29 November 2007

Indoor Gardening Part 4; Soil and Fertilizer

Last but not least is the type of soil mix to use and the fertilizer. Many commercially manufactured soil mixes are balanced in texture and nutrients and are satisfactory for most household plants. We manufacture our our soil mix here on the farm for spring planting in the greenhouse with a combination of peat moss, perlite, various essential nutrients and some other ingredients (a secret family recipe my father-in-law made and has tweaked over time). It's also great for use in the flower beds and we make it available for sale here at the farm. There are some specific mixtures for African Violets and the like and also for cacti. A good potting soil is a mixture of textures, or particle sizes and provides good drainage, holding the necessary amount of water in the soil well and also providing anchorage for the plants' roots. Soil pH for most indoor plants should be close to neutral, about 6.7 - 7.5, although there are some plant species that prefer more acidic soil types. You can check the pH of the soil with litmus test paper from a pharmacy or you can purchase a fancy pH meter with probes specifically for soil testing. Typically, many manufactured potting mixes are of a balanced pH and will tell you on the bag what types of plants they are suitable for. You can get special types of mixes based on the type of plants you are working with as well. Check your local garden center for a good selection and knowlegeable sales people. As for fertilizers, it all depends on the types of plants you have. There are many fertilizers suitable for a broad range of everyday plants. There are also specific fertilizers for vegetable plants, certain houseplants, roses, hydrangeas, etc. Check the label carefully and be sure what you are purchasing is the proper fertilizer for your plants. There are organic fertilizers also and they encompass many different needs as well. There again, we mix our own fertilizers based upon the crop schedule and growth needs of plants from start to finish. Typically, you will see N-P-K, the three main elements in a fertilizer. They stand for Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium, respectively. Nitrogen affects the rate of vegetative growth of the plant, Phosphorous increases the amount of flowering and root growth, and Potassium is needed for fruit quality and the resistance to disease. If you'd like more in-depth information, there is a great article from the agriculture department of the state of North Carolina; just click on this post's title.

'Tis the Season!

Our family hopes you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. I know we certainly ate tons of food! A friend of ours who has a neighboring farm raises turkeys and chicken, along with beef and hogs. He has the best tasting turkeys anywhere! We had dinner at Chuck's parents house, and there were 3 different types of cranberry relish, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts; Chuck & I contributed the brussel sprouts along with a lemon pie and Mom's eggplant salad from the previous recipe. There was also mashed potatoes, stuffing (my favorite), a beautiful dish of butternut squash mixed with cranberries and spinach...so colorful and would make a great side dish for Christmas too. I'll have to get the recipe for you all. Then there were all the desserts! Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, the lemon pie, apple pie...I'm stuffed just thinking about it all. Wow! Has it been busy around here. We have a very busy Christmas season here, as our family makes and sells wreaths, garland and kissing balls. We also sell Christmas trees and poinsettias. Jennifer, our daughter, has been a great help in decorating the wreaths and making streamers for the kissing balls while I help with the bows. All our bows are handmade, as the pre-made bows just seem a bit skimpy. Chuck has been on the road daily delivering product to our customers and it has been a great season so far. During this holiday season, it is a nice to reflect on the past year and give thanks for what we have. We are blessed to have a wonderful daughter and loving family. We are grateful for all that is harvested from the farm and for those who help us do so. We look forward to a healthy and safe growing season next year. Thank you to all our customers and farming friends that support us; may you all be blessed with good health and happiness now and in the years to come. It is so nice to see you all as the seasons change! God Bless you all!

21 November 2007

Water Type

Also, the type of water you use to water yor plants may affect their growth. If you have city water, which is typically treated with chemicals, it is best to allow the water to stand for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to diffuse out. Hard water (high mineral content) is not good to use as the minerals from the water are left behind in the soil and over time, upset the root-soil osmotic balance and may become toxoic to the plants. If you see a white crusty buildup on the surface of the soil or on the insides of the pot this is a good indication of mineral salts buildup. Converesely, softened water removes calcuim salts but adds sodium to the soil and can also create problems. Plants may develop symptoms such as leaf browning on the tips or edges of the leaves due to salt/mineral buildup. One good way to avoid these problems is to place a filter on your faucet.

