August 18th, 2015
August in the Garden
At least a dozen times a week lately, the word “process” is spoken in our house. With this heat wave, the veggies are coming in fast & furious so that means processing what we can’t eat now so we that have organic produce for later in the year. Unfortunately, both methods of processing require boiling water and lots of it! So when it’s 90 and humid outside, it’s even hotter and more humid in the kitchen. Complaining aside, it is all very… worth it
The first method we use is to prep the veggies for freezing by immersing them in boiling water for a specific amount of time. This is called blanching and is necessary when you plan to freeze most vegetables. Blanching stops all of the enzyme growth which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture. The second part of this process is to submerge the produce into an ice water bath which chills the vegetables so that they will no longer be cooking. Blanching also removes any remaining soil or insects from the produce, brightens the color and helps lessen the loss of vitamins. It also softens vegetables making it easier to pack them into containers or freezer bags.
So here’s a step by step:
1. Wash the vegetables, peel if needed (carrots, beets) and then cut them into same size pieces. Some won’t need to be cut (edamamme pods, lima beans, pea pods).
2. Choose a pot that will accommodate 1 gallon of water and 1 pound of vegetables. Always blanch the vegetables in small batches like this so that the correct amount of cooking heat is realized. Add about a teaspoon of salt for every gallon of water. The salt helps the vegetables maintain their color and it also keeps them from getting too mushy. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil.
3. Put the vegetables in a steamer basket and lower it into the boiling water. Do not cover the pot. This will cause boil-over’s and also trap some of the acids released by the vegetables during cooking which will cause the vegetables to become limp and deteriorate in color. When the water returns to a full boil, set the timer. Most vegetables require 3 minutes of cooking but to be sure, a good chart for recommended times can be found at this site….. http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/blanching.html
4. While waiting for the cooking process to finish, fill a large bowl with cold water and add a good amount of ice to it. I use 1/2 ice and 1/2 water. When the timer goes off, remove the basket with vegetables from the pan and pour the vegetables into the ice water bath. Let them sit for the same amount of time they were cooked for. Remove any remaining ice cubes, drain the vegetables well and lay them out on a clean towel to absorb moisture before immediately packing them into freezer containers / bags.
On a side note, you can also steam vegetables instead of boiling them but it takes about 1½ times longer than water blanching and believe you me, the less time I have to spend in a hot kitchen the better! Also, with steaming you lose the added opportunity and benefit of adding salt to the water. Using a microwave to process vegetables can also be done but research has shown that it may not be as effective at stopping the enzymatic deterioration which causes loss of flavor, color and texture.
On a second side note, for those of you who don’t have your own garden plot…there are options Many garden centers sell produce, local farmers markets are becoming more widespread, roadside farm stands are in full swing now and CSA’s (community supported agriculture) are becoming more and more popular. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to support local and eat healthy at the same time!!
Sooo, at the beginning of this blog I said that we use 2 methods of processing to preserve the fruits of our labor. Stayed tuned to find out what the 2nd method is!
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August 10th, 2015
The Opening Act
Mid-July heralds in the most spectacular show of all pollinators, beautiful butterflies. It’s easy to attract them to your yard – just provide plants that offer nectar for the adults and foliage for their caterpillars to eat. The nectar-rich flowers in my yard that are in bloom now are below – bold indicates the plants getting the highest traffic:
Plants that attract butterflies
Angelonia, Bee Balm, Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly bush (Miss Molly is a magnet!), Butterfly Weed, Calibrachoa, Catmint, Chives, Cleome, Clover, Coneflower, Coreopsis, Daylily, Garden Sage, Gayfeather, Hollyhock, Impatiens, Lantana, Lavender, Lilies, Mallow, Mandevilla, Nicotiana, Oregano, Petunia, Phlox, Portulaca, Rose Campion, Roses, Russian Sage, Salvia, Snapdragons, Spiderwort, Sunflowers, Verbena, Yarrow and Zinnias (the Profusion series is incredible!).
A few tips for attracting butterflies:
- Offering a wide diversity of flowers will attract much more than just a few types of butterflies.
- By grouping many different flowers together, you will make it easier for them to access the nectar without having to expend too much energy.
- Mixing in host plants for the adults to lay their eggs on will provide hungry caterpillars with a readily available food source.
- One final note, because insecticides are non-specific, they will kill all insects (including butterflies) and should never be used in the garden.
Butterflies are not the only creatures that benefit from flowers. Hummingbirds, bees, moths, ants, wasps, birds, clearwing hummingbird moths and others assist in pollination and seed dispersal that is important for habitat success.
Plants that attract butterflies
Act II is just around the corner!
These late summer flowering plants will start to bloom later this month and into August: Agastache, Allium, Aster, Dahlia, Globe thistle, Goldenrod, Ironweed, Joe Pye weed, Obedient plant, Sedum, Sneezeweed and Verbena bonariensis. These flowering plants are high in nectar and irresistible to butterflies! So pull up a chair and enjoy the show!
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Plants that attract butterflies
July 8th, 2015
The last of the romaine and red-leaf lettuce are harvested and in the fridge awaiting the dinner table. The recent wave of hot temperatures caused the few remaining heads of lettuce in the raised bed garden to bolt (go to seed) and turn bitter tasting …. so into the compost pile they went. Every summer at this time, I resent having to buy organic lettuce when just a few weeks earlier, I couldn’t keep up with it! What about planting lettuce in the summer? Until now, I didn’t think it was an option but the thought of going lettuce-less for the summer drove me to do some research.
One of the best articles I read online was “Long Lived Lettuce” by Willi Evans Galloway found on www.rodalesorganiclife.com. According to the author, it is possible to grow a summer crop of lettuce despite the heat…no bolting or bitterness! Here are a few helpful hints from several of the articles I have researched:
- Choose a location that gets partial shade during the heat of the day. This can be shade provided by other taller vegetable plants (corn, tomatoes etc.) or a part of your garden that is shaded by a large shrub or tree. If no shade is available during the mid-day hours, just cover your lettuce with shade cloth or row cover once the seedlings are up.
- Start by applying a 1″ top-dress of an organic weed-free compost to your garden bed. Lettuce seeds are tiny and the plants have shallow root systems which do not compete well with the aggressive root systems of weeds that will sprout in garden soil. I’ll be using Quoddy Blend Lobster Compost as my top-dress.
- Utilize the cut-and-come-again method of growing loose-leaf lettuce rather than growing head lettuce. This is where the plants are clipped off an inch or so from the ground and the base of the plant regenerates leaves that will give you another harvest a couple of weeks later. Lettuce leaves harvested when they’re young will be more flavorful and tender. The older the plant is, the more tough and bitter it will be which is why growing head lettuce (a longer crop) in the summer is not a good choice.
- Lettuce seeds germinate in just a few days when the soil is around 70 degrees, but in the heat of the summer, the seed will go dormant. Your best bet for good seed germination is to purchase heat-tolerant varieties of leaf lettuce (Batavian varieties, Salad Bowl, Oakleaf, Black-seeded Simpson). Also, storing your lettuce seed in an airtight container in the refrigerator until sowing will help. Lastly, cool down the soil for a few days prior to planting by keeping it moist and covering it with wet burlap.
- You can also use spicy mesclun mix blends which will give you a lettuce garden full of colors, textures and flavors. Or just mix several lettuce types together before sowing.
- Rather than planting the lettuce in rows, scatter the seed loosely over a set area of the garden. They need light to germinate, so cover them with a very light layer of screened compost. Be sure to keep the soil surface moist at all times. When the seedlings reach 1 inch in height, thin them to about 1-2″ apart and side-dress with an organic fertilizer or alfalfa meal (a steady supply of nitrogen). This “non-row” method will mean that you won’t have to mulch because the lettuce will fill in the bed quickly to shade out weeds and keep the soil moist.
- You can also stagger your crops by dividing your bed into several sections and planting a new portion of the bed every 3 weeks.
- Keeping your lettuce beds watered is key. Bitterness and bolting not only develop in older plants but also in young plants that are water-starved and wilted.
- Once the leaves are 4-5″ tall, cut a handful at a time with scissors no less than one inch above the crown of the plant. You’ll have new leaves to harvest in 2 weeks or so! Each bed can usually be harvested in this manner 3-4 times (depending on the climate). Only harvest in the cool of the morning when the water content and flavor are at their peak!
I can’t wait to try this method and am hoping that you will be inspired to do as well. Imagine….. seed to salad in less than a month! And all summer long!!!
Happy Gardening from your friends at Coast of Maine!
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July 1st, 2015
July signals the end of planting season with all of the new plant additions safely tucked in to the garden beds. The next step is to mulch around the plants in order to cut down on time spent watering and weeding. If you’re looking for a better alternative to inferior bagged mulches offered by the mass merchants, try one of Coast of Maine’s enriching mulches. Inexpensive bagged mulches are often not aged long enough and can rob nitrogen from your soil and plants. Dark Harbor and Fundy Blend enriching mulch contain fully composted dark bark that is safe to use on your garden beds. Fundy Blend has the addition of kelp meal which adds valuable micro-nutrients and helps to retain moisture in the soil. The compost portion of these enriching mulches will condition the soil and add much needed organic nutrients while the bark portion will suppress weed seed germination, retain moisture and prevent soil erosion. Two products in one bag! Click here to find an independent garden center near you that carries Coast of Maine enriching mulches. By Sue Lavallee
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June 5th, 2015
I spent many hours this spring researching Kelp Meal, Fish Bone Meal, Lobster & Crab Meal and Alfalfa Meal. The reason? Because this summer, Coast of Maine will add these organic supplements to their product line!!!! You can’t believe how excited I am!! During my research, the topic of foliar feeding kept popping up. Foliar feeding is the practice of applying liquid fertilizers to the plants foliage. It’s a relatively new idea that is quickly catching on with, not only home gardeners, but farmer’s market gardeners, vineyard growers, golf course managers and commercial farmers. Foliar sprays are a highly efficient way to fertilize and are extremely fast acting. Now that I have learned about the practice and resulting benefits, I’m really excited to try this out for the first time! At this moment I am steeping kelp meal tea which will be ready to use in two more days. I’m calling it my witches brew and can’t wait to see it’s magical effects! I’m planning to apply it to certain crops every 3 weeks and will keep you posted.
Studies have shown that spraying the foliage vs. watering in can be up to 20 times more effective as a way to supply nutrients to your plants.
Here are some of the benefits that research has shown.
• Spraying nutrients on fruit-setting crops like tomatoes and cucumbers will not only increase yields but will also increase their storage life.
• Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, kale and chard will mature more quickly.
• Liquid kelp applications will help to: reduce aphid and red spider mite attacks, control botrytis on strawberries and control powdery mildew on squash, cucumber and watermelon vines.
Here’s the recipe that you can use for kelp tea:
Mix ¼ cup of kelp meal into 1gallon water, let it steep for a few days (stirring it daily to introduce oxygen). Strain the solids out using cloth or nylon so that it won’t clog your sprayer. The leftover kelp solids can then be used around plants or added to your compost pile. Apply it on cloudy days, preferably in the morning, when no rain is forecasted. Temperatures must be below 80°F and be sure to spray the ‹‹‹‹
The lowly, often despised, slimy slug. How can something that moves so slowly wreak so much havoc on my lettuce plants? Not to mention hosta, basil, Million Bells, petunias, zinnias…on and on. And it seems like the damage happens overnight. There are several options for organic slug control. One involves getting up shortly after dawn, when the dew still blankets the garden, and hand-picking the little buggers. Eewww! Not only are the slugs happily foraging at that time, but the mosquitoes are too. Not my idea of an idyllic morning spent in the garden…been there done that! Another option is to bury small containers around the slug’s all-you-can-eat-buffet crops (level with the soil line) and fill them with beer. The slugs find the beer to be irresistible (who doesn’t?) and will eventually drown (death by beer). Too tedious of a task for me and what a waste of a good IPA. The best option for me is to use an organic slug bait control that contains iron phosphate which is safe to use around people, pets, fish, birds, beneficial insects, and animals. Iron phosphate is an organic compound that is found naturally in the soil, and, if the bait is not consumed by slugs, the material breaks down into fertilizer for your plants! You can also safely use iron phosphate around food crops and berry gardens right up to the day of harvest.
While at an industry trade show this past winter, I stopped at a bulb vendor’s booth to scope out new varieties and to ask a few questions. One of my questions was “Is it really necessary to deadhead daffodils?” Each spring I’ve spent countless hours removing the spent blooms so that the production of seeds won’t take the energy away from the bulb. I was thrilled to learn that it is not necessary! Most daffodil varieties are hybrids which won’t produce any seeds. Even if they did, cutting the flower stem, which also photosynthesizes, will rob the plant of some of its energy production potential. Makes sense to me! I’ve seen large fields filled with naturalized daffodils that are never deadheaded, yet remain productive year after year. Time to make a change!
One of the best things about June is that we are harvesting some of the fruits of our labor. Luscious strawberries, buttery spinach, crisp lettuce and my personal favorite ….peas! The variety that I’m hooked on is Early Frosty which is a non-GMO heirloom shelling pea. The sturdy vines only reach 2 1/2 – 3 feet tall and produce non-stop! The sweetness of the peas is a-ma-zing and they freeze well. You really can’t say that you’ve had peas until you’ve tried them fresh from the garden. So please, give peas a chance
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May 4th, 2015
Perhaps the title above should be Mayhem in the Garden! Mother Natures’ mood swings and weather issues last month created chaos in my gardens. May will be spent mopping up all of the half finished and not-yet-started projects, but that’s OK with me. Any time I get to spend time in the gardens is a fun day in my book!
Nighttime temperatures plummeted to the upper 20’s towards the end of April and I had to scramble to protect some new transplants that were not hardened off yet from freezing. Here are some tips I’ve learned through trial and error.
• If only a frost or light freeze is forecasted, you may be able to protect tender plants by covering them with a sheet or a blanket. This acts like insulation, keeping the warm air from the ground around the plant. If the covering you’re using might cause damage to plant because of weight, then support the covering by placing stakes in the ground around the plant for support. The warmth may be enough to keep a plant from freezing during a short cold snap. You can also surround the plants with sheets of newspaper if you don’t have any spare sheets. Before covering them, tie up the plant as neatly as possible.
• If an outright freeze is predicted, place a plastic sheet or large plastic bag over the cloth or newspaper covers. This will prevent possible winds from whisking away the warmth through the cloth. Never cover plants with just plastic alone as the plastic is not enough to insulate the plant. Wherever the plastic touches the foliage, it will cause freeze damage. Make sure that a cloth or paper barrier is between the plastic and the plant.
• Another method of protection is to drive stakes that are as tall as the plant into the ground around the plant. Wrap burlap or cloth around the stakes so that the plant is surrounded. Stuff the inside of this enclosure with hay, crumpled newspapers or leaves for insulation.
- Be sure to remove the sheets and blanket and plastic in the morning after the temperature warms up.
I’ve learned (the hard way) how to figure out when it is safe to put out tender annuals and vegetables. A good rule of thumb for my northeastern 5b location is to wait until mid-May and then get the 10 day forecast. Cool, clear nights with low humidity, often following a cold front, are signs of an impending frost. I had always associated the full moon with an increased chance of frost until I read about a study done by Cornell University. They reviewed the weather records of four locations in the Northeast for the last 100 years and found that a full moon did not increase the chance of a frost. It was just as likely to occur when no moon was present as when the moon was full! I also wait until the end of the month before planting the heat-loving plants such as zinnias, salvia, geraniums, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant etc. Patience is not only a virtue, but a money-saver!
Think again if you’ve considered trying worm castings as an amendment to your garden beds but ended up not doing so. Two years ago I was contemplating ripping up my 15×25′ strawberry bed and starting from scratch with new bare root plants because the crop and berry size was not what it used to be. I followed up the harvest season of my June-bearing plants with an application of organic fertilizer and even so, the generation of new runners after fruiting was poor. I knew if I replanted the bed, I would have to forfeit the first year’s crop and the thought of going through an entire year without strawberries was not making me happy. I had read several articles about the benefits of using worm castings and decided to give it a go. I bought 4 bags and scattered the castings over the bed in early May the following year. The results were nothing short of amazing! Large-sized berries, improved crop yield and a boatload of runners bearing new plants in July.
Volumes have been written on the beneficial results from the use of worm castings as a soil amendment and in worm teas, and they continue to be studied by research universities around the world. Here are some of the benefits:
- Excellent in starting new plants from seed or transplants.
- Improves germination and reduces transplant shock.
- Improved root growth and plant rooting structure.
- Timely release of plant available nutrients (no risk of fertilizer burn).
- Improved soil structure and porosity for a better root environment.
- Improved soil water retention.
- Beneficial supply of microorganisms to the surrounding soil.
- Safe around kids and pets. Non-toxic and odorless. 100% organic.
- Great supply of water soluble nutrients to plants.
- Healthier growth, increased crop yields and increased disease resistance.
Spring is the worst time of year to take your birdfeeders down! Returning migratory birds are so exhausted and lean when they arrive, and then they have to find & defend their nesting territory, attract a mate and assist in nest building. Many birds rely on insects to make up the majority of their diet and, in early Spring, insects are not immediately plentiful. Leaving your feeders out will help them to be successful. Also, when the bird eggs hatch, the parents are in constant search of food that is high fat and protein for their babies. Baby birds also need calcium for strong bone development. I’d like to share a homemade suet recipe with you that is high in protein, calcium and essential nutrients and is perfect for adult birds and their offspring.
In a 6 quart microwaveable bowl, add 48 oz. (which is 3 lbs. or 5 cups) of peanut butter & the same amount of vegetable shortening. Microwave it for 5 minutes to melt it, then stir it with a whisk (because the peanut butter settles to the bottom). Stir in 3 cups of chick starter pellets (can be purchased at any farm & pet store). Gradually add in 12 cups of the following recipe for mixed seed……4 cups of sunflower hearts or chips, 4 cups of white proso millet and 4 cups of fine cracked corn. This mixed seed blend contains shelled sunflower seed and the corn and millet are small enough for young birds to digest. Store the suet in a cool place and only put out as much as will be consumed in a day. Once the weather warms up, the baby birds have fledged and the insects are plentiful, suspend feeding them the suet. This recipe will be too rich for them and you don’t want the suet to spoil in the hot temperatures. They’ll easily transition to the live insect protein that they need.
It has always been second nature for me to recycle and reuse. While working in the vegetable garden many springs ago, I was looking for plant stakes to mark out where I had just direct seeded some different varieties of beets, carrots and spinach. At the time, there were several cats running amuck through our household so I came up with the idea of cutting up cat litter jugs into plant stakes. Worked like a charm! You can also use discarded venetian blinds which are a lot less work to repurpose.
The lettuce plants I put in at the end of April are thriving! I used the sections of toilet tissue / paper towel tubes (see February in the Garden) to protect the stems of the young transplants and they have been protected for cutworm damage. I just side-dressed them with Lobster and Kelp Plant Food and placed leaf mulch around them to keep the moisture in the soil and prevent weeds. Cylindrical beets were sown into earthworm castings in the middle of this raised bed and when they are an inch high, I will fertilize and mulch them also.
Happy Gardening from your friends at Coast of Maine!
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April 1st, 2015
April is an amazing month as perennials and flowering bulbs emerge from the warming earth with fascinating speed. It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly plants grow from week to week. As I am writing this, there are still crusty patches of snow in the yard, it’s 32° outside and flurrying. When I walked through the yard yesterday picking up fallen branches for the bonfire, I noticed that the crocus, tulip and grape hyacinth foliage have already emerged. With mid-40’s to low 50’s predicted for this week, I know that by the upcoming first weekend in April, they will have grown another inch or two high. And before you know it, they’ll be bouquets of beauty!
Last Spring I made the decision not to plant pansies and violas in our container gardens and wall troughs. I just ran out of time and let the containers sit bare until the danger of frost was over so that I could plant summer flowering annuals. Well…after the winter that we’ve had….I can’t wait to see color in the yard! I’m on the lookout for my favorite varieties, especially Tiger Eyes (pictured on the right). It reminds me of the drawing game we had as kids….Spirograph…OK, dating myself here
This past weekend, I sowed some Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate (Persicaria orientalis) in six-packs. This is an old-fashioned annual flowering plant that Thomas Jefferson was fond of growing in his Monticello gardens. It’s a tall annual, usually topping out at 6-8 feet tall but I found a shorter, more compact variety from Select Seeds. ‘Cerise Pearls’ will reach 4-5 feet which will be the perfect height to mix them with Spider Flower (‘Cleome’). Both of them will self sow and attract pollinators en masse! Songbirds, especially cardinals, love to eat the seeds from mature flowers. The clusters of pink flowers that hang down from tall stems have a light fragrance and make great cut and dried flowers. KMOTGG needs a cold period in order to germinate and moisture because of the hard outer covering of the seed. After I planted the seeds and watered them in, I placed the six-pack in a baggie. Then into the fridge it went for a 30 day stay…well worth the wait! I can’t wait to grow these for the first time!!!
Two weeks ago I seeded State Fair Mix Zinnias. Our friend JenJen always grows them and brings us bouquets that last FOR…EV…ER!!!! They are also disease resistant, come in a wide array of colors, love the heat and attract butterflies, hummingbirds & hummingbird moths. They took only 5 days to sprout and are happy underneath the grow lights. I’m excited to grow them for ourselves this year and when they go to seed, we’ll have what we need to start plants for next year.
Being an avid birder, April is one of my favorite months. So many birds are returning….Phoebes, Catbirds, Wrens, Towhees, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Orioles, and one of my favorites…Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Scientific studies suggest that the return of migrating Hummingbirds coincides with the bloom time of our native wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). This wildflower offers an early and reliable source of nectar that is vital in assisting them to return to their breeding grounds. There are several clumps of this Columbine in our “Welcome Garden” and once you plant one, you’ll have many more because of their self-sowing ability. Here in northeast CT, the hummingbirds usually show up during the last 2 weeks of April. So around April 10th every year, I put up 4 feeders throughout the yard and then wait for the first sighting. For me, the anticipatory excitement never gets old, it’s like welcoming back an old friend and I am truly honored to have them return to nest on the property.
It’s easy to make your own Hummingbird food by mixing 4 cups of granulated sugar into 1 gallon of water and boiling it for several minutes until the sugar has dissolved. After it cools, I fill the feeders and the remainder goes into a gallon jug in the fridge. Feeders must be changed twice a week to ensure that the food doesn’t ferment. Never add red dye or honey to the liquid because it is harmful to Hummingbirds.
Yikes! The Prime-Ark Freedom bare root blackberries I ordered showed up at the end of last month and the ground was still frozen. Also my pile of used nursery pots was still deeply buried beneath a mound of snow. What to do? Reuse, recycle and repurpose The blackberry plants had long roots so even if I could get to my used pot pile, I probably wouldn’t have any that were tall enough. While I was soaking the roots in a bucket of water, an idea came to me. Why not use empty 2 liter club soda bottles? I cut off the top neck portion and then drilled drainage holes in the bottom portion for drainage. I used Penobscot Blend to plant them in and now, 2 weeks later, they have sprouted new growth. I’ve started putting them outside during the daytime to harden them off when the temperatures are mid-40’s or warmer. Now, a little bit of information on why I was so eager to obtain this variety. It’s a brand new release from the University of Arkansas and is the world’s first thornless (this is huge in my book!), primocane-fruiting blackberry. Primocane-fruiting blackberries flower and fruit on new branches each season. Prime-Ark Freedom fruits very early in the season, and where the climate is suitable (zones 6-8), fruits again in the fall. It has exceptional fruit size, great flavor, excellent disease resistance and heat & humidity tolerance. Can’t wait!
Other gardening chores you can do in April…
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- Fertilize deciduous evergreen, broad-leaved evergreens and needle-leaved evergreen trees and shrubs with a product for acid-loving plants.
- Apply fertilizer to roses as the new growth begins.
- Add lime to the vegetable garden and topdress with 1/2″ – 1″ of compost.
- Set out summer flowering bulbs like amaryllis, calla, cannas, dahlia, gladiolus, lily, tuberous begonia, and tiger flower.
- Repot houseplants that are root-bound and too large for their containers. Start to fertilize them a few weeks after re-planting them.
- Start seeds indoors of warm weather vegetables such as squash, beans, pumpkins, melons and cucumbers.
- Prune spring-flowering shrubs and trees after their blooms are spent.
- Cut flower stalks back to the ground on daffodils, hyacinths and other spring flowering bulbs as the flowers fade. Don’t cut the foliage until it dies naturally. The leaves are necessary to produce strong bulbs capable of reflowering. So many vegetables can be planted in April! First determine if the soil is ready to work. Squeeze a handful into a tight ball, then break the ball apart with your fingers. If the ball of soil readily crumbles in your hand, the soil is ready to be worked. If the soil stays in a muddy ball however, it is still too wet to work. Spinach, lettuce, peas, beets, carrots, Swiss chard and radishes can be directly seeded into the garden as soon as the soil is thawed and workable. I always add 1″ of Quoddy Blend Lobster Compost to the top of the soil and seed directly into it. I will also purchase six-packs of seedlings at local independent garden centers for vegetables that take a little more care to start from seed. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale are all cool weather loving vegetables and are often referred to as “cole crops”. These plants enjoy a higher pH of 6.0 – 6.8 and appreciate a fertile soil that has been amended with a good amount of organic compost. Cole crops are also heavy feeders and need micronutrients not often found in standard fertilizers. Top-dressing your soil with Schoodic Blend Composted Cow Manure 3 weeks after planting will ensure a steady source of these micronutrients and supplementing with organic fertilizer will provide your crops with all of the nutrition that they need.
- By Sue Lavallee
March 16th, 2015
All plants (especially tomatoes) need calcium to produce strong cell walls, which in turn help to protect the plants from attacks by pathogens which cause disease. In addition to fighting disease, calcium is also essential for enzyme activity, plant vigor and metabolism.
Lobster Shells Being Delivered
One of the biggest plagues to tomato plants is blossom end rot. This condition develops in tomatoes mostly due to a calcium deficiency in the soil. It manifests itself as a watery spot near the blossom end (the bottom) when the tomato is about one-third developed. Eventually, the spot will darken and spread quickly, destroying the fruit and rendering it inedible. Using a fertilizer that is high in calcium will help to prevent blossom end rot.
At Coast of Maine Organic Products, we understand that calcium perhaps plays more roles in the overall health of the plant and the soil than any other nutrient (including nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium). We know that if we get the calcium right in our hand-crafted compost blends and fertilizer, most of our work is done.
Mixing Lobster Shells With Wood Shavings
Chitin serves as a rich food source for soil microbes which, in turn, provide the soil ecosystem and plants with essential building blocks for healthy growth. Most recent studies point out that chitin is a good inducer of defense mechanisms in plants and helps them develop healthy immune systems.
So, here’s how to start off your tomato plants right!
Putting the calcium right around the root ball means that it’s going to be readily available and give your tomato plants the boost that they need. The process is extremely simple.
1. Purchase either Quoddy Blend Lobster Compost or Bumper Crop. Both are dark, nutrient-rich composts made with lobster and crab shells that are composted with aspen bark. The composted shells are a rich source of calcium and chitin and make an exceptional addition to our organic compost.
2. Amend the planting hole with equal parts of existing garden soil and Quoddy Blend or Bumper Crop.
3. After planting, topdress with Lobster and Kelp organic fertilizer according to the directions on our bag.
4. Ensure that the tomato plants receive at least an inch of water a week.
Happy gardening from your friends at Coast of Maine Organic Products!
Visit us at www.coastofmaine.com
By: Sue Lavallee
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March 5th, 2015
March in the Garden by Sue Lavallee
March Madness has an altogether different meaning for me. It has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with the start of a busy and sometimes overwhelming opening season in the garden! There’s so much to do! I’ll break the chores down into 2 categories because of the late Spring we’re having.
- If you took your bluebird nest boxes inside for the winter, put them back out first thing in March. Returning and over-wintering bluebirds are very active now, scoping out potential nesting sites. If the boxes weren’t cleaned out in the fall, remove the old nest, brush it out and sterilize them in a bucket containing a 10% bleach solution. Rinse the box with hot water and place them in the sun to dry (with the door open) for 2-3 days; any remaining chlorine will oxidize rapidly and becomes harmless. I opted to leave mine out this winter after cleaning them and boy, am I glad I did! A bluebird pair made a cozy cushion of white pine needles inside and are roosting in it at night to escape the brutal sub-zero temperatures and wind chills we’ve had this winter. I occasionally drop a small piece of suet through the opening for them…like chocolates on a pillow
- I purchase most of my annuals, herbs and vegetable plants at independent Garden Centers and seed only the varieties that are usually hard to find. It’s a fun and rewarding project that allows me to experiment with a new array produce and flowers. I’ve already plotted the “sow indoors” dates noted from the seed packets onto my calendar and, for me this year, the fun starts mid-month. I’ll start out sowing vegetables that grow better in cool weather and can tolerate light frosts. This spring I’m starting Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Bloomsdale Long-Standing Spinach, Tyee Spinach, Revolution Bell Pepper, several varieties of tomatoes and an array of leaf and head lettuces. At the end of the month will be the tomatoes. I went overboard this year with 4 new varieties – Amish Gold Slicer, Plum Regal Hybrid, Jelly Bean Hybrid & Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry (a husk tomato….can’t wait to try it!).
- With the winter we’ve had and the remaining mountains of snow, I’ll be wrapping up some indoor chores while the snow melts. Since I’ll be growing more tomatoes this year I’ll need to make more soil-heating covers. Basically I cut 2 foot wide circles out of black weed fabric and then cut an “x” out of the middle for planting access. I’ll place these discs over the spots where my tomato and pepper plants will go after I’ve worked the soil and amended it with Quoddy Lobster Compost and Lobster & Kelp fertilizer. Usually I place them on top of the soil 2-3 weeks before the plants are ready to head outside. Weed fabric pins are great at holding the fabric covers in place. I like using the weed fabric better than plastic because it allows the nitrogen-enhanced rainwater to fortify the soil. It also lasts a lot longer where plastic will get brittle after a few uses. A cover of shredded leaves will make it look nice and help to keep the soil moist.
- Here are some other indoor projects on my list:
- Repair & stain 2 cedar planting boxes.
- Re-paint lawn furniture.
- Order a new bio-filter for the Koi pond.
- Make a new wooden Oriole feeder.
- Sharpen pruners and loppers
- I’m hoping that the deep snow cover will melt by the end of this month and that I’ll be able to plant peas. It may not happen though, because the snowmelt might make the soil too soggy and pea seeds will rot quickly in muddy soil. I have 6 teepees which support the shorter 2 1/2 – 3′ tall varieties I grow and luckily 4 of them sit atop raised beds. I’ll have a better chance of planting these earlier because raised beds not only drain better, the soil in them also warms up faster. The remaining 2 that sit atop the other garden plot will be planted 2-3 weeks later giving me a staggered harvest. Before planting the seeds, I soak them the night before which really hastens germination. In recent years I haven’t been using any inoculant and the plants have still been healthy and productive. Inoculant powder is an organic powder comprised of living bacteria that the helps pea plants to grow.
- March is pruning month! You should wait to prune all early spring-flowering shrubs like forsythia, lilac, quince, rhododendron, azalea etc. until after they flower. In early March, you can prune late flowering shrubs such as butterfly bush, Hydrangea paniculata and most other deciduous shrubs. Prune hybrid tea roses, floribundas and grandifloras but wait until after flowering on climbers and ramblers. Prune all fruit trees before growth begins, too. Last, if you’ve left your ornamental grasses up for winter interest, now’s the time to cut them back to the new emerging shoots.
- Watch for signs of growth in early spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. When the foliage is about an inch high, gradually start removing the mulch around them. Sometimes if the mulch is left over the emerging leaves too long, the leaves will be yellow from the lack of sunlight. If that happens, it’s best to remove the mulch on a cloudy day to avoid burning the tender foliage. When they’re several inches tall, adding about two inches of Fundy Blend enriching mulch around the flowering bulbs will both enrich your soil, feed the plants and help to retain moisture in the soil. Fundy Blend is the ideal top-dressing for roses and perennial beds too.
- Mid-March is an ideal time to divide and transplant summer and fall-blooming perennials. I’m happy that I took the time to jot down some garden notes last Fall. Not only does the list include what needs dividing but also where the divisions are to be planted. I’m dividing some of them because they’re overcrowding adjacent plants and the others because they are older and need rejuvenating. Plus it’s like getting freebies! I try to divide perennials after a rainfall and when the following day or two will be overcast. These conditions will help in reducing moisture loss due to transplant shock. If it’s a large perennial clump like bee balm, I simply dig out shovelfuls around the perimeter of the patch to reduce the size. If it’s a smaller clump like a daylilies (that bloom less when overcrowded), I dig up the entire plant and then cut the root ball in half (or smaller) using a hand pruning saw. Next it’s time to dig the planting holes for the transplants. It’s always good to dig the whole twice the width of the root ball but not any deeper than the height of the root ball (so you don’t bury the crown of the plant). Now is a great time for me to improve the soil in the planting hole with compost. I’ll add Penobscot Complete Planting Mix to the existing soil at a 50-50 ratio because the soil on my property is lean. The Penobscot Blend is formulated to condition the soil, offer nutrients to the plant and also provides aeration for new roots to grow. The garden soil that is leftover will fill be used to fill the spot where the perennial was taken out. Voila! Free plants!
Now that the sub-zero wind chills are gone, I can remove the protective burlap covers I put around my flowering evergreen shrubs. Cold dry winds can rob the leaves of their moisture (desiccation) and cause windburn and dieback on the buds and leaves.
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February 8th, 2015
Now is a good time to order fruit plants from mail order companies. Be sure to select recommended, disease-resistant varieties whenever possible. When purchasing bare root plant stock, make sure that your requested shipping date falls after the ground has thawed. If you have room for several varieties, stagger the fruiting times. For instance, if it’s raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries that you’re planting, choose early, mid-season and late varieties for a longer harvest period.
You rarely see them but cutworm damage is unmistakable. They destroy perfectly healthy seedlings within a matter of hours by chewing through the stem at the soil line. I’ve lost broccoli, corn, lettuce and spinach seedlings until I learned this trick. Start saving toilet paper or paper towel tubes and cut them into three inch lengths. Then make a vertical cut top to bottom so that they can be opened on one side and you can slip them around the stem and root ball of the plants. When you plant your seedlings, put a section of the toilet paper roll around each plant, pushing it into the soil an inch down. The tubes will protect your seedlings for weeks until your seedlings will be too large to sustain any damage. Recycling at its best!
Check your potatoes and onions that you put in storage last Fall and remove any that are sprouting or drying out. Potatoes will last around 6 months when stored in an unheated basement (around 35 – 40°F) and onions will last 3 – 4 months. There are specific varieties for both that will have a longer shelf life.
Years ago, when I had several cats and dogs, I used to grow cat grass indoors during the winter months. They all LOVED this treat and it was so easy to grow! Cat grass is a type of cereal grass such as oat grass or wheat grass which can be grown indoors from seeds. Simply fill a pot with organic Bar Harbor Potting soil and scatter a handful of cat grass seed over the top of this in one thin, even layer. Then press the seeds down into the moist soil. Water in the seeds lightly and put the pot in a warm and sunny place. Keep the soil moist and the seeds will sprout in under a week. When the grass has grown several inches tall, the leaves of the cat grass plant can be fed to your cat or dog as a treat to help satisfy their craving for greens.
Usually by February, I’ve absolutely had it with winter and can’t wait to see some Spring color. That’s when I reach for my pruners and head outside to visit my forsythia shrubs. I cut off branches at a sharp angle and then arrange them in vases inside where they’ll bloom in a few weeks. You can force many types of flowering trees and shrubs….dogwood, lilac, cherry, crabapple….to name a few
Light pruning of apple and pear trees can be done this month, weather permitting. The trees are still dormant so you’ll avoid shocking them and the healing time will be faster. Be sure that your pruning tools are sharp and have been sterilized using a soft cloth that is dipped in a 10% bleach solution.
Once I purchase vegetable and flower seeds from my local garden center , I pull out last year’s garden notes and photos to decide which areas will be suitable for planting the new flowers. This task saves a lot of time when it’s May and there are so many plants to find homes for. It’s a good idea to look at the ultimate plant height & width, sun exposure, compatibility with surrounding plants, and bloom time.
As for the vegetables, I try to make the effort to rotate my crops every year. The same vegetables (and their families) should not be planted in the same place year after year due to their unique nutritional needs. The Brassicaceae family (cauliflower, kale, broccoli, cabbage etc…) require lots of nitrogen for good leaf growth and are generally considered heavy feeders . A crop to follow nitrogen hungry Brassicas may be legumes such as peas, beans and lentils. Legumes feed lightly and have the ability to ‘fix’ nitrogen into soils, improving the nitrogen content for future crops. Plotting your vegetable garden beds on paper can make this an easy yearly task. Saving each years garden plan will show you what was planted in that particular spot several years ago.
Save your eggshells! They contain valuable calcium carbonate that tomato, eggplant and pepper plants need in order to prevent blossom end rot. Rinse any remaining egg white out of the shells, then place them on a plate and microwave them for 2 minutes to sterilize them. After they have cooled, crumble them up and store them in an airtight container until Spring. I keep mine under the kitchen sink next to the compost bucket.
The finer the shell particle is, the more readily available the calcium is for your plants. Pulverize the shell bits in a blender or food processor and then you’re ready to plant! I place a handful of shells at the bottom of each planting hole and work it into the soil. Halfway through the growing season when the tomatoes are sizing up, you’ll need to replenish the calcium. Applying a 1″ topdress of Quoddy Lobster Compost, which is rich in calcium, around the plants will keep the blossom end rot at bay!
One more quick note…I used to put eggshells in my compost pile but more often than not, Blue Jays would make off with them. They eat them for the calcium which they need (more than any other bird) especially during the breeding season. If you do put eggshells out for the birds or in your compost pile, please be sure to sterilize them first. Unsterilized egg shells may contain harmful Salmonella bacteria.
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