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In green & growing on 03/26/2010 at 2:52 pm

I’m afraid this is a dull, selfish, picture-less sort of post but I need to tap into your collective wisdom. I’m just beginning my first balcony vegetable/flower garden in containers and I have some questions. I’m looking for pesticide-free, organic or natural solutions to many of these problems. Would you mind lending an ear?

1. BEES: I do not want to kill these honey bees and wasps, just keep them from running us indoors. By mid-morning they’re swarming furiously. I’ve planted garlic plants because that’s suppose to repel them. We’ll see…

2. COMPOSTING: I’d like to begin small and simple. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

3. STORING SEEDS: How do you do it?

4. ALREADY PLANTED: I’m growing cherry tomatoes, bush beans, banana peppers, and strawberries. Any tips would be much appreciated!

5. WOULD LIKE TO PLANT: summer squash, carrots, spinach (I’ve seen conflicting info on the best times to plant these if you’re starting from seed. Any suggestions?

6. PESTICIDE: What do you use to get rid of ants in your yard? Pests on your organic veggies/fruits?

7. If you have ANY other tips or advice, I’m all ears? I’m completely new to this and will gladly accept all the advice I can get. If you have a favorite gardening blog or website that I should check out, let me know about that too.

Thanks so much!!! I can’t wait to read your tips!

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  1. I’m with you and have asked pretty much all the questions I would like the answers to.Mr. R says he’s like to see if I can maintain pots of plants and veggies before he digs up half the garden for me…understandable…I will be back to see all the advise you got!
    HUGS and have a great weekend.
    Char

  2. Congratulations on starting a garden. My garden is one my greastest joys! Fresh veggies that you can pick and eat the same day, there’s nothing like it. I would like to recommend a great book that I recently bought called The Backyard Homesteader. I bought it on Amazon. Here’s a peek.

    http://www.storey.com/book_detail.php?isbn=9781603421386

    One of the easiest ways to start composting is to use old pallets. Here’s a link to help visualize

    http://digitalseed.com/composter/bins/palletbin.html

    I’ve heard basil will also keep bees at bay. Congrats again!

    • Wonderful! I just reserved a copy of the book. Will pick it up in a few hours. Thanks for the other tips too. I’ll check out the composter. I actually juts planted some basil so maybe it will work! Thanks so much!

  3. Hello! I’ll be reading comments here closely because I’d love to hear what others have to say–especially about strawberries. For ants, we set out little dishes of Borax mixed with sugar. It repels (well, ok, it kills) the ants, but is non-toxic for the soil or plants.

    • Thanks for the ant tip, Liz. Our problem specifically is with beds in our front yard, which our toddler is constantly tromping through. Perhaps when she’s older we can try the Borax trick!

  4. I can lend a couple answers from my experiences:
    2. Composting: Worms!!! A worm bin is a super easy way to compost – you can order worms online (you want red wigglers) or you can get them at a local organic gardening store or garden co-op. I would recommend getting them locally because you really only need a small amount and the mail order places seem to only sell in large amounts. When I got mine I got a 16 oz to go cup full of them and that was plenty for me. There is tons of info online about how to do it, but feel free to email me if you want more specific info. You can only compost food waste, but it is not stinky at all and you can even keep it indoors in the winter (you don’t want the worms to freeze) – I keep mine under my sink in the winter and in my garage in the summer.

    Storing seeds: I keep mine in the packets in a paper bag in the garage, but I live in New Mexico, so it is really dry here. Some people keep them in the fridge.

    I’m starting my spinach right now (indoors). Summer squash can be started indoors right now and then transferred outside a few weeks after the last frost date. Otherwise you could plant the seeds outdoors at that time.

    Ants: cinnamon works really well for getting rid of ants indoors, but it haven’t had success with it outdoors. Last year they were so bad at my place I broke down and bought pesticide for around my house. Otherwise I generally just use soapy water to get rid of pests on plants.

    Anyway, hope that gives you a few ideas. Good Luck!

    • Wow. Thanks for all this info, Jill. One of my concerns was about the smell of composting but it’s good to know that’s not a problem. You make it sound easy! There’s a good chance I’ll be back in touch with more questions for you.

  5. PS. I also recommend the book Backyard Homesteader.

  6. I just finished reading Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail. It is all about container gardening and it touches upon all the questions you have. Gayla’s blog is yougrowgirl.com and her 1st book is also by that name, bu i have not read it yet.

  7. THANK YOU! This is just what I need. I have nothing to offer, but I’m going to be reaping your rewards via advice.

    And I’ve heard so much about the grub book that my next stop is amazon.

