Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Breathing Away from the Garden

Here in Western New York, the long winter started early – snow hit during the first week of December and kept its grip right through Christmas.

Interesting to note that means three full weeks of snow before the “official” start of winter.
It’s easy to feel down as the doldrums set it – short days, limited sun, nowhere to garden outdoors.

You can do a few things to pass some time – alphabetize your seeds. Clean out your outdoor garden shed. Browse seed catalogs. Experiment with growing some herbs in that south-facing window.

You know what?

If you are physically able, don’t let someone telling you “it’s too cold” or offering other myriad excuses keep you from the outdoors.

There is no more glorious time to take a walk than on a crisp winter night.

You won’t need a flashlight once your eyes adjust. If walking on a road, wear reflective clothing and carry a flashlight.

Walk along a bike path with a friend. Appreciate the subtleties of the winter flora – the reds of the arrow wood, the buds that will be next year’s leaves, weeping willow branches turning bright yellow.

Don’t just take one walk, either. Turn off the TV. Get off the couch. Plan to walk every Tuesday night for two hours or so.

You’ll discover quickly if you dress in layers, avoid cotton clothes and wear a hat that no matter what the temperature, you won’t be cold. You also will enjoy yourself.

If you have hiking poles, use them. “Yak Trax” cost about $20, fit to the bottom of your boots and will keep you from slipping.

Bring water and a light snack or perhaps a thermos of hot chocolate.

In our region, trails are walkable more often than not and only have enough snow for snowmobiles a few weeks every year. That means you have them to yourself.

If you need someone to walk with, contact your local independent outdoor store, especially if it caters to kayakers.
The boat-borne go stir crazy and often meet weekly for organized hikes.

Spring will be here before you know it, but enjoy January and February while they’re here.

About the Author
Joe Genco is a contributing writer to Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, home of the Seeds of the Month Club, and a registered representative with New England Financial. You can e-mail him at joegenco@gmail.com

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Turnips for your Home Vegetable Garden

Whether you grow them for their greens or the root they are best when harvested in cooler temperatures. You can plant turnips in the midsummer time and have them ready in the autumn months. Turnips also make for a great spring crop in your home vegetable garden.

Turnip seeds are a small to medium sized seed and should be planted no deeper than ½”. A ¼” will suffice as it will not be too much soil on top so it can produce enough energy to break through. It is not recommended that you start turnip seeds indoors. In fact you really don’t have to. When the fear of frost in your area subsides, start planting.

The soil temperature range for turnips is very wide. Although many experts believe that 85 degrees Fahrenheit is the best temperature for the seeds to germinate, some studies have shown the soil can be as low as fifty degrees Fahrenheit. If you are planting in the early spring where the soil will still be a bit cold, you can heat up the soil by laying a clear plastic tarp over it which allows the sun to warm it up, but prevents the cool winds from hitting it.

Turnips germinate quickly under optimal conditions. What are optimal conditions? Good soil, temperatures in a range that the seeds can tolerate and a pH level, discussed in the next section, that is slightly acidic, and good spacing. When you can meet these conditions you can get your turnip seeds to germinate in as little as 2 days, however for most of us, 5 is more likely.

This is the measurement of how acidic or alkaline your soil is. The scale ranges from zero up to fourteen. Anything below seven is considered acidic and anything above seven is considered alkaline. Seven is neutral. Your turnips like the soil to be a bit more acidic. They will do best in the 5.5 to 6.5 range. Invest in a good pH soil tester. It will help you out immensely.

You will find spacing requirements for your turnip seeds on the back of your seed packets. We only sell one type and those are the purple top white globe variety. They like to be spaced out at least four inches for optimal room to grow.

Turnips do best with a moderate watering that is more even and steady. In other words do not over or underwater. And although they can tolerate light shade, they grow best in full sun.

If you are like me and practice crop rotation and companion planting, avoid following all crops in the cabbage family in a rotation. Turnips grow well next to onions and peas, however avoid potatoes.

So the time has come to harvest the turnips. If you are growing them for the greens, you can start when the plants are still young, although you do not want to take too many of the greens as the root of the turnip will suffer. The greens are great in salads and soups. If you are harvesting the turnip for the root, anytime it is one to three inches in diameter you are ready. If you let them get too big they may develop too strong of a flavor.

If you are a fan of turnips or their greens, and have not grown any for yourself…what are you waiting for! They are easy to grow and because they are a cooler weather crop you can grow them in the early spring and again for the fall.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is the administrator for the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Two Trends in Home Vegetable Gardening for the Upcoming New Year

I recently had the privilege of appearing on a radio show where we did nothing but talk about vegetable gardening for over an hour. It was a lot of fun, and the questions by the host, Kate Copsey, were fantastic. They made me do some quick thinking about my own vegetable gardening experiences, what I grow, methods I use and so on. More importantly the interview also made me think about trends in vegetable gardening that will be big in the upcoming year.

Maybe my own company will be one of those trends with the way we deliver seeds to our customers, only time will tell, but after I spoke with Kate on her radio program, we both agreed that there will be a couple of trends that will definitely increase, based solely on what we see going on right now.

The economy, I am sure has a lot to do with these trends, and because of the economy, maybe just maybe, it’s making everyone realize what is important in our day to day lives as we all scale back a bit, find ways to save money all the while getting healthy food on the dinner table.

Vegetable gardening in general will do that, but it also provides for an opportunity to do two things, that I believe will be the trends for the upcoming year. They are a chance to take part in community gardening and an increase in vegetable gardening for kids.

There is a variety of community gardening methods, such as taking a plot of land and having a group of people tend to it or taking a plot of land, subdividing that land and everyone grow what they would like on their own plot. I see this become more common here in New Jersey and as many of our Facebook members have wrote us, Detroit, MI and Los Angeles, CA seem to be growing in this area as well.

Community gardening can either provide food for the person or people tending the garden or as I have seen in my own town, harvesting the food and donating it to a local church or food shelter to help out those in need. Community gardening is growing, and although statistics of its growth weren’t available at the time I wrote this article, just based on what I see, it will not be slowing down anytime soon.

As a father of two children myself, and being fortunate to have a father to teach me gardening skills, I clearly understand the importance of passing on my gardening skills to the next generation, and I see that other parents and grandparents do as well. What makes this trend even more exciting to follow is the creativity adults are using to capture the attention of children and get them excited about growing their own vegetables. Whether it is reusing egg cartons as seed starters or a pizza box as a garden bed, there are a variety of ways to get children involved.

I find in my own experience that having my son use his own “play” tools to help dig or rake go a long way in teaching him to have fun all the while actually learning gardening. When it comes time to harvest the fruits and vegetables he gets excited to pick them himself, and who wouldn’t, because not too long after they are harvested, we prepare them for a meal. Garden to plate in less than 30 minutes!

If you know how to use a shovel, put a seed in your soil, and know how to use a watering can, then you already have the knowledge, skills and ability to ride the wave of these two trends.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is the administrator for the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Three Insider Secrets for the Home Vegetable Gardener

There is no magic formula to growing great tasting vegetables in your home vegetable garden. Just like anything else in life it takes time, patience and of course effort. Combine all three of these and you are sure to yield so great results.

However, just like a lot of other things in life there are secrets, tips and tricks in home vegetable gardening that will make your life easier, especially for those that are limited on time and or space. Here are some insider secrets that you can implement today in your home vegetable garden.

Companion Planting
This is the process of planting one vegetable in between or near another vegetable. Companion planting has a number of benefits. The most obvious is the use of space. This technique allows you to utilize the space in between bigger vegetables. Another benefit is to attract certain variety of helpful insects that will actually attack harmful ones. For example, white flies can be devastating to a tomato crop, but the trichogramma wasp will actually eat white flies. By planting something near tomato plants that attracts the trichogramma wasp you can virtually eliminate the white fly naturally without the use of chemical pesticides. There a number of great resources, such as the USDA and our own website, that give you companion planting suggestions.

Crop Rotation
This is the process of alternating the location of where you plant a vegetable from season to season. In other words if you plant tomatoes in row one this year, you might want to consider moving them to row three next season. Crop rotation serves a couple of important purposes. Each vegetable uses a certain amount of nutrients, some more than others. For example, tomatoes use a lot of nitrogen. By the end of the growing season the area where the tomatoes were planted will have smaller amounts of nitrogen. The following season you will want to plant a vegetable (herb or fruit) in that spot that will not require as much nitrogen and move the tomatoes to a spot where the soil is high in nitrogen. You get the point.

Raised Beds
Looking for better drainage in your soil and the ability to have your soil warm up faster in the spring? Then raised beds are the way to grow, er um, go. There are a number of methods for raised beds. They range from simply building up the height of your rows, to actually boxes and filling them with dirt. Whichever method you go with is fine, just make sure you do not use any type of pressure treated lumber if you decide to go the box route.

Many home vegetable gardeners simply plant their seeds and go. This is fine, but don’t you want more vegetables for all of that hard work you put into it? Me too. That is why I combine, companion planting, with crop rotation and raised beds. Give it a try with your home vegetable garden. You will wonder why you didn’t try these methods sooner.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

PLANTS, SOIL AND HEALTHY MICROBES

For many years, chemical use and high levels of fertilization have been widely accepted as the best practice by farmers, landscapers and home growers. Even if used correctly, the margin between safe use and phytotoxicity (harm to the plant) is often very small. There are also dangers to animals and humans from the use of chemicals themselves. Despite these problems, the lack of effective alternatives did not leave growers many choices.

More recently, however, farming growing practices are beginning to change. More growers are completely eliminating the use of chemicals and greatly reducing the use of fertilizers. These changes have been brought on for many reasons; one reason is the increase in scientific research demonstrating the toxicity of many of the chemicals being used by growers (such as increases in Parkinson’s Disease1 and cancer rates2,3 or lethal algae blooms in our waters4,5).

A bigger driver for the change is the development and/or wider recognition of effective natural or organic products for increasing yields and treating pests and diseases. One of the greatest developments in this area has been the increased recognition and use of beneficial bacteria in agriculture.

In most cases, the use of beneficial bacteria can lower fertilizer and water use by 50%, and completely eliminate chemical use with better results (20% increases in yields are standard). In addition, there is no toxicity to humans and animals. In fact, the use of bacteria has shown to cure depression6 and gastro-intestinal disorders7, and overuse does not have detrimental effects for the plants.

Beneficial microbes have co-evolved with plants over millions of years. In fact, it is now known that plants and symbiotic microbes actually have elaborate systems of communication. For example, a plant will secrete substances into their root zone to attract beneficial Bacillus strains when the plant is under attack by pathogens. Plants will also exude beneficial substances, including sugars, to feed beneficial fungi and bacteria.

In exchange, bacteria will produce plant hormones (such as auxins, gibberellins and cytokinins) to stimulate plant growth, as well as fight pathogens. Beneficial organisms will also help plants better utilize fertilizer and nutrients. Some strains help solubilize phosphates, making them more available. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria can take nitrogen out of the air and fertilize a plant naturally, while certain types of bacteria can convert higher nitrogen forms (ammonia and nitrites) into nitrates, which is the only form of nitrogen that a plant can use.

By building up the numbers of these bacteria, fertilizer can often be reduced 50% while making the uptake and retention of that fertilizer even more efficient than adding higher amounts. Bacteria can also travel through the transportation systems of plants (the xylem and phloem), thus acting as a natural transportation system for compounds and substances, as well as a mobile immune system that will help to suppress pathogens.

“The Earth is not sterile, nor was it meant to be”. Growers are just beginning to understand the extent to which plants and animals depend on beneficial bacteria. Incorporating beneficial bacteria into your growing practices will increase your plant health and yields, as well as lowering your chemical and fertilizer use.

About the Author
Joseph Maggazi of Grow Home Organinics, LLC is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC. Grow Home is the maker of Quantum Growth, a consortium of over 20 strains of beneficial bacteria that perform all of those above plant health functions.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Home Vegetable Gardening: Five Tips To Help You Grown Better Fruits

Walking in your Garden
With every step you take in your garden you compress the soil underneath and that prohibits air flow as well as water drainage. If you can not or do not have the ability to create a raised bed gardening system, then here is a solution to distribute your weight evenly when you need to walk through your garden. You can lay down a piece of plywood over the areas where you are going to walk. When you step on the piece of wood, your weight gets more evenly distributed. You can also designate certain parts of your garden to be considered “walk” areas. La down some mulch will help reduce the impact on underlying layers of soil.

Fertilizer Numbers
Although I would rather see you enrich your soil via means of composting and vermicomposting many must use commercial fertilizers. If you are one of those people you should know what the numbers mean on the packaging. You will see the N-P-K ration listed on packages of fertilizer. N-P-K stands for nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. So if you see a fertilizer that reads 15-5-5 it means that it contains a ratio of 15 parts nitrogen to 5 parts phosphorous to 5 parts potassium.

Going Organic
Home vegetable gardeners more so then any commercial industry will have an easier time going organic. Because home vegetable gardens are smaller and more manageable it becomes more realistic to use organic methods. For instance, a home vegetable gardener won’t have to use power tools to cultivate the soil. A pitchfork or shovel will suffice. Home vegetable gardeners can bury food waste directly in their backyard or set up a vermicompost bin to create quality humus that will add much needed nutrients to your soil.

Vegetable Offspring
A very popular question that we receive on our website is, “is it possible to grow vegetables from the seeds of vegetables grown in a backyard vegetable garden?” In short the answer is yes. But there is more to it that will affect the quality of the taste. If you grew the vegetable plant from a hybrid seed, which means it is a cross between more than one variety of plant, the offspring of that plant won’t be as tasty as the original and may even look a bit different. If the seed wasn’t a hybrid then the offspring should be identical and that will lead to the same taste.

Space Limited
If your space is limited you have a few options you can use to make the most out of the space that you do have. For instance you can grow vegetables out of pots. Just make sure the pot has a depth of at least 8 inches and a 6 inch diameter. You can set up a raised bed gardening system, enclosed by a wooden frame, bricks or any number of other material. Again make sure the depth is at least 8 inches. Try growing vertical. Cucumbers, pole beans, and melons are a few varieties of plants that you can direct where they go because they are vines. You can save a tremendous amount of space by using a trellis and having them grow vertically.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is the administrator for the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gardening is a Rewarding and a Relaxing Hobby

I became introduced to gardening when I was just a kid. My dad was an avid gardener for many years, and he showed me all the tips, tricks and techniques that he used that made his vegetables turn out great.

Because the end result of gardening is the production of great tasting food, it quickly, for me, became a hobby that I have fallen in love with. Fast forward thirty plus years and you will still find me tending to my garden every year.

If you are looking for a hobby that is fulfilling and rewarding then gardening is it. Beyond that is also educational, and you can even take gardening to many niche directions. For instance you might find that you enjoy growing peppers. Well you have choices of many peppers to grow. Anything from habanera to bell to jalapeno, so many varieties that you can dedicate an entire garden to just peppers.

