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Archive for January 2010

Flavorful Vegetables at Your Fingertips

January 31st, 2010

dried vegetablesEveryone knows that vegetables are part of a healthy diet.  They’re also crucial ingredients in many recipes—yet fresh vegetables aren’t always available when you need them.  Canned vegetables are mushy and bland, and frozen veggies get freezer-burned quickly.  If you don’t garden, or you live in a climate with a short gardening season, or you don’t live right around the corner from a supermarket, you might have limited availability of the vegetables you need for the most basic meals.

Now there is a simple, practical and cost-effective way to have vegetables on hand at all times:  dehydrated!  You can store dehydrated carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, celery, spinach and potatoes in your pantry, ready for adding to soups and casseroles, stews, and most other recipes whenever you need them.  They’re even delicious rehydrated and eaten on their own.

There are several advantages to dehydrated vegetables.  They retain their color, so they look fresh and attractive, once they’re rehydrated.  They have great nutritional value, and most importantly, they maintain their fresh flavor, longer than canned or frozen vegetables.  The best part is they can be stored on a shelf until you’re ready to add them to your recipes.  They only need to be kept in a dark, dry place.

To use dehydrated veggies, simply boil them for 2 minutes, and they resume their original plump state.  Sprinkle on your favorite seasoning and enjoy them alone, or add them to recipes as you’d add fresh ingredients.  Or, if you just pour the dried veggies into cooking soups and stews, they will absorb the broth or fluids of the recipe and the flavors meld as the dish cooks.

The best part of dehydrated vegetables is that they’re pre-cut.  No more dicing and slicing!  Now you can pour your desired amount of pre-chopped veggies right into your cooking foods, and instantly add all the color, flavor and texture of fresh vegetables, but without the work! Ounce for ounce, dehydrated vegetables are less expensive than fresh, store-bought produce…because there’s no waste, and because of the time saved in preparation.  Once you’ve tried them, you’ll agree they’re certainly more convenient!

The Bell Boy Pepper Plant

January 29th, 2010

bell boy pepperWith their beautiful glossy leaves and colorful fruits, Bell Boy Pepper Plants look equally at home on the patio or in the vegetable garden. All-American selections winner, the Bell Boy Pepper is considered a first class ‘all rounder’ and its popularity with chefs has exploded within the last ten years. The vigorous growing plants will thrive in full sun and need to be protected from strong winds. They are reasonably sturdy and are a popular choice of children or young budding gardeners. They have a crisp fresh taste when eaten raw and are both a colorful and tasty addition to many cooked dishes.

Bell Boy peppers can be planted in pots but if planting in the earth should ideally be spaced 18 inches apart. The time between planting out and harvesting is normally 70 days and the fruit will at first appear green and although safe to eat at any size, it is best to wait until it is 3-4 inches long and comes away easily from the plant. The fruit will eventually turn from a deep green to a deep red and the longer Bell Boy peppers are left to ripen, the sweeter they become so your decision to harvest will be based purely on taste. Allowing the peppers to ripen will also prevent you causing the plant any damage as you remove the fruit.

The two most important things to remember when growing Bell Boy Peppers are space and soil. They do not thrive if there is too much nitrogen in the soil and do best if the ph level is 6.5 to 7. Do not guess the acidity of your soil. A soil tester is inexpensive, easy to use and can save you a lot of wasted time and money. If you do grow the Peppers in pots, make sure the container is big enough and there is plenty of space to allow the plant to grow and spread. If the growing space is restricted this can seriously reduce the amount of fruit produced.

Double Impatiens, Party Hardy

January 26th, 2010

double impatiensIf your garden decided to throw a party, Double Impatiens would be the first guest invited, one of the first to arrive, and one of the last to leave. They light up the shady corners of your yard with their vibrancy, are low maintenance, and clean up after themselves. What more could you ask?

Double Impatiens will bloom their little hearts out from mid-spring to mid-fall. They need light but not direct sunlight, so plant them in partial to full shade about 15 inches apart and they will virtually glow with radiance. Other than a once-a-month sprinkling of flower food such as Espoma Flower Tone, Double Impatiens are perfectly happy to receive just plain old water. Do keep them evenly moist for the best blooms. No need for back-breaking dead-heading as these beauties naturally drop their spent blossoms on their own.

