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Damaged Trees   June 27, 2005

Lawn care can be tough on young trees.  You are going along trimming or mowing and bam!  Before you know it, the tender bark on a tree is removed and you feel horrible.  "How could you be so careless," you ask yourself?  (Been there, done that!)  But if you act promptly you can repair the tree bark and in a year most of the damage won't be visible.  Damage to tree bark is common when using line trimmers, especially high powered trimmers, mowers or other machinery.

How to repair damaged tree bark:

These guidelines pertain to young tender trees.  (There isn't much that can be done if a car plows into the large old tree in your front yard and takes a chunk out of the tree.)

Immediately secure the bark back into place with duct tape or strapping tape.  Both hold up well in wet weather.

Make a notation on your calendar to check the tree in 3 months.  The bark should have healed by this time; if not put new tape on the injury and write another reminder on your calendar in 3 more months to check the tree.

Remove the tape.  Both duct tape and strapping tape will strangle a growing tree so it is important to remove the tape.

What about tree sealing products?

Studies have shown the black tarry stuff used to put on injured trees doesn't help and some experts believe is slows down the healing process; don't bother.

What if there isn't any bark to put back into place?

It is important that the injured area have as clean a cut as possible.  This encourages healing with a nice round-edged scar.  If the area is torn use a utility knife or sharp razor blade to cut the edges into a nice straight line.  Try to shape the damaged area into the shape of an eye socket, narrow on the ends and wider in the middle.  This will help the tree heal quicker and make a nice sealed scar.  The biggest problem with injuries is that insects hide under the bark and cause further damage.  When a tree heals with a good solid scar, insects can't crawl under the bark.

If you have a lawn company taking care of your yard, it is important to let them know that you are aware that tree damage is common and you would appreciate notice of damage so you can repair any bark that has been damaged.  If you approach them in a friendly manner maybe they will speak up when something happens.  It is important that not much time elapses before the repair is started.


Your Tree's Central Leader   June 20, 2005

Most trees have better form and are stronger with one central leader and branches going out from that one trunk.  It weakens the tree during storms when a trees main trunk splits off into two or more trunks.  To preserve your tree's strength maintain a central leader.  (There are a few exceptions to this rule such as catalpa trees and some fruit trees that are purposely pruned differently or some species that are grown in clumps such as birch trees.)

Sometimes out of the clear blue sky a tree's central leader is damaged.  Pine tree tops are often targets of saw flies which eat right through the tender tops.  Other damage can be caused by storms or in the form of two legged critters, kids!   When the central leader is broken in younger pliable trees correction is rather simple.

Fixing a broken leader:

Identify and single out a "new leader".  A new leader will be a branch or new growth that can be up-righted, gently braced and encouraged into a new leader.  All other competing growth must be pruned off or maintained in a horizontal position.  The tree naturally will grow upright branches when the central leader is missing.  In the case of a pine tree there will often be several branches in a slight horizontal position to choose from.  Support and gently brace the 'chosen' branch to an upright position.  You can use a stick, a wood dowel, a small rod, a stiff wire or most anything that will help hold the new leader upright.  Secure the brace with twist tie material.  (You can use other material for securing, but twist ties are easiest.)  One year should be plenty of time for the new leader to take on its new orientation and bracing material can be removed.  The tree will now grow correctly and after a few years its misfortune will be hardly noticed, if at all.


Dividing Perennials   June 13, 2005

All perennials are not created equal; some live happily in the original form behaving nicely year after year while others need more attention.  These more needy perennials require division after two or three years signaling you with die back in the center of the plant and new growth radiating out from the dead "mother" plant.  (Ungrateful kids!)  A common perennial requiring division is the hardy chrysanthemum and if not attended to with division and restarting new plants the 'mum' plant will become sparse and scattered loosing a nice mounded appearance.

Start your division with a well watered bed; the plant will recover quicker and digging will be easier.  Dig out the whole plant or parts of the plant (some parts can remain as new plants), removing the dead center.  Determine if you are just going to regroup all the new growth to form one nice new big clump or do you want numerous new plants?  Which ever route you take, replant the new healthy grow into the ground and water well.  Keep the area well watered for at least a week so the disturbed roots will actively grow and reestablish themselves.

When to Divide:

When to divide perennials depends on when they flower.  Early in the season is good for mums because they don't bloom until late summer and fall.  Wait to divide perennials that bloom early in the spring or summer until they are done blooming.

'Extra Tip' for hardy chrysanthemums:  "Pinch back three times by the fourth of July" is a term to remember.  Pinching back new growth will result in fuller, bushier plants covered with more blooms in the fall.  For plants with rigorous growth, cut or pinch off a full 1/3 of the plant each time.  Plants growing more slowly don't need quite so much taken off but still remove the ends of the stems for more blooms.


Carefree Landscaping   June 5, 2005

We have often discussed the merits of mulching vegetable gardens with newspaper and leaves or grass clippings but haven't addressed the use of landscape fabrics much.  There are some great landscape fabrics available now at reasonable prices.  Used in the proper place they can be a real time saver and keep beds looking tip-top.

What type of fabric to buy?

Landscape fabric should be porous so it allows water and air through but dense enough to keep weeds from growing through.   Don't use a non-permeable plastic film; it doesn't breathe or allow water through.  Solid plastic films will create "dead" ground underneath; earthworms will move away too! 

When to use landscape fabric:

Permanent beds or "foundation plantings" are great examples of where to use landscape fabric.  These are beds that contain plants that are permanent and not much changes in them year after year.

Landscape fabric can be used on vegetable gardens also if the fabric is pulled up at the end of the season; the soil will need amending with organic material to support next year's crops. 

When not to use landscape fabric:

Beds where you want to plant annuals.  One way around this dilemma is to maintain a bare area or strip for the planting of annuals and cover the remainder with fabric. 

Poor soil that needs amending.  Wait to cover poor soil with fabric until it is fertile and healthy so it will support plant life.  This is achieved by amending with organic materials.

Perennial beds where you desire the plants to spread or multiply.

Gardens where you like to move things around often. 

Gardens planted with flowering bulbs.

Cut out holes for plants, shrubs and trees.  Cover fabric with mulch of your choosing.  There are many choices for mulching over fabric; wood chips, bark chips, coco hulls, pine needles, etc.   

As a final finish to the carefree bed, install landscape edging around the bed's perimeter to keep grass from encroaching into the bed. 

Installing landscape fabric and edging is a huge job but once it is done it will last for years.  Now, sit back and drink your nice cool drink and enjoy the beauty of all that hard work.


After Bloom Tulip Care   May 30, 2005

Once the blossoms have dropped from tulips (and other spring blooming bulbs) the care they receive will affect next year's flowers.  Sunshine, nutrients and water need to be supplied to the plant, mostly via the leaves.  Yes, those ugly leaves everyone wants to cut down and move onto summer flowers.  But if you want your tulips to produce lovely flowers next year you must be patient with their 'uglies'.

Cut off seed heads and stem where the flower used to be.  Developing seeds will take nutrients away from the bulb.  If you want more tulips, growing your own seeds is painstakingly slow and often unfruitful.  Better to have the bulb multiply underground.

