Thursday, June 02, 2011

What to Do in the Garden in June - A Regional Gardening Almanac

June is a month for graduations, weddings and garden pests. As beautiful as June can be, no sooner do your plants peak than the bugs find them. It's a fact of gardening. So the gardener's motto for June should be 'Vigilance'!

June is a month for monitoring, whether it's for stripped cucumber beetles, Japanese beetles, fungus diseases, 4-Line Plant Bug damage or just to stay ahead of deadheading. Keeping up on your garden chores in June will lessen the load for the rest of the summer. Here are some tips from my garden.If you have any advice, we welcome you sharing it with us through the 'Comment' link below.

Photo: � Marie Iannotti

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Three Great Spinach Alternatives

Spinach is a difficult crop for many home gardeners to grow. By the time it's warm enough to plant it, it's warm enough for spinach to bolt. Colleen Vanderlinden, our Organic Gardening Guide, suggests three greens to grow once your spinach gives out. They're slow to bolt and long to harvest. So if you're looking at that blank spot in the vegetable garden, shift your gaze to 3 Great Spinach Alternatives.

Of course, if it's still cool in your area, keep that spinach going.

Photo: � Marie Iannotti.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Orchid Moss - Using it As a Potting Medium

In my many years of growing orchids, one of the most important lessons I have learned is the use of the right potting medium. This is very important because this is where the orchids will thrive. This is also where it will get most of its nutrients. In ensuring the healthy state of your orchids, you must know what the different potting media are and how each of these will benefit a specific type or variety of orchid.

However, I will only focus on using orchid moss for this particular article. I have learned through my many years of experience that the use of Sphagnum moss is greatly beneficial because it can hold moisture like a sponge. And orchids love moisture; in fact, you can skip watering them for seven to ten days as long as the potting mixture is still moist. I have seen this benefit happen to my orchid collection. But I must warn you though that there will come a time when you will need to change your orchid moss because this will decay just like any living organism.

I have tried using Sphagnum moss two ways: the first was I used it as a lining for my hanging orchids and the second is by making it as a moisture bed in mounting my orchids on the side of a bark slab. Both ways are quite effective. I have my orchids in these two conditions and they are healthy and very much in bloom.

I must caution you though that using a Sphagnum moss might be a little costly than the other potting media. But you don't have to be disheartened if you really want to try using it. You may check out a reputable dealer and ask for the South American variety that specifically comes from Chile. This type is a bit cheaper than the orchid moss found in New Zealand. I specifically prefer the New Zealand variety, but I have also tried using the one from Chile and it gives the same kind of benefit.

An added tip when you are using orchid moss as a potting medium is you have to remove the entire old medium and choose the right size of pot, depending on the size of your orchids. You need to spread the roots over the cone of moss and then wrap some more of the moss around the root ball before placing it into the new pot. You have to see to it that all the roots are covered. When working with orchid moss, you also need to wear gloves in order to avoid getting fungal infection. Sphagnum moss is quite notorious on fungus, so it is best to be careful when handling them.

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Things to Consider Before Starting a Strawberry Farm

It is becoming more and more difficult to run a profitable farm. Gasoline and fertilizer prices are going up, and expensive new equipment seems to be required more and more just to keep up with the farm down the street.

The difficult farming environment has caused some farmers to look for alternative crops and additional ways to generate extra revenue to maintain some semblance of profitability. One such alternative crop that has garnered interest recently is strawberries. If you are a farmer looking to diversify or a newbie looking to make a buck or two farming strawberries, here are the major points you should consider prior to committing time and resources to the endeavor:

1. Ensure you have the right type of acreage. Strawberries need at least 8 good inches of dirt in which to grow (more is better). Many farmers use raised beds, and the modern strawberry farmer uses plasticulture (requires a specialized tractor and planting equipment - neither of which are not cheap). A slope of 2 to 4 percent is needed to ensure adequate drainage, and the soil needs to be slightly acidic (pH 5.5 to 6.5, in general).

2. Research the strawberry cultivars and pick a variety that is suitable for your growing region. Growing a strawberry variety well-suited for Oregon in Florida will be a costly mistake!

3. Understand the business side of farming before buying your first strawberry plant. The number one measure of success or failure of a new strawberry farm is the business acumen of the owner. Good management is essential. Cash flow, financing, and marketing are all crucial to understand. A good budget is an essential component of farming success, as is understanding how to sell the strawberries.

4. Understand that capital will be needed. You will either have to spend your own saved money to get your strawberry operation off the ground, or you will have to borrow from a bank. Either your savings or your credit rating and reputation will be put at risk. It is important to understand this, because the venture is...

5. Realize that strawberry farming is risky business. Your profit can be consumed by mother nature. Severe winter temperatures or late spring frosts can decimate your strawberries. Excessive rains can rot the plants. There are numerous pathogens and parasites that can maim or destroy your fields. And, even if you have a bumper crop, if everyone else does as well, prices may fall and profits may disappear.

In other words, strawberry farming is not a means to a quick, guaranteed jackpot of a payday each spring. Yes, it can be profitable. But, it can also bankrupt a new farmer who does not understand the business, marketing, and management sides of the success equation.

So, if you are still considering strawberry farming, work your way through the above five points and ensure that you are up to the challenge. Set yourself up for success, and failure can often be held at bay. Good luck!

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Growing Tomato Cages - An Important Innovation to Growing Tomatoes

I have been growing tomatoes for years now and one important lesson I learned is that growing tomatoes in cages can actually help preserve the condition of your tomato plant. Because of the heaviness of the tomato plant, especially when it is bearing fruits, a natural support system like a cage is necessary to keep it from falling off the ground where your tomatoes can actually get unhygienic. It also helps the tomatoes get protected from strong winds and heavy downpour as well as it helps the tomatoes become sturdy for better chances of bearing fruits.

The most common tomato cage material that I have used is chicken wire with a little reinforcement of wood for framing. This is what I used to make my own DIY tomato cages and it works quite well. However, I noticed that this type of material is not very sturdy and easily rusts because of the elements. This forced me to look for better ways of growing tomatoes cages.

In my research, I found out that there are a couple of great innovative ideas that can be used to create tomatoes cages. Let's check out some of these ideas and see if any of these can actually be useful for your own purpose.

One idea is a spring type cage that coils up to make use of the tomatoes as the trellis. The best material to use for this is PVC since this has hole in the middle like a hose and is flexible enough to be twirled around the plant. You can even further innovate by using this as feeding system for the plant. You may attach an irrigation system to the hose so that it can transmit the nutrients directly to the plant by acting like a sprinkler.

Another great idea is a folding tomato cage that is made of wood. This is perfect for seasonal use because of easy storage. Visually, you can imagine that it looks like a ladder that is attached to each other. The bottom being the wider part can house the pot where the tomato is actually planted and the top, which is the slim part, will protect the lean part of the plant.

It is also very interesting to note that depending on the type of tomatoes you are growing, a specific growing tomatoes cages is more suitable. In my next article, I will be discussing this kind of specific tomato cage and why it is the more suitable type for each kind.

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Home Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is simply using worms to make the compost rather than microorganisms. It's well suited to anyone, being most useful for people who don't have the space or aren't allowed to have a compost pile where they live. And it's simple to get started.

Home Vermicomposting

1. Get a worm bin. The easiest way to go is to just buy a commercial worm bin, they're fairly inexpensive and are available in different sizes. You could build one yourself if you want.

2. Find a source of worms. Garden earthworms aren't used in a worm bin, they won't like the conditions.

There's two species of worm used, Eisenia fetida and Lumbricus rubellus, commonly known as redworms or red wigglers. They like the conditions in a worm bin.

3. Get the bedding ready. There's two basic bedding materials used, newspaper and cardboard.

When using newspaper tear it into strips about 1 inch wide. Cardboard can be cut into strips about 1 inch wide and a few inches long.

4. Fill the worm bin half way with bedding.

5. Wet the bedding. The bedding should be wet enough that if you squeeze it a few drops will come out.

6. Add the worms. Give the worms a day or two in just bedding before you start to add anything to be composted.

7. Start adding kitchen scraps and other plant waste. Give the worms time and they'll turn all the plant waste into compost.

8. Remove the finished compost. When the bin is getting full of compost it's time to remove it to use. There's several ways to separate the worms, the simplest is to let them migrate into fresh bedding and organic material on their own, most commercial worm bins have simple ways to do this.

Home vermicomposting is a great way to make compost for your potted plants and your garden. It can also help reduce the waste you throw in the trash.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Fabulous Foliage Winners of the July 2010 Garden Photo Challenge

Congratulations to the winners of last month's Garden Photo Challenge - Fabulous Foliage. I was so impressed, not just by the diversity of foliage, but by how healthy it all looked. Nice job!

We always judge on two criteria: the photo itself and the love of gardening behind it. Foliage makes you pay close attention in the garden. It's way to easy to be distracted by the flowers. These photos give us a chance to look and ponder.

Thank you to everyone who shared their wonderful photos with us. Take a look at the winning photo gallery, as well as all the submissions in the Foliage Challenge thread, on the Forum. You can also get in on the fun this month, with the Vegetable Garden Photo Challenge. If your garden is spilling over with glossy tomatoes or zucchini the size of bats, give us a look.

Photo 1st Place Winner, 'Spanish Moss' Submitted by DanGwrite.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Gardening Question of the Week: What's 8-1-1 Day?

We all know we're supposed to call our utility companies before we start turning up new soil, but it has always seemed like such a hassle figuring out who to contact. And then there's all that time wasted while being on hold.

Now U.S. residents have no excuse not to check for underground utility lines. 811 is the new federally-mandated national "Call Before You Dig" number. Everyone in the U.S. calls the same One Call Center - 811 - and operators will route your call to the appropriate utility companies. They'll send a pro out to your property within a couple of days and you can start planting trees or mailboxes or whatever your imagination conjures, knowing you, your family and your home are safe.

Here are all the details about the 811 - "Call Before You Dig" number.

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What's Happening to the Cucumber Leaves?

Several of you have written to ask me what's wrong with your cucumber and squash vines. They have a white cast to them and you're worried it's a sign of a disease. Actually, many plants in the squash family have a natural white shading on the leaves from the fuzzy, scratchy hairs. If it's been there most of the season and the plants look healthy and happy, don't worry about it.

If the white is blotchy and powdery, like the spots on the squash leaf here, and if it's spreading, it could easily be powdery mildew. Some varieties of squash and cucs are resistant, but a lot of the old favorites still succumb in humid weather. Powdery mildew doesn't kill the plant, but it does weaken it and it makes it difficult for the plant to photosynthesize and make food. Once powdery mildew takes hold, it's hard to stop it by organic means, but the old stand-by baking soda recipe can help to keep it from spreading.

Photo: � Marie Iannotti

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Featured Plant of the Week: Helenium

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fall for Planting

II know fall is a great time for planting trees and shrubs, seeding lawns and planting spring bulbs, but I've never really bought into the "Fall is the best time for planting perennials" line of reasoning. I'm not talking about hot climates, where fall is the main growing season. I mean for those of us with four seasons. I think the nurseries all got together and decided a "Fall is for Planting" campaign was a good way to get rid of inventory, so they could bring out the Christmas decorations.

Planting in the fall takes a certain amount of faith. If winter comes early and hard, those newly planted roots aren't going to have a lot of time to spread out in the ground. And I'm just going to have to be patient and wait until the spring thaw, to see if they survived. On the other hand, if summer drags on, I'll have to water the new plants every day, to get them established. I guess there's just no pleasing me.

In an ideal world, fall planting makes sense. Root growth resumes, after a summer of flowering and seed setting. According to David Salman, at High Country Gardens, "80% of a plant's root growth occurs in late summer and fall, so plants establish better." That means fall planted perennials will have a head start, in spring. There is usually plenty of rain, in the fall, and less humidity. And the leave eaters have moved on.

So I'm re-thinking fall planting. Maybe the problem I have is that I should be planting in late summer, so hedge my bets. That means I have some work to do this week. Salman suggests that gardeners in cold climates, like me, "...stick with the most cold hardy types such as Oriental Poppies (Papaver), Beebalm (Monarda), Beardtongues (Penstemon), Sages (Salvia nemerosa types), and Yarrow (Achillea)." For gardeners in mild climates, the nursery is your oyster.

If your nursery has already made the switch to holiday decorations, don't be afraid to order from catalogs or online. They are less busy at this time of year and should get your order out quickly.

Photo: � Marie Iannotti

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Gardening Question of the Week: What Do You Think of Garden Shows?

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Organic Rose Care

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Featured Plant: Agastache

Most gardeners are familiar with the spiky blue anise hyssop. Lovely as it is, there are a lot more Agastache out there, in a variety of colors and scents, like this incredible 'Licorice Mint Hyssop'. What they all share is a hardy disposition, drought tolerance and a long season of bloom. If you've been having a summer like mine, you can use of the heat lovers you can plant.

Freda Cameron celebrated this months Garden Bloggers Bloom Day with photos of the glorious agastache in her North Carolina garden. And over at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Bob Hyland gives us his Agastache A List. Take a peek at Agastache and then keep an eye out for the different varieties available in your local nurseries. They're beautiful additions to almost any garden.

By the way, it's pronounced ag-ah-STAK-ee.

Photo: � Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to, Inc..

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Have You Noticed an Increase in Swallowtails?

I just assumed it was my superior gardening skills (yes, that's sarcasm) that were responsible for so many Eastern Tiger Swallowtails flitting about my flowers, this year. Apparently they've been visiting more than just my garden. Carole Brown, over at Ecosystem Gardening, was asked this question enough to bring it to the butterfly experts. They are still pondering. It could be that the cold winter of 2009/2010 knocked down the numbers of parasitoids that prey on swallowtails. Or, it could be something else. We may never know for sure, but it sure is a pretty sight.

Quick Butterfly Quiz:

Which state claims the Eastern Tent Butterfly has its official state butterfly? What happens when you touch a butterflies wings?

Photo: primpwatch / stock.xchng

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The Benefits of a Plastic Greenhouse

Once decided to buy a greenhouse, you will undoubtedly reach a crossroad, where you must decide whether you want a plastic or a glass greenhouse. Whilst a glass greenhouse may be something from your childhood memories, and you may even think that any greenhouse that is not made of glass isn't "the real thing", you should not overlook the wonderful world and selection of plastic greenhouses.

You should remember that the sole function of a greenhouse is to let the sun's warming rays in and to isolate the plants growing inside from the potential cold weather, rain or wind outside. When it comes to greenhouses, however, both glass and plastic serve this purpose more or less the same. In fact, there are no conclusive scientific studies that suggest that either one works better as a greenhouse cladding material. Most greenhouses are structurally very similar, the only variable being the cladding material. Therefore, let's observe some benefits that plastic cladding has over glass.

Firstly, plastic greenhouses are far more cheaper than glass greenhouses. Once you realize that there is no big difference between plastic and glass in practice, the price should become the decisive factor in anyone's eyes. In fact, glass greenhouses can be up to 40 percent more expensive than their glass counterparts.

Also, a study suggests, that a properly sealed and constructed plastic greenhouse offers less uncontrolled energy loss. The study claims that a plastic greenhouse is up to 30% more energy efficient compared to a glass greenhouse. In terms of expenses on the integrated energy system, you can find massive savings here when using a plastic greenhouse.

Plastic cladding is also much more easier to fit, saving you time and frustration once you start setting your greenhouse up. Setting up a glass greenhouse can be tedious work, as every glass panel needs to be carefully attached individually.

Finally, consider the physical properties of glass versus plastic. Glass is brittle and can break under strain. For example, glass is likely to shatter when hit by falling trees, dangerously large hail or other projectiles, whilst plastic is likely to cushion the impact or bend. Glass is also quite sensitive to temperature changes. For example, if it is very cold outside and very warm inside, glass can shatter because of the temperature differences (This is why it is not recommended to drink tea or coffee from a glass).

All in all, both plastic and glass greenhouses have their ups and downs, however the significantly lower cost of plastic greenhouses should be enough of an argument for anyone on a budget.

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