Growing Organic Irises

INTRIGUING IRIS INFO

Growing irises is one of the most popular flowers to grow in the U.S. and worldwide.

There are over 300 varieties of Irises growing worldwide, varying in color from nearly blackish-purple to yellow and white.

Commercially, growing irises for their roots (orris root) is done for some perfumes and some brands of gin. The flowers are also used in aromatherapy and perfume.

The fleur-de-lis, a stylized iris, was the symbol of the House of Capet and became the French national symbol under Louis the Seventh; it is also the New Orleans Saints football team’s symbol.

Growing any of the 300+ varieties of irises may be grown in the same manner which will be outlined below.

WHEN TO PLANT IRISES

If you’ve purchased iris rhizomes (roots) at your local garden center, the best time to plant is in the late summer or early fall, to allow the roots time to get established before winter.

If you already have irises growing in your garden, harvest and divide the rhizomes every three to five years in the late summer or early fall and replant. This will give you lots more flowers over time.

You can plant iris rhizomes in pots in the springtime if you’re planning to keep them in the pots.

BEST PLANTING LOCATION FOR IRISES

Various species of irises have differing light requirements, so when you purchase your iris rhizomes, make sure you know where they’re going and get recommendations on varieties that do well in the location you plan to plant them in.

Bearded irises, for instance, flourish in full sun; they also do best with good air flow around the plants.

Siberian irises, on the other hand, do OK with light shade, but too much shade may diminish or eradicate flowers from blooming.

Irises, like most garden plants, like well-drained soil. If you dig a 12 inch by 12 inch hole and fill it with water, your soil should drain the water within 2 or 3 hours. If it doesn’t drain in that amount of time, you need to add compost or other organic matter to create better draining soil.

Well-drained soil is important for irises so that the rhizomes avoid root rot. Irises also prefer moist soil, so creating a balance that works is important.

If you live in regions that get very cold in the winters (below 14°F), you may want to provide a straw or leaf mulch to protect your plants.

PREPARING THE SOIL FOR PLANTING IRISES

Most irises prefer organically rich, light, loamy soil with a pH level between 5.5 and 7. If you need to raise the pH, add lime; to lower it, add sulfur.

Compost and/or well-composted manure will contain most, if not all, the needed nutrients for growing irises successfully. It will also help your soil drain better.

Loosen your soil to a depth of 10 to 12 inches, mixing in generous amounts of compost and/or composted manure where each rhizome will be planted, a couple weeks ahead of planting.

CHOOSING THE BEST VARIETIES FOR YOUR AREA

Check with your local garden stores or a good online or catalog retailer for information regarding the best varieties for your area. Northern climates will be different than warmer climates, and any knowledgeable garden center should have an expert in this topic.

Iris rhizomes are generally on hand at nurseries and garden stores in July and August, as well as mail order companies.

If your rhizomes are soft, have your supplier replace them as they’re susceptible to rot. This is rarely an issue with reputable rhizome suppliers. If there is an end that’s soft, it can also be cut off.

As always, our advice is to check with your county extension office to learn if there are any particular diseases that afflict irises in your region, then purchase varieties that are resistant to those diseases.

PLANTING IRISES IN CONTAINERS

If you want to plant irises in containers, use an all-purpose potting soil and at least a 12 inch diameter pot with at least one drainage hole in the bottom.

Unless you have an enormous container, it is inadvisable to plant more than one rhizome. If you do have a very large pot, space the rhizomes at least 6 inches apart.

Plant the rhizome with about a third of it sticking it out. If you’re going to put the container outside in a sunny area, you can bury it completely with ½ an inch of soil to prevent sunburn.

In 3 to 5 years you may need to divide the rhizomes in your container as they will get overcrowded. You can accomplish this by digging up the rhizome with a garden trowel and separating the root cluster into smaller bunches.

If any of the rhizome ends are soft or shriveled, cut those off, then plant the smaller rhizomes in new containers, your garden, or give them away to friends.

During the winter, if you live in a colder climate that sees temps below 14°F, you’ll want to move the containers to a protected area that stays above that temperature.

PLANTING IRIS RHIZOMES OR PLANTS OUTDOORS

You may either transplant rhizomes from containers or plant them when you purchase them from a garden center or reputable mail order company. You can also find iris seeds from some suppliers. I’ll talk about that in the next section.

As mentioned earlier, you can usually find iris root stock in late summer until the early fall. Make sure the rhizomes (roots) are firm and free from any visible damage.

When you are ready to plant, soak the roots overnight in water or a compost tea to prepare them for planting.

Loosen the soil about 10 inches deep, then make a hole about 4 inches deep. Ridge up the center of the hole and place the rhizome on the ridge, draping the roots over the sides of the ridge. Then fill the hole with dirt and pack it lightly around the rhizome.

Plant the rhizomes about ½ inch below the surface of the soil and water well. If your soil is clayey, leave the top of the rhizome slightly exposed. You can go deeper in well-drained soils.

Space your plants 12 to 18 inches apart. I recommend planting at least 3 varieties alternating for some very nice color variety in your garden.

You can plant irises closer together without any harm if you want to have a lot of flowers more quickly in an area. However, you may have to divide rhizomes sooner if you do this.

If you purchased a potted iris at a garden center, trim the leaves to about 6 inches in height to allow the roots to establish themselves; leave the plant and roots at the same level as they were in the pot.

Water your plants or rhizomes well after planting.

GROWING IRISES FROM SEED

Some people prefer to start irises from seed. Iris seeds are readily available from many of the catalog seed companies.

You can start iris seeds in the spring to give them a good start…you won’t see blooms the first year, but you should the second.

You can also plant the seeds in the late fall or early winter, although they may not come up until spring.

If you want to go the seed route, the first thing you’ll want to do is soak your seeds from 2 day to 2 weeks. Change the water daily (hint: use a strainer or you’ll lose the seeds down the drain). Soaking iris seeds will plump them up and help them sprout once planted.

If you’re planting them in soil blocks or peat pots, plant 2 or 3 seeds per pot, then thin them to the best plant once they’re about 2 inches tall.

Plant the seeds about ½ an inch deep and ½ an inch apart, whether indoor in pots or outdoors in your garden.

When you transplant your plants to the garden when they’re a couple inches tall, just follow the instructions in the section above. You’ll see blooms the following year.

DIRECTLY SOWING IRIS SEEDS IN YOUR GARDEN

Follow the same basic instructions above, but thin the plants continually after they reach a couple inches in height until the plants are about 12 inches apart.

DIVIDING IRIS RHIZOMES

As Irises reach an age of about 3 to 5 years, depending on how close together you’ve planted them, you may notice a decrease in blooms. This may signal that the rhizomes (roots) are getting overcrowded and it’s time to divide your rhizomes.

If you look down around the bases of your plants and the rhizomes are being pushed out of the ground by other rhizomes, it’s definitely time to dig up your plants and divide the roots.

A few weeks after blooming, usually July or August, cut back your plant’s leaves to 3 or 4 inches tall. Dig up the roots and cut them into 3 or 4 inch sections. Each section should have a set of leaves on it.

Re-plant the rhizomes per the instructions a few sections above, 12 to 18 inches apart. You should now have a lot more plants or maybe some happy neighbors if you pass the extra roots on.

GROWING BEAUTIFUL IRISES

Irises will grow and bloom in the springtime without much help and if you’ve followed our instructions above, your irises will be the envy of the neighborhood.

After the bloom is over, it’s a good idea to trim the flower stalks to a couple inches tall to keep them from going to seed. The reason for this is to prevent seedlings from sapping the nutrients out of the soil.

A couple weeks after the bloom is over, remove the outer leaves that are browning. If you see any leaf spots, trim those leaves off as well.

To prepare your growing irises to bloom beautifully next year, cut back the tops of the plants to about 6 inches in the fall and clean up the debris.

If you’re in an area that has temps that fall below 14°F in the fall, you may want to mulch your irises with straw or chopped leaves – just make sure the wind won’t blow them away!

In the spring it’s a good idea to spread a thin layer (an inch or so) of compost over the ground around your plants…this will give them a nutrient boost and create yet another gorgeous bloom.

The one fertilizer we are recommending for every plant in your garden, including irises, is a brand new product we tested last year called Organic Garden Miracle™. This past gardening season we tested this liquid organic leaf spray fertilizer in our gardens. We sprayed fruits, veggies, flowers, and herbs every couple weeks and they were more robust than the unsprayed plants. We’re impressed.

MULCHING AND WEEDING

Unlike other garden plants, mulching isn’t a good idea for irises in the spring or summer as it can cause root rot.

As discussed earlier, mulching is a good idea in the winter if you’re in a cold climate area like we are in NE Washington State. We saw the mercury drop well below zero this past winter several times. However, remove the mulch as soon as hard freezing danger is past.

Because mulching is not recommended for spring and summer, it’s a good idea to remove weeds from competing with your irises. Hand-pulling is really the only option as you don’t want to be cutting the roots which are very close to or above the ground surface.

WATERING IRISES

Growing irises require somewhat frequent but short bouts of watering due to the shallowness of their root systems.

Depending on the time of spring or summer, you may be able to water as little as one time per week but as often as 4 times weekly during hot spells. Obviously if it’s rainy, you won’t need to water at all at times.

After the bloom, it’s best not to water much at all as it may cause root rot. This rule will change if you have a re-blooming iris variety that blooms in the fall. Check with your seed company for the correct instructions on those varieties.

All in all with irises, it’s easier to overwater than underwater, so check with your county extension to find what is recommended for your area and the variety of iris that you’re growing.

COMPANION PLANTING AND ROTATION CONSIDERATIONS

When considering what grows best with irises, you really probably should decide what flowers look best with irises.

However, there are some plants and flowers that both look good and grow well in similar conditions, particularly the Forsythia flower.

The purple coneflower also grows well in similar soil conditions and is long-stemmed and is complementary to irises in cut flower arrangements.

One plant that grows well with irises is the Creeping Myrtle, or Vinca Minor. It is an evergreen ground cover that has shiny leaves. It also shades the rhizomes from the sun.

Another attractive ground cover is known as Lamb’s Ear. It has greenish-gray leaves that have a bit of a wooly texture. They grow to about 12 inches in height and attractively hide the cut-back irises after bloom is done.

Other flowers that deserve honorable mentions are Echinacea, Geraniums, Peonies, Columbine, Narcissus, Lilies, and so many others that it would take a lot of typing to mention them, so you’ll just have to be creative and discuss flora and fauna with other flower people!

STORING RHIZOMES

We discussed digging up your rhizomes above and re-planting, but you can also store them for later usage.

If you harvest the rhizomes, dust them with a sulfur dust to prevent insects from bothering them, then bury them in a container filled with peat moss.

Keep the container in a refrigerator or other cool area until you’re ready to plant them…they can keep this way for several months.

PREVENTATIVE AND NATURAL SOLUTIONS TO COMMON PESTS

The most common pest to afflict irises is aptly name the Iris Borer. The iris borer larvae assault the central leaf stalk and burrow into the rhizome.

The iris borer larvae is a pink caterpillar that has rows of black spots on its sides and these pests are the most damaging to irises of all iris pests.

Once they’re in the rhizome, these caterpillars pupate and emerge as a large brown moth with black markings.

You’ll know your irises are being attacked if you see stains on the leaves and chewed leaf edges in the springtime, and later rotting holes in the rhizomes.

To prevent this pest from proliferating, make sure to remove any dead leaves or other plant rubbish in the fall. This will remove the eggs that the moths lay.

Hand-picking the caterpillars in the spring can be effective. Diatomaceous Earth is also effective in ridding plants of caterpillars. It shreds the inside of caterpillars when they ingest the dust, but you do have to reapply after a rain or watering as it loses its effectiveness when damp.
Aphids will occasionally infest irises. These small green, gray, pink, or black insects suck the juices out of your iris leaves, and they can transmit the iris mosaic to your flowers.
Diatomaceous Earth is effective against aphids as well, as well as insecticidal soap sprays.
Occasional infestation of aphids can be controlled by spraying off with the hose or using an insecticidal soap.
The yellowish-green wormy-looking Verbena Bud Moth larvae will burrow into new iris buds and shoots. They’re about a half an inch long.
If you find infected buds, cut them off and destroy them. Removing faded flowers also will discourage the moths from laying eggs.
Tiny Iris Thrips, both the milk-white larvae and the black-bodied adults, puncture the surfaces of young iris leaves, then suck the plant juices from the perforations.
An infestation of these tiny bugs (about 1/20th of an inch long) can damage the flower buds and weaken the plants.
Insecticidal soap sprays and diatomaceous earth are effective against thrips as well. Predatory mites are also available commercially.
ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Poor flowering can be caused by a number of things including the rhizomes being planted too deep, the plants being in too shady an area, or even too much nitrogen (not usually a problem with organic gardens).
It can also happen if the rhizomes become to crowded, as discussed at length above.
Bacterial Soft Rot may occur if there are breaks or wounds in the rhizome. Too much moisture, fresh manure, or too much nitrogen can cause this rot which will kill the plant.
Cleaning up dead material and making sure you plant your irises in well-drained soil with good sunlight will usually prevent this disease.

If a plant is infected, dig it up and destroy it, or cut out the parts of the rhizome that are infected, then lay out the other pieces in the sun to dry.

Fungus rots, such as Sclerotic Rot or Southern Blight, are often problems in warm, humid areas. These fungi will usually be on or just below the surface and will appear as brownish-yellow seed-like growths.

Another fungus, the Botrytis Rhizome Rot, occurs in cooler area and appears as blackish seed-like growths on the rhizomes and leaf bases.

These fungi will cause the leaf bases and rhizomes to develop a dry, pithy, grayish-colored rot.

Lots of sunlight, breathing room, and well-drained soil are the best prevention for fungal diseases. Also, cleaning up dead rubbish from your iris bed will help immensely in preventing fungal rot.

If plants do become infected, cut out the rotted areas from the rhizome and dry them in the sun and remove and destroy all infected leaves.

Iris Leaf Spots can disfigure plants and leaves and deteriorate the health of your iris plants. These spots show up just about the same time as the plants flower.

These spots are yellowish at first, then turn gray in their centers with black fruiting tufts. The fungus will overwinter in plant debris.

As with previous diseases, giving your plants lots of space, sunlight, and well-drained soil will usually prevent this disease. Keep your flowerbed free of decaying plant rubbish and you’ll likely never see this problem.

Rust and Bacterial Leaf Spot: Rust causes small, raised, darkish-red spots on the leaves of irises, whereas Bacterial Leaf Spot creates darkish-green, watery streaks and spots that become yellow later, then translucent.

As with the previous environmental ailments, breathing room, lots of sunshine, and loose, well-draining soil will prevent most problems such as these. Keeping your flowerbed clean in the fall is also key to reducing disease.

Root-knot Nematodes and Lesion Nematodes are microscopic

Root-knot nematodes and lesion nematodes are minute worms that are a bane of gardeners, and yes, they do infect irises as well.

They create knots, or galls on plant roots that appear as beads on a string and will cause the rhizomes to rot off completely.

Again, as with the previous diseases, lots of space, lots of sunlight, and well-drained soil will prevent nematodes. And keeping your flowerbed clean in the fall.

However, one difference is that if an area is infected, you should get rid of all the plants and rhizomes in that area and leave the area fallow for a year or two.

Finally, the Iris Mosaic is spread to Irises by aphids. The mosaic will cause the flowers to be striped or mottled, and the leaves to have light green streaks.

To prevent the mosaic, controlling aphids is important as outlined in the previous section. If the mosaic does infect your plants, the only way to get rid of it is to dig up and destroy damaged plants or it will infect your entire iris patch.

Growing Organic Cilantro And Coriander

CILANTRO/CORIANDER FACTS
When you’re growing organic cilantro for it’s leaves, it’s called cilantro. It is also grown for its dried seeds; the seeds are called coriander.
Growing cilantro as an herb dates back to 3000 B.C.; cilantro shows up in Sanskrit writings in 1500 B.C.
Coriander seeds were discovered in several tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs as well as in Grecian ruins dating back to the Bronze Age.
Growing cilantro in America started around 1670 and was one of the first herbs/spices grown by the early colonists.
WHEN TO PLANT
In Northern climates, you can plant cilantro a few weeks before the last frost. If you plant cilantro every couple of weeks you can harvest it throughout the summer.
In Southern climates, you can plant in the fall for spring harvest.
It takes about 30 to 40 days from planting to harvesting cilantro for it’s leaves; you can harvest a 2nd picking in 10 to 14 days after that.
For coriander seeds, it’s about 40 to 50 days until harvest.
WHERE TO PLANT
Cilantro/Coriander requires a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight – preferably 8 or more – for optimum growth.
Cilantro/Coriander develop better flavor with more sunlight. Strong light creates more fragrant oils in the foliage and stems.
When it gets hot in the summer, cilantro will often “bolt.” Bolting means it goes to seed. You can plant “slow bolting” varieties in the shade of taller plants in hot climates to keep it from bolting, unless you are growing it specifically for coriander.
When you choose where to plant cilantro/coriander, focus on soil that drains well. If you dig a 12″ x 12″ x 12″ hole, fill it with water, and allow it to drain, it should drain within 3 hours or you should add organic matter and possibly sand to your soil to aid the drainage.
Like other herbs, such as sage, it is thought to be beneficial not to add too many nutrients to your soil or it could adversely affect the flavor
PREPARING THE SOIL
Cilantro/Coriander grows well in a pH level range of 6.0 to 8.0, although it performs best in the middle of this range.
For best results with organic cilantro, rototill or spade in 2 or 3 inches of composted organic matter or manure into the top 6 inches of your garden soil.
CHOOSING THE BEST SEED VARIETIES FOR YOUR AREA
When growing cilantro for the leaves, you’ll want to grow slow bolting varieties. Consult with a reputable seed supplier when choosing your variety.
Slow bolting varieties are also better in hotter climates as they won’t go to seed as quickly.
If you’re harvesting the coriander seeds, most varieties work fine as all will go to seed at some point.
As always, consult your local county extension to find out if there are any diseases that are common to cilantro/coriander in your area and get advice on resistant varieties if applicable.
SEEDS AND GERMINATION
Because Cilantro grows a long taproot, it’s preferable to plant directly in your garden. It can be started indoors though.
Cilantro will germinate in soil temps ranging from 45° to 85°F; optimal germinating temps are 60° to 75°F. The seeds will germinate in 2 to 3 weeks typically.
Because cilantro is frost resistant, it can be planted quite early in the spring, even in Northern climate zones.
Most varieties of cilantro/coriander grow to about 12 to 15 inches in height.
SAVING SEEDS
Many gardeners grow cilantro for both herb and seeds, which, as we’ve already mentioned a few times, are known as coriander.
If you’ve let your cilantro bolt, cut the flower heads off, leaving about 8 inches of stem, then bundle bunches of stems, tying them together with a string or rubber band.
Put the flowers and stems upside down in a brown paper bag and tie it closed around the stem, then hang it in a dark and dry location.
In a week or so, shake the bag/stems to loosen the seeds, then remove the seeds. Store them in a glass jar in a cool, dry location until you want to use them for flavoring or planting.
GETTING STARTED INDOORS
If you do want to plant your seeds indoors in the late winter or early spring, you can do so using a grow light stand or other fluorescent lighting.
Turn your lights on for 14 to 16 hours a day, 4 to 6 inches above the soil or seedlings.
Soil blocks or peat pots are ideal for starting cilantro as they can be transplanted into your garden without disturbing the plant’s roots.
Use a good quality sterile potting mix to start your seeds in; adding alfalfa meal or compost will help the plant’s early growth.
Plant your seeds about ¼ inch deep, 2 seeds per pot. Once the plants are a couple inches tall, thin the weaker plant by cutting it off with a scissor at ground level.
TRANSPLANTING CILANTRO/CORIANDER OUTDOORS
When cilantro seedlings are 2 to 3 inches tall, they’re ready to transplant to your garden or flower bed.
To prepare cilantro for transplanting to your garden, you need to “harden off” your plants.
The process of hardening off seedlings entails moving your plants outside daily; a few hours at first, then increasing the time daily for 7 to 10 days until the plants become accustomed to strong sunlight and cool nights.
Cilantro has a sensitive taproot, so the best way to transplant them is in soil blocks or peat pots. Cut the bottom out of the peat pot or just place the soil blocks in a holes large enough to accept them.
Tamp the soil in around the transplants enough to keep them from moving around but not so much as to make it difficult for the roots to expand.
Plant cilantro in double rows 12 to 18 inches apart, leaving them plenty of room to dry out after watering or a rainstorm.
PLANTING CILANTRO SEEDS IN YOUR GARDEN
As mentioned above, cilantro is a cold-hardy plant and can be planted up to 4 weeks before the last expected frost.
Mark your double rows (or plant as a companion to tomatoes or other plants) at 12 to 18 inches apart, with 30 to 36 inches spacing to any other rows or other garden plants.
Plant your coriander/cilantro seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep and 2 inches apart. Lightly press the soil down on the seeds and water.
If you want to plant successive plantings, repeat this process every 10 to 14 days into the late spring and again toward the end of summer if desired.
BEST PRACTICES FOR GROWING GREAT CILANTRO/CORIANDER
If you’ve planted seeds and you have more than one every 12 to 18 inches, thin them out to that distance once they’ve reached 2 to 3 inches.
Unless you’re growing cilantro for coriander seeds, you’ll want to grow your cilantro in the cooler parts of the growing season to keep it from bolting (going to seed).
To prevent bolting, you can use a mulch like barley straw (our favorite) to keep the soil cool. Mulch also keeps moisture in the soil. If the soil temperature reaches 75°F, cilantro will bolt.
Overhead watering may reduce your cilantro’s seed yield.
It is unusual to need to add compost or composted manure during the growing season unless your plants show deficiencies such as yellowish-green leaves. As with most herbs, too many nutrients will negatively effect the flavor of your cilantro.
The one fertilizer we are recommending for every plant in your garden, including cilantro, is a brand new product we tested last year called Organic Garden Miracle™. This past gardening season we tested this liquid organic leaf spray fertilizer in our gardens. We sprayed fruits, veggies, and herbs every couple weeks and they were more robust than the unsprayed plants, and the flavor was better as well – aromatic, sweeter, and juicier. We’re impressed.
MULCHING & WEEDING
We love mulch, particularly seed-free mulches like barley straw or chopped leaves.
Adding 2 to 5 inches of mulch will keep weeds down, moisture in, and generally create happier cilantro plants.
If you don’t have access to mulching materials and need to weed, carefully hand-pull or cut off the weeds at the soil level near your plants and hoe between the plants and rows if rototilling isn’t an option.
CILANTRO WATERING REQUIREMENTS
Growing cilantro needs good moisture about 8 inches into the soil. The best watering practice is a good soaking about 1 time per week.
If your soil is sandy, you may need to water more frequently, but using a good mulch layer around your plants will keep them moist. Check the soil moisture every few days until you get a feel for how the air, soil, water, and mulch interact.
It is best, as with most garden plants, not to water using overhead sprinklers. However, with cilantro, the reason is less due to fungus than because it affects the flavor of the coriander seeds.
Commercial growers almost always use drip irrigation.
Don’t allow your plants to wilt, but don’t make your soil soggy either. You can tell if your soil’s too wet if you can compact the soil easily in your hand.
Wet soil can induce root rot of varying types.
COMPANION PLANTING AND ROTATION CONSIDERATIONS
Cilantro is said to repel harmful insects such as aphids, spider mites and the potato beetle.
Planting cilantro near potatoes, therefore, is a good practice.
Any plants that are susceptible to aphids will benefit from cilantro planted in the vicinity. Carrots, cabbage, asparagus, spinach, etc. all benefit from cilantro.
Growing cilantro is benefited by legumes planted near it. Legumes such as peas and beans take nitrogen from the air and deposit it into the soil. This is beneficial to most garden plants.
Don’t plant cilantro near to fennel, though. It is an allelopath to most garden plants, which simply means it can inhibit your other garden plant’s growth.
WHEN TO HARVEST CILANTRO/CORIANDER
Once cilantro reaches 6 inches in height, you can selectively harvest a few leaves from the plants outer stems. It’s best to leave the center stalk alone.
If you’re going to collect the coriander seeds, wait for the seed stocks to form, then follow the instructions in the section above called “Saving Seeds.”
Even after the flower and seed stalk forms, you can still harvest leaves.
CILANTRO/CORIANDER STORAGE
While it’s best to pick cilantro when you’re ready to use it in a salad or another dish, sometimes you need to have it last just a little longer.
The best way we know of is to put it into cold water in a glass (kind of like flowers in a vase) and put it in your fridge.
You can also bundle it without washing it and it will keep for a couple days or so.
Drying cilantro, we’ve discovered, doesn’t seem to be a good way to store it as it loses most of its flavor in the drying process.
You can freeze cilantro also…it’s not as good as fresh cilantro, but much better than dried. Just put it dry into a zip-lock style plastic bag and stick it in your freezer for later use.
We discussed storing coriander seeds in the “Saving Seeds” section above, so I won’t cover that again here.
PREVENTATIVE AND NATURAL SOLUTIONS TO COMMON PESTS
Leafhoppers are always a threat wherever cilantro is grown. Leafhoppers may transmit a disease called Aster’s Yellows.
Leaf hoppers are small, somewhat triangular variable-colored insects that hang out on the undersides of leaves or on stems.
They suck the juices out of plant leaves and inject stunting microorganisms into the plant’s leaves. They may stunt your cilantro’s growth or if the infestation is heavy, even kill your plants.
Insecticidal soap spray, neem oil, pyrethrum, and/or Diatomaceous Earth (DE) have all been effectively used by organic gardeners to control these pests.
Aphids are a common pests that can be found on the undersides of your cilantro leaves. You’ll know they’re there if you see leaves turning yellow and crinkling or curling.
Aphids suck the juice from your plant leaves and leave a sticky substance behind. The only beneficiary of this process is ants, who harvest the sticky sweet stuff.
The best solution to aphids is to import ladybugs to your garden. They feed on aphids and are very effective in ridding your plants of these little green, gray, or brown bugs.
Another solution is to “wash” them off with a hose and high-pressure spray nozzle or an organic insecticidal soap. DE has also been used successfully.
Here’s a recipe for a homemade insecticidal soap that you can try: 1 cup mineral oil, 2 cups water, and 2 tablespoons organic dish soap. Mix and put into a spray bottle or pump up sprayer.
Another pest, the armyworm, have larvae that come in various colors from black to dark greenish-brown; they have dark brown, white, and orange stripes the entire length of their abdomens.
The mature larvae is about 1.5 inches long and its head is yellow-brown with brown streaks that gives the worm a mottled appearance.
The armyworm pupae are easy to spot when you’re cultivating your garden…they live in a brownish-colored shell just below the surface of the soil. I squish them when I see them or feed them to the chickens.
The moth of the armyworm is about 1 inch long and has a 1.5 inch wingspan, is light brown to tan-colored with a white spot on each forewing.
The moth lays eggs in rows on the undersides of the leaves of the host plant; after laying the eggs, the moth rolls the leaves around the eggs for protection.
Armyworms feed mainly on the leaves of the plants, leaving droppings under the plants and severed leaf materials on the ground.
For gardeners, the easiest way to control armyworms is to handpick them and drop them in a bucket of warm soapy water to drown them, or feed them to the chickens if they’ll eat them.
ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Aster’s Yellow Disease is transmitted by leafhoppers (see above section). This disease makes the plant grow spindly and the flowers turn yellow and makes the plant become sterile.
Controlling leafhoppers is the best way to control aster’s yellow disease. If the disease shows up, destroy the diseased plants.
As mentioned in the above section, insecticidal soap spray, neem oil, pyrethrum, and/or Diatomaceous Earth (DE) have all been effectively used by organic gardeners to control these pests.
Damping off (seedling rot) may affect cilantro seedlings as they germinate. This group of fungi is spread in cool, damp soil, so make sure you plant in well-drained soil.
Soaking your seeds in a compost tea or mixing hot compost (direct from your compost pile) with the seeds is said to inoculate the seeds and seedlings against this disease.
You can also purchase resistant seed varieties to damping off.
If you’re starting plants indoors, use sterile potting soil, and don’t overwater your seeds or seedlings, and don’t plant the seeds too deep.
Leaf spots are caused by bacteria is caused when infected water is splashed on the cilantro’s leaves. Overhead irrigation is often at fault for spreading this bacteria.
Leaf spots appear as tan spots with purple borders.
Using drip irrigation to ensure dry leaves is the best prevention as you can’t get rid of leaf spot once it’s infected your plants, although neem oil and organic copper-based fungicides can control the spreading of leaf spots.
Root Knot Nematodes are plant parasites that are shaped like worms. They are microscopic and invisible to the human eye.
Plants that aren’t getting enough water are the most susceptible to this parasite.
Root knot nematodes affect plants by causing them to wilt, be stunted, reducing crop yields, and sometimes even killing plants.
Underground, root knot nematodes create knotted roots or stunted roots. The knot sizes will vary depending on the species of nematode invading the plant’s roots.
The best cure for root-knot nematodes is prevention. Purchasing resistant plants or varieties is your best defense against this disease.
If you have nematodes in your garden, make sure you isolate the area and leave it fallow for 2 to 3 years.
Also, don’t allow water to run-off from these areas into unaffected areas or the disease will spread.
For a short term solution to root-knot nematodes on the upper surface of the soil, you can use a process called “solarization.” Moisten your soil, then cover it with clear plastic through the hottest part of the summer.
If you can get your soil temps up to 130°F for as little as 5 minutes, you’ll kill the nematodes and eggs as deep as you can get that temperature.
There is an organic fungicide called azadirachtin that is listed by OMRI as organic. I haven’t researched it though, so if anyone knows something about it, be sure to post your findings below.

The Dog Food Dilemma

THE DOG FOOD DILEMMA – OUR SEARCH FOR A BETTER DOG FOOD

When we adopted our dog, Brewster, a German Sheppard mix (of which we will never know for sure of what), he sneezed often and shed hair like crazy.

Being a firm believer that the food I eat affects me for better or worse, I started with the dog food as a potential cause of these problems.

I began researching what ingredients to look for in rating quality dry dog food.

My criteria became this: Meat must be the first ingredient; if it said corn anywhere in the ingredients, especially near the top, I ran the other direction.

I knew corn was not only cheap GMO filler in dog food but the most likely ingredient to cause allergies and stomach issues.

I tried a few different brands that contained higher quality ingredients and were supposedly hypoallergenic, but Brewster continued to sneeze and shed hair like Linus’ blanket in ‘Peanuts’ sheds dirt.

I didn’t try every brand. There still might be one out there that works but an $80 a month dog food bill was out of the question.

I began to think realistically about this… what would my skin and hair look like if all the food I ate was processed and dried?

The thought of canned dog food crossed my mind and was quickly dismissed.

I wasn’t going to pay double for what was really just reconstituted dry dog food and I didn’t think I could bear the smell of that stuff every day.

This finally led me to research a raw food diet.

Since we raise grass-fed beef cattle, a raw food diet for our dog fit very nicely into our lifestyle.

I asked our butcher to grind all the tongue and the organ meats (except the liver – they do not like to grind livers because it makes an incredibly juicy mess – I have to chop the liver myself).

We also had some of the fat and the lower cuts of meat ground.

My recipe proportions were about 60% muscle meat, organ meat, and fat, 20% vegetables such as cooked grated carrots, squash, or pumpkin, and 20% either cooked potato, whole-grain brown rice, or millet.

I added a few needed supplements, mixed it all up in a big tub, and put individual servings into Ziploc sandwich bags.

I left a few in the fridge and put the remainder of the packages in the freezer and defrosted a few days-worth at a time when needed.

Right before serving, I stirred in a raw egg which raised the protein level a little higher and gave Brewster’s coat extra shine.

Within only a day of this dietary switch, the sneezing stopped.

In one week, the shedding problem decreased dramatically, dog breath improved, the smelly dog farts ceased, and his poop wasn’t as offensive smelling and it biodegraded quickly. Go figure.

Raw dog food mixture. Not what I would call ‘pretty’ but extremely healthy. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have much of an odor…it’s all fresh ingredients.

The white stuff is ground fat done by our butcher (My husband thought it looked like maggots. My kids thought spaghetti sauce with small noodles).

Bonus tip: If sending boys to help you transfer the packages to the freezer, inform them that the packages must be stacked neatly before they freeze. ‘Put in the freezer’ does not mean ‘toss in the freezer’.

This diet works great during butcher season but unfortunately it doesn’t last the entire year.

I had to come up with another solution until the next butchering.

Since I didn’t have meat from our own animals available anymore and my budget doesn’t allow for organically raised meat bought elsewhere for dog food, I had to settle for store bought hamburger the rest of the year.

Sometimes being a purest is just not affordable and you do the best you can. I knew it was still better than whatever ‘meat’ is in commercial dog food.

Regardless how hard of an iron gut dogs supposedly have (which in reality is a high acidic level), I was not comfortable feeding the store-bought meat raw; it had to be cooked.

I began hunting for homemade dog food recipes. After playing around with several different ones and adjusting the ingredients to fit my standards and meet the correct percentages of protein/vegetable/grain, I came up with my own ‘meatloaf’ recipe for dogs.

The protein in the meatloaf is mostly meat but is also in the form of beans and eggs to help reduce the cost.

A few notes on feeding grain to dogs: many raw food advocates are against feeding dogs grain and think that all grains should be completely eliminated from their diet.

I think they have good evidence that supports that grains were not a part of a dog’s primitive diet but there is disagreement on the issue of whether some whole grains are a problem for dogs.

Many of the higher quality dog foods contain a percentage of whole brown rice or potato.

We don’t feed grain to our cattle, why would we feed it to our dog?

For comparative purposes, let me first give you a picture of how livestock animals process their food:

Livestock, such as cattle, sheep, and goats are ruminants. A ruminant is an animal with four compartments in their stomach for digesting feed.

Their digestive systems work like a fermentation vat and have a proper balance of microbes to break down and digest roughage such as grass, hay, and tree leaves.

Adding grain into the mix (which is more acidic than roughage) causes imbalance and upset in the digestive system’s micro-organisms as they try to adjust to a more acidic feed.

This can cause serious gas problems and reduce the animal’s over-all health.

These animals are not made to switch back and forth from roughage to grain (One exception: a steady combination, gradually introduced, is necessary for lactating dairy livestock, especially goats).

Dogs, on the other hand, have a simple stomach, similar in some ways to humans but with some huge differences in chemistry.

A dog’s digestive system has a highly acidic environment for breaking down proteins.

Although dogs are carnivores, they are not solely dependent on protein for their food, but
it is the most important part of their diet.

A dog that is fed a high grain-based dog food is more likely to have health issues and be a problematic dog.

Dog’s will dig through garbage and tear up a house in search of protein if the diet lacks it.

Dogs also do not have the enzyme in their saliva like we do which begins to break down starchy foods in the mouth.

The result is that the starch sticks to their teeth and causes tartar and plaque build-up which, if fed too much grain, could lead to gum disease.

Also, the digestive tract of a dog is short, and is not designed for processing large quantities of grain; it will just pass through the dog’s system, leaving you with “petrified logs” on your lawn.

But, because of the higher acid levels in the dogs stomach, it is able to break down and utilize some grain.

I have chosen to include a percentage of whole grains in my dog’s diet.

My dog is very healthy and there have been no signs of allergies or any other problems from the low percentage of whole grains he is given.

You’ve got to find a healthy balance that works for your dog and for you. Much of my reason for keeping the whole grains in the recipe is cost.

Meat is the most expensive ingredient. If I felt whole grain was a detriment to making the healthiest dog food, I would change it.

As far as how much to feed your dog, I suggest starting with an amount that is recommended for the weight/activity level of your dog and watching to see if your dog maintains a healthy weight.

I had to cut back a little from what was recommended for my dog’s weight because he started gaining a few waist sizes.

We feed our dog once a day at our dinner time. Food stays in the dog’s stomach for a longer period of time than your stomach would keep food.

This allows the acids time to break down meat proteins, fat, and bone. This is why most dogs do fine being fed only once a day.

Unless your dog has better self-control than my dog, basing an appropriate serving size by how much a dog is willing to eat doesn’t work.

Brewster is not what I would call “in tune with his body.” It’s definitely quantity over quality for him.

One HUGE bonus to this diet, whether I’m feeding raw food or the meatloaf recipe, is that I rarely ever have to scoop poop in my yard; it breaks down very quickly.

One good rain and it is part of the earth.

I have adjusted my recipe slightly from batch to batch depending on what and how much of the ingredients I have on hand.

The most important rule is that the percentage of protein does not drop below 60%. Higher protein means better nutritive value.

If you find that your dog is sensitive to grains, just as some humans are, the amount can be reduced or even eliminated but it won’t likely hold together as well in a loaf form.

One more note: When switching from the raw food to the meatloaf, I have never had to ‘slowly introduce’ the change in food.

There have never been any adjustment issues. With dry dog food, it was a different story. This is the case with my dog though; your dog may react differently.

JENNY’S HOMEMADE DOG FOOD RECIPE
This recipe will last about 1 month for one large dog. I like to make a big batch so I only have to make it monthly.

It’s a bit of a project so set aside a morning or an afternoon to do this. If you do not have enough bread pans or don’t have the freezer room, you can cut the recipe in half or even quarter it.

I use two large bread bowls for mixing.

In a big container or 2 large bread bowls, combine:

10# raw hamburger

12 c pureed, cooked beans (I usually use pinto or red beans)

1 dozen eggs

2c wheat germ

4c rolled oats (finely chopped in a food processor)

8c cooked brown rice, cooked millet, or cooked and mashed potatoes

8c liquid (either water, milk, yogurt, whey, or stock – can be a mixture)

4c cooked pureed vegetables (preferably squash, pumpkin, or grated carrots)

6 T. garlic powder (acts as a natural internal parasite deterrent)

1 T. salt substitute – such as ‘No Salt’ (potassium chloride – a needed form of potassium)

12 T. egg shell powder – a necessary source of calcium (I save my egg shells by rinsing them out immediately and letting them dry on a baking sheet with sides. When I have saved a large amount, I grind them into a powder in my coffee grinder.)

Growing Organic Rhubarb

RHUBARB REPORT

Growing Rhubarb is considered a vegetable in most of the world. However, in 1947, a New York judge ruled that rhubarb is a fruit, thereby lowering taxes.

Growing Rhubarb in the U.S. began in the 1820′s when it was first imported to Maine and Massachusetts. Early settlers took plants with them as Americans migrated West.

In the Middle Ages, rhubarb was grown in China and was more expensive than spices like cinnamon because it had to be (they thought) imported from China – which at that time was a good thing!

Laura Ingalls Wilder, in her book “The First Four Years,” refers to growing rhubarb as growing “pie plant.” Rhubarb pie is still a favorite of many people, including myself!

WHEN TO PLANT RHUBARB

If you’re starting rhubarb from seed, plant the seeds about 6 weeks before the last frost. Do note, though, if you plant from seeds rather than root stock, you’ll wait at least 2 years (1 additional year) to harvest your rhubarb roots.

If you’re planting from root stock or crowns, plant or divide the roots/crowns in early spring while the plants are still dormant. This is the favored method for planting rhubarb, particularly in the Northern climates.

Rhubarb, once planted in Northern climates like where we live, will thrive in the cooler spring temperatures. It begins growing once soil temps reach a little over 40°F.

You can also plant roots/crowns before the ground freezes in the fall, provided you mulch over top of your plants with 8 to 12 inches of mulch.

Rhubarb generally does not do well in Southern U.S. climate zones due to not liking temperatures over 90°F. However, it can be grown during the cool season in some sub-tropical and tropical areas.

BEST PLANTING AREAS FOR RHUBARB

In the Northern areas, where rhubarb thrives best, rhubarb requires at least 8 hours of sunlight daily to flourish. In Southern climates, some afternoon shade is preferable, but does create more spindly stalks.

As with most plants, rhubarb doesn’t really like soggy soil. Make sure the area you plant it in has well-draining soil with lots of organic matter in it.

PREPARING THE SOIL

The ideal pH level for growing rhubarb is about 5.5 to 6.5.

Rhubarb needs a good amount of nutrients to grow well. The best organic methods will include mixing lots of compost or composted manure into an area at least 12 inches deep and 3 feet in diameter. Mix in about 6 inches of compost/composted manure.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT VARIETIES FOR YOUR AREA

Many rhubarb plants, if grown in good soil with adequate sunlight, have a mature diameter of 5 to 6 feet. Happily, one plant is usually enough for most families.

Some of the new varieties of rhubarb have red to crimson stalks that are sweeter than some of the older varieties. Check with your favorite seed supplier for their advice on which varieties will fit your tastes best.

Check with your county extension office to see if there are any common diseases that afflict rhubarb in your area. If there are, they will be able to recommend resistant varieties.

One reason rhubarb does better in cooler climates is that it needs the ground temperature to drop below 40°F for at least a week to break dormancy and stimulate the rhubarb leaves to grow.

GETTING STARTED INDOORS

If you’re planting rhubarb seeds, soak the seeds for a few hours in water or a compost tea before planting in a good quality, sterile potting soil; the seedlings will take 2 to 3 weeks to come up.

Don’t use ordinary garden soil as it may have fungus, weeds, bacteria, or other things that can hamper your plants.

Plant the seeds about a ¼ to ½ inch below the surface of the soil. Plant 2 to 3 seeds per section or pot. Once 4 true leaves have formed, cut off the weaker plants.

TRANSPLANTING RHUBARB OUTDOORS

Most rhubarb is sold as dormant roots or crowns. Purchasing them this way from your local garden center or favorite mail order seed company will take a full year off getting to your first harvest.

If you planted seeds, though, you’ll need to “harden off” your plants off for at least a week before planting out in the garden. You’ll do this when the plants are 4 to 6 weeks old and are about 3 to 4 inches tall.

This simply entails moving your plants outdoors during the day and back inside at night for increasing lengths of time throughout the week.

Ideal temperatures at this point should be about 50° to 55°F at night and 70° to 75°F during the daytime.

If you’re planting crowns or roots, place them 1 to 2 inches below the surface of the soil. If you’ve purchased potted plants, plant them at about the surface level of the soil.

Give the plants at least 36 to 48 inches between the plants and at least 72 inches between your rows if you are planting a lot of rhubarb.

PLANTING SEEDS IN YOUR GARDEN

Except for Southern climate zones, planting seeds directly in your garden is not recommended, but if you live in the South, you can plant rhubarb in rows 72 inches apart.

Plant the seeds every 3 to 4 inches, then once the plants have reached 3 to 4 inches in height, thin them out to at least 36 inches apart as they’ll grow quite large in the next couple years.

If you’re planting crowns or roots, plant them 36 to 48 inches apart. Cover the roots 1 to 2 inches deep, but don’t cover the crowns.

BEST PRACTICES FOR GETTING A GOOD RHUBARB CROP

Here are a few tips to getting the best rhubarb crop from your garden.

During the first year, remove any flower stalks when they grow from your plant. This will give your plant more energy to put into the roots which will grow a stronger plant in subsequent years.

You’ll see flower stalks growing out from your plant as the weather warms into the summertime. Your plants may resume growth in the fall when the weather cools.

When the frost begins in the fall, the heavier frosts will usually kill the rhubarb plant that’s above ground. This is the time to fertilize for next year’s crop.

DIVIDING RHUBARB FOR BETTER YIELDS

As rhubarb gets older – around 8 to 10 years – the plants often become root-bound. There becomes such a mass of roots that the rhubarb plant yield often decreases.

This is the time to divide the rhubarb plants to help them regain their vigor. This is pretty much like replanting new root stock, so follow the procedures outlined above.

When you divide these plants, you can typically cut the old crown into 4 to 8 pieces. Just make sure each section has one strong bud.

Cut the roots into four to eight pieces. Each piece must have at least one strong bud.

Some gardeners will do this procedure after 5 years to keep their plants “fresh.”

This past gardening season we tested a liquid organic leaf spray fertilizer called Organic Garden Miracle™. We sprayed most of our garden plants with OGM™. The sprayed veggies were more robust than the unsprayed plants, and the flavor was superior as well – sweeter and juicier. You may want to give OGM™ a try on your rhubarb. We’re pretty impressed.

MULCHING & WEEDING

It’s always a good idea to mulch growing rhubarb with straw or grass clippings or chopped leaves to keep the weeds down and the soil moist.

In the fall, after the plant has been killed by the frost, it’s also a good idea to cover the crown with 6 to 12 inches of clean straw (no weed seeds) if you live in an area that gets prolonged cold spells.

Although we’ve never lost any of our rhubarb plants from cold spells (and we get some good ones in our area), it’s still good insurance.

Black plastic mulch isn’t considered a good idea for rhubarb as it likes cooler soil temps.

Once your rhubarb plant gets past the first year, it usually doesn’t get much competition from weeds, and especially if you mulch around your plants. In the first year or two, just hand pull any competing weeds.

RHUBARB WATERING REQUIREMENTS

As rhubarb is susceptible to crown rot, drip irrigation is your best option, about 12 to 18 inches from the crown.

If you don’t have any drip systems available, water early in the day so the plants can dry out by afternoon.

If you’ve added mulch around your growing rhubarb plants, watering an inch of water every 7 to 10 days should be sufficient to keep them producing juicy stalks.

Overwatering rhubarb can be quite harmful. We’ll discuss fungal diseases below.

COMPANION PLANTING AND ROTATION CONSIDERATIONS

Rhubarb grows well with brassica family members which include broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower.

While I haven’t personally witnessed this, some have said that rhubarb protects legumes (beans, peas, etc.) against the black fly.

Other sources state that rhubarb helps deter spider mites from columbine flowers…again, I haven’t tried this as we don’t have any columbines on our property.

Several gardening authorities claim that making a tea from boiled fresh rhubarb leaves will kill aphids and that the oxalic acid in the leaves will also prevent blackspot on roses.

Make sure if you have rhubarb that there are no dockweed plants in the area as it attracts a bug called the Rhubarb Curculio, a yellowish beetle that bores into rhubarb.

When you divide your rhubarb, make sure to plant the new roots into new areas so as to give the previous soil a rest.

WHEN TO HARVEST RHUBARB

Make sure you don’t harvest rhubarb stalks from your plant in the first year you plant it, and the first 2 years if you planted from seed.

In the late spring you can begin to selectively harvest rhubarb stalks. Depending on the variety, your stalks will be from 12 to 24 inches in length (up to the leaf).

If the stalks get too large, they can get stringy and tough. You’ll have to get a feel for the variety you’ve planted.

Redder varieties are usually sweeter and more flavorful than green varieties which are generally just plain sour.

Don’t harvest more than a third of the stalks or the plant won’t grow well. Wait until the leaves on a stalk smooth out; this is an indicator that a stalk is mature.

When you harvest the stalks, don’t cut them off with a knife as this may promote crown rot. Rather, use a slow, firm, twisting motion to pop the stalks away from their roots.

Once you’ve plucked a stalk, trim the leaves of immediately to prevent the stalk from wilting as quickly.

One myth we’ll dispel; rhubarb does NOT become toxic in the late summer. That’s an old wives tale.

If a seed stalk pops up from your plant, pull it out so it doesn’t affect your plant’s productivity.

RHUBARB STORAGE

Fresh rhubarb can be stored, wrapped in plastic, for up to 3 weeks.

You can also slice your stalks up and freeze them fresh for usage at a later date.

While we’ve never done it, I am told that rhubarb preserves are delicious. Can’t back that one up.

I can tell you, though, that rhubarb pie is a perennial favorite in the springtime with our family.

PREVENTATIVE AND NATURAL SOLUTIONS TO COMMON PESTS

The rhubarb curculio is the only real pest that afflicts rhubarb plants.

It is a yellowish to grayish-brown snouted beetle that ranges in size from ½ to ¾ inch long and bores its way into the stalks and crowns.

The best prevention is to keep dock weeds out of your garden as it is a host for these beetles. Also, keep grassy weeds under control around your rhubarb plants as well.

If you have a bad infestation, your best defense is to pull up your plants after the beetles have laid their eggs and burn or destroy the plants and start over. I’ve not seen any infestation of that magnitude.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS

Various root fungi can invade your rhubarb if it’s planted in poorly draining soil. Most root fungi can be avoided by simply either creating well-drained soil with organic matter and sand or planting it in an area that already drains well.

Planting in raised beds can sometimes help alleviate the poor drainage issue.

There are viruses that can attack your rhubarb plants, causing them to grow poorly. The only treatment we know of is to start over with resistant varieties. Check with your local county extension before you plant to see if there are viruses that affect rhubarb in your area. They can also recommend resistant varieties.

Various Leaf Spot diseases are common to rhubarb.

One of the most common leaf spot diseases is called Ascochyta leaf spot, and starts as a light green or yellowish spot on your rhubarb plant leaves which morph into white spots with red borders. The centers will often fall out, leaving holes in the leaves.

Ramularia leaf spots are another common disease. It starts as small red spots that develop a white or tan center and a purplish border.

Overwatering is key to promoting leaf spots, as is overhead watering late in the day. Water early in the day so the leaves dry out completely by afternoon.

Overcrowding plants can also encourage leaf spots, as can grassy weeds.

Remove these leaves in the fall and burn or dispose of them after the frost kills the plants. This will help your plants the following year.

Growing Organic Brussel Sprouts

BRUSSELS SPROUTS FACTS

Growing Brussels Sprouts originated in the area around Belgium in the 13th century. Brussels is a major Belgian city that they were named after.

Growing Organic Brussels Sprouts are in the same family as cabbage; they even look like miniature cabbages.

Growing Brussels Sprouts for nutrition is a good plan as they contain lots of Vitamins A and C, folic acid, and dietary fiber.

WHEN TO PLANT BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Various varieties of Brussels Sprouts take anywhere from 80 to 130 days to harvest, depending on the weather.

Brussels sprouts prefer cooler weather, growing best in coastal areas of the Pacific Coast regions and in more northern climate zones such as New York State or the Province of Ontario, Canada.

In warmer climate areas, Brussels sprouts are planted mid-summer for a fall harvest as they prefer to be harvested in cooler fall weather.

Heat resistant varieties have been developed that can be harvested in the summer, but most varieties will become bitter in the summer heat, so it’s better to plant them about 90 to 100 days before the average frost in your area.

In the fall, when harvesting, allow Brussels sprouts to go through a couple of frosts; the cold temps bring out the sweet flavor, somewhat like apples.

If you live in the deep south, you can plant in the winter time for an early spring harvest.

WHERE TO PLANT BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Brussels sprouts require full sun, at least 8 hours daily, with minimal shade.

Successful planting of Brussels sprouts is greater in cooler climate areas.

Plant Brussels sprouts in areas where there have been no family members for at least 2 or 3 years. Family members include cabbage, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, and cauliflower, to name a few.

Brussels sprouts prefer well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter and high in nitrogen which can be provided using generous amounts of compost and/or composted manure.

PREPARING THE SOIL

Brussels sprouts grow best in soils with a pH level around 6.0 to 7.5, preferably toward the higher end of that range.

Avoiding club root in Brussels sprouts is more successful if the pH levels are above 6.5. Applying lime will bring your pH level up if needed.

Upon marking out your rows, spread a couple of inches of compost or composted manure in the rows and rototill or spade it under. This should give your sprouts any needed nutrients.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT VARIETIES FOR YOUR AREA

Check with your county extension office to see if there are any diseases or other challenges to growing Brussels sprouts in your area.

Powdery Mildew, Light Leaf Spot, and Rust are common diseases in Brussels sprouts, so check to see if there are problems with these diseases in your region.

Make sure the varieties you choose have enough time to harvest after frost in the fall.

SEEDS AND GERMINATION

Once you’ve initially purchased Brussels sprout seeds, they should remain usable for up to 4 year if you store them in a cool, dry place.

Brussels sprouts will germinate at soil temperatures of 40° to 86°F, but prefers the higher temperatures to germinate.

At 75°F, Brussels sprout seeds will germinate in 6 to 8 days typically.

Because the optimal time to plant Brussels sprouts is late spring to mid-summer, starting them indoors is unnecessary so we aren’t going to address that in this article although it can be done.

PLANTING SEEDS DIRECTLY INTO YOUR GARDEN

If your typical frost is around the first of October, depending on the variety of Brussels sprouts selected, you’d want to plant around the first of June to the first of July.

If you’re planting seeds directly to your garden, which is what we recommend, plant seeds every 3 to 4 inches in rows 30 to 36 inches apart.

Plant the seeds in the rows at a depth of about ½ of an inch.

Once the plants have come up and are well established, thin them to about 18 to 24 inches apart in the rows.

SUCCESSFULLY GROWING BRUSSELS SPROUTS UNTIL HARVEST

When you thin Brussels sprouts, you can transplant the thinned plants to new rows if desired.

If your area is windy, stake your plants to keep them upright.

As the sprouts mature, some leaves will turn yellow; remove these leaves to help the sprouts develop. You can also remove the lower plant leaves to help strengthen the rest of the plant.

2 or 3 weeks before your anticipated harvest you can remove the top of the plant as well – the sprouts should have about a ¾ inch diameter.

You may want to side-dress your plants with composted manure about halfway through the season if the plants look like they could use a boost.

This past gardening season we tested a liquid organic leaf spray fertilizer called Organic Garden Miracle™. We sprayed most of our garden plants with OGM™. The sprayed veggies were more robust than the unsprayed plants, and the flavor was superior as well – sweeter and juicier. You may want to give OGM™ a try. We’re pretty impressed.

MULCHING & WEEDING

If air temps rise over 80°F, mulching with 3 to 4 inches of grass clippings or barley straw will help both to keep the soil temperature cool, but also will help control weeds.

Because the roots of growing Brussels sprouts are close to the surface of the soil, it’s important to weed carefully – or mulch. I prefer mulching as I am not much of a fan of weeding.

If weeds come up close to the plant, pull them carefully or cut them off – avoid damaging the plants.

WATERING BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Brussels sprouts require about an inch of water weekly, sometimes 2 if it’s very hot and dry. If you’ve mulched, though, you won’t likely need to water more than an inch even when it’s hot as the mulch will keep the moisture from evaporating.

Drip irrigation is almost always superior to overhead watering, but if you just can’t afford to use drip irrigation, water in the morning so the plants can dry out by noon or so.

When you do water, water enough to soak the soil at least 6 inches into the ground as light watering has very little value to the sprouts.

Too much fluctuation in soil moisture will result in the sprouts splitting or becoming bitter.

COMPANION PLANTING AND ROTATION CONSIDERATIONS

Brussels sprouts grow well with chamomile and garlic, both of which are said to improve the flavor of sprouts.

Catnip, hyssop, rosemary, and sage all repel cabbage moths from your sprouts.

Dill is said to improve the growth of your sprouts and their overall health.

Nasturtiums deter various bugs, beetles, and aphids from Brussels sprouts.

Beets add minerals to the soil and your compost as well.

Celery is a repellant to the white cabbage butterflies.

Onions discourage aphids, weevils, rust flies, carrot flies, fruit tree borers, and moles.

Potatoes also discourage cabbage worms.

Growing Brussel spouts with spinach works well as spinach matures quickly and sprouts slowly, so the spinach will be out of the way when the sprouts need to mature.

Brussels sprouts shouldn’t be planted near strawberries as mildews from strawberries may affect sprouts.

As mentioned previously, don’t follow cabbage family members with other family members but once every 3 years.

WHEN TO HARVEST BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Brussels sprouts are the best between 1 and 1.5 inches in diameter, but are good up to 2 inches in diameter.

It is best to wait until after a good frost in the fall to harvest; a frost brings out the flavor in the sprouts.

The sprouts will mature from the bottom up, producing many sprouts per plant.

Give each sprout a sharp twist to remove from the plant. Or, pull the entire plant up and move it to a cool, dark, and dry storage area and pluck the sprouts as needed.

STORING BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Brussels sprouts will store decently in the fridge for about a week, or if you can store them at 32°F, they’ll store for 3 to 5 weeks.

As mentioned in the previous section, you can store them in a root cellar or similar by pulling up the plants and leaving the sprouts intact on the plants.

You can also blanch Brussels sprouts and freeze them.

PREVENTATIVE AND NATURAL SOLUTIONS TO COMMON PESTS

Flea Beatles are very small beetles – about 1/16th inch to 1/8 inch long – that chew small round holes in leaves. Their color varies from black, brown, blue, and bronze to grayish – and some have stripes.

Flea beetles jump like fleas when startled, hence the name.

If a flea beetle infestation is heavy, they can stunt or kill plants, especially seedlings.

Most garden centers sell sticky yellow traps that will trap flea beetles in the spring time, particularly when your plants are seedlings.

To prevent flea beetles from getting out of control, keep your garden area free of weeds and debris. Early in the season, use row covers to protect your plants up until flowering.

Cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, and diamond moths feed on seedlings of cabbage family crops. The cabbage worm is the most common pest.

The cabbage worm moth is a white butterfly with black spots. The cabbage worms are greenish with yellow stripes and about an inch long.

Cabbage looper moths are dark brown with white squiggles on their wings, and the caterpillars are pale green with white stripes and move somewhat like an inchworm.

The diamondback moths is light brown and when it’s wings are folded show a pattern of 3 diamonds. Their caterpillars are smaller than the previous 2 and are light green.

All three caterpillars feed on cabbage family plants including Brussels sprouts. When the plants are young these caterpillars can be devastating, but they don’t have a lot of effect on older plants.

Hand-picking these caterpillars is effective in most gardens. Dropping them into a bucket of soapy water will drown them.

Dusting your plants with diatomaceous earth (DE) can also eradicate these pests, but the powder must be dry to work.

Row covers will work if you get them over your plants early enough, and if you do, the moths may leave your garden to find easier targets.

Cabbage maggots attack the roots of cabbage family plants. They overwinter in the soil and emerge in the spring as dark gray flies and resemble a house fly.

Floating row covers are probably the best defense against the cabbage fly. If you can keep them out you can save your crop, because once the maggots attack, there’s not much you can do to save your plants.

Aphids are another pest that attack cabbage family plants such as Brussels sprouts.

They are a tiny green or black (usually) insect that feeds on the undersides of leaves, causing them to become curled and dry.

You can use insecticidal soaps or high pressure water sprays on them to knock them off your plants.

DE has also been notable in ridding gardens of aphids.

Cutworms are small worms, about 1.5 inches in length, that chew plants off at about soil level.

Controlling weeds helps to control cutworms, and DE is also effective in controlling cutworms if sprinkled around the base of your plants.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS

Tip Burn is exhibited by a breakdown of leaf tissue near the center of the Brussels sprout head; it becomes brownish to black and dry.

Tip burn is caused by calcium deficiency which typically happens during drought cycles.

Steady irrigation and mulching can prevent this issue.

Black Rot is a bacterial disease that can seriously affect Brussels sprouts. The bacterium enters the plant’s leaves through pores in the leaves, turning them yellow and the veins black.

Often, the leaves of the plant will drop off the entire plant, and if you cut the infected stem, you’ll see a black ring.

Planting non-infected seeds is the best prevention. Seeds from the Western part of the US are clean, whereas European and Eastern US seeds may be contaminated.

You can also purchase seeds that have been “hot water treated.”

Rotating crops is also effective. Don’t plant cabbage family member crops where others have been within the past three years.

Damping off, or seed rot, is caused by a soil-borne fungus that causes seedlings to shoot up rapidly and then die.

Don’t overwater your seeds or seedlings, and if possible, don’t use overhead irrigation.

Remove diseased plants from your garden and dispose of.

Black Leg is a fungal disease that affects the stem and leaves of cabbage family plants.

At first you’ll see a round canker depression that starts at the base of the stem, becomes larger, and eventually encircles the entire stem. Yellow spots that have gray centers show up on the leaves. These then turn black.

If the infection is severe, the plant will simply topple over.

To prevent this disease, plant non-infected seeds (Western seeds), purchase hot water treated seeds, keep your plant beds clean, don’t over-water, rotate your crops, or plant resistant varieties.

Club Roots is another fungal disease that causes the roots of your Brussels sprouts to enlarge and distort.

The leaves of infected plants will yellow and die.

Make sure your soil’s pH level is above 7.2 or higher, and rotate your crops to new areas.

Always plant your sprouts in well-drained soil, and add lime if necessary to raise the pH level.

Alternaria is another fungal disease that causes small dark spots on the plant stems of cabbage family plants. The small dark spots can rapidly become large dark spots, and the plant will collapse.

Planting resistant varieties is advised, as is planting hot water treated seeds. Avoid overwatering and plant in well-drained soils.

If you spot a fungus, get rid of the infected plant and rotate your plants to a new area next season.

Downy Mildew is a common fungus that attacks garden vegetables when conditions are wet. It appears as a white fluffy growth on the underside of leaves, and later turns to a tannish color.

Planting resistant varieties is advisable, and you can spray this fungus with a homemade fungicide. You can make this organic fungicide spray using bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). In a gallon of water add a couple drops of organic olive oil, a couple drops of environmentally-friendly liquid soap, and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Spray it on your Brussels sprout leaves to effectively control fungal diseases.

Growing Organic Blueberries

BITS ABOUT BLUEBERRIES

Maine leads the US in growing blueberries commercially; approximately 25% of all commercially grown blueberries.

In Maine, growing blueberries requires over 50,000 beehives – about 2 billion bees – just to pollinate the blueberry crops.

Cranberries, Bilberries, Huckleberries, and Blueberries are in the same family.

Growing organic blueberries (and eating them, of course) may lower the risk of heart disease, according to the British Journal of Nutrition in 2008 – after completing a study on pigs!

WHEN TO PLANT BLUEBERRIES

The best time to plant blueberries is 10 years ago. However, if you didn’t, now is a good time (now being early spring).

As blueberries originated as a woodland bush (called low bush varieties such as the wild blueberry of Eastern U.S. and Canadian forests), they resemble a small tree or bush more than a garden plant.

When you plant blueberries, it takes between 8 and 10 years to get into full production, somewhat like a fruit tree. You’ll get some berries by the 3rd or 4th years after you’ve planted them.

You can prepare your garden for blueberries in the fall or early spring, but it’s best to plant in early spring. However, if you’re adding fresh manure to the soil, do it in the fall.

WHERE TO PLANT BLUEBERRIES

Blueberries like to be planted where they get lots of full sunlight, but they can handle some shade too. Too much shade, though, will reduce your crop yield.

If you’re in a hot area, shade during the heat of the day may be desirable.

Blueberries grow best in soil that drains well and there is good air movement. Poorly draining soil will stunt the plants and reduce yields.

If you live in an area with late frosts, select a late flowering variety as frost will kill blueberry flowers.

Blueberries prefer areas that have acidic soil; this emulates their native forest areas which tend to be acidic.

High calcium levels in soil are not good for growing blueberries, so check your calcium levels before you plant blueberries.

PREPARING THE SOIL

As mentioned above, blueberries like acidic soils; a pH level of 3.8 to 5.5 is desirable – 4.5 is ideal. Blueberries don’t do well at levels above or below these levels. If your levels are too high, apply sulfur to your soil until it comes down to the range blueberries need.

To prepare your soil, mix in heavy amounts of compost and/or composted manure into a 12 x 12 inch area, preferably at least 12 to 18 inches deep.

Once you’ve enriched the soil originally, it is unlikely that you’ll need to fertilize much as blueberries are light feeders.

Blueberry plants will live up to 50 years or longer if they’re well-cared for, so you’ll want to make sure you put the effort into prepping your soil well.

Blueberry plants are long-lived (30 to 50 years or perhaps even longer), so considerable time and effort in preparing the planting site is a wise investment.

If you have unlimited supplies of compost, manure, or composted manure, the most ideal soil prep would be to add about 4 to 6 inches over the entire area, then rototill or otherwise turn it into the soil.

Other good soil additives for blueberries included rotted sawdust, peat, chopped leaves, horse manure, or rotted grass clippings.

Organic matter helps the blueberry plant roots to absorb nutrients and water from the soil.

Test your soil’s acidity levels annually to make sure it stays optimal for blueberry production.

CHOOSING THE BEST VARIETIES FOR YOUR AREA

Choose two varieties or more for your blueberry patch. Cross-pollinating blueberries creates bigger and better berries.

Check with your local county extension to see if there are diseases that afflict blueberries in your area. If there are, get recommendations for varieties that are resistant to those diseases.

INDOOR PLANTING

There are some new dwarf blueberries that can be planted in containers. Talk to a reputable supplier about procuring some of these varieties if you want to grow potted blueberries.

Some variety names we’re aware of are Sunshine Blue (Southern Climate Zones), Northsky, Bluecrop, and Earliblue (these last three are Northern Climate Zone berries – don’t mix these up).

If you plant in containers, a 5 to 7 gallon pot will be required for each plant.

It will need to drain well, and a good potting soil with the proper pH level should work well.

When you purchase blueberry plants, the roots will be bare. Fill your container about 1/3 full of soil, then, holding the plant where you want it, fill in around the roots with soil until the roots are covered up to the collar of the plant.

After burying the roots, water the plant(s) well. Add a light mulch around the base of the plant such as bark or pine needles.

PLANTING BLUEBERRY PLANTS

Blueberries are propagated with root cuttings. It is rare to start them from seeds.

What you’ll find available for planting is typically 2 or 3 year old plants. When you purchase these for planting, they’ll typically be “bare-rooted.” This simply means they’re not potted in soil.

When you get your plants, you’ll want to soak them in cold water for about an hour.

Separate the plants gently so as not to damage them.

Dig your holes deep enough and wide enough not to cramp the blueberry plant roots when you place them in the holes.

Back-fill the dirt around the roots, keeping them as naturally shaped as possible. Bury them to the same level as they were at the nursery.

Mulch the berry plants with 3 or 4 inches of sawdust, peat moss, or barley straw after planting. Mulching keeps the soil moist, cool, and weed free.

Plant your blueberry plants 3 to 4 feet apart in rows that are about 8 to 10 feet apart.

SUCCESSFULLY GROWING YOUR BLUEBERRIES TO MATURITY

If you’ve prepared your soil properly as outlined above, most of the work is done.

You do need to make sure you have lots of bees or other pollinators available for blueberry blossoms. You really can’t have too many bees. If you know any local beekeepers, invite them to place a few hives on your property.

To encourage your berry plant’s growth, it is advisable to pick the flowers off your plants for the first couple of years.

There’s no need to prune young blueberry bushes except to remove dead twigs or branches, or if there is an occasional obtuse branch the is weighting the plant down on one side (rare).

In year 6, you can prune your blueberry bushes in the spring, but only lightly. Prune weak or dead branches or branches that are close to the ground.

Leave at least 6 strong branches, but remove the rest. This will actually help the plants produce bigger and better berries and stronger shoots.

It is a best practice to plant a cover crop such as rye-grass between your berry rows. It helps retain soil moisture and controls weeds and is less costly than straw.

This past gardening season we tested a liquid organic leaf spray fertilizer called Organic Garden Miracle™. We sprayed most of our garden plants with OGM™. The sprayed veggies were more robust than the unsprayed plants, and the flavor was superior as well – sweeter and juicier. We’re excited this year to continue the experiment as we were impressed with the size and flavor of the garden crops we sprayed. We have a neighboring blueberry farm that will be testing OGM™. for us. We’re pretty sure they’ll be impressed.

MULCHING AND WEEDING

Two mulches were previously mentioned…organic mulches such as bark dust, straw, or grass clippings, or cover crops such as rye grass. Both help to control weeds, keep the soil moist, and keep the ground cool which is ideal for blueberries.

Don’t use black plastic mulching around blueberries as they prefer cool soil.

If you don’t mulch, you may rototill between the rows, no deeper than 3 inches and no closer than a foot from the plants.

Even if you don’t mulch between the rows, it’s a good practice to mulch around your plants.

WATERING BLUEBERRIES

Water growing blueberries weekly, no more than about 1 or 2 inches. Mulched soils need less water.

If you over-water, you’ll risk your plants getting root rot infections.

As with most crops, overhead watering increases risk of various diseases. Drip irrigation is ideal. If you don’t have that option, water early in the day so the plants can dry out by early afternoon.

If your water is “sweet,” or alkaline, you may need to add sulfur to the soil around the base of your plants periodically. Consult your county extension on the best practices for maintaining your soil’s alkalinity.

COMPANION PLANTING AND ROTATION CONSIDERATIONS

The best companion for growing blueberries is rhododendrons. They both love alkaline soil, the flowers can help protect the blueberries from afternoon sun, and they’ll attract more bees to your area.

Heaths and heathers will accomplish the same thing, but not quite as well.

Other acidic soil lovers include thyme, yew, pine trees, and grape hyacinth. All these do well with blueberries and rhododendrons.

If you’re replacing a blueberry patch, it’s best either to rest the soil for a year, or move your patch to a location where there’ve been no blueberries for a few years. As blueberry bushes last up to 50 years or longer, though, this is an unlikely scenario for most gardeners.

HARVESTING BLUEBERRIES

In our area, blueberries typically ripen in about mid-July. In the southern part of the state that is closer to the first of July.

You’ll know if blueberries are ripe when they, well, when they’re blue! Oh, and when they taste sweet and juicy.

The best flavored berries are allowed to remain on the bush for a few days after they appear ripe (but not too long). They’ll roll easily off into your hands at this stage of ripeness.

The easiest way to tell when they’ve reached this stage is to eat one or two. You’ll know if they’re ready.

After the first picking, you should be able to go back in 5 days or so and pick a 2nd picking, and possibly a 3rd as well, although the quantities will decline with each picking.

STORING BLUEBERRIES

We’ve stored unwashed blueberries in a sealed container in our fridge for up to 2 weeks successfully, although the quality tends to decline after the first week.

Blueberries are best eaten fresh, but a close second is to freeze them in zip lock-type bags or plastic cartons.

We mix them with some fresh goats milk (milk from the store is good to if you don’t happen to have a couple milking goats in your suburban backyard) and sugar and blend them to make delicious smoothies! The kids live on smoothies from July through the warmer weather.

You can also make blueberry jam, jelly, pies, cobblers, crisps, syrup, cake or cookies. Blueberries are a wonderfully versatile fruit.

PREVENTATIVE AND NATURAL SOLUTIONS TO COMMON PESTS

Blueberry Maggots are a fairly common pest. They like ripe blueberries (can you blame them!?).

They come from a black and white fly that lays eggs in the ripe berries. The maggots eat the flesh of the fruit, then overwinter in the soil and repeat the process the following year.

Tilling between the rows after harvest and allowing chickens to harvest the maggots is a good organic way to control these pests.

If you have a large berry patch and a fairly heavy infestation, organic botanical insecticides such as rotenone or pyrethrum will control these pests, but they’ll also kill good insects.

The botanical insecticides rotenone and pyrethrum can be effective in controlling blueberry maggots, but they can also be toxic to beneficial insects, fish, and swine.

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) may also be effective, but it has to be dry. Once wetted, it has to be reapplied.

The Blueberry Stem Borer is a beetle that deposits eggs that can damage new growth. The grubs will also bore into the canes and cause them to die as well.

If you see very small pinholes along the stems with yellowish strings dangling from them, you likely have a blueberry stem borer attacking your plant.

If you clip the wilted tips and destroy them, you’ll usually check this problem.

The Cranberry Fruitworm overwinters in soil, matures to moth-hood in spring, and lays tiny, hard-to-see eggs on blooms and unripe fruits.

After they hatch, the young larvae burrow into the stem end of the berries and web the berries together with silk.

Keeping your patch free of debris reduces areas these pests can overwinter. DE or organic Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) may be effective in controlling this pest, but Bt will also eliminate good insects, so decide carefully how this may affect your garden.

The Cherry Fruitworm not only affects cherries, it also attacks and eats blueberries as well by boring a small hole and eating the inside of the fruit.

The larvae overwinter on the bushes, mature into moths in the spring, which in turn lay eggs on the unripe blueberries. Once they hatch, the cherry fruitworm bores into the fruit as outlined above.

Keeping your patch clean of leaves and pruned debris and rototilled will help reduce these pests. Planting away from cherry trees is also effective.

DE and organic Bt may be effective against these pests if the infestation is heavy.

The Japanese Beetle larvae develops in the soil below grass or lawns. In the early summer, the adult beetles emerge and feed on blueberry plants and berries.

Keeping your patch free of fruit on the ground (harvesting cleanly) reduces rotting fruit that attracts these pests. Rototilling between the rows is also effective at keeping this pest away.

If there aren’t too many of these pests, you can hand-pick them and drop them in a bucket of soapy water to drown them.

Leaf Rollers are a caterpillar that roll up in leaves during their metamorphosis.

The larvae feed on green or ripe berries and leaves, but rarely cause significant damage.

There are parasitic wasps or flies that you can import (purchase the online or at your local garden center) that will parasitize the larvae.

You can try DE, but apply frequently to keep enough powder available for the larvae to dine on. Organic Bt can also be used as a last resort and we recommend trying anything else as it will destroy beneficial insects as well.

Leaf hoppers are small insects that hang out on the undersides of leaves or on stems. They suck the juices out of plant leaves and inject stunting microorganisms into the plant’s leaves.

Insecticidal soap spray or DE have been effectively used by organic gardeners to control these pests.

Aphids, a.k.a. “plant lice,” are relatives of the leafhoppers. They suck the juices out of leaves and reproduce rapidly.

Aphids can be particularly damaging to blueberries as they transmit a virus known as the blueberry shoestring virus to blueberry plants and can cause a lot of damage via this virus.

The best way to naturally control aphids is to introduce lots of ladybugs to your blueberry patch. Ladybugs are voracious diners on aphids.

You can also use insecticidal soap sprays if your infestation is minor.

Birds aren’t an insect, but they can really put a dent in your crop – literally. We’ve had them strip a cherry tree overnight, and they can strip a blueberry patch in short order.

Using netting to cover your plants is effective if you don’t have too big of a patch. You’ll have to remove the netting when you harvest and after the harvest is complete.

Rabbits like to eat young blueberry bushes, mostly in the winter. Enclosing your patch with a low poultry netting will keep these pests out.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS

Mummy Berry makes the berries dry out before ripening. Removing dried and dead twigs and berries in the fall helps to reduce this fungal attack.

Too much nitrogen in the soil, poor air circulation, and frost all can exacerbate this fungus.

Keeping your patch clear of debris is helpful, as is removing or burying mummified berries and plant debris.

Botrytis Blight is instigated in wet or foggy weather. The blossoms or young shoots die, turn brownish-colors, and then get covered with a mass of gray fungus spores.

Avoid high nitrogen levels before and during the bloom.

Anthracnose is an infection which attacks the berries during wet and warm periods. You’ll see the infections attacking the blossom end of blueberries.

When the ripening fruit is turning blue, the infected regions will sink slightly, making the surrounding areas looks puckered. Sometimes a layer of pink, slimy spores may develop on the infected regions.

As with many blueberry diseases, avoid over-nitrification as too much nitrogen tends to encourage various diseases to develop in blueberries.

Don’t allow your fruit to get overripe as anthracnose is more common on overripe blueberries.

Removing dead wood in the fall or spring will reduce the fungus spores that cause anthracnose.

Stem Blight appears as a reddening, browning, or wilting of infected leaves that often precede the death of your blueberry plant.

Stem blight is a vascular disease that most often starts from an infected wound, often near the base of the plant.

If the discoloration is high on the plant, cut below the infection about 12 inches and remove and destroy the infected branches. Ideally this should be done during the winter.

Rust is mostly an issue with Southern cultivars (blueberry plants). You may at first see yellowish leaf spots in late spring or early summer, which turn a reddish-brown color later in the summer (yellow-orange pustules may be seen on the lower surface of the leaves), which subsequently turn brown and drop from the bush early.

Clip any infected branches and destroy them, the earlier the better.

Fusicoccum Canker affects the stem of the blueberry plant and causes branches to die back and the plant to lose vigor.

Pruning bad branches and destroying them, and minimizing winter damage are the best treatments for this fungal disease.

Shoestring Disease shows up as a red discoloration in the mid-vein of a leaf, making it wavy and distorted. There is no way we know of to control this disease except to control aphids which spread this disease. Purchase your plants from a reputable nursery whose plants are shoestring disease-free.

Stunt is a disease that causes plants to lose vigor and become dwarfish and yellowed. It is caused by a virus carried by leafhoppers. Bushes with this disease must be removed immediately and the leafhoppers must be eradicated quickly so you don’t lose your whole patch.

However, you’ll need to make sure to trap the leafhoppers in that bush so they don’t escape to a neighboring bush or that bush will contract stunt as well.

Scorch Virus causes blighted blossoms, branch dieback, and crop reductions and can kill the plant. It is spread by aphids, so controlling aphids with ladybugs or Bt or insecticidal soap is imperitive.

Planting virus-free stock to start with is also advisable, from a reputable nursery.

Remove infected plants.

Growing Organic Raspberries

RAISING RASPBERRY FACTS

Growing organic raspberries have a dual usage; berries for eating and leaves for tea.

Raspberry leaves can be dried and used for herbal and medicinal teas.

Growing organic raspberries contain significant amounts of antioxidants which have been proven to improve your overall vascular health.

There are two main types to be aware of when growing raspberries: the June-bearing and the Ever-bearing varieties.

June-bearing raspberries are picked in the late spring typically for around 4 to 6 weeks and produce heavily during this time.

Ever-bearing raspberries don’t produce as many berries, some varieties will bear fruit throughout the spring and summer, while other varieties will produce once in the spring and once in the fall.

WHEN TO PLANT RASPERRIES

Raspberry canes grow for 2 seasons. The first year a new green cane, the primocane, grows; it develops bark, then goes dormant for the winter.

The cane is called a floricane in its second year; it produces fruit, then dies. The roots, however, continue to send up new primocanes annually.

Raspberry slips are usually planted in the early spring after the ground thaws in the North.

In the South, you can plant raspberry slips in the fall or early spring.

BEST LOCATIONS TO PLANT RASPBERRIES

Raspberries like full sun. We tried planting them in partial shade a few years ago, and they simply never grew well.

Areas with cold winters are preferable for June-bearing raspberries. New varieties are being developed, though, that grow well in Southern climates.

Choose soil that drains well, has high organic content, and is slightly elevated if possible. To test drainage, dig a 12 inch deep by 12 inch square hole and fill it with water. If the water’s drained from the hole in under 3 hours, your soil drainage is adequate.

Don’t plant too close to trees, and don’t plant your berries where raspberries have been planted recently.

SOIL PREP FOR RASPBERRIES

Raspberries prefer slightly acidic soil below 7.0 pH level. Optimally, it should be around 6.0, and never below 5.5.

Compost and composted manure will supply most, if not all, the nutrients needed by raspberries.

Once you’ve selected the area you’re going to plant your berry slips in, prepare the ground by deep-mixing several inches of compost or composted manure into the soil at least 12 inches deep into a 24 inch wide row.

Space your rows 48 to 72 inches apart from edge to edge. This will make the plant 6 to 8 feet apart.

Remember, you want your berries to have good nutrients for years to come, so you can hardly overdo the compost.

You can also side-dress existing canes with composted manure to bolster production.

CHOOSING THE BEST VARIETIES FOR YOUR AREA

Raspberries are in the “rubus” family, and are known as brambles.

There are three berry color varieties you can grow – red, black, or a combination of red and black known as purple raspberries.

As always, it’s a wise action to call your county extension if you’re unfamiliar with raspberry diseases in your area. They’ll be able to advise you on varieties that are resistant to diseases in your local area.

CONTAINERIZED RASPBERRIES

If you have limited space or live in a rental house where the landlord won’t allow you to garden, you can grow raspberries in containers.

You’ll want to use a good sterile potting mix to avoid soil pathogens if you’re going to grow raspberries in containers.

Add plenty of composted manure to the mix, and put it into a 3 to 7 gallon container with several drain holes in the bottom. A five gallon bucket is about the right size for one plant.

Plant the root slip 3/4 of an inch under the soil surface. Add composted manure annually as needed.

PLANTING RASPBERRIES IN YOUR GARDEN

In the early spring, after you’ve purchased a variety (or two) you like that is resistant to common diseases in your area from a reputable nursery, you’re ready to plant!

Soak your plant roots in a compost tea (a cup or two of compost in a 5 gallon bucket of water should work) for around 6 hours prior to planting.

