Hot Peppers and Dog Hair to the Groundhog

Anybody out there with a good Groundhog Remedy?

Frickin’ groundhog made her way into the garden a couple of weeks ago and munched on the sugar peas so about half of the plant tops were nibbled down to a few inches tall. Uuuuh! Here’s what they look like now.

Groundhog Damage to the Sugar Peas
Groundhog Damage to the Sugar Peas
The peas in the left row took a hit and then the fat pig wandered through the garden lettuce before I could chase her outta there.

Gotta scare ’em away somehow. Their tunnels are all over the place leading to and from the bean field. We live next to an agricultural field but separated by 100 feet or so of a wooded area.

I read in Dr. Bader’s Pest Cures Natural Solutions to Bigger Pests that the woodchuck doesn’t like hot peppers. The book itself is very basic but will introduce you to a lot of natural remedies that are definitely worth a try. It came with a second book on how to deal with bugs, the smaller pests. (Amazon offers both very inexpensively.)

So, instead of getting out the shotgun, I wanted to try something less destructive.

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Early Plantings Must Be Cold Crops

Is it cold crops or cole crops? Both terms work, actually. Let me explain.

First of all it’s the beginning of Spring. The Northern Hemisphere of the Earth is waking up slowly from its long winter nap. Birds and animals of all sorts have been wandering near and far to find mates as evidenced by the increasing roadkill we see at this time of year. I think the order is skunks first, then opossums, and raccoons judging by the carnage. 🙁

In the garden Spring starts a little slower than in the animal world. However, there are a number of plants that can take the cold and even grow in low temperatures.

Lettuce and onions have already been planted in our vegetable garden, but they’re not without protection from freezing temperatures. Old sheets to the rescue!

Cold crops would be described as all the plants that do well in the cold. How cold is cold? Just think Spring or Autumn temperatures at the ends of the growing season.

Cole crops are plants who are members of the Mustard Family, Cruciferae, now known as Brassicaceae.

The word cole derives from a Latin word caulis which means stem or stalk. A few of the cole crops even have names derived from the same term: cauliflower, collards, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale. All these guys excel at growing in cool temperatures.

In general leaf and root crops may do ok in the cold, but fruiting crops will have to wait for the warmer weather of summer. Tomatoes and peppers are example plants that need more heat to develop their fruits.

Here’s a list of cold crops separated into types of crops — leaves, roots, coles, and flowers:

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Early Plantings Protected By Sheets

Yes, it’s very early in Spring and it’s not officially Planting Season, but I did plant 12 alyssum next to the house this past Wednesday. The same type of plant did well there last year right up until a hard freeze. It’s a south-facing location protected on the North by the house, so captured heat from the daylight hours helps to keep the frigid cold at bay.

By the way planting season is considered to start in earnest when temperatures reach high enough that all danger of frost has past. Average last frost days can be looked up here. Take note: There is a 50% chance of a frost occurring after the spring date, so keep an eye on the weather or else!

In lieu of an actual chart for your specific area, just look around at what Mother Nature is doing. Have the grasses and trees greened up yet? Meaning, do the deciduous trees have their new leaves? Does the lawn look more green than it did in wintertime? The greening of the land is what you need to see before planting a vegetable garden or flower beds.

Cold Crops are those that can take a little cold and even grow without the heat of summer and that’s the only kind of plant that should be planted this early in the game.

Freckles Romaine and Buttercrunch Lettuce Starts
Freckles Romaine and Buttercrunch Lettuce Starts
Walla Walla Onion Starts
Walla Walla Onion Starts

Planted my favorite Romaine-type lettuce called “freckles” and a buttercrunch lettuce on 23 Mar 2016.

Walla Walla Onion starts were planted then, too.

(Photos taken 26Mar2016. Click on any small image for a larger view.)

Covering the tender young plants when the nights dip into the low 30s will have to be remembered, but I’m ok with that. I’m always watching the weather reports for what’s going on out there in nature. We just cover the plants with an old sheet or sheer curtain material to protect them from frost.

If you want your garden to look “nice” you can buy polypropylene row covers for the purpose of protecting your plants from frost and from hungry critters like birds, bunnies and caterpillars. Row covers should be available at any good garden center, but there are always a lot of options available at Amazon: row covers for plants.

Row covers and sheets work the same way to protect your crops.

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Garlic Sprouts In The Garden Before Winter

Garlic was planted in the garden the same day we planted fava beans. It was the middle of October. I made notes of what was planted where but forgot to note the date. As Bugs Bunny would say, “What a maroon!

Garlic Sprouts in the Fall Near Fava Beans
Garlic Sprouts in the Fall Near Fava Beans

By the middle of November the garlic cloves had sprouted and grew enough so that about 2 inches of the sprouts were sticking out of the ground.

Both crops, the fava beans and garlic, should overwinter just fine.

The weather was so mild in the last of Autumn and the start of Winter. We even had a day warm enough last month to break a high temperature record at 64 degrees. Any time we get to feel the 60s in December is an oddity in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

To assure that the eventually harsh winter won’t freeze out the young plants, they surely should have been mulched. That would afford some protection against wild swings in temperatures come Spring. Oh well, we like to test the extremes around here, so we’ll see what happens to the garlic and fava beans without a layer of winter mulch. We’ll make sure to add some old straw once the pile of snow melts away.

Garlic Sprouting in the Garden
Garlic Sprouting in the Garden

The garlic varieties that were planted came from Nichol’s Garden Nursery out of Albany, Oregon: Garlic Duganskij and Garlic Chesnok Red. We picked these garlic varieties from the ones we liked the best out of their Garlic Sampler that we planted two years ago.

Sure, you can find garlic offered for sale on Amazon, like Chesnok Red Garlic, but the best selection is available in late Summer. It’s a bit late this year to be planting garlic, but even if you have a clove or two from store-bought garlic, plunk them in the ground if it’s not yet frozen. Else, you’ll have to wait until Spring thaw.

Fresh Native Chives for the Kitchen

We have these chives growing wild on the land. It seems a lot of front yards have them growing there, too.

American Wild Chive Plants
American Wild Chive Plants

I read where a woman loved the smell of chives being cut as she mowed her lawn. It reminds me of how we tame back the mints and throw the clippings in the yard before mowing it so the hot sweaty mowing person is treated to a refreshing blast of mint while they’re slaving away.

As far as the chives go for a lawn scent I think it would be good too.

Our chives seem to only grow in the ‘lowland’ of the mountain and not at the top. Now, we’re talking only a few hundred feet difference in elevation and I can’t swear that no chives grow up by the house.

Patch of Wild Chive Plants Growing in Pennsylvania Mountains
Patch of Wild Chive Plants Growing in Pennsylvania Mountains

But, the thing is there is a large patch of chives on the west side of the lane that seems to be thriving in a wooded area dominated by oak trees.

For some reason it always surprises me that chives would naturally grow in the forests of Pennsylvania. Who knew?

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