Preparing For A Frost

While worms and slugs and even pesky critters can and will do extensive damage when they pay us a visit, nothing will wipe out a garden faster than an unexpected frost or a dip down into freezing temperatures when you aren’t prepared.

Here are The Veggies That You Have To Keep An Eye On When Temperatures Drop

  • any newly planted tender seedlings
  • tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, cucumber
  • basil, mint, warm season herbs
  • pumpkins
  • okra
  • beans

I put together a quick guide to have on hand for those chilly nights to see what needs to be done in the garden with all the different veggie we grow! Click HERE to grab the guide. Save this frost guide to help you remember how to handle the dropping temperatures this season, and begin making preparations for covering them now, not the day of the freeze warning. With a first frost date usually falling in late November for most of South Louisiana, we need to get a plan to protect our hard work.

Remove Summer Veggies

If you have veggies from the summer still growing strong in your garden, it is time to remove them. Their fruit will be mushy if there is a frost, whether they are covered or not, so don’t give them any more time. Instead, plant something for the cool season in their place where your production will be so much more. Below are some ideas!

How To Protect The Garden From A Frost

The most uniform way to protect your vegetables from a frost is to cover them. Your brassicas, leafy greens, and root vegetables are all frost tolerant, so no need to worry about them, but the tender seedlings and newly planted transplants should be protected on those frosty nights.

If you garden using the wild child method, your beds are very diverse and have a symphony of veggies, herbs, amd flowers all growing together. Because of that, covering the entire bed will be the most effective way to protect your produce.

Use a lightweight cloth like this, or just plan to cover the entire bed with a bed sheet. Sleeping bags work well too. This may not be the most beautiful way to protect the babies, but it will work.

Here are 3 things to remember:

First, when using a sheet you will have to uncover the garden the following morning to allow them to get sunlight. Too long under the sheet and you will have other problems aside from the frost.

Second, the sheets cannot touch the plants, so you must carefully place items in the garden that will give some height to the beds and keep the sheets from touching the leaves. I recommend doing this by place inverted pots or baskets into the garden bed, over some of the tallest plants and then draping the sheet over the bed.

Third, secure the sheets! Frosty nights often begin by windy afternoons. As you are tucking in the garden before dark, remember to secure the sheets to prevent them from flying away and exposing your babies underneath. This can be done with any heavy object you can find.

My garden last year on the first frosty night. 11/30/20

If this seems to be a little bit tacky, I can totally see why, there are other, more tidy, options as well. They cost a little more than the free sheets in your linen closet, and they are less work, but they look a whole lot better.

Use Frost Tunnels

Frost tunnels are an investment, but they are easier to work with, and they look a whole lot better during the cold months. One other benefit is that you don’t have to rush out to uncover each morning. In fact, they can remain in place for the duration of the frosty temps and simply be removed once the weather warms. This is a great alternative to bed sheets and a first choice of many of the clients I work with.

You can purchase everything you need at your local nursery, on Amazon, or here is a handy DIY option for you as well to create your own frost tunnels.

I hope this has been helpful to you. While there is no easy answer to a frosty night protection measure, now is the time to get set up for success. Your plants will thank you by continuing to grow and thrive, even when the conditions make it less than ideal.

Make Room For Tulips In Your Wild Child Garden

If you don’t want to add tulips to your backyard garden, I am not sure if we can be friends. I am just kidding, but I really, really, really want you to give tulips a try this season. I learned the trick to growing tulips about 5 or 6 years ago from a gardener friend of mine in North Louisiana. He encouraged me to try it, and asked me what I had to lose? He suggested I buy a box of them from Home Depot my first year to see how I liked it. I did. He walked me through planting and all the confusion of “refrigeration” periods, and I have never looked back. I cannot imagine not planting tulips in the fall, and I hope after you learn how to grow them, you won’t be able to imagine it either.

Tulips Basics

Tulips are grown primarily in Northern climates with very long periods of cold. We don’t have that here in South Louisiana, but we do have refrigerators, so we are in business. Tulips are refrigerated because our Louisiana winters are not cold enough for long enough to allow them to bloom properly without additional chilling. These bulbs should be refrigerated at least six weeks prior to planting, which means you need to have your tulip bulbs in the refrigerator NOW!!

Where To Buy Tulip Bulbs

For your first year growing tulips, I will give you the same advice my gardening friend Mr. Harold gave me…get some from Home Depot. They cost around $10 and have been in my garden for years!! They have a nice variety to choose from, and they have served me well.

I also have some online companies that I love to order from that I will link for you below. Beware, the options are much more than Home Depot, so you could get yourself in trouble. Remember your available space and how much of it you want to devote to tulips this year. Don’t get alot of bulbs that you won’t plant.

Here are my favorite online companies to order from

Breck’s Bulbs

Breck’s Bulbs come straight from Holland, OH MY WORD! They can really get you in trouble. I love to dream on their site though!! They have great reviews. Don’t pay attention to the gardening zones and how they say that tulips don’t grow here. Watch and see baby, is all I have to say about that!

Breck’s Bulbs

Holland Bulb Farms

Holland Bulb Farms is also another great source! They are a family owned business and are based in Milwaukee, WI. The farm was founded by Dutch immigrants in 1975. This website can also get you in trouble. There is so much to choose from.

Holland Bulb Farms

One Thing To Consider When Buying Bulbs

Tulips look better when planted in masses or groups rather than single rows. Plantings are also more dramatic when one or just a few colors are used. If several colors are used, they look so much better when planted in small groups of individual colors within the larger planting. If you purchased your bulbs prepackaged in mixed colors, you don’t have any choice of the colors and will have no way to group individual colors. Remember that. I don’t recommend buying the mixed colored bulbs. Instead, I like to buy bulbs in single-color packages and mix them the way I want them instead.

I am also a huge fan of mass plantings of one color. My first year, I planted only white, pictured below, and I absolutely fell in love!! I have added other colors since then, but white is still my favorite!

Got Your Bulbs, Now What?

The best bloomers come from pre-chilled bulbs that are planted into the Louisiana garden in late December or early January. So ordering bulbs in late October to get them in refrigerator by mid-November is ideal. You will need them in the refrigerator by early December, so get yours now!

Without 6 weeks of refrigeration, you have little chance they will bloom properly. So, as soon as you get your bulbs, place them in a paper or plastic bag punched with holes and store them in the refrigerator for six weeks or more. Don’t place bulbs near apples because they give off ethylene gas, which causes bulbs to rot.

After 6 Weeks of Refrigeration You Are Ready To Plant

If you take nothing else from this content, hear me on this. The best blooms are obtained when pre-chilled tulip bulbs are planted into the Louisiana garden in January. Here’s why: For one thing, the soil is too warm until late December. Planting your bulbs in soil that is still too warm can cancel the chilling process and lead to the bulbs blooming poorly. That is not what we want at all!! We want heavy bloomers, right? Also, bulbs planted earlier bloom earlier – as early as February – and the weather is so unsettled at that time that the flowers are more likely to be ruined by freezes and winter storms. Tulips planted in late January generally bloom in March and April when the weather is much better for blooming flowers.

Where To Plant your tulips

Plant tulips in sunny to partly shaded areas that have good drainage. Drainage is really important for all bulbs, but especially those that are in the ground during potential freezing temperatures. Plant your bulbs into beds that have been generously amended with organic matter and a light application of fertilizer.

How To Plant Your Tulips

Here in Louisiana we don’t plant spring-flowering bulbs as deeply as is recommended on the plant label. Remember, we are breaking the rules a bit to grow tulips here. We have tweak the system. Plant your tulips about 5 inches deep, just with their little tip sticking out of the soil. And space them about 2 inches apart.

There is a trick to planting tulips that you want to know. Look carefully, and you will see that one side of the bulb is flattened. Plant the bulbs so that the flat side faces the outside edge of the raised bed or container that you are growing in. The first leaves the bulbs send up will then all face the outside, and it looks so much better!! The first year I grew tulips I didn’t know about this trick, so I spent the entire season wondering why they were all growing in different directions.

how to care for your tulips

Just keep the soil moist and enjoy the show. You have given them all they need to thrive. As long as your spot is sunny and drains well, your tulips will be gorgeous. Enjoy! Below are some tulips from last year in window boxes in my backyard. They are the best!!

