Tips for Sustainable Gardening

by Admin 12. November 2012 04:20

Gardening isn’t the easiest thing for many people – not everyone can have a green thumb, after all. Planting in the fall can be especially challenging, since you have to carefully time your planting cycles and be aware of changes in fall temperatures.  However, there are a number of things you can do to make your garden sustainable and productive, even in an urban environment.

Make Use of Fall Leaves

Raking the ever-present brown and gold leaves of fall seems like an unending chore during the fall. Raking them into piles and throwing them in bags can be a pain in the neck, but leaves can be a valuable resource for many gardeners. If you don’t compost, fall leaves can be a great source of starting material for a compost pile or you can make leaf mold, which is a great soil amendment for spring vegetable gardens. If you have a lot of leaves, you can hold on to them until spring or summer, when brown compost materials can be hard to come by.

Plant In the Fall

For many people, fall is thought of as a time for harvesting and hoarding, not for growing. However, it can be an important planting season, allowing you to get a big head start on crops to be harvested in late spring or summer. Lettuces and hardy greens like kale and spinach can be grown and harvested throughout the winter, but plants like garlic and shallots can be planted a month before a freeze to get a jump on spring growth. Beans and peas can also be great fall and winter harvests.

Make a Plan and Rotate Your Crops

It’s important to understand how your garden and crops work with each other to have healthy crops. It can be tough to plan, especially for amateur gardeners, but we recommend working on a multi-year growing plan. Know what you want to grow and in what areas of your garden. If you’re in an urban environment, you’ll want to check and control your soil to make sure you have optimal growing conditions. We recommend using a soil conditioner like our Soil20 to manage watering schedules if you have limited time, and always check the acidity of your soil before you plant new crops after a harvest.

Compost

Even if you don’t use your fall leaves, compost should be a routine addition to every garden. If you’re new to composting, you’ll want a mix of organic material like grass clippings or food scraps, as well as brown materials like shredded newspaper or dead leaves. Composting creates a nutrient-rich soil additive that can boost your garden output. Winter temperatures can put a dent in the composting process, but you can build your compost pile even during the cold. Expand your compost pile, keep it covered and make sure it has as much direct sunlight as possible.

Use Containers

Gardening containers are pretty vital for urban gardening, but they can be an important addition even for gardeners who have a full garden. The classic clay pot can be great for certain plants, and especially herbs, but there are a lot of other options for more serious growing. Almost anything will grow in containers with proper soil and care, but they’ll need about a foot of soil for full growth. Although it’s easy to make them grow, it’s even easier to kill a plant through extra care. Overwatering is the most common way to kill a plant, so let soil dry properly and make sure your container can drain as necessary.

Paying Attention to the Foliage in the Garden

by Admin 9. November 2012 08:11

Leaves contrasting in size, shape and colorBy: Eliza Osborn

Sometimes, we focus so much on the flowers in our garden, we forget to notice the foliage. The variety of shapes, sizes and colors that leaves come in, is amazing. If you plan it right, you can have a very beautiful and colorful garden using plants that have no, or insignificant, blooms.

The foliage has always been important as a backdrop for the flowers. Can you picture a garden with just stems and flowers and no leaves? Leaves have always played an important part in the design of the garden, but I’m just saying that they don’t have to be just in the background.
By placing plants with contrasting leaves, whether is size, texture or color, near each other, it creates interest. In some shady gardens, it is really hard to get light and color in with blossoms, but some plants, such as coleus, can add color to the shady garden, and by using the light colored coleus, can add light to a darkened area. Coleus do bloom, but the blooms are incidental and usually pinched off to help the plant.

Thanks and Happy Planting!

Best Autumn Plants for Your Garden

by Admin 31. October 2012 04:52

Fall is better known for big harvests and feasts, but fall can also be a great time to plant and grow certain cool-weather veggies in your garden. While certain plants take advantage of the lingering summer heat in early autumn, there are a number of hardy greens and frost tolerant vegetables that you can plant, even late in the season. If you’re looking to start some end-of-the-year gardening, here are some good crops to plant before the winter.

Greens

Kale and certain lettuces can be great for a winter garden. Kale is much hardier than lettuce and can survive even very cold winters, but lettuce will fare much better in milder seasons. However, cold weather can sweeten the taste of lettuce, so the winter is a great time to grow. Kale may be an unfamiliar green for many people, but it’s a very nutritious green that will be a great addition to many holiday dishes. When cold weather approaches, just make sure that you properly cover your crops to avoid freezing.

Spinach

Spinach is a great winter crop, and it can be grown throughout the season, even in the coldest areas. Spinach won’t require much help to grow during the winter it will need to be covered and need about a foot between plants to grow. Rather than harvesting the full plant, only take a few leaves from each plant at a time. This will let you harvest for the full season and keep plants as healthy as possible. We recommend using our Soil20 soil conditioner to help retain water so you can water during warmer days to release water slowly.

Garlic and Shallots

Most people will wait until spring to plant garlic and shallots, but you can get the jump on most gardeners to set up a large, tasty crop. Garlic and shallots planted in fall and harvested in summer will result in larger bulbs with stronger flavor than those planted in late spring. Both plants will need at least a month in the ground to get established before the ground freezes. Once the cold comes, the plants will go dormant until the spring thaw. As soon as they thaw, your garlic and shallots will have a healthy head start leading to a big crop in the summer.

Transplant Flowering Vegetables

Brassicas plants like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, are tasty additions to any fall garden, especially in warmer climates. Since most will have to be harvested before the first freeze, it can be easier to transplant rather than planting from seeds. If you want to transplant, you’ll want slightly acidic soil. To set up a proper growing schedule, do some math and add 10 days to the plant’s maturity date and count backwards from the first expected frost. Definitely harvest these before the first hard freeze if you’re in a colder area, but if you’ll have a mild winter these will be great additions to winter meals.

Rootcrops

You won’t be harvesting these throughout the winter, but the fall is an excellent time to plant rootcrops for a spring harvest. Late maturing roots like carrots, beets and rutabaga are easy to plant. If you have about 30 days before your first expected freeze, you can stock up on some quick growing rootcrops like chives and green onions, but you’ll have to move quickly to plant these.

Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are an important addition to any holiday feast, and homegrown herbs are the best. Luckily, you don’t need your full garden to plant a good herb crop, just move them inside the house. Herbs like basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley, chives and more can easily be grown indoors. Put them in pots, with a sunny growing location. Just be careful not to overwater them.

Feeding Plants for Success

by Admin 28. September 2012 09:24

Liquid FertilizerBy: Eliza Osborn


I’ve recently heard about a new concept in fertilizing and it sounds exciting. There is a company making liquid fertilizer that contains some rich substance which is rare and found in very few places. This substance, leonardia… or something like that. It works inside the plants and helps them to take up nutrients faster and more efficiently.That means less fertilizer is needed, which is great, because fertilizers can get expensive.

Anyway, I’m excited about all I’ve heard and wish I could try some. Unfortunately, it isn’t sold retail and is only sold in huge quantities to the agricultural community, here and in other countries. I’ve heard there are amazing results from it though. I’ve used fertilizers before and not only does it take a lot for all of our plants, but I worry about how much to use and am I burning the plants, not to mention the residue left in the soil.

I’m checking further into it because I want my plants to be as healthy and robust as possible. I want them to thrive!


Thanks and happy planting!

Canning Pickled Beets - Storing Produce From The Garden

by Admin 14. September 2012 07:09
Beets from the garden, pickled and put away.By: Eliza Osborn

When the freezes of the last few nights were predicted, I (even though I was sick at the time), knew I’d better get the tomatoes that were left in the garden in to safety. While I was out there I realized I hadn’t gotten the last of the green beans and the basil. I found quite a few more grapes hiding under the vines and dying leaves as well. While picking the grapes, I saw the beets looking so beautiful, and even though they would have been fine left out in the cold, I decided to go ahead and bring them in. I had been feeling better and thought that the next day I would be up to doing something with all of this produce.

It was getting late as I worked, and then it began to rain, but I couldn’t quit because the freeze was imminent, and all would be lost. So I kept working till I had gathered every green tomato that was of any size at all, and picked all the beans and basil and beets.

Well, the cold and the rain was a double punch and I was down for the count. Here I was, with a kitchen full of produce, and I’m sick in bed. Yesterday I got the beans washed and snapped and the beets cooked but not canned. Oh my goodness they smell like dirt when they’re cooking. And today I was finally able to get them pickled and canned. Never done that before, so we’ll see how they turn out. We both love pickled beets, so I’m sure they’ll get eaten even if they’re less than perfect.

The tomatoes are still waiting. Maybe I’ll make the Green Tomato Raspberry Jam and Green Tomato Salsa tomorrow.

The end of the growing season is so sad…but it’s here, and it is a very long time till next May, when we can plant again here in zone 6.

Thanks and happy planting!

Rhubarb – A Beautiful, Edible Plant

by Admin 27. August 2012 11:05
By: Eliza Osborn

Rhubarb is a beautiful vigorous plant that comes up faithfully every spring and gets bigger and bigger each year. It will send up a huge stalk with a not very pretty bloom on it but you shouldn’t let Rhubarb bloom. Cut back the blossom stalks to the ground to keep the plant vigorous and producing. Also, the leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid and are considered toxic. So when you cut the stalk to eat be sure to cut the leaf off immediately since the poison will travel into the stalk once cut. Actually the leaves can be simmered in hot water to make an insecticide.

The stalks are delicious in pies and you can dip the raw stalks in sugar and eat like celery. This is really good and kids love it. It is high in Vitamin C and Calcium.

Rhubarb is one of the most carefree plants to grow. It does best where the winter temperature goes below 40′ and the summer highs average around 75-80. Don’t harvest any stalks the first year and only a few the second year. But after that you can harvest up to 1/2 the plant. Stop harvesting though when the stalks become thinner because it means the roots are getting weaker.

Since we really enjoy more tropical settings than we are able to have where we live, it’s fun to use some plants that look tropical, like the rhubarb with its big, leathery leaves. We are even trying to grow some palm trees, but I think that is pretty optimistic of us. Maybe some of them will make it though, if we can have a few milder winters until they can get established.

Thanks and happy planting!

Sparing Tomatoes

by Admin 24. August 2012 08:16

By: Eliza Osborn

Cherry TomatoesIsn’t one of the greatest things about summer having fresh, delicious tomatoes right out of your own garden? Well, here in the “Klondike” of the Rocky Mountains, we don’t get tomatoes till the very end of the summer and this year with our cold, wet spring we didn’t get them until September. We’d had a few cherry tomatoes get ripe but the big, slicing tomatoes took a very long time. That means, at least for us, there will probably be a freeze long before all of our tomatoes have ripened. That can be very frustrating. Fortunately there are some things you can do to keep from losing a lot of green tomatoes.

There are 3 tricks that I’ve heard of to save tomatoes, 2 of which we’ve tried and had success. The other we just recently learned of and are looking forward to trying this year.

If you have green tomatoes late into the season and you’re pretty sure they won’t have time to ripen before the cold hits them, you can bend the stalks over at the ground and it will trigger the tomatoes to go ahead and ripen. Green Tomatoes

Or if you have green tomatoes on the vine and freezing weather is imminent, you can carefully pull up the vines and hang them upside down in a protected area, like a garage. The tomatoes will ripen and won’t be wasted.

We’ve just heard of a way to save the plant for a head start in the spring. Cut the vines back and carefully lift the root ball. Place it in a container of sand and put it in a protected area that doesn’t freeze and doesn’t get too warm. Keep it moist but not wet. In the spring, when the ground has warmed up enough,just set it out in your garden. As I said, we haven’t tried this yet but will this fall. If anyone has tried this last trick we’d like to hear how it worked out for you.

If you live, like we do, where the growing season is so short you’ll do just about anything to extend your harvest.

Save Those Lemon Seeds

by Admin 9. August 2012 05:52

By: Eliza Osborn                                              

Lemon TreeWhen you eat an orange or tangerine or even a kumquat the seeds are a nuisance. But they can become beautiful plants.

The seeds are easy to germinate by just poking them about 1/2″ into potting mix in a pot and keeping them moist. After they sprout, just water every 4-6 days. They make beautiful house plants and as the little “tree” grows you can move it into larger pots. In the warmer seasons they will be happy on the deck or patio or even in the ground if you live in Zone 8 or higher. If you’re growing them inside they’ll need to be by a sunny window or at the very least, by some bright light bulbs.

Emerging from the ground, the sprouted seed quickly presents a stand of shiny, green, fragrant leaves a surprisingly sturdy, stem with every intention of becoming the hardwood trunk of an evergreen tree. Yet these seedlings can be pruned so that they remain at whatever sizes you want. Try several seedlings started in a larger pot to make a fuller planting.

Since citruses readily cross their species lines, (which have already been manually crossed and recrossed), the fruits are varied and many. So don’t plant a tangerine seed expecting to get tangerines. Maybe these should be called surprise plants. If all the conditions are right and the plant is happy and grows to maturity, then it will be fun to see what kind of fruit it will produce.  Happy Planting!

 

 

What Does Your Dirt Feel Like?

by Admin 25. July 2012 07:09

Soil? Dirt? Looks like clay to me.By: Eliza Osborn

Even though it’s one of the most important factors of gardening, it’s often overlooked when planning a garden.

Do you have any idea what your soil is like? Good soil is made up of about 50% air and water and the remaining portion is mostly minerals products with a small amount of organic matter.To learn the make up and amount of nutrients in your soil you will need to get a soil analysis done. This can be done at the county extension office for a small fee.

The mineral portion is made up of very large, small and tiny particles. These particles determine the texture of the soil, which determines how often you might have to fertilize and irrigate. Most soils are a combination of these textures. The problem is when there isn’t a good balance and there is too much sand or clay.

The largest particles are sand. Sandy soils drain very quickly and it is then necessary to water and fertilize more frequently.

The small particles are silt and these particles allow medium drainage.

The tiny particles are clay and these particles can hold a lot of water and nutrients. The problem is that the clay can get very compacted and hold the moisture and nutrients so tightly that they can’t be used by the plants.

I’ve gardened in very sandy soil and in very hard clay soil. The sandy soil is very easy because there isn’t much resistance to the shovel, and weeds pull out easily. However, plants need watering and feeding really often because there aren’t many nutrients in the sand and the water just zips right on through. Adding organic matter to the sand will greatly increase it’s texture and nutrient content as well as it’s moisture holding capabilities.

On the other hand, clay soils are a real challenge to garden in. We literally had to use a Maddox and a pick ax to plant fruit trees and shrubs. The soil has to be broken up in quite a large area,  with sand and a lot of organic matter added, to give the roots a chance to grow. You have to be sure not to over water because the water doesn’t drain off and can rot the roots. There are usually a lot of nutrients present though, so you need less fertilizer.

Really good soil is sandy loam, which is a good balance of all of these textures. It’s easy to work with, is fertile and drains well. If you’re blessed with sandy loam in your yard, both your thumbs can be green.

Until you get you soil analysis done, there are couple of quick test you can do to try to find out what your soils texture is. The easiest way is to rub a small amount of moist soil between your finger and thumb. If it’s sandy, you’ll be able to feel the coarseness and if there is a high clay content, it will feel silky, almost slimy.

Another way is to put a small amount of soil, (taken from different spots in your garden area), into a large jar (quart – gallon) and add 5x -10x the water. Shake it up really well and just let it settle. After a few hours you’ll begin to see different levels of sediment appearing. Leave it for a few days, and you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of the texture of your soil. The large sandy particles will be on the bottom, silt in the middle and the tiny clay particles on top. The proportion of these layers will give you an idea of how to garden in the soil you have.

Of course there is much more to soil than texture, but it’s a step toward understanding how to care for your plants and help them thrive.

So, take off the gloves and feel the dirt.

Thanks and happy planting!

Growing Rosemary

by Admin 13. July 2012 08:13

Potted RosemaryBy Eliza Osborn

Rosemary is one of those wonderful smelling herbs that is also beautiful and so useful in the kitchen when cooking with fresh herbs. Isn’t it great to know that Rosemary is extremely easy to grow? It is an evergreen, perennial plant that needs plenty of sunshine, 6-8 hours a day, well drained soil and don’t let it get cold, as in 35′ or less. That’s why mine is in a pot, because it has to come in for the winter. I prune it back in the autumn, a few weeks before bringing it in, so that  it doesn’t take up so much room in the house. When it does come inside, it needs to have as much light as possible, and don’t over water it. It’s a Mediterranean plant and likes it a little on the dry side.  If, however, you live where you can plant it into the ground (zone 10-11), then it can become a pretty good sized shrub.

It can be pruned but doesn’t need to be. It responds very well to pruning though and can even be used in a topiary. You can prune it just to shape it or to keep it within a certain size and that can be done pretty much any time. The bits that are pruned off can be dried and used for seasoning in cooking. Also, just handling Rosemary makes your hands smell oh, so good.

To use in cooking, either strip the leaves off the woody stem and put into recipes, or put a whole sprig in and remove it later. Rosemary has a strong flavor so it doesn’t take much to use as seasoning. It’s really good used to season olive oil or vinegar. The flavor also works well with other herbs such as , chives, oregano, garlic, parsley, sage and thyme. So experiment with it and see how you like it.

Why don’t you add Rosemary to the list of the herbs you should be growing?

Thanks and happy planting!

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