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 pelletsand 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

Plan Your Spring Garden and Plant Your Winter Garden

January 10th, 2010

heirloom tomato plantJanuary is a busy time for us at Garden Harvest Supply. We begin taking orders on our vegetable plants this week, which means that when spring comes, we can ship plants out to you at the perfect time for replanting based on where you live. We offer a greater selection of starter veggie plants than anyone else online, and we're proud to grow them in larger-than-usual pots to ensure healthier roots systems. So let one of your resolutions this New Year be to plan your spring garden early. Then order the vegetable plants you need from us!

How to Keep On Growing Despite the Frost

If planning is not enough for you and you just can't wait to plant, we suggest you put up a row cover, or it's larger cousin, a hoop house. That's what Michelle Obama and her staff did a couple of weeks ago at the White House Garden, enabling them to grow a large variety of crops there during the Washington winter including spinach, lettuce, mustard greens, chard, cabbage, winter radishes, onions, broccoli, turnips and carrots.

We've long recommended row covers to those customers who want an extended growing season but don't need anything as large or permanent as a full-sized greenhouse.  These simple tunnel-like structures with plastic or fabric stretched over and around them catch the sun's rays and achieve results similar to a greenhouse for a fraction of the cost. They are also easy to put up, as you can see from viewing their installation at the White House Garden.

If you'd like to give row covers a try, Haxnicks Easy Tunnel Row Cover contains everything you need to get started. The galvanized steel hoops will last for years, and the tough UV-stabilized polyethylene forms a complete barrier retaining humidity and warmth, while protecting against frosts, harsh weather, and pests. At $39.50, it's a very economical way to keep on growing despite the snow and frost.

An alternate solution is the Cold Frame Single Mini-Greenhouse, which, at $44.99 is almost as inexpensive and provides more than 5 sq. feet of growing space. The advantage of the Cold Frame is that you can move it from one area of your yard to another, allowing you, for example, to start seedlings and grow plants to maturity without transplanting. Simply move the cold frame when the danger of frost is past.

cold frame double mini greenhouseWe also carry the Cold Frame Double Mini-Greenhouse which provides more than 10 square feet of growing spaceenough for a small family to grow their veggies and herbs. In some zones you'll be able to grow all year round.

The Season Starter, one of our best selling products, is designed to give you a jump on the next growing season by allowing you to plant your cold-sensitive vine crops as much as six weeks earlier than usual. An improved version of the popular Wall O' Water, it is often used for growing early tomatoes, but will also work with peppers, cucumbers, melons, and all other vine crops, as well as certain herbs.

Though simple in its design, it delivers sophisticated results, the kind you'd be more likely to expect from a fancy product with timers and light sensors. When you wrap the Season Starter around a plant during daylight hours, the tubes of water it contains begin to absorb solar energy. When the temperature drops, these tubes slowly and uniformly release that accumulated energy, generating enough heat to keep plants warm overnight. In freezing temperatures, the walls of water freeze before the plant feels the cold, releasing increasing amounts of heat as they do. In this way the Season Starter is able to protect tender plants during frosty nights, and the wrap-around design helps shelter them from chilly winds.

Certified Organic Seed

If you're going to be planting this winter, you'll need seed. The best kind of seed comes from plants that have not been genetically engineered, and were grown entirely by natural means without the application of any synthetic chemicals.

This kind of seed is known as organic, but not everyone who claims to provide organic seed produces it the same way. That's why standards for organic agriculture were developed, along with a certification process by which growers can prove that they have followed all the best practices recommended by experts in the field.

We're proud that all the seed that we sell has been certified organic by MOSES, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.  This organization holds the bar so high that some organic farmers don't want to take the trouble to meet all their certification requirements. Those who are willing to walk the extra mile are the ones from whom we get our seed. The produce you grow from it will have a healthier start than nearly all the organically grown produce that is commercially available.

How can we say this? Because less than 5% of certified organic produce is grown from certified organic seed. This is far from ideal, as Peggy Miars, an organic certifier for CCOF, an organic certification and trade organization, explains:

I think in order to be truly organic, you need to start with the organic seed, and I know that's something that CCOF is trying to encourage farmers to use, and I know it's something they really want to use, and I know it's something that consumers think need to be used as wellso I think it needs to start organic from seed all the way through to the table.

The Big Picture: Earth in the Balance

That's just what we offer at Garden Harvest Supply: everything you need to grow organic from the seed all the way through to the table. And when you grow that way, you not only end up with great tasting produce, but you help to restore ecological health to the earth.

More than two hundred years ago, George Washington wrote that the improvement of agricultural practices is one of the most real and important services anyone can render to their country. How ironic that the farmers rendering that service today are those that are in some ways returning to the kind of farming that was practiced by the early settlers: one that involves crop rotation, the planting of perennials, and the use of organic fertilizers and natural methods of pest control.

By retaining the best of our hard-won agricultural advances over the last two centuries, while once again working with nature rather than against it, we can replenish the soil, restore the purity of our waterways, and be more productive than farmers in Washington's time could have ever dreamed possible.

Oracaena Spike Question

November 30th, 2009

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

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

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

Hope this helps~


Popcorn Kernel Preservation

November 25th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Birdhouses 101: Housing Wrens, Bluebirds, and Purple Martins

November 24th, 2009

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

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

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

wren housesWrens

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

Build Your Own

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

Bluebirdsbluebird houses

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

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

purple martin housesPurple Martins

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

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

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

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

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

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

My lime tree produces limes without any juice

November 20th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Happy with our purchase

November 18th, 2009

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

How to protect my Tea Rose

November 18th, 2009

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

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

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

Good luck with the roses! Karen

Welcoming Birds to Your Winter Garden

November 16th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Birds Cannot Live By Seed Alone

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

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

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

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

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