Thursday, January 23, 2014

Garden Planning 2014

A recent article in Organic Gardening about the Rodale Institutes (Organic Gardening Article) 30 years of trial testing brought to mind that it is that time of year when the best plants of the year from 2013 are being posted and talked about in gardening circles. Many University Extensions, seed companies and public gardens have trial gardens where plants are tested for a variety of growing conditions. They plant thousands of cultivars and watch and evaluate them for the next season or in some cases for several years before they can rate them for the home gardener, commercial grower or in the case of some public gardens their own grounds.

While planning your garden you will want to evaluate your own successes, failures and growing mistakes to plan for this years gardens. Will you put the same cultivars in the garden or try something new or a combination? Did you grow the right plant in the right place or was there an oversight in your planning? How can I change to make my garden better? Is there a better variety of annual or perennial for the light or watering conditions in my garden? So many questions.

So fellow gardeners, I want to point you to several reads for your gardening planning pleasure.
It will start you on your journey for the 2014 growing season, and don't forget to read your journal from last year before choosing yours seeds or plants. By now we have probably forgotten all of the little things that happened.

George Weigel of Penn live blog.pennlive….best_new_edible_plants_of_2014.html.
He also has written an Annual and Perennial Best of blog found on the bottom of the edible blog.

Being a tomato person, I will definitely try a few different varieties this year including the beautiful Indigo Sun and the Chef's Orange mentioned in the pennlive blog.

Basils of different varieties are also a must in the summer. Last year was lemon and it was perfect in drinks as well as in salads and recipes. This year who knows.

Other links to browse and find how edibles, annuals and perennials are tested to be sold on the market.

all-america selections

And of course any of your favorite seed companies have a wealth of information on their websites.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Recycling Coffee Grounds in the Garden

Stephanie Rukowicz

Growing up, my parents always dumped out their used coffee grounds, filter and all, around the base of a rhododendron in our yard. Thus began my experience using coffee grounds in the garden.

Now in the Master Gardener training program, I wondered what exactly are the benefits of using these spent grounds in the garden?

Recently popularized further by Starbucks' program, Grounds for Your Garden, where customers can pick up 5 lb. bags of used coffee grounds for free from participating stores, Sunset Magazine commissioned a study by a lab out in Bellevue, Washington to find out what is in these coffee grounds.

For the full report, visit To summarize their findings, the grounds contain nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, calcium, and other trace minerals. Out of these elements, not all are available for immediate plant uptake. The potassium and magnesium are immediately available, as are 50% of the copper and calcium. The other elements, such as nitrogen, are considered slow release, as microorganisms need to work to break them down into an available form for plants.

Ways to use them around your garden include:
1) Composting them. Be sure to remember the grounds are considered a "green", even though they are brown. If using in your vermicompost, depending on the size of your bin, limit to about 1 cup of grounds per week.

One cup of coffee grounds a week makes for happy worms.

2) Amending your soil. Hand till or Rototill them into your soil at a 6-8" depth to improve the quality of your soil in the short and long term, improving the drainage and texture as well as improving availabilities of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and copper.

3) Side dressing or mulching your plants. Long known as a good practice for acid loving plants, yet the lab study found that the grounds only have a pH of 6.2--not as acidic as commonly thought. Add less than a 1" thick layer at a time, as the grounds can cake and prevent soil and oxygen from getting to plants' roots. To prevent this caking, you can lightly work into the soil surface.

 Side dressing with coffee grounds around blueberry bushes. The paper filters are easier to separate from the grounds after they are dry.

4) Making some "tea." Like you would make a compost tea, you can also make a coffee ground tea. Add two cups of used grounds to a 5 gallon bucket of water, let steep for a few hours or overnight. Use to water or foliar feed garden or container plants.

5) Controlling pests? There are many posts around the web that attest using coffee grounds in the garden help control pest problems by:
 - Creating a slug barrier: sprinkle around base of slug-prone plants.
 - Deter flea beetles: sprinkle around base of beetle-prone plants.
 - Controlling aphids: sprinkle around base of plants to prevent infection; use "tea" on infected plants.
 - Controlling ants: sprinkle where ants are for them to carry home; use "tea" on ant hills.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Need a new shovel?

Michele K. Koskinen

My tools for gardening are in need of sharpening and some need to be replaced. The more involved I get with real gardening the more I appreciate the right tool for the job. Gardening is work and it becomes more difficult without the right tools. One such tool is the "shovel". My shovel is one purchased at a yard sale and needs to be replaced. The handle is loose and the point no longer a point. So what should we look for when buying a shovel.

We tend to use the shovel as a term that covers a variety of digging instruments. Long and short handled, round, square, long and round, folding, you name it it, is a shovel. So what is that tool used to dig called? 

Let's examine the two most popular. A spade and a shovel. 

  • A shovel has a  rounded tip perfect for digging, lifting, throwing and digging holes.
  • A spade is used for edging, slicing and preparing beds to an even depth.
Photo from

Parts of a spade for examination

Selection of the spade or tool should be determined by the size of your body, and the task. The ergonomics of the shovel helps you dig safely and efficiently. We all have dug and come away the next day sore and wondering what the heck. 
That can be a sign we have the wrong tool or have used the tool incorrectly.

When choosing your spade or shovel there are a few things to think about.

