Posts Tagged ‘seeds’

STARTING SEEDLINGS IN A COLD FRAME

A cold frame is a simple structure placed in the garden that features structural sides (usually made of wood) and a top made of a transparent material such as clear plastic or glass. Starting seeds in a cold frame eliminates several of the difficulties of starting seeds indoors. However, it requires a small investment of time and money in the construction of the cold frame and careful attention on cold nights. Here’s a brief run down of what you need to know for successful cold-frame seed-starting.

  • WARMTH. From early March on, cold frames warm up significantly almost every day. When unvented, the interior temperature can easily top 90 degrees on a sunny day. The soil in seedling trays or soil blocks absorbs much of the solar radiation and heat, and the soil easily reaches temperatures that initiate seed germination. However, on cold nights the cold frame provides only 10-15 degrees of protection (depending on wind and the previous day’s high), so providing a bit of heat to stave off frost overnight is sometimes necessary. Sometimes throwing some old wool or polyester blankets on top can be enough; sometimes running a light bulb or Christmas lights within the box can do it. Generally some extra heat is wise if the outside temperature is predicted to drop below about 26 degrees and the frame contains frost-sensitive seedlings such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil, and certain flowers. (A cold frame with only brassicas and lettuces and greens will need no additional heat.) On sunny or warm days, venting is necessary–anything from cracking the lid to removing it entirely. Keep a thermometer handy: experiment a bit and you’ll get the hang of it.
  • MOISTURE. Seeds sown in a cold frame can be watered with abandon–no mess to worry about. Do monitor the seedlings at the end of the afternoon, as solar heat and breezes from venting can cause rapid moisture loss on a warm or sunny days.
  • LIGHT. When you use a cold frame, the  mighty sun takes care of your light requirements: no supplementation is necessary. Just be sure to place the cold frame in a spot that gets full sun exposure. (Keep in mind that leafless trees will fill out and shade the cold frame before tender seedlings can be put in the garden.)
  • HARDENING OFF. Seedlings grown from the start in a cold frame require almost no hardening off, as they are exposed to temperature swings and breezes from a young age. Maybe give them one or two days of resting in a semi-protected spot outside of the cold frame before putting them in the ground; other than that, you’re golden!

Summary: Cold frames provide an ideal environment for seed-starting. Gardeners are assured ample natural light and need not bother with much hardening off before transplanting. Cold nights are an issue: gardeners must monitor for sub-26 temps and provide additional insulation or supplemental heat on those nights if frost-tender crops are in the cold frame.

Spring Lawn Care

        

First the bad news: if you neglect spring lawn care (and related concerns pertaining to your mower), you could end up paying for it the rest of the year. Now the good news: spring lawn care doesn’t entail nearly the amount of work that you’ll have to invest in mowing alone throughout the summer months.

In fact, most of you will need to implement only about half of the following ten tips for spring lawn care, depending upon your own unique circumstances. Furthermore, I point out in a few instances below that the task in question is better performed as part of your fall lawn care, if you can wait that long.

Spring Lawn Care Tip #1: Raking

 

Raking will be your first task of spring lawn care. Okay, I can hear the groans coming from all lands near and far, wherever grassy carpets are cultivated: “But we already raked leaves in the fall!” Sorry, but raking is for more than just removing leaves: it’s for controlling thatch, too. A thatch build-up of more than 1/2 inch is considered excessive.

Thatch is the reason why I recommend that, when you rake leaves in the fall, you make the effort to rake deeply. Don’t just skim the surface, so as to remove the leaves. A deep raking will remove thatch, too, allowing you to kill two birds with one stone. Even if you followed this advice in fall, I still recommend a spring raking: it will remove grass blades that died over the winter — dead blades that are just waiting to become thatch!

But there’s often another good reason for a spring raking. As you survey your lawn in spring, see if there are any matted patches, in which the grass blades are all stuck together. This can be caused by a disease known as “snow mold.” New grass may have difficulty penetrating these matted patches. But a light raking will be sufficient to solve this problem.

Just when you should perform any of these spring lawn care tasks will depend upon the climate of your own region. But Mother Nature provides palpable cues in some cases. For instance, when you’re pretty sure the snow season (if you have one) is over in your region, begin raking. Applying preemergent herbicides (see Tip #6) should be done sometime between the time the local forsythia bushes stop blooming and the time the local lilac bushes begin blooming.