Keep leaves intact to receive as much sunshine as possible.  ('Martha' has had cute little demonstrations how to roll or braid the leaves but I don't think this will benefit the bulb at all.  I want my bulbs to grow new baby bulbets so my tulips will multiply.  Rolling or braiding the leaves not only could damage the leaves but will diminish the sun exposure to the leaves.)

If the leaves are too unsightly for you, try planting other plants around them for detraction.

You can add bulb fertilizers or regular fertilizers to the area if your bulbs aren't getting enough nutrients.  Or use compost for a more natural approach.  Water well.

Once foliage starts to yellow and die you can remove the leaves.

Bonus Tip!

Many of our readers know how to take care of their bulbs so here is a bonus tip!

For those 'dirty gardener's hands' (stained finger nails and skin that won't come clean) use lemon juice.  Wash hands and under fingernails, dry and dip fingers into a small bowl of a little lemon juice.  For extra dirty nails, once you have dipped into the juice, use another fingernail to go under the nails again.  More dirt and stains will come off.  I have not found anything that works as well as lemon juice plus it is natural and cheap.  I keep a covered bowl on the counter with lemon juice in it during the spring and summer; it can be reused several times


Composting - Without Fear!  May 23, 2005

We talk a lot about compost and how beneficial it is to the soil and plants but few people actually compost.  Why?  I think because they are fearful of smells, critters, yuky stuff, and the whole process.  I have read several articles about 'how to compost' which could leave the reader feeling if you don't do it just right you are going to mess it up and instead of having compost you will end up with a smelly mess.  Well, here we are to the rescue!  You can make your own compost, keep your yard and kitchen waste out of the landfills and benefit your gardens.

Benefits of "Gardener's Gold"

High nutrient content for plants, like vitamins to them
Soil conditioner; repair clay to sandy soils
Better water retention
Fights diseases
Helps correct Ph levels
Adds beneficial microorganisms

What style fits you?

All types of compost piles can be assembled-you decide.

Out in the open piles, sun or shade
In 'ready to use' bins or tumblers you can purchase
Bins you make yourself from pallets, blocks or other discarded materials
Slow pile (you don't do much other than assemble materials and wait a year or two for decomposition to take place.)
Fast pile (Turn weekly with a pitch fork or tumble in a "Composter".  Keep moist like a wrung out sponge.  Can be ready in a month to 3 months, depending on size of raw material.)

Get a Good Mix

One of the biggest fears people have about making compost is the smell; but a compost pile need not smell if you have a mix of brown and green materials.  This is where I say to the 'experts', "Oh, leave them alone!  The average person isn't going to figure percentages!"  I am not even going to give you the percentages 'experts' say you need of brown vs. green material.  Just get a mix of what brown and green materials you have and make compost!

*Brown - leaves, straw, pine needles or other dry materials

*Green - lawn clippings, kitchen scraps (no meat or dairy), weeds (no noxious weeds, weeds with mature seed heads or weeds capable of propagating from small pieces of roots such as quack grass) or other green plant materials

How to Start

Choose the style that fits your needs.  Add brown and green material along with some garden soil to inoculate the pile with microorganisms.  You can add egg shells, coffee grounds and filters, and just about any scraps that were plant based.

To Speed Things Up

The more you turn a compost pile the quicker it will decompose.  Turning weekly speeds things up; think of it as exercise! Turning introduces oxygen into the pile which speeds up the process.
Keep materials moist
Shredded materials will decompose quicker than large pieces.  Sticks take a long time to decompose; I don't like sticks in my piles.
Sunshine will speed things up but you will need to monitor the moisture level more often.  A dry pile will slow down considerably.
Once you have a large pile assembled, start a new one so the first one can finish.  If you keep adding to the first pile it will never finish.

Tip from experience!

When I was new to all this gardening stuff, I decided I needed my compost NOW!  Big mistake!  The materials hadn't fully decomposed so the seeds and sprouts from the raw materials were still viable.  I had cucumbers, potatoes and some other veggies growing in my flowerbed like weeds.  (A "weed" is anything growing in a place you don't want it.)  Don't use compost until it is dark, crumbly and 'soil like' in consistency.  No identifiable material should be present.

Have a designated container in your kitchen to collect all your kitchen scraps.  I use a covered plastic box, shoebox size.  Most of the time I just rinse it with hot water after emptying it, but when it gets discolored I use bleach and hot water to get it cleaner.  Just fill with hot water and a little bleach.  Allow to soak.

So, there you have it!  Get composting, no excuses!


Starting a New Garden Without Much Planning   May 16, 2005

I had planned on writing about composting and how easy it can be to become a 'composter' (many people are intimidated by composting) except this past week I heard from people who want to start a new garden this year but didn't prepare the area last fall.  So I am going to put composting on hold for a week and write about the easiest garden I have ever 'not planned'.

Years ago we bought property to build on, primarily because we didn't have enough sunshine at our home to grow all the things we wanted to grow.  (Maybe it was "things I wanted to grow"!)  We had a lot of work to do on the property before we built so we spent a lot of time at the vacant land.  One day while working I decided on the spur of the moment I wanted to have a test vegetable garden on the land.  We had a vegetable garden at home and I wanted to compare the two locations.

I went over to the neighbors and asked for all the newspapers they had and told John I needed some soil brought to my new garden.  I mowed the area, wet it with the neighbor's hose and water, laid down newspapers (about 8 to 10 pages thick) and then John used the tractor to load soil on top, about 3 inches deep.

The next time I came out I brought transplants of vegetable plants, dug into the soil, newspapers and ground.  Then I planted the transplants into the ground.  The garden turned out so good my neighbor remarked, "Your garden is better than ours and you don't even live here!"

Weeds weren't a problem because of the newspapers.  If I had skipped that part I can guarantee weeds would have taken over.  Watering wasn't a problem because the newspaper retained moisture.  It was a truly successful garden!  In the fall John tilled everything into the soil which improved the soil for the next year.

You can start a new garden described as above or if you have access to a roto-tiller, till up the area and then use newspapers to cover the broken sod.  Proceed as outlined above.  If you don't cover a newly tilled area with newspapers I can guarantee the weeds will win the war and you will feel like a gardening failure.  If you can break ground with a tiller lay down a layer of paper with leaves or grass clippings on top.  Use new soil on top if you can't break ground.

Newspaper tips:

Use only newsprint, no glossy advertising.

Remove all glossy pages before you go outside, it is a hassle to separate all of the papers while laying the papers down on the ground.

Lay the papers in an orderly fashion as much as possible.  If you start laying them any which way, gaps will result and weeds and grass will grow through the soil or mulch.

No need to open the papers up, just use as they are naturally folded unless sections are particularly thick.

Have a hose ready to spray the papers in sections as you are working so they don't blow away.

This method is best for transplants.  Direct seeding, such as with beans, will be difficult.  Possibly it will work if the added soil on top of the papers is deep enough but remember roots need plenty of room to grow down into the ground; plus the soil on top of the papers will dry out quickly.

So even if you haven't prepared a bed by now you can have at least some tomatoes and a few other summer favorites!


Harden Off Those Seedlings   May 9, 2005

It is that time of the year when seedlings are being transplanted into many gardens.  Remember these are baby plants; plants that have been pampered.  It can be very stressful on them to be planted directly out into the garden without a more gradual transition.  Any time a plant is stressed it could be set back a few weeks, a month or in some situations, the plant will never recover to its fullest potential.  The process of acclimating seedlings to the outside is called "hardening off".

