Archive for the ‘Garden Tips’ Category

Water Reminder

If you are watering, PLEASE remember to turn off both the spray nozzle AND the faucet.  We are using well water and need to conserve as much as possible. Every drip counts!!

End of Season Composting Tips

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when trying to decide what to put on the compost piles:

  • Avoid adding any plants that seem diseased.  Bring a trash bag and bag those plants, take the bag home and dispose in your own trash.
  • Try not to add plants or vegetables with seeds that will sprout next spring.  These can be thrown into the fields.  For example, all my tomato plants and damaged tomatoes went into the field, as did my marigold plants.  I know that some of you have already put tomato plants and tomatoes into the compost but it’s a good idea not to continue to do that.  Squash are also notorious for sprouting “volunteers”.  I find I am always sympathetic to these volunteers in the spring time (after all they have weathered the hard winter along with me) but generally regret letting them grow later in the season.
  • Chop up vines, stems, large leaves, in order to speed up decomposition.  A sharp shovel blade or edger works well for this.

Here are a couple of examples of how the raised beds should be “finished” off for the season:


  • Cold weather crops can be left in the beds until November, but the rest of the bed should be cleaned out.
  •  People who have in ground plots should also cover the soil with mulch to protect it.
  •  This is a good time to top off your beds and add manure since it will have time to “mellow” by spring.  I bring the bedding from my chicken coop and add it at this time.  Also you will want to cover your beds with leaves and/or straw.(Straw is available for your use at the garden).  Some gardeners have found it helpful to lay stakes or tack string across their beds to keep the straw from blowing off.
Thank you gardeners for another wonderful season at Wagon Hill Community Garden.  Because of you our garden is one of the most beautiful, productive and well maintained gardens in the region.

More About Planting Tomatoes and Other Heat Loving Vegetables

carefully transplanting

carefully transplanting

Yesterday I posted a warning about planting tomatoes and other heat loving vegetables too early and suggested that planting after Memorial Day would be safe  Then I looked at the calendar and realized that Memorial Day is about a week early this year. Better to give you specific guidelines about the necessary conditions for success.  After checking my own opinion against the information available I have these instructions to share:

Plant when the nighttime temperatures will not drop lower than 55 degrees.  There are some who say they can get by as long as the temperatures don’t dip below the high 40s, and that may be true for some cold tolerant varieties, but to be safe stick with 55 degrees.  Wagon Hill is windy and on the cool side anyway.

Harden off. If your tomatoes have been living in a warm, controlled environment like a greenhouse, cold frame, or living room, they need a little time to get used to the wilder climate outside. Give them a few days to adjust to the swinging temperatures, harsh sunlight and strong wind by bringing them outside for a few hours, then increasing to half a day, a full day, and finally a day and night.

Choose a cloudy day, or the cool of evening. To alleviate seedlings from shock, transplant on a cloudy day, or if it’s not in the forecast, plan toward the end of the day, when air and soil temperatures cool and the sun is won’t scorch the young plants.

In the case of tomatoes, plant them deeply.  Tomatoes can develop roots all along the stem so planting them nice and deep builds a stronger root system that will provide more support for the crop.

Tickle the soil around the roots to loosen them from the root ball and to help them absorb the water you will be sure to give them.   Water well and often as the plants establish themselves.

And, just for perspective:  Imagine transplanting rice!  Hope this helps!

agri-rice-planting images

Flower Density Improves Tomato Yield

Dear Gardeners,  Last season we encouraged gardeners to plant flowers, for pollination and beauty’s sake.  Now, a study done in San Francisco’s community gardens and urban setting has shown that flower density has a significant impact on tomato yield.  I’m sure we can extrapolate to other vegetables.

Even more surprising, neither the size of the garden nor the amount of green space in the surrounding area impacted the amount of pollinator service a plant received. Instead, the key factor was the “floral resource density,” or the abundance of flowers present within the garden in which the tomato plant was located. The more densely flowers were grown within each garden, the higher the yield of tomatoes.

Here is the link to the entire article.

Let’s continue to include flowers in our garden plans!  See you tomorrow afternoon.  EllenIMG_0961


3 Step Composting Process at Wagon Hill Garden

A message from Michael Michaud, CGFA’s Composting Expert…

Composting is a process that is natural and works with or without any help from us. However, with just a small amount of assistance in the form of management and  a little hard work we are able to better utilize the benefits of this process more quickly and more frequently  than nature  usually provides.

We’re an organic garden.  Most commercial fertilizers should NOT be used in an organic garden; however, there are some organic fertilizers with the seal OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) that can be used.

