Share your Garden Observations 2023

I’ve had a few observations so far this year. Probably none of this is original. I might be “rediscovering” some things.

Anyways, here’s one: Natural gnat repellent! One day I was being harassed by the local gnat population, as usual. I brushed up against a tomato plant and noticed the gnats left me in peace. I began to wonder. Does this strong tomato vine/leaf smell cover up my scent or confuse the gnats? Well, since then, I have pulled off tomato leaves and rubbed all over my arms, ears, etc. I have personally tried this twice and noticed the repellent benefit to last at least 15 minutes when not sweating profusely.

As a side note, I absolutely love the way tomato plants smell.


Here’s another observation: Sunflowers have acted as a “trap” plant.

I originally incorporated sunflowers into my garden plans and strategy first and foremost because I am a tightwad. I saw a hardware store slap full of various seed bags, compost bags, etc selling at fire sale prices due to various issues such as holes in the bags due to shipping, etc. Well, I got like a 5 pound bag of black oil sunflower seed for just $5 bucks.

My mind began turning on what I could do with it. Anyways, being advertised as bird seed, I went head and applied the seed a large amounts in various areas around my pumpkins and watermelons. The original intent was to promote beneficial insects, especially pollinators. Well, they have certainly helped in that regard. However, I wasn’t expecting the sunflowers would solve my biggest pest issue!

It turns out, the leaf footers that raided and pillaged my pumpkins back last year actually are not showing much interest in my cucurbits this year. In fact, at least so far “fingers crossed” they are dining on the sunflowers instead!


If you follow the idea that most insects are driven to feed on plants which accumulate more nitrogen than they can use, then maybe your sunflowers have buffered your fertility in a way that stopped your pumpkins gorging themselves.

Observations here- this season I reorganised my growing space, meaning the first beds were created in a spot that only had flower gardens or weeds before. I have a horrible cracking clay, but have been top dressing with charcoal in most beds for a few years now. These new beds have never had charcoal added and the difference in surface texture was profound. Horrible hard clay again.

In one area I had dumped a large amount of potting mix (basically mechanically ground pine waste, lightly composted before sale to the public). This looks superficially like 'fertile" soil, but it is terrible for direct sowing into (water repellent, shifting like sahara sand). I had to scrape it back to expose the “horrible” clay to have a chance of direct sowing anything.

When I got back into some older beds it made me appreciate the steady positive effect my no dig/no mulch method of only top dressing charcoal and goat manure is having over time.

4 posts were split to a new topic: Outcompeting the weeds with self-sowing crops that fill the same niche

Garden observation: Aphids jave been insane this year! Not sure if it the drought early on in our region or what, but I have never had aphids on so many things. Even the tomato plants have aphids! I don’t think they ever went after those before. There are loads of ladybugs, but they seem outmatched and outgunned by the armies of the dark!


The first watermelon to produce for me this year is “early polish.” I got it from Seed Treasures. It produced the fruit just a few feet away from the roots. Maybe the stress I put it under made the vine a dwarf vine. Or maybe it’s naturally compact, not sure.

I picked it just a couple hours ago. The family loved it. Very sweet and delicious. Even the white flesh near the rind was tasty. I hope to make picking and eating the first watermelon of the year a July 4th tradition, starting now.

I gathered every seed I could from it and sorted based off appearance of full maturity. The less mature looking seeds got replanted today. The more mature looking seeds are being saved for next year. Technically, I have enough time to produce a second harvest. So I went ahead and planted the worse half of these seeds in various spots in the garden, especially between okra plants. Maybe the watermelon vine will crawl between the okras, soaking up any extra sunlight. I’ll let the vines travel in the pathways as well.


Ooh, “sweet all the way to the rind” is a very desirable characteristic. I love that you found a variety that has that.

The ability to produce ample female flowers in temperatures above 90 degrees seems to be uncommon with cucurbita moschata.

I have not yet noticed a significant drop of female flower production in watermelon, musk melon, or cucumber.

June, July and August are high temperature months for me. Therefore, I am placing high value on any cucurbita moschata plants that produce fruit during the hottest months. I am ranking this value just as high as number of days to harvest attribute. And my seed collection will match accordingly.

Interesting! That’s the first time I’ve heard someone talk about a serious downside to moschatas!

Given how hot our summers are here, that sounds like a trait I should be watching for, too.

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I’ve noticed some planting opportunities with vining plants that I haven’t noticed before. For situations where I cull a weak plant, and it doesn’t make sense to reseed with same species, it sometimes has made sense for me to plant watermelon or something in its place.

I also have rather stiff clay for soil. I dumped the roto tiller and “proper” composting several years back and replaced it with throwing stuff down and letting it rot. I combined that with lots of fall planted radish left to freeze and rot. I stopped freaking out over dandelions, dock and other deep-rooted weeds. I do use mulch of sorts, but it is just spent vegetable plants, pulled weeds and stuff I scrape up from the paths.

