Monday, December 11, 2006

Now this might convince you to give up pesticides!

A post on Garden Rant talks about a recent study linking pesticide use to smaller penises and low testosterone levels in male alligators and abnormal ovaries in female alligators. A comment on the post links to a study from the U of Missouri suggesting that sperm problems in human males could be related to agricultural chemicals. Here's a summary of the findings:
Semen quality was equally high in Minneapolis and New York, and slightly lower in Los Angeles. However, men in mid-Missouri had counts and quality that were significantly lower than men from any of the urban centers.
Scary stuff.

My garden has been pesticide-free for several years now, except for slug bait (and I use mostly iron phosphate now), and I haven't had any insect problems that a good dose of Safter soap couldn't fix. No, my plants don't look perfect, but they grow well.

God's take on lawns

Two posts in 10 minutes? A new record! But I just found a great piece on GardenWeb which is worth reposting here. Think about this when it's time to whip out the lawn mower next spring:

Imagine the conversation The Creator might have had with St. Francis on the subject of lawns:

God: Hey St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the Midwest? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect "no maintenance" garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

St. Francis: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers "weeds" and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

God: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

St. Francis: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. The begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

God: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

St. Francis: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it... sometimes twice a week.

God: They cut it? Do they then bail it like hay?

St. Francis: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

God: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

St. Francis: No Sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

God: Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

St. Francis: Yes, Sir.

God: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

St. Francis: You are not going to believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

God: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.

St. Francis: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

God: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

St. Francis: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. The haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

God: And where do they get this mulch?

St. Francis: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

God: Enough. I don't want to think about this anymore. Sister Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

Sister Catherine: "Dumb and Dumber", Lord. It's a real stupid movie about.....

God: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Armchair tomato gardening

OK tomato gardeners, it may be cold and grey outside, but we can still indulge our passion for love apples. Ronni Lundy's In Praise of Tomatoes: Tasty Recipes, Garden Secrets, Legends & Lore offers an excellent opportunity to daydream about last year's tomato patch while learning something that may help us with next year's crop. If you're looking for a guide to growing tomatoes, look elsewhere. But if you'd like to learn about the history of this popular garden vegetable, get some new--and creative--recipes, and admire some gorgeous full-color illustrations, this is the book for you. It includes a useful chart of tomato varieties that gardeners will find helpful, but otherwise the emphasis here is not how to grow tomatoes, but why to grow them. After drooling over recipes for green tomato ketchup, red tomato and lemon jam, and spicy red tomato cake, I'm ready to start planning for next year's crop.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

How to Root Softwood Cuttings - Plant Propagation Forum - GardenWeb

I just stumbled across a great posting on GardenWeb that explains how to root softwood cuttings. It includes very basic instructions and pictures -- perfect for beginners. Take a look: Easy - How to Root Softwood Cuttings - Plant Propagation Forum - GardenWeb

Sunday, November 19, 2006

10 Easy Soil Tests

Another gem from Organic Gardening - 10 Easy Soil Tests. These sound like a great way to better know your soil.

Another tip for lazy gardeners, courtesy of Organic Gardening

Interesting coincidence. Yesterday I explained my lazy composting/mulching method. This morning my e-mail newsletter from Organic Gardening includes a link to their Simple Composting Method.

So, if you're lazy like me, now you have another option.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Cheap, lazy gardening tip: mulch with free stuff that's easy to get

I just spent a couple of hours mulching my front yard with stuff that cost me nothing but a bit of effort. This morning our church had its annual leaf-raking party. Hubby and I hauled away all the leaves and pine needles, saving the church the hassle of getting rid of them and furnishing us with lots of great mulch. We had also been stockpiling newspapers for a few months, so we had everything we needed to enrich the soil and assure a mostly-weed-free yard in the spring. I cleared away any noxious, invasive weeds (bindweed, crabgrass, etc.) and laid down thick pads of newspaper (at least 8 layers thick; preferably thicker). Then I poured leaves on top. No need to shred the leaves first. Whole leaves will break down slowly all winter, feeding the soil and providing a thick weed barrier.

Because pine needles are acidic, I use them only around acid-loving plants like rhododendrons or blueberries, or I use them to mulch pathways, areas under big trees, or other places where I don't plan to plant anything for awhile. A layer of newspaper under pine needles really isn't necessary unless you have a major weed problem. And you don't want to put newspaper under pine needles when making a path, because the pine needles slide across the paper, making for a slippery, dangerous path.

If you have a large area to mulch, cardboard sheets are quicker to apply than newspaper.

I like to call this method cheap, lazy gardening. You make compost in place rather than hauling everything to your compost heap, then hauling the finished compost back to where you need it. You don't have to weed (much) come spring, and you don't have to dig (much) at planting time. When I use this method, I never till--ever. I just rake back the mulch, plant, and scoot the mulch back around the plants. Or, for veggies and other heavy feeders, I rake the mulch into my pathways, plant my row, and mulch with manure and/or compost. The remaining leaves help keep the path dry and weed-free. And everything you use is free.

If you don't have a ready supply of leaves like I do, consider picking up bagged leaves from the curb in front of your neighbors' houses. They won't care, and you'll get lots of free mulch. You could even be a good Samaritan and offer to rake leaves for elderly neighbors in return for the leaves.

Let's hear it for cheap and lazy!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Moving plants into the greenhouse for winter

I haven't posted about my greenhouse adventures in ages. I got my first (and only) greenhouse a year ago June. Last year I wintered over a bunch of tender perennials sold as annuals, with mixed success. Petunias did very well, but a lot of the other stuff died (partly my fault for going too long between waterings and having inadequate air circulation in the greenhouse).

Fast forward to this year. I spent most of today moving stuff into the greenhouse, since our nights here in Portland are beginning to get cold. We've had frost in some areas already, though what we got at my place was more like slush and didn't kill anything off. But why tempt fate? So I got busy.

In addition to the citrus and brugmansia from last year, I have some bouganvilla and mandevilla. Plus, this year I'm trying an experiment. I dug up my bell peppers and jalapenos, potted 'em up, and moved them into the greenhouse. I don't expect them to bear during the winter, since I don't provide supplemental light, and I only keep the greenhouse heated enough to keep things from freezing. But I'm hoping to keep them alive so they can get an earlier start next spring. Plus I think it'll be cool to have shrub-sized pepper plants.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Grow a giant pumpkin next year!

This year I grew Atlantic Giant pumpkins for the first time. While large, mine were nowhere near world record holders, mostly because I didn't give them the daily TLC required to produce orange behemoths. If you do have the time and inclination to grow a pumpkin suitable for Cinderella's coach, you might want to check out the tips from Organic Gardening and start planning for next season. Good luck!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Homemade sun-dried tomatoes: the perfect use for end-of-season tomatoes

Here in Portland, tomato season is winding down. I'm still getting a few slicers, but they often get mushy or icky before they fully ripen. So I pick them when they're pink and let them ripen on my counter. My cherry tomatoes are still ripening on the vine, but they often split before I get around to harvesting them. I think it's due to the wet, dewy mornings and occasional rain showers. Soon we'll have our first frost, and I'll need to pick all the decently-developed green tomatoes to ripen in the house. So, whether they're slicers or cherry tomatoes, what I'm harvesting now isn't of high enough quality for eating out of hand. But I hate to waste them. What to do?

The most common answer is, make sauce! Yep, that works, but one can only use so much tomato sauce. And sauce isn't a practical option for cherry tomatoes, because it's way too much work to peel them. This year I tried something different -- drying them. The Cooking Inn has some good instructions, but I found a few problems with them. Their instructions for preparing cherry tomatoes are fine. But when I used their cooking temperatures, the tomatoes burned very quickly. I had better luck using lower temperatures for a longer period. Here's how I dried a boatload of cherry tomatoes, most of which were split but otherwise in good shape:

Homemade Sun-Dried Cherry Tomatoes
(Well, they're really oven-dried. What did you expect from an Oregonian?)
  1. Preheat oven to about 200-250 degrees
  2. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray or lightly grease with oil.
  3. Rinse cherry tomatoes and cut in half. Split ones are OK as long as they aren't discolored or starting to rot.
  4. Place tomatoes cut side up on baking sheet.
  5. Put tomatoes in oven and turn temperature down below 200. I recommend experimenting to get the right temperature. I had the best luck with my electric oven set a little below 200 with the door slightly ajar.
  6. Bake till dry but still pliable. I did mine till they were no longer sticky to the touch. You don't want to get them crunchy, because they'll be harder to use in recipes, especially pesto or something similar that has to be processed in a blender.
  7. Store them in jars with lids. You can pack them in oil (instructions available at the link mentioned above) or just store them dry.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Harvest time!

Here in my Portland, OR, garden, the harvest is in full swing. I can barely keep up with the tomatoes and peppers! So far I've canned 14 quarts of tomatoes, frozen about 8 quarts of spaghetti sauce, and made about 3 quarts of pizza sauce -- and I have another load of tomatoes to pick today. All this came from just 12 plants too.

To help with the harvest, Organic Gardening posted a great article with tips on when and how to harvest various crops. It includes information on how to tell when a vegetable is ripe and how to harvest and store it to ensure the best flavor.

As time permits, I hope to post some recipes and other tips from my own harvest. But for now, it's back to the kitchen.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

ScienceDaily: Scientists Confirm Folk Remedy Repels Mosquitoes

No, I'm not dead. I've just been busy with other things, and I've developed quite a backlog of stuff to post about. In the meantime, though, ScienceDaily has a fascinating article on using beautyberry for repelling mosquitoes: ScienceDaily: Scientists Confirm Folk Remedy Repels Mosquitoes. The article notes that this folk remedy was recently studied: "Three repellent chemicals were extracted during the 12-month study: callicarpenal, intermedeol and spathulenol. The research concluded that all three chemicals repulse mosquitoes known to transmit yellow fever and malaria. "

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Celebration of Heirloom Vegetables

I just finished a great book on growing and cooking with heirloom vegetables. A Celebration of Heirloom Vegetables: Growing and Cooking Old-Time Varieties (by Roger Yepsen) covers 25 types of heirloom veggies, from the familiar squash, beans, and melons to kohlrabi, rutabaga, and tomatillos. Each chapter includes varieties, brief growing and harvesting instructions, instructions for saving seeds, and beautiful full-color botanical drawings. The chapters end with recipes, from simple to complex, some with an international flavor. Kitchen gardeners will love this book.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Book review: Companion Planting

The wetter the weather, the more armchair gardening I do, so I've read yet another gardening book. This one is a volume in Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening series, entitled Companion Planting. The first two thirds of the book introduces various topics related to companion planting - Companion Planting Basics, Companion Planting for Pest Control, Interplanting, Creating a Planting Plan, Planting Companions, and Caring for Companions. These last two cover gardening basics like soil preparation, plant spacing, watering, fertilizing, etc. The last third of the book is the most valuable - a plant by plant guide that lists companions, enemies, and growing guidelines for a wide range of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

Unlike many of the Rodale gardening books I've read, this one has big glossy pages and lots of beautiful, full color photographs. But it's also very useful, especially for gardeners like me who are new to companion planting. Now if only the rain would stop, so I could put some of the information I learned into practice!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Growing Profits: How to Start and Operate a Backyard Nursery

About a year ago, I started thinking about how I could make some extra money gardening. Why not get paid to do what I love? So when I stumbled across Michael and Linda Harlan's book, Growing Profits, I decided to give it a read. I'm very glad I did!

In about 200 pages, the authors cover how to get started, including resources needed, determining what to grow, where to get supplies, and the basic tasks required to nurture plants for sale. Then they go through the various stages of plant growing, from initial propagation through growing on to larger and larger sizes. The last two chapters cover producing a quality plant and marketing your products.

The book is full of practical tips that aren't obvious to the average gardener, e.g. buying and reselling wholesale stock and the relationship between growing time and price. I especially liked their creative suggestions, like how to find used nursery cans and how to profit through buying and reselling loss leaders and end-of-season clearance items at retail outlets. But the chapter on marketing was, for me, the most valuable part of the book. The authors cover a wide range of possibilities, from selling stock to retail nurseries, other wholesalers, and landscapers through selling from your home, farmer's markets, and flea markets. They include information on how to approach nurseries, wholesalers, and landscapers to convince them to try your plants. An appendix lists contact information for state associations of nurserymen.

If you've ever thought of earning money through gardening, this book is for you. Now I just have to find a place to store all the plants I want to grow and sell!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Heirlooms versus Hybrids—A Common-sense Approach

From the Brooklyn Botanic Garden comes a balanced article comparing heirloom with hybrid seed: Heirlooms versus Hybrids—A Common-sense Approach.

The gist of the article is captured in this quote:
As in most areas of life, gardeners should celebrate diversity. Plant the best hybrids as well as exceptional heirlooms.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Heirloom Melons and Squash: Eye Candy for Gardeners

I've spent the last few dark, rainy Portland evenings ogling heirloom squash and melons, courtesy of two gorgeous books by Amy Goldman: Melons for the Passionate Grower (2002) and The Compleat Squash: A Passionate Grower's Guide to Pumpkins, Squashes, and Gourds (2004). Both books provide a bit of general growing information, but most of the content is pictures -- full-color still life photos that show off the beauty of these sometimes-strange-looking fruits. Both books include brief growing information for each variety and a list of sources for seed. All are open-pollinated, and the author includes some information on the how and why of seed saving to preserve these endangered varieties.

Such beautiful books are the perfect antidote to dark winter days! In the depths of winter, it seems possible to have a perfect patch of heirloom melons in Portland. Never mind that attempting to grow melons in Portland is a bit like Samuel Johnson's description of second marriages: the triumph of hope over experience. But hope springs eternal, so I'll be sending off for some heirloom melon seeds.

Here are links to the books at Amazon:

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Can't wait for spring? Try winter sowing!

Here in Portland, it's definitely time for some rainy day gardening! My back yard is a swamp! So what's a bored gardener with the winter blues to do? Plant some seeds! It's called winter sowing. To get started, read the FAQ for the winter sowing forum on Gardenweb: In addition to helping overcome the winter garden blues, winter sowing lets you start more seeds, because you don't have to start them during the busy spring gardening season. I started a few things last year using this technique, and I plan to do even more this year. Now if I could just find room for a potting bench in the house...

Monday, January 02, 2006

Sources of Heirloom Seeds

Now that the holidays are over, I'm in full-blown rainy day gardening mode. My yard is a swamp, so I'm doing lots of armchair gardening. This year I'm going to try growing heirloom winter squash, so I've been looking for sources of heirloom seed online. Here are some of the best sites I found:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds,
Veggies, herbs, and flowers

Heirloom Seeds,
Veggies, herb, and flower seeds

Rich Farm Garden Supply,
Veggies, herbs, flowers, fruits; seeds and plants

Sand Hill Preservation,
Heirloom seeds and plants, as well as poultry

Seed Savers Exchange,
Veggies, herbs, flowers, potatoes, garlic

Seeds Trust,
Heirloom seeds, booklets on seed saving

Victory Seed Company,
Veggies, herbs, and flowers

If none of these meet your needs, check, a directory of organic and/or heirloom seed suppliers. Most of the suppliers listed are in the US and Canada, but a few overseas sources are included as well.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Lasagna Gardening, a/k/a sheet mulching

I am a lazy gardener. There. I said it. I hate tilling, hoeing, weeding, and watering. I'd much rather plant seeds and plants, propagate, harvest, and sit on a bench in the sun admiring the results of my not-so-hard labor. Yet the clay forms an impenetrable slab, the weeds grow, and the summer sun dries my poor plants out every day. What's a lazy gardener to do?

Well, a couple of years ago I picked up a book by Ruth Stout called How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back. It's a wonderful book, in which the author describes how she was able to have a huge garden with minimal work by sheet mulching or sheet composting, piling organic matter around her plants rather than digging in finished organic ingredients. That year I snatched up bags of leaves and other yard debris from unsuspecting neighbors and layered it over a part of my vegetable garden in the fall. Come spring, I didn't have to weed or till! Not bad.

Earlier this year, I found a newer book that describes similar techniques in lots more detail: Lasagna Gardening, by Patricia Lanza. It's a great book for beginning gardeners. Lanza spends about a chapter describing lasagna gardening in loving detail, but then she spends the rest of the book actually telling you how to grow stuff. She covers edibles -- vegetables, herbs, and berries -- and flowers, with lots of practical tips and helpful drawings. A few years later she published Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces, which is even better because of the wonderful recipes she includes.

I have become a lasagna gardening convert. I've layered newspaper and leaves on my tomato patch and front yard flower garden, and I'm planning to make more garden lasagna as soon as the weather warms up a bit this year. I have better soil and fewer weeds -- even the horsetail struggled to come up last year through my 8" layers of mulch.

To purchase any of the books mentioned in this post, just click a link below: