Children’s Vegetable Garden Program (CVGP): Week 10 (April 23rd, 2016)

Hi!  We’re continuing to vigilantly do our plant maintenance, especially since we’ve got fruit/vegetables growing. OK, I know I’m being pedantic but a tomato is a fruit 🙂 The quality and amount of our gardeners produce is directly affected by how well they are doing their maintenance. They are doing a GREAT job and hopefully you are in your garden too. Right now we’re battling cucumber beetles, potato beetles, cabbage loopers, and roly pollies.   Here is a link to today’s agenda. Bug checks are the first things our gardeners do when they arrive, and those cucumber beetles can MOVE!  Here’s a picture of insect damage on a squash leaf:

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…and a closeup of a squash flower with a cucumber beetle (and an ant) –there’s also a beneficial insect almost hidden there…do you see it?:

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(Yep, there was a small bee at the center of the flower.)

What are our plants are producing: TONS of green cherry tomatoes (and a few beautiful red ones), broccoli (which was harvested), huge cabbage heads, and small cucumbers and small squash have formed.

You can see in the pictures how the cucumbers and squash form at the base of a fertilized flower, and the flower remains on the end until it dries up and falls off. Did you know that both male and female flower grow on the same plant for cucumbers and squash? Click here for an interesting article about that as well as information about hand pollinating–which you won’t have to do if you have enough pollinators around.We don’t have to hand pollinate at the CVG because we do have a lot of bees and other pollinators in the area. Speaking of bees, click here for a great article from the Native Plant Society of Texas about native bees.

Remember that growing flowering plants to attract pollinators is good for your vegetable garden yield.   Click here for a link to a lot of interesting lists at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center website. Scroll down to the section called ‘Value to Beneficial Insects’ and you will see lists of plants for bees.   For each list, on the left, you can narrow it down to a location (TX) and some plant characteristics. Keep in mind that Texas is a big state, and check with your local nursery or gardening friends if you are not sure which plants will do well in San Antonio. Personally, in my yard, the bees always love salvia, a low maintenance perennial that blooms a lot.

The Whopper begonias are AMAZING! The row of them planted outside the garden fence look great, and look how large the flowers are in the picture below.   They also do very well as container plants; I bought a couple for home and have them in containers.

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Here’s our garden at the end of the day:

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(Those are green beans are to the right of the cucumber trellis in the picture above)

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(The potato plants to the right of the tomato in the picture above)

See you soon,

Lyn

Lyn Komada, Bexar County Master Gardeners

Bonus Picture

Know what this is?

 

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It’s a closeup of an artichoke that’s been left to flower! Artichokes are in the same family as thistles, so if you guessed it  was a thistle, good guess!

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Children’s Vegetable Garden Program (CVGP): Week 9 (April 16th, 2016)

 

Yes, it was drizzly and damp, but our garden was full of happy gardeners, rain boots, streamers, and a very special treat. One at a time….

Here’s a picture of the streamers we talked about last week; very cheerful for Fiesta and afterwards:

 

(The tomatoes are getting tall, aren’t they…those are 6′ tomato cages.) The garden was busy, with all of us trying to finish chores before any rain might start. Regardless of the weather, the garden is always a place of friendly gardeners having fun.

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We got drizzled on a little bit, but not much. We checked our gardens for bugs:

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In our section, we found a cutworm, cucumber beetles, and an anthill. Here’s a pic of the cutworm caterpillar (which will turn into a moth) and a cucumber beetle, both of which are no longer in residence at the garden:

We also removed faded flowers from the portulaca to encourage blooming and keep the plants neat.  On the rest of the plants, we removed any plant leaves that were yellowed, in contact with the soil, or shading nearby plants too much.

The potato plants were starting to flop into the walkways, and risked getting stepped on on broken, so we set 4 small bamboo stakes in the 4 corners of the potato area, and ran string around it, looping it around each stake and tying it at the first and last stake.

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We are also trying to keep the tomato plant stems inside their cages. If any of the stems were a bit too large already to tuck back in without breaking, we tied to the cages with strips cut from plastic bags. This is a great way to recycle plastic bags! We cut our strips about an inch wide, and left a little space between the stem and the support cage.  This will help prevent breakage from wind or from the weight of future fruit.

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As always, read our Spring 2016 AGENDA 9 for info on everything we did today.

And the treat….the Junior Master Gardener activity today was a talk by about ladybugs, followed by a ladybug release!

 

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OK, not that ladybug. (It is at the garden, though–one of the sections is using these as decorations in their beds. The decorations serve a practical purpose too, by the way…it lets the volunteers tell, at a quick glance, what garden beds are in their section.)

 

The real ladybugs, in their packaging:

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Being released:

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On the plants:

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The ladybugs, will provide good organic control of aphids and other bugs.   While there is nothing keeping them from leaving, we did release a LOT of them and enough will stay in the area as long as there are bugs for them to eat.

Let’s have a look at how some of our plants are producing… tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, broccoli, and tiny cucumbers:

Remember that mystery bed I showed you a few blogs back? A lot happens in a few weeks…  here’s another picture… any guesses?

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No, we are NOT growing Johnson grass!  How about a closer look?

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Yes! Corn! I’ll post pictures occasionally so you can see its progress. I’ve never grown it (too many squirrels) so I am interested to see how it does.

The garden at the end of the day:

cvg16w10.EndOfDay

See you next week,

Lyn

Lyn Komada, Bexar County Master Gardeners

BONUS PICTURE!

 

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I saw this male cardinal in the CVG when I was checking the beds before the gardeners arrived….a cheerful spot of red on a grey day.  If you like birds, the next time you are at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, be sure and stop by their birdwatching area.

Children’s Vegetable Garden Program (CVGP): Week 8 (April 9nd, 2016)

The Children’s Vegetable Garden is for the birds! In a GOOD way, of course. Last week I mentioned the purple martin birdhouses that were at the garden, and I was asked by a reader if they didn’t bother the harvest. Purple martins are insectivores, and eat bugs—as they are flying, actually—so they are good birds to have around a garden. They do need a good glide path to their house…at least 40’ of clear space…so I can’t have a house in my backyard for them unfortunately—there are too many trees. But I love seeing them at the Botanical Gardens every Saturday. (And I do think about putting a purple martin house up in my front yard….)

Click here for a great article from the Maryland Cooperative Extension on purple martins.

This week—more birds!   This week’s Junior Master Gardener speaker, Kim Rocha spoke about backyard chickens and brought some visitors along with her:

Our gardeners had fun learning about them AND meeting them. If you are interested in reading more about raising chickens, click here for some information from Texas A&M Agrilife Extension –there is some great information and pictures here!

Also, there is a Facebook page for Texas A&M AgriLife Poultry Extension you may want to like and follow if you are on Facebook. Click here for that link.

OK, enough with the birds for now, and back to the garden. We are in maintenance mode, and regular maintenance helps ensure a good harvest. Our gardeners start out by removing old blooms from flowers, checking for (and disposing of) bugs on all the plants in the bed, and trimming off leaves that are touching the ground or shading nearby plants.

We also did a bit of decoration…with Fiesta approaching, we attached streamers to the tomato cages. Do streamers deter birds from approaching? Click here an interesting paper from Okinawa University that discusses how Japanese farmers keep birds away from their crops and it does mention plastic bags, streamers, and streamers from reflective tape as well as other methods.

Our gardeners pinched back their ‘Genovese’ Sweet Basil, and took the fresh tips home to cook with. They also got to take home some spearmint leaves from this bed:

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There are many varieties of mint, all of which grow very easily here…definitely worth giving it a try if you are interested in trying to grow herbs.  We grow spearmint and chocolate mint at the CVG. If you read our agenda, you will see that we also irrigated/hand watered, check to see that no roots were exposed on our plants, and applied some pesticide. Our agendas do an excellent job of clearly explaining what we do each week, have a look at all of them under the Children’s Vegetable Garden Agendas tab at the top of this page.

Here’s our end of day picture:

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Many thanks to Alexis Moreno for providing the vegetable garden pics for today’s blog. 

Stay dry…there’s more rain coming…

Lyn

Lyn Komada, Bexar County Master Gardeners

Bonus Picture!

With the recent nighttime hailstorm, Richard Alcorta posted this picture on the Bexar County Master Gardener facebook page….he had bird netting protecting his vegetable bed, and it also protected it from some of the hail. Cool picture! Want to join our Facebook public group? You don’t have to be a master gardener to be in it: click here.

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Children’s Vegetable Garden Program (CVGP): Week 7 (April 2nd, 2016)

Green plants, blue skies, colorful flowers…it’s a great time of year to be in South Texas. It’s been a busy first six weeks getting our seeds and transplants in, so we took it easy on Week 7. Well, not really, but we have transitioned more into the maintenance phase of our garden.

