Monday, April 28, 2014

Raised Beds: Everything you wanted to know and a little more...

Raised beds are gardens with side walls built of stone, brick, cinderblocks or, like mine (shown here), wood. You can find kits and/or building instructions anywhere on the web. Building your beds this way brings the garden soil up above the landscape of your yard.  This is especially good if your soil is of poor quality or has poor drainage. 
A bed is usually about twelve inches deep which reduces the amount of bending needed to tend to your plants, but still gives enough room for the roots to grow. But make sure you build it in a sunny location so your vegetables get full sun.
Some of the advantages to creating raised beds are: 
  1)   The soil warms up faster in the spring, which gives it the ability to dry out faster than your normal garden beds.  And for an avid gardener, that means you can plant your vegetables earlier. 
  2)   The soil stays soft because it is rarely walked on like a huge garden, so tilling in the spring can be easily accomplished with a hoe.
  3)  And if you make your beds narrow (less than 4 feet across), it is easy to weed from both sides.  And since it hasn’t been walked on, what weeds that appear, are easy to pull out.
A few suggestions:

  1)   Build your raised bed on something solid.  NOT a deck.  Because the weight of the soil is very heavy.

  2)   If you build your bed on the ground and you have critters that love to burrow (moles or voles) in your area, you might want to line them with wire or heavy-duty landscaping fabric (the kind that water can penetrate).

  3)   Raised beds don’t accommodate trees or potatoes well because of the space needed for roots.
Your turn:  Have you ever tried growing plants in a raised bed?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Today is National Arbor Day

There is nothing like sitting in the dappled shade of a giant Oak tree or a sprawling Maple listening to the leaves flutter overhead, tossed by a light summer breeze. Besides my family and friends, I have to admit, it is the biggest thing I miss since moving out west.  Apparently, I am not alone.
Today is national Arbor Day. The foundation of which began in the late eighteen hundreds, when J. Sterling Morton and his wife moved to Nebraska.  Being avid gardeners, they established a large garden which included a variety of trees and shrubs they missed from their gardens back east.

Soon, the idea caught on.  Others settling in the area missed the trees as well, but soon learned the more important reason for the planting them was to provide a windbreak for the fierce Nebraska winds, which had the added benefit of keeping the topsoil in place. Morton a proponent of planting trees wrote articles for the local papers and created training materials to educate the residents of Nebraska.

Later, as Secretary of the Nebraska territory, he proposed a tree-planting holiday which we now know as Arbor Day.  The holiday, normally celebrated on the fourth Friday in April for most of the nation, is sometimes observed at an earlier date in the warmer regions of the US due to the variation in planting seasons.

Did you know that as a continuation of J. Sterling Morton’s efforts, the non-profit  Arbor Day Foundation will ship you ten free trees for your annual membership of ten dollars?  A dollar a tree…not a bad bargain.
Your turn: What is your favorite tree and why?


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Growing Tomatoes

It seems that everyone who thinks of starting a garden wants to plant tomatoes.  And rightly so!  They taste good right off the vine, or in salsa, or your favorite soup.  The list is endless…and yummy!
Although they can be one of the easiest plants to grow, there are a few things you should know about growing these red delights.

Starting from seed. If you are leaning toward starting your plants from seed, here are a few suggestions:

** Don’t overcrowd your seedlings.  There is a natural tendency to plop a couple of seeds into a pot so you can assure at least one of them will grow.  There is nothing wrong with that, but you need to be certain as they start to sprout they have plenty of room to stretch their legs, otherwise it will inhibit their growth. Thin the seedlings about the time they get their second set of leaves.  Do this by GENTLY transplanting individual seedlings into larger 4-inch pots.

** Give them lots of light.  Tomato plants need strong direct sunlight for about 14-18 hours per day which may mean you may have to resort to artificial plant lighting. And so the plant doesn’t become leggy, keep the light only a couple of inches above the plant.  This will mean you’ll have to move the light as they grow.

** Fan your seedlings.  Tomato plants develop stronger stems when they sway back and forth.  It occurs outdoors, but if you are starting your seeds inside try placing a fan nearby for about 15 minutes twice a day.

Moving the plants outdoors. The following are suggestions for tomatoes started indoors by you, or if you purchase them from a nursery:

** Choose a sunny location.  Tomatoes need sun all day long.

** Tomatoes are heat lovers.  Cover the soil with plastic where you intend to plant the seedlings a couple of weeks before you intend to move the plants outdoors.  The warmer the soil the earlier you’ll see tomatoes on the vine.  The added benefit is it deters weeds from germinating.

** Bury your tomato plants as deep as possible—all the way up to the top few leaves.  This will allow roots to develop all along their stems and more roots make a stronger plant. 

As the plant grows.

** Mulch is good—much later.  Give the ground time to warm up.  As I said, tomatoes are heat lovers.  Mulching is a good way to conserve water, but it also tends to cool the soil.  The suggestion is to try plastic mulch specially designed for tomatoes that will keep the soil warm.

** When the plant is about 3 foot tall, remove the bottom leaves.  This prevents the risk of fungus problems.  

** Prune your plants by pinching away the suckers.  Those little leaves grow in the joint of two branches.  They never bear fruit, but zap the rest of the plant of its strength, and in the end, reduce the number of tomatoes on the vine.  

** Water!  The plants need a regular watering; otherwise, your tomatoes will have blossom end rot or will start to crack.

Time to eat!  Pull out your recipes or just grab one off the vine. 

Your turn:  How do you usually grow your tomatoes?  Do you start them from seed?  Or purchase them at a local nursery?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Getting the Scoop on Dirt

One of the first things I do before starting another garden bed is examine the current state of the soil where the bed will be located.  In Ohio, I was blessed with an abundance of rock-hard clay soil. I hope you caught on to my sarcasm because I didn't even try working with it.  With the help of my three strong sons, I removed the sod, and then dug four to six inches down removing all the offensive soil.  I then went to my local garden center and had high-grade gardening soil trucked in.

Raised beds are also an option.  In Nevada, I have the opposite problem where soil was concerned.  I live on a beach with no water.  The ground around my home is nothing but sand.  Here I used raised beds because I didn't have to worry about drainage as I did in the clay soil of Ohio. My hubby made boxes made of leftover wood and I filled them with soil from a local garden center.

Both of these are extreme cases.  If you have good soil, then rejoice, but it doesn’t mean your soil doesn’t need regular help to stay healthy.

Most people believe all they need to do is add fertilizer to their soil for the plants to grow.  Although it is one of the key ingredients, it doesn’t replace a good old-fashioned compost pile or other organic amendments that decompose and add humus to your soil.  Humus increases your soil’s aeration and its ability to absorb (and drain) moisture as well as help your plants absorb the nutrients it needs.

Organic amendments come from something that once lived. They include sphagnum peat, wood chips, grass clippings, straw, compost, manure, bio-solids, sawdust and wood ash. There are various uses for each depending on your soil type.  I suggest doing some additional research to find what is best for your area and soil.

If you plan to establish a container garden, there too you'll need to get dirt specific for pots. Do not use plain garden soil.  Although it will work is lacks the ability to hold moisture needed for growing in containers.

Your turn: Have you ever started a garden by bringing in new dirt?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Thoughts

How do you view Jesus?
Today, Good Friday, as I read through Isaiah 53, my view of Jesus became clearer than ever before. (I love the way that happens!) Many verses in this chapter of Isaiah, I know by heart, but had I really heard the message? As a Christian, I know Him as a gracious loving God who extends mercy and grace to his children. Jesus stood in our place, taking on our sins all while enduring excruciating pain as the Roman soldiers drove nails into His hands and feet.
As I watch the news, I am befuddled and angered by the many accounts of people pushing anything to do with God from schools, from public signage, and from their lives. We’re living in an age of declining Christianity. Or are we?
Isaiah states that Christ had been “despised and rejected by men.” (v. 3) Even then, when Jesus walked this earth, people snubbed Him.  The passage states they actually hid their faces from him.  Can you imagine passing people in town, greeting them with a smile, only to have them turn their heads and shun you?  I can’t.
“He was a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (v. 3) This verse can be applied to the crucifixion, but it goes on to explain that the people of the day “considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” They pushed Him and the life He offered away. And to sooth their conscience, they treated Him like a castoff from God.
But did Jesus complain? Did he lash out at those that beat him and nailed him to the cross?  No.  He took on the sins of everyone past and present.  As He hung on that wooden cross, He watched his accusers, the sheep that had gone astray, the people that had ignored His message, the same ones that treated Him with distain and mocked Him. As part of the Godhead, He knew the future. He knew they would bury Him with the wicked, He knew how they’d turn from Him even now. But did it stop Him from doing what God asked of Him?
Why? Because He loved us with a love greater than any one of us can fathom. So great that, “He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (v. 12) He prayed for those people two thousand years ago and He is praying for those who turn their backs on him now. 
He prays for you.  Today. Every day.
Are you going to shun Him like his peers did? Or walk into His embrace?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My First Online Order

On Monday, I talked about the benefits of ordering plants online. Today I thought I'd share a story of my first order.
I remember my first online order.  I had meticulously scoured the catalogue, determining what exactly I wanted in my new garden.  I planned for spring, summer, and fall flowers so my garden would sparkle from the time the snow melted in the spring until the leaves on the trees changed in color in the fall.
Weeks later, I received several boxes of plants.  I opened them up, greeted by the fresh scent of dirt and new growth.  Pulling each plant from their protective packaging, I envisioned the mature plants shown in the catalogue, their stems reaching for the sky.  That is until I opened one package and found a sprig of growth not much bigger than the top third of my pinky.  Really?  They expected me to plant this small thing and have anything resembling a plant by summer? 
I’m sure God with his vast wisdom and abundant creativity was laughing at me when I called customer service and complained. The woman on the other end of the line very kindly explained that the plant would resemble the image in the catalogue during its second year of growth.  Staring at the small nubbin of green, I wasn’t convinced.  But I planted it anyway.
That year, it grew in size, better than I thought it would. A year later I had full bushes of Coreopsis (shown here), with airy asparagus-type foliage, and flowers resembling small yellow daisies.  Perfect.  The following year I was already dividing the clumps of coreopsis to plant in other bed, and the fourth year, I was giving some away.
Today, it is one of my very favorite perennials. It’s not invasive, but does grow fairly fast—as my story testifies.  The lesson is, don’t be fooled by the size of the plant you receive when you place your order online.  You get them cheaper because they send you a small portion of what you buy in the store.  But I can guarantee, by the second year, you will be satisfied with the results.
Your turn:  Have you ever grown Coreopsis?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ordering Plants Online

I order a lot of my perennial plants online.  Yes, the plants are smaller (as shown here), but you can get them at a discounted price—especially if you watch for the sales in spring.  It’s a good way to buy several plants without breaking the bank.
I usually sit down in early spring with a catalogue from my favorite nursery(s) and make a wish list.  I review each item to make sure they grow in my zone and in the area I want to plant them (shade or sun, dry or moist soil).  Then I whittle that list down to the amount I want to spend. 
For the most part, I’ve never been disappointed in my purchases and have had good luck with the plants.  They come shipped to me in containers wrapped in packing material meant to keep them moist and protected.  The key thing to remember is these are first year starts to your garden.  If you are expecting them to fill your plot the first year—you’d be mistaken.  However, by the following year, they are about the size you’d purchase in a nursery for a fraction of the cost.
Last week, I received my order of Daylilies, Iris, Butterfly Weed, Gaillardia, and Re-blooming Lilacs.  I felt like a kid at Christmas opening the box and pulling the contents out one small package at a time.  I took the time to water them, because they’ve been stuck in a dark box for at least a week without water.  I read through the planting instructions provided, and started to work.  It’s important to get them in the ground as soon as possible.
Once that’s done, I sit back and wait for them to grow. 
Although I order many of my perennials this way, you can also order seeds and annuals online as well.

Your turn:  Have you ever ordered plants online?

Friday, April 11, 2014

What my children will do differently - 8-Track Tapes

Eight Track Tape Day – who would have thunk it.
If you have fond memories of driving down Main Street, slipping a 5.25 x 4 inch plastic cartridge into your car stereo and enjoying your favorite rock and roll song, you probably grew up in the sixties and seventies.  And, you remember the heyday of Eight Track Tapes. 
This was a time when muscle cars were supreme and rock-and-roll blared through every radio station.  Eight Track Tapes paved the way for mobile music, which quickly moved on to cassettes and CD’s giving everyone the ability to play their favorites whenever they wanted to.  And wherever they wanted to.
But did you know Eight Track Tapes were created by the jet mogul William Lear? It was an endless loop of 1/4 inch magnetic tape, which contained eight parallel soundtracks and a never ending supply of music.
Problems with the design soon arose especially when the cartridge got dirty or the tape jammed.  It was impossible to rewind the tapes and the program sometimes changed right in the middle of a song. 
But oh, the memories were so sweet. Sorry kids, this memory is just for us “old-timers”!
Your Turn: What memories do you have o eight track tapes?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easy-to-Grow Vegetables

You want to start a vegetable garden, but don’t know where to start. You browse through a seed catalog or the rack of seed packets in your local hardware store and suddenly everything looks tempting.  It’s kind of like doing your grocery shopping when you’re hungry. 
Start small.  Select your favorites from the easy-to-grow list below.  Some of the crops need to be started indoors or purchased from your local nursery as seedlings.  Most are sown directly into your prepared soil.

Green beans. You can start these seeds after the last frost of the season.  They are easy to grow and can provide a bumper crop that will last all winter if frozen. They come in bush form or vines that will twine their way up a fence.

Radishes. Radishes grow in all soils and they mature in only a few weeks, which make them a great crop for kids to grow.  Plant seeds directly into the soil.  Depending on your zone, they can be grown twice a year—in the spring and in the fall. I’ve even found a few recipes online for grilled radishes.  Go figure – here I always believed they were limited to salads.

Salad greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula and corn salad). Sow directly into the soil.  These, like radishes, can be grown twice a year.

Peppers.  Peppers of all varieties are easy to grow. The down side is they usually need a long growing season, so it’s best to purchase plants at your local nursery or start them indoors.

Onions.  These you start from seeds or bulbs—but I found the bulbs easier to grow.  You can wait for the onion to grow to size or pull them early for green onions.

Zucchini/squash. I like the bush varieties the best, as they don’t take up as much space in the garden.  Plant the seeds directly in the ground after the last frost or purchased as plants.  Don’t plant too many, or you’ll be baking zucchini bread all the way until Christmas

Tomatoes.  My lips smack at the thought of homegrown tomatoes.  They taste so good.  They key is starting with strong plants. Watch for my upcoming blog on Growing Tomatoes.

Melons.  They’re easy to grow, but need room to spread.  Start seeds in the ground.

Potatoes.  They are easy to grow and can even be planted in straw rather than soil, which would make digging of the potatoes easy to do. (I’ve never tried it, but I’d like to.)  The seeds are potatoes, whole or cut into sections, which you can buy in the early spring.

Strawberries.  Buy the bare-root plants in early spring and plant in a sunny spot.  You may need to cover the plants with netting to keep the birds away.
Your turn:  What is your favorite vegetable?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Plant of the Month – Lungwort

April's Plant of the Month – Lungwort
The lungwort plant (or Pulmonaria) is one of my favorite plants because of the multi-colored flower petals that bloom from a single plant. Every spring I looked forward to the brilliant blue, pink, or white flowers of the early-blooming Lungwort plant.  When not in bloom the leaves, either spotted or plain depending on the variety, continued to stay full through the season and into winter. They grow best in high-humus soil that retains moisture. Although lungwort tolerates dry conditions, I have yet to try it here in the desert.
Light:  Sun, Partial Sun, and Shade
Zones:  2-8
Plant Type:  Perennial
Plant Height:  6-12 inches tall, depending on variety
Plant Width:  1.5-2 feet wide, depending on variety
Flower Color:  White, rose, blue violet flowers, depending on variety; variegated leaves, depending on variety
Bloom Time:  Blooms spring and summer, depending on variety
Landscape Uses:  Containers, Beds & Borders, Groundcover
Special Features:  Flowers, Attractive Foliage, Fragrant, Winter Interest, Drought Tolerant, Deer Resistant, Easy to Grow

Friday, April 4, 2014

Running out of Gas

I’m not necessarily a NASCAR fan, but was amused when hearing that Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas while on the last lap of a race costing him first place. I thought only individuals with broken gas gauges did that—like my husband!  Only there weren’t crowds to help my husband out, or a team of mechanics waiting around the next bend with a gas can in their hand.  Nope. 
He called me.

I have to set the scene for you before going any further.  He worked second shift which normally put him home just after midnight.  One night a week he was on a bowling league that met after work.  This was before the concept of ATM’s on every corner.  (Okay, I’m dating myself just a little.) It’s before cell phones.  AND, there were very few all-night gas stations in our area.
About 2:30 my phone rings.  I had just gone to bed after a late-night Mommy-I-need-you session with my infant daughter. He tells me his car is stranded alongside the road, he had to walk a mile to get to a phone booth, and wants me to bring him some gas.

I have no money in my purse, my daughter is finally asleep, and needless to say, due to my lack of sleep, I wanted to tell him to call someone else.  But, I didn’t.
I dug into our penny jar.  Rolled several dollars’ worth of pennies.  (Now as I look back, I’m thanking God it was a time gas prices were what they were—cheap!)  I pulled my sleeping daughter from her bed and put the slumping bundle into her car seat and went in search of an open gas station, which turned out to be several miles away.  The man at the station got a chuckled out of the rolled pennies, but he took them anyway.

In the end, everything worked out fine.  My hubby got gas.  I finally got some sleep.  And my daughter didn’t even realize she’d been moved. 
Your turn:  Have you ever run out of gas?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

So you want to Start a Garden (Part four)

Continuing with our questions from So you want to Start a Garden (Part One)
How much space do you have for a garden?
Or maybe I should ask—how big do you want to make your garden?  My first major garden, but not my first garden, was quite large.  So much so, when I had dug up all the sod and unwanted dirt and was waiting for good soil to be brought in, friends asked if I was putting in a swimming pool.  The funny thing was . . . they were dead serious! It took several days to put in over 500 plants to fill the area.  I don’t suggest doing that unless you are a seasoned gardener.
               It boils down to how much do you want to grow? I’ve grown a successful vegetable garden in not much more than a six-by-six foot plot. It provided tomatoes, peppers and green beans—enough for what I call a taste of summer.  If you are planning on canning or freezing your crops for winter meals, you’ll need something much bigger.
               Some plants are space intensive.  This goes for both vegetables as well as some perennials.  Plants spread, which is sometimes hard to picture when you are putting a seedlings not much bigger than your pinky into the ground.  
Vegetables such as cucumber, squash, or melons have vines that travel several feet from their source. So if you are limited for space, consider growing them up a fence, or purchase the bush varieties.  Either choice still produces an abundance of fruit.
Some flowers in the perennial group are quite invasive.  Lily of the valley sends roots in all directions over the course of one season. And if you think you can dig them out, think again.  Many plants that spread via their roots multiply faster when the roots are severed.  Make sure you read the habits of each plant before purchasing.
For the beginner gardener, I’d say start small.
Do you have an area that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of sun per day?
               This is critical when deciding what type of garden you’ll have.  If you want to grow vegetables but have a shade-covered yard, it will be nearly impossible to have a successful garden. Flowers, both annuals and perennials, vary in the amount of sunlight needed.
               The important thing is to check before buying.  If you have a shady spot to fill perennials such as Hosta, Astible, or Lily of the Valley can fill that area nicely.  Annuals such as Impatiens, Begonias, or Coleus can brighten any container.  The key is to plant them where they are best suited.  If you stick a shade-lover in the sun, it will not last.  If you put a plant that loves the sun in the shade, it may not die, but it may not flower either.
How much time do you want to spend?
Even the smallest garden requires time out of the day for watering, weeding, and deadheading of plants. Certain times of the year require more, like spring when the beds need to be cleared of their winter debris. 
For a vegetable garden, especially one large enough to provide food into the winter, you must allow time to pick, clean, cook, and store your harvest.  Something to keep in mind—plants do not only put out their crops on the weekend.  I have spent several days a week preparing food for storage all the while wondering why I put in so many plants.

Your turn:  So what do you think, do you still want to start a garden?