Can I be honest? Of all the beneficial resources available for the home garden, rarely do I find one with information specific to southern gardeners. A wealth of information exists for northern gardeners and even for those in California, but sometimes I just want to talk to another gardener who not only has to deal with oppressive heat but one who also knows the joy of gardening almost year-round.
That’s why I’ve enjoyed connecting with Texas gardener Misti Little of the Garden Path Podcast. While she finds her home two garden zones ahead of mine — in Zone 9b — I find we share many of the same garden joys and challenges. And we also share a like-minded viewpoint of incorporating an almost fanatical approach to the organic home garden.
Journey to an Organic Home Garden
Like many of us, Misti didn’t start as an organic gardener. Instead, the process was more of a journey. After learning more about the concept of an organic home garden, she transitioned from using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to using solely organic counterparts like compost and fish emulsion fertilizers and Neem Oil and Bt pesticides.
But unlike many of us, she didn’t stop there. Now, Misti prefers to even skip the organic alternatives and instead work with nature instead of against it. She prefers handpicking bad insects and tolerating a little damage before she starts spraying.
For example, she will likely plant an extra tomato plant or move a tomato hornworm to a different location rather than kill it. Why? First, the tomato hornworm moth is a helpful pollinator in the garden. Second, if left alone, many times a beneficial parasitic wasp will lay its eggs on the hornworm, which amps up the beneficial pest population in the garden, helping to control destructive bugs in the future. You can learn more about pest control without pesticides in this episode.
Incorporating Flowers that Attract Pollinators and Beneficial Insects in the Home Garden
Understanding that a healthy beneficial insect population not only contributes to a healthy garden ecosystem but also manages destructive insects in her edible garden, Misti plants a variety of flowers both in her landscaping and in her garden.
She finds plants such as borage, coneflower, Calendula, zinnia, and sunflowers attract bees and other beneficial insects. She also lets her herbs, brassicas (broccoli, arugula, etc), and greens go to flower instead of ripping them out of the garden right away. Those flowers also provide food for beneficial insects.
In many cases, the adults feed on the pollen, while the babies feed on pests.
Favorite Tomato Varieties for the Southern Garden
We all know some vegetables grow better in certain climates, and tomatoes are no exception. For southern gardeners who have grown frustrated when their beloved tomato plants cease producing in the heat of the summer, Misti has found some to last a bit longer in the heat. Her favorites are:
- Arkansas Traveler
- Cherokee Purple
- Amazon Chocolate
- Matt’s Wild Cherry
She has also found purchasing seed from southern seed supplies such as Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Sow True Seed to be helpful in choosing good varieties of all type of plants for her southern garden.
Other Plant Varieties to Try
Misti mentioned her favorite pumpkin to grow is the Seminole Pumpkin. She plants them in early June to avoid the squash vine borer’s life cycle in her area. The small pumpkins are only about six pounds and are great for cooking. They do vine profusely, though, so space is important.
For 2018, Misti is trying three new crops, which she mentioned in the podcast:
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