**Now, if you’re thinking that you’ve missed the window to plant a vegetable garden of your own, you’ll be happy to hear that you still can. Just click here and check out the handy guide to what varieties of spring vegetables to plant and when to plant them. There’s a lot you can you can plant now!**

Our tomatoes were unwrapped today for the rest of the season, and we carefully folded up the wraps and packed it away for the Fall season. We looked them over carefully for bugs and trimmed away leaves that were touching the soil.

We also checked to see if any of the lower cabbage leaves were shading the begonias, and removed the leaves.   If any of our seeds had not sprouted (beans, squash) we replanted, and we also replaced transplants that needed replacing.  Remember to read our Spring 2016 AGENDA 7 if you want all the details of what we did.

The potatoes have started to bloom—the red ones, at least:

s16w7.redPotatoFlower

Guess what color the flower of the white potatoes will be?

The potato plants needed to be ‘dirted up’ so we spent some time doing that. If you remember, there was a hill of soil between our two rows of potatoes. We took soil from that hill and mounded it at the base of the potato plants, on both sides of the row:

s16w7.dirting.up.potato

This was a two person job, with one person holding the plants up and the other person moving the soil in. Doing this increases the yield by providing more underground space for the potatoes forming off the main stem.   It also keep the plants more upright and from sprawling into the walkways. Since we had depleted it, we added more material to our hill between the potato rows from the compost pile in the back area.   We have the luxury of having a compost pile behind a privacy fence in the maintenance area of the CVG. Our gardeners are encouraged to add compostable material from home (eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds, vegetable bits and pieces, etc) as well as compost material like spent flowers from their beds.

Our compost is coarse, and to avoid bringing large clumps of material back to the beds, our volunteers screen the compost into wheelbarrows. Here’s two of our volunteers screening compost:

s16w7.siftingCompost

The green beans are planted very neatly and are growing well:

s16w7.beans

The rest of the plants…peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, etc, look much the same as last week—just larger!—so let’s have a look at the test beds instead.   At the Children’s Vegetable Garden, we have some beds dedicated to growing a particular plant. Often, we are testing a particular variety, collecting seed (or both). Here’s a new bed that I’ve been taking pictures of weekly…guess what it is? I’ll tell you in a few weeks, when it gets taller (and you’ll be able to guess by then too!)

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Here’s sage and dill beds, both of which are flowering:

There are also other flowers blooming near the CVG. The bluebonnets are lovely, and the area outside our white picket fence, along the walkway, is planted with young ‘Whopper’ begonias. They are already blooming and the flowers are, well, whoppers!

All these flowers, in addition to being ornamental, serve to attract insect pollinators to the garden. Consider planting flowers near or with your vegetables for the same reasons.

There is also an area for ‘Natchez’ blackberries. These are a thornless, Texas Superstar variety, and netting was recently added around them to protect the crop.

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You can tell how this mockingbird feels about the netting, can’t you?

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Blackberries grow very well here and I heartily recommend that you put in a thornless variety like Natchez if you want to plant them. There is a thorny blackberry patch at my house and while it is productive, I do get scratched up when I pick them. Click here for a useful article on growing blackberries. and here to read more about Texas Superstar ‘Natchez’.

The purple martins were very active today, swooping around in the air above the garden. We have two purple martin houses at the CVG; here is one of them:

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Here are some of the residents (click on a picture to enlarge it):

In addition to hands-on gardening, the children participating in the CVGP have educational opportunities. They attend Junior Master Gardener educational sessions each week starting at about week 6, and there are teaching opportunities with their sections as well. Here Sandra is teaching her section about identifying bugs:

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A look at our garden at the end of the day, looking towards the Sunday house:

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You can see more of the garden/plants now that the tomatoes are uncovered!

Talk to you soon,

Lyn

Lyn Komada, Bexar County Master Gardeners

Bonus Picture!  

I took a LOT of pictures of the purple martins. I think this one was wondering who the crazy lady with the camera was.

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Children’s Vegetable Garden Program (CVGP): Week 6 (March 26th, 2016)

By now you already know that we start out with our maintenance:  weeding and doing a health check on our existing plants which includes looking for bugs.  This week we found some signs of bugs, so let’s start out by talking about them.

