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Solutions to Your Top 6 Vegetable Garden Challenges (+ More Wisdom From The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener)

Nominees: Joey and Holly Baird

Home Digs: Mequon, WI

Company: The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener

Website: TheWisconsinVegetableGardener.com

Follow At: Podcast, Digital Magazine, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest

Listen At: The Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener Radio Show:

Saturdays at 9:00 a.m. CDT on WNOV 860 AM and 106.5 FM (Milwaukee)

Sundays at 7:00 a.m. EDT on WWDB 860 (Philadelphia)

Note: Season 2 ends October 27. Catch Holly and Joey in March for the start of Season 3, and stay tuned in to their past episodes here.

Fast Facts: While Joey Baird grew up on a large grain and beef farm in southern Illinois, wife Holly was a city girl in Milwaukee with a small veggie garden. Both, however, were reared on respect for sustainable living rooted in “The Three Rs”: reduce, reuse, and recycle. So, when the couple first met, there had to be a beautiful garden in the making. Sure enough, today Joey and Holly cultivate nearly 3,000 square feet of urban garden space. What’s more, they’ve helped plant the seeds of success for countless other home gardeners through myriad videos, radio broadcasts, social posts, and training classes. With a motto of “Grow with us,” the cultivating couple has grown, canned, and upcycled their way into the hearts of many who also value “simple home living.”

Nominated By: Alethea C. | Wisconsin

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From your experience, what are the top challenges growers face in their vegetable gardens—and how can they solve them? 

  1. Pests, such as deer and rabbits—Use a fence for most; there are other options out there, but sometimes simply investing in a barrier is best for continued success.
  2. Weeds—Stay on top of weeding by doing a little each time you visit your garden. Sometimes you might just have to let it go a little, though, because life happens.
  3. Becoming overwhelmed—Gain an understanding of how to grow small, then start to work on a larger garden. And, by all means, grow what you know you will eat and use! If you don’t eat okra, then don’t grow it.
  4. Think outside of the garden bed—Maybe your grandparents and parents always grew in the ground, but that seems like a lot of work and commitment for you. That’s okay—there are many options out there, from containers to raised beds to straw bales, etc.
  5. Embrace your mistakes and failures—We still have failures. They happen, so learn from them and move on. We cannot grow cauliflower and broccoli, so, after a few years of failed attempts, we’ve let it go and now grow other things in that space.
  6. Build your soil. Soil is the lifeblood of plants. We build our soil with organic matter, such as compost, leaves, coffee grounds, etc. Worms are what your soil needs, and adding organic matter to your soil will attract those worms naturally and encourage them to build their homes there.

Bonus fun tip: If you grow something for the fruit or root, it needs full sun. If you grow it for the greens, then partial sun is where it’s made.

What steps do you follow for seed starting?

We base our seed starting on the last average frost date and make sure we use the correct size container to start them. Then we select well-draining and fertile seed-starting mix. Some people buy potting soil or make their own seed-starting mix—either way, you want to use something that has slow-release fertilizer in it. That’s the key. And cheap is not always better—we’ve tried some less expensive products, and planting in sand would have been a better option (please don’t plant in sand!). We also use grow lights, and make sure the seeds stay watered.

How does gardening root crops differ from growing other crops? What is your pro advice for bountiful production?

Root crops like loose and fertile soil. We’ve discovered our root crops do best in containers and raised beds, where we can ensure the soil has zero chance of compaction. Full sun is best too. Plant seeds directly in the ground, and watch them grow.

Our readers are always asking for tomato tips. What are your favorite picks for tomato varieties in the Upper Midwest, and how do you help them thrive?

We like Brandywine varieties, Ace 55, Wisconsin 55, and Purple Cherokee.

Here are two of our best tomato tips:

  1. Avoid early blight by sprinkling a handful of whole grain cornmeal around the plant at the time of planting, and mulch around the plants. Most people have an issue with blight, and it’s best to prevent it right away.
  2. Stake/cage your tomatoes to keep them off the ground. Keeping the vines off the ground will double your production.

You’re both proponents of straw bale gardening. Can you explain the basic tenets, why you practice it, crops that flourish, and how to succeed as a beginner? 

It is best to consult Straw Bale Gardens Complete, the book that explains the entire method. However, whether you’re a beginner or experienced gardener, this is a brilliant and ideal way to garden. You do have to condition the bales (which the book explains), but once this is done almost anything grows in them prolifically—with the exception of perennial crops (you get two seasons max from one bale) and corn (as you need to grow it in grids, and it will use a lot of bales to yield very little corn). But, pretty much everything else will flourish. Again, the key is conditioning the bales. And you want to use straw, not hay, ideally. I think our favorite part about the method is that there are virtually no weeds!

Read More: “Straw Bale Gardening: How to Succeed”

Holly, you’re an avid canner. Can you walk us through the fundamentals of the process, as well as which crops can be canned versus which can’t?

I practice canning safely. Canning is a science—you are preserving perishable food in a jar so that it is shelf stable. If you follow the process step by step, use a recipe published in the last 10 years, and do not take shortcuts, you will keep you and your canned food safe and fresh.

Most crops can be canned. It all depends on the method. Water bath or boil water bath canning is for high-acid foods or foods to which acid or sugar have been added, while pressure canning is for low-acid foods. I took canning classes at my local recreation department to get a feel for what I was doing best. We do have several videos on our website showing the process. I would also consult the National Center for Home Food Preservation and FreshPreserving.com, which is the Ball Corporation website.

Please share a few of your go-to resources for successful gardening in your part of country . . . and beyond!

We always find great information on university Extension websites. They have tried and tested solutions!

Read More: “6 Reasons You Should Call Your Extension Office Today”

With the holidays fast approaching, can you share one of your favorite homemade recipes with our readers?

Of course—here is the recipe for Holly’s Pumpkin Pie.

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