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Suckers and Sprouts  June 28,2004

Many trees that have been grafted onto hardier rootstock produce suckers at the base of the tree.  This growth will be of inferior quality and if allowed to grow they will not only detract from the tree's beauty but will zap energy away from the desirable top portion.  If you just cut the suckers off at ground level they will grow back even heavier.  Dig down and remove the soil away from the base of the tree.  Tear off the suckers from the base.  Tearing the suckers prevents regrowth or at least slows it down while cutting off the suckers will encourage new growth.  Replace the soil around the tree.

The main part of a tree will often have sprouts along the trunk and along branches.  You can identify sprouts by their size and location.  Sprouts can be small new growth along the trunk.  In the top portion of the tree sprouts will sometimes be upright and on the inside branches or trunk.  If allowed to grow they will take energy away from the desired growth and often will cause crowded conditions.  You never want branches to cross over one another.  As they grow and become larger they will rub and damage each other; better that one of them is cut off to allow the tree to grow into a nice shape.

Don't tear sprouts; use sharp pruners or loppers for removal.  If the tools aren't sharp enough you could damage the tree by making a tear in the bark.

Once a tree is very large most of these situations are taken care of and you can sit back under its wonderful shade, sipping a cool drink and marveling at the beauty overhead.

 

Dirty Stained Gardening Hands!  June 21, 2004

Gardening is great for your body but so very rough on the hands.  Even though you might wear gloves most of the time while gardening there are still jobs that need to be performed with bare hands so your fingernails and fingers can become very unpleasant looking.  The fingernail tips become grayish and the creases in the fingers don't come clean after a while.  But I found a solution!

One year I tried all kinds of things looking for something that would make my hands look acceptable.  I even tried bleach!  Not a good thing when the skin is all ready rough and dry.  Then I tried lemon juice, BINGO!  My fingernails and skin almost were back to normal with a quick dip.

I keep a little covered bowl with a little bit of lemon juice in it on the counter during the growing season.  I use it over and over again for days.  After so many uses you will need to clean the bowl and put in fresh juice.

If your nails are particularly nasty follow this procedure:

Clean nails and fingers with a nailbrush and soap
Dry hands
Dip fingers in lemon juice 
Run a fingernail along the underside of the nails to remove remaining gray stains
Rinse hands

Make sure to use good quality hand cream or lotion during the growing season.  Use often during the day and at bedtime. 

 

Homegrown Garlic  June 14, 2004

For those lucky people who planted garlic last fall, garlic scapes should be starting to form on some cultivars of garlic.  Stiffneck varieties will grow scapes, which are seedpods at the end of round hard stems.  They will look different than the leaves.  If left on the plant they will steal nutrients away from the garlic bulb growing underground and should be removed so you will get the largest bulb possible.  Allowing scapes to grow can reduce the size of bulbs by 30%!

Once removed scapes can be used in cooking; just chop them up and toss into your cooking food or sauté them in oil or butter for a stir-fry.  They have a garlic taste also, just not as strong as the cloves.

If you haven't grown garlic before perhaps you would like to give it a try this fall.  For the largest heads find a location that has very fertile soil, full sun and good drainage.  Adding compost is advisable.  This will be permanent until mid-summer next year so make sure you can leave it untouched, out of the way of necessary fall tilling.  Garlic is cheap in the store but good garlic is hard to find which makes growing your own worth the effort.

We grow German Hardneck with great success and if you don't know what type to pick, I can highly recommend it.  Garlic connoisseurs have told me that it is some of the best they have tasted.  Save your best bulbs for a seed crop for the next fall planting.  Garlic can be expensive at first but once you have started saving your own seed crop, (the largest cloves), there is little cost.

Harvest when the bottom leaves start to yellow but before more that one or two leaves turn brown.  Depending on location this could be from June through August.  Use a garden fork to harvest being careful not to bruise the bulb.  Brush off the soil and dry in a warm shady location with good air circulation.  When neck is dry and outer skin is papery you can cut off the stem or braid the more pliable types.  Store in a cool dry place.

Keep the largest healthiest bulbs intact for fall planting, split them up on planting day.  You can plant after the first frost.  I had garlic given to me at least one month after I had planted all our others cloves.  When I planted them the ground was just starting to get crusty on top from freezing but those cloves grew also.  (Interesting experiment!)  Mulch with straw once the ground has frozen.  This year was strange in that we never moved the straw away in the spring.  By the time the weather was nice enough to uncover the garlic bed the leaves were all ready poking through the straw.  So we left it in place and never even had to weed.  Now that is easy gardening!

 

 

A New Bush for Free!  June 7, 2004

Everyone likes a good deal!  How about a new bush for free?  Many bushes such a roses and other hardwood plants can be 'started' by inexperience gardeners.  Most regions, other than warmer climates, are still in the 'window of opportunity' in regards to locating new wood on your favorite bush.  Perhaps you have a friend with a rose bush you admire or you would like to duplicate a favorite hardwood in your yard.  Now is the time to take a cutting from new tender growth.  Old wood doesn't root as easily as new wood.

Perhaps you are wondering, "What about “What about ‘…..’ kind of bush?”  It is safe to say in response, what do you have to loose?  Give it a try, you might be successful and learn something new that not many people know how to do.

I had two Jostaberry bushes that I purchased through mail order.  Jostaberry is a cross between currant and gooseberry.  One died after its first winter and the company wouldn't replace it so I started 6 new babies from the one that lived. 

Guidelines:

Take cuttings approximately 2 to 3 inches in length from tender new growth.

Remove any leaves that are along the stem, where the roots will develop, leaving only the top most leaves.

Dip the stem into the rooting powder if available. Be careful not to use too much. Some studies have reported that too much rooting hormone prevents rooting. Roots will develop at the 'nodes' where leaves used to be. Place your cutting in moist sterile planting medium, such as vermiculite or perlite. Form a little hole first into the medium with a pencil or other similar instrument; don't just push the cutting in. Gently push the medium around your cutting.

Cover the pot and cutting with a plastic bag and secure with a twist tie to maintain constant humidity.  Or you can place cuttings in a terrarium like environment.  I used a plastic container in which one pound of organic lettuce came in.  If you use a plastic bag keep the plastic off your cutting, fashion support from wire; a bent coat hanger will work.  Uncover the container every day for about 1 hour to prevent mildew. Keep in a bright spot but not in direct sunlight for at least a month, maybe more depending on root development.

After you have roots developing, transplant into individual pots of potting soil. Monitor daily for moderate moisture until the roots are strong and filling the pot. Once there is a strong root system it can be transplanted into the garden.

Give it a try!  You will be so proud of yourself and your new plant!

Note:  Some hybrid roses (or other hardwood bushes) might be grown on different rootstock that is hardier for colder zones.  Even if this is the case, it will be worth trying to start your own.

 

Planting Intensively  May 31, 2004

Last year here at Rocky Gardens we grew over 10,000 pounds of produce for our Community Supported Agriculture program on less than 1 acre of cultivated land.  Only with intensive plantings and well-fed soil can this be achieved.  This was accomplished without the use of any synthetic fertilizers! 

Number one to high yields is having top quality soil; the soil needs to be in great shape, full of nutrients and minerals.  Compost is the easiest amendment to add more 'food' back into a tired garden.  Rock Phosphate and Greensand add minerals to the soil, which in turn will supply your produce with nutrients to pass onto you.  We use ground alfalfa for nitrogen instead of commercial fertilizers.  And make sure you add plenty of organic matter (leaves, grass clippings, seaweed, straw, etc.) every year.  While we were 'fixing' our soil we added tons of leaves in the fall to the poor soil and now the soil is a beautiful dark rich loam.  Now that the soil structure is good and since we mulch so heavy during the growing season we don't have to add more organic matter in the fall like we used to.