Storing Bulbs For Future Seasons

The down side to growing tulips here is that they can’t stay in the ground all year. Bummer! The summer months allow the bulbs to reproduce, but we can’t have it all, I guess. So, we will take what we can get and be glad!

We will have to dig up the bulbs and store them indoors for the summer and fall. Here’s how to do it:

Lifting Bulbs

It is best to lift bulbs after blooming is finished. Then gently spade up the bulbs, being careful not to cut into the bulbs/tubers and damage them.

Drying Bulbs

Store bulbs in a well-ventilated, area until they are dry. I like to lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and leave them on the patio until they are dry. And, just let the leaves remain on the bulbs until they become dry.

preparing bulbs for storage

The bulbs should be dried for about a week before you prepare them for storage. Pull any loose any remaining foliage, shake the bulbs gently to remove any clinging soil, dust them with a fungicide powder like this to prevent rot. Then place them in unsealed paper bags or old nylon stockings with some dry peat moss to keep the bulbs from touching one another. Store them away from sunlight in a cool, dry place until next October when you can put them back in the refrigerator.

I hope this helps as you get ready to grow bulbs for a beautiful spring show of color!!

Is This An Emergency?

Fall is an amazing season. All of nature is slowing down, shedding the old, and preparing for the new. And as beautiful as it is, it may not always look glamorous. In fact you may be thinking there is something wrong in your garden or with your chickens. I hope these most common “emergencies” will help you relax a little, so you can enjoy this season and all it offers. It is the most beautiful season of all.

My Chickens Are Losing Their Feathers

Whaaaat?? You mean like this?? Poor Johnny Cash looks like he has been in a bar fight, and the entire coop looks like a murder scene. Feathers everywhere! It will definitely scare you the first time you see it.

Actually though, it is completely normal. The autumn season is molting season for chickens, and believe me it gets worse before it gets better. But it is completely normal, and a good thing.

As soon as the daylight hours start decreasing, the birds begin preparing for winter, and that requires a new coat…of feathers that is! They will lose most of their feathers and take a break from egg laying to put all of their energy into feather growth. And when it is all over, they will look fabulous!!

Some Things You Can Do

Extra treats like meal worms, raisins, and other sources of good proteins will really boost their feather re-growth and get them back to normal as soon as possible. You can also change their feed to one with a higher protein content as well to help their bodies recover more quickly.

A typical molt lasts about a month or so, so in no time, your flock will be back to normal.

My Chickens Stopped Laying Eggs

My Ameraucanas were the first to stop laying this year. I haven’t seen a blue egg in months. But it will be the greatest gift when they pick back up.

Remember, this time of year is a rest period in nature. It is a time where all the earth slows down. That includes egg laying.

Once daylight hours begin to decrease, your flock’s egg production could slow down tremendously. This is their bodies’ way of resting. And, in my opinion, we should let them. Honoring their natural cycle instead of putting lights in the coop to trick them into thinking there is more daylight, is a much better option. Pushing their bodies to the limit isn’t good for your flock, and it really doesn’t accomplish much. Your egg production is still going to slow down, and chickens only lay so many eggs in their lifetime. So, it is less eggs now, or less eggs later. Also, eating seasonally is soooo good for your body. Our bodies feel the need to slow down too. Let’s listen to them and take this season to rest. And we will let our chickens rest too.

Some Things You Can Do

Love your babies well while they look raggedy and aren’t laying. Let them freeload for a few months, and you will be blown away at how they repay you in the spring.

Bring them treats like meal worms and warm oatmeal on a cold winter morning and enjoy their beauty. Before you know it, they will be back to normal.

One other way I love to keep egg production steady, even through the winter, for the clients I curate flocks for, is by adding new hens in the summer. By adding new layers at the end of the season, many times they will start laying right before the daylight hours decrease, and they will keep right on without slowing down. Also, it is helpful to remember that first year birds don’t molt, so you can keep collecting gorgeous eggs during this season of slow.

My Veggies Are Dying

It may not startle you to see the leaves change on every tree in sight, but let those summer veggies start dropping leaves and it is full panic. I know! I feel the same way!

