Thursday, June 27, 2013

Urban Container Farming

Container Farming           Jody Lannen Brady     MG Class of 2012

I have a little, shady square of land behind my rowhouse. Unfortunately the ground is full of rubble dumped inside retaining walls. I wouldn’t want to eat anything I managed to grow in that soil.

It’s a common urban predicament: little space, poor soil and limited sunlight. What’s a vegetable gardener to do? Think “containers.”

Vegetables can grow in just about anything that provides enough depth and drainage. Last year I grew peppers and eggplants in wash tubs, herbs in large clay pots, tomatoes in buckets and lettuce in hanging baskets. You could also repurpose plastic bins, trash cans, wood planters or plastic bags for your “farm.”

Match the right plant with the right size containers. Extensive Service guidelines suggest at least 5-gallon containers for tomatoes (one plant per container) but a two-gallon container can support a crop of bush beans planted just a few inches apart. If the container doesn’t already have drainage holes, you’ll need to make them. For the planting medium, you’ll want a lightweight, porous potting mix. “Large pot” mixes   come with coarse material that won’t degrade as fast as peat moss, and they often include water-retaining crystals to help hold water. Garden soil isn’t a good choice for containers because of weight and drainage issues.

The small space requirements of carrots, radishes, lettuce, green onions and herbs make them ideal choices for a container garden. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants require larger containers but many varietals will produce well in pots, buckets and tubs. A series of  Extension Service publications lists suggestions. Vertical growers (cucumbers, peas, pole beans) are good limited-space choices, as well.

Watering is crucial; soil in a container will dry out much faster than garden soil. On hot summer days, some plants may require twice daily watering; though checking moisture levels once a day is usually enough. I’m looking into self-watering options for my garden this year: timed drip irrigation, underground olas and containers with water reserves.

With all that watering, adding nutrients is essential. Pelleted time release products like Osmocote can be added at planting. When the plants are in production mode, weekly liquid fertilizer that’s high in potassium and low in nitrogen can boost yields. Organic options include fish emulsion, kelp meal/extract and bone meal.

To keep pests under control, IPM tools suited to the container garden include proper spacing (allow for air flow between plants), mulching, companion planting, floating row covers and timely harvesting. Find these tips and more in the “Growing Great Container Vegetables” guides available on the Penn State website.

We ate from our container garden all summer long and into the fall. What will I do differently next year? Add wheels to the bottom of my largest—and heaviest!—containers. It took two of us to move the wash tubs last year when we needed to find them a better patch of sun.

Annuals from seed...... Zinnia

Michele K. Koskinen

Burpee Queen Red Lime Zinnia

Annuals from the local nursery or other annual vendor are the preference for most busy gardeners to get that shot of instant color for their garden or containers. Marigolds, impatiens, ageratum. petunias, vinca, all common and well loved annuals.

So how about the beautiful flowers you can't purchase readily? Flowers difficult to find or only obtained by growing from seed. Nasturtiums, Morning Glory, Sweet Peas,  feathery Cosmos, sunflowers, and the wonderful selection of Zinnia.  Not instant color but once at their peak a constant cutting garden throughout the summer and into the fall. 

A  fondness for perennials, my garden always has color holes at certain times during the growing season. In the past common annuals purchased at the local nursery have been used to fill the gaps with much success but, everyone has the same flowers. While attending the Philadelphia Flower Show I spyed a Green Zinnia with other annuals only grown from seed. Roadside stands often sell zinnias as a cut bouquet. Zinnias were also a flower of my childhood. Everyone had zinnias in their gardens. They have for years been the annual of choice for many gardeners. So why not plant zinnias to fill the gaps? 
Landreth Envy
I purchased a pack of D. Landreth Seed and planted the seed among the perennials.  The results were a beautiful green flower that attracted the butterflies and bees to my garden and I had beautiful color to the fall. This year I have planted more varieties for a bigger splash of color. This may become my next best annual for containers and perennial garden as it is colorful and is somewhat drought tolerant.