Used too I had about six inches, 15 centimeters of soil routinely ground up by the tiller on top of hard pack. Now I can work some of my soil with my fingers and pull up errant dandelions by the full root. Even nasty weeds such as perennial grasses and things that make runners underground are easy to control. The very qualities that made them so difficult to control work against them now. I just pull them up and instead of breaking and leaving a root to resprout, it just all comes out in one piece, and I just drop it back down, root end up. I don’t even care if it’s full of seeds.

I’m actually a bit shocked at the difference and in how fast it happened. Gardening is so much easier this way *(maybe not on a large scale) and everything grows wonderfully as a rule.

The only drawback is that some of my feral crops like radish, dill, marigolds have suffered a bit without any bare tilled ground to lay dormant in so I’m having to be more conscious of them and make sure they get dispersed in a spot they can colonize in fall or the next spring.


If I didn’t have neighbors, I would walk outside to the garden and pee every day in the winter. I would do that on beds that are covered with mulch or non edible cover crops. I would like to add high fertility items like this and let the passage of time and critters balance everything out by the time spring rolls around.

My grandmaw recently surprised me with a great gift, a composter. The kind that has two compartments that you spin around. We’ve been adding kitchen scraps in there. I have 2 piles of grass clippings near the garden that keeps the crickets and frogs happy. I also throw some kitchen scraps in the garden paths.

I’ve learnt through experience that it is very easy to overdo it with urine. Peeing in a watering can then diluting it 1:10 and spreading it as widely as possible over dense/vigorous growing vegetation is the only way I have used it well (and thinking twice before applying it again).

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What does overdoing it look like? During the growing season, I pee outside several times per day, I just go somewhere different each time. I have several hundred square feet of veggie beds, about 100 fruit/nut trees, comfrey beds, flowers & hostas right around the house, a raspberry patch, wild blackberries, and piles of wood chips – so plenty of places to sequester it. But I’d like to be on the lookout if there really is salt build-up issue or something else. (I’m also on sand, so don’t really fear the salts issue in the long-run but my top-layer of organics could hold on to too much temporarily.)


I’ve have hit living plants with full urine before. Some 1:1. The results have been bad or non conclusive. I am certain there’s good stuff in there. But too much of a good thing is not a good thing.

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The trick with any amendment is to add it to a limited spot first so you can assess the impact. Often people get excited when they see a positive response so they repeat it too soon. The positive impact generally gets smaller each time you add more, and if you keep going you eventually end up with negative impacts. You have to know each crop pretty well so you can assess its response to changes.
Excess soluble nitrogen from urine can easily lead to excess which can trigger pest population explosions. Salt in urine can also become a long term issue depending on your local climate.


This week’s substack post is a snapshot of my steadily reclaiming veggie growing area in midwinter after a really late start to the season due to an autumn drought.


I have experienced something that is new to me about sunflowers I’d like to share. This year I grew black oil sunflower seed that was advertised as bird seed.

Some observations:

  • This type had low germination rates, maybe 20%.
  • Height: 3 - 4 feet.
  • About half of them formed 1 head. The other half formed multiple heads.
  • A small percentage of them formed 2 main stems, a “Y” early on.
  • The root system was small, maybe the size of two adult sized fists put together at the most. I am still not certain how much competition these plants gave my pumpkins and watermelons.
  • I grew some of them on the side of the house that gets afternoon shade. They did not do as good as the others getting full sun. However, I still managed to harvest a handful of good plants growing in less than full sun. So it looks like it’s not impossible to grow these in less than full sun, and it looks like even this group of seeds received a little bit of selection pressure on that.

Seed processing experience/lessons:

  • Most heads look like they have mature, healthy seeds. However, upon further inspection, around 3/4 of the plants produced full size shells with either the actual seed not formed or rotted.
    . About a quarter of the plants formed complete, healthy seeds.
    . Generally, a sunflower with multiple heads either produced healthy, viable seeds in all of its heads or none of its heads. Sometimes there was an exception on one bad head.
    . Black oil sunflower seed for birds tastes good raw. I had a bunch of them as I was discerning the situation.

Takeaway: I will not blindly remove all the seeds from a sunflower head without breaking a few open to sample the general status. If I wasn’t paying attention, I would have a pile of seeds with 3\4 of the seeds not edible or viable, and no way of knowing how to separate without cracking open.

In regards to Sunflowers being trap plants. Agreed! Blows me away. If I have Sunflowers growing the bugs will leave everything else alone. Blemish free lettuce, kale, beans… pretty wild!

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It keeps the neighbors cats out as well. I used to get rid of nighturine close to one peachtree. It suffered a gigantic aphid attack. Wave after wave of aphid slaying insects boomed and took residence in the garden.

I spread it since, somewhat diluted through the garden. I chop and drop quite some now. The layer rotting mulch gets some of the golden vertilizer.

I noticed some herbs like the artemisia, absinth always get attacked by aphids attracting gatherings of ladybugs. Sage does the same. It’s handy to find larvae if something new and precious is under attack. If i got enough of a plant i let the aphids have their way.

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