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Archive for 2009

Oracaena Spike Question

November 30th, 2009

dracenaspikeI live in Michigan and have a beautiful spike Oracaena in my yard that I planted in spring.  Will this plant last through the winter and come back next spring?  Thanks in advance, Patty

Answer: I am not finding a plant reference for Oracaena. I am thinking that maybe you have one of two plant species often sold in the spring as “spikes,” either Dracaena or Cordyline. Both are considered tropicals and would need to overwinter inside through a Michigan winter.  

These are sold as indoor houseplants and for patio container gardens to add height.  They can be similar in appearance, depending on the variety. As houseplants, both are low maintenance, requiring only medium light and even moisture.

Hope this helps~


Popcorn Kernel Preservation

November 25th, 2009

gourmet popcornIf stored properly, popcorn can last for years. There have been thousand-year-old popcorn kernels (preserved by the Peruvian Indians) that still popped.

Popcorn has been around for a long time. The oldest ears of popcorn discovered were over 5,500 years old! The early Americans loved it so much that they ate it for breakfast, with sugar and cream. During the Great Depression, when many businesses went under, popcorn producers thrived because people could easily afford it. Today it is so popular that the average American eats 50 quarts of popcorn each year!

Because of the popularity of this snack food, farmers are now growing specialty popcorn in different sizes, colors, and flavors. Most popcorn connoisseurs will tell you the best popcorn is the ladyfinger variety. The preferred method for preparing these gourmet popcorns are with a stovetop popper, although hot-air poppers produce equally delicious fluffy kernels without the added calories of oil.

If you buy popcorn in bulk, proper storage is a necessity in order to prevent mold and bugs. Popcorn kernels should be stored in an air-tight container. It is recommended to put a couple of bay leaves inside the container to prevent bugs. The air-tight container should be kept in a cool, dark area. Do not store in a refrigerator, freezer or open container, as this will dry out the popcorn kernels, making them unpoppable.

Popcorn is inexpensive, easy to make, and provides fiber, potassium, vitamin B, and carbohydrates.  Eaten plain, it is low in calories, and very satisfyingso enjoy some today!

Birdhouses 101: Housing Wrens, Bluebirds, and Purple Martins

November 24th, 2009

In our last issue, we discussed how you can help birds make it through the winter by providing them with food and water. Today we’ll discuss that third essential that birds share with all animal life: shelter.

Birds generally build their nests in the spring. But if you put one up now, it will weather and have a comfortable smell and feel to the birds by the time spring comes. What's more, needy birds will probably come and use it before then to escape the vicissitudes of winter.

Birdhouses vary widely in design and price, depending mostly on which species they are intended for. You can get a nice wren house for less than $10, but a housing complex built to shelter a purple martin colony can cost more than $600. Therefore the first thing to consider before buying a birdhouse is what species you want to attract.

wren housesWrens

If the answer is wrens, we carry eight different models, all of which are under $20. Most are made of cedar wood, (which repels insects, mold, and is resistant to bad weather), and have a removable section to allow for easy cleaning. You can choose between a natural cedar model such as the Woodlink Audubon Cedar Wren House, or a painted model like the Home Bazaar Little Wren House which is white with a brown roof. We also carry the the Songbird Cedar Wren House Kit, which makes for a great kid's project.

Build Your Own

By the way, if you're good at woodworking, you can find specs and instructions online for building your own birdhouse at such places as the Maine Cooperative Extension Service and the Okalahoma Extension. Specs for building birdhouses for twenty-four different species including four kinds of woodpeckers and three kinds of owls, may be found on this Bird House Dimensions Chart. You can also buy complete plans for building purple martin houses from Purple Martin Central.

Bluebirdsbluebird houses

Many people want to attract bluebirds because they are beautiful, helpful, peaceable, and have an enchanting song. Furthermore, due to loss of open space and exposure to pesticides, bluebirds are in serious decline. Besides the personal enjoyment you will get from hosting them, putting up a bluebird house is also an act of conservation. As the Michigan Bluebird Society says, A bluebird box is perhaps the easiest and most rewarding way to do something good for the environment.

