Garden Update

Just a quick post today, folks, with an update of the garden on several fronts.  First, the potatoes are doing great.  The plants in the raised bed are already blooming and growing very vigorously, while the potatoes in the containers are also doing good but growing a little slower.  I attribute the difference to the potatoes in the raised beds having more space to grow their roots and access to more stable soil temperature.  Fruit is setting on the pear and stone fruit trees, even the apple tree has a couple of fruits growing.  Lastly, the first sister, corn, in the 3 Sister garden has come out.  Next week, I’ll be sowing the beans.



Garden Salad

In the previous post, I recommended rinsing-off and eating garden greens that had cabbage fly eggs under them as a way to control the population of caterpillars hatching in the garden.  This may disgust some of you, but I’m not proposing anything unorthodox.  Every lettuce, broccoli, kale, and fruit that reaches your supermarket has been washed or irradiated to kill little worms and bacteria like salmonella that may be harboring in the leafs.  Sometimes vegetables have been so heavily doused with pesticides that they must be washed before going to market just to make them edible.

This plate of salad had a few kale leafs with cabbage fly eggs underneath them.  I washed the leafs and served them at home.  You would never know the difference.

Klale, spinach, lettuce salad from the garden.
Klale, spinach, lettuce salad from the garden.




February 15, 2015Permalink Leave a comment

Cabbage Fly Control Like a Boss

The cabbage fly is the bane of every kale, lettuce, and collard green plant in the garden.  This cute, little butterfly that just wonders aimlessly from plant to plant has imprinted in it’s DNA to kill your brasscias.  It lays its eggs under the foliage of leafy greens and when they hatch, like ravenous little goats from hell, they defoliate an entire plant in a matter of hours.  There have been times when I’ve felt like torching an entire raised bed after seeing the damage.

In nature, predators eat the eggs or the caterpillars once they hatch.  Yellow jackets and birds eat caterpillars and lady bugs eat all kinds of eggs and larva.  The urban garden lacks many of the predators in nature such deer that don’t really care if a leaf has cabbage fly eggs under neath.  He eats it just the same, thus preventing many eggs from hatching and preserving a balance.

I don’t like to use pesticides on the vegetables I eat.  So I have to contend with the cabbage fly in creative ways.  I have come to realize that in my 0.20 acre lot in suburbia I’m the alpha predator, so I have to act like one to maintain that balance that naturally happens in nature.  So yes, I started cutting salad leaves laden with little eggs.  I rinse them and eat them.  So far I’m ahead of the curve.  My family has been eating plenty of good greens from the garden and the caterpillars have not done major damage.  Take that, you little dream killers.

In the video below I identify the cabbage fly in the act of laying eggs in one of the plants in the Keyhole garden. I also show the leaves with eggs underneath so you know what to look for.




February 14, 2015Permalink 1 Comment

The Keyhole Garden Explained

The first post on this blog was about a Keyhole garden I built in the spring of 2013.  It is the most visited post on the blog, so I decided to post a video of how the Keyhole garden works.  Towards the end you will see what to most will seem disgusting maggots eating, but it’s not the case.  What you are seeing are black soldier fly larva fattening before they go into their pupa stage to later emerge as adult black soldier fly.

The black soldier fly is a coveted beneficial insect in the garden.  It helps break down compost piles.  The larva even eat the eggs that the common fly lays thus keeping compost piles sanitary.  People who have Aquaponic systems or raise chickens also build habitat for the black soldier fly since their larva are a high protein source for fish and chickens.

The black soldier fly (BSF) life cycle begins with an adult fly laying eggs in a place where there is food for the larva that will emerge from the eggs.  The larva eat ravenously all kind of organic and animal waste and then go into the pupa stage from which emerges an adult fly.

The Hermetia Illucens, the scientific name of the BSF, has no mouth.  It does not eat during its lifetime, 5 to 8 days.  Its only purpose is to find a mate and lay eggs to continue its life cycle.  Wikipedia has an excellent article about this magnificent insect, the BSF.

If you are interested in how I built the Keyhole garden and its dimensions follow this link to the original Keyhole garden post.


February 8, 2015Permalink 3 Comments

After the Ice Storm of December 2013

Nine days after the first ice storm of 2013 on December 5th, I removed the cloth covers from my raised beds.  Despite a few sunny days, just two days ago, the cloth covers were still frozen.  The weather for the next 10 days has temperatures ranging between low 30’s to mid 60’s, so it’s time to expose the plants to sun light and fresh air again until the next cold snap.

Lessons learned from this winter storm:

1. Winter greens are very hardy but still get frost damage if exposed to cold wind in the low 20’s, so cover is imperative for their survival.

2. The biggest damage was caused by ice crushing parts of the vegetation. Two raised beds look like a deer or cow slept on them.

3. Next year I will build a frame with PVC pipe so that I can cover the raised beds faster and the ice does not crush the plants.

4. Ice is a great insulator.  Under the ice, the temperature is probably stable between 30F and 32F, something that winter crops can easily handle for days.  However, vegetation that is exposed to frigid, dry wind for several hours can easily get frost damage.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the results. The plants in the greenhouse suffered absolutely no damage, and the raised beds will recover once the sun light and air hits them for a couple days.

Winter brings out the best taste in Swiss chard and kale. Likewise, the arugula and mustard greens taste sweeter when it’s cold. Winter gardening requires a certain type of plants, effort, and adequate frost protection, but it is very rewarding.  Establish your winter plants early in the fall and cover them as needed in winter.  Some of the most delicious and nutritious plants grow in the cold weather.

