Oct 17

Autumn – A Golden Time to Nourish Your Trees and Gardens

Autumn is not only a colorful time of the year for trees and gardens, but also the ideal time to prepare trees and gardens for the coming winter. Autumn has ideal growing conditions. Insects and diseases are inactive and the tree takes full advantage of this opportunity. It’s during autumn that your efforts made on the tree’s behalf have the greatest benefit. Your plants and trees will thrive all the better next spring if they are well cared for now.

The shorter fall days trigger the shedding of leaves, which increases organic matter in the soil, nourishing the root system and fueling the development of new leaf and flower buds. Evergreen trees slough underproducing needles and roots, trying not to carry any excess “baggage” into winter. We can help the trees along with some basic maintenance in these areas.

The autumn window of opportunity is short-lived, so here are some ideas to make sure your trees and gardens are in the best possible shape heading into winter.

Inspect: Take time to thoroughly inspect each tree. Take note of cracks in the trunk, signs of disease or insect damage, and the tree’s overall degree of structural soundness. If you see something unusual call your local licensed arborist for a correct diagnosis and prescription for treatment. A proper inspection can catch small problems now and prevent expensive and dangerous situations later.

Fertilize: As the top of trees are losing their leaves and entering dormancy the opposite is true for the roots. The roots are a place of great activity and require an immense amount of nutrients. The placement of nutrients (fertilizer) into the root zone at this time is highly beneficial. Trees demand an incredible amount of energy as they develop next year’s buds. This energy comes directly from the roots. Performed properly, deep root fertilization places the nutrients where they’re needed at just the right time. In spring the trees flourish and are more capable of resisting the attacks of insects and disease.

Pruning

Prune: Insects and disease-causing organisms become inactive in the autumn and no longer pose a threat. The tree can safely be pruned and have time to heal. Removing deadwood while maintaining the trees overall structural integrity will reduce risk of future insect and disease infestation, and reduce wind damage. Thinning should be performed to reduce foliage and growth from the tree’s interior. Less weight on a branch reduces winter damage. Better air circulation within the interior of a tree reduces the possibility of fungal and similar diseases. Note: If you are pruning for the control of disease be certain to sanitize the pruning mechanism following each cut. Otherwise you may actually spread the disease to uninfected trees.

Mulch: Leaving the top (or all) of a tree’s rootball exposed to the elements can be a recipe for disaster. Tree roots will not tolerate rapid fluctuations in soil temperature. Mulching helps to stabilize the soil temperature, maintain moisture, reduce competition by weeds, and assist roots in absorbing nutrients. The average amount is typically around 3″ and tends to decompose over time. Avoid the error of allowing mulch to come in contact with the exposed trunk above the rootball. This can suffocate the tree. Finally, choose a high-quality mulch that will offer nutrients as it breaks down over time.

Autumn is the last chance a tree has to get ready for the harsh conditions that winter brings. The more care trees receive now, the healthier they will be come spring.

To learn more about how to prepare your trees in the mountains for winter or for a consultation please visit http://www.acutaboveforestry.com/ or http://www.land-designs.net.

 

Oct 17

Simple Ways to Attract Hummingbirds to Your Garden

A lot of people think that hanging out a quick hummingbird feeder is enough to encourage hummers into their gardens. While hummingbirds will stop by and eat from these feeders, they tend to quickly move on to more welcoming gardens. Creating an ideal garden for hummingbirds offers more than just food. They offer all of the basic essentials for bird life. Hummingbirds come and stay in gardens that are perfectly suited for them. Here’s what you need to create an ideal garden for hummingbirds.

Many hummingbirds are a migratory species of bird that spend the winters in South and Central America, and in the spring travel all the way up to North America and even into parts of Canada where they spend the warm season breeding, raising young, and preparing to fly south again. Hummingbirds rely on the nectar found in flowers, which they get plenty of in South America. But, they need the abundant insects found in the spring and summer in the lands of North America and Canada to successfully raise healthy babies. They also spend a lot of time resting- usually about 80% of their lives is spent sitting and resting their tiny bodies. Providing a garden that’s full of healthy insect activity with lots of nectar sources and plenty of thin twigs, branches, and other similar places to rest are all going to entice a hummer to stick around. Even more important, providing a safe place to nest will help the hummingbirds stay through the season, and return yearly.

Rely on plants that hummingbirds enjoy to eat from. Tubular red, blue, and purple perennial flowers are highly attractive to hummingbirds. The wild versions of plants usually create the most nectar which will encourage hummingbirds to come back again and again, but this isn’t a hard-set rule. Many cultivars provide plenty of nectar for hummingbirds.

Hummingbird plants include:

  • Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)
  • Azalea
  • Honeysuckles
  • Weigela
  • Monarda (Bee Balm)
  • Agastache
  • Hosta
  • Foxglove
  • Yucca
  • Rose of Sharon
  • Viburnum
  • Crape Myrtle
  • Summersweet (Clethra)
  • Hydrangea
  • Mockorange
  • Potentilla
  • Trumpet Vine
  • Salvia
  • Coral Bells (Heuchera)
  • Mints

Consider tying up a thin line if you don’t have a clothesline already. Hummingbirds of North America are well adapted to life with people and their homes and are quite fond of perching and resting on clotheslines, wires, extension cords, chicken wire fences, or any thin and stable cables. Trees and shrubs are also very welcome resting spots too.

Offer a moving source of water for hummers to bathe in and drink from. Despite assuming that these small birds get all of the water they need from nectar, they are still observed using birdbaths consistently.

In the garden, try to refrain from using chemical commercial pesticides. They are long acting, so even if you use them in a specific area they often stick around and continue to kill for weeks after the application. Instead, encourage a healthy bug population. If you’re over-run by grasshoppers or Japanese beetles for example, there are plenty of specific traps that work to capture these pets and bring their numbers down to a less destructive number. One option is to use a natural organic insecticidal soap for aphid infestations that won’t harm hummingbirds if it’s ingested in small amounts.

So… go beyond the hummingbird feeder for attracting and keeping those gorgeous winged jewels in your garden.

Cheryl D. Jones, shares gardening tips and landscape ideas through her blog, newsletters and her nursery’s website. Visit GreenwoodNursery.com for a full line of plants including trees, flowering shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses and ground covers. Join the Greenwood Gardeners Club free to receive Greenwood Nursery’s weekly newsletter, seasonal promotions and 10% off your first order.

Click here for a listing of plants to attract hummingbirds to your garden, as well as butterflies and bees.

Apr 17

Growing Organic Eggplant

Fresh Eggplants

AWESOME EGGPLANT INFO

Eggplant is in the same family as tobacco, tomatoes, and potatoes.

Growing eggplant for food originated in the regions around India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

Although in modern times you’ll find most gardeners growing purple eggplants, there are also white, yellow, green, and orange varieties that are making a comeback.

Our Ukrainian neighbors introduced us to a delicious eggplant/tomato salsa that has become our favorite sweet salsa. Contact us if you want the recipe. We’ll be adding it later this year to this website as we expand our offerings.

WHEN TO PLANT

In most parts of the country eggplants must be started from seed indoors, and then transplanted into the garden.

Some hybrid varieties take as little as 55 days to mature but most open-pollinated or heirloom varieties (from which seeds can be saved from) need 70-100 days of warm weather, preferably 80°F and above, to reach maturity.

In northern or cooler climates, start seeds indoors 6 weeks before the last frost date and transplant at least 2 weeks after the last frost date (that will put your plants at about 8 weeks when transplanting). In our short growing climate, we wait until June 1 to transplant into the garden.

Eggplants growing in cold soil or exposed to chilly weather grow poorly. Plant growth will be stunted and leaves can turn yellow and die (I learned this the hard way our fist year). Even when warm weather returns, plants may not fully recover.

Eggplants are more susceptible to damage from low temperatures (55°F and below) than tomato plants. Even a very light frost will permanently retard or even kill eggplant.

If you live in a mild winter area with a long growing season, you can do a second planting in the mid-summer to be harvested late in the fall.

WHERE TO PLANT

To grow eggplants successfully, they need steady, warm growing conditions for at least three months.

Eggplant prefers organically rich, well-drained, sandy soil and at least 8 hours of full sun per day.

You can plant eggplant seeds directly in your garden in hot climates.

Eggplant performs best in daytime temperatures of 80-90°F and nighttime temperatures no lower then 70°F.

PREPARING THE SOIL

Eggplants grow best in soil with pH between 5.5 and 7.5.

Incorporate well-rotted manure and compost, or an organic garden fertilizer before transplanting.

Addition of manure or compost can add micronutrients and organic matter to soil.

When you add well-composted manure to the growing area, it helps the soil to retain needed moisture and provides a lighter, looser soil structure that is easier for your eggplant to grow in.

Add up to 2-4 inches of well-composted organic matter. Work this into the top 6 inches of soil

Add more if you have heavy clay soil, this will help to lighten and improve the nutrient quality of your soil.

If the pH is too low, add lime.

Cover the new planting site with black plastic mulch 2 weeks prior to transplanting eggplants. The plastic will help heat the soil, so transplanting won’t be such a shock to your plants.

Mounding up your soil to make raised beds will also help the soil to heat up quicker in the spring.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT SEED VARIETIES FOR YOUR AREA

Verticillium wilt (VW) is the most common disease of eggplant. Look for varieties that are resistant.

SEEDS AND GERMINATION

Optimal germination temperature is 80- 90° with a minimum of 70°.

Cold temperatures (below 65°) will stop plant and root growth.

Once you’ve purchased your seeds they should be good for about 5 years.

GETTING STARTED INDOORS

Soak the seeds overnight before planting or sprout them by placing seeds inside a damp paper towel placed inside a sealed plastic bag and set in a warm location.

Use a sterile germination mix that contains vermiculite, peat or sphagnum moss. Moisten the mix before you plant your seeds.

In a flat, fill with at least 2″ of sterile seed germinating mix. Plant seeds ¼” deep with ½” space either side. Cover and keep moist but not soggy.

Place flat in a warm location where soil temperatures can maintain a minimum of 70°F for germination.

Placing heating mats under your flat can help keep temperatures consistent and up where they need to be. You can also try placing your flat on top of an insulated water-heater, or an upright freezer may be sufficient. I have even had success placing my trays on top of the hanging fluorescent lamps on my grow stand.

Carefully monitor soil mix moisture levels. Using a source of heat will dry soil out quicker and potentially prevent any seeds from germinating.

Thin seedlings after the first true leaves appear by cutting unwanted seedlings at their base. Space seedlings 2 inches apart.

When seedlings have their second set of true leaves, block out the plants in the flat (cut in between them both vertically and horizontally as though you were cutting brownies into squares). This will encourage new root growth close to the plant which will minimize root disturbance when transplanting.

In one week after blocking out, transplant them individually to 3-4 ” pots.

Eggplants are also good for container growing, with one plant per 3 to 5-gallon pot or container with a depth of at least 12″.

If using terra cotta pots, keep in mind that they absorb moisture and your plants will need to be monitored more frequently for watering. This will obviously be more of an issue in hotter climates.

Eggplant seedlings need 14-16 hours of lighting per day with the grow-lights or fluorescent bulbs placed 2 to 3 inches above the plants. This will ensure plants grow large and healthy. See article on Indoor Lighting.

TRANSPLANTING TO OUTDOORS

Eggplant grows best if transplanted when plants have 6-9 leaves and a well developed root system. This requires 6-8 weeks of growing indoors.

When outside night-time air temperatures are maintaining 65-70°, and plants are 6-8 weeks old, begin to harden off your seedlings.

Start with one hour of direct sun and gradually expose them to more sunlight daily over the next week or two, bringing them up to equivalent daylight hours. Bring your plants indoors if night temperatures drop below 65°.

Eggplant needs to be babied. Do not reduce watering or expose the plants to cold temperatures when hardening off. Doing so can cause woody stems and a poor fruit yield.

If temperatures are not warm enough in 6-8 weeks, transplant your seedlings into larger pots and wait to harden off until the outside temperatures are consistently warm enough.

Water the seedlings thoroughly approximately one hour before you plan to transplant. The soil should be noticeably moist, but not soggy.

If you water your plants well about an hour before transplanting, the soil will stay firmly around the roots causing fewer disturbances while you’re putting them in the ground.

Transplant on a cloudy day: Bright sun can hurt newly planted seedlings, so always plan to transplant on an overcast day, late in the afternoon or in the evening.

Eggplants should be placed so that the shoots are at the soil line as they were before transplanting.

Cover the seedling with a mixture of soil and a little compost. Cover the seedling and add mulch around the base to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. Water thoroughly.

Provide shade the first day or two for the newly transplanted eggplant seedlings and protect from wind.

Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row depending on fruit size. Allow 30 to 36 inches between rows or you can space plants 2½ to 3 feet apart in all directions.

Mulch immediately after transplanting, and gently hand pull any invading weeds.

Pour 1 to 2 cups of compost tea around each plant, and firm the soil gently.

PLANTING EGGPLANT SEEDS DIRECTLY TO YOUR GARDEN

Be sure you have enough warm growing days to successfully grow eggplant to maturity from seed planted directly in your garden.

If you live in such a climate, the earliest you should plant seeds outdoors is 2 weeks after the last spring frost, but your best indicator is weather conditions and soil temperature.

Eggplant is easily harmed by cold temperatures. Hold off planting seeds until the soil has thoroughly warmed to 70° and day temperatures remain above 65° at the bare minimum.

Sow seeds very shallow, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch.

Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row depending on fruit size. Allow 30 to 36 inches between rows or you can space plants 2½ to 3 feet apart in all directions.

