Archive for the ‘containers’ Category

Herbal Monday, July 26th, 2010

This year my herbs were fewer than previous years, but I’ve tried them a different way than past years. Most herbs like good drainage and lean soil so I put a few in pots and they’ve done so well that I don’t think I’ll ever go back to flowering annuals. I have a large one with oregano, greek basil and lavender – it looks lovely, is easily accessible on the front steps and I’ve hardly had to water and it doesn’t require feeding like fussy annuals. Awesome! Nothing like adding more edibles.

  • I have one tuft of thyme – love it on roasted potatoes, meat or poultry.
  • The dill is booming – it seeds itself every year with variation. Last year, not so much and this year it is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e – it’s great on grill fish, potatoes, in sour cream for dressing veggies or used as a condiment in wraps and sandwiches.
  • Oregano – great on roasts, cold pasta salads, sauces
  • Basil – pesto, salads, sauces
  • Mint – mojitoes, ice tea, lemonade, garnish – I haven’t used much but I should use it more
  • Catmint – it is everywhere. The purple flowers are pretty but I’ve not used it for culinary purposes but, like most herbs in the mint family, it would make a lovely hot tea.
  • Lavender – This can be used in breads, muffins, cakes and butters but I’ve not tried it – I’ve been clipping off the heads when they are in full bloom and setting them aside to dry so I can collect enough for a couple sachets. I picked up the Munstead variety – before fall I might sink it into the ground and see if it will come back – it’s slated for Zone 5 though. But, my mother has had a patch of lavender come back for a few years now but she’s amiss at what variety she’d picked up.

Just came across this story from AP – don’t think it’s made it to these parts but it is sure something to be on the lookout for in future years.

Associated Press Writer
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A fungus spreading among the nation’s basil crop may leave lovers of Italian and Thai food feeling a bit bland.
Basil downy mildew first surfaced in the U.S. around 2007 and is slowly but surely ruining the herb at spots across the country. Hardest hit areas are on the East Coast but it also has been found as far west as California.
For growers, the fungus can be devastating.
‘‘We destroyed all our crop this year,’’ said Francesco DeBaggio of DeBaggio’s Herb Farm in Chantilly, Va. ‘‘We killed about 6,000 plants, or about $18,000 worth of plants.’’
DeBaggio said he first noticed it in May and didn’t realize what it was. Once he determined it was downy mildew he decided to destroy his crop.
‘‘It’s huge for us,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re small so it’s fairly significant. We would have sold 100 percent of those that were destroyed.’’
Basil is a commonly used to make pesto and tomato sauce and is a popular ingredient in Italian and Thai recipes. It’s also often used in salads or sprinkled on tomatoes.
Margaret McGrath, an associate professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, said the fungus is likely more of a problem for home gardeners and herb farmers who may not have access to fungicides that are available to larger commercial growers.
‘‘We think it’s moving around each year, surviving over the winter and then moving north during the summer,’’ McGrath said.
The relatively recent emergence of the fungus means many growers don’t know about it, McGrath said.
‘‘If you don’t know what you have, you may not be responding correctly,’’ she said.
In some cases, growers may think the yellowing leaves indicate the plant needs more fertilizer.
‘‘And that’s not going to help at all,’’ McGrath said.
She said areas of shade and high humidity seem to be more susceptible to the fungus and that gardeners can help control it by spacing the plants further apart and planting them in areas that get more sun.
It is carried by spores that travel through the air, which means ‘‘it has the potential to go almost anywhere,’’ McGrath said.
The spores are a gray or purplish color. Affected leaves begin to yellow but quickly turn brown before they die, McGrath said.
Downy mildew fungi have been around for years, with different forms affecting different plants and vegetables, but the downy mildew affecting basil is new, McGrath said.
It takes about two weeks from the time the plant is infected to when the fungus first appears, and DeBaggio said that means some growers may be selling infected plants without knowing it.
‘‘They can’t see it until it’s too late and that plays a huge role in keeping the disease from being controlled better,’’ DeBaggio said.
Margie Pikarsky, owner of the organic Bee Heaven Farm in Redland, Fla., said she has had problems growing basil since 2008. Until she recently heard of the fungus, she didn’t know it was to blame for her failed crop.
At first she and other farmers thought there was a problem with the seed. The next year she blamed cold weather. She switched seed sources and the weather warmed but the herb still would not grow.
‘‘We had no way of confirming any (cause of the problem), all we knew was we had no basil,’’ Pikarsky said.
The fungus, which poses no risk to human health, could have the biggest impact on the market for fresh cut basil.
‘‘When you harvest it and turn it into pesto, no harm no foul because no one will know the difference,’’ DeBaggio said. ‘‘When you sell leaves that aren’t possibly green — I can’t sell something that’s imperfect. If there is any visible damage, it reduces the potential it can be sold.’’
So far, McGrath said the problem isn’t so bad that it has cut into supplies or caused prices to rise.
George Ball, chief executive officer of Warminster, Pa.-based Burpee Seeds, said it’s important for people to realize the blight is manageable if precautions are taken, such as spreading plants out and putting them in sunnier locations.
Ball also said there are some varieties of basil, such as purple ruffles basil, that appear to be more resistant to the fungus.
‘‘Try darker leaf varieties,’’ he said.
McGrath agreed that some darker leaf and spice varieties have had less disease in variety comparisons.
For DeBaggio, who grows some specialty varieties, the fungus raises concerns about next year’s crop. And he’s decided against trying to grow more basil this year.
‘‘We’re just not going to take any chances,’’ he said. ‘‘To have another season like this, that would put us out of business. We couldn’t survive that again.
‘‘Once you ruin your reputation, you can’t get it back.’’
Associated Press writer Annie Greenberg contributed to this story from Miami.

