Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

From Death Springs Life

With the danger of frost long-gone, and the weather finally turning warm (read: unbearably hot and humid), I thought I’d just quickly show what’s taken shape in The Scholar’s Garden thus far! Since it’s just the start of the season, there’s little fruit to show, so I’ll be trying a new camera technique to bring you a closer look at the seeds that will bring life to our soil! I’ve also added in a few of the flowers that have recently bloomed, as well as a funny little tortoise who seems to be residing near our Japanese Maple. Just so you know, I haven’t forgotten about my promised post on herbal tincturing – that guide will be popping up later this week! For now, though, enjoy an early look at The Scholars Garden!

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Solanum tuberosum Nocte: Preparing Potatoes for the Night

A blast of fungal color has accompanied the potatoes' search for Spring.

A blast of fungal color has accompanied the potatoes’ search for Spring.

As I mentioned in my last post, one batch of my ever-so-scholarly Solanum tuberosums (potatoes) did find its way into the soil at the “ideal”

Our on-time (and slightly cramped) potatoes!

Our on-time (and slightly cramped) potatoes!

time prior to this week (which contains our last-frost date in central PA). This means that in one cramped edge of the garden, a patch of potatoes has emerged from the soil, ready to greet the warm spring sun! And, with the leaves of the tubers emerging, there are four things to keep in mind to keep your potatoes as healthy as possible!

Potato Maintenance:

1. Weeding: Potatoes, being a tuberous plant, need as many nutrients as they can store, so they prefer to grow in areas free from weeds and close companions. This is especially important for me, since, as you might be able to see from the picture on the right, a host of other little greens have joined the burgeoning tubers. And, while I have equal respect for all plants, my respect is a bit more equal for the plants I actually try to grow, so the weeds and things inhabiting my potatoes’ space will have to relocate!

2. Watering: From the day you plant your potatoes, try to keep the soil around your potatoes moist. However, to avoid contracting a blight (a variety of fungal diseases that can plague potatoes), try not to water the leaves of the plants, and ensure that your potatoes have sufficient drainage (potatoes and standing water tend not to get along).

3. Insect Control: While the potato can be munched on by a select few insects and pests, their ties to the nightshade family renders much of the potato plant poisonous to most insect invaders. Having plants that can defend themselves is always a plus for the busy gardener!

Baby potatoes all tucked in for the night.

Baby potatoes all tucked in for the night.

4. Temperature: Even though potatoes are touted as a cold-loving crop, their tender shoots and leaves can still be crippled by an unexpected frost; so, even though the plant under the soil can survive a frigid attack, it will take another two – three weeks for an exposed potato to regrow its above-ground energy source. This means that proper precautions must be taken to keep potato greenery warm overnight.

Here in PA, we’re expecting an unseasonably late frost (only a day before the last frost date!), so we’ve covered our potatoes with a sheet secured with rocks. You could use anything from newspapers to halved gallon jugs to keep your fragile plants safe from any arctic invasions!

That’s all the time I have for now: the rest of my shivering plants are in need of blankets before the night falls! Be sure to stop in soon to catch the third and final part of my potato triad: Solum, Nocte, et Farinæ: Preparing Potatoes for the Plate!

Until next time, happy gardening!

Nate

Solanum tuberosum Solum: Preparing Potatoes for the Sun

These pink dogwood bracts are a sure sign of Spring around here!

These pink dogwood bracts are a sure sign of Spring around here!

As I emerge from the haze that’s enshrouded my past four years as an undergraduate student, I’m coming to the startling realization that Spring has finally unfolded across central PA!

Mucking through the forest to find signs of life.

Mucking through the forest to find signs of life.

And, while I am eagerly awaiting May 15 (our last-frost date here), I’m having to rush to complete my early-Spring gardening checklist in time, which would, of course, be far easier if I actually had an early-Spring gardening checklist prepared! As it stands, however, in the madness of graduation, certification, job hunting, and substitute teaching, fragments of my gardening knowledge are slowly resurfacing to remind me of what needs done before the illustriously imminent last-frost date arrives!

The Task at Hand: Finding the Right Time

First on that ever-expanding list of things to do? Finally plant my favorite member of the Solanum, or nightshade, family: potatoes! The best time to plant potatoes is, ideally, two – three weeks prior to your area’s last frost date, as the potato shoot takes about this long to emerge from the ground; however, in our garden, only one set of potatoes actually got planted at that time, so the other two varieties we’re currently growing have only just been put into the soil. As the potato is a cold-friendly plant, try not to wait too terribly long past your last-frost date to  put these spuds in the ground! You can find your last-frost date (in the United States) here! 

How to Prepare and Plant Your Potatoes

Each year when I go to plant my freshly-purchased bag of seed potatoes, I find that I’ve long since forgotten how to go about planting these admittedly odd-looking tubers.

A truly unique bit of flora.

Forgetting to plant your potatoes will turn those slight sprouts into truly unique bits of flora.

So, I thought I’d compile a step-by-step guide to prepping and planting potatoes (for my benefit and hopefully yours)!

Obtaining and Preparing:

1. Find a source of seed potatoes in your area (avoid planting grocery store tubers, as these tend to be treated with chemicals to prevent sprouting), and choose the varieties that speak to you. This year, I’ve gone with Reds, Russets, and Kennebecs, just for these varieties’ “cookability.”

2. Place your seed potatoes in a cool, dark place for two – three weeks to allow them to sprout (if they haven’t already).

3. When the sprouts are about a 1/2 inch to an inch (1.5 – 2.5 cm) long, they’re ready to plant.

4. Using a non-serrated knife, cut your seed potatoes into chunks with at least two eyes/sprouts each. You may choose to let these chunks sit for a day or two to allow a “skin” to form over the cut edges. I’ve heard conflicting reports of whether this step is necessary, but, so far, I’ve yet to hear that this is detrimental to your future crop, so I’ll let you decide whether or not to “skin” your potatoes!

Finally Planting Your Potatoes

1. When your Solanum tuberosum chunks are ready to plant, find a sunny spot in your garden to

Not exactly a standard trench, but it will do!

Not exactly a standard trench, but it will do!

dig your potato trench. The trench should be long enough to allow for about 12″ (30 cm) of space between each potato, and between 3″ and 6″ deep (9 – 15 cm).

2. Line the bottom of your trench with rich organic compost or rotted manure, and fully incorporate your chosen fertilizer with the soil (this will give your tubers the boost they need to emerge healthy and ready for the sun!).

3. Place your potato chunks into the trench with their sprouts pointing up, 12″ (30 cm) apart.

4. Cover completely with soil and keep moist. You’ve just successfully planted a potato crop!

While putting in your potatoes is just one aspect of the early Spring countdown, it’s certainly one of my favorites! Of course, once your potatoes start sprouting, they will need to undergo some slight maintenance to ensure a solid harvest, so stay tuned to my coverage of potato upkeep in Solanum tuberosum Nocte: Preparing Potatoes for the Night!

As always, happy planting!

Nate

The Beans of Bos

Among my close friends and relatives, it’s common knowledge that I’m quite set on one day owning a small farm. When I have little else to do, I’ve been known to peruse

Honestly, who wouldn’t want to see these little guys in their backyard every day?

chicken catalogues, ponder the logistics of utilizing cows as petrol-free lawnmowers, and daydream about the day I’ll finally be able to purchase my own herd of ridiculously adorable Olde English Southdown Sheep. However, while my current occupation as a full-time student is helping me realize my dream of becoming a high-school English teacher, the amount of time (and money) required to make it through the world of higher-ed has proven only to hinder my dreams of moonlighting as a part-time farmhand. So, what’s an aspiring homesteader to do? Well, grow cowpeas of course!

Nearly indistinguishable from their moo-ing namesakes!

Granted, while the plants classified under the moniker of “cowpea” (or “Vigna unguiculata” for the Latin-minded) have no relation to our milk-giving friends in the genus Bos, a particular strain of this prolific crop seems to indicate otherwise. This strain, known as the holstein cowpea (available for purchase here), has won my heart, and now stands as one of my all-time favorite crops (especially in a land devoid of actual holsteins)!

Not only are the beans of these peas delightful to the eye, but they’re a blessing to a busy gardener as well! To be sure, this crop has been the one plant in this year’s garden which has yet to worry me. While I was fighting flea beetles on the eggplants, squishing cabbage worms around the broccoli, and pondering over how to get the forever-climbing gourd vines out of the nearby trees, these peas grew unencumbered and without issue. The only difficult (if one can call it “difficult”) aspect of planting this legume is deciding where and how to plant it in your space. So, I thought I’d provide a few tips and tricks for adding cowpeas to your yearly harvest!

Picking a Location for Your Cowpeas

1. Climate
As these plants originate from Africa, they are not particularly cold-hardy, therefore, warmer climes will ensure a stronger start for your plants.

2. Sun and Moisture
Since these legumes put out a high volume of fruit, a spot in your garden that receives full sun for most of the day is essential for the well-being of your peas. An area with well-draining soil is also a plus for peas: too much moisture can cause leaf-yellowing, disease, and rot.

When and How to Plant Cowpeas

1. Timing
Plant your seeds after the last frost date, and when the soil is at least 65 degrees F (if you

Even though my peas are probably a bit too crowded, they’re still faring wonderfully!

plant tomatoes, put these two crops in at the same time).

2. Spacing
Officially, cowpeas should be planted with 3 inches between each plant, in rows 3 feet apart. However, most cowpea varieties can withstand and thrive in more crowded conditions. If your peas are a vining variety, you can also train your plants up trellises or tripods (this is the method I chose to use with my holsteins, with help from this video guide: “How to Lash a Bamboo Tripod”).

Waiting and Harvesting

1. Germination

Within approximately a week to 10 days, you’ll
see the little cotyledon (seen below) begin emerging from the ground. This is a particularly vulnerable period for the plant, as any significant damage to the cotyledon will prevent the pea from regrowing buds. Placing a small cage or fence around your baby beans can be useful if you have seedling-devouring critters in your area!

2. Harvesting

As your peas begin growing, they can be harvested in three different forms. First, the young leaves can actually be eaten as greens, and can add a rather attractive touch to a garden salad!

Most commonly, however, the fruit, or bean, of the plant is what you’ll be after. While the pods are still young, the beans can be collected and eaten “green.”
If you’d like to store your beans as seed, or you have a favorite recipe which calls for dried beans, you’ll have to wait a few extra days, and harvest the pods when they are dry and yellow.

When the time comes to finally pick your peas, don’t be alarmed if you see a cloud of wasps orbiting your plants! Although the sight of these predatory, stinging insects can be quite alarming, they’re actually there to help make your job even easier! It would seem that the wasps are drawn to a sap excreted by the peas, and then stick around to eat the harmful insects that would like nothing more than to bite into your hard-earned harvest! From my own experience, the wasps paid no attention to me as I plucked the pods around them; and, after a few trips to the vines, I was able to actually enjoy watching these typically fearsome creatures go about their work!

Whether you are, like me, yearning for a bovine imitation, or would simply enjoy growing a deliciously obscure variety of pea, I really cannot recommend the holstein pea highly enough! Hopefully you’ll consider adding this eye-catching and nitrogen-fixing legume into your garden next year!

Until next time, happy gardening, baking, and doing whatever it is that brings you joy!

An Overture to Proliferation

Wow! It’s been far too long since my last post; and, for that, I must apologize. As the end of the semester is fast approaching, I’m finding that I have far less time than normal! So, just so you all know, my posting is definitely going to be spotty until May 4, the date of my last final (oddly enough, that’s the same day as the last frost in our area…guess that means that I’ll have a LOT more time for the garden!). Although I really don’t have much time tonight (a modified lesson plan and a batch of white chocolate cranberry cookies that need taken out of the oven are calling my name), I thought I’d catch you up on what’s been happening in the Scholar’s Garden!

First off, I’d like to recommend a book that I’ve just begun reading: “Carrots Love Tomatoes” (truthfully, I’ve had this book for over a week now, but haven’t had the time to really crack it open until recently). If you’re interested in companion gardening, this is THE book you need (if you’re wondering, no, I don’t receive any kickbacks from the publisher). Companion gardening is an excellent way to get the most out of your garden. By placing certain plants near each other, a plethora of beneficial effects can take place. Not only does this book tell you which vegetables, fruits, nuts, and herbs make good garden-mates, but also what wild plants (that look like weeds) to leave in your yard, which weeds and leaves make the best compost, and how to design the ideal companion garden for the veteran gardener or for a yard teaming with children. With this book on hand, along with my very old copy of “The Square Foot Garden,” I’ve been attempting to design this year’s garden in a way that will make both me and my plants happy!

Speaking of making things happy, Eric and I have recently been as busy as, well, bees! In preparation for the bees’ arrival, we’ve been putting the finishing touches on our hive. Because of a scheduling delay, the delivery date of our bees has been pushed back (we were supposed to receive the girls this past Sunday); but, nonetheless, we’ve been hard at work making sure that the bees will enjoy their new home. In fact, I was able to take a few pictures of our final set-up that I thought I would share.

As we set out to put the beeswax foundation in our frames (the individual slots in the hive bodies that you can see in the second picture of the bottom row) we encountered quite a few problems. For future beehive construction projects, I’m going to definitely make an effort to remember to bring all of the screws and tools necessary to put the entire structure together (in lieu of a brad driver, we had to use a pair of needle-nose pliers and a large, flat-head screwdriver to secure our brads)!

And, just as a heads-up to anyone planning on assembling your own hive, make sure you save all of the wood that comes with your kit! Case-in-point: we threw away what appeared to be scraps when we first assembled the frames and boxes, but those flimsy, seemingly useless pieces of wood were actually supposed to hold the beeswax to the frame! So, as you can see in the second picture of the first row, we resorted to using paint stirrers for our supports. Despite these difficulties, the hive is 100% complete and ready for the most important part of this whole project: the bees!

So that’s what’s been going on in our neck of the woods! I do hate to run, but I must pull those cookies out of the oven (if they turn out well, I’ll be sure to post the recipe for you to enjoy…if they aren’t so good, we’ll just forget I ever mentioned them)!

Have a great night, and, as always, happy gardening!

Breaking Ground

If you’ve read my last two beekeeping posts, then I’m sure that you’re aware of our recent weather situation (mainly, that it’s been cold, windy, and all around miserable). The picture of the thermometer on the right was taken last week, long before it snowed! Luckily for us, though, we had a little taste of Spring weather this weekend. This meant that we had to capitalize on this fleeting opportunity to get into the garden as quickly as we could!

Although I don’t have too much time tonight (thanks to a paper on “The Yellow Wallpaper” that has yet to write itself), I thought I’d break my recent schoolwork-induced writing fast and quickly let you all know where the Scholar’s Garden stands!

As the last frost date draws near (here in central PA it’s May 4), we’ve been scrambling to prepare the land for this year’s garden. With the warm weather and stink bugs fast approaching (the first one of those six-legged pests was spotted outside today), it was decided that this weekend we would break ground and establish the plot. Because I’ve been stuck inside working on scholarly assignments, my dad was kind enough to begin the de-grassing process in the yard. Before too long, the garden took shape, and, now, all that’s left is to fill it in with dirt, fertilize the area, and perform a soil sample or two!

With the main garden in as much order as possible, I turned my attention (and Garden Weasel) to the smaller plot which is already home to the garlic plants I mentioned in “The Equinox.” It was decided that all of the Alliums (plants in the onion/garlic family) grown this year would be placed in this spot. So, in an attempt to get a jump on the rapidly-nearing planting season, I started the rest of our leeks in the terrarium and attempted to plant our red onion sets. “Attempted” being the key word there.

As it turns out, leaving your onion sets in a plastic container tends to build up quite a bit of moisture, which, in turn, seems to turn your once-vibrant onions into the perfect hiding spot for lovely blue/green mold. Since we’re not trying to cultivate mold this year (colorful as it may be), we were forced to purchase a second bag of onions; and, eventually, place them into the ground. From what I’ve heard, you’re supposed to plant onion sets about eight weeks before the final frost date, but, as I only learned this bit of knowledge yesterday, four weeks before the final frost will have to do! Even though we encountered a few, minor setbacks in the onion-planting process, our baby alliums are, at long last, safely nestled next to their adolescent cousins.

Sadly, I must be off to ponder the inner workings of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” but I’ll leave you with a very handy, succinct guide to growing onions entitled, “How to Plant Onions!”

As always, happy gardening!

A Little off the Top

A friend of mine recently asked me a question about when it was best to start thinning vegetable seedlings; and, I’ll be the first to admit that I had no idea. I really hadn’t put much thought into my burgeoning seedlings, which are now outgrowing their terrarium-esque container (We had to move the kiwi vines to a new spot-they were getting just a tad too tall). So, I’ve done a little bit of research, and am here to share what I’ve learned about the simple, yet heart-wrenching, process of thinning one’s plants.

First, here are a few reasons why thinning your plot is better for you and the plants.

1. Less plants in one area allows greater root growth for the plants you leave in the ground.

2. More nutrients and water is allotted per plant, meaning a healthier, more bountiful crop.

3. Several early diseases can be prevented because of greater air circulation around your seedlings (just like us, a crowded plant is an unhappy plant).

Now, onto the dreaded task of parting with a few of your young plants…

1. Make sure the plants you plan on thinning have two to three fully formed leaves and are between two and three inches tall-Less than two (leaves or inches), and the plants aren’t ready to be thinned.

2. Before you pull anything, water the soil in which your seeds are planted so that the ground is moist, but not soaked-this will make the process easier on you and the plants.

3. Thin your seedlings in the evening to allow the remaining plants time to recover before being put into direct sunlight.

4. Once you’ve accomplished the first three steps, it’s time to start thinning. For most fruit-bearing plants, gently pulling the seedlings from the dirt is the best technique (feel free to use a spoon to dig ’em out and replant these little guys somewhere else if you have room. Or, you could dice them up and leave them outside for the local critters to munch on-no sense letting a good plant go entirely to waste!)

5. For root vegetables like carrots, onions, and radishes, pulling the plants all haphazard like can play havoc on the roots (read: the edible part) of the plants left behind. To combat this, take a pair of scissors and snip off the plants at the soil level. This will discourage further growth, granting more space for the rest of your garden.

And that’s how it’s done! Now, a moment of silence for all of the seedlings that have been thinned…

*Deep breath* Well! Since it’s night time in my neck of the woods, I’m going to go do a little trimming in my own garden patch.
Good luck with your  thinning ventures, and happy gardening!

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