Summer veggies love the heat, the sun, and the long days of summer, so once the days begin to shorten and get cooler, they begin to fade. It is so bittersweet, especially when you have green tomatoes, basil spilling out of every bed, and cucumbers on the vine. But is the natural cycle of nature and one that is really beautiful if you see it correctly.

Some Things You Can Do

Thank your garden and cultivate a gratitude for all that grew there by removing spent veggies immediately and begin the food saving process if you’d like. Make pesto like crazy and freeze it for later. Fry those green tomatoes or pickle them. Chop all the peppers and put them in the freezer for the winter. Make some salt or oil infusions with all the lemon balm and basil and rosemary you may have. It is a beautiful process, and it reminds us how the seasons change. The cycle of nature is so healing.

Here is a link to some of my favorite ways to use all the mint you might have in your garden right now.

My Cool Season Veggies Have Damaged & Discolored Leaves

Our newly planted broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are like new born babies to the wild child gardener. We love them and want to make sure that they are perfect in every way. The problem is that in nature nothing is perfect. And we typically figure that out pretty quickly. Before we can even water our newly planted seedlings for the first time, the leaves start changing color, and the pests seem to find them. Here is a link to a post all about cool season pests and how to get a hold on them early. But is this an emergency? Will our babies ever recover? It is definitely not an emergency…yet. It could turn into one left unchecked, but at first sight of munch marks, the plants are fine. They are wired to grow in their DNA, so they can handle a little munching here and there. The emergency comes when the munching is not dealt with promptly and the plant loses all its leaves to slugs or worms, or worse a rabbit or deer.

Once the plant no longer has leaves it can’t perform photosynthesis and therefore can no longer live. This is an emergency. And sadly, one you can’t bounce back from. The only option at this point will be to replace the plant and hope you have the days needed to get a harvest. This is why it is so important to get ahead of pests in the cool season. We are up against the clock, and you know timing is everything in the garden. By working now to prevent pests of all kinds, you can save your plants and help them get to harvest.

Some Things You Can Do

Get busy right now! The most important thing you can do is not delay. Cool season pests are easily treatable, and most are preventable, but if you wait too long, it will be too late. Instead get busy now! This post will help…so will making sure you are in the garden every day. Make time to visit your veggies. It will change the course of your garden. Daily garden observation is the key to staying on top of damage this season. So get out there. You know who else it is good for?? YOU!!

My Veggies Aren’t Growing

This is one of my garden beds the day I planted it. It has grown so much in just a few weeks. Keep scrolling to see her now!

I hear this more than any other concern both from the garden club members and the students it the Wild Child Kitchen Garden Academy. It is by far the biggest question in my inbox from clients of gardens I design as well. And I sometimes wonder if I’m doing everything right too. We want them to show off. We have done all the things right, and we just want to see them succeed! If you think your veggies aren’t growing fast enough, it probably isn’t the emergency that it seems to be. But it could be. To be sure, you need to ask yourself a few questions!

  • Did I test my soil and amend accordingly, before I planted?
  • Am I growing the correct veggies at the correct time? (Tomatoes planted now probably won’t grow.)
  • Have I made sure to carefully space my veggies and plant them next to companions that they like and keep them away from those that may be toxic to them and cause them not to grow?
  • Am I keeping my veggies happy with consistent moisture and mulch? You cannot underestimate the importance of these two things!

If the answer to these questions is “yes” then you can rest assured that your veggies are more than likely going to be just fine! You probably just haven’t given them enough time to get growing.

Some Things You Can Do

This is the exact same bed only three weeks later. Notice some things didn’t make it. Others took off and some have had a slow start.

First, remember that cool season veggies love cool season temperatures. We are just beginning to see them, so that could definitely be causing some things to have a slow start.

Second, if you didn’t test your soil or amend it to replace nutrients that were used last season, you are selling yourself and your garden short! Healthy soil = Happy plants. You cant overestimate this!! Get busy building your soil. And in the mean time, use a high quality organic feed and beneficial mycorrhizae to hold you over. These two things will greatly improve the quality of your soil in the short term while you work to improve the quality of the soil for the long term. When purchasing mycorrhizae for an existing garden, always choose the soluble product. And use the code “WILDCHILD” to receive 15% off your order!

