Wonderful World of Bulbs

Spring is a wonderful time of year when the snows are leaving, but if you haven’t planted any spring blooming flowers, it can be a bleak landscape until the first annuals appear in the garden center or the first perennials burst into bloom.  Bulbs of spring blooming flowers need to be planted sometime between now and when the ground freezes.

Bulbs

Bulbs of crocus, daffodil, hyacinth, tulip, and other fall planted bulbs need to be purchased and planted now if you want to see them next spring. Planting a few bulbs here and there won’t make much of an impact, so think about planting in drifts (50+ of one variety or color all together in a clump or rows) for maximum color display.  The leaves aren’t cut back until they turn brown as they produce energy for the bulbs to grow again next year.

Characteristics

Most of these varieties of spring flowers naturalize (spread by adding baby bulbs to the main one and multiplying, so give them plenty of room to grow. The leaves should not be cut back until they turn brown as they produce energy for the bulbs to grow again next year.

Planting and Care

Plant bulbs with the flat end down and the pointed end up.  Follow package recommendations for depth and spacing and factor in how many inches of mulch are on top of the soil.  Most bulbs will need protection form ground rodents and squirrels who think bulbs are their dessert.  Plant your bulbs in a wire cage, or put a barrier on top of soil and under mulch.  A barrier of hardware cloth with ½ inch openings staked down works fine, or you can also use staked chicken wire for larger bulbs.  Squirrels can pull small bulbs out of holes in chicken wire.

Dig planting holes with a bulb planter, a drill bit made for digging holes, or dig a large area, place all the bulbs in it, then cover it up.  A trench also works for planting drifts.  Plant bulbs behind or between perennials so their foliage will be covered up after bloom is done.

 

If you have heavy clay soil that just won’t grow anything, raised garden beds are the way to go.

Raised beds can go anywhere and be made from many material such as lumber, blocks, straw bales, water troughs, bricks, etc.  If you have trouble bending down, raised beds allow you to garden at waist height, so no bending.

Soil

Raised beds let you create the ideal soil mix.  They also lend themselves to lasagna gardening where you build the soil with layers of alternating green and brown material.  If you build your beds now or before snowfall and fill them with soil mix, they will have all winter to compost and your spring garden will have marvelous soil.  Just be sure to cover the soil with shredded leaves or other mulch to keep weed seeds from taking hold.

Drainage

Raised beds drain well.  Because you never walk on your soil and compact it, the plants have this beautiful rich, loose soil to grow in.  The soil also warms up quicker in spring allowing you to plant earlier and grow later.  Because of the frame, you’re able to add covers that will allow growing plants that like the cold all winter.

No Tilling

Raised bed gardens don’t need to be tilled and weed populations decrease over time if you keep them weeded in the beginning.  Using hay, straw, or shredded leaves to cover the soil when planting and during the winter will mean very little weeding.  Tilling in ground gardens every year brings all the dormant weed seeds to the surface where they can grow prolifically.

Reference:  https://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=Building%20raised%20garden%20beds&rs=typed&term_meta[]=Building%7Ctyped&term_meta[]=raised%7Ctyped&term_meta[]=garden%7Ctyped&term_meta[]=beds%7Ctyped

 

Ways to Preserve Extra Tomatoes

After a while, you’ve eaten all the fresh tomatoes you can stand, so what do you do with all the rest?  Well, preserving them is one way.

Canning

Tomatoes contain acid, so you can remove the skin, cut them up into chunks, pack them in a Ball jar, and process the jars in a water bath.  This method takes up pantry space for all those jars, and it will take you the better part of a day to fill about 8-10 jars.

Freezing

Freezing may be a better option to save time if you have extra freezer space.  You can freeze whole tomatoes if you want, or you can make marinara, spaghetti sauce, catsup, and soup bases and freeze it all.

Whole Tomatoes With Skin –.  Wash the tomatoes and place them in a plastic freezer bag and freeze till you need whole tomatoes.

Whole Tomatoes Without Skin – The traditional method to remove skin is to boil the tomatoes for a few minutes, lift out, dunk them in a cold-water bath, and peel off the skin.  But you can also freeze them with the skin on by cutting off the stem end, turn the tomato upside down on a baking sheet and place in the freezer till they are frozen (1-3 hours), then run them under cold water and the skin will fall off.

Pureed Tomatoes – maybe you would like to make tomato paste or puree to have available when you need them to make your favorite dishes.  Remove stems and any bad areas from the tomato and place large chunks in a food processor or blender.  Pulse a few times to desired consistency and place in a slow cooker.  Cook on high for 10-12 hours or until reduced and thickened to desired consistency.  Freeze in quantities you would ordinarily use.

Freezer Bags – Bags with locking closures work well for freezing tomato sauces and purees, soups, and chunks.  Fill the bags, seal them, then lay them flat on a baking sheet in the freezer.  The frozen flat packages will stack better in the freezer and you will have room for more bags.

Check out this great reference from Old World Garden Farms

https://oldworldgardenfarms.com/?s=How+to+Easily+Preserve+Tomatoes

 

 

What Riding Lawn Mower is Best for You?

If you’ve been trying to keep a large lawn mowed with a walk-behind mower, fall is a great time to think about upgrading to a riding mower.  There are some very good buys on riding mowers now, but determining what works best for you can be confusing.

Lawn Tractors – Tractor type mowers do more than just mow if you’re just doing light yard work.  The engine is up front like a tractor but has lower torque transmissions, less horsepower and smaller rear tires than other types of mowers. It will tow light carts and spreaders and, with snow plow attachment, can move light snow.  The cutting width ranges from 38-54 inches.

Garden Tractors – These tractors are the big brother to lawn tractors.  They have higher horsepower engines, can tow heavier attachments and loads and have larger back tires for extra ground clearance.  The larger wheels provide better stability on up to 15% slopes and inclines.  The cutting width ranges from 50-50 inches.

Rear Engine Riding Mowers – Basically used only for mowing, the rear-engine rider has a smaller cutting deck ideal for narrow spaces.  These are generally lower-priced than the other models and take up less storage space but may be slower.  With more than a ¾ acre lot, you may want to move up to a larger model. The cutting width ranges from 26-33 inches.

Zero-Turn Mowers – If you have a large yard to mow and want to do it quickly, consider a zero-turn mower.  While the more expensive of your options, time saved and maneuverability may be worth the extra cost.  You can make 360 degree turns with ease and get closer to trees, flower beds, and fences.  Designed for comfort and with powerful engines and speed, you’ll be done mowing in no time. Cutting width ranges from 30-72 inches.

Other Considerations – The mowing deck width can determine how much grass you can cut on one pass so you may want to look for a width that will allow you to make the fewest passes, depending on the size of your yard.  With zero-turn mowers you have a learning curve getting used to handles in each hand rather than a steering wheel.

What’s Affecting My Tomato Plants?

This is the time of year when your tomato plants may start showing signs of disease.  Here’s a summary of what might be affecting your plants.

Septoria Leaf Spot:  In the picture above, the tomato leaves are yellowing and have brown spots on them.  The leaves eventually become totally brown and shrivel up.  There is no cure once it appears.  Tomatoes planted in the same garden spot each year are especially susceptible to leaf spot.  Wet conditions, high humidity, and crowding of plants that limits air flow contribute to the infection.

Blossom End Rot:  Tomatoes ripen, but an ugly black patch appears on the bottom and it is soft and mushy.  This is a sign of a lack of calcium or the pH is too low for the plant to absorb any available calcium.

Late Blight:  Caused by a fungus which develop greasy-looking irregular shaped gray spots on tops and undersides of leaves.  A pale ring develops around the spots which eventually turn dry and papery.  Copper sprays offer some control but it isn’t a cure.  Remove all infected foliage, put it in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash or burn.

Prevention

The best ways to prevent diseases from taking hold is to pay attention to soil, spacing, watering and drainage.  Plant tomatoes in a new spot each year.  Planting in raised beds that have not shown signs of disease helps and allows for excellent drainage.  Do a soil test to determine pH.  Tomatoes like a pH of around 6.5.  Give plants plenty of room, up to 24 inches all around.  Remove the bottom 6-8 inches of leaves to prevent spores from being splashed or blown onto leaves from the soil.  Prune out excess foliage from interior of plant to allow for air flow. Mulch heavily with straw or hay. Never put diseased plants in the compost pile.

