The vintage images used on this page are derived from government agency victory garden posters and advertisements.

Header graphic created from a 1918 US Food Administration Victory Garden Poster
The person sporting the giant cabbage is unknown. 
The prize-winning cabbage is a "Matanuska Valley Dwarf Cabbage" 
The photo is from a vintage Time/Life Magazine

 

Gardening Wisdom That has Been Passed Down for Generations

Some bits of wisdom may be absolutely true, some not-so-true, but all are valuable. Can't hurt to test the theories. Much of folklore has it's "roots" in fact.

The experience of the elders can't be discounted, even if science doesn't back it up. I like to feel like i've kept old-fashioned gardening wisdom alive in my own garden. When i see a giant tomato, or a plant growing where science says it shouldn't, i'm diving into the hearsay and folklore. As with anything to do with Nature, there's sometimes a blurry line between folklore, science, and religious belief. Sometimes things just work, but not for the reasons you think.

Tomato and Cucumber plants can't stand each other. Nver plant them together. Fact.

This feud betwen veggies has gone on since The Garden of Eden was planted. 
Do not plant them together, they do not get along. Ever. Here's a guide to companion planting that will show you which plants love or hate each other.
Tomatoes and basil are absolutely smitten. That's probably the reason why they love being married and brought together in your homemade marinara. 

About those tomatoes...

they need at least 6 hours of full sunlight. Plant in a completely different place each year so the soil can recover. Tomatoes are heavy feeders that deplete the soilís nutrients, so you have to move them around to get a big crop.

Toughen Up Your Tomatoes

I was told that you need to treat tomato plants a little stricter and not coddle them. It's not really abuse. In order to have strong tomato plants and abundant harvests, you need to avoid babying them. Overwatering can choke the roots of the plant and also result in a poorly developed root system. Allowing the soil to dry out a little between waterings encourages the plant to reach out and grow deep roots, making for a stronger, healthier plant. So water your tomatoes less frequently (2-3 times a week) but more deeply so that the water seeps down into the soil. 

Over-fertilizing and adding too much nitrogen will make your tomato plants grow lots of big foliage, but not many tomatoes. I practically ignore mine except for checking which tomatoes are getting ripe and whether blight has gotten to them.

Wait for your soil to be warm (after last expected frost date) to plant your tomatoes. Plant on an overcast, cloudy day to avoid transplant shock.

Plant deep - Plant them deep so that the roots will grow strong, and they won't do a lot of that toppling thing.  The little hairs growing on the stems will grow into roots when planted under the soil.you can plant your tomato plants half as deep as their height and they will produce roots along buried stems anyway. I've tried this with gangly looking seedlings with weak stems, and it works. I got a stronger, bushier,  plant that's no shorter than it would have been if planted shallow. They're just better supported by soil. Place the tomato plant in and pinch or clip off all of the layers of leaves, except for the top one or two groups of leaves. Bury it up to that point.

Sprinkle a handful of crushed egg shells into each deep planting hole.  The eggshells provide lots of calcium, and tomatoes love that. The calcium from the egg shells is absorbed by the roots and into the stems of the tomato plants. If you have yellowing tomato plants, you probably have a calcium deficiency. When you boil eggs, donít throw away the water, itís full of calcium from the egg shells, so let the water cool off and water your tomato plants and others with it. Lots of plants love the eggshell treat. A nursery owner told me to add a Tums tablet, which contains calcium into the planting hole to prevent seedling transplant shock. Plain tabs. Save the fruity ones for yourself.

Water in the morning or early evening and water from underneath the tomato plants. 
Do not use a sprinkler or water from above. 
Do not water in the heat of the day. 
Do not get your tomato plant leaves wet because it promotes disease. 
If you water in the heat of the day, the leaves will burn and water will evaporate quickly. 
If you water too late in the evening, you risk the rot, mold and wet feet that tomatoes will punish you for.

