Saturday, June 16, 2012

Good Bugs and Bad Bugs in the Garden

In the Garden there are Good Bugs too!
_ladybug2-lg.jpgHere at The Tasteful Garden we promote natural pest control methods such as keeping your garden clean and weeded, using mulches and good compost in the soil, and using organically made pesticides only when absolutely necessary. We believe that healthy, happy, plants will have a naturally immunity to pests and diseases and in the long run can protect our environment from overuse of pesticides.

In many cases, when you see damage to the leaves of a vegetable plant, the plant is not in danger of dying, it is only being nibbled on by an occasional insect. Other times, your plants can be literally eaten away overnight by some hungry snails, cut off at the base by a cutworm, or dug out of the ground by a squirrel. This can be heartbreaking when it happens but keep in mind that we share the earth with these creatures and your garden looks like a really great place to hang out! Most of the time, simple methods which have been used for many years by gardeners are the best way to combat the situation. 

hornworm.jpgOn our Insect Information page we have listed some of the more common pests for gardeners and the easiest technique to get rid of one or two, as well as a more thorough way to eliminate a full-on assault by these creatures. 

If you do use any type of commercially bought pesticides, always make sure to read the directions carefully and never use more than is recommended. Even organic pesticides can be dangerous and can kill honeybees and birds if overused. Killing every insect in your garden is not a good idea because you may eliminate some of the many beneficial insects which eat other bugs and this can create a worse problem. There are also many living creatures in the soil which help to break it down and provide nutritious soil for your plants which can be killed by pesticides such as earthworms and bacteria. 

Visit our website for lots of great organic insecticide products under Organic Gardening and there are many more growing tips available on our website at

Don't forget to Fertilize your Garden


_gardentools.jpgDon't forget to fertilize your garden!

Just like us, healthy plants need food, in regular amounts and it is necessary to provide them with almost everything they need. Our backyard soils have some minerals and calcium but it is always a good idea to supplement them so they have a complete source of all of the ingredients they need.

Organic Fertilizers - What You Need to Know

There are almost as many types and brands of fertilizer as there are types of plants! It is very confusing to most of us, how are we supposed to know what to do? Well the answer is somewhat easy, the plants can't tell the difference between most of them.

Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus

Made up primarily of Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus (the three numbers on the bag such as 13-9-4) there are also some trace elements added such as calcium which help prevent deficiencies which we may have in our soil. Most soils have plenty of these trace elements so it can be redundant to add more. The best way to know exactly what you need is to have a soil test done by the agricultural extension office in your area.


That being said, in most gardens, adding some good compost of any type will improve your soil and the microorganisms in the compost will help break down the nutrients already in the soil and make them available to the roots of the plants. This is a critical step before any other additions to your soil. Compost made from Horse manure, leaves, worm castings, mushroom compost, or just homemade from kitchen scraps and yard trimmings all will make a huge difference to your garden.

Commercial Fertilizers

All of the commercial fertilizers will have the ingredients listed on the back of the bag. Always read what it contains before using to make sure you do not add anything you don't want. Higher numbers of Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus generally are meant to encourage certain types of growth. Nitrogen (the first number) will help grow lots of leaves but can actually hinder growth of fruit and roots. Potassium aids Fruiting and Phosphorus can help promote root growth however, high numbers of any of the three can be too much and can actually kill some plants. For flowering type annual plants, high Potassium numbers will encourage lots of flowers.

babysquash.jpgOrganic vs. Chemical fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are made from plant products such as cottonseed meal or from animal products such as poultry manure or fish emulsion and must break down before the plants can take them up. Chemical fertilizers are made from products such as ammonium nitrate which is a more intense feeding which breaks down almost immediately. Because they are so strong, they can sometimes over feed which can cause burning of the leaves or other detrimental effects. Once the fertilizers break down they are virtually indistinguishable to the plants. The process of taking up nutrients is a chemical reaction and all of the fertilizers become chemicals as they are absorbed. The main difference is in how they are broken down.

Spray on, water soluble types of chemical fertilizers such as Miracle Gro feed through the leaves of the plant. This is a very quick way to feed which was designed for greenhouse commercial growers to feed every time they watered rather than feeding through the roots. We feel that this encourages too much leaf growth and weakens the plant's root system since it roots are hardly needed. In the long term, it can also build up salt in the soil from the ammonium nitrate which prevents the natural taking up of nutrients.

worms.jpgWorm Castings and Other Natural Soil Conditioners

We always prefer to use worm castings as the worm's digestive system is a perfect vehicle for the nutrients to break down. They do the work for the plants and excrete the perfect chemical makeup for roots to absorb. Nature is so dynamic that way, it makes its own machines! Castings also actually work within the soil to release other nutrients already there and make them available to plants too. Other composts such as Mushroom or Rabbit compost will also add texture and lighten up heavy clay or sandy soils and add some nutrition too.

Visit our website for these great products under Organic Gardening and there are many more growing tips available on our website at

Growing Sweet Basil

Growing Sweet Basil


To grow Sweet Basil, daytime temperatures must be warm, but not too warm (around 75 to 90 degrees during the day), and the plants must get at least three to four hours of sunlight a day. Sweet Basil can be grown easily with filtered light (such as under a tree or next to a bright window indoors).

If it gets too hot, or too dry, or if the roots become pot bound, (or over crowded), the plant will begin its flowering process, which signals the end of its life. Once flowers are covering most of the plant, Basil rarely produces any more tasty leaves.

It is important to keep the soil moist and somewhat cool and to plant the Basil in a large pot; and to pinch off the flowers that begin to form as frequently as you can. Under perfect conditions, Basil plants can grow for up to 6 months in the ground, and up to four months in a pot.

Harvesting Basil

To harvest Basil, always cut the branches or tops of the Basil off of the stems, only about a third of the way down, at an intersection of new leaves. Harvesting in this manner prompts the plant to start growing its tiny new leaves into branches of more leaves.

Pulling leaves off the stem without cutting the branch back stunts its growth. Your plant will begin flowering and you will get no new leaf growth.  Once your plants start flowering, if they are left untrimmed, they will make seeds from the flowers and die soon after.

So, even if you are not ready to make pesto, prune your plants regularly, (you can store the leaves in the refrigerator for about a week or so, wrapped in a moist paper towel or chopped up with little olive oil over them), and your plants will be healthier and happier.

Basil Varieties

    Basil - Sweet Genovese is our best Italian, large-leaf variety of Sweet Basil. The flavor is far superior to other Sweet Basil varieties and the leaves grow up to 3" long and 2" wide. This Basil is used for pesto, pasta, and many Italian recipes, as well as American recipes. The plants grow to about 2' tall and up to 3' in diameter.

    Basil - Mammoth is a lettuce-leaf variety from Italy that grows leaves as large as your hand with a bit stronger flavor than Sweet Genovese. Its leaves are ruffled with jagged edges, and the plants normally grow to be about 18" tall. In addition to making an excellent pesto, Mammoth leaves can be used whole on a sandwich.

Basil - Lime    Lemon and Lime Basils are easy to grow, and they smell divine! They tend to flower heavily, but they will still produce lots of nice, usable leaves even when they flower. Use Lemon and Lime Basils in salads, dressings, and marinades or just for garnishing a plate.

    Basil - Opal or Red Rubin is a red leaf variety with the same flavor as Sweet Basil but with a touch more of a cinnamon taste. It grows the similar to Sweet Basil and can be used interchangeably. Opal Basil also makes a wonderful garnish or coloring for herb vinegars.
    Thai Basil has a strong licorice flavor, gorgeous purplish stems, and a cluster of flowers that are extremely fragrant. Use Thai Basil in any kind of Thai cooking or stir-fry. 

To use Basil in cooking, add chopped fresh leaves to anything and everything; there are no rules at all when it comes to basil.

 More growing tips are available on our website at

When Should I plant?


