Category Archives: Garden Advice

Heirlooms to Plant in July

As we head into the hottest part of summer it may feel like the only garden chores left are weeding, watering, and harvesting. However, you can still be planting some summer vegetables, fall crops, and even flowers. If you’d like to squeeze a little more out of your garden this year consider planting some of these heirlooms this July.

Summer Crops

To get good production from summer crops pick quick-growing, heat-tolerant varieties. Beans, southern peas, summer squashes, cucumbers, swiss chard, and collards are all great choices for second successions or empty spaces in your garden.

In the heat, remember to provide consistent water especially while seeds are germinating. This will greatly improve your yields.

Straight Eight Cucumber 

An old standby, this variety won All-American Selections in 1935! It’s incredibly dependable, high-yielding, and ready to harvest in just 57 days!

Creel Crowder Southern Pea (Cowpea)

Ready to harvest in just 61 days this variety is a family heirloom of Cheryl and Garey Hughes, from Garey’s great-uncle R.E. Creel, a truck farmer in Warrior, Alabama in the 1930s. They’re semi-vining plants that are very productive.

Georgia Green (Georgia Southern Creole) Collards

This pre-1880 variety is resistant to both heat and frost and tolerates poor soils. It’s perfect for areas where growing cabbage is difficult.

Pencil Pod Black Wax Bush Snap Bean

This variety was developed in 1900 by crossing ‘Improved Black Wax’ and ‘Black Eyed Wax’. It’s not as productive as modern wax beans but it is extremely tolerant of high heat. Ready in 52 days, it’s great for fresh eating and canning.

Benning’s Green Tint Summer Squash

Developed around 1914, this is one of the hardiest and most beautiful varieties of Patty Pan squash. It’s ready in 52 days and is best harvested small.

Fall Crops

July and August is actually the perfect time to start a lot of fall crops. The heat can make it a bit tough though. To improve germination and yields, keep your soil moist and use tricks like shade cloth or covering seeds with cardboard until they germinate. For more tips check out our post about direct sowing in hot weather.

Little Marvel Dwarf Shelling (English) Pea

Developed in 1908, this is an Improved American Wonder. The dwarf vines produce double-born pods. It’s ready in 62 days, resistant to Fusarium wilt, and dependable.

Oxheart Carrots

A great storage variety, these carrots are ready to harvest in 90 days and can weigh up to a pound! The short, wide, “oxheart” shaped roots do well in heavier, rocky soils than other varieties. They date back to 1884!

Early Purple Vienna Kohlrabi

This pre-1860 is slightly larger and more flavorful than White Vienna. In our trials its also shown to be more resistant to cabbage worms.

Early Flat Dutch Cabbage

The best storage cabbage, this variety dates back to before 1875 and possibly before 1855. It’s heat resistant and the 6-10lb heads are great for sauerkraut.

Flowers

Growing a few autumn flowers can keep your garden looking full and fresh until the end of the year. It’s also a great way to help pollinators.

Evening Sun Sunflower

Blooming in just 53 days these are perfect for midsummer plantings for great fall color. The 3-5 inch flowers are in shades of autumn colors ranging from red, mahogany-red, burgundy, russet-bronze, vivid gold, all in bicolor blends. Plants grow 6-8 ft. tall with a number of secondary blooms.

Mona’s Orange Cosmos

Introduced 1990 by SESE, this family heirloom is from southern California. The flowers are radiant orange and mostly single-petalled. About 10% have red-bordered petals with some interior red streaks.

Peruviana Red Zinnias

This pre-1700 variety was introduced by SESE in 1992. The flowers are of uncluttered simplicity and antique elegance. Single blooms, 1½ in. diameter, are bronze-red, changing to antique-red, then fading to pastels of red.

Midsummer doesn’t mean the end of the planting season. Keep growing with these awesome heirlooms!

5 Bees Native to the Southeastern U.S. and Tips for Supporting Them

Did you know that honeybees aren’t native to the United States? They were brought from Europe by colonists in the 1600s. Don’t get me wrong, I still love honeybees. Local honey is an amazing sweetener and they do a great job pollinating a lot of our crops. However, native bees are awesome too! Some studies show they may do a better job of pollinating native American plants like tomatoes, beans, and squash. Sadly, many of them are struggling. Check out these five bees native to the southeastern U.S. and consider using practices that support them.

Augochloropsis anonyma (a species of sweat bee)

Photo by Sam Droege – The USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program

These metallic little bees can be found in North Carolina south to Florida. They are generalists when it comes to foraging and utilize and pollinate a variety of species including those in the aster, clover, and raspberry families. They nest in relatively small ground burrows.