  8. I recently learned about this site: http://www.mysquarefootgarden.net. I haven’t explored all of the many resources there yet, but you can sign up for a free e-mail reminder of what to start, transplant, or plant directly outdoors based on your last frost date. I’ve never had an easier time starting seeds because it breaks it down for you into small doable parts each week. They also have a neat tool for determining companion plantings. Good luck!

  9. I love gardening and am still learning so much. After reading Animal, Vegetable Miracle by Barabara Kingsolver I became even more determined. I also recommend composting worms, although remember they DO NOT survive sawdust. 🙂 I like to order my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
    (www.rareseeds.com) and start them indoors. Since we don’t have a garden plot we have several very large wooden boxes that sit on the rocks in between trees in the back yard. It has worked well. I also plants herbs and small veggies anywhere I can in my flower beds. Many herbs help flowers grow even better. Good luck!

  10. for snails…. dig a hole the size of a mason jar, put jar into hole, fill 1/4 way with beer, allow dirt to be level with sides of jar so snails can fall in, and not crawl out!

    for ants…. we use whole cloves along the garden as sprinkle cinnamon on the fence posts.

    Worm composting is the best- and easiest thing to start.

    plant Magnolias around your garden as well. Magnolias are considered “stinky” to most pests and they stay away.

    for bees…. while you are outdoors~ light a large burning citronella candle, or something that “smokes” (near your door) we have little “smoking sticks” that we burn in a clay pot… this seems to keep them away.

    backyard homesteader is a great addition to your bookshelf…. or you can borrow from the library first to see if there is the right amount of information for the purchase.

    best tip ever—– a garden is a growing experience…. you learn as you get out there and get your hands dirty, just get out there, dig a hole, drop in seeds…. and watch and learn.

    Squash takes of space ans spread out- unless you use a trellis. Spinach is very hearty and can be planted really anytime (watch for slugs!). Carrots are tricky…. depending on your soil…. they are best in a raised bed or deep pot.

    have fun and enjoy your experience~ you really cant go wrong!

  11. Here is an insect repellent spray made of tomato leaves:
    Add four or five pints of water and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to tomato leaves crushed in your vegetable juicer. Strain it. Keep the unused spray refrigerated. Works good on roses too.

    For our compost we just use a large circle garbage can with small holes in the bottom for circulation. When we need to rotate it we just roll it around the backyard!

  12. Pesticide
    If you find there are bugs eating your organic things, I have found this natural remedy very effective: to hot water add chopped chillis (fresh or dry) and garlic cloves. Let it sit and absorb/cool, then strain. To that add a fair quantity of any type of oil (about 1/3 again of the water mix) and then a good squeeze of kitchen detergent. The oil helps it stick to the leaves/fruit and the detergent/chilli/garlic kills or repels insects. This has worked for me for a number of types of pests.

    Compost
    If you are a bit intimidated by full-on composting, I started with a bokashi bucket, which you can keep in the kitchen and once full, you put it directly in your garden. You also get ‘juice’ from it which you dilute and give to your plants. They love it!

    Bees
    Just one quick comment – I noticed someone said basil is good for keeping bees away. We’ve got basil in our garden and once it flowers, the bees just LOVE it! I’m not sure whether it works when there are no flowers though.

  13. I just came back to check out the other comments and I saw the comment about planting magnolias to keep away pests. It reminded me that lavender works really well for this as well. I plant it along the edges of my flower garden, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work in a veggie garden as well.

  14. For pests, powder the plant leaves with diatomaceous earth (DE) available in bulk at swimming pool stores…Diatomaceous earth consists of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. It is used as a filtration aid (swimming pool filters), as a mild abrasive, as a mechanical insecticide, as an absorbent for liquids…it worked for me!

  15. As far as seeds go – they need warmth, moisture and sometimes light to start into growth, so take away all of these when you’re storing them – dark, cool and dry.

    You can use old margarine pots or plastic takeaway containers and then pop in an old pack of silica gel you often get packed with items and then just pop them in a shed or garage.

    It’s great fun to collect your own – your little one will love it especially designing seed packets (I did this with pre-schoolers who are as young as 2 and a half).

    I planted carrots, onions, peas, mange tout, cabbage, salad leaves and chard this month but I’m in the UK so not sure how that equates with where you are. Best tip on carrots – plant in quite stone free soil to prevent them forking and try planting with onions or chives as the mixing of scents will put off pests. I’ve sown ‘Parmex’ carrots this year as they are round and some purple ones too as they’re so much more intersting and the children love to see the unusual shapes and colours.

    The main thing is jsut give it a go and have fun. Something fails me every year but it doesn’t matter – so much else thrives and you learn which crops are fun to plant, suit your soil (and your stomach).

    Enjoy!

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