Seeds from Sassamansville – October

By Linda Boyer

Ahh… October.  The crisp, cool beautiful autumn in Pennsylvania.  The glorious leaves that provide this beauty are also a bounty of gold for gardeners.  One of my personal pet peeves is seeing bag after bag of leaves placed out for the garbage truck.  What a waste of a natural resource, precious time and energy spent bagging leaves!  With regular mowing of a healthy, established lawn, you can simply mow the leaves into the lawn.  If you don’t have a mulching mower, lower your mower deck to about two or three inches.  It is important that leaves don’t accumulate on your grass.  Also don’t allow wet piles of leaves to lay for any length of time.
There are many uses for leaves. You can use leaves for mulch around perennials as you tuck them in for winter.  Put leaves on top of your bare garden and mix them into the soil.  One of the most practical things you can do with your leaves is put them in your compost pile along with your cut grass and food scraps.  A compost pile can be designed to meet the needs of any homeowner.
One idea for someone with limited space would be a garbage can with a lid.  Drill holes in the can every few inches over the entire can, including the bottom.  Fill the bottom with wood chips, saw dust or straw.  Then add your food scraps, plant material, leaves, some water and manure from non-meat eating animals (horse, chickens, cows, etcetera).  Chop the composting material into smaller pieces helps to speed the process.  Put the lid on tightly to help keep the heat in and the neighborhood cat out.  Stir every week or so.  Stirring your compost is important to keep the process moving ahead.  Stirring also reduces odor problems.  Things you don’t want to add to your compost include meats, meat bi-products, and plant material that was treated with chemicals.  Oh, I just thought of one more way to use your leaves, rake into a gigantic pile and jump directly on top of the pile, scoop a pile in your hands and throw into the air, enjoy!

Getting the Most from your Garden as the Thermometer Begins to Drop

By Linda Boyer
The Growing Center

I wonder who made the rule that Labor Day marked the end of summer.  I don’t think they were a gardener.  September still has warm, balmy days and soft, refreshing evenings.  It seems to me that, with the relief of intense heat and drought, nature takes a deep breath and relaxes a bit this time of year.
In the garden, this can be such an enjoyable time.  Watering worries are done for the most part, cooler nights mean the end for most insects, and we are still harvesting many crops.  Working in the garden is much more pleasurable with the thermometer a few degrees lower.  Now is a good time to take note of what grew well and what adjustments you may need to make for next year.  We gardeners are perennial optimists, there is always next year.  It is time to clean up exhausted, dying, or harvested plant material.  Add an inch or two of organic compost in these newly opened areas.  If you planted a cold crop such as broccoli you can add some mulch around them as well.  Mulching keeps watering needs to a minimum.  The herbs still have some growing to do.  Cut your herbs regularly, keep them clean and they will respond with new leaves even this late in the growing season.  This is also a good time to clean your annual beds.  Pull weeds and dead plants and add mulch to freshen those beds.  You may have decided to plant bulbs for next spring.  Give some thought as to what bulbs you want to plant and map out where you want to plant them.  Soon you will be replanting the annual beds with ornamental cabbage, kale, and fall mums.  September is also when you will really appreciate the marigolds and late-blooming perennials that you planted last spring.  These plants don’t know it is past Labor Day and will bloom continually for weeks to come yet.  Dead head the marigolds often, keep your garden weed free, and they will bloom effortlessly until the first frost.  Yikes!  Did I say first frost!?  I don’t even like the sound of those words.

Attract the Butterflies with your Perennial Friends

By Linda Boyer
The Growing Center

One of the most whimsical places on your property can be your summer perennial garden. Perennials are like reliable faithful friends. They don’t ask much of us, and just when we need a little lift they show up, brighten our day, and then leave quietly asking nothing more of us then a little bit of TLC and appreciation. Perennial flower beds can be a labor of love enduring many years. I have many perennials that friends have given to me as cuttings, clumps and bare root stems. Every season when I see the plants blossom I remember the friend and the day they gave that particular plant to me.
One of the many pleasures of planting perennials is there are few rules. Any color, height, size or shape can be planted in a casual arrangement to your liking. Like a living bouquet. Perennials can endure being smothered in a foot of winter snow and magically, by the middle of summer you have a fabulous display for the entire neighborhood to enjoy.
If you put a bit more thought into your choice of plants, you can make your perennial garden serve as a butterfly garden. Butterfly gardens should include plants vibrant in the colors red, purple, yellow, orange and pink. Include some flowers that flutter in the wind and have a short tube flower. Butterflies like nectar plants and they don’t mind if the garden is not so tidy. Leave some grassy areas and some rocky or sandy patches. The garden should be in full sun. Be sure to have some taller plants to block the wind on breezy days. Plant both caterpillar host plants and nectar plants and you will attract an array of butterfly types. Some good choices of plants could include Butterfly Bush, Purple Coneflower, Black Eyed Susan, Milkweed, Bee Balm, Phlox, Verbena, Zinnia, Nicotiana, Hollyhock and Lupines. I love sitting on the back porch on a soft summer evening watching birds and butterflies fluttering about the perennial garden, it soothes my soul after a stressful day, just like a visit from an old friend.

Comments? Tips? Find out more at www.growingcenter.org.

Seeds from Sassamansville, July 2012

What’s bugging you?  July heat can stress plants, and stressed plants are an invitation to insects.  Good housekeeping in the garden is the best bug control.  Keep your garden weed-free & moist, and you will be ahead of the game.  Try to keep the plant foliage dry by watering at ground level; the best time to water is morning or evening.  These simple things will promote happier and healthier plants.
However, most of us will still get some destructive bugs at some point.  Here are a few ideas that are Earth-friendly and human & pet friendly, too.  Remember, you are going to eat the food you grow in your garden, so chemical-free is the only way to go.  These “recipes” will help with aphids, mealy bugs, whiteflies, and mites.  Depending on how severe the infestation, I suggest you first simply hose off the plants with a strong spray of water.  If that isn’t working then try the next steps.
Spray the plants with soap water.  Always test on one plant, first, before spraying the entire garden.  Mix 2 – 4 tablespoons of liquid dish soap (non-antibacterial) to a gallon of water.  You can also add about the same amount of vegetable oil to the mix.  Fill a spray bottle and be sure you spray the entire plant.  Another repellent is garlic spray, great for whiteflies.  Chop 2-4 garlic bulbs and soak them in two cups of water for few hours, then mix this garlic water with a gallon of water.  You could also use 2-4 ounces of garlic extract per gallon of water.  Add a few drops of dish soap to the garlic spray for an added boost.
Another idea is hot pepper spray.  Mix 3 – 4 tablespoons of the hottest hot sauce that you can find with a gallon of water.  Again, you can add a few drops of dish soap to the recipe.  Be careful not to get any on your skin—it will burn!
Take caution with all of these recipes.  Test them on a single plant first.  Also, remember that what kills off “bad bugs” can also kill off the “good bugs,” too.

Seeds from Sassamansville: June 2012

Gardening Tips from The Growing Center

By Linda Boyer
The Growing Center

Is there any better feeling than walking on warm, fresh, tilled garden soil in a pair of bare feet? (Of course not while using a hoe or shovel). Yes, I realize that I compact the soil by walking in the garden, but the nature girl in me just can’t resist.

Now that the garden is planted, we focus on producing the best plants that our green thumbs can grow. Since we recently tilled the soil, mixing in mulch, manure, and nutrients, fertilizing can wait a bit. For now let’s talk about watering and weed control.

There are several watering methods. I recommend using a soaker hose. This conserves water by placing the water right at root level with little evaporation. Soakers also keep the foliage dryer which helps with insects and diseases. You can buy a soaker hose or easily make one yourself. To make your own, drill small holes in an old hose. Place a pressure-reducing washer into the end that is screwed into the water source and clamp the other end of the hose shut. Another easy technique is drill holes in plastic pipe, place the pipe just under the soil between rows and connect to your water source. Yet another way is to take a tin can, punch holes in it, bury it next to the plant (top open), and fill the can with water. The water will slowly seep out of the can.

Now, to mulching. Mulching means less watering, and less watering means fewer weeds. About three inches of mulch works well. Mulch keeps the roots moister & cooler in the heat of the summer. Be careful not to place the mulch directly against the stems of the plants. Mulch can consist of straw, hay, leaves, grass cuttings, newspaper, cardboard, and even wood chips & saw dust. Just make sure that the mulch material is not treated with chemicals. Some gardeners use black plastic. Black plastic does a great job of keeping the weeds under control, but plastic in the hot sun can become hazardous on the bottoms of bare feet!

Seeds from Sassamansville: May 2012

Gardening Tips from The Growing Center

By Linda Boyer
The Growing Center

Wonderful, glorious May! Open the windows, take that extra blanket off the bed, and head out to the garden. For me, May represents new beginnings, and day dreaming of things I want to do this summer. Lately, I have been dreaming of thick slices of tomatoes off the vine and steamy, roasted ears of sweet corn. We have some work to do before sitting down at a July picnic with these treasures on our plate.

For most gardeners, our crop starts one of three ways: we sow seeds directly in the garden, start seeds in a container to transplant, we buy established plants. If you are sowing seeds to transplant, here are some easy ideas. Fill paper cups with a soil-less mix. Drop a few seeds on top and cover the seeds with a thin layer of the same mix. Use a spray bottle to mist the seedlings as needed. Keep moist but not wet. Loosely cover with plastic wrap to simulate a greenhouse environment and place in a sunny area. When the seeds sprout, remove the plastic cover. As the plants become big enough, either transplant them into garden pots or plant them directly into the garden.

Next on the list is getting the soil prepared for planting. Find your favorite shovel (we all have a favorite) or start up the rototiller. If you applied a winter cover of mulch, cultivate this in along with organic compost and dried manure. Cultivate only the top 10” – 12” of your garden; most roots don’t go any deeper than 12”. Improving the soil will result in a garden that has good nutrients, better water absorption, and loose, aerated soil. Most of all, good, rich soil grows healthy bountiful crops!

Soil temperature is important. If you are planting seeds directly into the garden, a few degrees can make a big difference in germination. To warm the soil, simply cover your garden with a sheet of plastic for a few days to a week.

Don’t forget the hat, gloves and sunscreen. Garden tomatoes! Can’t you just taste them?

Wonderful, glorious May! Open the windows, take that extra blanket off the bed, and head out to the garden. For me, May represents new beginnings, and day dreaming of things I want to do this summer. Lately, I have been dreaming of thick slices of tomatoes off the vine and steamy, roasted ears of sweet corn. We have some work to do before sitting down at a July picnic with these treasures on our plate.

For most gardeners, our crop starts one of three ways: we sow seeds directly in the garden, start seeds in a container to transplant, we buy established plants. If you are sowing seeds to transplant, here are some easy ideas. Fill paper cups with a soil-less mix. Drop a few seeds on top and cover the seeds with a thin layer of the same mix. Use a spray bottle to mist the seedlings as needed. Keep moist but not wet. Loosely cover with plastic wrap to simulate a greenhouse environment and place in a sunny area. When the seeds sprout, remove the plastic cover. As the plants become big enough, either transplant them into garden pots or plant them directly into the garden.

Next on the list is getting the soil prepared for planting. Find your favorite shovel (we all have a favorite) or start up the rototiller. If you applied a winter cover of mulch, cultivate this in along with organic compost and dried manure. Cultivate only the top 10” – 12” of your garden; most roots don’t go any deeper than 12”. Improving the soil will result in a garden that has good nutrients, better water absorption, and loose, aerated soil. Most of all, good, rich soil grows healthy bountiful crops!

Soil temperature is important. If you are planting seeds directly into the garden, a few degrees can make a big difference in germination. To warm the soil, simply cover your garden with a sheet of plastic for a few days to a week.

Don’t forget the hat, gloves and sunscreen. Garden tomatoes! Can’t you just taste them?

Seeds From Sassamansville: April 2012

Gardening Tips from the Growing Center

By Linda Boyer, The Growing Center

It is April, and we can feel the agricultural juices starting to flow. We are ready to pull on the garden boots, start sowing seeds, and tune up the tiller. Then we realize that the middle of May is still a few weeks away! In spite of that, there are still many tasks that can be done to prepare for planting.

We are thinking of putting in a new garden this spring. We have one near the side of our farmhouse, which is convenient, but we need more area. So I thought I’d give some ideas to others who may be thinking of breaking ground for a new vegetable garden or could maybe just use some pointers.

The first thing I suggest is putting your garden ideas on paper. What do you want to grow? Do you want to include flowers for cutting? Do you want to grow herbs? Where in your yard is the best location? Choose the spot then observe the area at different times of the day. Day-long, full sun is ideal, but it is okay if the area gets late-day shade. The area should be large enough but not overwhelming. Consider the drainage and lay of the land. Do you have a water source available? Will you want to build a fence to keep critters out? As you till, remove rocks and consider using them as a border or to decorate your flower beds. A bit of forethought will go a long way in eliminating some challenges that can discourage new gardeners.

Gardening is a do-it-yourself horticultural therapy session. Gardening reduces stress, provides physical activity, and it brings out the eternal optimist in all of us. I just know this year will be my best tomato crop ever!! Now where are those seed packets?