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Category Archives: Garden

Steps for Big Garlic

Garlic is one of the easiest veggies to grow, but sometimes those big green tops yield a harvest of disappointingly small heads. After nearly a year of patiently watering, weeding and fertilizing, we want large flavorful garlic for our favorite recipes! Here’s 9 steps to take, from pre-planting preparation through harvest, to help you grow your biggest garlic heads yet.

In addition to following all of the steps outlined below, it is important to plant your garlic at the right time. Plant garlic in the Fall (September and October are the best months to plant), it should be at least 2 weeks before your first frost of the season. This affords your garlic the best possible chances to withstand Winter conditions by giving it ample time to establish. November is late to plant Garlic, December is marginal.

1. Select the best variety for your region

Not all garlic grows equally well everywhere. Most garlic requires sufficient cold temperatures in winter to develop good heads in spring, but some varieties are more tolerant of warm weather. Hardneck garlic needs exposure to 40 to 50°F for 6 to 12 weeks for the biggest heads. If you live in an area with warm winters, avoid garlic described as “great for cold areas;” softnecks such as California Early White and California Late White are a good choice for warm climates. Growing varieties that are not adapted to your climate can result in smaller heads.

2. Prepare the soil for planting

Garlic tolerates a wide variety of soils, but for large heads it is important to prepare your garden with the optimum nutrients and conditions before planting. Garlic prefers loose, loamy soil with high organic matter content and good drainage. Boggy or heavy wet soils can cause cloves to rot or develop poorly. If your garden soil is not suitable for garlic, consider growing it in a raised bed for better drainage.

If you fertilize your garden, only do so between pre-planting time and late spring when scapes begin to form. Otherwise you could encourage too much top growth instead of head development. Be careful also of over-fertilizing in the fall, which could lead to frost damage in early growth. For details on soil preparation for garlic, see our Garlic Planting and Growing Guide.

3. Plant the biggest cloves

The biggest heads grow from the biggest cloves. Large cloves have more energy stored up to help get your garlic off to a good start, and are more resistant to frost damage. When separating cloves for planting, select the largest cloves for growing garlic heads, and use the smaller ones for growing spring green garlic (just harvest in spring when the leaves have grown, and use like garlic chives).

If you saved some of your harvested garlic for planting, select the larger of your heads for seed garlic and eat the smaller heads. While the larger ones are more appetizing, by selecting larger heads for planting this year, you’ll have more big heads for both planting and eating in future years.

4. Give them room to grow

Plant your garlic with plenty of room for their roots to grow, and to keep the garlic from competing with each other for nutrients and water. Spacing them at 6 inches when planting is best. This also is close enough for them to provide some shade to each other while growing, which also helps with the next step:

5. Keep growing garlic cool

The biggest garlic experiences a long cool winter and early spring when it establishes its root system and prepares for head development, followed by a long (but not too hot) spring and early summer growth period when the heads grow and divide. Head growth starts when the soil temperature is around 60° F, and ends when the soil reaches 90° F.

The key to this step is to keep your garlic’s soil cool for as long as possible until it is ready for harvest. This will give it the longest time possible to develop large heads. If your soil gets too hot too early, head growth will stop when they are still small.

Select a planting site that is shaded during the hottest part of the day. Mulch deeply with light colored material such as straw to help reflect light, insulate the soil from heat, and retain moisture – all of which keep the soil temperature lower. In areas where the ground freezes, mulching also protects the garlic from getting too cold. Compost, Cocoa Mulch, or Mega Mulch are also good mulch options. You can also shade your garlic patch with shade fabric.

6. Plenty of water

A good irrigation plan will also help to increase head size. Mulching helps to reduce evaporation, so your soil stays moist longer and less water needs to be applied. Water your garlic deeply but infrequently (allow the surface to dry out between watering, but keep it moist several inches down). This will encourage the roots to grow deeper to find water, instead of staying in the upper regions of the soil where the temperature is higher.

7. Weed your garden

Weeds growing among your garlic provide unnecessary competition for nutrients and water. Weed your garden regularly! Mulching can also help to reduce the amount of weeds that sprout up.

8. Remove scapes right away

Scapes are the flower stalks that garlic produces in the spring and early summer. Check your growing garlic frequently for these, and remove them at leaf level. They’re good to eat, so don’t throw them out! They should not be allowed to grow because this takes energy away from head growth.

9. Harvest at the right time

Make sure that your garlic is fully grown before harvesting. Your garlic will not grow any more and is considered mature when the tops are a third to half brown or when it falls over. When your garlic tops begin to yellow, stop watering them. Harvest 2 weeks later and cure them. Don’t wait too long, or the papery covering will start to break down and they won’t store as well. Your garlic will not all be ready at the same time, so harvest each head as needed.

Resolutions about Gardeners

A new year typically brings about resolutions right? Be they for losing weight, being more organized or simply an overall “being better” wish, resolutions are good goals to have.