To harden off seedlings place the seedlings out in the afternoon on a nice calm day for a couple of hours.  If it is a too sunny day at first, partial shade will help the tenderest of seedlings.  Increase their time outside and intensity of sunshine during the week so by transplant day they will have spent full days outside.  This process will take approximately a week.  (Obviously for shade loving plants, full sun should be avoided during hardening off.)

The best day for transplanting is a cloudy day but if this isn't possible transplanting in the late afternoon or early evening will help with the shock.  It is best if the soil is slightly damp before transplanting.  Water the garden well after the plants are all in the ground.  Do not allow transplants to dry out completely.


Organic Gardening Fertilizers    May 2, 2005

Last week we discussed fertilizers and I could hear the echoes, "Miracle Grow is soooo easy!"  Yes, synthetic fertilizers are easy, cheap and effective for quick results.  But they do nothing for the long haul; they don't improve the soil structure, don't benefit the tiny microbial life in the soil or help earthworms and many experts feel you can't grow as nutritious food with synthetic fertilizers as you can with naturally fed soils.

Even if you start with excellent soil after years of growing plants in the same spot the soil will become depleted.  So how does an organic grower fertilize their plants?

First and foremost is compost!  Nothing improves soil like good quality compost.  Compost is often referred to as "Gardener's Gold" and for good reason.  Compost made properly will be made from many different organic materials such as grass clippings, leaves, discarded plants such as weeds, kitchen scraps from produce, coffee grounds, egg shells, lake and sea weeds, etc.  (No meat or dairy)  When all mixed together these ingredients decompose and the results are incomparable.

Compost not only feeds plants with bountiful nutrients but actually has disease fighting properties.  Fighting diseases can be a difficult and a time consuming affair, often leading to dismal results.  Allowing compost to do the "dirty work" of fighting diseases will make life much easier for you.  You can buy synthetic poisons to fight garden diseases but why would you want to put poison on your food or in your gardens?

Compost improves soil structure; all types of soil whether it is sandy, clay, or just plain worn out.  Compost will help create soil that is nice to dig in, no more pickaxes needed!  Is your problem sandy soil?  It will help with that too by adding nutrients and water holding capabilities.

Another good ingredient to add to your garden is composted manure.  I say "composted" because of the possible effects of E coli.  Properly composted manure will be older and have reached a high enough temperature in the composting process to kill E coli, if present.  (We won't use horse manure again because horses only have one stomach as compared to a cow's three.  So many weed seeds remain intact and viable.  We used well aged horse manure last year and had an overwhelming amount of weeds at the end of summer, weeds we had never even seen before!)

Organic mulch is another great benefit to the organic grower.  We like to use grass clippings the most, they are awesome for the garden.  But we can't get enough so we use newspapers on top of the soil covered with leaves.  By the end of the summer this mulch is decomposing and tilled into the soil in the fall.  Gardens covered with this mulch grow greater amounts of produce the following year.  We witnessed its effects one year in comparing a large garden that the previous year had half newspapers and leaves and the other half under sown in clover.  The side that had the newspapers and leaves grew larger potato plants and had higher yields than the side under sown with clover.  (Note: it is important to lay down newspapers before the leaves because as leaves decompose they rob plants of nitrogen by using nitrogen to decompose.  Grass clippings are full of nitrogen and don't have this effect.)

There are other amendments that benefit the organic grower such as rock phosphate, greensand and lime.  (Make sure you have a soil test before you add lime, if your soil is alkaline it will cause it to become more so.)  Alfalfa in good for adding nitrogen when planting; it adds a quick fix of nitrogen to the soil.  It is easy to buy at feed stores.   Blood Meal also adds nitrogen.  Bone Meal adds phosphorus.

Remember to only add things to your garden that benefit it and it will return to you 'health'.


Fertilizers 101   April 25, 2005

Spring is the start of the gardening season so this makes it a good time to review a former Tip of the Week regarding fertilizers.

Plants need soil that contains adequate nutrients for healthy growth.  Most gardeners are not blessed with rich loam chock full of these essentials.  As I have stated many times in the past, the best amendment you can add to your soil is compost.  Compost, also known as "gardener's gold", will not only supply your plants with most of what they need but will help fix all types of poor soil.  That being said, we will take a look at fertilizers and their common components.

It is important to know the three primary nutrients, their uses, how they affect plants and deficiency symptoms.  They are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K); often referred to as NPK.  These are the numbers you see on the packaging of store bought fertilizers, such as 5-10-5, always listed in the order of NPK.  (Please note that there are many other nutrients that are needed in smaller amounts but I'm only mentioning the primary ones today.)

Nitrogen (N)-the first number

Nitrogen encourages stem and leaf growth, resulting in lush full plants with deep green (or appropriate color) leaves.  Deficiency symptoms can be pale green to yellow leaves, stunted or retarded growth and slow growing spindly plants.  Final stages of nitrogen deficiency will be dying branches or leaves and small fruit.

Phosphorus (P)-the second number

Phosphorus encourages strong root systems and beautiful flowers that often bloom sooner than expected.  Also increases resistance to disease and winter cold.  Deficiency symptoms are purpling leaves, especially the undersides, stunted growth, seeds that don't develop fully and sparse flowering and fruiting.

Potassium (K)-the third number

Potassium encourages plant cell division and growth.  Increases drought tolerance and improves flavor of produce by aiding in production of starches, sugars and oils.  Like phosphorus, potassium increases resistance to disease and winter cold.  Deficiency symptoms are stunted growth with weak stems; leaves will have browning edges and tips.  Fruit will be small with shriveled seeds.

Keep these guidelines handy because sooner or later you will see some of these symptoms and will need to know what is wrong.  You might even be able to impress a friend who's plants are croaking and you will be able to tell them why and how to fix it.

Warning!  First of all we have a disclaimer.  We are not advocating the use of synthetic fertilizers in your vegetable garden.  We believe if you feed the soil each year with adequate organic material you will be able to grow great produce.  Second warning... if you do use a synthetic fertilizer be careful or you could "burn" your plants; it happens every year to many gardeners.  Too much is TOO MUCH!  Read the directions and if anything go lightly with the recommendations.  You can always apply more next week but once the plant has been burned there is no going back.


Big Beautiful Pots of Flowers   April 18, 2005

It used to be only the "well to do" could afford big beautiful artful pots; huge pots to fill with a lovely display of colorful flowers.  And they were so heavy and cumbersome that you might not want them even if you could afford them!  Not anymore!  Light weight artful pots are available at reasonable prices.  They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and some are antiqued to look like they were picked up at an estate sale.  But there can be a drawback of these large pots.  They are so big and need to be filled up; but filled up with what?

You can do like I did years ago, before I wised up.  I took garden soil to fill up the bottom half and then filled the remainder with potting soil to cut down on the cost.  But this made them very heavy and hard to move around.

But there is a better way!  There are several light weight solutions to fill the bottom half of large pots.

Styrofoam packing peanuts in plastic bags.  Securing them in bags makes reusing easy for next year.  I recommend not just throwing them in loose; spring clean up is messy with peanuts flying all around, intertwined in plant roots.
Sealed plastic packing bags.  These come in mail order packages; puffy air-filled bags heat-sealed shut.
Plastic soda pop bottles.  Use 2 liter size for larger pots.

Slabs of Styrofoam cut to size and shape needed.

I also learned a hard lesson those first years of my "big pots"; make sure you have drainage holes.  Potted plants can soon be swimming in water if you don't have good drainage. Cover drainage holes with screen or coffee filters to prevent soil being washed out on your deck, patio or porch.

Choose one of the above "fillers" and fill in the remainder of the pot with good potting soil.  Never use just garden soil; it compacts readily and the plant's roots will suffer from lack of air space and oxygen.

For the best displays of color, choose plants suited for the location.  Is it sunny, shady, can you water everyday or is a plant that prefers to dry out some better suited to you?  Don't try to squeeze a square peg in a round hole; your plants will not perform to their potential.


Gardener's Favorite Veggie-Tomatoes!  April 11, 2005

There is nothing like a juicy homegrown tomato in the summer.  Books and articles about growing your own tomatoes abound and there are many opinions for the best way to grow the beloved tomato.  Here at Rocky Gardens we are known for our early tomatoes, tasty tomatoes and an overabundance of tomatoes!  We have successfully fought off two diseases that usually do tomatoes in; blight and curly top.  So with that said I guess you could say the way we grow tomatoes is worth reading about.

First of all, we only grow our tomatoes from seed; we prefer the varieties we can get only from seeds.  We have instructions on our web site for 'seed starting'; You can check it out by Clicking Here.  I must tell you that this in not how we start all of are seeds now because it would be too time consuming.

For those who can't grow your own plants you can find companies that will grow heirlooms and some hybrids for you; seed catalogs or an Internet search can help locate tomato 'plants'.  Maybe someday nurseries will wise up and start providing some heirloom and tastier varieties.  Out of curiosity as to how tomato plants ship, we ordered three plants last year from Territorial Seed.  They arrived fine, small but fine.   If we couldn't grow our own transplants we would probably do it again instead of settling for the varieties I can find at plant stands.

1.      Full sunlight is best (in some zones it is too hot and sunny in the summer, consult with local authorities.)

2.      Good Soil is a must; amend with compost and manure (both easy to find in bags at nurseries.)  A soil test will reveal if you need other amendments.

3.      Give adequate water all season.  Tomatoes need at least 1 inch per week and it should be regularly.  Inconsistent watering can cause 'blossom end rot'. 

4.      Plant deep, real deep; we prefer to plant tomatoes up to their necks!  This often means several branches are buried or removed.  All those little hairs on the stem will form roots; more roots make a healthier plant.  The plant can take in more nutrients and water making it not so susceptible to draught.

5.      Mulching will make life easier; we use newspaper (no glossy colored advertising) with leaves on top because it is good for next year's soil (cheap too!) but other mulches will work also.

6.      Choose varieties known for best taste.

7.      Spray on compost tea for disease control, bio-activated is best.  (Search the Internet for info on bio-activated compost tea.)

8.      Cover all the bases; select varieties from different groups; such as determinate, indeterminate, early, late, some known for crack resistance and disease resistance for crop insurance.

9.      Fruit kept off the ground will have less damage and cleaner fruit; so cage, stake or trellis for best results.  We prefer caging and let the plants grow at will.  We don't trim off branches or suckers but some people prefer to.  We have experimented and have found they perform best when allowed to grow naturally.

10.  Pick regularly

For a list of our favorite tomatoes you can check out an old Tip of the Week  Click here 

At the suggestion of one of our readers we are trying two new cherry tomatoes this year.  I will report how we like them once we try them.  They sound very interesting. 


Bare Root Plants   April 4, 2005

Many of you have poured over the plant and seed catalogs this winter and spring, dreaming of warmer days and pleasant times spent in your gardens.  Some of you have ordered dormant plants, bushes and trees through the mail and will receive them soon.

What are bare root plants?

These plants have minimal roots and won't be in soil.  The roots will be wrapped in moist material and will need attention upon arrival.

Pros and Cons of ordering bare root plants.


  Wider selection of varieties and cultivars

  Lower price

  Shipping is less costly


  Trickier to grow

  Usually younger plants

  Need to be tended to as soon as you receive them

Don't let "trickier to grow" discourage you from ordering bare root plants.  We have discovered an almost fool-proof method to get these plants off to a good start.

For best results plant bare root plants the day you receive them.  But this isn't as hard as it sounds when you follow my method of planting them in nursery pots.  I save nursery pots (and friends and neighbors give them to me also) but if you don't have any start asking around right away; someone you know is bound to have some.  Plastic milk jugs with holes in the bottom will suffice.  Also, have good potting soil on hand for the arrival day of your new baby.  (Garden soil from your garden will compact readily and is not suitable for pots.  Watering becomes difficult and the roots are deprived of oxygen.)

Arrival Day!

Select appropriate size pot for plant.  Place coffee filter, screen or paper towel in bottom of pot to prevent soil from being washed out of holes.  Moisten the potting soil ahead of time, damp not soggy.  Cover bottom of pot with soil, bringing it up to level necessary to plant new plant at correct height.  Don't ever bury the graft union on grafted plants, common with specialty hardwoods and fruit trees.  Place plant in pot with roots spread out as much as possible.  For some plants making a cone in the middle of the pot with soil will help placement.  Fill in remainder of pot with soil keeping the soil line at least 1 inch below top of pot.  Water well.

Why plant in pots?

A new plant with bare roots needs plenty of water to survive and keeping it close-by on a porch or patio where you will see it everyday will remind you to keep it watered.  If you plant it out in your yard you might get the "out of sight out of mind" syndrome.  Keep the potted plant watered and in a month or so it will have a strong root system ready to take on the rigors of life in the ground.

Now What?

Once it has a strong root system, you can either plant it in the ground, or wait until late summer when it isn't as likely to suffer from extreme heat and dryness.  The plant will not need as much attention as when it first arrived but will still need dependable watering.  It all depends on your schedule and if you can remember to monitor its moisture needs as to whether you plant it in the ground sooner or later.  My schedule is extremely busy in the summer so I wait until the end of summer to plant these plants; I know I will forget to keep them watered 'somewhere' out in my yard.  It doesn't hurt the plant to continue growing in the pot as long as the pot is big enough.  Think of nurseries, many of their plants will grow in pots most of the summer and they do fine.

Enjoy your new plant!


Late Season Produce   March 28, 2005

The past weeks we have discussed why many people should be growing their own produce and today we will cover the later season veggies; either those that come in later or store well for winter use.  If you have the room to grow many vegetables from all categories (early, mid and late) you can eat a good share of your own produce, even during the winter months.  Yes, putting things away, (freezing, canning, drying, lacto-fermentation, etc) will extend the season but there are items that store well on their own without processing.

Most people don't have root cellars anymore, so a refrigerator is often the most common form of storage.  We do have a cellar; so many of the things that that could be stored in a refrigerator are stored in the cellar.

Kohlrabi—This often overlooked vegetable is delicious and stores easily, well into winter in just a plastic bag in a refrigerator.  Remove stems and leaves for storage.  The 'huge' varieties are delicious too and produce enough flesh for a family.  Great for a hot vegetable dish, veggies trays and dip, and many more recipes.

Rutabagas—Start your rutabaga seeds last in your line up of seedlings.  Time the planting so they will be ready to harvest after frosts.  We don't put our rutabagas in the garden until July.  Those cold frosty nights in autumn help sweeten rutabagas.  Easy to store in a plastic bag in a frig.

Winter Squash—I just cooked my last winter squash today. Store blemish-free squash in a dry location 50 to 60 degrees F.  We particularly like Heart of Gold and butternuts; they tend to be sweeter than many others.

Potatoes—Store without washing off the dirt in a cool damp area.  Potatoes are cheap in the store unless you want to eat organically, then they are expensive.  Sometimes you can't even find organic potatoes, so we store our own.

Cabbage—These should be in both 'mid' and 'late' season harvests, depending on the type grown.  Select both varieties for longest harvest.  Leave stumps in the ground from cutting off a head of cabbage and soon you will see new little cabbage forming.  Remove all but one or two heads to grow a new cabbage.  These new cabbages can remain in the garden well into the cold weather.  Some will even handle hard frost.  Store in a bag in frig for long storage.

Other late season produce:

Sweet potatoes—Some of the tastiest eating around.  These don't store real long, so when I see them starting to shrivel I bake them all up, remove the skins and place the meat into freezer containers. 

Onions—Choose a few varieties so you have sweet (which tend to spoil quickly and need to be used soon) and long storing.  We really like 'Candy' onions because they sweeten with winter storage.  Onions that dry with the smallest skinniest necks store the longest so use up the ones that have thicker necks first.

Leeks—This vegetable needs a long growing season but doesn't store real long into winter.

Peppers and Tomatoes—Some gardeners don't start harvesting peppers and tomatoes until the end of the season because certain varieties take a long time to ripen.  Select different maturity types for a longer season.  But no matter what, you will have tomatoes and peppers right up till frost.  Watch weather reports for your first frost and pick the produce so you won't loose those last tomatoes and peppers.  Or better yet, many times the first frosts only last a couple nights and if you cover your tomatoes and peppers with old bed sheets you may have another month of warm weather.  But you have to protect the plants and produce from frost those first cold nights.

Broccoli—A real workhorse!  Keep your broccoli picked and you can harvest almost all summer and well into fall.  This plant can tolerate frost and keep producing.  Don't just harvest the first large head; the side shoots will probably give you more broccoli over a longer period than the first head.  They taste just as good too!  You will probably need to control cabbage loppers, click on our "Combating Pests" page for help.

Kale—Another workhorse!  Will give you food all spring, summer and fall.  We use it for salads, soup, stir-fries, etc.

Brussels sprouts—A veggie that can be tasty if harvested after freezing temps or frosty nights.  Can tolerate being frozen and then thawed out.

Carrots—Many gardeners love to grow carrots and they are truly rewarding.  We have decided to buy them instead because organic carrots are so easy to find in the stores and we have chosen to use our limited garden space for other crops.

We have found that eating our own produce (for health reasons) requires an extra refrigerator for long term storage.  Also during heavy harvest times, an extra frig helps tremendously for storing things like summer squash, peppers, melons, etc.  (no tomatoes in the frig, please!)  An extra freezer helps hold all that produce you put away for winter use.  But if you have freezers filled with food, in the event of a power outage, be prepared with a generator so you won't loose your food.


Your Mid-Season Vegetable Garden    March 21, 2005

We have been discussing vegetable gardens and their benefits to your health the past couple weeks; having covered "why" and the "early vegetables".  We are going to start discussing mid-season vegetables.  These are the common vegetables that most of us think of as "home grown veggies"; tomatoes, beans, cukes, squash, corn.


Very few people don't like homegrown tomatoes.  In fact, usually when I come across someone who says they don't like tomatoes if given a taste of a good homegrown tomato they will say, "Oh!  I like that!  I didn't know tomatoes tasted like that!"  Often these people think tasteless icky hothouse tomatoes or those that are picked green for shipping purposes are what tomatoes really taste like.  If that were true I venture to say few people would bother eating them, even real "tomato lovers".

It is important to grow more than one variety of tomato because they are ready to harvest at different times and have different disease fighting capabilities.  Determinate tomatoes only grow to a pre-determined size, ripen earlier and die.  Indeterminate tomatoes will keep growing until killed by frost but harvest is usually later than determinate types.  Growing both types will extend your harvest.

We are trialing several new varieties this year and hope they will be added to our "favorite list", but in the meantime here are the ones we grow every year.  We grow others but these made it to our "favorite list".

Early tomatoes:

Stupice - an heirloom from Czechoslovakia that ripens in 52 days.  Flavor is tastier than other early types we have tried.  Produces our first ripe tomatoes.  Red fruit.

Ida Gold- another early heirloom that has orange-golden fruit of superior flavor.  Ripens in 59 days.  A wonderful tomato flavor and pretty color to boot!

*These two tomato cultivars and an "Early Ripe Tomato Guide" is the only thing we sell from our web site,  We have spent over 12 years perfecting our procedures for early tomato growing and have produced the "First Ripe Tomato" in Michigan for three years.  To grow the first ripe tomato in your area, check out our 'Home' page.  You get both types of seeds and the guide for only $8.00.  You will spend that much just for seeds from other sources but won't get the guide.

Large Tomato:

Parks Whopper - Large red fruit with that good old-fashion tomato flavor we remember as children.  One customer told me that it is the best tomato he has ever tasted.  Heavy producer.  Plants get very large and need a large cage.  Good disease resistance.

Specialty Heirloom Tomatoes - We get rave reviews for Cherokee Purple and Striped German.  Cherokee Purple looks unusual with burgundy to brown color interior and green shoulders but the flavor won many people over.

Striped German is very unusual with a very high sugar content, fruity taste.  Very pretty with red and yellow interior.

Small tomatoes:

Juliet - Looks like a small Roma.  Meaty with good flavor.  Red and crack resistant.  Heavy producer.  Perfect for dehydrating.  Plants get very large and a need large cage.  Juliets are very resistant to diseases and one year, after a blight hit, were the only ones left come September.  Juliets are great for growing in our hoophouse into the early winter, as they can withstand cold.  We picked the last Juliets in the hoophouse on December 22 (we did keep enough heat on 3 plants to keep them from freezing)

Sungold - Cherry tomato with an orange-gold color, very sweet flavor that is unbelievable.  I have had three people who "don't like tomatoes" come back for more.  Plants get very large and need a large cage.  If you like cherry tomatoes you must try this one.

Paste Tomatoes:

Amish paste and a torpedo shaped tomato called "Federle" are our two picks.  They make fabulous sauce and salsa tomatoes and can be frozen whole for easy winter storage; no canning necessary.  Just wash, lay on baking sheet until frozen, (whole with skin on) then place in gallon size zipper bag.  Plunge frozen tomato in hot water to remove skin and use in cooking.  For wintertime salsa drain tomatoes* after skin is removed, chop and add green pepper and onion along with favorite spices.  Tastes almost as good as fresh summertime salsa and far better than frozen or canned salsa.

*the 'water' drained from the tomatoes can be simmered on stove and will make a tomato sauce for later use.

Well, I didn't get far with the mid-season list, there is much to discuss about tomatoes.  Since tomatoes are so popular, I will come back to the subject of growing tomatoes and fighting common diseases using organic methods at a later date.

For a source list Click here and scroll down to the list.


An Early Harvest in Your Vegetable Garden    March 14, 2005

Last week we discussed why you should be growing some of your own produce.  Many gardeners wait half the summer to harvest goodies from their vegetable gardens but you can start harvesting healthy top quality produce early in the season.  No more waiting for green beans, cukes and tomatoes.  Expand your harvest to the front side of the season by growing veggies that prefer cooler weather and produce quickly.

Early harvests can consist of salad greens, lettuce, kale, rhubarb, asparagus, oriental vegetables (tat soi, pak choi, etc), radishes, turnips and turnip greens, peas, kohlrabi, scallions, beets and beet greens.

Many of these vegetables will need to be started from seed indoors to realize an early harvest; few nurseries carry seedlings of this sort.  We have information on our web site as to how to grow your own transplants.  Click Here for Seed Starting information.

Quick Details:

Asparagus and rhubarb - Perennials that need to be planted ahead of the season.  It can take a few years to realize a good crop but worth the wait.

Oriental vegetables - There are many varieties; check seed catalogs for different types.  They make great additions to stir-fries, soup, salads, etc.

Kale - What a wonderful addition to your garden for ease and healthfulness.  Eating kale is like adding vitamins to your food.  It can be added to salads, soups, stir-fries and vegetable dishes.  Will grow all season long into late fall.  Harvest bottom leaves off the stalks; the plant continues to grow upwards producing huge harvests of more leaves.

Turnips - A vegetable I had no idea I liked until we grew some for our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  They are great!  Direct seeding* is best; then you can harvest "thinnings" for turnip greens.  For best quality keep a row cover over them to keep pests from tunneling into them.

Kohlrabi - A tasty but unusual vegetable that many people have never tried.  Most of our CSA members have become fans of this easy to grow vegetable.  Start indoors as transplants for best results.  Can be direct seeded but will need ruthless thinning so each plant has enough room to grow into a nice size bulb.

Peas - A common veggie but maybe you haven't grown them before.  For a real treat grow the snow and snap varieties along with the shelling type.  You can sow pea seeds as early as the soil can be worked.  We prefer to grow them up the inside of fencing to keep the rabbits out of the garden.  Fencing also makes them easier to pick.  Use metal fencing with small openings at the bottom to keep rabbits out, don't use plastic.  We knew someone who tried to save money by buying plastic and the rabbits ate right through it.  The secret of fencing is to put it up before the critters know any food is planted in the garden.

Scallions - An easy plant for children to help with; buy onion "sets" and children can plant them, they are virtually impossible to do wrong or hurt.  Directions will be included on package.

Beets - Direct seeding into the garden is best.  Each seed consists of multiple beets, so thinning is a must.  Use "thinnings" for beet greens.

Lettuce - EASY to grow!  Lettuce seed is extremely small so starting in cells indoors makes it easier to thin; one plant per cell for nice heads of lettuce.  (I mean it!  One plant per cell!  Be brave and get rid of the extras or move them to a cell that doesn't have a seedling!)  Leaf lettuce can be direct seeded and later thinned; use "thinnings" as baby greens.  There are so many to pick from, it is unbelievable how many types of lettuce there are.  We prefer "heading" types over leaf lettuce; the leaves are fuller body.  We harvest large 'side leaves' while waiting for the heads to form so we get lettuce early.

Radishes - for best quality keep a row cover over them to keep the pests from tunneling into them.

*direct seed -  to sow seed directly into the garden instead of planting seedlings all ready started indoors.

If you haven't grown a vegetable garden before take it slow and grow a few of above mentioned items.  It can be overwhelming to try it all for the first time.  Start small and keep the garden tended to; if it gets away from you, you will feel like a failure and might not try again.


Get Growing and Get Healthy!  March 7, 2005

Everyone knows that eating fruits and vegetables is recommended for healthy strong bodies.  With much research behind us we highly recommend organic produce because conventionally grown food has too many chemicals and reduced nutrients in it. You can purchase organic produce in the grocery store or better yet, the Farmer's Market, which is better than conventional hands-down.  But when you grow your own produce you eat produce which usually tastes better due to its freshness and special varieties only the home gardener can grow.  For example, Zephyr summer squash and Costata Romanesco zucchini don't ship and handle well but no summer squash on the market compares in flavor or texture.  You can't beat the taste of many heirloom tomatoes.  Those reasons alone should be enough to put in a vegetable garden.  But there are other many other benefits of your own vegetable garden.

One benefit to your health is the contact with the soil.  Americans are an over sanitized population, much to our detriment.  Our human bodies perform at an amazing capacity in fighting off diseases but our modern society believes antibacterial soap and sanitizers will make us healthier.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  American's health (or should I say lack of health) is alarming.  Asthma, cancer, allergies, digestive disorders, diabetes and many other diseases are increasing at record rates but we continue to get further and further away from healthy lifestyles.  Gardening and the exposure to the soil boosts the immune system by strengthening the "good guys" in our bodies.  These "good guys" (the building blocks of the immune system) were designed to fight off diseases but due to our sterile environments, over-use of antibiotics by prescriptions and in conventionally raised farm animals, and over use of pesticides and herbicides, their "forces" are diminished.  If you have antibacterial soap in your home, get rid of it!  Get out in the garden and expose yourself to soil organisms; that will boost your immune system.

Gardening also benefits the body with exercise.  Many decades ago people didn't have to join the gym or take classes to exercise their bodies.  Just daily living kept them active, strong and healthy.  Now we pay to have our produce grown, grass mowed, driveways shoveled, and leaves raked while paying the local fitness center so we can exercise in an unnatural setting.  Talk about irony!

Exposure to the sun has been vilified and blamed for skin cancer but honest evaluations of sunlight's benefits are being hidden.  According to Dr. Jordan Rubin in the Maker's Diet, "The human skin uses the energy from the sun to manufacture vitamin D for the body.  This hormone/vitamin is important for many reasons, including its role in strengthening immune system function and proper mineral absorption."   He goes on to say, "Critics claim that exposure to the UV rays of the sun cause higher rates of melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.  This might be true for those with compromised immune systems who don't consume adequate nutrients, especially healthy fats.  However, the people who actually get the most exposure to sunlight in different parts of the world exhibit the lowest incidence of skin cancer.  What is unhealthy is exposure to sunlight with the (modern and overly processed) diets we consume.  Rex Russell, M.D., notes that when sunlight activates the phytochemicals in healthy foods, consumption of these foods not only blocks the harmful effects of UV rays, but they also produce antiviral, antibacterial, and anticancer components, as well as pest repellents."

Stress reliever!  Imagine what it would do for the stressed-out individual to be outside, breathing fresh air, listening to the birds chirp while digging in the soil, placing seeds in the ground and planting little plants?  Then after a hard days work you sit on your porch and admire the fresh turned soil drinking a cool drink while dreaming of the lovely plants that will soon fill the plot with food.  Compare this with sitting on the couch in front of the blaring TV watching violence and stupid plot lines.  Who do you think will have a better night's sleep and better outlook on life?  I even hear from many people who feel pulling weeds is one of life's best stress relievers!  (Hmmm?  Sorry that one escapes me; that isn't me!)

Needless to say, we feel strongly about getting back to our agriculture roots for healthy bodies.  I feel so strongly in this movement I gave up a 16 year career in banking to become a "farmer".  I encourage you grow some kind of food this summer.  Growing flowers is good but you can eat a vegetable!  If you don't have anywhere to grow some food, look for a CSA in your area and ask if you can participate in the work at the farm.  Go to for listing in your part of the world.  If that fails, ask a friend, neighbor or family member if you can garden at their house and share some of the produce with them.  Large pots on your porch can be used for some types of veggies.  Be creative, figure out a way to grow something!


Paperwhites, bring some sunshine into your home!  February 28, 2005

Winter has been hanging on but the itch to grow something new is starting to get to some of you.  I have an easy inexpensive suggestion-Paperwhites!  Paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) are one of the easiest bulbs to force.  They don't even need a chilling period, so you can buy them now, settle them into a shallow bowl of pebbles or marbles and soon you will have lovely flowers.

Select a flat shallow bowl.  Place 1 to 2 inches of pebbles, marbles or decorative stones in the bottom.  Place bulbs on the pebbles (or other selection) and gently fill in around them to hold the bulbs upright; do not cover them.  The more bulbs in the bowl the prettier the 'show' will be.

Add enough water to a level just barley touching the bulbs.  Never have the bulbs sitting in the water or they could rot.  The bulbs will send down roots into the water.  Monitor the water daily.

Initially keep the potted bulbs in a cool (60 -65°F/15 - 18°C) dim location until roots develop.  This will be 1 to 3 weeks.  Move to a bright sunny window.  Once the plants begin to flower, remove from sunlight and place in a location where you will enjoy them daily.  They have an odd odor but the flowers make up for the odor.  Paperwhites are lovely, easy and inexpensive; just what the doctor ordered for the winter doldrums.

This would be a good project for children because it is so easy.  It will give them a chance to grow something while following directions and they will also have to be diligent in the care of the bulbs and water.

If you have children that would enjoy this project have them do a little hunting for the directions.  Have them check out our "Kid's Garden Site".  From there they click on "More Projects" then "Flower Surprise in Rocks".  Now they can find directions written just for them!  Diligently monitoring the water level will be a good experience for them.


Damping Off     February 21, 2005

The time is coming when many of you will be growing seedlings for your gardens.  One of the most serious threats to your seedlings is called "damping off" which is caused by a pathogen that lives in the soil, in fact it can be found in most soils.  The secret to preventing your seedlings from dying from these fungi is to grow them quick, strong and healthy.  This killer of seedlings can actually start its dirty work while the seed is germinating; releasing chemicals that attract the fungus and then one day a seemingly healthy seedling has fallen over and is rotting at the base.

Here are some steps to prevent damping-off:

Good air circulation, a fan can do wonders

Use Milled Sphagnum Moss (must be "milled") on top of the soil.  It has an antibiotic affect.

Plants need plenty of light.  We use fluorescent lighting no more than 2 inches from the tops of the plants.

Bottom heat can speed germination for seeds that prefer heat.  (e.g. tomatoes and peppers like heat, lettuce hates it and may refuse to germinate if too warm.)

Sterilize pots with a 10% solution of bleach and water.

Have well drained soil, should not be soggy. 

Don't fertilize until seedlings are strong and well on their way; you wouldn't feed steak to a baby!

Many experts say to use sterilized seed starting mix, which we used to do.  But contrary to this expert advice we now grow in a soil mix that isn't sterilized because our seedlings grow faster and stronger.  You can find this mix recipe by going to a former Tip of the Week.  (Click Here).


Healthful Berries     February 14, 2005

Berries not only taste great, are low in calories and fat, and a source of fiber but are full of a broad spectrum of antioxidants.  The following antioxidants are:

Flavonoids which help protect the heart, scavenge free radicals, reduce inflammation, slow age related memory loss, bolster blood vessels, and oxidize unwanted cholesterol.

Quercetin enhances the immune system along with supporting the heart and body cells.

Anthocyanins and Ellagic Acid both of which are free radical scavengers.

Additional beneficial properties!

Tannins, similar to tannins in cranberries, may prevent bacteria from attaching to the urinary tract.

Vitamin C helps strengthen the immune system and protect connective tissue.

Kaempferol may help reduce LDL cholesterol and has anticancer properties.

Folate is good for preventing neural tube defects in newborns and lowers homocysteine, suspected by many to be worse than high cholesterol.

Berries are easy to grow if you have full sunlight.  We grow our own raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and currants.  If you only have a half day of sun then raspberries would likely grow well enough to make it worth the effort; don't try strawberries or blueberries which require full sunlight.  During the summer, berries are picked on a daily basis for our breakfast.  But we never have enough to put away for winter use so we purchase strawberries and blueberries from other local growers who don't spray their crops.  Freezing is my preferred method of preservation for berries.


Broccoli     February 7, 2005

Broccoli is often considered a "super food" due to its abundant phytochemicals and minerals which in turn help raise the body's disease fighting resources.  Here is run down on its properties:

Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that helps neutralize cell damaging free-radical molecules. 

Calcium, potassium, and folate-Fighters of cancer, homocysteine (bad for heart disease), high blood pressure, stroke, and birth defects.  Calcium promotes strong bones.

Dithiolethiones, Glucosinolates, Indoles, Isothiocyanates, Sulforaphane,-All fighters of various cancers and the holds off destruction of body components that can lead to cancer.

Lutein helps prevent certain eye diseases and colon cancer.

Insoluble Fiber promotes good digestive health and prevents constipation.

Don't boil your broccoli to death into a pile of mush.  I have a friend who claimed to hate vegetables and when I saw how she cooked broccoli I understood.  She had to take the broccoli 'mush' out of the pan with a large slotted spoon.  Yuk!  I have often heard of people growing up with moms who cooked veggies into mush and hated them.  Good way to turn off people to veggies!  Steaming or stir-frying are healthier cooking methods.  Raw is excellent.  Don't throw away broccoli stems; if the outside is too tough a vegetable peeler will easily remove it, exposing a delicious interior.


Flax Seeds to Your Health!   January 31, 2005

We have been blessed with healthy foods to strengthen our bodies and flax seeds are one item you should add to your daily schedule for a healthy body.

The benefits are numerous:

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an essential fatty acid and cannot be produced by our bodies.  It regulates blood pressure, strengthens cell membranes, reduces the production of substances that lead to blood clotting.  (Better than taking controversial aspirin.)

Insoluble Fiber is great for keeping the digestive tract flowing and prevents constipation.

Soluble Fiber helps by forming a gel in the intestine, which in turn traps and removes LDL (bad) cholesterol particles.

Lignans may play help autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, fibrocystic breasts and hormone-related cancers such as breast, endometrial, and prostate cancers.

Different forms:

Flax seed is sold whole, ground and in oil.  I prefer whole, which I grind in a small inexpensive coffee grinder.  I grind enough for a week's supply and store it in a glass jar because fresh is best .  We use it every morning in our oatmeal.  Whole flax seeds pass through the body and you won't benefit from its healthy properties.  The pre-ground is a poor choice because it can loose potency quickly.  Flax seed oil is OK if very fresh but must be refrigerated and closely watch the expiration date.  Do not heat flax seed oil.  The oil also does not have the benefit of fiber and lignans.

You can add ground flax seed into many foods, be creative.  Add to breads such as muffins, pancakes or cookies, oatmeal, spreads, yogurt, meatballs or meatloaf, and sprinkle over food.

Early Ripe Tomatoes:

Over the course of 10 years we have perfected procedures for growing the earliest ripe tomatoes in Michigan.  Our early tomatoes are not only extremely early (if you follow our procedures) but tasty too.  We have tried many early varieties and have narrowed the field down to two favorites, Ida Gold and Stupice.  To get your own guide and two packages of seeds for Ida Gold and Stupice tomatoes: Click here.


Special Notice to Arthritis Suffers    January 24, 2005

With the recent health warnings about Vioxx and Celebrex many people are left in the lurch trying to figure out how to cope with their arthritis.  I am happy to report a natural method that not only controls the pain, burning and heat of arthritis but a method that is full of antioxidants.

I used to be on Celebrex for years; if I forgot my morning pill by afternoon my knee would be very sore, hot and painful.  I had heard about Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate and tried it but I didn't have success in controlling the pain.  Then a couple years later someone told me that if I mixed the cherry juice with apple cider vinegar that this would help with arthritis.  Apparently the two together have a synergistic effect.  Since the cherry juice and vinegar are both healthy in their own rights I decided to give it another try.  I started taking 1 tablespoon each twice a day (with meals, it is very acidic) and within a few weeks I stopped taking Celebrex.  I haven't used anything for arthritis pain since.  Even the heat in the knee is gone!

John experienced similar relief in his hands.  His hand would get so bad that sometimes it would be locked in a fist and he would have to squeeze it open.  The only time his hand trouble returned is when we were on a cleansing fast and he went 10 days without the cherry juice and vinegar.  Needless to say we make sure we have our "tonic" everyday, even when we travel.

With running a CSA we come across many people wanting to eat healthy and not take prescriptions.  Many of our CSA members have tried the cherry juice and vinegar with equal success. Many of them are so shocked at the relief they receive that it convinces them to try other natural means for controlling body ailments.

Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate and Apple Cider Vinegar are specifically indicated.  Take 1 tablespoon of each twice a day.  We just mix ours in a small glass, stir and "bottoms up"!  We don't dilute it in water, that would only make more to drink.  We also take Carlson's lemon flavored cod liver oil (for many health benefits) once a day so one time a day the oil goes into the tonic which actually makes it taste better.

Many groceries stores now carry Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate or you could search the Internet.  If possible use organic apple cider vinegar.  I haven't been able to find the tart cherry juice concentrate organically produced.  Cherries are full of antioxidants and apples cider vinegar has a long list of health benefits so in addition to helping with the pain of arthritis you can help your body even more.


Winter Squash   January 17, 2005

Winter Squash are packed with nutrients and fiber.  To preserve these nutrients don't boil squash in water, either bake or steam your squash.  Boiling in water will cause loss of vitamin Bs.*

The following benefits will be found in winter squash, especially naturally grown squash:

Beta-carotene - May help with the prevention of acne, cancer and macular degeneration

Fiber - For years we have heard, "Eat more fiber!"  Squash has both soluble (lowering cholesterol) and insoluble (relives constipation and helps you feel fuller)

Vitamins C (antioxidant), B6 (cardiovascular health), and thiamin (brain function)

Potassium - May help in the prevention of kidney stones, stroke and high blood pressure

Magnesium - May assist with PMS symptoms, high blood pressure, cardiovascular health, asthma, and allergies.

Lutein - Helpful for healthy eyes (macular degeneration and cataracts) and colon health

As you can see winter squash is an important part of a healthy diet.  For those trying to eat from their own gardens year-round, winter squash has the added benefit of easy storage for winter use.

*(For an article to explain why we don't use the handy dandy microwave to cook our food any longer go to


Salad Greens     January 10, 2005

Last week we started a series on healthy food.  It is winter here in Michigan and not much is happening out on the farm (other than we are harvesting wonderful salad greens from the unheated hoophouse every week) so we decided to cover the topic of healthy food choices.

Since loosing weight at the start of a new year is a 'national pastime' (ha ha!) salads are likely to be part of your menu this coming week.  Beneficial nutrients will not be found in common iceberg lettuce so if you want a salad high in healthy nutrition pass up the iceberg and move onto dark leafy greens, arugula, chicory, dandelion greens, escarole, radicchio, spinach, kale and watercress.  For lettuce pick almost any type other than iceberg but add in some of the before mentioned greens along with lettuce.

Some nutrients found in salad greens:

Folate:  In addition to protecting against neural tube defects in newborns folate protects against cardiovascular disease by lowering levels of homocysteine.  Elevated blood levels of homocysteine have been linked to increased risk of premature coronary artery disease, stroke, and thromboembolism, even among people who have normal cholesterol levels.

Vitamin E:  Helps strengthen vision and may protect against cancer.

Insoluble Fiber:  Helps improve intestinal function, relieve constipation and helps satisfy appetite.

Depending on which greens you select other various nutrients in your salad could be: beta-carotene, fructooligosaccharides, inulin, potassium, vitamin C.

Add variety to your salads to increase antioxidant and fiber levels.  If you add additional veggies (carrots, peppers, tomatoes, kohlrabi, beets, onions, etc.), fresh fruits, or protein (nuts, eggs, seeds, cheese, meat, etc.) your salad will become a powerhouse of health.


Onions!  To Your Health!   January 3, 2005

It is wintertime here in Michigan so things are pretty slow in the gardening department for us, as with many of our readers.  But there is another part of our lives that I don't often share with you: the conviction that motivates us to grow as much of our food as possible using natural methods and to also seek out and buy from other local farmers who use sustainable methods.  We have decided to share with you the next several weeks about different foods that can actually promote good health.  We strongly believe that with natural food (not processed) optimum health can be possible.  Many researchers believe 1/3 of cancer cases could be prevented with proper food choices.

Onions (and other onion family foods such as shallots) are one the richest sources of flavonoids and phenolics, which have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, heart diseases, and diabetes.  Flavonoids and phenolics also have properties known to be anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-allergenic, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory.   Anti-oxidants work by "mopping up" cell damaging free radicals and inhibiting the production of substances that damage cells.

There is even more to the simple onion family than meets the eye.  Onions have diallyl sulfide, a cancer protective phytochemical which increases the level of cancer fighting enzymes, particularly in the stomach.  Onions are a source of fiber, both insoluble and soluble; fiber, as you probably know, is highly important for the health of your digestive system.

For the largest array of benefits eat from all of the 'onion family'; all colors of onions, shallots, scallions, and leeks.  To preserve all of onions health giving properties eat them raw when possible.

If you want onions grown without pesticides and herbicides you will either need to buy organic or grow your own.  For information on growing onions check out our Tip of the Week dated February 24, 2003 (Click Here).  The time is coming soon for onion seeds to be started indoors for 'transplant' spring planting.


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