Skip to main content
All Posts By

Sean Cawley

My Favorite Vegetable 

By Beet 2024 03 March

My favorite vegetable is a winter squash that does very well in my 3 x 8 ft raised bed. It seems to be somewhat impervious to squash beetles and the fruit is magnificently sweet.  It is called Burpee’s Butterbush Butternut squash 

“A dwarf and super early maturing Waltham style butternut with some of the tastiest flesh we’ve ever tasted! Short season growers and those with compact spaces will rejoice knowing that the tidy vines reach just 3 feet long and bear medium sized, 2 to 4 lb fruit that is ready to harvest in just 75 days! Each hardy bush will produce 4 to 5 fruit, considered to be long keepers. 

  • Average 75 days 
  • Full Sun 
  • Sprouts in 5-10 Days 
  • Ideal Temperature: 70-95 Degrees F 
  • Seed Depth: 1/2-1 inch 
  • Plant Spacing: 18-36″ 
  • Frost Hardy: No 
  • Cucurbitaceae Cucurbita moschata 

Plant Immunity

By Beet 2024 02 February

Ever wonder why some plants seem to remain healthy and vibrant while others seem to get eaten up by insects or “catch” other diseases?

All organisms have an immune system designed to protect them from diseases and to detect and respond to pathogens that try to invade from the environment. We know about our own immune system with its lymphatic system, white cells, antibodies, spleen, and gut microbiome. We can enhance our immune system by eating well, being physically active, getting enough sleep, etc.

But what about plants? They have evolved many mechanisms to detect and defend against numerous pathogenic attacks, such as avoiding growth during time periods when pathogens are plentiful, producing a biochemical response to a pathogen, and cell tissue death at the site of invasion (so the pathogen is arrested within the dead plant tissue). Protection against herbivores can include thorns, thick cell walls, producing chemicals that are toxic to insects or animals trying to eat them, etc.

As gardeners, we know that photosynthesis converts carbon, oxygen and nitrogen into the various sugars (carbohydrates) and fats (lipids) that are plants’ building blocks. Equally important are micro-nutrients and water that are drawn into the plant from its roots to further supply the necessary chemicals to create the defense system to ward off disease and insect attacks.

The soil is vastly important in supporting the plant’s defense system. “Soil is a living ecosystem that includes minerals, air, water, and habitat for creatures plus the creatures themselves…Did you know that soil provides 14 of 17 essential plant nutrients?” (OSU EM 9304, 12/2020)

Soil, with all of its micro-organisms, fungi, and bacteria creates a symbiotic relationship with the plants. Some of the carbohydrates and lipids produced by the plants find their way to the roots and share their bounty with these micro-organisms. In exchange, soil’s micro-organisms allow water and trace minerals to be readily absorbed by the plant root system and carried up into the plant. The plants need the water and these nutrients to generate both growth and defense chemicals. And both plants and pathogenic organisms are constantly evolving to “outwit” the other for survival.

So, when you are out in your garden and witness your plant in stress or looking lackluster, or there are unusual looking spots or insects chowing down on a leaf, remember to first ask – how is the soil? Is it healthy? Remember that the soil supports the immune system of the plant. To learn more about this magnificent symbiotic relationship, you may be interested in the video, books and papers listed below.

 

Video:

  • Groundwork: A Family Journey into Regenerative Cotton. 16-minute video about a family that applied regenerative agriculture practices to restore the health of their soil. Click here to watch the video.

 

Reading List:

Gardening in the Fall

By Beet 2023 10 October

The Vegetable Demonstration Garden was planned to demonstrate companion planting, harvesting healthy and delicious food and sharing with ACCESS. For the past month or so the garden has been a source of great abundance. Over 300 pounds of produce has been harvested and donated to ACCESS so far this year from the garden.

Today you can walk through the verdant forests of tomatoes, tomatillos and sunchokes or gingerly step around buttery colored butternut squash, blue bachelor buttons and a kaleidoscopic of colorful nasturtiums, yellow and white yarrow, red and golden raspberries and much more. Not all of the plants were planted for culinary use and human consumption. Some were planted for their medicinal herbal qualities or to attract and/or repel various insects. Some plants are growing as cover crops to protect and nurture the soil of the various beds. Plants were chosen as companion plants to grow in harmony, reduce infestation, enhance soil and for many other purposes.

