« Back to all News

Archive for the ‘Growing Tips’ Category

Growing Garlic in the Fall

September 27th, 2012

Planting fall garlic bulbs in the gardenWhat to Do (Or Not to Do) First

When it comes to planting fall garlic, timing can be everything.

First, when you receive your garlic bulbs, do NOT separate them until just before you put them in the ground. Put them in a dark, cool spot until planting if you cannot plant them fairly quickly, so as to prevent premature sprouting. Separating the bulbs from the clove prematurely will allow the root nodules to dry out, meaning it will take longer for the bulbs to set roots.

Garlic, a remarkably hardy root vegetable, in most cases, will perform much better when subjected to severe winter conditions. In fact, many varieties prove to be the most flavorful following a harsh winter. So, the trick is to plant early enough for the seeds (cloves/sets) to establish a good root system, but not so early that the plants have time to send up mature shoots before the onset of winter halts growth completely. A little above ground growth won’t hurt, but you definitely don’t want the formation of bulbs to start. The experts suggest planting your garlic seeds 4 to 6 weeks prior to the time the first hard freeze is expected in your area.

What Next?

The soil where you plant your garlic sets should be loosened and well-prepared, with compost or organic material worked in to provide the suitable nutrition and to give your fall-planted garlic a healthy start. The root end of each garlic clove that is attached to the bulb should be planted facing down, about 4 to 8 inches apart and 2 to 3 inches deep. Garlic seeds planted closer together will produce smaller bulbs in greater numbers, while those planted farther apart will produce fewer bulbs but with larger cloves. Once the ground freezes, cover the entire bed with 3 to 4 inches of leaves or hay, avoiding straw, as mites found in straw can attack the garlic. This will conserve moisture, provide insulation and control weed growth until spring arrives.

Now What?

You just wait. Sit in front of the fire, make snowmen with the kids, indulge in evenings with hot cocoa and good moviesand just when you think winter couldn’t last any longer, spring will arrive and you will already have done all the hard part when it comes to your garlic crop.

garlic plants growing in the gardenNow you just gently rake the leaves or straw off the new sprouts popping up; apply some organic fertilizer and harvest when ready! In wetter areas, you may not want to mulch at all throughout the season, but if it dries out, re-mulching will help to conserve moisture, control weed growth and moderate soil temperatures. Garlic does not appreciate competition in the form of weeds or grass, nor does it care for hot summer temperatures, so adapt these suggestions as needed for your particular area.

As for wateringgarlic requires somewhat even moisture throughout the season, though it is better to let it dry out some during the last few weeks prior to harvesting. Not enough watering will result in undersized bulbs, while too much watering affects the storage quality of the bulbs, greatly shortening garlic’s shelf life. It is better to stop watering earlier than to overwater later.How To Harvest Garlic Plants

When Can I and How Do I Harvest?

The time to harvest will vary, depending upon your zone and the growing conditions of any particular season. The only sure way to know is to regularly check the bulbs, feeling for the bumps of the cloves through the wrappers of the mature bulbs. Most gardeners will harvest starting in July, with the lion’s share being harvested in mid- to late August. This is one crop with no set times; your experience, and trial and error, are the best gauges.

Amazingly, garlic does bruise kind of easily, so be careful when harvesting. We suggest a fairly flat, narrow-bladed shovel to loosen the soil around the plants, and then lift the plants by hand. If harvesting on a sunny day, the bulbs can actually become sunburned, with some varieties changing flavor in the sun. Move your garlic bulbs to a cooler location, out of direct sunlight as you harvest.

Hanging freshly harvested garlic plants to dry

Photo courtesy of lisascenic

Enjoy!

If you’ve harvested young or new season, immature garlic, you will want to store it in the refrigerator and use it within a week or so. These cloves will normally have a more subtle flavor and can be used just as you would leeks or onions. For mature garlic, you will want to dry it well, after washing the bulbs and roots. You can hang the bulbs from their stalks if you wish. The area should be dry, shady and well-ventilated, the drying process taking in excess of a week, but enabling you to store it for an extended period.

Okay, NOW you can enjoy!

Growing Begonias Not As Hard As You Think!

August 22nd, 2012

Growing Begonia Flowers in a PotIf  you have grown lackluster begonias and want to know why they haven’t dazzled  with beautiful blooms, this article is for you. A tropical plant, begonias are  one of the most versatile and hardy flowering plants, adaptable to being moved  from indoors to out and back inside as the seasons change. Somewhat drought  tolerant, most begonias will also thrive in heat and high humidity.

As a rule, almost all begonias will prefer at least partially shaded areas, the Bonfire® Begonia and the Solenia® Begonia being the exceptions to the rule. That does not mean they will thrive in full sun in the desert southwest, though! Your specific geographic location, as well as the type of weather you are having during any particular season, will determine the prime location for successfully growing your begonias.

My Special Angel Begonia PlantIn addition to preferring partial shade, most begonias will not tolerate even the slightest bit of frost. Wait until after all danger of frost has passed before moving them outdoors in the spring, and bring them in if there is the least chance of frost as overnight temperatures start to fall. Most people will tell you they have the best results growing begonias by keeping them potted and moving them indoors and out. However, some begonia growers with exceptionally green thumbs and plenty of time for their flower gardening will replant them directly into their flower beds, digging them back up and repotting them to bring indoors, with some of these plants thriving for years and years. In all of these cases, adequate mulching to retain moisture and warmth seem to be the key, as is afternoon shade in hotter environments.

Begonias prefer loose and fertile soil, as well as adequate air circulation and a well-draining location. If your begonia plants are in pots, ensure they do not sit in water. Allow the soil to dry somewhat between watering, and then water well, draining the Solenia Light Yellow Begonia Floweroverflow reservoir after the water has thoroughly soaked the soil. If your potted begonia plants are outdoors, do the same after it rains. Begonias will also grow best when not overcrowded, so repot or divide if they are crowded and appearing to suffer as a result. Moderate to heavy feeders, especially when in bloom, both your potted and bedded begonias should receive regular feedings, a liquid slow-release fertilizer working best. We recommend Neptune’s Harvest, an organic fish emulsion fertilizer. Fertilizers high in nitrogen should be avoided, since they resulting in lanky, fast-growing plants with few blossoms.

The ideal environment for growing begonias combines slightly acidic soil, between pH 5.5 and 6.5, with 60% humidity, though we’ve consistently found the begonia to be highly adaptable. The experts have determined that just the right pH and light seem to be the biggest contributing factors to color variations, these differences often having neighbors scratching their heads over why my begonias are so much redder than hers, or why is the foliage purpler on my neighbor’s plants? If prize-winning begonias are your goal, you can test the pH of your soil with an inexpensive soil test kit, and then adjust the pH as needed with the addition of garden lime or wood ashes to raise the pH, or aluminum sulfate or elemental sulfur to lower it, though this is usually only necessary in soils with very high clay content. It might just be best to grow your begonias in pots with a high quality potting soil, in this situation.

Begonias need only a bit of tending to be stunningly gorgeous. Remove the faded blossoms, leaves and stems, trimming off the extra long stems in order to retain the attractive, compact shape. This little bit of care will result in better branching, more lush foliage and additional blossoms. We also suggest, when moving your plants in or out of doors, a period of acclimation to help them survive the transition better. When bringing them indoors, put them first in a sunny window, gradually reducing the amount of sunlight they get, and doing the same when you move them outdoors again, gradually increasing the time outdoors. Significant leaf drop may occur during the transition period, but don’t despair, their adaptability will have them looking good in no time at all!

So, you see, growing begonias is no big deal! And they’re well worth the effort.  Many of our novice begonia growers will first try the Dragon Wing Begonia, one of the most adaptable varieties.

As always, we welcome your questions and comments. Happy Begonia Gardening from all of us here at Garden Harvest Supply!

How Do I Care for My Weigela?

July 20th, 2012

weigela plants with flowersYou've chosen a Weigela, pronounced wy-JEE-lah, an easy-to-grow, deciduous, perennial flowering shrub with prolific, eye-catching blossoms and pretty foliage. Easy-to-care-for and exceptionally attractive, this simple, inexpensive flowering shrub is a good choice for enhancing your landscape. Now that you've got it homewhat next?

Choosing a Location

First, if you don't already know where you want to plant it, now is the time to decide. Weigela varies as far as height and width goes, depending upon the variety, so be aware of how your particular variety is expected to grow and choose your site accordingly. Your Weigela will prefer partial or afternoon shade in the hottest climates and during the hottest hours of the day at the height of the summer, though cooler climes will require full sunlight.

Fertilization

Weigela, as with most plants, prefers soil enriched with organic material when first planted. This provides the roots much-needed nutrients and will help your new shrub to survive the rigors of transportation and subsequent transplanting. Once established, fertilization will be up to you and to the plant. If you notice stunted growth or fewer flowers than normal, consider feeding with a slow-release fertilizer formulated specifically for flowering shrubs and trees and follow the recommended instructions for dosage. One of our customer favorites is Jobe's Organic Rose & Flowering Shrub Fertilizer Spikes.

Watering

Though somewhat drought tolerant, your Weigela will prefer regular watering. As with your lawn, water in the early morning or evening in order to conserve water loss from evaporation. These hardy shrubs, once established, are rather hard to kill, so it is very rare to water too much, unless the plant is being regularly flooded and/or sitting in water for any length of time. Watering at the same time and the same amount as you water your lawn should be more than sufficient.

Pruning

Your Weigela shrub should be trimmed back every year in late spring. Regular pruning will aid the growth of newer, healthier branches and can contribute to more prolific blooming. Simply prune those branches back that are older than two years by about one third. A sharp, clean cut is always much less stressful than sawing or bending and breaking, so having the proper tools is not only important, but will save you time and possible injury. The size of the branches to be pruned will determine whether you need a pruner or a lopper. At this time we also recommend you remove excess brush, mulch and leaves from around your Weigela shrub, allowing those close-to-the-surface roots easy access to nutrients, air and water.

NowSimply Enjoy the View!

Summer and Winter Squash-The Differences Explained

February 8th, 2012

summer squash in basketsMost of you are aware of the existence of both winter and summer squash, but we continue to get questions asking us what the major differences are. The questions range from how to grow to how to cook to how do you tell the difference? We will attempt to answer the most common questions here, and if you find that you have more questions after you've read this article, please feel free to Ask Our Master Gardener.

The most simple explanation of the main differences between summer and winter squash is that summer squash bears fruit best eaten when it is immature and the skin is tender. Winter squash takes longer to mature with the skin being more rigid and tough, making winter squash the ideal baking or stuffing squash. Winter squash, such as Hubbard, acorn or butternut requires a longer growing season, typically between 80 and 120 days, while summer squash, such as yellow crook neck, zucchini or patty pan requires one third to one half of that time.

winter squash harvestGardeners in the northern climes of the U.S. may not have a growing season long enough to grow winter squash to maturity; they must stay on the vine to ripen. If this is your situation and you just have to have some winter squash, you can try germinating the squash seeds indoors in order to give you a jump start on the season and then babying, really babying, the transplants. Most recommendations call for planting squash directly into the ground, butif you HAVE to have itit is worth a try. We also have a few varieties of squash seedlings that will save you the time and expense of germinating your own. You will have to monitor the moisture level carefully, as squash will wilt with the smallest hint of drought, so we suggest mulching to retain moisture as well as to inhibit weed growth that can choke young seedlings. Once they have started spreading and are well- established, you can relax your vigil and be proud of your success.

Summer squash must be eaten or processed fairly quickly, lending itself well to inclusion in breads or soups, as well as freezing, frying, sautéing and steaming. Winter squash, on the other hand, can often be stored for months in the right conditions and can also be pureed for soups, but is most often served baked, cubed or sautéed with fall spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. The experts recommend storing winter squash in warm household temperatures for about 10 days and then moving to a cool, dim place, like a garage or basement, where the temperature ranges between 40 and 50 degrees. You can freeze winter squash once it is cooked, even if it is pureed, for use later in pies and soups.