Reference:  https://www.thespruce.com/tomato-leaf-diseases-1403409

 

 

Storing Your Garden Tools

If your garden tools are stuffed in a garbage can or spread all over the garage like mine, you may want to build a rack to keep them more organized.

Organizing

Lay your tools down on the floor with the widest ends spaced so they don’t touch each other.  Make a note of the distance between handles.  Buy a 1×8 pine board for the shelf and a 2×4 for the support.  You’ll also need an additional 1×8 or some scrap lumber to make the brackets.  Lay out the widest board and mark lines where the handles will fall.  Then make a mark on the line 4 inches in from the edge if the board on each line.  Now mark lines 2 inches to either side of those lines.

Cutting

Using a 2 inch hole saw, place the center of the hole saw on your mark.  Cut a hole at each line.  With a hand saw or table saw, cut on each of the outer lines so the cut ends up on the side of the circle.

Putting it Together

Glue the 2 inch edge of the 2×4 to the uncut underside of the board you just cut and screw it into place. The 2×4 serves as a brace under the shelf. From another scrap of lumber, cut enough triangular bracket supports so you can place one every 2 feet.  The supports should be 2-3 inches on one side and 4 inches on one side so the smaller side will fit on the 2X4 under the shelf.  Glue the supports to the 2×4 and the 1×8 avoiding placing them where the tool handles will hang.  Drill holes in the back of the 2×4 and screw the brackets to the 2×4.

Hang It

Screw the 2×4 to the wall using screws through the pre-drilled holes.  Now you can hang your tools and get them organized.  Here’s a video of the process so you can see how this is done. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iZ6Sd2dnSE

Before you store your tools in the fall, take a few minutes to clean them first.  Spray off any dirt.  Use a wire brush and vinegar to remove any rust and let the tools dry thoroughly before hanging.  You can also protect them with a little motor oil rubbed on with a rag.

Maintaining the August Garden

As the growing season winds down in August, you may want to include a few cleanup chores so you won’t have such a large job at the end of the season.

Pull Plant Material

For any vegetables that have completed their production, remove them from the garden and put in the compost pile if they don’t have any diseases.  Plant short cycle vegetables such as radishes, carrots, lettuces, and spinach, in their place or if you’re tired of the garden work, simply cover the bare soil with a deep layer of hay or straw so weeds won’t have a place to grow.  Record when production finished in your garden journal.

Don’t Till – Compost

 Whether you develop your own compost or buy it at the garden center, it will enhance your garden soil if you apply it when you pull the dead plants and cover the entire row or bed with straw or hay.  You can also add some green (grass, food scraps) and brown (shredded leaves, old straw) under the compost.  The compost will enrich the soil for your garden next year and you won’t have to till it.  Tilling brings up weed seeds from deep in the soil and not only will they flourish, but they will be everywhere.  Always try to avoid walking on your growing beds so they don’t get compacted.

  Tending Tomatoes

 Tomatoes should be well into production by now.  You can pick tomatoes a day or two before they are ready and ripen them in a shallow box lined with newspaper.  Fertilize with a tomato fertilizer every one or two weeks until frost kills the plant.  Be on the lookout for yellowing leaves with brown spots that may signal early blight and remove those leaves from the plant and burn or put in the trash.  Blight stays in the soil for about a year, so you won’t want to plant nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplant in soil where your blighted tomatoes were planted.

Walking Paths

If the straw you put down on your walking paths in the garden is starting to thin out, now is a great time to add more straw.  You want to protect the soil from those pesky weed seeds so you don’t spend all your time fighting them.  If you walk through your garden every day and inspect your plants, you’ll be able to spot trouble and deal with it before it gets out of hand.

Dividing Perennials in Summer

If you’re needing some extra plants, dividing the overgrown ones you have is a good way to increase your stock.  While not all plants fare well when divided in the summer (see reference), daylilies, hosta’s, liriope, and coral bells can be successfully divided and replanted in their new spots.

Caution!

There is one caution to dividing in summer!  These plants will lose all their leaves after being transplanted.  But not to worry, in two to three weeks, you’ll see new green emerging and your new plants will be well settled by the time cold weather arrives and they’ll have a head start for spring.  Do this now if you have first frost in late September.