You will get far more plants into a small area by planting in beds instead of rows.  We like to plant in beds approximately 36 to 42 inches wide.  The length is dependent on your garden.  You should be able to reach to the center of the bed from both sides.  This method reduces the amount of space used for pathways, makes watering easier and more efficient and allows you to amend only the areas being used to produce plants.  Plant the transplants in a checkerboard or staggered pattern to give them the greatest amount of elbowroom.

For those of you who only grow flowers and ornamental plants amend your soil the same way for the best flowers around.  A flowerbed planted in a checkerboard fashion will grow into a solid mass of color.

Succession Gardening

For optimum harvest start new plants for beds opening up due to early harvest.  A good example would be lettuce or radishes.  Both harvest early enough to start new plants.  For new lettuce transplants start in flats, you can get better spacing with transplants versus direct seeding.  Only allow one plant to grow per cell for highest quality lettuce with greatest yield.  We recycle by using those plastic cells and flats that come from nursery plants.  If you don't have any just ask friends and neighbors.  They are very easy to obtain from others; it makes people feel good to find a new home for their trash!  Radishes need to be direct seeded right into the garden so as an area opens up seed more radishes. 

Another vegetable you can use for succession gardening is rutabagas.  They taste best when they are frosted in the fall so we won't be starting ours until July.  By then we will have some beds opened up for the rutabaga transplants.  But we will first add compost and alfalfa.  For plants requiring high nutrients add blood meal, greensand and rock phosphate.  (The rock phosphate takes a long time to break down so adding it regularly to your soil will be like 'banking' it; you will always have some becoming available.) 

If all this is too much hassle for you at least add compost and organic matter.  High quality compost adds a tremendous amount of beneficial nutrients and microorganisms to your soil and organic matter will improve soil structure and feed the earthworms, your soil's 'best friend'. 

 

Healthy Food Right From Your Own Yard!  May 24, 2004

An Easy Way to Raise Produce

During World War II homeowners were encouraged to 'help the cause' and grow their own food in their backyards.  To our determent very few people know anymore how to grow their own food, let alone have the time to tend to a garden plot.  And every year the numbers go down as fewer and fewer people put in their own gardens.  Weeds are enough to discourage the average gardener but there is an easy way to keep them at bay, namely mulching.

Years ago we bought 5 acres 17 miles from home but still wanted a garden on the new property to compare it to our garden at home.  We were comparing a plot with more sun but in the colder zone 5 compared to a plot in zone 6 but only 3-4 hours of sun.  By the end of the summer our 'new neighbor to be' commented that our "garden was better than hers and we didn't even live out here"!  How could this be?  We weren't around to water and weed on a regular basis; only showed up now and then to pick the vegetables.  And the soil wasn't even a garden before, just a piece of ground turned into a 'first year' garden.  The secret was due to mulch.

Benefits of mulching:

Prevents weeds

Preserves moisture

Feeds the garden for next year

Moderates soil temperatures

Makes the garden a clean place to walk, no dirty shoes.

Here is what we did as a last minute, "Hey honey!  I want to put in a vegetable garden over there.  Can you bring me some dirt?"

We mowed the grass/weeds short in the new garden area.  I covered the area with newspapers, at least 6 to 8 pages thick.  I then sprayed the papers with water and John brought in soil to dump on top.  I dug holes for the transplants right into the soil and newspapers right into the ground.  We had few weeds that year but great vegetables.  The newspapers also kept the moisture from evaporating around the roots so the plants were happy, even though they were unattended.

We now mulch with newspapers and leaves on top in established gardens.  I save newspapers all year long.  I prepare them for garden use by separating the sections and removing the colored glossy advertising.  Most ink used these days for newspapers is non-toxic; you can call the company to check.  We collect bags of leaves from fall and spring clean up to place on top of the papers. 

Choose a day that isn't too windy or the papers will blow away.  Have a hose ready to wet down the papers as you lay out a section at a time.  Keep the paper sections folded, don't bother to open them up; it takes too much time.  Place the leaves on top of the papers.  You can either plant into the mulch with transplants or seed an area and once the seedlings are visible, mulch around them.  It helps if you get the family involved in the process, it can be a lot of work.  Once the garden is mulched this way, all you will need to do is watch for insect pests, water in drought conditions and harvest.  It is well worth the time spent mulching.

Cover cropping is often recommended for adding nutrients and improving garden soil.  This is great for large-scale farmers but it is a rare home gardener that can give up a section of their garden for a cover crop to grow and mature.  Most yards don't have that large of garden areas.  Every inch of garden is needed during the growing season.  And if you are trying to extend the season with sheets over your tomatoes and peppers and leaving the broccoli in the garden to pick the side shoots even after the first frost, that doesn't leave much time to get a cover crop growing before winter sets in.

We have found mulching with newspapers and leaves to benefit the soil even more than a cover crop.  Two years ago we had a garden that half the garden was mulched as explained above.  The other half was seeded with clover as a cover crop or green manure.  In the fall both sections were tilled under.  The following year we planted potatoes in both sections and made an amazing discovery.  Both sections were planted on the same day, same amount of potatoes in each row, watered and tended to identical.  Half way through the summer you could visibly see the difference in the plants.  The section that had the mulch tilled into it grew taller, greener and lusher plants.  Each row in that section also produced more pounds of potatoes.  We had great potatoes in the cover crop area; the clover did to its job of replenishing the soil with nutrients, just not as much.

One note of caution:

One year I just mulched with leaves (no paper down first) and found the leaves 'stole' nitrogen away from the plants while decomposing.  The plants suffered.  The newspapers form a barrier between the soil and leaves and most decomposing doesn't start until it is all tilled in, in the fall.

Possibly you are thinking that a garden still sounds like too much work.  In Jordan Rubin's book "The Maker's Diet" he recommends gardening as one of the steps to a healthy body.  He feels that coming in contact with the soil organisms is very beneficial.  Healthy soil is full of living organisms that promote and build the immune system.  You will also work those muscles, burn calories, get some sunshine and possibly reduce stress.  Many people find working in the garden as a stress reliever.  Gardening just might be "what the doctor ordered"!

 

After The Bloom Tulip Care  May 17, 2004

When tulips have dropped their lovely petals and the 'uglies' have set in, that is the time they need TLC.  Remove seed heads so the plant doesn't expend energy on forming seeds.  Leave the green leaves intact until they turn yellow.  The leaves are needed to feed the bulb for next year's bloom.  This is a good time to feed your bulbs with fish or kelp emulsion or a bulb fertilizer.  The bulb will grow and store reserves for next year.

After the leaves have turned yellow you can remove them.  Some people talk of rolling or braiding the leaves but don't, leave them natural.  They need all the exposure to the sun they can get.

In the meantime, you can plant new annuals in front of the fading tulips or put in a new perennial if you can avoid disturbing the tulip's bulb and stem.  Woody perennials would not be a good choice because they will block sunshine too much and eventually crowd out the tulips.

For warmer climates, you will need to purchase tulip bulbs each year so the above recommendations will not pertain.  Store bulbs in refrigerator, not the freezer, until the cooler days of late October or November.  Prepare the planting hole ahead of time; remove the bulbs from refrigeration, place in hole as soon as possible, water and refill hole immediately.  If bulbs are allowed to sit out in the warm sun, the cooling procedure could be negated.

