The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

June 25, 2014

Moldy strawberries in the garden

Filed under: Fruit — bob @ 9:36 am

Strawberries are ready for picking! I always get a big kick out of picking that first strawberry out of my garden.

I have a major problem with moldy berries this year. Botrytis, also known as gray mold, has infected a fairly large percentage of my crop. It’s called gray mold because of the fuzzy gray appearance of the fungus covering the berries.

Like most molds, botrytis needs a damp environment to get a foothold. The regular rains we’ve had during this early ripening period has kept the plants damp encouraging the mold.

A healthy strawberry will easily become infected with gray mold when touching an infected berry.

A healthy strawberry will easily become infected with gray mold when touching an infected berry.

Selecting a good planting site will eliminate a lion’s share of the mold problem.  A large part of my problem is the location of the strawberry patch. It’s near the side of a building and is partially shaded by a couple of trees that grew since I started my strawberry patch, that is a recipe for disaster. If my strawberries were growing in full sun where there would have been plenty of air movement to allow the plants to dry off quickly, the mold problem would have been drastically reduced.

Strawberries touching the soil will also become infected with botrytis more easily. Strawberry farmers use straw as a mulch to help keep the berries away from direct contact with the soil.

Sanitation will  help control gray mold. So, I’m picking off moldy berries as I come across them. If I don’t, they will release more spores and infect the other fruit.

It’s critical to refrigerate newly picked berries as soon as possible. Strawberries can look fine but still be infected with the mold. You’ve probably seen this in berries that have already been picked but left out in a warm spot, they quickly get moldy.

This will be the last season for my strawberries in that damp location. I’ve already picked out a nice sunny spot for my next strawberry patch.







June 19, 2014

Pruning tomato plants

Filed under: Vegetables — bob @ 11:46 am

It’s always best to keep tomato plants off of the ground rather than letting them sprawl all over the place. Leaves and fruit in contact with the soil are more prone to disease problems. Tomatoes laying on the ground are often damaged by insects and slugs.

I usually use tomato cages but, most of the time, the plants grow so much that they topple the cages and end up on the ground anyway.

This year I’m going retro with my tomatoes by using old-fashioned staking and pruning. Pruning was very popular before tomato cages became the most prominent way of growing tomatoes. There are many gardeners who still prefer this method.

The objective to pruning tomatoes is to train the plant to grow a single main stem.  You do that by pinching off any side shoots or “suckers” that develop in the joint of leaf stems. When left to grow, the suckers form side branches making a bushy tomato plant. Pruning eliminates all side branching.

Pinch off side shoots -- or suckers -- under four inches with your fingers. Larger shoots may have to removed with flowers snips or a small pruner.

Pinch off side shoots — or suckers — under four inches with your fingers. Larger shoots may have to removed with flowers snips or a small pruner.

You have to be diligent about your pruning or else the plant will tend revert back to it’s natural bushy growth habit. I think the main reason why pruning fell out of favor was the time involved.

Pruned tomatoes must be staked.  And you need to tie each tomato vine to a stake at least four or five feet high since pruning stimulates so much upward growth. In late summer you can limit the height by pinching out the tops of the plants.

By staking, I’m saving a lot of space too. I’ve got my plants only two feet apart instead of my usual three or four feet apart.

One other side benefit is staked and pruned plants produce tomatoes up to two weeks earlier than non-pruned plants.




June 12, 2014

Elixir for ailing plants

Filed under: Fertilizers — bob @ 9:32 am

Whenever I have a plant that is weak or not doing well, I give it a dose of a special homemade brew. This concoction is liquid manure also known as manure tea.

There’s nothing new about manure tea, it’s been used by generations upon generations of gardeners. There are many recipes for brewing manure tea,  most of them involve making a giant tea bag out of a burlap bag. Some gardeners let the bag steep for a certain amount of time before using it. Others add their own secrete ingredients. None of that is really necessary.

The simplest formula is simply a mixture barnyard manure and water. I like to use manure that’s been rotting down in a pile and mellowing for a bit.

I add one shovelful of manure to a five gallon bucket of water and stir it up with the shovel. The ratio of manure to water varies depending on the the type of manure, the age of the manure and how much bedding is present in the manure. Bedding is usually straw but can also be wood shavings, shredded paper or other kind of absorbent material.

You have to experiment a bit in order to reach the mix that works best for you. It’s a good idea to start out with a weak mixture first so you don’t damage any plants. With that being said however, I’ve never had a case of plant damage due to the use of manure tea.

Manure tea has a value as fertilizer but there is more to it than that. There seems to be something in it that is very beneficial to plants. Ailing plants can sometimes respond dramatically to manure tea.

Manure tea is good for seedlings too.

A dose of manure tea will help these weak seedlings.

Since I raise chickens, I use partially decomposed chicken manure in my mix but any barnyard manure will do — cow, pig, horse. Do not under any circumstances use cat manure or dog droppings. Besides being just plain gross, cat and dog manure can carry parasites that will contaminate your garden.

If you don’t have access to barnyard manure, compost tea is a great substitute. Not too many decades ago compost was called “artificial manure”. Follow the same procedure for mixing, adjust the ratio to your conditions.

To use manure tea, apply it to the soil at the base of the plant with a watering can. You can strain the larger particles out to make it easier to pour.

Any sludge left at the bottom can be remixed with more water for a weaker solution or added to the compost pile or garden directly.



June 4, 2014

Restoring a vintage Mantis tiller

Filed under: Equipment — bob @ 2:41 pm

My big project this week is restoring a vintage 1983 Mantis tiller. I picked it up at an estate auction for what I hope turns out to be a reasonable price. This is the kind of job I like to do during the winter when things are quiet in the garden but sometimes the timing doesn’t always work out.

Even though I was able to inspect this old piece of power equipment before I bought it, you never know for sure if it is worth taking a chance on. The pressure of an auction adds another dimension to the decision making process.

I’ve had a fair amount of experience repairing small engine equipment so, even though this tiller didn’t run at the time I bought it, I still was pretty confident I could bring it back from the brink of death.

It looked pretty rough on the outside. There was oil-soaked dirt caked all over the engine. The tines were wrapped almost completely in tough grass and weed stems. The handles and other metal components were beginning to rust.

On other hand, all the parts were there and the controls worked smoothly. The engine turned over and felt like it had the right amount of compression. All those positive things out weighed the negatives.

The first thing I did when I got it home was cut away all the tangled debris from the tines. Then cleaned the dirt and oil off of the the rest of the machine.

I took the cover off of the gearbox and it’s inner workings looked in great shape. The spark plug was pretty old and needed to be changed.

This Mantis has a two-stroke engine. The exhaust ports on two-strokes are prone to plugging up with carbon deposits. Fortunately there were not a whole lot of deposits to contend with.

A rough running or hard to start two-stroke engine can be caused by carbon build up on the exhaust port. Remove the muffler to expose the exhaust port.

A rough running or hard to start two-stroke engine can be caused by carbon build up on the exhaust port. Remove the muffler to expose the exhaust port for inspection.

No fuel was getting to the engine which indicated a carburetor problem. I had to weigh the pros and cons about rebuilding the carburetor compared to buying a new one. Since I didn’t know the history of the machine I ended up getting a new carburetor.

I’ve been lucky so far that all of the parts I needed are still available, that’s not always the case with these older machines.

In the next day or so I should have everything put back together and ready to go.


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