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Friday, September 4, 2015

Fall and Winter Gardening

So many of us gardeners tend to think of one thing when it comes to the vegetable garden - tomatoes! I know I do, although in recent years I've become very partial to peppers. The garden doesn't have to just be about those summer vegetables. In many areas you can continue to garden well into the winter months. Here in Tennessee we are fortunate to have a relatively mild winter that allows us to grow cool season crops deep into the fall and early winter without having to take special precautions. Gardeners can extend the season throughout the winter by adding protective measures.

However long you have where you are it is important to give your crops enough time to grow. This often means you have to start your plants when it doesn't feel natural to be growing them. Cool season greens in August and September? That's what it takes. When the days are still 90+ degrees here in Tennessee the fall garden has to get going.

When Should You Start the Fall Garden?

To plan when to start the fall garden find your first frost date. That is the date typical for your area to receive the first frost of the year. For us in Middle Tennessee it happens around October 15th. That date can vary depending on the weather conditions that year but it's a good guideline to follow. The count back the days to maturity of your intended crop (usually found on the seed packet) and add a couple weeks. That gives you a little flexibility.

What can you grow in the fall and winter?

Crops like kale and spinach are great to grow through the fall and winter. They can take a bit of frost. Lettuce can grow well if in a warmer climate or if it is offered protection. Beets, radishes, and chard are also good options. Brussels Sprouts typically have their best flavor when grown in the fall. Broccoli and cauliflower are also good options for the fall garden.

From 5 Fall Vegetables for Your Garden!

This list is by no means all you can grow in the fall. As a general rule if it grows well in spring it could grow well in fall too! Experiment some and see what works best in your area!

This is a great book for winter gardening!
Amazon Aff. Link

How Can I Extend My Garden into a Year Round Garden? 

My son in front of our greenhouse - age 2.5
Even in Tennessee the winter garden can take out cool season crops. Not every year but when an extremely cold winter hits gardeners may need protection for their crops. Row covers are a simple and inexpensive way to protect the crops. It can add as much as 5 to 10 degrees of additional protection. You can also cover your garden beds with a caterpillar cover. It's essentially a plastic covering that is held up using hoops over the garden bed. The resulting look is like a giant caterpillar! Gardeners can also install greenhouses to grow in hot beds or pots.

Keep in mind that in the fall and winter the cool temperatures will slow the growth rate of your plants. They won't produce as much as quickly so you may need to plant extra plants in your garden to cover your needs.

Do you grow a garden in the fall and winter?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Of Birdnetting, Lawnmowing, and Mistakes in the Garden

We all make mistakes in the garden on occaission. In fact I do it on a regular basis. Usually my mistakes are those where I forget to do something or I intend to come back and finish something but run out of time to get back to it. My biggest mistake is typically taking on too much for what my time allows. Last night when I was out mowing I made a couple of mistakes that led to a lot of frustration with my mower. Let me be clear, the blame is on me and not on my mower!

I noticed my issue while beginning to mow the front yard. I turned the mower to go up hill when all of a sudden everything came to a halt. The blades would run but for some reason the mower's transmission would not go. I was stuck. I looked around the mower and saw a stick poking up into the underside of the mower. It was leftover from a pruning I did the other day. I removed and and proceeded to look underneath the mower to see what was wrong when I noticed something wrapped around one of the wheels. It was bird netting that was loose in the yard. Somehow I had run over it and it wrapped itself up into a very thick rope wrapped around the wheel. I thought maybe this is why it all stopped. So I cut and removed the bird netting with a knife and got the wheel clear.

Bird netting roped around mower axle
Bird netting after being wrapped around the axle of a riding mower.

I sat back upon the mower, turned it on, and ... went nowhere. There was something still amiss. After reexamining the underside of the mower it was then I noticed that the drive belt was completely off. The stick that I had left lying in the grass had popped up into the belt area and leveraged the belt off the pulleys. I should have cleaned up my mess from pruning. I lowered the cutting deck and tried to realign the belt onto the pulley system with little luck. After quite a bit of frustration my neighbor came to help and we watched a video on a cellphone about how to replace the belt under my mower. Gradually darkness came and flashlights were necessary. Apparently Troy-Bilt put in a handy little lever that (had I read the manual) could easily release the tension on the belt for me to wrap it around all the necessary pulleys. Manuals are given to us for a reason!

As complete darkness surrounded me I turned the mower on and it ran, it moved, and I began one last trip back to the shed with the mower to put it away. It was too dark to finish mowing but the flashlight would at least let me get the RZT mower back to its home in my shed. I looked down at the ground through the darkness and noticed that an unusually high amount of grass was shooting out of the mower. It took me about 15 feet to realize that I hadn't raised the mower deck back to its normal height!

Scalping a lawn. Desired height on bottom of picture.
I managed to scalp a pretty nice little pathway through the front yard. While this might be a great technique to help remove an area of the lawn for a new garden or to actually create a real pathway with paving stones this was not what I wanted! Hopefully the grass will endure this disgrace and return to its former glory. Always mow the proper height for your grass and of course check the mower cutting deck!

What mistakes have you made in your garden lately?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Troy-Bilt Bronco Axis VTT Vertical Tine Tiller Review

Recently I had the pleasure to try out the new Troy-Bilt Bronco VTT Vertical Tine Tiller which they sent me to test and use in my garden. I've used tillers periodically before in my garden and I was very curious to see how this one functioned. It's design is significantly different from traditional tillers. The tines extend down like a cake mixer and spin. It's a very interesting idea but the question is: does the vertical tine tiller work better than a normal tiller?

I tested it in the backyard in a spot that was overgrown with grass and weeds. I like using tillers to start new garden areas because they break through the sod much easier than having to dig through the roots of the grass. I've used other methods before like Lasagna Gardening and Raised beds, both of which I like a lot and recommend, but tillers can still be a very useful tool to start a new garden.

Vertical tines
I started up the tiller very easily with a switch near the handle bars and a pull on the engine. The blades don't engage until you switch them on with a dead man's switch (it's not as scary as it sounds). You can adjust the height by moving a pin near where the guard is in the back. Once the blades are engaged you can use the self propelled feature to easily move through the turf.

The Troy-Bilt Bronco tiller is fairly heavy but that is necessary in order to push the tiller into the soil. Gravity is a mighty force! The tiller's weight does make it tricky to turn but it can go in reverse to help with turning and to work the soil in the opposite direction. I also noticed that the reverse option in combination with the guard functioned as a sort of leveling tool to help grade the soil.

As the tines work their way through the turf the spinning action creates tufts of sod which you can then pick up and use in other areas of your yard where the grass may have died and left unsightly holes. I don't think that was the intent but it's an interesting side benefit.

Overall I liked this tiller much better than other ones I've used before. It doesn't jerk around much at all and seems to move through the soil very easily. It doesn't take many swipes to get an area tilled which is better for the soil structure. The less you have to disturb the soil the better. I missed a few spots but was able to clear a good sized area very quickly to plant about 20 Jalapeno pepper plants! My only issue was running out of area to till...I need a bigger garden but don't tell my wife I said that!

Troy-Bilt Bronco Vertical Tine Tiller

Friday, June 19, 2015

Daylilies in Bloom

It's that time of year where the daylilies are becoming the showoffs of the garden. Daylilies (Hemerocallis) area very common collectable perennial here in the south. They propagate very easily through division and are a prime starter plant for people interested in learning how to hybridize plants. Here's a look at a little of what is blooming in our garden this summer:

Daylily Hybridization

The first two photos are results of my hybridization attempts. While they are pretty, they never developed into a must have daylily. Hybridizing is fairly simple, just take pollen from the stamen and dab it on the pistol. It's best done in the early morning before the pollen dries out too much.Make sure you mark the hybridized flower so that you can collect seeds from it later when the pods are ready.

Daylily Division

To divide a daylily just dig up the clump and rinse the roots off so you can see where the plant will easily divide. Then gently pull apart the tubers/roots and the top growth. The last step it to replant it and you're done!

Daylilies are extremely tough plants and require very little maintenance. They like full sun so plant them in a sunny spot for all to enjoy!

'Primal Scream'