Natural materials to use as a soil additive fall into two basic groups. One is animal, (brown manure), and two is plant (green manure) both are acceptable for use at the Wagon Hill Garden. Our compost program is exclusively plant material.  This is why we ask that NO meat, poultry, or fish products or by-products (cooked or raw) be added to the compost piles.  NO DOG or CAT feces are allowed due to possible parasite infestation…

The garden rules ask that you DO NOT put diseased plants or weeds into the compost pile. This is an attempt to prevent any unnecessary spread of plant diseases and/ or weeds to other garden spaces.  Your cooperation is much appreciated.

Our composting program uses a three step process:

STEP 1 GREEN (raw waste): We start with green waste from the garden (tomato plants, leaves, and other plants) basically anything that grows in a garden. Chop it, shred it, tear it up, or throw it into the compost pile whole. This gets us started on step one. Next we add a small amount of dirt and water repeating this in layers until we have used up all of the green waste that we have. Next cover the pile with hay or straw to insulate.  (The compost pile needs heat to work.) Turn to aerate the pile about once a week then cover again with hay or straw.

STEP 2 BROWN (mulch): The green pile has been turned once or twice for aeration and now has been moved to the brown pile, more dirt and water is added, we can also add wood chips for additional fiber, then cover with hay or straw to insulate. During this stage of composting, IF we have done things correctly, we should be seeing various bugs and especially worms – the more, the better. DO NOT KILL THEM. They really help the process and the bugs usually disappear at or before step 3.

STEP 3 BLACK GOLD (COMPOST): This is what we have been looking for, our black-gold, a rich soil additive that you can take to your garden. Add 1 or 2 inches to the garden then work it into the soil about 1 OR 2 inches deep. However, it is not necessary for you to work the compost in since you can just put it on the topsoil and plant your seeds or transplants in the compost (your choice). Everything will eventually sink into the topsoil when it rains or you water the garden. The same is true with any other amendments indicated by your soils’ PH test. Having done this, you have given your garden its best chance for a clean healthy growth.  Compost and the necessary amendments provide your garden a full assortment of nutrients essential for healthy and strong plants.  These products should always be OMRI APPROVED, look for the OMRI seal on the package. We appreciate any help you can give and please enjoy your gardening experience.

For more information about composting check out this Composting and Cover Cropping article from the UNH Cooperative Extension.


Butterbush Squash

IMG_0342Here are the Buttterbush squash.  Nice orange flesh and good flavor.  Their small size makes them easier to peel too.

Ergonomic gardening Tools


Gardeners,  My physical therapist sent me this link for a company, The Wright Stuff, that offers ergonomically designed gardening tools.  These have handles that are kinder to wrists and shoulders.  They also offer tools with extended handles that would be helpful in reaching across and cultivating the raised beds.  Hope you find this helpful.  Ellen

Growing Sweetpotatoes in N.H.

Written by UNH Extension Specialist Becky Sideman (, 603-862-3203). Updated June 2013.

Sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) is a member of the morning glory (Convolvulaceae) family. The sweetpotato is not related to the Irish potato, which belongs to the nightshade (Solanaceae) family. Unlike potatoes, which are tubers, sweetpotatoes are roots.

Growth Requirements

To produce a crop, the sweetpotato requires 90-120 frost-free days. The plants and roots are very sensitive to chilling. They grow best if the soil temperature is above 65F before planting. Sweetpotatoes prefer well-drained loam soils that are not too fertile. Over-fertilization causes vigorous leaf growth and long, skinny roots. If grown in heavy clay soils, roots can be small or misshapen, and will be hard to dig. A soil test will identify any major nutrient deficiencies and recommend how to correct them.

Starting Materials

Sweetpotatoes are started from ‘slips’, or plants, rather than from pieces of roots. Slips can be purchased from many seed companies or other plant suppliers. While you can start your own slips, roots from a grocery store are not usually identified by variety, so you don’t know what you are starting with.

To produce your own slips: Place sweetpotato roots on their sides in trays of soil 6-8 weeks before you want to transplant them outside. Cover the roots with 2 inches of moist sand and keep the soil in the trays between 75-80 degrees F. When the sprouts are 4-6 inches long, remove them with a twisting tug. The root will continue to produce more sprouts. Sprouts can be planted directly in well-prepared ground, or you can place them in a jar of water for a few days to produce a rooted slip and/or to delay planting.

If you purchase slips, you will have to specify the ship date. In Durham, soil temperatures under black plastic mulch are typically 65F by June 1. If your site is cooler or if you are not using plastic mulch, you may want to delay this date by 1-2 weeks.

Transplanting conditions are important for success. If poorly rooted slips are planted in sunny, hot conditions, a large number of slips may dessicate and die before roots can establish. It’s best to wait until overcast conditions, and to make sure to water slips in immediately after planting. If slips arrive long before you are able to plant them, place the entire bundle of slips in a pot and pack potting mix loosely around the bundle, and water as any other plant. This ‘heeling in’ can successfully hold slips for a week or more prior to planting.


