Hello garden gals and guys!

Ever grow collards, or kale, or broccoli and come out to find huge holes in your beautiful leaves?  Do you stake or cage your tomato plants? To mulch or not to mulch?

Come on in the garden and let me show you my solutions to these questions.

What’s eatin’ you?

There’s a hole in the collard, dear gardener, dear gardener. There’s a hole in the collard, dear gardener, a hole.

The collards and broccoli were both growing so well and had these beautiful leaves. Then one morning I came out to this:

These holes are caused by several insects that are all referred to as cabbage worms.  The adult insects love to lay their eggs on leafy greens.  The eggs hatch very quickly, the babies start feeding, and the food of choice is your beautiful leaves.  
(Tip: you can read about the various insects that cause this damage, here, here, and here.)
They are usually active more in the summer and fall, but obviously in my case, they aren’t paying attention to the season.  
You can keep this from happening by covering your leafy green veggies with a floating row cover, but I don’t have the patience for that.  
My solution? I sprinkled the soil and the leaves with diatomaceous earth. It’s made from the remains of tiny fossils that have sharp edges.  Those edges puncture holes in the outer skin of insects, killing them (insert evil laugh here). 
It’s totally safe around pets and children.  I’ve used it for years.  I buy mine at my local farm and garden nursery.  Note: If you go to a chain store, they may tell you that sevin dust is the same thing.  It is not.  If you want to be organic, do NOT allow them to sell you sevin dust.  It’s not the same and there is a lot of controversy around the safety of it.  
Or you can plant leafy greens that are red because apparently the little devils don’t like red-colored leaves.  Which is probably true because I have red lettuce growing and they have absolutely no holes, while my green lettuces have holes all over them.  
Isn’t that interesting?

Stake or cage tomatoes? 

This, apparently is an age-old argument between gardeners.  I have used both methods and I prefer staking my tomatoes.  When I caged them, I couldn’t see the tomatoes without digging through the leaves (tomato plants get really bushy, really fast).  
I usually just put a stake in the ground and then stake the tomato plant to it using clips designed for plants or using gardening tape.  This year, I’m using a method called the Florida Weave.  It’s a method I learned while I was in the Maryland New Farmer trainee program.  
You begin this method when your tomato plants are under two feet tall because there’s less risk of damaging tomato plant roots when the plants are young, and the plants are also easier to manage.  
You need some sturdy steaks that are at least 7 feet tall.  I bought a bundle of six for eight dollars at Lowe’s.  Here are the tools I used:
I’ve got gardening gloves (so I won’t get splinters), my hori hori knife to cut the twine, the stakes, a rubber mallet to drive the stakes in the ground, and garden twine. 
First, I spaced the stakes in between the plants.  If you have a long row, place a stake every two or three plants.  I have short rows, but I wanted to be sure the twine could remain tight, so I placed one in between every plant in the shorter rows:

In my longer rows, I placed a stake between every other plant:
I drove the stakes into the ground until far enough for them to be stable and able to support me pulling on them with the twine and not move, but also leaving enough height for the tomatoes to grow against them.  This is why it’s important for them to be at least 7 or 8 feet tall.
Now for the twine.  Be sure to use garden twine or an outdoor twine that is weather resistant.  You don’t want your twin to stretch over time.  If you have to use regular twine, just check it periodically because it may need to be tightened up.
Tie the twine on the stake in the middle of the plant height.  Then go down through the plants, looping tightly around each stake.  Like this:
When you get to the end of the row, loop around the end stake, then come back up around the other side, going through each plant and looping around each stake as you come to it.  When you get back to the stake where you started, tie a nice tight knot.
This can be tricky.  You’ve got to be sure to keep the twine tight, otherwise it won’t hold the plants up as they grow.  
When you’re finished, it should look something like this (without my finger in the shot 😀):

Now, as your plants grow up the stake, just use more twine to stake them.  About every eight inches of growth is a good time to use more twine, but just eyeball it.  Let the smaller branches do what they want, just be sure the heavier branches are in between the twine.  

To mulch or not to mulch?

I’ll admit it.  I love to see the rich brown soil against the green of my veggies.  It’s a beautiful sight.  But I always end up mulching because it does two things that make gardening just a little bit easier: helps retain soil moisture and reduces weeds.
I don’t know about you but watering and weeding are the two things that work my nerves the most when I’m gardening, so anything that is going to help me with those jobs gets my vote!
You can use any type of biodegradable material to mulch your garden.  I’ve used untreated wood chips and straw.  Personally, I like the straw.  Why? One time I bought some wood chips and they were infested with potato beetles.  
So I got a straw bale from my local gardening store.  One bale can cover 600 square feet thinly.  Since my garden is only 300 square feet, one bale did quite nicely.  Here is my little backyard farm after mulching. Sorry about my finger in the shot.  I really need to work on that.  
It poured down rain yesterday afternoon.  Thankfully, I got all my work done about an hour or two before it rained “rats and frogs” (my hubby’s saying).  With the mulch down, all that moisture will stay in the soil, so I won’t have to water for at least a week.  Yay! 
So that’s what’s growin’ on here at Fat Earth, y’all!  Until next time…
Happy farming!