gardenchatter

Garden adventures and advice…


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Sprouting Brussels Sprouts

I’m going to be perfectly honest, as much as it pains me. Last year, for the first time ever, I decided to grow Brussels sprouts. In pots. About 6 plants per pot.

I can almost hear the collective chuckle from those of you that are familiar with or know how to grow Brussels.

Here’s a picture of one of my plants this year:

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It’s a good 3 feet high and almost as wide. So…imagine 6 of these in a pot. They didn’t survive beyond about 4 inches and didn’t even come close to sprouting sprouts. It was quite an aha moment for me when I toured the Royal Botanical Gardens last fall and saw how these interesting veggies should be grown.

Brussels like the cooler weather, so start them early, indoors, if you can. Six weeks or so before the last frost for your area. Plant the seedlings 12 to 24 inches apart (and not in pots) outdoors when the frost risk is over and give them plenty of water, fertilizer and sunshine. I had mine in the ground the first of June and am harvesting now.

Our summer here was extremely hot and dry (unusual for this area), so not the best climate for Brussels, but I certainly had more success this time and will definitely grow them again next year. The excess heat tends to stop the sprouts from forming a compact ball, l so I did end up with some unformed, loose leaves.

They mature from the bottom up along the stalk and as they reach about 1 inch in diameter are ready to harvest. Or you can wait and cut the entire stalk.

These actually look big and showy in the garden and are fun to grow.

However, I haven’t completely given up on my pot theory, but maybe I’ll try just one in a pot next year…

Brussels sprouts on one of my plants, and a full stalk from another cut down.


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Is It Poison Ivy or Oak?

I had someone ask me that question the other day – and either way, you don’t want them in the garden.

Both are plants that cause a red, itchy rash – sometimes blistering, as a result of contact with the oil contained within the plant – urushiol (yoo-roo-she-all). You will get the rash from contact with any part of the plant, flowers, berries, leaves, roots – even dead ones – so always wear long gloves and eye protection when erradicating poison ivy or oak. You can even get the rash from touching something that has come in contact with the plant – clothing, tools, even pet fur.

Eliminating poison ivy and oak takes time. Don’t burn it, inhaling the smoke can cause health problems including inflammation of the nasal passages and lungs. Smaller patches can be dealt with by regular hoeing and breaking up of the plants. They won’t continue to grow or spread if they don’t flower and develop berries.  Regular mowing of larger patches will eventually eliminate the weed, but be sure to wear protective clothing and boots to avoid rashes on your legs or feet. Wash your clothes and boots well after a task like this, the oils will remain until safely removed. Poison ivy and oak do take time to remove and you may see the odd stem sprouting up over the season, but as long as you know where it is, you can avoid it until it’s no longer a threat.
And if all else fails – get a goat! Goats actually enjoy muching on this plant. They’ll have it gone in no time!

 

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Both plants can be identified by their distinct 3-leaf arrangement. Poison ivy can grow as a shrub, reaching up to 4-feet high, as a groundcover, or climbing vine. The almond-shape leaves range from light to dark green and turn brilliant red in the fall. Poison ivy produces flowers, and then small berries that are a beigy-grey-white shade.

 

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Poison oak has a scalloped 3-leaf arrangement that looks very similar to true oak leaves. Grown as a dense shrub or climing vine, the leaf shades vary from bronze to bright green to red, depending on the season.

 


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Grow Up! (Veggies, that is)

We’ve been experiencing one of the hottest and driest summers in years. It’s what I call a “good old-fashioned summer”. The way summer is meant to be. And while I’m watering a tad more than I like to, the heat sure is keeping it’s end of the bargain and the veggies are growing better than ever.

One way to make use of small space, or to just provide more room to grow other plants is by “growing up”. I’ve made simple bamboo trellis’ for both cucumbers and squash to help keep the fruit off the ground and save the space for other veggies (like the sweet potatoes, which are growing like crazy!)

These trellis’ are made up of three or four, 6-foot bamboo poles, from the dollar store, wound with a strong string, or light twine. The twine allows for the gentle tendrils of the plants to grab on and reach for the top. I’ve had great success “growing up” both cucumbers and squash.

Or consider creating an A-Frame. This year, it’s doing exactly what I want it to. The squash are all growing up the side of the frame (plastic frame with bird netting), and the sunflowers can be seen over the top of the A-frame and are just about to pop. The tomatoes are growing like weeds at the other end of the bed.

As much as I don’t want this summer to end….I am looking forward to harvest time, it’s going to be the best ever!

 

 

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Spaghetti Squash starting to grow


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Morel Mushrooms

I was working in the garden the other day and was startled by what looked like a cluster of some strange type of alien creatures. I didn’t dare touch them for fear they would bite my hand off, or some equally insane incident, so I decided to leave them in peace while I did a little research.

Apparently they’re the best-tasting and safest to eat of all the wild mushrooms – Morel, is their name.

A spring-sprouting delicacy, morels can be found throughout regions of North America about the same time the trees start to bud and the trilliums start to bloom. Air and ground temperature along with rainfall amounts impact the growing cycle and crop bounty.

There are a number of varieties of morel – greys, yellows & creams (that’s what I’ve got), blacks and spikes and morel hunting seems to be a very common springtime adventure.

Lucky for me, I don’t have to venture any further than my back yard. And for now, I’m going to just leave them be and see what happens…just in case they really are alien Morels! But check out You Tube if you want to learn how to become a morel hunter. It’s quite interesting.

Oh…and they can sell for up to $60 per pound…wonder if I can increase my bounty?

 


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April Showers Bring…Purple Dead-Nettle?

If I could make money selling purple deadnettle (Lamium amplexicaule) I could retire tomorrow. The wonderful April showers, that as we all know, will bring May flowers, have also brought a plethora of purple deadnettle. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen quite this much in one place.
 
Also known as henbit, dead-nettle is a member of the mint family and forms groundcover mats very early in the season. An annual weed, It sports fuzzy, spade-shaped leaves and delicate purple-pink flowers. Unlike most nettles, this one doesn’t sting – hence the name “dead”.
 
Each plant grows to 40cm / 15″ tall, has a very shallow root system and develops around 200 seeds (yes, each plant). So pull these early spring darlings out as soon as you can – or it might become a full-time job!


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The Language of Flowers

Primula polyantha

 primrose
 
 
– aka Primrose, are vibrant, early-spring bloomers, that grow 6 to 12 inches high and are hardy from zones 3b to 7b. One of the first spring plants to give us hope that our gardens will once again flouriish, Primula polyantha enjoys light shade and is available in a wide range of stunning colours.
Primrose signifies “young love”, which when you think about it, for us gardeners it makes sense – we’re falling in love with our gardens once again!


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How To Prevent Damping Off in Seedlings (now that garden season is in the air!)

 

Nothing is quite as frustrating for home gardeners as the joy of seeing newly planted seeds begin to sprout and flourish one day and then discovering them collapsed and wilted the following day.  Damping off is a fungal or fungal-like disease that makes seemingly healthy seedlings suddenly topple and die or, at times, never emerge at all. Although damping off is usually fatal, it is preventable. With a little attention to detail combined with good planting practices, your young seedlings will continue to grow into the healthy plants you want them to be.

The Cause

A number of pathogens live in soil, just waiting for the right conditions to occur before they step forward. The common pathogens that cause damping off are Rhizoctonia, Pythium, Fusarium and Phytophthora. They all develop and thrive in poor soil and less than ideal environmental conditions.

Soil Conditions

Use a good-quality, soilless potting mix to start your seeds. Fresh potting soils are typically free from harmful organisms, and the nature of the mixes provide good drainage, another important factor in reducing the risk of damping off. Soggy soil encourages fungal or fungal-like growth. Keep opened bags of soil away from floors and other unclean surfaces that could transfer contaminants into the clean planting medium. When planting, place seeds at the soil depth indicated on their seed packet. Planting seeds deeper than required in any soil may slow their germination process and ultimately damage the seeds.

Humidity

Good air circulation and room ventilation are other factors in reducing the humidity buildup that promotes pathogen growth; do not crowd pots or flats, or the seeds when placing them in those containers. As they begin to grow, thin seedlings — or remove some seedlings — according to the seed package directions to keep air adequately flowing around them, which reduces the amount of moisture on the plants. In order to thin seedlings, snip or gently pull out crowded seedlings, leaving the seed package direction’s required spacing between those that stay in the containers.

Temperature and Water

Cool soil temperatures before the seeds begin to germinate promotes the risk of damping off. Help ensure healthy seed germination by keeping the soil at a consistent temperature of 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the seeds’ entire early growth period. Keep the seeds and shoots evenly moist but not waterlogged until the risk of frost passes and weather conditions are favorable to move the growing seedlings into an outdoor garden.

Other Considerations

Many pathogens, including those that cause damping off, are transferred to new plantings via garden tools. Before working with plants and soil, or after contact with any disease, rinse your tools with a weak solution that is one part bleach to nine parts water. Leave the solution on the tools for at least 15 minutes, rinse it off and air-dry the tools. Planting seeds in new pots and flats as often as possible prevents contamination. If, however, using new pots and flats is not an option, sterilize the old containers along with your tools. Wear eye protection and gloves when cleaning pots and tools.