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Archive for 2011

Just About Everything About Asparagus

December 19th, 2011

asparagus plants growing through the garden soilAsparagus  can be grown in just about every state of the U.S. It is even grown in areas of  Hawaii that lack the frost to force the plants into dormancy. The following is  what you need to know to have a successful crop of this beloved perennial  vegetable. We cover choosing the location to enjoying your harvest—and  everything in between.

Location! Location! Location!

When choosing the location for your asparagus bed, think and plan carefully. Being a perennial, your asparagus bed will most likely be producing for a minimum of 15 years. Take a walk around your property at different times of the day, noting the sunny and shaded areas. Don’t despair if you work during the week and are a sports-parent on weekends. Just use one of our inexpensive light meters to test various parts of your property to determine the number of hours of sun it receives.

The recommended amount of sunlight to grow asparagus is 7 to 8 hours a day. Morning sunlight will be essential and 6 hours should be considered a minimum. If you live in an area of the country that has sweltering hot summers, such as Arizona, you might want to plant where your asparagus plants get shaded in the late afternoon. If you do not have an area that is shaded in the late afternoon, consider putting up a shade cloth for those days when you know your asparagus plants may be suffering.

It is also a good idea to look at the surrounding vegetation and landscaping. If you have young trees on your property, take into account how tall and wide those trees will be 15 years from now. Shrubs, bushes and even other vegetables, such as corn and tomatoes, can block the life-giving sun from your asparagus plants.

If your options are limited due to space or sunlight requirements, consider planting your asparagus as a border plant. You will only be harvesting the choicest spears, allowing the remainder to mature and develop the ferny headpiece that is critical to energizing the crowns for next year’s harvest. They are quite beautiful, turning golden in the fall, and can be the perfect airy-looking border for taller annuals or perennials.

Asparagus can also be planted in a raised bed, allowing for at least a 12-inch depth. Otherwise, the process is the same.

Prepping the Bed & Watering

Now that you’ve chosen where to plant your asparagus plants, it’s time to prepare the bed. Many gardeners will do this in the fall, prepping, adjusting the pH and feeding the bed in preparation for spring planting. However, you can be just as successful by doing a good job prepping your bed in the spring. We do recommend that you prepare the bed before ordering or buying your asparagus crowns, though. Our crowns are fresh, which means they were harvested just shortly before you will be receiving them; the quicker they are in the ground after you receive them, the better.

home soil testing kit for garden soilThe first order of business is to check the pH level of your soil. Asparagus plants prefer a soil pH right around 6.5 to 6.8. You can fudge a little on each side of those numbers, however, if your soil is too alkaline or too acidic, your asparagus plants will not grow as well. An inexpensive soil testing kit can determine the pH quickly, or you can take a soil sample to your local University Cooperative Extension office for testing. You also might check with your county’s agricultural services. Our GHS Guide to Soil and Soil Testing, Part 1, will provide you with some pH basics.

Then, if you are starting from scratch, you will have to till the area that you will be planting. If there are grass and weeds present, loosen the soil with a shovel or with one pass of a tiller and get rid of as much of the grass and weeds as possible. The cleaner the bed to start, the less weeding and maintenance later on. You will also want to discard any rocks and then till the soil to at least 12 inches. Tilling with several passes should ensure that large clumps have been broken up and that there will be adequate aeration throughout the soil for your new asparagus plants. The well-prepared bed will enable the roots of your asparagus plants to reach deep and establish well.

The final step, just before planting, is to dig a trench, 6 to 8 inches deep, in which to plant your asparagus crowns. If you will have more than one row, the recommended distance between rows is 4 feet. If pinched for space, 3 feet will work, but never plant the rows less than 3 feet apart. This leaves you room to walk between the rows for harvesting and also allows adequate air circulation to dry the ferns after it rains. Leave at least 8 inches between each plant in the row if you are pressed for space, though the best results will be achieved when planting them 12 inches apart.

This is also a good time to decide how you will water your asparagus plants. The most recommended way is with a drip system or soaker hose, both of which are fairly easy to install and make more economical use of your water. This method also does not keep those ferny tops wet. Having your water source determined in advance keeps you from running to the store for hoses or sprinklers when you realize you need to water your freshly planted crop. Admit it—we’ve all been there! You also might want to consider a timer, especially if your time is already limited due to work and other responsibilities. This will guarantee that your asparagus plants thrive, while making your gardening that much less labor-intensive. You can even go on vacation knowing your vegetable plants will be watered in your absence!

Choosing Your Asparagus

Most people will opt to grow asparagus from crowns, rather than seeds. When growing from seed, you will get a mixture of both male and female plants. Female plants tend to be a bit lankier, not producing the plumpest spears that are the most desirable and palatable. They also produce seeds, which creates a situation where your asparagus bed can become too crowded. Over-crowded asparagus is not happy asparagus! The ferny tops must be able to dry out, which requires adequate air circulation so that disease does not take hold. Male plants, on the other hand, produce more flavorful, stout spears and will not result in the additional work of “weeding” seedlings or the female plants out of your asparagus patch.