With their double petals, they resemble miniature roses but without the hassle of those higher maintenance divas of the garden. They average about 10 inches in height and colors include such beauties as pure white (Musica “Pearl,”) peachy-pink (Silhouette “Appleblossom,”) light pink (Summer Ice “Pink Ice,”) dark and light pink variegated (Musica “Bicolor Pink,”) salmon (Musica “Pastel Salmon,”) red and white variegated (Musica “Spicy Red,”) and purple (Rosebud “Purple Magic,”) just to name a few. For dramatic impact, plant several of the same color together forming a drift of vivid color. For a fiesta of a garden, plant colors together such as pink, purple, and orange. For a refreshing, cooling affect, plant whites and light pinks. Whites are also beautiful for a “night garden,” in which they will glow beneath the moonlight or your soft garden lights.

Double Impatiens are versatile garden guests, happy in many different settings. They may be planted in the ground as clouds of color or lovely borders, grown in deck boxes, window boxes, or planters, and are perfect in hanging baskets.

So give your garden a party and invite the lovely Double Impatiens for lasting, carefree beauty.

Can Herbs Be Grown In Pots?

January 25th, 2010

potted herbI want to order herbs that will be grown in pots on the patio.  I have a lighting system.  What do you recommend?  I live in Zone 10, S. Florida.  I like herbs because they are edible and I love the aromas.  I need to know what size pots, too. Ellen L.

Answer: The really great thing about herbs is that they do wonderfully in pots, almost anywhere in the country. Many northerners bring their potted herbs indoors to grow all winter long. They will thrive without an artificial light source, and since you are in South Florida they should be fine in a sunny location in the winter and probably welcome a little shade in the hot summer months. Any of our herb plants will grow in pots.  Herbs that are robust spreaders, like mints, are ideal for pots, to keep their spreading habit contained. Rosemary does very well in the South where it is used as a landscaping shrub and it has a most wonderful fragrance. Don’t be afraid to mix and match them since there is a variety of leaf textures and colors that will make for not only an aromatic wonderland but a visually appealing arrangement, as well. However, herbs planted in the same pot can start to take on the flavors of their neighbors, with strong flavors such as cilantro seeping into milder herbs like parsley. You could even tuck a few different varieties of leaf lettuce or spinach plants in among the herbs. If you wish to grow herbs singularly in containers, I suggest nothing smaller than an 8-inch pot, as most like to get large and spread out.

Happy growing, Karen

Loving Lantana Plants

January 22nd, 2010

lantana plantsSo, you’re ready to grow lantana? We have several tips for you to ensure the best lantana experience possible.

General Location

First, pick out an ideal spot for your lantana plants. This plant loves the heat so it needs at least four hours of direct sunlight daily. Nighttime temperatures need to range between 55 and 60 degrees F, with daytime temps of 68 degrees F or higher. Humid or dry heat is fine, and lantana is hardy in USDA Zones 8-11. It reaches six feet high and eight feet across, depending on which variety you choose, so it can be used as a tall shrub or a low-level groundcover. It works best in mixed beds and borders or as part of a grouping of shrubs or as a container plant. Consider mixing it with ornamental plants if you prefer, but it also can grow well alone. It’s tolerant of a range of conditions such as dry, rocky sites, or sandy, seaside conditions. It can be planted in almost any site as long as it receives full sunlight.

Soil Conditions and Preparation

Opt for well-drained, slightly acid soil for lantana. You’ll want a soil pH of about 6.5 or lower. You can use any soil suitable for bedding plants. It’s fairly drought resistant and can adapt to most soil conditions. For instance, if the soil has a clay texture, add sand coarse bark. It’s best to prepare the beds a few weeks before planting if lantanas are to be planted in new beds. Use a power tiller to work the soil and add amendments as necessary. You can use a commercial potting soil if lantanas are used in hanging baskets or as potted plants.

Planting and Blooming

Plant lantana when days are long and hot. You’ll find that many varieties will return from the roots and main stems in early spring. You’ll get gorgeous blooms until frost. The flowers are in dense clusters, one to two inches across, near the top of the stem. The colors vary from yellow, orange, red, white and pink to purple. They gradually change colors during the blooming period. It’s quite possible to see different colors of flowers on the same cluster. The foliage is lovely, with a yellow-green color and a serrated edge. They are aromatic when crushed. The stem is brittle and woody. With care, it can be trained to grow in a shape similar to a tree, featuring great heads of foliage and flowers above a single stem that is two to three feet tall. Induce repeated flowering throughout the blooming season by frequently pruning the tips. It’s easy to care for lantana. Once the flowering season is over, clusters of green, fleshy, berrylike drupes will appear in the fall. They turn black as they mature and are poisonous if eaten. Each berrylike fruit contains one seed for a possible self-seeding option for the next blooming season.

Watering and Fertilizing

It’s necessary to water lantana often to get a good blooming experience. Water frequently in well-drained soil. If you over-water, then the number of blooms will be reduced and the plant will be more susceptible to diseases and root rot. Try to modify the watering schedule according to growth and the outside temperature. Don’t use heavy fertilizer. Instead, fertilize in early spring with a complete, all-purpose garden fertilizer. Depending on which variety you’ve planted, lantana may need more fertilizer through the middle of summer. This will encourage faster growth. You can fertilize every two weeks if you’ve planted a faster growing, heavy feeding type of lantana. But too much fertilizer will prevent the plant from flowering and will make it more susceptible to disease.

Mulching

Don’t forget to mulch. Mulching is essential if you are growing lantana as a perennial. It serves many purposes, including maintaining soil moisture and keeping weeds under control. It’s not necessary to mulch during the summer, but it will help with weed control and reduce the amount of watering needed. It’s best to also mulch after the first frost, when the lantana has been killed down to the roots, to keep the roots hardy to return the next spring.

Heirloom Tomato Plants For Sale

January 20th, 2010

heirloom tomato plantThere is no debate about the difference between commercially grown tomatoes and those fresh-picked from the garden. However, there is debate among tomato plant growers about which varieties produce superior fruit.

Garden Harvest Supply has the widest range imaginable of tomato plants for sale. Those include hybrid, open-pollinated, and heirloom tomato plants, which each appeal to different home growers for different reasons. To know which tomato plants for sale are the best for your gardening and cooking needs, let’s look at what qualities each tomato is known for.

Hybrid tomatoes are bred for specific traits. They’re great for commercial growers who supply tomatoes to supermarkets. The fruits are designed to be consistent in color, size and shape, while flavor isn’t the top criterion of growers of those tomato plants. However, they hold up well in shipping, have dependable flavor, and many are disease resistant, so they’re also popular among home gardeners looking for effortless growing.

Heirloom tomato plants, on the other hand, produce fruits that vary in size, shape and color. Heirlooms are not genetically modified or scientifically altered in any way. They’re the same now as they’ve been for 100 or more years. Open pollinated tomato plants are simply heirlooms in training. They’ll become heirlooms after they’ve been successfully grown for a sufficient amount of time to qualify.

Finding heirloom tomato plants for sale is no easy feat. The market for gardeners is flooded with hybrid tomato plants for sale. Hybrids are wonderful and serve their purpose well, but purists and those gardeners who appreciate the challenge of growing tomatoes with character and unique qualities are drawn to heirlooms. Heirloom tomato aficionados are drawn to the wide variety of fruits to choose from. Heirloom tomatoes are sometimes so unique as to not even look like tomatoes. Garden Harvest Supply has heirlooms that are rarely seen elsewhere and gardeners will love experimenting with growing the more obscure varieties.

Garden Harvest Supply has potted tomato plants for sale that will yield tiny to huge, and oval to squat-shaped red, purple-black, green striped, yellow or pink tomatoes unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. And, the taste of a good heirloom tomato is definitely something you won’t soon forget. It’s rare to find heirloom tomatoes available to purchase commercially, since commercial growers are more concerned with crop volume than quality. So, home gardeners are the growers who keep the demand for heirloom tomatoes high, and with good reason.

Once you’ve sampled your first fresh-picked heirloom tomato, you’ll want to dedicate an entire garden to this delicacy, the produce that is summer’s greatest offering.

Help with first garden

January 19th, 2010

I am wanting to put in my first garden. I am on the lazy side so I want to simplify where I can. I have been looking into drip irrigation using a soaker hose and a timer. I am also going to lay plastic to warm the ground and hopefully cut out the weeds. Where I live has a HUGE mosquito problem, so I want to plant plants that are supposed to help chase them away. I also want to not use any pesticides or other chemicals and am looking to do companion planting. I am a bit overwhelmed! Also my yard is not and will not be level; it all slopes. I am having the yard tilled. I thought about getting metal cattle panels for the vines to grow on since they will be reusable for many years. We are a family of 5. I want to plant veggies, herbs and flowers that repel bugs.  We have an almost half-acre lot and I plan on using somewhere around a 30′ x 30′ area.

I could really use some help on plant layout; with the plastic I am worried about standing water and the mosquitos. Should I cover the plastic with hay? Will that help? Do you know anything about the garlic mosquito spray? Is it safe to use on growing gardens? Would getting worms be a good idea or a waste? Are there particular plants that are easy/hard to grow from seeds that I should/shouldn’t spend the money to buy?

And anything else I haven’t thought of? Any and all help would be greatly appreciated! T Palmer

Answer: Well T, your questions are good ones, but it’s going to be tough to address them all in this space.  As a first-time gardener, I would suggest you start with a bit smaller garden plot. You’ve planned a pretty ambitious size for a newbie. As for what to grow, GHS offers a wide selection of wonderful certified organic seeds and live plant options but what you grow depends on several factors: 

  • soil conditions [clay vs. sandy]
  • sun conditions [8 hours of sun for most vegetables]
  • what Zone you are in [important to know so you can determine last frost date and growing season]
  • what you like to eat [some things are fun to grow but you might not consume them], for starters. 

There are also different types of cool season plants like lettuce and spinach that can be planted even before the last chance of frost, and warm season plants like tomatoes that don’t thrive until it gets good and hot! Some cool season crops can be replanted in the fall, so you are planting in succession throughout the growing season.

For organic gardening you may want to reconsider the tilling, depending on your location.  Bringing subsoil to the surface can allow dormant weed seed to resurface. Instead, do some research on creating rows ofraised beds. It will make working with your plants a bit easier and might be a good workaround for the sloped areas. These can easily be constructed with 4×4 or 4×6 timbers. It will also help with your standing water problem, as you could either leave the grass between the rows or use mulch. The new soil will allow the water to drain off properly and not puddle. Creating the raised beds will also allow you to more easily control the content of the soil and make sure your pH is balanced for vegetable growth and it will allow you to easily install a drip irrigation system for targeted watering.

You might also consider container gardening for some crops like potatoes or smaller tomatoes, and of course, herbs and flowers.

Vines will grow on about anything. You can make climbing grids with bamboo poles and twine, or try our trellis netting or other plant supports, which are easy to store after the season.  

To control weeds you can use our plastic mulch but depending on your location it can also work against you by overheating the soil in the summer. You can also use a thick layer of newspaper covered with either hardwood mulch or grass clippings (grass that has not been treated with a herbicide). This will also allow the water to completely permeate the soil.

For companion planting check out this book and other instructional books in Our Library.  There are many excellent resources for which plants work together, and equally important which to NOT plant together. 

For your mosquitos and other pests we have several options; where and when you can use them will depend on what stage the vegetable is in. Most of the organic controls can be used prior to harvest, but always read the label for directions for use with edible plants. Another pest for many gardeners will be rabbits and sometimes deer, so especially for rabbits you may want to consider fencing in areas of the garden to keep them out. Watch plant labels for varieties that deer find less appetizing. 

Check online for resources that distinguish Good Bugs versus Bad Bugs. There are many beneficial insects out there and most pesticides are non-selective, so always know what you are going after and read the labels of any products to make sure you are affecting only what you need to.

To get started you’ll want some graph paper. Start laying things out to determine how many plants you will need (and usually not as many as you might think, unless you like to can, freeze or give away). Check your Growing Zone and know when your growing season begins. Your county extension office might have a chart that gives the best starting time for vegetables that grow in your area.

Leave enough room somewhere in your yard for a compost bin. This will generate lots of free organic matter that your garden will need at the end of the season to regenerate itself. Gardening is a great family activity and a lifelong learning experience.  Make sure everyone chips in to pull weeds, water, trim and reap the harvest in just a few months.

Good Luck! Karen

Hot Pepper Suet Cakes for Your Birds

January 15th, 2010

hot pepper suet cakeFeeding wild birds is a good thing to do. It’s good fun, good for the planet, educational for young and old, inexpensive, and nearly trouble free. You just put out the food, which comes in a variety of styles, and watch the colorful and interesting feathered friends flock in. In the winter, when birds that eat a lot of insects are having a hard time, you can offer suet. That is a high-energy supplement that can really help them make it through.

Suet mixes can be home made. There are even vegetarian formulations if your principles are so directed. But maybe an afternoon of rendering globs of fat isn’t your idea of a good time. It’s not for everyone. So, good news, we have modern suet cakes that work just fine. With the modern no-melt formulations, you can offer suet all year long. It attracts species that you might not see around a seed feeder. The cakes don’t melt; they don’t spoil in warm weather. They are convenient to use. It’s easy. What could go wrong?

Well, there is one thing that can go wrong. Squirrels. That can be a lot of things, actually. Squirrels are great, no doubt. They have their place in the world, and a right to their share of the food. Problem is, if left to it, they’ll take all the food, not just their share. Squirrels will get into the suet supply, and they don’t need much time to get it all gone, leaving none for birds you were hoping to attract. You can make a separate squirrel feeding area, and offer those squirrel chunks that take the arboreal rodents a lot of time and work to dispose of. But they may make short work of the high energy suet treats before they start work on their designated food supply. So what can you do?