If vegetables aren’t your thing and fruit is, then strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are within reach as well.

Along with the relaxing atmosphere of growing fruits and vegetables, gardening can teach you a wide array of skills that are helpful to the environment, such as learning how to turn your food scraps into nutrients for your soil and plants. You will also learn how leaves, twigs, and the grass clippings from your lawn can actually benefit your garden.

Just like any other hobby you won’t become an expert overnight, but if you stay with it, and venture into learning new things or expanding on your current knowledge, you will be amazed as to the things you will learn and the skills you will gain.

As if you needed anymore benefits for gardening as a hobby, how about growing your own fruits and vegetables will save you money at the grocery store. The cost you will put out for seeds and watering your garden is far less than buying vegetables by the pound or a bag of greens. One grape tomato plant can literally produce in the hundreds where as at the store they can run about $1.99 per pound. One season growing a grape tomato plant can save you up to $50 depending on how many of them you eat and that is just one plant.

So if you are looking for a hobby that is relaxing, rewarding, educational and can save you some money, then gardening is the perfect hobby for you. All you need to get started are some seeds, a place to plant them and some water.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Grow Lights

While everyone else is talking about Christmas lights, let the gardeners talk about Grow Lights. December ushers in the time of year that proves the diehard gardeners and disheartens idealists. Sure, some of the self-sufficient plants can continue to grow and thrive indoors during the blustery season, but more needy greens have a habit of making their discomforts known. Think: Princess and the Pea”—only, “Gardener and the Rosemary”.

The sweet Rosemary plant, she is as needy as they get. Too much sunlight gets her wilty; not enough and Rosey is scaly. Don’t even think about water. Really, don’t. Since, if gardener’s can keep a Rosemary plant alive for the long winter haul, they can keep just about anything alive, she’s a great place to explore the proving grounds.

Success with Rosey is tricky indeed, but a few pointers might make the difference between life and death—for the plant that is. She can’t live without a spot of high sunlight. That means growing a plant in a bay window probably won’t be enough. It may seem like she’s getting a lot of natural light, but windows tend to filter too much UV to supply the intensity of direct sunlight. And most people can’t afford a greenhouse or greenhouse glass.

That leaves the brave gardener with a winter Rosemary plant only one good option: the Grow Light. Grow Lights provide UV from the high spectrum in which they shine. They’re heat producing—quite warm in fact—and costly to purchase. Some are sold to fit standard light fixtures, others to fit standard fluorescent housings and others for customized Grow Light systems.

A single UV bulb, for standard fixtures, typically costs around twelve bucks. The majority are advertised to last a year or longer, but with the constant time that needy plants require to soak up enough UV for photosynthesis, the light bulb’s life expectancy is typically about half as long.

Specialized set ups, and fluorescent grow-lights have significantly longer lifespans, and the purchase of a system that provides adequate light for a few plants is a significant expense. A fluorescent tube should last two to three winters and cost about forty dollars, but if a household does not have any fluorescent lighting already set up, a grow kit must be purchased.

The grow kits run the highest cost, both to run and to purchase. They provide heat, and UV for the most controlled growing environment, and most also have adjustable lighting conditions and heat settings. Rosemary is happiest with a grow kit, but she’ll survive with just a standard bulb.

The gardener has to speak words of love to his plants. That’s the real secret: being attentive. If she needs a pillow, get it for her. If she need the shades drawn, go. But no matter what, the gardener should never let her persuade him to leave the light on for more than fourteen hours. She’ll take it, and get to wanting it and become dependant on it, and then, what’s left?

About the Author
Jody Sperling is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC who operates the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Add Asparagus to your Home Vegetable Garden

Asparagus is a great addition to any home vegetable garden. Whether you mix them in with a salad or cook them your own special way, this perennial plant will yield you a great tasting vegetable for about 10 to 15 years.

Part of the Asparagaceae family, Asparagus is one of those rare vegetables that regardless of the climate you live in (for the most part), it will produce for you every year. It is a good low calorie source for Folate and Potassium and the stalks are high in antioxidants.

Asparagus dates back to as far as 3000 B.C. to Egypt. Historians believe it was originally used as a medicine. They have also found a recipe for cooking asparagus that dates back to the third century AD.

If you are going to add it to your garden, be prepared. Asparagus takes 3 years before you can actually harvest the first stalks. So you will need to be patient.

To get your asparagus up and running start your seeds indoors about 7 weeks prior to the final frost of the season. Check a frost zone map for your area to find out what that date is. Once you reach that 7 week date you can move the asparagus plants to the outdoors and to its new permanent home.

Your asparagus plants need room so when it comes time to plant them outdoors make sure you spread them out at least eighteen inches. This gives the plants’ root system plenty of space to grow.

If possible plant them in an area that will receive at least 8 hours of sunlight per day. Although they will tolerate less than eight hours you are going to grow your asparagus for the next decade so put them where they will be happy.

Asparagus requires heavy watering and like most other vegetable plants you do not want to overwater so invest in a good 3 in 1 soil tester or moisture level tester. Between the rainfall you will receive and the watering schedule you will have, a soil moisture tester will ensure that you keep the water levels in the perfect range. As a side note, asparagus will grow much better if the soil pH range is in the 6.5 to 7.5 range.

When the third year rolls around harvest only those asparagus spears that are at least 3/8” (1 cm) in diameter and 6 to 8 inches long. You can choose to use a knife or garden scissors to cut the asparagus, but the best method is to simply “break” them off.

Asparagus is best eaten as soon as it is harvested, so if you aren’t going to be consuming your asparagus anytime soon, just let them grow.

Finally, because I know it just has to be on everyone’s mind, why does urine have a distinctive odor when you eat asparagus? Come on now….you are thinking about it. There are compounds in asparagus that when metabolized give urine that odor due to various sulfur containing products. There are six of them and they are, methanethiol, dimethyl sulfide, dimethyl disulfide, bismethane, dimethyl sulfoxide and dimethyl sulfone.

You are now ready to go and tackle asparagus. If you love the taste of this vegetable like I do, go ahead and add it to your garden. Sure it will take you 3 years before you can get your first harvest, but you will be harvesting fresh asparagus every year thereafter for at least 10 years.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is the administrator for the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Two Quick Composting Methods for the Home Vegetable Garden

You won`t find too many more natural ways to improve the nutrients in your soil then compost. The result of organic material breaking down, compost will add much needed, nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous and calcium (as well as other nutrients) to your soil. The best part, composting is easier than you think.

There are a variety of composting methods you can choose from. Which one you decide on usually results in the space and time you have available. The most common types are trench composting and a compost pile. Both work great and have their advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s start with trench composting. This is the act of, as you might guess, digging a trench, throwing in your organic material and then covering that material up with dirt. I use this technique a lot. It’s easy to do, and I consider it the “lazy” man’s style of composting. Why lazy? Because all you have to do is bury the material and let the environment do all of the work. The disadvantage of this method is you may not be able to bury all of your grass clippings, fallen leaves and so on. They would just take up too much space. Items most commonly used in trench composting are your food leftovers, coffee grinds and tea bags to name a few.

If you have the space, and it doesn’t take much, start a compost pile. This is where you will pile up all of your organic material and simply let nature break it down for you. Items that you can throw into your pile are wood ash, grass clippings, leaves, twigs, coffee grinds and filters. Avoid throwing food leftovers into your pile. It could attract rodents, other animals and unwanted insects. The disadvantages of a compost pile are space requirements and the extra work load you will have when it comes time to turn the pile over.

If you do absolutely nothing to the organic material being used, both methods take some time to have that material breakdown. If you would like to speed up the process you can grind up the material in a lawn chipper/shredder. Making the items smaller will help make things breakdown quicker.

There is no right or wrong method to use. Which one you choose will be right for your situation. Just remember to use only organic material, avoid meats and bones and remember you aren’t burying your trash, but your leftover organic material.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is the administrator for the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

5 Basic Tips for Growing Peppers in your Home Vegetable Garden

Peppers are the third most popular vegetable grown in the home vegetable garden. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose from however the basic concepts to grow them are the same for just about all of them. Here are 5 basics on peppers to get you started.

1. Seed Depth - Pepper seeds are fairly small so you do not want to plant them too deep. About a quarter of an inch or less would be ideal. If you put too much dirt on top of them they won’t generate enough energy to push through the soil.

2. Soil Temperature - Peppers, like tomatoes, will germinate best when the soil temperature is on the warmer side. If you can get your soil in the eighty to eighty-five degree Fahrenheit range you would be doing your pepper seeds a great service. At this temperature they have a better chance of not only germinating but thriving.

3. pH Range - Peppers like the soil to be a bit more acidic (under 7 on the pH scale). Ideally if you can get your soil in the 5.5 to 6.5 range, some studies have shown that pepper seeds germinate very well there.

4. Space - You will more than likely find the adequate space requirements for peppers on the back of your seed packet, however, if you received some pepper seeds from a friend and do not have the packet, just remember to space them out at least twelve inches. Give them plenty of room to grow.

5. Sun and Water - Peppers require full sun and moderate watering. Pick an area of your yard that receives first sunlight in the morning and throughout the day. Water every other day and more often if you experience periods of high heat and dryness

These are just the 5 basic items of growing peppers in your home vegetable garden. Once you become comfortable with growing peppers, learn more about rotation considerations and companion plantings, both of which will help with future yields and use of space in your garden.

Note: This article may be freely reprinted or distributed in its entirety in any e-zine, newsletter, blog or website. The author’s name, bio and website links must remain intact and be included with reproduction.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is the administrator for the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Home Vegetable Gardening Made Easy with these 4 Tips

Don’t make home vegetable gardening harder or more complicated than it has to be. You may overwhelm yourself an invariably give up. Instead, follow these 4 tips, to keep home vegetable gardening light and more reasonably maintainable.

1. Start off Small - Try not to take on more vegetables, fruits and herbs then you can handle. Many times new gardeners (and sometimes experienced ones) will try to grow too much. The harsh reality of their situation may be that they do not have the space available or the time to maintain their garden. When this happens the garden suffers from overcrowding and lack of maintenance which invariable leads to weeds and under producing plants. Instead grow a select few plants of vegetables, fruits and herbs you know you will consume. Gardening becomes much easier when the end product will result in something you know you will eat.

2. Put it in View - The old saying, “out of sight, out of mind” is so true when it comes to vegetable gardening. When you do not have a clear view of your garden from your window you tend to forget about it at times. Instead try to keep your garden where it will always be in plain sight of where you will sit for breakfast first thing in the morning. When you see it every day, you are more likely to maintain it.

3. Try Not to Over Think - When starting out try not to over think your garden. There is a lot of information out there about how to optimize your garden. All of it is helpful, but if you try to implement too much of it too soon before you feel comfortable with home vegetable gardening, you can overwhelm yourself. For instance, there is companion planting, crop rotation, organic fertilizing and bug control methods to name a few. Forget about that for now and start small. Then over time start filtering these items in.

4. Keep the Tools Simple - You might be thinking you need a plethora of tools to garden, from motorized ones to the latest hand tools from your local home or garden center. Sure, many tools will make it easier for you and on your back, but what you really need are the basics. A pitchfork, shovel, and rake are all you will need to get started. The shovel allows you to get through tough soil while the pitchfork helps you turn that soil over and break up the clumps which helps aerate it. Throw in the rake to help “smooth” the soil over and you are all set.

These 4 tips won’t make you a master gardener overnight, but they will help you keep it simple so you can start off small and slow and realistically progress.

Note: This article may be freely reprinted or distributed in its entirety in any e-zine, newsletter, blog or website. The author’s name, bio and website links must remain intact and be included with reproduction.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is the administrator for the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Build Your Home Vegetable Garden Raised Bed Out of These 5 Items

Vegetable gardening with raised beds opens up a number of benefits to home vegetable gardeners. They include better soil drainage for those areas where it is normally poor and gardening on a patio or in smaller areas to name a few. But did you know that you can build your own raised bed garden out of a lot of different items? Here are 5 you can try today.

Wood

I wanted to start with wood because it is the most popular item to build raised beds out of, but I wanted to break this category down into various wood products that can be used. Sure you can go to your local home center and buy wood, but you probably have some around that you didn’t even think of. Such items include, the wood from an old door or window sitting in your garage or some wooden scaffolding planks. Do you have some railroad ties sitting around or is your neighbor throwing some wood away? If so, and you are a bit handy with tools, you have everything you need to make some quality raised beds.

Hay

Hay makes for a great barrier for your raised beds. In my area a bale of hay costs about five bucks, so building a garden bed out of it can get costly. Iif you live in a climate that gets cold, hay makes for a great means to build a cold frame. It acts as a wonderful insulator from cold winds and can keep your soil at a moderate temperature.

Bricks and Cinder Blocks

If you buy them they aren’t cheap, but if you are lucky enough to be around an area where they are building you might be able to grab enough for free that will do the trick. You can also look on the popular websites Craigslist or Freecycle for people that are giving them away because they are taking up room in their basement, backyard or garage. You would be doing them a favor.

PVC Tubing

One fellow vegetable gardener told me they used large diameter PVC tubing for their raised beds. They were able to snag some from a new construction development in their neighborhood and build some nice raised beds out of them. I went to a local home center and priced some out and they are all not too expensive if you wanted to buy them. Try getting them for free first if you can. Use the two websites I mentioned earlier.

Old Tires
I have seen tires used by stacking them up then filling them with soil and then planting potatoes in them. They work nicely as a raised bed and keep the potatoes confined to a single area.

These are just 5 of the many solutions you have available to you when it comes to building a raised bed. Try the one (or all) that works best for you and the space you have available.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is the administrator for the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

5 Common Home Vegetable Garden Terms and What they Mean

You have probably heard a lot of terminology being floated around in your vegetable garden. Here are five popular ones that will look familiar to you and what they mean.

Frost Zones

Here in the United States the Department of Agriculture has put together a map which sections off various regions into zones. This is done for a number of reasons as it pertains to gardening and one of them is to know when your area will be hit with frost. Frost is nothing more than ice crystals that form overnight when the temperature drops thus freezing any moisture. Plants such as tomatoes and peppers cannot withstand frost for more than a night, maybe two if you are lucky. Therefore, knowing when frost will hit your area is beneficial. A Google search on the words “frost zone map” will result in many different varieties of maps to choose from.

pH Scale

Ok, so maybe it has been a while since you had a science class. The pH scale is a measurement of how acidic or alkaline something is. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with less than 7 being acidic and more than 7 being alkaline. 7 is neutral. As it relates to vegetable gardening the pH scale is used in measuring the acidity of the soil. Ideal soil conditions range on the scale from 5.5 to 7.5. This is where most plants thrive. Some do well in soil that is more alkaline such as cauliflower in the 8.0 range, but if you keep your soil neutral to a bit more acidic you will do fine. You measure the pH level with a soil test kit or soil tester available from any home or garden center for less than $10.

Compost

Compost is organic matter than has decomposed. Most vegetable gardeners keep what is called a, ‘compost pile’. It is pile of leaves, twigs, grass clippings and other organic items. This pile breaks down over time resulting in usable, nutrient rich compost. Compost is then mixed in with your garden soil to add those nutrients in so your plants can grow and thrive. There are various kinds of composting techniques such as a compost pile, vermicomposting and trench composting to name a few.

Soil Aeration/Aerate

This is the process by which your soil obtains more air which is favorable to plants for their growth. For lawns you will see a machine used where plugs are pulled from the soil creating holes. Those holes allow air to get in. For vegetable gardeners, especially the home vegetable gardener, the pitchfork or a broadleaf fork is the tool of choice. For larger gardens, a powered garden tiller will do the trick. These tools will help you to turn the soil over and allow air to get in.

The Letters N-P-K

You have probably seen these letters on bags of fertilizers in your local home or garden center. They stand for (N)-Nitrogen, (P)-Phosphorous, and (K)-Potassium. They are the most common because they are the primary macronutrients your plants need to grow. All are very important to the growth and production of your vegetable plants. A Wikipedia search on the words “N-P-K fertilizer” will give you more in depth information.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is the administrator for the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ode to the Shovel

There’s an old story about Ben Franklin learning the wisdom of trying to polish a freshly forged shovel to shiny newness.

He questioned why the shovel was brown and ugly.

The blacksmith set him to polishing it to make it more aesthetically pleasing. A few hours later, he understood why the ugly shovel was just fine.

A lot can be said for that sort of wisdom.

It’s sort of like when I approached the forge at the renaissance festival.

“Why do you use an electric blower on your forge?”

The response was quick.

“Come back here lad, I’ve got a hand bellow you can use for the afternoon. Then you’ll not ask again.”

A short time later, I understood why he uses an electric blower and why it’s important to moderate your mead intake.

No tool is more valuable in your garden than a simple spade.

They last for years. Spades are like cars, in a way. Buy a new one and you get to break it in and enjoy that shiny new feel. Find one at a garage or an estate sale and you can take advantage of the depreciation realized when the first owner took it home from the store.

In our region of upstate New York, the going garage or estate sale price for a spade is $4. A high quality replacement at the hardware store is $20 or so.

A digging fork is almost as valuable but can cost $50 or more. Seek the drop forged kind, not the cheap one with welded tongs. A good fork can be had second hand for the price of a shovel because they seem the same aft er few years of use.

At the store, never buy the cheapest tool on the rack. The plastic handle on that shovel is guaranteed to snap five or six years from now. Hence, the $15 shovel will be gone from service and replaced with another $15 shovel while the $25 shovel remains in service.

To quote arts and crafts maven Elbert Hubbard, it’s not how cheap but how good.

A few years ago, fiberglass handles were all the rage in digging tools, with a 10-year warranty. The one I proudly bought snapped this spring. There were none similar at the store when I went back for a replacement. The proprietress gave me one with a wooden handle as a replacement, no questions asked.

As winter sets in, scrub down your favorite digging tools with a wire brush, some sandpaper or soap and water. Use a file to give it a new beveled edge. You can even sharpen the points on your favorite digging fork. Think of it as changing the oil on your car. A cleaner, sharper tool is easier to work with and guaranteed to last longer.

Most importantly, take a moment to think about how simple and effective that shovel is. It’s not all that different from the one Franklin wrote about so very long ago.


(Joe Genco is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises and registered representative with New England Financial. You can e-mail him at joegenco@gmail.com)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Solving the Aphid Problem in your Home Vegetable Garden

If I have to describe an aphid by any other name, that name would be, annoying. They are the most common issue in all home vegetable gardens because they thrive in a variety of climates, reproduce quickly, and can do massive amounts of damage. Failure to tackle your aphid issue head on could result in a less than an adequate harvest or no harvest at all.

Aphids attack just about every plant that you have. In fact, after I did some research for this article I could not find a single plant grown in a home vegetable garden that an aphid did not call lunch.

They come in a wide range of colors and sizes, most notably white and pear shaped. They reproduce asexually and because they do so, the rate of reproduction is tremendous. The home vegetable garden is the perfect location for aphids to thrive because there are plenty of leaves and soft stemmed plants to “chew” on, which is perfect for them.

Aphids will remain in an area of a single plant until either the plant is no longer providing adequate food or the aphid population increases to where they are overcrowded. They will then form wings, fly away and start the process all over again at the nearest plant. This process will continue until either all the plants are gone or you deal with the situation at hand.

There are some great solutions you can use and when applied in conjunction with one another, your aphid problem will clear up that much quicker.

For starters do not be afraid to use some yellow sticky traps. Sure you might get a few other insects you weren’t counting on, but they do a great job attracting aphids. You can pick up a three pack of yellow sticky traps at your local home center for less than two dollars.

Next use some neem oil soap. It is harmless to humans, pets and your vegetation. It does a nice job in prevention. A garlic or hot pepper spray will work just as well as neem oil soap but must be reapplied after heavy watering and your fruits and vegetables should be rinsed thoroughly.

The best solution is also the easiest and safest. Ladybugs! They eat aphids and they eat their bodyweight in a single day. Ladybugs can be purchased for about fifteen dollars for about 1000 of them from a local garden center or online. As long as there are aphids, the ladybugs will stay until the aphids are gone. You can also grow some fennel which attracts ladybugs, but that will take a bit longer than simply buying “ready to go” ladybugs.

If you have aphids you need to solve that problem head on. Use some of the ideas that I have talked about and you are sure to be well on your way to an aphid free home vegetable garden.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is the administrator for the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jump Start Your Vegetable Garden with a Greenhouse

When you hear the word greenhouse, the first picture that probably pops into your head, are those large buildings and structures mostly used by local garden nurseries and farms right? However, a greenhouse can come in all shapes and sizes, more on that in a moment. First let’s talk about what a greenhouse is and how it works.

A greenhouse, in its simplest definition is a container where plants will grow. They protect plants from various weather elements such as cold temperatures. A greenhouse allows sunlight to enter the container creating thermal energy and thus heating up what’s inside.

When the sun goes down that creates a condition where the greenhouse is no longer producing heat since the sun’s rays are not shining through anymore. Now comes the beauty of a greenhouse. As the heat is created during the day, and taking into account that you have decent soil for your plants, that soil will absorb the thermal energy and will then release that thermal energy later on as your greenhouse needs it when the sun is not shining through.

As a word of caution it is possible to “cook” your plants if your greenhouse becomes too hot. In some greenhouses you will see vents which will open when the temperature inside the greenhouse gets too hot. That goes beyond the scope of this article as being a more advanced topic of greenhouse construction.

I mentioned earlier that greenhouses come in all shapes and sizes and for our efforts as home vegetable gardeners this is a good thing. You can create a relatively small and effective greenhouse that can sit on your window sill at home.

Here is how you can create a basic, small, yet excellent greenhouse to use. The next time you are the supermarket, look in the yogurt isle. Find a yogurt that you like that also contains a clear plastic lid. After you consume the yogurt, clean it out (soap not necessary). Poke some holes in the bottom for drainage and fill the yogurt cup with potting soil. Now plant the seed of your favorite plant in the soil, add a little bit of water and put the clear plastic lid on top. Place the soil filled yogurt cup on a window sill that receives sunlight first thing in the morning. You have just created the simplest form of a greenhouse. Just make sure you have the yogurt cup sitting on a plate to catch the drainage of the water.

As you can see this greenhouse example is as basic as it gets. As you become more comfortable with this process, continue to improve on advancing your skills by creating bigger greenhouses, if the space permits.

A greenhouse gives you the ability to begin growing your plants earlier in the season and allows you to extend your growing season when the temperatures begin to drop. Give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is the administrator for the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Here is How You Get Started in Vegetable Gardening

One of the greatest things about speaking with 13,000 other vegetable gardeners on our Facebook page, besides being around like minded people, are the wonderful ideas everyone shares. Whether they are new to the activity of vegetable gardening or have been doing it all of their lives, I always learn something new.

When it comes to the new vegetable gardeners that come to our page to seek out support, the theme is common among them all and that is, “how do you get started?” and “what do I need?” One sentence sums up both questions and that is “keep it simple.” Too elaborate on that, I have outlined some common answers to these two popular answers.

Start with picking the area where you are going to grow your vegetables. It doesn’t matter whether you have a twenty by twenty plot of land or you are going to grow your tomatoes in pots, you want to pick an area that receives at least 8 hours of sunlight and is within reasonable distance to a water source. Without going into an entire botany lesson, just know that without sun and water, your plants won’t grow. As an added bonus, if you can pick an area that meets the previous requirements and that you can easily view through a window, it will make maintaining your garden easier since you will always see it.

The next step is your soil. It is a step most people look past since everyone just figures you can throw in some seeds and the plants will grow. While most of the time that is true, you have to ensure the soil you are putting your plants in will have all the nutrients they need to survive and produce tasty fruits. There are a variety of methods you can implement such as composting, adding in manure and so on, but for the simplicity of this article, until you become more comfortable with vegetable gardening, invest in some garden soil from your local home or garden center which costs about eight dollars for a fifty pound bag. Mix in the garden soil with your regular dirt if you are using a plot of land, or use all garden soil in your pots. This garden soil is filled with all of the nutrients your plants need to grow.

Finally you will need some tools. You won’t be able to mix in the garden soil from the previous step without a shovel, pitchfork or some kind of trowel. These are the three most basic tools a gardener can have. A pitchfork allows you to turn your soil over and mix the dirt, a hand trowel makes it possible to dig smaller holes to put your plants in and a rake gives you the ability to “smooth” over the dirt. If you have these three tools then you have everything you need to get started. You might be able to find some used ones at a yard sale or flea market for half the cost of buying new.

Now go buy the seeds you plan on planting for your new garden and get your hands dirty. You will find, like 48 million other people from around the world have found, that growing your vegetables is a lot of fun and rewarding.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club. Enter the word article in the referral code box and receive a 50% discount on the price of any membership.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tomato Cages

November is the month when true gardeners hide their secrets. Somewhere in the home, hidden away, diehard gardeners have a stack of books full of details about how to improve their craft. With luck, next years produce will out due their every dream. Longing for the warm weather, eager gardeners fantasize about squash and pumpkins, cucumbers and zucchini, onions and tomatoes. Tomatoes. The friendliest vegetable in the garden, eager to impress the newest converts to the fertile soil and anxious to thwart the most seasoned veterans. Tomatoes judge no man, no woman. The bear fruit for all. Tomatoes have no favorites. They can always produce more if a devoted gardener knows how to speak their language.

Growing healthy, vibrant tomato plants takes a level of planning of which many gardeners are unaware. As the plants grow tall, most people are familiar with the idea that their vines will need tomato cages. However, many people do not how much support is too much and how much is not enough. Discerning the right fit for a tomato cage requires an understanding of these plants and how they grow. The tomato, though not technically a vine, is often referred to as one. It is referred to this way because without a support system, the stalks become too heavy as fruit ripens. Eventually the plant will sprawl out on the ground leaving the tomatoes susceptible to predation.

Protecting tomato plants from having their buds eaten and the fruit destroyed requires a gardener to cage the plant. The cage system helps to keep the stalks upright and gives each branch a place to rest as large buds blooms at its tips. If a cage is too tight, the fruit bearing is dwarfed. If the cage is too loose, plants may grow in girth and neglect to produce high quantities of fruit. In order to keep the plant producing, gardeners need to construct cages for their plants. Plants that bear large fruits, such as Beefsteak Tomatoes, benefit from wide rimmed, upright cages. Smaller fruit producing plants such as Cherry Tomato varietals thrive with narrow, diagonally staked cages.

Every tomato plant will grow tall. With the right soil balance, they will produce plentiful supplies of ripe fruit. Because of this, many gardeners will never realize that they may be suffocating the full potential of the plant. If gardeners want to stop hindering their plant’s growth, they can make an effort to supply the plants with proper caging for maximum production. One technique that works well for ambitious gardeners is to custom design expandable cages.

Expandable cages are easy to build. Gardeners can go to a local hardware store and purchase a roll of tall caging wire. They should then cut the wire—using tin-snips—into six to eight foot lengths leaving the excess of the cut end free. The excess tail on the cut edge can be used to secure the cage to itself. In the beginning of the year, when a plant is small, the cage should be secured in a small loop with the leftover material hanging away. As the plant grows, gardeners can continue to increase the width of the cage to encourage radial growth.

The process of expanding custom made tomato cages will help plants to grow wide, tall and strong. Many more stalks will shoot up from the ground if a plant is allowed the space, while a great deal of fruit will be produced with the support of the caging wire. If gardeners still want a wider base, they can clip the first round of fruiting buds. This will encourage the plant to root more deeply and send more stalks through the soil.

It may be a long while yet, until the fruits of spring can be buried in soft soil, but dreaming of next year’s garden is to be expected. In the hopes of a hard freeze to replenish the soil, gardeners bundle up with jackets and mittens and walk the rows of the ground that lays fallow, eagerly waiting for April’s warm welcome.

About the Author
Jody Sperling is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club. Enter the word article in the referral code box and receive a 50% discount on the price of any membership.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Grubs Lead to Moles, How to Get Rid of Both of Them

Here is the audio version of this transcript:










Although the larvae of insects can come in many shapes and sizes, the one we home vegetable gardeners come across quite frequently and refer to as grubs are the white semi-circular variety. They are the larvae of a different variety of plant destroying insect such as Japanese or June beetles.

White grubs, also known as scarabs, feed on organic matter and the roots of your plants. If left unattended they could destroy your crop at the root level and when they become adult beetles can damage the foliage of your plants. Grubs also lead to another issue that could lead to even more problems in your home vegetable garden. Moles!

I receive questions all the time about people who have a mole problem in their vegetable gardens. The problem is not the moles. The problem is the grubs. Moles eat grubs. It is their food of choice and if they find an area that has them, chances are that is where they will stay. Forget about getting rid of the mole itself. You must eliminate its food source, the grub.

There are a number of insecticides and/or pesticides that can treat your area for grubs, but as for me, I’d rather not use these in my vegetable garden where I will be growing food. If your grub problem exists under your lawn, then it might be ok to go ahead with one that is recommended by your local garden nursery, but for us vegetable gardeners, milky spores is the way to go.

Milky spores are a soil dwelling bacterium. It is responsible for a disease in white grubs of beetles called as you might guess, milky spore. Milky spores are readily available at many home and garden centers and of course for sale online, and prices range anywhere from $15 to $90 (US) depending on where, how much and when you buy it.

The ideal time to apply milky spore to your soil is when the grubs are closest to the surface. This occurs not too soon after they hatch. As weather gets colder grubs will move deeper into the soil to escape any frost or freezing. In most areas of America the best time to apply milky spores to your soil is in August when the grubs will be closest to the surface. Milky spores is naturally occurring in the environment to white grubs so it is not harmful to beneficial insects, other animals, your food crop or you. All you are doing is introducing your pesky grubs to it.