Cabbage Loopers. This tiny but active caterpillar that Sandra is holding is a cabbage looper. It’s very small but it and its friends and relatives can easily put a dent in a cabbage. Squish them if you see them. Or, if you’re squeamish like I am about hand squishing 🙂 put them on the ground and step on them.

s16w6.cabbageLooper

 

Aphids. These were a little hard to see, but you can see the signs of aphids in the picture below… the sticky honeydew excreted by the aphids and possibly some of their shed skins. Did you know that they shed their skins as they grow?

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While we didn’t find any bugs on our potatoes this week, click here for an interesting Texas Crop Profile article on potatoes which also mentions some of the bugs you (and we) may find on our plants.

But it’s not all bad… there are some artichoke beds at the CVGP and they have a lot of ladybugs in three development stages…let’s have a look at this beneficial insect.

This ladybug larva has hatched from an egg and sheds its skin as it grows. It’s hungry and eats aphids, mealybugs and other harmful insects:

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The larva next will go into the pupa stage and not move for a few days.  Here are two larvae:

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Finally, it will emerge as an adult ladybug:

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Ladybugs do vary in color (orange, red, pink) and markings (number of spots) —the adult pictured above is an Asian ladybug. These ladybugs will help manage the bugs at the CVGP.

The ladybugs were also joined by bees (see pic below), because the plants also had aphids and they were attracted to the honeydew.  The ladybugs tend to lay eggs near the bugs they eat so their young will have a nearby food source when they hatch.

s16w6.bee

OK, now that we’re done debugging for now (yes, I work with computers and couldn’t resist that), let’s talk about TOMATOES! Yes, tomatoes. There are small tomatoes on the BHN 968 plants in addition to the flowers that were on both tomato plants. Yay, first fruit!!!!

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We unwrapped our tomato cages partially while we were there, but wrapped them up before we left. We will leave the wrap on a little longer since the weather is still a bit cool and unpredictable.

Let’s have a look at how a few of our plants are doing. The cabbages are starting to form heads, and the broccoli looks strong.

 

This squash has formed its first true leaf:

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The portulacas are full of blooms – remember to remove spent flowers like our gardener is doing in order to maximize flowering:

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The potato plants continue to grow vigorously:

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We did have to replace some of the Alternanthera and begonia plants…the strong (and drying winds) were not kinds to the young plants.   We also replaced any of our squash seeds that had not sprouted.

This week we planted three transplants: ‘Ichiban’ Japanese eggplant, ‘Genovese’ sweet basil, and ‘Sweet Success’ Burpless cucumber. If you’ve never grown Japanese eggplant, it’s a slender eggplant rather than a plump one, and ….   Basil is an easy to grow herb for your garden, and wonderful to use in cooking.   Every year my mom plants a pot of basil from seed in her New Jersey garden, and it is enjoyed until frost.

The eggplant was planted near the three peppers (top right in the pic below). Notice the wet soil around the plant from the careful handwatering. Our gardeners practice watersaving techniques like watering where and when a plant needs it:

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If you look at our cucumber transplant below, you’ll see that we’ve leaned a bamboo stake against the trellis. This will encourage the transplant to grow towards the trellis, and latch onto it with tendrils. By the way, ‘burpless’ cucumbers have a thinner skin, fewer seeds, and are called burpless because they are thought to cause less burping.

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A few planting tips (see the full details in the Week 6 agenda located under the Agendas tab):

  • Use cages for your peppers to support the plants when they start to bear fruit. It’s much easier to start out a plant with a cage around it, than to try to put one around a larger plant.
  • Remember to soak the plant, still in its nursery container, in water up to the top of the container, until the air bubble stop.
  • In general, plant your plants even with the soil line…do not bury the plant. Although some plants can benefit from a deeper planting, most do not, and you can never go wrong planted level with the ground.
  • If there is a peat pot, don’t remove it–that would damage the roots which you can see growing through the peat. You can fold back the top edges a bit so they do not show above ground. (If they show, they will act like a wick.)
  • Gently but firmly tamp the soil down around your planting and water it in. This will ensure that the settled down soil is level with the plant, and that there are no large air pockets in the soil.
  • When fertilizing, keep the fertilizer off the leaves unless it is mixed at a strength to be a foliar fertilizer. (Read the instructions on the bottle.)

A look at our garden at the end of the day:

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Regards,

Lyn

Lyn Komada, Bexar County Master Gardeners

Bonus Picture!

The wildflowers are lovely this time of year, and right by us at the Botanical Garden the colors were beautiful!  (Remember you can click on any of the pictures to enlarge it.)