Garden Update and Troubleshooting Guide

I am in Southwest Washington State, gardening zone 8, and until recently the weather has been extremely cold for this time of year and damp.  Last week, it shot up to 99 degrees.  The plants actually loved all that warm weather, as did I, although I was out watering vegetable beds twice a day to keep them going in the heat.  Here is a little guided tour of the vegetable beds:

The Cukes:

Now, I know you’re being polite, but you’re probably thinking to yourself, “That bed looks mighty empty.”  And I would concur.  This is due to my having to replant this bed three times before anything would grow.  I did chitted cuke seeds, which worked very well last year, twice, and twice they all died but the one bigger one at the bottom of the photo.  I then decided that I should plant plain old seeds in the 90 degree weather we had last week.  I kept the bed watered, which you typically are not supposed to do with cuke chitted seeds, and four days later all these babies appeared!  So now I have all salad slicing cukes, because I ran out of pickling cuke seed in all the replants, and they are about 2-3 weeks later than they should be.  Such is life in my vegetable beds this year.  And did I mention that I am a Master Gardener and have been through all the training, and have about ten+ years of vegetable growing experience under my belt?  So don’t feel bad if you have problems sometimes in your garden–we all do at one time or another!  The trick is to think like a detective and try to figure out how to fix it or do it better or differently next time to get a different result, hopefully a better one.  Also, notice I still have hoops and plastic in place–I cover this bed every night it is below 60 degrees or until the plants outgrow the hoop area.  Cukes, eggplant and peppers require it to be 60 degrees at night before they will set fruit and the fruit will mature, so if Mother Nature does not provide that for the plants, you need to do it for them.  This is one big reason why people can’t get eggplant and peppers to mature around here–it’s too cold and we have a short growing season because it takes forever for the temperatures to warm up at night in the spring (and this year in the summer until about last week).  The only way I’ve been successful with eggplant and peppers is to cover them at night, and then they produce well.  Usually.

The Eggplant, Peppers and Green Onions: (Voted Most Likely To Succeed)


So this bed looks a bit better than the last one.  To my eye, the plants are on the small side for this time of year, and that is purely due to cold temperatures for the entire month of June.  Also, I cannot for the life of me get green onions to germinate from seed outside.  I followed all of Steve Solomon’s tips, to no avail.  So I tried some thing different to get a different result–I started some seed inside under light, and transplanted the little guys out when they were big enough–about 4-5 inches tall.  They are doing alright, but they too would prefer some warmer weather.  No flowers yet on the eggplant (and they are a gorgeous lavender color!), but the peppers have a few flowers and baby peppers on them.  Now you may notice some leaf damage to the pepper plant in the corner.  Here is more of a close up of the damage to the leaves on some of the bigger peppers:

You see those holes and part of the leaves chewed off?  That is slug damage.  How do I know?  Experience gardening here–slugs are notorious for this, and I saw a huge slug on the inside of the plastic when I uncovered this bed today.  Remedy:  Pick the slugs off when you see them and smash them to bits with a rock.  Not the violent type like I am when I see a slug?  You can also put out beer traps and Sluggo.  A good and cheap slug trap is to get a clean and empty cottage cheese carton or a yogurt carton with a lid.  Use an exacto knife to carefully cut slug-sized holes in the upper side of the container(go slow and be careful–easy to cut yourself doing this–don’t ask how I know), then fill it with beer (don’t use non-alcoholic beer–it won’t attract the little devils–alcoholics all–don’t ask how I know), and then put the lid on it.  Dig a little hole in the dirt so the holes in your container are level with the soil line, and put the container in the hole.  Come back in a couple of days, and there should be drowned slugs in the container, which you can empty in the trash and refill with beer and replace.  Hey, at least they die happy.

The Beans:

They look pretty good–about where they ought to be for this time of year and when I planted them.  I have both bush beans and runner beans. 

The runner beans produce red and lavender flowers that the hummingbirds love, so I planted these right next to our pergola so we could see some hummers up close, and then from the flowers come the beans.  It doesn’t look like much at the moment, but it will soon be covered with bean vines and flowers, and eventually, beans for dinner and freezing.  I put garden twine on the outer edges of the trellis to provide more room for the outer bean plants to grow up.  Here’s a close up or two:

I use what I have to hold those strings taut in the dirt–a heavy wire u-shaped garden staple, or even tent stakes.  Tie your string on, and then use a mallet to drive them into the dirt.  Easy.  The beans will climb up those strings–you might have to point them in the right direction to give them a little help at first.