Zinnias grow from petite 6" to over a stakable 40 inches in height. The blossoms are single and double varying in diameter from less than an inch to 7 inches. Colors range from single to multi and mixed. Seeds can be sown early but zinnia's do not transplant well. If starting the seed early, using a peat pot and then planting directly into the ground is advisable. They are also prone to powdery mildew so be advised that should be taken into consideration when choosing the zinnia. 

Burpee Striped Candy Cane mix

Old Mexico

From the National Garden Bureau Inc.  National Garden Bureau...Zinnias  
Zinnia Profusion 5 Color Mix
For decades, zinnias have been the flowering annual of choice for spreading glorious colors throughout the garden as well as for cutting to bring indoors. But it wasn't always so. When the Spanish first saw zinnia species in Mexico, they thought the flower was so unattractive they named it mal de ojos, or "sickness of the eye!" Years of breeding have brought striking new colors, shapes, sizes, and growing habits to the humble zinnia. No present day gardener would ever describe this versatile bloomer as anything less than eye catching.

Additional links for information on Zinnias:
organic gardening.learn-and-grow zinnias
Zinnias in containers

Views of the Butterfly Garden

The Butterfly Garden in Fairmount Park has gone through a restructuring this spring by a group of dedicated and ambitious Master Gardeners dedicated to providing a garden specifically for butterflies. Many plants were removed or moved and others added. The team that worked on this project did an outstanding job and the garden is taking shape.

Some of the plants in the garden include: Butterfly Bush, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Phlox, Clethra, Deutzia, Asclepias Tuberosa, and Solidago Sphacelata, and Honeysuckle.

There is still some work to be done but it looks terrific. If you are in the park stop by. It is near the gazebo on the Horticulture grounds.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Great Bean Poles

By Sandy Grimwade

Pole beans are a great choice for a small garden and June is the perfect time to plant them. Pole beans give a high yield per square foot of garden and their picking season lasts much longer than bush beans. Here is a recipe for making an inexpensive and simple support tripod for pole beans that will last for years.
Bean tripods
The tripod will support 15 – 20 plants and occupy a triangular space about 30 inches on each side.

  • 3 poles. Any 6 – 8 foot strong wooden stake will do. I use 1” x 2” poles of treated lumber.  I purchased them at a big box store in the construction lumber department – much cheaper than fancy pointed stakes from a garden center,
  • Polyester string (40 – 50 feet) (Don’t use cotton or sisal as it may rot or break after one or two seasons)
  • Strong wire (about 6 inches)
Tops of poles with drilled holes and wire loop
  • Power drill with ¼ inch bit
  • Pliers
  • Saw (if poles do not have a sharpened end)
  • If the poles don’t have a point, saw wedges off one end to make a point, so that the poles can be pushed easily into the ground.
  • Drill 2 ¼" holes through each pole; one about 1" from the top and one about 18" from the pointed end. 
  • Attach the three poles together at the top by threading the wire through all three and twisting the ends together with pliers to form a small loop.
  • Stand the tripod on a lawn or firm surface with the legs evenly spaced. 
  • Thread a piece of string through the holes at the bottom of each poles to form a horizontal triangle. Tie the ends of the string together to form a large stretcher loop. I like to have the legs about 30 inches apart.
  • Tie string about 1/3rd of the way along one side of the horizontal stretcher string, run the string up through the wire loop at the top then back down to the stretcher on the same side. Tie the vertical string to the stretcher another third of the way along. 
  • Repeat for the other two sides of the triangle.
  •  Place the tripod in your prepared bed and push about 9 inches of each leg firmly into the soil.
I like to plant a couple of beans near base of the each pole and one bean every 4 inches or so along the sides depending the variety. When the beans start growing, they will soon grab onto the strings and climb rapidly upwards.

At the end of the season, pull up, fold and store the tripod for next year. The old bean stems come off the string quite easily, especially if they are left to dry out first.

Grow, then Eat Your Flowers (at least some of them)

Edible Flowers
By Anna Herman

According to Michael Pollen’s book Food Rules, having a bouquet of flowers on the table makes the food taste twice as good.   How many times better could dinner be if the flowers move from the center of the table to the center of the plate?    

Many commonly grown flowers are both tasty and decorative additions to salads, entrees and desserts.  Since blooms are a fleeting moment in a plant’s life cycle, I view flowers as “hyper-seasonal”- an ingredient to mark an ephemeral moment in time.

If you are in the habit of using fresh herbs in your cooking, adding edible flowers to your culinary repertoire is a natural outgrowth.

Flowers, like most plants, are full of vitamins, assorted phyto-chemicals, antioxidants and other nutrients.  They add color, flavor and pizz-azz.  

How do you know what flowers you can and can’t consume?  Most edible flowers are easy to i.d., and many grow like weeds in your yard, and around your neighborhood.    Don’t eat flowers from a florist, which may be sprayed with pesticide, or preserved for shipping.   Look for organically grown flowers at farm markets in season, or grow your own.    Don’t choose specimens grown along busy roads, or in the path where dogs take their regular walks.

Early spring fruit trees such as nectarine, pear, peach and apples offer fragrant flowers to steep in wine or syrup, which combined with fresh fruit add a mild floral note to an orchard blossom Sangria.   Delicate clusters of purple-topped chives are another early season treat.  Simply snip the florets of the delicate onion flavored flower heads into salads, onto chicken, fish or potatoes, or transform white wine vinegar into a lovely lavender colored ingredient pre-seasoned for vinaigrettes and marinades.

Many greens will flower if left unpicked, so be on the lookout for the yellow flowers of kale or mustard greens in your garden as the weather warms.   Arrugula plants will bloom bracts of delicate white flowers that have a piquant herbaceous flavor.  In fact the flowers of most edible herbs such as thyme, rosemary, cilantro, parsley and dill, are a tasty “extra” as the gardening and farm market season progresses.

Edible flowers such as pansies and violas don’t have much flavor but they do add a romantic splash of color to garnish cakes, cupcakes, and cheese plates.   Other flowers, such as nasturtium are both visually dramatic and full of peppery-cress like zest.  Herb flowers and cucumber flavored borage are savory,  while lilac, roses and elderberry are floral and sweet.   

Most edible flowers are eaten fresh, as an adornment or component of a dish.  Others, such as roses or elderflowers, can be infused into syrups or delicate broths, where the fragrant floral qualities are enhanced and softened.  Lilac syrup brushed on a simple yellow cake transforms it to the days of elegant Victorian afternoon tea.   Pea and bean blossoms along with many squash blossoms have sufficient texture and substance to saute, even to batter dip and fry.

The earliest edible flowers each spring are wild violets, violas and pansies, which seem to blanket the neighborhood.  A few flowers or petals add a spring cheer to whatever they adorn. These flowers can be home-candied with simple syrup and superfine sugar to preserve their beauty and later garnish a simple cake or bowl of ice cream.  Pea flowers, roses, calendula, nasturtiums and flowering herbs to follow.   Learn to identify a few flowers where they grow, or trust a local farmer to harvest them for you.

People have been eating and garnishing with flowers for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks put violet petals in their wine.   Romans, and later the Ottomans, regularly used roses to flavor dishes from savory lamb to super sweet Turkish delight.   Bitter Dandelions have been used as a tonic or in wine in traditional diets from China to Greece.  The Victorians added violets, primroses and borage to their salads.

Flowers tend to be delicate and require gentle care from garden or market to table.
Wash if needed and pat or air dry, and use within a day or so.   Flowers with stems can be kept in a jar of water, like the bouquet of flowers they are.

Use with abandon,  or highlight simple meal with a flourish.  Our new food rule….eat your flowers, they make everything twice as good and twice as pretty.

Friday, June 14, 2013

News from the Edible Landscape Demonstration Garden

This past week's rainy weather has encouraged plenty of new growth in the vegetable demonstration garden at the Horticulture Center. The various beans -- bush and pole, shelling and string -- have sprouted and their growth can be measured daily in inches. There are small fruits on some of the pepper plants and the tomaotes have reached the first cross pieces on their teepee supports. The grapes that were transplanted in the early spring have grown at least three feet and will soon cover the arched arbor.

Eldredge Ragsdale hard at work

Many of the spring crops including the various lettuces and radishes have been harvested. Various beans and other summer vegetables have been planted in their place. The bush cucumbers are two inches high and will soon be climbing the space-saving trellises.