Stagger your plantings

To help space out produce throughout the year, the generations before us would sow seeds in intervals. We know it as succession planting. It's a simple method thatís been around for centuries. Sow seeds roughly 14 days apart to maximize garden space and guarantee a constant supply of harvest.

Plant your garden rows crooked, not straight - you'll squeeze in more plants. True and proven. Square foot gardening is an example of staggering or re-shaping rows to get more plants in a garden bed.

Cabbage caterpillars and other wormy things
Spray cabbage and other vegetables that are worm targets with onion juice. Grate an onion and mix it with water, then spray down your veggies

Kill those suckers....
For aphids, use aspirin and water sprayed on plants to repel aphids and other sucking insects.  Simply crush  an aspirin, add it to water in a spray bottle and spray your plants. I've used this on my roses during bad aphid years and it works. What works better, are the resident birds and ladybugs eating them off the stems and buds. Other deterrants are coriander and garlic. All are safe to combine in a spray bottle and use on food plants.

Support Your Beans
Grow beans along a sunflower stem planted in the same hill. It is said that sunflower stems are more stable than a traditional beanpole. Corn stalks can also support peas. 

I know this wisdom works, and that the concept was developed by ancient Native Americans, who taught it to the pilgrims centuries ago to help them avoid starvation. It is known as The Three Sisters method  of Native American gardening and farming. 

 

Cornmeal in a salt shaker to sow seeds

Sow tiny seeds by mixing seeds with an equal amount of cornmeal.  This allows seeds to be distributed more evenly, and for the placement of the seeds on the soil to be more visible against the light background of the cornmeal. Some folks say you can also sow seeds using a shaker full of dry rice. The seeds stay separated..... but I think the cornmeal sows more evenly.

Get the Slugs Drunk

Place a shallow pan of beer in the garden to help trap slugs and snails. Apparently, slugs are attracted to beer  and they will crawl into the pan and drown. Don't scoff..... it's been proven to work, but not for reasons given. Researchers at Colorado State conducted an experiment. They set out 16 different brands of beer, and one was non-alcoholic. Slugs did, indeed, drown. But more slugs visited and were drowned by the non-alcoholic beer. It wasn't the beer, it was the fermented yeast they were after, and there was more of it in the poser-beer.

Pantyhose

Upcycle old pantyhose (do people still wear that?) by using them in the garden. Soft and stretchy, strips cut from pantyhose work great to tie up tomatoes. They don't damage fragile stems. They are also useful for storing onions and bulbs after they are harvested and cured.

Hare from your Hairbrush

An old-time garden tip for keeping rabbits out of the garden is to scatter some hair from your hairbrush around the garden. They'll smell human and skedaddle out of your garden. Not At All True. I am tortured by these leaf-chomping, burrowing, poop machines on an regular basis. I've disproven this theory and others. I've also placed my dog's hair from her brush, so they're pretty much not scared of anything. They laugh at this idea and others, like urine and sonic repellents. The only sure-fire and safe way of ridding yourself of this pest is your dog. I've smugly accepted my dog's "gift" of rabbit carcass upon her return from nocturnal hunting trips in the gardens. They may be cute, but they cost me time and and new plants every spring. Right now, they are about 8 inches long with huge appetites, and can squeeze in anywhere.

Pumpkin and other hard seeds

When growing pumpkins and other plants with hard seeds, it is often difficult to get the seeds to germinate. Use sand paper or emery boards to sand the edges of the seeds to thin the hard seed coat. Afterwards, when the seeds are soaked in water, it is easier for the water to get past the woody exterior and into the inside of the seed, speeding up germination.

Better than wooden stakes

Wooden stakes are often used in gardens to mark rows or support plants. After a short life, they rot and break. Replace those wooden stakes with metal fence posts that are used for installing fencing on farms and in gardens. The posts are four feet long. They have a triangular piece of metal on one end that is called an anchor plate, and that is pushed into the soil and stabilizes the post. You put the posts in by stepping on the top of the anchor plate, or using a rubber mallet. These posts usually cost under $1.50 each at a farm and garden store. Good Advice. I've used them in fencing off sections of the garden. I've spent a fortune on bamboo and plastic-coated steel plant stakes. I'm surprised this didn't occur to me before.