Third, keep them watered, but not too much. Huh? Yes! Make sure your veggies have consistent moisture without overwatering. We do this by giving them a moisture test before watering. It’s simple. Just stick your finger down into the soil, and if it comes out dry, it’s time to water. If the soil sticks to your finger a little and has some moisture to it, no watering for the day. Overwatering is one of the worst things you can do to a plant. And it is so easy to do. Give the moisture test to make sure they need the drink first.

I hope that these not so scary “emergencies” help give you confidence as we enter into my favorite season. The weather is nice, the pests are few, and it is the perfect time to start your backyard vegetable garden and flock of chickens. I can help!! It all starts with a consult!! Book yours today and let me show you how wonderful it is to release your inner wild child. I promise it will heal your soul!

Growing Strawberries in the Wild Child Garden

Strawberries are so much fun and will give your family memories for years.  Strawberries are perennials in South Louisiana, so plant them this year for a good harvest.  And leave them in the garden for great harvests in the following years.  Strawberries can be left in the garden for up to 4 or 5 years then replaced with new plants, or they can be removed every summer if your space is limited.

  • Plant strawberries in November for spring harvest. 
  • Plant at least 25 plants for a good harvest.
  • Strawberries are the first fruit to ripen in spring.
  • Strawberries are shallow rooted with only about a 3” deep root system.
  • There are 103 varieties of strawberries in the world, but in Louisiana, we only plant a handful that grow well here and give us lots of berries.
  • Space strawberries 12” apart for best results.

Plant in a space that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.  Plant in containers or raised beds for best results, and always plant more than you think you need because the birds will beat you to them.  Plant strawberries 12” apart in deep holes covering all roots with soil. (See graphic on previous page for planting depth.)  

After planting make sure to water them in and saturate the soil. Consider watering every day for the first week. You might notice bare-root plants shedding some of their original foliage and that look horrible. Don’t worry. It will be replaced soon by new growth from the crown.

Don’t forget to mulch your berries immediately!!

Preparing Your Soil For Strawberries

Great soil is the key to growing any fruit or vegetable, but strawberries are especially needy when it comes to how they like to grow. We know they are the “crazy ex-girlfriend” in the garden. Strawberries can’t be fed enough, but the soil must be properly amended first to get the berries off to a good start. A week before planting berries, add a 1-2” layer of finished compost or worm castings and mix into the top 2-3” of soil. Then mix in a thin layer of blood meal. This will give your strawberries plenty of nutrients to get them started. Strawberries are heavy feeders, so they need to start in a soil that is nutrient rich.

Note:  Do not add fresh manure to strawberry soil.   It has too much nitrogen and will yield you plants with no berries.

This is one day’s harvest of berries from my garden this past spring. So fun!!

Be On The Look Out For Runners

Remove the Runners

This is a wild child garden secret that will keep your berries producing fruit instead of plants. Strawberries like to clone themselves, so they will spend their energy on their reproductive efforts, producing dozens of daughter plans if left alone.  And all of those plants keep you from getting berries.  Be sure to watch for runners and snip them as soon as possible.  The plants will give you lots more berries this way!

Harvesting Strawberries

Finally, it is time to pick some berries.  You’ve worked hard.  Usually, the first strawberries will appear in March, but if we have had a mild winter, they may appear earlier than that.  

Once production begins, make sure that there is a thick layer of mulch in your beds for the berries to rest on.  Never let a berry touch the soil or it will rot.  Pick ripe berries every other morning.  

This will allow less of it to go to wildlife.  Although “the early bird does get the worm” you can get some too if you harvest early in the day and often.  Harvest fruit when it is fully mature, and try not to rip the fruit from the plant. Instead, pinch it off, leaving a small stem. Bring a large bowl to the garden to place the fruit into, but be careful not to stack the fruit too deep to avoid bruising the berries.  Only wash berries prior to eating. Washing them and then storing in the refrigerator will initiate molding. Store berries in the refrigerator immediately after harvest. 

Want More Fruit Growing Tips

Check out my e-book Fruit Growing Essentials for the Southern Wild Child now and get $10 off this month only!

