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Archive for January 2009

Your Table Is Waiting…

January 29th, 2009

It’s rare that you see a skinny squirrel. They are resourceful and can usually find enough to eat during all four seasons. The most industrious will risk life and limb to get at a morsel of anything if food is in short supply.

During inclement weather, squirrels have a nice fur coat to keep them warm, but if their food sources are buried under blankets of snow or layers of ice, they can get pretty frustrated. Even the nuts and seeds they’ve stored for the winter can become inaccessible in heavy snows. So, in cold months, your birdfeeders are more appealing (and more at risk of squirrel invasions) than ever.

Just like birds, squirrels stay warm and protected in nests they have built in hollow tree trunks or in the limbs and branches of tall trees. Sometimes, the elements destroy their nests, so they have to rebuild and they leave their old homes behind.

They bury food but they don’t find it again from memory. They have a great sense of smell and find food buried by other animals. Squirrels love to chew, and they will chew on nearly anything within their access, to keep their teeth sharp. They also have extremely sharp toenails that can shred skin, so don’t ever try to pick up a squirrel, even if he’s friendly. Squirrels are wildlife and make terrible pets, but if you keep a supply of food available, they’ll make your yard their regular dining spot.

Squirrels are extremely active and stay on the go all day, which means they need a constant food source. Primarily vegetarians, their diet consists mainly of fruits, buds, seeds, nuts, roots, pinecones, leaves, twigs and bark. Many types of squirrel feeders and squirrel food are available commercially, to keep squirrels happy and well-fed.

Providing squirrels their own food not only protects your birdfeeders, but it offers you a great show as they dine outside your windows. The Chair and Table Squirrel Feeder is an example of how to feed your squirrels in style. American-made, this handsome cedar wood feeder has a table that contains a spike for holding one ear of corn. Next to the table is a chair fit for a squirrel. Literally. Your happy diner will perch his or her squirrel butt on the seat and feast on corn as you are entertained by the animal’s adorable table manners.

The Chair and Table Squirrel Feeder can be attached to a tree or hung on a fence post. But make sure you affix it where the hungry squirrels will be within your clear view. Also, make sure you can reach it easily to maintain a steady food supply. Dried ear corn is an easy food to store and handle. Simply place one end on the spike to hold it in place, and replace the bare cob when the last kernel has been nibbled. Your furry dinner guests will not only be appreciative, but they’ll become regular visitors to your feeding spot, so you have constant wildlife to keep you in touch with nature even when you might not want to venture outside.

Genetically modified

January 29th, 2009

Differences between Genetically Modified, Hybrid and Open Pollinated Plants

With open-pollinated plants, you can save the seed from the fruits and when replanted they will reproduce the same exact plant. Heirloom varieties fall under this type of plant.

Hybrid plants have been cross-bred between two other plants. Cross-breeding allows for plants with better traits, like insect or disease resistance. However, the seed from this fruit will not grow the same type of plant.

Genetically modified plants are ones that are changed through science. It is not a natural breeding like hybrids; DNA from other donor plants is inserted. There is even a possibility that DNA could be taken from non-plant donors and inserted into the plant’s DNA. There is a risk that these plants can spread their modifications to other plants through natural pollination, thereby corrupting the world’s seed supplies.

Garden Harvest Supply only offers open-pollinated and hybrid plants and seeds. We do not offer genetically modified varieties.

Sweet Potatoes That Live Up to Their Name

January 26th, 2009

Logic argues against growing sweet potatoes. The vines take forever to mature and gobble up a disproportionate amount of garden space. Groundhogs will climb fences to get at them.

During peak harvest season, heaps of the fat orange roots are available at every fruit stand and grocery store — cheap. And slips, the small bareroot sweet potato transplants, have to be ordered and handled with care.

Well, forget logic. Groundhogs won’t listen to reason. But a gardener can always tell a sweet potato that’s freshly dug. It’s extra sweet and tender.

In case you’re curious, the slim, light-rose skinned yam we purchase in the supermarket is not a yam at all. It’s more than likely Beauregard, a sweet potato developed in Louisiana.

It all began in the ’30s, when a group of Louisiana farmers developed a sweet potato that was darker orange and sweeter than the traditional sweet potatoes grown further north. They called their new sweet potato variety a yam, a name that originated from the African word nyami, meaning starchy tuber. In order to find a true yam, you may have to look in the Asian markets. True yams are large, slightly hairy, dark brown, log-shaped specimens. So that can of yams is really a can of sweet potatoes.

Beauregard is a popular rose-tinted skin variety that produces elongated sweet potatoes. It’s very sweet and the flesh is rich orange inside. It’s a great sweet potato that is ready for harvest 90 days after planting slips. Beauregard is wilt- and nematode-resistant and has proven productive.

Sweet potato vines are pretty. They can be used for decorative purposes, but the vines are best in the garden, because that is where they will produce an abundance of sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are generally thought of as a Southern vegetable. About 60 percent of the commercial crop comes from North Carolina and Louisiana. But they can be grown successfully in the North, provided that the growing season is at least 80 to 90 days long.

After planting, mulching a sweet potato bed will help prevent the vigorous vines from rooting, which will create several small potatoes rather than a few large ones.

Sweet potatoes like a monthly feed of liquid seaweed and a regular watering routine while they’re establishing their roots, but they don’t need a lot of water to crop.

The vines travel along the ground like a pumpkin, and you’ll need to watch that they don’t invade areas you don’t want them in. But because of this prolific growth, they do make great ground cover for fruit trees and tend to keep weeds at bay. Pests are few, though crickets love the foliage.

Gently dig the sweet potatoes when morning temperatures drop below 50 in the fall. Usually this occurs near Thanksgiving or at least by early December in most parts of the country. Sweet potatoes don’t like the cold.

The vegetables need to be cured once they’re harvested. Remove the vines, wash the tubers and let them dry in the sun. You can place the sweet potatoes on newspaper in shaded boxes in a place where temperatures are between 70 and 80 degrees. The top of the refrigerator or a spot by the hot water heater should be fine. Do not refrigerate the sweet potatoes or they’ll rot. Store in this warm spot until the potatoes harden, usually in just a few weeks, then store them in a cooler spot where temperatures are 50 to 60 degrees.

Remember, a sweet potato is for more than just the holidays.

Planting Sweet Potato Slips

January 24th, 2009

Hi There, I’m from Adelaide, South Australia. How do I plant purple sweet potato? I bought a purple sweet potato and its almost a foot long. How do I make it start having little growths (like with normal potato) so I can plant them?

I’m trying to have a little productive garden for my 9 year old girl to enjoy and look after herself.

Hope to hear from someone out there.

Citrus Tree Problems

January 21st, 2009

I live in Houston Tx and have planted citrus trees (Lime, Lemon and Grapefruit). They do not appear to be doing well at all and have deteriorated since being planted in the ground. What are some tips in getting them established?

Thanks, Campbell

Support your local plants!

January 20th, 2009

Some plants just can’t stand up on their own. Either their skinny stems and large flowers make them too top-heavy, or they have a growth habit that sprawls out of control, or climate conditions are too much for them to handle; some just need a little help from their friends to stand tall.

There are countless ways to give your plants the support they need, and Garden Harvest Supply has so many to choose from, you can now have the best-behaved plants possible. With inexpensive, lightweight and well-designed ready-made supports, there is no need to build your own out of cumbersome or impractical materials anymore.

We have plastic-covered metal plant supports in sizes from a single hoop with a 3-inch diameter to large, circular flower frames of 22-inch diameters, and from heights of a foot up to 3 feet tall. These wire hoop supports are meant for use with both annual and perennial plants.

These strong plant supporters have pointed ends that easily stick into the ground. Their dark green color blends in with the plant stem colors and are nearly undetectable as the plants fill in. They give your plants the extra upright boost they need to endure the elements, like wind, rain, and falling leaves, and even the occasional animal or insect visitor that can easily topple an unsupported flower or veggie.

Some of the most popular and beautiful plants need extra help to look their best or to support their own weight. Peonies are notorious for their huge, fragrant blooms and full bushy presence. However, the combination of their heavy flowers and weak stems means that most of the flowers will topple over after a single rain. On the ground, the flowers will rot and die quickly. Many large flowers that grow on a single stem also break off or bend too easily, and will last much longer with a wire support to keep them upright.

Some other tall-stemmed flowers that require support to ensure a long growing season are lilies, gladiola and alliums. Small plant hoops are great for a single bloom, and the larger hoops and semi-circular supports are designed to clump or cluster multi-stem flowers and bushes together for the lushest appearance. Large circular supports should be put in place early in the season, for stems to grow into their grids or enclosed loops. Single-stem hoop supports can be placed alongside the flower at any point in the growing season.

Vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and some vining plants can benefit from these hoop supports, as well. There are wire hoop supports for any plant needing just a small bit of extra help to stay upright.

As landscape and garden plants reach the end of their growing season, these durable but lightweight garden plant supports can be pulled out of the ground, rinsed off, and stored for use year after year. They’re made to be weather-resistant, unobtrusive to the eye, and easy to store when not in use. They’re also inexpensive, meaning you never need to worry about plants falling over or breaking from stress before their season is over.

Celery Plant Question

January 19th, 2009

I live in Florida and I bought some celery plants (Tall Utah) that never got tall. Can you give me some feedback on why this might be?

Thanks, Theo

Greens: mustard, collards, turnip, and kale

January 15th, 2009

Freshly picked greens from the garenDark, leafy greens are an all-around “best value” for gardeners. They’re nutrient dense, versatile and easy to prepare, and they are prolific growers with very little coddling. Some are even extremely aesthetic plants and can be used as decorative garden borders, like “Russian Red” kale. Many greens are related to the cabbage family.

A few types of greens are considered delicacies in certain cultures. The tops of beets, kohlrabi, and turnips are examples of greens that some growers enjoy preparing and eating as much as the roots, and in many cases, the greens contain more nutrients than the more popular roots. Some varieties, like “seven top” heirloom turnip, are grown to produce the heartiest greens and don’t even generate much of an edible root.

Bottom line is greens can be used so many ways in the kitchen that every garden should grow some. Collard greens are a staple on Southern menus, boiled or slow-cooked, prepared with ham hocks or pigs’ feet. Kale roasted in olive oil and garlic will caramelize to bring out all the sweetness. Peppery mustard greens sautéed with olive oil, onion, garlic and a touch of sesame oil is the perfect complement to any Asian meal. Beet greens can be chopped and steamed right along with the deep red roots. Greens also preserve wonderfully in any type of vinegar pickling brine.

Freezing greens is an excellent way to store them for use in the winter. Any vegetable freezing method works—blanching, parboiling or steaming and packaging them in quick-thaw portions will have them ready to add to recipes in a snap. Greens can also be canned by traditional methods. The juice that’s left over from boiling or steaming greens contains a ton of their valuable nutrients, so don’t throw it away. Use it for soup stock and as a base for any dishes containing the cooked greens.

Greens vary in tenderness. Some cook in a flash, while others need to spend much longer on the stove. Mustard stems retain a nice crunch, where collard stems are too tough for some palates. Consult recipes to determine the best way to cook your particular variety of greens. But none are complicated or time-consuming. Greens are slightly to extremely bitter, and some are spicy, so be advised that not all taste great raw.

Young greens are the most flavorful, but you can harvest any time during the growing season. Just snip leaves with a sharp knife, and the plants will produce more. Cut off the entire plant and the root may generate an entirely new plant in an effort to produce seed.

High in dietary fiber, low in fat, and rich in chlorophyll, greens all contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals.

The best part about greens is they thrive in most garden conditions. Give them sunshine and well-drained soil, and they’ll provide a constant source of vegetation. Some even taste best after being exposed to a light frost, so plant early and enjoy throughout your growing season.

Around the globe: Turnips

January 12th, 2009

Elegant white apple-sized globes with purple tops, or lush golden roots, turnips aren’t just for admiring from afar. This garden jewel is a treasure awaiting your discovery. Besides being tasty and super-nutritious, turnips are easy to grow, and they take up minimal space in your garden. This vegetable is in the cruciferous family, along with cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

Turnips are a root crop, meaning the dense, fleshy root is a prize in the kitchen. The green tops are also edible and nutritious—and some varieties are grown for their prolific greens alone—but that’s for the next blog. This page is all about the root, the part that is savored by gourmet and amateur chefs alike.

Turnips can be sown in the early spring to late fall, as long as you allow 2 months to maturity. If you plant late in the season, turnips can be stored for winter use. Turnips, like all root veggies, do best with ample water in the beginning—and they shouldn’t be allowed to dry out for long periods during the growing season. Whether grown from seeds or starter plants, they need a good drink to get established in your garden. Successive plantings each 10 days or so will provide good-sized roots to pull throughout the summer and fall.

If turnips are allowed to grow too large, they get tough and woody. So, harvest your roots when the purple or gold tops, protruding out of the soil, are 2 to 3 inches in diameter, or medium-sized. Turnips store well in the refrigerator, in the produce drawer, where they won’t dry out. They can often withstand early fall frosts, making them a great late-harvest vegetable. Cool weather produces the sweetest flesh. A root cellar and some sawdust will keep your turnips always at the ready for winter recipes.

Turnips are nothing if not versatile. Simply rinse, remove the stringy roots, and trim off the skin to reveal the fully edible white interior. Include them in mashed potatoes to add additional cancer-fighting nutrients and rich flavor. Use turnips instead of cabbage to make a crunchy slaw or kraut. Raw turnips, cut in juliennes, add a wholesome and crisp addition to vegetable trays and salads. Steamed turnips topped with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice will satisfy a dieter’s low-calorie goals and craving for sweet flavor.

Turnips have a mild, delicate flavor and a texture that lends itself to boiling, broiling, baking, roasting (to caramelize and sweeten the vegetable for a little bit of heaven), steaming, and cubing for adding to soups and stews. Raw, with dips like ranch dressing or hummus, turnips make a great crunchy snack or addition to appetizer assortments. For the less health conscious, turnip fries can’t be beat on the flavor scales!

Low in saturated fat and cholesterol, raw or cooked turnips are a good source of vitamin C and fiber, as well as many essential minerals. With all this nutrient content and versatility in preparation, how could any garden be complete without turnips?

Rhubarb Plant Cost

January 8th, 2009

I want to start a small rhubarb plant farm this spring and need to order enough plants to start between a one half to three quarter acre area. Can you can help me estimate the number of rhubarb plants I will need along with an estimated cost.

R. Myers

Answer: An acre is 43,560 sq ft.

Worst case, plant as compactly as possible in the largest area — 3/4 acre.

If you plant 24 inches apart with 3ft rows, you are using 6 sq ft per plant, covering 3/4 acre = 32670 sq ft, or 5445 plants.

If you plant on 48 inch centers with 4ft rows (16 sq ft/plant) in 1/2 acre, you only need 1361 plants.

Or, you can do the math this way:

R = feet between rows (between 3 and 4)

P = feet between plants (between 2 and 4) A = acreage (between 0.5 and 0.75)

#plants = 43560*A/(R*P)

Space rhubarb roots 24 to 48 inches apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart for commercial growing. These distances can be decreased for plants in rows for smaller gardens (non commercial). Much smaller than this will seriously crowd the plants and result in a diminished crop and increase the likelihood of spreading disease. A 2- to 3-year-old plant, the Victoria variety, can grow to 4 feet (1.25 meter) in diameter and 3 feet (1 meter) tall. Plant the roots with the crown bud 2 inches below the surface of the soil. The hole for the crown should be dug extra large and manure, peat moss or organic compost should be mixed with the soil to be placed around the roots. Firm the soil around the roots but keep it loose over the buds. Water the crowns after planting. Give the plant 1/4 cup of 5-10-10 worked in to the top 10 inches of soil at planting time. Good garden drainage is essential in growing rhubarb. For home gardeners, planting in raised beds helps ensure against rotting of the crowns. Crowns will have a longevity of many years, but because of diseases and insects, it is normal to reset a bed after 4-5 years.

For detailed rhubarb growing instructions, read our Growing Rhubarb article.

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