December 14, 2013Permalink Leave a comment

Backyard Food Production in America

This blog post was inspired by Jack’s podcast on Small Scale Forest Gardens.  America is turning a page in history and reverting to a more self-reliant way of living.  We still have a long way to go since many people know nothing about how things used to be or simply grew in a big city sheltered from rural America.  But there is an awakening happening.  I see it at the office, hear it in the cafeteria.  People who had always kept a pristine Bermuda lawn are now asking questions about what, when and how to start a veggie garden or plant a fruit tree.  Others have started a raised bed with tomato and pepper plants bought at Walmart.  It’s a start— a good start because once hooked on gardening it’s hard to look at a shovel and resist the urge to dig a hole to plant something.

I began life in suburbia in 2005 with what most would consider a perfect backyard.  That is, a backyard devoid of vegetation except grass.  In 2008, Jack got the bug in me to start doing something with such a fertilizer laden wasteland.  I fenced off 250 sq. feet inside my backyard and built three raised beds.  Two years later I outgrew that area, so I fenced off another 250 sq. feet, for a total of 500 sq. feet.  I now have three raised beds and 1 keyhole garden, a green house, and 16 fruit trees all in a one tenth of an acre suburbia lot.  This is how my backyard looks now.

Try gardening for one season, and I bet you’ll be hooked just like I was.  It’s better than going to the gym for exercise, better than going to the tanning salon for a tan, and better than watching TV to relax.  How do you start?  Easy, go to a hardware store and buy the following materials:


1, 2” by 6” by 12’ (ask the hardware store to cut it in half)

1, 2” by 6” by 6’ (same, ask the hardware store to cut in half)

12, 4” wood screws

Enough cardboard or paper refuse bags laid flat, double to cover 18’ sq.

1 bag of mulch (2 cubic feet)

1 bag of compost (2 cubic feet)

3 bags of soil (5 cubic feet)

Screw the boards into a rectangle and you’ll have a 3’ by 6’, 6” raised bed.

Lay the cardboard or refuse paper bags in a leveled part of your backyard that gets at least 6 hours of sun.

Move or build the raised bed on top of the cardboard.

Fill the raised bed by placing a 2” cover of mulch then 3 inches of soil and compost.  If you will be planting from seeds you can start the seeds inside the house and then plant them into the raised bed once the plants are about 3” tall.  You can also plant seeds directly into the raised bed but there is a little more risk of the sprouts getting scorched by the sun or killed by a cold snap or eaten by birds.  Either way, do not apply the last inch of mulch until the plants are about 2 inches tall.  Otherwise, the mulch may suppress the sprouts.  Water gently and generously since raised beds lose humidity fast.


Congratulations, you are a gardener!

Listen to the Garden

I finished planting the keyhole garden with seeds and with plants I had already started inside the house.  The plants and seeds went in randomly .  The plants included cherry and Roma tomatoes, spinach and Purple tomatillos.  The seeds included Poblano and Serrano peppers, spinach, Pak Choi, mint,  eggplant, lettuce, Swiss Chard, garlic and carrots.

A few seasons back I stopped planting in neat rows and labeling each plant.  Whereas this may be good for organizing the garden, it is not the best way to develop a self sustaining garden.  Aside from the esthetic beauty of a garden apparently in disarray (some may disagree), there are benefits for planting this way.  Some seeds fall under sun, other in partial shade and others in full shade.  In the end, the seeds will grow the hardiest in the micro climate they choose.  The garden will speak to the gardener succinctly.

Listen to the Garden 4-27-2013 6-53-12 PM


This beautiful and healthy Swiss Chard chose to grow in the partial shade provided by a thorny rose bush.  It has been producing for almost one year.

Swiss Chard 4-26-2013 5-54-56 PM

Keyhole Garden

I’m starting this blog with a post about a project that I just finished.  It’s a keyhole garden. The most important feature of the keyhole garden is the center basket that serves as a compost pile where kitchen scraps and dish water are recycled.  The water gradually permeates the garden carrying the compost nutrients to the roots of the vegetables.  If looked from above, the shape of the garden with the basket and the cut out wedge resembles a keyhole.


Keyhole Garden 4-24-2013 5-41-35 PM



Keyhole Garden 4-24-2013 5-37-32 PM

There are many ways to build the garden.  Bricks or stone make excellent material to raise the outer walls.  I used mortar for added strength, but well stacked stone or bricks work just fine.  Likewise, the inner basket can be made of many materials, sticks and twine for example.  The important part is that the dirt does not collapse the basket and that water can permeate freely.  I used three metal fence posts, a piece of wire fence and landscaping cloth.

Fill the garden with organic material available in your area.  I used dried leaves, mulch, compost, green trunks and top soil.  Build it layer by layer and slope the layers up towards the basket.  Sprinkle each layer with a couple of gallons of water.  The basket can be filled with dirt, ashes, leaves, and straw.  Almost any organic material will work, just work in layers and leave enough space to drop kitchen scraps later.  This is how my garden looked once finished.






Garden dimensions:

Diameter: 8′, Height: 2′

Inner basket:

Diameter: 2.5′

There are several suggestion regarding the garden to basket ratio.  This is not rocket science.  Be sure all the vegetables are within easy reach and the wedge in the outer perimeter is wide and deep enough to access the basket easily.

April 27, 2013Permalink 6 Comments