Selecting Overgrown Plants

Select any oversized hostas or daylilies or plants named above and dig down all around the plant so you have all of the root ball possible.  Pull the root ball out and lay it on its side.  With a sharp spade or knife, begin cutting out the size plant you want.  You can go as small as one square inch or divide the plant into larger pieces.  Just be sure to have a good piece of root in each cut.

How to Plant Cuttings

An average 12 to 18 inch full grown hosta or daylily can give you as many as 10 to 12 new plants.  Dig a hole for your new plant and add a good scoop of compost.  Then bury the roots and about 1 inch of the foliage.  Again, the foliage will die off, but if you water the transplants well every few days, you will see new growth in 2 to 3 weeks.

Reference:  https://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/dividing-perennials/

 

 

 

Wading Pools as Raised Garden Beds

If you have limited space for a traditional garden or a raised bed garden, you might consider kids wading pools as raised beds.  You might even find some on sale very soon. In the picture above, the owners have built a rooftop garden with these pools.

Growing on Concrete or Grass

It’s a crazy idea, I know, and you can’t grow every vegetable in one of these pools on concrete, but you can grow a number of vegetables and flowers.  Maybe you want a garden close to the kitchen door but you only have a concrete patio there.  Pools are perfect for growing food on concrete or on grass.

How to Prep

Most wading pools are at least nine inches deep which is plenty of soil for broccoli, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, kale, chard, onions, and beets which all have shallow roots.  Punch drainage holes in the bottom of the pool, place 4-6 bricks or boards under the pool for drainage, fill it up with good potting soil and plant it.

Wading Pools in the Garden

If you want to use these pools as raised bed planters in a garden plot, you can cut the bottom out of the pool (leave a two to three-inch band in the bottom), place it on the soil in your plot, fill it with good soil, and grow other kinds of vegetables that have deeper root systems. You still have a raised bed because it’s filled up to just below the rim (about 8in) with good loose soil and the roots can go through that and move on into the garden soil below if they need the depth.

Medium Rooted Plants

If you find one of those double layer wading pools with higher sides, you can plant even more vegetables.  Some medium rooted plants are cucumbers, turnips, beans, zucchini and yellow squash, carrots, peas, and some flowering perennials.

Deep Rooted Plants

Plants that have deep roots include tomatoes, winter squash, pumpkins and parsnips.  Asparagus is deep rooted, but should not be moved once planted, so plant it where you can leave it alone as it comes back year after year.

It’s not too late to plant a summer garden.  Happy Gardening

 

Homemade Soil Test Kit

If you garden, you may notice some plants aren’t doing so well about this time of the year.  Sometimes the plants just don’t like the soil they are planted in.  Very compacted clay soil can form a hard to penetrate surface and plants can’t get enough roots or nutrients to grow.

Lab Test

Of course, the best soil test is the one where you send a sample away to a lab to get pH results and information on what nutrients your soil is missing.  Often, they also give you advice on how to fix the problems.  These are great at the beginning of the planting season when you have a chance to add amendments to large areas.

Soil Composition

The key to finding out what your plants need is finding out about the composition of your soil.  Soil is basically made up of three things: clay, sand, and silt.  There is an easy way to test your soil at home to find out the amount of these in your soil.  Once you know this, you can add amendments to help your plant perform better and be happier in its spot.

How to Do the Test

Take a quart Mason jar, fill it one-third to one-half full with soil taken from about six inches below the surface.  Don’t let any grass or plant material get into the soil.  Add water until the jar is about two-thirds full, plus a teaspoon of powdered dishwasher soap to act as a surfactant.  Shake the soil for about 3 minutes, then put it on a table or counter in good light.  Within about 10 minutes the sand particles will start to settle.

The different components will settle into layers with clay on the top (takes about 24 hours for clay to settle).  If the water is cloudy after the 24 hours, you have organic matter in your soil also.  If it is clear, you probably need to add organic material (compost) or other amendments.

Next week we’ll talk about amending clay soil.

 

Reference:  https://awaytogarden.com/test-soil-texture-try-new-peas-beans-ira-wallace/