Semi-novice Gardener – Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Adventure (vol. 3)

Hi all!  It’s time for check-in #3 on my summer gardening efforts.  Overall, things are going well, but there have been big ups and downs.

The new raised bed we built is doing well.  Krysten planted corn in the center one, and a couple cucumber seedlings in the rightmost one.  The cucumbers have been slow to develop and grow.  I think this is because of the extreme heat.  In the last week or two, one’s growth has accelerated and it’s finally growing one nice cucumber.  I may harvest it and slice it up to use as an ingredient in a nice summer cocktail drink tonight (It’s Friday as I write this draft!). Do a web search for “porch swing” cocktail recipes.

Since we got the fencing up that encloses the whole space, we have had 0 evidence of animals munching our crops!  Huzzah!  However, we DID see one deer in our yard and it was eating our hostas elsewhere on our property (and has continued to; the hostas are mostly gone now).  So, we DO have deer, but they haven’t been interested in our vegetables (yet).  I wonder if they don’t like walking on the gravel we have down?

Tomatoes

We have been harvesting a lot of tomatoes! One of our plants grew very large and tall and ended up flopping over the tomato cages we built in the last update.  We needed something taller!  We were worried that the tropical storm in the first week of August was about to topple the biggest one completely, so we hurriedly built an extension.  We found some scrap wood in the garage, attached it vertically to the sides of the raised bed, and strung twine around nails in the boards back and forth from board to board.  This seems to hold it up well and while the tropical storm wasn’t too bad here, there was no damage afterward.  We need to do the same for our second largest one this weekend.

Taller tomato support
Taller tomato support

The early blight issue I spoke about in the last update has seemed to be controlled by pruning more heavily and keeping air flowing.  However, our smaller tomato plant has been slow to fruit and has some holes/spots on the leaves.  After perusing the HGIC site, my guess was that it was Septoria leaf spot which is a fungal disease, however as a couple knowledgeable HGIC coworkers proof-read this post, they said it was actually most likely from flea beetles. It may sound like I’ve got the inside connection with experts, but everyone can send in questions to our Certified Professional Horticulturists for help like this!

Septoria leaf spot on my tomato plant
Flea beetle damage on my tomato plant

There are prevention and control directions on the HGIC page for flea beetles, but since the damage isn’t large at the moment, I think we’ll leave it as-is now, and plan to clean up and remove garden debris to reduce overwintering sites for the beetles when we wind down the growing season this year.

Overall though, we’ve been harvesting more tomatoes than we know what to do with, so we’re happy with our tomato efforts here! I’m considering making a whole lot of sauce.

Tomato harvest
Tomato harvest

Squash and zucchini

In the last update, I mentioned I suspected squash vine borer larvae to be killing my zucchini plant from the inside.  I did the surgery and discovered I was right.

Squash vine borer larvae in zucchini plant
See the white larvae in the center, lower third of the image?

I remember reading on the HGIC site at some point that in general with cucurbits, you can cover parts of the plant that grow above the soil with soil, and they will begin to root.  I cut the plant to disconnect the borer-infested segment (which was pretty much down into the roots) from the good parts.  I ripped out the roots and infested stuff, then planted the remaining stuff back in, mounding soil over it.

For a few weeks, things seemed promising.  Most of the large leaves did not make it, but some younger and new leaf sprouts were growing strong, and a small fruit started growing.  This suggested to me that after some time, we’d likely have this zucchini plant back from the dead and producing again.  However, that little fruit died and rotted, and the leaves and stems suddenly showed damage.

Our squash had been doing great.  It kept producing great fruit at a rapid pace, and kept expanding.  It was healthy; not showing damage from squash vine borers or cucumber beetles like the zucchini had.  It expanded outside of the raised bed and sometimes those leaves would appear wilted.  We assumed it was because of the extra heat from the gravel and the hot sun.

All was going well until a few days ago – it began wilting everywhere and wasn’t recovering.  Fruit production stopped.  We took a closer look, and we’re seeing the same squash vine borer type damage we saw with the zucchini!  Noooo!  It looked pervasive.  I wasn’t about to do more larvae extraction (it was gross, and squash isn’t my favorite vegetable).

So, we called it on both the zucchini and the squash plants.  2:35 pm, Friday, August 10th, 2020.  We ripped them out and tossed them far from the garden.  We’re making space for some sort of cooler season crops (the planning hasn’t started yet).

Next year, we are absolutely taking the following prevention steps (taken from the HGIC page on squash vine borers):

  • To prevent egg-laying, wrap a collar of aluminum foil around lower stems or dust or spray lower stems with spinosad or pyrethrum.
  • Cover plants with floating row cover until flowering.
  • Plant early to lessen injury. Use transplants instead of seeds. Or, plant squash seed mid-June.
  • Butternut and cushaw are resistant; yellow crookneck less susceptible than zucchini.

Green beans

We’ve been harvesting a few green beans from the mature plants that survived the rodent massacres that happened before we got the fence up, but it wasn’t enough to make a meal out of.  Several weeks ago, I planted more seeds to replace the eaten ones and those have grown and should be fruiting soon.  I hope that we can have some dinners with roasted green beans soon; they are my favorite of our garden veggies after tomatoes (and since tomatoes are fruit, I could say that green beans are my favorite veggies).

The zinnia we planted in the center of the green beans has gotten large and is crowding them.  We will likely try to tie it up to keep it more vertical than horizontal.

There are a couple bean leaves with holes munched out of them from some insect, but nothing to be too concerned about yet.

