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Welcome to Gardens to Tables Gardening Tips Fruits & Vegetables Improving the Kitchen Garden Through Science
Improving the Kitchen Garden Through Science Print E-mail
Written by Marc McDowell, Executive Sous Chef, Ritz Carlton, Kapalua   

Marc McdowellI recently had Nick Sakovich come to visit the herb and vegetable gardens we put in earlier this year here at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. Like a lot of new gardeners, I didnít grow up farming so felt I needed some advice on what I was doing right and wrong (mostly wrong) and couldnít have found a better person than Nick, who was the farm adviser for the University of California in Orange, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and ran their master gardener program. Now retired, Nick lives on the Big Island where he gardens on three acres and writes a column for the Hilo Tribune. He came out with his wife for a three night stay, where we filled them with good food in exchange for his help with the garden.

Mostly Nickís advice centered on the theme of bringing what weíre doing back to the science -- that if you have a scientific foundation for what youíre doing, youíll be in much better shape.

Here, specifically, are a few of the areas we concentrated on:

The Soil. Itís important to analyze the soil youíre working with so you know what nutrients youíre lacking and therefore what kind of fertilizer you should be using. A specific test for plant pathogenic nematodes can also be performed. Or you can just pull up some susceptible plants like tomatoes and look for knotted or galled roots. The damage is obvious. Iím pretty sure weíre dealing with a lot of root knot nematodes. If you do have them, there are some things to do to manage them; namely plant non-host varieties and species in the infected areas. In regions with warm climates -- lots of sunshine -- soil sterilization is an option. Certain marigold species also help in reducing nematode populations. (Click "read more" for whole article)

Beyond the nutrients and nematodes, itís important to know the different soil layers youíre working with. There may be an impervious layer thatís holding the water and not letting it drain. Unless you break it up, itís kind of like a clogged sink with too much water sitting on top. Thatís what was happening with my fruit trees Ė essentially they were starting to rot.

Water. In general, we learned we were watering way too much. The best way to know if youíre giving your plants enough water is to dig down and see if the soil is damp all the way down. You can also use a tensiometer, which measures the water levels in your soil.

Insects. I learned another good tool to have is a magnifying glass Ė a pocket one is fine. Nick popped it out and was taking leaves off different plants and studying them. There was a world of stuff going on Ė mostly on the back of the leaves. Here are just some of the ones weíve been dealing with and how to get rid of them organically:

Ants: The ants we had were basically protecting the aphids from being parasitized by tiny wasps. So we cut off the ants Ė Tanglefoot used on the trunk of the tree Ė once the ants are taken care of then the parasites and predatory insects will come and take care of the aphid problem.

You can use a trap board, a piece of wood that you prop up and the slugs naturally go and hide behind it and then you just physically take them away. Sluggo is good because iron phosphate, according to their label, is not harmful to pets. Donít use Corryís Snug and Snail Bait as it has a chemical (metaldehyde) thatís not good for pets -- dogs will die if they ingest enough of it.

Mix up 1-3 tablespoons (check to make sure this is the label dosage) of sulfur per gallon and spray on tomato plants. Put just like a teaspoon of mild detergent, too. This helps it sticks to the leaf. I can use this on all my vegetables to keep away a lot of the insects. Although, in high temperatures, over 90, sulfur can burn some plants like cucurbits.

There are really more things than I can mention that Nick taught me in his short visit. Itís just great feeling I have someone in my corner who genuinely wants to see our gardens become a success Ė really, I canít put a price tag on what he taught me in those three days. Now that itís fall, weíll be planning peas, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuces (which, now that itís cooler than in the summer wonít bolt quite as quickly) and look forward to turning them into great recipes.

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