Blog Archives

The First Time Gardener: Scouting for Insects

Imported CabbagewormThis summer is turning out to be a banner year for insects! It is pretty important in a vegetable garden to get in the habit of being outside and working with your plants nearly every day. For someone new to vegetable gardening, this can be particularly important because you may not know what insect or disease problems to look for yet.

I know that here in the Demo Garden, if I’m gone for 2 or 3 days, I’m always a little nervous as to what I’ll find when I return because unnoticed problems can become big problems overnight.

You should do a walk through of your garden every day and look at each plant or group of plants to see how they are growing. Notice the color of the plant,  any splotches on the leaves, or malformations of the leaves.  These might all be signs of insect or disease problems. Look at interior leaves or leaves near the bottom of the plant because problems often start there. If you see even one or two holes in the leaves that you don’t expect, do a closer inspection.

Any time you see something out of the ordinary, a closer inspection is warranted. Brush your hand over the leaves to see if anything flies off when the plant is moved. Turn over the leaves, especially leaves that show some problem to see if there are insects nearby.

What do you do if you find something? If the problem appears to be isolated, like a random hole in a leaf with no signs of an insect or other problem, it may not be important. Remember where it is though, and keep an eye out for something you didn’t see or something new developing.

Observe any patterns or distinctive features of the problem you are seeing. Do the brown spots on the leaves look like they have concentric circles? Are they always angular and near the veins of the leaves?

Sometimes the first reaction when you see any insect or something out of the ordinary is to rush around to find something to spray. Often that is unnecessary. Sometimes you may even be seeing a beneficial insect!

Keys to Insect Scouting:

1. Walk through the garden and look at the plants regularly.

2. Look at interior leaves or lower leaves to check for hard to see problems.

3. Move the leaves with your hand and turn them over, looking for flying insects, insects on the undersides of leaves, or signs of insects – discoloration, holes, insect eggs, etc.

4. If an insect is found, take a picture or capture the insect in a small container. Look through books or online resources to try identifying it. If all else fails, bring it to the Extension office and we’ll help you out!

Family of 4 Garden Tour

I thought I’d give you a tour of our Family of 4 garden, since it can be hard to patchwork all my pictures and posts together into a clear picture of what’s been going on.

Family of 4 Garden, May 5

Here’s the overview of the garden. It is looking pretty well full. We took the row cover hoops out, again. Hopefully they stay out this time!

Beet seedlings

The beets and carrots are growing well.

Onions May 4The onions are finally looking good and growing quickly.

Brussels and CauliflowerThe Brussels sprouts and cauliflower have finally moved beyond the “ugly” stage!

Tomatoes and cabbageWe planted the tomatoes today! We are using this tomato “teepee” rather than cages. It is just two cattle fence panels clipped together at the top. It will be interesting to see how it works. It did require a bit of adjustment to the planting plan, so the herbs will be planted in the open space between the tomatoes and Brussels sprouts rather than in amongst the tomatoes. (The cabbage you see in the picture were planted during a demonstration…I haven’t had the heart to yank them out yet.)

The tomato varieties planted were ‘First Light’ and ‘Fabulous’. They are both relatively new varieties.


The salad greens, lettuces, and radishes are looking delicious! Next week we may decide to pull up some of the salad greens to plant peppers. Or we may just plant the peppers in between the rows for the time being!

Spring Salad

On my way home last night I checked on our Family of 4 Garden and decided that it was about time to start harvesting a little bit. I went through and pulled a few radishes and picked some of the larger spinach, lettuce, and mesclun leaves. (I also picked a few pea tendrils as garnish from another bed.)

The radishes and greens are spread out on a cookie sheet. Look at all that dirt!

The radishes and greens are spread out on a cookie sheet. Look at all that dirt!

The leaves were pretty dirty, primarily from all the rain we’ve been having splashing soil up onto the plants. The radishes, well…obviously they were growing underground, so the dirt is expected. I decided to tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces before washing, because I thought that would help get them clean. One of the worst parts of home-grown salad is eating gritty sand!

The shredded salad is in the salad spinner basket and ready for a wash-spin cycle.

The shredded salad is in the salad spinner basket and ready for a wash-spin cycle.

I was actually surprised by how easily the leaves came clean after running under cold water, tossing, then spinning dry. I actually repeated the washing and spinning twice to make sure they were clean.

The radishes are medium-sized, but ready to start eating!

The radishes are medium-sized, but ready to start eating!

The radishes are beautiful. I am a big fan of the different colors. These radishes were very tasty, although not hot and spicy. They had a better flavor that you’d get from the grocery store, but I think the weather has been too mild for them to develop much heat. (My husband is a fan of the mild flavor, but I like the hotness!)

The salads were bright, colorful, and delicious!

The salads were bright, colorful, and delicious!

I weighed the greens before washing, and they weighed in at 3 5/8 ounces. The pea tendrils were an additional 3/8 ounce, so the total greens were 4 ounces. The radishes were about 1/2 a bunch like you would get from the grocery store.

Our cost analysis:

5 oz. tub of organic spring salad mix from the grocery store = $3.19 ($3 on sale)

1 bunch of organic radishes from the grocery store = $1.50? (I don’t know this price off the top of my head. I’ll check and update this later.)

So we had 3 5/8 oz of organic spring salad mix, which would be about $2.30. The half bunch of radishes is $0.75. So we aren’t racking up the dollars quickly, but the freshness is worth it!

We topped the salads off with some pinenuts, dried cranberries, and blue cheese dressing.

We topped the salads off with some pinenuts, dried cranberries, and blue cheese dressing.

We had enough salad for two medium-sized side salads. If needed, it could have been divided into 4 small side salads for a family of 4.

At this point our grocery savings has covered about 1/3 to 1/2 of our seed cost. However, we’ve got a lot more salad coming in the near future!

Don’t Forget Herb Day!

Just a reminder that Herb Day will be held this Saturday, here at the Sedgwick County Extension Center. (21st and Ridge Rd)

There will be lots of herb plants and products for sale, and great door prizes available!

Master Gardeners and Herb Society members will be giving seminars and demonstrations about growing and using herbs.

I will be speaking at 11:30 a.m. in the Demonstration Garden about Planning and Planting a Small Garden.

The First Time Gardener: Hardening Off Plants

Tomato seedlings before going outside.

Tomato seedlings before going outside.

Since I’ve been waxing eloquent (or maybe not very eloquent) the past few days about taking seedlings inside and outside and inside and outside and whether or not I’m abusing them in the process, I thought now would be a good time to talk about hardening off seedlings. We’ll use what I did as a comparison against what you actually should do. (Isn’t it comforting to know that even though I supposedly know what I’m doing, I still sometimes decide to do something different? Luckily, plants are usually forgiving!)

So if you start some seeds indoors, they need to be acclimated to our Kansas weather before planting in the garden. This process is generally called “hardening off.”

The RIGHT way to harden off plants:

1. On a nice, warm day, set the plants out in a semi-shady, protected area for a few hours, then bring them in. Do this for 2-3 days.

2. Gradually move the plants into a sunnier, less-protected area over a period of a week.

3. After about a week, start leaving the plants outside all day and overnight to adapt them to both high and low temperatures.

4. In about 2 weeks, plants will be mostly adapted to the highs and lows, full, bright sunlight, and at least moderate wind.

What I actually DID this week:

1. Put the tomatoes out in the middle of the garden on a warm, sunny day, then left them overnight and into the next day.

Tomato seedlings after a little too much time in the sun.

Tomato seedlings after a little too much time in the sun.

2. Put the peppers and eggplant out in the middle of the garden the next day.

3. Took them inside when the weather threatened.

4. Put them back outside again, even though they were looking a bit scorched.

5. Brought them back inside for the weekend.