GROWING YOUR EGGPLANT SUCCESSFULLY ‘TIL HARVEST

Keep the soil moist to promote maximum growth.

When plants are about 6″ high, nip back the growing tip to encourage branching.

Pinch off the top of the plant when it’s about 18 inches tall to encourage it to bush out.

Once you have three or four fruits set, it will be time to start removing any further side shoots as they develop. This helps to divert the energy of the plant to where it is most needed.

Pinch off blossoms 2 to 4 weeks before first expected frost so that plants channel energy into ripening existing fruit, not producing new ones.

Eggplants are heavy feeders, but avoid feeding too much nitrogen. It will encourage lush foliage growth at the expense of fruit.

In hot regions where the temperature tops 100°F, it’s best to protect plants with shade covers.

When the eggplants bloom, apply more liquid fertilizer and repeat monthly.

Use hot caps over your plants for cool nights (below 65°F) to protect.

Row covers can be placed over plants to protect from low night temperatures and some insect pests. If you use row covers for eggplant, they need to be supported up above the plant by rounded wire, an a-frame support, or some other method to keep the fabric from laying directly on the plants.

Great care should be taken to avoid damage or breakage to the growing point of the young seedlings which will severely slow the growth and production of the plant.

Remove covers when temperatures are above 85° F to prevent heat damage.

If you have a couple warm weeks into fall, you can extend your harvest by covering your plants with a row cover.

Jenny’s Tip – When you’re growing eggplant, spray your plants every couple of weeks with a liquid organic leaf spray fertilizer. We highly recommend Organic Garden Miracle™. It naturally stimulates your garden plants to produce more plant sugar in the photosynthesis process. That in turn creates a more robust plant, more produce from your garden, and better and sweeter flavor. And they have a really good warranty!

WEEDING AND MULCHING

Add 3-4 inches of organic mulch

Use black or silver plastic (known as plastic mulch) to keep the ground warm before planting in cooler climates. Plastic mulches allow earlier planting and maturity, especially with transplants.

After preparing the soil for growing eggplant, lay the plastic over the planting area, secure the edges with soil, and cut holes for the transplants.

Using the combination of plastic mulch and row covers, eggplant can be set out before the last frost date if soil and air temperatures are monitored carefully.

Once soil temperatures have reached 75°F, replace plastic mulch with organic material.

Mulching with herbicide-free grass clippings, weed-free straw, or other organic material will help to prevent weed growth, and decrease the need for frequent cultivation.

Do not apply organic mulches around the plants until soils are warmer than 75ºF. Applying too early keeps the soil cool, resulting in slow growth and shallow rooting.

The roots of eggplants are very close to the surface of the soil, so it is important not to cultivate too deeply.

Cultivate just deeply enough to cut the weeds off below the surface of the soil.

WATERING

For best production, plants need 1 to 1½ inches of water a week.

Soak the soil thoroughly when watering, There is little or no value to growing eggplant in light watering that only wets the soil surface.

Apply 1 – 1 1/2 inches 1x a week during the growing season. If your soil is sandy, it may require more than one watering a week.

Use drip irrigation if possible. Irrigate so that moisture goes deeply into the soil.

Irregular watering (under or over) can cause tough leathery fruit or root rot

COMPANION PLANTING AND ROTATION CONSIDERATIONS

Here is an example the inexact science of companion planting:

Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family and some gardeners sat it grows well with peppers. These plants like the same, warm growing conditions.

But, since eggplant is related to peppers (as well as tomatoes and potatoes), it attracts the same type of pests. So, on the contrary, some suggest avoiding planting eggplant and peppers in close proximity. I suggest trying both and see what works best in your area.

Beans planted with eggplants repel beetles which would otherwise attack the eggplant. Pole beans can provide shade and wind protection.

Marigold deters nematodes. If you grow marigolds as a pest repellent for your eggplant, it’s best not to grow beans as the companion vegetable, since marigold can be an herbicide to certain beans.

Tarragon and Thyme both aid in improving flavor and growth in vegetable plants and help repel pests.

Fennel is a bad companion and is toxic to most garden plants. Depending on the plant, it can inhibit growth, cause bolting, or even kill plants growing nearby. Dill is the only garden plant that is not affected

Tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes, eggplant are in the nightshade (Solanaceae) family. These plants should not be planted in the same space the following year to avoid soil-borne diseases.

Crops should also be alternated due to soil depletion or pest attraction.

Planting in the same location once every 3-4 years is recommended.

HARVESTING YOUR EGGPLANT

If you grow heirloom eggplant varieties, you know that eggplant comes in a rainbow of colors, shapes, and sizes. So picking when a dark purple to black and 6-8″ long will not always apply.

Some varieties, such as Thai eggplants, can be round like a small ball or long like young zucchini and are not a solid color when ripe.

The best indication of when to pick a ripe eggplant is when the skin has a glossy sheen and a correct firmness (explained below). It also helps to know the variety’s expected ripeness color and size.

To test for correct firmness, press the skin. If the flesh is hard and does not give, the eggplant is immature and too young to harvest. If the thumb indentation remains and feels spongy, the eggplant is over mature with hard seeds and flesh that becomes stringy. You want a firmness between the two.

To harvest, cut the stem with a knife or pruning shears.

If you cut open an eggplant fruit and find that the seeds inside have turned brown, the fruit is past prime quality and the flavor may be bitter.

The best way to avoid this is by picking fruits on the young side, when they are 1/3 to 2/3 of their fully mature size.

Wear gloves. Eggplant has small prickly thorns on the stems and under the leaves.

Eggplants bruise easily so harvest gently. Always cut the eggplant with the cap and some of the stem attached.

EGGPLANT STORAGE

Eggplants do not hold up well in cool temperatures so the refrigerator may not be your best option. If you do choose to store them in the refrigerator, wrap them in plastic and use the vegetable within the next couple days.

Before using, check that the stem and cap are still a greenish color and no brown spots have developed on the skin.

For the longest fresh storage, mature eggplants will keep for approximately 1 week if held at 50-55°F and 90% humidity.

Eggplant can be dried in a dehydrator. Choose freshly picked, ripe eggplant (following the same guidelines under Harvesting). Cut into ¼ to ½ ” thick round slices or ½” cubes for drying.

Eggplant is dry when it is brittle and wafer-like. To rehydrate, soak in water for at least 30 minutes.

An old-fashioned way to dehydrate eggplant is to string-dry the round slices. After slicing, cover them with coarse salt for a few hours to draw out moisture. Using a sterile needle and a string (do not use wire which can rust), string the rounds. Hang both ends of the string (so it is hanging horizontally) out of direct sunlight. Space apart each slice to allow good air circulation and avoid sticking.

NATURAL AND PREVENTATIVE SOLUTIONS TO PESTS

Flea beetles are eggplant’s worst pest.

These tiny beetles chew holes in leaves and stems of seedling which is when they’re most vulnerable, and can weaken or kill the plants.

Row covers are effective if they’re completely sealed with dirt or sandbags.

Check under your row covers to make sure you beat the beetles to your plants and to make sure the weeds aren’t choking your plants either.

Proper nutrition and watering also helps your plants resist flea beetles. Ridding the area of bindweed and wild mustard also helps.

One effective remedy for these beetles is powdering your plants with diatomaceous earth. It only works if dry, though, so if it rains or you irrigate you’ll need to re-dust your plants.

If plants become infested, spraying Beauveria bassiana or spinosad may knock back the population of flea beetles and save your plants.

Colorado Potato Beetles are a black and yellow striped insect that lays bunches of yellow eggs on the underside of eggplant leaves.

Hand-picking the beetles and their eggs is the most effective way to rid your plants of these pests. Drop them into a pail of soapy water to drown them quickly.

Tomato hornworms are another pest that afflicts eggplant. They’re an approximately 4 inch long green caterpillar with white stripes with a black “horn” on their last abdominal segment.

The adult moths are a gray-brown mottled color and have yellow spots on their abdomens and about a 4 to 5 inch wingspan. The hind wings have light and dark stripes.

They prefer tomatoes, but will also defoliate potatoes, eggplant and peppers.

Check your garden a couple times a week and handpick any hornworms you find. You can drown them in a bucket of soapy water, or, like we do, feed them to your chickens – they absolutely love them!

Keeping your garden weed-free helps to keep this pest under control, as well as rototilling your garden in the fall.

Braconid wasps are one of nature’s natural antidote to hornworms. If you see hornworms with tiny white cocoons on them, leave those alone as those are the parasitic offspring of these wasps and they’re in the process of killing these caterpillars.

Spider mites are another tiny pest that causes your leaves to look stippled yellow. You can spray these little pests off with a stream of water.

Cutworms will attack eggplant – usually early in the season when the plants are young and tender – at the soil line, killing the plant. They don’t eat the tops of the plants.

Cutworms vary in color, gloss, and patterns (spotting or striping); they’re black, green, gray, brown, pink, or tan, with lots of variations in those colors.

If you disturb a cutworm, they’ll curl up in a ball.

The adult moths are also varied in color and pattern, but are typically have about a 1.5 inch wingspan. The forewings are typically striped or spotted and are darker than their rear wings. Their colors range from white to brown to black to gray.

To spot cutworms, check around your plants, especially if one is wilting, in the evening. Move clods or other debris away from the base of your plants to find hiding cutworms.

Look for cutworm droppings on the ground that’ll be a sign that cutworms have been eating your plants.

It helps to make sure there’s no weeds or decaying plants on the surface of the soil where small cutworms thrive. Rototilling your soil helps to kill larvae by turning decayed plants into the soil where they’re unavailable for cutworm larvae to feed on.

Don’t use green manure as the adult moths lay eggs in it; rather, use composted manure.

If you rototill your garden in the fall, it helps to expose or get rid of larvae and pupae.

If you have just a few plants, you can make a cardboard or aluminum foil collar to dig in a few inches around the base of your eggplant; this makes a physical barrier to keep cutworms from feasting on the base of your plants.

Diatomaceous Earth is very effective against cutworms, but remember that it only works if it’s powdery and needs re-applied if your plants and soil become wet.

The main pest that afflicts sage is spider mites.

Spider mites are very tiny and appear as red specks on your sage. Heavy infestations of spider mites will destroy leaves.

As they’re so small, it’s difficult to see these pests and it’s more likely that you’ll see their damage before you see them. The damage appears as yellow stippling in your leaves.

A spray of water will often knock these tiny pest off your plants when you begin to see the stippling.

You can purchase predatory mites that will rid your garden of spider mite but don’t bother your plants.

If the spider mites get to profuse, you can use diatomaceous earth, pyrethrins, or organic insecticidal soaps. Dust or spray your plants weekly until the problem disappears.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS

Eggplant likes consistency, and problems like “flower abortion” (flowers dropping), blossom end rot, and sunburn can be avoided by consistent watering and row covers if the weather is over 90°F for long periods of time.

Verticillium wilt is common in eggplant and causes the plants to yellow and wilt. Your best defense is crop rotation and purchasing resistant varieties.

Early blight is a less common eggplant ailment, causing leaf spots or loss of leaves and fruit in more severe cases.

Typically this blight appears in wet years. Planting resistant varieties is your best defense, and over-head watering only early in the day if you don’t have drip irrigation.

Soil that is balanced with good nutrients also is beneficial in resisting blight.

You can also make an organic fungicide spray using bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). In a gallon of water add a couple drops of organic olive oil, a couple drops of environmentally-friendly liquid soap, and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Spray it on your eggplant leaves to effectively control fungal diseases.

Late blight is more severe than early blight. Initially you’ll see dark green lesions on the lower plant leaves, and you may see a white fuzzy fungus on the underside of the leaves. If left untreated, these outbreaks can wipe out your eggplant crop.

Use the above anti-fungal spray if an outbreak begins. Rotate your crops away from the area next season.

Remove and destroy infected leaves and/or plants.

Use early in the day watering, weed control, and plant blight resistant varieties to reduce the risk of late blight.

Barry Brown is a 3rd generation organic gardeners who is passionate about a sustainable and natural lifestyle. His personal standards for organic living far exceeds USDA certification, which he believes is more about money than food quality and purity.

[http://www.organicgardenmiracle.com]

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com

Apr 17

Growing Organic Cantaloupes

Muskmelons / Cantaloupes / Spanspeks / Rock Melons

If this article on growing cantaloupes was written in Australia, we’d call them “rock melons.” Or in South Africa, we’d be writing about “spanspeks.” Here in the U.S. we call them either muskmelons or cantaloupes. You’re better to live in a warmer climate for growing cantaloupes, but you can successfully grow some varieties in cooler climates like where we live in NE Washington. If you want to make some good money growing muskmelons, grow and sell them in Japan. As of September 2010 they were selling for over $30USD at food markets in Japan. Muskmelons are members of the cucumber family, as are squash and watermelon, and therefore are very similar in growth patterns and nutritional requirements, especially with watermelon.

When to Plant Muskmelons/Cantaloupes

Muskmelons or cantaloupes? These terms will be interchangeably used throughout this article. Short-season cantaloupes ripen in approximately 65 to 75 days, whereas the average cantaloupe ripens in about 85 days. Short season types ripen between 65 and 75 days. Full season types ripen around 85 days. STOP Whether you’re planting seeds directly to your garden or transplanting your melon plants, never plant in soil temps below 60°F. In Northern climates, you’ll need to start your plants about 4 weeks ahead of your target transplant date. In Southern climates, you can direct seed once danger of frost is past and your soil temps are at least 60°F. If you live in a cooler climate, you may have no choice but to start the seeds ahead of time in small pots.

