The Treasure Valley is a hardiness zone 6 growing area. This relates to the amount of cold a plant can stand without freezing and dying. Ideal transplanting times begin in mid March for spring planting and continue through November for fall gardening. It is best to water your plants in the morning. This will help to avoid mildew and disease. Always rotate your crops. Each plant takes and gives back different nutrients. It is essential that each plant have adequate space for full growth. Place your tall plants in the east and shorter plants on the west. The long growing season and mild temperatures of our zone offers a large variety of planting and growing options. The fruits, vegetables and herbs listed below all do exceptionally well in this hardiness zone and work great for first time gardeners.
Squash (summer and winter): Similar to pumpkins, squash and zucchini love well-composted soil, lots of sunshine and they need plenty of space- an area of 3 to 6 feet is recommended. Water squash at soil level (base of the plant) to avoid leaf rot. Use your fresh zucchini to make breads, noodles, and healthy casserole dishes.
Radishes & Carrots: Radish seeds are natural companions to carrots. Mix radish seeds with carrot seeds before you sow, especially if your soil tends to develop a tough crust. Radish sprouts will push up through the soil, breaking it up for later-sprouting carrots. As you harvest the radishes, carrots will fill the rows. Radishes need to be watered every 4-6 days. Carrots and radishes are great for pickling or adding to a summer salad. You can also try making a carrot cake from scratch!
Pumpkins: These greedy eaters love compost rich soil. Pumpkins retain 80-90% moisture and only need to be watered when soil begins to dry out. If your plant looks droopy be sure to give it a deep, long drink. Planting seeds on a mound or in a roomy area gives them plenty of space for their vines to sprawl. Enjoy decorating your home with beautiful pumpkins from your own backyard. You can roast pumpkin seeds in your oven with coconut oil and your favorite spice blend or just a little bit of sea salt. You can easily make a base for holiday pies by boiling chunks of pumpkin. Mash with your favorite spices and freeze to use year round for pies, cakes and other treats. Pumpkin also tastes great in a protein smoothie.
Lettuce: This versatile plant does fine in partial shade and extremely hot weather. Lettuce grows slowly in the shade and it also germinates slowly. If you desire full heads of romaine and head lettuce, be sure to thin your seedlings. Allow 8 to 10 inches of space between plants. When thinning young plants save the small delicate leaves for your summer salad. When plants have matured, water every 4-6 days. Lettuce is ready to eat at any size, making it a great addition to every garden.
Kale: This super food is a member of the cabbage family and is easy to grow. Plants can be set out any time from early spring to early summer. Kale will grow until it’s too hot, making it a shade friendly grower. Plant it again in the fall, as kale gets sweeter in the cold weather. Kale plants need to be well watered. Keeping the soil moist will keep leaves sweet and crisp. You can make homemade kale chips by removing the stems and rubbing the leaves with coconut oil. Roast the kale for just 8-10 minutes with a pinch of sea salt or your favorite spice blend. Enjoy kale in salads, smoothies, omelets, casseroles, or wherever you’d use spinach.
Strawberries: These juicy fruits are easy to grow. Provide your strawberries with a sunny location, good soil, air drainage and shelter from strong winds. Only water at the beginning of the day, and only give them a maximum of two inches per week. It is best to use drip irrigation or a soaker hose to avoid getting the fruit wet which helps prevent rot. Use mulch when planting to suppress weeds and protect your fruit. The best time to get your strawberry plants outdoors is April. Harvest your berries every two to three days, in the morning and when the berries are fully colored.
Tomatoes: Tomato plants germinate easily, and love the Treasure Valley weather, thriving best with six hours minimum of sunlight. Water early morning at the root prior to the days heat. Be sure to prune your plants accordingly for healthy growth and production. Tomato plants have small sucker leaves that can be confused with larger leaves, however these sucker leaves take water from the fruit of your plants. Removing these sucker leaves ensures adequate water reaches the stems that are producing fruit. Harvest when tomatoes are a red color and still firm. Can tomatoes for winter salsa, tomato soup, and spaghetti sauce or toss fresh garden tomatoes in your salad.