Gardeners are no exception to wishing for the better; better gardens, better planning, better record-keeping, etc. Following are five resolutions that we wish every gardener, no matter their level of expertise, will embrace in the new year:

1. I will not blame myself for gardening failures. Oftentimes, Mother Nature is not our friend when it comes to gardening. Or life gets in the way. We do not want you to despair! Simply try again and learn from experience. Your garden, and your gardening friends, are both extremely forgiving.

2. I will not be afraid to ask questions. How else can you learn? Take advantage of the experience of your neighbor, your aunt, the garden center employee or the local extension agent. If they are like typical garden fanatics, they will appreciate your interest and be flattered that you want to learn from them. And learn you will!

3. I will try something new. This is kind of a no-brainer, right? Have you ever met a gardener who didn’t want the newest of the new, for bragging rights if nothing else? But what about really new…like a new growing style or completely new crop of vegetables. Cruise around on Pinterest and we guarantee you’ll find something irresistible that’s out of your usual comfort zone.

4. I will share my passion. We’ve done and seen studies that show many of today’s gardeners got their start by learning from someone else, usually a parent or grandparent. Can you be that mentor? Will you be the reason your son or daughter serves homegrown vegetables to your grandchildren? Can you be the reason your neighbor plants window boxes for the first time?

5. I will embrace nature and garden for the birds, the bees and the butterflies (and the bats too!). One of the most enjoyable benefits of having a garden is being able to enjoy the beautiful creatures who visit it. So plan your flowers and vegetables with that in mind then sit back and enjoy the show.

Feel free to steal these resolutions for your own, we won’t mind!
Let’s Go Garden!

Ways to deter garden thieves

Once upon a time, the worst that could happen to your garden was that someone might dig up a few of your prize daffodils. Times, though, have changed, and today’s green-fingered thieves go equipped with devices a lot more sophisticated than just a small trowel and crossed fingers. They think nothing of removing hanging baskets by the lorryload.

Recently, an organised gang was suspected of stealing wisteria from gardens in Hampstead, north London. Plus, if a sculpture or stone statue is too heavy to move by hand, they won’t hesitate to bring in a bulldozer or small crane. They wait until you are away, and tell any inquiring neighbours that you have decided to get rid of your solid brass Venus de Milo, or collection of gnomes.

One home owner, for example, woke to find that both his 6ft bay trees, which cost £200 each, and took two burly men to install, had been removed in the night. Another unfortunate couple came back from holiday to find both their greenhouse and roses had been removed. According to crime statistics, each year, one in seven homes has something stolen from their garden. After all, even a modest home owner can typically have £5,000 of goods out on display: shrubs (£1,200), table and chairs (£2,000), barbecue (£300), granite bench (£400) and assorted fancy fish plus water features (£1,100).

A recent Home Office study found that thieves are actually more likely to steal garden furniture, including gnomes (9.6 per cent of thefts) than credit or debit cards (8.2 per cent). On the basis that a plastic figure is less likely to, well, grass you up. Unless, of course, you take the trouble to write your postcode on his underside in indelible ink. But even if you’ve already thought of that, it’s a constant battle to keep ahead of the crooks.

Today, professional garden thieves will often write over the top of your address with their own marker pen. The best way to counter this is to daub your property with a clear liquid called SmartWater. Each phial of SmartWater has its own unique chemical DNA, which the police distribute free of charge in certain high-risk areas. Once applied, the criminals can’t obliterate it; so if just one speck is left, it can be sent off to a central database to establish rightful owner. Of course, no garden thief wants to walk the streets carrying the tools of his trade. Instead, they rely on home owners to leave their shed unlocked, thus providing access to spades, forks, ladders and other handy aids.

But can thieves really be bothered to break into your shed? You bet they can. In 2014, there were 3,000 shed burglaries in Warwickshire alone. As well as keeping our sheds as secure as possible, it’s a good idea to chain all tools together with a bicycle padlock – preferably one that’s combination-operated so you don’t have to keep fetching the key.

According to rough estimates, some £4 billion of garden furniture, plants, paving stones and wildlife are stolen each year in Britain. You only have to type in the words “garden crime” into your computer, and you come up with heartbreaking stories of expensive and much-loved statues being uprooted and removed. Such as the 45kg stone wizard, spirited away from a house in Lindfield, Sussex.

Or the 150-year-old sandstone sundial that was reported stolen from a garden only six weeks after the owner had died. Or the 5ft 7in fairy statue, which was wrenched from the soil in Ipswich, despite having been cemented into the ground. Visit theft-alerts.com and the list of statues spirited away makes for depressing reading. So determined are these modern-day, Wellington-ed wrongdoers, that they will even target expensive paving slabs, made out of York stone.