Where to Plant Cantaloupes/Muskmelons

Protecting these melon plants and protecting them from cold temperatures will produce better results. The more warmth your vines get, the more fruit your plants will produce in at harvest time. Muskmelons require full sun and plenty of heat. Give them the sunniest spot in your garden with good air circulation. You want your melon plants to dry out quickly after a rain to prevent diseases.

Cantaloupes like it hot and thrive best at temps of 70 to 95°F. They like well-draining soil that has a good amount of humus (rotted matter like manure, compost, leaves, etc.)

Preparing the Soil

Cantaloupe and Muskmelons require a pH level no lower than 6.0 up to about 7.5. These melons need a good amount of calcium in the soil to prevent blossom-end rot. Melons prefer soils with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8, which indicates adequate calcium availability-an important guard against blossom-end rot. While melons need the big three nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (potash), or N-P-K, they have less need for nitrogen than many fruits and vegetables. If you have not-as-good draining soil, you can improve your drainage by creating 6 to 8 inch raised beds.

Rototill or spade 2 to 4 inches of finished compost and/or well-composted manure 6 to 8 inches deep into your rows before planting your melons. If you don’t have enough compost to cover your rows deeply with, use concentrated amounts where your plants will be located. This pre-composting of your soil provides the needed nutrients for your melons, distributes moisture evenly, and helps their roots get sufficient oxygen.

Choosing the Right Seed Varieties for Your Area

It’s a good practice, before ordering seeds, to find out from your county extension what seed varieties area resistant to fusarium wilt or other diseases common to cantaloupes/muskmelons.

Germinating Muskmelon/Cantaloupe Seeds

Melon seeds are typically usable for up to 4 years after you’ve purchased them initially, provided you’ve stored them in a cool, dry, and dark location. You’ll need a soil temperature to be a minimum of 60° to 100°F, although the accepted optimal temperature would be at 85° to 90°F. Seedling should emerge at around 3 to 5 days if the soil is at 90°F, and at about 10 to 12 days if your soil temp is 70°F. Don’t allow your soil temps to drop below 60°F or your seeds will simply rot.

Planting Cantaloupes Indoors

It is recommended for planting seeds indoors to use a sterile potting soil so as to allow your seedlings the best chance at germination and survival. Plant your seeds in tapered plastic pots, soil blocks, or plastic trays for easy transplanting. While some gardening sites recommend using peat pots, we aren’t crazy about them…they do not decompose as quickly as we like, so we’re recommending soil blocks for those who prefer to not use plastic containers. Cantaloupe seeds need light to germinate, so plant your seeds ¼” to ½” deep so that they’ll get some light.

We plant 2 or 3 seeds per pot, and if all three come up, we select the biggest one after the plants have at least 2 true leaves – around 2 inches tall – and snip the others off at soil level.

Transplanting Your Seedlings to Your Garden

As with most fruits and veggies, we strongly recommend that you “harden off” your muskmelon seedlings. This entails moving them out of doors during the daylight hours – into the evenings later in the process – for 7 to 10 days, as well as reducing their water gradually as well. Don’t fertilize the seedlings during the hardening off process, and make sure that they are protected if the weather becomes very windy and/or rainy. Your seedlings will be around 3 to 4 weeks old when you transplant them. They’ll have at least two true leaves and be at least 2 inches tall. Minimum air temps should be around 70° to 75°F during the daytime and 60° to 65°F in the night time.

If you live in a Northern climate, we strongly advise using a black plastic “mulch” to warm up the soil before planting. When you transplant your muskmelons, make sure you handle them carefully; don’t disturb the roots. Transplant to your garden early in the day, or in the evening to avoid stressing them. If you’re planting to rows, space your plants 2 to 4 feet apart, and make the rows 4 to 6 feet apart. If you’re planting hills, 4 ft apart should be fine, but check your seed packets for recommendations as some varieties sprawl more than others. Set your plants just a little deeper than they were in the pots so that there’s a bit of an indentation at the base of your seedlings.

Water your seedlings thoroughly – but don’t drown them!

Use row covers to protect them for the first few days from the sun and pests. You can leave them on until the plants flower if you need to protect them from various pests

(discussed below).

Planting Seeds Directly in Your Garden

In Southern climates, you have the advantage of skipping the previous sections and planting your seeds into the garden. Make sure your soil is a minimum of 60°F. If you need to aid the soil temperatures in getting to that level, it’s a good practice to use black plastic to bring your temps up. If planting in rows, we typically space our plants about 2 feet apart and our rows 4 feet apart. It is a good idea, though, to plant seeds every 4 to 6 inches and thin your plants once they’re a couple inches tall. If you’re planting hills, space them at least 4 feet apart, on center, and plant 5 or 6 seeds on each hill, later thinning them to 2 or 3 of the best seedlings. Outdoors you can plant your seeds from ½ to ¾ inch in the soil as the sun will penetrate deeper than grow lights if you plant your seeds indoors. Lightly pack your soil around the muskmelon seeds; don’t pack the soil so tight it forms a crust.

Row covers may be beneficial early in the season to keep your plants warmer and keep bugs out. Make sure you remove them by the time your plants flower, though, or the bees won’t be able to pollinate your muskmelons. If your soil doesn’t drain well, it’s a good idea to mound your soil either in hills or rows. In our area, because our soil is so rocky, we don’t need to raise our beds and the cantaloupes do just fine.

Make sure you know the variety of seed your using as some plants will sprawl further than others, so your plants and rows may need to be spaced wider than what we do.

Growing Cantaloupes Successfully Until Harvest Time

Cantaloupe in the Garden

If you’ve planted seeds in hills, thin the seedlings to the strongest two or three plants once they’ve reached 2 to 3 inches in height. If you’ve planted in rows – we usually prefer rows, but either way works well – thin your plants to about 1 every 24 inches. Cantaloupe needs bees for pollination. If your area is light on bees, look on Craigslist or in the classified papers to see if there are any beekeepers willing to place hives on your property. Make sure you don’t use pesticides – they’ll wipe out the bees. Also, as this is about growing cantaloupe organically, we’ll give you other suggestions below for dealing with bad bugs.

You can trellis cantaloupe if you have a very small garden, but you may need to support your fruits with a “fruit sling” (we use old nylons). If you’ve properly prepared your soil using plenty of compost/composted manure, you shouldn’t really need to add fertilizer during the season, but you can side-dress with composted manure mid-season if your plants need more nutrients.

Mulching & Weeding

We’ve already discussed black plastic as a mulch when growing cantaloupes. It helps warm the soil and it suppresses weeds. However, you will need to use drip irrigation with black plastic as overhead watering simply won’t work. It’s best to lay out your drip lines before laying down the plastic, then make sure you lay the plastic down in the heat of the day and stretch it as tight as you can over the rows. Organic mulches like woodchips or straw can also be used when growing cantaloupes, but don’t apply organic mulches until soils are warmer than 75°F. Applying organic mulches too early keeps the soil cool, resulting in slow growth and shallow rooting. If you’re not mulching and have to use manual weed control methods, be careful to not pull weeds around the base of your growing muskmelons or you may harm the shallow roots.

We cut off the weeds close to the plants with scissors to allow the cantaloupe plants to gain the upper hand over weeds without harming the plants. Early in the season, I find it’s easy to control the bulk of the weeds by rototilling between the rows, and later in the season you can just pull the large weeds that’ll poke up between the vines.

Watering Muskmelons/Cantaloupes

After planting, make sure you soak your seed area well, but don’t drown the seeds or seedlings. While drip irrigation is desirable, not everyone can afford it. If you have to use overhead watering like we do, make sure you do it early in the day so the plants dry out completely by noon. We haven’t tried it, but we’ve heard that furrow irrigation is also very effective.

Watering early or using drip systems will help prevent foliage diseases that are quite common in cucurbit (squash) family plants. As it gets late in the season, and the growing muskmelons are about the size of baseballs, decrease watering; this helps the fruits to mature and prevents the fruit from splitting. Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations

Good companions for growing cantaloupes include:

Beans which supplement your garden with nitrogen that it absorbs from the air. Radishes are reputed to protect your muskmelons from squash borers, carrot flies, cucumber beetles, and leaf miners – these pests like radish leaves best, but don’t really harm radish plants. Mint is said to help control ants, aphids, flea beetles, and rodents. Onions ward off fruit tree borers, weevils, aphids, rust flies, moles, and some root nematodes. Marigolds and Nasturtiums repel bugs and beetles away from your muskmelons. They also attract bees which help to pollinate your squash flowers. Oregano is also said to benefit squash in keeping away many pests.

Corn is a great companion for squash family plants including muskmelons/cantaloupes. Corn produces lots of pollen and attracts beneficial pollinating insects. Corn also provides shade to the melons in the afternoon heat, and the melon vines and leaves lessen weeds and preserve soil moisture. A bad companion for melons are potatoes. Potatoes inhibit the growth in melon plants. You don’t necessarily need to rotate melons annually unless you’re having issues with verticillium wilt, fusarium rot, or mosaic virus. Because summer and winter squash, cucumbers, and melons are of the same family, though, it’s a best practice to rotate your plants out of an area next year.

When to Harvest

Cantaloupes/Muskmelons separate from the vine when ripened, unlike watermelons and other cucurbits. If you note that your melons have changed to a yellowish or tannish color from their normal greenish color, and that the skin has gotten rougher and duller in appearance, your melons are close to ripe. When the base of the stem appears to be cracked, lift the melon up and if the vine separates easily, the melon is ripe. The underside will also usually have a pale yellow appearance. If your weather is hot, harvest the melons daily; if temperate, every other day should be fine. Take care when harvesting not to damage the cantaloupe vines.

Saving Cantaloupe Seeds

Once your melons are fully mature and separate from the vine on their own, the seeds will be ready to harvest. Note that you cannot save seeds from hybrid varieties – not to be confused with GMO seeds. These seeds are cross-pollinated with other varieties to create disease resistance but cannot be used for any further cropping.

So, if you’re growing what is now termed a “heritage” seed, you’re good to go. Just scrape the seeds out of the muskmelon, wash them in a bowl of warm water, and scoop the clean seeds onto a dry towel and let them sit in a warm, dry area for about 3 days.

Store the seeds in a cool, dry place for next years garden. Placing the seeds in a zip lock-style plastic bag and freezing is a great way to preserve these seeds as well.

Melon Storage

We’ve had very good results placing our harvested cantaloupes in the fridge for up to 2 weeks at about 40° to 45°F. You can freeze cantaloupe after scraping the seeds, removing the skin, and cubing it. I like it fresh though so I don’t do this myself.

Preventative and Natural Solutions to Common Pests

Aphids are also common pests that can be found on the undersides of your muskmelon leaves. You’ll know they’re there if you see leaves turning yellow and crinkling or curling. Aphids suck the juice from your plant leaves and leave a sticky substance behind. The only beneficiary of this process is ants, who harvest the sticky sweet stuff. The best solution to aphids is to import ladybugs to your garden. They feed on aphids and are very effective in ridding your plants of these little green, gray, or brown bugs. Another solution is to “wash” them off with a hose and high-pressure spray nozzle or an organic insecticidal soap.

Cucumber Beetles are a striped beetle that is about 3/16″ in length, greenish yellow, with three black stripes running down it’s back. The spotted cucumber beetles is pretty much the same but with a dozen spots on it’s back. Regardless of what these beetles look like, they’re pretty nasty pests that eat your cantaloupe/muskmelon plants and spread bacterial or verticillium wilt to your plants. To prevent these beetles from getting to your plants, you can use row covers before flowering to keep them away from your plants. If the problems get too serious, you can use organic pyrethrins or organic rotenone to deal with these critters.

Pickleworms are nasty little worms that come from ugly moths. These guys don’t mess with the leaves; they go straight for the fruit. Row covers early in the season are effective at keeping pickleworm moths away from your cucurbits – squash, melons, and cucumbers. One effective remedy for pickleworms is powdering your plants with diatomaceous earth. Food grade diatomaceous earth, which is composed of powdered fossilized algae, possesses razor sharp edges which are innocuous to most animals but fatal to insects. When insects such as slugs, thrips, fly maggots, aphids, grubs, caterpillars, or mites ingest diatomaceous earth, it punctures their guts and they die from dehydration. You do have to keep the powder dry though or it doesn’t work. You’ll have to re-apply after watering or a rain.

Squash Bugs are probably another prevalent pest. They suck the sap from your cantaloupe plant leaves, leaving them initially speckled; then the leaves wither and die. Controlling squash bugs is easier if your soil has lots of nutrients and your plants are healthy. Get rid of anything around your garden, such as old boards or anything they can hide under during the winter. It also helps to rototill or turn under your garden in the fall to eliminate places these bugs like to hide in. To get rid of the bugs, hand-picking usually works in a garden as it’s not so large as to take more than an hour or two per week for a few weeks in the summer. When you pick these bugs and nymphs, have a pail of soapy water to drop them into…the soap breaks the capillary action of water so the bugs immediately sink and drown in the water.

If you find eggs attached to the underside of leaves or stems, simply crush the eggs. Lay a board or two in your muskmelon patch overnight…the bugs will congregate under the boards at night. In the morning, lift the board and capture the bugs and drop them into the soapy water pail. Organic compounds such as rotenone and pyrethrins are also effective if you have a heavy infestation of these varmints.

Environmental Factors

Muskmelons/Cantaloupe will sometimes be flavorless. This can be caused by cool weather or poor soil nutrients. Or picking the melons before they’re ripe (this is really common if you purchase cantaloupe at the supermarket). Smooth rinds often are caused by cool weather. These melons will often also have poor flavor as well. To prevent lack of soil nutrients to cause lousy-flavored fruit, pay close attention especially to the potassium in your soil, but also the magnesium and the boron. Another problem we touched on earlier was poor fruit setting. This is caused by lack of pollinating insects in your area. As I wrote above, you may be able to find a local beekeeper to put a hive or 2 on your property, or you can hand pollinate. Wet weather or plant crowding can also have a negative affect on pollination.

Fusarium wilt is a soil-carried disease that affects cantaloupes. It results in the collapse of your plants when the weather is too cold and wet. Powdery mildew is another mildew that can affect your melon plants. It’s whitish and powdery and grows on curcubit leaves and stems. It is also caused by wetness, but warmth and humidity rather than cool weather and rain. If the leaves are infected, they’ll usually die. If the infections is severe, it can kill the whole plant. If you are able to, avoid overhead watering. If not, water early in the morning so the plants can dry out by noon or so. If you keep insect pests under control and spray your vines and leaves with a compost tea solution or a baking soda solution, you most likely won’t have an issue with this disease.

Other solutions include organic sulphur sprays or a weak solution of milk and water (9:1). If you spot any of this mildew, destroy your vines at the end of the season and rotate your cantaloupes to a new area next gardening season. The best prevention is to plant resistant varieties of muskmelons/cantaloupes. Downy mildew is a leaf disease and is caused by a fungus with a long Latin name. If you really want to know the name, let me know and I’ll copy and paste it in a reply. This mildew usually isn’t a problem unless you have a cold spell in the 45° to 55°F range for a month or longer. The mildew shows up initially as yellow patches on your squash plant’s leaves, then turns brown or tan with gray or white downy fuzz below it. Then it progresses to black patches and the leaves and sometimes the plants shrivel up and die.

To prevent downy mildew, grow squash varieties that are resistant to it. Also, allow space between your plants so they don’t stay wet too long. And if the conditions appear favorable for the disease to appear (i.e. a long cool and rainy spell), spray your leaves with a compost tea. To make the tea, put compost in a bucket and fill it with water; when it settles out, fill your sprayer with the brownish water and spray your plants leaves with it. Muskmelon seedlings may be affected by a group of fungi that cause “damping off.” Damping off fungi will attack the seeds, seedlings or very young plants and cause a type of rot to infect the roots or base of the plant causing sudden growth and collapse in usually (in our experience) under a day.

If you’re planting in trays, use sterile potting soil, sterile trays, and avoid using your gardens soil. You can sterilize potting soil by getting it very wet and placing it in a metal container in an oven and heating it to around 160°F for about 30 minutes; the oven should be heated to around 200°F. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature, and turn the oven down a bit if the temperature exceeds 165°F. Cool the soil to at least 90°F before planting your seeds in it.

Also be aware that too much moisture is often part of the cause of seedlings damping off. Water your plants with warm water as cool temps tend to encourage damping off fungi. And the last one we’ll deal with are Leaf Spots and Fruit Rot. These are caused by fungal disease and include rotting fruit, lesions on the vines, holes in the leaves, and brown-colored spot on the leaves. Rotating your crops to new areas on a 3 to 4 year rotation will help alleviate these problems. Reducing moisture can help also – using drip irrigation or watering early is helpful. Don’t crowd your plants. Keep the melon patch weed free. To avoid these diseases don’t grow melons in an area where any member of the squash family has been grown for 3-4 years.

Barry Brown is a 3rd generation organic gardeners who is passionate about a sustainable and natural lifestyle. His personal standards for organic living far exceeds USDA certification, which he believes is more about money than food quality and purity.

[http://www.organicgardenmiracle.com]

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com

Mar 22

Growing Organic Basil

Basil

Growing organic basil (pronounced bay-zul) is both easy and rewarding. We use it as a fresh herb all summer in various dishes, especially Asian and Italian cuisine. Sweet basil is typically the most common variety you’ll find if you’re planning on growing organic basil. Tropical areas in India and Asia have been growing basil for at least 5000 years. The name basil comes from the Greek, βασιλεύς (basileus), and means “king,” and it’s a member of the mint family.

When to Plant Basil

Because we reside (through no choice of my own) in a Northern climate area, we always plant basil indoors about 6 to 8 weeks ahead of the last frost. Basil needs around 70 to 80 days to reach maturity, although if you’re careful not to overdo it you can remove a very small amount of lower leaves ahead of that time. As there are many varieties of basil you can grow, check with your local seed distributor or a reputable national seed supplier. You can either plant or transplant basil after the last frost of the spring. Basil is a warm weather plant and while it doesn’t like temps below 50°F, we’ve been able to grow some varieties in our area.

Best Location to Plant Basil

Basil is a sun lover; in Southern climates it requires around 6 hours a day, and as you move North to our area, it needs about 8 hours daily. Make sure not to crowd your basil plants; air circulation around the plants is required for plant health. Fungal diseases almost always begin in damp conditions where your plants can’t dry out by noon. Basil is a semi-fragile plant, so it should be protected as much as possible from the wind.

Basil Likes a Sunny Spot in the Garden

Preparing the Soil to Plant Basil

Basil, like many herbs, likes soil that drains well and is nutrient rich. Organic basil should grow well with organic compost and/or composted manure. The pH range for growing basil is between 6.0 and 7.5. Basil is a heavy Nitrogen (N) feeder, and compost, composted manure, or bloodmeal are good sources of Nitrogen Basil does very well in raised beds if your soil doesn’t drain well. Our soil is pretty rocky, and although it’s a bit clayish, the rocks help it to drain well. Adding composted materials to clayish soils also helps it to drain well, and helps retain water in sandy soils. Prepare your soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches by mixing in 2 to 3 inches of compost or composted manure into about a 6 inch cubic foot area where the seed or plant will be planted. That’s about the size and depth of an average garden shovel.

Choosing the Right Seed Varieties for Your Area

Basil typically grows between 12 and 24 inches tall. The varieties we grow up North average about 12 to 14 inches tall, but tropical basil will usually grow up to 24 inches. Choose your seeds based on the climate zone you live in (your seed supplier will know what varieties grow best in your zone). Also, check with your county extension for diseases that may afflict basil in your area and choose seed varieties that are resistant to those diseases (such as fusarium wilt) if there are any.

Germinating Basil Seeds

Basil seed germinate best at around 65° to 85°F; at 65°F your seeds will germinate in 10 to 14 days and at 85°F they’ll take 5 to 7 days. Basil seeds, like most seeds that you plant in shallow soil, need a modicum of light, either artificial or sunlight, to germinate. If you’re planting outdoors (not recommended in the Northern climate zones), wait until night time temperatures are above 50°F.

Basil Seeds

Saving Seeds

If you’ve planted “heirloom” basil seeds, you will have the ability to save your seeds for next year’s crop. If you plant disease resistant varieties, they’re typically hybrid seeds and you won’t be able to harvest the seeds to plant next season. Personally, and I may get into trouble with seed purists, am not opposed to using hybrid seeds, although GMO seeds may be an entirely different animal (literally). We’ll be posting an article on GMO soon. We’ll look at all sides of the argument over GMO, and explain the difference between sysgenic and transgenic GMO (Europe outlawed GMO’s, or so we’ve been told, but they outlawed transgenic, not sysgenic GMO). OK, now that I’m back from that rabbit trail…let’s save some seeds. First, make sure your basil doesn’t seed until fall. Let the flower and dry, then pick the dried flowers and lay them on a jellyroll pan or similar. Let them sit for a few days, then bounce the tray on your table or countertop lightly, or tap the bottom of the pan and let the seeds roll out and collect them.

Starting Basil Indoors

It’s always the best practice to use a sterile potting soil to start your plants indoors. For starting basil seeds, it’s a good idea to add a bit of lime (dolomite) and sand to your mix (also sterile). There are lots of containers to start your seeds in…if you have the budget to do it, soil blocks are the most environmentally sound way to start seeds, followed by peat pots or “jiffy pellets,” then any re-useable plastic tapered seed tray or container you may have laying around. Just make sure if you’re using cottage cheese or yogurt cartons that you poke some holes in the bottoms to allow for proper drainage. Plant 2 or 3 seeds about ¼ inch deep in the potting mix. You’ll want to plant extra in case one or two fail to germinate which is common with many herb varieties. Once your basil seedlings have 4 true leaves, thin the plants to the strongest surviving plant per cell or carton.

Basil Sprouts

Transplanting to Outdoors

As you approach the final frost date for your climate zone, you’ll want to prepare your basil for being transplanted to your garden. This process is called “hardening off” and is kind of like weight-training for plants (very loosely speaking). Move your plant trays out of doors for a couple hours a day to start with (not too much sun initially), and increase the out-of-doors sunlight hours for one or two weeks. The reason you do this is that you may kill or stunt your plants if you don’t prepare them for transplanting, just like you wouldn’t run a 10K race without pysically preparing (unless you’re completely bonkers!). You’ll want your basil plants to have 4 to 6 mature leaves when you transplant them, and if possible, don’t transplant them if the night temps are falling lower than 50°F. The optimal daytime temperature for most basil varieties is about 85°F Your soil should be prepared per our instructions above. When planting your basil plants, slide the soil and root mass out of the pot (unless you’ve used soil blocks or peat pots).

Using a small garden trowel, create a hole large enough to accommodate the soil/root mass, and lifting the plant very carefully (I grasp the whole plant in the palm of my hand), slide it into the hole and gently pack the dirt in around the roots.

We plant our plants about 12 inches apart. This allows them plenty of air circulation which helps them avoid moisture-related fungal diseases. You can make double or triple rows, spacing the rows 6 to 12 inches apart, and then 30 to 36 inches between the doubled/tripled rows.

You may also trim the tops back to 6 inches or so in height to encourage lateral branching (and more leaves).

One thing I should also mention is that you can also root basil from cuttings from mature plants.

Planting Basil Seeds in Your Garden

As previously mentioned, unless you live in a warmer, Southern climate zone, we suggest you start your plants indoors. If you live in a more Southern region, you can seed your plants directly in your garden. Again, make sure your nighttime temps are 50°F or higher; this will typically mean your daytime temps are also at least 70°F. In the same way as outlined above, make your rows in doubles or triples, but plant 8 to 10 seeds per inch. Same as above, plant the seeds approx. ¼ inch deep. Why so many seeds? They germinate more sporadically most of the time if started outdoors, so you’ll want to be able to make sure you’ve got plenty to choose from when you thin them out. Basil is a delicate seedling, and the soil should not crust over after planting. You can either lightly mist the soil a couple times a day or add a light layer of vermiculite over the seeds to keep the soil from developing a crust.

Basil Plants

Successfully Growing Basil Until You Can Eat It

As previously discussed, you should thin your plants to about 6 to 12 inches apart for the best results. You can eat the plants you thin, or they also transplant relatively easily. Pinch back your plant tops to encourage the plants to become bushier. This also will help the flavor of basil and keeps it from going to seed, at which point it becomes flavorless and woody. Basil doesn’t like to dry out or get too hot. It will go to seed or stop growing, so it’s a good idea in hot climates to plant in an area where they can get afternoon shade. We don’t have to worry much about it here in the great white North. If you do see your basil starting to flower and go to seed, just pinch off the tops of the plants (not the flowers). Pinching off the flowers as they form does not stimulate new foliage; in fact it encourages flowers to form in the axils of the leaves thus reducing the yield of the plant. Mulching will help keep your basil plants cooler in the summer heat. We’ll cover that in the next section.

If perchance, you get a late cold snap, use row covers to protect your basil from a frost.

If you’ve prepped your soil per the instructions in the above section on preparing your soil, you shouldn’t really need to fertilize your plants during the growing season.

Potted Young Spring Seedlings of Basil

Mulching & Weeding

Mulching with grass clippings, chopped leaves, or barley straw helps both to retain soil moisture and control weeds. If you don’t mulch, make sure you don’t let the weeds take over your basil patch. Basil doesn’t compete very well with weeds. Weed carefully close to your plants and cut the weeds off at ground level if they’re too close to the plants.

Watering Basil

If you use organic mulches like grass clippings, it will help keep you from needing to use as much water on your basil. Basil needs about 1 to 2 inches of water every week to 10 days to make sure the roots have enough moisture. If you dig down a couple inches near your basil plants, and the soil is moist, you probably don’t need to irrigate. As with most plants, drip irrigation is better than overhead watering with sprinklers, but if you don’t have that option, water in the early morning so your basil plants have a chance to dry out by noon. If your plants stay wet, you’ll likely have problems with mildew or fungus. Finally, if you overwater basil, it can make the leaves lose flavor.

Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations

Starting with plants that basil plays well with…

Basil planted next to tomatoes is supposed to help their flavor. We did it last year, but honestly, I didn’t have anything to compare it to, and as we used OGM last year, the flavor was outstanding on all our tomatoes, both near and away from the basil.

Basil is said to repel thrips, flies, and mosquitoes; funny thing, I didn’t know mosquitoes bothered veggies, but I’m thinking I’ll put a few plants in my bedroom!

Basil grows well around petunias, oregano, peppers, and asparagus as well.

Petunias apparently fend off leafhoppers, some aphids, Mexican bean beetles, and asparagus beetles. Hot peppers also are supposed to prevent root rot and fusarium in basil. Plants that don’t play well with basil? Rue, which doesn’t play well with sage either, and rosemary, which basil will eradicate. Although I’ve read that basil should be rotated on a 2-year rotation, we’ve had no problem with planting it in the same area 2 years in a row, but maybe I just like to tempt fate!

Fresh Basil and Rosemary

Harvesting Basil

You can pluck leaves from your basil once it has about 8 leaves. Snip the top of the plant off, leaving 4 leaves; this will encourage the plant to expand laterally (it’ll get bushier). You should be able to harvest leaves up until the first frost in the autumn. Alternate the plants you harvest so that you’ll have a steady fresh supply of basil herbs. You can harvest one or two times weekly.

Basil Storage

Basil is good mainly for fresh eating, but can also be dried, although it loses much of it’s flavor when dried.

To dry basil, tie the basil stems together upside down in a warm, preferable dark area for a week or so.

You can also use a food dryer and lay the stems in the trays.

Remove the dried leaves and seal in an airtight container (I use mason jars) and store the dried basil in a cool, dark area or root cellar. It should keep for a year. Another method I consider now to be superior is to quickly blanch the leaves (a quick dip in boiling water suffices), then freeze them in airtight zip lock-style bags or another airtight container. Basil will keep in your fridge for a week or more, but it loses flavor over time, so it’s best if you keep your crop rotating until the first fall frost. One of the main ingredients for pesto is basil, so one way we preserve basil is to make pesto, put it into airtight containers, and freeze it (omit the cheese and add it upon thawing if your pesto recipe includes it).

Preventative and Natural Solutions to Common Pests

Japanese beetles and grasshoppers like to eat basil leaves (can’t blame them for that, can you?!).

Row covers are probably the most effective way to deal with these pests. You can also spray them off for temporary relief.

Slugs also like basil leaves. Diatomaceous earth is effective in ridding your basil patch of slugs, but it has to remain dry or you need to reapply it after a rain or irrigating.

Fresh Garden Basil

Environmental factors

Root rot disease is a group of fungal diseases that cause the roots of many plants, including basil, to rot and die prematurely, taking the entire plant with it. Planting basil in sunny areas with well-draining soil and moderate watering will usually prevent this fungus from destroying your basil plants. If your basil plants happen to contract root rot, dig up the dying plants and dispose of them to an area where they can’t affect other plants (such as your garbage can). Downy Mildew usually develops on the lower leaves only as that’s where moisture often stays.

Again, don’t overwater, choose resistant varieties, and don’t crowd your plants.

You can treat your plants with a homemade fungicide spray if you do spot some downy mildew.

You can also make this organic fungicide spray using bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). In a gallon of water add a couple drops of organic olive oil, a couple drops of environmentally-friendly liquid soap, and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Spray it on your basil leaves to effectively control all of the above fungi.

You should rotate your basil to a new area if your plants are affected by downy mildew.

Fusarium wilt is a soil-borne fungus that causes various plants to suddenly wilt and usually strikes when the plants are mature. Early signs of fusarium wilt include brownish streaking in the stems and leaves suddenly dropping. Once again, overwatering is key in bringing this disease on, so if your soil drains well and you don’t overwater, you’ll likely not see much of this disease.

Of course, you can plant resistant varieties as well, but if you do have an outbreak of this disease, the pathogens can last in the soil up to 12 years; don’t plant any mint family members in the area for that long. Bacterial leaf spots or basil shoot blight is another damp condition disease. It shows up with spots on the leaves (hence the name) and premature leaf loss. You can plant resistant varieties, but also follow the no-crowding rule, don’t over-water, and plant in soil that drains well, or add enough organic matter so that it does drain well. And, of course, if you do have an outbreak of leaf spots, rotate your basil away from that area next year. Lastly, gray mold; as basil is an herb and herbs are susceptible to gray mold, it is important to remove affected leaves or the entire plant may die. Don’t harvest the plants during rainy spells or when wet as the pathogens may spread from plant to plant.

Of course, don’t overwater. Plant in well-drained soil. Rotate your basil out of the area next season. And if you aren’t morally opposed to hybrid seeds, find resistant varieties if gray mold is a problem in your area.

 

Barry Brown is a 3rd generation organic gardeners who is passionate about a sustainable and natural lifestyle. His personal standards for organic living far exceeds USDA certification, which he believes is more about money than food quality and purity.

Article Source: EzineArticles.com

Mar 17

Growing Organic Zucchini

Zucchini

Delicious Zucchini Tidbits

Zucchini is a “summer squash” and therefore doesn’t store long term like winter squash such as butternut or acorn squash.

When you’re growing zucchini, you need lots of bees. Bees pollinate your zucchini. Some of our friends got only a few zucchinis last year because they had too few bees in their area.

In the U.S, we use the Italian name for Zucchini. In Italian it means “plant.”

Much of the English-speaking world uses the French name for zucchini – courgette. Growing zucchini in the UK, S. Africa, Ireland, New Zealand, and Greece is equivalent to growing courgette.

When to Plant Zucchini

Growing zucchini is relatively simple compared to some garden plants.

Zucchini requires approximately 40 to 60 days to begin producing mature fruit.

Here in the inland Pacific Northwest, we usually plant zucchini about mid-May, just after the last frost.

If you live in the Southern U.S., you can plant zucchini as early as February or March, depending on your altitude and climate.

While we get all the zucchini we need from a dozen plants, some have recommended starting new zucchini plants every couple of weeks for the first 6 to 8 weeks of spring to keep new plants coming into bear during the summer as younger plants produce more zucchini faster.

When doing successive plantings, allow at least 70 days space in front of your last frost date to plant the last planting of zucchini.

If you live in Northern areas like we do, you can get a head start with your zucchini by starting them indoors.

Best Planting Location for Zucchini

In order to get the most zucchini, give it lots of sunlight; 8 hours a day or more is best in Northern climates, and at least 6 hours daily in Southern climates. Zucchini likes well-drained garden soil heavy amounts of compost and/or composted manure mixed in. As mentioned above, zucchini prefers warm to hot weather. We had an OK crop last year, but because we had a cool summer, our crops were down from hotter summers.

Zucchini’s Favorite Soils

Zucchini does best in slightly acidic soils with a pH level around 6.0 to 6.5, but will still grow decently as high as 8.0. Compost and/or composted manure provides the needed N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) requirements for Zucchini. If you need to supplement your soil’s nitrogen levels, you can also add blood meal. If you need to supplement your soils phosphorus levels, you can add bone meal. You can also add wood ash to your soil if it needs potassium.

In the past, gardeners dumped about a bushel (40lbs) of manure in a hole beneath where zucchini was to be planted. It is more difficult for most gardeners to access that quantity of manure now, but if you blend a few pounds of composted manure or compost where your plants will be, it should be sufficient.

Compost and composted manure also provide trace elements to your garden as well; Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Sulfur, Boron, Cobalt, Copper, Iron, Iodine, Tin, and Molybdenum.

You can purchase an N-P-K tester and a pH tester at your local garden supply if you’re not sure what your soil needs and your plants aren’t performing well.

In the fall, rototill or spade your garden leaves and debris into the soil. This allows it to decompose through the winter and prevents pests from having shelter through the winter.

Choosing the Best Seed Varieties

Zucchini will grow in most climate areas, so finding a good variety is not difficult. While zucchini is susceptible to powdery mildew, we’ve not had problems with it as we don’t crowd our plants and we water them early in the day. Powdery mildew resistant varieties are also being developed, so you can probably purchase those seeds this year.

Germinating Zucchini Seeds

Zucchini requires soil temps over 60° and under 105°F to germinate properly. They will simply not grow at colder soil temperatures. The optimum germination temps are in the range of 85° to 95°F. Your seedlings should pop up within 5 or 6 days at this temperature. When you’re growing your seeds, make sure the soil is moist but not saturated or you’ll risk fungal diseases. If you’re in a Northern climate, you can use black plastic “mulch” to warm your soil up; this will help your seeds germinate more quickly.

Starting Zucchini Plants Indoors

When starting zucchini plants indoors, use a good sterile potting soil from your local garden store.

If you use garden soil, because your home or greenhouse is warm, the warmth helps bacteria in your soil to grow and may harm your seedlings.

You have several choices for potting your plants. We recommend soil blocks first, then peat pots, then plastic pots or trays. Our biggest issue with peat pots is that they don’t decompose as quickly as we think they should and we’re not sure that’s good for the roots.

Plant your zucchini seeds 3 or 4 weeks prior to transplanting the seedlings to your garden.

Plant 2 seeds per soil block, pot, or tray cell about 1 inch deep.

When your seedlings are a couple inches tall, snip the weaker seedling off at the soil level with scissors.

Transplanting Zucchini

You may be able to transplant a little earlier to your garden if you lay down black plastic mulch to warm the soil. If you do this, you may need to use row covers to keep them from freezing.

Your plants should have at least 4 “true leaves” when you transplant them. You need to “harden off” your plants before transplanting. This is a simple process that entails moving your plants outdoors for longer periods of time for a week or two and reducing their water.

The best time to transplant zucchini is on a cloudy day or early in the morning. Once you’ve transplanted them, water them to make sure they’ve got enough moisture.

Use a garden trowel to dig a hole large enough to fit your zucchini and its soil, soil block, or peat pot into. Pack soil lightly around your plant, keeping the same soil level around the plant.

Your plants should be spaced 2 to 3 feet apart (we do 2), and the rows 4 to 5 feet apart (we usually have just one row, so we allow 3 feet on either side).

Planting Seeds Directly to Your Garden

We don’t generally plant zucchini indoors because it doesn’t typically end up ahead for some reason, but this year we may try using black plastic mulch to get a head start. You can plant seeds before the last frost if you’ve warmed the soil with black plastic and use row covers. We’ll let you know how it works for us. Using a soil thermometer, check your soil temp; if it’s around 70°F you can plant 2 or 3 seeds together at about a 1 to 2 inches deep, 24 to 36 inches apart in rows 4 or 5 feet separated. Once your plants are a couple inches tall with 4 or more true leaves, thin them down to just one seed per hill; choose the strongest plant.

Growing Zucchini Successfully until Harvest-Time

Zucchini in the Garden

As mentioned previously, black plastic mulch and row covers are effective for giving your growing zucchini an early boost in the spring. Black plastic helps keep the weeds under control and keeps the soil moisturized. Keep your plants well-watered, but don’t drown them! I mentioned that some of our friends didn’t get many zucchini last year because they had too few bees last year to pollinate their zucchini.

If they’d known about hand-pollinating, they could’ve had plenty of zucchini. Just use a small brush such as a paint brush, and brush it first across a male flowers and then across a female flower to pollinate your zucchini. You’ll get all the zucchini you want and probably more, at least if the weather’s not too cold.

Another idea some have used is to put an ad on Craigslist inviting bee farmers to place some hives on your property. We actually had a beekeeper contact us last year to do this, but we didn’t have good access to our property, so he went elsewhere, but we had plenty of pollinators anyway.

If you don’t have a beekeeper contact you (which is more likely), plant flowers that bees like near your garden. Foxgloves, Echinacea, and Petunias are just a few flowers that bees love.

Pruning your zucchini once the main stem gets to around 36″ in length helps your plant to concentrate on producing flowers and fruit instead of leaves.

Encouraging secondary rooting by burying the vine later in the season provides a boost to your plants.

Mulching & Weeding

As I’ve mentioned a few times already, using black plastic as a mulch works great both for warming your soil and keeping the weeds down.

After the soil temps have reached around 75°F, organic mulches, such as a few inches of grass clippings or straw will add nutrients to your garden soil and foil bad weeds, plus retain soil moisture.

Don’t pile mulch on the growing zucchini plants themselves or the will suppress these plants also. As zucchini roots tend to be shallow, hand weed (carefully) any weeds that are close to your plants. Zucchini plants will quite naturally stifle most weeds once the plants are mature.

Water That Zucchini!!!

Depending on your soil, how hot the summer is, and whether you’ve mulched or not, most zucchini require one good weekly watering of about an inch of water, or more. Sandy soil needs watered with less water but more frequently with less water; water drains out of the your soil faster if it’s sandy. During the summer, don’t overwater as it may cause your zucchini to rot. It’s a bit of a balance, but don’t underwater either as zucchini requires plenty of moisture to produce good fruit as well.

Don’t water your zucchini in the afternoon (isn’t that a song?) unless you’re lucky enough to afford drip irrigation as it may encourage mildews or bacterial wilt.

Zucchini’s Companions and Rotation

Zucchini loves a flower called borage as it chases of the tomato hornworm, plus it attracts bees. Some say it also improves your zucchini’s flavor and makes it grow better – I haven’t found any scientific evidence for that one, but it sounds good on paper.

Marigolds and nasturtiums are good at repelling beetles and squash bugs and also attract bees to your zucchini patch.

Peas, beans, and other legumes benefit zucchini because of their nitrogen-fixing qualities.

Radishes are said to fend off cucumber beetles; plant them with cucurbit family members such as watermelon, squash, and cucumbers.

Potatoes apparently slow down the growth of squash, although I have to say I didn’t see this last year when they were planted close together.

While zucchini and other cucurbit family members can be planted next to each other, it’s best to rotate them to other areas of your garden to discourage the various diseases that afflict family members.

Harvesting Zucchini

Zucchini matures rapidly in warm weather and have a propensity to become, as we call them, “footballs.” This just means they get too large to eat – the centers become seedy and the outside becomes pithy.

Harvest zucchini when they are under 2 inches in diameter and around 6 to 12 inches long. Oversized zucchini can be composted; however, it’s better not to permit squash to get too big as they’ll drain the strength from your plants for awhile and delay new fruit development.

Check your plants every couple of days (or daily) during the warmer part of the season as they usually produce lots of zucchini during the summer heat. To harvest your zucchini, use a sharp paring knife to cut them from the plants; if you don’t have a knife on you, you can use a sharp twist and pull to harvest them. Some cooks deep fry zucchini flowers in batter or eat them in salads. I’ve not tried either, but maybe someday I will.

Storing Zucchini

Zucchini doesn’t store in the winter; and they don’t store well in the summer either. They are so prolific, though, that you can usually depend on frequent fresh pickings to assuage your cravings.

Lay your zucchini loosely in your vegetable drawer of your refrigerator at no higher than 45°F for up to 5 days (in our experience). If you don’t eat them, compost them.

Canning zucchini or other summer squash isn’t a good idea; it’ll turn to mush. However, we’ll slice up excess zucchini, blanch it for 60 to 90 seconds in boiling water, and freeze it in zip lock-type plastic bags. It’s grand in the winter to add home-grown organic zucchini to soups or casseroles.

Preventative and Natural Solutions to Garden Pests

My most unfavorite subject is garden pests. After I’ve worked hard and dreamed of tasty organic zucchini, the last thing I want is some nasty little insects and their larvae enjoying my food while I go hungry (although that might not always be a bad thing – maybe I could lose those extra pounds). Fortunately, there are some effective organic solutions to controlling many pests.

The most evil zucchini pest is the cucumber beetle, which comes in striped or spotted varieties. These beetles will eat both the leaves and fruit of any cucurbit family member, including summer and winter squashes, melons, and cucumbers. They also spread bacterial wilt just in case eating your plants isn’t quite enough.

We’re opposed to the use of chemical pesticides for many reasons, some of which are that these pests begin to become resistant to pesticides; also pesticides take out both good and bad bugs. Row covers are the best natural defense against these voracious beetles.

Infestations can be dealt with using an organic permethrin (comes in both organic and inorganic), but again, if you don’t have to resort to any insecticides your garden will be better off.

Another malicious pest is the squash vine borers. They normally emerge about the time the vines begin to extend out across your garden. Squash vine borers are about an inch long, plump, and white with a brown head. They are the larvae of a little moth with dark obverse wings and light back wings and a red abdomen. The moths lay eggs in the late spring or early summer near the bottom of your squash vines. The borers materialize about a week afterward and drill a hole in your vine to get inside them. You’ll see a small hole and green excretions below the hole. And you’ll see the vine expire rather abruptly.

To thwart squash vine borers from decimating your crops, first, keep your eyes and ears open for the moths (they have a hum when they flutter that’s atypical of moths).

You can also employ yellow-colored bowls full of water to ensnare these moths; they’re attracted to the color, and will fly into the bowls and sink.

At this time, it’s a good plan to use row covers for a couple weeks until the moths vanish again. make certain you cover up the edges of the row covers with soil to shut out the moths.

If your plants commence flowering at this point in time, you can hand pollinate your squash if needed. Don’t use insecticides as they can also destroy valuable insects that pollinate your crops.

If you notice that a borer has created a hole previous to the plant wilting and dying, you can at times cautiously cut a hole in the vine and take out the borer. Cover the vine and the hole with dirt as it frequently will send roots into the soil from the cut area.

If you discover a vine that’s been killed by a borer, cut back the vine and destroy it.

Another rapacious nuisance is the squash bug. Early in the season, this bug eats mostly foliage and can be destructive to seedlings if not controlled. Distinct from cucumber beetles which decline in destructive activity from beginning to end of the gardening time of year, squash bugs get more copious and detrimental as the summer progresses and start to eat the fruit as it ripens.

Squash bugs are brown to black and more than a half inch long typically.

If crushed, squash bugs have a nasty aroma. When I was a youngster we called them “stink bugs” although there may be a different bug that actually bears that name more rightfully.

In the spring, fully-developed squash bugs lay orderly clusters of eggs on the underside of your zucchini’s foliage. The nymphs stay beneath the leaves throughout this time which can last for several weeks.

Vigorous plants seem to have good resistance against these vermin.

Row covers early in the season help manage these pests as well.

If your garden isn’t vast in size, you can look at the undersides of your leaves and squash any eggs you find and hand pick adults and nymphs and drop them into a pail of soapy water to drown them.

One way to entrap bugs is to lay out boards or newspaper in your garden. Pick up the boards or newspapers in the morning; these bugs will gather together under these objects and are much easier to seize than when they’re on your plants.

Rototill under all cucurbit relatives in the autumn to diminish areas near your garden where they can overwinter.

Aphids are also widespread pests that can be found on the undersides of your squash leaves. You’ll know they’re there if you see the foliage turning yellow and crinkling or curling. Aphids suck the sap from your plant leaves and leave a sticky material behind. The lone beneficiary of this process are the ants, who gather the sticky syrupy stuff. The best answer to the aphid problem is to bring in ladybugs to your garden. They feed on aphids and are very successful in eradicating these green, gray, or brown bugs.

An additional solution is to “wash” them off with a hose and high-pressure squirt nozzle or an organic insecticidal soap.

Environmental Factors

Zucchini seedlings may be affected by a set of fungi that cause “damping off.”

Damping off fungi will assault the seeds, seedlings or very young plants and cause a kind of rot that contaminates the roots or bottom of the plant causing abrupt growth and collapse in typically (in our experience) less than a day.

If you’re planting in trays, use germ-free potting soil, disinfected trays, and stay away from using your garden’s soil. You can make germ-free potting soil by getting it very wet and placing it in a metal container in an oven at about around 200°F and heating the soil to around 160°F for about 30 minutes. Use a meat thermometer to confirm the temperature, and turn the oven down a bit if the temperature exceeds 165°F.

Cool the soil to at least 90°F before planting your seeds in it. Also be aware that too much wetness is frequently part of the cause of seedlings damping off.

Water your plants with lukewarm water as cool temps are likely to promote damping off fungi.

Powdery mildew is one more mildew that can have an effect on your zucchini plants, but appears totally different. It’s whitish and powdery and grows on squash leaves and stems. It is also caused by too much moisture, but heat and moisture rather than cool weather and rain.

If the leaves are contaminated, they’ll frequently die. If the contamination is severe, it can kill the entire plant.

If you are able to, steer clear of overhead watering. If not, water early on in the morning so the plants can dry off by midday or so.

If you keep pestiferous bugs under control and mist your vines and leaves with a compost tea or a baking soda solution, you probably won’t have an problem with this disease.

Other solutions consist of organic sulphur sprays or a weak solution of milk and water (9:1).

If you spot any of this mildew, annihilate your vines at the end of the season and rotate your zucchini to a fresh area next gardening season. You can also obtain seed varieties that are resistant to fungi such as downy and powdery mildews. Bacterial Wilt is a malady that’s spread by contaminated cucumber beetles.

As these beetles feed on leaves, the wounds which have the bacteria start to generate other areas of dull green patches.

Bacterial wilt can spread swiftly to the whole plant within a couple of weeks.

Controlling cucumber beetles is the best protection against bacterial wilt. Row covers are an effective prevention if sealed around the edges with dirt.

If a plant is infected, pull it up and dispose of it right away; if it’s entangled with an uninfected plant, kill the infected plant and let it die and dry.

Rotate your crop out of the vicinity next season. Rototill all squash, melon, and cucumbers under in the fall to diminish cucumber beetle overwintering areas.

Barry Brown is a 3rd generation organic gardeners who is passionate about a sustainable and natural lifestyle. His personal standards for organic living far exceeds USDA certification, which he believes is more about money than food quality and purity.

[http://www.organicgardenmiracle.com]

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com

Mar 05

Jobs to Do in the Garden During March

Iris Sprouts

There is an old saying that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. This refers to March as being a little bit unpredictable, with strong winds and heavy showers. Even a sharp frost can catch you out this month. But when the sun does shine this month it has some real warmth in it and the garden responds with spring bulbs and new growth almost everywhere you look. As the days become longer and the soil starts to warm up again, so those jobs in the garden start to increase. There is a lot of sense in the advice that if you get on top of things in the garden during March, the rest of the growing season will run smoothly. Here are some of the main jobs to be getting on with in March.

In the Garden

Marc h is a time when many more plants emerge or flower to give a stunning early display. Plants of particular interest for this month include daffodils, lily-of-the-valley, magnolia, japonica or flowering quince, forsythia, camellia, aubrieta, and primula.

Generally speaking, now is the time for a good tidy up. Tidy evergreen grasses and cut back deciduous grasses down to the ground. Finish cutting back dead growth in herbaceous border s and stake new growth with canes or plant supports. Now is also the time to divide clumps of perennials by digging them up and dividing them with a fork or spade. Also divide snowdrops once they have finished flowering and plant new clumps ‘in the green’ to ensure flowering next year. Give your roses a final prune. Sow wildflower seeds and hardy annuals this month, and plant lily bulbs. Clear the netting away from ponds and start to feed any fish you have if the weather is warm and they are active.

Lawns

If the weather is mild, give your lawn its first cut, making sure the mower is on a high setting. Redefine the edges of the lawn with an edge cutter this will make even an untidy lawn look tidy! Deal with any wormcasts or molehills.

Daffodil Bulbs

The Greenhouse

Just as you might give your house a spring clean, do so in your greenhouse too. Wash down the panes of glass both inside and out to make sure you make the best of the early sunshine. Washing down the greenhouse will also get rid of any pests and diseases that may have overwintered. Take empty pots outside on a sunny day and give them a wash too. Sow early vegetables like peas in guttering ready to plant out next month. Start dormant begonia and dahlia tubers by potting them up and keeping them in a frost free greenhouse.

The Vegetable Garden

Dig in overwintered green manures to prepare the ground for planting. Make sure you harvest the last of the sprouting broccoli, kale and brussels left in the ground over winter. Sow early salad crops like lettuce, radishes and rocket, as well as onion sets, leeks, broad beans, spinach and early varieties of carrot. Plant early potato varieties towards the end of the month. Sow early herbs and divide and plant perennial herbs.

Patios and Containers

Spruce up your patio ready for spring with a pressure washer. Freshen up pots you have planted with winter bedding by removing any spent plants and replacing them with spring bedding. Also, fill garden planters with a variety of spring bedding such as violas, primulas, spring bulbs and small evergreens such as ivy.

 

Jo Poultney is one of two people behind Garden Planters. I have an RHS general certificate in horticulture. Garden Planters source unusual outdoor and indoor planters, and other garden related gifts – whatever your taste, be it traditional, modern or just a bit quirky, we will have something for you. I believe garden planters are an integral part of any garden – they enhance the overall design and say a little something about the person to whom the garden belongs. If you would like to know more about Garden Planters, visit our website at http://www.gardenplantersshop.co.uk

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com

Feb 01

How to Grow a Pineapple Plant from a Grocery Store Pineapple

Pineapples take time to grow. In fact, once you plant a pineapple stem in your garden, it can take about 2 years for the plant to reach a height of about 25 to 30 inches. At this stage, you can see the plant producing fruits.

Growing a Pineapple from Stem

In order to grow pineapple from the stem, it is vital to get a good, juicy pineapple. Using a knife, slice off the leafy part of the pineapple. You can see some of the fruit sticking onto the leafy part that you have just sliced off. Cut this out completely as you will need to use this part for planting and fruit parts will only rot away. After removing the fruit part, make circular cuts till you can see little round circles on the cut surface. The circles are the root buds, which will be the root of your new pineapple plant. You can see a lot of leaves around the side of the plant, which can be removed. Now the top must be left off to dry for a week, after which it becomes ready for planting.

Starting Your Pineapple Plant in a Container

Prepare a pot by using good potting soil that drains off water properly as pineapples get easily damaged by standing water. Place the pineapple top on the pot’s soil and press the soil firmly around the stem top. The pot must be placed in a warm area, but at the same time, it should be able to receive good enough sunlight. The outdoor temperature must be not more than 60 degree Fahrenheit and the soil must be watered evenly, until it is just moist, but not completely wet.

In the Garden

When the plant shows some significant growth, then it’s time to move it to a sunny spot in the garden.  Of course, it is going to take a while for the plant to show growth. The first sign is the appearance of a small flower blooming right in the middle of the plant. The first signs of a baby pineapple are when you see a small cone appearing. You can begin to pick the fruit from the garden when the pineapple is about the same size as the one you planted and when it turns in a completely yellow in color.

Tips

Once you have planted your pineapple fruit, it is important to water the fruit regularly and also put some water on its leaves. However, watering must be done lightly and there must be no chance given for sogginess in the roots. Fertilize the plant suing fertilizer, twice a month, when it is spring and summer. After a year has passed by, it is best to re-pot the Pineapple plant so that it can continue to grow without becoming root-bound.

 

Chris is the writer of this article, you can visit us for more information on How to Plant Pineapple and How to Grow a Pineapple Stem.

 

Jan 19

Growing Organic Asparagus

Fresh Asparagus

Amazing Asparagus Factoids

Asparagus historically was classified a member of the lily family, along with onions and garlic. It now has its own family classification. The native areas for growing asparagus are in Spain, Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany. If you’re concerned about your health, growing asparagus is a great low-calorie source of folate and potassium. Peru loves growing asparagus; it lead the world in asparagus exports. The United States also loves eating asparagus; it was the leading importer as of 2004.

When to Plant

You can grow asparagus from “crowns” or seeds. Most gardeners start with crowns as seed take an additional year to harvest. Growing asparagus from crowns takes 2 to 3 years before you’ll be able to harvest; about 3 to 4 years from seed (which is why most gardeners choose crowns). You can plant asparagus crowns a 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost. Asparagus is a hardy plant and will survive most winters. It’s a good practice, though, to mulch your asparagus in the fall with straw for a little extra insurance. In the Southern climates, you can plant asparagus in the late fall and starting around mid to late January. While it’s not necessary, you can start seeds or crowns indoors (see “Starting Asparagus Indoors” below) 12 weeks before the last frost.

Where to Plant

Asparagus loves sunlight, but can survive some shade. It should have at least 8 hours a day of sunlight. Asparagus also likes cool weather the best. It will tend to bolt (go to seed) if it gets too warm too quickly in the spring. The ideal growing temperature for growing asparagus is 60° to 65°F. As asparagus doesn’t mind competing with weeds and grasses (which also help keep the soil cool), planting it along a fence line or on an edge of your garden works well. Asparagus is not a swamp grass, so it likes well-drained soil when possible. In our area our soil is a little heavier, but has a lot of small rocks, so the soil drains well and is ideal for growing asparagus. Planting asparagus around the edge of a garden or lining a fence is the perfect place for them in order to receive a good amount of sunlight without disturbing any other landscaping possibilities in your garden.

Preparing the Soil

Ideal pH levels for soil that asparagus is growing it is 6.5 to 7.5. Asparagus will not grow in soils with a pH of less than 6.0. Asparagus loves nitrogen. Some good sources of organic nitrogen is composted manure, especially chicken manure (organic if available) and bone meal (add 10 to 20 lbs. per 100 square feet). Because asparagus needs to develop a strong root system, it needs significant amounts of phosphorus. Good sources for organic phosphorus are bone meal or rock phosphates. Asparagus also likes a good supply of potassium. Compost (with banana peels if you have them), wood ash (particularly hardwood), and granite dust are good organic sources of potassium. If you’re starting in a fresh garden area, it should be noted that a planting of asparagus can last up to 20 years, so you’ll want to apply generous amounts of the above soil supplements prior to planting asparagus. If you are able, plant in an area free of Johnson’s grass (quack grass) as weed control becomes difficult once your asparagus is planted; and it may be in the same spot as long as 20 years.

Choosing the right Seed Varieties for your Area

As Asparagus rust can be a problem in some areas, check with your county extension to see if you need to plant rust-resistant varieties like Viking KB3, Jersey Giant, and Martha Washington. Asparagus Crown Rot is another problem that you should check with your county extension on. The Jersey Giant, Viking KB3, Jersey Knight, and other “Jersey” family asparagus are all resistant to the rot.

Seeds and Germination

Asparagus seeds are good for up to three years after you’ve initially purchased them. To get your asparagus seeds to germinate more quickly for planting indoors, pre-soak them in water or a compost tea (compost mixed with water). [The USDA recommends a water temperature of 85° to 90°F for 4 to 5 days].

Once you’ve soaked your seeds, plant them immediately in flats or individual pots. The best soil temperature for germination is about 70° to 77°F. They should come up in about 10 to 12 days at this temperature. Asparagus seeds will germinate in 53 days at 50°F, 24 days at 59°F, and 15 days at 68°F. Germination times begin to increase above 77°F. If you’re planting seeds in your garden, the best temperature range for your soil is around 60° to 65°F.

Getting Started Indoors

Although asparagus is a cool-weather plant and it’s really not necessary to plant it indoors, we like to offer you the option to do so with these simple instructions. I covered a bit of how to start indoors in the section immediately above this on germinating your seeds. This will give you additional information. You can soak your seeds per the USDA recommendation (if you trust your government to know best) for 4 or 5 days. Others recommend planting the seeds in potting soil after soaking just a couple hours. Either should work.

Don’t use garden soil for potting soil to start your plants as it may have weed seed and/or bacteria that may become harmful to your plants at the warmer inside temperatures. Make sure your potting soil has a pH balance of 6.5 to 7.5. If you need to bring it up quickly, add lime to the soil. Add sulphur if you need to lower it. While you can plant asparagus seeds in flats, small peat pots are preferable as you can plant the whole pot directly in the soil. This leaves the roots undisturbed and your plant will have less shock when transplanted.

CONTAINER GARDENING ASPARAGUS

We’ve had questions about growing asparagus in containers. If you live in an area where you can’t garden, this is an option to consider. If you’re going to grow asparagus in a container, you need to make sure you’ve got lots of room for asparagus’ roots. A 5-gallon bucket is about as small as you’d want to go…maybe too small of diameter. The recommended area for the roots of one containerized asparagus plant is 20″ x 20″ – I can’t verify this to be true as we’ve not planted asparagus in containers and are relying on outside information on this topic.

If you do use a plastic container or bucket, drill several 1/2″ holes in the bottom and a couple on the sides (opposite of each other), so the water will drain well. On the bottom of the container, put a couple inches of small stones, then add your potting soil on top of that. The next section will tell you how to plant your seeds in pots or in your garden.

PLANTING SEEDS

Plant your asparagus seeds about 1/2″ deep in a peat pot, container, or in your garden. If you want one plant, plant two seeds. Usually you’ll have at least one seed germinate. If both germinate, cut the other off at soil level to reduce your plants to one. Pre-sprouting seeds is a useful option as well…place your seeds between damp paper towels and put them in a Zip Lock-type bag and place in an area that remains at about 70°F. The seeds will germinate at about 10 to 14 days.

After the seeds have germinated, move to a cool, light area like a windowsill, but out of direct sunlight. If two plants come up, remove one carefully or cut it off at the dirt level.

Transplanting Seedlings to Your Garden

To acclimate your asparagus plants to the outdoors, once the threat of frost is past, take your plants out-of-doors for a couple weeks during the daytime. This is called “hardening off” your plants and helps prepare them for transplanting. Once the threat of frosts are over they will need to be gradually accustomed to conditions outside – this known as ‘hardening off’ and can take between 2-3 weeks.

Initially you’ll want to put them in the shade most of the day, but gradually increase the amount of sunlight they’re getting. Keep the soil moist but not wet. You may note that as you move them in and out, leaves may yellow and drop. This is normal as your plants are getting ready to put on new leaves that are more suited to the outdoors.

After a couple of weeks, transplant your seedlings to the garden. If you’ve used peat pots (recommended), cut the bottoms off, dig a small hole, and put the entire pot in the hole.If you’ve used a flat, remove the plant with the soil intact as carefully as possible so as not to disturb the roots and place carefully in the small hole you’ve created; backfill and press the dirt firmly around the plant.

Asparagus Growing in the Garden

PLANTING ASPARAGUS CROWNS IN YOUR GARDEN

If you’ve chosen to plant asparagus crowns, purchase one-year old crowns as they’re less prone to breakage than older crowns. A good-quality one year old crown should have 8 to 10 roots and a healthy bud cluster will give you good potential to harvest some asparagus the following year. Plant the crowns in the early spring 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost. To plant your asparagus crown, soak the roots in warm water for a couple of hours.

Lightly trim the roots (they can be quite tangled). Dig either a trench or a series of 12″ deep holes – the plants should end up about 18″ apart. Mix compost, bone meal, manure, and other soil supplements into the dirt that will be put back into around the roots, and/or in the bottom of the hole. Remove any dead or rotted roots from the crown; place the crown bud side up in the hole and spread the roots out. Mounding the dirt up in the trench will help when spreading out the roots. Pack dirt around the roots, then cover the crown with 2 to 3 inches of soil. If there is still some room in the trench, add dirt over the asparagus gradually through the summer as the crowns will tend to rise.

Direct Planting (planting seeds directly into garden bed)

If you want to plant your asparagus seeds directly in the garden, add your supplements to the soil and till or spade them in. Soak your seeds for 48 hours between wet paper towels in a Zip Lock-type bag. If you can, keep the temperature at about 85°F during the 48 hours. Plant your seeds 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost. The seeds will germinate, albeit slowly at this time of spring.

Plant your seeds about 3 inches apart: plant 3 tight rows about 15 to 18″ apart, then plant your next triple row about 4 to 5 feet away if you are going to grow a lot of asparagus. When you put soil over your seeds, make sure it is moist and packed in around the seeds well and that the soil doesn’t dry out. If you want to harvest asparagus at variable times, you can plant the crowns at different depths; (3 inches, 4 to 6 inches, 6 to 8 inches, 8 to 10 inches). Mulching half of your asparagus can also accomplish this; the exposed soil will warm up more quickly and the asparagus will come up faster.

Growing Your Asparagus

Once your seedlings have emerged, thin your plants to 12″ to 14″ apart. Adding mulch over your asparagus will help control the weeds and keep the soil moist as well as adding nutrients to the soil. It is a best practice not to harvest any asparagus for the first couple of years; this allows the roots to become well-established. Asparagus will grow “ferns” during these first couple of years. These ferns are receptors for photosynthesis and are what will help give you asparagus spears next year.

Asparagus is considered to be drought-resistant because of its deep roots. However, good moisture levels in the soil will reward you with a better crop. Throughout the year, continue adding composted vegetable and manure waste to your asparagus for better results next year. In the fall, after the frost, cut or mow the tops of your asparagus to 2 inch stubs when the foliage has turned yellow and the before the red berries fall off the plants.

When you’re growing asparagus, when the ferns are growing in the summer, spray them with a liquid organic leaf spray fertilizer. We highly recommend these sprays as they naturally stimulate your garden plants to produce more plant sugar in the photosynthesis process. That in turn creates a more robust plant, more produce from your garden, and better and sweeter flavor from your crops. And they have a really good warranty!

Weeding and Mulching

We’ve discussed using mulch for delaying harvest, retaining soil moisture, and weed control. How much and what types can be used? We prefer barley straw as we have a ready and inexpensive supply in our area. You can also use grass clippings or chopped up leaves. Hay isn’t a good option as it’s full of weed seed. I recommend 3 to 4 inches of straw mulch, and 2 to 3 inches of grass clippings applied 2 or 3 times during the growing season. This will vary by the length of your growing season.

If you want to speed up harvest on half of your asparagus, as mentioned above, remove the mulch in order to warm up the soil. Don’t till around your asparagus to control weeds. If you use a hoe, stay back from the plants at least 6 inches and hoe just the surface. Hand-pull any weeds that are closer to the plants. Asparagus is salt-tolerant, however, the practice using salt to control weeds is not recommended.

Watering

Asparagus does best with drip irrigation, but if this isn’t an option, water heavily in the morning when your soil appears dry; the plants have time to dry out completely by afternoon. Watering in the morning will help your asparagus not to develop fungus-related diseases. You should water 1 to 2 inches at least once a week during the summer heat; mulching, as mentioned before, also helps keep the soil cool and retains moisture. Don’t overwater or underwater asparagus.

Stop watering asparagus in October and November to make the plants turn yellow and go dormant. By the time asparagus is 4 years old, it has developed a root system that can go as deep as 48″. You can irrigate every 2 or 3 weeks, but water heavily enough to get down to those roots.

Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations

Plants that play well with asparagus:

Marigolds, parsley and basil help control asparagus beetles (more on that in the “Pests” section below). Parsley is also said to invigorate asparagus. Dill aids in controlling spider mites and aphids. Coriander is also helpful in repelling aphids, spider mites, and potato beetles. Comfrey helps to build calcium, phosphorus, and potassium in the soil. It also helps control slugs, and is said to be a good compost activator. Tomatoes are probably one of the best companions for asparagus. The tomato plant repels the asparagus beetle, and asparagus repels harmful root nematodes that affect tomatoes.

Plants that don’t play well with asparagus:

Onions, garlic, and potatoes attract the wrong sorts of insects and predators to hang out in your asparagus patch. You don’t really need to worry about rotating your asparagus crop except every 20 years or so. Pay close attention to the ground before you plant it though.

When to Harvest

When asparagus stalks reach anywhere from 6 to 9 inches, cut them at or slightly below the soil level; definitely harvest them before they flower. You can also snap the spears off to harvest them; bend them with a quick motion by grasping near the base of the spear. Don’t harvest anything the first year, lightly the second year, then go for it on the third year. Add a year to the previous if you’re planting from seed. Asparagus harvest lasts about 8 weeks; harvest daily. If you don’t, the spears will become tough and inedible.

Pick your asparagus patch clean so those nasty little asparagus beetles don’t have any place to lay their nasty little eggs. At the end of harvesting, large ferns will develop from any remaining spears…these will strengthen the plants for next years harvest.

Storage

It’s best to cool your asparagus as rapidly as possible once you’ve harvest it (harvesting in the morning is also desirable if possible). An ice-water bath is an effective way to cool asparagus rapidly. Fill your sink with water and ice; when you’ve picked your asparagus, place it in the ice-cold water to rapidly cool it. After cooling your asparagus, refrigerate it; it will keep for 2 to 3 weeks at 35° to 40°F. It goes bad quickly over 40°F. Asparagus can be blanched and frozen, canned, and pickled. Jenny pickles asparagus and it’s a family favorite during the holiday season.

Preventative and Natural Solutions to Common Pests and Problems

Pests: the worst insects when you’re growing asparagus are the asparagus beetle, the spotted asparagus beetle, and the asparagus aphid. Asparagus beetles are common wherever asparagus is grown; adults and larvae both feed on the spears in the spring and damage the crop, then defoliate the ferns in the summer which affects the crop the following year.

Defoliation by asparagus beetles can also make asparagus susceptible to fungal diseases like fusarium. They show up about the time the asparagus does in the spring and cause asparagus to turn brown, scar, or bend over. Asparagus beetles are about a quarter of an inch long, oval, with antennae. They’re kind of bluish-black and has 6 beige-colored spots on its back.

Adult spotted asparagus beetles are more common in the Eastern U.S., but are pretty much the same as far as what they do to your asparagus, but the larvae doesn’t do much damage to the spears as it feeds on the berries later in the year. They’re about the same size as the asparagus beetle, but they’re reddish-orange with a dozen black spots on their backs. They look a bit like ladybugs, but ladybugs have variable quantities of spots.

So, how do you control these little pests? If you’re able to, you can let your hens forage on the beetles. Organic pyrethrins are also effective against the asparagus beetles. If you have a small patch, you can patrol your patch daily and pick the little buggers and their eggs by hand and drop them in a pail of soapy water. You could also introduce natural predators such as the chalcid wasp or ladybug larvae. The asparagus aphid comes from Europe; it first showed up in the U.S. in 1969, and is pretty much all over North America now. The asparagus aphic causes “witches broom;” a stunted, bushy growth. However, they’re not difficult to control with pyrethrins or insecticidal soap sprays.

Environmental Factors

The most common diseases found in asparagus are purple spot, asparagus rust, and asparagus crown rot. Asparagus rust causes rusty orange to yellowish spots on asparagus stems after the harvest. Asparagus rust is caused by disease with a long Latin name. The upshot is that at first there’s some light green lesions early in the season. These are followed by tan-colored blisters, and finally black blisters that protrude later in the season, usually after harvest.

Severe rust infections can kill or stunt asparagus shoots, reducing the asparagus’ plants ability to gather strength for the next season’s crop. If you rub your hand across the asparagus stalk, and it turns orange, your plants have rust. The best way to control rust is to plant varieties that are resistant before you have problems: Viking KB3, Martha Washington, and Jersey Giant are a few varieties that are rust-resistant. Asparagus crown rot is caused by a fungus with another long Latin name, but the short version is Fusarium and it causes blight in the asparagus crown.

You’ll suspect your plants are infected with Fusarium if your asparagus wilts in the summer heat, turns yellow before fall, or just dies. If the crowns turn brown, and on further investigation you find the roots are also decaying, your plants have been infected. The best way to control this disease is to choose varieties that are resistant to it; a couple of names are Jersey Giant and Viking KB3. Lastly, purple spot disease on asparagus plants is caused by yet another long Latin name. It seems to me if they’d stop using these long Latin names we wouldn’t be having these problems with these diseases (that’s a joke…hahaha).

Purple spot disease shows up as, you guessed it – purple spots! Usually on harvested spears. It lives through the winter, but appears as black spots on the dead ferns. Purple spot disease tends to multiply during wet years. To get rid of purple spot disease; remove, burn, bury, or destroy crop debris in the fall.

Barry Brown is a 3rd generation organic gardeners who is passionate about a sustainable and natural lifestyle. His personal standards for organic living far exceeds USDA certification, which he believes is more about money than food quality and purity.

[http://www.organicgardenmiracle.com]

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com

Jan 17

Growing Organic Sage

Sage

SAGE ADVICE

Garden Sage, or Common Sage, is a member of the mint family. There are over 800 family members.

In Medieval Times, growing sage for medicinal and culinary purposes was common. It’s Latin family name, Salvia, means “to save” or “salvation” and is also the root word of salve, indicating its high repute as a medicinal herb back as far as the Greek empire.

If you’re growing sage plants today, they’re about 2 feet tall and 2 feet in diameter and have flowers that range from cream to purple.

WHEN TO PLANT SAGE

When you’re growing sage, plan on about 75 to 80 days from the time you plant until the harvesting time.

Sage plants mature in about two years although you can harvest leaves in the first year.

If you live in a cooler climate region, it’s a good idea to mulch your plants to help them survive the cold winters.

Sage can be started from fresh seeds around your last frost date or indoors 8 weeks ahead of your last frost date. Ideally your ground temperature should be about 60°F.

WHERE TO PLANT

In Northern climates, sage can be planted in full sun, but in Southern climates, it will thrive best in morning sun and afternoon shade.

Sage prefers well-drained soil. If you’re in a wet climate area, consider using raised beds.

It does not need ideal soil though, and thrives in a wide range of soil conditions. Some gardeners say that if the soil conditions are poor it creates better flavors in sage.

Sage does like a good supply of nitrogen, though.

PREPARING THE SOIL

The ideal pH for growing sage is around 6.0 to 6.5, although it will grow quite well in soils with a pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.8.

As stated above, sage does like plenty of nitrogen. Nitrogen is what makes plants green and aids in photosynthesis.

Nitrogen also helps the plant to grow more rapidly, increases seed and fruit production, and improves the plant and leaf quality.

To plant sage, cultivate the soil to a depth of 12 to 18 inches, then smooth and level it. Feel free to add lots of compost or composted manure to the soil and mix it in.

As mentioned before, the sage will have stronger flavor if it’s not over-fertilized, so after the initial supplementation, you shouldn’t need to fertilize sage again.

CHOOSING SAGE VARIETIES FOR YOUR AREA

Sage averages about 2 feet tall by 2 feet in diameter, but can grow up to 50% larger than that size if left to grow, so review your space availability.

There are several varieties of sage, so check with your local seed store with which varieties accomplish what (medicinal or culinary, etc.).

There are also disease resistant strains of sage available. Check with your county extension and local seed store for advice on which varieties will be best for your area.

SEEDS AND GERMINATION

Sage seeds need to be fresh. They don’t store well, so use what you buy or throw away the extra seeds.

However, plant more seeds than you need as you’ll typically get only about 40% germination.

Sage seeds germinate best between 60° and 70°F; at this range the seeds should germinate in about 2 to 3 weeks.

If you’re starting your seeds indoors, you can plant them under fluorescent lamps, or better yet under high output fluorescent lights, compact fluorescent, or high intensity discharge lamps (metal halide or high pressure sodium).

Standard fluorescent lamps should be about 4 inches above your seed containers, and high output lights about 12 inches above the containers.

It’s also considered a best practice to have an oscillating fan stir your seedlings a couple hours daily to make your plants stronger.

Covered planting trays are optimal as it keeps your plants in a humid environment; spray your plants with a fine mist.

You can also use root cuttings to plant in your herb garden after the last frost. Lay your sage branches so they contact the soil; they’ll take root if the soil is properly moistened.

SAVING SAGE SEEDS

Sage seed pods look like bells. They’ll turn a dark gray to brown color when fully developed and you can pop the ends of the bells open to get to the seeds.

You can pick the seed pods when they’re ripe and dry them in a warm, dry, and well-ventilated area.

Once the bells are dry, open them up and remove the seeds. Usually there’s just a few seeds per bell.

STARTING SAGE PLANTS INDOORS

You can plant sage indoors in most any sterile potting mix, or create your own mix. You can ask your local garden supply for “recipes” to create your own mix.

It’s never a recommended practice to use your own garden soil for starting your sage plants due to weed seeds and the potential for bacteria or fungi to be present in your soils that might attack your seedlings.

Garden soil may also retain too much moisture, causing your plants to drown. Potting mixes are formulated to stay moist but not wet.

You can also plant sage in containers. You should use at least a two gallon container for your plants to allow the roots freedom to grow as much as needed.

You can use a wide array of containers for your sage plants from plastic (not recommended but I won’t judge you negatively if you use it!), wooden crates or boxes, decorative pots, or terracotta pots.

The best pot for cooler climates is terracotta as it retains heat for longer in the evenings than your other choices. They also absorb moisture which keeps the soil warmer as well.

If you use the other choices, make sure there are enough drainage holes so your sage doesn’t drown.

Some container gardeners use a fiberglass mesh inside the pot over the holes to keep pests out of the drain holes.

When you plant your sage seeds, plant them very close to the surface, about one quarter inch deep and about an inch apart.

Because sage seeds have a relatively low germination rate – about 40% – you may want to plant about 4 seeds per cell or container you want 1 seed to survive in.

When your plants are about 1 inch tall if in a flat or 3 inches in a pot, cut off the smaller plants with a scissor, leaving the strongest plant.

When 2.5cm/1″ high thin/transplant to 1 plant per 7.5cm/3″ pot.

TRANSPLANTING YOUR SAGE PLANTS OUTDOORS

About 2 weeks before your last frost danger, start taking your plants outside during the daytime…this is known as “hardening off.”

If your plants are containerized, just move the containers out in the mornings and back in the evenings until the final spring frost, then leave the plants on the patio or wherever you’re placing them.

Sage is ready to transplant once the plants have at least 2 to 4 pairs of true leaves; they should be about 3 inches tall.

Once your plants are hardened off, and you’re ready to plant them in your herb garden, flower bed, or garden, slide the plants and dirt out of their containers very carefully and place them in your pre-dug holes 12 to 18 inches apart, carefully pressing the dirt around the root mass and potting soil.

If you planted your sage in peat pots, cut the bottoms out of the pots and plant the entire pot in the soil intact.

PLANTING SAGE DIRECTLY IN YOUR GARDEN

Sage Plant

When planting sage seeds directly to your garden, wait until about 2 weeks before the last frost.

Make your rows at least 24 inches apart, and plant seeds every 3 or 4 inches about one quarter inch deep in moist soil.

If you are starting your sage from root cuttings, lay the cuttings on the soil at about 12″ apart.

Once your seedlings are about 3 inches tall, thin them to 12″ to 18″ apart.

GROWING SAGE IN YOUR GARDEN SUCCESSFULLY

Once sage takes root, it should shoot up quite rapidly. Once the plants reach about 18 inches tall, trim about 6 inches from the top; do this a couple times during the growing season as it encourages the plants to become bushier.

You can start harvesting the first year, but don’t over-pick your leaves or you may kill your plants. Never pick more than half the leaves, and in the first year probably no more than a quarter of the leaves.

Stop harvesting leaves in the early fall to allow the plants time to harden off for winter.

Starting in its second year, trim your sage bush down to 4 to 6 inches in the early spring. Over time the bush will become woody; split the bush in two every 3 or 4 years and replant to invigorate the bushes.

Sage doesn’t really need to be fertilized, but if you want to spray it with a liquid organic leaf spray fertilizer like Organic Garden Miracle™ we’ve seen good results from this product. It creates more robust plants with better flavor with pretty much everything we’ve used it on.

If you live in an area like we live in, you may have winters that can get as cold as -15°F like we did this winter. It’s a good idea to mulch your sage to help it survive the bitter cold.

MULCHING & WEEDING

When you’re sage plants are young, be careful not to pull weeds to close to your plants; cut them off with a scissor so as not to damage the roots.

As your plants become established you’ll find you can pull pretty much any weed close to your plant without damaging it.

You can use a light mulch of straw around your sage plants to suppress weeds, but don’t overdo it as sage isn’t a big water user, and it’s better to keep the soil a bit to the dry side.

WATERING SAGE

Sage needs more water when the plants are younger. Water a couple times per week.

Once your plants are well established, only water when it’s very dry and hot. Sage prefers less water than more, and the flavor improves with less water (kind of like soup).

Overhead watering is fine with sage as mildews and other fungal diseases are generally not an issue.

Too much water will drown the roots, but if your soil drains well this shouldn’t be problematic.

COMPANION PLANTING AND ROTATION CONSIDERATIONS

Growing sage is beneficial to broccoli, cauliflower, rosemary, cabbage, and carrots.

It deters cabbage moths, flea beetles, carrot flies, and other pesky beetles as well.

Sage flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects that are good pollinators.

Growing sage enhances the growth of tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, and cabbage.

Sage inhibits the growth of cucumbers and causes a bitter flavor in them.

Sage and onions can affect each others flavor.

Rue is poisonous to both sage and basil.

Sage should be split or replaced every 3 to 4 years, but can be planted in the same areas.

WHEN TO HARVEST SAGE

Sage leaves are best harvested before sage flowers bloom.

Don’t harvest more than about 25% of the leaves after your plants are well-established the first year, and in subsequent years never take more than half of the leaves.

Depending on the variety of sage, plants are mature between 12 and 36 inches in height.

To harvest you can also cut about 6 or 8 inches from the tops of the plants and dry them.

Harvest during the time of day after the dew has evaporated but before the sun gets too hot or the flavor won’t be as pungent.

You can cut the leaves off or pinch them off.

Don’t harvest sage during the cold months. If you live in a warmer climate, you can harvest sage year around, you lucky devils!

SAGE STORAGE

You can dry sage leaves, then put them in airtight jars for storage in a cool, dark place.

Fresh sage is good for about a week in the fridge, but it starts to lose flavor within 2 or 3 days.

One of the best ways to keep sage fresh is to freeze it in Zip Lock-type bags or airtight glass jars.

PREVENTATIVE AND NATURAL SOLUTIONS TO COMMON PESTS AND PROBLEMS

The main pest that afflicts sage is spider mites.

Spider mites are very tiny and appear as red specks on your sage. Heavy infestations of spider mites will destroy leaves.

If the spider mites get to profuse, you can use diatomaceous earth, pyrethrins, or organic insecticidal soaps. Dust or spray your plants weekly until the problem disappears.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS

Root Rot is an occasional issue with sage, but only happens in heavy soil that doesn’t drain well. It’s fairly simple to avoid by planting in dryer and sunnier locations where the soil drains well.

Powdery mildew may also infect sage. It appears as a white fuzzy coating on the upper leaves that will kill the infected leaves.

Don’t over-water your sage plants and water early in the day when you do. Don’t crowd your plants to tightly.

You can also make an organic fungicide spray using bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). In a gallon of water add a couple drops of organic olive oil, a couple drops of environmentally-friendly liquid soap, and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Spray it on your sage leaves to effectively control fungal diseases.

Damping off is another fungus that can cause your seeds to rot or kill your seedlings before they emerge from the soil, or cause the base of the stem to rot causing the seedling to fall over and die.

If you use sterilized potting soil, sterilized containers, on clean water on your plants, you shouldn’t have this problem. Don’t overwater your plants.

Barry Brown is a 3rd generation organic gardeners who is passionate about a sustainable and natural lifestyle. His personal standards for organic living far exceeds USDA certification, which he believes is more about money than food quality and purity.

[http://www.organicgardenmiracle.com]

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com