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Soil Structure and drainage

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Soil structure and drainage

If you peruse descriptions of a particular plants needs, they almost all say, prefers “well-drained soil”.  What is that?   It’s well structured soil.  That is soil that contains enough pores, the gaps between soil particles, to allow air and water to flow freely.  Ideally, the sand, silt and clay particles are arranged so they occupy only half of the space, leaving the other half as pore space.  A 50/50 split is primo.   More in-depth information on Soil Structure.

Soil types

Soil types

Now, most of us don’t have that in our yards.  Our soils are more clay or more sand or compacted.  One of the reasons we add compost is to fluff up the soil, which is the same thing as trying to get to that 50/50 split.

Soil type jar testing

One effective way to combat poor soil is to build raised beds and use a good soil.  I suggest checking out Creekside Soils.

Adding blend of compost and soil

 

raised bed construction

raised bed construction

An easy way to gauge the drainage of your soil is to dig a square hole about 1 foot deep and wide, fill it with water and allow it to drain completely.  Immediately refill the hole with water and place a ruler in it to measure the water’s depth.  After 15 minutes, measure how much the water has fallen; multiply this by 4 to calculate how much the water will drain in one hour.  An hourly drop of less than an inch indicates poor drainage.  In well-drained soil, the drop in water level will be 1 to 6 inches per hour.  Soils that drain  more than 6 inches per hour are considered dry.

More resources:

Cornell University Soil Basics

Colorado State University Extension ‘Correcting drainage problems’

soil percolation test

soil percolation test

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Working Spring soil

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Working Spring soil

snowfall on March 22nd

snowfall on March 22nd

The level of snow HAS gone down considerably already!  But still…  many of us have piles of drifts of snow still lingering amongst bare patches.

Spring soil is tricky.  Spreading out the piles of snow for faster melting is a good idea but be careful not to muck with your soil and injure those tender grass roots just yet.  Raking is a delicate procedure right now! 

Don’t mess with wet soil, you’ll create dirt clods that plants don’t like to grow in, you can’t break up easily and could potentially compact your soil for a long time to come.  Forget about tilling, put down the shovel and trowel and back away…  I know the urge is strong but working wet soil will pack soil particles tightly together leaving less room for air and water to penetrate.

raised vegetable bed

This will happen!!  ;-)

The Minnesota Climatology Working Group measures moisture in our soil. Click on the chart to the right of the map.  Many of us are still dealing with moderate drought conditions.   Here’s a Garden Bite I did on drought tolerant plants.  This is a map of the entire US

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One gardener’s delight is another gardener’s weed

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  One gardener’s delight is another gardener’s weed

The Minnesota DNR has a list of invasive flowers that took me a little by surprise.  I know that the varieties listed are invasive but I hadn’t thought of them as needing to be eradicated!  Take the Ox-eye Daisy…

The DNR has compiled a list of Minnesota Wildflowers.  At this website, look to your left and you’ll see “Invasives”.  The common Daylily and the Tiger Lily (not related) are also on the list!

The Ox-eye Daisy, in particular, really gets slammed by the DNR.  It will spread like wildfire.

A couple of non-native plants that are definitely classified as invasives, yet may be appropriate for some places, include the Obedient Plant …

Physostegia aka Obedient Plant

Physostegia aka Obedient Plant

and Monarda aka Bee Balm.   There are breeders who have come up with less invasive varieties of Bee Balm such as ‘Coral Reef’.