You can use the Heath hot pepper suet cakes, is what you can do. They have all the good qualities of a no-melt suet cake. They are easy to use. They don’t melt or spoil when the temperature is high, so they can be used year-round. They are a great deal too. But the best thing is, the hot pepper is appealing to birds, but not liked by the squirrels. The hot pepper suet cakes attract a large variety of desirable species, including Goldfinches, Cardinals, Juncos, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Kinglets, Siskens, Purple Finches, Thrushes, Tanagers, Warblers, Titmice, Wrens, and Woodpeckers.

The Heath hot pepper suet cakes will please your bird friends, while re-directing the appetites of the local squirrel population. If your conscience bothers you, go ahead and rig up some squirrel feeders too. Make it hard for them, if you wish. They enjoy a challenge. Let them work it out, while you enjoy watching the bright birds enjoy their healthy energy-boosting suet treat.

Plant Starts in a Jiffy

January 13th, 2010

Jiffy seed starterGrowing your own produce, whether it’s a small home garden or a large spread of acreage generating crops, now makes more sense than ever.  Besides the cost savings over buying expensive produce in the supermarket, you can control the quality of your food.  You know exactly what products have or have not been used to control insects and diseases.  And, you know your food has been picked at the peak of ripeness, rather than being harvested green and shipped halfway around the globe.

It’s immensely satisfying to start your plants from seeds and watch them sprout through the surface of the soil and become a future food source.  It’s also the most economical way to garden.

Jiffy has long been the trusted name in starting seeds indoors.  Jiffy offers a huge range of seed starter supplies, from simple to sophisticated, and no one has come up with a better way to get your garden going.  The Jiffy system has been trusted by knowledgeable growers for years.  Their mini-greenhouses are lightweight, durable, and well designed for annual reuse.

Jiffy’s peat pellets are the ideal starter medium.  They will maintain the best moisture-to-air ratio and pest-free contents, but more important, they transplant easily into the soil without damaging delicate new roots.

Peat pellets are available in economical lots of 25 for use in your own pots or trays.  They can also be purchased with seed starter kits as basic as windowsill greenhouses that hold 6 or 12 pellets and can be placed in a sunny window to allow the light to nurture the new plants.   The reusable black trays and clear tops are sized just right for Jiffy pellets—and for your windowsills.

Jiffy also has a greenhouse system with growing tray, clear domed top, and 72 cells for Jiffy peat pellets.  Other tray sizes hold 25 or 50 pellets, and heating pads are available.  The heat gently coaxes seeds to sprout and it also helps control the moisture level.

Jiffy pellets are so simple to use that even young children can begin developing their gardening skills with great success every time.  You just drop your seeds onto the pellet and add water, and when they’re at the right height to take outdoors, you plant the entire ball into the soil and let nature do the rest.

These pellets contain sphagnum peat, mineral lime, and a special fertilizer to stimulate growth.  With a pH level of around 5.3, the medium is designed to ensure that your seeds will produce healthy, happy plants that will be ready to transplant to the garden after the last frost.  A thin biodegradable netting around the root ball keeps the entire mass intact for removal from growing trays and transfer into the ground.  Nothing could be cleaner or easier!

Split Leaf Question

January 13th, 2010

My 10-year-old outdoor split leaf has 4 stems in various heights from 30″ to 36″. Its leaves are coming out of only the upper portion of the stems with the bottom being bare as the leaves no longer droop low enough to reach the ground.Can I cut it back near the ground and have new stems come up without killing it? Thanks, Bert.

Answer: I’m not an expert on tropicals, although I do like to grow them as houseplants. I have checked with a few resources but I have no definitive answer, because there is limited information available. I can offer a few suggestions. Yours sounds like a “tree” variety of philodendron, that actually produces more of a trunk than do other varieties that tend to be more of a vine. There are hundreds of species within the genus. Since I am not sure of the variety you have, here are a few options. If yours looks like the typical houseplant variety and landscape variety of the South, then these suggestions should work. Philodendrons are pretty easy to take cuttings from. Just make sure you have at least two joints or leaf nodes, root them in a sand and peat moss mix or in water. Then you could take these cuttings and start the plant over at the smaller size. One reference did say to just cut the plants back, again rooting the part cut off to start more plants. I would suggest for either option to try this first on just one of the four stems to test the plant. According to another reference, some varieties are able to withstand light frost that kills the top growth but they recover from the below-ground root system. 

I would also add that unless they are just becoming too large for the space, let them remain in a more tree form and plant something interesting underneath them to cover the trunks. There are a number of cordylines or dracaenas, grasses, ferns, rosemary and crotons that might work and would be a nice visual contrast.

Hope this helps and good luck. Karen

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