Spring Lawn Care Tip #2: Check for Compaction

 

If your lawn is subjected to high levels of traffic year after year, it may eventually start to show signs of decline. In such cases, your lawn is probably suffering from compaction. For instance, the presence of moss plants signals compaction (among other things).

Lawn aeration is the remedy for compaction. The good news is that lawn aerators can be rented at your local rental center. The bad news is that the experts recommend postponing lawn aeration until fall. But if, during your “spring lawn checkup,” you become aware of compaction, at least you can plan on setting aside some time in the fall to take care of it.

Spring Lawn Care Tip #3: Liming

 

Besides compaction, the presence of moss plants also signals acidity. But grass likes a neutral soil pH. You can solve this problem by liming your soil. But don’t expect a quick fix: the effects of liming are slow to take place.

But first send a soil sample to your local county extension to determine the extent of your soil’s acidity. The county extension will also be able to advise you on how much lime per square foot you’ll need. Apply the lime using a lawn spreader.

But if your lawn has been doing fine and shows no signs of suffering from acidity, don’t apply lime. Liming is only a corrective measure, not a preventive measure. A soil that is too alkaline will also cause your lawn problems, so too much lime is as bad as not enough.

Spring Lawn Care Tip #4: Overseeding

 

Is your lawn riddled with bare patches due to dog spots, heavy traffic or neglect? If so, you may need to apply grass seed to fill in those bare patches. This solution is known as “overseeding lawns.” Apply a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer when you overseed. Five weeks after the grass germinates, apply a quick-release nitrogen fertilizer.

However, spring isn’t the very best time for overseeding lawns. Fall is the preferred time, when the new grass won’t have to compete with crabgrass (see Page 2), which is killed off by autumn frosts. So postpone overseeding until fall, unless your situation is dire.

Spring Lawn Care Tip #5: Fertilizing

 

Lawns can be fertilized organically by using compost and mulching mowers. But for those who prefer chemical fertilizers, Scotts provides a lawn fertilizing schedule. Many experts, however, recommend a lighter feeding in spring and a heavier one in late fall for cool-season grasses. Too much fertilizer in spring can lead to disease and weed problems. And if you have, indeed, already fertilized in late fall, your lawn is still “digesting” that fertilizer in spring.

In addition to the above tasks of spring lawn care, don’t forget weed control and making sure your mower is ready for the mowing season.

For those who prefer weed-free lawns, spring grass care is as much about weed prevention as it is about fostering healthy lawn growth. Novices to spring grass care are often surprised to learn that not all lawn weeds are battled in the same manner. Depending upon whether a weed is an annual or a perennial, you will use a preemergent herbicide or a postemergent herbicide against it.

Spring Grass Care Tip #6: Applying Preemergent Herbicides

 

If you know that you have a problem with the annual weed, crabgrass, then fertilization in spring should go hand in hand with the application of preemergent herbicides. As their name suggests, preemergent herbicides address weed control not “after the fact,” but before their seedlings can even emerge. Preemergent herbicides accomplish this by forming something of a “shield” that inhibits seed germination. Don’t undertake the core aeration task discussed on Page 1 after applying preemergent herbicides: to do so would be to “puncture” this shield, thereby decreasing its effectiveness.

Crabgrass begins its assault on lawns in spring, when its seeds germinate. In fact, my suggestion on Page 1 that overseeding be carried out in autumn, rather than spring, is based in part on the threat posed by a spring crabgrass invasion. “So why not just begin by killing the crabgrass first with a preemergent herbicide?” perhaps you ask. Well, the trouble is that most preemergent herbicides work against not only weed seeds, but grass seeds, as well!

You can appreciate the dilemma here. Overseeding is incompatible with the application of most preemergent herbicides. Yet, faced with competition from crabgrass in spring, you may find it difficult to establish your new grass. So while it’s still possible to overseed in spring, it’s simply easier to do so in fall. There will be no competition from crabgrass then, because the fall frosts kill off crabgrass.

