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Tips of the Week - September 24, 2001
As I was pulling weeds today that were full of seed heads, I couldn't help but think how many of thousands of seeds I was preventing from dropping to the ground and visiting me for many years to come. One of the most important tips I can give you is to keep those weeds from going to seed.
The spot where we grew potatoes was not mulched with newspapers and organic mulch, as was the rest of the garden. The potatoes have been harvested by now, they were small potatoes, and weeds have happily taken over the area. I must confess that I should have weeded the area a couple weeks ago; the seeds were close to maturity by now. It bummed me out that I couldn't compost them. With winter on the horizon we aren't going to get the hot temperatures needed to destroy the life out of those seeds. Some of you will continue to have warm weather, and we will have some also, but not for the length and heat needed to destroy the seeds. And I will need that compost come next spring, so unfortunately off to the dump with this load. If you knew me well you would know how painful it was for me to waste something. I must have some of my grandmother in me after all; just don't ever repeat that! Heaven forbid!
John has noticed that some weeds (thistle for instance) continue to mature even after they have been cut down. This is like the chicken that runs around even after the head has been cut off. Don't trust those little rascals and DON'T let them go to seed! I know how tempting it is to slow down right now with gardening chores; you have worked so hard all summer out there in your garden and now you are just plain tired of the work. But for every weed you pull now there will be hundreds maybe thousands less to pull next year.
I made the big mistake once of using compost that hadn't completely finished 'cooking'; I figured that the compost could continue 'cooking' in my garden. WRONG!!! The weeds were horrendous; I even had volunteer tomatoes and potatoes popping up from kitchen scraps. Since learning that lesson I have also learned another reason not to do that. (I can't think of one year I haven't learned a gardening lesson the hard way.) While compost is breaking down into wonderful nutrients for your garden it is tying up nitrogen. Your plants need nitrogen to grow; nitrogen is what helps them to grow healthy lush top growth. So instead of feeding your plants it will actually be robbing them of nitrogen. Some people go as far as to say mulching with wood chips causes this problem also. We mulch with wood chips in our flowerbeds but haven't seen indication of this. If this is a concern for you, just fertilize the flowers or plants that are mulched with wood chips.
Now that fall has officially arrived, watch the weather reports for frost warnings. If your area is forecasted to have a frost, or even the possibility, it is well worth the effort to cover your plants, flowers and vegetables, with sheets, buckets, boxes or similar items. If you get your plants through the first couple nights of frost there will be a fair chance you will have another month of growing weather. Don't forget to take the coverings off the plants the next morning. Obviously this might not apply to some of our subscribers in other countries; but most of us eventually have winter.
I have found a web site that gives local weather reports, even hour-by-hour forecasts. This makes watching for frosts a lot easier. It is http://www.weather.com
I read two tips for recycling that might be of interest to you. First is to save those little plastic tabs to keep bread bags closed. If you have a plant next year that you want to identify from others, (say for instance you want to save seeds from plants that have different colors, or you want to move some tulips after the foliage as died back), you put a tab on the plant, write on the tab with a waterproof marker and then you won't have to count on your memory. Second tip is if you come across some old flatware for a cheap price (garage sale?) you can use them for plant markers. Write on a knife or a spoon head with a marker, (or a crayon). Or use the tines of a fork to hold a plant ticket.
Leaves and various uses. 9/17/01
Leaves are very important for the organic gardener. Just like grass clippings, they are often disposed of but really should be kept for your benefit and the benefit of your soil. Various uses:
*Save your newspapers for next spring. Start now and your will have a good supply for your vegetable garden. Dispose of any colored glossy advertising and just put the black and white sections in plastic shopping bags. I even separate the sections because come next spring I like them to be ready to use. Laying down the newspapers and then organic matter on top of them is a huge job and I don-t want to be pulling out things I can-t use while doing this job. Even though mulching like this takes a lot of time in the spring it is worth the extra effort. I don't have to weed any areas that get this treatment for the rest of the growing season and the soil stays cool and moist. So come summer, when so many gardeners are spending hours weeding, all I have to do is pick the vegetables. I will give detailed directions how to do this come springtime; so in the mean time, save your newspapers.
