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Making seed tape

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Making seed tape

Making seed tape is a fun (cheap and a little messy) way to get your kids involved in gardening.  And what kid doesn’t like messy!

Seedtape

Seedtape

Flour, water, seed and newspaper, that’s it!  Oh and some salt.

Mix a 1/2 cup of flour with enough water to a consistency of thick gravy.  Follow packet directions for seed spacing.  Use a toothpick to apply the “glue” to the seed and newspaper.  You may want to try this a few times till you get the hang of how much to use!

Let the “glue” dry then roll up those 1 inch wide strips of newspaper, pack them in ziploc baggies with some salt to absorb moisture and you’re good to go!   You can also try adding a tablespoon of powdered milk or a paper towel and stuff that in the baggie to absorb moisture.

When you’re ready to plant the seeds outdoors, just make a line in your soil, unroll the tape and dampen in.  Cover with a little soil (follow packet directions) and keep moist.

 

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Damping off

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Damping off

 

We’ve received our catalogs and some of us have started seeds.  The dreaded disease of seedlings is damping off.  It’s a fungal disease that attacks when our plants are just sprouting into seedlings.  The pictures below show mushy tan spots that indicate infection by damping off fungi.  The tray has been overwatered.   The photos are by Michelle Grabowski from the University of MN Extension.

Damping off 3

Damping off 4

The important thing to do is stave off damping off before it has a chance!  Damping off fungi typically survive on plant debris, soil or in contaminated water.  So the best thing to do is start with sterilized pots, trays, potting mixes and any other equipment that you’d use.  I usually use peat pellets or peat pots (new ones!) but you can re-use other containers if you soak them in a 10% bleach solution for 30 mins.  Rinse well and dry well!  Never use garden soil.

The University of Minnesota Extension has a good article on Damping Off – it’s where the above photos came from.

I just shared with you General Seed Starting last Friday.  Other important things to remember is that seeds need moisture to germinate but NOT soggy soils.  A heating mat helps germinate tomato and pepper seeds and will also help prevent damping off.  I also suggest keeping that shop light on your seedlings about 6 inches away from the top.  Leave a fan on low of an hour moving gently across your seedlings to strenthen their stems.  Thin, leggy seedlings are ripe for problems.

You can plant peat pots right into the soil when you’re transplanting your hardened off plants.  What I suggest is that you cut off the top of the pot to the soil line before planting.  The peat will dry out some plants but if you have it in the soil, that won’t be a problem.

Peat pellets

Peat pellets

Peat pots

Peat pots

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“Fresh from the Garden” and myth busting

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  “Fresh from the Garden” and myth busting

I had a chance to interview John Whitman, he’s the author of a new vegetable gardening tome called “Fresh from the Garden – an organic guide to growing vegetables, berries and herbs in Cold Climates”.  It is now my go-to book.  Packed with information on vegetables I grow and those I’ve never even heard of!

He also talks about myths in the garden.  The leading myth is that some people are born with a green thumb!  He says, nope.  Good gardening comes from

  • hard work aka patience
  • knowledge such as logic and know-how
  • a love of gardening.  It gives you joy!

Another myth – that there’s only one expert’s way to do something.

He and I talked about tilling.  We get many messages regarding tilling.  John told me that it depends on your soil.  Ideally you’d never have to as it does break down the structure, however, there are times when you need to till.  If you have compacted clay soil, if you’re starting a new garden.  I have raised beds so my soil doesn’t compact.  The best method is the one that works for YOU.

Another myth, you’re in control of your garden.  Nope, you can help your garden grow but there are many other factors at play, in particular, the weather.

May snowfall 2015

He says growing a garden is science and art and it’s full of surprises, which is part of the fun.  Patience is a gardener’s friend.  That’s not a myth, that’s a reality.  Especially when first planting.  Cut yourself some slack if your garden isn’t looking like the one in the magazine right away.

In “Fresh From the Garden” John also talks about organic mulches, various types of gardening from level gardens to containers and more, fertilizers, weeding, watering and 1700 varieties of plants!

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Spring soil can be spongy

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Spring soil can be spongy

 

While it’s simply a day on the calendar to some, the Spring Equinox starts a new gardening season in the minds of many.  Astronomically speaking, the Vernal Equinox happened at 5:28 this morning in the northern hemisphere, central time!  The March equinox marks the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from south to north and vice versa in September.  It’s also the moment, I go out and do my happy dance.

Mother Nature will do as she will and that means we need to be careful of spring soil.  Watch for heaving plants!

We’ve seen peeks of green erupting from the soil and snowdrops and crocuses and even a tiny little iris said hello at a friends house!  spring iris

Still… that doesn’t mean we should get out there and start raking our lawn or digging into our gardens.  Grass roots are tender and early raking could damage your lawn more than help it!  Moist soil is fine, soggy is not.

tilling wet soil

tilling wet soil

If you want to start preparing your garden beds for planting of any type, you really need to make sure the soil is workable.  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.

dirt clods

dirt clods

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.  Two very important ingredients to plant production!

Adding blend of compost and soil

Those dirt clods you create become hard as rocks and are nearly impossible to break up.  If you compact your soil like that it takes years of adding organic matter to try to recreate the healthy soil your plants love.  To check if your soil is workable, dig one trowel full of soil, squeeze it in your hands, if it crumbles easily, then you’re good to go.  If it forms a ball, then go inside and sketch your garden on paper!

soil squeeze

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Barerootin’

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Barerootin’

As soon as the soil thaws it’s time to plant bareroot trees.  A bare root tree has no soil at all around its roots.  It’s been removed from the soil while still dormant.  These trees are generally kept dormant by refrigeration until sold.

Bareroot tree

Bare root trees, shrubs and roses are often quite a bit less expensive than any other type.  Frost depths are more shallow for most of us than is typical.  That means an earlier date to be able to work the soil.  HOWEVER, you must not dig around in wet soil.  Find some great pictures and good information at Howbert & Mays

If you’re transporting bareroot trees, their roots must be protected from drying out, wrap them in plastic.  If you ordered online, the roots will come packed in a box full of damp mulching material.  Leave them packed and keep them wet until you’re ready to plant.  If you picked up the tree from your nursery, pack the roots and wet mulching material into a plastic bag and close the top around the trunk.  Store only for short periods in the garage or in the shade until ready to plant, keeping the mulching material wet.

For 3 to 6 hours before planting, soak the roots in a bucket of water.  Make sure the roots are fully immersed but don’t crush them.   In the picture below, they look a little cramped!  Use a larger container.

bare root tree roots soaking in water

Dig a hole twice as wide as the length of the roots spread horizontally.  Don’t plant too deep.  The portion of the trunk that was originally below ground before it was dug up will be discolored, often darker, that’s your planting level.    And yet more information and pictures at Midwest Gardening

Mound some soil in the middle of the hole to place your plant on top of.  Spread the roots out horizontally, this is where those roots will get their water, oxygen and nutrients.  (eventually they will grow deeper on their own).  Fill the hole with soil, gently work the soil around the roots while holding your plant steady.  I know, you need 3 hands for this!

bare root planting

bare root planting

Gently pack the soil down with your feet, hands, and/or water.  You want your bareroot stock watered thoroughly and not let it dry out.  Water often during the first year.  Do NOT fertilize right away.  Bareroot roots are more vulnerable to fertilizer burn.  You can fertilize with a weak solution in 4 weeks.

Bareroot stock CAN be kept for a week IF you place the roots in soil, keeping them moist and out of direct sunlight.

Alpine currant from bareroot

The above picture is of Alpine Currant that I bought bareroot.  This was about 4 years later.  I never cut them back, they were about 4 1/2 feet tall and made a great friendly fence.

 

Bareroot trees are will catch up to the more expensive container grown in a few years.  The price difference may be well worth it.

 

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Garden crop rotation

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  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.

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

Click 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.  For more on GMO vs Hybrids

‘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.

This is a very comprehensive list of disease resistant codes from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

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

Warm temps, then tornadoes, then cold temps, then snow!  AND AT 5AM IT WAS 6 DEGREES BELOW ZERO WHERE I LIVE!  Geez, what’s a gardener to do?  Well, most of the snow has melted again and we’re thinking of taking care of those plants left for winter interest like ornamental grasses and perennials.  I will personally wait until it warms up!!  Ack!

Sedum left up for winter interest

Sedum left up for winter interest

sedum

sedum

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!  Now is also a good time to topdress your garden beds with organic matter or composted manure.   Never use raw manure.

A comprehensive guide to nutrient values of varying manures [Purdue University Extension]

Rodale’s Organic Life

Fine Gardening article

Be careful of free stuff!  I made the mistake of getting composted horse manure from a farmer who had scooped up rocks into the mix as well.  I had to dig out what was deposited into my raised garden bed and will be filling it back in with a blend from a more reliable local source.  Live and learn!!  ?

Other options include Creekside Soils mix of Composted Cow Manure and other products including their new Supreme Gardeners Mix.

Creekside compost with manureCreekside composted cow manure

 

creekside supreme gardeners mix

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

this rain barrel needs another paint job!

Now’s the time to purchase a rain barrel.  Check with your local Soil and Water conservation district or the county you live as they may offer discounted prices for the barrels.  You can spray paint them for fun!

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Are Fifi’s odd jobs compostable?

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Should dog doo be composted?

Take the temperature of most northern gardeners right now and you’ll find a fever!  Some reduce their temperature by going to an exotic location with higher temps, while others start cleaning out their closets.  There’s a contrast!  Still others head outdoors for doggie duty.   We can’t do a whole lot about discolored grass just yet.  I’ll have more on that in a few weeks.

A question I’ve had before from a listener is whether dog poop is compostable.  Well, yes, you can compost dog poop. Should you compost it with your food and leaf material to use it on your veggie garden – absolutely not.

dog waste composter

The environmentally sound method is to get an old plastic garbage pail, drill holes in the sides and cut out the bottom.  Then find an area with well draining soil away from your vegetable garden and preferably out of sight.  Dig a hole deep enough to sink the garbage can and dump fido’s odd jobs in it.

Add a product called Septonic once or twice a month.  It’s an enzyme-active biological compound that helps breakdown the dog doo.

City Farmer

Dog Waster Composter

Septonic

There are some who feel it’s perfectly fine to spread composted dog poop on their perennial beds and shrubs and trees.  Personally, I don’t.

Cat poop must be disposed.

 

 

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Making your own maple syrup

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Making your own maple syrup

Making your own maple syrup is a bit of an adventure.   You really want to cook it outside because it’s really sticky as the water evaporates.  You’d have a mess in the kitchen!  The smell of this cooking is fabulous!  Maple, cotton candy and smoke!

Boiling maple syrup

Boiling maple syrup

My ex made his own taps using 3/8 inch pvc pipe 5 inches long.  Tap into a tree with at least a 10 inch diameter up 3 feet from ground level.  Tap at an upward angle.

tree taps and clear tubing

tree taps and clear tubing

The first time he did it, he used clean gallon water jugs for collecting the sap, he used clear 1/2 inch pvc tubing to connect the tap and the collector bottle by drilling a hole in the center of the cap.  The picture below is after he ordered “official” sap collecting bags.

tapped tree with syrup bag

He used fallen maples branches to build the fire and bricks he had laying around from another project.  He used pallets and an old tarp for a wind break.

syrup windbreak

It took 6 hours to boil down 7 gallons of sap to get 20 ounces of grade A amber syrup.  The best I’ve ever tasted!

Grade A maple syrup

The finished point of maple syrup is when it’s temperature has reached 7 degrees above the temperature of boiling water.  Note:  that varies depending on where you live.

For more complete information check out this article created by the University of Minnesota Extension. 

Roth Sugar Bush carries a variety of equipment.

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