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When you purchase a packet of seeds, typically you will see a color coded map with a key to help you identify your growing zone. The USDA divides the United States into 11 separate planting zones. Each growing zone is 10 degrees (fahrenheit) warmer or cooler than the adjacent growing zone during an average winter. Near the color coded map there should also be a key with months in it. These months tell you the months in which it is best to begin planting or sowing seeds based on your growing zone.

While these maps do not tell you what is ideal to grow in your zone, it is important to know which plants will succeed in your growing zone and which will not. Where the map does come in handy is informing you of when to grow a particular plant. Some plants will grow into late fall just fine while other plants will not make it into the late fall months. Some plants can be started in doors before the traditional planting season and some cannot simply because they do not grow in containers well or they do not transplant well. Typically, plants cannot be started until the inside location (greenhouse) you have them in can remain above frost temperatures when temperatures dip.

Be careful to keep an eye out for cool summer nights when the last frost is already thought to have past. April is the big month to start sowing seeds in Norfolk, VA where we are (growing zone). Nonetheless, I have gotten more than my fair share of calls warning me about an ensuing frosty night. If you would like to learn more about protecting plants from frost, read our article “What do bed Sheets have to do with it?” dated May 2, 2020. To learn more about reading seed packets and the valuable information you can find on them read our article “Sow” dated May 12, 2020.

It amazes us how far we have come in such a short time in our journey. We have learned a lot together and in many ways our journey is just beginning. Our pest problems seem to be disappearing and the garden seems to be getting the start it needs. What has been the best part of the journey so far? How has your health changed? They say you need at least 30 days of consistency to see a change. What would you like to see in this journey? We have been getting a lot of comments, questions and positive feedback from everyone. And we would like you all to see what each other is saying, so feel at ease to leave your comments and questions here so the whole community can benefit. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep growing.

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

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Corona: The Environment

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As we wrote to you about rethinking organic, it has come to us to rethink many things about this organic journey and the significance of our health. Environmentalists have a lot to think about as well. As the onset of COVDI 19 has caused many to self quarantine, be quarantined and rethink spacing in many facets, environmentalists have been watching from above. And what they can see is a significant reduction in pollution. Like many who have seen some positive changes in the midst of COVID 19, they want to hold on to the positive changes that have come out of all of this.

Organic growers are much attuned to their environment and the effects it has on what they grow. As we look at what and the ways we consume, essentially our diet, so too our avenues of thought about cause and effect are broadened. We can see how pollution has decreased when we see the need to reclaim space for public health safety has caused bike sales to rise and consequently having a positive effect on the environment by reducing smog. As we struggled with understanding the pests in our own garden and paying homage to our Organic Journey, we were perplexed how a seemingly healthy plant could get into trouble so fast. One day the plant looked lush and green and the next day it was withering and dying.

Most Organic growers will tell you that the signs of pest are the signs of an unhealthy plant and the best way to address pests is to promote plant health. While I think they are right to some degree, I believe there is another component we must flesh out more. What about its environment? If I put a healthy plant in an environment that is unhealthy how long will it stay healthy? Not long. So while our plants were healthy, underneath the ground where we could not see, we currently suspect, was a vole tunneling holes through root systems and munching on our plants from underneath the ground. This put our perfectly healthy plants in serious danger, which we could not see from above ground. The plants would then become unhealthy and susceptible to pests.

This observation gives us pause to think about our health from many directions as we consider the environments of our foods as well as ourselves. How do pests or culprits unknown, unseen and clandestine impact the health of the plants we grow to eat and our environment at large? What are some ways we can identify pests in the environment of our plants as well as the environments we live in? What are 3 things we can do today to start to have a positive impact on the environment around us and the environments in which our foods are grown? Leave your comments and questions so the whole community can benefit. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep growing! Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today.