Harvest Rainwater - I've seen plenty of buckets in backyards when i was growing up, and I thought it was just where you disposed of empty buckets. It's likely your grandma used old buckets or even a discarded bathtub to store rainwater for watering the garden. Not everyone had a spigot in or near their gardens, especially in cities, and rain barrels weren't A Thing in the old-time gardens. "Waste-not-want-not" was a big factor in designing a serious garden.

Grounded somewhat in science, after centuries of being labeled superstition and folklore, there is something to this method of farming and gardening. Observing the cycles of the moon and the way that it affects both people and plants can help to determine when to plant and harvest. I have taken note of the full moon and the weather's effects on birds and animals. There are subtle, but definite behavior changes during moon cycles. Traditional moon planting is based on crop observations of farmers for centuries.

Science may not fully understand why planting by the moon works, but hard farming and gardening evidence suggests that indeed it does. Native Americans and other ancient cultures did their spring planting, succession planting, and harvesting according to the moon's phases. It is true that seeds germminate quicker and plants respond with positive growth during certain moon phases. Who cares why?

An Australian experiment was conducted on annual flower seedlings planted during different moon phases. One group was sown during Full Moon phase, which is an incorrect moon planting phase for leafy annuals. The second group was sown two weeks later, during the New Moon phase. The younger seedlings planted in the correct moon phase have not only had a better germination rate, but they caught up with, or surpassed the ones sown two weeks earlier. Both were sown in the same seedling mix, and both received the same amount and type of care. This a common occurrence with germinating seed, so it seems that one should always try to sow seed in the correct moon phase for its type.

It is easiest to think of the phases of the moon as something only Nature pays attention to. There is a link between the flow of tree sap, which is in tune with the rhythms of the moon.

In a waxing moon, when light increases towards a full moon, sap flow is drawn up. 
This is the most suitable time for sowing and transplanting flowering annuals, grains and melons. And any short-lived plant that we harvest and consume for its leaves, seed, flowers or fruits. Itís also a good time to apply liquid fertilizers, do pruning and grafting, because  increased sap flow produces new growth quicker.

With a waning moon, when the light is decreasing as the moon changes from a full to a new moon, the sap flow is drawn down. 
This focuses the energy towards the roots, which is more suited to root crops and perennials, plants that live longer than two years. Itís also a good time for pruning dormant plants and harvesting, because there is less likelihood of rotting.

The last quarter phase is a time to avoid planting and focus on improving the soil.

A Little About Moon Phase Gardening

The New Moon

The New Moon is the wet period of the cycle.  It is the most likely time for rainfall and that makes it the best time for transplanting and planting out vegetables with above-ground parts that are harvested and eaten.

Rain or heavy dew comes with the new moon, its a good time to plant.

Transplant your seedlings during the new moon and the beginning of the waxing moon.

Just before the new moon transplant fruit trees, strawberries, and landscape trees, to take advantage of the heavier dew and moisture.

The Full Moon - A very busy time in the garden.

The Full Moon's gravitational pull draws water up into the root system of plants.  It is also pulls water into the sky and usually signals a period of clear, dry weather.

Plant root vegetables during the full moon and the first week of the waning moon.

Itís also a good time for taking cuttings and dividing plants.

Harvest season usually comes with the full moon of September. The full moon often brings with it fair weather and wind ó time to harvest seeds and grain. Plan to harvest within a week of the full moon, to avoid the damp dews that come as the cycle moves closer to the new moon.

The full moon of September often brings frost in the mountains. Cover your tender plants before the full moon, and during the waning moon.

Harvest herbs with high volatile oil content at the full moon, when the plant's oils are strongest. The gravitational pull of the moon coupled with the dry weather enhance the volatile oil content of the herbs like basil, sage, thyme, and mint. Cut fragrant flowers during the full moon for optimal fragrance.

The waning quarter

The waning period one week before the new moon is usually dry. This is the best time to mulch the garden, weed, prune fruit trees, 
divide your plants, and deal with insect pests, and fungus problems.

Coffee, Tea and Bananas


Coffee Grounds, Teabags and Epsom Salts
- Tried and True soil amendments and fertilizer

You can add coffee grounds directly to the soil and scratch it in. It will break down during the growing season and excite your acid-loving plants, and many others. Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen. My rhododendrons, fruit plants and acid-loving conifers love it. Some p0lants can't stand it, so look up the plant's acid preferences. 

Epsom salts works very well as a natural fertilizer. I swear by it for all of my plants, and i get awesome results. So, I buy big bags and broadcast it over the entire garden bed once a month from spring till and of summer, rather than applying it under individual plants. My roses double their foliage and bloom sizes. Consideer epsom salts to be the alter-ego of coffee grounds. With one, you add acid, with the other, you add magnesum and sulphur to plants that have too much acid. Makes a lot of sense. Of course, one can spread both and let them fight it out amongst themselves.

Many old-school southern gardeners put their used tea bags and tea leaves under their camellias and wisteria vines, azaleas and roses.  Experience has proven them correct. Valuable soil amendments for acid-loving plants is available from these throw-away breakfast items. Coffee filters are bio-degradable and contain the acids from the coffee, so don't trash them.

Spice it Up 

Many culinary spices contain antifungal and antibacterial properties. Cinnamon, tumeric, clove, and mustard have strong antibaccterial and antifungal properties. Sprinkle on the soil of your plants, and reapply now and then. These spices are especially talented at discouraging mold on your plants and soil.

Banana Soil Food

The peels are filled with lots of good minerals, including calcium, magnesium and potassium, banana peel can enrich your soil Chop the skins up to release as many minerals as possible, place them in an airtight jar, and cover with water. Soak for about a week, until you have a brown liquid. Pour over your soil. I don't know how often you're supposed to do this. Fern owners swear by this source of potassium for their bright green and lush appearance. Fact, not folklore - Banana peels buried just below the surface in rose beds break down quickly, and add humus to the soil.

Fruit Trees

The "June Drop"

Most fruit trees need no help to perform their mostly unnoticed or misundersood annual duty, designed to shed misshapen and inferior-sized fruit from the trees. Survival of the best. But some trees may require manual methods. Thinning removes the weakest fruits, allowing sunlight to penetrate branches for even ripening. This process should take place between late June and mid-July, removing any fruits that are misshapen, leaving one large fruit per cluster, and resulting in a fine harvest of large and perfectly-matured attractive fruits. Easier said than done.... not many gardeners want to intentionally remove baby fruits, or having a smaller crop, even though the remaining fruits will be bigger and better if they do.

Fruit Tree Shaming
In rural Mexico, fruit farmers and gardeners hang a pair of dirty old shoes from the branches of a fruit tree that isn't performing well, in the hopes of shaming the tree into doing its duty and bear lots of fruit.

There are hundreds of folktales, superstitions and hearsay gardening advice. I'll never get through them all, especially since there's a subset of garden truth and wisdom that's hidden and practiced within particular cultures. Like the Italian immigrants and their fig trees.... Science isn't everything in a garden.... most times it's not even considered important. 

I believe in science, but I also believe in the moon phases and solstice effects on planting times and methods. Taste tests might tell you which beer slugs prefer to drown in, or why some plants love bananas with their tea, but a gardener who has success with some of these unscientific gardening hints and produces prize-winning roses or The Wold's Largest Cabbage doesn't care that there's no real scientific proof behind it. The proof is in their harvest. And, whether we believe in them or not, thankfully, they will continue to pass that wisdom along.

 

 

Sources:
1939 The Wizard of Oz
Old Farmer's Almanac
Time/Life
LA Times article 1992
MSU Extension Service

 

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