So, we recommend buying male asparagus crowns. The crowns are one year old plants that have been carefully harvested, along with their roots. They will appear dried out, but you can rest assured they are very much alive—just dormant.

Planting Your Asparagus

how to dig a trench to plant asparagus crownsWhether you prepare your bed in the fall or in the spring, you should not plant your asparagus plants until springtime. In fact, even if you till, feed and amend the soil in the fall, wait until the spring to dig the trenches. Otherwise you will end up re-digging the trenches before you plant.

Our asparagus crowns are grown and harvested fresh just before shipping. Being harvested as soon as the ground is soft and dry enough explains why we do not ship our asparagus crowns until late spring. This should allow you plenty of time to prepare your bed as needed and have everything in place for when your asparagus crowns arrive on your doorstep.

Just before planting, you should soak the crowns in water for a period of 15 to 20 minutes. This will give those roots a badly needed drink and give them a bit of a jump-start on growing. Now, just lay the crowns in the trench, at least 8 inches between crowns, though 12 inches is highly recommended for the best performance. Then cover the crowns with only 1 to 2 inches of soil and water gently. Asparagus plants usually start sprouting when the soil temp reaches about 50°F, so you should be seeing those pretty green shoots within about 2-3 weeks of planting, depending upon where you live. Once you see the first shoots, you can again cover them with a couple of inches of soil, repeating the process until the trench is completely filled. View our short video on How To Plant Asparagus to see how easy it really is!

Feeding and Over-Wintering Your Asparagus  

When first planting your asparagus crowns, we recommend Hi-Yield Triple Super Phosphate be sprinkled in the trench just before planting. With an NPK value of 0-45-0, this soil amendment is pure phosphorous. Due to the way asparagus grows and its perennial nature, you do not want to feed with nitrogen, which tends to spur quick plant growth. When it comes to asparagus, slow, strong, healthy growth is best. Phosphorous, on the other hand, enables the transfer of energy throughout the entire plant, encouraging the healthiest root growth. It is also essential to the process of photosynthesis. Your asparagus plants will use the most phosphorous while the spears are first forming, and then again, when flowering, so another moderate application of phosphorous is prudent when the harvest is complete and the ferny tops are appearing.

Fall is the next time you will want to pay particular attention to your asparagus bed’s nutritional requirements. Some gardeners choose to leave the ferny tops throughout the winter, cutting them back in the spring, but we recommend cutting your asparagus plants back to the ground right after the first frost. The reason for this is that fungus can grow, even in the winter, when the ferny tops don’t get a chance to dry out. It is also wise, if you know you’ve got fungus on those tops, not to compost them, as the fungus can over-winter and be passed along to anything you use that compost on.

Once you’ve cut them back, cover the whole bed with 1 to 2 inches of well-composted manure or compost and sprinkle with Triple Phosphate or Bone Meal, which will leach down to the roots, providing that springtime pick-me-up as the soil warms and the spears start to grow again. This layer of compost will not only feed the plants but will help to insulate them. In the spring, the spears will grow right through that healthy layer. The same will hold true in places like Hawaii that don’t experience frost, except that once the ferny tops have been in place about 4 months, you will want to cut the asparagus plants back to the ground and treat them the same as if they were growing where winter occurs.

Harvesting Your Asparagus

This is one of the most common questions we get. How do I harvest my asparagus?

As our crowns are already a year old when you receive them, you may not have to wait another year to start harvesting, though you should harvest prudently this first year so as to allow your asparagus bed the time to become well established and healthy. When harvesting you should only harvest the spears that are more than 3/8 inch in diameter (about the size of your little finger), allowing the smaller spears to develop that ferny top, which will, in turn, provide energy back to the crown, resulting in a larger diameter spear the following year. Your first two harvests should be limited to the first 2 to 3 weeks, allowing the asparagus crowns to continue to develop for the healthiest and longest living asparagus bed. From the third year on, you will most likely be harvesting every other day when the asparagus spears are between 4 and 8 inches tall, and for a period of 6 to 8 weeks, depending upon your geographical location. The weather will also determine your harvest. Asparagus is a cool weather crop and one of the first vegetables to be ready for harvest. Don’t pick the asparagus spears if they are no longer tight at the top. Just let those open to display the ferns that will perpetuate next year’s harvest. Nothing goes to waste!

asparagus knife cutting a asparagus spearWhen it comes to actually picking, many people will just snap the asparagus spears at ground level, but we suggest that you invest in an asparagus knife and cut the spears 1 to 2 inches below the top of the soil. The reason for this is two-fold. First, there is less chance that you will damage the plant by pulling as you snap the spear; and second, that layer of soil helps to protect the crown after the spear is removed. It is also much quicker and easier to harvest with an asparagus knife and it results in a longer spear.

Also, do not believe the myth that the larger asparagus spears are not as tender. What IS true is that as the spear grows both in height and in diameter, the part below ground and sometimes about an inch above the ground will get a little tougher. Simply use a paring knife and cut off the tough part, leaving the tenderest part of the spear for your enjoyment. Just throw the part you cut off into the compost bin or feed it to the chickens.

