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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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Winter Container Gardens

Gone are the days of garden pots sitting idle on the front porch during the winter season.  Container gardening doesn’t have to end when the weather turns cold in fact the local garden centers are filled with a wide variety of conifers and fresh cut greens, perfect for greening your containers.   Using boughs of pine, fir, and cedar and a few dried and faux accents give your planters life when the short gray days of winter set in.

What I most like about this DIY project is that you don’t have spend a great deal of money.  Bundles of fresh cut greens are reasonably priced and if you are fortunate to have conifers and broadleaf evergreens on your property you’ll have a nice variety to choose.   

Use heavy duty ceramic, iron or fiber planters if possible, these materials are more frost tolerant than basic terra cotta, fill pot with soil. If you have plants leftover from the fall cut them down to the soil.  This actually provides a sturdy base for arranging the stems.  You want to begin by sticking greens in the pot starting from the middle.  Greens should be cut proportioned to the size of the pot.  Consider using a taller branch for the center and then cut branches at varied lengths.  Ideally you want to achieve a triangular or fan shape to your arrangement.  I prefer using fraser fir as my base when possible, It’s short needles provide a sturdy base and the blue green color add dimension. You can use pine and douglas fir as well.  Continue building your arrangement, working from the center of the pot until the soil is covered.  Begin adding accent greens like pine, and port orford cedar to soften and add drape to your arrangement.  I suggest adding magnolia or holly to vary textures or head outside and forage in your own backyard for materials.

Once you have placed all the greens now the fun begins.  You are ready to take your arrangement to the next level.  Branches, like white birch, and sweet huck along wth red twig dogwod add height and brighten greens.  For a more holiday feel add clusters of red berries and pine cones.  I encourage you to experiment with your design. If you prefer a more natural  arrangement use fresh materials. If you want a more festive look for the holidays add glittered branches and faux picks of silver and gold.  The holiday displays at the local garden center are filled with faux and natural picks to choose.

Another option for pots is using potted evergreens. Potted Alberta and Colorado spruces as well as varieties of cypress, holly and boxwoods are just a few shrubs you can plant into pots now.  You can add cut fresh boughs of cedar or pine at the base and holiday lights for a custom design look.    Remember to water your arrangement and spray with an anti -transpirant like, Wilt Pruf or Wilt-Stop.  This will help reduce any water loss through the leaves and needles of your potted arrangements. 

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Even after the holidays, the cactus lives on

by Tina Sottolano Cain

Zygocactus or Holiday Cactus is member of a small genus group of cacti called Schlumbergera that includes Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cactus. They are a popular houseplant and very easy to care for. Cultivars are usually white, pink, orange, red, purple and even yellow. Easter or the Whitsun cactus are most commonly a scarlet red color.

If you are wondering why your cactus doesn’t bloom exactly during the Christmas holiday it may be one of two factors: timing; or you may have a variety specific to Thanksgiving.

The difference between the two plants is in the texture of the leaves. Typically the Christmas cactus has smooth edges. The Thanksgiving cactus has a more jagged leaf edge, thus giving it the name crab cactus because of its claw like texture. When shopping for either check the varieties. The Christmas cactus is usually labeled Schlumbergera x buckleyi.

Caring for this plant is simple. Despite being called a cactus they are native to Brazil and the South American rainforest so they require more water and humidity than a traditional cactus.

Give your cactus bright to medium indirect light indoors and water regularly. I recommend you check the soil and water when the soil feels dry. Fertilize monthly 20-10-20 water soluble at 1/2 the rate. I like to keep a calendar with a watering and fertilizer schedule. This allows you to see how often you are watering and can potentially prevent you from over or under watering. A few signs to look for are the leaves turning yellow or looking shriveled and dropping off.

In mid-spring place the cactus outside in a shaded location. It will love being outdoors when the air is warm and humid throughout the summer. Repot if necessary. Christmas cactus do not mind being pot bound, however if your plant has been in the original pot for a few years its time to repot and replenish with fresh potting soil.

Leave plant outside in summer until temps go down to 50 degrees. A cooling period signals the plant to begin a new growth cycle of setting buds to flower. At about six to eight weeks before Christmas, place the plant in a completely dark space where the temperature is 60 degrees (such as a closet or garage) for 12 hours each night. Be sure to bring the plant out to a sunny spot for the other 12 hours each day. And remember to keep plant away from drafty windows or you may loose those flower buds you worked so hard to get.

These simple steps will insure you have your Christmas cactus blooming at Christmas time

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Garden Minute: Lee Brothers Cranberry Farm

Lee Brothers has been in the business of growing cranberries for 126 years. Tina talks to Stephen Lee IV about what it means to be a part of that tradition.

Cranberries have been grown and harvested in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey for generations.

Always fascinated to learn how certain plants grow and their harvesting practices, I headed down to Lee Brothers Farm in Burlington County New Jersey. They are a family-owned farm where generations continue to work side by side growing and harvesting cranberries for over 100 years, since 1868.

Harvesting cranberries is a two year process, starting from the time the berries are planted to the time they are harvested starting in September through October. Each bog takes about two weeks to harvest.

Lee Brothers Farm is part of the Ocean Spray growers cooperative made up of 700 hundred growers in the US and Canada, growing cranberries as well as Chili and a handful of citrus growers in Florida.

Stephen Lee, the fourth generation at Lee Brothers Farm tells me that this two week harvest is a special time on the farm. “It is a romantic time of year for us. All the hard work in the two year period during the growing season culminates to this time, the two, two and a half weeks in October.” The family has been coming together for many generations for the harvest. “It’s like our Thanksgiving.”

The cranberries are grown in bogs, but not under water. Twice a year (once in the fall and then again in the winter to protect the buds that have formed for the next season) the bogs are flooded with 18 inches of fresh water.

Flower buds are formed on the plants for the next year after flowering and fruiting has occurred during the spring and summer growing season. During the growing season plants are fertilized and monitored for fungus and diseases. They use bee feeding barrels to keep the bees fed while they pollinate the cranberries.

A machine known as the “egg beater” loosens the berries from the vines. As cranberries are made up of four hollow chambers, once the bogs are flooded and the berries are freed, they will float to the top.

A box is formed in the bog and then the berries are funneled into the box. The berries are pushed or corralled toward the center. Lee tells me that you have to move the berries in a sequential form. Berries are pushed through the bog in a sweeping motion using a garden rake, while another person gently pushes the box toward the center.

“You don’t want to cough or choke the box. You don’t want to overwhelm the box with too much fruit or you will not be able to pump out any water,” he said. Once the berries are pumped out of the bog they are loaded onto a conveyor belt where they are then funneled into a truck to be taken to Ocean Spray for processing.

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Garden Minute: Cranberry Farming

Cranberries are the most popular fruit of the season. In the first part of this series, Tina visits Lee Brothers Farm and talks about the history of farming cranberries in the region.

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

Though a well-roasted turkey may be the star of Thanksgiving dinner, the ruby-red, glistening side dish of cranberry sauce is always a stand out amongst the other like-hued offerings.

Likewise, the cranberry’s rich color and quirky harvesting make the bitter berry a serving of well-rooted Americana.

Cranberry plants are dwarf evergreen shrubs with vine like woody stems and leathery leaves that can grow up to six-foot long. They are found growing in sandy bogs and marsh lands in Wisconsin, Coastal Massachusetts and Southern New Jersey.

According to kitchenhistory.com, the cranberry was originally called “ibimi” or bitter berry by many eastern Native Americans. The Dutch and German settlers gave it the name of “crane berry” because the flowers look like the bill of a crane. Thus giving us the name we use today, cranberry.

The bright red color and semi-sweet flavor were believed to have many health benefits. Native Americans have many different uses for the berry.

They combined the fruit with deer meat and called it “pemmicanna,” once considered a survival food.

The Cape Cod Pequot and Leni-Lenape Indians in the eastern United States, also used it to make dyes for clothing, rugs and blankets because of its beautiful rich red color. It was also used medicinally.

According to the Natural Resource Educational Foundation/Lighthouse Center, It wasn’t until the early 1800’s when cranberries were planted commercially. In 1816 Henry Hall in Massachusetts was the first to grow the berry for production.

In New Jersey cranberries were first cultivated in 1840 by John Webb. In Ocean County the berries were brought to ship merchants and sailors on whaling ships to be eaten for its Vitamin C to prevent scurvy.

Now there are over 40,000 acres of cranberry bog in the Northern United States and Canada. New Jersey is the Third largest producer of cranberries. Many bogs producing cranberries today are more than 100 years old. Before the 1800’s, bogs were combed by hand, known as dry harvesting.

Since then things have changed and more efficient ways of harvesting the crops, know today as wet harvesting occur. The bog is flooded in October allowing the berries to float to the top.

Next week Garden Minute will visit one of the oldest Cranberry farms in Burlington County, New Jersey, Lee Brother’s Cranberry farm. The farm has been harvesting cranberries for over a hundred years and is part of the Ocean Spray Cooperative. We will talk about their methods of harvesting the cranberries from inside a bog.

A Little Fun Fact:

According to pineypower.com, cranberry grower Elizabeth Lee of New Egypt, New Jersey decided to take cranberries that were less than perfect, bruised or slightly damaged that would normally be tossed in the garbage. She boiled the berries into a jellylike sauce. It is believed that she like the sauce so much she started a business selling her “Bog Sweet Cranberry Sauce” beginning what is known today as Ocean Spray, which still operates in Chatsworth, New Jersey.

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Pruning Shrubs And Trees In Winter

You may not think of winter as the time to head outside and start pruning your trees and shrubs.  The fact is late winter is the perfect time to start thinking about gardening chores, like pruning.   Now trees and shrubs are dormant, many woody plants drop their leaves in fall and are not actively growing.  Rejuvenate trees and shrubs by pruning to remove dead, diseased wood and crisscrossed branches. This benefits the plants structure and appearance keeping them looking healthy.

Here are a few trees and shrubs to prune now:

Ornamental Pear

Locust

Plums

Crabapples

Fruit trees. Prune fruit bearing in late February and early March. Remove any dead wood or branches that have crossed or growing straight towards the center of the tree.  Apple, pear and cherry trees should have an open canopy.

Juniper

Spruce

Cypress

Shrubs:

Barberries

Boxwood

Camellias, after blooming

Crepe Myrtle

Rose Of Sharon

Holly, prune early winter

Yew

Roses, like Hybrid tea and floribunda should be pruned in early spring, just before plant breaks dormancy. Shrub roses and Knockout roses can benefit from this as well.

Hydrangea paniculata and arborescens, bloom off of new wood.  Hydrangea macrophylla blooms off the previous years growth as well as new wood growth.

Pruning tips:

  1. Use sharp shears that are cleaned and sanitized to avoid spreading any disease.
  2. Remove diseased wood immediately.
  3. Make cuts at an angle and close to the collar of the tree.  This will keep insects out that can carry disease and harm the tree.
  4. Remove crossing branches.  Cut off the smaller branch
  5. Remove thin and spindly looking branches.  This helps to thin out the tree or shrub opening it up for more light and wind to pass through.
  6. Remove suckers growing from the trunk of tree.
  7. Cut shoots growing straight up towards the center of the tree off of bark or branches, ‘water sprouts.’
  8. Avoid pruning in fall.  Plants are still growing in the fall.  Pruning stimulates  growth in plants who are otherwise winding down their growing season and preparing for dormancy.   Freezing temps can injure plants pushing new growth.

Prune spring flowering shrubs like azaleas, lilacs, rhododendron, and viburnum are pruned when done blooming.

Other trees and shrubs to prune in spring and summer:

Pine

Birch

Dogwood

Walnut

Maple

Elm

Hydrangea macrophylla 

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Planting and Caring For Amaryllis

Well, I did it again…I forgot to plant to plant a few Paperwhites and Amaryllis bulbs I purchased a few months ago.  It never fails I always buy a bunch of Paperwhites and Amaryllis with the intent of planting them all winter long so I can have a little springtime indoors.  If you are like me and this has happens to you, you may be wondering if the bulbs are still viable.  If the bulbs are over a year old and haven’t been stored properly chances are they may not be.  Bulbs stored in a paper bag with peat moss or wood shavings should stay dry in a cool dark environment.

Here are a few easy tips on planting Amaryllis and Paperwhites bulbs…

They are big beautiful bulbs and extremely easy to grow. Cultivars are available in a wide range of colors, various shades red and white, even deep pinks and salmon, they have large multiple single blooms on one stalk or they are available in double flowered varieties as well.  Paperwhites have beautiful clusters of white star shaped flowers that are extremely fragrant.  One of my favorite varieties is ‘Ziva’, they have large flower umbels and sturdy stems.