If you want to read an article I wrote posted to Gardens Alive's web site about planting trees and shrubs you can access it by Clicking Here. (That is not me in the picture in the article, I wish I was that young! Maybe not, I have gained a lot of wisdom in the past 20 years.)
Trees, Shrubs and Pines 9/10/01
You can fix bark scraped off a tree if you repair the damage soon after it has occurred. I have used strapping tape for the 'band-aid' but duct tape would probably work also. This method works for bark that is torn but still attached. Position the torn bark back into place and using a length of tape that will wrap around the trunk secure it in place. Check on the tree in a month, it might already be healed. It all depends on what time of the year the injury occurs. I forgot about my little tree until the following spring; by that time it was all healed. You need to remove the tape when it is healed or it could strangle the tree as it grows.
If you have an injury where the bark has been knocked off completely you must act quickly. Wrap 2 inches of moist sphagnum moss over the bark (with bark set back in place), and then wrap the moss and injury with plastic to prevent moisture loss. Check in one month, possibly it has reattached itself.
I have read in several places that the sealing compound used for tree wounds doesn't work and might even cause a place for insects to harbor. Plus they leave an ugly black spot on the trunk.
If you can't replace the damaged bark you need to smooth out the edges of the torn bark. This will help the wound form a callus and seal itself. John cringes at the thought of cutting the bark more so possibly you will also. But I have read of and seen this procedure used, so you have to trust me on this. Cut the injured area with a sharp knife to smooth out the edges in a shape that resembles an eye socket, narrow at the ends, wider it the middle. This will help the injury to callus over; it might take a couple years, be patient. Leaving the edges jagged will promote decay.
Check your pine treetops for one single central leader. Sometimes they start to grow two stems or trunks. A pine tree with two trunks or 'tops' is more susceptible to wind and ice damage in storms. If you find more than one central leader, prune out the least desirable one. If the remaining leader doesn't stand straight up you can make a splint with a small piece of wood and twist ties. (I used Popsicle sticks on some small spruce trees.) Keep the splint in place until the following year. You can remove the splint after the 'top of the tree' stands up straight.
Now that winter is on the horizon you need to make sure your trees, shrubs and pines have plenty of moisture stored up to get them through the colder months. Much damage can occur if a tree, shrub or pine starts out the winter on the dry side. Give them a good soaking if your area has been lacking adequate rainfall.
Tips for September 3 rd 2001
If you have allowed your broccoli plants go to seed (letting them flower) you can get them back to producing edible shoots again. This is well worth the effort because broccoli laughs at the early frosts and will keep producing up until very cold weather. In our garden broccoli is still producing shoots by the time I'm tired of picking it or John says it is time to rototill the garden, which ever comes first. It is also nice in the fall after some light frosts because you don't have to spray with Bt to control the cabbageworms or loopers.
To refresh your broccoli plants cut back any shoots that are flowering or going to seed. Make these cuts far back into the plant, going at least 3 sets of leaves down the branch. Watch for new broccoli shoots to develop; cut them with long stems, (nice long stems with at least 2 or 3 sets of leaves.) These shoots will not be as large as a full head of broccoli, some will even be only one bite full, but if you have several plants you will collect enough broccoli for a dinner in several days. Store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
If you have grown flowers for drying don't let time fly by and forget to cut them. Good selections for drying are strawflowers, globe thistle, gomphrena, statice, roses, coneflower cones and everlastings. Hang your flowers upside down in a dry warm area secured with a rubber band or twist tie. Don't get in a hurry to use them; they need to be thoroughly dried or they will droop once turned right side up.
Just as you can herb-infuse vinegar or oil (you can find directions for infused vinegar and oil on our Harvest Site), you can infuse honey with several herbs. Suggestions for herbs to use with honey are: lavender, rosemary, thyme and sage. Put several sprigs of your choice in a jar of honey and allow to step for at least 5 days. You can make 'gifts' of fragrant honey by putting honey and herbs into decorative or old fashion canning jars. Garage sales can be an inexpensive place to find your jars.
Speaking of garage sales, (in some areas they are referred to by other names), look for vases for cut flowers to give to friends. If you have a vase that only cost you a small amount of money you can take a friend some flowers and let them keep the vase also. They will think you are a very special friend.
Since we are on the topic of garage sales, (I never planned on this subject, this is just off the top of my head), look for old sheets to cover your plants with when your first frosts threaten. If you cover your vegetables and flowers for the first frosts there is a good chance you can extend your harvest season 1 more month. (Unless of coarse you were hoping everything would die so you don't have to pick them anymore!) We have found sheets to be the easiest for fall protection, (in the spring we use buckets when the plants are smaller.) It almost always seems like there are a couple of nights of early frosts then another few weeks of warm weather.
Tips for August 27th 2001
Put a plastic mailbox out in your garden to hold some tools and garden gloves. Two VERY handy tools to have out in your vegetable garden, besides regular garden hand tools, are a linoleum knife and scissors. The knife has a curved sharp blade that is very useful for cutting summer squash, zucchini and broccoli. They are very inexpensive and can be found at a hardware store. The scissors are handy for many things. They cut peppers and cucumbers off the stems nicely; don't yank them off, you could damage the plant. These are some inexpensive gift ideas for the gardener in your life.
Picking out garden gloves - Having a good pair of garden gloves is so important that I want to share what I have observed about gloves. For your regular gardening chores, try to find a pair that has a knit cuff that hugs your wrist. The cuff will keep dirt from falling into your glove and it is good for wiping the sweat off your forehead. (Hey, I'm very practical!) I found my favorite gloves at Home Depot; they are comfortable, have a knit cuff, and also have leather palms and fingertips. The leather fingertips should wrap around the whole tip, not just the bottom side; this will make them last longer. If you have a Home Depot look for women's gloves with tiny polka dots. They are the best! My husband loves his leather gloves and won't wear anything else.
For thorny or picky plants you need leather gloves.
For wet or muddy work there are gloves that have a rubber coating over the glove. They are wonderful. You won't need them all the time but when you do need them you will appreciate them. Don't use them for regular garden work, save them for the wet or muddy work and this will save them from excessive wear.
Whatever you choose, try to find some that are comfortable and not bulky. A local newswoman puts on these gloves that make us laugh when she does a garden segment; they look like she is going to weld something, they are so huge! Try the gloves on, if they don't feel good, don't buy them.
Did you know that toads can eat more than 100 slugs (YUK!), cutworms and other garden pests a day!?! Toads are very beneficial to your gardens. You can keep them happy by first of all not using insecticides that will harm them. (Frogs also; frogs have very thin skin that absorb chemicals easily.) If it is dry and you will not be watering soon, place a shallow dish of water in an area that you know you have a toad, maybe under a plant. When I mow I try to keep an eye out for them. I sure don't want to run over my friends!
If you like to watch birds I found something they love immensely. Take a sprinkler and place it so it sprays into the branches of a tree; I have 3 birdbaths for the birds but when I did this one day to water they had a ball. Smaller trees like crab apples are great for this. If it is a warm day you should have a quite a few 'showering birds'. They go crazy over this and it is very fun to watch them.
Tips for August 20th 2001
I received a chocolate mint plant from my sister and was totally surprised when I brewed a cup of tea from the leaves; it truly does smell and taste like chocolate mint. We are not tea drinkers, coffee please, so hence the surprise. It was wonderful; so wonderful that my plant that was sent to the 'wild section' of our yard way in back was given a reprieve. (Invasive plants are now sent to the outskirts of our property, all mints included.) But my cup of tea was enough to change my mind about chocolate mint. I dug it up, put it in a pot with some good soil and it now sits in a place of honor in the front of our house.
To make a cup of tea from your favorite plant(s), just pinch off some leaves and steep them in a cup of boiling water. Strain out the leaves when it reaches the strength you desire. YUMM!
Now is the time (mid August) to stop feeding your perennials, trees and shrubs if you live in a location that encounters freezing winters. Fertilizing encourages new growth and the new growth won't have time to harden before winter.
If you want to move a shrub or tree this fall (the best time of the year to do this) get it ready for the move by 'root pruning' now. To 'root prune' take a shovel and sink it into the ground (full depth of the shovel head) in a circle around the tree. The circle will be the size of the root ball you plan on digging up to move it come fall. This lessens the shock of the final move. The tree adjusts to living without the roots you prune while still having the taproot intact.
Trees should have 'suckers' removed; they don't help the tree and only take nutrients away from beneficial growth. Cutting suckers off the trunk encourages them to re-sprout; ripping or tearing them off will not. If the suckers grow from under the ground you will need to dig around the trunk, pulling away the soil, so you can grab hold and rip them off. Only use this method with small suckers, once allowed to grow larger you will need to use loppers or pruners to remove them.
Mark your new plants with the plant tag that came with a purchased plant or with markers for those precious plants you received from a friend. Next spring it may be hard to recognize a new plant you aren't real familiar with and you just may pull it out, thinking it is weed. (You may think you wouldn't do such a thing but believe me, I speak from experience!) You can buy markers or make them yourself with cut up strips of milk jugs or things like yogurt containers. Even if you don't know its name, put a marker near a new plant so you will be looking for new growth in that spot come spring. If you find a marker next to a strange plant next spring you won't accidentally pull it out.
I came across a company that will sell you an introductory set of 8 metal markers and a crayon for $4.00, (shipping is included.) The company's name is Paw Paw Everlast Label Company, www.everlastlabel.com. Their prices for larger quantities are very reasonable, less than most catalog prices I see.
Tips for August 13th 2001
Powdery Mildew - University tests showed that a home formula for powdery mildew actually works better than products you buy to fight this fungal disease. Powdery mildew looks just like the name sounds; plants infected with it will have a white or gray powdery growth. It may make leaves turn yellow; they may be dwarfed or curled also. If asters are infected it will actually cause so much damage that you won't have many blossoms for fall flowering. Phlox is very prone to it. Excessive moisture (rain or overhead watering) and humidity will encourage this disease. So here is that wonderful formula:
Mix together and spray on your plants.
This seems too good to be true. I can't try it out because we have had a drought (still!) and there is no mildew around here at all. So if you have powdery mildew, please try this and report back to all of us how it worked. You can be our 'Product Tester' for the month!
If you have an old hose that you can't use anymore for watering because it is holey, don't throw it away. It can be used for a couple of things, (maybe more, if you have some ideas send them into our Garden Questions and Discussion page.)
#1 - Catch those pesky earwigs. Lay out a piece about 12 inches long where you have earwigs. They will crawl into the hose (they like to hide in dark places) and everyday knock them out and step on them. Pretty soon you should eradicate them.
#2 - When you need to stake a tree use a piece of hose to protect the tree. Slip your wire into the hose and place the hose around the tree instead of having the wire directly against the tree.
Real Gardeners never throw away buckets! Did you know that? There are so many uses for buckets that there are never enough buckets around. Uses: picking veggies, during weeding put the weeds in them, collecting stones or rocks, collecting seeds, carrying water, keep potting soil in a large 5 gallon size bucket so it is always handy, in the winter keep one in the garage with a lid for your compost so you don't have to go out to the compost pile everyday, hauling things around, carrying tools, etc. Do you have ideas? Send them in.
If you have a cat and use kitty litter buy the type that comes in buckets, I like the round ones more than the tall square type. Do you know a painter? Ask for their empty 5 gallon buckets. Dollar stores have small ones that are handy for small jobs or small crops. When I am picking three types of peas I use three small buckets. It is much easier to keep them separate than to sort them out later. De-icers come in 1-gallon size buckets that are handy. The list is endless of where to find buckets.
If you have a perennial that reseeds itself too much, cut the seed heads off before they drop their seed. If you do get too many babies be sure to share them with family, friends, co-workers and even strangers if need be. A few of the perennials that I eventually treated this way were Lady's Mantel, perennial geranium, tansy or feverfew and pink mallow.
Tips for August 6th 2001
When you go grocery shopping and it is warm out take along a cooler with some ice packs in it. Try to get the frozen items on the conveyor belt together and ask the packer at the store to bag them in the same bags. Put them in the cooler when you get to your vehicle. You won't have to hurry to get home with that ice cream!
I submitted a question about 'dirty garden hands' to the garden question site and a gardening friend named George said to use lemon juice. I tried it, along with some other things, and it is amazing! (None of the other products worked as well.) My summer garden hands have never looked so good. I keep a little lemon juice in a small plastic bowl with a lid on it and just dip my fingers into the juice after I wash them. Leave this on for a little while, rinse and put on lotion. Wonderful! Thanks George!
There are directions for freezing peas on the [Harvest] page that I told you worked great. I like this new method so well that I used it on green beans (2-3 minutes in the oven) and am equally as pleased. If you have nice baking sheets, line them with foil. At 500 degrees the pans stain pretty bad. I found out the hard way.
Keep all vegetables picked, even ones that have been missed and have grown too large; peas and beans have a way of hiding and getting missed. You need to pick them anyway because plants don't understand that their purpose in life is to feed us or to look pretty. All they want to do is produce seed; so if they have some seed reaching maturity their production of new vegetables or flowers slows down. Pick them and throw them down on the garden ground to feed next years soil.
Larger is not always better in the vegetable world. When picking summer squash and zucchini, pick them small. Think of the size you see in the grocery store, this is a good indicator of the size you need. If you are making zucchini bread, or something like that, let them grow larger. Cucumbers are another vegetable that has superior flavor when small.
Insect bites and other itchy things - You can't beat those 'bite pens' you can buy in the store for insect bites. They really do take the itch away and are easy also. If you don't have a 'bite pen', dab ammonia or vinegar on the bite.
A Mexican bean beetle fooled me this past week. They look very much like a ladybug so when I saw a couple on my beans I thought to myself, "Oh look at the lady bugs are helping me keep the bugs at bay." Then I discovered that the Mexican bean beetle has exactly 16 spots, is orange like a ladybug and eats plants.
Tomato Storage 7/23/01
Don't put tomatoes in the refrigerator; it affects the flavor in a negative way. My husband prefers his sliced tomatoes cold, so for him, if I remember, I will put some sliced tomatoes in the frig just before we have dinner. You can find more storage tips for your produce on our [Harvest] page. I came across some very informative directions last year for storing different veggies. Fortunately I wrote them down in my gardening journal. They are on our [Harvest] page for you also.
Many Timely Tips 7/16/01
Did you know that Impatiens are very water responsive? The more water they receive the bigger they grow, if they don't get enough water they will remain small or grow very slowly.
I tried a new product this week and was totally amazed. It is called 'Weed Aside' from Gardens Alive. The weeds that I sprayed in the morning were dying by evening. 'Weed Aside' is an organic product, new this year. You can use it in your gardens without worrying what poison you are leaving in the soil. I am not aware of any other organic weed killer.
We have had a drought the last few weeks with no sign of rain in the near future. If you are also having a drought, make sure your gardens are mulched. Mulching will help conserve the moisture so your plants won't suffer from lack of water. You will find that the need to water is cut dramatically.
Mark the outside of your garden product containers, with the measurements required for mixing, with a permanent marker. You will save time when you need to mix up a solution instead of having to read the directions all over again. The measurements needed will be easy to spot if you do this. Unless of course you have an excellent memory and can remember all those formulas.
If your barbecue grill rack needs some clean up because it has cooked on black bits of gunk try this; lay it in the grass overnight. The dew will help loosen that black stuff and it will clean up easily with soap. This tip along with many others can be found on the 'Home Tips' page. I had to use this tip this week so I thought of sharing it with you.
Are you keeping journal notes from this year's garden for next year? Don't count on remembering what grew well, what didn't, what was too crowded, what new annual did you try this year that you want to grow again or not grow again, etc. For example: I like to grow geraniums, stocks and alyssum together with the alyssum in front and stocks in the middle. I need to make a note that even though I purposely grew them close together for effect, that next year they need more elbow room from each other. I also realized, while out in the vegetable garden, how pretty the purple cabbage is. It is so pretty that I would like to try some in my flowerbed next year. I will have something ready to plant in its place after it is time to cut it down, maybe mums for the fall. Or maybe I will grow it with flowering Kale and when the cabbage needs to be cut the Kale should be full and large and fill in nicely. Alyssum would look really nice around the purple cabbage also. I need to make note of some plants that need to be started sooner and some that need to be started later than we did this past spring. A simple spiral bond notebook will do the job just fine, or keep your notes on your computer. Taking pictures will also help.
If you have a Farmers Market nearby, consider visiting it soon. It is nice to give business to the "under dog" and they are gardeners just like you and I. I went a few weeks ago and saved a substantial amount of money purchasing plants from the different vendors.
If you grow your tomatoes in cages, you need to pull the growing branches back into the cage so they will grow 'up' and not 'out'. If they aren't pulled in then you will have branches that aren't using the cage and they will be all over the place. This needs to be every two to three days while they are actively growing.
Willow Rooting Solution 7/9/01
Cut several willow branches into 2" to 3" pieces. Put into a container covered with lukewarm water. Let this sit for 24 to 48 hours.
Make your cuttings (young, tender cuttings from desired plant) and put the fresh cuttings into this solution for overnight. Plant the cuttings into fertile loose soil. Water them twice with the willow solution.
As an added precaution, plant into a container that you can keep an eye on everyday to make sure it doesn't dry out. It is easier to take care of a plant or tree that is close by and you see everyday than to try to remember to keep a new cutting watered all the time that is out in your yard. Don't allow your cuttings to dry out. Pull gently to check the roots; a rooted cutting will offer resistance.
Once it has developed a good root system, plant it in the ground. Early fall is a good time for this.
This solution must be used fresh (can not be stored).
Colorado Potato Beetles 7/2/01
Even though I have been growing vegetables for over 25 years, potatoes have never been part of my crops. There were reasons for this; one was that potatoes are so cheap in the store. Plus a potato is a potato, right? It isn't like a tomato that only tastes perfect from your own garden. Then I had a friend who grew potatoes. The Colorado potato beetles were taking over his garden even though he would hand-pick them a couple times a day. This was enough to convince me that I would get my potatoes from the store.
Still, I was intrigued when I would read articles or seed catalogs about how special certain potatoes were. Then I would hear, "There nothing like those small new potatoes just dug up from your garden." Well, one winter night while happily 'shopping' the many seed catalogs that come to my house, I decided that this would be the year to try some 'special' potatoes in our garden. I was excited over potatoes!
Now it is June and I sampled my first new potato right in the garden, a Red Norland little potato. It was good, not like my first tomato this year, but good. I also had the joy last week of finding my first Colorado potato beetle, then another, then another. The adults are yellow and black-stripped beetles. I have even discovered their colorful yellow orange eggs attached to the undersides of the leaves. I quickly smashed the eggs and the adults with a little rock. I have been diligently smashing since last week but to no avail. Today I found two bunches of small little beetles, the larvae; they are dark orange, tiny beetles with black heads.
I wanted to experiment with 'Pyola' and 'Surround' so I tried both out this morning. I was certain 'Pyola' would take care of them but was curious about the 'Surround'. So one group of larvae was sprayed with only 'Surround' along with a few plants.
It is now evening and I am happy to report that both products did the job. I couldn't find any beetles. I do have 'Potato Shield' ordered and expect it next week. The 'Pyola' is really for my squash bugs and asparagus beetles. I'm looking forward to trying the 'Potato Shield' out. It is a strain of Bt for the potato beetle and since I have used 'MVP' (Bt for wormy things like cabbage loopers) for many years with EXCELLENT results, I expect that 'Potato Shield' will be equally effective.
Don't let the thought of Potato beetles (or any pests) keep you from growing something you really would like to try. There are safe products that will fight them off and you will have the joy of your own home grown veggies.
P.S. All of the products mentioned in this article are available from Gardens Alive!
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