Archive for vegetable gardening tips

Natural Slug and Snail Control In Your Portland Landscape

California Brown Snail in Portland, OR

Slugs and snails do a lot of damage in Portland gardens.

Slugs and Snails in your Portland Landscape

My history with slugs in the garden

I was never thrilled with my options for dealing with slugs and snails.  In the 80’s we had the typical little gray French slugs and snails in our gardens and they were pesty enough.   I had often just hand picked them and kept the numbers down.  Then in the 90’s we started seeing California Brown Snail and they added significantly to the total damage.  It was too much for me to manage organically.  The beer bait didn’t work for my garden on a city sidewalk in NW Portland’s Nob Hill District.  Dogs would drink the beer which is NOT good for them and the traps looked tacky too. Using the snails for escargot doesn’t work as a pest management practice since the typical serving is six 1 ½” snails per person.  My family would  never go for Escargot anyway.  They are not adventurous diners.

 

Slug Bait Problems

NW Native banana slug does not damage living leaves

The banana slugs only eat leaves that are decaying or broken. They also pollinate native spring flowering plants on the forest floor. I did not like leading them to slaughter.

I started using the “pet safe” iron phosphate slug bait.  It was an easy method to cut down the population compared to beer baiting or hand picking them. The problem with slug bait is that it does not discriminate. It would lure innocent NW native banana slugs to their death along with the real culprits that did the damage to my plants.

Another problem with slug bait is it doesn’t protect your plants immediately.  Slug bait lures the slugs to the bait but does not kill them right away.  They have time to do a lot of damage before they sicken, stop feeding and then die.

Worms die from iron poisoning

The major issue is the iron phosphate remains in the slug’s body and breaks down and ends up in the soil.  This iron residue left behind in the soil created a toxic environment for worms, the creatures who keep our soil healthy.

I didn’t notice it myself until I got raised beds in my community garden.  I noticed a steady decline in the population of worms in my beds.

Copper wire around vegetable bed deters slugs

Daizzie inspecting the copper wire which keeps slugs out of my veggies by producing an electric shock.

 

There is an inert ingredient in the pet safe slug bait that combines with an active ingredient to kill earthworms.  They die from iron poisoning.  The combination was also causing harm to wildlife and to small domestic animals so it was time for me to make a big change.

Slug Bait Alternative-Natural Slug Control

Ann Lovejoy is a trusted resource and treasure for Pacific NW Gardeners.  She is the one that made the connection between the iron phosphate “pet safe” slug bait and the harm it was doing.   Read more about how slug bait kills worms. 

She made several suggestions for what to use instead of slug bait.  My favorite is using liquid caffeinated coffee sprayed onto plants as a repellent.  I tested it this past fall to great success.  I was able to protect my kale crop from slugs.  I purposely sprayed coffee on only half the plants as a test.  The plants I did not spray were missing half their foliage.  The plants I sprayed had no holes or missing foliage.   I sprayed at least once a week during the fall rains.  Ann says a direct spray of coffee will kill the slugs but I could not tell if this was a success.   I sprayed the coffee directly on slugs but when I came back the next day the sprayed slugs were no where to be seen.  They may have crawled off and quietly expired but I was not sure. Maybe my coffee wasn’t strong enough. I will do more testing now that the soil has warmed up enough for new slugs and snails to hatch. I’ll post again and share what strength of coffee it takes for an obvious demise.

I can’t wait to share this with my landscape design clients.  Many clients have pets.  The fact that pet safe slug bait is toxic needs to be shared.

Another option to deal with slugs in raised beds is to line the edge of the bed with copper.  I used a copper ground wire but you can use sticky copper tape available at most garden centers and it will last maybe one garden season if you are lucky.  It is easy to buy and apply to your raised beds, pottery and containers.

Slug or Snail?

What’s the difference between slugs and snails?  Slugs and snails are pretty much the same animals according to Robin Rosetta, Associate Professor at OSU.  Over time slugs evolved out of a hard shell so they could move through cramped spaces and allow them to get down into the soil to find food and protection.  Apparently, there is still sort of a shell under their hump like mantle.  Snails still have a shell and so are restricted to above ground activities.  They use their shells to survive inclement weather and are protected from some enemies and predators.

My Spring Veggie Garden

My Spring Veggie Garden

I’m trying some new things to improve my early spring garden this year.

Carol standing at the entrance to community garden at Rocky Pointe Marina 7 23 2014

Community garden at Rocky Pointe Marina

Early Spring Garden

Overall I’m happy with my edibles  garden experience but I miss out on the early spring garden because I don’t get my plants into the ground soon enough.  My landscape design work is seasonal and by February I’m so busy it’s too late for me to get organized for my personal garden. I’ve been vague about planting start dates.  Is it still too cold?  What is the last frost date?  This year instead of wondering about it, I’m using the Portland Nursery calendar to get out of vague and into organized.

Buying veggie starts

I called my favorite place to buy starts so I’ll know when I can purchase.  Turns out they use the same calendar and will have my starts for mustard greens, kale, collards and more by March.  My grandmother was very thrifty and every penny counted.  Her huge vegetable garden was one of the ways she contributed to her family income.  I’m playing.  The amount of greens I go through in my kitchen is significant but would not break the bank if I bought them.

Carol's winter kale

My garden supplies me with year round greens like kale.

I buy 80 percent of my plants as starts  in 4 and 6 packs.  I don’t have room in my house for setting up seeds and starts provide instant gratification and cover my soil quickly.  My neighbor Betty grows a lot of interesting plants from seed for fun.  I often benefit.  I grow spring greens from seed in my tabletop salad garden and I can start seeds for my favorite smoothie green, arugula in late February.  If it’s too cold I’m out the cost of seeds.  I sow spring greens seeds every two or three weeks until mid June.  I will purchase veggie starts for my summer garden and plant them in May and do starts again in late summer for my fall garden.

Soil Test

I’m doing a soil test this year which I’ve not done before.  My root vegetables don’t do well and I’m curious about lead.  I understand that adding certain nutrients can help lock up some of the lead in the soil.   I hope to dig out one of my beds, lay down a weed barrier and a metal grid.  Why?  One reason is to keep the ground soil which probably does have some lead in it (the garden is below Hwy 30), separate from my nice new clean soil, and the 2nd is to keep the gopher or mole from bringing that soil up into my garden and keep them from moving the soil around and messing up the roots of my plants!!  It’s a lot of physical work so I’m only going to do one bed, probably with help this year.

That’s my plan, we will see what happens!

grafted tomatoes

My husband Bob harvesting tomatoes on our floating home.

My favorite place for vegetable starts is City Farm on N. Lombard.  They grow their veggie starts in a nearby greenhouse. New Seasons often has great veggie starts.  Cornell Farms is serious about their veggie starts so you can expect a good selection.  Portland Nursery, Garden Fever, Livingstone……..lots of choices for every part of town.

Safe Soil in the City

Portland landscape designer Carol Lindsay

Daizzie and I in my edibles garden

Safe soil in the city – smart and healthy practices for urban gardens

I love having a vegetable garden. It’s healthy, right? I love eating kale and I grow a lot of greens for smoothies year-round.  There are a few concerns about growing food in urban areas. Two concerns that apply to us all, city and suburban, are lead paint and lead exhaust from the past in our soils. Let’s be practical not scary about this.

Is my food safe to eat? What are the most important practices I can do and how can I keep it simple?  My garden is below Highway 30.  It’s an old heavily traveled highway so our soil has years of exposure to lead exhaust.

There’s no way I’d grow my food in the ground here.

My current garden practices

I’ve been assuming my food is safe to eat because:

Our community garden has raised beds with new clean soil from just three years ago.
I apply lots of compost at least three times a year.

Carol's winter kale

My garden supplies me with year round greens like kale.

I use an organic fertilizer. (OK it’s boxed Dr. Earth, not a truckload from Natures Needs because it’s very convenient and my garden is small.)  I don’t know what my NPK ratio is which makes me a bit of a lazy gardener but the food I like to grow does fine.  NPK being Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorous.  And yes I was trained as an advanced master gardener and yes that was a very long time ago………they teach you all about soil in the master gardener program.

I wash my produce, no nibbling right out of the garden bed. (OK once in a while a strawberry or tomato).

According to some experts I’m doing OK but I could do a lot better.

My improvements

  1. Soil areas next to old garages often have higher lead levels.

    Soil areas next to old garages often have higher lead levels.

    Reducing exposure to dust is the most effective thing you can do to reduce lead hazard in your landscape. It is typically in the first few inches of soil. This is the most important thing in the blog.  Mulch and compost applications cover your soil and protect it from dust with contaminants in it.    We want to keep the dust and soil off human skin and out of the mouth.  This is critical for babies and small children and good for the rest of us too.  Adding compost has many benefits for improving conditions for plants.  Adding compost at least twice a year can only benefit, there are no drawbacks.

  1. Here at my community garden, we could have put a barrier between our new soil and the existing ground soil. I can still do this once my winter Kale are done in March. I’ll have to get a tarp and dig out a lot of my soil so I’m going to install a metal grid and landscape fabric.  The grid is to keep the moles and gophers out of my raised bed. They may have brought some of the lead contaminated soil up into my new clean soil, and they caused a lot of havoc with the roots of my plants.  Some died or did not produce well because of the soil disturbance.
  1. I could improve the efficacy of washing my veggies by using a 1 percent vinegar solution instead of only using water. I’m thinking a large spray bottle under the sink could be used for my final wash. It’s got to be simple or I won’t do it.

Beyond these good soil management practices, I will need to do a Nutrient Analysis soil test to know what I need to add to my raised beds to improve the health and productivity of my vegetables and bind up any lead and keep it locked into my soil where it won’t cause problems for me.

Portland landscape designer in edibles garden

My garden is below Highway 30. It’s an old heavily traveled highway so our soil has years of exposure to lead exhaust.

Lead Soil Test

My client Katy had an older home in SE Portland.  I suggested a lead soil test.  She collected the soil and submitted samples for a lead test. She discovered the area where we wanted the kids play structure to go had high lead.  It was next to the neighbors’ garage.  Several inches of contaminated soil were removed.  She brought in new soil and playground chips and now has a safe play area for her toddlers.

What’s one new thing you could do this year to improve your landscape or edibles garden?  Get your soil tested.  I’m planning to collect soil from my vegetable garden and submit it to a lab for testing.  I’ll share that experience with you in another blog.

Bad News about Slug Bait and Winter Garden Care Tips

Slugs at NE Portland Landscape Design in a Day

Slugs on a Honeydew Melon Date

Winter is just around the corner here in Portland.   Here are 5 timely tips to help you care for your landscape right now.

Slugs Last chance to knock out slugs! Control your slug population now in late fall.  They lay thousands of eggs that will hatch in spring.  I’ve got bad news about using the so called pet safe slug baits. New science says it kills your earthworms and can sicken your pets and other animals.  Control your slugs with beer traps or even better an instant coffee spray.  Yup coffee! Fill a spray bottle with strong instant coffee or any coffee except de-caf.  Spray the leaves of plants they prefer and any slugs or snails you see.

I grow lots of winter greens here in NW Portland so I’ve been out there spraying down the leaves of my beautiful Dinosaur Kale plants to protect them now.  Spraying coffee once a week in fall and early winter makes a big difference in the spring hatch of slugs.   Read more about why slug bait harms worms.

Coffee bag

Its the caffeine that kills slugs or snails. Instant coffee works well.

Mulch.  If you only do one thing to improve your soil and care for your plants, mulching is the biggie.  Schedule your winter mulch application for the last week of November to mid-December or hire someone to blow in your mulch.  Companies such as Bark Blowers will blow in mulch including the newer “living” mulch products that I prefer.  One company that provides mulch inoculated with beneficial bacteria is Natures Needs, a product called  Recology Compost.  McFarlane Bark, Mt Scott Fuel and Grimms Fuel supply basic mulch products.   Did you mulch just 2 inches deep?  Great!  Now go and unbury the crowns of your plants so they don’t die from rot during our wet winter. Burying plants with mulch might be a good practice in Vermont or Montana but not here.

Iron gate design with snow

Landscape Design in a Day client’s custom gate.

Protect your plants from winter temperatures

The best cold protection for plants in the winter isn’t something that naturally occurs to most people.  Over watering and over fertilizing done in summer can cause plants to not go dormant.  When cold weather comes, they are not prepared.  Read more: Protecting Plants from Winter Cold Starts in Summer 

Pruning knowledge  There are many plants that should not be cut back in the fall and winter.  There are many perennials and grasses that can be cut back to create a more attractive winter landscape. This is a case by case basis which drives new gardeners crazy. Consider consulting with your garden designer who can teach you what to do to your plants and when.  It feels good when you know what to do.

Protect your pottery  The best winter protection for your pottery is proper drainage and location.  Make sure water drains through the pots hole and doesn’t back up.  If water sits in the bottom and it freezes, good bye pot.  I have had Vietnamese high fired pottery outside and intact for over 15 years.  I always put drainage material in the bottom of the pot and a piece of flagstone under the pot or I use those little pottery feet.

If I have expensive pots where they will get east winter wind, the kind of wind that freezes rain to ice on the power line, I would move them into a protected area for winter right now. I hate to even think about that kind of weather but we get our share here in Portland Oregon, especially in January.   Its hard to pay attention to the weather report, and besides who wants to move heavy pots around when its icy cold out?  Not me.

Family’s Rhubarb Mousse Connects Generations

Rhubarb makes a dramatic and tastey addition to designer pal Adriana Berry's garden.

Rhubarb makes a dramatic and tasty addition to designer pal Adriana Berry’s garden. Photo by Carol Lindsay

I found this story about rhubarb and a family’s history in my vacation house kitchen cupboard.  It was left behind by friends using the house.  I enjoyed reading it and learned it’s a part of a series written by Chrissy Lavielle to pass down her family’s recipes and their history.  She generously allowed me to share it with you.

I really like rhubarb.  It’s big and dramatic; it looks tropical, but survives sub zero winters and anything else you can throw at it; and you can eat it – it’s the only fruit that’s not a fruit.  My rhubarb plant flowered last summer.  A two-inch diameter club shaped stalk shot up six feet and exploded in a mass of tiny greenish white flowers.  The effect was prehistoric and vaguely ominous.  I watched it carefully, ready with my trusty loppers, in case it got out of hand.

Both my mother and Craig’s mother grew rhubarb.  Craig remembers pretending the leaves were clothes and I remember using the leaves and stalks for everything from flags to parasols.  Mothers now days would never allow this, they know that the leaves are toxic – chock full of oxalic acid.  I guess maybe mom told me not to eat the leaves, because I never did.  Or maybe she didn’t.  Why would you eat a boring green leaf when you could bite into a bright red stalk?  That eye watering, tooth roughening, mouth shriveling bitter sourness is a childhood memory of Cincinnati summers that is hardwired into my brain.

Every February my mother began to look forward to the “spring tonics” – stewed rhubarb and dandelion greens from the golf course.  I wasn’t fond of either one.  Her philosophy on fruits and vegetables was to cook them until they were really, really dead.

Red stocks are the tasty part, the leaves are toxic and bitter.

Red stocks are the tasty part, the leaves are toxic and bitter.

My mother in law’s recipe is a much better way to enjoy rhubarb.  I helped her make it once, and smiled to myself as I watched her cut the rhubarb.  Holding the stalk over the saucepan with her left hand, and the paring knife curled in the fingers of her right hand, she put her thumb on the opposite side of the stalk and cut against it.  Pieces of rhubarb fell into the pan in a quick series of metallic plops.  This is exactly and precisely the way my mother, another Ohio girl who lived through WWII and The Depression, cut up rhubarb.  Neither one of them had any use for a cutting board and to my knowledge, only used one occasionally – usually for cheese.

Mother planted her rhubarb at one end of the asparagus bed.  In the years after she died, the rest of the garden gradually faded away, but the rhubarb plants outlived both my parents.

Rhubarb mousse is one of Craig’s favorite deserts.  He also likes rhubarb pie or pan’d outy – but he is dead set against adulterating it with strawberries or blueberries.

Rhubarb Mousse

1 lb. rhubarb cut in 1″ pieces (3 cups) or 1 pkg.

1/2 cup water, divided

1 cup sugar

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

2 tsps. lemon juice

1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Red food coloring

Cook rhubarb with 1/4 cup water until it strings.

Soften gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water.  Stir into hot rhubarb until dissolved.  Remove from heat.  Add lemon juice and chill until mixture mounds when dropped from spoon.  Fold into whipped cream and mold.

For more information about growing rhubarb see my favorite garden guru’s article, “Grow Strawberries Tasty Companion: Rhubarb” by Vern Nelson at The Oregonian web site.

Rhubarb at market

Buy rhubarb at a farmer’s market and ask them what variety it is and why they grow it.

His favorites are ‘Chipman’s Canada Red’  which is nearly identical to ‘Crimson Cherry’.  ‘Victoria’ is not as sweet but is a vigorous  “do gooder” plant.

My guest blogger Chrissy got her plant from her mother, and many people get a plant from a neighbor.  There’s nothing wrong with this method but if it were me looking for a new plant I would go with Vern’s suggestions.