Visitors to the garden have been signing-in at the information box and taking the educational hand-outs home with them. Stop by and see us anytime you are in the neighborhood!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tomatoes.......Heirloom Tomatoes

Michele K. Koskinen
Jaune Flamme

A small 4x10 raised bed vegetable garden can handle a diverse grouping of vegetables if you want to plant them. I prefer tomatoes.... Heirloom Tomatoes. Why plant what I can buy at the store or at a vegetable market. I prefer Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Aunt Ruby German Green and to my dismay too many again in my small plot. Another Master Gardener has a small business and I have gotten two different varieties from her this year, Pink Brandywine and Jaune Flamme. Along with my regulars I also grew from seed Russian Purple and Black Cherry.
 Photo by wise geek

Russian Purple
My obsession began several years ago at a farmers market when I saw Cherokee Purples. The taste was different. It was a dark, acidic, richer, fresher flavor than your normal store bought tomato.
Some of the varieties of heirlooms are less acidic and have a softer taste. Each has its own identity. Cobbling together a tomato salad of beautiful colors and a multitude of taste with basil and watermelon is a summer fantasy for those of us that love tomatoes......Heirloom Tomatoes. Watermelon tomato salad link

Black Cherry
They do not always have a high fruiting production and are more delicate and not able to ship long distances. When growing heirlooms, you should bury the plant deeply into the ground to allow the roots to develope along the stem. This makes for a stronger plant and provides for faster top growth.
Mulching is important to help keep the soil moist and at an even temperature throughout the growing season.

Some of the heirloom varieties grow to great heights, so they will need strong support systems. Keeping a record of the variety you plant and how it performs is useful in planning for next years crops. Year to year production is not always the same so planting a hybrid or two is a good idea.

More and more small family and urban farmers are growing these varieties for the public. You can often find them at local farmer's markets or roadside stands. Some supermarkets offer them but they are hard to find and often expensive. However, once you get the taste of a Cherokee Purple or a Black Cherry you will find a way to plant at least one Heirloom Tomato.
Aunt Ruby's German Green

Yellow Pear
Cherokee Purple

Thursday, June 6, 2013

News from the Edible Landscape Demonstration Garden

Chinese mustard and collard greens at their peak
Trellised nasturium in the annual herb bed
Lois Fischer

The past few days of unseasonably high temperatures has had its impact on the vegetable demonstration garden in Fairmount Park. Some of the cool weather crops have pushed miraculously and are at their full harvesting glory. Others are just at the brink of bolting and are waiting to be replaced by new plantings. It has been a challenge for our small crew of dedicated volunteers to remain on top of the changes. Many of the summer crops are well on their way. A variety of bush beans, shelling peas and runner beans have sprouted. The two rows of dwarf okra are visible. The bush cucumbers that will later be trellised to save space have poked their ways up through the soil. Tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers and two varieties of eggplant have been planted. The herb beds are a sight to behold. Our committee members have entered the garden in the PHS sponsored City Gardens Contest in the "small community garden" category. We will keep you updated on our progress.

Stop by the garden sometime soon should you be in the neighborhood. It is located behind the greenhouse at the Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Daffodil Leaves

By Sandy Grimwade

Although daffodil flowering season has passed, how you treat your daffodil plants now will affect how they will bloom next spring. The leaves that grow above the ground after flowering provide nutrients that allow a strong bulb to form below the ground, and strong bulbs are essential for great flowers next spring. With this in mind, here are a few tips for dealing with those sometimes messy leaves.

Do not bunch, rubber band or braid the leaves. If you do this you are decreasing the amount of sunlight getting to the leaves and hence decreasing the bulb development below ground.

Cut off leaves as soon as they have done their job. You don’t need to wait till the leaves go brown and die. About six weeks after flowering (early to mid June in the Philadelphia area), the leaves have done all they will do and it is safe to cut them off an inch or so above the ground. The bulbs do not develop better if you leave the leaves longer than six weeks after flowering.

Remove and compost the leaves. Remove the leaves from the surface of the soil. The soil where daffodil bulbs are planted needs to get warm and dry for the bulbs to mature. You can plant some annuals over your daffs without a problem, but don’t mulch heavily. Daffodil leaves make good compost, so don’t toss them out.