Friday, October 14, 2011

Fall Gardening Reminders

In some regions, gardeners are finding that it’s just too cold to be outside. Don’t spend the season mourning the loss of your summer garden, though. Get your growing fix by tending to your forgotten houseplants, attending a gardening workshop, or getting ready for the holidays with some amaryllis and other favorites. Here are my monthly suggestions for October and November.

Personally, I like to start thinking about my plans for next year’s garden. I clean my gardening equipment before storing, check my stored produce (like winter squash) and remove any that is damaged or rotten, and I may even start building new garden structures for the upcoming growing season.
And don’t forget that November is perfect for pruning! I use branches and other pruning remnants to hold down mulch for the upcoming winter. Of course, soon you’ll want to cover flowers to protect from early cold snaps.
If you’re like me, you love the birds that late autumn and winter bring. In these months, I stock up on birdseed, and continuously check my birdbath to make sure it has fresh water for those over-wintering birds.
If you have any good fall gardening tips, please share it with everyone by leaving a comment below!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How to Make Sun Dried Tomatoes

Judging from the size of my tomato plants, I'm hoping for a banner crop. This photo is only 2 weeks old, but with the amount of rain we've been getting in Ohio lately, they're twice as big right now. I've never seen so many flowers!

What is one to do with a ton of tomatoes? Salsa ? Sure, that's an easy one. Spaghetti sauce? Yes, that's on my list too. How about sun dried tomatoes? That might be a nice way to add flavor to a dish.

I spent some time in the Thompson & Morgan library this morning & found an article we published about that very same topic. It must be tomato karma! Here's a reprinted version for to you enjoy as well.

How to Make Sun Dried Tomatoes

Drying food is a long-established and time-honored method for preserving fruits and vegetables. The basic premise is simple: small pieces of food are placed out in the sun and warm, dry air passing over, under and around the food pulls the moisture from it. Ovens and commercial drying equipment are meant to mimic this natural process.

When foods are properly dried, they can't support the growth of spoilage organisms like bacteria, yeast and molds. Well-dried vegetables have almost 90% of their water removed, creating an environment hostile to these spoilage organisms.

To Dry:

The best tomatoes to use for drying are meaty types such as paste tomatoes. Slice tomatoes into halves or thirds if large. If drying outdoors, place skin side down on a screen or tray in an enclosed screen house to keep insects and dirt off the produce. Outdoor drying will take a few days during warm breezy and dry weather. Bring tomatoes in at night to protect from dew. Hot but humid weather is not conducive to drying and it's recommended to use an alternative method if the humidity is high. If using a commercial food dryer, follow those specific directions that are given with the unit. If using the oven, use the lowest setting possible to maintain a temperature below 65C (124F). Drying in an oven can take as little time as overnight. If the temperature cannot remain below 65C (145F), you should consider the other techniques mentioned for drying. Well dried tomatoes should be leathery but pliable. Store in glass or plastic jars with tight lids. At room temperatures of 20C (70F), tomatoes should store up to 3 months; at cooler temperatures, they can store for as long as 6-9 months.

To Use:

Pour an equal mix of vinegar and boiling water, or just boiling water, over the tomatoes and let stand from a few minutes to a half an hour until they are soft and chewy. Drain off water and cover with olive oil and garlic. Let them marinate in the refrigerator or room temperature for several hours prior to use. They'll keep in the oil for about a month. Their concentrated flavor is delicious with pasta or antipasto.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

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.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hardening Off Seed-Grown Plants in the Spring

You’ve your seeds sprout, grow true leaves and get taller. In your controlled environment, your seedlings have enjoyed a relatively stress-free life, protected from the heat, cold, wind and rain. Without elemental exposure, your little  seedlings lack the hardiness to be successfully transplanted; but you can change all that by starting the hardening-off process on your own.

Vegetable SeedsHardening off takes two weeks, and entails gradually exposing your tender seedlings to the elements until they can be transplanted and live outside comfortably.

Beginning the Process

Start the hardening-off process two weeks before the seed’s outside planting date, which is dependent on the hardiness of the plant and the last frost date in your area. Once you’ve determine the date, begin by setting your seeds outside for a couple hours during the day in an area that’s shielded form sun and wind. Direct sun is a definite no-no for young seedlings at this stage, because it will burn the tender leaves. Remember to bring your seedlings in at night. Over the following days, you may increase the time your plants go outside, but do so gradually.

Your Seedlings are Almost Ready

After a few days of gradual and protected outside exposure, you can step up your efforts a notch. Leave your plants out longer and put them in sunnier, cooler, and windier spots. Although some evidence suggests that tomatoes respond well to fertilization at this point, generally it’s not a good idea to feed or overwater your plants right now – remember, you’re trying to toughen them up!

Tunlcover™ Plant ProtectorReady, Set, Grow!

After two weeks of increasing exposure, it’s time to plant them for good. Water the ground thoroughly, and dig a hole just a few inches deeper than the pot in which your seedlings are currently residing. Holding your seedling by the stem, place the seedling in the hole and cover it gently with soil. Once the hole is filled, create a depression around the rim of the plant where water can collect. Be sure to water frequently and to fertilize after this final step. If your weather turns nasty, you can protect your seeds with sun shields and wind blocks.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sowing Your Own Seeds – Part III

On a Feeding Schedule
Now that the plant has sprouted and gone through the food supply provided by the seed itself, you’re responsible for feeding the burgeoning baby plant. You should feed your seedlings one-quarter strength plant food. If the solution is too strong, it will burn the baby plant. Use room temperature water when you are watering your plant.

Seed Starting Supplies - Seed Starting KitAfter the little plants have formed their second set of real leaves, they are ready to be transplanted into bigger pots. Dislodge the soil using a fork or pencil and gently lift the plant out of the pot, then dangle the plant over its new pot and sprinkle the roots with soil. Once your seedlings have grown a few more inches, they’ll be ready to face the great outdoors. You have to introduce them slowly, however, through a process called hardening off. We’ll go over this process in our next blog post!

Thompson & Morgan Seed Starting Kit

Looking for an easier way to start seeds? I’m really excited about our 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!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sowing Your Own Seeds – Part II

Some Like It Warm

To sprout, most seeds prefer a temperature between 70 and 85 degrees (for specific temperatures, see the back of your seed packet). Seeds can be kept in any place that offers warmth. Windowsills can also work, but be sure to check them for drafts that could potentially end your seedling’s short life. You can check by running a lighter or candle along your windowsills; if the light flickers or goes out, you know you’ve got a serious draft. If your windowsills prove to be too drafty, you can use artificial lights. The heat provided by an ordinary shop light offers plenty of warmth for germinating seeds. Once you’ve found a cozy spot for your seeds, it’s time to cover them with plastic (to keep in moisture) and wait for them to send their shoots above the soil line.

Vegetable SeedsThey’re Alive!
Immediately following your first sprouts, remove the plastic covering to get essential oxygen to the young’uns. These sprouts are not “true leaves”; they’re cotyledons, which existed within the seed and fed your plant during germination. You’re on the right track; true leaves will appear soon. Remember, even though they’ve sprouted, your seeds still need temperatures in the 60-to-80-degree range to ensure proper growth. Seeds also need light at this stage. If you’re growing with natural light, make sure the containers are raised a little above the sill to minimize the “stretching” seedlings can experience in their efforts to get enough light, and turn then regularly to keep them from growing lopsided.

Artificial light provided by fluorescent shop tubes or grow lights (household incandescent lights don’t offer the right light spectrum for plants) work best, just make sure they offer a combination of warm white and cool white light. Artificial light should be kept 1 – 4” above your seedlings’ tops. Pulley systems work especially well, because you can adjust the lights as the seedlings grow. Seedlings need roughly 16 hours of exposure daily; using a timer on the lights is the easiest way to achieve this. Some gardeners leave the lights on continuously and say their plants have suffered no ill affects. The choice is yours; consult your seed packet for lighting instructions.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sowing Your Own Seeds – Part I

Every spring, you head down to the local nursery to buy the plants you carefully selected during your winter hibernation. The joy of seeing the plants you will nurture and enjoy is often marred by the jolt you receive when the cashier gives you the total price of your new garden! Thankfully, there’s a way to avoid sticker shock; you can start seeds at home. Not only does starting your own seeds save you a ton of money, it opens up your seed choices considerably. As you browse through Gurney’s Seed catalog and website, you’ll find varieties you would have had to seek out through multiple stops at different nurseries. The rewards of seed-starting aren’t just fiscal, though. Through this process, you’ll gain the satisfaction that comes from knowing you were behind the plant’s success – it also gives you a head start on the growing season!

Let’s Get Started

Once you’ve found the right seed varieties for you, you’ll need to determine the proper start date. Typically, seeds are started indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost.

Get your seedlings off to a good start by using the right growing medium. A perfect growing mix is very light and holds moisture well. Avoid using potting soil, which becomes too dense after a few waterings and doesn’t allow good air and water circulation. Additionally, regular potting soil can introduce bacteria to a young seed, resulting in its death. If you don’t want to buy a mix, you can create your own by combining 2 parts peat or sphagnum moss with 1 part perlite and 1 part vermiculate. This will not have the nutrients usually included in a commercial mix, however.

Where to Start Your Seeds

The first container for your seeds should be no more than three inches deep and provide good drainage. If you don’t want to buy containers specifically designed for starting seeds, you’ll need to create your own: empty egg cartons, cut-off milk cartons, or deep-sided disposable aluminum pans work fine. Make sure you punch drainage holes in the bottom.

Planting Your Seeds

The general rule of thumb is to plant seeds four times as deep as the seed is wide. Fine seeds, such as petunia seeds, should be sprinkled on top of the medium but not covered. When using individual containers, plant more than one seed in each cell; you’ll need extras since you seldom get 100% germination. If you’re using flats, space seeds a half inch apart only if they’ll be transplanted into a separate pot following germination. If they’re going to stay in the flat until they head outside, space the seed one to two inches apart. Label your seeds, because most seedlings look alike.

Watering Your Seeds

Once they’re planting, you won’t have to worry about feeding your little guys at first. Seeds contain their own food supply packaged neatly within their shells. Make sure you keep them mist, since most seeds absorb water and use it to bust through their shells. Daily checkups are necessary at this point. To water, you can either use a spray bottle, or set up a bottom watering system (this way, seeds can take as much water as they need.) If you choose a bottom watering system, it’s important to avoid letting your pots sit in a pool of water; this can lead to a moldy pot and a dead seed.