Enjoying and Preserving Your Harvest

In our opinion, the best way to enjoy asparagus is grilled. You can grill it on foil, but having a pan with close-set holes to place over your grill will result in the best flavor. Simply spray the spears with a bit of olive oil and season with garlic, sea salt and pepper and then grill to perfection! Of course, that’s not the only way to enjoy asparagus and we invite you to share your favorite recipes with us here or on our facebook page.

You can preserve asparagus by canning, pickling, freezing or drying.

Drying – Dried asparagus can be processed in a food dehydrator and then added to soups and stews throughout the year. You should wash the spears thoroughly and halve the largest spears. Either steam them 4 to 5 minutes or blanch in water for 3.5 to 4.5 minutes. Dry 4 to 6 hours in a dehydrator or oven. Of course, the drying time depends upon the initial moisture content of the asparagus tips and the type of dehydrator used. A conventional oven can take twice as long, while a convection oven with the fan going should take about the same length of time as a dehydrator. You will want to use perforated trays and allow 3 inches of clearance between the top and the bottom of the oven. Cheesecloth stretched over baking pans or over a frame will usually yield the best results, as it is guaranteed not to react with the asparagus and provides exceptional air circulation. Set your oven thermostat at 140° to 150° and prop the door open a little to allow moisture to escape. The asparagus tips are dry when they are leathery looking and brittle. Store in serving-size portions in airtight containers in a cool place and use in casseroles, stews and soups as needed.

pickling asparagus to canPickling – is self-explanatory and one of the most preferred methods of preserving asparagus. Due to its low acidity, asparagus requires a pressure canner for canning but can be processed with a water bath canner when being pickled. We carry a full range of pickling and canning ingredients. We only carry Mrs. Wages®!

Freezing – is one of the simplest means of preserving your asparagus in a close-to-fresh manner. Simply blanch small spears not more than two minutes and larger spears not more than three, then put in freezer bags or containers, removing as much of the air as possible. If you vacuum seal, you can skip the blanching process, keeping the texture fresh and the spears that gorgeous, just-picked green.

Canning – is preferred for long-term storage. Asparagus has low acidity, so it is necessary to utilize a pressure canner. You can either cut the spears to fit quart jars, or cut in smaller pieces, similar to green beans. Be sure to use a spatula to squeeze the air bubbles out of the jars before applying the lids and then process at 10 lbs. of pressure for 25 minutes.

We hope this answers all of your questions about how to start, establish and enjoy your own long-lived asparagus patch. In our opinion, nothing, absolutely nothing, beats the flavor of fresh, home-grown asparagus tips. The longer the spear is off the crown, the more the flavor and even the texture deteriorate. Eat it fresh or process it quickly. Store-bought asparagus tips, whether fresh, canned, frozen or dried, just can’t compare.

Enjoy!

Can I Replant My Dracaena Spike Plant?

November 22nd, 2011

I have a Dracaena Spike plant that I purchased 3 years ago and wintered indoors and replanted outside in a large pot on my porch. I use it as a centerpiece and put annuals around it. This year it is over 3 ft. tall and 3 ft. in circumference. Since I have two, I don’t think I can bring them indoors. Can I propagate them by removing the top portion and replanting it? Any other suggestions? Bev

Answer: The Dracaenas are a large family of more than 40 varieties, which in their native climate would be rugged, low-maintenance shrubs. As a houseplant the common varieties are sold as “lucky bamboo,” corn plant, and the most common dracaena, ‘marginata’. The ‘marginata’ is prone to becoming long and looking somewhat like a giant bottle brush but it does propagate well. However, spring is usually the best time to do this, although I’ve had some successes in the fall. Since you have two I suggest you try it with one now and leave the other until spring. Don’t throw away the mother plant. If you leave it potted it will sprout new growth around the top of the cane, sometimes two or three sprouts. For the top you cut off, be sure to remove any foliage that would be below the soil. If you have some powdered rooting hormone, dip the cane in some water and then into the rooting hormone to help it get started producing roots from the former leaf nodules. Keep it evenly moist and out of direct sun until it has started to set root. This process could take several weeks, so be patient. You can do this several times and really have a whole potful of nice spiky dracaena!

And if it doesn’t work well, we will have more in the spring!

Good luck~Karen

Thanksgiving Message from Garden Harvest Supply

November 18th, 2011

pilgrims giving thanks before a mealFood for Thought

There’s a bit of folk wisdom that says, “Who is rich? He who is thankful for what he’s got.” We’ve all seen people who have every material thing, and yet they’re dissatisfied and discontent. And then there are people who have far less and yet, because of their thankful attitude, they’re rich in smiles and gratitude. Thankfulness is surely one of the keys to happiness, and we don’t mean just thankfulness over material blessings.

Most people count their family as the thing they most value in life, and Thanksgiving offers a great opportunity to spend time with those nearest and dearest. People also value health, freedom, friendship, community, creative expression, and of course, their relationship with God. All these things are incredible blessings, and yet we often take them for granted, focusing instead on disappointments, frustrations, and setbacks.

The Pilgrims were thankful just to know that they were not going to go hungry over the cold New England winter. The previous winter an alarming number of them had starved, but at that first Thanksgiving they rejoiced over having plenty of vegetables, grains, and game to sustain them.

Today our blessings far exceed those of the original settlers, and yet giving thanks is considered “corny” in some circles. Well, not to us: we give thanks for all the blessings mentioned earlier, and also to you, our customers, for sustaining our business this year, and offering us the opportunity to sell you the very best products we can find. On that note, we’ll proceed to tell you about some delicious goodies we offer that will liven up your Thanksgiving celebrations.

 

Food for Our Celebrations

Popcorn! Who doesn’t love popcorn?  But the kind you get at the supermarket most likely consists of genetically modified corn, because GMO corn now predominates in the marketplace. What we sell is Amish Country Popcorn, a brand that’s guaranteed to be non-GMO. You can get red, white, blue, yellow, purple or even rainbow-colored kernels (although they all pop white) in various sizes, or as gift assortments. We also sell the best oils for popping popcorn: canola, peanut, and coconut. We even sell Ballpark Seasoning Salt that is just like what you had on your popcorn when you were a kid, and Sweet Caramel Glaze, which is all you’ll need to make caramel corn.

Another delicious product we sell that comes to us from the Amish is Mrs. Miller’s Homemade Jams. These jams contain all-natural ingredients, no preservatives, and are rich and pulpy with fresh fruit, be it apple, apricot, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, cherry, gooseberry, grape, peach, rhubarb-strawberry, or strawberry. There’s even hot pepper jelly, and also sugar-free jams and jellies. If you can’t decide, try one of the assortment packs that contains little bottles of strawberry, black raspberry, and rhubarb-strawberry jam, along with elderberry jelly, hot pepper jelly, and peanut butter spread.

Talking about spreads, our Jake and Amos Spreads are all-natural, and come in some intriguing flavors. Besides the classic apple butter with spice (with or without sugar), there are also naturally sweetened pumpkin butter, and sweet potato butter. Try putting those out on your Thanksgiving table, and watch the delighted faces of those who have never before spread pumpkin or sweet potato onto their bread! Finally, don’t send your guests home without a handful of our candy corn, or a few of our primose-filled red raspberry candies.

 

Food for the Hungry

Finally, we want to say that we feel our Thanksgiving would be missing something essential if we failed to reach out to those who are in need. Despite an abundance of food in this country that is beyond anything the Pilgrims ever dreamed of, the latest statistics are that 49 million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from!

feeding american children eatingOne charity that is doing great work to help feed America’s hungry is Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest), a non-profit that distributes 3 billion pounds of food a year to more than 400 food banks. If you give before November 25, your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a corporate sponsor. Feeding America has consistently been ranked one of the best-run charities, allocating only 1.3% to administrative costs. Join us as we give financially in order to give hope to families, hope to communities, and hope for a happy holiday for all by donating to Feeding America.

GHS Guide to Soil Testing and Soil, Part 3

November 14th, 2011

gardener putting garden mulch in wheelbarrowSoil is such a deep subject that it can seem like you’ll never get to the bottom of it. But you eventually do: it’s called bedrock. All levity aside, in this, our third and final newsletter about soil, we’re going to talk about mulching, a very important practice for keeping your soil healthy, and one that is perfect to do right now.

The Magic of Mulching

Mulching is almost as important as adding compost when it comes to fostering healthy soil. As B. Dean McGraw at the Texas Agricultural Extension Service explains in his article about the Value of Mulching Your Soil, “A well-mulched garden can yield 50 percent more than an unmulched garden the same size. Space rows closer as there is little or no need to cultivate the soil. Plant food is more available in cooler soil, and the extra soil moisture increases plant growth and yields.”

Another quote by the Virginia Cooperative Extension from their article, Mulching for a Healthy Lawn says it this way: “Mulches conserve soil moisture, allowing you to water less often; keep down weeds; reduce erosion; keep plant roots cool; provide winter protection; and make your yard more attractive.”

The kind of mulch you’ll want to put down this time of year is winter mulch. Organic is best, because it will decompose and disperse organic matter throughout your soil. This will increase the nutrients and level of bioactivity, and will improve drainage in clay soils.

Many people use wood chips, sawdust, fresh manure, grass cuttings, and even gravel as mulch, but these are not ideal. Gravel adds no organic matter to the soil and doesn’t decompose; wood chips sometimes contain seeds that can sprout and cause problems, and if not aged correctly, they can be too acidic and even toxic. Sawdust also often contains weed seeds that sprout, plus it tends to cake together. Fresh manure and grass cuttings can burn plants as they decompose.

That’s why we recommend the following four mulch materials:

  • Straw. Straw is inexpensive, keeps the weeds out, holds in moisture, and will protect your plants from the cold. Be sure to get straw and not hay, as hay usually contains a lot of weed seeds. Dig the straw under after your fall or winter harvest.
  • Bark. These mulches contain either shredded bark or bark chunks and are usually made from the by-products of pine, cypress, or hardwood logs. They will neither blow away nor get compacted. Plus they look nice and are readily available.
  • Pine needles. Pine needles look nice, resist compactation, are easy to work with, and are readily available—perhaps even right under your own pine trees.
  • Newspaper. Many people apply three layers of newspaper, either as sheets or shredded, as an undermulch upon which they lay one of the mulches listed above. Newspaper alone will blow away, not to mention leach nitrogen from the soil, but applied in this way, it will keep down weeds and give plants an extra layer of protection from the cold. Turn it under after your harvest.

You’ll want to spread mulch made from bark, pine needles or shredded leaves or newspaper to a depth of two to four inches, while straw needs to be applied to a depth of six to eight inches. Don’t pile mulch around the base of trees or shrubs, and leave the area around the base of plants bare or mulched at a depth of less than one inch.

In closing, let’s reflect on the fact that caring for “the good earth” has been a keynote of Western civilization for millennia. From the Biblical command to be “stewards of the land,” right up to the words of Kentucky’s farmer-sage Wendell Berry who describes soil as “the great connector of our lives, the source and destination of all,” this is a subject that will continue to be of concern to our children, grandchildren, and for many generations to come. Let’s do our best to leave them all a rich, fertile legacy.

Happy Gardening from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply!

Note: This is the last in a 3-part series. For more information, read our Guide to Soil Testing Part 1 and Guide to Soil Testing Part 2.

Habanero Pepper Seed Question

November 9th, 2011

I’ve noticed on some of the habanero peppers we have harvested, that when we cut the fruit open, some of the seeds are black. Do you know what is causing this, and are they still edible? Cindy.

Answer: Well this took a little research and deferring to a pepper expert. Apparently habaneros have a tendency for development of a mold. His comment was, “If squeamish, then avoid them.  If you are processing further, like cooking, then they are harmless.”

So, depending on how rampant the infection, you might be able to salvage parts of your harvest.

The previous dry season is the culprit.

Karen

Why Cover It Up?

November 4th, 2011

outdoor furniture coversWe are in the process of adding a whole new range of patio furniture and accessory covers to our inventory. As gardeners, we all completely understand the benefits of producing our own harvests, not only to ensure our families eat healthy, but during these tough economic times, as a way to save money. It only makes good financial sense, right?

Well, something else that makes smart financial sense is doing everything in your power to make those things on which you have spent your hard-earned money last longer. You vacuum and shampoo your carpet, even taking your shoes off when you enter the house, to make your carpeting last longer. You remind the kids…regularly…to keep their feet off the furniture, to make it last longer. Your money-saving garden even ensures a longer life through healthy eating. So, why would you ignore the toll the weather takes on your outdoor living accessories and shrubs?

Our furniture covers and plant covers are designed to save you money. Just as you protect your veggie plants from frost, hail, driving rain and wind; your patio furniture and permanent landscaping needs protection from Mother Nature’s temper tantrums.

From one of our customers: “…I personally, have witnessed my brand new patio umbrella flying across the yard to end up a mangled mess against the fence. I had it closed down and firmly situated in a HEAVY, wrought iron stand, from which the umbrella rose another couple of feet replacement patio umbrella coversthrough the top of my HEAVY glass-topped table. I thought I did everything right, until it went flying across the yard, thankfully not hitting any windows or toppling the glass table, but snapping the support ribs like toothpicks. The wind caught underneath the furled umbrella, snapped the tie that held it tightly furled, which allowed the umbrella to open fully, creating a canvas sail that flew up and out of that heavy wrought iron stand and up even farther until it cleared the top of my table, and away it went. A simple, inexpensive umbrella cover would have prevented that from happening and I wouldn’t have had to buy another brand new umbrella the following season…”

Additionally, patio furniture covers and patio accessory covers protect the materials and fabrics from normal, everyday weather when not in use. In spring and fall the weather can change from one day to the next. For days it may be too cold or too wet to sit out on the deck or patio, but when that gorgeous, perfect, porch-sitting day (or week) arrives, who wants to have to rinse off the grime that has accumulated on the tabletop or clean the chairs before sitting down? Having to do that diminishes the pleasure, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be much easier to just slip the covers off and have a seat?

Learn from other’s mistakes. Instead of lamenting over the loss of a beautiful umbrella, take a long look at the rest of your outdoor accessories. Is your grill starting to rust around the handles and does it still have that “new grill” shine? Investing in a grill cover will protect it year round. A new grill cover will probably cost less than $50.00, but a new grill can cost hundreds! The same is true of your patio furniture. Is it only a year or two old but already looking shabby and worn? And those stackable plastic chairs! They may not be that expensive, but they add up, especially if you have to replace them every other year. Cover them with our stackable chair covers to ensure they are always ready to sit in when guests arrive.

decorative plant protection bagIn fact, just take a walk around the outside of your house. Take stock of your outdoor accessories and permanent landscaping; just think about how much it would cost to replace it. Then, browse through our outdoor covers and plant covers.

Spend a little to save a lot!

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Benjamin Franklin

Happy Autumn everyone!

How to Grow Lemongrass-Indoors or Out

October 25th, 2011

If you are reading this, then you probably already know about the myriad uses for lemongrass, both in your own kitchen and in the kitchens of the best chefs. You also no doubt know that the lemon-grass herb plant is used widely in the perfume industry, but also as a natural mosquito repellent and as a calming, medicinal herb. It can, of course, be used dried or powdered, but it is when lemongrass is fresh that that lemony essence is most pronounced.

But…finding it in your local grocery store can be a challenge, if not an impossible feat, not to mention the expense and the waste from having to purchase so much at one time when only a small amount is necessary.

The solution? Grow it yourself!

lemongrass herb plant growing outside

Lemon Grass is actually really easy to grow! First of all, it is a perennial, which means that it will come back year after year in many climates, growing all year long in the warmest ones. It also lends itself well to both growing outside and inside, so where it is the coldest or when you want to have fresh lemongrass year round, you can move it indoors or outside as needed.

Growing Lemongrass Outside

Lemongrass is actually a tropical plant, so those of you who have warm weather year round can  easily grow lemon-grass plants as part of your landscape. In ideal conditions lemon grass will reach 3 to 6-foot high and do double-duty as a decorative ornamental grass. Lemon grass forms a rhizome, or bulb, but does not aggressively spread, so normal harvesting and occasionally cutting back of the longest top growth will satisfy the more formal gardener, though most people will just let it grow au’naturalle to wave in the breezes.

Lemongrass prefers sandy, well-drained and fertile soil, though it will grow well in all but the heaviest or constantly wet soils. Sun, on the other hand, is a must. Plant it in the sunniest location, unless you live in the desert, where lemongrass will prefer partially shaded afternoons. Most herbs (lemongrass is no exception) prefer to have constant moisture, so don’t allow it to dry out completely between waterings. In the desert, your lemongrass plants will benefit from heavy misting in the morning.

Your lemon grass plant will also thrive beautifully with regular feeding, once monthly or so, of a nitrogen-based fertilizer, such as High-Yield Garden Fertilizer 8-10-8, though this may not be necessary if you plant your lemongrass in beds that you compost or add organic materials to regularly. If however, you grow your lemongrass in a pot, fertilizing will be needed. As always, mulching will retard weed growth while maintaining moisture around your lemon grass plants.

Growing Lemongrass Indoors

Lemongrass growing indoors

Lemongrass is very adaptable to growing indoors, though it will do its best when allowed to “breathe” outside during the warm seasons. Due to its potential size, you should plant it in a pot equal to or close to five gallons and in the sunniest location possible, preferably in a south or southwest facing unobstructed window. Lemon grass plants can be kept under control and grown in a smaller pot by harvesting more often, which means removing the stalks, bulb and all, along the outside of the plant. You can always pass these along to friends or even take them to your local farmer’s market if you have an abundance. Lemongrass plants that are kept exclusively indoors have been known to adapt their size to smaller pots, though the harvest potential, of course, won’t be as large. You should also regularly feed your indoor plants, being even more diligent when they are in smaller pots. The potted lemongrass plants will quickly deplete nutrients, as do any potted plants, and rely upon you for their sustenance. Soil condition also deteriorates over time, so amending your potted plants’ soil with Earthworm Castings on a regular basis will prevent you from having to re-pot again and again. And watering will usually be more frequent. Depending upon the size of the pot and the size of the plant, you may have to water 2 to 3 times a week to maintain a good moisture level for healthy growth. If this sounds like too much work or you are contemplating a vacation, then work Terra Sorb into your soil, following the directions at the top of this page.

And Finally You Harvest!

First, be aware that most insects will turn their nose up at this pleasant lemony scent, but that cats seem to find it most attractive. Lemongrass plants are naturally pest resistant, but other methods may need to be utilized to fend off the neighborhood feline prowlers.

Now, you can start trimming leaves (for tea and soups) once the plant is at least one foot tall; if you like a “clipped and uniform” appearance, you can keep the top cut and dry what you don’t use right away. The snipping also releases more of the lemony essence, so cutting before a get together can be beneficial. You can start harvesting the stalks when they are at least 1/2-inch in diameter. You should always use a sharp knife to cut them off at the level of the soil, rather than trying to break them off or pulling them up, as you can inadvertently damage the rest  of the plant.

Lemongrass stalks after being harvested

The outside leaves are usually tough and may have to be removed before use, though bruising them and adding them to recipes, and then removing them before serving, is common practice. The lemony essence is quite strong, so start with very small amounts before adding more. Entire stalks can be kept in the fridge for several days by keeping them in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel. Some people also chop pieces of the stalks and freeze it for later use. The leaves preserve best when dried.

If you have further questions about growing lemongrass or any other gardening questions, you are welcome to Ask Our Master Gardener, a service that is completely free and always helpful.

Happy Gardening!

GHS Guide to Soil and Soil Testing, Part 2

October 18th, 2011

handful of garden soilSoil is the earth’s living skin, as fragile in some ways as human skin. In this second newsletter about soil, we’ll tell you what you can do about “problem skin,” such as if your soil is too sandy or has too much clay. But to do that, you’ll need to know what’s in your soil, and we’ll explain how to perform a free and simple soil composition test.