A common question is, "Can I plant the bulbs from potted tulips?"  Sure go ahead and try it, it can't hurt anything to try it.  If the bulbs received enough sunlight, water and nutrients they might come back next year.  Just stick the whole ball of potting soil and bulbs in the ground, making sure the bulbs are at least 8 inches deep.  Next year you probably won't get blooms but hopefully green leaves will grow, feed the bulbs for the following year and produce blooms the year after that.  You don't have anything to loose.

 

The Healthy Salad Bowl  May 10, 2004

Whether you are trying to loose weight, get in extra nutrients and roughage for the day or just want something wonderfully tasty, a refreshing crunchy salad is the ticket.  We have been growing our own produce for many years but only in the past several years have we enjoyed growing lettuce.  Between the slugs and the earwigs coming into my kitchen along with the lettuce, I was turned off of growing our own lettuce.  That was until we started a CSA and we discovered how wonderful homegrown lettuce truly is.

There are many types of lettuce seed but I found that the 'heading' types give us the best results.  The 'leaf' types are nice but still don't compare to butterhead, buttercrunch, romaine, etc.  There are many cultivars for each type mentioned.  The 'leaf' types tend to be very delicate and we like a more substantial lettuce.  We don't grow 'iceberg' because the nutritional value is lacking but most of the other 'heading' types are absolutely terrific.  And they are easy to grow!

Lettuce germinates best in cooler temperatures so spring is a great time for lettuce.  If you start lettuce seed indoors, our preferred method, don't give them bottom or top heat; they will not germinate well.  Keep a piece of plastic on top of the flat until you see at least 50 percent germination.

Lettuce seed is very tiny and hard to sow sparsely, so indoor starting allows you to move seedlings around to fill up any vacant cells and thin to only one plant per cell.  If you find it hard to take out extra plants, remember you will have the best lettuce if each plant has plenty of room.

Once the little plants are big enough to transplant, move into them into the garden.  Planting in 36 to 42 inch wide beds in a "checkerboard" fashion results in the most plants in a smaller area; as opposed to 'single file' row beds.

As the lettuce is growing to maturity, you can be harvesting the outside larger leaves.  Snap off the largest leaves from various plants.  You can keep yourself supplied with lettuce well into the heat of summer.  Once a head has sufficiently formed, cut with a knife at the base of the stem.

Lettuce is notorious for 'going to seed' and becoming bitter when the temperatures become hot.  We are running trials this summer for reported 'summer heat tolerant' types but haven't had success with the types mentioned above.  What a shame!  Just as the cucumbers and early tomatoes start producing the lettuce falls off.

Pest Control:

Slugs and earwigs love lettuce as much as you will.  There are many controls for slugs, such as beer in a shallow saucer or melon rinds for 'lures'.  For the home gardener you can't beat the new iron phosphate pellets for slugs.  They work very well at stopping the quickly exploding population.  Garden's Alive sells 'Escar-Go' and some local nurseries might sell 'Sluggo'.  A little goes a long way so don't be alarmed at the high price.

For earwigs provide a nice hiding place for them such as a board or foot long pieces of old hose.  They will crawl under or into them to hide once the sun comes up.  Knock them out of the hose and lift up the board to find them, stomping them as you find them.

To extend your harvest of lettuce, sow more flats of lettuce in mid summer.  Pick starting dates based on your first expected frost date, counting backwards to allow growing and harvest times.  Start these new seedlings in inside because the intense heat of summer will harm germination.

 

Bird Bath Project  May 3, 2004

We have several birdbaths in our yard because we like to attract birds.  When you grow your food naturally, birds are an important insect control; especially during the spring while raising their babies, they love bringing insects to their young.  One of my favorite birdbaths is one we made out of common bagged concrete mix.  It sits on the ground, looks old and has ajuga growing all around it.  It really is nice looking, doesn't need to be brought in during winter and was inexpensive.  It could cost as little as $3.00, a little more if you want to add some extras.

You will need:

1 bag of concrete mix - 60 pounds  (don't get quick setting)

Water - approximately 2 -3 quarts of water

Something to mix the concrete in, like a wheelbarrow

A hoe for mixing

Shovel

Rubber gloves

Optional ideas: decorative stones, broken pieces of pottery, aquarium stone, crushed colored glass, colored tiles, etc.

Form a shallow flat bottom 'bowl' in some soil; sand is especially nice to work with.  Form should be approx. 14 to 18 inches in diameter.  Finished birdbath will be from 18 to 22 inches in diameter, depending on what you desire.  Birds don't like baths that are too deep or steep.  I used a pile of sand that was in the yard but you can do this in soil if sand isn't available.  This is only a form; it doesn't have to stay in this spot but if you are planning on moving it remember it is a 60-pound birdbath.  Make sure the bottom of your form is flat.

Wet the wheelbarrow and tools before you use them; this helps with the cleanup.  Pour concrete mix into the wheelbarrow.  Mix with water being careful not to add too much.  Start out on the dry side and increase water by small amounts.  You want it to be easy to mold but not runny.

Shovel the wet concrete into the mold.  With gloved hands, spread the mix around the form trying to keep the bottom and side uniform in thickness.  (Top edge will probably be thicker.)  It doesn't have to be perfect; this birdbath has a 'quaint' look.  Add any stones or other items by pressing into the concrete.

Cover with plastic for 5 to 7 days and do not move it.  Keep it moist during this curing time; water helps the curing process of cement.

Wash out the wheelbarrow and clean up your hoe.

If you want to add some little critters to your birdbath, such as a frog or turtle, use a silicone caulking to attach them after it has cured and dried out.

 

Springtime Grass Repair   April 26, 2004

Springtime is a good time to repair damaged or sparse grass.  Hopefully there will be a decent amount of rain and cooler temperatures before the summer heat sets in.  Grass will sprout and grow better in the spring, as opposed to summertime.

First check the situation out and decide what is causing the grass to grow poorly or in some cases not at all.  Is the soil compacted?  Does the area become waterlogged?  Have weeds taken over (usually a sign that the soil condition is poor)?  These are some possibilities of a poor lawn.

Correct the problem before you waste your time and money on new grass seed.  If the soil is compacted loosen it with a hard rake or proper garden tool.  Better yet aerate the compacted soil.  Add some good topsoil or compost to the loosened soil.  Remove stones or other debris.  If the area is too low you will need to re-contour the grade.  If weeds have taken over then you will need to kill them but also remember that weeds will move into an area that has poor soil.  Some soil experts can identify the condition of soil just by identifying the weeds present.  If there is little grass left to save a preferred method of killing weeds is flaming.  It is quick and non-toxic.  Just pass over the weeds with a large propane torch (available at some hardware or farm stores), you don't need to burn them completely.  You will see dead weeds the next day.  Since it is non-toxic the soil will be suitable for new seed.  A soil test would be a good investment if you can't figure out the reason you have a poor lawn.

Once the soil has been prepared spread grass seed.  Select a type suitable for the conditions, i.e. sunny mix or shady mix, heavy traffic, etc.  Cover the area with straw if there isn't old grass to save.  The straw is a very important step that shouldn't be overlooked.  It keeps the soil moist while the seed is germinating.  It will save you time (you won't need to water several times a day) and possibly save you from buying more seed.  Straw will also keep the seed from washing away if you have a heavy rain.  If the area isn't too large a lawn patch kit may be a good choice.  Be sure to water the area gently, don't flood it or the seed may wash away.

