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Archive for May 2010

Can I Grow Elderberry In A Container?

May 28th, 2010

I live in an apartment in Idaho which is hot and dry (in the desert), and have a tiny balcony facing west.  Can I grow elderberries in a large pot out there? Thank you, Barbara

Answer: Elderberries, given their size, have growing habits that include suckers, and a preference for a moist location.  That doesn’t sound like the best fit for potting on a tiny, hot balcony.

Elderberry plants tend to grow like a thicket, with suckers, and they spread out, so I think they would fail to thrive in such a confined situation. They also tend to grow quite large.  If you have a small balcony it might be a bit overwhelming.

You can give it try but it would probably not survive the winter in the pot unless you have a place to keep it so the root ball does not freeze.

Hope this helps,

Karen

Laurel’s Pyramid Planter

May 26th, 2010

I have been a customer of Garden Harvest Supply for a couple of years now. I recently bought a Pyramid Space Saver Garden with Built-In Sprinkler in order to grow my strawberries. I’ve had a strawberry bed in the past, but have also fought with my chickens for the right to harvest, so had almost given up completely on ever being able to have a really productive strawberry bed that would not only provide yummy berries throughout the season, but that would allow me to make some strawberry jam and still let the grandkids eat their share when they visited. I think this tiered planter, along with the frame and net, may completely solve my problem.

The first thing I noticed is that, even though the dimensions are accurately given in the product description, until it is actually laid out on the ground, you really don’t realize what size this is. If you have any question about whether or not it will fit in the area you want to put it, take a 3-foot string attached to a stake or just use a yardstick to trace the outline of where the bottom ring will be. Choose your mid-spot and use either of these to revolve around the middle and give you an idea of where it will be situated. If you have some flexibility, as I did, this is not necessary, but I had to change my original plan because I realized it would not allow easy access from the back door to the chicken coop—not a good thing. You also want to have easy access to a water source and realize that though it comes with a built-in sprinkler, you will still have to have a water source, such as a hose or sprinkler system to run to the sprinkler access that extends a little out from under the bottom pyramid ring.  

Don’t forget to lay the sprinkler and hose out prior to adding the soil. If you do, it is easy to fix as long as you only have the first layer of dirt filled in. (Just ask me—I did it!) Make sure to use good tape or a good heavy plastic bag taped over the end of the sprinkler head to keep it from getting clogged with dirt. I found that I also should have done this with the female hose end that will be attached to your sprinkling system or to a garden hose because dirt can spill over the edge as you are working. Hooking the sprinkler to a hose once you have it in position will probably also do the trick. Then, as you fill with soil, you will have to readjust the sprinkler head. It really looks like it is too short, but it is just the perfect height once all the dirt is in.

You’ll find that the first level is the hardest. The aluminum is sturdy, but getting it to stay in a circle can be a challenge until you get the knack. I recommend taping the seam with duct tape—this seems to add a little stability and keeps the seams from coming back apart. Put the tape along the inside lower half and once the dirt is in you will not even know it’s there. Also fill each layer all the way to the top, tamping lightly. The dirt will definitely ‘water in’ and settle and you may have to add some additional dirt once you have watered it thoroughly.

I also recommend using a weed barrier of some kind underneath the pyramid. For mowing purposes I allowed the weed barrier to extend past the bottom ring and then went back and trimmed it after it was complete, allowing the weed barrier to extend past the base in order to allow me the room to put the rubber mulch around the base, allowing the wheels of my mower to ride on the mulch. Strawberry roots are shallow. If using this space saver garden for herbs or flowers, a weed barrier underneath it may not work and you may instead have to de-sod the area under where the planter will sit.

As I said, the first ring is the hardest. One person can easily do this job, but it will take some time. It took me and my husband about 3 hours to do the whole project and that included lugging the bags of soil from one place to another. Get the first aluminum ring as round as possible, and then start filling with dirt. (It takes about thirty 40-lb. bags of top soil) Start in the middle and work the dirt out toward the edges, using the dirt as a stabilizer for the ring and rounding it out as you go. Take a step away on a regular basis and look at the WHOLE picture so that you can judge where you need to push or pull a little bit in order to get it as round as possible. Tamping the dirt along the inside edge will stabilize the ring but still enable you to move it as needed. The aluminum doesn’t bend real easily but is light weight enough to adjust easily. Make sure you keep track of the sprinkler head, keeping it centered and letting it rest on top of the soil. (You can make a final adjustment once all three rings are on.)

Once all the soil is in the bottom ring and gently tamped to reach the top of the ring, you can do your second and third levels. As these rings are smaller, they are much easier to keep round and you can push them into the soil slightly in order to keep them in place. I measured on 4 sides of both the second and third rings as I started them to make sure they were centered. If trying to ‘eye-ball’ it, step away to at least five or six feet and walk around it. The perception of center changes from each side, so you want to make sure you have the same amount of space between the wall of the bottom ring and the wall of the second and third rings, on each side. Also make sure that you bring the sprinkler head up through each layer and adjust it to center.

Finally, make your final adjustments to the sprinkler. Keep in mind that breezes or winds will affect the spray as will it being tilted just slightly one way or another. Try to make your adjustments when there is little to no wind. Tamp earth around the sprinkler as you move it one way or another and then tamp more firmly once you have the position set.

Overall I’m extremely happy with the quality of this planter and the ease in which it went together. I’ve been dealing with severe weather here in Oklahoma, so haven’t planted or added the frame support or netting yet, but have plans to do that before the end of the month…weather permitting. I’ll keep you up to date on the netting installation. Both the net and frame seem to be very sturdy, so I don’t foresee any problems with either the installation or keeping the chickens out of my strawberry bed. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when I have strawberry plants overflowing each tier!

Raised Vegetable Garden Question

May 18th, 2010

I have a raised vegetable garden ( I am new to vegetable gardening) which was just built. It has compost and some topsoil in it. I am a bit lost on what to grow when. I love all vegetables and am simply hoping for some easy starting veggies! I hear beets and asparagus are easy to grow. I am in zone 7. I would like to plant as soon as possible and thank you for taking the time to respond! Jonathan.

Answer: You might want to start with your cool season veggies at one end, allowing plenty of room for those warm season plants that need plenty of space, like tomatoes, squash or corn. Many of the plants will offer multiple yields as well, so make sure you leave enough room around the plants to get to each one. To take full advantage of the sun, run your rows north and south if at all possible. 

I would suggest that you actually draw your garden on graph paper. This will help you visualize how much space each plant is going to need. Most vegetables are pretty easy to grow but each has its own particular likes and dislikes with moisture, fertilizer, and soil. For the novice gardener I would stick with the basics: tomatoes, squash, peppers, peas or beans; leaf crops such as lettuce, spinach or chards; root crops like beets, kohlrabi or turnips; or venture into some brussels sprouts or broccoli. Don’t forget a few herbs, but be careful where you plant them. They are aromatic and can transfer their flavor to some fruiting plants. For your first year I would not venture into asparagus, as it needs space and takes a year or two to start producing. If you really want to try the asparagus and have another place in your yard to devote to it, set out a few crowns, but do some reading on the prep and overwintering first. 

Many novice gardeners tend to over-plant. The plants start so little, after all. Make sure you read the planting instructions for each plant. Choose only a couple of tomato types and a couple of squash plants, as these will take a lot of space. Leave at least a foot of space between these and any lettuce or root vegetables. There are also plants that do well together and those that should not be planted together. We carry a helpful book on companion planting. 

Be wary of four-legged friends that you will notice showing up for dinner and lunch. Fencing in your garden will prevent rabbits from nibbling. If you have deer in the area they may begin showing up, as well. You might need something from our Pest Control area to help. 

As your plants are growing, plan on feeding them some compost or add essential nutrients around the base of the plants, primarily fruiting plants (tomatoes, beans, squash).  Avoid adding nitrogen-heavy nutrients, but rather bloom-building phosphates. On fertilizer packages there are three numbers, such as 4-12-0. These represent nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). The N gives you lots of big green leaves and P give you lots of nice big blooms. Once veggies have started to set bloom you want to continue to encourage that blooming.

Have a great gardening year,

Karen

Will Raspberries Grow in Containers?

May 17th, 2010

I have 3 blackberry, 3 raspberry, and 2 blueberry bushes. Can they be planted in containers?  When planted, what special soil additives should be used for the indivual bushes? I in zone 9. Any help is appreciated, Erika

Answer: Blackberries and raspberries are in the same genus, Rubus, but different cultivars offer different winter resilience and disease resistance. They all like a well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5-6.5.  They require good air circulation and frost protection. There are three different growing habits: some stand erect, some are semi-erect and some are trailing, but all do best if provided support from a trellis or fencing system and really like to be heavily mulched to keep their root system cool and moist. Because of that reason I would suspect that their growth and production would not be the best if grown in a container, unless you’re talking about a large raised bed. Some people have reported that growing in a large container has been productive but overall quantity of harvest is lower.  Growing in this constrained habit could put the plants under stress and make them more susceptible to insect or disease damage. Both blackberries and raspberries require some pretty specific pruning habits, also. There are two bearing categories that have different pruning times. I suggest you contact your local Extension office for your area’s specific growing and pruning requirements. 

Blueberries, on the other hand, seem to do OK in large containers and there are some dwarf varieties that are best suited for this. Just like the blackberries and raspberries, full-size blueberry bushes are going to produce much less fruit when they are containerized. Blueberries like an acidic soil for best growth, so you would need to make sure you are feeding them with a fertilizer made for rhododendrons or azaleas. Blueberry bushes only need pruning once they’re mature, after 3 years, by removing some of the older branches and reducing the height by no more than a third. There is a variety called Sunshine Blue that is recommended for Southern gardens and especially for containers.

Happy gardening,

Karen

Asparagus & Strawberries: Growing Tips, Fun Facts

May 10th, 2010

In this newsletter we offer some growing tips for asparagus crowns and strawberry plants, and also some fun facts and interesting history about them. So read on to learn a few things we bet you didn’t know about these two culinary all-stars.

Asparagus’ Ancient Roots and Current Appeal

Did you know there is an asparagus recipe dating back 1,600 years? That’s right: back when Augustine was writing his Confessions in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, some unknown gourmand wrote down recipes that were preserved in the oldest surviving cookbook, the Apicius. That a chapter on asparagus was included is not surprising; asparagus had been cultivated for more than two millennia by the Greeks, and the Romans later brought it with them into the lands they conquered. From there, this unassuming member of the lily family spread all over the world.

Asparagus dishes have always been popular because of their unique taste and texture, but we now know that asparagus is one of the most nutritious vegetables, loaded with folate, and an excellent source of Vitamins A, C, and K.

For the gardener, asparagus is most appealing because it remains productive for an extraordinarily long time: once it’s producing, you’ll be able to cut it every year for up to two decades! No other “cut-and-come-again” veggie can top that.

Tips on Growing Asparagus

Asparagus grows best in rich, well-drained soil that receives full sun. Before you plant your crowns, choose the location carefully because it’s near to impossible to successfully transplant them later. Extension specialists such as Norm Myers, director of the Oceana County Extension, recommend that you test your soil before you plant so you’ll know exactly how to amend it to create ideal growing conditions. As he explains, asparagus requires a high pH; 7 is ideal, or even a bit higher. Your local extension office can help you out with soil testing, or you can do it yourself by getting hold of a soil testing kit.

To build up the pH of your soil, mix in lime, but start early because it takes time to turn acidic soil around. Mr. Myers also points out that asparagus grows best in sandy soil; if you have clay, plant on a hilltop or hillside. Enriching the soil with organic matter such as compost and manure is always a good idea, but, beyond that, let your soil test be your guide.

Of course, many gardeners don’t perform a soil test, and if you fit that description, know that asparagus generally needs a lot of potassium, but very little nitrogen, and it only needs significant phosphorus during the year that the crowns are set. For this reason we recommend adding phosphorous at the time of planting. Any high-phosphorus fertilizer can be used but triple superphosphate 0-45-0 is the most concentrated, and the form that is most readily absorbed. Later you can apply more compost and, if you think your soil needs further enrichment, use a high-potassium fertilizer. With its 3-4-6 profile, Espoma Tomato Tone works well for this purpose.

Strawberries Through the Ages

The history of strawberries is as interesting as that of asparagus, though not quite as long. The ancient Greeks did not know of strawberries, but there is evidence that the Romans did, in fact, the poet Virgil, (70 to 19 BCE) issued a warning to children that when they go out to pick strawberries, they should beware of snakes in the grass. Madame Tallien, a legendary social figure in Paris at the time of Napoleon, bathed in the juice of fresh strawberries, using 22 pounds per bath. One wonders if she bathed alone: further folklore tells us that strawberries have often been used as an aphrodisiac. Surprisingly, Native Americans played an important role in the invention of strawberry shortcake. They were in the habit of crushing fresh strawberries into a cornmeal cake; when the Pilgrims tried to do something similar with their own shortbread, they hit on a desert we still delight in today.

The name “strawberry” itself is very old, dating back to the streowberie or streawbergan of  Middle English, words that suggest a berry whose runners are strewn along the ground. It’s a name that proved especially apt, because when strawberries began to be cultivated around the time of the Renaissance, straw was commonly used to mulch them—a practice that continues to this day.