Soil Composition

Soil composition is the mixture of silt, clay, sand, and organic matter found in your soil. It’s important to know what the mix is within your garden because it will affect the type and amount of fertilizer you use, how well your soil drains, how well it holds what you plant in it, and how likely it is to wash away in heavy rains or blow away in high winds. Finally, soil composition indicates how alive your soil is—and the more alive it is, the better it is for growing things!

Hollywood should make a movie with people shrunk down to the size of microorganisms and then placed into some rich soil. Viewers would then see that every square inch contains billions of bacteria and fungi, as well as worms, insects, spiders, and other many other critters. The presence of such biological activity is good news: it means that the soil is fully capable of supporting and nurturing whatever plants are placed into it. But this kind of biological activity only occurs if there are good amounts of water, air, and organic material in the soil.

We’re not talking about watering here—you can pour water on a rock for days and no water will get in. We’re talking about how porous the soil is, and that depends on the size of the particles that make it up.

Sandy soil allows for water and oxygen to penetrate easily because sand particles are large. However, water drains away too quickly, taking with it any fertilizer you may apply. In this case, the fertilizer you apply—and the money you spend on it—goes right down the drain!  On the positive side, it holds plenty of oxygen, plant roots have no problem traveling through it, and it’s easy to dig.

Clay soil presents the opposite problem: because clay particles are so small, they make it hard for oxygen to get in, and whatever water gets in will have a hard time getting out, resulting in poor drainage. This type of soil is difficult for plant roots—as well as spades and hoes—to penetrate.  But don’t despair: this type of soil is generally richer in nutrients than other types of soil, so once you break it up, you won’t need to fertilize as much.

Silt predominating in your soil is good news; such soil is ideal for gardening because silt particles are medium sized and usually result in good soil drainage and aeration.  All you have to do is make sure your silty soil contains ample organic matter.

Soil Wash Test

The soil wash is an easy test you can perform that will tell you the approximate proportion of sand, clay, and silt in your soil. Of course, you can pay a lot of money for a laboratory to perform a professional analysis, but for most gardeners this rough-and-ready test will tell you everything you need to know.

mason jar showing different levels of garden soil

Take a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid (a Mason jar will work or any large rounded jar) and put a cup of soil into it. Then fill the jar most of the rest of the way with water. Shake it for 30 seconds and then let it settle. Repeat three times, so the soil is well diluted with water.  Then let the jar sit for three days.

The thickness of the layers indicates the proportions of sand, silt, clay and organic matter. As R.C. Harris explains, “With each mixing, more and more coarse particles will drift to the bottom and more and more clay particles will drift to the top, with silt settling out between them. Some of the clay particles may not settle out for several days with this garden soil test: they are so fine they form a colloidal solution in water.”

When you take a look at the jar after a few days have passed, you will get a rough idea as to what general type of soil you have, based on whether there’s mostly sand at the bottom, clay at the top, or silt floating around. If the results are not clear, R.C. Harris provides more detailed instructions, as does Paula Lovegren. A big thanks to George Weigel for providing us the mason jar photo!

Improving Your Soil

The short answer is that whether you’re dealing with sandy soil or clay soil, the remedy is the same: add compost.  One of our previous newsletters, A Rind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: The GHS Scoop on Composting, will tell you everything you need to know. And if you don’t want to make your own compost, we sell 32 qt. bags of BioMax 3-in-1 Garden Mix, a fine product that combines sea-based compost with black earth and Canadian sphagnum peat moss.

One thing not to do is add sand to clay soil or add clay to sandy soil. It would seem like this would be the easiest solution but due to the varying pH and magnetic charge of the particles, they might end up binding together, causing your soil to be as hard as a rock. Anyway, clay likes to bind to itself, and this alone can cause problems.

If your soil is too high in clay, the best thing to do (in addition to adding organic matter) is to add gypsum to help break it up.  If you have problems with drainage and this doesn’t fix them, you might need to dig a trench or take other more extensive actions.

If your soil is compacted because it is high in clay (or for some other reason such as a bulldozer going over it too many times), aeration will help a great deal. This can be done either by renting a machine called a core aerator or by hiring a lawn or landscape company to aerate it for you. For more information, read the Virginia Cooperative Extensions article on Aerating Your Lawn.

If your soil is too sandy, it will need lots of compost. However, compost alone isn’t enough; you’ll also need to introduce an earth-based matrix. As mentioned, clay isn’t a good choice, but Premier’s BioMax 3-in-1 Garden Mix would be ideal in this case, because it contains black earth as well as sea-based compost and Canadian sphagnum peat moss.

Finally, keep in mind that improving the composition of your soil will take time. It’s something that you have to work at, year after year, but you will see results, even early in the process. The closer your soil gets to being rich and fertile loam, the more productive your garden will be.

Caring for the Good Earth

We hope this newsletter will help you to better care for your soil through understanding its composition. For more information, read Soil Testing Part 1 and Soil Testing Part 3.

Until then, happy gardening from all of us at Garden Harvest Supply!

The Great White…Tomato That Is!

October 16th, 2011

Great White Heirloom TomatoThe Great White tomato is exactly what it sounds like. Producing a harvest of creamy white globes that can reach up to 2-pounds, but average about a pound each, the overall consensus of backyard growers is that this is a keeper.

An heirloom variety, I could find no information on the approximate date it was first introduced, which I can only deduce, means that it is a very old variety. The customer reviews of this unusually colored tomato have me agreeing that it is worth growing.

The Great White tomato is a beefsteak type of heirloom tomato that is amazingly meaty, while being incredibly juicy at the same time. Gardeners tell of its having only small pockets of seeds close to the outside, while the interior is almost completely solid with sweet, juicy meat. The flavor is most un-tomato-ish. Of course, anyone in-the-know knows that tomatoes are considered a fruit, but most tomatoes don’t closely taste like any type of fruit that is common today. The Great White tomato, however, is a tomato with a fruity taste. Described as sweet, juicy, kind-of citrusy and “almost impossible to describe”, one producer describes the flavor as reminiscent of fresh cut pineapple, melon and guava, all at one time. Hmmmm. I wonder if you could make wine out of these. An interesting idea, since tomatoes are chock full of vitamin C and antioxidants!

So, the proponents for the Great White tomato tell of the many compliments they receive, once people get past the unusual color. You may have to blindfold someone to get them to take the first bite! But…once they do, they will most likely be at least willing to admit that they are pleasantly sweet and tasty, while most will want plants for their own gardens. Their size makes them good for slicing and their color makes them an interesting addition to a sliced tomato plate. I can picture them on a blue plate, alternated with slices of a red beefsteak for the 4th of July picnic. I can also visualize them cut in tiny pieces in a baby spinach salad, maybe served with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. A couple of customers have actually made them into marinara sauce and remarked on how much their friends enjoyed it, though it was a little weird eating white marinara sauce.

As far as growing them, they can be grown like any other tomato.. The Great White tomato is an indeterminate variety, which means it will produce fruit all season. It is important to provide support for these plants due to the weight of the fruit they will bear and the heights they will achieve, easily topping 3 or 4-feet. They are also quite leafy, which is a good thing, as the dense foliage protects the white flesh from getting sun-scorched. In fact, the Great White tomato has a better tolerance to heat than many other varieties and definitely much better than most whites, with very little cracking or splitting, if any.

One grower commented that he was in a competition with his wife and babied his in 18-gallon pots, with a combination of planting mix and manure, carefully building an arrangement of laths and cords to support them, only to have just one of his ten plants produce fruit. While…on the other side of the yard, his wife planted her tomatoes in partial shade, right in the ground, with no fertilizer and right next to the pumps for their saltwater swimming pool and managed to get about 60 pounds of tomatoes off of just three plants. I think that we can conclude that the Great White tomato plant does not need to be babied and is not at all fragile, regardless of its color, which might lead you to believe otherwise. I wonder if the ground vibrations from the pumps had anything to do with the heavy production.

Your Great White tomato plants will arrive in a 3-inch pot. We have grown them in our greenhouses, with high quality planting soil and have provided them the essential nutrients necessary to develop strong root systems. Tomatoes stand up remarkably well to the stresses of shipping and transplant, but our short video will give you some transplant tips. Here in our greenhouses, and in our own personal gardens, we use Neptune’s Harvest when transplanting any of our plants from the pot to the garden, and we use Espoma Tomato-tone® to provide the best possible nutrients for optimal tomato growth. These organic products provide assurance that your family is only getting nutritionally sound produce from your garden, without ingesting chemical traces, and without the worry of ground water contamination.

Try the Great White tomato this summer! I can almost guarantee you will enjoy the flavor, even if you are not already a tomato lover!

Will Yoder Mums Survive Indoors?

October 13th, 2011

Jacqueline Peach Fusion Yoder MumMy question to you is: I bought some “Yoder” Mums. Will these survive indoors? I would love to put them on a huge counter space near a window. Our home does not get over 80 degrees inside. Will they live if I keep them in the house?   Thank you, Cheryl C

Answer: Cheryl, Chrysanthemums are typically grown outdoors for the fall season and then either left in the ground or tossed in the compost pile if they were in containers, but they can be grown indoors with a little care and understanding their needs.

If your plants are just beginning to bloom, they need to be in a location where they can receive direct sun until they are in full bloom. To prolong the life of the blooms, move the plants back away from the sun. Keep them well watered and away from heating vents. Watering with filtered water can help keep them looking attractive. After they have finished blooming, fertilize them about every other week with a general purpose fertilizer.

Getting them to rebloom will require a little skill and effort. Like many other plants, mums set bud based on length of day. They require 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness, so if you want them to bloom other than in the fall, you may need to set up an area where you can control the light source.

Mums are generally pest and disease resistant, but when you are growing them indoors they might be a bit more susceptible, so you will want to watch for aphids, mites, leafminers, whiteflies and thrips.

Happy gardening,

Karen

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