Another method of fixing small patches of dead grass is to 'plug' the spot with sod or grass from another spot.  While weeding out places grass doesn't belong, such as the edges of flowerbeds, save these clumps of grass for plugging bare spots.  Just loosen the soil in the bare spot, dig a hole to the proper depth, plant the 'plug' and water.  The grass will fill in from all directions and soon no more bare spot plus it is free!

If your lawn is in fair condition but not as lush as you would like one of the best corrections would be to spread a thin layer of compost directly on top.  Spread sifted compost over the entire area and water so it settles into the grass.  This will feed the existing grass and improve the condition of the soil.  Sprinkle good quality grass seed over the area to help it fill in quicker.  Fertilizing is good for grass but compost is even better because it improves the soil and fights diseases; whereas fertilizing only temporally feeds the grass instead of feeding the soil.

Don't mow your new grass until it is at least 3 inches high making sure the blade on the mower is sharp so it won't damage the tender grass.

 

Start Composting!   April 19, 2004

I have read many articles about how to build a proper compost pile.  You make it 'such and such' tall and wide with just the right amount of brown, green and other ingredients and by the time you are done reading the article, the average homeowner says, "Sounds too complicated for me!"  That is really a shame because composting is very easy and every gardener should compost.  Compost is often referred to as "Gardener's Gold", and for good reason.  Of all the possible amendments you could add to your soil for healthy plants, compost is the number one for benefits.  Compost not only feeds your plants, improves soil texture, and improves ph; it also fights off plant diseases.

f you have been scared off by all those directions how to build a compost pile or afraid it will stink but are now convinced you need to compost, read on!  I have good news!

Getting started:

Compost piles can be in sun or shade.  Shade will slow the decomposition process down but the pile will dry out less.  Both have pluses and minuses.  You can compost in a container, a frame or just loose on the ground.  Gather green (i.e. grass) and brown (i.e. leaves) ingredients and layer them along with some soil to inoculate the pile with organisms to start the process.  Keep the pile moist like a wrung out sponge.  Turn the pile after a while with a garden fork to bring in fresh oxygen.  Turning the pile every week will help it to decompose more quickly.  If you don't mind waiting, turn it less often.  If you have enough brown material your pile shouldn't smell; too much green causes a smelly pile. 

Ingredients:

Grass clippings

Leaves (not black walnut leaves)

Kitchen scraps (no dairy or meat)

Weeds you pull out of your garden (don't compost weeds with mature seed heads, noxious weeds or weeds that grow from underground rhizomes or stolons, such as quack grass.)

Lake weeds or seaweed

Old straw or hay

Eggs shells

Coffee Grounds

Most materials that were once alive

Tips:

Pile should not dry out or it will slow down decomposing.

Inoculants for "starting" or "speeding up" compost usually don't make much difference.

Don't use compost until fully "finished".  Finished compost will be dark and crumbly resembling rich soil.  You shouldn't be able to distinguish what the raw materials used to be.  Unfinished compost will continue to break down, stealing nitrogen away from your plants.  It may also have seeds that are still viable or live plant parts, such as potato peelings with 'eyes'.  (I know this from rookie inexperience; learn from my mistake.) 

Keep a container with a lid on your kitchen counter to hold your compost scraps.  Teach your family what to keep and what to throw away.

Turning the pile should be thought of as exercise; maybe you won't mind it so much.  Turn frequently to speed up the process.

Starting with smaller pieces will speed the process.

Start another pile once you have enough material in the first one.  If you are always adding to the pile, it won't ever "finish."

 

Fighting Off the Deer and Rabbits    April 12, 2004

Every year many gardeners are discouraged from growing ornamental plants and their own food because deer and rabbits ate all their hard work.  We have successfully battled with those critters.  Our critter problem isn't in epidemic proportions but we do have a healthy share of them; enough where we regularly see both deer and rabbits.

The first line of defense is to not let them discover the yummy plants you are trying to grow.  From the moment you start seeing their favorite food, such as tulips, popping out of the ground you should start diverting them away.  I have found a product called Hinder to be very affective.  It is a non-toxic solution that is diluted and sprayed on the plants and surrounding area.  They don't like the smell so they will walk away from the area.  There are other products on the market that are probably effective but Hinder is the one I am familiar with.  Just make sure anything you use is non-toxic.  Gardens Alive has a product called Deer Off that has good reports.  The most important tip is to get the area sprayed before they find the appetizing plant.  Once they find food, it is hard to discourage them.  A drawback is that every time it rains you will need to reapply the product.  I have read pepper will work in this manner also.  Click here for a link to Gardens Alive.

Laying down wire fencing or screen in the area is also a good deterrent.  The critters won't want to get their feet caught so they will back up and find another place to search for food.

Our favorite way to discourage critter loss is with fencing.  We use the fence material for this specific purpose, sometimes it is labeled "critter fence"; it has smaller openings at the bottom so the little animals can't walk through and larger openings in the top 2/3rds for easy picking of vegetables.  You can use this fencing over and over again for many years so you won't need to purchase it again for a long time.  Don't buy plastic fencing; they will eat right through it.  We purchase the tallest 'critter fence' we can find, so we can grow tall peas on it.

To discourage deer from jumping over the fence we cut Irish Spring soap, (or another STRONG smelling soap), into three pieces.  Put each piece in a nylon stocking and knot the end.  One stocking will make many such 'bags' by tying the ends of cut sections with knots.  Open a large paperclip up at one end and slip through the knot.  Hang the soap bags every 5 feet or so.  We haven't ever had a deer jump a fence using this method, but our neighbor's unprotected fence was jumped.

Use this fencing to support tall clinging plants, such as peas or morning glories.  To protect young trees from damage use fences made into round cages.  Deer love to nibble on young tender trees.

 

Spring is for Garden Peas!   April 5, 2004

Peas can be one of your earliest garden treasures; they will be ready for picking weeks ahead of most summer produce.  Unless you live in a warm part of the world, it is time to plant peas or at least get ready for them.  I have planted peas before when it was snowing outside.  Not on purpose!  It was probably warmer when the day was planned, the fences were up and we needed to proceed as planned.  Peas can tolerate cool soil and cool rainy spring weather.  In fact, unless it is incredibly wet and cold, peas will perform best in cool weather.

When you purchase your pea seed it would benefit you to also purchase inoculant.  Inoculant will help the peas produce a greater yield and well worth the few dollars spent.  It is easy to use and inexpensive; I always have bigger harvests when I use it.

Types of Peas

Do yourself and family a favor and try all three types of peas, Snow, Snap and Shelling peas.  The snow peas, often referred as Oriental Peas, are John's favorite.  Snap peas are my favorite and there is nothing like eating fresh shelling peas right out of the pod.  Both snow and snap are wonderful for stir-fries and salads, not to mention great steamed with butter.

They are easier to pick than shelling peas because what you see is what you get.  Where as shelling peas can be difficult to pick at the right time, but with some experience you will get the hang of it.  Open the first few shelling pea pods to check to see if you have the right size of peas inside.  A hint to help, GENTLY squeeze the pod with your fingers.  If the pods 'give' or you hear a slight crackle the peas inside aren't big enough yet.