The Benefits of Composting: Soil rich with organic matter will produce fruits and vegetables with the highest nutrient content. Compost allows your plants to root around in the soil to find exactly what they need for optimal growth. It is like allowing your plants to be “free range”! Compost is creating new earth from old organic matter such as kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, garden pruning’s, leaves, twigs and manure. For people who are beginners to composting you will want to start with two covered bins or cans. You will keep two composting bins going at all times to help rotate the kitchen scraps or yard clippings that you add. You can also have a compost heap in your backyard. You can place your compost starters on a heavy tarp to help you easily turn and mix your compost as it grows. Keep in mind compost heaps have rancid smells as the materials decompose. Microbes that do your dirty work require water for survival, adding too much water will make it challenging to decompose making compost smelly and slimy. Adding too little water will starve off beneficial bacteria making the compost process impossible. The more green material you add the less water is needed. If you add dry ingredients such as straw or hay, soak the material first. Keep your compost balanced by layering it with different materials such as coffee grounds, grass clippings, and eggshells as compost with carbon and nitrogen yielding materials will provide beneficial nutrients to your garden plants. Being strategic about filling your bin with a well balanced diet will ensure that composting doesn’t take too long and you don’t end up with a slimy heap. Compost also needs oxygen to decompose, so turn and stir it every few days. Compost is ready when it is dark and rich in color, crumbles easily and you cannot pick out any of your ingredients. The smell should now be sweet and earthy. If it is clumpy and stringy it is not quite ready. It can take anywhere between 3 and 12 months to produce compost.
Fixing a Nitrogen Deficiency in the Soil: Correcting a Nitrogen deficiency organically takes time, but results in an even distribution of added nitrogen over time. Planting a green manure crop such as red clover, borage, or traditional clover works to release nitrogen and other nutrients stored in plants and soil. Adding coffee grounds to your soil also works to increase nitrogen levels; tomatoes specifically are an acid loving plant. Leaves of comfrey can be mulched and worked into ground that is being prepared for a new crop. Additionally, the high nitrogen in comfrey helps break down compost faster and more efficiently.
Natural Pesticides: You should only use pest control remedies to prevent or ease a specific pest problem. You do not want to harm beneficial insects or disturb pollinating insects. It is always best to apply natural pesticides in the evening to avoid burning plants and to protect pollinators. Never use on plants that are stressed from drought or overwatering.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE): Microscopically this natural product is like glass to an insect. When planting apply DE at the base of the plant by working it into the soil with your hands (try not to disturb the roots.) When insects with an exoskeleton attempt to cross over to the plant the DE lacerates the hide of the bug causing it to dehydrate and die. Please Note: DE is very harmful to honey bees. Only apply DE when bees are not present (evening and early morning) and NEVER apply near or in blossoming plants. Apply DE to your potting soil prior to germination to help protect seedlings from fungus, gnats and other pests during the germination phase.
Neem Oil: This oil comes from the Azadriachta indica tree in Southern Asia and India and has many insecticidal traits. It is nearly non-toxic to birds, fish, bees and other wildlife. Neem is best used when applied to the soil of young plants, and then added throughout the gardening season as it will last 22 days in soils versus a four day maximum in water. Neem gets pulled through the soil into the vascular system of the plant and insects intake it when feasting on the plant. Neem reduces or ceases feeding and can prevent larvae from maturing. It also reduces or interrupts mating behavior and coats the breathing holes of insects to kill them. It is effective as a repellant for mites, aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies and over 200 other species of chewing or sucking insects. Neem oil is also a great fungicide for mildews, rusts, root rot, black spot and sooty mold. It should be used as a fungicide in a 1% solution and never higher than 3% as an insecticide. To create a 1% solution of neem insecticide use 2 teaspoons of cold pressed neem oil plus 2/3 teaspoons organic biodegradable dish soap and mix in one quart of water. Before applying, test a small area of your plant to make sure it will not be harmed by the neem oil. In addition, neem oil has nutrients that help make it a broad-spectrum fertilizer and it will not kill earthworms!
Neem helps controls these main insects:
black headed caterpillars
boring insects (many types)
Colorado potato beetles
corn ear worms
fruit sucking moths
Mexican bean beetles
mites (not an insect)
moths and moth larvae
red palm weevil
root weevil adults
Essential Oils: Eucalyptus oil is antifungal, antibacterial, a natural insect repellant, anti-rodent, and a weed killer. Sprinkle eucalyptus oil around plants where insects are found for immediate results. Orange essential oil is pressed from the orange peel and contains d-limone, which can kill insects. Mix 20 drops of orange oil per 1 cup of water into an 8-ounce spray bottle, shake well and apply to plants and soil. Do not use orange essential oil around cats as they easily build up toxicity. Clove oil is an effective insecticide and fungicide, helping rid your garden of weeds and unwanted insects. It is effective for keeping insects and worms from infesting fruit trees. It can kill cockroaches, ants, dust mites, flies, wasps, spiders, crickets, fleas, aphids and mites. Add 10 drops of clove oil per 1 cup of water into an 8-ounce spray bottle, shake well and apply to plants and soil. Other essential oils with effective garden insecticide properties include peppermint, thyme, and cedarwood.
Red Pepper Spray: Red Pepper powder can be used safely as a homemade pesticide in vegetable gardens. Combine 1 Tablespoon cayenne pepper powder, 6 drops organic biodegradable dish soap and 1 gallon of water and mix thoroughly. Pour mixture into a garden sprayer and thoroughly cover the vegetables with spray once a week to keep garden pests, like beetles and aphids off plants.
Rodales Organic Life All Purpose Spray: This works against any leaf-eating pests as a repellant and natural insecticide. Chop, grind, or liquefy 1 organic garlic bulb and 1 organic small onion. Add 1 teaspoon powdered cayenne pepper and mix into 1 quart of water. After steeping for one hour strain it through cheesecloth and add 1 tablespoon organic biodegradable dish soap, mixing well. Spray your plants thoroughly, including the undersides of the leaf. You can store the mixture for up to a week in the fridge.
Attract Ladybugs! Ladybugs are fantastic in the garden; they work to reduce harmful insects such as aphids and mites that cause damage to your growing plants. Some ladybugs consume 5,000 insects in their short 3-6 week lifespan. They also lay hundreds of larva that will continue this fun helpful garden control. Some plants that ladybugs love are calendula, cosmos, dill & dandelion. If you aren’t attracting as many ladybugs as you would like, you can purchase ladybugs from your local nursery. Release them at night, as they do not fly during this time. This will allow the ladybugs to snack on garden pests and begin laying larva.
Tips & Tricks
All about the Bees: Many have heard about the massive decline in bee populations. What you may not realize is the effect this will have on mans most vital source of life. A whopping third of all food depends on pollination by bees. A world without pollinators would be devastating for food production. Bee-killing pesticides pose a direct risk to pollinators. The main reasons for this devastating decline in bees are linked to industrial agriculture, parasites, disease and climate change. These issues directly affect honeybees and wild pollinators.
What can you do? There is an urgent need to stop chemical-intensive industrial agriculture that is only benefiting monster corporations. It is recommended that you do not purchase your garden or flower plants from corporate businesses such as Home Depot, Lowe’s or Wal-Mart. Many of these corporations carry plants that are genetically modified and have been treated with harmful chemicals that will cause damage to the bees. Choosing organic non-GMO foods sends a message to industrial agriculture that we will not support their environmental destruction and we care about the future of our planet and mankind. Growing bee friendly plants such as lavender, borage, strawberries, sunflower, asters, dandelion, clover, wisteria, cosmos, and many more herbs provide a beautiful food garden for the hardworking bees. Spread the word and give the gift of organic plants to help save the bees.
Mushrooms for Bees: Did you know mushrooms are helping save the honeybees? Currently Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is affecting 41% of managed bee colonies nationwide. Some scientists estimate that ALL managed bee colonies could face total decimation from CCD within five years. Bacterial and viral infections are dramatically harming the bees that already face challenging environmental damage from GMO exposure, pesticides, fungicides, and parasitic mites. Currently the Host Defense Bee Friendly Research Initiative is conducting experiments using extracts containing Reishi and Chaga mushrooms. Colonies that have been exposed to these mushroom extracts showed substantial improvement and saw benefits that included extended longevity and reduction of viral burden by 75%. Cultivate mushrooms whenever possible in and around your garden.
Buying Organic Plants and Flowers: Organic nurseries grow their plants without applying pesticides and from heirloom seeds that have been passed down for generations, or that are hand selected for a specific trait. Heirlooms can vary, but typically they are at least 50 years old, and are often pre-WWII varieties. In addition, they tend to remain stable in their characteristics from one year to the next making them a great choice when gardening. Some locations that sell organic heirloom & hybrid seeds and plants are:
4106 Sand Creek St
North End Organic Nursery
3777 W. Chinden Blvd
Garden City, ID