Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I've Moved..

I've moved The Kat's Garden over to it's own domain instead of a Blogger domain. So please join me at www.thekatsgarden.com. See you there.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Create a Salad Basket

At the nursery, I make quite a few salad baskets in the spring for customers looking to enjoy the benefits of growing their own salad, but with minimal space. I find, however, that salad baskets can be quite handy late in the season when the weather starts to become unpleasant. Easily portable, salad baskets can be moved to a location near the kitchen where they can decorate a porch or windowsill. They can even be brought inside at night when there is a heavy frost. To create your own salad basket you will need the following items:
A basket (thrift stores are a great source of these)
Organic potting soil
Plastic liner (several layers of a black trash bag will do)
An assortment of herbs & veggies.
A bit of green moss

Line your basket with plastic, trimming it to about 1/2" below the top of the basket and poke a few drainage holes in the bottom. Fill your basket with soil and plant. In the basket above I used some parsley, cilantro, Swiss chard, one 4 pk of asst lettuce and an ornamental pepper for fun. I love the way red color is carried throughout the basket in the peppers, lettuce and stems of the chard. I topped the soil with a bit of green moss to give a finished look and hold soil in until the plants are established. Simply add some ribbon and salad & herb baskets can make great inexpensive gifts for cooks and are simple to make. Total time planting the basket was about 20 minutes. The above basket was photographed about two weeks after planting and it's ready to enjoy. Keep moist, trim as needed and enjoy some fresh salad greens and herbs.

Potty About Chartreuse

In a recent #FollowFriday on Twitter, Pat FitzGerald (@PatFitzGerald on Twitter and very fun to follow) labeled me as being "potty about chartreuse" based on my recent comments on one of his gorgeous new introductions. After I got over my initial shock of the use of the word "potty," (realizing that in Ireland it had an entirely different meaning)I thought he really hit the nail on the head. But I don't think he had any idea just how potty I am.

I think for many gardeners our taste in plants grows and changes throughout our lives. When I was in my late teens I was fascinated with black flowers and dreamed of an all black garden I would someday have. I wanted Watchman hollyhocks, Queen of the Night tulips and Penny Black Nemophila. The darker and more shocking the color, the better. I wanted to be shocking. I wanted a garden that would make the garden club ladies faint. But as I grew up, and became a tad bit less rebellious, the need to plant a garden that would affect others in a shocking manner lessened and I never planted the all black garden. I have over the years utilized some of the flowers, but never gave any Master Gardeners a coronary. In fact I did an almost complete about face, my first garden was an English cottage style with masses of well coordinated pastels. I planted foxgloves, delphiniums, poppies and even roses. I think it was about this time I purchased my first wide brimmed gardening hat. I knew who Rosemary Verey and Vita Sackville-West were and I wanted to be just like them... well maybe not the whole Virgina Wolf thing. My galvanized watering can, however, was stamped "Sissinghurst"

After this I went through a brief bold color period and realized how difficult it was to find orange and yellow flowers for the shade. I briefly toyed with pink when I noticed how lovely the last rays of light looked on the petals of the evening primrose. And then I noticed green. Not just any green, but chartreuse. A color that wasn't quite yellow, but yellow enough with enough green to be a close second cousin of lime.

I was shopping for a combination of shade tolerant flowers to plant in my window box near my newly painted red front door. I had settled on some warm red impatiens and searched for something trailing. That's when I first saw Lysmachia 'Aurea' and fell in love. Placed next to deep red of the impatiens I had a combination that was both unexpected and coordinated. A match that was slightly off center, but felt right somehow.

To date, my affair with chartreuse has been the longest running yet, going on about 6 years. Each year I stuff my planters with more Lysmachia and am overjoyed when something new enters my world like Lemon Fizz Santolina from Native Sons, Proven Winner's Illusion Emerald Lace Ipomoea or the yet-to-be-named grassy plant at Pat FiztGerald's nursery. The color still feels fresh to me, reminding me of an early spring green... on acid. It brightens shady areas and can hold it's own in the sun. It compliments my reds and oranges and can look totally shocking with bright pink. Throw in some purple and things can get really wild. But pair it with a rich burgundy or maroon and you can have something really classy. So yes Pat, you were right. I'm potty, really potty about chartreuse.

