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Care and Dividing of Iris  June 30, 2003

An Iris bed will become crowded and need thinning after 3 to 5 years of vigorous growth.  You will be able to tell when you should divide by the decrease in the number of blooms.  Digging them up and dividing them is best done in July or August.

First dig up a clump with a fork.  You can use a spade but will have greater risk of damaging the roots and rhizomes.

Rinse the soil off the roots and rhizomes with a hose. 

Separate the rhizomes; some will split naturally while others will require a sharp knife.  Divide them into new clumps.  Each clump should have a "fan" of leaves and healthy roots. 

Examine the rhizomes and roots and throw away any that are damaged, mushy or diseased.  If you have iris borer a weak solution of bleach and water is called for.  Quickly dip the rhizomes in the solution.  Dry briefly in the shade; don't forget about them because you don't want them to become too dry.  If the infestation of borers is too great you should relocate your iris bed.

Trim the leaves on each clump to approximately 1/3 its former length to reduce transpiration and water loss while the roots are becoming established.

The iris bed should drain well and have good loamy soil.  (Loam is loose fertile soil that doesn't have too much sand or clay.)

Form a cone-shaped mound of soil to spread the roots over with the center of the clump at the top of the mound.  The roots and rhizomes should be just below the surface.

Cover the roots and rhizomes with soil, firm and water well.

You will now have extra plants to start a new bed or give to a friend.

Mulching the bed after the ground freezes will prevent the newly planted bed from heaving during freezing and thawing cycles. 

 

Extra Special Potting Soil  June 23, 2003

Many of you know we grow produce for a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA), which, because of the expense of plants, requires us to grow all our own transplants.  We have been growing some of our own for years but now we have to grow them all.  This means that we get a lot of experience by trial and error but we also depend on plenty of other grower's information to find out what works for them also.  We came across a "recipe" for potting soil and seed starter mix by Eliot Coleman* and tried it this year.  *('The New Organic Grower' by Eliot Coleman)

The results have been amazing!  The plants grew faster, sturdier and healthier than we have ever seen before.  We will never go back to using commercial mixes again.  We will be able to cut 4 to 6 weeks off the growing time of some of our plants.  There are even a few plants that we may be able to cut 8 weeks off of.  This means a savings in electricity (for lights) and a huge savings of our time.  We thought we had nice looking plants before but this year they truly outperformed all other years.

Here is the formula from the book; we highly recommend it:

Potting Mix

Use any measurement you desire, cups, buckets, scoops, etc.

30 units Canadian Peat Moss (sifted by you with a screen, remove the coarse parts and use in your garden for mulch.)  

1/8 unit lime

20 units coarse sand or vermiculite (you can use all vermiculite for a light mix or parts of each for a medium weight mix)

10 units garden soil

20 units compost

 

1/4 unit blood meal

1/4 unit rock phosphate

1/4 unit greensand

For a Seed Starter Mix omit the last three items and move your seedlings into Potting Mix when moving up in container size.  Some seeds don't germinate well with too many nutrients.

A good garden store or nursery will carry these items, if you can't find them call around using the Yellow Pages.  You might be saying, "That looks like too much work for me!"  I understand, I would have said that also.  But when you see the plants you raise using this formula you will understand the reason to go the extra step.

Since for most of us seed-starting time has passed, may I recommend that you print up these directions for future use?  Someday you just might want to try growing your own transplants.

 

Rejuvenating Old Lilacs  June 16, 2003

Did your lilacs give you enough blossoms this year or were they lacking?  When lilacs get old they can start to decline in the number of blossoms.  When this happens they can be rejuvenated, which will give a better show following years.  The process takes three years to complete but you will see results next year.

Cut the oldest wood back to the ground by one third.  You can visually see the older wood, it will be grayer in color and have a rougher texture.  Fertilize the bush after you have cut back a third of the wood.  Next year cut back another third and fertilize.  Follow in year three with the same procedure.  After the third year your bush will have all new wood and should be performing for you beautifully.

Cherry Juice   June 9, 2003

A while back ago I mentioned how using concentrated cherry juice and apple cider vinegar as made it possible for me to stop using a prescription for arthritis.  I had several people write back asking for a source for the cherry juice concentrate.  In case you missed this tip let me explain.  I had been on prescriptions for arthritis for years, tried the cherry juice method years ago but didn't get the relief I needed to stop using the Rx.  But this past fall it was highly recommended I try it with apple cider vinegar.  The two together have a synergistic effect.  The results have been amazing.

I haven't used the Rx since fall and I don't ever expect to go back.  Not only are we saving money but also I don't have to face the rest of my life on an Rx that shouldn't be in my body in the first place.

All that to say that I have found a source you can order cherry concentrate from at a reasonable price.  I was getting it for a good price before (comparatively) but this price is even better by several dollars.  They also sell blueberry juice which has it's own health benefits.

Go to www.brownwoodacres.com or call 877-591-3101 to get this cherry juice concentrate.  I don't get any commission to send you there; this is purely a 'Tip of the Week'.  The Web site also gives you further facts about cherry and blueberry juice and their health benefits.

Take 1 tablespoon each of cherry juice and apple cider vinegar twice a day.  Mix them together in a small glass and drink it.  It is strong but well worth it and you get used to it.

Pinch Back Your Mums:

Hardy Mums will give you a better show if you start pinching back the growth.  "You should pinch them back three times by the fourth of July", a gardening teacher taught me and it has always been easy for me to remember.  This will promote a bushier compact plant with heavier blooms.  If the center has died out and you have growth scattered around the original plant, dig it all up, break up and regroup the healthy growth and replant.  (Throw away the old root crown.)  This is also a good way to start new plants.  Since this plant has all ready proven it will live through your winters it will give you great new plants that should be winter hardy for you.

 

Summer Tulip Care   June 2, 2003

Someone asked me this past week if she should braid or roll tulip leaves after the blooms have fallen.  I know 'Martha' has recommended this but I would debate her on this subject.  Sometimes I think Martha lays awake at night dreaming up extra work for us.

Tulips need to draw sunshine into its leaves to feed the bulbs for next year's blooms.  Along with adequate moisture and fertilizer, they need sufficient photosynthesis taking place after the blooms have faded or next year's blooms will be sparse or small.  If you roll or braid the leaves there is less surface area to draw in sunshine.  It also isn't "natural", and often when 'man' monkeys around with the "natural", 'man' messes things up.

After the blooms have fallen off the stem cut the stem back.  At the top of the stem are seedpods and if you leave them on this will draw energy away from the bulb, hence next year's blooms. 

Leave the leaves in place until they turn yellow.  Then you can take them away.  I know they can look ratty until they are gone but if you don't want to replace them every year this is the way it has to be.  Plant some annuals or perennials around them to help camouflage them in the mean time.  

Fertilize them while you still have healthy green leaves and you will be giving them a bonus boost.

