Henry Homeyer http://www.gardening-guy.com The Gardening guy Tue, 15 Aug 2017 03:52:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Getting Ready for Winter http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/08/08/getting-ready-for-winter/ http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/08/08/getting-ready-for-winter/#respond Tue, 08 Aug 2017 10:00:31 +0000 http://www.gardening-guy.com/?p=2581 Here it is, early August and I’ve just picked my first tomatoes, but I’m already thinking about winter. No, I don’t anticipate frost until mid-October or later, but I depend on my garden to feed me much of the year. So I start early getting food processed for storage. I freeze, dehydrate, can and store veggies for winter. Let’s look at tricks you can use to save you time and labor as you save your harvest.

 

Tomatoes are ripening

Tomatoes are key to almost any soup, stew or stir fry I make, and I don’t want to be buying tomatoes in February, or to depend on cans of sauce processed in factories in California. I want to cook with tomatoes that I grew myself, or that are from a local farmer I trust.

 

If you grow just a few tomato plants for sandwiches and salads, or even if you planted half a dozen ‘Romas’ for making some sauce, you can have a wealth of tomatoes for freezing if you talk to your local farmer. Most sell “field grade” or “canners” by the bushel at very reasonable prices. They are not as pretty as top grade fruits, but I’ve bought a bushel – 50 pounds –in years when my own crop succumbed early to blight.

 

Many farmers now grow tomatoes in hoop houses which means they get tomatoes earlier than we do, and they largely avoid blight. So there are times when farmers are practically swimming in tomatoes. That’s when to buy them.

 

What can you do with 50 pounds of tomatoes? I would freeze most of them. Wash and dry the fruit, then fit them into freezer-grade plastic bags, not storage bags. Freezer-grade bags cost just pennies more per bag, but are much better for the job.

 

A straw used to remove air from a bag of cherry tomatoes

Suck out any excess air from the bags with a common drinking straw. Just close the bag 99% of the way, suck out the air and snap it closed with 2 fingers – just as you pull out the straw.

 

Later, to get them ready for use, I run each frozen tomato under hot water while rubbing it gently so that the skin comes right off. After I set it aside for 5 minutes it softens enough for me to cut out the stem attachment point. Then I quarter it, chop it, and put it in the pan.

 

If you like to make homemade sauce but hate the canning process, just freeze it. Cook up your tomatoes with fresh herbs and onions, and let it cool. Then pack in freezer bags or plastic containers.

 

I’ve had both front-opening freezers and chest freezers, and I recommend the front-opening ones. It is easy to lose track of what is buried in the bottom of the chest-type freezers. But you’ll find the last bag of kale if it’s on a shelf where you can easily see it. And after a year or two in a freezer, food loses its flavor and often becomes unappealing.

 

Cube trays

I also freeze ice cube trays filled with my homemade tomato paste. I use my less-perfect tomatoes for paste, which I freeze in ice cube trays. To make paste, I wash tomatoes, and then core them with a paring knife. I squeeze out the seeds and extra juice, which makes for less boiling time and fewer seeds. Then I quarter them and puree them, skins and all, in my food processor.

 

I cook the puree at low heat in a big enameled cast iron pot (which helps prevent scorching on the bottom of the pot). I know it’s done when I can literally stand up a soupspoon in the paste – after 3 hours or more. I let it cool overnight (or 8 hours) with the cover off the pot, allowing a little more moisture to evaporate. Then I spoon the paste into the ice cubes trays. After they are frozen, I remove the cubes and put them in freezer bags.

 

Most years I dehydrate several bags of “sun-dried tomatoes”. Except they aren’t sun-dried. They are dried in an electric food dryer. Mostly I dry cherry tomatoes, a variety called ‘Sun Gold’. I cut them in half and place them face up on the screens. It takes from 12 to 24 hours to do a batch, depending on which kind of machine you use, and how juicy your tomatoes are.

 

I have 2 brands of dryers, a NESCO American Harvester and an Excalibur. The Excalibur uses less electricity (660 watts per hour vs. 1,000 watts per hour) and is more efficient because the flow of hot air goes across the drying screens, not from top to bottom as the NESCO dryer does. But it costs roughly 3 times as much, depending on the model. Both brands are very good.

 

I also use my dehydrators to dry apples, pears, hot peppers and more. I especially like drying hot peppers because I can get them brittle, and then grind them up in my coffee grinder. That allows me to just add a little in a dish – or a lot if I’m not having company.

 

So don’t wait until fall. Start putting up food for winter like the proverbial squirrel. Winter is just around the corner.

 

Henry is the author of 4 gardening books. His web site is www.Gardening-Guy.com. See extra photos for his newspaper articles at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy and get daily tips.

 

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Vines Worth Growing http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/07/29/vines-worth-growing/ http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/07/29/vines-worth-growing/#respond Sat, 29 Jul 2017 10:00:46 +0000 http://www.gardening-guy.com/?p=2573 As a boy I was fascinated by the idea that Tarzan the Ape Man could move through the jungle above the forest floor by swinging from vine to vine. I doubt that I ever saw a real Tarzan movie, but my imagination was good. I knew I wanted that ability to swing from vines. Now I just grow them. Let’s look at a few so you can decide if you’d like to plant one this summer.

 

Amethyst Falls Wisteria

Wisteria is a vine loved by many, particularly gardeners who have moved to New England from warmer parts of the country where it thrives. For decades, wisteria was a frustration for northern gardeners: it would grow nice green vines, but never blossom. That was because it set buds one summer for blooms the next spring. It bloomed before growing leaves and shoots. Our winters in the North Country killed the buds.

 

Then two new varieties appeared on the market: ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘Amethyst Falls’. Both are hardy to Zone 4 (minus 30 in winter) and bloom on new shoots that appear each spring. Mine bloom in late June or early July for about 3 weeks. The scent of Amethyst Falls I do not find pleasant (overtones of cat?), but the blossoms are smaller than those on Blue Moon and seem to last longer. I grow it on a cedar trellis that serves as an entrance to my vegetable garden.

 

The soil for my wisterias is rich, dark, and moist; they will grow anywhere, I think, given at least half a day of sun. The more sun, the more blossoms. I have heard from friends in southern New England that wisteria can be a pest because birds eat the seeds and spread them around, starting them at the edge of the woods. That has not happened for me.

 

Clematis Betty Corning

Clematis is another great vine. I have 5 different kinds of clematis, and fully intend to buy another this summer – I just saw a great one while on a recent garden tour. That one, I learned from garden designer Cyndy Fine of Westminster, VT, is a Clematis viticella called ‘Betty Corning’. It blooms most of the summer and into the fall. It is has nodding bell-shaped flowers that are lavender to blue. Hardy to Zone 3 (minus 40 degrees).

 

The most vigorous, reliable of my clematis in one called Clematis jackmanii. It has nice purple blossoms and grows up wires I have attached to the front of my house. It easily grows 10 to 12-feet tall, and blooms enthusiastically most of July.

 

Clematis recta

Then I have one called Clematis recta. Unlike most of the others, it does not climb up a trellis, but flops on the ground unless supported by something solid – a fence of some sort that can contain it. It blossoms appear in huge clusters of small white blossoms, followed by delicate airy seed heads. It dies back to the ground each winter. But each year it gets bigger and more bodacious.

 

All clematis want essentially the same thing: hot tops and cool feet. Plant perennials in front of your clematis to shade and cool the roots, but provide plenty of hot sun for the vines. They like rich soil, and plenty of moisture.

 

Then there is an amazing vine form of hydrangea: Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris. This will attach itself to brick or stone with holdfasts, as opposed to twining vines like wisteria and most clematis. I have it on the north side of my barn as it grows well and blooms without much need for sunshine.

 

I originally used plastic ties to attach my climbing hydrangea to the barn, as its “feet” won’t grab wood. Now it has sent shoots in between the rough barn boards and it no longer needs support. It sends out “arms” 3 to 4 feet from the barn, each loaded with large white flower panicles that seem to defy gravity. Even in winter it is gorgeous.

 

Dutchman’s Pipe

Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla) is another vine I grow that is very adaptable. It will grow in crummy soil in sun to shade, but does not want to be terribly dry. It has huge leaves, and small white blossoms reminiscent of little ivory pipes. Once established, it would be impossible to pull out. I have it growing on the north side of my deck, and it climbs up and tries to twine around potted plants growing on the rail. It completely hides the mess beneath the deck!

 

As for Tarzan, only wild grapes would do for his exploits. These are pests sometimes in the forest, as they can climb up trees and choke out nice trees. When I see that they are a problem, I cut them off at the base with roots loppers – a quick and easy, but temporary solution. But the birds do love the fruit when it is ripe, so I often do nothing about them.

 

Henry is the author of 4 gardening books. His web site is www.Gardening-Guy.com. See extra photos for his newspaper articles at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy.

 

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How to Minimize Tomato Blight http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/07/19/how-to-minimize-tomato-blight/ http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/07/19/how-to-minimize-tomato-blight/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 10:00:47 +0000 http://www.gardening-guy.com/?p=2566 John Denver introduced me to a Guy Clark song called, “Home Grown Tomatoes” with a refrain that goes, “Only two things money can’t buy. That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes”. How true. I love tomatoes.

 

Healthy tomato plants in mid-July

Growing disease-free tomatoes is nearly impossible. Usually by this time of the year, gardeners see lower leaves turning yellow and getting spots. Stems turn black early on. Some summers, we only get a few fruits, those tomatoes that started early. Other years we get late blight half way through the season and our plants and fruit turn to disgusting black mush.

 

So what can we do? According to companies that produce seeds, we can choose varieties of tomatoes that are disease resistant. Breeders using old-fashioned breeding techniques have been successful in breeding resistant hybrids. But some say the flavors are not always as good as the old fashioned heirlooms. I grow both kinds.

 

This year I am growing ‘Brandy Boy’ (a hybrid produced by Burpee Seeds) that is supposed to taste as good as the heirloom Brandywine, one of my favorite heirloom varieties, and have improved disease resistance.

 

I know I like ‘Defiant’, a medium-sized hybrid with high resistance to late-blight, produced by Johnny’s Seeds. But Defiant does get early blight, which reduces its production. Still, I grow it each year.

 

This year my tomato plants are beautiful. Only a few leaves on a few plants showed any signs of yellowing leaves by mid-July. Here are a few things I have done to help prevent tomato diseases.

 

At planting time I mulched my tomatoes with leaves that I collected last fall. Some fungal disease reside in the soil, and when it rains, or when you water, splash-up sends spores onto the tomato leaves, causing disease. Mulching helps minimize splash-up. Grass cuttings are good, too.

 

A simple one gallon sprayer is used for applying bio-fungicide

This year I got a soil drench from Gardeners Supply Company called “Root Shield”. This is a bacterial powder that I diluted with water and applied to the soil around each tomato. It is approved for use by organic gardeners. The bacteria attacks the pathogenic fungi in the soil, minimizing the chance of them getting on the tomato plants.

 

The other bacterial fungicide I applied is called “Serenade”, which I also obtained from Gardeners Supply Co. This contains Bacilius subtilis, a broad spectrum bio-fungicide. It is designed to be sprayed on leaves and stems once a week – and before signs of infection are seen. I have sprayed just twice, not keeping up with the schedule, but will. It’s easy to forget about disease when your plants are disease-free. Once plants are infected, both bio-fungicides are not going to solve the problem.

 

Diseased tomato leaves are often a problem

What else can you do? If you have tomato leaves turning brown, cut them off and put in the household trash, not the compost pile. I did this pretty regularly last year, and I think it helped.

 

If you get late blight – which basically causes a total meltdown of the plants – quickly bag everything in contractor bags and get everything affected out of the garden. Fortunately, late blight does not survive New England winters. But if you do get it, do not overwinter potatoes, or allow ‘volunteer’ potatoes to grow, as they can carry the blight. Tomatoes and potatoes are in the same plant family.

 

Fungal diseases often require moisture on the leaves so that fungal hyphae (their root-like appendages) can penetrate the leaves. So do not water at dusk. Water in the morning if possible, and try to keep the leaves dry.

 

I use a watering wand, not an overhead sprinkler. This is a hand-held watering device – a 30-inch long wand with a sprayer on the end – that allows me to deliver water around the roots, but none on the leaves. In a normal summer I rarely water tomatoes – my soil stays lightly moist most of the time just with rain. But if we go a week or so without rain, I do water.

 

Many tomato plants will grow taller until the fall over or are pruned back. It’s better to cut off tall branches and keep your plants supported by their cages or stakes. Cutting back plants allows them to spend their energy making tomatoes, not stems and leaves.

 

As a gardener I am always optimistic. I think this year’s crop of tomatoes from my 37 plants will be the best ever. But I’ll be happy with whatever I get.

 

Read Henry’s twice-weekly blog posts at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy You can sign up for an e-mail alert each time he posts. You may reach Henry at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746 or henry.homeyer@comcast.net.

 

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Ten Fabulous Annual Flowers I Love to Grow http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/07/11/12-fabulous-annual-flowers-i-love-to-grow/ Tue, 11 Jul 2017 10:00:54 +0000 http://www.gardening-guy.com/?p=2558 I want colorful flowers growing alongside my front walkway every day from May to November, and generally have them. I do so by growing annual flowers. I grow more than 100 species of flowers elsewhere on my property but the vast majority are perennials that only bloom for a few weeks each year.

 

All plants (and most animals) have a strong need and desire to maintain their genetic lineage. Their “goal” in life is to pass on their DNA to a new generation. Perennial plants and trees can assume that if they don’t have any descendants this year, they can next year. Not so for annuals. If they don’t bloom and produce seeds this summer, their lineage stops. There is no second chance.

 

So to get continual blooms from your annual flowers, all you have to do is pluck off the flower heads once they start to look bedraggled. That is known as “deadheading.” The flowers seem to ”know” that if the flowers are gone, so are the potential seeds, and they keep on blooming. Here are some of my favorite annuals.

 

Pansies. These are my early bloomers. I buy field grown pansies and plant them in the walkway or in a whisky barrel in April or May for early color. By now they are lanky and fading, so I will either cut them back hard for fall blooms, or just yank them.

 

‘Senorita Rosalita’ cleome. This is a Proven Winner trademarked variety, so it cannot be purchased as seed or in 6-packs. It is generally sold in 4-inch pots or larger and costs more than common annuals. Unlike ordinary cleome, ‘Senorita Rosalita’ stays short and compact, has no thorny protuberances on the stems, and does not have a strong noxious scent. And it blooms continuously all summer. It likes full sun and does well in hot, dry locations. ‘Senorita blanca’ is a similar white variety.  I grow this each year, often starting plants from seed, though they need at least 12 weeks to get to the size needed to plant outside. Like all the plants on my walkway, these like plenty of direct sunshine. The flowers are cute little round balls of color- magenta, pink, white. The stems dry well, and I often keep their bright blossoms in a dry vase all winter. I hang them upside down until the stems are dry enough to support the flowers.

 

Brazilian verbena (Verbena bonariensis). This is one of my favorites, and adds height to the display. It has thin stems up to 5 feet tall, but rarely needs staking because the purple blossoms are quite small. If you cut it back as it grows, it will branch nicely, providing more blossoms. The blossoms keep on looking good even after light frost.

 

Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare). This is a foliage plant with no flowers that I’ve ever seen. It stays low and branches nicely with silver-gray or yellow-green foliage. I mainly use it in my window box by the front door, but it also works in the ground. Cut stems are fabulous in a vase, too.

 

Annual Poppy

Annual poppies. These are blooming for me right now in various colors: orange, purple, yellow (California poppy) and polka dots. Some are doubles, meaning they have extra petals. Annual poppies are an exception to the rule that annuals keep on blooming all summer, but I don’t care. I love these beauties with their gray or silver foliage and delicate blossoms. Many annual poppies scatter their seeds and will start up next spring on their own.

 

Scaveola. This plant takes abuse, so I put it in my window box with licorice plant – where drying out is more of a problem than in the ground. It can look dead from dehydration, but a watering brings it right back. Its stems are generally 6 to 12 inches loaded with small purplish-blue flowers.

 

Gomphrena

Gomphrena. A variety of verbena, this comes in purples, magenta, white, pink and more. It creates a cascading mass of bright flowers that bloom all summer.

 

Zinnias. Fabulous flowers. They come from short (Profusion series are under a foot tall) to tall (Benary’s Giant, 4 feet tall). Keep picking them for vases, and they will branch and produce more flowers. A wide variety of colors, including lime green. I plant these by seed in a bed in my vegetable garden, just scattering last year’s dried flowers over and raking them in.

 

Wild Carrot

Wild carrot. (Daucus carota ‘Dara’). One of my new favorites. This looks like Queen Anne’s lace, which is a biennial wild flower, but this is an annual that comes in a variety of colors – white, pink and burgundy. I bought some started plants and they are blooming nicely.

 

Salvia. There are hundreds of kinds of salvias, both annual and perennial. I grow annual salvias mainly for their vertical form (8 to 24 inches tall spikes) and their intense blue and purple. They also come in fire engine red (which I tend to avoid), white and bi-color. All are tough as nails in hot sun.

 

I realize it’s hard to find nice annuals now – many nurseries have sold all the good ones. But many can be started by seed, even starting now. Just read the seed packets to see how long they need to bloom. I love my annuals, and their long-running show of beauty.

 

Henry is the author of 4 gardening books. His web site is www.Gardening-Guy.com. See extra photos for his articles at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy

 

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Veggies You Can Plant Now for Fall Eating http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/07/05/veggies-you-can-plant-now-for-fall-eating/ Wed, 05 Jul 2017 10:00:52 +0000 http://www.gardening-guy.com/?p=2551 Most gardeners don’t think of July as the time to plant seeds in the vegetable garden. But it should be. This is a good time to plant many things including broccoli, Happy Rich, lettuce, kohlrabi, fall radishes, carrots and beets. With good warmth and plenty or rain (or water from your hose), these plants will probably do better now than in if they were planted in the spring.

 

If you planted peas, spinach or lettuce early this spring, you probably have a bed that is empty now. Instead of just growing weeds, why not get out your seed packets and plant a second crop in that bed?

 

Arugula seeds germinate quickly

In the spring I generally plant seeds in those little black plastic 6-packs. I do that because the soil outdoors is cold and wet, and seeds are prone to rot. Now, however, the soil is warm and seeds will germinate much more quickly. All you have to do is check them daily to be sure that the soil has not dried out.

 

Broccoli, if you read the seed package, takes about 55 days to maturity. So if you plant in mid-July, you should be picking heads of broccoli in mid-September or even a bit earlier. Read the seed packets carefully: as I peruse my Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog, I see broccoli varieties that mature in anywhere from 48 to 80 days. Some varieties like ‘Arcadia’ (63 days) are listed as “Tolerant of cold stress.” That one also says it makes lots of side shoots. Since broccoli produces well into October for me, getting side shoots is important.

 

So how should you plant broccoli if you have always put it in as nice little plants that you – or the local grower down the road – has grown? I would suggest planting 3 seeds in groups about 16 inches apart. Why 3 seeds? First, not every seed will germinate, so I like to ensure that at least one will come up. But rather than plant them like carrots in a long line, just plant a few seeds where you want one plant. Then as soon as the plants have 2 real leaves, pull out all but one. And since you’ll see leaves in clumps every 16 inches, you won’t have a hard time identifying them – even if you have never done it before.

 

Happy rich

One of my favorite veggies is one you might not know: Happy Rich. It is a non-heading broccoli type plant. Instead of one big head, it produces many small heads similar to side-shoots on standard broccoli. I get seeds from Johnny’s Seeds. A similar plant is piricicaba, which I get from Hudson Valley Seed Library. Both are quick to mature and have sweet flavored florets. I find they are tasty even if the florets don’t get picked on time and they produce white or yellow flowers. And the leaves are tasty, too!

 

Carrots and beets can take 55 days to maturity, or up to 80 days. Select early varieties for fall crops now. Yaya and Mokum are both under 60 days, while most storage carrots are about 75 days – which still means they will be ready by the end of September – and long before hard frost.

 

I suggest buying pelleted seeds for carrots if planting now. Pelleted seeds are coated with a layer of clay, which means they are much larger and easier to handle. Plant them an inch or two apart and they will not be competing with each other as tiny seedlings – and will grow faster. Planted an inch apart you will not have to thin them until they are edible-sized.

 

I planted lettuce and arugula seeds in late June. Arugula, which is basically a weed, germinated right away. Both need little or no soil cover – they need light to germinate. I try to plant lettuce once a month all summer and into the fall to keep it coming. Hot weather encourages lettuce to bolt, or produce flowers and seeds. Once the plants start to elongate in preparation for flowering, they get a bit bitter. Edible, but not as sweet.

 

Swiss chard is another quick and easy crop that you can plant now. My High Mowing organic seed catalog has half a dozen different varieties that mature in 50 to 60 days, and produce baby greens in 25. I particularly like the ‘Rainbow Mix’ that has stems of yellow, red and orange. And did you know that beets and Swiss chards are just variations on the same species? Yup. And you can eat the roots of Swiss chard like beets when you pull them in the fall.

 

Red Meat Radish

My favorite radish is one that I will plant soon: ‘Red Meat’ radish from Johnny’s seeds. It is red in the middle instead of white like a watermelon. It never has the sharp bite of a spring radish, and stays nice even when the radishes get to be golf ball-sized and bigger. If planted in spring, it bolts.

 

In the past I’ve had good luck planting daikon radishes in the summer for fall use, too. These Japanese radishes get huge, and have a distinctive bite. Many use them for pickling.

 

So get out there and plant some seeds. Just be sure that they stay well-watered and most things will do just fine. Even many green beans only need 55 days. So if you were too busy to plant before the 4th of July, get started now.

 

Read Henry’s twice-weekly blog posts at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy You can sign up for an e-mail alert each time he posts. You may reach Henry at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746 or henry.homeyer@comcast.net.

 

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When Good Flowers Get Out of Control http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/06/27/when-good-flowers-get-out-of-control/ Tue, 27 Jun 2017 10:00:21 +0000 http://www.gardening-guy.com/?p=2546 Every garden has a few thugs. Nice flowers with handsome blooms that somehow get too rambunctious and take over. They can choke out other plants as easily as weeds. That happens, in part, because we are reluctant to pull them. In general, they have roots that extend and send up new shoots. Let’s look at a few.

 

I recently pulled up a lot of beebalm (Monarda didyma). That was tough for me to do because it is such a great flower, and it has not yet bloomed. But it had run roughshod over most of one large flower bed, and it had to be brought under control.

 

Beebalm

Beebalm likes morning sunshine and soil that does not dry out completely. There is also a native beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) that I’ve seen wild in the Mid-west and Rockies. It is shorter, and has pale lavender colored flowers. It does well in hot, dry locations. Our garden beebalm comes in six or more colors from purple to pink – but it does best out of the hot afternoon sun. It sends roots up to a couple of feet, and because it is tall, it can shade-out and out-compete other flowers. As the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland pronounce, “Off with her head!”

 

For removing any plant with extended roots, I like the CobraHead weeder. It is curved like a single steel finger, and can be used to loosen the soil under and around weed (or thug-like flower) roots. I gently tug on the flower stem, while loosening the roots. Beebalm, like most plants with long roots, has nodules in the roots. If you break the root, new plant stems will grow from a nodule.

 

Another difficult plant is Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana). What a funny name for a plant that is not the slightest bit obedient. Its roots are problematic because they break so easily, more so than any other plant I know. They send down a tap root that breaks off, even if you have loosened the soil. And it can take over a garden in just a season! I no longer allow it in any of my garden beds, but have moved some to the edge of the woods where deep shade on one side, and lawn on the other, can control it.

 

All that said, Obedient Plant is a lovely cut flower. It has strong square stems (like mints), and for me it grows up to 5 or 6 feet tall. It lasts well in a vase, with pink or white spikes of many small flowers. I had it in full sun in rich, moist soil, and it ran like crazy!

 

There is a form of Obedient Plant that has green and white leaves, and it is much more obedient! Like any variegated-leafed plant, this one has less vigor because it has less green chlorophyll to make the food that feeds the roots and flowers. I grow this one, though I find I often need to stake it to keep the flower stems from flopping over.

 

Teasel

Another potential thug that I allow in my garden is common teasel (Dipsacus fullonum). Hated by corn farmers in the Mid-West as an invasive weed, it spreads by seed, not root. It’s a biennial. The first year of its life it does not flower, but produces distinctive long, light-green leaves (often with little wart-like bumps) in a low rosette. The second year it sends up a flower stalk up to 6 or 7 feet tall, and produces a seed head that is like a piece of sculpture.

 

Individual teasel flowers are very small and a light purple, but they don’t all appear at once. Bees love them! The seed head is very showy, a 2-inch spiny extravaganza that looks great in a vase as a cut flower, or later as a dried flower. I wear leather gloves to pick it, and then rub off the spines on the stems for use in vases.

 

The key to controlling teasel is to learn to recognize and pull the first year plants. That, and picking the stems with flowers before they distribute seeds. I suppose I will get e-mail telling me how stupid I am for allowing this thug in my garden, but I have been able to keep it under control – and I introduced it 20 years ago! Don’t introduce it to your garden unless you can pay attention to it, and keep it controlled.

 

Sometimes we make mistakes. We see a well-controlled plant blooming in its pot and buy one (or more). We put it in the garden, and only later decide that it has some bad qualities. It has taken me a long time to realize that it’s great to recognize that a plant is not for me, and then be able to dig it up and toss it into the compost.

 

I recently needed space for a new plant, and decided that I did not like my Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera siberica). I bought it because I have another species of Bugloss (B. macrophylla) that I like a lot. ‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera has lovely small blue flowers in spring and low green and white leaves all summer. But the Siberian relative does not stay in a compact mound, and is a bit floppy. So I yanked it in favor of something new.

 

Call me fickle if you wish, but I have a limited amount of garden space, and I reserve the right to remove any plant that does not, at least occasionally, cause me to say with glee, “I love that plant!”

 

Read Henry’s twice-weekly blog posts at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy You can sign up for an e-mail alert each time he posts. You may reach Henry at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746 or henry.homeyer@comcast.net.

 

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5 Things You MUST DO in the Vegetable Garden This Weekend – or Soon http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/06/20/5-things-you-must-do-in-the-vegetable-garden-this-weekend-or-soon/ Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:00:24 +0000 http://www.gardening-guy.com/?p=2539 Okay, nobody likes to be told what they have to do. Or when they have to do it, so I apologize for telling you what to do. And you don’t really have to do these things immediately, but doing them soon will help you later on.

 

  1. It’s time to thin root crops- my least favorite task in the garden. But by now carrots, beets, parsnips and so forth need to be thinned in order for them to develop well.
  2. You need to put in your tomato supports to keep the plants off the ground, either tying them to stakes or surrounding them with wire cages.
  3. You need to hill up your potatoes if they have six to twelve inches of green growth by now.
  4. Cut off those tall flower spikes from your rhubarb. Quick, easy, productive.
  5. Weed.

 

Beets ready for thinning

Let’s take a look at each of these tasks. First, it’s important to thin root crops that are too close. I’m assuming you planted these frost hardy plants in late April or May, and they have gotten to be 3 inches or so tall by now. They’re big enough that you don’t have to wear your reading glasses to distinguish individual plants.

 

Carrots and beets can compete with each other just as they would have to compete with weeds. Nutrients from the soil, water, even sunshine is minimized if veggies are too close. So thin your carrots and beets to an inch apart now, and 2 to 3 inches in a month. Yes, you can get a crop without thinning, but the production is vastly reduced. And you can eat the thinnings.

 

Beets seeds are actually seed capsules with 2 to 3 seeds inside each one. So no matter how well you space your seeds, you will need to thin them. There are monogerm beets like ‘Moneta’ from Johnny’s Selected Seeds that only have one beet embryo per seed capsule, but those are rare. You can re-plant the thinnings, but it’s not always successful. Take a pencil, poke a hole, drop in the roots of the beet, and firm up the soil. Or you can just eat the beet greens.

 

When I was young and very busy raising kids, I didn’t stake up all my tomatoes. Some I let flop over and lay on piles of straw. Those on the ground suffered from diseases much more than those I caged. I now use 4-legged cages that are 54 inches tall – the biggest commercially available.

 

This year a friend gave me a home-made cage made from sheep fencing. The fencing is made into a 24-inch cylinder that stands 48 inches tall. Each cage needs a 6-foot grade stake to keep it from tipping over and openings that are big enough for your hand to pass through to pick tomatoes. I’ll decide if this cage is worth replicating next year.

 

Depending on the weather and where you garden, it may be time to hill your potatoes. This means adding soil over the planted seed potatoes. Roots go down from the seed potato, and new potatoes form above the seed potatoes. If you want lots of potatoes, there has to be room for them to grow. So adding soil from the walkways or your compost pile is essential to having enough depth for good production. Another way to do that is to pile on a thick layer of hay or straw, a technique I am trying with some of my potatoes.

 

Rhubarb with seeds ready to cut off

Rhubarb, I have heard, is one of the last flavors to be lost by the elderly as their senses diminish. That’s why, I suppose, that homes for the elderly serve rhubarb desserts at this time of the year. It’s very easy to grow- once established there is little to do other than occasionally add some compost to the soil, or to scratch in some organic fertilizer.

 

By now, however, rhubarb is sending up tall shoots with white flowers to produce seeds. They are quite spectacular as flowers go – they grow as fast as Jack’s proverbial beanstalks. But like all seeds, they consume energy and minerals from the soil, so it makes sense to cut them down.

 

Last, but not least, you need to weed. You know that. I find that if weeding becomes a regular part of you day – like brushing your teeth or making your bed – the weeds will not overcome your garden. Even 10 or 15 minutes a day will make a huge difference.

 

Right now I have been concentrating on tall, deep-rooted weeds like dandelions and burdock. I find that since the soil is moist down deep, it is easier to get these weeds more easily than later in the summer when the soil is dry. I use a garden fork to loosen the soil down a foot or more, then apply even, gentle pressure pulling on the top of the plant. Most come out all in one piece. That’s good, as a broken tap root will send a new plant up later.

 

Deep rooted weeds pull nicely when soil is wet

Never let weeds go to flower or set seeds. If nothing else, snip or pull off the flowers to keep the weeds from producing seeds. If you have particularly virulent weeds like goutweed, dispose of the flower heads in the trash going to the incinerator or land fill. Some weeds can produce viable seeds even after being pulled or having their flowers cut off.

 

So get busy in your vegetable garden. There’s lots to do.

 

Read Henry’s twice weekly blog at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy. Reach him by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net.

 

 

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Primroses and Other Great Plants for Shade http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/06/13/primroses-and-other-great-plants-for-shade/ Tue, 13 Jun 2017 10:00:10 +0000 http://www.gardening-guy.com/?p=2533 If I were to be consigned to life on a remote island, what one flower would I bring along with me? That’s a bit like asking you which child is your favorite, or which piece of music you could listen to for all eternity.

 

There are so many wonderful flowers, but some years ago I pondered the question and selected the peony ‘Festiva Maxima’. That’s a double white one with a spot of red in the middle, and a fragrance so alluring, I wrote, that it could make one swoon. I acknowledged that Festiva Maxima does have a flaw: rain weighs down the blossoms, and sometimes the flowers break their stems – even if in a peony support cage.

 

Primula japonica

But if you were to ask me today, I would say my favorite flower is the Candelabra or Japanese primrose, Primula japonica. I have a patch of them blooming in the shade of 3 old wild apples in moist, dark soil. I started with just a few plants, but they drop seeds and fill in spaces, overtaking what was once a meager, struggling lawn.

 

I estimate that right now I have 200 to 250 square feet of primroses in full bloom; in a 3 foot by 3 foot square, I counted about 25 or 30 plants in bloom – so I have more than 500, perhaps even 750. All this in 10 or 15 years, and no work other than a once-a-year weeding of Jewel Weed, which also loves the conditions.

 

Each plant has a rosette of light green leaves and sends up a flower stalk 12 to 36 inches tall. Flowers ring the stalk in tiers, starting with one tier, and working up to 4 tiers of blossoms on the oldest plants as the season progresses. At each tier there are a dozen small blossoms – or up to 20 – pointing out like bugles. Each blossoms is about an inch across.

 

The colors vary as they hybridize. My favorites are a deep magenta. At the other end of the spectrum are the whites, though not pure white. Then there are pink, and dark pink ones. All are fabulous. Fragrance? Nothing much. But that would be like expecting a prize poodle to be able to read the newspaper.

 

The bloom period starts for me in late May and goes through most of June. A month or more with some blossoms. At any given moment a plant might have just one ring of flowers, or up to 3. As the flowers fade and die off, some develop a nice light blue.

 

Primula kisoana

Before the candelabra primroses bloomed came another nice one, albeit with no common name, Primula kisoana. This one, unlike the other, will grow in either moist or dry shade. It has lovely pink blossoms that pop up just 6 inches above the fuzzy leaves that are so dense that they keep weeds from appearing. The leaves are 5 inches or so wide with a scalloped edge and a light green color.

 

One of the greatest things about the Primula kisoana is that it spreads by root. But unlike mint or bee balm, this little beauty does not run over and outcompete other plants. It will politely meet up with the roots of another, and move to the left or right instead of grasping for every inch of soil. Where I have it in dry shade it gets some morning sun, but no afternoon sun.

 

Another nice plant I have blooming now, and which can act as a ground cover, is bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum). To avoid confusion I should explain that the bright red or white geraniums popular in window boxes are not geraniums at all, but are in a genus (scientific grouping) known as Pelargonium. Geranium is a genus of hardy perennials.

 

Geranium macrorrhizum

The bigroot geranium thrives where other perennials may survive, but few love: dry shade with competition from tree roots. Maples and locust are notorious for sucking everything out of the soil, yet I have planted the bigroot geranium under those trees, and had them thrive. Will they grow under hemlocks or pines? No, that’s asking too much.

 

Bigroot geranium comes in at least three colors: white, pink and dark pink. The leaves are about a foot tall, with the flower stems standing above them at about 20 inches. Their leaves form a dense mass of foliage that most weeds find inhospitable.

 

On another note, many readers have been complaining that their tomatoes are yellow-leafed and miserable looking. Not to worry. Tomatoes need sunshine, and early June was, for most of us, rainy and cold. They will recover soon.

 

Plants suck up moisture that contains the minerals they need – but only if the moisture is required to replace water that the plants have given off. They don’t give off much water vapor when it’s chilly and wet, so they can get nitrogen-starved. With heat and sunshine they will recover.

 

I have set up Adirondack chairs near my primroses and spend at least some time there every day. And even though I’ll never have to pick just one flower to grow, these primroses are a real delight to me.

 

Read Henry’s twice weekly blog at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy. Reach him by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net.

 

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Mulching: Hay, Straw and More http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/06/06/mulching-hay-straw-and-more/ Tue, 06 Jun 2017 10:00:17 +0000 http://www.gardening-guy.com/?p=2527 If weeds are the bane of the gardener, mulch is the gardener’s friend. Not only that, mulch can hold in moisture in dry times, and give a nice, tidy look to the garden.

 

Let’s start in the vegetable garden. Properly mulched, weeding can be minimal – say an hour a week for a big garden like mine. I keep down weeds in my walkways and around all large plants like tomatoes with a one-two punch: a layer of newspapers (4 to 6 pages thick) and a layer of straw or mulch hay (4 to 6 inches thick before it packs down).

 

This straw seed head has no seeds

What is the difference between mulch hay and straw? Price, for starters. You can easily pay $8 to $10 a bale for straw, and as little as $2 or $3 for hay. Why is that? Straw is grown as a crop specifically sold as mulch, and it has no seeds. You might see what appear to be seed heads, but they are empty as the farmer grows rye, then cuts it before pollination takes place.

 

Hay is a waste product: food for dairy cows that got rained on, and is no longer edible. Picky eaters, those dairy cows. And it has plenty of seeds. The newspapers I put beneath it generally keep hay seeds from growing in the garden. But some seeds will escape and grow – particularly in the spring of year two unless you did a phenomenal job of cleaning up in the fall.

 

Many gardeners use black landscape fabric in the flower garden, covered with bark mulch or wood chips. The fabric is a good barrier, though the roots of some weeds and grasses can get through it, making it difficult to remove. Other gardeners use bark mulch directly on the soil, and that can be effective, too.

 

If you use wood chips or bark mulch, be sure not to place too thick a layer down. Two to three inches is good, 4 to 6 inches is bad – the mulch will keep a quick rain shower from getting moisture to the roots of your plants.

 

Hay & newspapers used as mulch

Some gardeners worry about bark mulch stealing nitrogen from the soil as it breaks down. Don’t. Yes, the microorganisms that break down the mulch need some nitrogen, but I have never seen plant leaves turn yellow (the sign of nitrogen deficiency) because of mulch. Or if you must worry, just put a layer of slow-release organic fertilizer on the soil beneath the mulch.

 

You can buy wood chips or ground bark mulch in bags or by the truckload. Buying it by the bag is convenient if you just need a little, but it is much more expensive that way.

 

If buying wood chips by the bag, read the label. If it says, ‘color enhanced’, I would avoid it. It means the chips have been dyed – and I am an organic gardener who does not want chemicals. I have heard that some cheap wood chips are actually construction waste that has been chipped and dyed – old 2-by-4’s and the like.

 

I like ground hemlock because of the color, and the fact that it tends to last longer than some others (except cedar, but I have only found that for sale in bags). I buy the hemlock by the pick-up truck load.

 

And please, for the health of your trees, do not create “mulch volcanos.” To keep down weeds some gardeners pile wood chips right up against the trunks of trees in a volcano shape. The wood chips may harbor fungi and bacteria that can attack the bark of your precious tree, eventually killing it in 6 to 10 years. Instead of a volcano, create a “donut.” Leave 3 or 4 inches of space between the tree and the mulch.

 

Leaves are great mulch

My favorite mulch? Fall leaves that have been run over by a lawn mower, then raked and stored for the spring. Full of goodness for the soil, and a good deterrent to weeds. Over the years, leaves will enrich your soil considerably. And they’re free!

 

Cocoa mulch is sold as a mulch, and I know some who love it. It has a very fine texture and looks nice. But it smells like chocolate chip cookies when it first goes down, and some dogs have been known to consume it – causing sickness and even death if one believes everything one reads on the internet. Chocolate products are bad for dogs. It also tends to mold, though that only lasts a week or so. It can be very slippery when wet; I advise against using it on a hillside.

 

Buckwheat hulls are an alternative to cocoa mulch, but they are not sold in many garden centers. Like cocoa hulls, they are very fine textured and look very nice, but are very expensive compared to bark or wood chips.

 

At the Chelsea Flower Show, which I attended recently in London, someone had quotes about gardening stenciled onto blank walls. One of my favorites was from Robert M. Pyle: “But make no mistake: the weeds will win. Nature bats last.” So mulch, but don’t expect to get a summer of weed-free gardening.

 

Read Henry’s blog at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy. He has a dozen photos from the Chelsea Flower show there now. You may e-mail him at henry.homeyer@comcast.net.

 

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The Chelsea Flower Show http://www.gardening-guy.com/2017/05/31/the-chelsea-flower-show/ Wed, 31 May 2017 10:00:43 +0000 http://www.gardening-guy.com/?p=2520 It would be a bit of an exaggeration to say that I have always wanted to attend the Chelsea Flower Show in London. But not much. For years I’ve dreamed of going – and finally, this year, I went. Air ticket prices are down dramatically, the dollar is strong, and I decided there was no better time than now to cross off yet another item on my bucket list. It was well worth the effort.

 

Some basics: the Chelsea Flower Show is held on the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital in central London, which is now a retirement home for World War II soldiers. The show is bigger than anything in America: it encompasses 11 acres of displays, the vast majority of which are outdoors. That means that full-sized mature trees are installed, and in one case, a garden in a faux stone quarry was installed with blocks of stone stacked up more than 25 feet.

 

The show includes garden displays, rare plants, sculpture, food courts, vendors selling garden paraphernalia, music and much, much more. It has been an annual event since 1913 with the exception of a few years during the World Wars .

 

Cirsium rivulare Atropurpureum

Tickets for next year’s show go on sale August 1, and although prices are not yet posted, tickets are not cheap – this year a full day ticket went for 100 pounds (($128). Each year the number of tickets is limited and they generally sell out before the event – this year some determined attendees apparently paid scalpers 500 pounds and more. It’s the Super Bowl of gardening.

 

If you want to go next year, the best plan is buy a membership to the Royal Horticultural Society, which allows you to attend a day before the doors open to the public, and offers discounted tickets.

 

I go to flower shows to learn. I delighted in seeing new (to me) species of flowers and new ways of combining flowers in the garden. I loved meeting garden experts and artists who created sculpture for the gardens.

 

So what are some of the things I learned? Thistles, which we generally consider weeds, can look great when planted in the garden. There I was in a city of millions, and a thistle, Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’, was loaded with bees of all sorts! Clearly a great pollinator. Although a quick internet search did not lead me to seeds for that magenta-purple variety I saw there, I did find some seeds for a species native to the U.S. – Cirsium discolor – that is not the weedy pest farmers hate. So I shall order some seeds and try growing it.

 

Allium schubertii

Alliums were in all their glory at the show. Big, dramatic balls of flowers on 18- to 30-inch stems were used in many of the gardens. These are bulb plants in the onion family, and I have a few. I shall look for Allium schubertii which has an other-worldly pinkish flower head about 16 inches across. Another good one was just labeled with its variety name, ‘Powder Puff’.

 

Angelica (Angelica gigas) is another flower that was often used in the show. This is a 3- to 5-foot tall purple-leafed flower that I grew 25 years ago, but it is a biennial that does not come back after flowering, and I dropped it from my plant palette. But I have already purchased and planted one since returning from the Chelsea show. It can be very dramatic in the garden.

 

Ferns were used as filler in many of the gardens at Chelsea, and I shall try using them, too. Of course, their gardens only had to look good for 6 days, so ferns that spread, or get too tall, were not a problem, though they might be in my garden. I have a patch of Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum) which is great in dry shade. But this summer I will investigate other ferns. Many nurseries sell them, but I admit I haven’t paid much attention to them.

 

George Ball of Burpee

Interesting people I met? George Ball, owner of Burpee Seeds was there. He is a highly knowledgeable (and opinionated) plantsman who is passionate about seeds. I was interested to learn from him that Melania Trump’s grandfather was a Slovenian onion breeder.

 

Mr. Ball pointed out that most vegetable seeds originally came from Europe, which is actually farther north than we are – and hence not good choices here. He believes that modern hybrids, not heirloom seeds originally from Europe, are best. And he told me that in a blind taste test, 4 of 5 times, Burpee’s hybrid ‘Brandy Boy’ beat the heirloom ‘Brandywine’, which is one of my favorites for flavor. I am trying it this year, since it ripens earlier, and produces more fruit, according to him. I’ll let you know how mine do in August.

 

At a reception on press day by David Austin Roses for a new rose named after actress Dame Judi Dench, who was there, I met the 91-year old founder of the company. I was able to thank him for all the beauty he has introduced to the world.

 

The English know how to throw a party – or have a flower show. Picnics with champagne were everywhere. Women were dressed in flowered clothes and elegant garden hats; men wore suits, even in the hot sun. Of course, everyone was very polite. And I got to check off another item on my bucket list.

 

Read Henry’s twice-weekly garden blog at https://dailyuv.com/gardeningguy You may reach Henry at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or P.O. Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746.

 

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