About Me

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I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

My Number One Gardening Tip!

Yellow Squash Flower, Green Leaves, Iridecent Beetle

I don't have much of a green thumb. In fact, I can't seem to keep a house plant alive to save my life. So every gardening tip I give is golden since they are so rare. This year I heavily mulched my garden, as some of you might have seen last month. Just after mulching, I watered it heavily once or twice, and then left it to fend for itself. A week turned into a month and rain refused to fall. I stayed in town and didn not even touch the garden at Owls' Knob. I admit that I had a neighbor water it occasionally, but the heat and sunshine has been intense. When I went out to see the garden this past week I expected the worst. I was pleasantly surprised.

A heavily mulched garden is a happy one.

The greens, mostly varieties of kale, are thriving. But kale is one of the easiest plants to grow. They love the sun but don't mind shade too, they withstand drought well, and nothing really likes to eat it. I guess that includes most people too. I have been asked what the heck to do with kale and I will try to post some kale recipes soon. It is a great survival food for the gardener without a green thumb!

Zucchini Squash Plant
These squash plants were planted under poles for climbing beans because squash likes shade,
however the bean sprouts were mostly eaten by deer this year.

The squash is also rocking. Again, squash grows well here in the Ozarks. However, getting fruit off of it is another story. The squash bugs usually show up about the time the flowers fall off. These little grey bugs are easy to squish but they arrive in such numbers that it seems impossible to execute them before they execute the plant.

Cherry Tomatoes ripe for the picking

Cherry tomatoes always ripen before larger tomatoes. Often tomatoes seem to rot on the vine in this humidity before they are ever red. I have learned to pick them when they are yellow, like shown in the picture above, and then let them finish ripening on the kitchen windowsill.

Sprouting Okra

The mulch not only protected all of these plants and kept the ground moist, but it even allowed these okra seeds to sprout. It takes an extra amount of moisture to get seeds to sprout but lightly mulching with hay over freshly planted and watered soil seemed to work.

Marigolds standing guard at the mouth of the garden

Marigolds are lovely yellow and orange flowers, seen in the bottom of the photograph above, that repel insects. I had heard about their repelling qualities but never had much faith in them until now. This garden bed has many marigolds around it and the plants seems less burdened than other beds.

Sunflowers devastated by deer and Japanese beetles
Japanese beetles on young sunflower plants

However, the sunflowers didn't make it. Their leaves are loved by deer and the Japaneses beetles finished them off. The best deer deterrent I've found is a guard dog. As for beetles, farm stores sell pheromone bags for these pest. They work too well. My neighbors used them last year and my Japanese beetles flew almost a mile over the hill to get caught in their bags.

Zane's Fig Tree

The figs trees are doing better than all the other plants. I am particularly excited that the figs have survived and are thriving. Not only do I love figs, but this tree was planted as a sapling above my son's placenta on his birthday. Therefore, this is Zane's fig tree.

A cucumber plant that is not doing great but is not dead yet

So above all, mulch, mulch mulch! Though there are many other gardening tips thoughout this post, I believe the main reason I still have a garden at all is because I heavily mulched this year. Hay mulch works well but wood chips, leave mulch, or lawn chipings might also do the trick.

Now it is your turn, what tips do you have? It does not take an expert gardener to share gardening tips. Anyone who likes to get their hands dirty has a few up their sleeve. Please share your comments!


  1. I'm glad to see that your garden is thriving. Mine is too, and you're absolutely correct. Mulching is the KEY! As for the Jap. Beetles this year, I put bird feeders out, and only filled them partially. This seemed to really do the trick. The birds will eat the beetles, and since I only partially fill the feeders, there's always more birds than room, so they have to land on the nearby veggies, fruit shrubs, and fruit trees that I want them to be protecting anyway. While many of my neighbors have lost much to the beetles this year, my birds have saved my garden!

    Also, I learned that when I plant bush beans with squash, the squash bug doesn't seem to like coming around. I have some butternut squash that is nearly 6 feet long, with several side shoots, and fruit already setting. Just a thought for next season.

    All the best to your abundance!

  2. I love the idea of feeding the birds my garden pests! What a lovely symbiotic relationship! I have planted bush beans with my squash but the deer ate all my bean sprouts this year. Thanks for all your comments Sarah!