To water or not to water...that is the question! Indoor Gardening Part 3

My husband's favorite saying is "Don't kill 'em with kindness!" Sometimes, we are so used to having to water our plants so much during the summer months, that we tend to over-water them indoors, thinking the plants need the same amount of water. The simplest way to tell if your indoor plants need water is to touch the soil in the pot. If the soil is moist, leave it alone. It is usually OK to allow a plant to wilt slightly as most plants recover quickly and suffer no long term effects. Just don't drown them the next time you water them. Over-watering takes oxygen away from the roots of the plant. Oxygen is required for a healthy root system. Constantly wet soil also provides prime opportunity for fungi and bacteria to set up housekeeping and attack plant roots and stems. Many times there is no cure for these problems other than to try to take a cutting of a healthy portion of the plant, try to root it, and start over. Plants in very large containers may be more prone to over-watering because even though the top layer of the soil seems dry, it is still wet deep into the pot where the majority of the root system is located. Nowadays, there are many creative containers which help to regulate the amount of water a plant receives and they may well be worth the investment.

20 November 2007

Eggplant Salad

Gail from Manorville has requested a recipe for Eggplant Salad. There are many different recipes, but coming from an Italian family, I will post our family recipe. It has a complex flavor, but is very simple to prepare. This is perfect timing too because my mom always makes this recipe for our holiday meals...she puts it out with the appetizers and antipasto..mmmm. I actually had to call Mom to make sure I had all the ingredients listed! Left out the onions...thanks Mom! :-) Mom's Eggplant Salad 1 large eggplant, peeled and chopped or diced (note: I never salt and drain my eggplant; in our family, if the eggplant didn't have "bite" to it, then it wasn't eggplant. Feel free to do as you wish) Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2 stalks celery - chopped 1 small - medium onion - sliced thin 2 cloves garlic -chopped (the original recipe does not call for garlic....but I put it in just about everything except desserts) 1 TBSP capers 2 TBSP sugar (or to taste) 1 -6 oz can tomato paste Balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar Saute the celery and onion (and garlic) in the olive oil. Next add the capers and then the eggplant. Saute until eggplant is tender...should only take a few minutes. Add in the tomato paste, sugar and vinegar and mix well. At this point, I adjust the vinegar and sugar to taste. The final recipe should have a sweet but tart flavor. In my household growing up, we never used measurements in our recipes, everything was done by judgement. My mom always tells me, "just use your judgement." Ditto here. The eggplant salad should be moist, but not soupy. It should hold together well when picked up with a spoon or fork. This is our recipe. Experiment with it and create your own. Sometimes I add olives too. Wow...now I'm hungry! Eggplant salad and a glass of red wine. That's all I need. Enjoy!

17 November 2007

Indoor Gardening, Part 2

OK. Today we will cover indoor temperatures, air circulation and humidity. It is important to keep in mind that indoor temperatures vary from season to season and that the temperature just inside a window may be quite different from that of the rest of the room. For example, during the winter, when the outside air is freezing, the temperature of the inside air near the window may also drop considerably, causing the plants that are kept there to suffer cold damage. Therefore, leave only hardy plants near the windows and move the others. Conversely, high window temperatures may also be a problem. South facing windows in summer and late afternoon sun in a westerly facing window, even in the winter, may cause excessively high temperatures. As for air circulation, drafts that occur due to the mixing of cold and warm air temperatures increase what is called transpiration, or the evaporation of water from the surface of the plant. Combined with chilling, this can be very detrimental to many plants. In addition, placing plants near hot, dry air circulating from a heating duct, will also place considerable stress on your plants. Air circulation also affects humidity levels. Relative humidity, is the ratio of water vapor present to the maximum amount potentially present at a given temperature. Indoor humidity is similar to outdoor humidity, unless you are running the heat in the winter or air conditioner in summer. In those cases, the humidity levels drop and the air becomes dry, so that it may be necessary to run a humidifier, not only for the plants, but for your own comfort as well. Other ideas to raise the humidity levels in your home: mass plants together, mist plant surfaces daily with water, set out pots of water among the plants or set the potted plants on a tray filled with pebbles and water (looks pretty too, ladies!) It may be necessary to move highy sensitive plants to another location, such as the bathroom. That's all for today....don't worry, it's not as difficult to keep plants indoors as it may sound. Just a little common sense. If you are not comfortable indoors, then your plants probably are not either. We'll cover more tomorrow, including Chuck's favorite: don't kill your plants with kindness.....see you then! Remember to write and tell us how you like everything so far!