Tips for Growing Strawberries

Like asparagus, strawberries like well-drained sandy soil and full sun. In this case, the ideal pH is 5.8 – 6.2. In addition they need good air circulation, which is why some people plant their strawberry patch on a hill or other raised area. As with asparagus, it’s a good idea to prepare the soil in advance. Remove any weeds and sod, mix in your compost, and then cover with black plastic until you’re ready to plant.

When you plant strawberries, pay special to depth. You want to place the crown—the fleshy portion of the plant between the top grown and the roots—into the ground so that the middle is at soil level. Paul James of HDTV explains this and other planting procedures in depth in his article “Growing Strawberries.”

Strawberries consistently need 1 – 2 inches of water per week to produce truly juicy fruit, so be prepared to offer them that if you don’t get much rain.

Planting a row of Green Bean plants between every row of strawberries will produce bigger, more flavorful strawberries!

That’s all for now. Happy planting from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply.

Growing Asparagus in Containers

May 8th, 2010

How well would asparagus fare planted in large, square well-draining containers? I live on the top floor of an apt. building and have a balcony that catches great morning sun.  I have herbs scattered in pots as well as various peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries. Thanks, Craig 

Answer: Well, I love to experiment with the garden. What’s the harm in trying something at least once, or twice? While growing asparagus in containers is not advised by most, there are a handful of sites that claim it to be possible. The limitation is the quantity you can grow in the contained area. Asparagus likes space, so you would have to limit the number of starts per pot, depending on the size of your container. Figure no more than one plant per two square feet of container diameter. You must ensure the containers are well drained, even adding drainage holes to opposite sides of the bottom and do not over-water: this can cause the roots to rot. Make sure the plants receive at least eight hours of sunlight daily for best performance. It will take at least two and maybe three years before the plants are mature and ready for harvest, so this will be an experiment in patience, as well. You will need to let the foliage grow to feed the plants. Once mature, the plants need to rest from mid-June, so this means not harvesting and going to fern. Let the foliage stand until after the first frost before cutting them back.

If you’re serious about trying this, do read the information at our Asparagus page about growing the plant.

Good luck and happy experimenting.

Karen

Frost Nipping at Your Plants?

May 1st, 2010

If you live in a climate with cold seasons, you’ve probably seen frost.  Delicate plants are vulnerable to being damaged or killed when nighttime temperatures fall to the frost point, which is at or near freezing.  So what exactly is frost and what can we do about it?

First, let’s look at the basics.  Air contains moisture in varying levels.  Dew is the glistening condensation that forms just above the ground and settles on plants and grass.  Dew occurs when air near the ground is cooler and more moist than the higher layers of air.  Fog is also condensation from the ground air being cooler than the layers above it.  Fog is always accompanied by dew, although dew can happen without fog.

Frost, sometimes referred to as hoar frost, is water vapor (or moisture in the air) that has frozen without first becoming a liquid.  On clear, cool nights, when heat radiates from the ground and the temperatures fall to freezing or below at the ground surface, frost crystals form and coat low-lying cold surfaces.  It can be a barely-visible coating or a thick white layer resembling a dusting of snow.

If the outdoor temperatures are lower than indoor temps, and the humidity level is higher inside the structure, frost can form inside windows, creating fascinating visible crystal structures.

When frost forms on plants, it coats all surfaces, including leaves, stems and fruit.  Some plants are frost tolerant and are not sensitive to the icy coating.  However, if plants aren’t capable of standing up to the freezing air temperatures or layer of frost, their internal cells are damaged, and leaves and fruit can be killed.

If a frost warning is issued and plants need to be protected, there are several ways to maintain higher temperatures at the ground level.  A physical cover, such as cloth or even a layer of paper, can be placed directly on top of sturdy plants, but for young or delicate plants, posts or stakes should be used to support the sheet to keep it just above the plant tops.  The covering must be removed in the early morning so the sun’s heat doesn’t scorch the plants.  Anything else that will hold in heat, such as a water-filled protector designed to stand up around plants, or a large container placed over the plants, will help keep frost from finding an unwelcome landing spot.

For protecting large fields or orchards, farmers have sprayed their trees and crops with water to keep surfaces from freezing.  It might sound odd, but a thick layer of water won’t freeze as readily as humidity in the air will.  Also, wet soil holds more heat than dry soil, so watering your garden just before a frost can prevent plant damage.  The air temperatures above moist soil are slightly warmer than above dry soil and can protect plants, as well.  When temps fall considerably below the freezing level, it might be necessary to keep a steady flow of water on plant surfaces, to keep them protected from the cold air.

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