Fencing

It will be worth your time and the expense to put up fencing for your peas.  We count on fencing to not only support the peas but to also protect them from critters.  Rabbits LOVE pea seedlings.  We use "critter fence" in the tallest height we can find it (42").  That way we aren't limited to the varieties we grow, some can get very tall.  Critter fence has smaller openings at the bottom and larger openings 2/3rds of the way up.  Buy metal fence posts also.  You will be able to use the fencing for many years to come, so the figure the cost will be spread out over a long period.  If you put up fencing around the perimeter of the garden, everything inside the garden will be protected.  This is an added benefit for all the rest of your plants.  Although our 42" fencing isn't intended to keep deer out we have been fortunate and no deer have crossed it.

Sometimes pea descriptions will say, "Don't need fencing."  Don't count on it; those types often still need fencing to help with harvesting.  It is a real hassle to have a row of peas fall down from heavy pods; picking will be incredibly difficult.

Hope you have a great pea harvest!

 

Do You Have Poor Soil?    March 29, 2004

We have covered this topic before but since we have so many new subscribers and poor soil is such a common problem, it bears repeating.  You don't have to give up gardening, whether your passion is ornamentals or growing food, just because you have poor soil.  When I started gardening back in my 20s I didn't know how easy it would be to fix hard clay soil.  So I ordered a truckload of topsoil for a vegetable garden.  This gave me a nice vegetable garden but at a high cost.  Since then we have fixed many gardens filled with horrible clay soil.  The same procedures can be used for soil that is too sandy with equally good results.

The trick is to till organic material into the poor soil where you want your garden, lots of it.  If you want to speed up the process add earthworms to the soil once you have plenty of food (organic material) tilled in for them to eat.  (It is kinder on the earthworms if you till first then add the worms.  Ouch!)  If you buy worms for your garden you should know that common red worms are much more prolific than "night crawlers".  Also many of the worms that are sold on the Internet and in catalogs are surface dwelling worms and will not make it through a cold winter without protection from freezing weather.  Another time saver would be to grind up the organic matter into small pieces that will decompose quickly.

Your first year will give you better soil but your second year the soil will be fabulous, if you added enough organic matter.  If you want to grow in your improved soil this growing season don't add organic matter this spring.  All the matter decomposing will 'tie up' the nitrogen and your plants will be starved for nitrogen.  If you need better soil this spring, add compost and/or composted manure for instant results and in the fall you can add the organic matter.  It will decompose over the winter and should be ready the following growing season.

Each year add more organic matter to replace the nutrients used up by the plants.  Every year you should be adding to your soil for the following year.  If you do, you will find you won't need fertilizers.  Your plants will be healthier.  Studies have shown a big bonus to healthy plants is that insects prefer unhealthy plants and will be more likely to pass up your healthy plants.  Naturally, healthy plants will also have a better chance to stay ahead of minor insect damage.

What kind of organic material?

Good choices would be leaves, grass clippings, compost, old straw or hay, lake weeds, etc.  Choose grass clippings from lawns not sprayed with chemicals and don't add leaves from black walnut trees.  Be careful of lake weeds from lakes or ponds that may have had chemicals added.

Proof is in the pudding!

Two years ago we had one garden that one half was mulched with newspapers with leaves on top and the other half was over sewn with clover seed, used as a cover crop.  Cover cropping is often recommended for soil improvement.  For large tracks of land cover cropping can be the easiest way to improve your soil.  It is definitely better than bare soil and does add organic matter.  But our test garden proved that mulching with newspapers with leaves on top not only controlled the weeds and moisture better than the clover but the following year it was more fertile.  We grew potatoes in both sides of that garden the next year and you could visibly see the difference in the size of the potato plants.  The plants were taller in the newspaper/leaf area.  All the rows were identical in length but the number of pounds of potatoes harvested from the area that had been mulched the year before were greater also.  All rows were planted on the same day with the same potatoes and all were watered the same.

Note:  For mulching, we have found if we use newspapers as a barrier under the leaves that nitrogen is not 'tied up'.

The next time you see bags of leaves or other organic matter being thrown out consider how valuable they are to your soil. 

 

Fertilizing House Plants  March 22, 2004

Spring has arrived and we made it through a very cold winter!  The birds are singing and scouting out nesting sites, the days are getting longer and dormant plants are ready to come back to life.  Your houseplants have been taking a break through the darker winter days.  They need to be fed and some will even need to be repotted.

I prefer to use a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength (following package directions) with water to for watering at the same time as I fertilize.  This way I can perform two jobs at one time.  My favorite watering container is an old milk jug outfitted with a spout I found at K Mart.  If you see one at the store, I recommend them highly.  The package comes with the part that attaches to the gallon jug, one spout and one sprinkler.  I feel this setup is better than any sprinkling can I have used.

Here are some pointers about fertilizing houseplants:

Never fertilize a sick or baby plant.  This would be like giving steak to a baby or someone recovering from a stomach virus.
Don't fertilize a newly repotted plant.  There should be enough nutrients in the new potting soil for a couple months while the plant becomes acclimated to its new surroundings.
Don't fertilize a dry plant with a powder or granular fertilizer.  Water sufficiently first and allow a day for the plant to absorb moisture.
Cut back on the fertilizer when flower buds start to show color.
Don't feed during winter months

 

Raised Beds  March 15, 2004

Raised Beds are becoming very popular for gardens.  Here are some reasons to consider raised beds:

If your soil is poor, (e.g. low fertility, too much clay or sand, too many rocks), a raised bed makes it easier to manage by bringing in higher quality soil.
Poor drainage can be corrected by channeling excess water out of the beds and the raised beds will dry more quickly in the spring.
They warm up earlier in the spring.
If they are designed at a higher level they are easier to manage for limited mobility gardeners.
Weeds tend to be less of a problem.
You don't walk in raised beds so the loose fertile soil allows greater room for plant's roots (stronger healthier plants) and will not become compacted.
Can make a lovely permanent garden design.
You only amend the soil in the beds so you can cut down on amendments.
Raised beds can be planted "intensively" so you can pack more into less space.

Different Types of Raised Beds:

Raised beds can be made of a permanent material on the sides to form a box or they can be as simple as pulling the good garden soil into raised areas with walkways in between.  Some of the materials you could use for structures would be landscape stone, bricks, blocks, plastic lumber, concrete or wood (no pressure treated lumber because of soil contamination of arsenic.)

If the soil beneath the raised bed is compacted, first loosen the soil well with a pitchfork, double dig it, or loosen with a tiller.

We use both raised beds and conventional gardening methods here at Rocky Gardens.  We use two types of raised beds, we have four permanent beds made from blocks for strawberries and use free-style raised beds (raised soil with no sides).  Both methods are great.

Don't make the beds any wider than you can reach into the center.  We have found 3 1/2 feet ideal.  You can make them as long as you prefer, just remember, "No walking on the beds!"  You will have to go around or step over the beds.  If you make them on a slope, go across the slope not up and down or you will have washouts in heavy rains.  Our largest garden on a south facing slope would washout every spring until we used raised beds on it.  They worked great for controlling heavy rains. Be sure to 'look up' and place your bed in a sunny location, remembering that trees grow large quicker than you might realize.

Mulch or apply a sound walking area between the beds for cleanliness and no muddy feet.  For a permanent walking bed you could bring in stone, woodchips or even grow grass.

Raised beds are preferred for 'layer gardening'.  In 'layer gardening' you apply multiple layers of organic material, allow decomposition to take place and plant right into the rich humus.  A good book on this subject is "Lasagna Gardening" by Pat Lanza

Raised Beds are sometimes referred to the "lazy mans" gardening method because they can be much easier to maintain, especially the beds formed with permanent sides.

