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Friday, March 30, 2012

5 Easy Ways to Be Organic!

I think in many ways people who garden in the "traditional" or "conventional" methods* don't realize how easy it really can be to garden organically. In fact some of these organic ideas are probably done by everyone who gardens in some capacity. For this Friday's Friday Five let's take a look at 5 easy ways to be organic.  There are many more ways but these five are good to get your started!

5 Easy Ways to Be Organic

  1. Feed the soil with compost!  Whether your purchase your compost or make it yourself, compost is one of the best things you can add to your soil.  It boosts the retention of moisture, improves drainage in clay soils, adds nutrients, and puts beneficial microbes into the soil.  Compost won't burn your plants and makes the soil easier for plants to grow a string root system.  You can't go wrong with compost!
  2. Ditch the chemical sprays in favor of organic sprays.  Sprays with neem oil do a great job at controlling insects and it's extracted from a plant.  Diatomaceous earth can also be used to control insects without doing any harm to animals.  Diatomaceous earth comes from fossilized creatures that are crushed.  The crushed remains are sharp and cause injuries to all kinds of insects.  
  3. Consider companion planting!  I've touched on this before but you can add beauty and function to your garden by integrating flowers and herbs in with your vegetables and fruits.  Once you explore companion planting and learn about it giving it a try is a "no brainer"!
  4. Mulch!  Use organic mulches in the garden to retain moisture, keep plant roots cooler, and help feed the soil.  Organic mulches like shredded bark chips, hardwood mulch, pine needles, and straw all will break down eventually and feed the soil as they do.  Don't choose stone mulches.  You do get some permanency with them but that permanency is at the cost of feeding the soil and is difficult to remove later. 
  5. Make your own compost!  This should go without saying but really can't be said enough. If we go back to number one on this list you can see why we compost but making it yourself rather than buying it is easy and cheap!  Vegetable kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, yard waste, farm animal manure (chickens, goats, horses, cow, etc.), leaves, grass clippings, and many other things can go into your compost bin.  Your compost bin doesn't have to be special either.  There's no reason to spend money when a pile in the back will be sufficient.  My pallet compost bin has produced compost just fine!

Have you explored organic gardening yet?  If not I hope you'll give it a try!  

Previous Friday Fives

*"Traditional" and "Conventional" in this case are used to refer to the methods of gardening that use chemicals.  Prior to their invention everything was organic gardening!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Few Garden Images of March

If you follow Growing The Home Garden on Facebook you may have already seen some of these pictures!  The garden is really coming alive thanks to the extra warm weather.  This post is very garden picture heavy!  See if you can identify the plants in each photo.  Try not to cheat by looking at the file names of the images!

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4


 Photo 6


 Photo 8

 Photo 9

Photo 10


 Photo 12

 Photo 13

Photo 14

Photo  15

Photo  16

Photo 17

Good luck!  Just identify the plants in the comments below and I'll check back later to see how correct you are!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Planting Potatoes

Potatoes are one easy vegetable that everyone should try.  There are a quite a few kind of potatoes that are delicious on the dinner plant that have developed over the years.  In our garden this year we're growing Yukon Gold, red potatoes, and Adirondack Blue potatoes.  The blue potatoes are new to our garden this year.  Yukon Gold is one of our favorites and has a nice buttery flavor good for baking or general cooking needs.  The red potatoes are great for potato salads or roasting.  I'm not sure yet what the blue potatoes are going to be good for yet, but any potato is a good potato!

There are a few ways to grow potatoes.  They do well in large pots, potato bags, raised beds, and in the ground.  The method you choose all depends on how you want your garden to grow.

Here's how I usually plant our potatoes:

  • First I dig holes for each seed potato about 6-8 inches deep.  If the ground is well drained this works well, if not dig a more shallow hole and mound up (more on mounding in a minute).
  • Then I added a little bone meal to each hole.  I didn't measure exactly but was probably less than an ounce per hole.  Bone meal has high levels of phosphorus which aids in root growth and general plant health.
  • Then my daughter dropped one potato into each hole.
    Planting Tip
    Cut the potatoes into two or more pieces each with an eye to make more potato plants.
  • I filled up the holes and mounded them up.  
  • Now I'm waiting until the potato sprouts through the soil.  Once the plant emerges form the mound I'll begin mulch all around it with grass clippings.  I use grass clippings since they are readily available but you can use straw too.  As the plant grows higher continue to mulch around it.  Potatoes will form underneath the mulch and soil.  Adding the mulch will hold water in the soil, keep it cooler, and make the soil easier to dig when the potatoes are ready to harvest.
  • Potatoes can be harvested after the plant has died back.  You can get some new potatoes (the small tasty ones) if you harvest from the outside of the potato mound around flowering time.

Potatoes can also be grown in pots or in potato bags.  The advantage to these methods is you simply dump the pot over when the potato plant is ready for harvest!

Our favorite use for potatoes is probably the skillet roasted potatoes with herbs.  We saute some onions and garlic in olive oil with the cubed potatoes and add chopped sage, rosemary, and time.  Delicious!

Have you planted your potatoes yet?

Friday, March 23, 2012

5 Vegetables and When to Plant Them!

This time of year can be very confusing.  Especially when the weather throws a few curve balls like extra warm temperatures!  It almost makes you think it will be fine to plant those tomatoes four weeks early.  I know why, everyone wants bragging rights about that first ripe tomato! I thought for today's Friday Five post that I would mention when to plant several standard vegetable garden favorites.  Remember, just because a plant is available in stores doesn't mean you should plant it right away!

  1. Cherokee Purple Tomato
    When to Plant Tomatoes - While visiting a home improvement store this week I stopped in the garden area and told a lady not to plant the tomatoes just yet.  She was gathering up several varieties to bring home to her garden.  We are still three weeks before the safe planting date and 5 weeks out from the ideal planting date for tomatoes.  The best time to plant tomatoes is two weeks after the safe planting date in your area.  This gives the soil time to warm up.  Tomato plants like warmth and will grow much faster in warm soil and warm air than they would with just warm air.  Peppers, eggplant, and tomatillo should be planted around the same time as the tomatoes.  I start my tomato seeds indoors about 6-8 weeks before I want them ready to go outside.  For peppers and eggplant I add two more additional seed starting weeks.
  2. When to Plant Lettuce - If you start lettuce indoors you can transplant out to the garden about three to four weeks before the last frost date.  I usually direct sow my lettuce about 4-6 weeks before the last frost date.  I've had lettuce varieties that made it through our Tennessee winters which means we have a lot of flexibility with planting lettuce.
  3. When to Plant Radishes - Radishes are probably one of the easiest vegetables to grow and are great for children's gardens.  You can plant radishes from seed right in the garden when the ground is ready to be worked!  You can continue to plant radish every week to 10 days for continuous harvests.  They like cool weather so once the hot summer weather comes you're radishes are about done.
  4. When to Plant Corn - Plant corn after the last frost date.  Corn needs about 80-90 days depending on the variety to produce.  You may even be able to plant corn a week to ten days earlier than the last frost.  This is because it takes the seed time to germinate and emerge from the soil.  I haven't had great luck with corn - mostly because of racoons.  Plant corn in blocks to insure good pollination. 
  5. When to Plant Beans - Beans don't like frosts either and should be planted outside after all threat of frost has passed. If you are planting pole beans go ahead and plant away as many as you would like.  Pole beans continue to produce over a long season.  If you are planting bush beans then you need to plan for successive plantings.  Bush beans produce a large crop all at one time then are done.  It's a good idea to plant a combination of the two to insure a good harvest throughout the season.  In both cases of beans you should wait until after the frost to plant outdoors!
Don't be fooled by the weather.  Just because it may be warm now doesn't mean it will stay that way.  Our temperatures could continue to be in the 70's and 80's until April 14th when it might drop to the lower 30's for the low.  We just don't know for sure. For now plant with extreme caution and plant as though the weather is normal!

Previous Friday Fives

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring Is Here!

Yesterday brought in that first official day of spring but it sure seems that spring beat the calendar to the punch.  The warm weather has brought many of our plants and trees much further along at this time of year than they should be.  It has me concerned.  I love the warm weather and the sights of blooming flowers but in some cases it's just too early. 

Yesterday I visited the big orange box store and stopped to tell a shopper not to go all out on her tomato plant purchase.  I'm not sure she understood that there is still the possibility of a frost that could kill those tomato plants until April 15th.  I have a feeling many people are doing the same thing, taking advantage of the warm weather but it's just too early for some plants! My mini-nursery is delivering the plants at the right time which hopefully will help new gardeners to learn when to plant which plants in the garden.

One example of an early growing plant is this crape myrtle.  It's already leafing out which really should be happening a few weeks later.  Crape myrtles aren't native to the U.S. and aren't as well adapted as other trees to withstand our climate.  If we have a big frost it's highly likely that it will suffer some major damage.  The root system will probably be fine but branches and trunks could freeze, crack, and die back.

Japanese maples are in the same boat as the crape myrtles.  I'm really hoping that frosts don't come at this point and we don't suffer large losses of ornamentals like we did here in TN back in 2007. 

Despite the chance of frosts between now and April 15th the early spring weather is bringing a lot of beauty to the landscape.  The Yoshino Cherry in our front yard is one spectacular example!  We have three Yoshinos planted which gives us our own cherry blossom festival each spring.

This Yoshino is in the backyard.  You can also see the garden shed and part of our vegetable garden in the picture.

One favorite flower just beginning to bloom is the creeping phlox.  It blooms juts for a little while in spring but when it does it creates a carpet of color when it is planted enmass.

How is Spring progressing where you are?

Monday, March 19, 2012

8 Things I Learned Over The Weekend

Coral Honeysuckle - Lonicera sempervirens
I had one of those extremely busy weekends.  The kind where you have so much to do you don't know exactly where to start.  When you finally do start you discover that to do one task you have to do another task first. Then when you finally get going you move from one job, to another, to another, and there is no end in sight!  I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about.  But there are a few things I learned over this weekend that I thought I would share with you.

  1. Unseasonably warm weather may seem to be a blessing at times but it also brings a bunch of problems.  Foremost is the presence of weeds.  The chickweed has exploded into prolific proportions while other weeds are coming up at least a month early.  Ragweed which usually does begin to grow for a couple more weeks is already sprouting where it can.  There are two ways this can go: either we're in for the worst possible allergy season in the fall or a late freeze will bring doom to the annual ragweed and we end up with a decent allergy season.  Of course a late freeze will bring doom to anything else that is tender and growing in the garden.
  2. We'll be having strawberries earlier than usual this year.  They've already begun to bloom!
  3. Tiny plums forming on a plum tree.
  4. Plums are on one of our plum trees.  Tiny little green baby fruits will hopefully be feeding our family some homegrown fruit from the garden.  I'll have to protect them soon from rampaging deer.
  5. Lawnmowers don't run well when the engine is stuffed with straw...
  6. Mice don't run well after being cooked by lawnmower engines...Inspect your lawnmower carefully before using or you may end up with filet de rodent!
  7. The coral honeysuckle is already in bloom. It's a great plant for attracting the hummingbirds!
  8. Weed wackers/trimmers/weedeaters do a great job at cleaning up chickweed in the garden.  Just trim the weeds into the soil and in a few minutes the garden is clear of chickweed!  Of course you will be covered in all kinds of green chickweed goo so wear eye protection, but it's a small price to pay for decimating mountains of messy weeds.  Just keep your mouth shut when using the trimmer - trust me, I know.
  9. Yoshino Cherry Tree in Bloom
  10. Yoshino cherry trees are gorgeous!  OK, I already knew this but it's worth repeating.

What did you learn over the weekend?

Friday, March 16, 2012

5 Things to Do to Prepare Your Garden for Spring Planting!

This time of year the only thing us gardeners think about is the garden!  Because "the garden" is such a broad subject in itself we are really thinking of all kinds of things like timing, soil, seeds, cuttings, and list could go on!  One of the main tasks I need to accomplish is preparing my vegetable garden.  Preparing the vegetable garden for planting is a tasks that must be accomplished every year in order to have a fantastic harvest.  Spending extra time now, before you've planted, will save you time and problems later! For today's Friday Fives lets take a look at five things everyone should do to prepare their gardens for planting.

5 Things To Do to Prepare Your Garden

  1. Perhaps the most important part of preparing the garden is helping the soil.  The soil is where all the nutrients the plants need are found.  The best thing to add is compost.  Compost adds beneficial microbes, improves soil water holding capacity, improves soil structure, and adds nutrients to deficient soil areas. Work the compost into the top layers of soil and allow the rain and water to spread it into the lower layers of your garden. 
  2. Also in the soil improvement area is adding amendments.  If you've had a heavy feeder like tomatoes in an area before you will most likely need to add a good mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to replace what was used last year.  This would be a good time to mention getting a soil test since your local agricultural extension services can custom analyze your soil for what you want to grow.  If you tell them you want to grow blueberries they will analyze the soil and tell you what you need to add! 
  3. Grass clippings as mulch
    Plan for mulching!  Mulching is an extremely important technique because it will save you water and feeds the soil at the same time.  Organic mulches break down over time and add to your garden's soil.  I've used grass clippings for several years as a mulch but straw is a good one too.  If you choose to use grass clippings make sure you have an untreated lawn without weed seeds.  If herbicides or pesticides are present in your grass clippings they may transfer to your garden. I've used hardwood mulches on my raised beds before but it is much more expensive than a few bales of straw.
  4. Prepare your paths!  A good layout of your vegetable garden will allow you to reach all areas of the garden without too much difficulty.  Plan pathways so that you can reach the insides of beds without trampling too much on the soil which can create compaction. 
  5. Prepare your garden's irrigation!  If you live in an area that gets irregular rainfall at times then a supplemental way to irrigate is essential.  Always bottom water.  Watering from above can create a great environment for propagating fungi and diseases.  I use soaker hoses and drip irrigation. After planting my summer vegetables I arrange my water lines to go to the base of the plants that need the water.  Then I go back and cover with mulch which keeps the moisture in the soil - where it needs to be.  If the rains slow down in the summer (which usually happens in July-September) I have a way to save the garden.

These five garden preparation tasks will help you have a great garden.  Don't forget them! How is your garden preparation coming?

Previous Friday Fives

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Clover - A Weed that Isn't! (Weedy Wednesday)

I couldn't help but snap the picture below.  It's white clover and it's in my lawn. What lawn companies will tell you is that this little beautiful green plant that grows in patches is a weed.  Don't believe them.  Clover is a useful little plant in many ways!

First of all clover is a legume. It's similar to beans and actually will fix nitrogen into the soil. It's an awesome additive to compost bins. I use my push lawnmower with a bagger to cut and gather grass and clover then use as a mulch or a compost ingredient. Because clover is such a great nitrogen fixer it doesn't need nitrogen and will stay green in areas that don't have good nitrogen content.  You can use clover as an indicator for the nitrogen in your garden's soil.  Areas that have a lot of clover may be low in nitrogen and could use some sort of organic fertilizer if you want to plant something there.  Or you can just let the clover grow!

Clover is also a great source of food for the bees.  It is my opinion that the proliferation of weed control herbicides in the lawn have reduced some of the potential food sources for some of our most important pollinators.  If the clover is eradicated then the bees can't make clover honey can they?

Clover can even be used as a cover crop.  I've planted red clover before to help add nitrogen back into the soil to areas after heavy feeders like tomatoes were planted.
So you can see that clover is simply not really a weed at all!  It's a useful lawn plant that helps us to avoid the monoculture vacuum that has become our lawn.  So don't eliminate clover, embrace it and gain the benefits that it can offer!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Time For A Few Herb Cuttings!

It's time for a few herb cuttings!  Surely you didn't think it would be too long before the plant propagation posts began again?  The warm weather is here - early - but the plants have responded and it's time to take some stem tip cuttings.  My wife finds these posts boring and floats right by but hopefully you won't. ;)

Recently I took a few herb cuttings.  Herbs are extremely fun and useful plants to have around the garden.  Aside from being fairly pest free they sure can add some oomph to the dinner table.  The first flush of growth is spring is one of the best times to take cuttings of many perennials - including herbs. Stem tips are exactly what the word sounds like - cuttings taken from the tip of the stem.

I took cuttings this weekend from three easy to grow and root perennial herbs: catnip, lemon balm, and mint.  I also took some cuttings of a thyme.  The thyme cuttings were very woody and so I would classify them as hardwood cuttings rather than stem tip.  It's something of an experiment with no guarantees but it roots easily with layering and I thought I would give some cuttings try.

Catnip, Mint, Lemon Balm, and Thyme Cuttings

The mint roots so easily that after two days it already has roots in many places.  The catnip should root within a week and the lemon balm just over a week - as long as my cuttings weren't taken too early.  My lemon balm hasn't flushed out a whole lot yet and and I probably should have waited a week.  It's a good self-sower too so if you have a plant that went to flower last year look around for baby lemon balms this spring!

To take stem tip cuttings count down from the tip 3-4 nodes and make a cut with a clean pair of scissors or pruners.  I try to make sure my cuttings have about 2-3 inches of stem with them which means I may have more than 3-4 nodes depending on the plant.  Mint will propagate with much less!  Then I take the cuttings and put into a container with wet sand.  For these herbs I didn't use any rooting hormone, it's not necessary all the time.  Many plants will root so easily on their own that adding rooting hormone is rather pointless, catmint and mint especially!

My next round of cuttings will probably include salvia and artemisia.  What will you be propagating this spring? 

Friday, March 9, 2012

5 Companion Plants and How They Help!

I've mentioned several times about the value of companion planting so today for the Friday Fives I thought I'd go a little more into detail with some specific plants.  Companion planting is an integrated planting technique where the plants benefit each other through pest repulsion or through other beneficial qualities.  It's a really cool thing to do and can make for a visually stunning garden.  With any garden technique it isn't 100% fool proof.  Some damage will occur, some diseases will occur, and that's why the gardener needs to use multiple of techniques to insure a successful garden!

5 Companion Plants and How They Help!

  1. One of the most secretive plants that can be use in the vegetable garden that often isn't is ...cosmos!  Cosmos is more than just a pretty flower that is easy to grow.  It's a beneficial bug magnet. Cosmos can attract hoverflies, parasitic wasps, and many others.  Some studies have shown that the sound of bees deters various caterpillars who are afraid of the wasps, and cosmos does attract bees!
  2. Basil is not only and awesome herb but repels hornworms and flies.  I plant my basil with the tomatoes and peppers.  Peppers tend to be fairly pest free but tomatoes can have all kinds of insect invaders.  One of the most notable is the hornworm.  It chows down on any foliage it can get a hold of but prefers tomatoes over nearly anything in my garden.  Since I integrated basil with the tomatoes I haven't seen a single one. 
  3. Marigolds
    Marigolds are great to plant around your tomatoes too.  They prevent damage from nematodes that like to damage the root systems. If you plant a ring of marigolds around the tomatoes you can actually see the benefits persist in the soil for multiple years.  Pretty cool right?  In addition to fending off the nematodes marigolds can also deter white flies! 
  4. One of those most annoying bugs to bother my garden is the squash bug.  Guess what?  There's a plant for that!  Nasturtiums planted around your squash plants deter squash bugs and cucumber beetles.  They can also be used as a trap plant for aphids which are drawn to them.
  5. How about this little tasty companion: the radish! Radishes are said to prevent damage from what I consider to be the worst pest of my whole garden, the vine borer.  Vine borers lay there eggs at the base of the squash, hatch, then burrow into the stem.  They cut off the supply of water and nutrients to the rest of the plant which dooms the plant to the compost bin.  Although I haven't tried inter-planting radishes with my squash plants before it is on my agenda for this season.   We love our summer squash here and despise those borers!

For some awesome companion planting advice I highly recommend Carrots Love Tomatoes.  It's a great resource on companion planting and contains some really good planting advice for many varieties of plants!

What companion plants do you use in the garden?

Previous Friday Fives

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Baptisia Australis Seed Sowing Update

Several weeks ago I planted Baptisia australis seeds. It's also known as false indigo. It took some time but with bottom heat from my seedling heat mat and continued patience several of the seedlings have sprouted.  It's always exciting to see new plants come alive from seed.  It took the Baptisia seeds about a month to germinate.  Please note one important word that all gardeners (especially myself) need to learn about: patience!

To review the seed starting process briefly I began by soaking the seeds then I planted them with bottom heat.  Some seeds need scarification or some other pretreatment before they will germinate.  Essentially the gardener has to mimic the natural growing conditions of the seeds in order to get the seed to sprout.

These won't be the first baptisia plants in my garden but they are the first I've grown from seed. 

In other seed starting news my habenero and cayenne peppers have both begun germinating.  Watching pepper seeds sprout can be frustrating since they are slow to germinate.  The heat mat has proved very beneficial!  I've already moved about 8 heuchera plants from the heat mat to an outside holding box (a clear plastic container) to grow on and adapt to the outdoor weather.  I hope to gather hosta seeds this summer (if the deer allow the flowers to bloom) and get some hostas started next winter.

What seeds have you started?

For more on seed sowing please visit the posts found here: Seed Sowing 101.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Look at This Strange Cocoon!

Large cocoon on ninebark
For several months I've been watching this strange cocoon attached to my ninebark.  I was curious what might come from it, and a little apprehensive too, then yesterday I found a second one on a viburnum.  What if it was something that would chow down on my garden?  What if it was some dangerous?  What if it was some giant moth insect that would need Godzilla to kill? 

Well I did some looking around yesterday on the internet for a clue.  Do you know what I found? That maybe two out of the three questions I just posed to you could be true!  Which questions? The first one and believe it or not that last one!  There are some caveats of course.

Large cocoon on viburnum
In my web surfing I found that this cocoon is very similar to the cocoon of the Hyalophora cecropia.  Which is the Cecropia silkmoth! It's a giant silkmoth with wings that can be over 5 inches in size! So you see it was actually a giant moth insect, although the bit about Godzilla was pure exaggeration. I gazed a few pictures of the silkmoth caterpillar and found it to be equally impressive in its size.  The images showed a green caterpillar a little bit small than a person's hand.  I bet it could really devour quite a few leaves from my garden should it take a mind to it! 

Should that happen I'll simply move the caterpillars to the wooded areas behind our yard.  I hope to be able to see the moth that emerges!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Calendar Doesn't Say So But...

...spring is here!  Spring is happening all over the place.  The trees are blooming, the bulbs are coming up all over, and of course the weeds are growing too! Daffodils and hyacinths are in full bloom and other flowers are well on their way to a beautiful spring. 

Here's a little of what we get to see in our garden:

The bees are highly interested in the hyacinths.  I tracked this little bee all around this particular plant as it filled up on the nectar.  I wonder what honey made from hyacinths would taste like? Hmm...

This is the one time of year where I find it hard to completely dislike the Bradford pear trees.  They are beautiful flowering trees despite their faults - which are many!  Fortunately I have clogged sinuses so I can't smell the awful smell of the Bradford pear trees flowers.  Although I also can't smell the wonder scents of the hyacinths...you win some, you lose some!

Here you can see one of the Bradford pears on the left and the front porch garden on the right.  The daffodils are filling that bed at the moment but daylilies, salvia, and several other perennials will emerge when the temperatures warm up a little more. The arbor on the right leads to the side garden.  I added some alliums to the bed on the left and a rose bush is straight ahead in the center of the picture.  It was sent over to me from Brighter Blooms Nursery in the fall.  I can't wait to see how it does here.  My garden is rose deficient with the new rose becoming only the fifth rose to be planted in my garden - and two of them haven't done anything to write home about! One was from a cutting and was nibbled by the deer.  You wouldn't think they would like to eat roses but when hungry deer will eat just about anything.

This nifty bulb combination is along our front sidewalk. Grape hyacinths surround the yellow daffodils!  The grape hyacinths will fill in more thickly as the years progress.

Here is a rogue daffodil that somehow ended up around the border garden.  I wonder if one of my daughters planted it...

This rogue daffodil is close to a Forest Pansy redbud.  Soon the redbuds will be all in bloom.  Both of our plum trees are in full bloom right now which gives me hope for some great cross pollination! 

How is spring progressing in your garden?