But, how do you grow each of these varieties? Squash requires room to grow, so we suggest you are sure of the varieties you want to grow. Visit your farmer's market or your grocery store and try them. Ask your friends and family what their favorites are, and then grow only what you know you will eat, unless, of course, you sell your harvest at the local farmer's market or will be freezing it for use later.

Neptunes Harvest Gallon JugThe process is basically the same for winter or summer squash. Both winter and summer squash like warm soil, lots of sun and prefer loamy, well-drained soil that is rich in compost or fed with a fertilizer that is not too high in nitrogen. Nitrogen will encourage leaf growth, sending those vines scurrying near and far, instead of concentrating the energy on the fruiting process. Of course, composting at home is the most economical and eco-friendly way to fertilize your vegetable plants, but for those of you who haven't gotten around to it or who don't have the room for your own composting set up, there are a number of fertilizers, such as Neptune's Harvest, that are organically approved and will serve to provide nutrition to your plants while amending your soil, resulting in a better and healthier harvest. If you are short on space, you can train the vines to climb a trellis or support, even from a container, though container plantings will require more vigilance on your part when it comes to moisture and nutrients.

Pests are not normally a big problem, but for those of you in areas where the vine or squash borer is a springtime problem, we suggest you cover your young squash plants with row covers, uncovering them as they start to set blossoms; bees and butterflies are needed to pollinate the flowers in order for fruit to grow. At this point, the vines are also often thick enough and sturdy enough to thwart the efforts of even the most voracious pests. Check regularly under the leaves for eggs that have been laid and remove them. They are usually colored from white to amber and will be quite recognizable, being laid in sizable colonies. We don't recommend using chemical pesticides, but instead suggest you rely upon those proven organic methods that are safer for your pets and your family.

Keep track of the number of days from planting, that being the most reliable indicator of when your summer or winter squash harvest will be ready. Summer squash should be harvested when no larger than 6-inches long or wide, this being when they are at their most tender and flavorful. Harvesting at this size will ensure the skin will not become thick and hard or the flesh bitter. Winter squash are best when fully mature, so should be harvested at the end of the growing season. The fruit should feel solid and sound slightly hollow when you thump or tap it.

We hope we've answered most of your questions. Watching squash grow is satisfying, the plants are amazingly vigorous and the resulting harvest is always colorful and incredibly delicious.

Happy Gardening!

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 harvestand  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 itwe've all been there!

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 alivejust 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!

How to use an asparagus knife to cut spears When 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.

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!

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.

Butfinding 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!

Blossom-End Rot How to Recognize and Prevent It

July 25th, 2011

tomato plant with blossom end rotYou’ve heard about blossom-end rot, but have you seen it? Or, maybe you’ve experienced it and didn’t know what it was. Hopefully this article will arm you against one of the most common tomato diseases, and you may be able to prevent it from happening, even though the most experienced gardeners have seen it on their tomato plants. (It also occurs on pepper plants and on eggplant, though it may start on the sides, near the blossom end, on these vegetables.)

First, you need to be able to identify it, and the name itself creates no small bit of confusion, especially for novice gardeners. The blossom end of the tomato is so-called because as the tomato grows, it actually emerges from under where the blossom was. The fruit grows between the calyx and the blossom, the calyx being the modified leaves you see at the top of the tomato. You will see the brown end of the blossom at the bottom of the growing tomato, not at the top where it is attached to the stem.

Blossom-end rot will start as a small beige or tan patch on the blossom end of the tomato while the fruit is still green, often appearing water-soaked. And then it becomes sunken and turns leathery and dark brown or black as the fruit matures. It looks rather disgusting, but you can eat the parts of the tomato that are not affected, as long as no secondary pathogens or pests have invaded the lesion and spread throughout the rest of the fruit. In severe cases, the whole fruit is a loss and it is not uncommon to lose 50 percent of the fruit on your tomato plants to this curse. I wouldn’t recommend giving these unattractive fruits away, even if the upper part of the tomato is edible. Better to use them in salsa, make tomato sauce, or at least slice them before anyone can see what they look likediscarding the rotted portion, of course.

To prevent a disease, you need to know what causes it. Blossom-end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency, which affects normal cell growth. Blossom-end rot results when the demand for calcium exceeds the supply, which can be caused by

  • Moisture fluctuation, which can reduce a plant’s calcium uptake.
  • Low calcium levels in the soil, often the result of improper soil pH.
  • Drought stress.
  • Over fertilizing with nitrogen-based fertilizers.

and which can be prevented by:

  • Tomato Grower's Soil Test KitMaintaining the pH of your soil right around 6.5. An inexpensive soil tester can quickly give you the pH of your soil, and then you can take the necessary steps to adjust it. This is not only good for preventing blossom-end rot; it is beneficial to the majority of your garden plants. 6.5 is the recommended soil pH for successful organic gardening.
  • Maintaining consistent moisture for your tomato plants. All garden plants require about one inch of moisture per week. If you are fortunate enough to have plenty of rainfall, this will not be an issue, unless you are getting way too much. Otherwise, irrigation is necessary, and I recommend a drip irrigation hose. A drip irrigation hose ensures that the moisture is going to the roots where it is needed, not landing on the leaves (especially in a crowded garden) and then evaporating.
  • Avoiding nitrogen-based fertilizers as your tomato plants start to fruit. There are actually two kinds of nitrogen fertilizer available. Nitrate nitrogen is preferable to ammoniac forms. Excess ammonium ions can reduce the calcium uptake of your plants. All nitrogen fertilizers should be used lightly and with the knowledge that the run-off from synthetic fertilizers can pollute water sources, including wells and ground water and are not entirely safe for use around your family, children and pets.
  • Ensure adequate calcium levels in your soil. Applying lime to your soil is one way to add calcium, but it will also lower the pH. This would be the ideal solution if you also need to adjust your pH down. Additionally, you can use a product, such as Nutri-Cal® Liquid Calcium supplement. Highly concentrated, it is applied in a fine spray every couple of weeks, though root absorption of calcium will be the most beneficial. Some gardeners crush egg shells and mix it into the top inch or so of soil, right around their plants, experiencing quite a bit of success, though the exact amount of egg shell needed is not really known.
  • Using good, rich soil is the ultimate way to prevent blossom-end rot from occurring. Soil rich in organic matter is naturally rich in calcium, and is also much more able to retain moisture, which means maintaining your soil’s moisture content is much easier. You can mix compost into your soil prior to planting or you can even top-dress your soil and as you water and cultivate, the compost will become mixed with your soil. Worm Castings are also a source of the richest organic matter and can either be mixed in, top dressed or side dressed.Earthworm Castings

These are fairly easy steps to making sure that all of your garden plants grow healthy and strong. Good gardening habits go a long way to ensuring not only a productive harvest, but less effort on your part, in the long run. In particular, it will mean your tomatoes are not lost to blossom-end rot. We all know how scrumptious fresh, homegrown tomatoes are. A few extra preventive measures will make the difference between a modest tomato harvest and an extraordinary one!

Happy Gardening Everyone!

Worm-Made vs. Man-Made

July 14th, 2011

Before I tell you about the benefits of using worm castings or vermicompost, you need to know why you should not be utilizing chemicals.

If you watch the news at all, you are well aware of the environmental crises that occur around the world involving hazardous materials and chemicals. The components of chemical fertilizer have even been used to make life-destroying bombs, which should be a big hint to all of us that they are not the best thing to be using on our lawns; and especially on our vegetable gardens that supply the food we feed to our family.

Chemical fertilizers are considered potentially harmful to both humans and to our planet. They are completely inorganic, synthesized to mimic the minerals and nutrients that plants need to grow. Yes, they work; but at what cost? Chemical fertilizers can pollute wells and ground water and eventually ends up in the rivers, lakes and oceans as rain washes it to these water sources. How many times have you seen someone overwatering their lawn to the point that it is running in the gutters? How many times have you stopped to think that whatever he or she has used to kill weeds on their lawn or to make their lawn grow is being washed, along with the wasted water, into the storm drains? Where do you think the water from the storm drains ends up? Yep, I’ve been guilty too, but I’ve made learning about the best ways to garden while leaving the world a better place for my children, my personal goal and my business, and that does not involve using harmful chemicals.

I’m sure you’ve heard how important it is to wash your fruits and vegetables Strawberry Plantsthoroughly; in fact, in some instances the experts are now recommending that you remove the skins completely. The same skins that your Mom always told you has so many more healthful vitamins and nutrients than the flesh of the fruit, is now being contaminated. Some of the most common fruits, such as strawberries, have some of the highest concentrations of fertilizer-borne chemical concentrations.

And if that isn’t enough, chemical fertilizers can actually, over time, cause mineral depletion of the soil, a loss of humus content and fertile top soil, as well as increasing pest problems due to the destruction of beneficial bacteria and microbes that help the plants to defend themselves against diseases and pests. Long-term use of chemical fertilizers may mean that you have to water more and that you also may have to use more chemicals to destroy the pests and diseases that have been enabled by the use of chemicals to begin with.

This vicious cycle has been perpetuated, not only by us, but by the chemical companies that heard our demands for the “instant” picture perfect lawn. That was the American Dream, after all. But the perfect lawn takes time, which is something we all seemed to have run completely out of as the race was on to keep up with the Joneses and then with the Rockefellers and the American housewife put shoes on and started carrying a brief case. It was all we could do to raise our 2.5 children and bring home the bacon, but we still wanted that perfect lawn. Necessity is the mother of inventionwhich is how chemical fertilizers came to be.

Growing produce togetherNecessity is the Mother of Invention againas we now know at what cost our “instant” green lawn was achieved. Today, as more and more Americans are out of work or struggling to make ends meet, the return to gardening is like a tidal wave spreading across this country of ours. Even vacant city lots are becoming community gardens to feed the citizens, but the by-product of this movement is that people are learning to care again. They are getting to know their neighbors as they band together so that more can eat. They are getting to know their children as they opt out of the movie theater and opt in for family gardening. The dancing shoes are being put away and being replaced by a hoe; after all, who can afford to go out AND pay a babysitter? The backyard garden is becoming what the sit-down family dinner used to be in the 60’s.

And people care. They care more about the environment because they are thinking twice about what they put on the home-grown vegetables that they will put in their mouth. They see our natural resources shrinking, right along with their bank account, and hope that we are all not doing too little too late. And they are looking for solutions.

Worm casting fertilizerHere is a HUGE solutionan army of people working together to raise an army of worms that can supply the U.S. with all the natural, organic and chemical-free fertilizer that is needed to rebuild our tired soil and to fertilize every backyard garden, every community garden, every farmers’ crops and every acre of produce commercially grown.

Worm castings, worm compost, vermicompost and organic fertilizer are all terms for the same thing. It is the result of different types of worms, usually earthworms, particularly red wigglers, and white worms, being used to create nutrient rich compost. The worms break down organic matter, passing it through their digestive system, the end result being an organic fertilizer and soil amendment with 60 different minerals and nutrients essential to growing healthy plants. No dairy, meat, fats or oils are fed to the worms and what IS fed to the worms also determines the quality of the worm castings, as does the worm itself. Regular earthworms are not generally utilized for vermicomposting. The common earthworm cannot survive the heat that is necessary for the efficient decomposition of the organic materials. The Red Worm, on the other hand, has a voracious appetite, often eating one-half to one times their own weight in food every day, and thrives in the temperatures necessary to help their composting. Well fed worms also reproduce quicker, which means even more compost.

And what is fed to these worms? Every type of organic matter available. A lot of it would end up in landfills or down garbage disposals if it was not rescued for worm food. For example, the leaves removed from the outside of the head of lettuce and the core. Any type of perishable fruit or vegetable, even breads can be bound for the worm’s gullet if it is going to waste or has become overripe. And then some bedding material is added, to make the worms comfortable and to get things started. We have a selection of compost bins designed specifically for worm composting if you’d like to try this at home, but we also sell Earthworm Castings, made by that army of people and worms that I mentioned earlier, and which will require much less work on your part.

So, now that you know how the worm castings are created, let’s get to the benefits of using them.

Where chemical fertilizers destroy, the worm restores. Completely 100% planet-friendly, this whole process is naturally-occurring. Man is just here to help the worm do their job better, to distribute this worm-made black gold and to spread the word that worms can save the world! Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but I made my point.

Growing an organic gardenNaturally rich in microbes, humus and nutrients, vermicompost improves and then maintains the fertility of your soil. Humus is quite complex, and I won’t even attempt to explain it, but to say that humus is what allows the roots of your plants to access the necessary nutrients from the soil. It allows your plants to feed themselves, rather than having to be “force fed” with a chemical fertilizer. The humus aides the soil’s ability to hold more moisture, air and nutrients, which then feeds all of the microbes that bring the nutrients to the plants’ roots. Wikipedia does a much better job of breaking it all down, but suffice to say that humus is the key to the most successful organic gardening.

You also won’t find humus in most manures or compost for sale commercially. Most of these products are simply dried manure or composted organic matter and once it looks like dirt, it can be sold to fertilize your lawns and gardens. The trick is to build the compost up to contain a high level of humus, which is exactly what the worms do!

And the list of benefits goes on:

  • Many fungal diseases are suppressed, such as phythium, fusarium, dollar spot, etc.
  • The use of worm castings reduces algae in lagoons, ponds and greenhouses because there is no nitrogen run-off. Using worm castings will not contaminate ground water.
  • You can reduce water consumption up to 50% and increase drought-resistance.
  • Worm castings improve the structure of the soil, allowing for better aeration, root development and nutritional uptake.
  • Worm castings can even be applied to phosphate sensitive areas.
  • Beneficial enzymes are produced by the plants that are fed by the worm castings, enabling them to naturally repel many of the pests that feed on the juices of the plants.
  • It is odorless. You don’t have to wear a mask while applying it, indoors or out.
  • You can even dissolve it in water and use it as ‘compost tea’.

The worm restores what chemicals have destroyed. I can’t think of any better reason to quit using chemical fertilizers and switch to worm castings.

Growing the Best Tomatoes

July 8th, 2011

Tomatoes ripening on the vine So, you've planted your tomatoes, you've been watering them religiously and you've left plenty of room for big growth, because those tomato plants won't stay little for long.

Tomato plants LOVE warm soil! (If you put down plastic mulch for a few days or up to two weeks before you transplant your tomatoes or peppers, they will love the extra warmth, and you can transplant right through the plastic if you want to!). Mulch will shade the soil mid-summer and keep it cool, as well as deterring weed growth, conserving water and looking pretty. Mulch also helps to keep soil-borne diseases from splashing onto the plants when they are being watered. It is well worth the little bit of extra effort, and the rewards more than pay for the cost. If you are planting a fall crop, the soil is already warm enough, so you can mulch as you plant. Another option is to use the Gardeneer Tomato Tray. It also prevents weeds right around the plant but with the added bonus of being able to add a fertilizer like Tomato-tone® directly to the roots where your plants can more efficiently use it. Just use the recommended amount and add water to the reservoir to gently feed. Tomato-tone® will not force rapid growth, but will provide the essential nutrients necessary to optimize the production and quality of your tomatoes.

Once your tomato plants are 2.5 to 3 feet tall, remove the bottom set of leaves using a sharp pair of scissors; you don't want to tear them off, leaving a wound for diseases or pests to enter. These leaves get the least amount of sun and will eventually yellow and die anyway and are almost always the first to develop fungus.

sucker stem growing on a tomato plantYou may also start to see tiny stems and leaves (called suckers) starting to grow at the joints of the main branches and/or from the bottom of the main stem. Pinch these off; they will take energy away from the rest of the plant and prevent your tomatoes from growing to their full potential. If, after fruit starts to develop, you notice that your plants are exceptionally bushy, it is also okay to prune a few leaves in order for the sun to reach the fruit, but go easy. The leaves, through the process of photosynthesis, are providing valuable sugars to your tomatoes, giving them that wonderful flavor.

Watering regularly, both when your plants are becoming established and once they mature, is one of the tricks to having beautiful, blemish-free tomatoes. Irregular watering is a contributing factor to blossom end rot, dropped blossoms and cracked fruit.

