Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rodale Institute Trip and soil biology

Jane Takahashi

Fourteen Master Gardeners set out on Thursday, April 10, for advance training credits in a soil biology class at the Rodale Institute  We met at Anna Herman’s house around 11:30 and arrived at the institute around 1:00.  Our three hour class, instructed by Dr. Gladis Zinati, consisted of learning about the four major players of soil biology: bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes.  

Not only did she help us identify them in pictures, but gave us the opportunity to see them live under microscopes. Learning to take samples from soil or compost, using the microscope to look for specific microbes, and learning to count them was interesting and something we Master Gardener's could use in the field. It was a lot of fun observing the tiny microorganisms and hearing classmates yelling out, “I found a nematode that’s moving!” The class was a ton of fun. I found myself really enjoying the view under that scope, something totally different than what I’m used to.  

After the class we walked around and visited some of Rodale’s 305 acre farm, cute piglets bathing in their mud pit, oxen, goats and of course their fields.  None of this, I have to remember, could be possible without all those small organisms that we often do not see.   

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Milk bottle cloches to extend your growing season

Sandy Grimwade

A great way to give your tomatoes, peppers and other warm-weather crops a head start in the garden is to use a cloche or hot cap. This allows you to set out your plants a couple of weeks earlier than usual.
The guideline for setting out tomatoes is usually the last frost date, but this becomes earlier and earlier as the climate warms, and is affected by whether you live in a city, which creates a heat-island effect, or in the suburbs. Many other factors like the slope of your land and proximity of walls, buildings and trees can also affect your micro-climate.

The date normally quoted for setting out tomatoes and peppers in Philadelphia is usually around May 1 and in the suburbs May 15. Using a cloche can take some of the guesswork and uncertainty out of the planting-out date and allow setting out a couple of weeks early.

I use recycled one gallon or half-gallon plastic milk bottles with the bottom cut off. Rinse out the bottle, then (carefully) cut off the base of the bottle with a bread knife or a pair of scissors, and you are good to go. Set the bottle over the new transplant with the edge buried about 1 inch deep. If you just sit the bottle on the ground, it is liable to blow away in a strong wind. The warmth of the sun heats up the soil inside the bottle during the day. It also keeps the humidity high, which decreases transplant shock. At night, the temperature inside the bottle stays several degrees higher than the surrounding air, and the plant is protected from wind. I usually leave the tops off the bottles to avoid the trapped air becoming too humid, but if a late frost or cold and windy night is forecast it is quick and easy to put the tops on the bottles, and take them off the next morning. Once we get into late May or early June and your plants are growing rapidly it is time to take off the milk bottle cloches. They can be used for two or three seasons, but eventually the plastic becomes brittle and cracks. That is why I start collecting my empty milk bottles about the same time as I plant my seeds indoors.

A further advantage of the milk bottle cloche is protection from cutworms and other insects. I often leave my cloches on my eggplants until they are too big to fit, to avoid flea beetle and other insect damage.

Other uses for cloches in the garden include covering directly sown seed to encourage faster germination, and covering greens in the fall to extend the harvest. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Philly Farm and Food Fest

Come and join the fun by learning about farming and gardening, buying local, and tasting food grown by some of these purveyors. Oysters, vegetables, jams and cheeses. What more could you ask for. The Master Gardeners will be there with information and to answer questions about our program or your gardening needs.

Philly Farm & Food Fest website:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Extension Hotline for your gardening questions

The Master Gardeners Hotline is open and waiting for you to

Any gardening question from soil testing, insect control, the type of plant to buy for your garden, pruning and more. So check us out on our website for more information on the HOTLINE. Each county in Pennsylvania and any State Extension across the country has this type of hotline information for it's gardeners. Take advantage of the expertise of your local EXTENSION Master Gardeners.