 

Growing Potatoes at Home  Part 2   March 8, 2004

Last week we started the discussion how to grow potatoes.  This week will continue with further information.

As stated last week, we have found mulching with straw to be our preferred method for growing potatoes.  You can read last week's TOTW below.

Where to Grow:

Potatoes grow best in full sun in fertile soil.  Hard clay or very rocky soil should be avoided.

Diseases and Pests:

There are several diseases that can hurt your potato crop so it is important to buy 'certified seed potatoes' so you don't introduce a new disease into your garden when planting.  Make sure you rotate your crops remembering that tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are all related to potatoes so don't grow any of these in the same spot for preferably two to three years.  If this is not possible locate a disease resistant potato variety, read descriptions of the potatoes to find a suitable one for your area.  Do not compost diseased potato plants; get rid of them.

 The most common pest is the Colorado potato beetle, a tan to orange/yellow beetle with black stripes.  The larvae are orange with black spots and greasy looking.  Egg masses can be found on the leaves and are orange.  All are worthy of smashing!  Smash with gloves on or hand pick the beetles and larvae into a bucket and squish them under your feet.  Straw mulch discourages them for some unknown reason as will row covers.  You can also use Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) var. tenebrionis when the larvae are still small.  Hand picking will do the job though. 

To cut or not to cut?

Some people like to cut their seed potatoes into smaller pieces leaving at least two 'eyes' (or buds) in each piece.  Others feel they have better results with small whole potatoes.  If you choose to cut them into pieces, recent research as determined that planting soon after cutting the potatoes is better than the traditional 'curing' method.  We do not cut our small seed potatoes and have good harvest weights.  Our CSA members harvested approximately 1,300 pounds of potatoes last year from 100 pounds of seed potatoes.

When to plant?

You can plant 2 to 4 weeks before the average frost-free date.  For zones 7 and 8 planting season is usually from early February into March.  For those who live in very warm climates wait until autumn to plant.

Harvesting:

You can sneak baby potatoes out of the ground approximately after 2 months of growing.  Just feel around in the ground and grab one here and there, taking from various plants.  Cover the area where you dug into the soil so other potatoes can continue to grow.  When the plant tops start to die wait a couple weeks to start harvesting.  Don't wait too long or some potatoes may rot.  Harvest before the first frost.

Use a garden fork, digging far enough away so as to not spear your potatoes.  Carefully brush extra dirt off the potatoes but don't wash or brush too hard.  The skin will still be tender.  Allow to dry in a shady spot for half a day.  Eat damaged potatoes immediately.

Do NOT wash.  Store in a cool dark humid place (such as a basement if possible), watch them and use any first that show problems.  I prefer a single layer of potatoes in flat stackable boxes, such as produce or strawberry flats from the grocery store.  (These boxes are great for any home gardener, you can find many storage uses for them plus they are free!)

 

Growing Potatoes at Home  Part 1   March 1, 2004

We have grown our own vegetables for a long time but potatoes haven't been on our "must have" garden list most of those years.  They are so cheap and easy to get at the store that it just didn't seem to make sense to me.  That was until we became Master Gardeners and started to receive "Crop Advisory Alerts" from Michigan State University.  These alerts are intended for farmers to direct them to the current year's problems and what to spray to combat them.  When we discovered how many chemicals are applied to conventionally grown crops we were shocked and converted totally to organically grown produce. 

At first it was hard to pass up those beautiful 15-pound bags of potatoes for only $1.99 and buy organic for $6.00 to $8.00 for a 5-pound bag but now I know the truth about how many chemicals are on those cheap ones and can't buy them anymore.

I discovered an amazing result.  After reading an article about removing pesticides from our diets and fibrocystic disease, (lumpy and sore breasts), I checked for myself and was surprised to discover my lumps, that have been a problem since I was 16 years old, are greatly diminished and some even gone!  And no more tenderness!  I checked with a friend with FCD and she reports the same results!  I must admit it hasn't been easy converting over to organic but after a year+ it isn't that hard anymore.  I do have to cook from scratch and don't use processed food much anymore but we are confident we are doing the right thing. 

Anyway... what about home grown potatoes?!?!? 

Now that potatoes cost us so much, growing them at home seems to make much more sense.  We have had great success with Kennebec but perhaps you will find some you like better.  I did try fingerlings and some other little potato once but we like the fantastic crop from the Kennebecs better.  Kennebecs are known to grow a dependable nice size potato with high yield.  Whatever variety you choose make sure they are "certified seed potatoes".  You don't want to introduce a disease into your garden.  Since potatoes are in the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, an introduced disease could be devastating.

What method to use?

There are many methods in planting potatoes: Hilling Up, Mulching, and Container Planting.  We prefer the 'Mulching' method for several reasons.  The mulch helps control the dreaded Colorado potato beetle, conserves moisture, controls weeds and feeds the soil for next year. 

I have tried 'Hilling Up' and found it to be too labor intensive.  Battling weeds, dry soil and the hilling up of soil around the plants was not my idea of fun during the dog days of summer.  We had success one year with the container method and failed miserably the next. 

Mulched potatoes should be planted 3 inches deep and will grow best in full sun, with loose fertile soil. 

How to 'Mulch' your potatoes:

Once the plants have broken through the ground and are a few inches tall, it is time to mulch with straw, leaves or hay.  Straw has been attributed to fighting off the Colorado potato beetle and is our preference.  Apply several inches of mulch around the plants, leaving the tops exposed and also mulch in the rows.  Say good-bye to the weeds and hello to carefree potato growing.  The mulch keeps sunshine from hitting the potatoes that happen to pop out of the soil, a real no-no; those green spots on potatoes are from sun exposure.  Continue mulching as the plants grow.  A depth of 10 to 12 inches is good although we have done fine with 6 inches.

Next week we will examine what potatoes need to grow well, pests and harvesting.

If you want to grow in containers, a search on the Internet should turn up directions.

 

Evergreens Loosing Their Needles    February 23, 2004

Have you ever panicked because your White Pine tree looked sickly only to find 6 months later it looks healthy again?  What happened was a natural occurrence; evergreen needles don't live forever.  The reason we tend to think that Evergreens don't loose their needles is because most types loose them so gradually you probably don't notice.

The most obvious and alarming variety of evergreen tree to drop its needles is the White Pine.  More than once I have been concerned a white pine was dying when it was just fine.  Arborvitae needles live for 2 years while spruce needles live for 3 to 10 years.  Even the broad-leaved evergreens such as rhododendrons and azaleas naturally loose their leaves.

Keep your trees healthy with proper watering, good healthy soil and the right amount of sunlight appropriate for the variety and the next time you notice needles turning brown and dropping you can be confident that it is probably just nature taking its course.

Seed Starting:

The season is coming to start your transplants.  If you need directions or help for seed starting we have an extensive "Seed Starting" page on our Web site.  I thought of writing a Tip of the Week about seed starting then realized that we all ready have much written about the subject.  No need to "reinvent the wheel!"  Click Here for a direct link.

 

Powdery Mildew and Downey Mildew    February 16, 2004

Some plants are very susceptible to mildews, which in turn can cause death to the plant if not controlled.  For those of us who don't desire to spray poisons all over our gardens or food, control can be tricky.