Householders tell of waking up to find a mud path where there used to be a solid walkway. However, home owners have to resist the temptation to install low-level explosives or tripwires, and we must stop short of using deterrents like razor wire or broken glass. Putting these on top of gates or fences can land the home owner in trouble if injury is caused to the person breaking in.

A wounded intruder can haul you up in court to face prosecution. In which case, you will be the person facing a fine or imprisonment. Of course, it’s never a good idea to challenge an intruder in your house, when you are dressed in just your pyjamas. Increasingly, these days, people are resisting the urge to have-a-go. Instead, they install closed-circuit TV, in order to film wrongdoers in the act of removing their prized petunias or statue of Peter Pan. A cheaper alternative is to use hardened rubber spikes, such as Prikka-Strip, which are both legal and effective.

The other thing statue-snitchers don’t like, of course, is being spotlit mid-theft. According to guidelines issued by the police initiative Secured by Design, the most effective form of security is low-energy lighting. This is controlled by a “dusk-to-dawn” switch which is operated by sensors and comes on only when it’s dark. These are best fitted at a height out of the average criminal’s reach, at least 8ft above ground.

Alternatively, if you have a tree or shrub that is worth hundreds, or thousands of pounds, you can invest in an automatic alarm that wakes you (and the neighbours) should anyone try to remove the plant container. Mind you, losing the odd yucca is not as distressing as losing the world’s smallest water lily (Nymphaea thermarum, smaller than a pound coin, extinct in the wild). It was removed last year from the Princess of Wales Conservatory, at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.  And Kew is not the only public garden that has felt the rough imprint of the felon’s spade.

Last year, the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire had so many rare snowdrops stolen (street value £100 a time), that they now only keep them on limited display. The fact is, plant crime is big business: while there are just 5,000 animals on the endangered list prepared by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), there are 30,000 plants registered as being at risk.

Which means that an unscrupulous plant-snitcher could get £1,000 for a South African cycad (some are 200 years old), and as much as £5,000 for a rare lady’s-slipper orchid. Not bad for a night’s work, and a lot less risky than having to force entry into someone’s home, and risk being confronted by an angry householder. That said, some institutions are waking up to the possibility of sneak thieves coming and helping themselves under cover of darkness.

Try and dig up a snowdrop bulb at Anglesey Abbey, in Cambridgeshire, and you’ll find it almost impossible to sell (£725 the going rate), because it has been security tagged. One-nil to the upholders of horticultural rectitude.

Ten ways to foil the burglar in your garden

  • Don’t plant tall trees or shrubs around a garden gate; this provides cover for thieves.
  • Use’s Nature’s defences: thorny hedges of holly, berberis, hawthorn, pyracantha and blackthorn. Good prickly climbing roses include: ‘American Pillar’, ‘Compassion’, ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Maigold’.
  • Strengthen your ramparts by installing 18in of trellis on top of your fence; it breaks and alerts you to an intruder.
  • Install a gravel drive; you can hear footsteps a long way off.
  • Put two locks on a side gate.
  • Secure hanging baskets with locking brackets; one set of thieves customised their van roof to carry up to 70 baskets a time, and were making £1,000 a time from selling the plants.
  • Secure your containers and ornaments with a land anchor (e.g. Platipus).
  • Find out the insurance situation; frequently stolen plants and statues aren’t covered.
  • Chain up your bin; thieves often use them to climb over garden gates.
  • Microchip your prize specimens – bonsai trees and koi carp can easily be worth £500 each.

Growing Herbs Tips

To grow this tender annual from seed, sow in flats about 6 weeks before last frost. Sow seeds and cover with the growing medium to about twice the depth of the seed. Keep soil at 70-72 degrees F, and keep moist. Basil seedlings are very sensitive and most losses occur due to low moisture and low temperatures. If not crowded in the seed flat, do not thin, but let them grow to 3 to 4 inches before transplanting. Basil likes the warmth of full sun to grow best. Lift transplants carefully by the leaves instead of the stem. Set outdoors only after soil and air temperatures are warm. One chilly night can set plants back.

Basil can be directly sown in the garden after soil has warmed up and nights are not too cool. Be sure to sow to a depth of twice the size of the seed or heavy rains may wash the seeds away. Purple basil, lacking chlorophyll, is more susceptible to shock in the early stages.

Sweet green basil can be dried, frozen in ice cubes, or used fresh. Blended with pine nuts, oil and cheese, this basil is the prime ingredient in pesto. It is also good for making flavored vinegar for salad dressing, or suffused in oil for flavored oil. Purple basil is best used fresh in salads, and for making flavored vinegar. In the garden, purple basil is a colorful contrast to annual flowers, and its color is useful in cut arrangements.

Chives

There are several forms of chives, but the most common one has roundish leaves that are used for their onion-like flavor. This perennial is hardy to Zone 3. In spring, it has lovely purple flowers made up of masses of florets.

From seed, sow indoors and cover lightly with the medium about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. Plant in potting soil in a deep container or flat. Sprouting will occur in about 10 to 14 days at 60 to 70 degrees F. Set seedlings in clumps in the garden. Outdoors, seed can be sown in furrows or broadcast to grow in clumps. Chives like full sun and rich soil. They can take partial shade, but will not grow as fully erect. The leaves will die back in the summer heat, but may return in the fall. Clumps should last four to five years before dividing.

Chives can be harvested for fresh use in salads and recipes. Cut a few leaves to the base, but don’t shear the whole plant down to the base or they won’t be able to manufacture food for the roots. The flower heads can be used to make chive vinegar, and the flowers can also be dried. To dry the flowers, put them in a paper bag, but leave the mouth of the bag open. Don’t tie the stems together or they may rot instead of dry.

Chives can be dried by snipping the leaves as you would for a salad, and then placing them on a fine screen or nylon mesh in a warm place, out of direct light. Stir regularly for several days. When dry, seal in jars.

Lemon Verbena

Lemon verbena is a tender perennial that is best purchased as a growing plant. In the garden it needs full sun and temperatures above 65 degrees F for best growth.

Lemon verbena leaves can add a fresh flavor to fruit salads or beverages, but they are best removed before serving because the leaves are very difficult to chew. The leaves can be dried by placing them on a screen or mesh in a warm place out of bright light. The dried leaves can be used to make a tea.

Oregano

Origanum vulgare  and its cultivars are the familiar forms of oregano. This is a perennial hardy to Zone 5.

To start from seed, sow on a bed of well-soaked sphagnum moss. Cover with a sheet of glass, and place in the dark at 60 to 65 degrees F. Germination will occur after about five days. After germination, water with a weak fertilizer to spur growth. After a month, transplant to pots, growing cells or seeding flats of potting soil. After all danger of frost is over, harden the seedlings for a week by putting them in full sun for several hours each day, and then returning them to the shade before night. Transplant to the garden in full sun.

Oregano can be used fresh, but is most often dried. To dry, cut the stems to the base just as the plants come into flower. Place tips down in a paper bag. Tie the bag around the stems and hang in a warm place. Check for drying after two or three weeks by rubbing the bag between your hands. If you hear leaves falling to the bottom of the bag, it is ready to be opened. Strip the leaves off the stems and finish drying in a 100-degree oven, checking frequently. Let cool, and then run the leaves through a coarse screen before bottling. If saving whole leaves, be sure to remove any bits of stem.

Oregano is used in a wide variety of cooking, in addition to sprinkling it on salads and pizzas.

Parsley

Parsley, a tender annual, is slow to germinate when sown directly into the ground, taking about three weeks. Germination can be sped up indoors by sowing on wet paper towels and placing where the temperature is a constant 70 degrees F. After germination, place on a soilless growing mix, cover lightly and keep moist in a plastic bag for several days until first leaves appear. Remove the bag and keep in a sunny location and keep moist. Transplant when small to a sunny location.

For sowing in the garden, soak the seeds overnight, sow shallowly into moist ground, and keep well watered.

Once in the garden, parsley responds well to a weak fertilizer every two weeks or so. This is especially important if it is cut frequently.

Parsley is frequently used as a decorative addition to a plate of food, and it is a tangy addition to salads. When de-stemmed leaves are chopped in a blender with a little water (pack a 2 cup measuring cup with leaves, then fill with water), they can be frozen into ice cubes for later use. Parsley also makes a decorative hanging basket or pot, whether or not it is planned for eating. The green leaves can be dried quickly when spread on a cookie sheet and “cooked” at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes and do not let it burn, just crisp. Crumble the crisp leaves, remove any limp bits, allow to cool, then store in a tightly closed jar. Parsley does not dry well by hanging.

Rosemary

Rosemary comes in many cultivars, and the same cultivar grown on the West Coast may look very different when grown in the Midwest. It is a perennial, hardy to Zone 8; and since seedlings can take months, it is best purchased as a potted plant for most home gardens. Outdoors it likes full sun, and can be kept on the dry side.

The pungent, curved needle-like leaves have many uses. It is easily dried by hanging woody stemmed bunches in a warm place. The leaves can then be stripped off and bottled. Rosemary is a very pungent herb, and it is best used sparingly on bland foods. In cooking, it is frequently used with chicken, and in baking, such as in breads.

Sweet Marjoram

This is a tender perennial best grown as an annual in most parts of the U.S. It is hardy to Zone 10. A member of the oregano family, sweet marjoram and oregano are often confused, but their flavors are different.

Sweet marjoram can be very susceptible to damping off and can be difficult to grow from seed. You may want to purchase started plants. Place plants in full sun in a well-drained location.

Once established, leaves should be taken randomly rather than shearing the growing tips. When frost time nears, plants can be potted up and taken indoors for a few months.

Sweet marjoram dries easily on screens in the shade. Once dried, finish the drying in a 100 degree F or lower temperature oven to crisp the leaves. Remove leaves from the stems and store in jars.

Sweet marjoram can be used fresh in omelets, mixed with fresh vegetables, and added to casseroles.

Tarragon

Another  culinary herb, tarragon comes in several forms. French tarragon is vegetatively propagated and not available from seed. Russian tarragon is grown from seed and is attractive as an ornamental plant, but it is flavorless.

Common Thyme

Thyme, a perennial hardy to Zone 4, can be grown from seed in a flat kept at about 55 degrees F. Germination takes three to four weeks. The first year plants will be small and not flower, growing more robust and flowering the second year. Thyme needs good drainage for its deep roots. Plants should not be set too close together (12 inches apart), and should be hardened off before planting in the garden (a week or more of several hours of sunlight and then returned to shade before evening). Divide established plants in the spring. Fall transplanting can invite winterkill. Dry thyme by hanging bunches in a warm place out of direct sunlight.

Thyme is frequently used fresh or dried in soups, stews and sauces. Fresh thyme added to rice is a flavorful treat. Lemon-scented thymes are good for tea and potpourri.

Ways to Grow Sweet Peas

In the Victorian language of flowers, sweet peas symbolized delicate and blissful pleasures.  How very apt for this delicate flower with a blissfully pleasurable fragrance.  Whether you intend to send someone a secret message with your bouquet, or just enjoy the color and scent as you pass by a trellis full of sweet peas, this heirloom bloom is a perfect addition to every garden.

So Many Colors to Sow!

Sweet peas are native to many parts of the world, including Peaceful Valley’s own hometown Grass Valley, California, where Lathyrus latifolius, also called the everlasting pea, sends beautiful sprawling vines across the hillsides in early summer.  A perennial unscented sweet pea that is native to many parts of the U.S., it was much loved by Thomas Jefferson who cultivated it in his own garden.

The classic annual garden sweet pea Lathyrus odoratus is originally from Italy, where local wild flowers were collected and bred for new colors, sweeter scent, stronger stalks, and other desirable traits.  Many cultivars now available were bred in England, where the sweet pea has been a garden favorite for centuries.

Lathyrus odoratus is what is most commonly thought of as the sweet pea.  They come in a wide range of colors, from pastels to deep shades such as pink, purple, blue, and cream.  Some are climbing vines for trellises and arbors, and some are low growing plants suitable for containers or garden borders.  They all have in common a heavenly fragrance, which make them such excellent cut flowers.

Another uncommon and beautiful species of annual sweet pea is Lathyrus sativus azureus, which comes from Asia and is sometimes called the Indian Pea.  It has distinctive grassy foliage with vibrant blue flowers.

Planting Your Peas

Sweet peas are a cool weather plant that should be planted early enough to allow it time to grow and bloom before the heat of summer sets in.  For regions with warm winters, this means planting it in the fall after Labor Day.  For regions with cold winters, plant it as soon as the ground is workable and at least a month before the last frost.

Sweet pea shoots tolerate frost, and should be planted directly outdoors.  Before planting, soak the seeds overnight to improve germination.  Scarifying, or gently filing or nicking, the seed coat can also help the seed to germinate.

Select an area to plant your seeds that gets full sun. If you live in an area with especially hot summers, your sweet peas will appreciate some afternoon shade.  Planting low growing plants on the south side of sweet peas will help to keep the soil shaded and cool while allowing the climbing sweet pea to receive full sun on its leaves.

Plant your seeds 1” deep and 2 to 3” apart, thinning to 4 to 6” once the seedlings are a few inches tall. Seedlings should be protected from birds, slugs and snails right away, as they can quickly decimate a young patch of sweet peas.

For climbing sweet peas, install your trellis or lattice at planting time, as they will want to climb soon after sprouting.  They are happy to climb on nearly every vertical support; this versatility makes them perfect for creative landscape designs.

Getting the Most Flowers

Give your sweet peas moderate water throughout the growing season. Keep down the weed competition and watch for problems such as mildew and thrips. A balanced fertilizer for flowering plants such as E.B.Stone Ultra Bloom provides necessary phosphorus and other nutrients to promote flower production.

To get the most blooms out of your plants, make lots of bouquets!  Cutting flowers off the plants encourages them to make more flowers.  Deadhead spent flowers as soon as the blooms begin to fade also helps to keep the plants in flower-production mode.  Pinching back the tips of branches to 2 to 3 pairs of leaves when they plants are 6” tall will encourage your sweet peas to make more flower-producing branches and give it a fuller appearance.

For the longest bloom season, select varieties that are heat tolerant.  Standard sweet peas will go to seed when the summer temperatures get too high.  Some varieties have been bred to better withstand the heat, giving you a longer blossom season.  Royal Mix and Old Spice are good options for heat tolerant sweet peas.

For long lasting bouquets, harvest the blooms when the lowest blossom is just beginning to open.  Harvesting flowers in the early morning will give you bouquets with the best scent.

Sniff, But Don’t Taste

Despite what their name may seem to suggest, sweet peas are not good to eat! The only sweet part of this pea is the honey-like scent of the flowers.  In fact, sweet peas are toxic, so don’t be tempted to eat the pods when your sweet peas are finished blooming.

Ways to Grow Strawberries

Strawberry shortcake, homemade strawberry ice cream, strawberry jam and preserves, chocolate dipped strawberries – what could be better? How about growing your very own strawberry crop? All that luscious flavor just steps from your back door, can’t you almost taste them?

Strawberries are herbaceous perennials which may be cultivated in pots or in the ground. There are 3 different types of strawberry plants : june-bearing, ever-bearing and alpine. Your Southern States dealer can help you decide which types will meet your needs.

June-bearing strawberries produce most of their fruit during a 2-3 week period anywhere from the last part of May to the beginning of July depending on growing conditions and weather. Some varieties will produce a smaller amount of fruit again in the fall.

Ever-bearing varieties produce most of their fruit in the fall after a 2 month rest period. This follows their first fruiting in summer which produces a more sporadic, smaller crop. They grow best in areas with mild fall weather without frost.

Alpine strawberries produce small fruit all season.

Planting

Crop rotation is essential to successful strawberry production. Plants tend to deteriorate after the third year of being in the same ground. Ideally, you should plant strawberries in a different spot every year. Thus, you will always have 1, 2 and 3 year old plants. At the end of each growing year, dig up and discard the 3 year old plants. The next spring, plant strawberries where there have been none for at least three years. Do not plant strawberries where potatoes have been grown previously. The ground may be infected with Verticulum wilt, and this will destroy your plants.

Choose a sunny, warm site for your strawberries in order to get the best flavored fruit. Timing of the crop depends on the soil. For an early crop, plant in sandy soil. Loams and well drained clays will produce a little later, but the fruit will be heavier and more flavorful.

Keep strawberries free of weeds and work in generous amounts of Statesman Compost and Manure. In sandier soils, fertilizer may be needed as well. Plants should be spaced 18 inches apart in raised rows, so that rain water runs off. If locations are routinely wet, plant strawberries in raised beds. Good drainage is essential to preventing rotting of plants and fruit. Sheets of black plastic may also be used. Make sure it is well anchored with sturdy landscape staples. Cut slits to put the plants through. The plastic will warm the soil, keep weeds down and retain moisture. This will encourage earlier fruiting.

Water strawberries regularly and keep them clean. Ripening fruit should be protected with a layer of straw lain underneath or commercial strawberry mats placed around the plants. Stake fruit nets above the plants to protect the fruit from birds and squirrels. Pinch out extra runners from the plants as they appear. Some cultivars will have more runners than others.

Harvesting

Harvest strawberries for desserts when they are fully ripe, leaving a bit of the stalk attached to avoid bruising the fruit. Use them immediately for the best flavor. For jams and preserves, pick strawberries when they are ripe but firm. Pick fruit every other day, removing damaged or diseased fruit.

After harvesting is complete, clear away the straw and weeds. Cut off the mature foliage of the plants leaving 4 inches of stems above the young new leaves and crown. Apply a balanced fertilizer and water it in. this will help protect the plants from pests and diseases.

Ways to Grow Onions

Selecting the right variety for your growing region is important to the success of growing a big bulb. There are short-day, intermediate-day and long-day varieties and you should choose the one for your area.

Soil Preparation

Onions prefer loose, well-drained soils that are high in fertility, slightly acidic (pH between 6.2-6.8), adequately irrigated and in full sun. The looser the composition of your soil, the larger your onion bulbs will grow. Prepare your bed by turning under animal manure or compost, making sure that it is fully broken down before planting. Compost composed of cedar or redwood is not an acceptable substitute for high quality compost.

Onions are heavy feeders, so provide plenty of nitrogen and phosphorus. A good rule of thumb is to add one cup of equal parts blood meal and bone meal every 10 feet of row.

Planting & Growing Onion Transplants

The potential for fungal diseases like downy mildew and pink root can be greatly reduced by avoiding beds where onions, garlic and other alliums have been grown within the last two years. This time period is a basic rule of thumb but, in general, “the longer the better”.

As gophers are a major pest in onion beds, use gopher traps, wire barriers or wire baskets prior to planting.

Onion transplants can be grown in the fall or spring (planting time depends on your growing region). Onion Transplants are often wilted when they arrive, but like other members of the hardy lily family, they will survive for about 2-3 weeks after being pulled from the soil. If you cannot plant them immediately upon receipt, either refrigerate them after soaking the roots in water or mound soil around the roots and keep them moist until planted.

Before planting, trim the tops to approximately 3” and roots to 1/4” – roots will begin to grow rapidly once planted. Plant onion transplants 1 – 2” deep and 4 – 6” apart. Plant close as 3” apart if smaller onions are desired. Rows should be 18 – 24” apart or 12” apart if planting for commercial production.

If planted on raised beds which are approximately 20” wide, transplants should be planted in double-rows 2 – 4” from each edge. “Scatter planting” among vegetables in inter-planted gardens is sometimes utilized to ward off a variety of pests, but onions must not be forced to face heavy competition from surrounding neighbors.

Apply a layer of mulch such as straw, to help maintain moisture and protect the plants during the winter. Onions are hardy to 20°F, but in cold climate regions, protect your plants with a thicker layer of mulch (at least 2 inches deep).

Onion Sets

Onions are easy to grow from sets. Keep in mind though, onion sets perform the best in long day growing regions. Plant 1” deep and 1-3” apart. Harvest young plants for use as scallions, thinning to 3-4” spacing. Onions should be mulched and supplied with ample phosphorus while growing.

Mulch deeply (up to 8”) in cold winter areas but only lightly in milder climates. Mulching will suppress weeds, maintain soil moisture and protect bulbs from “heaving” (working their way out of the soil) during extreme temperature cycles.

Weed suppression is critical for onions – you can grow weeds or onions, but not both. Regular irrigation is necessary anytime rainfall is not sufficient to provide the 1” of water per week required to keep bulbs from splitting in hot dry soil or tasting bitter at harvest. Water up until the time you harvest!

Beds kept weed free and properly irrigated will require little additional care.

Harvesting & Storing

Onions are mature and ready to harvest when their tops have yellowed and begin to fall over. Finish bending the tops horizontal to the ground by hand or with a rake for those that have not completely fallen over. This bending will stop the sap from diverting energy into the leaves while the bulb matures.

Harvest bulbs after the tops have turned brown. Place the tops of one row over the bulbs of another to keep them from becoming sunburned. When the outer skins have dried (curing should be between 10-14 days), complete harvesting by clipping the roots, wiping off any remaining soil and cutting the tops back to 1” above the bulb.

Onions keep best when kept separated; individual foil wrapped specimens can last up to a year under refrigeration. Pungent onion varieties, which have low water content, will keep longer than sweeter, moister types. Hanging an onion in a mesh bag, in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location and tied off to separate onions from each other, is the recommended method of preserving onion bulbs for maximum shelf life.

Plant an onion this fall or spring for enjoyment of a fresh, home-grown onion next summer!

Organic Gardening

Organic gardening has been around for centuries. It’s certainly not new, but gardening without artificial additives has made a comeback in recent years. And there is a good reason – organic vegetables are healthier and tastier than non-organic varieties. In addition, organic gardening benefits the environment. Whether you are planning your first organic garden, or you have been gardening naturally for years, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Soil preparation

Plants get their nutrients from the ground, so it is imperative that you properly prepare the soil in order to be successful with any gardening. Soil that is hard or dense deprives the plants of oxygen. Before planting, dig and loosen the dirt for better air circulation. Next, mix nutrients into the soil. Do not underestimate the value of this step; the success of your garden depends on healthy soil. When the soil is properly enriched, it produces healthier plants that are more resistant to insects and disease.

Natural fertilizers

Over time, the soil can become depleted of nutrients so it is important to use natural fertilizers for your organic garden. You can buy commercial organic fertilizers or create your own from composting. Organic gardeners use fertilizers that are all natural and derived from either plant or animal matter such as organic vegetable scraps and manure. The benefits to using all natural fertilizers are numerous. Soil that is rich with nutrients remain loose and airy, holding more oxygen, water, and nutrients all leading to a healthier plant root system.

Natural fertilizer can be created by way of composting. This is a great way to add nutrients to your flower gardens and vegetable gardens, plus it is so easy.  Just gather up fallen leaves, grass clippings, livestock manure, and other organic vegetable scraps and put them in a pile. They will naturally rot and break down into nutrient rich fertilizer. You can also use a compost container. When you are disposing of disease infested plants, be sure to throw them away in the trash and not in your compost. You don’t want to spread the disease to other areas of your yard.

These key factors – preparing your soil, using natural fertilizer and composting – all contribute to successful organic gardening.

Watering

Don’t overlook the importance of watering your garden regularly. Prepare your annual garden with a watering plan in mind. Establish a regular watering program by using an irrigation system or set up a hose with an automatic timer.

You can buy all the supplies you need from selected Southern States locations. We are committed to helping you every step of the way, from answering your questions to helping you find the right products for your gardening needs. We are always available to help – stop by, call us, or find what you need online.

Benefits of Organic Mulch

Organic mulches are mulches that are made from previously living materials, such as pine bark or wood chips. They come in many varieties and textures.

Most gardeners know that a good mulch will help to prevent the germination of weeds, but there are many other benefits to having a good layer of mulch over the bare soil areas in your landscape:

  • Organic mulches decompose over time. This adds nutrients to the top layer of the soil, eventually creating a layer of rich, fertile humus.
  • Mulch protects the soil from compaction due to heavy rains or harsh sun.
  • It helps retain oxygen in the soil.
  • A good layer of mulch helps to prevent erosion by absorbing rainfall and preventing water runoff.
  • Soil stays damp longer after watering or rainfall because mulch helps prevent evaporation. This aids in water conservation during dry periods.
  • Mulch shelters beneficial organisms such as earthworms and ground dwelling spiders that help to control harmful insect populations.
  • Some mulches have scents which help to deter rodent and feline pests.
  • A circle of mulch around trees and woody shrubs helps to protect plant roots near the soil surface from injury due to string trimmers and lawnmower blades.
  • Mulches help to protect the soil from temperature extremes which can damage root systems and cause bulbs to be heaved out of the ground.

Mulch should be laid in a layer no more than 2 or 3 inches deep or it will block air and moisture from reaching the soil causing the roots of plants to come to the soil’s surface. If the mulch layer is less than 2 inches thick, the moisture retaining benefits are reduced.

Summer Mulch

A summer mulch should be applied to the bare soil areas of your property after the soil has warmed in the spring to retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Winter Mulch

A winter mulch should be put down in late fall or early winter after the soil has cooled but before it has frozen. This will keep the soil evenly cool and prevent heaving. Remove a winter mulch in spring to allow the soil to warm.

Water Conservation

During times of drought, it is best to water your plantings at the roots with soaker hoses worked into the mulch (and placed on outdoor timers) rather than with a spray from overhead. Overspray wastes water because much of the water stays on the leaves of plants and then evaporates into the air without reaching their roots. Your Southern States dealer can help you choose the right hoses and timers for your situation.

The stories sunflower

The storied sunflower is a truly incredible plant; tall and majestic, a few sunflowers make any garden a must –see. The centerpiece of any self respecting still-life it is prized and heavily cultivated for its seeds and oil and pastoral images of acres of sunflowers all with their heads held high toward the sun is an iconic image of late summer in many places throughout Ontario.

Though the most famous image of sunflowers hails from a Dutch painter, sunflowers are actually native to North America. It is believed they were cultivated as far back as 2,600 B.C.E. in Mexico, then throughout the southern regions of what is now the U.S. and were imported to Europe in the 16th Century. The most common and most cultivated sunflower, which can easily reach heights of 3 metres, is the annual plant Helianthus annuus. Over seventy other  species exist as well, annuals and perrenials, garden varieties of all shapes and sizes.

The reason we call them sunflowers is obvious; the Greek scientific name for them is Helianthus, literally sun+flower, so named because when they are immature they face and follow the sun’s movement (as it were) from east to west, a phenomenon known as heliotropism, “growing toward the sun.” Once they start blooming they don’t follow the sun, but largely just face East. According to Greek Mythology, the sunflower-and its name- is a result of unrequited love between a nymph named Clytie and the Sun God Helios:

Clytie was a nymph who was infatuated with Helios, the god of the sun. She would watch him as he traveled on his daily course through the sky. Helios, however, had an eye for the ladies. Indeed, his roving eye had fallen on a woman named Leucothoe. Now of course this affair between Helios and Leucothoe just drove Clytie almost mad with jealousy. She wanted the god for herself, after all. So she betrayed the relationship to Leucothoe’s father, Orchamus. Orchamus was the king of Babylon, and not too pleased with the situation. He punished his daughter by burying her alive. Well, this tragic outcome did nothing to soften the heart of Helios toward Clytie. In fact, he continued to ignore her. Clytie wasted away, suffering from unrequited love. She did nothing but watch the god day in and day out. Probably accompanied by a great deal of sighing. Eventually, the poor nymph was changed into a flower – a sunflower to be exact. As a sunflower, Clytie persisted in gazing toward the object of her desire.- mythography.com

Sunflowers are farmed mostly for their seeds, and for the oil contained therein. Sunflower seeds are an excellent, source of vitamin E, B1, B6, B3, manganese, copper and selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin, folate, and niacin. Sunflower oil, an unsaturated, nutrient dense fat is an excellent source of lineolic acid, palmitic acid, oleic acid and stearic acid with numerous health benefits tied to cardiovascular and skin health, high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

Sunflower oil provides 124 calories and 14 grams of fat per 1 tablespoons serving. About two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and obesity increases your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. However, a moderate amount of fat in your diet — such as 20 to 35 percent of your calories from fat, or 44 to 78 grams fat per day on a 2,000-calorie diet — can help you maintain a healthy weight while getting the nutrients you need, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In moderation, sunflower oil is a healthy fat that can help you achieve this range .-Livestrong.com