15 November 2007

Indoor Container Gardening

Winter container gardening can be a fun and rewarding experience, extending your enjoyment of plants beyond the summer growing season. There are many types of houseplants to choose from that are very well suited to indoor landscaping and you may also choose to grow some herbs in your home so that you are in supply of fresh seasonings for your culinary needs. When choosing plants for your home, you must keep in mind several factors which will influence your decision on which types of plants to choose, and ultimately, your plants' growth. These factors are lighting, temperature, air circulation, water and humidity. Let's begin with lighting. Natural light intensity will vary quite a bit indoors, depending on whether your home's windows face North, South, East or West. Light intensity will also vary based on the number of cloudy days; coastal climates such as the Northeast have a higher number of cloudy days in the winter than, say, the Midwest. Other factors that cause light intensity to vary are dust or smog, curtains, nearby buildings and outdoor plantings. Plants that did well in one room of the house may need to be moved to a different room accordingly as the seasons change. You can purchase artificial lighting as well to supplement your plants, which may be necessary for certain plants, especially those that are in bloom. A lack of quality lighting causes etiolation, which is the condition of a plant exhibiting long internodes (longer than usual stems between the leaves as a result of the plant stretching in search of light), leaves turning yellow, or pale in color, eventually falling off and a general lack of vigor. The use of special flourescent bulbs made especially for plants is the best choice, as these bulbs emit all of the necessary wavelenghts of light a plant requires for growth and optimal health, while not overheating the plant and causing burning of the leaves. It should also be noted that plants should periodically be turned, so as to avoid phototropism, or the one-sided growth of a plant towards the light source. By turning the plant regularly, the plant's growth will be more symmetrical. We'll cover temperature and air circulation tomorrow. Please feel free to post any comments to this post or the previous ones. We welcome your interaction and look forward to hearing from you. Make it a great day!  