Both diseases produce white fluffy growth on the plant's leaves.  Powdery mildew will cause these growths on both the top and underside of the leaf surfaces while downy mildew will only develop on the underside of the leaves.  Downy mildew growth is a slightly darker greenish gray mildew than the white growth of powdery mildew.  They can even grow together at the same time making identification difficult

Downy Mildew is encouraged by cool wet nights and warm humid days.  It will cause yellow lesions on the top of the leaves.  Before the leaves die the lesions will become brown and the leaves will start curling.  Death can occur quickly.

Powdery Mildew is a problem when soil moisture is low along with high humidity, although peas can be affected during an extended rainy period.  The plant will start to wilt, look sickly and eventually die.

Both diseases can be slowed down by removing infected plants or plant parts as soon as discovered.  Disinfect knives or pruning shears after each cut with bleach solution.  Unless you have a very hot compost pile that will destroy the pathogens, do not compost plant parts; send them off to the landfill. 

We have a good article written back in a former TOTW about using milk as a control.  Click Here to read the article and scroll down to July 8, 2002.

Copper based fungicides can also be applied, although milk would be the preferred method due to expense and the fact that milk is not a fungicide.  We have not personally used milk on downy mildew, only powdery mildew.  So it is possible that downy mildew will need the copper.  Experiment, take good notes and write to us with a report on the results if you try milk on downy mildew.

 

Rooting Woody Cuttings is Easy!  February 2, 2004

This past week a question was posted to our forum site about rooting Bougainvillea from an existing plant.  Rooting cuttings from woody perennials is easy and very rewarding.  Perhaps you have been to a friend's house and saw a beautiful rose or other woody plant and would like to have one for yourself.  Spring is the best time of the year to root cuttings from woody cuttings.


Early Ripe Tomatoes are Also Possible!

We have had many readers order our "Earliest Ripe Tomato Guide" in the past two years and would love to hear your stories about growing early tomatoes and using the procedures we have perfected over the years.  So if you ordered the guide and seeds in previous years, please write to us and share your story.

If one of your favorite garden veggies are tomatoes, like they are for us, but you find the season too short, you will probably find our "Earliest Ripe Tomato Guide" and seeds just what you want.

We have perfected growing early tomatoes and finding the best tasting cultivars.  Along with the guide come 25 seeds of each Stupice and Ida Gold, the two best tasting early tomatoes we have found.  Stupice, an heirloom from Czechoslovakia, has been the winner for three years now in the 'Michigan First Ripe Tomato Race', which we have grown here at Rocky Gardens.  We either win the race or beat the person named as winner.  (One year we didn't know there was a race until too late but beat the winner by 18 days, the next year we won and last year we promised we wouldn't enter the race to give someone else a chance but still beat him.)

Stupice is a very tasty red tomato and Ida Gold is orange and one of my favorite tomatoes.  At $6.00 with $2.00 for shipping & handling, this is a great buy because the seeds would cost that much alone if you purchased from a seed company.  But with our seeds, you get the added bonus of the guide.

This is the only thing we sell from this Web site and all money collected goes to support the Web site costs.   All the information we send out each week is free.  We send out 'Tip of the Week' as a labor of love.  If you would like to order seeds Click Here.

 

Roses and Parasitic Wasps   February 2, 2004

We have a few apple trees on our land; one is an old apple tree that was here long before we purchased the land.  That old tree produces some of the best tasting apples around.  Since we don't eat produce sprayed with chemicals, finding ways to combat pests is important to us.

This past summer we pulled out two wild rose bushes, thinking they were just a nuisance.  Possibly you have run into wild roses yourself, literally.  Often their flowers are small and simple.  They grow fast and furious which makes them difficult to tend to since they are also very thorny.  Bushing up against them can be painful!

Turns out that removing those two wild roses was probably a mistake because they were near that old apple tree.  A new study shows that wild roses attract beneficial parasitic wasps, which in turn attack leafroller moths.  Leafroller moths are a serious pest that causes damage to apple, pear and cherry trees.  Attracting beneficial insects to your yard is an important aspect in following organic principles in gardening. 

Well, I have said enough.  There is a very well written article on a USDA Web site that goes into depth about this subject and has great pictures to help identify these insects, the damage they cause and even a picture showing how the wasp kills the caterpillar with laying its eggs on it.  Click on this link to read more: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/jan04/rose0104.htm?pf=1

 

Winter Tree Pruning  January 26, 2004

Late winter or early spring is a good time to prune many trees.  The tree structure is easily visible because there are no leaves and diseases are usually not present.  For many fruit trees, such as apple trees, this is the preferred time for pruning.  As with most things in life, there are exceptions to this rule, such as peach trees or spring flowering trees.  Peaches should be pruned later in the season to evaluate winterkill, same with roses.  Spring flowering trees and bushes should only be pruned after their bloom period has finished or you will cut off branches and buds for this year"s blooms.

This time of the year you are also more likely to have a lighter load of yard work so pruning on a nice mild winter day could be a welcome chore.  It is nice to get outside, take in the fresh air and feel some sunshine on your face.

Stand back and examine the structure of the tree.  Don't be afraid you will kill the tree because pruning stimulates new growth.  I have seen wonderful results from trees being pruned.  My first experience with this was when I just learning about taking care of my yard, back in my 20s.  My husband severely, (I thought), pruned the trees in the back yard.  I was truly shaken up!  But you should have seen those trees respond the following year.  They filled out so nicely and had lovely structure. 

Prune out:

Water shoots, those small branches that go straight up

Damaged or diseased branches

Branches that cross over another branch or will be soon.  Evaluate which branch to save.

Inside branches and shoots

Branches that are in the wrong places

Suckers

When pruning a partial branch, prune just above a growth node facing in the direction you would like the new branch to grow; this will usually be facing out.

Don't "head back" a tree unless you know more about this procedure.  I once saw some maple trees where the man wanted them to "fill out".  He cut the tops off!  This is not the way to get a maple tree to fill out.  Plus there were branches low to the ground that needed to be removed but unfortunately those remained.  Needless to say those trees look funny and will never reach the beauty they could have.  "Heading back" or "topping a tree" is used mostly in ornamentals or fruit trees and you need to know what you are doing.  Sometimes companies are hired to trim trees to keep them out of utility wires use this procedure, but they aren't doing the job for the health or esthetics of the tree.

You shouldn't remove more than 1/3 of the branches when you prune a tree. 

Use only sharp tools for pruning.  Dull tools can tear the bark and leave jagged cuts where disease or critters can enter.  Nice smooth cuts promote quick healing.

Leave the "branch collar" when pruning off a branch.  This is the thicker area next to the trunk that looks a little wrinkly.  Prune right up next to the branch collar.  This will allow the tree to heal over nicely and form a healthy callus.

 

10 Flowering Trees   January 19, 2004

The National Arbor Day Foundation is again offering 10 flowering trees.  The trees will be 2 White Flowering Dogwoods, 2 Flowering Crabapples, 2 Goldenrain Trees, 2 Washington Hawthorns, and two American Redbuds, all beautiful trees.  If you live in a zone where these trees aren't appropriate, they will substitute with suitable trees.

These trees are small, 6 to 12 inches in height and are guaranteed or they will replace them.  But don't worry about the small size.  I once planted tiny little spruce and white pine trees that our daughters brought home and they grew into lovely trees.  It is a joy to realize a lovely tree in your yard was once a baby you nursed along.

You can obtain this offer by joining the Foundation for a $10.00 membership contribution.  That is it!  The 10 trees are "free".  Contact National Arbor Day Foundation at www.arborday.org or 211 N. 12th Street, Lincoln, NE 68508.  When you join, also ask for the free Rose of Sharon, mentioned in the offer.