If you must overseed in the spring, look for a product called, “Tupersan.” Unlike other preemergent herbicides, Tupersan will not damage germinating lawn grass seed. But if you’re committed to staying away from chemicals altogether in your spring grass care, postpone overseeding till fall.

Spring Grass Care Tip #7: Applying Postemergent Herbicides — Or Pulling Weeds

 

Keep an eye out for the emergence of the perennial weed, dandelion during the spring season, unless you find the presence of their cheerful yellow flowers in your lawn desirable. At the very least, you’ll want to snap off their flower stems before they produce seed. If you’re more ambitious, you can dig them out by the roots. Spraying dandelion weeds with postemergent herbicides is more effective in fall than in spring. If you do choose to spray, select an herbicide for broadleaf weeds.

If you prefer weed control without chemicals and have consistently practiced organic landscaping, you can harvest these “weeds” as dandelion greens and eat them!

No other power equipment is as intimately associated with and essential to landscaping as is the lawn mower. You need to have a lawn mower that will consistently get the job done without any hassles throughout the lawn mowing season. And you should also know how to use the lawn mower to your best advantage. Consequently, the final three of my ten tips focus on caring for, selecting and using lawn mowers.

Tip #8: Tuning Up Existing Lawn Mowers

Mowing the lawn all summer can be tiring enough, right? Why make it more difficult on yourself by putting up with a lawn mower that doesn’t start up immediately? When a lawn mower is stubborn about starting up, that can be a sign that it needs a tuneup. Although it’s often possible to get by without one, it is recommended that you have a lawn mower tuneup each year. Don’t put it off till summer or pay someone else to do it. Learn how to tune up a lawn mower yourself using the following resource and have your machine ready to go for summer:

How to Tune Up Lawn Mowers

Tip #9: Buying a New Lawn Mower

Or perhaps you’re fed up with your old lawn mower? Time for a change? This Q&A resource for consumers will help you decide on which type of lawn mower is best for you:

The Best Lawn Mowers

Tip #10: Reviewing Lawn Mowing Strategies

“What’s there to know about lawn mowing?” perhaps you ask. “You just push the lawn mower and it cuts the grass, right?” At the most basic level, Yes. And if lawn mowing is merely a mindless chore that you perform to satisfy other people (and you really don’t care much about the health of your lawn), then you needn’t know any more about it.

However, if you do care about the health of your lawn, there’s a bit more to lawn mowing than just keeping your grass short enough to prevent the neighborhood from thinking your house has been abandonned! Spring is a good time to learn (or review) lawn mowing strategies — before it becomes so hot outside that it’s hard to think!

 

 

Question: Is there a right and a wrong method of lawn mowing?
Answer: Yes. Alternate the direction in which you mow each lawn mowing session. You will thereby prevent your grass from “getting into a rut” (literally). If your lawn mower wheels pass over the same area in the same direction each time you mow, they’ll form ruts over time. Switching lawn mowing patterns also wisely avoids having the lawn mower blade beating at the grass in the same direction at every mowing.

Grow $700 of Food in 100 Square Feet!

I took a 5-by-20-foot section of garden bed by my tiny lawn to see how much I could grow in just that 100 square feet. I wanted to produce a lot of food, and because it was part of my edible landscape, it had to look good, too.

The Plants

I wanted to make this garden simple — something anyone in the United States could grow. I didn’t include fancy vegetable varieties; I chose those available at my local nursery as transplants. I also selected vegetables that are expensive to buy at the supermarket, as well as varieties that my experience has told me produce high yields.

The first season (spring/summer 2008), I grew the following:

  • Two tomato plants: ‘Better Boy’ and ‘Early Girl’
  • Bell peppers, which are often luxuries at the market when fully colored: two ‘California Wonder,’ two ‘Golden Bell,’ one ‘Orange Bell,’ and one ‘Big Red Beauty’
  • Four zucchinis: two green ‘Raven’ and two ‘Golden Dawn’
  • Four basils (expensive in stores but essential in the kitchen)
  • 18 lettuces: six ‘Crisp Mint’ romaine, six ‘Winter Density’ romaine, and six ‘Sylvestra’ butterhead

The only plants I grew from seed were the zucchinis. Hindsight is always 20/20; I should have thinned each of the zucchini hills to a single seedling, but I left two in each hill. As a result, I needed to come up with creative uses for zucchini, including giving them away as party favors at a dinner I hosted.

