New Agricultural Products

by Sandy Swegel

As a gardener I often say “Thank God.” The growing legality of growing marijuana has meant a proliferation of stores that sell amazing tools that make gardening easier and cheaper. Despite living in Colorado, I’ve never been interested in smoking pot. Even as a decadent college student I thought “Why smoke when you can drink?” I helped a friend trim some of her high end organic marijuana grown outside and declined the offer for some of the product. But I am endlessly interested in marijuana growing techniques. I have three products that might not have been available if it weren’t for the early mmj growers.

My EZ Clone aeroponic plant propagator.
These used to cost $400 but I got mine for $50 off of craigslist from a guy in a souped-up muscle car who had had dreams of getting rich by growing clones but lost interest when that didn’t happen overnight. Now you can buy new cloners for much less than $100 from Amazon or Home Depot if you aren’t brave enough to venture into a grow shop. These simple machines spray warm mist on the roots of cuttings and cause hardwood and softwood cuttings to grow roots in a very short time—days! This is my favorite way to root shrubs, tomatoes, small fruit plants and even roses. Should work great for trees too. I can have well-rooted plants in just a couple of weeks.

My LED grow light.
The first indoor light I tried were the big sodium ones that provided enough light to take indoor plants all the way to bloom. That was amazing but also an energy hog. This year for indoor seed starting, I’m loving my Costco LED shop light that is half the size of my old shop lights, lightweight, and uses almost no electricity.

 

My liquid all natural growing supplements.
I still rely on kelp and Superthrive as growth stimulants, but the organic, natural fertilizer concentrates produce some of the best growth and production I’ve seen, especially in tomatoes. Lots of research went into getting ideal growth out of marijuana plants. Marijuana and tomatoes are quite similar in plant needs. If you can grow one, you can grow the other.

There’s nothing like old fashioned common sense for growing using compost and time-honored natural techniques. But a few high-tech products can make your garden spectacular.

 

Photo Credits:

https://bigbudsguide/best-nutrients-cannabis/

 

Garden and Grow Flowers all Winter Long

by Sandy Swegel

For gardeners foolish enough to live where winter takes hold and the ground freezes, the time between first frost and last frost can be very long. Some gardeners are wise enough to welcome the break from the work of the garden and enjoy the natural flow of the seasons. Others like me start longing for a greenhouse or dream of living in warm tropical climates. I fantasize about building a mobile greenhouse I could drive down south to grow all winter and drive back to Colorado next Spring. I mourn the death of geraniums in beautiful pots and the brown frozen leaves of basil.

Before you lug dozens of plants into your living room where they mostly suffer until they succumb to low light and pests, make a plan for how to garden your indoor area.

If you have good indoor southern exposure…

Blooming plants like geranium, Hibiscus, Bougainvillea and Mandevilla will put on winter-long displays of flowers. Often by January, the dry air and lack of circulation will cause aphid explosions, and you’ll need to give the plants a quick shower or deal with the aphids in some other way before they get completely disgusting. Fragrant plants like rosemary will also thrive and even bloom if you keep them well-watered. Plants that didn’t need much water outdoors have different needs indoors and will probably need to be watered twice a week.

 

Low light windows…
Winter is the time to move cyclamen and African violets out of the direct winter sun to the north or east windows to keep them happy. Begonias also do well in lower light.
Cuttings of coleus bring in lots of foliage color. Coleus plants are so attractive in pots but expensive to buy. Simple jars of water will keep the coleus happy and grow roots so you have plants next Spring.

Herbs…
The rosemary is in the southern window. You can harvest the thyme from outdoors all winter as long as you can push aside leaves or snow. Tender herbs like basil and oregano are another story. I haven’t had much luck bringing them indoors…they bolt or get buggy. I have had great luck seeding narrow windowsill pots densely and enjoying the young leaves as microgreens.

Forcing bulbs…
Amaryllis are great to start now. Setting aside a few bulbs from Fall plantings can occupy your gardeners’ heart for weeks in January and February. Not all bulbs force so there is some experimentation here and some bulbs will need a cooling period in your frig or cold garage. But little daffodils inside in late January give great joy.

 

Forcing stems…
Make a mental note now of what spring flowering trees and shrubs there are in your yard or neighborhood. In late winter after a warm spell, you can see the new buds swell on woody stems. Cut those stems and bring them indoors.

Winter doesn’t have to be long and gray. You can garden inside all season long.

Photos:
http://www.hiddenvalleyhibiscus.com/forum/index.php?topic=144.0
http://picklesandcheeseblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/bright-red-geraniums-in-big-black-pots.html
Miss Priss the Bougainvillea, Good To Grow, Liza’s plants

Free Peony Bushes in Ten Minutes

by Sandy Swegel

In the last post, I talked about Grandma’s method for making rose bushes. Today, I have a method for peonies taught by my older friend’s great-grandmother who was born in the 19th century. It’s not a method I’ve been able to find on the internet but it is VERY reliable.

Most people propagate peonies by digging up the roots, dividing and replanting. That definitely works but often the peonies go into a sulk and don’t bloom the next year. Plus an old root ball is huge and it takes a lot of effort to dig it up and cut it up.

 

Great-grandmother Pat’s method was to take a sharp shovel and cut through the peony root around the edge to grab a small chunk of eyes and the roots that go with them. I usually aim for 3-5 eyes and am sure to push the shovel deep to get their attached roots. This may seem brutal to the mama peony plant, but I have done this for years and every time, the mama plant puts out even more new eyes there the next year. On a big old root, you can take several cuttings from different sides of the crown.

 

This process takes ten minutes because it is worth your effort to prepare the soil for the new peony and make sure the soil is loose and fertile. I mix in some compost. I usually have a spot at least twice the size of the peony roots. It is important if you want blooms in the future to plant the rhizome so the eyes are 2 inches or less from the surface. I do mulch for winter protection here in zone 5 but pull the mulch aside in spring.

The new plant doesn’t always put out a bloom the first year and not every transplant survives, but most survive and manage to put out a few blooms. In another year, the peony looks fully developed. The best part is that the original mama plant is completely undisturbed by the process and looks as gorgeous as ever.

Simple. I think these old methods are so effective because our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were too busy working without all the modern conveniences to have time to be fussy with their gardens. They needed simple fast methods to make their gardens beautiful.

Photos:
http://www.theplantexpert.com/peonies/PlantingPeonies.html
https://www.gardenia.net/guide/peonies-that-do-not-require-staking

Free Rose Bushes in Less than Five Minutes

by Sandy Swegel

 

This is going to be a short post because it only takes moments to act now to have free rose bushes growing in your yard next spring.  No lights, heaters, no fussing.

The internet often calls this method of rose propagation “Grandma’s Mason Jar Method” because it’s how pioneer gardeners brought their favorite roses across the country.    And that’s how I learned it from a grandma and esteemed rosarian years ago.

What you need:

 

A cutting from the end of a mature rose cane.  About 8 inches.  (Not the soft green growth of late summer but a cane that had a rose on it. )

A quart mason jar or plastic jar.

Some mud.

Some water.

Decide where you want the rose to grow.  You’re going to put the cutting exactly where you want it. No transplanting needed.  Put some water and mud in the jar and swish around.  This is to make the jar more opaque. (Here in Colorado we have to worry about harsh winter sun frying the cutting.)

Prepare the place the rose is going to go…it should be decent garden soil. Water it if the soil is very dry.

Push the cutting about 3 or 4 inches into the soil and tamper in.  Put jar over cutting.

Now leave it alone until next May or June.  Seriously.  No peeking or opening it up for air on warm April days.  Leave it alone.  Water the area if the soil dries out terribly.  Let leaves drift on top of it.  Just let nature do what nature does.

Not every cultivar of rose propagates easily, but many do.  Do lots of cuttings, each with their own jar, to increase the odds of success.  My gardening friends have used this technique in harsh Colorado weather and it’s just a miracle.

Photos and more info:

http://www.rose.org/the-rose-whisperer/

http://scvrs.homestead.com/cuttings1.html

Starting Rose Bushes From Cuttings

Nurse Rock

Nurse Rock

by Sandy Swegel

Sometimes there’s a difficult spot in a garden when plants just keep failing. Or sometimes there’s a plant you really want in your garden (you know who you are butterfly weed) that keeps dying even though you think you are giving it perfect conditions. The easy thing to do is give up and plant a different plant or in a different place. But the determined gardener can reach into her magic toolbox of helpers for a Nurse Rock to give her plant the extra edge.

What is a nurse rock? Basically, it’s just a rock…most any old rock…that you strategically plant with your new plant. In hot arid Colorado, I usually plant on the north side of the rock so there’s just a bit more water and shade for the young plant. I learned about nurse rocks from a gardening friend who liked to grow the native plants she saw when she was out hiking. In nature, you’ll often see that plants are more likely to be growing near rocks rather than out in the open field. Even in your own suburban garden, you’ll see the edges of your beds or even your sidewalks have more robust plants.

There have been many scientific studies about why plants do better with nurse rocks. The obvious speculations are improved water, improved drainage, protection from sun, space from other plants, protection from wildlife, less evaporation, better soil nutrients under rocks and even more mycorrhizae. Old garden folklore highlights the image of the rock as a protector of the young plant from the big world.

 

I encourage you to give it a try. In the wild, nurse rocks are often large rocks a foot or more high. In the home garden, I’ve found even a small rock that fits easily in my hand gives a plant an edge. I’m trying this week with a spot in a narrow garden bed that just has had several different plants die out despite our ministrations. We’ve come up with reasons why the plants die…that one spot gets a little more sun and it a tiny bit higher than surrounding soil, or it’s a good hiding place for the bunny who ate the beautiful fall anemone down to stubs. We’re going to try again with an adorable small upright clematis, Sugar Bowl, and a good baseball sized nurse rock planted at its base. Thank you nurse rock.

 

Photos:
http://www.highcountrygardens.com/perennial-plants/unique-plants/clematis-scottii
http://www.laspilitas.com/classes/native_planting_guide.html
http://eachlittleworld.typepad.com/each_little_world/2008/12/

Growing Tulips

Three Myths about Growing Tulips04.22.16

by Sandy Swegel
We are having a beautiful tulip year despite heavy snows. Trees broke in half, but the tulip stems were just short enough when it snowed that they didn’t break. Walking around the neighborhood in wonder at tulips under broken trees, I thought about how sturdy tulips really are. There are some false myths about how you have to coddle tulips, but they are easier than you think.

The Myths:
Myth One: Tulips don’t bloom in the shade.

Once again my neighbor who loves flowers but isn’t all that interested in working in the garden has an amazing garden bed even though she didn’t follow the rules. She planted tulips along the concrete foundation of the north side of her house. These tulips never get a single ray of sun winter or summer because of the high roof. They are never fed. They are now putting on their third year of beautiful bloom because they don’t know the rules!

Now I’m not advising you to plant in full shade, but I do regularly plant in areas that seems marginal. Tulips don’t need a full day of sun. Nor do they need sun during bloom time. I’ve seen beautiful tulips under shady deciduous trees because there’s plenty of sun for the growing tulip foliage before the tree leafs out.

04.22.16a

Myth Two. You have to leave the leaves on them until they turn brown.

I’ve tested this myth for years now and it is indeed not true. You can cut off the foliage much sooner than you think. All those people who tie the dying foliage in cute knots could just cut the foliage off. An elderly neighbor who had the most beautiful tulips each year said that as soon as the foliage looks a little limp (but still green) it is no longer photosynthesizing enough to make food for the bulb and you can cut it down.

Myth Three: Tulips are perennials. Plant them once and have years of beauty.04.22.16b

Some tulips are perennials. The original species bulbs are perennial. But the fancier the flower, the less likely the tulip will come back. This is especially true of multicolored tulips. The tulip color “break” is cause by a virus. So the tulip is awesomely beautiful but is weakened by the virus and often dies that year. You need to plant those every year.

Some single color tulips are perennial in perfect conditions. But tulip varieties that thrive in one garden won’t return in other gardens. This is especially true if you have heavy clay soil that doesn’t drain well. My lucky neighbor with tulips in the shade lost all of the tulips that she planted in the hard-pan lawn in the full sun. The soil was horrible after 20 years of a neglected lawn and the root competition was too much. But they were beautiful the first year so she’s happy.

Tulips are such a delight of the Spring garden. Make a note in your calendar right now for next September: Plant more tulips!

 

http://us.hellomagazine.com/travel/gallery/201103255154/tulip/fields/holland/10/

Two Ways to Guarantee Your Outdoor Seeds Grow

by Sandy SwegelPre-sprouting seeds

The next few weeks are crucial for new gardeners. Every year in Spring, first-time gardeners buy some seeds and dig up a garden on the first really warm weekend and sprinkle the seeds out. Then they wait. For some, within the month, weather conditions will be good and they’ll have their first garden seedlings and they will be totally hooked on the magic of gardening.

For others, something bad happens that the newbies don’t know about. They don’t realize they have to water. Or a couple of hot days come and burn the new seedlings to a crisp. Maybe the neighborhood crows watch you plant and come to eat every last pea. Sometimes the soil is cold and it’s just too early to germinate seeds. These newbie gardeners lose hope and say they just have a black thumb and give up gardening.

If you’ve had failures but are still willing to give a garden from seed a try, I have two techniques that virtually guarantee your seeds will germinate outdoors. These are especially good ideas if you’ve given up trying to grow some things because they never work for you. For years I just thought I was broccoli-impaired until I tried these hints.

First of course, you have to start your garden bed.

HOW TO START A GARDEN BED.

You can till and/or turn the soil by hand but you don’t have too if the soil is not solid concrete.
Dig out the weeds. Get the roots if you can.
Take a rake and make the soil level and a bit smoothed out.
Water soil with a soft sprayer if the soil is dry.
Sprinkle seed over the soil. How much seed and how far apart is written in the little print on the packet.
Pat the seed lightly with your hands so there is contact between the seed and the soil. Bury the seed slightly if the packet says so.

If you live in someplace humid and warm, that’s enough. Your seeds should come up.

If you live someplace dry or with fluctuating temperature or you’ve had failures in the past, try these two success techniques:

Sprouts

#1 ROW COVER

Lay a sheet of row cover loosely over the seeded bed. You want it nice and loose so the plants can grow and the row cover lifts with them. I use some heavy rocks to hold down the row cover so it doesn’t blow away. The row cover helps the seeds stay moist enough to germinate and raises the soil temperature a few degrees so the seeds germinate faster.

Water with the soft sprayer. Note….I water right on top of the row cover. You don’t have to lift it to water underneath often causing the seeds to float away. It’s permeable so the water makes its way through.

#2 PRE-SOAK AND PRE-GERMINATE the difficult seeds.

Pea sproutsSeeds like peas or carrots respond well if soak them in warm water in a bowl overnight, drain them, then plant. The soaking activates the enzymes that break the seed coat and speeds up germination. If it’s a seed you really have trouble with, you can put the seeds on a wet paper towel in a baggie and wait a few days until you see the sprouts.

These two shortcuts…pre-germination and row cover…work for me all the time. And I get better germination which means I get more plants per packet of seeds and save even more money.

Now go out and grow some food and flowers!

 

Photo credits:
http://daphnesdandelions.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html
http://learningandyearning.com/tag/pre-sprouting/

Jumpstart your Lettuce Garden

Jumpstart your Lettuce Garden

Our new tricolor blend of romaine lettuces has me itching to get my salad garden started. I like Romaines because they are especially nutritious, comparable to kale. And I like this blend because it’s shiny and colorful. There’s a lovely gloss to the colorful Romaines that looks beautiful in the garden and on the plate. I want my food pretty!

OrgLettuceRoamaineTri_BBB

It’s pretty easy to get lettuce ready to eat earlier than your standard growing season. If you’re either busy or lazy (or both as I often am) there are some almost no work ways to get your salad growing.

Almost No Extra Work: Row Cover
Direct seed as usual into your garden. Put a layer of row cover loosely over the area. Secure with anchors or with heavy rocks which will also capture a tiny bit of extra heat. The row cover alone will speed germinate the seeds if you have a spell of warmer weather. The row cover then will protect it if the warm weather is followed by frigid temps.

A Little Bit of Extra Work: Pots
Want to have lettuce even sooner? My friend Cathy seeds her lettuce in lightweight pots and brings them inside at night or when the weather is extreme. It’s easy for her because she has a south-facing sliding glass door and moving the pots in means sliding open the door and moving the pots two feet in or out. She has the extra satisfaction of going to the Farmer’s Market in April where market farmers are selling similar pots for $25.

Invest Work for the Future: Cold Frames

Cold frames are an awesome way of having more of your own fresh food. They do take some time and money….but you will quickly make up that investment with what you save on fresh greens.

Work like a Farmer for Lots of Lettuce: Plugs
Growing your own lettuce plugs is one way to get a garden of lettuce without thinning or empty spots. Start your seeds under lights in plug trays that you can plant out when it’s a bit warmer. Very satisfying to have a full evenly-space plot of lettuce plants in the hour or so it will take you to plant out the entire plug tray (100-200 plants).

http://wcfcourier.com/lifestyles/home-and-garden/gardening/lettuce-plant-some-frilly-fun-veggie-can-be-grown-in/article_2a856188-c725-5af2-960d-9fd1d89f4896.html

http://thefoxplot.com/tag/beekeeping/

It’s Time to Divide Iris

by Sandy Swegel

Bearded Iris meet many of my criteria for a flower garden.  Their flowers are big and colorful.  They are sturdy and withstand hail. Here in Colorado they are virtually disease free.

One of the best and the worst things about iris is that they reproduce like crazy.  Especially in rainy years like we’ve had the last couple of years.  You can ignore the massive clump of green blades, but if you want more flowers, you have to divide the iris every few years.

A few facts:

July to September is iris dividing season. After bloom but give the roots some time to reestablish.

The roots of iris are called rhizomes…big clunky and ginger-like.  Photosynthesis occurs in the rhizome.  If the rhizome doesn’t get some light, the plant rarely blooms.

The fan (the leaves) that bloomed this year will never bloom again. So you can cut it off and throw it away.  Two buds on either side of this fan will send up their own leaves and bloom next year.   Those are what you’ll be replanting.

Giving away iris is like giving away zucchini in August. Some gardeners are thrilled but others run when they see you coming.

The two most important things to remember when replanting iris:

Good drainage.  Iris will handle drought and bad soil, but standing water rots them.

The rhizome needs to be slightly above soil level.

Now iris come in many colors and there are definitely fads.  This year no one can give away purple iris.  They’ve somehow become commonplace.  But I  brought a huge clump of white iris to a garden meeting and grown women were fighting over single rhizomes.  Go figure.  Fortunately, before digging from the mixed iris bed, we had used a permanent marker to write on the leaves the color of the flower.

It’s a bit of work but there is one awesome secret about iris that means you have to grow them.  They smell just like their color.  Purple iris smell like grape snowballs.  Yellow iris smell exactly as you’d think yellow should smell.  Apricot iris have a delicate sweet aroma. What a delight to plant a walkway with irises.

 

Photo credit txmg.org/elpaso/event/farmers-market-series-2014-07-26/

Art by Nancy Baker www.hear2heal.com/bearded-ladies-limited-edition-fine-art-iris-garden-nancy-baker-p-756.html

My Number One Secret for Growing Tomatoes

by Sandy Swegel

A local grower and I were chatting today about all the ways people grow tomatoes. My friend was laughing at somebody who had an elaborate setup with walls of water in the snow. I don’t necessarily use walls of water, but I understand our local Zone 5 competitions to have tomatoes by the 4th of July. The walls of water help warm the soil and of course, entertain the gardener.

There are many “secrets” to growing tomatoes. Some people put their hope in fertilizers and supplements like Epsom salt. Others do a lot of pruning of “suckers.” And there is no substitute for regular consistent water that doesn’t let the soil dry out.

But for me, the most important part of growing tomatoes is digging and preparing the hole you’re going to plant in. I generally plant little plants…2-1/4 inch pots…somewhere around May 15th. And I do believe in planting deep so roots can grow all along the stem. But back to the importance of preparing the hole you’re going to plant in.

My secret for great tomatoes is a big humongous hole at least half full of compost.

Step One. Take a five-gallon pot (a bucket can work too) and dig the hole so big that the bucket fits completely in the hole. That usually means you have to keep going back and widening the hole to get the bucket all the way down. And it’s usually a pain digging into that subsoil. If the soil is very clay like, I loosen up the bottom and sides by slicing cuts in both for draining. I fill at least half the hole with finished compost. I put in some finished composted manure if I have it. I throw in some rather unfinished compost too. I mix in an organic fertilizer that includes phosphorus. I’ll also add any other goodies I have like kelp or alfalfa meal. Leaf mulch if I have some. I don’t mind if a worm or two ends up in there too. I then fill the rest of the hole with original soil and mix it well. I water it.

Only now is the hole ready for the tomato. I pluck off its lower leaves and plant the tomato up to its neck. I put the trellis or whatever support I’ll need now. And that’s it. I personally run a drip line with a timer since it’s so dry here and I don’t want my sporadic memory to sporadically water. I’ve done comparison tests year after year with people who dig holes only large enough to squeeze the plant in. They never get the number of tomatoes I get. My large composted planting hole means the tomato puts out a huge rootball that gobbles up all that good compost and fertilizer food produces a huge crop of tomatoes. If you only have a shovel-sized hole in the ground for your tomato, you only have little roots to feed the plant. If you don’t believe me, when winter comes this year, pull up your tomato and see how big your rootball is.

So if you want a lot of healthy tomatoes this year, take out your shovel and work up a sweat preparing that soil!

Photo credit:

World Tomato Society