If you are growing fruit this year, this e-book will be an invaluable tool to help you get off to a great start as well as help you keep them thriving up until harvest and beyond.  From growing conditions to soil preference, feeding schedules, and pest control to troubleshooting and when to pick, I have it all here for you in this guide.

Get your copy HERE and save $10 this month only!

How To Brew Your Own Compost Tea

Compost tea is a nutrient- and bacteria-rich liquid plant booster made from ordinary compost, water and a few other ingredients. Freshly “brewed” tea can be added directly to soil or sprayed onto your plants’ foliage. Among other benefits, it helps plants absorb nutrients from the soil, improves soil structure, promotes root growth and helps to prevent disease. Compost tea is organic and is safe for fruit and vegetable crops. It’s also gentle enough for seedlings. Best of all, it’s easy to make your own compost tea, and it requires just a few inexpensive supplies. Each batch takes one to three days to brew and yields about 2 1/2 gallons of liquid tea, which you apply to your plants immediately. If this sounds great to you, read on to learn how to brew your own at home!!

To get started, you’ll need a 5-gallon bucket, an aquarium aerator (air pump) and some tubing and bubblers. The aerator and bubblers are used to provide two essential ingredients: oxygen and agitation. Together, these elements unlock the beneficial microbes from the compost and give life to the bacteria. Another key ingredient is some type of bacteria food—I use molasses.

Things You’ll Need

  • 2 five gallon buckets
  • aquarium aerator kit with tubing
  • air stones (sold by aerators)
  • mature compost
  • blackstrap molasses
  • something for stirring
  • strainer

Step 1: Set Up the Aerator and Bubblers

Use lengths of flexible plastic tubing to attach two or more air stones (or other type of aquarium bubbler) to the aquarium aerator. Keep in mind that the air pump must plug into an electrical outlet. The air stones much reach into the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket.

Tip: Choose an aerator and bubbler combination that is forceful enough to create a rolling boil when the bucket is full of water and compost. The compost tea brews best with fairly vigorous agitation, as opposed to fine bubbles. A small- to medium-size pump with two or three air stones usually works well. The entire set up, stones and all, can be purchased from a pet store.

Step 2: Dechlorinate the Water

Most city water supplies contain chorine, which is bad for compost tea. If you have city water, you should dechlorinate it first. Here’s how to do that. Fill a 5-gallon bucket with water and let the it sit for 24 hours. The chlorine will evaporate.

Step 3: Brew the Compost Tea

Brewing the tea can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours, depending on the compost used and the rate of aeration. If the mixture begins to smell bad (not sweet and earthy), it means that anaerobic organisms have taken over, and the batch has gone bad. This can occur when you bubble the tea for too long. Discard a bad mixture (you can pour it on the ground but not near plants) and start over.

  1. Place the air stones in the bottom of a clean, empty 5-gallon bucket.
  2. Fill the bucket about halfway with mature compost.
  3. Add de-chlorinated, room temperature water up to a few inches from the top of the bucket.
  4. Turn on the aerator to begin agitating and aerating the mixture.
  5. Add 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) of blackstrap molasses, then stir the entire mixture with a stick. If the air stones float up during stirring, push them back down to the bottom of the bucket.
  6. Bubble the tea continuously for 24 to 72 hours, stirring the mixture three or four times per day.
  7. Turn off the bubbles and let the compost settle in the bucket for 20 or 30 minutes.
  8. Pour the tea through a strainer to strain out the solids, transferring the liquid to the other bucket.

How to Use Compost Tea

Use all of the compost tea as soon as you finish brewing it. I like to time the brewing to it finishing up in the morning, so it is ready for me when I go out to water. (I always brew for 63-65 hours. This sounds super specific, but it is not. If I start the brew at 4:00pm, which is usually when I am in the garden, it will be ready for me around 7:00-9:00am three days later. I know that I water during that time, so that is ideal for me!) The aerobic bacteria will only live for about four hours after the aeration stops, so timing is important. Once your brew is strained, pour the completed tea into a plastic watering can and go to town. Your veggies, herbs, and flowers will love you for it!!