Here is how it works. You apply the milky spores to your soil as per the instructions on the container you purchased. The grubs will swallow the milky spores through their regular means on food consumption. The spore will then activate reproduction using the grub as a host. Within 21 days the grub will die. Now here is the best part. Upon the death of the grub as it decomposes, the milky spores are then released back into the soil looking for more grubs. Therefore, one application per every other season depending on the size of your garden should be enough.

If you have a problem with moles in your area, know that the problem is not the mole but its food source, the grub. Get rid of the grubs and you will get rid of the moles.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club. Enter the word article in the referral code box and receive a 50% discount on the price of any membership.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Can Your Turn Your Home Vegetable Garden into a Permaculture?

Did you ever think you can turn your back yard into an area that provides not only food for your family but a sustainable living environment for other animals and creatures? In its simplest definition, that is what a permaculture is. Read on as Mike gives you some more information on the topic.

Wikipedia defines a permaculture as an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies. Yes I know, that is a mouth full. However, simply defined, a permaculture, as it relates to your back yard home vegetable garden means, creating a system where plants, animals and the waste thereof all work together to make the system work.

For example, you can have chickens living among your vegetable plants. They can eat various insects which in turn allows you to reduce the use of chemicals to treat your plants for those insects. The chickens then leave behind their waste that can then be later tilled under to make your soil more nutrient rich.

The vegetable plants that you add to your garden can also be used as shelter and protection for “good” insects, toads, and other animals that assist with making your home vegetable garden a success.

There is no question that a permaculture is a lot of work. Or at least it can be when you first make an attempt at it. That is why many experts recommend that you start off slowly. One good technique is to use rabbits. House your rabbits in a cage that sits over top a worm box for vermicompost, more on that in a moment, or your garden soil, with a floor where the rabbit droppings fall through. You can till the rabbit waste directly into your soil, which provides much needed nutrients for your plants.

Vermicomposting is the process by which worms break down waste leaving behind their castings. Their castings are also called vermicompost. Vermicompost is one of the best sources of nutrients for your plants. If you have been using worms to create your own vermicompost you already have the beginnings of your own permaculture. You (or your rabbits) provide the waste for the worms, they provide the nutrients for your plants and then the cycle repeats itself.

There are countless options that can make a backyard permaculture work with the inclusion of other animals likes chickens, goats, and so on. Make sure you check with your local municipality as to what is allowed in your area and what is not. You may like that rooster waking you up when the sun rises, but your neighbor? Not so much.

Your permaculture is also not limited to the use of animals. Trapping rain water in a rain barrel for later use can be added in and I have seen some setups that use solar panels to run a pump, that pumps the water from those barrels through soaker hoses. That’s a bit more advanced than many like to get, but it gives you a couple of ideas that you can toss around.

Start off slow with the basics, then expand as you learn more, get more advanced and understand how a permaculture can work for your back yard vegetable garden.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club. Enter the word article in the referral code box and receive a 50% discount on the price of any membership.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Follow these Tips to Grow Healthy Artichokes in your Home Vegetable Garden

In warmer areas it can be a perennial but for most of us where the temperatures drop artichokes are an annual. Artichokes are easier to grow than you think. Simply follow these steps and you will be well on your way to a healthy artichoke harvest.

Starting with the planting depth, artichoke seeds are fairly average in size. This means you can plant them fairly deep, up to a quarter inch beneath the surface, and they will be able to push through the soil with ease.

Artichokes thrive well in warmer temperatures and even better so if you can get the ground temps to be between seventy to eighty degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 27 Celsius). If the growing time with warmer temperatures is limited in your area, then start them indoors around eight to ten weeks prior to the final frost of the season.

Many vegetable gardeners overlook the pH balance of their soil. However, this simple measurement could be the difference between artichokes thriving and merely surviving. Luckily for us vegetable gardeners, artichokes do well in a pH range from 6.5 to 8.0, meaning slightly acidic to slightly alkaline. A pH soil test kit is available at any home or garden center for about four dollars.

Now that you are ready to put your artichokes in the ground make sure you give them plenty of room between plantings. Twenty to twenty-four inches is ideal. Their roots will get plenty of room to expand, and that gives the plant plenty of space to get all the nutrients it needs to thrive.

Artichokes do well when they get plenty of sun, so make sure you put them in an area in your garden that gets a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight per day.

As for watering, artichokes like it heavy. Give them a daily dose of water or at minimum every other day. Invest in a soil moisture tester which measures the level of moisture in the soil. Keep that line on the tester above the three-quarter mark and you will be ok.

There is no question that you have the ability to grow great artichokes. It is one of the most overlooked vegetables for the home garden. Follow these tips and you will be well on your way to growing great tasting artichokes in your home vegetable garden.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club. Enter the word article in the referral code box and receive a 50% discount on the price of any membership.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Top Ten Tips for Growing Tomatoes from Seeds

Growing tomatoes from seeds is easy. It just takes planning and a bit of persistence. Here are the top ten tips you need to know to grow healthy tomato seedlings.

1. Choose appropriate tomato varieties
Take time to find out about different tomato varieties. Grow types that are suitable for your climate and soil conditions. Ask local gardeners and nursery workers for recommendations. You can also gauge your selection on whether you’ll set plants in the garden or grow them in containers.

2. Start seeds at the right time
Check your local frost dates. Start tomato seeds about 6-8 weeks before it’s safe to set out plants in the garden. This allows time for germination, re-potting, and hardening off.

3. Use sterile containers
What’s most important no matter what type of container you use is that it is clean. Wash cells, cups, or trays in a light bleach solution before filling with potting soil. Make sure containers have holes in the bottom for drainage.

4. Use sterile potting mix
The starter mix’s main jobs are to get the seeds to sprout and to keep them disease-free until they have 2 sets of leaves. The best choice is a sterile potting mix, rather than soil from your garden, which is packed with fungi and bacteria. Choose a potting mix that is lightweight, holds water, and is light on fertilizer. Moisten mix before planting seeds.

5. Plant at appropriate depth
Use a pencil to poke a small hole for each seed. Plant a seed at a depth 4 times its diameter. Cover seeds with pinches of moistened soil.

6. Let there be light
Place containers in a sunny window or under grow lights. Tomato seedlings need 12-16 hours of light a day.

7. Check soil moisture daily
Mist or water them regularly but don’t overwater or roots will rot. Tomato seeds sprout in 5-10 days.

8. Re-pot seedlings
Once tomato plants have 2 sets of leaves, move them to a larger pot to help them build strong root systems.

9. Watch for and fix problems
Tomato seedlings are subject to damping off (cause: fungi in the soil), leggy growth (cause: poor lighting; too much heat or fertilizer), slow growth (cause: too cold; need for fertilizer), seed rot (cause: overwatering), or stuck leaves (cause: natural). To head off problems, plant tomatoes in sterile soil. Monitor them diligently and keep an eye on conditions – regulate air temperature, water, light, and fertilizer to keep seedlings healthy.

10. Harden off seedlings
About 7-10 days before planting tomato seedlings outdoors, acclimate them to temperatures, sunlight, and wind. Place them outside in shade or a protected area for a couple of hours, gradually increasing exposure until you can keep them out overnight.

About the Author

Kathy Widenhouse is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC and owner of Tomato Dirt (http://www.tomatodirt.com/), a leading source for information on growing tomatoes and using them.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How to Choose Which Tomato Varieties to Grow in your Garden

With an estimated 25,000 tomato varieties, it can be intimidating to choose which ones to start and grow in your garden.

But by asking yourself these few simple questions you can figure out which tomato varieties will work for you.

Use
Do you want to pick tomatoes all at once (for canning, freezing, and drying) or throughout the summer to enjoy with meals?
Determinate tomatoes produce fruit for a couple of weeks and then fade out. They are a good choice if you want to preserve quantities to use over the winter. Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, produce fruit throughout the season, often until frost, and provide a steady supply of fresh tomatoes for your kitchen table. A mix of determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties means you can have tomatoes now, enough to preserve, and plenty to eat later, too.

Size
Do you prefer a particular size or shape of fruit?

Beefsteak tomatoes are the biggest fruit, used for slicing and sandwiches.
Globe tomatoes are the most heavily commercially-cultivated fruit. They are used for eating fresh as well as canning, freezing, and drying.
Paste (or Roma) tomatoes are thick-walled fruit used to make sauces.
Cherry and grape tomatoes are the smallest fruit and are used for salads and snacking.

Timing
Do you want early, mid-season, or late fruit?

Tomato varieties mature anywhere from 48-95 days. By checking a tomato’s “days to maturity” number, you can choose those that ripen quickly along with those that take longer. A selection of different varieties means you can harvest fruit all season long.

Climate
What is your weather like?

Some tomato varieties flourish in heat and humidity, while others grow particularly well in cooler areas. Maximize your crop by choosing varieties that are known to thrive in your climate.

Care
Do you have time to monitor your plants throughout the summer?
Disease-resistant varieties stay healthier during the season and require less intervention. Heirloom tomatoes (or “open pollinated tomatoes”) have a reputation for producing flavorful, consistent fruit that is true to seed, but heirlooms often considered more vulnerable to disease than hybrids. Hybrid tomatoes are a cross between two genetically different tomato varieties, often bred to be resistant to one or more diseases. Look for tomato disease-resistant codes on hybrid seed or seedling packets, specified by capital letters:
V=Verticillium Wilt
F=Fusarium Wilt
N=Nematodes
A=Alternaria
T=Tobacco Mosaic Virus
St=Stemphylium (Gray Leaf Spot)
TSWV=Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

About the Author
Kathy Widenhouse is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC and owner of Tomato Dirt (http://www.tomatodirt.com/), a leading source for information on growing tomatoes and using them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Four Keys to Watering Tomato Plants

While you can’t control the sun or wind, you can control the amount of water your tomato plants receive. Consistent watering is an important key to healthy tomato plants.

It’s simple to achieve when you know where, when, how, and how much to water tomatoes.

Where should you water?
Water at the soil line. You’ll help build your tomato’s root system. Avoid overhead watering, which spreads diseases.

When should you water?
Water tomato plants during the day. Some gardeners prefer morning watering to fortify plants for the heat they’ll endure as the day wears on. Others water when the sun is high as a way of cooling leaves. But which ever you choose, on one point gardeners agree: avoid watering tomato plants in the evening. Leaves that are wet overnight are susceptible to the spread of fungi and other diseases.

How should you water?
Water slowly. Let water sink into the ground to help plants develop strong roots. Hand-watering and drip irrigation are more effective than overhead watering. When the soil surrounding your tomato plant is moistened 6-8” deep, you’ll know you’ve done your job well.

How much should you water?
Consistent watering produces stronger plants and larger fruit. Water newly-planted tomatoes at least a quart for 7-10 days. In the height of summer, water plants 2-3 times a week. (Rainfall counts.) Later when temperatures cool, scale back to once a week.

About the Author
Kathy Widenhouse is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC and owner of Tomato Dirt (http://www.tomatodirt.com), a leading source for information on growing tomatoes and using them.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Importance of Potassium for your Home Vegetable Garden Plants

When your vegetable plants lack potassium they can appear smaller than normal even a little thin as is the case with tomatoes and although they do not look “sickly” they are suffering and that could cause smaller harvests and even no harvest at all.

Potassium is important to your vegetable plants because if aides in the process of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, if you remember from science class in school, is the process of converting carbon dioxide into organic compounds using the energy from sunlight.

Potassium in plants has also been shown to aid in the formation of proteins in plants which gives your vegetables their nutritional value. So it goes without saying that plants growing in soil that lacks or is deficient in potassium will in turn not be able to carry out the photosynthesis process or provide adequate protein. And if that was not enough potassium has been shown to aid microorganisms in the soil.

Now that we have covered potassium’s importance and what will happen if you neglect this very important nutrient, let’s go over how to get some in your soil. There are over the counter items you can use that will add potassium directly into your soil for immediate solutions, but if you want long term solutions use the following.

If you are fortunate like me to have an outdoor fire pit (I bought mine at Target for $60), then burning some good ole fashioned logs will result in a good source of potassium for your soil. I am talking about wood ash. It doesn’t contain a lot of potassium and may raise your soil’s pH level, but it is a quick release option and also safe. Do not use charcoal ash. Charcoal ash can be toxic to your plants.

Greensand is another option that comes from the bottom of the ocean. A small portion of the potassium that it contains is quick releasing while the majority of it is slow release. A benefit of green sand is that it also contains other nutrients and will improve clay like soil conditions. It is best to add the green sand to your compost pile as opposed to directly in your garden.

Speaking of composting, if you are not doing it, you should be. Proper composting can fix just about any issue in anyone’s soil. A Google search on proper compost ingredients will give you everything you need to know about constructing a good compost bin for your pile and what to add in it.

About the Author
Michael C. Podlesny is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Winter Tool Cleaning

Pumpkin Patches and Corn Mazes are opening up all around the states as October races toward climax. The fall harvest is being danced like a strange waltz by joyful gardeners stepping in time to the rhythm of this cinnamon scented season. When the last drops of daylight are squeezed from the descending sun the dance concludes and the gardeners return to the warmth of their home to plan canning, freezing, drying and baking for the plentiful yield of fruits and vegetables that fill boxes in every empty corner of their home.

For many gardeners, the nights—which have suddenly impinged on the seven o’clock hour—are a time to plot the future course of their gardens lives. But one important task remains, and it may be the difference between a successful growing season next year and a weed infested mania. The wary gardener should cast a suspicious glance toward his tool shed before forgetting where the enemy lurks.

Weeds, the harbinger of doom, water guzzling, nutrient thieves, are hiding in plain sight, inside every gardener’s tool shed. Like vegetables, weeds have a rhythm. Fall is the time to send seeds coasting through the air to find fertile soil for next season’s growth opportunity. While the trowel was buried in the soil, digging up a potato, he was also playing host to a panoply of seedy, weedy pods. Like a bumblebees legs, the trowel is an excellent vehicle for new soils to be pollinated. So, instead of washing his hands clean, an alert gardener might want to take the last few weeks of warm weather to eradicate the enemy from the safety of the tool shed’s environment.

The best and fastest way to kill weed pods is to dip the groundside end of every tool in a dilute bleach solution. Two parts bleach to ten parts water will be sufficiently strong to kill any weed pods. The gardener should be certain to cover the head and top quarter of a tool’s handle in the solution for the best effect. While such precautions may seem obsessive to many gardeners, these precautions may be the difference between a rich garden environment next April, and an arduous spring on the knees, plucking weed shoots.

Every gardener who chooses to utilize the weed pod killing method should make a note to himself to rinse the tools in the spring before returning to till the ground. Over the winter, all weed pods on the tool will have died, either from the bleach or the freeze. With the advent of spring, the traces of bleach should be rinsed off the tool before plunging into the soil. It is hard to gear up for the long winter, and there is no better way to do so than to go to bed at night with dreams of a weed-free garden birthing to life in next spring’s warm air.

About the Author
Jody Sperling is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club.