The trees come with planting instructions, but I know from experience, that often bare root trees can be difficult to grow because they dry out so easily.  So I offer you a solution that works every time for me.  Use this method for any bare root plants you may get.

Potting Up Bare Rooted Plants, Tree and Shrubs

You will have success with bare root plants if you first pot them up in appropriate sized containers, place them on your porch where you will see them everyday, water them faithfully and then plant into the ground once a strong root system is established.  I like to use the plastic pots that come from nursery stock; they drain well, don't dry out as quickly as terra cotta and are of good height.  It can be difficult to remember a tiny plant out in the yard somewhere that needs water and attention all the time, sometimes everyday during hot weather.  Plus you won't have the heartbreak of accidentally mowing down the little thing.

Use potting soil, some garden soil and compost mixed in for the best growth.  Don't use just garden soil for potting, it becomes compacted too easily and the roots can suffocate.

I have never lost a plant, tree or shrub since I started "babysitting" bare root plants this way.  When container grown in this manner, I usually wait until late in the summer or early fall to plant trees and shrubs into the ground and sometimes plant perennials as soon as the plant has a healthy root system.  This way they don't dry out, which can spell disaster for baby plants.

 

Favorite Produce/Seeds   January 12, 2004

It is that time of the year, when gardeners start to get itchy for getting back outdoors and dreaming over seed catalogs is a favorite pastime.  Even if you don't grow your own food and only grow flowers and perennials, check out the list at the end of descriptions of produce for phone numbers to get your own catalogs full of flower seeds.

Most of our veggies are selected for their special flavor.  Every year we try new varieties 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'*see note

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'* see note

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

Large Tomato:

Parks Whopper - Large red fruit with that good old-fashion tomato flavor we remember as children.  One customer told me that it is the best tomato he has ever tasted.  Heavy producer.  Plants get very large and need a large cage.  '3'

Specialty Tomatoes - We had rave reviews for Cherokee Purple and Striped German.  Cherokee Purple looks unusual with burgundy to brown color interior and green shoulders but the flavor won many people over.  Cherokee can be found at '2, 4, 10'.  Striped German is very unusual with a very high sugar content, fruity taste.  Very pretty with red and yellow interior.  '4' and called Old German at '10'

Small tomatoes:

Juliet - Looks like a small Roma.  Meaty with good flavor.  Red and crack resistant.  Heavy producer.  Perfect for dehydrating.  Plants get very large and a need large cage.  Juliets are very resistant to diseases and one year, after a blight hit, were the only ones left come September.  Juliets are great for growing in our hoophouse into the early winter, as they can withstand cold.  We picked the last Juliets in the hoophouse on December 22 (we did keep enough heat on 3 plants to keep them from freezing)  '3-4-5-6'

Sungold - Cherry tomato with an orange-gold color, very sweet flavor that is unbelievable.  I have had three people who "don't like tomatoes" come back for more.  Plants get very large and need a large cage.  If you like cherry tomatoes you must try this one.  '4-12'

Beans:

Spanish Meralda-and Romano Helda - Pole green beans with hearty 'bean' flavor, our favorite bean.  Heavy yields of large flat pods that keep producing until frost.  Pick these types very large for the best flavor.  Helda Romano '3-5-12'  Seeds of Change has an Italian that is similar, or look for the name 'Romano' and a pole bean in the description for beans of this sort.  Romano type pole beans produce heavy, slow down a bit and them put out another crop before the first frost.  Foliar feed the plants to promote a good second crop.  NOTE:  Meralda is not available as of 2004.  We have found Helda to be so similar we couldn't tell them apart when grown side by side in 2002. 

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 2002 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 direct seed 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.  '3-4-5-6-12'. 

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 a large size, they will get tough and pithy.  You must get special cultivars for growing large ones.  '3-5-12' 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.  Lettuce seed is cheap and remains viable a long time so try several and experiment.  Currently I am searching for types that don't turn bitter in heat.  Start them indoors early because they can be transplanted in your garden early for late spring harvesting giving you something to eat out 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.  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'

Potatoes:

We grew Kennebec last year, after a friend had tremendous success with them.  We will definitely continue to grow them, CSA members loved the flavor, plus they grew nice large tubers with a heavy harvest.  '5' for a catalog listing or find locally.

Sweet Potatoes:

Here in the north, we have a shorter season than some sweet potatoes require but we have had great harvests using Georgia Jets and Beauregard.  Both have excellent flavor with red skins.  Georgia Jets are a little sweeter but they do tend to grow large and ugly.  We don't mind because they taste great. '5 for both'  '12' for Georgia Jets only.

Watermelon:

Yellow Doll and Sangria are two of our sweetest.  Yellow Doll is a small round yellow flesh watermelon.'5-10'

Sangria is a medium size melon with very sweet red flesh. '10'

Both were dependable and well liked by the members.

Melons:

Sweetie Cantaloupe is small 1-2 pound very sweet and unusual melon with a swirl of orange and green flesh, delicious!  '5,10'

Passport (a tropical green flesh melon) and Earliqueen (orange cantaloupe) are two dependable melons for northern gardens with great flavor. '5,10'

Cauliflower:

We have great success with "Amazing" heading up nicely and we don't bother with others. '4,5'

Winter Squash:

Heart of Gold is one of the most dependable and sweetest winter squashes we grow. '5' We love Delicata, they are the sweetest, shorter storage life than Heart of Gold. '4-5-12'.  Hubbard squash is yummy and also dependable.  You can find Hubbard in most catalogs. We don't bother with Acorn because they aren't as sweet, we like sweet winter squash.

Here is list of seed suppliers (numbers correspond in above descriptions).  Call for their catalogs.

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

8. Seeds of Change      888-762-7333                     www.seedsofchange.com

9. Gurney's                 513-354-1491                     www.gurneys.com

10. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds   417-924-8887     www.rareseeds.com

11. Fedco Seeds          207-873-7333                    www.fedcoseeds.com

12. Territorial               541-942-9547                   www.territorialseed.com

 

Carpet Stains   January 5, 2004

It is that time of the year when new pets are common and our homes are full of houseguests, which mean pet stains and spilled drinks and food on carpeting.  But those stains are easy to clean up, if you know a trick I learned from an expert carpet repairman, my dear late father.

Have you ever cleaned up a spot on the carpet, it appears to be gone but once it dries, it comes back again?  I had some spots like left over from "puppy training" days.  I happened to mention it to my father and he knew right away the solution.  You need to be able to "pull" any remaining stain out of the carpet and carpet backing.

Why does a stain keep coming back after it appeared to be clean?  Because it is hard to reach all of the stain, especially deep down in the fibers, carpet backing and sometimes even in the padding.  Once the carpet fibers on top start to dry, it 'wicks' the remaining stain up into the top surface. 

Directions:

Clean up any loose material and blot spills to take up extra moisture.

Make a solution of room temperature water and diluted soap.  Your soap can be a little liquid laundry soap or even dish liquid.  There is a product I keep on hand called "Spot Shot" by WD-40 Co. for the very difficult stains but usually I don't need more than the soapy water.

Clean the stain with the soapy water and a light color towel.

Sprinkle the whole damp area with cornstarch, covering it with a solid covering of cornstarch.  The cornstarch will 'wick' away any remaining color, especially the very hard to reach deep down stain.  You will actually be able to see color coming into the cornstarch as it dries.  It can take a couple days to completely dry.

Vacuum after the area is totally dry.

 

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