When choosing Amaryllis bulbs make sure the bulb has a large circumference, that will give you the largest showy blooms. All bulbs should be firm to the touch and not spongey. You also want to make sure the bulb has no greenish or soft powdery looking spots, that indicates bulb is moldy.

You generally don’t need a large pot to plant Amaryllis bulbs.  A 6”-8” pot is sufficient, I like using terra-cotta. It’s simple natural look doesn’t compete with the beautiful flowers.  They also look great in glassware.  I have a ton of glass jars that I use for terrariums always at the ready.  Both Amaryllis are Paperwhites are so easy to grow in soil and decorative stones.

When planting the bulbs always use fresh potting mix, place a little soil in the pot, covering the bottom place your bulb inside and fill in around the bulb with soil to about there.  Leave the upper portion or neck of the bulb exposed.

Place in a warm sunny window, once they start to push some growth lightly water. Once they are actively growing let plants dry between waterings.  In 7-8 weeks you’ll enjoy these beautiful long blooming flowers. Plant now and throughout the winter months. Be careful not to over water your bulbs, this is a common mistake.  Overwatering can soften the bulbs and promotes mold growth.

Here are a few easy tips for Amaryllis care post blooming…

So your Amaryllis bulbs have stopped blooming, what do you do now.  It is possible to keep the bulbs and force them to flower the next year.

Cut off flower and the stalk, leaving 1-2″ above the bulb, keep foliage.  The leaves providing essential nutrients that are stored in the bulb for the next years growth cycle.  Keep in a sunny location and continue to water when soil is dry. Fertilize every 2-3 weeks with a water soluble houseplant food.

In mid may put plant outside in a shaded location, and don’t repot.  Bring indoors at the end of summer.  By then leaves will turn yellow. Cut back to the crown of the bulb.  Now it’s time to give your plant a rest, let it go dormant for 6-8 weeks.  Place plant in a cool place…55 degrees is ideal, in a low lit room and don’t water.

In November repot and place plant in a warm sunny window and water regularly, be careful not to overwater until leaves appear.  Buds and blooms are soon to follow in time for the holidays

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A bright spot in winter needs certain care

Cyclamen persicum often called florists cyclamen is an indoor blooming plant that can be easily found in your local grocery store and garden center beginning in late fall and throughout the winter months. Its cultivars are white, shades of pink, purple and red. The beautiful blooms are smooth and frilly with varying heart shaped leaf patterns that make this plant unique.

Indoor cyclamen is a tender variety in a genus of perennials native to Europe and the Mediterranean. Some hardy varieties can be grown in our region. Cyclamen coum and Cyclamen purpurescens are just a couple of varieties that bloom from late winter to summer. Cyclamen are grown from tubers that are often confused as corms, which have a papery outer layer. Cyclamen persicum prefers a cool, humid environment. Daytime temperatures should not exceed more than 68 degrees during the day. Temperatures above that can force the plant to go dormant and stop blooming. Nighttime temperatures should not go below 40 to 45 degrees.

Provide the plant with bright to medium indirect light. I usually place my plants in a northeastern window that has strong morning light. Watering can be a little tricky, they tend to be sensitive to too much water or too little. When soil is dry and pot feels light its time to water. I recommend watering the plant from the bottom and allow the roots to take up the water that way you keep the center tuber dry. Over watering can cause the tuber to rot and the leaves to become soft and rotted as well. Fertilize once a month with a water soluble houseplant food at 1/2 the recommended rate. Too much will effect any future blooming.

Cyclamen will keep blooming well into February and early March. To keep plants blooming dead head spent blossoms to encourage future blooms. When Cyclamen is completely finished blooming stop watering and allow the leaves to die off. Leaves will turn yellow and brown and begin to shed. Place the plant in a cool, low lit area and begin decreasing daylight hours. Be sure to remove any dead foliage and allow plant to dry out. Plant will go into dormancy for a couple of months, during the spring and summer. After dormancy water plant thoroughly and repot using a sterile all purpose potting soil. Once plant begins to produce leaves, place in a cool sunny window and watch it bloom for another season.