The bush beans are next to the peppers, so guess what I noticed is going on up there?

In the bottom-left corner of the photo you will see the telltale holes and unevenly chewed edges on a few of the leaves indicating slug damage.  And now you know what to do about that.  However, you will also notice that most of the plants are clean and look great, so this is a relatively small issue.  C’est la vie.  I may just sprinkle a little Sluggo around the chomped plant and call it good.

The Corn and Pumpkins: (Voted Best Body)

Just had room for one little bed, but they are doing as well as can be expected due to the colder weather we’ve had.  I would like these plants to be bigger (kind of a recurring theme with me, you’ve probably noticed), but the good news is that they are pest and disease free, which is great–a success story!

They would be happier with more sun and warmer weather.  (So would I. )  I probably should cover these with plastic, but I took it off because we had company over, and the plastic was pretty ugly.  Perhaps an excuse to get some better looking plastic.  Is there such a thing?  I could also cover them with row covers, but they are quite expensive to buy so plastic it probably will be.

The Tomatoes: 

They loved the warm weather last week, and shot up!  Still, very few have flowers yet, no green tomatoes yet.  I have one tomatillo at the end that has some flowers–yay!

This is about half of our tomato crop this year.  I hope we have a “crop”–come on warm weather!

Okay, I have kept the worst for last.  That honor goes to . . . (drum roll, please):

The Salad Greens and The Potatoes: (Mustard Greens voted Miss Congeniality)

I have had so much trouble with the salad beds this year, beds that ordinarily are really super easy to grow.  First off, could not get any lettuce seeds whatsoever to germinate outside.  I finally am starting some seed inside under lights so that I can transplant it out.  Next, I have planted the mustard greens that will not die.  Seriously.  We had a warm winter, and I started a bed very early, on Feb. 2nd, of course covered with plastic.  We had salad greens to eat for dinner in four weeks!  Only thing was, all the the cold-tolerant seeds that I had planted, like spinach, beets, arugula, swiss chard, etc., all had been overtaken by the mustard greens.  So I think to myself, not a problem, quit your whining, at least you have salad from the garden in March!  So then I started another bed in March with a variety of seed types, and guess what?  All mustard greens again.  The problem continues, but to a lesser extent now that the weather has warmed up a bit, and I have clued in.  I think what was going on is that I used my own homemade compost on the beds, and my guess is that I had composed mustard greens that had gone to seed, and the seed did not die but remained viable over the winter, and then when I added fertilizer to the bed, they said “Yippie!” and shot up, smothering the other plants.  I have been trying to be more scrupulous about keeping the beds weeded, but as you can see, I have a lot of beds, and I am the only gardener in the family, so I do my best to keep up, but in all honesty I hate weeding (don’t tell the Master Gardeners–they’ll excommunicate me), and it sometimes finds its way to the bottom of my gardening to-do list.  But I do love salad, and so I have been trying to mend my wicked ways.

(Notice the gigantic mustard green leering at them from the other bed.)  The rows need to be thinned, and I can take the thinned out ones and either replant them in all the empty rows that had lettuce seed in them, or I can put them in tonight’s salad.  A win-win situation.  And if I am going to be really on top of things, the old mustard greens that have now gone to seed?  I will cut off the flower and seed heads and those will go into the trash rather than the compost heap.

Now for the potatoes.  As readers of my blog know, I have been battling flea beetles out here all season.  Several factors led to this situation, the biggest one being a long cold and wet spring and summer until a couple of weeks ago.  Normally in the past, I have applied diatomaceous earth early when I first notice leaf pin hole damage on early growth, and that tends to get rid of them.  Then normally the weather warms up and the flea beetles are no longer a problem, because they tend to go after new growth on potatoes and tomatoes for me, but they get killed or are less interested in the older growth on plants.  Well, along came the Spring and Early Summer of Our Weather Discontent.  Because it stayed cold for so long, the flea beetles really dug in and caused a lot more damage than they normally do.  Thus the following pictures:

I did everything right in starting these potatoes.  I spaced them correctly(rows should be 36″ apart on the centers).  I started with certified clean seed potatoes from a reputable nursery(if you use potatoes that come from the grocery store, you run the risk of introducing the disease called scab into the soil, which is very hard to eradicate once there).  I used the appropriate fertilizer on the hills (which is complete organic fertilizer minus the dolomite lime, or four parts seed or alfalfa meal, one part bone meal and a half-part kelp meal.)  I planted them at the right time (when the minimun air temperature is at least 43-45 degrees and the minimum soil temperature is at least 39-41 degrees–I planted on April 20th, but could have done it even a couple of weeks earlier but was too busy).  As they grew I hilled them up properly, ending with hills that are about 10 inches tall and about 18 inches wide.  What more could a potato ask for?  Well, it could ask to not be devoured by flea beetles, apparently. 

The good news is that it was really hot last week, and I am hoping that put a damper on the flea beetles.  I also found out that diatomaceous earth will harm beneficial insects, so then I ran to the gardening center to find something that would work on organically grown vegetables that actually works.  I ended up with Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew.  This I sprayed on the tops and bottoms of the potato leaves and vines twice.  I think that, plus the warming weather, helped to stop the infestation.  I am seeing dark green leaves with almost no leaf damage now.  This stuff is not perfect, however, because it can kill bees for up to three hours after application.  The good news is that there are no bees around these plants because they have no flowers yet, so the bees were kept safe.  I am a little worried that there are no flowers yet–it seems pretty late in the growing season to not have flowers.  I guess time will tell with this bed.

I will be writing other posts soon about how to troubleshoot problems in your garden, so tune in frequently!

I don’t want this to be a complete gardening buzz-kill post, so here are some pictures I took this morning of pretty flowers and other plants.

Summer jasmine, dark purple ‘Jackmanii’ clematis and lighter lavender ‘General Sikorski’ clematis

This is ‘Niobe’ clematis reblooming.  If you keep this one deadheaded, and fertilize once a month, it will usually bloom through September.

This is the Garage Rooftop Garden.

Flowers and grasses and sedums.  Okay, I gotta confess–that green tall plant has a story.  Went to a plant sale, saw a plant, liked the plant, bought the plant.  Got plant home, realized it had no name tag, and I had forgotten the name of the plant on the drive home.  Solution:  Pot the plant up and get it to flower so that I can identify the plant.  (Sheesh, I hope no other Master Gardeners are reading this . . . excommunication here I come . . .)

A plant rack I got for $5 for a pair of them at a salvage yard (!), attached to the fence and filled with strawberry plants.  And do you know that slugs still occasionally find the fortitude to climb all the way up there?  (Dirty bastids . . .)

 My basil plant flotilla.  ‘Genovese’ basil.  The flower container is filled with coleus that I started from seed, a burgundy petunia, ‘Cambridge Blue’ lobelia that I started from seed, and Golden Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’.

That’s all I got.  Please visit the Tuesday Garden Party for more gardening fun!




  1. Kris said,

    July 13, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Love the stone. Love the blue picket fence. Never grew an eggplant until now but picked one last night. How do you like to eat yours?
    Thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed my “drama”!

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 13, 2010 at 11:00 pm

      I love Eggplant Parmesan, especially if I can make it with homegrown tomatoes, and Moussaka, a Greek recipe that uses layers of eggplant and lamb with a white rich bechamel sauce on top.

  2. debiclegg said,

    July 13, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Thanks for sharing the “bumps” in your garden road to encourage those of us with less experience. My husband would be so happy with all your mustard greens. I love the Niobe clematis.

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 13, 2010 at 11:02 pm

      I was very happy with all the mustard greens until they got too mature, and too bitter for my taste, even when cooked to death. But I am still happily eating the younger mustard greens, so I guess it all worked out!

  3. July 13, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    Over from TGP – what a great update and I’m so glad the slugs have kept their destructive activity to the overgrown wooded area of our property and out of my flowers & veggies! I love you container garden 🙂

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 13, 2010 at 11:36 pm

      Thanks for stoppin’ by! I like the containers, too.