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Growing roses in cooler zones

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Growing roses in cooler zones

David Zlesak is the premier rose breeder for the north.  He is also not a fan of fussy roses! David created the Oso Happy series

Rose 'Oso Happy Smoothie'

  • Roses prefer at lease 5 hours of direct sunlight.
  • Select a site away from a large tree or shrub that will suck more nutrients and give your roses a location with good air circulation but not so windy that they’ll dehydrate.
  • Generally, your soil pH should be between 6 and 7.  Alkaline to just slightly acidic.
  • And roses prefer well drained soil, as most plants do.  Adding compost will help considerably.  If you have clay, do not add sand.  That’s my first recommendation.  If you still think you want to add sand then only use coarse sand or you’ll find yourself with bricks.
  • You can plant roses as soon as the ground is workable.  The roots will start to grow before the temperatures are warm enough for top growth.
  • When planting bareroot roses, the least expensive, David recommends pruning any weak, cracked or broken canes and to soak your plants in water for a few hours up to a day before planting.  Do not allow them to dry out.
  • Dig a hole about 24 inches deep and mound the middle so that it will allow the crown to sit 3 to 4 inches BELOW the soil level.  Spread the roots out symmetrically, fill to soil level and water well. Allow the soil to settle and water again.  Lightly mulch the whole plant.
  • David does not recommend using fertilizer spikes as they are too concentrated in an area and can burn some plants.  Use a slow release granular or a liquid.
Rose 'Oso Happy Candy Oh!'

Rose ‘Oso Happy Candy Oh!’

 

Rose 'Oso Happy Petite Pink'

Rose ‘Oso Happy Petite Pink’

David Zlesak

If you ever get the chance to listen to David speak, GO!  He’s a delightful speaker and, as you can see, very knowledgeable.

Another fabulous place for roses is Bailey Nursery in Newport!  I have some of their selections which I highlighted on Dig In Minnesota.  Catch the episode here:

 

Rose  - High Voltage

Rose – High Voltage

https://youtube.com/watch?v=aSU1RdYqOrcframeborder=0allowfullscreen

https://youtube.com/watch?v=aSU1RdYqOrcframeborder=0allowfullscreen

 

 

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A how-to on veggie garden crop rotation

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  A how-to on veggie garden crop rotation

Crop rotation is the single easiest thing we can do to keep soil nutrients working FOR us and to help prevent disease.  Ideally you could rotate your crops each year, but even if you do it every few years, you’re making an impact.  Certain plants take certain nutrients out of the soil, while others actually put it back!

Tomato 'Siberian'

Tomato ‘Siberian’

You want to follow heavy to medium feeders that draw a lot of nutrients from the soil (tomatoes, corn, cabbage, peppers) with either light feeders (carrots, beets, onions) or heavy givers (beans, peas) that will actually fix nitrogen in the soil and enrich it.

Pea 'Easy Peasy'

Pea ‘Easy Peasy’

But what crops do you rotate with?  In simple terms,  divide your vegetables into three categories:

  • Root and bulb – think carrots, beets , potatoes, garlic and onions
  • Fruit and Seed, – think tomatoes, cucumber, beans, corn, peppers and peas
  • Leaf and Stem – think broccoli, celery, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce and kale.

This isn’t a complete list.  In fact, there are many methods and you can go further with specific plant families.

Crop rotation chart

Dividing your garden into areas will help.  Although sticking to “hard” lines of what goes where often doesn’t work!  Tomatoes need more room than beets and carrots!

There are lots of apps for home gardeners.  I don’t use them.  Guess I’m just old school.  However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re useful.  If you’re of a digital mind, then by all means, give them a shot.  Here’s a link to several kinds.

Here’s a more in depth explanation of the what and why of crop rotation from the University of Wisconsin Extension.  Using Crop Rotation in the Home Garden.

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Disease resistant vegetables

lick below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Disease resistant vegetables

If you’re new to gardening or just tired of fighting diseased plants, you may consider planting disease resistant varieties of vegetables.  These are plants that have been bred with plants that are naturally more disease resistant.  These are not genetically engineered with certain herbicides or pesticides.

‘Sungold’ tomatoes

While perusing your catalogs you may see letters either next to the plant name or at the bottom of the description.  For instance,’Sungold’ cherry tomato lists an “F” which means the variety is resistant to fusarium wilt.  A “V” would mean resistant to verticillium wilt.

Tomatoes are usually the first choice for new gardeners.  There are many disease resistant varieties including “Quick Pick”, “Champion”, “Better Boy” and “Supersteak”.   These are all resistant to Fusarium wilt, Verticillium wilt and root knot nematodes.

Tomato - Better Boy

Tomato – Better Boy

Some Heirloom varieties don’t have as much disease resistance but I wouldn’t discourage you from trying them!

Cornell University’s Vegetable MD online is a great site to check out a number of disease resistant plants.

If you have questions, feel free to send me an email!  teri@gardenbite.com

 

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Of poo and perennials

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Of poo and perennials

Oh boy, those warm temps we had made getting out in the garden very tempting.  I did cut back my perennials that I had left up for winter interest.  The grasses and sedums were done!  If you haven’t, now’s the time.

Using loppers to cut back ornamental grass

Using loppers to cut back ornamental grass

cutback grass

Leave 2 to 3 inches of the stems so that bunnies who come by to dine on those fresh greens might think twice if they realize they’ll get poked in the eye with a “relatively” sharp stick!

luscious green growth

luscious green growth

I also had a chance to get some horse manure that has sat for 3 years. This will add to the organic matter of my soil.  Horse manure has a tendency to have weeds in it but I think the good outweighs the bad.   I was going to take pictures of it but, frankly, there’s not much to look at!  I will say I picked plenty of rocks out of it.  [note to you all:  if someone offers you free stuff, check to see if it’s worth it]

Right now I laid the manure on top of my garden, there were rocks in it that I needed to pick out, but I will be using a garden fork to turn it in.  I’m not going to till this in – studies have shown that we compact our soil when we till too much.  It breaks down the soil taking out the air pockets.

Sedum left up for winter interest

Sedum left up for winter interest

sedum

sedum

I had a soil test done last Fall and found that I needed more organic matter and also nitrogen. Amounts of nitrogen in animal manure vary, horse manure is reportedly less than cattle so I will add bloodmeal sparingly.  It’s fast acting but could burn seedlings.  Other options include Creekside Soils mix of Composted Cow Manure and other products.

Creekside compost with manureCreekside composted cow manure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember to be very careful if you’re raking your lawn, those roots are delicate during this time of year and if you’re too rough, you could further damage your lawn.

barrel

I just about lost my rain barrel over the winter.  I wasn’t thinking and the half full barrel froze which bowed out the bottom of the plastic container.  My husband wrestled it off the blocks and got it out in the sun and, surprisingly, it looks like the bottom may be righting itself.  Reminder to myself and you – if you have a rain barrel, empty the contents BEFORE winter!  It also looks like I need to spray paint again!  I used 2 shades of green for that camo look!  ;-)

 

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Spring done sprung!

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Spring done sprung!

What a week of celebration!  First St. Paddy’s day and today, the first day of Spring officially begins at 5:46 this afternoon.  I danced a little happy dance on my way to the garage this morning to ensure a perfect combination of sun and rain for our gardens.  Oddly, I swear I heard laughter in my neighborhood!

Wahoo

Here’s to the Vernal Equinox!  The word equinox means equal night.  So, it’s a global celebration as pretty much the entire planet will have the same length of day and night.  Although our neighbors south of the equator will be celebrating the Autumnal Equinox.

tulips

Okay, so I’m dreaming just a bit here!  ;-)  But I anticipate the coming of tulips and crocuses, and hyacinth and snowdrops!

Crocus bulbs

Crocus bulbs

We all seem to stand a little taller, walk a little faster, smile a little brighter as we wake up from winter slumber.   Enjoy the day, breath in some fresh air and give your neighbors a laugh, do YOUR OWN little happy dance for the perfect combination of sun and rain.

Flower stick person

 

 

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The Sustainable Garden

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  The Sustainable Garden

A couple of weeks ago I discussed GMO’s vs Hybrids.  Judging by my email, it’s a popular subject.  Growing your own is the best way to lower exposure to GMO’s and using seed that you know has not been modified. HOWEVER, I recently saw a post on Facebook that gave a link to an article giving folks an idea of how much to plant to feed their families.  As I was looking it over, I thought, whoever plants that much will also have to have plenty of time to care for it.  I always caution newer gardeners to start small or this could happen!

garden out of control!  The nasturtiums went CRAZY.  They're in the lower left.