  • Your body size.
  • Your body strength
  • The task at hand
  • How the shovel is made

The head size should be based on your strength. The size of the head will be one of 4 sizes and the weight of the head  again will be determined by your strength. Obviously a larger head gets the job done quicker but may not be too good for your body. The angle of the blade which determines the "lift" needed to dig efficiently.

The handle should come to the middle of your chest when the blade is in the soil. A typical handle length is 48" but some are longer. This again is determined by the length of your arms and height.

Take time to investigate the correct tool for you. It will save you aches and pains and become a partner in your gardening endeavors. Before buying that shovel do some research. The quality of the tool should be such that it will be a life long tool if cared for properly. Many articles have been written on the favorite tools of gardeners. The important thing is again how is it made. We all have tools that were choosen for price not because we looked at them as an investment. Buy the best you can afford and the right one for you to use for many years.

This video shows specifics on how to dig and some points on selecting a spade. A great instructional "tool" for you if contemplating purchasing a new "shovel". It is also a reminder as to how to properly use a digging tool without injuring your back and wrist.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Infused Vinegar Workshop Holiday Fun

Michele K. Koskinen

The end of the year party this year was attended by veterens as well as trainees in the Master Gardener program. Calls of winter advisory of snow and ice did not deter the intrepid gardeners to come together and have some end of the year fun. On tap….food, a raffle of donated garden and decorative items and two workshops.

The first workshop had Anna Herman helping all to design a personal Ask the Master Gardener button. It was fun and the buttons are made in such a way that you can change the button to another design.

The second workshop had everyone making infused vinegar from herbs and assorted vinegars. Linda Grimwade gave a brief presentation and the directions for the entire workshop is below.


Herb or Fruit Infused Vinegars

There are many do’s and don’ts for preserving foods. Infusing oil and vinegar uses the same food safety  rules to inhibit the growth of bacteria that makes us ill.

Wash and sanitize your jars.
Heat and sanitize your lids, corks, or other closing devices.
Heat the liquid and put it into a heated jar or bottle.

            In addition to those rules, infusing vinegars also have a few more.
Do not use metal utensils or bowls for vinegar.
Don’t use ground herbs as the vinegar will be cloudy.
Clean the herbs, fruits or vegetable, or spices using prescribed methods.
What you use to infuse your vinegar determines the preparation .
Several extension websites give very good advice on making your vinegar and keeping it safe. Several recommend a bleach solution (yes diluted bleach) for the herb preparation. Other sites recommend heating the vinegar and pouring it over the herbs to steep, still other recipes clean and dry the herbs and pour the vinegar right into the jar. Regardless of the preparation in tour recipe, always keep food safety measures in mind.

Penn State

To begin making infused vinegars requires you to use the correct vinegar. Many recipes recommend not using distilled vinegar because it is too harsh, others say you can use white distilled, you have to decide based on your taste buds. Most of the best vinegars are made with apple cider vinegar (not distilled cider vinegar), red and white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, champagne vinegar, and sometimes balsamic. Your choice should be determined by your taste and what you are using as infusion ingredients.

Once you have chosen your recipe, combine the vinegar and herb in a jar with a plastic lid or a metal id with plastic wrap. Let it sit for 2 to 4 weeks in a cool dark place before decanting into an nice bottle. If you want the vinegar to have a flavor more quickly, try bruising the infusion ingredient. The tasting as it ages will help you determine when to decant it. Taste is everything and a personal preference.

Decanting requires you to strain the vinegar and place it using plastic funnels into a nice bottle. Again NO metal tops.

Vinegars should be stored in the refrigerator or in a cool dark cabinet. They usually last from 3 to 6 months, some upto a year. Always be aware of spoiling as in any food. (Do not put the vinegar onto a window ledge and then use as food as bacteria will become a problem.)

Matching the types of vinegars with the herb, fruit or vegetable, or spice you are using is a personal evolution in your cooking taste. To make the best vinegars you need to keep in mind the strength of the ingredient, the type of vinegar and your likes and dislikes.Vinegars can be used on salads, as glazes for meat or poultry, or as a marinade.

Below a few of my favorites from Eating Well: What will yours become?

Fennel, Orange & Star Anise Vinegar
From EatingWell:  November/December 2012
Try this vinegar infused with fennel, orange and star anise in Asian-inspired dishes. Combine with soy sauce, chopped scallions, ginger and a pinch of sugar and use it as a sauce for a chicken-broccoli stir-fry. Or try it drizzled over hot-and-sour soup. The recipe makes enough vinegar so you’ll have extra to decant into a decorative bottle or two to give away as a simple homemade gift.

Shallot, Tarragon & Lemon Vinegar
From EatingWell:  November/December 2012
Stir a little of this shallot-, tarragon- and lemon-infused vinegar and some fresh chopped tarragon into reduced-fat cream cheese and try it as a spread for crackers. Top with a piece of smoked salmon for an instant appetizer. Or combine the vinegar with a little olive oil, low-fat mayonnaise and chopped celery and use as a dressing for tuna salad. The recipe makes enough vinegar so you’ll have enough extra to decant into a decorative bottle or two to give away as a simple homemade gift.

I have listed several recipes sites for you to browse at your leisure. The sites from the extensions above also have recipes to get you started. Enjoy.

Tip: A cheap bottle can be a Perrier or glass soda bottle with a new clean cork, snap cap, or pourer