  4. Lexa said,

    July 13, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Love, love the blue fence and the blue pots to match. And your clematis are stunning. Didn’t the heat last week make a word of difference? It sure did in my garden.Keep your chin up and keep pointing to the successful stuff. And remember, you are a Master Gardener, not a Master of the Garden! 🙂

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 13, 2010 at 11:37 pm

      I love that way of looking at the MG thing–thank you for writing!

  5. July 14, 2010 at 5:01 am

    I’ll have to try covering my cukes when it’s time–I do raised beds to warm my soil, but covering would help too. Don’t know why I didn’t think of that before!

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 14, 2010 at 6:20 am

      I’ve had pretty good luck with covering them. Eventually they will get too big to make it practical, but I do it as long as I can.

  6. zentMRS said,

    July 14, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Your garden is really amazing! It is sure nice to see some warmer weather and sun finally this season (I am in coastal So Cal and we have had a cold cloudy summer up until this week) – my garden certainly appreciates it. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Heather said,

    July 14, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Very beautiful… I love the natural feel of your vegetable garden. I would love to see a panoramic shot (hint:).

    I miss the Clematis Montana that grew in a previous backyard. It had the most delicious vanilla scent… dreamy.

    I enjoy reading all of your tips and comments that you leave on other’s blogs.
    visiting from TGP & thanks for visiting myeverydaygraces!

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 14, 2010 at 9:48 pm

      If I get brave enough to go up on the roof, I might be able to do a panoramic. I’ll have to figure out the logistics of doing that kind of shot!

      I really enjoy reading other’s gardening blogs, so very happy to stop by! So interesting to see what everyone has growing and all the landscaping ideas I get from seeing other gardens.

  8. Lexa said,

    July 14, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Thanks for stopping by my blog today. Both my onion varities were started from seed. I didn’t start them, but purchased them from a garden center. I bought a six-pack of each which was litterally crammed with baby onion plants. IMO, it is best to start from seeded plants, not sets. I do much better with them. And it is critical that you buy & plant only varieties suited to your climate. In Oreogn I can only grow Northern Varieties. In Alabama, they can only grow Southern varieties. Lastly, get them in the growd early, like March 15-30th. They will be growing mostly green tops from then until the Summer Solstice. Every set of green leaves is a future onion bulb layer. The more green, the bigger onions later on.They don’t mind the cold. And keep them well watered all Summer. Onions love water. That’s all 🙂

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 14, 2010 at 11:49 pm

      Excellent–that is very helpful!

  9. Heather said,

    July 16, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I forgot to mention the other day…
    The slender tree in my bocce garden area is a cypress… not sure which one but nothing fancy; I am sure it was the least expensive one at the nursery:)

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 16, 2010 at 4:39 pm

      Thank you–I thought it was especially pretty!

  10. July 19, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Wow, this post is packed with a lot of information! I didn’t manage to fight the flea beetles off of my potatoes this year, either. And now that they’re finally gone, the plants have given up the ghost! I think I’m going to try another planting of short-season yukons to get some fall potatoes…

    Thanks for sharing at the TGP!

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 19, 2010 at 11:53 pm

      That’s a good idea to replant–I’d love to know how a mid-season planting fares and yields for you.

  11. roundrockgarden said,

    July 28, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Everything looks great and your garden is coming along nicely! Too bad about the potatoes, but hopefully the harvest won’t be hurt too much by those beetles. I had a problem with flea beetles last year, but a simple soap/garlic spray worked wonders for me. I don’t know how much Captain Jack’s is, but I use Dr. Bronner’s unscented all-natural soap, 1 to 1/2 tsp. per 16 oz. of water, with 1 tsp. of garlic juice. I think I picked up the soap for like $5 and I can get a hundred uses out of it … Diatomaceous earth is good, but it becomes ineffective if it gets wet or damp at all. And yes, it can also hurt other, non-targeted insects. Soap spray will stay on for quite some time unless there’s a steady rain…

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 28, 2010 at 3:41 pm

      This sounds like a good solution and cheaper than Capt. Jack, so I will try it next year. We had a long wet and cold spring here, and it rained constantly, so keeping anything on the potato leaves was very difficult, and thus the flea beetles really got a hold on the plants and did much more damage than they normally would. But I will keep your solution in mind for next year–thank you.

  12. minervasgardenwriter said,

    January 21, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    BTW–the mystery plant in the container was a purple aster, which made complete sense once I saw it in bloom.

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