July 31, 2008
Also known as polymer gel, garden gel, garden crystals. This water-absorbing polymer works well in container gardens because they decrease the need to water and keep plants from drying out. WaterSmart Crystals are not liquid but rather reservoirs of moisture in gel form.
Mix the crystals into your potting soil when planting and then water the plants. The crystals will absorb approx. 400 times their density in de-ionized water and in the 150-350 range in more salty soils.
The moisture is then slowly released as the soil dries out and the need to water will be reduced by 50%-70%. If you are watering with an added liquid fertilizer, this will be released along with the water. The crystals last at least 5 years and longer if kept out of the sunlight. Available for $12.99 plus shipping.
July 30, 2008
The next thing to consider is what kinds of plants to put in your container. You can do flowers, foliage plants, vegetables, herbs or a combination of any of them. The size of the container will dictate some of your choices. It almost always looks great to have some kind of climbing or trailing plant that will cascade down the sides of the container. Some flower suggestions are allysum, salvia, zinnias, climbing (in this case trailing) nasturtium, snapdragons, pansies, petunias, geranium and lobelia. A nice herbal container might have lavendar, chives, sage, creeping thyme, oregano, parsley and basil in it. The obvious choice for a vegetable is, of course, tomato! This book, The Practical Guide to Container Gardening, will give you more ideas. It's another great one from Storey Publications.
July 29, 2008
This bucket caddy straps onto a 5 gallon plastic bucket and keeps all your gardening tools in one place. You have to supply the tools and bucket. Look for a bucket with a cover and that way you can also use it as a seat or other storage. When you are working with your plants, fill the bucket with weeds and clippings, or mix your potting soil in it. This is especially handy if your containers are on an apartment or condo roof and you have to carry everything up there. You won't be running down for the clippers or string because all your tools are together. Available at Amazon for $12.18.
July 28, 2008
The first thing to consider when planning your container garden is how you will keep it from drying out. If you choose a terra cotta pot, you might be watering your plant(s) three times a day if it is in full sun. The water evaporates so quickly from terra cotta that plants almost always suffer from inadequate water. Consider buying a pot with a ceramic glaze on it instead. Although it costs a little more money, your plant will not dry out as quickly and you will not have to water it as much (probably once a day though). A self watering planter is a great option for people who are away from home a lot and don't want to pay someone to water their plants.
This planter is made out of lightweight fiberglass, has a 1-quart water reservoir, a water level indicator and an easy-fill funnel. Use bagged potting mix or make your own with 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 soil or compost, and 1/3 vermiculite or perlite. Available from Gardener's Supply Company for $59.95.
July 27, 2008
July 25, 2008
As we mentioned earlier, the wheat will survive the weeds, but the tomatoes will not do well if you don't stake them. Who wants to pick up squishy, rotting tomatoes covered with dirt? Within a short amount of time, the tomato plants can be staked and all your efforts to date will not have gone to waste. But which method? Cages? Spirals? Old fashioned wooden stakes and twine? The cages are okay the first year when they are shiny and new and out in the garden. The problems start when you take them in for the season and the horizontal rings start separating from the vertical parts. And, even though they are made out of thick gage wire, the part that goes into the ground never comes back out straight. Then you have all these wires going every which way poking you and creating problems when you try to stack them for storage, not to mention tipping over and grabbing your sweater all winter whenever you walk past them. And who has enough room for all of them anyway? We have 55 tomato plants this year - a modest amount really, when you consider that we hope to provide for all of our own tomato needs for the year as well as for Christmas gifts for others. Can you imagine 55 tomato cages in the winter? Ugh. The new (er) rage is to use a metal spiral (Gardman Tomato Spiral 6') and wind the plant up it as the plant grows. This is a great tool if you have just a few plants and worth the price ($12.24 each at Amazon) when you consider that tomatoes are selling for $2.99/lb. You'll make your money back in the first year even if you get only 4 tomatoes from each plant. It'll also work for tomatoes in containers. Here's another innovative staking system that uses a wooden stake (you provide) with a polypropylene spiral that you stretch from the top of the stake down to the soil. It sounds interesting and does have an adjustable attachment for hooking onto the top of the stake. However, the instructions to "press pointed bottom into soil" is a red flag to me. How do I know it won't spring back up, smack me in the face and turn my nose into a big red tomato? At 4 for $39.99 plus stakes and winter storage room, twine is looking better and better. And so, you guessed it, GardenSnob uses the old fashioned wooden stakes and twine. You can use one stake per plant or put stakes at the end of rows and run two lines of twine between them, catching the plants on both sides as Drumlin Farm does. The stakes need storage room in winter but the twine stays with the plants and goes right into the compost pile in the fall. Now that's easy and makes our thrifty Yankee inner child happy.
July 24, 2008
As far as GardenSnob is concerned, New England is pretty much the place where the sun don't shine right now, seeing as we've gotten about 2' of rain since Monday. But, the sun will be out tomorrow and everyone will be looking for their favorite sunscreen once again. We have been using No-Ad sunscreens for many years now. It is very reasonable in price (approx $9 for 16 oz), not greasy or gooey, doesn't sting your eyes, and it works as it promises which is most unusual. Not available yet on Amazon (can you believe it?!) but CVS and other big drug stores carry it. Their website, www.no-ad.com, lists retailers as well as gives a brief history about the company that "was based on the concept of providing the consumer with the best quality products at the lowest possible price". We love the fact that this company has lasted so long (since 1960) and has remained committed to their original mission.
July 23, 2008
This is the tool of choice to whack the weeds away at GardenSnob. For a reasonably priced trimmer, it starts easily and is fairly light considering how durable it is. As this picture shows, it is light enough to reach with and get the weeds along the bank. One feature we really like is the "Echomatic" line feed system. If you need more line, you press the bottom of the trimmer on a hard surface such as pavement and it releases more line. Then it automatically trims it to the proper length. This weed trimmer is comfortable to use as well. Available at Home Depot for $219.00.
July 21, 2008
According to The Mildweed, USDA says that the 2008 winter wheat crop is impaired, compared to 20-year historic data. (photo via www.freefoto.com) Because of severe drought and flooding, only 45% of this year's crop is rated good or excellent. Because an increasing number of countries are prohibiting exports or imposing tariffs on food exports, the world cannot afford a bad U.S. wheat crop this year. You might have noticed that GardenSnob is a little obsessed with wheat and other food supplies. We have been called "horders", paranoid, even murderers (um, think pigs) and I suppose it's true. However, everyone has seen those haunting bread line pictures from the depression (and from yesterday in other parts of the world) and it would be foolish not to consider this a real possibility, given the current state of affairs. We at GardenSnob are paranoid horders and would much prefer to be dining on potatoes au gratin from our stash in the basement instead of waiting in a line for some dry bread made from genetically altered wheat. More realistically, we would like to slurp on a juicy tomato from our own backyard rather than spend a few days in the hospital pumped up on antibiotics after contracting salmonella from a tomato from who knows where. To that end, we say stock your pantry, put your 2-week emergency kit together, and get to know your local farmers.
It might seem a little crazy to plant wheat in your yard, but the Hungry Ghost Bakery in Northampton, MA doesn't think so. (photo via Caleb Kenna/Boston Globe) To promote community awareness about locally grown food, they have been handing out wheat berries this spring and encouraging customers to plant a 10'x10' plot of wheat in their front yard. Later in the summer, these plots will be harvested by hand. Two nearby farms are growing spelt and rye for them and they are also looking for an heirloom variety of wheat that will grow well in the area. (news item via Acres, USA, The Voice of Eco-Agriculture)
Alright, maybe it's just a nugget of gold. What?? You say it's a flake if we're lucky?! Well, dear reader, you may have a point. And if you are in the Midwest or are from the Midwest, no doubt you are doubled over laughing with tears streaming out of your eyes. AHHH HA! HA! HA! I can hear it now. You are correct to laugh but we are also correct to plant. If we get one small loaf of bread out of this patch of crappy dirt with the 5.2 soil test, our experiment will be hailed as a success and we will have learned a little bit about this plant, Wheat, upon which we depend so much for food. This picture is of the wheat patch (Spring Wheat available at Johnny's Seeds) a few weeks ago before it was weeded. Indeed, it is planted in rows for easy weeding just like the ancient Chinese did, although next year we'll hand-broadcast the seed in one big square. We've since finished weeding 2/3 of it and have been bothered by the fact that we haven't had time or energy to finish. It would look so good to see the neat rows of wheat, seedheads waving in the soft breeze. And what a conversation piece! Alas, after surveying the rest of the gardens and seeing some unstaked tomato plants heavy with green fruit, we've concluded that the wheat will survive the weeds. Not only will the wheat survive, but you can put animals out to graze it for a few weeks after it is 6" or so high and it will still have time to produce new seedheads by fall. (This fact was proven to us by the local deer who ate the wheat down to 3". It has now grown back and all the plants have seedheads on them.) The tomato plants, on the other hand, need attention now and their fruit will rot on the ground if they are not staked. To put it in more modern terms, time management is the key from now until frost. As hard as it is to do, forget the cosmetic look of the garden and focus on a well rounded harvest. Any extra energy can be spent gearing up for the August canning & jamming marathon.
July 20, 2008
This article by Keith Good of FarmPolicy.com, summarizes a week's worth of news on the global food crisis and international food trade. By limiting imports and growing more food of their own, many countries are getting serious about feeding their people. GardenSnob thinks this is a great idea. Stay tuned for coverage on our own experimental wheat plot. For more articles like this one, subscribe to www.organicconsumers.org.
If you want to attract butterflies and bees to your garden, plant Asclepias tuberosa 'Gay Butterflies'. This heat and drought tolerant perennial works great alone or in a mixed bed for colorful blossoms from early summer through frost. The flowers are strong shades of red, orange and yellow and It stands only 2' tall so it won't take over like some other summer bloomers. Also great as a cut flower. On sale at Park Seed for $8.95.
July 16, 2008
Since it's mid-July, your compost pile is probably piling up. Now is a good time to aerate it to assist in the breakdown of all that material. A good fork such as the Fiskars Compost/Mulch Fork makes short work of such a task. If you're doing this chore with a thick tined fork, you've got the wrong tool for the job. Save that fork for soil work such as turning your garden over in the spring. This fork (available at Amazon for $46.76), with all steel construction, will pierce through a pile of compost or hay easily. We use ours for mucking out the goat stalls as well. I know, I know, it's a lot of money but don't cheap out and buy the inferior one! You'll end up bending the tines or the handle and then buying this one eventually anyway.
Felco is the obvious choice when it comes to hand pruners. First, they work better than all the others. Second, they fit great in your hand. Third, they are easy to find in the grass, mulch, weeds, brush or wherever you put them down because of the red handles (we've had enough of the pretty green colored garden tools that hide). Fourth, they are easy to take apart for sharpening. Why even post a review about them because everyone already knows? Well, it's important reassurance for people who are new to gardening and who are hesitant of dropping almost $50 on one tool. The thing to remember is that you won't ever have to buy another pair so the price is justified. Also, your hand won't fatigue as fast so you'll get more work done. (at Amazon for $47.63)
July 15, 2008
Virtual gardening is here. Well, it's in Japan anyway. The GardenSnob staff was not elated to hear this news and at first equated it with such non-essentials as striped beets and black hollyhocks. "Who cares?" and "Why would someone want that when the real thing is just out the door?" were some of the gentler comments. While contemplating this new development over a cold beverage, the staff did manage to broaden their thinking and come up with a few instances where this could be a good thing. Playing this game might crack the emotionless shell of that pale, sodden teenager who is addicted to violent computer games and won't go outside. It might provide some solace to a bed-ridden person who can't go outside. And it certainly would help to pass the time in an airport or on a plane where the environment is anything but natural. To this end, we recommend the Shiki-Tei gardening game where (oh, dear, it's not a real place!) plants grow and animals and birds come to visit.
July 14, 2008
Thanks to Donelan's Supermarket, our pigs are dining on the finest fruits, vegetables and mesclun mix. We give them stuff from our garden, but why not use this surplus when otherwise it would go into a dumpster? We pick up a plastic tote full of surprises every day at 5:00. I don't know who is happier with this arrangement- the pigs or the store manager!
When it's time to muck out the goat stalls or the chicken house or turn the compost pile, the footwear of choice at GardenSnob are Muck Boots (available at Amazon for $79.95). Don't bother with the knock off brands. They just won't last. These boots keep your feet warm during the coldest winter day with just one pair of socks. They are not overly hot in the summer either considering their heavy duty construction. We have the mid-height ones and wear them every day of the year. The short ones, however, are a different story. They are green and have a white inner liner for the first 5". So much hay gets stuck on this liner that it's as if they are lined with hay. It must be the "breathable airmesh lining". What a bummer! I've stopped using them because they are just too annoying. The hay pokes through any socks I'm wearing and also sticks to the socks which means one more step after taking off the muck boots and putting my house shoes on - picking the hay off my socks. If you don't work with hay, it probably won't affect you but if you mulch your garden with hay in the fall, save some time for picking the hay off the boot liner.
July 11, 2008
Your hard work needs an appropriate place from which to be appreciated and admired. This is a part of gardening that you must not skimp on. After bending over for an hour pulling weeds and sweating in the hot sun, there's nothing like taking a quick shower, grabbing a cold beverage, and lying back in your Pawleys Island rope hammock. This hammock will provide hours of needed rest and relaxation and can stay outdoors for the whole season. The wood is marine varnished and the rope is made from a very soft synthetic that is more durable and longer lasting than cotton. This perennial is worth the investment!
July 10, 2008
That's Sweet, Sour and Spicy, our temporary residents on the farm. One for us, one for the beef farmer around the corner, and one for a friend. Uh oh, did you think this was only about vegetables and pretty flowers? Well, we grow vegetables and have lots of extras in the summer. With mucking out the barn for the chickens and goats, summitting the compost pile now means a day hike. It sure is nice to have somewhere else to put the surplus vegetables and weeds. Pigs love vegetables, and as you have heard, "you are what you eat". To stretch this logic to the snapping point, the vegetable eating pigs could be considered vegetables themselves and if we eat the pigs, I suppose we are really eating vegetables, not pigs. At any rate, they are great to have around and we treat them well. Stay tuned for more pictures of pigs having fun this summer! If you can't wait that long, this Adam Hersh poster of a pig family outing (Amazon $3.99) will do nicely.
July 9, 2008
Yup, we're at the potatoes again. In our unending quest to avoid the bread lines (if they ever happen), GardenSnob is trying another remedy for that despicable pest, the Colorado potato beetle. The vacuuming was a runaway success and we've vacuumed the Green Mountain potatoes three times now. But since vacuuming potato plants might not be practical for some people, we've decided to give this a try. Diatomaceous earth is made by crushing the fossilized skeletons of tiny aquatic organisms. This fine powder scratches the waxy outer shell of the insect causing death by dehydration. It is completely harmless to all animals, fish, birds or in food (be sure to use food grade, not the stuff they put in pool filters). It is also a chemical free alternative for the control of insects around the house and for worms & parasites in pets and livestock. GardenSnob staff applied the diatomaceous earth (available at Amazon) to the potato plants by putting the powder in an ordinary kitchen sieve and tapping it over the plants. It was just like sugaring a pound cake, easy and simple. Be sure to do this on a calm day, however, so you don't breathe it in and so it lands where intended. Results are mixed so far. The abrasive powder immediately distressed the little buggers but they are still out there munching! Perhaps it takes a few days for it to kill the bugs, or this just isn't the stuff for these slimy pests, or we have such an intense infestation that we must use both vacuuming and diatomateous earth, OR we are addicted to the Quick Fix! Oh, no! not that - after all, the single most important quality of a gardener is patience (not available at Amazon). We will continue monitoring and update as necessary . . .
July 8, 2008
The afternoon thundershowers left us with this double beauty floating over some of GardenSnob's garden plots.
July 7, 2008
As one of the smaller miracles in the garden, hummingbirds are fascinating to watch. If you haven't planted flowers to attract them or don't have the space, try this pretty hummingbird feeder. It holds enough nectar for 3 days and is durable despite its good looks. Available at Amazon for $18.75. You can make your own nectar by boiling 1 cup of sugar in a quart of water. Some people use packaged food which is really just sugar with or without the red dye. The instant food is suspicious to me because it doesn't require boiling. I suspect there is some kind of mold inhibitor or preservative in it and so I would never feed it to my birds. Whichever food you use, make sure that it's clear. Red dye is harmful for everyone to ingest, and especially to hummingbirds because they're so small. It's also important to clean out your feeder every 3 days to remove any mold that may have started to grow. These tiny birds are highly susceptible to mold-related illnesses. For more information on hummingbirds, consult Peterson's A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America. 180 full color photographs.
July 6, 2008
Boo hoo, strawberry season is over (I know, I know, there are a few lingerers and they are worth picking). If you picked lots of strawberries and then found yourself laboring for hours over the sink with a knife, you really owe it to yourself to cough up the coin for a strawberry huller ($1.50 at Amazon). At GardenSnob, our strawberry huller lives right next to the sink during the month of June. When we put it back in the drawer in July, out jumps the cherry pitter! This might seem like a useless, kitchen gadget that you would never use, but it's not. Think back to last summer when you were making a 5-fruit salad - grapes, melon, raspberries, blueberries and cherries - what a juicy combination. After you started halving the cherries and mashing them to a pulp while trying to get the pit out (no, you can't put them in whole and let your guests choke on the pit, or worse, watch them spit it out in front of you), you realized it would be a 4-fruit salad and put the cherries back into the refrigerator. OXO Good Grips has designed a nice, hand held one (Amazon $11.99) that also works on olives. Bonus is that it locks for storage so there won't be any fights in the gadget drawer.
July 5, 2008
Everyone has been experiencing wacky weather lately. A good weather station like this one (Wireless Weather Station $62.53) can help you plan your garden time according to the weather and time of year. This one monitors barometric pressure, indoor and outdoor temperatures and humidity, and sunrise and sunset. GardenSnob staff especially appreciates the wide temperature range (-21.8°F to +157.8°F) so we can monitor the well being of the chickens, goats and pigs during summer and winter. We like to be prepared for any requests for colder facilities in summer or more winter coats when it's freezing out. HA! HA! Just kidding - we don't cool or heat our barn!
July 4, 2008
The Hen of the Woods mushroom (Grifola frondosa), also known as Maitake in Japan, is typically found in September/October at the end of mushroom season. (Photo via www.theforagerpress.com) However, GardenSnob staff found some last weekend in Lincoln, MA and in Temple, NH! This is a delicious mushroom that can be used the same way you would use a white button mushroom. It has a nice, woodsy flavor but doesn't overpower anything. Finding one will make you feel like you won the lottery. They might be 20-30 or even up to 50 lbs each! Hen of the Woods freeze extremely well and can last up to two years if the freezer stays around 0 degrees. Just clean and cut into pieces or strips and freeze in ziplock bags. If you're feeling entrepreneurial, try selling some to a boutique food or cheese store near a city. One upscale cheese place in Cambridge is selling them for $28/lb. Here's a recipe for a two hen salad from "Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America" by David W. Fischer and Alan E. Bessette:
Hen of the Woods Salad
3 green onion with tops, chopped
1 small tomato, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsps olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
8 ounces Hen of the Woods, chopped
1 Lb. Cooked, skinned, boned chicken
2 slices crisp cook bacon
2 Tbsps red wine
½ cup peanuts or pine nuts
Saute onion and tomato in oil and butter until onion is soft. Add mushrooms and cook 4 minutes more. Add large chunks of chicken and remaining ingredients to mushroom mixture and cook a few more minutes. Allow to cool. Add a favorite salad dressing and chill. Serve over a bed of lettuce or on avocado halves. Serves 2 to 4.
You could make it a three hen salad by adding chunks of tuna, the chicken of the sea. We know that was silly but sometimes things get a little slap happy at GardenSnob. To help you identify edible mushrooms, please read, re-read, and carry with you a reliable reference book with photos. "Mushrooming Without Fear" by Alexander Schwab, is an excellent guide with lots of pictures and a color bar for each type of mushroom. For the Hen of the Woods entry alone there are 12 photos. This book is available at Amazon for $11.21. Happy Hunting!
July 3, 2008
Look who came to use the facilities last night! Not sure how he opened the screen door but we enjoyed visiting with him and then set him back outside in the grass.
July 2, 2008
Easy to grow and easy to eat, better tasting than pretzels and better for you, these soybeans are a mainstay in our garden every year. The seeds sprout quickly and mature early into deep green plants 2' - 2 1/2' high. Be sure to protect from rabbits, deer and woodchucks with fencing or a sprinkler scarecrow. Boil pods for 3-4 minutes in salted water and salt lightly. Serve at cocktail hour. The pods break apart easily in your fingers revealing 3-4 delicious beans. Eat the beans and save the pods for the chickens. These seeds are a bargain at $3.35! Think of how many bags of pretzels you would have to buy to equal the amount of food these seeds will grow.
July 1, 2008
Now this is what we've all been waiting for! Rabbits, deer, woodchucks, neighborhood cats and dogs, neighbors themselves . . . say goodbye to them all with a big blast of water. This motion activated sprinkler fires short bursts of water to deter pests from your garden and lawn. The electronic eye senses motion for about 180 degrees so depending on your situation, you might be better off with two of them to cover 360 degrees. It's adjustable both vertically and horizontally and runs on a single 9-volt battery. Be sure that you sneak up behind it to turn it off or it will squirt you.
Heat treated, self sharpening wiggle blade aerates, mulches, and cultivates. It also has a 54" Alumilite handle with comfort grip. R.C. Johnson has this to day about the Hula Ho: "A good way to take care of weeds in gardens too large for hand pulling. Quickly and easily cuts them off at the soil line. You can clean out large areas of weeds in a short time and frequent use will stop weeds from returning with this tool."
At Flexrake 1000L Hula Ho