If you want to plant more bulbs in the fall but can't remember where your old ones are by autumn, mark the areas where you all ready have bulbs or where you want more.  Make a note on your calendar in September (or month suitable for your area) what the markers mean.

 

Mulching Trees      May 26, 2003

You have probably seen the mounds of mulch around trees, especially if landscapers have done the 'grounds keeping'.  For some reason I can't figure out, landscapers mound up mulch around tree trunks.  I guess they think it "looks nice." (That is a matter of opinion.)  Since I know personally how bad this is for trees, specifically tree bark, I don't think it looks very nice at all.  When I see this it makes me cringe because I know that after a couple years of mulch laying against the trunk the bark will start to rot, crack and die. 

I know this to be the truth because I mulched heavy around many trees years ago, before I knew better.  It took about 2 years before I started to notice the damage and wised up.  At that point pulling the mulch away from the trunk to prevent further damage was all that could be done.  But at least I noticed before the rotting bark encircled the trunk.  The damage has since healed with healthy callused edges but that part of the bark will never grow back.

Mulching is great for trees, especially trees newly planted because it helps conserve moisture in the soil around the tree.  It looks nice if done properly, feeds the soil with nutrients as the organic mulch decomposes, and forms a 'safety zone' to protect the trunk from line trimmers.  But please don't pile the mulch up around the bark.  Keep the mulch about 3 inches away from the trunk.

 

Blight on Tomatoes   May 19, 2003

The blight disease is present in most garden soils; so it is possible you can't get away from it.  Rainy days will spread early and late blight.  Using mulch around your tomatoes will help in preventing blight from spreading.  Rain splashes the organism onto the tomato plants and by the time you realize there is a problem your plants can be seriously affected.  We mulch with newspapers and leaves around our tomatoes and this helps tremendously.  One year everyone we talked to in our area had lost their tomatoes to early blight because it had been so rainy.  That year we didn't get blight until late in the season; heavy mulch was probably the reason.

At the risk of sounding like a commercial the following story is true.  We should have taken pictures to prove it but at the time didn't realize how astounding the results were going to be. 

Last year we had a rainy spell in August and after two days of rain we went out to the garden to a horrible sight.  It looked like a fire had rushed through the tomatoes.  They were fine before the rains.  The formally green growth 2 to 3 feet up (we cage all our tomatoes with huge cages) was all brown and leaves were just hanging there dead.  We started using 'Soil Soup' and within one week green growth had started to come back.  It was truly amazing.  I have never seen or heard of anyone saving tomatoes from blight.  At first John didn't believe me and thought I was imaging the new growth.  But by the next week he could see it too.  By one month they had filled out with new green leaves where the leaves had died and turned brown.  If the cold weather wouldn't have killed the plants I am positive they would have produced a whole new crop because they were filled with new blossoms. 

You can also spray copper on your tomatoes to discourage blight.  It works better than nothing.  In the past we have slowed it down with copper but Soil Soup works the best.  You can get copper spray from Gardens Alive.  Go to Gardens Alive for copper suitable for battling blight.  You will also find many helpful products at Gardens Alive for gardeners who desire to keep toxic chemicals out of their gardens.

 

Slug Barriers   May 12, 2003

Ask almost any group of gardeners what pest they hate the most in their garden and you will overwhelmingly hear "Slugs!"  There are many ways to rid your gardens of slugs: beer in shallow dishes, cooper barriers, nighttime hunting, diatomaceous earth and trap crops such as melon rinds or freshly eaten corncobs.  (With trap crops you need to go back out and kill the critters as they come to eat their dinners.)  The list can go on and on.  My favorite long lasting barrier to place around perennials is coarse swimming pool sand.  You must find the coarse grade; the fine sand will not work for the slugs.  I have found the coarse grade in some hardware stores. 

Spring is the best time of the year to place the sand around perennials such as hostas.  When you see one of the slug's favorite plants coming out of the ground take a scoop of the coarse sand and lay down a ring of sand all the way around the plant.  The slugs will not cross this barrier; it would cut their bodies and they would die. 

There are several reasons I like this material the best for slug protection.  It is not toxic, once it is applied you don't have to apply it again because it lasts all season, it is inexpensive, and it is easy to use.

There are slug baits for sale but be sure to get the type made with iron phosphate.  This type can be used safely around pets and your food.  There is an older type of slug bait that I can't recommend that contains metaldehyde.  This is a toxic substance and should not be used.  One I can recommend is Escar-Go! made by Gardens Alive.  You can find their products by Clicking Here.

Gardens Alive is a great source of products for the gardener who wants to use natural and safe products in their gardens and yards.  Organic Gardening magazine highly recommends them.  By the way, if you don't have a subscription to Organic Gardening magazine you should.  It is full of info you need to garden organically. 

 

Hummingbirds and How to Attract Them    May 5, 2003

My sister (who also lives in zone 5, Michigan) saw a hummingbird today!  I have had my feeder out for a couple weeks but I haven't seen one yet.  If you want to have hummingbirds setting up housekeeping near your house this summer, set out the Welcome Mat.  I have found that when the ajuga is blooming is when I often see my first hummingbird.

I have a friend who wants desperately for hummingbirds to come to her feeder but can't seem to attract them.  Other people get so many that fights are common.  Hummingbirds are territorial and often don't share very well.  Some lucky people seem to have nice happy sharing hummingbirds.  I have seen them myself, at someone else's feeders.  Our birds are so stingy that they will give up time eating nectar just to keep others away.  We have hung multiple feeders hoping that would solve the problem but that only made one of the more stingy males extra busy guarding two feeders at once!

But let's get back to attracting them to your yard.  At the beginning of the season is a good time to attract them to your yard.  Since they are territorial they are looking for "their spot."  Hummingbirds are also migrating right now, sometimes passing through areas.  You need to 'catch their eye' as they pass through and if they like it at your house they just might stay. 

Put out red ribbon bows, silk flowers or other red things if you are having problems attracting them.  We had a red amaryllis once sitting on our dining room table and a hummingbird was hovering at the window, trying to get at it.  They love the color red, so get some red out there along with your feeder filled with sugar water.  If you have passed the chances for frost you can plant red flowers.  We can only plant frost tolerant annuals, like pansies, right now.  But maybe your area is out of the frost period.

The Nectar:

It is very easy to feed hummingbirds.  Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add 1-cup sugar, and stir to dissolve.  You don't have to use those quantities, just remember 4 parts water to one part sugar, such as 1-cup water to 1/4-cup sugar.   Fill your feeder and keep the remainder of the nectar in the refrigerator, be sure to label it.  It will be handy for you when your feeder needs refilling.  Don't use other sweeteners, just sugar.  And you don't need to color the water red; your feeder should have red on it all ready.

 

Protecting Your Tender Plants from Late Frosts  April 28, 2003

Springtime is a great time of the year.  The weather is turning warmer with each passing day and it is exciting to get outside and plant your favorite plants, whether ornamentals or vegetables.  But spring can also be fickle with one day warm and sunny and the next day cold again.  It is very important that you keep track of the expected low temperatures at nighttime.  You can watch the nightly news; just make sure you watch the early weather reports.  I can tell you from experience that finding out at 11:20pm (just before bedtime!) that there is a possibility of frost is a real pain.  In times past, too many nights John and I have been outside at midnight covering plants.  Not anymore, we have learned our lesson. 

It is important to keep track of the expected lows for your specific area.  Otherwise one frosty morning you are going to wake up and find your tender plants have been lost to frost.  The latest frost we had one year was on June 5th!  That is very late for zone 5.  Very sad!

If you want to be able to find out the expected lows on your own time frame then go to a Web site that will give you local weather.  I use www.weather.com for hour-by-hour reports for my own town.  You can request your own town also.

I find storms fascinating and I can even watch a storm approaching on Doppler at www.weather.com.  I have saved my local URL for weather.com in my 'Gardening Favorites' folder.  Since we depend on knowing what is in store weather wise for our business it is important to get this info whenever we need it, not just when the 'news' is on.

How to protect from late frosts:

Our favorite methods of covering tender plants from frosts are buckets and sheets.  In the spring the plants are still small so anything we can find such as buckets, garbage can lids and such items are used.  Plastic milk jugs with the bottoms cut off would work also.  Put the caps on when it's cold and take the caps off when warmer to use as cloches.  In the fall when the plants are large sheets work better.  (Look for old sheets at garage sales.)  But the important thing is to get the plants covered.  Plastic sheeting doesn't work as well as fabric because it doesn't insulate as well.  If you use plastic it is important to remove it if it is sunny because heat can be trapped inside and cook the plants.  I have heard of people covering with newspapers but I don't know how they keep them from blowing away.

If you get caught unawares by a late frost you can try saving your tender plants early in the morning.  But be prepared to get outside before the sun rises.  The plants need to be sprayed with water from a hose nozzle.  If you spray them before the sun melts the frost away there is a possibility you can save them.  But the best thing is to prevent them from being frosted in the first place.

 

Three Basic Gardening Guidelines:      April 21, 2003

As I look back to some of my mistakes before I knew much about gardening I can't believe I made them.  They seem so obvious to me now that it makes me shake my head in amazement that they occurred.  For instance, I planted a honeysuckle bush at the edge of my little patio.  Honeysuckle bushes attract bees and although I like bees coming into my yard for pollination I don't want them swarming 2 feet away from my chair when the honeysuckle is in bloom.  Another mistake (same planting day) was to take a lovely Japanese Maple and put it into rock hard ground without amending the planting area.  This ground was so hard a pick ax had to be used to dig the hole.  What was I thinking!?!?!  Obviously the honeysuckle needed to be moved and the Japanese Maple never amounted to much.  I am sure the people who bought my house had to remove them both.

But since I made those mistakes years ago and I figure there are others of you out there that probably have your own bloopers to tell, today we will discuss basic gardening techniques to obtain the best results. 

There are three basic guidelines for healthy gardens.  If you follow these three rules you will be far ahead of where I was 20 years ago.

Pick the Right Plants for the Conditions:

You need to examine the area you want to plant in and ask these questions:  How many hours of sunlight is received in the planting area?  Is the soil clay, sandy, or loam?  Is the soil dry, wet or just normal?  Is the planting area open to the wind or are there plantings or structures that offer some protection?  What is your zone?

Pick plants (shrubs, annuals, perennials, trees, bulbs, etc.) that prefer the conditions that are present.  For example, don't try to grow roses where you don't receive enough sunlight.  The plant might live but won't produce the roses you should get.  Believe me on this one, I have tried unsuccessfully to grow roses at a house with a partial shady yard.  It didn't work.  I gave up trying to grow grass under an overhang on the north side of my house (dry and shady, two big problems) and put in a stone bed.  It looked so much nicer and maintenance free instead of half dead grass. 

Some other considerations: Don't plant frost tender plants before the frost-free date for your zone.   If a plant likes moist soil don't plant it in a dry location.  If a plant needs dry soil don't plant it where it is moist all the time.  Read the plant's description and match it with your conditions.  Growing plants should be enjoyable and rewarding, don't try to squeeze a round peg into a square hole.

Mulch:

I can't recommend enough the benefits of mulching.  Mulch can be a material that will decompose such as wood chips, grass clippings, straw, leaves, salt hay, pine needles, etc.  Or it can be stones or manmade materials.  (Personally I have a hard time calling either of those "mulch" because to me mulch will improve your soil, which neither of those will do.)

For more information about mulching Click Here .

For information on how we mulch our vegetable gardens to conserve moisture, for weed control and improving the soil read our Tip of the Week dated: January 28, 2002  Click Here .

Compost:

Adding compost will be the most important thing you can do for improving your soil.  If your soil is dry, wet, sandy, clay, or has the incorrect Ph add compost or incorporate organic materials into the soil.  No matter what poor conditions your soil is in adding compost is the answer.  Compost is full of important nutrients, adds disease-fighting properties and improves the soil composition.  Making your own compost doesn't have to be a precise science as some people make it out to be so don't shy away from making compost yourself.  For more info about compost you will find more written just above the 'mulch' info on the 'Garden Tips' page.

You might wonder how did I learn all I know about gardening?  In one word, reading.  Actually 'doing' also improved my gardening skills but I wouldn't have known what to 'do' had I not read.  My most important reference has been "Organic Gardening Magazine" and I highly recommend you get a subscription.  I have saved all my issues for the past 12 years for reference and often go back to them, you should also. 

 

Grow Your Own Sugar Replacement       April 14, 2003

Have you heard about Stevia?  Stevia is a supersweet herb you can grow in your own yard and it can be used in place of sugar in certain recipes.  We grew it last year for the first time and what a surprise!  It is soooooo sweet that one little leaf is overpowering to the taste buds. 

It is a plant that is fairly easy to grow and extremely sweet.  You can cut it all summer long and it just keeps on putting out new growth.  Fresh stevia can be used to brew teas, use it in juicing mixes or make an extract by steeping it in grain alcohol, brandy or scotch; similar to how 'Martha' would make vanilla extract.

How to grow:

You can purchase stevia seeds from Parks, Johnny's and other seed catalogs.  (Go to 'Tip of the Week' Jan. 20, 2003 for a list of seed companies.)  Or possibly you could find stevia all ready growing at a plant or herb nursery. 

I have heard that stevia can be a bit finicky to start from seed so here are directions for starting your own stevia.  I have had good success with using a covered plastic container, like the ones you would get a 'take-out' salad in, to get them to germinate.  Place moist seed starting mix in the container, sow the seeds and keep the lid on.  This makes a nice moist environment for seed starting.  The seed I got from Johnny's had the highest germination rate of any I have started myself.  Once they are large enough to be moved, move them to individual cell packs.  Keep under strong light, such as fluorescent shop lights.  When growing your own seedlings always keep the light source VERY close to the plants, no more than 3 inches away from their tops.  We prefer one warm and one cool fluorescent tube for each light fixture.

Once the possibility of frosts have past you can plant out in the garden.  Stevia prefers full sunshine. 

How to use:

We picked our stevia all summer long.  The CSA kids loved running out to the garden and picking it for something sweet to eat.  Pinching off the top portions made it branch out and become bushy.  You can use it that day for brewing in teas.  We grow chocolate mint so the two together made a wonderful fresh brewed tea.  Lemon Balm with stevia is also great.  At the end of the season before frost killed the stevia it was all picked and dried.  I then ground it up (stems and all) in a coffee grinder to make a powder.  (If you see any used coffee grinders at garage sales snatch them up.  They are great for grinding herbs.)  That same green powder sells for a high price at organic food stores.

Stevia can be purchased in health food stores as a concentrated powder or liquid.  It is natural (not a chemical like most sweeteners) and calorie free.  A TINY bit goes a long way so be careful when using it!  The white powder that you buy is processed and more concentrated than the green powder but also more expensive.  I use both.  The white dissolves better in a beverage.

I also have a recipe book for all kinds of recipes using stevia.  An Internet search will turn some books up.  My stevia cookbook is called "Stevia Sweet Recipes" by J. Goettemoeller.

 

Fertilizers 101     April 7, 2003

Common fertilizers will have numbers visibly prominent on the packaging, such as 15-10-10.  These numbers identify the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) found in the fertilizer in that order.  Although there are many other nutrients required for healthy plants common fertilizers usually contain only these three.  These fertilizers may make your plants look good but leave them lacking many important nutrients.

Nitrogen (first number) - Nitrogen is important for above ground growth.  A plant with adequate nitrogen will have lush dark green foliage.  Too much nitrogen can produce too much top growth at the expense of flowers and fruit so don't supply a plant with too much nitrogen if fruit or blossoms are important.

Phosphorus (second number) - Phosphorus is important for strong root growth and flower development.  If you have a weak lawn or new lawn this is more important than nitrogen, which will only promote top growth at the expense of root growth.  If you don't have healthy roots you won't have a healthy plant.

Potassium (third number) - Potassium is associated with overall vigor, stress resistance, and stem strength in plants making it another important element for healthy plants.

Since we follow organic principles here at Rocky Gardens we can't just go buy a common bag of fertilizer.  We add nutrients as the season progresses in the form of compost, organic materials (leaves, grass, various mulches, etc.) and alfalfa meal (good as a nitrogen supply for veggies).  We use bio-activated compost tea with great success.  Kelp and fish emulsion are also important.  In the fall we add rock phosphate and greensand for adding minerals.  We also add lots of organic material in the fall and turn it into the soil.  Worms will eat the organic material, pull it down into the lower portions of the soil, expel it as worm castings, loosen up tight clay soil and improve the soil dramatically.  Adding organic matter will also increase water retention of your soil, an important factor during hot summer days; where as chemical fertilizers do not have any soil improving properties.  These are methods that will improve your garden's soil instead of just adding manufactured chemicals every year.  A bag of fertilizer is only a temporary fix for your plants.

It is also a good idea to leave chopped up grass clippings on your lawn when you mow as a source of nitrogen for the lawn.  If the clippings are too heavy (I am talking about heavy clumps of grass) to leave on the lawn then collect them and use them as mulch in the gardens and to make compost.  If your topsoil is lacking under your lawn then compost would help better than anything else you could do.  Spreading sifted compost over the entire lawn will do wonders.  It will add nutrients and microbial organisms that will go to work for you while you sit back and watch. 

Remember this important fact; if you feed your soil with organic material you will be ahead down the road.  It might be easier to just apply a bag of fertilizer and go on your merry way but if you want to build healthy soil that will sustain healthy plants then some extra steps are involved.  After awhile it becomes second nature and just part of taking care of your gardens and lawn.  Using compost and minimizing the use of chemical fertilizer will also reduce the possibility of contaminating our ground waters.

Soil Tests:

Soil testing is important so you will know what is lacking in your soil especially if you want to grow the most nutrient dense food possible.  If all you grow are ornamentals and a nice lawn and you have sufficient blossoms and healthy plants then you might not need a soil test.  If you are having problems growing certain things or, as mentioned all ready, you want to grow veggies loaded with vitamins and minerals then take a little time and have your soil tested.  If you live in the U.S. these tests are inexpensive and available through your Extension Service.  Look in your phone book in the government section for your County Extension Office.  They will tell you how to get a soil test kit; it's very easy and around $10.00 in many areas.  You can buy inexpensive tests kits at garden centers but I have heard they aren't always reliable.

 

Tip of the Week    March 31, 2003

What is a "Legume Inoculant"?

Legumes benefit when inoculated with beneficial bacteria called Rhizobium.  This inexpensive addition to your planting chores will result in greater yields, healthier plants and even better soil.  (Common legumes are beans and peas.)

Rhizobial bacteria harvest nitrogen from the air and turn it into nitrogen for the plants by 'fixing' or concentrating it in pink root nodules, which then slough off into the soil.  This adds the nitrogen into the soil where the plants can take it up by their roots and produce healthier more robust plants.

There are different strains of rhizobacteria to use on 'raw' or un-inoculated legume seed, which work only on specific seeds.  It is best to use inoculant every time you plant that legume, even if you've inoculated before.  The bacteria are alive and should be used by the date on the package so it is best to buy fresh each year.

How do you use inoculants?

It is easy to use and apply.  Directions will come with the inoculant or in literature from the company you purchase it from.  I hate extra steps, especially in the spring when the chores are so numerous, but it is really easy to apply.  It is also inexpensive.  I tend to be frugal so at first it was hard for me to consider purchasing inoculant until I saw the price; which is often only a few dollars.  For the return you get on harvest I can attest to the fact that it is well worth it.  You will harvest far more beans and peas when using inoculants.

Where do you get inoculants?

You can buy inoculants from most of the larger seed catalogs.  Peaceful Valley also has a large selection.  You can reach them at www.groworganic.com or 888-784-1722.  Our Tip of the Week dated Jan. 20th 2003 has a list of seed companies along with phone numbers or Web sites.

 

Tip of the Week    March 24, 2003

Earlier and Bigger Strawberries:

Would you like to have earlier and bigger strawberries this spring?  Studies have shown that covering strawberry beds with row covers in the early spring will encourage earlier larger strawberries.  "Row Covers" are the new polyspun fabric covers available at garden centers and in catalogs.  They aren't too expensive, reusable and well worth the investment for protecting plants.

Remove the straw mulch from your berry beds once you see new growth starting under the mulch.  Strawberry plants are fairly frost resistant but they will need protection from frosty nights for the healthy formation of berries because blossoms are susceptible to freezes.  Row Covers will protect the plants and blossoms when the temperatures dip below freezing.  The Row Covers also provide an extra element of warmth during chilly springtime weather.

More about Row Covers:

We protected many different veggies from last spring's cold temperatures with Row Covers.  Lettuce put on an awesome performance, giving us beautiful plants even though the spring of 2002 was very cold.

Row Covers are also useful for protecting susceptible plants from various pests.  For example, they are great for keeping radishes protected from Cabbage Maggots.  A particular fly lays its eggs on the plants; they form into maggots, which in turn tunnel into the radishes.  Row Covers kept over the radishes will prevent the flies from even getting near the plants.  The result will be blemish free radishes without pesticides.

We use Row Covers extensively in our Greenhouse during freezing nights.  It is amazing how something so lightweight can keep cold hardy plants from damage even when the temps go below freezing.

Household Tip:

With springtime blowing in your windows you may just catch the 'cleaning bug' to freshen up your home.  If you want a non-toxic inexpensive all-purpose cleaner mix a half-cup of ammonia, a third cup white vinegar and two tablespoons of baking soda into a gallon of water.

 

Tip of the Week    March 17, 2003

Your Springtime Soil:

Spring will officially be here this week and the weather is calling out to you to "come outside and work."  But not so fast!  Working (tilling, spading, digging) wet soil can actually damage soil.  Soil that is too wet when worked will compact into concrete-like clumps by compressing the soil particles.  To quote an old farmer, "You will end up with clods that even a sledge hammer can't break."  Imagine trying to plant your precious seedlings or seeds into soil filled with clods.  The roots will not be able to grow properly and the plants will be less than top quality, if they grow at all. 

Walking on wet lawns, especially after winter, can damage the soil structure also, compacting the soil under your grass.  Compacted soil is bad news for anyone wanting a lush green lawn.  Some weeds actually prefer compacted soil so they will outperform the grass and start taking over.

Don't be in a hurry to uncover your perennials you so carefully mulched when cold weather set in either.  Those first balmy days are just teasers and the cold weather will return, maybe the temps won't dip for very long but there are still some cold days ahead.

To sum it all up, don't be fooled with the early warm spring days.  There will be time to take care of yard chores when the conditions are right.  In the mean time pull out your lawn furniture and relax in the sun, soak in the warmth and vitamin D.  Ahhh!  Doesn't' it feel good?

 

Tip of the Week    March 10, 2003

Pruning Flowering Ornamentals:

What a welcomed sight in the spring, flowering shrubs and trees!  After a cold winter the blooms and fresh air are therapeutic to most of us.  Other than to cut out damaged wood you shouldn't prune spring flowering shrubs and trees until they are done flowering.  Most spring bloomers' flower buds will form on old wood from last year and if you prune them before blooming you will cut off the blooms.  This group of plants include lilacs, forsythia, redbuds and some (but not all) spireas and many more, too many to mention them all.  Some spirea cultivars bloom in the summer on new wood.  These cultivars should be pruned (if needed) in the late winter before bud break.  The secret is to know when your shrub or tree blooms.  General rule to follow:  Spring bloomer-prune after blooms have faded.  Summer bloomer-prune in late winter.

Forcing Blooms for Indoors:

If you really need to prune due to excessive growth, you could prune some branches off for forcing indoors.  To do this put the branches in tepid clean water, add a drop or two of chlorine and store in a cool dim location.  When you start to see the buds swell bring them into a bright sunny room.  Instant spring!!!  Some branches that can be forced are lilac, forsythia, apple, cherry, redbud, flowering quince, and pear.  For more information on this subject click on 'Garden Crafts' from our 'Home' page.  Scroll down to 'Forcing Branches to Bloom'.

Some shrubs, such as red twig dogwood, will benefit from severe pruning to generate new bright red growth.  Prune down to 4 inches above ground and the bush will reward you with new red twigs.  If this is too drastic for you, at least prune down any older growth that has lost its red color.  But I must attest that I have pruned using the more severe method and by summer the bush was full and vibrant looking.

Warmer Zones:

A reminder to our warm climate friends:  You are several weeks ahead of us in your outdoor chores so to find 'Tips' that relate to your schedule check out past  'Tip of the Week'.  They can be found by clicking "More Helpful Tips" at the end of this page.

 

Holiday Cactus Plants        March 3, 2003

Most of us have heard of "Christmas Cactus" and sometimes "Easter Cactus".  The Holiday Cactus family is a lovely group of plants fairly easy to grow, which help contribute to their popularity.  Some people don't realize there are differences in them.  There are three common species with the following characteristics:

Easter Cactus:

These plants set buds from January to March and bloom from March through May with pink or red blossoms.  A fall bloom time may also occur.  The edges of the green succulent leaves are smoother than the others with four to six slight ripples along the edges.  The tips have brownish hair-like bristles at their tips.

Thanksgiving Cactus:

A very common species with a variety of colors: white, red, lavender, fuchsia and salmon-orange.  Blossoms occur from November through December.  Edges of leaves have two to four saw-toothed projections that point upward.  Thanksgiving Cactus has the most serrated leaf edge of the three.

Christmas Cactus:

The blossoms are red to rose-red and occur from late December through March.  The leaves have slightly rounded (not as sharp) serrated edges.

Care Instructions:

All these plants have similar growing needs, such as the soil which should be allowed to dry out slightly before watering while waiting for buds to form.  After the buds have formed you should maintain a moderately moist soil.  They need bright light and cool temperatures.

To 'force' a bloom you can put plant in a cool room where there are no artificial lights turned on during the night hours but bright light during day light hours.  Temps above 70 degrees prevent flowering; some people have success with keeping their plant in a cool window if a spare room isn't available.

Plants will bloom best if roots are crowded.  Repot only when the soil becomes compacted (hard and difficult to water) or the plant becomes top heavy for the pot.

You can prune the plant after it has blossomed which will cause the plant to branch out and become fuller.  Pinch or cut sections at a joint leaving one or two sections on each branch.

Propagation:

Don't throw away the sections you have removed from the 'mother' plant, they are great for starting new plants.

v     Allow cut end to dry overnight to 'harden' the tissue.

v     Insert the cut end into a moist planting medium such as perlite or vermiculite.

v     Water well and place in a plastic bag, close bag and place somewhere out of direct sunlight.

v     Monitor for moistness.

v     It can take a couple months for roots to form.

v     When roots are at least 1 inch long replant in new pot with well-draining potting soil, not cactus mix.

 

 

Onions, Oh Wonderful Onions!     February 24, 2003

No working kitchen is complete without onions.  Onions come in many forms: cooking onions, scallions, pearls, extra sweet, pungent, etc.

Grow the BEST onions around!

There is nothing like a good sweet onion for sandwiches, hamburgers, salads and other fresh eating.  One of our favorites is Walla Walla.  They are truly amazing, so sweet and huge also.  If you want the extra large onions you see at premium prices in the grocery store this is the one you want to grow.  To grow this type of onion you need plants.  You can order them from seed catalogs or you might be able to find them in a nursery near your home.  Plants can be expensive (comparatively to 'sets' or starting your own from seeds) but worth every penny.  Using nursery grown plants is how I got started growing specialty onions.

Growing Your Own Onion Plants:

You can save money by growing your own plants and have a large selection of seeds to pick from.  (For our favorite types go to Tip of the Week-January 20th, 2003.)   There may be numerous ways to grow your own plants but I will share with you my method, which works very well for us.

Locate small dishpans like the ones you bring home from the hospital.  If you don't have any of those find a 'Dollar Store' and buy some small plastic tubs.  Moisten your growing medium, it should be good quality and loose.  Fill the pan a few inches with the growing medium.  Sprinkle the onion seeds over the top of the medium and cover slightly with loose medium.  Sprinkle lightly with water.  Cover with plastic wrap or put into a clear plastic bag.  Place fluorescent shop lights right on top of the pan's sides so as to get the light as close as possible to the seeds.

Monitor for moisture content and if necessary sprinkle lightly.  When you start to see numerous seedlings take the plastic off.  Keep the light just above the plants; they need a strong light just like other seedlings.  Don't over water them but be careful not to let them dry out.

When it comes time to plant outside, (refer to guides for your location) give the plants a "hair cut", trimming back to approximately 3 inches of green.  Prepare good fertile loose soil for your plants with lots of humus or compost added.

Dig a trench to hold the plants.  It should be deep enough to plant the plants at the same depth they were growing.  Gently tip the container over to slide the plants and soil out.  Gently separate the plant's roots; they separate easily.  If it is windy or sunny you need to cover the majority of roots with soil as you work with smaller groups of plants; you don't want the roots to dry out.

Scallions from Seeds:

You can grow sweet scallions from seeds (and pungent ones also if you prefer).  Fill cell packs (like the ones little plants come in from the nursery) with moist loose soil.  Sprinkle scallion seeds over top of the soil and lightly cover with more soil.  Follow directions above for growing regular onion plants.  The secret to getting enough scallions in a small area is to sprinkle 12 to 15 seeds in each cell.  The onions will grow nicely in a group and pull them all up at once for a 'bunch' of green onions.

Onions are cold hardy and, depending on the cultivar, some can go out into the garden more than a month before the last frost date.  Check references (catalogs, seed packets, nurseries, extension service) for suggested dates for your local.

Onion Sets:

For many years I only tried growing onions by using 'onion sets'.  You see them in many stores this time of the year, even in grocery stores, hanging around the checkout isles.  Onion Sets are easy to grow; planting and growing them is so easy that they are a good way to introduce 'gardening' to children.  There aren't stems and roots to injure so they are right up a child's alley.  Get them in the ground, cover them up and your child can experience the joy of growing their own food.  Who knows, they may get over the revulsion so many children have for onions!

Cooking Onions or Scallions?

Sort the 'sets' in two groups: small and large

Plant the larger ones just under the ground and touching one another.  They will quickly grow tall and lanky, just right for scallions (some people refer to these as green onions).

Plant the smaller ones deeper in the ground (refer to your package for depth) for the medium size cooking onions.  I know it sounds backwards but trust me; the little ones make better larger onions.

 

Tip of the Week    February 17, 2003

Pets and the Dreaded Skunk

Spring is right around the corner and that means it is time for many hibernating animals to come out, find a 'friend' and populate the earth with more of their species.  And unfortunately the dreaded skunk will be lurking around many of your homes not only looking for a 'friend' but also for food and whatever else they do.

If you haven't had a pet sprayed by a skunk count yourself lucky.  We have had both our dog and cat sprayed and it is a most unpleasant chore to tackle.  But I have found a solution that works pretty good and uses common household products.  Keep this recipe handy for an emergency; you don't want to be scrounging around for it when little "Peppy LaPue" strikes.

Mix one-quart hydrogen peroxide, one-cup baking soda, and one-teaspoon dish liquid, (no ammonia or bleach).   Apply to the coat of your beloved pet, avoiding the eyes.  Allow to remain on the fur for at least 15 to 30 minutes and then shampoo then rinse well.  Repeat if necessary.  If it is warm outside you can leave the solution on longer by leaving the pet outside but don't leave them wet outside if it is cold.

Seed Starting:

Growing your own seedlings can be fun and very rewarding.  Sometimes the results are fabulous but there can also be failures, just like any hobby you could take on.  Don't give up when a certain seed fails to germinate, just be excited for the seeds that do grow.

Since we have gone totally organic we grow our own seedlings because that is the only way to control the planting medium they grow in.  Once you put those little plants into your garden their soil now becomes the 'garden's soil'.

There is such a wide selection of cultivars available from seed catalogs; this reason alone is a good enough one for starting your own seedlings.  For example, we wouldn't dream of growing the selections of tomatoes and squash that the nurseries sell because the flavor of our favorites are so superior.  Heirlooms are available through seed catalogs; they are a wonderful addition to any home garden. 

The directions for growing your own seedlings are lengthy and we have devoted a special page on our web site just for this purpose.  For in depth help in seed starting go to http://www.homeandgardensite.com/seed_starting.htm

For our new members who may have missed our 'Favorite Vegetables/Seeds--Tip of the Week' scroll down to January 20th, 2003 for a list of recommendations and also a list of some seed catalogs you can request from the companies.

 

Vinegar; the Wonder Product!       February 10, 2003

Apple Cider Vinegar is common in most households but often unappreciated beyond basic cooking needs.  If you were to study the history and reported benefits of vinegar you might be surprised.  Packed into this concentrated liquid are essential amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, pectin and a weed killer to boot.  What an amazing product!

The following excerpt, taken from the noted sources*, is worth reading.  But don't stop there; vinegar has benefits for the human body also.

Vinegar as an Herbicide:

Scientists have confirmed that vinegar can be a potent weed killer that is inexpensive and environmentally safe.

     Agricultural Research Service researchers tested vinegar on major weeds—lamb's quarters, giant foxtail, pigweed and Canada thistle. All could be controlled during their first two weeks of life with 5- and 10 percent concentrations. Older plants required higher concentrations. Household vinegar is about a 5 percent solution.

     Canada thistle, one of the most tenacious weeds in the world, proved the most susceptible: a 5 percent vinegar had a 100 percent kill rate.

     Spot spraying of cornfields with 20 percent vinegar killed 80- to 100 percent of weeds without harming corn (scientists stress the need for more research in this area). Researchers used vinegar made from fruits or grains to conform to organic farming standards. Note that vinegar with acetic acid concentrations above 5 percent may be hazardous and should be handled with appropriate precautions.

     Researchers with Cornell Cooperative Extension found 5 percent vinegar to be effective against crabgrass, broadleaf plantain and ground ivy. Only short-term control of other perennial weeds can be expected, including quackgrass, but additional applications can provide control.

*AgOpportunities, July-August 2002 and Hortideas, Nov. 2002

Now for the benefits of vinegar to the human body:

Vinegar was used during the Civil War as a disinfectant for wounds and credited with saving thousands of lives because of its antibacterial properties.  Due to the healing characteristics of vinegar it is mentioned in the Bible and by Hippocrates.

There are many claims by people as to what vinegar is good for, many more than I will list here but I will list several: Arthritis, forestall osteoporosis, prevent cancer, kill infection, condition the skin, aid digestion and protect the mind from aging.  I could jokingly say I have read it does almost everything except windows, but it cleans them too!  (Actually the healthful vinegar is the apple cider vinegar, not white vinegar used for window cleaning.)

Now I haven't experienced many of those above ailments but I have endured arthritis for many years.  I was taking a prescription for several years, Celebrex to be specific.  If I missed a day my knee would remind me.  Last fall we started buying apples from an organic orchard and the orchardist told me how he overcame arthritis with cherry juice and vinegar, 1 tablespoon of each mixed together twice a day.  John and I started it back in September and I haven't had Celebrex since.  (I did wait 2 weeks before I stopped the Celebrex for the "tonic" to kick in.)  I am thoroughly 100% convinced that the vinegar and cherry juice has stopped my arthritis pain.

For the beneficial benefits of apple cider vinegar make sure you purchase the best you can find.  We use the vinegar from the organic orchard, if I am going to consume it twice a day I want to make sure I am not adding pesticides.  Unfortunately I haven't located organic cherry juice.

What about that creepy stuff in the bottom or floating on top of the vinegar? 

The sediment at the bottom is full of nutrients and the floating mass of slime is called the "mother" which is formed by beneficial bacteria.  (We need beneficial bacteria to have healthy bodies.)  So before you dispose of that strange looking stuff, buck it up and use it. 

"While 'mother' may not seem to many to be a particularly appetizing snack, some claim it is endowed with nearly miraculous healing properties."  (Quote taken from 'The Vinegar Book' by E. Thacker)  I must admit that I can't just scoop it out and eat a bunch of it as the book encourages one to do but I do use it as it comes out in pieces, hopefully not it one big slimy goo. 

 

No More Itchy Pets!    February 3, 2003

For years my sweet wonderful dog, Alex, has suffered with itchy skin.  I have tried different things without success but this winter has been really hard on him.  I felt so sorry for him that I finally decided to check with the vet again and was willing to take him in if need be.  Alex would scratch and scratch, even waking us up in the middle of the night with his dog tags clanging back and forth.  (Well, maybe dog tags don't clang but they sure sound like it in the middle of the night!)

The very nice lady at the vet's suggested putting vegetable oil on his food.  Since I don't have vegetable oil* in the house anymore I had to use olive oil.  But this is my special buddy so I didn't mind, if olive oil is better for us then olive oil will be better for him also. 

I started with a couple teaspoons twice a day on his food.  Alex thought, "Hot Dog! She's putting something extra on my food!"  By the second week I noticed a difference.  (Really, I THINK I noticed at the end of the first week but don't want to be accused of exaggerating! So I will stick with the two-week story.)  After two weeks his scratching had almost stopped and I cut back to once a day.

I hardly see him scratch anymore and this was something he has done often since a puppy.  He is happier and we sleep better.  Hooray!

*Vegetable oil including the great canola (Ha!) has been processed with such high heat that it turns the oil rancid.  If they didn't deodorize these oils with chemicals you wouldn't use it when you open the bottle.  They are not good for you, even canola oil.  Rancidity only scratches the surface of all the problems with vegetable oils because the crops are heavily sprayed with pesticides, not to mention the Genetically Engineered crops being grown on U.S. farms to make these oils.  Use the highest quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil you can afford.  If you can find it stone crushed, unfiltered and cold pressed all the better.  Butter, organic is best, (get the margarine out of the house) and cold pressed sesame oil are safe bets also.  Coconut oil is also healthy but the big agriculture companies don't want you to know that because we can't grow coconuts here so hence all the attacks on tropical oils.  Oh boy!  Here I have gone into your kitchens when all I wanted to do was tell you about itchy dogs, sorry!  It is hard to not talk about vegetable oils when the topic comes up

 

Bring out your Amaryllis

If you have an amaryllis bulb in the resting stage you can now bring it out to re-bloom.  Amaryllis bulbs need a 3 to 4 month resting period.  If the bulb received enough sunlight and nutrients during the summer, it will rapidly grow a new flower stalk(s) and bloom again after its fall/winter rest.

Just bring it out of darkness, clean up old dead vegetation, place in a sunny location and water.  Using a liquid fertilizer mixed with water is an easy way to water and feed your houseplants at the same time.

If you need to repot the bulb due to worn out soil or the bulb is getting too big for the pot gently remove the bulb and clean up the dead vegetation.  The pot should only be slightly larger than the bulb.  Pot should be approximately 2 inches larger in diameter than the bulb.  Plant the bulb with only 1/3 of the bulb in the soil so that most of the bulb is above the soil line.  Use a good soil mix suitable for houseplants. 

If you only get the strap-like leaves with no flower stalk don't despair.  Don't throw the bulb away like I did one year before I knew better.  I could now kick myself because I gave up after two years with no flowers.  But the only problem was that I hadn't given it enough sunlight and fertilizer during the spring/summer months.  Oh, it was such a pretty one too, called Apple Blossom.  Arghhh!

Once the blossoms have wilted, cut the stem (not the leaves) down, and keep in a sunny location until warm weather.  Keep it watered. You will notice that the bulb has shrunken because it has used up all its food and reserves for the blossom. Once warm weather arrives put it outdoors in a semi-sunny location.  Feed it well all summer long.  During the summer the bulb picks up in size again and after its 3 to 4 month rest it will be ready to go again.

