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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January 7th, 2015
Mold spores are present in all soil and when the soil stays too wet, the spores will germinate and mold starts to grow. I’ve had this issue in the past, especially in the wintertime. Winter conditions in my home were the perfect storm for this situation until I took some action. I used to have my plants in the living room that faces northeast (too dark in winter) and where the humidifier is going 24-7 (too much moist air). Now, I move them to my back office in the winter (south facing = direct sun) and it is drier because I have the space heater going. The space heater helps with warm air movement and the soil dries out faster. I also started to bottom-water my plants in winter so that the top portion of the soil (where there are fewer roots to draw water away) doesn’t get wet. Lastly, I only water my plants when the soil surface is dry and there is no moisture whatsoever. You can also scrape the mold off of the soil surface and replace it with a ½ “ of clean sand which will not hold moisture. Do the scraping outside or in a garage because the spores will become airborne and can settle on unaffected plants. I’ve read that you can also lightly spray the soil surface with a 10% vinegar solution. Spray once in between waterings and wait a few days after spraying so that the vinegar has a chance to kill the mold.
I hope this helps if you have any issues with mold!
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January 2nd, 2015
There’s nothing like a snowy New England season to get me in the mood to go shopping for seeds at my local Garden Center. Most of the vegetable seeds I purchase are the time-tested and reliable varieties that I have grown for many years; however I am often tempted to try the newer offerings that promise higher yields, better flavor or disease resistance. It’s a difficult choice comparing each type of vegetable I grow against a newer variety but it’s a process that I thoroughly enjoy. Before heading out to make my purchases, I do a germination test on last year’s leftover seeds to check their viability. There’s no reason to throw out perfectly good seeds even if the date on the package is a year old.
I place a dozen or so seeds between two sheets of moistened paper towels and place it in a into a baggie. The baggie then goes on top of my pie safe near the woodstove where the warmth will speed up the germination process. I check up on them every other day and when no more seeds germinate, I tally up the sprouted seeds. If the germination is less than 75 percent, it’s time for me to buy more of that seed.
Holiday potted plants are not usually that long-lived. Insufficient sunlight, cold drafts, low humidity and overwatering / under watering are all conditions that lead to an early demise. There are certain steps, however, that you can take in order to enjoy their beauty a bit longer. Either remove the decorative foil or pot cover from the pots or punch holes through the covering to allow water to drain properly. Keep the soil evenly moist and protect your plants from cold drafts. Situate the plants in a room that gets as much sunlight as possible…usually a south or west facing room. Also, most plants appreciate a humidity tray.
Fill a large saucer with pebbles and place the potted plant on top. Any water that drains into the saucer after watering will create a moist environment for the plant as it evaporates. This also prevents root rot because the plants roots are not sitting in water. Remove faded flowers and their stems as soon as possible to encourage the plant to keep blooming and look tidy.
Check your stored bulbs (cannas, dahlias, gladioli, tuberous begonias) to see if they’ve begun to shrivel and are too dry. In late Fall, I either store my bulbs in barely moist peat moss or crumpled newspaper. Now, slightly rewetting either will help to stop the loss of water from the tuber.
Try to avoid salt-based de-icing products in or around garden as it is toxic to most plants. Using stone dust, sawdust, sand or cat litter instead will not only prevent damage to your plants but also your pets paws.
Don’t waste your beautiful tree by taking it to the transfer station! Evergreen boughs from garland, swags and wreaths or your Christmas tree can be used as winter protection on garden beds. After the holidays, I put my tree outside and secure it to a wooden stake near the birdfeeders. This offers the feeding birds protection from wind, weather and predators. You can also decorate it with popcorn garland or bird seed & suet ornaments for winter birds. Remember to continue to supply fresh water for the birds.
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December 1st, 2014
After the ground freezes hard, I mulch perennial and bulb planting beds. The mulch will prevent heaving during the alternate freeze and thaw cycle. Apply 2 to 4 inches of shredded bark mulch, Dark Harbor enriching mulch, Schoodic composted manure or Cobscook garden compost, if not done already. Consider covering your strawberry patch with evergreen boughs or straw.
Early winter’s wet and heavy snowstorms can wreak havoc with ornamental shrubs. Secure the limbs of upright evergreens by encircling the plant in a spiral fashion with twine from bottom to top. This will stop heavy snow from pulling the branches down and prevent breakage by snow or ice. Other evergreens (pieris, rhododendron, azalea, holly, boxwood etc.) will also be affected by heavy snows. Remove snow loads from their branches by gently sweeping snow off with a broom. Avoid hitting tree branches with any heavy tools as this will injure the bark and cause breakage of branches and leaves. If there is any ice accumulation on the branches, allow it to melt.
This is my favorite winter task! Having the luxury of enjoying organically grown greens from the garden during the gardening season is always a treat. When freezing temperatures put my gardens to bed, I simply move my growing efforts inside. Cool-weather crops like loose-leaf lettuce, chives, arugula, mesclun mixes and parsley are easily started from seeds. I fill several 3 foot long window boxes that contain a 50-50 mix of Bar Harbor Potting Soil and Quoddy Lobster Compost and some Lobster and Kelp fertilizer.
I avoid using soil from the garden which can harbor insects and / or disease. Next, I scatter the seeds over the soil, distributing evenly a few inches apart, and then sprinkle a thin layer of the Potting Soil on top to cover the seeds lightly. Finally, I mist the potting mix with a spray bottle until the soil is evenly moist, cover the window boxes with plastic wrap and place them in a warm (65° – 70° is good), brightly lit spot. Within 1 – 2 weeks, the seeds germinate and the plastic cover is discarded. After 2 more weeks, the plants are thinned and I move the operation into my basement. The cooler temperatures there (55° – 65°) prevent the greens from getting leggy and weak. The boxes are put onto a 3 foot wide metal shelving unit that has shop lights suspended above each level. I use S-hooks and chains to keep the 40 watt fluorescent light bulbs always a few inches above the growing plants. A timer ensures that the plants will receive 14 hours of light per day. For seedlings, it’s best to water, with tepid water, from the bottom using a watering tray. This helps to prevent fungal diseases such as damping off. I start harvesting the greens when the plants are about 4-5 inches tall cutting them with a scissors about one inch above the soil. This cut-and-come-again method allows the greens to grow back again for additional harvests (with the herbs, I just snip of what I need). After a few harvests, the greens will lose their vigor so I repeat the sowing process in order to have a continual salad supply throughout the winter.
After purchasing holiday plants such as poinsettias, cyclamen and Christmas cactus, be sure they are completely covered with paper wrap and then quickly take them to your car. Avoid leaving your plants in the car while you finish shopping; they will probably freeze. Once home, place your holiday plants in bright light, away from drafts, and keep the soil evenly moist. I take of the foil and / or pot covers so the bottom roots can get air and not become water-logged. Since most holiday plants are short lived, I try to purchase mine within a week before the Holiday so that they still look fresh.
Speaking of holidays, all of those hot, humid summer days spent in the kitchen boiling canning jars for hours on end are now paying off! Homegrown canned goods make wonderful holiday gifts…and who doesn’t appreciate gifts from the garden? This year, family and friends will receive jars of spiced beets, bread & butter pickles, salsa, blueberry jam, strawberry sauce and lemon verbena liquor. It’s so heartwarming to be able to share decades-old recipes with family and keep the tradition alive!
Plant Amaryllis bulbs for cheery winter color. They will grow quickly and produce large, beautiful blooms, usually in 6 to 8 weeks. Pot up new amaryllis bulbs in wide, squat containers using Bar Harbor Potting Soil. Allow the top inch of the bulb to remain above soil level; water well once and then allow soil to dry out before watering again. Keep the pot in a bright room away from drafts and heating vents. As the stalk grows, rotate the pot for even growth.
Trees get sunburned too! Sunscald most often occurs on the southwest side of young trees with thin bark. On a warm winter day, the direct sun can heat exposed bark considerably. If this heating is followed by freezing temperatures, injury to the inner bark may occur. The injury is usually not visible until spring growth resumes, and then it will appear as sunken area of discolored bark. The bark may then split or fall off in patches. Wrapping the trunks trees with a commercial tree wrap made of insulating paper now can prevent sunscald. Wrap the lower trunks of young, thinly barked trees (such as maples, flowering cherry, aspen, ash) with paper tree wrap now and remember to remove the wrap in early April. Wrap newly planted trees every winter for 2-3 years until the outer bark has had a chance to thicken.
Deer in winter will eat just about anything so please realize what “deer-resistant” plants vs. “deer-proof” plants really means. There are no guarantees in a harsh winter with abundant snowfall and little to no acorn crop. You’ll need to protect your shrubs now from deer by spraying them with deer repellant or by covering them with either burlap or 1″ mesh netting.
Keep bird feeders filled throughout winter. Ground-feeding birds (juncos, white-throated sparrows, finches, cardinals, mourning doves, etc.) suffer in winters with long-lasting snow cover. In the world of bird seed, you really do get what you pay for. Stay away from low cost seed mixes that contain filler seed (i.e. red millet) that often are not eaten and go to waste. Higher quality blends contain a high percent of sunflower seed (black oil is better than striped because of its’ high fat content), white proso millet, cracked corn, peanuts and safflower seed.
Suet cakes are inexpensive and are a very high-energy food that is often fed to insect-eating birds in winter when their favorite bugs are hard to find. It will attract many new species of birds that don’t eat the seed in your regular feeders (like overwintering bluebirds, mockingbirds, Carolina wrens and robins). Last winter, we had an immature oriole that delayed migrating until mid-winter. Without the suet we provided, his food source options at that time were almost non-existent.
Lastly, birds need water to stay hydrated. During times of sub-freezing weather it’s beneficial to maintain a supply of water for birds. Small immersible heating coils can be used in stone birdbaths to prevent water from freezing. These heaters will prevent most ice from forming. You can also purchase heated bird baths that work even better than the heating coils. Just fill the bath with clean, fresh water, and enjoy the birds that appreciate the drink!
Cut branches of evergreens, berried shrubs and ornamental grasses to spruce up your window boxes and add to your holiday decorating inside and out. I also trim some dormant flower heads off of my Pieris for a nice accent.
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November 7th, 2014
- It’s still not too late to plant Spring bulbs! As long as the ground is not frozen, you can get a head start on early Spring color. A handful of our Penobscot Complete Planting Mix worked into each planting hole will give the bulbs a great head start next Spring! Each year, bulb growers focus on breeding new varieties of daffodils, tulips crocus, hyacinths and more. Be sure to try something new!
- Every year at this time, I walk through my property with pen and pad in hand and jot down some wrap-up notes from this years’ growing season. What perennials need dividing, which annuals did well that I want to purchase more of, yields and disease resistance of the new varieties of vegetables I grew this year, crop rotation notes, on and on. This activity not only gives me a to-do list in March, but it offers guidance when shopping at Garden Centers.
- Cut back the last of your perennials after several killing frosts cause the foliage to die back. I like to leave the ornamental grasses throughout the winter. They add beauty to the landscape and offer nutritious seed heads for wild birds.
- I save the chipped leaves and grass that the mower picks up and bags. After the ground is frozen, I pile them around any perennials , shrubs or trees I’ve planted in the Fall. If I feel that any of the transplants need a nutrient boost in the Spring, I first put down Fundy Blend enriching mulch. Both of these mulches insulate the ground and keeps it frozen during possible mid-winter thaws, thus preventing the root ball from being heaved out of the ground. I stockpile the additional grass / leaf mulch that is leftover until Spring and use this to topdress my gardens after I’m done with Spring planting. You can also start a compost pile with this mulch!
- Cut asparagus foliage to the ground after the tops turn brown. I leave mine up a little later in the month to give the birds a chance to eat the bright red berries. You can also collect and dry the berries to start new plants in the Spring. A topdress of Schoodic Cow Manure compost will ensure that these heavy feeders will get off to a great start next Spring!
- Dig up tuberous dahlias and begonias, cannas and gladioli. Trim away the dried leaves and stalks, brush off the soil, place them in a paper bag filled with dry peat moss and store the tubers in a cool dry place until spring and warmer weather.
- Harvest the rest of your root vegetables. After washing off the soil, store them in a cool, dry and dark place. I put carrots, potatoes and beets in the coolest part of my basement where the temperature stays at 45 – 50°.
- Trim your perennial herbs and make small bunches for drying indoors. Sage, tarragon, oregano and thyme can be used for cooking savory winter meals!
- Now is a great time for improving the soil in your vegetable and flower beds. Topdress with Quoddy Lobster Compost, manure, and / or chopped leaves to increase the organic matter content. Conditioning the soil in this manner will offer nutrients to the beneficial microbes in the soil that will ingest this material and, in turn, fertilize the soil. Before adding lime to your soil, have your soil tested to determine if your soil is acidic and needs lime.
- When all of your gardening chores are done for the winter, it’s time to give some much needed attention to your garden tools. Bring all your gardening tools inside and use a wire brush to clean the soil off and then remove any rust using sandpaper. Finally, sharpen any that need it and wipe mineral oil on the metal to prevent rust.
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- Dig up any tender plants that you want to bring in for winter color (geraniums) or culinary use (rosemary) before a killing freeze. Bar Harbor Potting mix provides the right amount of nutrients and drainage for indoor growing.