Here are a few new favorites:

Lemon Fizz Santolina from Native Sons

Illusion Emerald Lace Ipomoea (I swear no two leaves are exactly alike)

Do you have a color you are just potty about? Or perhaps it's a family of plants. Let us know in the comments.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Used to Have a Lawn

I used to have a lawn, but now I have my freedom. Often, I don’t realize how limiting something is until it is gone. Several years after converting to Buddhism, I gave up celebrating Christmas altogether. I had always loved that time of year. I loved decorating my home, wrapping presents, and baking cookies. But after following my own path for several years, it started to make less sense to me. All that holiday prep was not without its own stressful limitations. Trying to find the perfect gift for everyone in my family could be difficult. Budgetary concerns limited my shopping for friends and coworkers. Decorating the house, and then later taking it all down, could leave me exhausted. But I did all of this because everyone else I knew did it too. It was expected. I wasn’t sure how they would react if I would suddenly just stop. One year I decided that I would never know unless I tried. That year, I told my family and friends that I would no longer be exchanging gifts at the end of December and wished them a wonderful holiday season. Then I sat back and waited. I waited for the fallout. My parents didn’t understand entirely, but they respected my decision. Friends seemed almost relieved that they could cross one more name off their list. None of my neighbors even noticed the absence of lights on my home. The decision was made and that was that. But how would I feel? Would I miss it? I can honestly say that without all the stress, I had the best Christmas of my life that year. I still went to holiday gatherings and was relaxed enough to enjoy my friends' company. Instead of baking cookies for everyone on the planet, I learned to bake bread. And on Christmas Eve, I took a long walk through my quiet neighborhood and enjoyed the holiday decorations more than ever.

The decision to give up my lawn was a similar process. Growing up, I had always loved lying out on the lawn in the summer and looking up at the clouds passing overhead. I loved the way the damp grass felt against my skin. I loved the way it smelled when freshly mowed. But as I became an adult and grew as a gardener, my priorities started to change. I had very little time to just lay on the grass and daydream. I started to worry about the amount of water I used to keep the grass happy in California. I was running out of room in my yard and there were so many cool new plants left to try. I made a choice and the lawn was removed. Again, I waited for the comments from neighbors. Oddly, there was none. If they thought ill of me during that time, they were polite enough to keep it to themselves.

During the next few years, the front yard went through a couple of changes. I planted a gorgeous perennial garden and loved it. But then the city took out a pine tree and the sun exposure changed dramatically on over half the yard. As I relocated the struggling shade plants to spots in the back yard, I found myself marveling at the simplicity of the bare dirt. Did I want to expand the complex color combinations of a sunny perennial planting to the entire yard? Or should that change too? Was I still enjoying the plants enough to continue with the weeding, deadheading and dividing that they required? About this time in my life, I was starting to explore other hobbies in graphic illustration and design. As I tended my yard, I could feel myself being pulled back to my office to work on a new project. Something needed to give.

The front is now in the beginning its journey as a low water, minimal maintenance garden. The grasses planted from pony packs are starting to fill in beautifully. Their feathery seed heads are a relaxing sight as they wave in the afternoon breeze. The creeping thyme is filling in nicely around the pavers. The newly planted Erigeron and Gallardia are blooming their hearts out as best they can before the season closes. There are bare spots that still need to be filled in and soil that still needs to be amended, but it can wait. I no longer have to run out and water before work to make sure plants make it through our summer heat. In fact, most mornings I can stand on my porch surveying the garden and realize I don’t have to do anything. And that is the beauty of it. Because I am no longer tied to the care and nurturing of my garden, I find I enjoy it more. Just like that long walk on a quiet Christmas Eve, I can now sit on my porch and listen to the bees as they buzz about the flowers. I can watch the robins as they scratch at the dirt looking for something tasty. I can just be.

Monday, September 14, 2009

It's Almost Pumpkin Time!

Halloween is hands down my favorite holiday. So it makes perfect sense as a gardener to grow a few of my own decorations for the season. I love pumpkins of all shapes, sizes and colors. The more variety I can have, the better. The drawback, however, is that the vines can be huge. The Jarrahdale pumpkin pictured left is on a vine that spans over 12 feet. So as much as I would love to have one in each color, I must pick and choose. This year, the blue-gray Jarrahdale and some mini pumpkins won out.

It is about this time of year that my pumpkin vines start to look a little ragged. This means that they are about done producing for the season and it will soon be time to harvest my pumpkins. But just how do you know when your pumpkin is ready to be harvested? Just follow these tips and you will be able to enjoy your pumpkin at Halloween (and if you don't carve it) and beyond:

1. Your pumpkin is ready for harvest when they are the appropriate color and the skin has hardened enough that you can't easily poke a hole in it with your fingernail.
2. Cut the pumpkin from the vine leaving about 3-4 inches of stem with a pair of pruning shears. Leaving a stem is not only more attractive, but it stops the pumpkin from rotting at the top.
3. Never carry the pumpkin by the stem. It may not be able to hold the weight of the pumpkin.
4. Allow them to "cure" in the sun for about 10 days to cause the stem to harden and dry.
5. Once cured, store pumpkins in a cool location (50-55 degrees) to promote longevity.

The photo of the Jarrahdale above was taken about 3 weeks ago and it has since ripened to a beautiful blue-grey color. Since the weather is still warm and I'm not quite ready to start decorating for Halloween, however, I've decided to leave the pumpkin on the vine just a bit longer.

How has your pumpkin growing season been this year? Let us know in the comments below.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The subtlety of the seasons

It's easy to miss the changing of the seasons this time of year in California. The hills have been brown for a while so there really isn't much chance of a seasonal display. The geese aren't migrating anywhere, but rather take a morning flight around the neighborhood only to settle down at the lake they took off from. But there are signs if you look carefully.

Every morning I have to duck under the garden orb spider's web that stretches from my door to the front hedge. The spider, less than a quarter of an inch now, will be about the size of a quarter in October. The morning light on the seed heads of the Prairie Love Grass seems to be particularly enchanting now. And the afternoon breeze is coming from a slightly different direction as it cools down the yard after a day of warm weather. Fall is on its way.

But because the seasons don't abruptly start and stop, there is much overlap in vegetable growth. And it's this time every year that I have to make the difficult decision of when to take out the still producing warm season crop. Most of the time the decison is based on when I have time to do it. Such is the case this year. With the nursery season slowing a bit, I'm able to take an extra day off here and there. With the long Labor Day weekend here, I decided that today was the day. The colorful basket above it the result of a portion of a veggie garden's demise. The mini pumpkin vine that has come up as a total volunteer was already starting to wither and die so the fruits of it's efforts this year will now decorate my front desk well into the holiday season. The Lemon Boy tomatoes have already found there way into a batch of salsa blended with mango and peach chunks for a bit of sweetness. The eggplant will be chopped and sauteed to be stuffed into the Anaheim peppers with a bit of cheese for tonight's dinner.

As bittersweet as it is to see this garden season come to a close, I'm anxious to get a jump on the fall season. Snap peas have already been planted along with another crop of potatoes. A few bunches of lettuce are waiting for their spicier companions--arugula and mustard. Soon I'll be deciding if I want to battle the cabbage moth's offspring for some broccoli and kale. So as I uproot and chop the plants that have produced so well this season into neat little piles, I find myself feeling reinvigorated and renewed. Once again the garden becomes a clean slate in which to plant. And once again my gardening spirit is reborn.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Colorful Cool Season Vegetables

Now is a great time to start cool season vegetables from seed. For most people, the spring/summer vegetable garden is the most favored because of the variety of plants that can be grown. With fewer choices for cool season, the fall/winter gardens can seem a little boring. But this doesn’t need to be the case. If you would like to add some variety to your cool season garden, now is the perfect time to try some of these more unusual varieties of plants available from Botanical Interests seeds. Botanical Interests is one of my favorite seed companies. Not only for the awesome seed varieties they carry, but for the beautiful package illustrations. I love spreading my seed packet collection out on a table to decide just what I’ll be growing for that season.

Beets-Gourmet Blend. I have to admit that it wasn’t until recently that I became a fan of fresh beets. I grew up with the canned, pickled beets and that was all I knew. But once I tried fresh cooked beets, the canned beets paled in comparison. This gourmet blend is not only tasty but beautiful as well. The vivid gold, orange, purple and red beets maintain their lovely colors even when cooked. Both the tops and the roots are edible so you double the amount of production in your gardening bed. Although all the beets are sweet and delicious, my personal favorite is the orange. Easy to prepare by simply cubing and cooking in the microwave or roasting to increase their sweet flavor, I find they need very little additional seasoning.

Bright Lights Chard. Now that you have your gourmet beets, why not plant some matching chard? This variety of chard is easy to grow and lovely in the garden. I find that the colorful stalks and full, ruffled leaves make great filler for fall/winter container gardens. Pair them with edible flowers like brightly colored violas, nasturtiums, or calendula for a bold splash of color that can be added to salads. Use young, fresh leaves chopped in salads to add color and texture. Cook larger stalks and leaves like spinach and enjoy their rich buttery flavor. Try this recipe from Simply Recipes

Carrots-Carnival Blend. Since we are already growing the colorful chard & beets, why not round things out with these delightful carrots? I think colored vegetables are particularly fun for children and fresh carrots are jam packed with nutrition. For better germination success, soak your seeds 12 hours before planting. I’m a big fan of ginger and love this Honey Ginger Carrots recipe from allrecipes.com

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rudbeckia & Gallardia

I find that this time of year many gardens start to look a bit sad. Once we get a few weeks of sustained heat here on the Central Coast, many annuals start to wither. Once the heat starts to push them to increased seed production, you better be deadheading on a regular basis if you want to keep them going. If, however, you’ve been busy with family, vacation, or life in general and haven’t been spending as much time in the garden as you did in early spring, you may want to make a few additions to your flower patch to freshen it up and get ready to head into fall.
A few of my favorite flowers this time of year are rudbeckia, and gallardia. Their happy daisy- like flowers and bold colors scream summer to me. In fact, the golden yellow hues of the flowers seem to mimic the summer sun. The most traditional of all rudbeckias, the Black-Eyed-Susan is said to have likely derived its name from an 18th century poem entitled “The Black Eyed Susan.” Growing wild through most of the United States, it is the state flower of Maryland. And although in some areas, it is considered almost a weed because it is so abundant, here it seems to behave itself nicely and can become a very hardworking member of your flower border. The common gallardia, also known as “Blanket Flower” can be found in many wildflower mixes as well.
Both rudbeckias and gallardias prefer a sunny spot in the garden. Although they are not particularly fussy about soil, good drainage will prevent them from rotting out during our rare wet winters. Although they can be started from seed, they can give your garden a quick pick me up when planted in a larger size. During their first growing season, they prefer regular watering, but will become fairly drought tolerant once established. Not particularly needy when it comes to fertilizer, the best practice is simply a side dressing of some good compost. Because of their fuzzy leaves, rudbeckias and gallardias are deer resistant once the foliage has matured (new growth may be nibbled by deer). And as with most wildflowers, they not only attract butterflies, but a wide variety of bees including some native bees.

As with most strong yellows and oranges, these flowers seem to need equally bold partners in the garden or to be paired with complimentary colors of blue and purple. Some plants that can hold their own next to fiery flowers are Zinnias (reds, yellows & oranges), marigolds, and portulaca. In the blue purple ranges, try mixing them with blue & red penstemon, Russian & Santa Barbara sage, lavender and even agapanthus.
Although they don’t make particularly good cut flowers, their presence in the garden can certainly improve anyone’s mood.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Will there be corn?

My corn now stands about 5 feet tall and the tassel at the top has begun to open up fully. The sticky silk dangles from the emerging ears below. It seems to be doing what it should be doing. Yet, I worry. Will the corn actually pollinate on its own? I heard from so many people last year whose corn never seemed to pollinate. They planted enough of it, in rows a distance from each other. It was growing well and everything seemed fine. Yet at the end of the season, they produced only corn stalks. So last night I did some online research to see if there was anything I could do to help this wind pollinated crop along. And sure enough, man has not only found a way to meddle with Mother Nature, but he's video taped it. If you are concerned about your corn or if you are just curious about the process, the following video shows exactly how do pollinate-it-yourself.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Babiana in Blue

I recently found this adorable little surprise in my garden poking up from between some wild marjoram. As always with most bulbs, I had completely forgotten planting them and am always a little shocked when they appear. Having to battle gophers and clay soil that stays extremely wet in the winter, I assume that most bulbs won't be back. In the case of this little beauty I was even more surprised because these were throw away plants from a local nursery. Having finished blooming in their tiny little pots, they were destined for the landfill. I figured at the very least, I could give them a proper burial in my yard.
So when the bloom of the Babiana stricta greeted me the other morning, I smiled. You certainly can't beat that gorgeous blue color. A native of the African sub Sahara, these bulbs grow and bloom after the winter rains after which they prefer a bit of dryness in their dormancy. Luckily for me, I guessed correctly and planted them in a more drought tolerant section of my garden. Nicknamed the Baboon Flower, because baboons find the small corms quite tasty, they are normally planted in the fall in warm winter climates or early spring where winters are colder. If their summer dormancy requirements can be met in the ground, the plants can be left in to grow and naturalize (this particular plant has doubled in size since last year). In areas where winter ground freezes, they should be lifted after the foliage has died off and kept in a cool, dry location until the proper planting time.

In addition to this vibrant blue color, Babianas also come in white, lavender and a blue-white bicolor.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

To Bee or Not To Be

In February of 2008, Haagen-Dazs launched a campaign to bring awareness to the plight of the honeybee. Complete with an absolutely adorable website,viral video and a donation program, the company helped spread the word about the problem with Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. CCD is when (for reasons we haven't completely determined) honeybees abandon their hives leaving only immature workers and the queen. The hive eventually dies out and it is assumed that the workers that leave do so as well. First appearing in the United States, the problem has spread to Europe and Great Britain. In 2007 a beekeeper in the UK noted that 44 of his 70 hives had suffered from CCD.

But why is CCD so worrisome? Because of the critical role the bees play in pollinating our agricultural crops. Albert Eistein once predicted that if the honeybees died out, man would follow within 4 years. Forget the Armageddon that has the planet covered in ice or bursting into flames. Our demise may come quietly with the silencing of the buzzing bee.

What exactly causes CCD is still being studied. In 2007, however, a limited study at Landau University found that bees will abandon their hives when an operating cell phone is placed next to the hive. German studies have also suggested that colonies near power lines show erratic behavior. With an estimate of almost 70 percent of the commercial bee population already being lost on the East Coast and about 60 percent on the West, finding a cause and solution is crucial.

It is also important to remember, however, that the European honeybee is not our only pollinator. Native bees also serve to pollinate our crops. Long before European honeybees were imported to the States, scores of native bees were completing the pollination work quite well on their own. Unlike their European counterparts, native bees tend to live solitary lives, eschewing the comforts and demands of a hive, thus making it impossible for farmers to move them from crop to crop. Native bees, however, with a little planning, can be encouraged to visits and take care of the task at hand quite nicely.

There are about 1,500 different varieties of bees in California alone. Some look similar to their European cousins, where others look more closely related to flies. Many are active earlier in spring than the typical honeybee and can pollinate more flowers because they are faster fliers. In 1996 The Forgotten Pollinators by Buchman and Nabhan, delved into the topic of alternate pollinators for plants and raised the alarm much like Carson's Silent Spring. And today, programs are emerging to help nurture a thriving native bee population throughout California.

At a community garden in San Luis Obispo, California, plot holders are participating in a native bee study lead by Dr. Gordon Frankie at UC Berkeley. By planting flowers that are attractive to bees and forgoing mulching (native bees lay their eggs in the ground and layers of mulch make it impossible for them to dig burrows), the group at Emerson Garden found a whopping 59 different species of bees visiting their plants. Far exceeding their expectations much to the delight of the participants.

Creating a garden that is friendly to native bees is not at all difficult and being one of our most beneficial insects, it should be our top priority. By planting attractive flowers, removing mulches and forgoing insecticides, you can go a long way towards increasing pollination, the production of your crops and the health of our native bee population all at the same time.

For more information please visit Guide To Bee-Friendly Gardens - The World's Star Pollinators

Here Comes the Sun

I always forget how quickly arugula seedlings come up. Much like lettuce, you merely blink and they are sprouting. I was checking my seedlings a few days after planting for water. I pulled them off their perch on top of the refrigerator (I find that I get the most warmth up there) to find these little guys frantically seeking the sun. So I took them out of their warming tray and placed them on the window to get their first peek at the world.

Arugula is one of my favorite greens. Most people will add it to a salad, where as I will make a salad entirely of arugula. Add a little oil, vinegar, salt and perhaps some crumbled feta and I'm a happy girl. I also love just picking a leaf and munching on it in my garden as I go about my chores. It's slightly bitter taste is both refreshing and addictive.

Obviously quick to start from seed and easy to grow, arugula's only drawback is it's tendency to bolt in warm weather. I find that planting it in a partial sun location can greatly slow down this process. Also planting more than one crop assures I will have arugula through most of the season to satisfy my cravings.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Steamin' Bag Of ...

Yesterday when I went about starting some seeds, I noticed some fungi growing in a new bag of supposedly sterile seedling mix. I knew you could sterilize soil in the oven, so I did some Google research and came across several methods of sterilizing them in the microwave. Since the oven method would take about 20 minutes and the microwave method was only going to take 2.5 minutes, microwaving it was.

I followed the instruction that I found here. I piled some soil into some freezer bags and popped them in the microwave. I did read the warning on several sites about the soil creating a bad smell, but I figured, "How bad can it be?" I love the smell of damp soil so I merely opened a window. Within two minutes time of cooking, however, the kitchen was filled with a nasty odor that I'm still trying to identify. It wasn't electrical fire smell, but on the same intensity level. It wasn't burning plastic smell, but lingered just as long. It didn't smell like rotting food, but made me gag in the same way. It was a totally new smell. A totally new, awful, smell.

So be forewarned. when they say it smells, they mean it. Open plenty of doors and windows before you hit start on the microwave. And, by the way, it is supposed to smell worse when you do it in the oven. Thankfully I was pressed for time.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

When A Pumpkin A Not A Pumpkin

Last night I was finally getting around to cutting and roasting some of the pumpkins leftover from Halloween in order to save the seeds. (Yes, I know that was in October. And Yes, I know it's March. I just can't kill them before their time). I was trying to determine what varieties I had, when I came across a disturbing fact. The pumpkin in canned pumpkin doesn't look anything like a pumpkin! It looks more like pumpkin's deformed cousin, the butternut squash and that's because they are related. The pumpkin in canned pumpkin is the Dickinson (C. moschata) variety. It's actually a cross between pumpkin and butternut squash. And rather than getting the beautiful traits of it's mother, the round body, glowing orange skin, it got all the traits of it's father, except for taste. Take a look below. Isn't that a spitting image of a butternut squash. Sure does taste like pumpkin though.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Truth About Garden Remedies

The Truth About Garden Remedies: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why by Jeff Gillman is certainly worth keeping on your bookshelf. The book is a terrific guide in regards to "what not to do" in the garden. Examining old wives tales that have been passed on from gardener to gardener over the generations, Jeff tells us what works and what doesn't.

With a rating system of one to five flowers, Jeff examines everything from using beer to trap slugs & snails (four flowers) to hydrogels for water retention (a whopping don't-waste-your-money- one flower). His testing and research on why these make your own garden products don't work is excellent. He does, however, seem to be a little biased against organic controls in general. I find his testing on actual organic products that might work to be almost non-existent. Instead he merely leaves it up to the gardener to figure out. Still, knowing which concoctions might actually hurt my garden more than help and how not to waste my money is definitely worth the purchase price of the book.

Despite all the technical information that needs to be conveyed in such a book, Jeff's writing style is enjoyable and easy to read. Each section contains enough science to give us a basic understanding of what is going on and stops short of droning on and on until our eyes glaze over. Sprinklings of historical trivia (for example did you know that Forsythias were named after William Forsyth who served as King George III's gardener?) keep the book from being dry.

Although I would have liked to seen more research done on which organics might work,The Truth About Garden Remedies: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why is a good start. Jeff sums up my philosophy best in his final take home message with the following:
"Even if you don't remember what I've written about deer repellents, beer, tobacco, or baking soda, remember this take home message: Search for the why behind everything you do for your plants. Do not settle for unexplained recommendations."

The Kat's recommendation 3.5 fishes!

First Bloom

The buds of my newly planted Pink Lady apple are finally starting to open. The Pink Lady was hybridized in Australia and is a cross between a Lady Williams and a Golden Delicious. One of the later blooming apples here, it ripens in mid-October. I could say that I made my selection based on that since spring rains can drown out the blooming period of earlier blooming apples. It requires very little chill hours which is another good reason to grow it in my climate. But honestly, I picked it because it's so darn pretty. From it's delicate blooms to it's pinkish green fruit, I think it's just adorable. I can't wait to see tiny apples on the tree.

Companion Plant List

The image left is a list of companion plants for vegetable gardens. Click on the image to view full and print if you like.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Sisters

Probably one of the best known companion planting groupings is the "Three Sisters." As children we were introduced to companion planting along with our Native American studies. Said to have originated with the Iroquois, the "Three Sisters" method of planting combined three staples in the Native American diet, corn, beans and squash.

The Story
Corn, the oldest sister, was said to grow strong and proud. Squash, the youngest sister, crouched at the feet of the other two, keeping them protected from predators. Beans, the middle sister leaned on her older sister for support and twined the three together.

How It Works
The sturdy stalks of the corn plant provide a natural trellis for the beans to grown on. Because the corn needs to be planted some distance apart for better pollination, gaps are left between the plants. The squash then fills the gaps, covers the soil and shades the ground to reduce moisture loss. Beans have the remarkable ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen making it available not only to itself, but the other two. Since both corn and squash are heavy feeders, the beans help keep them supplied with food.

How to Plant
At the appropriate planting time for corn in your area (see corn packet) create a mound about two feet across with a flat top and gentle sloping sides. In the center of the mound, plant about 6 corn kernels. About two weeks later when corn plants are 5-6 inches high, plant beans about midway between the corn and the edge of the mound (make sure to use pole bean varieties and not bush). About one week after that, plant squash around the base of the mound. Once everything gets going, thin to no more than two corn plants and two bean plants per mound.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Best of Friends

As I prepare for my own vegetable garden this year, I've been doing a bit of reading on companion plantings. Some plants just get along better than other plants. One of my new favorite companion plants is borage. This lovely herb gets along with pretty much everyone. Plus it's best buddies when pared with tomatoes. In addition to improving the taste and repelling the nasty tomato worm, it also attracts bees which improve pollination and beneficial insects which help destroy a whole slew of nasty bugs. Plus, it's darn pretty. Very few flowers are truly this blue and it's a snap to grow from seed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Forcing Spring

I recently taught a class on planning a cutting garden and one of the suggestions for having flowers all years long was to force spring blooming shrubs into bloom. I've always loved the delicate blossoms of peaches, cherries and apricots, but growing up, my father would have killed us if we cut a branch off the tree. Even as an adult, I would have felt guilty trimming a fruit tree about to flower. But this year, a customer asked me to trim a bare root tree they were buying and left me with a handful of branches. Instead of throwing them out, I decided to give forcing a try.

To force spring blooming shrubs to do their thing follow these simple steps:

1. Select branches from trees who's buds are already starting to swell.
2. Lay them in a bathtub overnight filled with lukewarm water.
3. Wrap the branches in moist newspaper. (I find it easier to wrap them in dry paper and then spray the paper until it's wet).
4. Slit the bottom portion of the stem about two inches so they can absorb water better and place in a vase.
5. Mist the paper daily and change the water in the vase.
6. Remove paper when color begins to show in the buds (about one week to 10 days).

It's best to avoid a location near a heater because this dries the flowers out. You can keep them in a garage while forcing as long as the temperatures are above freezing. Misting the blossoms daily will help keep them longer.