That said, our bestselling bluebird house is the Songbird Essentials Top Viewing Bluebird Box, which has a Plexiglas portal that lets you peek in through the roof. The Songbird Essentials Flat Top Bluebird House is also very popular. We've looked at the recommendations of the Bluebird Society, and these boxes seem to follow them pretty well.

purple martin housesPurple Martins

Another popular songbird are purple martins, the largest American swallow, and one of the few birds that can be considered semi-domesticated in that they will return year after year once they have established a home, along with their offspring who will live in the same quarters or as nearby as possible.

Like bluebirds, purple martins are also facing survival challenges, in fact, according to the Purple Martin Society, purple martins east of the Rocky Mountains are completely dependent on humans to supply their nestboxes (birdhouses) in order to breed today.

Purple martin birdhouses are the most expensive kind of birdhouse you can get, as they are designed to contain multiple rooms to accommodate a whole colony of martins. Furthermore, these types of houses have to be mounted on poles, so the purchase of an additional pole kit becomes necessary.

People who set out to attract purple martins consider it a hobby, and some get into it quite deeply. In fact, more than a few of our customers who consider themselves empty nesters have decided to change their status by attracting and caring for a purple martin colony.

If you want to become a purple martin landlord, we recommend you read The Stokes Purple Martin Book: The Complete Guide to Attracting and Housing Purple Martins, which will tell you all you need to know about getting a colony started it and keeping it happy and growing. You may also want to visit the Purple Martin Conservation Association for many helpful tips and suggestions.

There's more to say about birdhouses, but the main thing is just to be sure to get one or build one and put it up! Whether you are attracting bluebirds who, to paraphrase Thoreau, carry the sky on their backs, or purple martins with their “loud, rich chirruping, to quote W. M. Tyler, or the wren whom William Shakespeare called the most diminutive of birds, you will not regret your decision to provide them with a home.

My lime tree produces limes without any juice

November 20th, 2009

lime treeWhy would a lime tree produce limes that have no juice? The tree is producing tons of limes but they look like avocados and when you open them up they are only pulp and are all dry. Nick

Answer: Without more information on the location, weather conditions, soil type and fertilization habits, it’s hard to venture a guess.

Here are some conditions I have read about that will affect the juice production of citrus trees in general.

  1. Citrus trees do like to have a good consistent moisture level and so it is recommended they have a drip irrigation system around the root area of the tree. There are  several mineral elements that have positive and negative effects on the juice content. Nitrogen will increase juice content and acid concentration, but can also increase the peel thickness. WIthout the proper balance of all major nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium, fruit quality and yield are affected. Before arbitrarily adding any fertilizers, I would highly suggest having the soil tested by a qualified lab that can also test for the micronutrients boron and copper.
  2. If your soil tests OK and the water levels have been sufficient, then I would check with your county extension office for the possibility what type of pests might be affecting the quality of the fruit production of the plant.

I hope this gives you some direction, and may you have many juicy limes next season. Karen

Happy with our purchase

November 18th, 2009

Thank you for the Earthway Garden Seeder which arrived safely today. We are pleased with the prices and the service Garden Harvest Supply has provided. We will happily purchase from you again and recommend your company to other growers.  Thank you, Paul M

How to protect my Tea Rose

November 18th, 2009

tea rose plantI live in the Cleveland, Ohio area. Temperatures can get to -10 F and wind chills to -50 F.  I have tea rose plants, both in the ground and in containers. How should I go about protecting them from winter? My wife wants me to put them behind the house near either the dryer exhaust vent or furnace vents and wrap them in burlap. What do you suggest? Thank You, Bill

Answer: For your roses in the ground you will want to focus on protecting the graft area of the plant. All hybrid roses are grafted to the root stock of a hardier rose and this union is the part that can freeze and die back the easiest. The canes of the plant will almost always die back, so just go ahead and cut them back to about a foot or so. For the roses in the ground the best way to protect them is once you’ve had several good freezes and the chance of warm temperatures have passed, mound mulch up around the base of the plants. Give them a good 6-8 inches deep of protection. Use a physical barrier to encircle the plants and keep mulch and leaves in place during the winter winds. Once the weather starts to warm up consistently, shortly before the last frost date, gradually remove this mulch. You should start to see some new growth coming up from the base. Whatever you use to hold the protection in place, make sure you pin it down well: You don’t want your poor roses exposed in the bitter winter wind.