garden 066.JPGWhen should I plant my vegetables and herbs? The best time to plant Is not the same for everyone.
Each person has to decide at what point their garden is ready for certain types of herb and vegetable plants. Perennial Herbs can be planted just about anytime it is beginning to get warm but Annual herbs such as Basil and Dill need to wait until night temperatures are well above freezing every night. Tomatoes and other "warm season" vegetables are frost tender and will be severely damaged by even a light frost which can happen when temperatures are as low as 36-38 degrees. "Cool season" vegetables like lettuce and broccoli like a bit of frost but a light freeze can cause damage and hard freezes will kill them completely.
Fortunately we are not alone in this endeavor to find the perfect date to plant. We have many tools to help us decide when spring has arrived and it is safe to set out our vegetables. Keep in mind that there is no "perfect" planting date although there are some that swear that planting by the moon is the way to go.
You generally have a window of several weeks and sometimes even longer depending upon your climate zone. If you don't like running out at night to cover up your plants with sheets because of a late frost warning then add about a week or two to the dates we recommend.
Determining The Average Last Frost Date
The first thing we need to do is determine when the average last frost date will be in your city. These dates are based upon NOAA climate maps and indicate the likely last frost date for your area plus add few days just to be safe. These are recommended shipping dates but not exact planting dates as that can vary depending upon the weather in your area.
Garden Conditions For Planting Make a Difference
You need to determine whether or not your soil has dried out enough to dig up the soil for loosening and adding compost. If you pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it between your fingers and it feels muddy and very moist, wait a week or so of sunshine before digging. If it feels soft and moist, but not wet, it is ready to be worked.
Lastly, you need to make sure no cold weather is on the horizon. Many times a last minute frost has ruined lots of hard work and planting by killing off tender seedlings. Better to wait a week or two than plant too early. There are many weather tools on the web that will help you see into the future at least 10 days.
When you give us your zip code, specific shipping dates will be recommended based upon the average last frost date for your area however this is the very earliest date, not the only date, you should plant.
Click here to see our recommended shipping dates for your area
Our plants are seeded on a regular schedule throughout the season so they are always the right size for you, no matter when you need to plant.

Watering in the Garden

garden 010a.jpgHow Much Water Does My Garden Need?

Watering in the garden can be difficult to decide during the time of year when summer rains are sporadic. Knowing exactly how much is needed for each plant can be tricky but as a rule of thumb water the garden only if there has been less than 1" of rainfall per week.

The 1" of Rain

The 1" of rain is equivalent to a good solid 45 minutes to an hour of a medium rain storm. A rain gauge will tell you exactly how much each storm gives you but you can estimate or check your newspaper or local weather newscast for estimates of rainfall.

In soils like we have here on the farm which are very heavy clay type soils, our rainfall is normally plenty of watering for our garden, even in the heat of mid summer. For soils that are more sandy, or silty (coastal or rocky areas) your garden may need additional water to supplement sparse rainfall so that the plants have enough, especially on very hot days.

wateringsoak.jpgWhen temperatures go up, plants need more frequent watering to allow them to "breathe" properly and make chlorophyll and distribute nutrients through its "body", much like you and I do.

When plants become too dry, they will wilt and can stress out which in turn causes problems with bugs, diseases and the plant's overall health declines. Of course that means less fruit for us and eventual death for the plant. Consistency is the key to watering, making sure that water is available to the roots, down deep in the soil where it is cooler for them to do their job of feeding the plant above ground.

Drip Systems or Soaker Hoses
Drip systems or soaker hoses mimic a light to medium rainfall in the soil and seep the water down deep instead of running it all off down the hill where it doesn't soak in. You can even use old milk bottles with holes poked into the bottom to allow water to slowly drain out into the soil where the roots are.
Drip watering takes a bit longer than just running a hose but we set a timer and forget about it for an hour at a time, letting the trickling water soak in deep. Don't forget to mulch heavily with a layer of hay or pine needles so that the moisture that you put in stays in as long as possible.
Our first instinct when watering is to wet down the leaves of the poor plant that is standing out in the garden in the sun. This can be detrimental to the plant, instead of helpful, as it can break leaves that are wilted or create excess humidity in the garden which harbors diseases.
Also, watering from above splashes water everywhere which allows weeds to germinate and grow in the garden. If you do water from above with a sprinkler, make sure that you do it in the morning so that there will be time during the day for the leaves to get plenty dry before nightfall. Cooler night temperatures, along with excess moisture encourages fungus and disease.
Watering Plants in Containers

Vegetables in Containers are a different story altogether. When you first plant a tomato or other vegetable into a large container or pot, there is generally a small root system and not as much need for watering.

Once the plant has grown to 4-5 feet tall, filled the pot with roots, and temperatures go up, it is time to give them all you've got when it comes to watering. Very large plants may even prefer to be watered twice a day. The key is to keep them from wilting too much by providing plenty of moisture.

A tray under your pots that holds water is a good idea, once the plant is this large, to prevent drying out. If you did that early in the season, when the root system was small, you could easily over water and kill the plant.

Once temperatures are in the 90's, there is very little chance of over watering and much more likely that you will under water. Mulch works well for pots too and good compost mixed with the soil when you plant, or added to the top of the pot later, helps the potting soil hold water better by providing storage space for the water that you give them.

If you aren't sure how dry your pots are, tilt them slightly to feel the weight of the pot, it will be considerably lighter when dry. Here are some helpful products for you: