Monday, April 30, 2012

PLANT SALE May 19 Rain or Shine


The Penn State Extension Philadelphia Master Gardeners sale will take place at the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center Demonstrations Gardens, on May 19th from 11 to 1:30.
The sale will be rain or shine.
          http://g.co/maps/rbxgg
A wide assortment of edible and flowering plants including, heirlooms vegetables and a variety of ornamental plants will be available. Come to browse and pick your favorites from our selection.
A sample of our offerings:
We will offer a great selection of veggie and herb plants such as
Tomatoes        Basil      Fennel
Eggplant          Curry     Squash
plus ornamentals such as
Lonicera, Hosta, Hedera, Berberris, Sun and Shade Coleus
Fennel  ** this “edible” is an unbelievable perennial flower- check it out~ **
Winter Bulbs (only one-season old: bloomed wonderfully their first year)

and more................
As an added feature, the Master Gardeners will be available for free gardening advice! 


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

PHS City Gardens Contest.... Musings

By Lois Fischer


Last year's garden in mid-to late May
It's raining today, a perfect time to begin thinking and writing about the annual City Gardens Contest sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. For those of you who are unfamiliar the contest, let me provide some background. PHS has been sponsoring this event for decades. Gardeners from all over the city enter their gardens that are judged by gardening volunteers. Small and large, ornamental and vegetable, individual and community -- all sorts of gardens are entered. For years, I have been part of the team of volunteer judges and have enjoyed seeing the amazing variety of gardens and the creativity of the gardeners.  After some hesitation last year, I entered my tiny vegetable garden, no more than 250 square feet. Low and behold, I won first prize for the small vegetable garden category. I am entering again this season and with encouragement from fellow Master Gardener, Michelle Koskinen, will occasionally contribute to the Master Gardener blog about the experience. I would also encourage all of you to consider either entering the contest, volunteering to judge or both! Go to the PHS website (www.pennsylvaniahorticulturalsociety.org), click on PHS Events and then on City Gardens Contest. You can enter and volunteer on-line.

Having been out of town for a good part of the winter, I have only just begun the preparation work for planting. Turning the soil in my three 4x10 foot raised beds and adding amendments including compost has been accomplished and the cool weather crops have been planted and carefully labeled. As a result of my judging experiences, I have learned that labeling is important for a winning garden.
Last year's garden in mid-to late May
The peas, spinach and salad greens have spouted, as well as the Swiss chard. Planting a number of cultivars of the same species also racks up points with the judges. Each year I try to select a least one new cultivar, as well as old favorites. Given the small space in which I am working, this can be a challenge. I also plant many vegetables and herbs in containers to maximize the space and to take advantage of all the sunlight that falls into the garden. Succession planting is a must for me.... and the judges like it too! I take photos of the first round of crops. Juding does not occur until July and August and I want the judges to know what things looked like earlier in the season.                                                      

Enough for now.... I will keep you posted as the season progresses and plan to share tips on what the judges look for in winner in case you decide to enter the contest!




Sunday, April 15, 2012

Penn State Extension Vegetable Gardening Guide


Penn State Extension has many research oriented guides and information pamphlets. Check out this one on vegetable gardening.


Whether you’re new to gardening or have been gardening for as long as you can remember, Penn State Extension educators put this guide together for you. It's packed full of information about growing vegetables - from selecting the best garden site to harvesting.


http://extension.psu.edu/vegetable-fruit/production-guides/vegetable-gardening

Should you reuse container soil again?

Do you throw out your container soil? What do you do to keep it fresh?   Do you mix your own container mix?


Gardening in containers require the soil be light and airy as well as have good drainage. This allows the roots to grow and "breath" So should you reuse your soil?

In the years I have gardened I have had to use containers as I have a brick back yard that is about
15 by 12. I always felt you could reuse the "dirt" soiless mix for containers again, if you helped it the next year with admendments and cleaned it out of the roots and debris. This was, of course, if you did not have any disease in the growing season. Soil that has had diseased plants or may have overwintering soil dwelling insects and their eggs should be discarded. Garden sanitation is essential in containers as well as the regular garden.


This has always worked for me and I didn't reconsider until recently when I started reading answers to the question........Can I reuse my container soil? It was confusing to say the least.

Some say, just throw it on the compost pile.         I don't have a compost pile.
Reuse it in your garden.                                       Again no garden.
And yes recycle that soil unless the actual structure has changed over the years.

When I start my growing season, I dump all of the pots, clean them out with a light bleach solution and start my new soil mix. I add my amendments, manure, perlite and peat moss, more soiless mix and mix mix mix. I use dehydrated manure because I do not have a compost pile, perlite and peat moss.
If I find the soil looks and feels spent I dump it in the recycle bag and take it to my local composting site.

I finish with a mulch on top to retain moisture and fertilize through the summer. So far it seems to have worked OK. This year I am using coir and mushroom compost as it is supposed to be better. To be determined.


Rotation with vegetables is also recommended as you would rotate in a raised bed. Heavy feeders, light feeders and light are all considerations. Most of my pots are flowers so it is easier, I feel, than growing vegetables in those pots. Since I dump and start anew every year it is easier to not worry about rotation.

So can you reuse your potting soil? Yes and No. If you dump amend and reuse yes. If you leave it in a pot and keep reusing I say no. I am sure there are many answers and many conclusions. This is mine from my experience.

Good Luck

Additional Information..........

http://www.mushroomcompost.org/faqs.htm


What's coir? Coir, pronounced kwar, is a rising star in horticulture. Also known as "coco coir" because it is made from fibrous coconut husks, coir is an effective, economical and earth-friendly addition or alternative to traditional peat-based blends. 


From Fine Gardening

Getting to the Coir of the Matter

Gardeners for years have lined their hanging baskets with long-fiber coir. Learn how this material differs from peat.


Enlightened gardeners may be noticing something new in their potting media: a dark brown, fibrous material that has the look and feel of peat. The material is coir (pronounced “core”) dust. Like peat, it can be used as an organic component in potting media, or alone to amend garden soil or propagate plants.
So why would you choose one material over the other? One reason may have to do with your definition of a renewable resource. Peat comes from decomposed plant remains that have accumulated in waterlogged soils for thousands of years, and some people worry about diminishing peat bogs. Coir comes from a resource that many people consider more sustainable: coconuts.
The difference between peat and coir doesn’t end there. While peat tends to be acidic, coir leans toward a near-ideal pH, depending on the source. Some people also find that coir is easier to work with than peat. Coir retains more water than peat, making it a wise choice for many containers and hanging baskets. But the potential for high levels of soluble salts to accumulate is greater with coir-based than with peat-based soils. To eliminate any cause for concern, be sure to buy coir products from a reputable company.
Coir has been used for a decade in the United States by the commercial greenhouse industry and even longer by growers in the world’s tropical, palm-rich regions where it is produced, including Sri Lanka, Philippines, Mexico, and India.
Gardeners for years have lined their hanging baskets with long-fiber coir, and coir fibers are used to make common household items such as rope, doormats, and upholstery stuffing. Coir fibers are generated when the coconut husk is ground. Coir dust is the by-product of this process. Some of you probably have used chunks of coir dust to grow orchids, ferns, anthuriums, bromeliads, and other tropical plants.  

Nutrient and pH differences

In substituting coir for peat—whether using it alone as a garden soil amendment or in the potting mixes you make—be alert to possible differences in results. Coir is rich in potassium (K) and the micronutrients iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), and copper (Cu). The high potassium content means that a gardener could use a fertilizer that’s lower in potassium and still get good results. The other nutrients are a bonus—just like adding a vitamin pill to our daily diets. Because the pH of coir (5.5 to 6.8) is more neutral than that of peat (3.6 to 4.5), some gardeners may find that coir does not work as well for acid-loving plants, such as azaleas and blueberries.
Most gardeners are familiar with the challenge of wetting dry peat; coir is praised for being easier to rewet from a dry state. Overall, coir is a wonderful amendment if you want to improve the water retention of your hanging basket or container. Coir can absorb water at a rate of about seven times its dry weight. This is almost 30 percent more water than peat can hold.
While coir may not replace peat, it is nice to have a more easily renewable option. The positive qualities of this coconut by-product make it a natural fit in many garden applications.

The dos and don'ts of using coir

Do
soak a compressed brick, block, or bale in water for at least 15 minutes before using.
make sure the soaking container is big enough; coir will expand five to seven times in volume. For a brick, which yields about 1/3 cubic foot of coir dust, a drywall bucket will do. For a bale (about 2 1/2 cubic feet), use a child’s small swimming pool or an outdoor garbage can.
add coir to garden soil as an amendment, or use it as an ingredient in potting mixes. Like peat, it can account for up to 40 percent of the potting mix.
Don'tuse bricks that fail to absorb water readily and expand.
try to slice a brick in half. Even a chain saw won’t cut it.
toss out any unused coir. It retains its properties and can be stored—covered— for several years.
Photo: Melissa Lucas
From Fine Gardening 105 , pp. 20







Sunday, April 8, 2012

Super Easy, Super Thrifty, Seed Tape!



By Jessica S. Herwick

Seed tape is a gardener and thoughtful landscaper tool.  It is used to manage the tiniest of seeds by securing them evenly throughout a strip of biodegradable material.  The strips can be cut and planted directly in your garden soil, producing evenly spaced, securely rooted plants.

You may have noticed seed tape advertised in seed catalogs or at your local nursery.  Lately I have been noticing seed tape making it’s way, more and more, onto the horticulture market.  I even saw carrot and lettuce tape for sale at the Lowe’s this year!  When I saw how much they were charging, I decided to come straight home and write this blog.  You see, I have been making my own seed tape for years, after receiving a free sample in the mail one winter.  It costs practically nothing and is made with materials you already have at home.  Follow the directions below to make, store and use your own seed tape and save your money for more seeds!

Why use seed tape at all?  There is a reason (several reasons, actually) why this item is becoming more popular among mainstream distributors.  Here are a few...
·        * It spares your back and your eyes: Planting seed tape is easier than crouching down over your seed beds and fussing with proper placement of the smaller seed varieties. 
·       *  It eliminates the need to thin seedlings: Seed tape places seeds the proper distance from each other and the paper holds small seeds in place while they germinate.  This prevents the sow-er from dropping too many seeds in one place (we’ve all done it).  It also prevents the seeds from gathering into small clumps and germinating together, which is usually why we have to thin the seedlings. 
·        * Perfection: It creates rows of annuals, veggies and herbs that come as close to being perfectly spaced as Mother Nature will allow.
·        * It gives the garden designer more control: Seed tape enables you to manipulate the seeds to create designs – imagine how much easier it would be to spell out your school’s name in flowers using seed tape for the design and planting!  Once practiced, even elementary school students could create a professional looking landscape or perfectly placed herb garden.

YOU WILL NEED:
Scissors
Newspaper (Black and White print ONLY! NO COLOR)
  Alternative to newspaper – white paper towels, white tissue paper
Wax paper
¼ Cup of Flour
¼ Cup of Water (room temperature)
Small Bowl
Spoon
Paint Brush (small, hard bristled watercolor brush)
  Alternative to paint brush – toothpick, cotton swab

INSTRUCTIONS
1. Cut newspaper (or paper towels, tissue paper) into long strips, about ½ inch to 1 inch thick.

2. Lay out wax paper.  

3. Place newspaper strips in rows on top of the wax paper.

4. Mix the Flour Paste: Combine ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup water.  Stir until a smooth, glue-like mixture is formed.  You may need to adjust – add enough water so that the mixture becomes thick, but thin enough to pour from the spoon.  Adjust consistency by adding more water or more flour as needed.     
             

5. Using a paintbrush or cotton swab, place one small dot of the flour paste where each seed should go.  I usually eye this up, but you can measure and mark the newspaper ahead of time to make this step easier.

... HOW TO KNOW WHERE TO PUT THE DOTS...
Refer to your seed packets for spacing.  Different plants need different amounts of space to grow properly.  Using the tape should eliminate the need to thin seedlings.  So, you want to space your seeds using the final spacing noted on the seed’s packet.  Usually the packet will tell you to “thin the seedlings to #inches apart”.  This is the measurement you will use for spacing your seeds on the tape. 

6. Lay one seed lightly on top of each flour paste dot.

7. Place a clean strip of newspaper on top of the strip you have just prepared with seeds and press down lightly until you see the liquid wet through both sides of the paper. 

8. Label the strip of seed tape and set aside on a clean, dry piece of wax paper.
9. Allow seed tape to air dry for 24 hours on the wax paper.

To Store:  Place seed tape in freezer bags with a zip seal.  Tape can be gently rolled up or folded to fit into bags.  You can also roll tape up and store in a Tupperware container with an airtight lid. 

To Plant: Follow the directions on the back of the seed packet for planting times and depth.  Dig thin trenches at the appropriate depth and lay seed tape into the trench.  Water well (so the newspaper is clearly wet all the way through) and cover with soil.  Water once again, and keep your eyes peeled for seedlings to emerge.

Click here for more seed starting tips and money saving tricks!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The gardens of the Taj Majal


By Jill Stankiewicz

I recently had the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the wedding celebrations of two friends in Bangalore, India.  Although Bangalore is in the south of India, I could not pass up the chance to visit the legendary Taj Mahal in Agra, India.  The trip to Agra from Bangalore involved a domestic flight to Delhi and a five hour car ride, but the Taj Mahal was more than worth it!  It is every bit as breathtaking as its photos.




The drive from Delhi to Agra included many traffic delays due to all kinds of things--unpaved roads, fog, and getting stuck in a herd of street cows.                 









Cypress trees line the path leading to the Taj Mahal.  My friend Olivia and I are so happy to experience the beauty of the Taj Mahal. 

 The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum.  Emperor Shah Jahan constructed it as a tribute to his wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to their 14th child.  Construction began about a year after her death and continued for 20 years.  Construction of the Taj Mahal is said to have employed thousands of workers.  The architectural style of the complex combines elements from Persian, Turkish, and Indian styles. 

Shah Jahan’s Muslim heritage influenced the design of the garden on the Taj Mahal grounds.  Four is the holiest of all numbers in Islam, so all garden arrangements of the Taj Mahal are based on that number or its multiples.  The gardens were organized into quadrants including sixteen flower beds. Cypress trees, symbolizing death, line the path leading to the Taj Mahal and cross in the center of the garden, dividing it into four equal squares. Fruit bearing trees (signifying life) are also found and even they are arranged in a symmetrical pattern.


 

Flowers are present inside the mausoleum as well.  The building is made of white marble, and throughout the entire interior are intricate wall designs including precious and semiprecious gemstones.  Each of these wall designs were hand-crafted by gemstone artisans, and their attention to detail is flawless.  














Wilting flowers are carved in white marble throughout the interior of the mausoleum to represent Shah Jahan’s sorrow at the loss of his wife. The Taj Mahal is believed to be the only structure featuring the melancholy beauty of flowers intended to be viewed as wilting (as opposed to blooming).



During our time in India, we had the chance to enjoy many delicious, authentic meals.  Most meals in South India are served with rice and/or roti, pieces of soft, flat bread which are great for dipping into curries and vegetable-based sauces.  It is impossible to match the multi-sensory, joyful experience of sharing a meal with friends in Bangalore, but this South Indian Vegetable Curry recipe from Epicurious will give you a taste.  Indian cuisine is a great way to use root vegetables and garlic in a new way.  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/South-Indian-Vegetable-Curry-242152


If you ever have a chance to visit India, I would strongly encourage you to go!  The hospitality of the Indian people is unmatched, and despite all of the struggles India faces as a developing country, its pockets of pure beauty are amazing. 



Sunday, April 1, 2012

Summer bulbs

By Michele Koskinen  

White fragrant lilies and hardy gladiola
When you hear bulbs what is the first flower you see in your mind? Is it a tulip, daffodil, crocus, snowdrop or other fall planted bulb. Can you name your favorite summer bulb? Flowers planted in the spring from bulbs or corms or rhizomes are called "Summer Bulbs". These include begonia, caladium, canna, dahlias, gladiola, lilies of many varieties, oxalis, and many more. Some are tubers and others corms but for this discussion they are all grouped together as summer bulbs. 

crocosemia
Fragrant Oriental Lily





Growing conditions for summer bulbs are different from spring bulbs in that a summer bulb needs full sunshine, with some exceptions, and decent soil and excellent drainage  (if the soil is clay and drainage is poor, the bulbs will rot). If those 3 conditions are met, it will most certainly give the summer bulbs a good growing habitat. Spring flowering bulbs will thrive in poor and infertile soil and extreme conditions of heat and cold. Summer bulbs need their requirements met to thrive. 

To get off to a good start, the bulbs need consistently warm soil. The planting date should always be after the last frost and the temperature preferably between 50 and 60 degree. 


                                                
Dahlia
 Many summer flowering bulbs and tubers are well suited for patio containers and should be planted closer for a full look. The most popular are begonia, dwarf canna, caladium and dwarf dahlia. 
Caladium and begonia





dahlia
Summer bulbs also require winter storage in a cool dry place after being dug up for the winter. Most of the tender bulbs require 40 to 50 degree temps in dry vermiculite or peat moss. Some grown in containers can be moved indoors and left in the pots to 
overwinter. A too warm storage climate dries them out and they are not viable the next season. 


Many summer bulbs are considered  hardy in our zone 6B-7 and do not need to be lifted. Iris and lilies are two that can be left in the ground and will multiply through the years as a regular perennial. For more information on the hardiness of the bulb, read the growing directions for the specific bulb you are planting.





A few tips from professionals.
Summer bulbs require a great deal of water immediately after planting. 
The soil in your garden should be continually moist not wet.
Sprouting is healthy; plants are anxious to get into the ground again. 
Maintain a pH level of 6 to 7 to bring out the true color of flower bulbs. 
Additional fertilizer is not necessary for summer flowering bulbs and tubers.