In your pre-marked rows (prepped per the instructions above), insert your shovel as deep as it will go into the soil, and with a rocking-back-and-forth motion, open up the soil and insert the raspberry plant to where the dirt covers the roots. You should be able to tell where the root ends and the cane starts.

Make sure you spread the roots laterally to give the plant roots a good start. Put one plant every 24 to 36 inches apart in your rows. The distance between the rows should be around 6 to 8 feet.

It is a good practice to “trellis” your raspberries to keep them from falling over as the canes can grow up to 8 feet tall.

The way we do it is to use 4 x 4 inch posts with 36 inch 2 x 4′s nailed horizontally at 2 feet from the ground and 4 feet from the ground (you can also add a third horizontal bar at 6 feet off the ground if you need to). Then string wire between the horizontal 2 x 4′s to keep the canes standing vertically.

During the mid to late summer, as the primocanes are growing rapidly, you’ll need to make sure, every couple of days, that the canes stay inside the wires as it becomes difficult to try to shove them back under them if they get too tall.

GETTING THE MOST FROM YOUR RASPBERRIES

The more bees you have in your patch, the more berries you’ll harvest.

Keep the area between the rows weed free by rototilling regularly or mulching. Another option is to plant a cover crop.

As mentioned previously, a trellis system or other supports is key to keeping your plants vertical – and production high.

It is a good practice, in the spring before the leaves begin growing, to prune the tops of your floricanes to 5 or 6 feet in height.

One trick for getting more fruit is to cut off the primocanes at about 30 to 36 inches. This will force them to put out branches, giving you more fruit production that is easy to reach as well.

After your fruit has been harvested, cut off all the dying floricanes at ground level to give the primocanes as much room as possible to grow.

In the spring, thin out the new floricanes so that just the thickest and strongest canes remain. These will produce more fruit than leaving all the canes in the ground.

If you need to, you can sidedress your canes with composted manure in the spring. Usually, if you’ve mixed in plenty of composted manure prior to the initial planting, you shouldn’t need to add much.

This past gardening season we tested a liquid organic leaf spray fertilizer called Organic Garden Miracle™. We sprayed most of our garden plants with OGM™. The sprayed veggies were more robust than the unsprayed plants, and the flavor was superior as well – sweeter and juicier. We’re excited this year to continue the experiment as we were impressed with the size and flavor of the garden crops we sprayed.

MULCHING & WEEDING

Lawn clippings and barley straw are two of the best mulches for growing raspberries.

I like to spread a few inches of mulch between the rows and around the plants to keep the soil moist and the weeds under control. It also provides organic matter for your soil over the summer as it begins to decompose.

Too much straw may become a haven for mice or other rodents, so don’t get too deep with your mulch.

If you choose not to mulch, rototill or hand-pull the weeds between the rows and hand-pull the weeds around the plants.

HYDRATING (WATERING) RASPBERRIES

As mentioned above, mulching will reduce your need to water your growing raspberries, but you’ll still need to water between 1 and 2 inches per week all summer.

It’s always a best practice to avoid overhead watering, but if you have no other option, water early in the day to avoid too much dampness in your plants which can lead to fungal diseases.

If your soil is sandy, you may need to water less volume but more frequently. Don’t over-water as raspberry roots require a good amount of oxygen.

COMPANION PLANTING AND ROTATION CONSIDERATIONS

Turnips and yarrow are considered good companions to raspberries as they repel the Harlequin Beetle.

Garlic accumulates sulfur which is a natural fungicide. Coupled with raspberries, garlic will prevent fungal diseases. It is also effective in keeping many insect pests at bay as well.

Tansy is a poisonous flow which repels various pests including ants, Japanese beetles, cucumber beetles, and squash bugs. Don’t let it spread to your pasture, though, as it’s not good for some livestock.

Wormwood, a bitter herb, repels insects and some animals. Don’t eat it; you may get a pretty good stomach-ache too!

As they’re in the same family, keep raspberries out of area where blackberries, boysenberries, or loganberries are growing.

Don’t plant around potatoes either as they’ll make your raspberries more prone to blight.

Never re-plant a new raspberry patch where the old one has been. However, if your soil is uninfected by fungal diseases, nematodes, or other pathogens, you should be able to leave your raspberry patch in the same location up to 15 years.

Avoid verticillium wilt by avoiding planting raspberries anywhere eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, or strawberries have been planted in the past 5 years.

HARVESTING RASPBERRIES

When raspberries are a bright red and are easily removed from the canes, they’re ready to pick.

If you’ve had a recent rain, make sure to pick the ripe berries immediately or they’ll mold within half a day if it’s warm.

If it is breezy, it’ll dry things out before mold sets in.

Harvest your berries early in the day when it’s cool; they’ll last longer.

Harvest at least every other day during the height of the season. This will prevent your fruit from getting over-ripe and molding.

When you pick raspberries, don’t layer them more than a few deep or they’ll turn the bottom layers to mush. Pick with care to avoid crushing these tender berries.

STORING RASBERRIES

Once you’ve picked your raspberries, refrigerate them as soon as you can. They’ll keep up to a week in a cool refrigerator.

Raspberries are great eaten fresh on ice cream, on flake cereals with half-and-half, or on shortcake with whipped cream, to name a few delightful ways to gain weight.

Raspberries make excellent jam (with and without seeds), and are good frozen whole or pureed. If you puree raspberries and strain out the seeds, put them in ice trays and freeze them for smoothies. Mmmm!

If you don’t mind seedy smoothies, just freeze the berries whole on jelly roll pans, then remove to zip lock-style bags or plastic cartons for later usage.

You can also spread pureed and strained raspberries in pans, place in the oven at very low temp, and make raspberry fruit leather. We did this when I was a kid, but I haven’t done it recently.

PREVENTATIVE AND NATURAL SOLUTIONS TO COMMON PESTS

Sap Beetles love to eat over-ripe raspberries. They’re also known as “picnic” beetles.

Sap beetles are about ¼ inch long and black with 4 yellow-orange spots on their backs.

The easiest way to prevent an infestation of this beetle is to not allow your berries to get over-ripe.

You can pick these beetles to reduce their numbers, dropping them into a bucket of soapy water to drown them.

Aphids are tiny little pests that come in a variety of colors from green to brown to red to black.

Aphids typically congregate on the undersides of your raspberry plant leaves, sucking the sap from the leaves and leaving a sticky residue called “honeydew” behind.

If you see leaves crinkling up you’ll likely find aphids on the leaves.

Aphids can be controlled by removing the infected leaves and destroying them along with the attached aphids.

You can also spray them with an organic insecticidal soap spray, or even knock them off with a pressure-spray nozzle, although it’s better not to get your plants wet during harvest-time.

Cane borers chew into your canes to lay eggs and feed on the inside of the canes. The larvae also feed on the inside of the canes as well.

If you discover these pests, cut down any affected canes an inch below where wilting is occurring and destroy them.

If the infestation is heavy, organic rotenone powder may be used, but use this as a last ditch effort as it will also kill pollinating insects which is highly undesirable.

Leaf rollers are the larvae of a small moth that are about 3/4 of an inch long, pale green or light brown, and have dark heads.

Leaf rollers will eat raspberries, and when ready to form a cocoon will weave a silky web on a leaf and roll it inwards. Hence the name “leaf roller.”

Parasitic wasps and flies can be imported to rid your patch of these pests. You can also use organic Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) if the infestation is severe. It’s best not to use even organic pesticides, though, unless absolutely necessary, as they take out both good and bad bugs.

Spider mites are tiny pests, that, if you look at under a microscope, have eight legs.

Spider mites cluster on the undersides of raspberry leaves, sucking sap and creating yellow spots on the leaves.

Spider mites seem to be the worst in drought conditions when the plants are weaker.

Spraying these mites with water can get rid of them if they’re not too plentiful. Insecticidal soap spray can also take care of them.

Avoid using too much nitrogen on your raspberries as it seems to encourage both mites and aphids.

RASPBERRY DISEASES AND CURES

Winter injury may occur in your raspberry plants if winter temperatures drop below -20°F. Purple and black raspberries may be damage at -5°F.

Mulching raspberries will prevent most damage from occurring.

Anthracnose is a reddish-purple lesion that shows up on primocanes. The centers of the lesions turn gray to brown over time and the margins become raised and purplish.

These lesions will girdle the canes and cause them to dry and crack, often killing them. If they survive winter, the floricanes will produce irregular fruit and branches.

The best prevention, if anthracnose is common in your region, is to purchase resistant varieties.

It also helps to control weeds, and water early in the day or use drip irrigation as anthracnose is spread by splashing water.

Applying lime sulfur during the early spring can also reduce anthracnose.

Cane blight appears as lesions that may be gray, black, or brown and appear like pimples.

Infected canes often become brittle and break near the lesion. The canes may wilt, and auxiliary branches may die.

The best prevention is purchasing blight resistant stock before planting if it’s a problem in your area.

Avoid overhead watering for the same reasons as in the anthracnose section above and control the weeds.

Destroy any infected canes, and apply lime sulfur in the early spring if your plants had any infection the previous year.

Spur blight is another blight that causes lesions on the nodes of primocanes. The infections starts on the leaves and moves to the stem.

The infected leaves turn yellow and brown and die. The cane lesions appear purplish to brown. The following spring any buds near the infection will not bloom.

The best cure is prevention by planting resistant varieties. Avoid overhead irrigation and too much nitrogen. Control the weeds. Thin the canes. Plant in well-drained soil.

Apply lime sulfur in the early spring if your plants had any infection the previous year.

Gray mold causes raspberries to rot and blossoms to rot as well. It is spurred on by cool, wet weather.

Purchasing resistant varieties is the best preventative against gray mold.

Using drip irrigation can help prevent the mold. Don’t over-fertilize. Control weeds. Remove infected canes. Don’t overwater. Harvest ripe berries promptly.

Phytophthora Root Rot is caused by a soil-borne fungus. Symptoms include yellowing and wilting leaves, water-soaked lesions near the base of the canes, and reddish-brown root tissue.

Over-saturated soil is often a cause of Phytophthora Root Rot and can be prevented by planting your canes in well-drained soil, not over-watering, purchasing resistant varieties, and controlling weeds.

Verticillium Wilt is another soil-borne fungus that can cause the entire raspberry cane to wilt and die.

The sapwood of infected canes will often be stained reddish-brown.

To avoid verticillium wilt, purchase resistant varieties, plant them in well-drained soil or raised beds, don’t over-water, use drip irrigation if possible, thin the canes, and destroy infected plants if you have an outbreak.

Raspberry Leaf Spot shows up on the top surface of raspberry leaves as tan, white, or grayish spots. Sometimes the center of the spot will drop out, making it appear as though the leaf has been shot.

The prevention of this disease is the same as the diseases already discusssed – purchase resistant varieties, plant them in well-drained soil or raised beds, don’t over-water, use drip irrigation if possible, thin the canes, and destroy infected plants if you have an outbreak.

Powdery Mildew appears on the underside of leaves as a gray to white powdery growth. While it is common to raspberries, it’s not generally a major problem to the health of your plants.

The prevention of this disease is the same as the diseases already discusssed – purchase resistant varieties, plant them in well-drained soil or raised beds, don’t over-water, use drip irrigation if possible, and thin the canes to allow good air circulation.

Rust Fungi appears on both sides of raspberry leaves as yellowish-orange spots. They typically don’t affect the health of the plants or fruit of red raspberries, but can be a serious threat to black raspberries.

Again, purchase resistant varieties, plant them in well-drained soil or raised beds, don’t over-water, use drip irrigation if possible, thin the canes to allow good air circulation, and remove and destroy any infected black raspberry canes.