Keep tomatoes moist, but not wet, during the first 2 to 3 weeks, then start a regular deep-watering regimen. Watering deeply allows the roots to take better hold. It all depends upon your soil conditions, whether or not you mulch, and of course, the moisture you are receiving from Mother Nature, but a good rule of thumb in an average year is to thoroughly soak sandy soils every four to five days, soaking heavier soils and clay every seven to ten days. You want the soil to be moist at a depth of 6 to 8 inches.

Rapitest Moisture MeterIf you are growing your tomatoes in containers, the watering requirements will be very different. Your containers should have good drainage. You can still water them deeply, but the time-span will be shorter between waterings. The absolute easiest way to determine the moisture content of your soil at any given time is with a moisture tester. They are really inexpensive and you can get one that tests for pH, moisture, fertility and sunlight, or one that tests just for moisture. Many people new to gardening have found these to be an invaluable tool.

It is perfectly normal for the leaves on your tomato plants to wilt a little in the hottest part of the day. They will normally perk up overnight. If they are wilted first thing in the morning, water them quickly. And always water early in the day. Tomato plants should not be wet overnight and watering during the hottest part of the afternoon results in evaporation, a real waste of our natural resources.

If you make it a practice to check your garden regularly, you will get a quick jump on eliminating tomato horned worms or discovering a fungal infection.

Blight, the most common fungal disease for tomatoes, is actually preventable with the application of Serenade Garden Disease Control. Approved and recommended by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), it safely controls many fungal, foliar and bacterial diseases on your tomatoes and in your garden with absolutely no harm being done to you, your family, your pets or livestock, or the environment.

Serenade Blight ControlYou might benefit from reading The 10 Most Common Tomato Plant Problems, in our blog section. This article covers the 10 most common problems, how to recognize them, how to treat them and most importantly, how to prevent them.

Once your tomatoes start to turn from green to yellow, some fruits will ripen very quickly, especially the cherry or grape varieties. If air temperatures are over 100, you may want to pick the fruit before it is completely ripe. Sometimes extreme heat can cause cracking, and although that doesn't mean the fruit is no good, it will look much better if you let it ripen on the kitchen counter. Don't refrigerate tomatoes, if you want them to retain that just-picked sweetness!

Getting Ready to Transplant Tomato Plants

June 29th, 2011

tomato starter plantTransplanting your tomato plants in to the ground can be done anytime after the last frost date, or more specifically, when soil temperatures are at least 55 ËšF to 60 ËšF and night air temperatures do not go below 45 ËšF. Determining the soil temperature can be tricky for both novice and experienced gardeners, which is why we recommend using a soil thermometer.

Before setting your plants in to the ground, consider their surroundings. Did you know that tomato plants are actually picky about who their neighbors are? Do not grow your tomatoes near corn because the corn earworm is identical to the tomato fruitworm. Also avoid planting near potatoes; when the two are together your potatoes become more susceptible to potato blight. Finally, tomatoes and all members of the cabbage family repel each other and should be kept separate. On the other hand, tomatoes are compatible and can be planted with or near chives, onion, parsley, marigold, nasturtium, carrot, and garlic. Be cautious about your tomato predecessors as well. When rotating your crops, avoid following potatoes, peppers, or eggplants in addition to all members of the family that includes tomatoes.

Some final considerations you should make prior to planting are the amount of sunlight and the soil conditions of your garden plot. First of all, tomatoes should be grown in a spot that will allow them to enjoy full sunlight. If you are unsure of how much light your garden plot is actually receiving, try using the SunCalc® Sunlight Calculator. Secondly, tomatoes should be planted in fertile soil with plenty of organic matter. Knowing the nutrient levels of your soil is essential to growing tomatoes. For example, soil with too much nitrogen, will produce leafy plants with little fruit. This is why we recommend using a Tomato Grower's Soil Test Kit. This kit is inexpensive and easy to use and will determine pH as well as NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) levels in your soil before you plant.

While this may seem like a lot of information to remember, we are confident that with these few considerations you will be growing successful tomatoes in no time. Feel free to utilize any of our tomato growing articles for help or guidance. Best of luck and happy gardening!

Discount Coupons
Ask a Master Gardener