 

Favorite Vegetables / Seeds   January 20, 2003

Most of our veggies are selected for their special flavor.  Every year we try new varieties and but we have old stand-bys that we probably will never stop growing.  We grow over 40 different types of veggies, fruit and herbs but only a few make this list.  They have to be very special to be mentioned.  Numbers after description correspond to list of sources at the end of 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.  '1-2'

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! '1'

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.  Resistance- V F N T  '3'

Specialty Tomatoes- We had rave reviews for Cherokee Purple and Striped German.  C.P. looks unusual with burgundy to brown color interior and green shoulders but the flavor won many people over.  S.G. is very unusual with a very high sugar content, fruity taste.  Very pretty with red and yellow interior.  Both '4'

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.  '3-4-5-6'

Sungold- Cherry tomato in a gold color with a 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.  '4'

Beans:

Spanish Meralda-and Romano Helda - Pole green beans with hearty 'bean' flavor.  Heavy yields of large flat pods that keep producing until frost.  The only green beans we have grown for years.  Pick these types very large for the best flavor.  Meralda '7' and Helda Romano. '3-5'

Yellow Summer Squash:

Zephyr- The ONLY yellow summer squash we grow anymore after a taste test we performed along side other yellow summer squashes.  It has better flavor and remains firm when cooked.  Rave reviews from our CSA members. '4'

Zucchini:

Costata Romanesco- Italian type with ribs.  Doesn't produce as heavily as other zucchinis but the flavor is so much better that you won't mind.  Remains firmer than others when cooked.  '4'

Mid-East Squash:

Magda- Big Hit last summer with our members.  Great taste, very productive.  Nice shape for stuffing with ground meat, rice, spices and cheese. '4'

Corn:

Sugar buns- Oh MY!!  A very dependable sprouting corn with superb flavor.  John has told me in the past that corn wasn't worth the effort and space but when he tasted our first 'Sugar Buns' corn he changed his mind.  It is an early type coming in at 70 days.  Best in latitude 38 degrees and higher.  '3-4'

Peas:

We grow three types of peas; the regular shelling peas, snow peas and snap peas.  I haven't really found a favorite; they all seem pretty good.  Tips I can give you are to look for 'stringless' in snow and snap descriptions and find types that are resistant to diseases when possible.  Check heights; your fencing needs to be high enough.  Even when they say a type doesn't need fencing they will perform better with fencing and be easier to pick.  We start ours early in the spring and get a wonderful crop in late spring, early summer.  I have never had any success with starting seeds in the summer for fall harvest.

Onions:

The sweetest was 'Walla Walla' along with pretty tasty 'Texas Supersweet' and 'Candy'.  'Walla Wallas' don't keep long but are some of the sweetest onions we have ever tasted with huge bulbs, so they were well worth it.  'Candy' keeps longer and will sweeten with storage.  All produced very large to medium bulbs.  Onion Plants aren't cheap but they are worth the extra money.  We buy seeds to raise our own plants and will be getting them started soon.  '3-4-5-6'.  All carry 'Walla Walla' with only '5' carrying all three.

Sweet Pepper:

Ace- I first found out about 'Ace' through Organic Gardening Magazine in a sweet pepper article and we are very happy to know about it.  It is a large pepper that ripens to red earlier than most.  Heavy producer. '4-6'

Kohlrabi!!!!

Oh!  You must try kohlrabi!  It is very easy to grow, practically pest free and oh so delicious.  Many people have never eaten kohlrabi and our members were taken by surprise by how much they liked it.  Eat it raw, in stir-fries or steamed with butter, honey, chicken stock, salt and pepper.  We found a HUGE cultivar that is actually better than the smaller types.  Since we like kohlrabi so much we will grow both large and small ones because the smaller types mature faster.   Don't try to grow the small ones to large, they will get tough and pithy.  You must get special cultivars for growing large ones.  '3', '5' for extra large types

Lettuce:

We had beautiful heads of Romaine, Butterhead or Buttercrunch, and Batavia (Sierra) lettuce.  Each CSA member seemed to have a favorite with the Butterhead/Buttercrunch having the most votes.  I personally liked the Batavia best while my dear friend like Romaine most.  Seed is cheap and remains viable a long time so try all three.  Start them indoors early because they can be transplanted in your garden early for late spring harvesting giving you something to eat of your garden early.  Pick the outer leaves first while waiting for the heads to form.  Be sure to save the center part of the Butterhead/Buttercrunch for eating out of hand; it is fabulous.  They all get bitter come mid summer.  Most seed catalogs have many varieties of lettuce.  To protect from hungry rabbits and deer use fencing or you will be disappointed.

Stevia:

I don't know if there are different cultivars of stevia so I can't suggest a particular one, but if you are interested in your family cutting back on sugar stevia is the way to go.  Stevia is an herb that is easy to grow in full sun.  You can keep picking it all summer long, use in drinks or cooking.  In the fall pick all remaining leaves and stems, dry and grind to reduce it to a powder.  In the green form (whole or ground) stevia is at least 20 to 30 times sweeter than sugar.  The CSA children loved going out to the garden and picking the leaves to chew on.  It is extremely sweet so a couple leaves satisfied their sugar cravings. '3-4-5'

1. Seeds Trust High Altitude Gardens       www.seedsave.org

2. Seed Savers            319-382-5990        www.seedsavers.org

3. Park Seed            800-845-3369           www.parkseed.com

4. Johnny's             207-437-4301            www.johnnyseeds.com

5. Jung Quality Seeds 800-247-5864         www.jungseed.com

6. Harris Seed            800-514-4441        www.harrisseeds.com

7. Shepherd's            860-482-3638         www.shepherdseeds.com

 

Washing Vegetables     January 13, 2003

Now that winter is upon us you probably have to rely on store bought vegetables more than your own homegrown veggies.  There are new fangled washing solutions on the market to give your produce a thorough wash or you can make your own for far less money.

Mix:

1 cup white vinegar

1-tablespoon vegetable based soap (available from health food stores)

1-gallon water

Spray with solution, wash as needed for particular produce item and rinse thoroughly with clean water.  Now you will have clean produce at a fraction of the cost. 

Note:  After a summer of reading Crop Advisory Alerts sent to growers/farmers I have since converted totally to organic produce.  The amount of pesticides recommended for growers/farmers to use on the food we eat is overwhelming.  Even though the government approves these products, don't forget that DDT was also at one time approved by the U.S. government and is STILL used in some countries that we buy produce from.

 

Mulching Mums and Other Finicky Perennials  January 6, 2003

Hardy perennial chrysanthemums can be difficult to bring through cold winters.  I used to have approximately a 50% success rate until I started mulching them with pine boughs.  Since using the pine bough mulch I have at least a 90% success.

Pine boughs work better than leaves because they don't mat down in a soggy mess.  The reason for mulching is to prevent the crowns of perennials from enduring the freeze/thaw cycles that happen over and over again during the winter and early spring.  These cycles are murder on some less hardy perennials.  The ground and plant crowns will remain frozen under the pine boughs protected from the warm sun and warmer temperatures.

Wait until the ground is frozen to apply the mulch.  Take individual branches and lay on top of the area to be protected.  I usually apply the branches two to three layers thick.

You can find plenty of discarded Christmas Trees to use for mulch.  Cut the branches off for mulching and use the trunks for firewood.

If you feed wild birds use an extra tree as shelter for them near your feeder.  One year after a heavy wind the upright tree blew over and we discovered they liked the cut tree lying on it's side even better than upright.  When they were frightened they flew right into the branches for safety.

A true recycling program for Christmas Trees!

 

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