05 November 2007

food for thought

As I was cooking supper this evening, I got to thinking about winter vegetable storage. I had prepared an oven roasted winter vegetable mix...Yumm! I'll give you the recipe later. For now, if you are storing root vegetables or tubers (ie, potatoes, carrots) use the following recommendations: wash and gently scrub the vegetables and store them either in perforated plastic bags or a plastic container or pail. They should be kept at 31-33 degrees F with high humidity. Check the moisture content weekly and adjust the lid accordingly. You don't want them to dry out, nor do you want to see water droplets on them. If stacking layers of vegetables in the pail or container, stack each layer in the opposite direction to maximize air circulation. Cabbages: Store similar fashion as root vegetables. Just keep them cold. If they freeze slightly, they should still be OK. Just let them thaw out for a couple of days before using. They should be fine. Storing Onions: Onions and shallots can be stored at the same temperature as the root vegetables, but don't keep them in humid conditions. They are better off if kept dry. Use large boxes to store them or mesh bags. Brussel Sprouts: Brussel Sprouts may be harvested by chopping the entire stalk from the base of the plant. Store them much the same as cabbage. Remove the leaves from the stalk. They should store for about a month. If you pull the plant from the ground with the roots and stand them upright in some moistened soil they should last a bit longer. Leeks: Leeks should be harvested with the roots intact. Trim the top of the leaves back (you only cook with the white and pale green portion of the leek) and keep the roots in moistened soil where it is cold and humid, like the root vegetables. Squash: Squash, including pumpins, should remain cool and dry, not humid. Temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees F are great. Tomatoes: Keep tomatoes cool, but not cold (tomatoes should never be refrigerated as it changes the physiology of the tomato, and hence, the flavor). 45-65 degrees F should be sufficient. You can pick the last of the tomato crop while it is still green, and it will eventually ripen. On the farm, just before we are due for frost, we pick all we can bring in, then pack the tomatoes in 20 pound boxes with covers on them. Tomatoes give off a gas called ethylene as they ripen. This causes the tomatoes ripen further. One year, we stored the boxes of tomatoes in special room and piped in pure ethylene to ripen them. They were absolutely delicious and tasted just like vine-ripened tomatoes! Many large commercial growers gas-ripen tomatoes on a regular basis. Chances are, unless the sign at the grocery store says vine-ripened, they were probably gas-ripened. Check on your stored vegetables on a regular basis and remove any that are past their usefulness.
If you liked this information, I should provide proper credit....we receive a professional grower newsletter from Johnny's Selected Seeds. They also offer a home gardener's website and are offering bulbs on sale now (we do not sell bulbs or seed at our own retail greenhouse). Johnny's web address is http://www.johnnyseeds.com/Home.aspx
Now for my winter squash recipe! In this recipe, I included beets, onions, turnips, carrots and parsnips. You can use a mix of whatever you like. When you chop the vegetables, just keep them about the same size, so they cook evenly. I like to coarsely chop them, so there are large chunks of vegetables. Then season them with salt, pepper, parsley, oregano and garlic (I used both fresh and powdered garlic, and whatever assortment of vegetables I'm using, I always include onions). Drizzle them with olive oil and toss to coat evenly, then oven roast them in a pre-heated oven at 375 degrees F for about an hour to an hour and a half. I served them with baked pork chops and my mom's escarole and bean soup. What a heartwarming meal with bread and a glass of red wine! (Red's my favorite!) Mom's Escarole Soup: Saute onion and garlic in a large saucepan and add one large head of washed, chopped escarole. Continue to saute until escarole is wilted. Then add 5 cans of chicken stock (14oz cans) and a 14 oz can of white beans. Bring to boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Delicious and healthy! I hope you have found this information useful this fall and enjoy the recipes! Write me back with your comments and suggestions or any questions you may have and I'll publish them here!

02 November 2007

Autumn News

Now on to Autumn....Did you know that some annual plantings, if planted in a warmer area, such as close to the foundation of your house, may come back the following spring? This may be the case with some plants such as licorice and vinca vine in the Northeast. Others, such as Cleomes, may re-seed in your garden, and in other areas around your house depending on where the wind has carried the seed. Perennial plantings may need to be mulched over the winter season to protect them from extreme cold. Use a good mulch as you would in the spring, or even use the boughs from your Christmas tree after Christmas is over. What a great way to re-cycle nature's bounty! Here is a link to the USDA Hardiness Planting Map: http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/ushzmap.html

Welcome!

Hi there! Welcome to our blog. As you may know, we started this blog in an effort to help others with their gardening questions. Yes, it's Autumn here in New York, but as a grower and seller of bedding plants and vegetable transplants, we wanted to start off with one of the most frequently asked questions; "When is the best time to plant?" Here in the Northeast, we tend to get frost as late as the 2nd or 3rd week of May. If you must plant before then, we suggest cold tolerant plants, such as pansies and cobbity daisies. We start selling those types of plants as early as mid-April. Want to know a great farmer's tip?  Keep an eye on when you have fog in your area in the month of February. Why, that sounds strange, you may say! This really has worked for us...mark those foggy days down on your calendar. Typically the last day you have fog in February, say it's the 18th, will usually be the last chance of frost in May, (May 18th). Of course, you'll still want to pay attention to those local weather forecasts. If it dips below 40 degrees, you may want to cover those tender plants. That brings us to another question; "What should I cover my plants with?" You should cover your plants with some type of breathable material, like an old sheet or burlap. NEVER, ever use plastic or materials that don't breathe.