Sweetpotatoes respond well to ground-warming black plastic mulch. The sheet of plastic is laid tight against the soil, and slips are planted into holes cut in the plastic. It is possible to produce good yields without plastic mulch, but the warming mulch extends the growing season by a few weeks, which can increase yields dramatically.



Typical pests of potato (Colorado potato beetle, potato leafhopper, etc.) do not bother sweetpoatoes. However, they do have some pests:

  • Deer love sweetpotato foliage, and will browse it to the ground. While this won’t kill the plants, it will reduce yields significantly. Since there is plenty of other food for deer in midsummer, a lightweight electric fence may successfully keep the deer at bay.
  • Voles also love sweetpotatoes. Some NH farmers have reported that voles have eaten their entire harvest. Keeping weed populations under control and keeping the area around the planting mowed and/or tilled can help reduce vole damage.
  • Scurf is a soilborne fungal disease. It discolors the skin of the root, so that the root is covered with rough black patches, but does not harm the root. Some varieties are more susceptible than others.
  • Wireworms can be an issue for sweetpotatoes grown in fields that were sod (or that were weedy with perennial grasses) in the previous year.

Harvesting and Storing


Sweetpotatoes should be dug as late as possible in the fall, but before a hard freeze. The vines can tolerate a light frost. It can be helpful to mow and remove the vines before digging, to provide easier access to the roots. After digging, sweetpotatoes should be ‘cured’ by placing them in a warm (80-85F) place for 4-7 days. This heals any wounds on their skins, and increases their storage life. Sweetpotatoes should be stored in moderately warm (55-60F) and humid conditions. The roots are easily damaged by temperatures lower than 50F.

For best eating quality, it is important to wait a few weeks before eating roots once they have been dug. Our research has shown that percent soluble solids (primarily sugars) can increase over 4% in three weeks, and then starts to taper off once most of the starches have converted to sugar.



Sweetpotato varieties perform very differently, so it’s important to test performance in your situation. Varieties that are well adapted to New England conditions include the following:

Beauregard –Orange flesh and copper skin, good flavor. Early, produces high yields. Highly recommended.

Covington – Orange flesh and copper skin, excellent flavor. More uniform shape, higher marketable yields and better flavor than Beauregard. Highly recommended.

Georgia Jet – Orange flesh and rose colored skin. Very susceptible to cracking and storage losses. High yield potential and good flavor. Cracking may depend on moisture level in soil. Better for home gardens than for commercial use.

Japanese –White flesh with purple skin. Unique smooth texture, good flavor. Non-uniform size and shape.

O’Henry and White Yam –  White/cream-colored flesh and skin. These are both high yielding, with good flavor.

Carolina Ruby – Deep orange flesh, garnet-colored skin. Skin has unusual rough texture. Moderate yields, average flavor.

Vardaman – Light orange flesh and skin. Excellent flavor. Produces small slender roots, and low yields.


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Gardens Don’t Wait On Whim

Gardens don’t wait on whim, or even on convenience. It’s a lesson new gardeners have to learn and experienced ones are reminded of every season. Gardens have to be tended And–their tending does not always conform to our schedules. Think of a garden a bit like a pet. It is a living, growing, changing organism. Just as you reconcile yourself to your pet’s needs for attention and care you must also be aware of your garden. If you are too busy to walk your dog or are planning a vacation, you find someone to care for your pet . You should do the same for your garden. That is one of the great benefits of belonging to a Community Garden. There are lots of people available and willing to pitch in. Get to know the gardeners around you and don’t forget you can contact me, the garden steward at any time for help.

Getting Started At Wagon HIll

Dear Gardeners, It’s been a slow, cool spring, which I do prefer to “sudden summer”. We get to enjoy the bulb flowers and bright green leaves and grass. Cool temperatures have delayed planting in the gardens at Wagon Hill for many gardeners. However, they have not delayed the growth of weeds! I was in the garden yesterday and noticed many beds full of rapidly growing, robust weeds.

Even if you do not intend to plant in your beds immediately, please come out and take a look at your plot and remove the weeds. The grasses are already starting to go to seed and that is just what’s happening above the ground. Below, roots are finding their way into the beds of your neighbors.

The moist soil does make it easier to pull up the weeds so it should not take long.
Once the weeds are removed, check the soil depth in your bed to be sure it is at least 1″ below the top of the bed rail. Add more soil, if necessary. This will help to prevent the field grass from growing up through the bottom. Especially important if you have one of the older raised beds.

Remember to dispose of weeds in the open compose pile not in the bins. Do not leave them in the paths. Oh—some of the paths need weeding as well.
Garden Steward