Carnivorrrrre Monday, June 7th, 2010

A couple weeks ago, my son barely mentioned wanting to get a Venus Fly Trap and, boom! there I was online trying to find a way to bring that to him. Any reason to encourage a love of plants even if I have to go the way of the flesh-eating variety.

The kit was a little smashed up but the plants seem fresh enough to have sustained the trip. It came with:

  • clear bowl with plastic, ventilated lid
  • dirt (actually peat moss)
  • 3 plants: fly trap, pitcher plant, sundew

It was very easy to assemble. I picked this one because it came with live plants and not seeds and it’s own terrarium. These plants come from bogs which are hard to replicate in one’s house without a terrarium to help control humidity and soil moisture. To top it off I used some decorative (white and natural) aquarium rocks to cover the peat. I’ve set it by an east window in our bathroom (naturally humid).

Ok, so I might be a little more excited than my son but we haven’t fed the ‘traps’ yet. I was telling my mom about it and she said you can also feed them a tiny tiny bit of raw hamburger if bugs end up in short supply.

Lovely lilacs Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

As stated in an earlier post, lilacs are hitting bloom time a little earlier this year. I still have strong daffodils and the lilacs are opening their sweet buds.

Last night, while watching Garden Line, a caller had asked how to get lilacs to stay fresh in a vase. Well, the panel looked at each other and little suggestion was given. Like with most flowers, cutting them in the morning (Dr. John Ball’s suggestion) and plunging them immediately into water will help.

Lilacs have woody stems. Mashing the ends allows for more water absorption.

I’ll elaborate: lilacs have deciduous, woody stems, unlike other cutting flowers like daffodils, daisies and zinnias for example. Woody-stemmed flowers benefit from having their ends mashed. This allows more surface area to take up more water – a key in keeping any cut flower fresh.

Other cutting flower pointers:

  • Save those packets of vase water fertilizers that come when you get a purchased bouquet and use a little of that in the water.
  • Overnight your vased flowers in the fridge and bring them out again in the morning.
  • Change the water daily with fresh, cold water.
  • Cut the flowers from their plants, then recut them under running water before plunging them immediately into a water-filled vase.
  • Recut the stems every couple days as they will heal over hampering water absorption.
  • A tiny amount of bleach can keep your vase water clear.
Pick a peck of peppers Sunday, March 14th, 2010

My last post seemed utterly disjointed so I’ve decided to do a bit of a rewrite.

All peppers were planted inside 8-10 weeks before May 15 (our average last frost date). They get approximately 12 hrs. a day under grow lights. They were planted with little to no soil coverage as per the instructions on the packet.  I water them mostly from our water cooler when the top of the soil is nearly dry. Plants seem to do better with rain water, which I should start collecting, but I’m hoping the next best thing instead of tap is purified water.  I labeled each packet with the date they arrived from Bakers Creek and also with the date of the initial planting so I have a reference to look back on.

The peppers that were planted were:

  • Red Mini sweet bell peppers; planted 3-06-2010
  • Odessa Market sweet peppers (Odessa is a town by the black sea in Ukraine – apparently an area my distant relatives came from); planted 3-06-2010
  • Craig’s Grande Jalapeno; planted 3-11-2010
  • Chinese five color – “screaming hot little peppers in a rainbow of colors, can also be grown inside in containers; planted 3-11-2010
  • Lemon Yellow Habanero; planted 3-11-2010
In preparation, 3Rs Friday, February 12th, 2010

Reduce Reuse Recycle,

I’m in full-on prep mode for the coming season.

  • I’ve started a compost jug (this may be a bit early as my compost pile is under 5′ of snow). The plastic lock-tight coffee canisters work great for this, though trying to brew the morning joe, I inevitably open the wrong one – well, that’s one way to wake yourself.
  • I’ve been collecting my clear plastic juice, water and sports drink bottles. I cut almost all the way around the base , leaving an inch to keep it still attached – this flap will be the anchor I can use by placing a rock on it or covering it with dirt. Much better than trying to pile dirt around the side – especially with our SD winds. These will act as seedling protectors when I first put the little plants out in the garden. They will help with wind, cool nights and heavy rains. If you do clip off the bases, use them for kids’ paint trays or beer trays for baiting slugs later.
  • Old plastic bottles can also be cut diagonally from the base into “scoops” to be left in fertilizer, amendment or potting soil bags.
  • I’ve also taken to collecting TP roll tubes and paper towel tubes. I saw a hint in a magazine where 2-3″ cut-up tubes were used for plant pots. Set on a tray – filled with dirt, and seed – once ready for transplant outside one needs only to slide the dirt a little down the tube and plant the whole thing, leaving an inch of the tube above ground. This tube provides a little support as well as protection from cutworms that like to wrap themselves around the base of new plants, clipping ‘em at the base. The paper tubes end up composting.
  • I’ve also made newspaper pots using an almost origami technique – those ended up turning to mush by transplant time so I haven’t tried them again.
  • Old newspapers can also be used as mulch. I’ve gone back and forth about oil vs. soy-based inks – though the latter is obviously optimum, the little research I’ve done is that oil-based inks, at such a small increments such as those used in a daily newspaper, pose no contamination risks. You can also find naked newsprint end-rolls that are free of all inks too. I’ve found newsprint difficult to work with on an average SD day – unless you wet them immediately and weigh them down with some dirt, they will end up in a not-too-pleased neighbor’s yard.
  • If you have any old mini-blinds they work great as labels. Just snip them into 5-6″ pieces and use a permanent marker to label. Popcicle sticks work too but tend to bleed their labels. They do work as simple markers for seeds layed out in a bed though. Great for this girl who forgets just where she tried to sow some poppy and hollyhock seeds in her perennial bed.
  • I went through my seeds and organized them by planting times: anywhere from 10 wks. inside to “outside after danger of frost has passed.” I used an old floppy disc holder to store them in. Other options would be recipe containers or tackle boxes.
  • My seeds came in from Baker Creek and I found some from last year. I wrote in a notebook which ones need to get planted first and I’m working on a planting calendar to post here some time soon. So far, in my garden, I’ll be planting by seed: pumpkins, winter squash (last year’s leftovers), peppers (hot and sweet), watermelon, tomatoes, okra (had good luck with past years), beans, peas, edamame (only tried once – failure – will give it another shot), slo-bolt cilantro and lavender. Some will be started indoors, some outdoors and some, both ways to see what way has better luck.
Itchy Friday, February 5th, 2010

How can one stave off that garden itch. The temp got above 30F today and I’m already feeling it. My naked hands need some dirt.

  • If you haven’t already, you can force bulbs like paperwhites, tulips, daffodils, crocus and amarylis.
  • Clean-up your houseplants, they’ll be getting thirstier now that the days are getting a bit longer. Trim off dead leaves and branches. Yellowing bottom leaves may mean time to repot. Use a pot only 1-2″ wider in diameter than the original and make sure there is a drain hole.
  • Make a terrarium. This is a great project to do with kids. Pick a clear container – anything from a clear glass cookie jar to a large clear vase will work. Layer from the bottom: pebbles, active charcoal (if enclosed), moss, screen or fine mesh (to keep soil from washing into pebbles) potting soil (or cacti specific if those are the types of plants you wish). Next plant small, slow growing plants, cuttings or seeds. Plant them using a spoon, fork, chopsticks, etc. (good tool options). Add decorative stones or figurines if desired. Water when top of soil is dry.
  • Start herb seeds in pots for trimming into dishes.
Wintering houseplants Monday, December 28th, 2009

Do not fertilize.
Water minimally without letting them dry out completely.
Water from the bottom up by sticking their pot in a bowl or sink of water.
Keep them away from drafts and vents.
Forced air is a big culprit for plants demise during the winter.
If you have a more humid-loving plant, try placing them on a larger, shallow tray filled with pebbles and water. This creates a higher-humidity level immediately around the plant.
Clustering plants together also creates a micro-climate.
Terrariums also will work.
Some dropping of leaves will occur.

Kept inside Friday, August 21st, 2009

A fringed African violet in stunning white.

A fringed African violet in stunning white.

This past week a wicked case of streptococus caught me off guard so I haven’t seen my backyard since Sunday. The Hub did present a lovely tomato that was from a volunteer plant growing out of a cracker in our daughter’s garden – I’ll get to that more in a later post. Anywho. The only thing I’ve seen of life are the surprising, welcome blooms of two of my houseplants. Not sure how it happened but both a white fringed African violet and my sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) have bloomed. I’m not real lucky with getting plants to bloom inside. I’m an errant waterer and nearly always forget to fertilize. This mean biggers things with the African violet. Those usually want fertilizer quite consistently. This one is a gift-back from my grandmother. When she moved into an assisted living facility about a year ago she gave me back the African violet I’d given her a couple years earlier. She said she wouldn’t have room for all of them (4 at the time). I gulped and took it back knowing my luck with houseplants. Low and behold it’s doing quite well out my North-facing kitchen window.  African violets like consistent moisture but it should never ever touch the leaves or stems. The easiest way is to have it in a pot with holes in the bottom and set it into a water source for an hour, then take it out and let it drain. Water when the top of soil is dry. They are normally hungry plants and it’s extremely easy to find African violet food since they are a very popular houseplant. Usually blooming to abundance. Repot when the new leaves start to stay small and compact in the center.

Mimosa pudica in bloom

Mimosa pudica in bloom

Mimosa pudica, or my sensitive plant was quite a trip when seeing the first bloom. I’d never looked into their flowering having been too mesmerized by their sensitive traits. The blooms don’t last but a day but they are quite something to behold. Like a little bur shooting rays of bright pinky-lavendar. So far this plant has had three such blooms. The little pink hairs shrivel quickly leaving a little nubby pod. My second plant hasn’t bloomed yet but I’m waiting. Due to my lacksidasical care of these plants I can credit the suns shifting path as we are looking at the last month of summer. What a great way to welcome it.

Gardener’s travels Saturday, June 13th, 2009

birdlostTrying to keep up with one’s own garden is one thing. Trying to keep up with an avid gardener’s paradise is quite another.

My mother’s garden is beautiful to say the least. Every corner finds another hidden treasure and a dozen (understatement) or so are added every year to create quite the oasis on the prairie swamp we call home.

Over the last few years she’s perfected the art of taking leave during the growing season and leaving the garden’s care in another’s hands. Some pointers for any gardeners who like to travel are:

  • Soaker hoses – if a kind friend, neighbor or child can just hook up a hose and let the water trickle for an hour or so, this really saves time. They can turn on the tap, go get some groceries and come back to a well-watered veggie bed.
  • Pots – if at all possible move them to the shade and close to a water source, be it a rain barrel or faucet. Rain barrels are great for dipping watering cans into quickly instead of waiting for a slow hose.
  • Stakes – pure genius. If you have some newly planted tiny plants amongst a bed of older, hardier plants, stick in a tall stake beside them. Then the friend/neighbor/child can see easily what needs more frequent care.
  • Have all equipment in one area and hoses hooked-up. No need to make someone find that watering wand or sprinkler.
  • Bounty as payment. Tell your friend/neighbor/child that they need to pick anything that’s ready and take it home to eat – you won’t be there to. Nothing’s better than a salad so fresh it has elm seeds in it.
  • Tolerance. Your friend/neighbor/child has tried their damnedest to take loving care of your beautiful garden because they love you, but inevitably something will get overlooked – that’s just the life of being a gardener, you gotta handle a little loss.
Container schemes Monday, June 1st, 2009

Nothing is prettier than a well-planted pot and it doesn’t take much:

  • monochromatic: Different shades of the same color
  • Contrast: dark and light, smooth and spiky (textures), or two colors at the opposite side of the color wheel (yellow, purple; blue, orange; red, green)
  • Warm or Cool: red, orange, yellow, or blue, green purple

Remember to stagger the heights so the tallest (ornamental grasses are great here) are in the center and back and get some good trailers to spill over the edge like bacopa or sweet potato vine.

Here are two of Mom’s schemes: The left incorporates warm HOT tones: the right uses contrast in both color and texture.