It looked a bit barren at first, but the garden flourished — especially the lettuces. Within several weeks, I started picking outer leaves for salads for neighbors and myself. The weather forecast predicted temperatures in the upper 90s. I was heading out of town and feared the lettuces would bolt, so I harvested the entire heads earlier than I normally would. Within about a month of transplanting the lettuces into the garden, I had grown enough for 230 individual servings of salad. And by that time, the tomatoes, zucchinis and pepper plants had nearly filled in the bed.

A Living Spreadsheet

Although I’ve grown hundreds of varieties of vegetables over the years and kept rough notes, this garden was different.

We created spreadsheets for each type of plant, and we kept meticulous records each time we harvested. We recorded the amount — pounds and ounces, as well as number of fruits (for each cultivar of tomato, zucchini and peppers) or handfuls (for lettuces and basil).

The Investment: Time and Money

This 100-square-foot plot took about eight hours to prepare, including digging the area, amending the soil, raking it smooth, placing stepping stones, digging the planting holes, adding organic fertilizer, and setting the plants and seeds in the ground. On planting day, I installed homemade tomato cages (store-bought ones are never tall or sturdy enough) and drip irrigation. And I mulched well — a thick mulch is key to cutting down on weeding, which is the biggest time waste in the garden, in my opinion.

We hand-watered the bed for a few weeks to allow the root systems to grow wide enough to reach the drip system. Three times over the first month we routed out a few weeds, which was only necessary until the plants filled in and shaded the soil.

Tomatoes in my arid climate are susceptible to bronze mites that cut down on the harvest and flavor. To prevent mites, we sprayed sulfur in mid-July and again in mid-August, which took about 30 minutes each time. In rainy climates, gardeners often need to prevent early blight on tomatoes. To do so, rotate tomato plants to a different area of the garden each year and mulch well. After the plants are a few feet tall, remove the lower 18 inches of leafy stems to create good air circulation.

For the rest of the season, we tied the tomatoes and peppers to the stakes as they grew upward, cut off the most rampant branches, and harvested the fruits. The time commitment averaged about an hour and a half each week. (Our harvesting was more time-consuming than average because we counted, weighed and recorded everything we picked.)

To determine what my harvest would cost in the market, I began checking out equivalent organic produce prices in midsummer. On a single day in late August, I harvested 49 tomatoes, nine peppers, 15 zucchinis of many sizes, and three handfuls of basil — which would have totaled $136 at my market that day.

From April to September, this little organic garden produced 77.5 pounds of tomatoes, 15.5 pounds of bell peppers, 14.3 pounds of lettuce, and 2.5 pounds of basil — plus a whopping 126 pounds of zucchini! Next time I won’t feel bad about pulling out those extra plants.

I figured the total value of my 2008 summer trial garden harvest was $746.52. In order to get a fair picture, I also needed to subtract the cost of seeds, plants and compost (I can’t make enough to keep up with my garden), which added up to $63.09. That leaves $683.43 in savings on fresh vegetables. Of course, prices vary throughout the season and throughout the country. 

  • Choose indeterminate tomatoes. They keep growing and producing fruit until a killing frost. (Determinate varieties save space but ripen all at once.)
     In spring, plant cool-season vegetables, including lettuce, mesclun and stir-fry green mixes, arugula, scallions, spinach and radishes. They are ready to harvest in a short time, and they act as space holders until the warm-season veggies fill in.
  •  Grow up. Peas, small melons, squash, cucumbers and pole beans have a small footprint when grown vertically. Plus, they yield more over a longer time than bush types.
  •  Plants such as broccoli, eggplant, peppers, chard and kale are worth the space they take for a long season. As long as you keep harvesting, they will keep producing until frost
  • Cold Frame

    Successful seed-starting takes infrastructure, be it a tricked-out heated glass greenhouse or a fluorescent shop-light setup in your basement. Either extreme–or anywhere in between–can work beautifully. However, in my experience, the solutions that are most likely to be implemented by busy gardeners are those that feel accessible and do-able in occasional spare moments.

    This post covers one such solution: a cold frame constructed from easy-to-find, fairly inexpensive materials.

