Thursday, November 18, 2010

Seed Starting Tips from Thompson & Morgan

I love starting seeds. It’s a lot cheaper than buying transplants, and there’s nothing better to us gardeners than watching something grow from a tiny speck into a full mature plant. I’ve always considered it the “second” or intermediate stage of gardening. If you’re a new gardener, chances are, you’re starting with plants and flower bulbs, because they’re so simple.

Seed starting is admittedly more complicated, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult. It’s actually quite the opposite, especially when you have the right resources and a little ambition! So for those of you who are hesitant to try seed starting, fear not! There is a way to make seed starting simple, quick and fun. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need an elaborate basement operation with fluorescent lights and elegant light fixtures!

I’m really excited about Thomspon and Morgan’s new Seed Starting Kit. We’ve assembled the absolute best way to start seeds. You’ll get healthy and hearty plants every time! The best part is it’s clean…no fussing with messy potting soil or Dixie cups.

Our Seed Starting Kit allows you to quickly, easily and successfully start all kinds of seeds. Each kit contains everything you need for fast germination and vital root growth. The soil-less grow plugs are made of natural, biodegradable materials so that each plug can be directly transplanted into the garden greatly reducing transplant shock. Each grow plug contains beneficial bacteria to aid in maximum seed germination.

The lightweight 55-cell growing tray wraps each grow plug in warmth and floats them in the water-filled reservoir tray, allowing each seed to get the perfect water-to-air ratio. The humidity dome holds in the warmth and moisture, ensuring early and uniform seed germination
I recently had the opportunity to give the Seed Starting Kit a try, and let me tell you, it works! This is by far the easiest method I have ever used. It allows me to do more – and easily. Give it a try today!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Composting: Save Your Leaves!

For most gardeners, November is a month for raking leaves and racking your brain trying to figure out what to do with them. You could put them in the street or bag them, but why let them go to waste? Here’s a suggestion: Composting. Besides being extremely earth-friendly, composting is the best way to build fertile, productive soil.

What and When to Compost

You may be surprised what kinds of materials can be composted. Leaves, dead plants, grass clippings, vegetable scraps and other organic material can all be composted. The fall season is the best time to start a compost pile – the composting process continues throughout the winter.
Chop or shred leaves before adding them to your compost pile, because intact leaves tend to mat down. Remember, you should always add roughly equal amounts of “green” and “brown” material at any given time, and your compost should contain a mix of nitrogen and carbon-rich materials. Green, leafy waste is high in nitrogen, and brown, woody scraps are high in carbon. You may not be able to use all your leaves at once; bag up the rest and hold onto them for next summer, when you’ll surely be looking for more “browns” to add to the “greens” you’ll have coming out of your ears!

Composting is great for your garden, and it’s very easy. All you need is a small area in your garden for a compost pile, or a compost bin. If you don’t already compost, you can buy or construct a bin, or purchase a barrel-sized crank-operated composter, which are far more efficient than traditional composting methods. See, with a composter, the two main ongoing jobs as each batch “cooks” are to turn the compost often to aerate it, and to add water if it gets dry.
Fall is the best time to start a compost pile. So get out there in your garden in the crisp fall weather and have fun!

Check out these great Thompson & Morgan composting products!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How to Grow and Care for Asparagus

I love picking asparagus straight from the garden and eating it fresh. It’s one of the best reminders of spring turning to summer. Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that can produce annual springtime harvests for up to 20 years, following an initial three-year period while the bed gets established after planting. It’s a popular vegetable, so I’m sure many of you are growing it in your gardens.
That’s why I’ve come up with some general facts and care tips about asparagus:
First and foremost, asparagus is a hungry plant. Keep it well fed and it will remain happy. This is the basic maintenance requirement, along with mulching and weeding. A slow-release fertilizer will work great, adding nutrients as needed; apply it in the spring and again after harvest.
Also, you’ll want to check the makeup of your fertilizer to be sure your asparagus gets plenty of phosphorus and potassium. You can provide those nutrients by adding bonemeal and wood ash to the soil. Pellet fertilizers are fine, but make sure you combine them with organic matter. A top dressing of these materials after harvest and in the fall will help ensure good growth. Asparagus grows best in a sandy loam with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
After harvest and through the fall, leave the plant alone. Let them just do what asparaguses (asparagi?) do naturally! If your asparagus turns yellow, don’t worry, that’s normal. Even as it yellows, the foliage is still feeding the plant, so don’t cut it back until it totally dies back. At that point, usually in early winter, remove all remaining foliage. This will protect your plant from pests and disease.
And speaking of pests, the most common asparagus pest is the appropriately named “asparagus beetle.” Cutting the foliage back in the winter should keep the buggers away, but if not, you can always pick them off and drop them in soapy water to kill them.
That about covers asparagus care. Just remember the best protection against pests and disease is to keep your plants healthy and strong through feeding, weeding and mulching!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Can’t Wait to Grow Some New Plants from T&M!

Hey folks! Sorry it's been a while since our last update. We've been busy gearing up for our Fall catalogue release! (Speaking of our new catalog, request one HERE).

I don't know about you, but I often have trouble finding exactly what I want at my local florist. It’s nothing against their shop—it’s a great, local, family-owned establishment that’s been in town for decades. However, in order to meet my ever-growing needs (and wants) as a gardener, I am looking for a broader selection. Thankfully, Thompson & Morgan is releasing some new products this fall, and our lineup looks promising.

One plant I’ve really got my eye on is Coreopsis ‘Roulette’. I love finding new plants to try in fresh cut bouquets, and when I heard about this one I just had to put it on my list of ‘things to plant’. It’s a unique bouquet addition because it has a second row of petals on each bloom. Each time I look at one I feel as if the roulette ball just landed on my lucky number!

There are a few others I’m going to try: Sweet Pea ‘Ballerina Blue’, with its large, aromatic blooms; Petunia ‘Rose Vein Velvet’ F1 Hybrid, a perennial that flowers all summer; and Cosmos ‘Brightness Mixed’, with its bushy, free-flowering mixture of gold, lemon, orange and red.

I can’t wait till these come out! Talk about adding variety to a bouquet!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Growing Herbs from Seed

In terms of grower satisfaction, it’s hard to beat herbs. If you have limited time and space, herbs give you more for less than anything else you can grow. Just one or two leaves of the right herb can completely transform a salad, pasta dish or stew. Best of all, they are easy to grow and immune to most pests.
The compact growth of most herbs makes them ideal for containers, too. A few nursery pots, 18-24” across the top, will provide a happy home for your herbs. In a colder climate, you can bring the pots indoors to a sunny spot.
Choose as many herbs as you will actually use and have room for. Make sure you sort them into two groups, annuals and perennials. Common annuals include basil, dill and parsley. Common perennials include chives, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, sorrel and thyme. Whether you grow herbs in beds or in pots, keep your perennials separate from your annuals so they can continue to grow year after year without being disturbed.
Most herbs will grow well from seed, but transplants are just as easy to grow. With transplants, make sure the soil or growing medium you’re putting the plants into is well-watered (moist but not soggy) in advance. Drainage is important – few plants like wet feet – so augment your soil with perlite, vermiculite or compost.
If you start herbs from seed, wait until the seedlings have their first true leaves (leaves that resemble those of an adult plant), then thin them so they stand several inches apart. Do this by snipping off the unwanted plants at ground level with scissors – don’t pull them out, which can injure the roots of the surviving plants.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How to make your own Herbal Tea

Strictly speaking, herbal “teas” are actually called “tisanes” or “infusions”, while real tea is made from the leaves of the tea plant. Even so, the term herbal tea is now widely used for the dozens of varieties on the market. It’s easy to make your own from fresh herb leaves picked from the garden for a special treat!

My favorite herb tea is mint, but some varieties are tastier than others. I use the English mint I grow in my backyard, which has a full mint flavor with no off notes. For a good mint tea, pick about a half-cup of leaves, packed, then bruise them on a cutting board. Place in a warmed teapot, add two pints of boiling water, and steep for about five minutes. Strain and serve…then enjoy! Apple mint is delicious, too, as is peppermint.

Use the same method with catnip (yes, catnip!), chamomile flowers, sage, dill (double the amount of leaves), Echinacea, lavender, thyme or rosemary (half the amount of leaves). You can also use an herb to flavor regular tea, especially green tea, for a delightful drink. Earl Grey tea is flavored with bergamot fruit rind to give its distinctive taste.
Lemony herbs, such as lemon verbena, make good teas by themselves or with other herbs. Lemon verbena with mint is a nice combination. If you use St. John’s wort, add about a tablespoon of thyme for a much better taste. With this and other herbal teas, the best sweetener is a good honey, which sweetens without masking the taste of the tea.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Growing Great Melons!

Sweet, juicy and easy to grow, nothing says “summer” like a ripe melon!
On a hot summer day, few things quench your thirst and inspire fond memories like feasting on a slice of succulent red watermelon. Try growing watermelon, cantaloupe, or honeydew melon, and you can relive those wonderful memories and at the same time spare your wallet and your taste buds from bland, expensive supermarket produce.

Here are a few tips on how to grow some great melons:
A sun-loving crop, melons need protection from cool spring and fall winds, proper air circulation, and space, whether it’s up a sturdy lean-to trellis or spread out in a 4’ by 4’ area. Melons prefer light, sandy, loamy oil that’s packed full of organic matter and nutrients. Cantaloupes and other melons require a pH of 6-7.5, but watermelons can take a pH as low as 5.5. A warm-weather crop, melons prefer soil temperatures of at least 70°F and ambient air temperatures of 50-55°F. If this sounds too warm for gardeners in cooler climates, don’t worry: There are other compact cool-season cultivars that will grow just fine.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Grow Up! - The Vertical Vegetable Garden

Do you picture a typical vegetable garden as a vast area, with neat rows stretching to the horizon? Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. If your garden area is limited, you can save space by doing something your mother probably told you– “Grow Up!”

Container Basics:
The size of the container should be compatible with the size of the plant. Small plants in big containers put their efforts into root production, stinting foliage and blooms. Large plants full small pots with their roots, leaving little room for a nutritious planting medium. Think Goldilocks and go “just right.”
If your container doesn’t come with holes for drainage, use a drill to create some. For breakable materials like terra cotta, cover the bottom of the pot with tape to avoid cracks.
Fill your container with moist, but not soggy, planting medium. The best mediums are comprised of sand, soil, and light planting material such as sphagnum or coir fibers. Garden soil is not a good choice for container planting, because it’s too heavy and retains too much moisture.
When you’ve got the right container and the right medium, fill the container to 2” below the rim. While filling, break up any clumps of soil, and gently press down the soil to remove all air pockets.
If you’re starting with seedlings or transplants, set them on top of the soil in an arrangement that works for you, then remove the plants from their pots and place them in their spots. Next, fill in the space around each plant up to its crown. If you’re starting with seeds, plant according to the depth and spacing requirements specified on the seed packet, and finish by providing good gentle soaking of water.
Container gardens need frequent watering. Check the moisture level by poking your finger in the soil; it should be moist, but not soggy. If the soil is dry, add water until it runs out the holes in the bottom of the container. In warm areas, you may have to do this twice a day.
Finally, don’t forget to fertilize. Once a week, use compost tea when you water. If that’s too much trouble, use a gentile, all-natural, slow-release fertilizer that won’t cause salt build-up.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Determinate, Indeterminate and Semi-Determinate Tomato Varieties

In our last blog, we discussed the difference between hybrid and heirloom tomatoes. Today, we'll talk about the differences between determinate, indeterminate and semi-determinate tomato varieties, and how to care for each. You can find the Tigerella Tomato (featured below) on our web site, along with a number of other great tomato seeds!

a.k.a. bush; reach heights between 3-5’; set fruit all at once, offering one big harvest.

Pros:Fruit are good for canning and making sauces; plants don’t need pruning.
Con:Single harvest can leave you with an overabundance of tomatoes
Preferred growing method:    Caging or stalking

Indeterminate: a.k.a. vining; grow continuously and offer fruit all season long.

Pros:Produces fruit until the first frost
Con:Need lots of space; must be pruned, because the plant will concentrate on growing taller instead of producing fruit
Preferred growing method:    Trellising

Semi-Determinate: The best of both worlds – easy to manage like determinate varieties, and produces all season long like indeterminate varieities.

Pros:Bushy and sturdy with thick stems; produce considerable and constantly.
Preferred growing method:    Caging or stalking

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hybrid vs. Heirloom Tomatoes: What's the Difference?

So you want to grow tomatoes, but you don’t know where to start? Granted, with so many different varieties, it can be a bit confusing at first. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be planting tomato seeds with ease in no time!
First things first, what is a Hybrid tomato, what is an heirloom tomato, and what’s the difference? A “hybrid” plant is when plant breeders cross-breed compatible types of plants, usually in an effort to create something better or distinctive. Most modern vegetables are the result of cross-breeding, which is a good thing, because horticultural experts, especially the ones here at Thompson & Morgan, are always coming up with great new plant breeds.
An “heirloom” plant is one that has been saved, grown for a period of years, and passed down from generation to generation, remaining genetically intact.
Some people favor heirloom tomatoes, and swear by their diversity and distinct, flavorful taste. Others champion hybrid tomatoes, citing their improved disease resistance, reliability and consistency. Here at Thompson & Morgan, we like them both! We carry tons of different hybrid and heirloom tomato seed and plants in order to give you, the customer, a choice. After all, it’s your garden, and you know what’s best!