Now that the days are getting shorter and the nights are cooler, consider putting the garden to bed for the winter months. Commune with nature in the garden and think about different actions you can take to improve the garden over the winter. By spending time in your garden, you can learn to watch and observe before you make a move. You will notice that nature is way more willing to help than cause trouble. And, you may find ways that are less labor-intensive and built upon Nature’s processes. Then take your ideas and prepare for the winter.

 

The soil is the most important aspect of a healthy garden. Although the garden may seem inactive and dormant over winter, there are many actions to take to ensure the soil will be ready come spring for seeding and planting. For example:

  • Should you sow a cover crop?
  • Chop down the dying vegetable plants and cover with a tarp? (AKA “chop n drop.”)
  • Maybe cover with a thick layer of straw?

Maybe try all of these based on what will go into the garden next spring.

But it all starts with the soil. A healthy garden is balanced and biodiverse. If you have happy microbes in your soil, you have happy plant roots that can fight off pests and diseases and uptake more nutrients.

Every plant, every insect and every four-legged critter has a purpose. Look for the balance.

Your garden is as healthy and diverse as you wish to create it in harmony with nature. Your garden harvests sunshine, combines it with water and nutrients, and creates carbohydrates which it shares with multiple microbes and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. In return the mycorrhiza share micronutrients with the surrounding plants’ roots.

 

“Mycorrhizal symbiosis enables the fungi to forage for mineral nutrients

in the soil and deliver them to the trees in exchange for carbohydrates.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, Chapter: The Council of Pecans.

“Plants know how to make food and medicine from

light and water, and then they give it away.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, Chapter: Skywoman Falling.

 

In the fall as you remove the summer tomatoes and squash, be sure to leave the roots, water the beds and cover them to keep out the light. The microbes in the soil will over-winter well and will be ready for next spring when you return to plant. Come spring, you can remove what is left of the various roots of the plants. Leaving the roots over winter provides food and aeration for the soil biota. If your beds are raised you may wish to add amendments like calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) in preparation for next year’s tomatoes. If you have cover crops on some of the beds, maybe just chop n’ drop the cover crop, water and tarp for the winter. Next spring when you remove the cover you will see almost nothing is left of your chopped cover crop. It fed the soil critters.

 

Speaking of cover crops: What kind? And when to sow? These are great questions and the answer depends upon your plans for next year. The Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley has some tips. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) has great resources as well as Green Cover, a commercial cover crop company.

Now is the time think about how to prepare your garden for next spring.

  • Think of the soil.
  • Think about the types of covers.
  • Think about the microbes.
  • Think about balance and go out into your garden and sit and listen to nature.

 

Happy Autumn Equinox to everyone.

 

Companion Planting in the Vegetable Garden

By Beet 2023 07 July

The Vegetable Garden at the Southern Oregon Research Extension Center is managed by Master Gardeners who are growing a variety of vegetables. They are using companion planting techniques as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) approach, and to add nutrients to the soil and improve plant productivity.

 

CHIVES (Allium schoenoprasum)

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Chives are cultivated in the garden for their culinary value as well as their ability to repel a variety of insects such as aphids, carrot flies, potato beetles, cucumber beetles and to attract pollinators. They are also known to add flavor to tomatoes and deter blackspot when planted near roses.

 

 

YARROW (Achillea millefolium)

Shallots (Allium ascalonicum), garlic (Allium sativum) and yellow yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

 Plant rotation is used and this year shallots and garlic are planted in these rows. Notice the yellow yarrow at the end of the rows. Yarrow is another wonderful companion plant, as it attracts pollinators such as honey bees and other beneficial insects such as wasps, lady bugs, and hoverflies. This garden has over eight separate plants of yellow and white yarrow.

 

NASTURTIUMS (Tropaeolum majus)

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) and California poppies (Eschscholzia californica)

Nasturtiums are not only a lovely flowering plant to have in your garden, but the flowers also make a wonderful addition to salads and the plant has medicinal properties as well. Nasturtiums also attract aphids and are useful as a trap crop to keep them away from other vegetables. Plant them near your apple trees to help repel codling moth.

 

 

ONIONS, TOMATOES, LAVENDER AND BASIL

Onions, tomatoes, lavender and basil

Onions (Allium cepa), tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and basil (Ocimum basilicum) make for great companions. Basil actually helps tomatoes grow more vigorously. Onions repel many types of insects as well as ground squirrels and other small four-legged critters. Lavender is a great companion for squash, yarrow, onions and tomatoes. In this photo you can spot lavender, onions, tomatoes and basil all interspersed together. The onions were planted very early in the late winter. They were planted as a perimeter surrounding the tomatoes, basil and peppers which were planted later. The lavender is a perennial and acts as a sentry for the garden.

 

 

 These onions were planted later in the season. The bed looks a bit sparse in comparison to the other beds with onions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PACIFIC NORTHWEST WILDFLOWERS

California poppies (Eschscholzia californica)

 

Flowers attract pollinators and insects of all sorts. This year the flower garden was planted with a variety of PNW wildflowers.

 

 

 

 

Yarrow, Onions, Tomatoes and Basil

 Here you can spot yarrow, onions, tomatoes, peppers and basil together.

 

 

 

 

 

Resources:

Note that the information regarding specific companion plants may or may not be supported by extensive scientific studies, but there are centuries of anecdotal support for companion planting techniques.

 

 

“Take Two Aspirins and Call Me in the Morning” — Part of an IPM Program for your garden

By Beet 2022 11 November

Immunity Enhancement for Tomatoes and other Night Shade Plants

 

If your tomato plant gets sick just give it an aspirin. The common aspirin tablet (uncoated, non-buffered) has been shown to create a systemic reaction in tomato plants that builds up the resistance to microbial disease. It is called an activator for local disease resistance mechanisms including systemic acquired resistance (SAR).

Common (uncoated) aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid. Dissolving one tablet (approx. 350 mg) in pure water and then applying it to the leaves of your tomato plants (as a foliar application) will trigger a systemic acquired resistance (SAR) which tells the tomato that something is attacking it and it needs to build its immune defenses. Since you are applying this to the plant before the microbes are attacking, the plants are ready to better defend themselves. Think of it as a vaccine for tomato plants.

This application seems to work best when applied approximately every two weeks.

This can also be applied to the roots of plants but double the quantity. “Take two aspirins and call me in the morning.”

 

References:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23653630/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19400653/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32544865/

https://thescientificgardener.com/aspirin-tomato-plants

 

                                                                   

Catching the Rain

By Beet 2022 10 October

This year we have had two very successful water projects. First, we had the Emergency Water tanks when the well pump was offline. More recently came the installation of the Rain Catchment System by Sage Hill Landscapes.

 

As you may or may not recall, last January our irrigation pump at SOREC was shut off due to the low water table. But we had a challenge. We needed to continue to water our newly propagated plants and seedlings. A few of us got together and located small 250-gallon (caged) tanks at a very reasonable price. We applied for a grant from the Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District (https://www.jswcd.org)  and received a reimbursement grant. It was valuated at $1/gallon. In this case, it meant a maximum of $2,500 in total reimbursement. We were reimbursed for the entire amount of the emergency water system we created to irrigate the propagation underway in Greenhouse #2.                                           

 

 

The other project was to install a permanent Rain Catchment System so we would not need to pay for emergency water if that was needed. The project also served to demonstrate how a rain catchment system works and how easy it is to implement on nearly any home, farm or ranch.

  Photo by Sean Cawley  Cage Tanks Emergency Water Project

In fact, the Rain Catchment Project was ongoing when we encountered the emergency water need. We received a very favorable bid from Sage Hill Landscapes. They even donated one of the holding tanks to help us out in our pricing.

 

We again applied for a grant from Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District and obtained approval for a reimbursement grant with a maximum payout equivalent to the amount of water we would collect. In the case of our system, it was 5,000 gallons and therefore a maximum grant of $5,000. However, there were some challenges and JSWCD’s request list was long. We only received $2,500 in reimbursable grant funds. Thanks to a GoFundMe project that Lynn Kunstman initiated, we received nearly $10,000 in contributions.

We still have to pay for signage for the Rain Catchment System. We have not yet received estimated costs for the signage. The estimate for our total costs for the Rain Catchment System will be in the neighborhood of $2,500. That’s not too bad for a system that costs more than $14,000 overall.

Photo by Sean Cawely   Rain Catchment Tanks

 

Thanks need to go to the Water Committee: Lynn Kunstman and Susan Koening without whose assistance these projects would not have happened.