    THE QUICK-AND-EASY COLD FRAME

    I’m a huge fan of cold frames. Not only do they hold miraculous quantities of promising green growth within their simple walls, they also are easy to build and will happily bring through the winter many servings of cold-hardy crops like spinach, scallions, tatsoi, and mache. Here’s a cold frame that a reasonably handy person with some power tools can put together for about $100 with materials from a local lumberyard (or, unfortunately, big box store–see below). In one season alone, you can easily produce several hundred dollars worth of seedlings in this frame’s roomy 32 square feet.

    Materials List

    * 2 pieces 8-foot-long, 26-inch-wide TUFTEX polycarbonate panels — $40
    * 2 packs closure strips — $10
    * 1 box TUFTEX screws — $6
    * roll of tape sealant (often used for metal roof panel overlap joints and similar) or some silicone caulk — $10
    * 2 pieces 8-foot 2×12 SPF lumber — $20
    * 1 piece 8-foot 2×8 SPF lumber — $8
    * 7 pieces 8-foot 2×2 SPF lumber, as straight as you can find — $13
    * exterior-grade drywall screws: 1-5/8? and 3? — $6
    * Hinges – $6

    Tools List

    * Circular Saw
    * Drill with 3/16? drill bit, Philips head driver bit, and 1/4? hex driver bit
    * Optional but makes things a little easier: Chop Saw

    All of these materials can be obtained from Evergreen Supply.  I like to give as much of my business as possible to my local lumberyard, as I appreciate having a locally owned lumberyard so close to home. I want to support them.

    Once you’ve assembled your materials, here’s what to do:

    1. Cut each TUFTEX panel in half so that you end up with four panels that are each 26? wide by 48? tall. This is best accomplished with a circular saw, though tin snips will also do the job.

    2. Arrange the four panels so that they are spread out across a flat surface with the last rib on one panel overlapping the first rib on the next. Try to get them as straight and square as possible.

    3. Measure the distance from the bottom of the first space-between-two-ribs to the bottom of the last space-between-two-ribs. This should be somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 feet. It won’t be exact, but that’s okay.

    Make the Frame for the Lid

    1. Miter cut the ends of two of the 8-foot 2×2s at 45-degree angles, like a picture frame’s corners.

    2. Cut one of the other 2×2s in half. Miter cut the ends so that the long edges are 48?, like a picture frame’s corners.

    3. Attach the 2×2s at the mitered corners by pre-drilling to prevent splitting and then attaching the ends together using 1-5/8? screws or similar. The result should be a giant picture frame, basically.

    4. Cut another 2×2 to about 93? in length. Don’t cut it too short! Place it in the center of the frame, centered 24? from top and bottom corners. This creates a middle horizontal support parallel to the other long sides of the frame; this will prevent the frame from sagging under the weight of adhered interior dew or exterior snow loads.

    Finish the Lid

    1. Using the drill bit, pre-drill holes in every other “valley” of each panel’s ribbing along the top and bottom edges.

    2. Place strips of tape sealant along the top surface of the short sides of the frame. (Or, use silicone to seal this seam after step four. Place TUFTEX closure strips along the tops of the long sides of the frame.

    3. Line up the panels on the frame so that they are overlapping and cover the entire frame, setting them on top of the closure strips. Set the final “valleys” set so they are resting on the tape sealant (or, again, you can fill this seam with silicone caulk). This won’t be a perfect match–the edges of the valleys will touch the sides of the frames, but they won’t rest on it nicely. This is okay. Just be sure this gap is sealed (it may take a few layers of tape sealant, some applied after the cover is attached.

    4. Attach the panels using the TUFTEX fasteners and the hex-head driver bit.

    Make the cold frame box

    1. Cut one of the 8-foot 2×12’s into 2 45? lengths.

    2. Using a straight edge, draw a line from the top corner of one end of the length to a mark at 7-1/4? from the bottom corner of the other end. Cutting on this line will create a side to the cold frame that will slope exactly from the rear 2×12 wall to the front 2×8 wall.

    3. Using a circular saw, cut along this line. Be careful–it can be tricky to perform this cut, as it’s something of a ripping cut that sort of follows the grain.