For roses in pots, if you have a barn or space in an unheated garage you could just store them in there, just making sure the soil doesn’t become too dry (adding just a moderate amount of water once or twice when nights are not going to be sub-freezing). If you want to store them outside, lay the pots on their side. This will keep water from standing on top of the soil and freezing the crowns (grafts) of the plants. If you have the space, you can dig a trench and lay them in that, cover them up with the dirt and some leaves and maybe use burlap to hold these in place. Or just lay them beside the house and cover with leaves.  However, do not lay them near the dryer vents. This might cause them to start to bud too early and then freeze and die. Dryer vents do create a micro-climate but for plants that need dormancy, this is not a good thing. You can put them on the south side of the house, the warmest side.  Generally, any protected area is fine; they are dormant and don’t require sunshine. Once you have snow, mound some of the snow up over them as well.  It’s a great insulator.

Good luck with the roses! Karen

Welcoming Birds to Your Winter Garden

November 16th, 2009

Birds flocking to a birdfeeder in the winterDon’t Forget to Feed the Birds

Getting ready for the winter months include bringing things in: houseplants, tools. But there's something you'll want to put out at this time: birdfeeders. Many varieties of birds are looking in nature's pantry for something to eat right now and finding it as bare as the trees that such a short time ago were covered with leaves and fruit. By making an effort to keep our feathered friends well fed, you will provide them with much needed sustenance, and they will provide you with a source of delight all winter long. As Jennifer Brennan of Wilmette, Illinois puts it, having eight cardinals to enjoy with your winter coffee makes living here worthwhile.

But the satisfaction of feeding birds goes beyond their visual appeal and delightful songs. As Chris Packham explains, “It makes me feel good about myself, knowing I could be helping a bird survive the winter and go on to raise chicks next year. You can see the good you’re doing the way the birds just pile into your garden looking for food.”

Birds that have been weakened by illness or injury will not have the stamina to migrate. Other birds migrate through areas that have been built up to the extent that green areas are far and few between. They need a little help to survive from the biped species that paved over their habitat. Other birds are non-migratory, but they still face slim pickings in the winter, especially if a snowstorm has buried their food. Imagine their relief when they find a bird feeder stocked with seeds or suet!

Some people worry that birdfeeders might disrupt migration patterns or increase nest predation, but major environmental organizations such as the Audubon Society give feeders an enthusiastic two thumbs up. In fact, in an article entitled The Winter Feast, published by Audubon Magazine, Steven W. Kress argues that with such a positive impact on bird populations that ideally every household should have at least one bird feeder.

Birds Cannot Live By Seed Alone

Besides food, birds also need waterespecially after ponds and puddles freeze, and the fruits and berries that served as secondary water sources are no longer available.  Making water available will attract an even wider variety of birds than a feeder, and the combination of a feeder and a birdbath is unbeatable, especially in the winter.

It is important to use a heated birdbath that will stay ice-free all the way to 20 degrees below zero! They can either be placed on the ground, or mounted on a rail or post. Just make sure you to change the water and clean it regularly.

To be frank, if you're serious about providing birds a place to drink and bathe year-round, you might want to go with another model that isn't heated, and simply place a de-icer into it during the winter. The reason is that no single birdbath contains all the features recommended by ornithologists, yet it is possible to get a birdbath that has everything but a heater.

We'll close with a little poem by the nineteenth-century British novelist Thomas Hardy that articulates a bit of the winter birds' plight that we spoke of earlier:

Birds At Winter Nightfall
Around the house the flakes fly faster,
And all the berries now are gone
From holly and cotoneaster
Around the house.The flakes fly!faster
Shutting indoors that crumb-outcaster
We used to see upon the lawn
Around the house.The flakes fly faster,
And all the berries now are gone!

The Cling-a-Wing Bird Feeder really works!

November 2nd, 2009

bird feederAs an amateur bird watcher that can spend hours just watching the birds that flock to my feeders, I've spent many frustrated hours wondering how I could feed both the smaller songbirds, as well as the larger birds in need of winter sustenance. It seemed like every single time one of those pretty little guys would arrive, one of the larger gluttons, like a house sparrow, blue jay, cardinal or red-winged blackbird would arrive and chase the orioles, titmouses, nuthatches, or gold finches away. I love all the birds, even the raucous blue jay, but enough is enough! Those little guys need to eat too!

I found the answer in the Duncraft® Cling-A-Wing Songbird Feeder. I found that only certain birds have the ability to cling and that there is a bird feeder that the larger, more aggressive birds cannot adapt to. This spherical bird feeder is designed JUST for the small clinging songbirds. The larger songbirds are not able to cling; therefore, they cannot partake of the goodies inside. It holds that yummy Black Oil Sunflower Seed that is the favorite of so many birds and critical for their winter good health.  The globe design also keeps the sunflower seed dry, so I don't worry about snowy, sleety or rainy weather.

With four feeding ports, there is plenty of space, so I've added to my backyard feeding stations by including one of these for each of the regular feeders that the larger birds use. I've actually separated the large bird feeding stations from the smaller ones, with plenty of space in between so that the little ones aren't intimidated by the flight of the large ones through their feeding area. Even though fall is just beginning its fade and winter is a month away, at least, the colder temperatures in the north seem to have hurried the migration, so I am already seeing many of my favorite visitors back at their feeders in my central Oklahoma home.

My magnolia tree will not bloom

October 28th, 2009

Magnolia_treeMy magnolia has been in the ground for four years, with no blooms.  I know Holly tone is a great fertilizer for it. I also know magnolia takes about four years to bloom.
But what other fertilizer with a high phosphorus count can I put on it to not
totally mess the lawn area up? Thanks L.S.

Answer: Magnolias are wonderful trees and definitely add a southern flare to any landscape. They are very adaptable to many soil types but prefer an acidic and slightly moist soil. You might start by checking your soil pH with one of our soil test kits. Magnolias’ preference is somewhere in the 6.1 to 7.5 range. If your soil acidity is too low try adding some  Hi-Yield Aluminum Sulfate. These trees also prefer a full-sun location, as well.

The other big factor in bloom time is which cultivar you’ve planted, which you didn’t mention. If you bought it without a tag then chances are it’s a common woods Magnolia grandiflora and these can take up to 15 years to bloom. The newer cultivars that you can purchase from nurseries or growers have been bred to bloom in a shorter time frame, each one slightly different.  Little Gem, a smaller magnolia, gets started blooming in about three years. Other popular cultivars like Bracken’s Brown Beauty, Edith Bogue and Majestic Beauty are bred to bloom in three to five years.

As for fertilization, one source from a southern university extension office recommends during the first three growing seasons to apply light frequent fertilization.  Measure out from the tree trunk three times the canopy width then broadcast 2 cups of an 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet in March, May, July and September. After that reduce this application frequency to once or twice a year. It was also suggested by one grower to apply doses of a liquid acid fertilizer a few times during the year.

I hope you get some magnificent blooms soon. Karen

How does cabbage plants make seed?

October 26th, 2009

cabbageCan you tell me how cabbage plants make seeds? Ken C.

Answer: Cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi are all of the same species, Brassica oleracea, and have the same seeding and pollination habit. These plants produce a flower stalk that needs to be cross-pollinated (meaning a plant will not accept its own pollen) by insects. 

The cabbage plant sends this flower/seed stalk directly out of the cabbage core. Home growers, unless they live in a very long growing zone, in the fall will need to select at least three firm ready-to-eat heads and remove the plants, roots and all, and store in a root cellar, refrigerator or cold basement. Keep the roots damp and cold during the winter. 

In the early spring you would replant the plants, leaving two to three feet in between them. They will produce the seed stalk directly from the center of the plant.  Since cabbage seeds ripen slowly and fall off immediately when they are ripe, you might want to either harvest the whole plant as the pods turn yellow or pick the dry pods when they turn brown. 

When planted in the open garden – and if you are growing any other members of the Brassica family – you might be surprised what your seeds develop into since the plants can be cross-pollinated with broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc. But they might be interesting in flavor.

Good luck if you give this a try.


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