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Neem Oil

When our Cabbage & Brussel Sprouts leaves were being eaten up, we went in search for an Organic Remedy. Most organic gardeners and farmers will tell you the best remedy is plant health. Those plants that come under attack are typically not in good health. Although the vole might be putting them under stress. We found that the plants coming under attack were perfectly healthy plants but young and tender. Some of them were going through the transplant process and experiencing some stress and shock. All things we think the plants could bounce back from without problem. So, we have decided to give our plantings a little Organic help to promote growth and health while we get our garden off the ground.

Our search produced a recommendation to use Neem Oil. We found a product that left us with a little more questions than answers because it did not fully disclose all of its ingredients. We discovered that Neem Oil is often mixed with dish detergent and water. The emulsifier in the dish detergent helps break down the oil and give it a little structure. Naturally the oil will loosen up if heated but that is not a good application method for your plants. Once the detergent, water and neem oil mixture is made it must be used otherwise it will break down and become unusable. Well we want to know what we are putting on our food so, we found 100% cold pressed neem oil. We will add our own water. If you decided to use detergent, we recommend Castile soap, which is a natural (and can be organic) soap with no chemicals. You can find this soap at your local store or order it online. We found our Neem Oil online for about $5 per 8 ounces plus shipping. We decided to buy in bulk so we got 32 ounces for that price (per 8 ounces).

Although we think it is still to early to tell, the results thus far have been very positive. We have seen a noticeable difference in the amount of flies. They have decreased in number and have become more clandestine. Just because they get clandestine does not mean they are gone. Remember to keep up your Organic Remedy Regimen for at least 2 – 4 weeks. It is recommended to keep treating plants 2 weeks after desired results are achieved. Click here to learn more about Neem Oil from the Smiling Gardener. We did not buy our Neem Oil from this supplier, but found them to have a great deal of knowledge regarding Neem Oil as it relates to gardening and farming.

This Organic Remedy should allow our plants time to get over any shock or stress. We also dug new ground and are always learning what works best. So, there are a lot of factors to consider. We wanted a product whose ingredients we knew. Also, we are always looking for a good deal. We don’t mind mixing up our own Neem Oil solution in order to get these things. We believe you should know what is on and in your food. So, we decided to go with a small business owner supplier who provided unfiltered and cold pressed Neem Oil.

We have high hopes for our garden once these seedlings have an opportunity to flourish. They are on average very healthy and strong. The introduction of Soil Blocks and other methods that discourage disease have significantly improved our sowing success, it is on track to be 100% of seeds sown sprout into healthy plants. The transplanting process has been improved. And we are in the process of helping them catch root quicker. Discouraging voles and other mole like animals should also keep the plants from being uprooted once successfully transplanted. What we believe is a vole could have also been preventing our plantings from developing healthy root systems as well as taking root sooner and completing the transplant process. We will be observing if these pest remedies shorten the transplant process.

We believe the Neem Oil will help keep pests at bay and give these plants a chance to recover from any stress or shock. When reading packages they often make EPA, USDA and other certifications. Do you know what these standards are and are these standards acceptable to you? Do you think manufacturers should release all ingredients despite their desire to protect trade secrets? How can you help influence EPA & USDA standards that are more transparent and acceptable to your own personal standards? Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

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Flower of Hope

With all that has been going on in the garden with pests, we have felt a little behind schedule with the sowing season. Not to mention, we have been feeling very frustrated. Nonetheless, we have remained calm and we know the best thing overall when growing anything is to work with rather than against nature. Least the very thing you are trying to grow is also adversity effected. This morning we just were not sure what we would find. It seems to be one day after another that a plant is attacked and eaten by either ants, vole or flies. The plants are not even big enough to harvest yet and the flies are snacking away. We got the Mole Max and some other Organic Remedies that we are trying. The Mole Max should have charged one more day. We could not wait for results so we went a day early and it seems to be operating fine.

Although it is still very early, we saw fewer flies today due to the Neem Oil. We also saw fewer attacks on plants. But what we believe is a vole, seems to be attacking less. We can not see it so we have not been able to identify it. We had our eye out for the culprit and then eventually went to our local gardening center for help. We were at our wits end and coming up on the close of the sowing season for our Zone. Like my father stated “its some type of mole or golfer”. He is a hunter and very attuned to animals and their signs. Hunters are great at spooring. A vole is mole or golfer like and remains pretty unseen. So far, things seem to be moving in the right direction. Although the ants are still out in high numbers. We will be persisting with our Organic Remedy Regimen, knowing that pests are pretty persistent. It was good to see that Green Bean thus far has survived and is blossoming rather than seeing another plant fatality after watching it grow for weeks. Once the plants bare their flowers pollination should take place and the fruit of the plant should not be far behind.

Stay tuned for updates on how the other plants are progressing and how things are going with our Organic Remedies to pests. In order for this garden to get off the ground. We must get our pests problem under control soon. The season is going on and it is time for these plantings to grow up into full fledge plants. Which flowers are your favorite flowers? Do they come from a fruit or vegetable plant? What did you learn today? Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

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Organic Remedies

We have been facing a few pests in our garden some unseen; some low key and some unknown. As we have shared in the past, the Ants have been a persistent pest that we have been dealing with. While we thought they were gone or no longer an issue, we can see that they just became more low key. Here are a few organic remedies we have identified:


  • Ground Black Pepper and Water solution around the perimeter of the garden. We also poured it between the rows. You can also apply via spray bottle.
  • Cinnamon Oil and Water. We have not yet tried this remedy, but we hear that it works.
  • White Vinegar
  • Boiling Water

We like the Ground Black Pepper and Water Solution better because it should create a border around the garden that the ants do not cross. The Vinegar and Boiling Water had some adverse effects on the plants. Although they recovered, we think the Ground Black Pepper Solution should be a lot less intrusive.


We saw the flies in the garden but thought they were harmless until one of our friends and contributors came by to check on the garden. He informed us that the flies were eating the plants. That is why we have seen holes in the cabbage and Brussles Sprouts. We had applied white vinegar to the area, which scorched the leaves of the plants when they were younger.  Initially we though the holes were because of this. But he clarified that the flies were eating our delicious plants. Naturally, we plan to do that.

Our friend and contributor informed us that we could get a spray to discourage the flies from eating the plants. We went to our local nursery / store and talked to an associate regarding the problem and he know just what we were talking about. I told him that we are on an organic journey and needed an Organic solution and he immediately pointed out a product with Neem Oil as the active ingredient. Neem Oil is indeed a natural fly repellent that comes from the Neem Tree, which is an evergreen. The product we got / Neem Oil is a Fungicide, Miticide & Insecticide. It thus is a three in one repellent. The product we got has less than 1% of Neem Oil. We have since seen products with more Neem Oil and would probably opt for those next time to give us a bigger bang for our buck. We are guessing that the other inactive ingredient is water.

Mole like

We have also been under the most duress by the disappearing of our transplant leaves. Green Bean, Tomato and Pumpkin all have fallen prey to this pest. We thought it was because of the ants. The ants have indeed gotten more clandestine and are still a pest problem. However, some of the activity seemed too large for ants even if it was an army of ants. So, we talked, again, with the staff at the local nursery / store and conducted some research and discovered that while the issue may not actually be a mole it could be a mole like animal causing the issue. We discovered this after the staff member put in a call to her mother who is somewhat of an expert on these matters. She seems like a lady with several years of observation experience.

After identifying this underground culprit we could not see, the nursery staff member was able to recommend an organic and environmentally friendly product that uses sound as a repellent for these pests. The Mole Max – Mole & Gopher Repeller Sonic Spike. It uses solar power to operate and sound to repel. It covers 7,500 square feet, which should be more than enough for our small garden. We have to let it solar power up for 2 days before anchoring it into the ground and activating it for use.