And, honestly, that wasn’t as bad as it looks because it was in a raised bed where there were far fewer weeds. Of course, if you’ve got the room, the time and the passion, go for it! Planting for eating certainly isn’t all about vegetables.  There are plenty of fruits to add to the mix.  Raspberries and strawberries are great garden plants.  The University of Minnesota has created some fabulous northern hardy blueberries.  Hybridized NOT genetically engineered!  There are gooseberries and currants, apples and pears. Apples and Pears in Minnesota, oh MY!!!  Everything you need to know about growing them well in Minnesota is in that link to the U of MN.

Pear 'Summercrisp'

This was planted with a ‘Parker’ variety in 2008 and grew very sizeable delivering pounds of delicious fruit!

Ahh, Blueberries in the Home Landscape!  [U of MN]  Remember, you will have to amend the soil to grow blueberries successfully.  It CAN be done!

Blueberry 'North County'

Strawberries for the Home Garden [U of MN]       Three types of strawberries are readily available to the home gardener. June-bearing strawberries produce a large, concentrated crop in late spring. So-called everbearing types produce two smaller crops, one in late spring and the second in early fall. The newer day-neutral plants are capable of producing fruit throughout most of the growing season.

Strawberry tristar

The list goes on but what I want you to take away from this is to start small with your vegetable garden – you can always grow it bigger.  Pun intended!  And that having a garden also means fruit from apples to strawberries.

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Warm temps and the first signs of Spring

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Warm temps and the first signs of Spring

Already there are crocuses peeking up through the soil!  How exciting.  These record breaking temperatures have started the cycle.  Now the hope is that darling little buds of spring blooming shrubs don’t get bit by nasty frost.

crocus

crocus

The wind was whipping when I took this pic of lilac buds so please excuse the blurrinees!  lilac bud

Every year I can hardly wait to walk around the yard and look at what’s coming up.  It’s so exciting!!

One thing you need to be aware of is that, while we haven’t had a lot of snow cover, our lawns and gardens are still in a delicate state.  Those of you who like to get out there right away need to hold off, don’t start raking out the lawn yet unless you’re going to replace it!  You’ll find yourself without any grass.

If Fido of Fifi did their business, you likely have poop scoopin’ duties!  My first thought is do NOT compost dog or cat poop.  However, there is a way to do it…

Dog waste composter

Dog waste composter

Dog Waste Composter

Septonic – please note that there WAS a Septonic USA but that link was unavailable, this one is to Canada where the product was developed.

While you CAN decompose (compost) dog/cat poop, do NOT put it on your gardens!  This is simply a way to rid your yard of the waste without throwing it in the garbage.

You can scatter seeds of lettuce greens and radishes on your vegetable gardens.  I am currently awaiting a load of composted horse manure before I scatter my lettuce seeds on my raised bed vegetable garden.  (hopefully I get it today!)

We talked already about starting your cole crop seeds indoors.  You still need to wait on those tomatoes and peppers!  I know, I know, I’d like to start them too, but I don’t want them to get too leggy!

If you live on a street that’s plowed or loaded up with road salt, you may have some salt damage.  Most plants don’t care to be seasoned.  Spring rains can help dilute the salt.  If we don’t get much for rain, then use your hose to water the salt damaged areas.  Preferably pushing that salt down about 6 inches.  Think of it like you rinsing your body of chlorine after being in a swimming pool.  It helps but it’s not the whole answer.  Your tree or shrub may still suffer.  Salt spray commonly causes bud death and twig dieback in deciduous plants. Subsequent shoot growth results in the development of “witches’-brooms” (tuft-like growths) from the basal section of branches facing the road.

Salt damage on yews courtesy of Purdue U

Salt damage on yews courtesy of Purdue U

Salt damage on Sugar Maple

Witches Broom from salt damage

Witches Broom from salt damage

 

 

 

 

 

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