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Archives for July 4, 2017

Go potty on the patio: Alan Titchmarsh’s tips for container flowers

Ultimate shrubs

Plumbago Handsome and semi-tender, this shrub with its large heads of blue flowers is best grown in a large tub with a trellis for support.

Move it on to the patio in summer and back inside for winter. Roses New English roses have it all – old-fashioned shapes, scents and colours combined with repeat flowering.

Try the shell-pink “Eglantyne” or for scent go for the peachy-pink hybrid tea “Paul Shirville” or white floribunda “Margaret Merril”.

Buddleja Old favourite Buddleja davidii attracts clouds of butterflies and among several superb varieties are the dark purple “black knight”, “white cloud” and “harlequin”, which has mauve-purple flowers and variegated foliage. Buddleja needs sun and well-drained soil.

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Feeding The Soil: Organic gardening tips offered at Reynolds Homestead

CRITZ – Organically grown fruits and vegetables may look different than their genetically altered counterparts, but they are better – both in their taste, and with their impact (or lack of) on the environment.

That was the contention of Jeff Rieves, who gave a program on organic gardening during the Reynolds Homestead’s recent Sustainability Workshop. Rieves is a farming consultant who has worked as an agricultural extension agent.

The basic concepts of organic gardening are soil fertility, biodiversity and natural pest management, he said.

Organic gardening gives “fresh foods, and maybe you’ll save money,” and you can garden in shorts and flip flops without having to take full-body and face cover as is required for many synthetic pesticides.

On the downside, it takes “a lot of hard work, and it takes a lot of time,” he added.

Protect against pests

Most people think that organic gardening means not using pesticides, but that’s not the case, Rieves said. “In a certified organic operation, there are more pesticides you can use,” and many of them are quite toxic.

One such toxic organic pesticide was nicotine, he said – which officials “took off the market” when it was found to be harmful even to the people who applied it.

What makes the organic pesticides organic, he said, is that “most of them come from a plant basis.”

Their harmful nature targets the pest, but doesn’t last long after application. On the other hand, “synthetics have residual effects. They last longer. They build up in tissue.”

Rieves gave a warning against a popular herbicide. “There has been some research showing it messes up the male’s reproductive system,” he said.

The long-lasting effects of herbicides can harm garden plants, too, he said, citing an example from when he was an extension agent in North Carolina about 10 years ago.

North Carolina was going through a severe drought, and hay was imported from New York to feed cattle and horses. Herbicide use on hay in New York is much higher than in North Carolina, he said, and that hay carried the herbicide residue.

Some gardeners used that hay on their gardens. Others used manure from animals who had eaten that hay. The result was that tomato and other plants were ruined – by the residual synthetic chemicals which had passed through the animals’ system and continued killing plants a year or two later.

Organic gardening also involves using fertilizers based from animal- or plant-based ingredients. Pesticides even can be made easily at home from natural materials, such as sprays made with garlic and onions, or red peppers, he said.

Organic gardening “promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activities,” he said. “It restores, maintains and enhances ecological harmony.”

On the other hand, “early pesticides were an outgrowth of chemical warfare from World War I,” he said.

Fertile soil

“Feed the soil. Let the soil feed the plant. Plants feed themselves through the process called photosynthesis,” Rieves said. Compost, worm castings and mulch improve the soil.

Organic gardening does involve being closer to nature than synthetic gardening does. “You have to get over the ick factor. … If you can’t deal with that, you can’t be a real good organic gardener,” he said.

Organic gardening might be icky, but it’s not dangerous. Of the more than 100,000 types of bacteria that have been identified, “only 8,000 are detrimental to human life, and only 20 are real bad,” he said. “Bacteria are essential to life on earth.”

Effective compost is made of green materials (such as fresh grass clippings), which give nitrogen, and brown materials. The normal, easy-to-maintain compost pile is two parts brown, one part green.

If you are sure to “really heat that compost up to 160 degrees and hold it there for a week to kill off the seeds of pathogens, then” it could be two parts green to one part brown, he said. “That kind of power has to be managed more closely.” Plus, it gives off “really bad smells.”

A gardener can check the temperature of the compost pile with a 3-foot long probe compost thermometer.

Mulches “are really, really short compost piles,” he said. They will rot on the ground over time.

Sheets of plastic are OK for short-term use, Rieves said. Laying black plastic on the ground warms up the soil to give an earlier start to vegetable seeds or plants.

Clovers, grasses and grains can be grown over a garden site, then plowed down, to be green manures, he said. As cover crops, they keep down weeds in areas of the garden you won’t be needing to use right away. Vetch, peas, beans and small grains, such as rye and wheat, are good cover crops in the summer, and annual rye grass, buckwheat and clover are among the good cover crops in other seasons, he said.

Smart planting

To keep down pests, planting areas should be rotated. “Most pests can only exist (in an area) for two years without a host plant,” Rieves said. A good rotation schedule is to plant beans in last year’s tomato area, and plant carrots there next year.

Companion planting is grouping plants together for mutual benefits. The classic combination is what Native Americans called The Three Sisters: Corn; beans, which grow up the corn for support and release nitrogen into the soil to help corn grow; and squash, which serves as mulch.

Other good companion plants are lettuce, carrots and radishes; broccoli or cabbage with onions; and beans with marigolds. The marigolds which are good repellents are those old fashioned types which have such a strong smell you can smell them from two or three feet away, he said. One type is particularly effective, but most people may not recognize it as a marigold: It grows 6 feet tall and has tiny white flowers.

While the tradition tends to be keeping areas of vegetables, flowers and herbs separate, Rieves said, they should be mixed in the garden to help limit pests, he said.

Plants which attract beneficial critters – pollinators and those which prey upon pests – are aromatic herbs, such as sweet basil; mums, coneflowers and daisies; plants which have lacy foliage and umbrella-shaped flower clusters, such as Queen Anne’s Lace; plants with long, tubular flowers, such as butterfly bush; and ornamental grasses which grow in clumps, not by runners. Ground beetles, “the number one predator of stink bugs,” live in clumping grasses, he said.

An important factor in keeping down diseases is to “keep stuff cleaned up,” Rieves said. All finished, diseased or pest-ridden parts of plants should be removed and disposed of. Tools should be sanitized so diseases do not spread.

A tool can be dipped into a bucket of water with a 10 percent bleach solution in it, he said. Another option is to wipe down the tool between plants with alcohol wipes.

Organically grown fruits and vegetables aren’t usually as pretty as those raised with synthetic growing methods, Rieves warned. However, looks aren’t everything.

“Grocery store tomatoes always look better” than organic, homegrown tomatoes, he said, but garden tomatoes taste better. “It doesn’t make any difference how ugly it is. It’s going to taste 10 times better.”

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Gardening tips from Julie Taboulie’s mom (including a genius idea for eggplant)

Marietta, N.Y. — Hind VanDusen grows many of the ingredients her daughter, Julie Ann Sageer, uses to create the Lebanese cuisine that’s now in a cookbook and television show.

The garden is vast and fenced, and includes scores of tomatoes, greens, beans, herbs, strawberries, eggplants and more. VanDusen gave us a tour of her garden a few weeks ago, when the plants were just being set out. 

More importantly, she shared some of her tips. Enjoy.

  1. Let flowers self-sow where they will – and let them help you create a new flower bed. VanDusen lets the wild daisies roar across the lawn. Her husband mows around new patches. Yes, that means some weeds grow tall, too. But over time, the daisies take over and become an island unto themselves. 
  2. Use fencing and a thick border of found rocks and stones to build a wall against hungry critters – groundhogs, skunks and others. It’s not 100 percent failproof, but the double barrier has been pretty successful in keeping unwanted visitors at a minimum.
  3. Let the grape vines grow. They can form a natural barrier and provide the leaves necessary to make dolmades – stuffed grape leaves. She has a two-story tower of vines that covers on wall of the deck.
  4. Upcycle. VanDusen uses a former grape cart as a planter. She’s put an old mailbox at the garden’s gate; it holds small tools she uses often. And about that eggplant: VanDusen uses old, plastic gallon pots (the kind you get when you buy a larger plant) to grow her eggplants. The trick? Transplant a young eggplant plant inside. Put the pot outdoors, on ground, and use some of your favorite fertilizer. Water it as needed. The open bottom lets the roots grow further, which is good for the plant and good for the gardener. It means the potted plant has a better chance of staying properly hydrated.
  5. Don’t worry too much about the weeds. VanDusen plants thousands of heads of garlic each fall. She plants them close, about 3 to 4 inches apart, and doesn’t weed. That doesn’t seem to bother the garlic. She gets fat bulbs each year.

You can harvest, and eat, hostas in the spring

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