Moving forward

We’re still having fun with the garden.  It’s great to be done building for the most part.  Krysten has been adding a few pots on the outskirts with flowers in them which makes the space look nice.  I think in the next season, we’ll probably add more flowers in pots and save the beds for the vegetables.  The flowers have overcrowded vegetables in some instances in the raised beds, and we should be able to attract pollinators close enough to the vegetables via potted flowers.

I’m looking forward to more tomatoes and our first meal with green beans.  Perhaps in the next update, I may present our plan for cool-season crops.

View previous updates:

Dan Adler
HGIC Web and Communications Manager

Semi-novice Gardener – Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Adventure (vol. 2)

I’m back with a big update on our raised bed vegetable garden efforts!  It’s been eventful: wildlife has eaten some of the plants, we built a whole new raised bed from scratch, and we’ve begun harvesting some of our first crops.

Tomatoes need support!

Our three tomato plants have been growing up well.  We procrastinated on adding support because I wanted a better solution than those flimsy conical wire doodads you can buy at the hardware store.  I eventually located some old lengths of wire fencing and just set them around each plant in a cylindrical shape and then attached them to a single metal garden stake to keep them steady.  I criss-crossed some twine back and forth which will give the tomatoes something more to grab onto and keep the support from bending outward.

Somebody is munching my plants!

Wildlife and insects have been having a feast on our garden, unfortunately. Continue reading

Semi-novice Gardener – Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Adventure (vol. 1)

Hi all, I’m Dan Adler – a part-time employee that works on web and communications at the HGIC.  I work on the website, video creation, posting others’ blog content, newsletters, design, and other web-media technical things.  I’ve been with the HGIC for several years, but I came into the job with close to no gardening experience.  Over the years, I’ve absorbed a certain amount of knowledge by osmosis in the office, but no one mistakes me as a subject-matter expert at the HGIC!

This growing season, I am going to record my raised bed vegetable garden exploits and post several in-progress reports here on the Maryland Grows blog.  I hope to go through my thoughts about decisions we (myself and my wife Krysten) made, where I went to find answers from the HGIC, what worked, and what didn’t.  Hopefully, this blog will help newer gardeners by acting as a bit of a case study on a fairly simple gardening project.  Learn from what I do right, and what I do wrong.

This page on vegetable gardens on the HGIC website has been a good starting point and reference for information along the way.

The project

(This blog post is about a month late; we did the work mentioned here about a month previous to this post.  Future blog posts will catch up and be closer to real-time as they happen).

We live in Baltimore County and have an area that gets full sun which is great for tomatoes and a lot of vegetables.  Last year we bought a couple 4’x8′ raised bed kits from the hardware store.  These are dead-simple to put together with no tools and get the job done for growing, but they are a bit thin and fragile after a while.  At the time, we had calculated buying the kits vs materials to make a similar-sized (but a bit more robust) raised bed, and for us, they were similar. Two things we did to improve it, however, was to staple some chicken wire underneath so digging rodents couldn’t come through the bottom, and we set them down on cardboard to smother the grass underneath.

Birds eye yard view
Picture of our yard area with old raised beds with weeds in them

We had some old soil in there from last year (with weeds in it) already, but this year, we topped it off with a bag of generic hardware store gardening soil in each 4’x4′ square after pulling the weeds.  We definitely expect that we will have to continue pulling weeds.

What we should have done: (You’ll see this a lot moving forward.)  Last year, when we were done growing, we should have protected our soil by either covering the soil with fallen leaves or leaf mulch in the fall, or planting cover crops that are easily mowed or string-trimmed away. This would have staved off weeds and kept more nutrients in our soil.

Let’s get planting

We’ve had some minor success with tomatoes, green beans, peppers, zucchini, and cucumber in the past, so we decided to do similar this year, but hopefully keep a better eye on them and build better support this year.  Previously, we have had cucurbits get eaten by squash vine borers, and our cheapo cone-style tomato support didn’t hold up the plants very well as they got bigger and fuller than they should have (we did not prune diligently).  We’ve also had issues with something eating up our green bean leaves; probably a groundhog.

Planting plan diagram

We bought seedlings from the hardware store and a packet of green bean seeds, and planted them like the picture above.

  • Big plants like tomatoes and the cucurbits that need some space were planted diagonally from each other to maximize the distance.
  • The top-left and bottom-right bed squares are taller and have deeper soils, so the tomatoes were planted in those, as I am assuming they like to go deeper with their roots than our other crops.
  • The bean seeds were planted according to the package’s instructions: 3″ apart in rows, down about 1″ in the soil.
  • We intentionally left spaces in the center of the bean planting and elsewhere in our beds with the plan to add some flowers to bring in pollinators.  Pollinators are essential for food crops, and attracting them is essential. Our area is in the middle of an ocean of grass, so we feel we need to incentivize these good bugs to visit a bit.  Read this blog post on Pollinators and Food Gardens.

We watered every day and added the flowers the next weekend.  The week after that, we have this shot:

Pollinators

The flowers we added were Zinnia and Marigold*.  Krysten also snuck in a celery plant in the bottom right corner as well.

You can see all the vegetables are larger and the beans are coming up well.  We are prepping for some renovation of the area around the garden as you can see, but I will talk about that later.

We have plans to create some fencing to keep rodents out, but that sort of depends on other renovation plans we have to happen first, so we are hoping at this point that the varmints don’t find the garden before we can get the defenses up.

As I’m writing this in hindsight, everything looks peachy and hopeful at this point in time about a month ago.  However, we definitely hit some snags and added some more challenges ourselves pretty soon after this.  Stay tuned, and I’ll fill you in shortly!

 

Dan Adler
HGIC Web and Communications Manager

*Previously, we had mistakenly labeled the marigolds we added as mums.  Text and images have been updated.