    4. Repeat for other 45? length.

    5. Position the pieces of the cold frame. The two 8-foot pieces of lumber are parallel, with the two 45-inch pieces of sloping lumber forming the sides, with the un-ripped side up. These smaller pieces should be “inside” the 8-foot pieces so that, when sandwiched, the entire length of the side is 48? (including the 1-1/2? for the ends of both the rear and front walls).

    6. Pre-drill holes and attach all sides of the frame using the 3? screws.

    7. Half-way down the short sides of the cold frame, attach a spare piece of wood to the inside top edge, flush with the sloping surface of the side.

    8. Flip the cold frame over. Cut one of the three remaining 2×2’s into 2 45? lengths. Match these up with the undersides of the lumber that makes the frame and attach with the 3? screws. This will be the “ground floor” of your cold frame that will slowly rot over several years. After it’s rotted, simply detach and replace with a new “ground floor.” The rest of the cold frame will last for about 20 years or so if left out–maybe more if stored well when not in use. (The ground floor is not shown in the accompanying photos.)

    Put the Lid on the Cold Frame

    1. Set the lid on the cold frame, matching up the corners with the frame.

    2. Attach to the cold frame using a couple of long rectangular hinges and short screws.

    3. If the lid does not sit squarely on the frame, purchase and install a latch to hold it snug.

    VOILA! A functional cold frame that can be built in an afternoon for around a hundred bucks. Fill it with trays and go to town! You’ll find endless uses for it.

    Jump Start Your Garden

    If your green thumb is sprouting a bit early, why not begin your vegetable garden indoors and get a jump on the season?

    As any good gardener knows, sunlight is key. So before you begin, make sure there is plenty of sunlight. If that’s not available, cool white fluorescent bulbs are a good substitute. Seeds can be started in any type of container such as trays, flats, pots, egg cartons or paper cups.

    The container size will depend on the plant you’re growing. Punch a hole in the bottom for drainage. Fiber or peat pots need to be soaked well before adding soil.

    Soil is the second part of the equation. To ensure your seeds have a good start, the soil should be sterile. You can buy a good commercial medium or you can sterilize soil from your garden by adding equal parts of soil, peat moss or compost, sand, vermiculite or perlite.

    Bake the mixture in the oven for two hours at 170 to 180 degrees. Then fill the mixture to within 1/4″ of the container top and level off. Soak the soil thoroughly and allow to drain.

    Now you’re ready to sow the seeds. Make a hole four times as deep as the seed is wide with your finger or pencil.

    Plant two or three seeds per compartment and water lightly. A thin layer of soil should cover seeds that are fine. Water the plants as they grow but avoid over watering. Some gardeners cover the containers with plastic wrap or plastic bags to promote germination, but those should be removed once you see the sprouts or the seedlings will suffocate. Choose a spot that is 60 degrees at night and between 70 and 75 degrees during the day. Once the seedlings emerge, thin to one per pot by pinching off or carefully pulling out the excess plants.

    Place the seedlings in a window facing south or southwest and have the fluorescent bulb 6 inches above the plants. These sprouts need 12 to 16 hours of light a day. Check the seedlings regularly so they donÂ’t dry out. After three weeks, begin applying fertilizer once a week at the rate of one tablespoon per gallon of water.

    The vegetables are ready for transplant when they sprout two new leaves. A few days before transplanting the seedlings to your garden, harden them by gradually exposing them to outside conditions. Keep them outdoors for a few hours each day, extending the time as moving day approaches. Water both the ground and seedlings to prevent transplant shock, then enjoy a bountiful harvest.

    Ground Ready

    How soon can you begin prepping your plants? Here’s a guideline, by week, of how long it takes to go from seed to ground:

    From Seed to Ground
    Broccoli 5-7 weeks
    Brussel Sprouts 5-7 weeks
    Cabbage 5-7 weeks
    Cauliflower 5-7 weeks
    Celery 7-12 weeks
    Lettuce 5-7 weeks
    Onion 8-10 weeks
    Parsley 8-10 weeks
    Peppers 6-8 weeks
    Tomato 6-8 weeks
    Cantaloupe 3-4 weeks
    Cucumbers 3-4 weks
    Squash 3-4 weeks
    Source: GardenGuides.com

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