As the sowing season is closing fast, we hope to get the rest of our transplants out and to alive our plants of any hindrance to growth. Many of these plants are small and vulnerable. They need to develop roots systems in order to get the nutrients they need to survive and to grow. So they do not have a fighting chance because of the types and multitudes of attacks they have been facing. We are hoping to get them off the ground and growing like the other plantlings that were brought here from the nursery / store. Some of the remedies we have identified will take some time to be effective. Some will take up to a few weeks before we begin to see results. We must persist with our Organic remedy regimen knowing that pests can also be persistent.

Stay tuned for updates on how these Organic pest remedies are working and what alterations we make based on the results we get. In our research we discovered many natural remedies for pest that you can get right out of your kitchen. We have also discovered there is a good product selection on the market for the Organic Gardener, which is a huge relief and resource. We are hoping these remedies are effective for us and help our plants get the fighting chance they need to grow into plantlings and full fledge fruit bearing plants. These pest issues have been simmering for too long and we hope today that we are well on our way to nipping them in the bud. We will begin putting our transplants out once we have the Mole Max in place. We are working with a fast ticking clock since the sowing season is quickly wrapping up so we will put them out and monitor the issue closely. We hope for fruitful results.

As always you are the best part of what we do. Some of you are already aware of the pest issues we have been facing. Thank you for your feedback and suggestions. My dad was spot on weeks ago that the pest issue was a mole or a golfer, so the staff member at the nursery / store believes. How do you identify pests in your garden or yard? What are some organic, natural or environmentally friendly remedies that you have identified? How will this help you with your garden? Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

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Keen Observation

Pumpkin Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

As Eliot Coleman would say, some of the best farmers are observers. The farmers he learned from were keen observers. There are many benefits to making keen observations in your garden besides the sheer joy of watching the plants grow from a seed into full fledge fruit bearing plants.

  • Identifying issues such as disease or crowding of plants
  • Identify best practices, which your plants respond favorable to
  • Identifying practices to change, which your plants do not respond well to
  • Identifying Harvest time

Pumpkin was the first transplant to go into the garden. During watering time we observed that both of pumpkins leaves were missing. It was pretty difficult to miss. We were from there able to identify that we had a pest around our garden attacking just the leaves of the tender young transplants killing its chance to grow. Since the fatal attack, we were able to resow pumpkin from the arsenal of seeds that we saved. It has been several weeks since we resowed pumpkin. Without fail it has come from beneath the surface with deep and rich green leaves. These seeds came to us from a friend who got them fresh from a pumpkin. We have a few fall loving people who are very pleased to see pumpkin return.

We have had several friends and gardening cohorts come by recently. Some sharing advice and best practices for gardening and farming. Others checking on the progress of the garden and the plants in the garden. And yet others who have been dropping off seeds and growing kits. We are always thrilled to have visitors in addition to the birds who always come by to visit. We want to thank MiMi for giving us a growing kit of Cynoglossum amabile flowers. Growing kits are a great way to introduce yourself to gardening and to get children involved in the process as well. We will be talking more about MiMi’s flower in the next article. Thank you MiMi!

How can you sharpen your sense of observation? What are the benefits of keen observation in your garden? What observations have you made from the photos that we have shared? Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Thank you for taking this journey with us. We are as thrilled as you are.

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Near Fatality – The Follow Up

As you might remember, when Roma & San Marzano were transplanted, Roma Tomato was transplanted next to San Marzano. Roma tomato had an ant infestation at the bottom of her pot. This infestation could have happened in the mini greenhouse or outside during acclimation. Either way, Roma was in trouble and we could not tell from top side. We discovered the infestation when we went to remove Roma from her pot and place her in the ground. Roma was uprooted from her new home in the ground and left inches from her mound with no source of nutrition. We are sad to say that Roma did not make it and had to be resown right into the ground. Because it is now April and we have likely seen the last frost for the year, it should now be safe to sow right into the ground and transplanting is not as necessary. Though we do have another Roma plant that came to us as a plant and not a seed. She is growing taller everyday and doing very well.

San Marzano Tomato
San Marzano Hierloom Tomato – Organic Seed
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

San Marzan was also tugged from her mound and had to be nursed back into her mound and into good health. We are happy to report that she seems to be recovering nicely and taking to her new home (pictured above). Her stalk is strong and her leaves are high.

As we stated, our goal is to get them into plantlings and outside into the garden fast. As April was the popular month for our Zone (Norfolk, Virginia) for planting. Some seeds should be sown in May (check your seed packages). But, for the most part our seeds should have all gone out in April. So we are filling in our rows as quickly as we can. Speaking of which, you can see pictured in our featured image, green bean and habenaro pepper lined up to be the next transplants that go into the garden. It seems like one after the other these days. They are both acclimating well and looking good for transplanting.

We know a couple of people as stated in a previous article who like it hot. So, this is for you. Stay tuned for updates and harvest season for habenaro. We have a couple questions with answers coming up soon and an update on the Soil Blocks. What did you learned from this experience? What questions do you have? What subjects would you like to see for our next article? Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

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The golfer or the ant?

Our overall pests problems have been few. Because our mini greenhouse (as we like to call it) was set up in our garage, we have also experienced a few mold outbreaks that were detrimental to the spinach and herbal seedlings to our great dismay. But the ants have come out, as they always do, in large numbers and have been our greatest challenge.

You guessed it. When these pests and their friends showed up we took the organic route. We first did everything we could to improve the health of the plant. In this instance our plants came straight from the store and into the ground. We will not make that mistake again. Stay tuned for a more successful way to transplant. Needless to say, our plants had a severe case of shock and stress and the tomato plant on the end suffered the most.

We then rid the plants of the ants with a regimen of boiling water, white vinegar and then flooding with water from the hose. It was successful. However, we have seen them rear their heads again in a more clandestine manner. So, while these organic remedies were successful, the best remedy is to keep plants as healthy as possible. It is not always easy to see when a plant is in trouble. And when the ants get more clandestine in their attacks, sometimes you can not see it until it is too late. The best remedy for this is to occasionally give your plants a 360 degree check. In the case of garages which love mold, also check for odors.

an ant uprooting fatality (roma tomato)
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Our Roma Tomato plantling seemed to be doing just fine. So, we began the transplant process. When we went to put Roma in the ground we found a swarm of ants at the bottom of Roma’s pot made out of a cardboard like material. We found that clay pots work best to discourage mold and disease in a garage like environment. The cardboard like pots were very ineffective in this. Again, we went the organic route when mold appeared. We discarded all mold infested material. Even soil. And washed the pots in a bleach and water solution, which effectively got rid of all visible mold. We are now in the process of transitioning these pots out, transplanting and moving to soil blocks, clay pots and clay trays. Stay tuned for more on soil blocks and how they help you save in more ways than one.

Since the top soil seemed in tact, we noted the ants and moved on and planted Roma in the soil. Big mistake. The next day we found Roma up rooted and a few feet from her mound. Apparently the ants kept working from underneath the plant after we transplanted Roma and moved her right out of the ground. In retrospect we would have tried our natural remedies or removing the infested soil. We also recommend checking your pots 360 degrees when you have them outside for acclimation.

We found that these organic remedies were effective, but we have to follow these ants down all the way so to speak. They are very crafty and not to be underestimated. A word of caution. The boiling water and white vinegar had an adverse effect on the leaves and plants overall. When using these methods be careful to aim only for the ants and not the plants. Aim low in this case. Also these remedies are only for ants. Each pest will have its own natural remedy.

Do you know of any other organic remedies that can be used in the organic garden? What do you do to keep your plants healthy and to come to their aid when they are sick? Try this organic remedy and tell us how it worked out in your garden. Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Keep sharing!

If these articles have been helpful to you and yours, give a donation to Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook Ezine today.

white spots on the leaves from the boiling water and white vinegar organic ant remedy
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook