Archive for February, 2012
To some people, composting is a totally boring subject, but to a gardener who is interested in increasing the production and beauty of the garden, it is a very fascinating topic.
So much has been written on “How To” that it can seem a little intimidating. It really is easy, and so worth the effort.
I’ve found a site that is all about composting and has some excellent information. It breaks it all down and de-mystifies the whole process. Check it out at: http://www.composterconnection.com/site/how-to.html
Yes, it’s still very much winter here in zone 6, but even here, English peas go in the ground pretty early. We grow ours in raised beds so maybe we can get them in a little earlier because the soil (planting mixture) heats up a little faster. But they do like it chilly and usually, as soon as the soil can be worked, you can get them in the ground.
If you do plant them a little too early, they’ll wait until the right time, and then they’ll pop up and start growing. It’s easy to forget to plant them and before you know it…it’s too late. They like it cool and will bear until it gets too warm.
English peas are great fresh from the garden, raw or cooked.
Have you tried Sugar Snap peas? They look and taste like English peas (maybe a little sweeter), except the shell can be eaten as well. The shell is plump, like a green bean. They are also great raw or cooked (best if not over cooked). They freeze really well too. Just steam them briefly, then seal them in zip bags and toss in the freezer. The seeds are available near the packets of English pea seeds.
As you plan your garden…don’t forget to plant the peas.
I love a garden full of flowers, flowers everywhere. But even the best of best plants don’t have flowers on them all season. Besides, all those flowers need a little background music.
For colors and contrast in the garden, some plants have foliage that can compete with flowers.
As you look through all those gardening catalogs, or as you stroll through your local plant nursery this spring, have a look at the foliage plants.
Hostas are nice because they come in blue, blue green,deep green, lime green, yellow green, not to mention all the variegated ones.
Heuchera, or Coral Bells, is another nice plant. The leaves can be beautifully green or a rainbow of colors.
For more ideas, check out this post: http://wp.me/p1OXDF-Xy
No, I’m not talking about somebody picking your tomatoes or helping themselves to some of the peaches on the tree.
The moisture and nutrients in the soil are precious to the health and survival of your garden. Both of these can be stolen away by weeds. Not only are weeds unsightly, they actually rob our plants of food and water.
I bring this up now, in the winter, because the best time to get rid of weeds is when they first appear and are very small and tender. They will often appear before anything else does in the garden, so a hoe should be a gardeners constant companion in the spring.
Okay, all gardeners get pests and even disease sometimes. Oh, the aphids were bad last year.
There is a lot we gardener can do though, to help prevent a lot of our problems in the garden. Most of them are just good gardening practices, and we probably already do most of them. Just thought I’d list them so we can see what we might be neglecting.
- Make sure your soil is healthy. Put nutrients (compost) back into it each year. Healthy plants are much more resistant to diseases and pests.
- Don’t plant the same vegetables in the same place each year. Rotate, rotate, rotate. Keep the bad guys guessing.
- Plan your vegetable garden well. Plants need lots of sunshine and good air circulation. Over crowding hinders both.
- Don’t neglect your plants. Checking them regularly allows early detection of any problems.
- Don’t water the foliage late in the day, as it needs time to dry out before night to prevent fungus and mildew.
- Keep garden tools clean. Rinse the dirt off and store them away. If you’re working with diseased plants, it’s a good idea to disinfect the tools with a little bleach water. Clean hands and garden gloves as well after working around diseased plants.
- If you have plants with disease, do not compost them. Put them into the trash bin.
Hopefully this years garden will be pests and disease free.
Wouldn’t that be so nice?
I doubt that I’m much different from most other gardeners as I eagerly await the warm days of spring when I can get back out into the garden.
There are a few things that can be done early, that need to be done early…and some that can be done too early.
As I look around the garden I see sticks and twigs from winter winds strewed all over the place. There are still stalks of some of the flowers I leave for the birds to get the seeds from. These things need to be removed before the spring plants begin to appear. Also, after danger of frost, some of the protective mulch can be pulled back.
It is very tempting though, to start digging around in the dirt. It’s important not to work with soil that is wet or moist. It disturbs the structure of the soil and can cause it to compact. So if it’s too early in the spring, wait just a little longer to get going in the garden.
Spring will come…it’s teaching us patience.
The hardy kiwi is an exciting vine to have growing in your garden that many people are unaware of. It is a robust vine that can reach 25′ long. The foliage is beautiful, with splashes of cream and pink. The first few years the foliage will be green, until the plant is well established.
It has tiny little blooms in the early summer, but then, after a few years, it will produce kiwi. Not the large, fuzzy variety, but smaller and smooth. They are supposed to be very sweet and the skin is eaten as well, so they don’t have to be peeled.
Our kiwi vines (you need to have a male and female vine to get the kiwi fruit) are planted on one end of our large grape arbor. They are 3 years old and are looking pretty established to me. I’m hoping that this year will be the year we not only see the pink on the foliage, but also some fruit on the vine.
As you go through the garden catalogs, planning you garden for next summer, have a look at the kiwi vine (Actinidia kolomikta) It’s available at a lot of the nurseries.
A few facts:
It’s hardy in Zones 5-8 (Find your zone http://wp.me/P1OXDF-oK )
It can reach 25′ long
It likes well drained, moist soil
It needs partial to full sun
It’s deciduous and blooms in early summer
It’s a long lived plant
Everyone at one stage or another has thought about growing their own vegetables and with the rising price of food, now is as good a time as any to begin, weather permitting. It is also an excellent way to educate your children about where food comes from and encourage them to eat more healthy produce, as we all know how difficult it can be sometimes. Being able to grow your own vegetables comes with a certain satisfaction and pride of being self-sufficient and even children understand this on a basic level and are more willing to eat something they have had a hand in creating.
Raised Beds or Vegetable Boxes
A great way of growing vegetables is through the use of raised beds or as some people call them, vegetable boxes, which can be an interesting garden feature. They have various benefits but the main ones include less compact soil as you should never need to enter the raised bed and improved drainage.
It is relatively simple to build your very own vegetable box, all you need is some wood and some screws. Most people choose lumber or old scaffolding planks if they are available, they should be roughly 9 inches in height but this can be altered depending on how high you would like your bed to be. The wood should also be roughly 1.5 inches in depth which will provide the necessary strength to hold the structure in place against the pressure from the soil.
You will also need around 6 or 7 screws or nails for each corner to join everything together and a piece of wood which can be cylindrical or cubic to act as post within the bed in each corner, for additional strength.
Size and Shape
The length of each piece of wood will depend on what size you would like the vegetable box to be. However, you should keep in mind that the width of your bed should not be too great, as you must be able to reach over halfway into the bed from the outside. This removes the need to ever enter the actual bed and compress the soil. You should also take note of the area around the bed, as you will need space to kneel alongside it to tend to your vegetables.
Construction of The Bed
If you are using screws, you may wish to pre-drill holes into the wood to make it easier. For each connection there should be three screws or nails, one for the middle of the piece of wood and one either side of it. After doing this for each corner you should have a rectangular raised bed. Before moving it into position, dig out about an inch or two of soil for where the bed will be planted, this should give it some strength to hold its position. Following this, plant a post within the bed at each corner, screw or nail it to the exterior structure and you will have built your very own raised bed.
All that is needed now is the soil and the seeds to set you on your way. An additional thought of being even more self-sufficient is to introduce a <a href=”http://www.ukwaterfeatures.com/Shop/Water-Features.html”>water feature</a> such as a water butt into your garden. This would collect rainwater for you which can then be used to water your growing plants. With all this, you can look forward to growing your very own vegetables and tasting the fruits of your own labor.
For more information, visit www.ukwaterfeatures.com.
A gardener from the UK, Ewan Michaels, has contributed a post that will run on Sunday and Monday.
Even though he is most familiar with water features in the garden, he was kind enough to write about building your own raised beds to grow vegetables in. It’s got some really good tips, so be sure and have a look.
Some plants in the garden can’t ‘stand alone’, and they need to be staked. This is true of Delphiniums, Peonies, Dahlias and some others that have tall stems that are unable to hold up in a wind. The flowers then flop over and are ruined.
Some vegetables grow vertically with support, such as beans, peas and cucumbers. Tomatoes need support to grow on as well.
There are all types of supports and stakes you can buy in the store, from metal to plastic, and most of them can get pretty pricey if you need a lot of them, like I do.
I really like using Bamboo canes to stake my flowers and vegetables with. They can be shoved into the ground and then cut off at the length needed. I like to make teepees with them to grow my cucumbers and beans on. They can even be used to create cages for supporting tomatoes. Also can be driven into the ground around the wire tomato cages for more support. You can really do a lot with Bamboo and twine in the garden.
Bamboo comes in a variety of diameters, the wider the stronger, of course. Bamboo is strong, even strong enough to use to prop up branches heavy with fruit. It should last several seasons, and in the right climates may last much longer.
Using Bamboo is easy.
Because of the natural joints along the canes, it is easy to ties plant stems to it without them slipping down. Just drive the Bamboo into the ground near the plant (trying not to injure the roots) and tie the stem to it in a figure 8 with a piece of hemp or twine. It’s important not to tie it to the plant too tightly. That’s why the figure 8 helps. Tie the twine to the pole tightly, then to the stem loosely.
Another way of supporting flower stems is to drive Bamboo canes into the ground throughout the bed of flowers and make a grid of twine, going back and forth between the canes. The flower stems can grow up through this grid and be supported.
To make a teepee for cucumbers or beans, I drive 4 to 6 bamboo poles into the ground in a circle (you can use as few as 3), before I plant the seeds. Then I pull them together at the top and secure them with twine. From the top down to about a foot from the ground, I go around the teepee 4 to 6 times with twine (wrapping the twine around each pole as you come to it). Then I plant the seeds near each pole. As the plants get big enough, I begin to train them up on the teepee. Pretty soon, they get the hang of it and just cover it all the way to the top. Make sure you know the approximate height the plant will grow in order to know how tall to make the teepee.
Bamboo is a natural in the garden.
This is a re-post from last September. I’m re-posting it because before we know it, it will be time to get out in the garden. Sometimes we have to replace garden hoses because of winter damage. Before you rush out to buy yet another vinyl garden hose…
I just discovered something last spring that I wish I’d known before.
I realize that everybody but me may already be aware of this, but for the ones like me, who weren’t, I want to talk about rubber garden hoses. Not vinyl, rubber. A world of difference in the two.
In our front and side yard we have a sprinkler system that pretty much takes care of everything. Well, we have one in the back yard too but it doesn’t work well with the way the yard is planted, so I water by hand with a hose and nozzle. I was so tired of fighting those stiff garden hoses, which were always getting tangled.
We use one of those attachments on the faucet that lets you attach 4 hoses at a time and then each hose goes to a different area of the yard.This Spring when one of our hoses split and needed replacing, I went to Lowe’s and was looking at all the hoses. The one that split had a lifetime guarantee so I just got my money back. As I was looking at the hoses trying to decide whether to get the same kind again or not, I spotted a small display of rubber hoses, one black and one a clay red. Since it cost about the same as the one I was replacing and this one also had a guarantee, I decided to try one.
All I can say is “Where have you been all my life?” Watering is such a pleasure…well, it always was, because I enjoy just studying the plants and flowers, but to use a hose that doesn’t fight you is wonderful. The rubber hose is so flexible and limp and easy to manage. I’ve used it all Spring and Summer with no problems. If I have a problem I’ll let you know, but so far I really love it and wish I could afford to replace all of my garden hoses right now. Gradually I will though.
So when you have to replace one of your garden hoses you might give a rubber hose a try.
This is a re-post from earlier. Since we are in the middle of winter, it seemed a little more timely…
I’ve lived in zone 8, and there, gardens just need to be trimmed up a little and maybe mulched for some protection. Even in the warmer zones, most gardening activities take place in spring, summer and fall. So what do gardeners do in the winter?
Some gardeners, like us, enjoy traveling or visiting distant family. It’s hard for gardeners to get away during the growing season, because too many things need attention, but in the winter, there is a lot more free time. If you live where there is a lot of snow, like we do, then it’s fun to go to warmer parts of the world. We like to go to Mexico, or to south Florida, where it’s sunny and warm even in January and February.
Here in zone 6, the winter is long, but even with the holidays and traveling, there is still plenty of time before spring arrives. This is the best time for gardeners to evaluate their garden, to think about expanding the planting areas, or building raised beds for vegetables, or even planning an herb garden. As you think about problem areas, where plants might not have done so well, you might consider improving the soil. It’s also a perfect time to think about adding arbors, decks or fencing to your yard, to give it structure or vertical interest. I kind of mentally walk around the yard and garden, trying to find places to plant another rose bush, or maybe another fruit tree.
It is very helpful to make a drawing of your yard, being sure to include the house and garage or any other buildings or structures, like patios or decks. It makes it much easier to evaluate the growing space in your garden and see how everything relates to each other. See post: http://wp.me/p1OXDF-Z9
Winter is also a good time to learn more about soils, fertilizers, soil conditioners and mulches. In the long winter evenings, you’ll have more time to learn about plants you may have heard of and wanted to grow, like hardy kiwi or bamboo.
One of my favorite winter activities is watching the birds. There are so many different kinds of birds at the feeders in the winter, and it’s fun to watch them inter-act with each other. They can get quite territorial at times, but usually they all feed in peace, taking turns at the feeders. When food is so scarce, it’s much easier for them to eat at our dining room, so we tend to have a lot more visitors in the winter months.
One of the bonuses of feeding the birds during the winter is that as the weather begins to get warmer, the migrating birds will begin to come through and then, for a short time, we get to see so many different species. Winter is a great time to learn about the birds, how to recognize them, what they like to eat and how best to attract them to your yard.
As you can see, winter can be a very enjoyable, and productive time of year.
Winter for gardeners can be a time of relaxation, evaluation, planning and self education. It’s time to take stock of what worked in the yard or garden, and what didn’t, and decide how to change it and make it better. With so many books about gardening and bird feeding available, and countless sources of information on the internet, there is no reason not to be able to make your garden more productive and your yard more beautiful.
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Many of us are enjoying going through our garden catalogs and dreaming of next summer’s garden.
There are many plants, besides vegetables and annuals, that can be grown from seed. It’s an inexpensive way to get a lot of really nice plants. It’s one of the ways that I have so many plants in my garden. Seeds may take a little longer to produce the beautiful, mature plants on the picture on the package, but if you need a lot of plants, they are will worth waiting for.
It really pays to read the instructions carefully though. You may be waiting in vain for plants to come up if you ignore the guidelines on the back of the seed package.
For instance, not all seeds like to be covered with soil. Some need sunlight to germinate and should only be pressed into the soil a little and kept moist. These include:
It’s fun to plan and plant.
It’s even more fun when the plants actually come up.
Soon it will be time to think about pruning the rose bushes.
Well, not here in zone 6, but somewhere, it is almost time.
Most roses really benefit from pruning in the early spring, just as the leaf buds begin to swell. There are a lot of reasons to prune rose bushes, so it’s well worth the effort. Some of the reasons are:
- To rejuvenate the plant and encourage new growth
- To create a better shape to the plant
- To remove dead or diseased stems
- To encourage more blooms
- To thin out the stems to allow for better air circulation
Because pruning encourages new growth, it’s best not to prune too late in the fall. The new growth would be likely to be damaged by the cold temperatures of winter. Also, by waiting until after the winter, you’ll be able to see any damaged stems that need to be removed.
Using the right equipment and tools is important. Long sleeves and really good gloves are a must. I highly recommend deerskin gloves. Deerskin are the only leather gloves I know of that prevent thorns from stabbing your hands. See http://wp.me/p1OXDF-7V
Using sharp (to make clean cuts), clean (to prevent disease) tools is also a must. Use pruners and loppers (for the thicker stems) to make the cuts. The long handles of the loppers allow you to reach without getting your arms in the thorns.
Make 45′ cuts, just above a bud that is facing away from the center of the plant. Make the cut about 1/4″ from the bud, as shown in the picture.
First, remove any of the dead leaves that are left. Then remove any dead wood (usually dark brown or black). Then remove stems that are damaged, broken or diseased. Also remove any suckers that are coming up. (Suckers are stems that grow from the root stock, below the graft)
Second, evaluate the shape of the bush. Remove the very small branches and enough stems to open up the center so light can reach it and to allow for better air circulation. This will help to prevent many diseases caused by moisture on the leaves. The stems that are remaining should be cut back to about half their height.
Some roses don’t need pruning. Shrub roses, such as Rugosas for instance, are fine left on their own. Climbing or rambling roses only need pruning to thin or to control the growth.
Don’t be intimidated by all the hoopla about pruning roses. Pruning really helps the plants and a healthy rose bush isn’t easily killed by incorrect pruning. Besides…it will grow out.
So give it a try.