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Soil pH is Essential for a Healthy Garden

Soil pH is an important part of gardening. It measures fertility of the soil and health of your plants. So what does pH mean and how does it effect our plants. pH stands for “potenz hydrogen” or potential hydrogen.  It is the ability of plants to attract hydrogen ions in the soil. It’s measured on a scale from 0-14, 7 is the most neutral. To put it simpler terms pH measures the acidity or alkalinity in the soil thus effecting the health of what you grow from landscape trees and shrubs to flowers, vegetables and even your lawn.

Many flowers, vegetables, and grasses prefer a ph level between 6.0-6.5 Plants like azalea, rhododendrons, and most evergreens, blueberries and potatoes are the exceptions, they prefer a ph level slightly higher than 7. Most plants can easily absorb available minerals in the soil like phosphorous, nitrogen, iron and potassium when the pH levels range from 6.0-6.5. When the soil pH is lower than 6.5 minerals like zinc phosphorous can be easily absorbed by the roots of the plant. Whatever your pH levels are too high or too low you can make minor adjustments by adding soil amendments. Adding organic matter or compost can help to bring the soil to a neutral base which is beneficial when growing most vegetables and flowering plants.

Finding out the pH is easy and can done at anytime during the growing season, but Spring and Fall are ideal especially if you are planting a new garden in a new area of your yard. There are easy at home testing kits available at your local garden center. Knowing the soil pH can help you make the appropriate fertilizer adjustments. If you need a more I depth analysis consult your local extension agency.
Some effects of soil imbalance in the garden include, underdeveloped growth and limited fruiting. This also effects the plants ability to fight of pests and diseases.

A few easy solutions you do now to lower soil ph is add water-soluble, Coffee grounds over time to help reduce pH, just like manure or compost.  Add Aluminum Sulfate to the soil to keep your blue hydrangeas blue. To correct high acidic soil pH simply add dolimite lime, calcium magnesium carbonate to the soil a few weeks before you plant.

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Making Seed Tape


If you are like me and save seeds from your garden every year or you like to direct sow cool season vegetables like carrots and radishes, you can’t wait to get in the garden and plant them.  For anyone who has done this knows that seed cultivation by directly sowing them into the ground can be a tedious and tricky process, especially when the seeds are very tiny and lightweight.  Making seed tape is a way for you to plant seeds without worrying about waste. They are so easy to make from biodegradable materials that you already have in your home.  Seeds are evenly spaced and glued to strips of paper using newspaper, paper towels or toilet paper and glued using flour and water.

To make seed tape you will need:

Toilet paper, newspaper or paper towels

White flour

Tweezers

Ruler

Small brush or Q-tips.

  1. Mix about two tablespoons of white flour with one tablespoon of water to make a thick paste. You may have to adjust amounts.  Thicker glue will dry faster.  The paste should not be too watery.  You don’t want seed to absorb too much water.  The glue will hold the seed in place.
  2. Using a ruler cut one inch strips of newspaper, TP or paper towels.
  3. Place seed on the one inch strips in the middle.  Space seed according to the distance on package. You can spread the glue on the paper using a tiny brush then using the tweezers place one to two seeds per space.
  4. When you are done place a top layer of paper on top and glue together.
  5. Wait for glue to dry overnight before storing in a dry container.  Add rice to keep inside or container dry from humidity  and or condensation.  Don’t for get to label your seed tape.

When you are ready to plant take your seed tape to the garden and lay in the ground.  Lightly cover the tape with soil and water in.  Once your seeds germinate you will notice there is no need for tedious thinning and wasting of seeds.

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Winter Houseplant Care

Caring for houseplants indoors during the winter is much more challenging than outdoors.  Controlled temperatures, shorter day length and forced hot air from our indoor heating systems leave the atmosphere dry.  You also need to be mindful of cold drafts. Plants near drafty windows and doors result in dark brown sections on leaves.  Plants struggle to push out new growth, foliage turns yellow and edges brown thus resulting in unhappy looking houseplants.

I avoid these problems by following a few simple rules…

Increase Humidity…plants love humidity, especially indoor tropicals.  Make sure you keep plants away from forced dry heat vents.  Increase humidity by placing the plant on a bed of moist crushed stones, cluster your plants together if possible, or mist the leaves 2-3 times per week.

Rotate…plants are phototropic, meaning they lean, or grow in the direction of the light.  With day length slowing increasing each day, plants are stretching toward the brightest area, forcing a normally full healthy looking plant to have an irregular shape.   Remember to turn 1/4 – 1/2 spin per week.

Water…wisely during the winter time.  Take time to water your plants on a regular schedule.  Keep a gardening journal to keep track of watering, misting and fertilizing your plants.  This will help to minimize long dry periods and help prevent overwintering.  Be aware of the water temperature.  Believe or not water that is too cold or too hot can effect your houseplants causing leaves to yellow and curl.  I always use tepid water during extreme cold spells.

Pest Patrol…be on the lookout for unexpected pest guests.  Insects, like Aphids, Mealy bugs, Fungus Gnats, and Scale are the most common pests.  Plants need adequate air flow, especially in extremely warm areas.  Keeping temperatures between 62°-72°from night to day is ideal and helps to keep pests away.

 

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In the Garden: Growing Backyard Grapes

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

Grapes are one of the oldest crops known to man, dating back to ancient times. Concord grapes are one of the few native fruit crops in North America.

There are three types of grapes, American, European and Muscadine. The American grapes are cold hardy and grow in Northeastern regions of the US during the summer months. The European varieties thrive well in dry, arid climates, where temperatures can dip to a low of 10 degrees. Muscadine grapes are native to the southeastern United States. It is not outrageous to think you can grow grapes in your own backyard. From the casual wine drinker to the amateur sommelier, growing backyard grapes is not a difficult task.

Many gardeners grow grapes for different reasons, whether it is for making jams, and jellies, wine or table grapes it all begins with the right culture and cultivation. Grapes need at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. The planting bed should consist of loose, well drained acidic soil. If you have heavy clay consider adding compost or sand to the planting bed. The pH levels should be at 7 or slightly higher. Grapevines are not heavy feeders so don’t fertilize your plants unless you are amending the soil prior to planting. When you are ready to to plant, place grapes in a south facing location with good air flow. Avoid planting grapes in existing beds with other plants. You want to keep them away from tall trees, shrubs or buildings to provide adequate air circulation. Don’t forget to add a trellis or arbor to support the vines. If you are planting bare root plants prune any dead roots and top growth leaving one to two buds. Prune the second years growth leaving a couple of buds on each cane. Once plants are established routine pruning of any dead wood and 90% of last years growth in late winter is best.

Watering should be weekly for growing vines in the absence of rainfall. Soil should be moist to wet 6-10 inches beneath the soil, watering deeper will lead to root rot. Grapes are also prone to a variety of fungus. Powdery mildew, downey mildew and Botrytis, grey mold are the most common along with aphids, Japanese beetles and grapevine beetle also know as the spotted June beetle. They can effect the leaves and fruit commonly found in hot and humid conditions. You want to treat fungus using copper sulfate and insects using an organic insecticide.

Harvest grapes in the fall but be patient, the older the vines the greater the yield. Soon enough you’ll be ready to enjoy farm fresh grapes from your own backyard.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN

Growing Micro Greens

Micro Greens are a mix of sprouts from a variety of greens  and herbs that range in flavor from sweet to spicy.  Researchers have found that micro greens have 40% more nutrients than fully developed greens.  These nutrient rich greens are extremely easy to grow and can grown indoors all year long.  They make a great addition to any sandwich, soup or salad.microgreens1

I planted some micro greens a few weeks ago and decided to use plastic take out containers that have a lid.  I liked this method because I get to reuse a recyclable material.  The lid on the container is an added bonus as well cause it creates a mini greenhouse.  Last year when I  originally posted this blog I used regular terra-cotta pot, it works just as well.

Fill the container with seed starting mix. I prefer a bagged Organic potting mix formulated especially for seeds,  Espoma Organic Seed Starting Mix.

Pre- moisten the soil.  I always find it easier to have the soil moist rather than dry.  When seeds are sown in dry soil and you water seeds can float to the surface.  Directly sow seeds in the soil in rows.  Cover seeds with soil.  Be careful not to over water, this may cause damping off, a fungal disease causing seedlings to break down after germination.  Only water when soil is thoroughly dry.

Close container to create a greenhouse like habitat.  If too much condensation builds vent or open lid during the day.

Seedlings stretching toward the light
Seedlings stretching toward the light

Place in south facing window…If you need more light I would highly recommend adding an artificial light source   I also recommend turning your seed trays to avoid phototropism.  

Harvest greens in 2-3 weeks.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN

Propagating Succulents

succulentsSucculents are the hottest trend In gardening but can be expensive.  It takes very little time to grow plants from your existing plants by propagation.  Here are some tips when propagating succulents.

In a pot or tray filled with cacti/succulent soil, be sure to pre-moisten soil, cut a leaf from the main plant and lay in the soil.  Be sure to cover the ends of cutting.  I like to lay them In pattern to maximize the space…plus they look pretty too.

Place pot or tray in a south facing window and water only when dry, check every 10 days or so.

In a few weeks you’ll see roots growing and rosettes forming.
It’s that easy!