In the southern part of their range like Florida, they are active year-round. In the northern reaches, they’re typically only active between April and September.

Bombus affinis (Rusty Patched BumbleBee)

Photo by Sam Droege – The USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program

Like honeybees, these bumblebees live in colonies with a single queen and female workers. However, unlike honeybees whose colonies number around 10,000 individuals these bumblebees typically only have 500 to 1000 individual bees in a colony.

They also differ from the honeybee in that only a solitary queen overwinters. In spring she emerges from hibernation and selects a site for an underground nest (often a small mammal burrow) where she lays her eggs. She guards the nest, forages, and tends to the larvae until some workers mature and begin helping forage for food, tend the larvae, and protect the colony.

These bees are generalist foragers and will utilize pollen from a variety of plant species. However, they are often some of the first bees to emerge in the spring and the last to hibernate in the fall meaning they need a diverse supply of blooming flowers.

The Rusty Patch Bumblebee is severely endangered. It’s estimated that its population has declined by 87% since the 1990s and it now covers just 0.1% of its historical range! In the Southeastern U.S., its range as of 2000 included Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Its historic range extended though the Northeast and South to Georgia.

If you have property check out the U.S. Forest Service Conservation Management Guidelines for this species.

Habropoda laboriosa ( Southeastern Blueberry Bee)

Photo by Sam Droege – The USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program

This bee rockstar is the most active February through April. As their name suggests, these bees primarily forage blueberries. They’re much more effective at pollinating blueberries than honeybees and can improve yields. They’ll also visit Eastern Redbud, Azalea, Clover, and Trumpetflowers.

They excel at early spring pollination because they can vibrate their wing muscles to warm up and fly before temperatures reach 60°F. They’re solitary ground nesters though the nests are often found grouped. The female bee builds a tunnel in sandy soil and brings masses of blueberry pollen. She lays one egg on each mass which will hatch the following spring.

Osmia lignaria (Blue Orchard Mason Bee)

Photo by Laura Campbell – The USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program

Subspecies of these bees are native to both the eastern and western U.S. and are very important to commercial agriculture. These bees are more efficient at pollinating native crops than honeybees and are important for fruit orchards as they’re active in the early spring.

Blue Orchard and other mason bees are solitary species that use existing cavities to nest in like those in reeds and hollow plant stems. Unlike carpenter bees, they cannot drill into wood. These species benefit from manmade insect hotels. Like the Blueberry Bee, these bees bring masses of pollen into their nest and lay a single egg on top of each mass where they remain until the following spring.

Melissodes bimaculata (Two-Spotted Long-Horn Bee)

Photo by Amanda Robinson – The USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program

Another ground nester, the Two-Spotted Long-Horn Bee is a solitary species that will sometimes nest close together. Their name, “long-horn” is derived from the males’ long antennae.

They’re found throughout the eastern U.S. and are broad generalists. They’ve been seen foraging from clovers, asters, impatiens, monarda, rudbeckia, mints, asparagus, and dozens of other species.

Supporting Native Bees

There are many ways to help these incredible insects even if you don’t have a lot of land.

Stop Mowing Your Lawn

Letting your lawn get tall and flower can help native bees and native herbaceous plant species to thrive. Let it grow as tall as you can if you’re dealing with restrictions.

Talk to Your HOA or city council about pesticides.

Pesticides are a major factor in the decline of native bees. While big agriculture is obviously where a lot of pesticide use occurs some folks also use pesticides in their home gardens. Talking to your HOA or city council about banning pesticides in your area can help native bees in your area and keep your neighborhood healthy.

If you live in a more rural area just bring it up in conversations with friends and neighbors. Many folks don’t know about the harmful affects certain garden products have on bees.

Buy organic or pesticide-free produce.

Even if you don’t have a lot of land to create bee habitat you can vote with your dollar. Supporting farms that prioritize bee health is just as important as what you do at home. You can also look for farms with a BFF (Bee Friendly Farming) certification.

Plant native flowers, shrubs, and trees.

Planting flowers is great but it’ll have a much bigger impact if you select species that are native to your area. Native species are what native bees have adapted to over hundreds of years of evolution.

Also, try to select flowers that have a variety of bloom times. This helps different species of bees and ensures that those who are active for a long period like the Rusty Patched Bumblebee make it through the entire season.

Build an insect hotel.

There are many of mason bee species native to the southeastern U.S. that play an important role in pollination. You can give them a helping hand by providing them with nesting habitat in the form of a DIY insect hotel.

Leave places wild.

Especially if you have a large property try to leave a portion of it wild or as wild as possible. Don’t clear undergrowth from the forest, leave standing dead wood, avoid raking up fallen leaves and branches, and don’t mow.

Also, be smart about your garden clean up. Many dry plant stalks still standing in the fall may be filled with bee eggs and other beneficial insects. Let them overwinter so they’ll hatch in the spring!

Dig Deeper: Permaculture Projects

In a previous post, we discussed easy permaculture projects. If you enjoyed those or have been delving deeper into permaculture or self-sufficiency we’ve rounded up a few more ideas to encourage people to take it a step further.

Set Up a Compost Toilet

One of the principles of permaculture is to “produce no waste.” A surprisingly simple way to cut down on the amount of waste you produce is to use a composting toilet.

There are many options available for commercial composting toilets however they can be quite expensive. Thankfully, they’re fairly easy to create yourself and they can even be used indoors.

You’ll need to create a box or cabinet with a hole and toilet seat fitted on top that sits over a 5-gallon bucket. You’ll also need a good supply of absorbent material. Some folks use hay or straw but wood shavings or sawdust seem to work best.

Before using the toilet add a layer of material to the bottom of the bucket several inches thick. When you’re finished using the toilet cover your waste and any toilet paper with a layer of the absorbent material of your choice.

Obviously, you’ll also need a place to empty the contents of your bucket. You’ll want to create a large sturdy compost bin. Wood or cinder blocks work well for this. It’s also ideal if it has a lid. You should let this compost sit for about one year. By then it should be broken down just like traditional compost. Though some folks use this one their garden crops it’s generally recommended to use it around fruit trees instead.

This compost also called “humanure” cannot be used in commercial gardens.

Build a Swale

Some of you may not need a swale if you have a flat property. However, for those with hilly properties so prevalent in Appalachia, you may really benefit from adding a swale to your property.

If you’re unfamiliar, swales are basically ditches with mounded beds downhill from them. On a large scale, they’re typically built on contour. They’re productive, drastically reduce or eliminate the need for watering, and reduce erosion. The ditch catches rainwater that would otherwise run down the hill and allows the bed to slowly absorb it.

To learn how to create one on your property check out our post, Let’s Talk About Swales.

Stop Visiting Big Grocery Stores

Start trying to grow more of your own food like staple crops and learn how to store and process them. Cook from scratch as much as possible. Source other food directly from farmers, local co-ops, or locally-owned shops. You’ll probably be eating healthier and supporting your community.

If this isn’t an option in your area don’t feel bad, just do the best you can. Try to find as many local products as you can where you shop and consider asking about them to encourage the managers to carry them.

Learn About Your Local Insects

As children, we’re often curious and enthusiastic about the insect life around us. As adults, we often ignore them or see them as pests. Learning about insect life around you can help connect you with the land and may even make you a better gardener.

Learn about beneficial insects like predatory wasps and beetles and pollinators. Learn about pests too. You’ll probably gain new understanding and appreciation. For example, the dreaded tomato hornworm is a hawk or sphinx moth in its adult phase. As a moth, it is one of the primary pollinators of nighttime flowers like Angel’s trumpet (D. meteloides).

Try creating your own insect hotel or planting a pollinator garden.

Study Herbalism & Grow Herbs

Herbalism may not cure everything but plant medicine can be powerful. In fact, many of our modern drugs are synthetic versions of compounds naturally found in plants that we’ve learned to replicate.

To get started with herbalism check out our post Beginner’s Medicine Garden or consider taking a digital herbalism class from schools like The Indigi Golden Herbal Academy, The Herbal Academy, or The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine.

Stop Mono-cropping

Permaculture is all about working with nature. By avoiding monocultures you can mimic natural ecosystems to help protect your soil, prevent pest and disease issues, and even eliminate some of the need for weeding.

There are many ways to get started. Try companion planting with plants that are known to benefit from each other’s presence, start a three sisters garden, play with your own plant mixes, or create a fruit tree guild.

Learn About Soil Building

Healthy plants start with healthy soil. Expanding your knowledge can help you achieve healthier soil and a better yield. Try reading up on the soil food web.

Learn more about how to help your soil by getting it tested. If you need help with your soil test refer to our post, Understanding Soil Tests.

Make your own compost and amend your garden with it. Try making compost tea for giving plants an added boost.

Take what you know a step further by learning about how soil impacts the world beyond your property.

Capture the Heat From Your Compost

Healthy compost piles give off heat as they decompose. To make your property more efficient you can try to capture this heat.

One of the easiest ways to capture some of this heat is simply to place your compost pile or bin into a small high tunnel. Edible Acres has some great videos about creating affordable high tunnels from cattle panels and composting in them.

If you’re ready to dig deeper, try completing a couple of these projects this summer! If you missed that last permaculture post you can find it here:  9 Easy Permaculture Projects.