeds in the garden area. Stink bugs are attracted by weedy areas in or near the garden. Weeds should not be allowed to spread in the garden. Weedy areas around the garden should be mowed before spring planting and regularly after that to keep stink bugs from hanging around.

5) Use row covers. Keep stink bugs from finding your crop by covering your brassica plants with a lightweight “floating” row cover such as Reemay. These materials (as opposed to plastic or heavier fabrics) let water and air through and do not block very much sunlight. They can be found at garden supply stores or ordered from seed catalogs. The covers can lie directly on the plants (the plants will lift the cover as they grow), or you can support the covers with wire hoops. The trick is to keep the edges of the covers tightly buried or weighted so that the stink bugs cannot get in.

Getting Rid of  Harlequin Bugs and Stink Bugs  Without Toxic Chemicals

6) Scout and hand pick. Hand picking stink bug adults, nymphs and eggs early in the season can really help you control them later in the year. Likewise, hand picking in the fall can cut down the number of adult stink bugs that come back the following season. Scout the garden often throughout the year. When you find stink bug adults, nymphs, or egg clusters, crush them with your fingers. Or, since stink bugs really do stink when you squish them, it might be less smelly to drop them into a pail of soapy water.