25 February 2011

Indoor Sprouts

OK…we’re getting a break in the weather finally and starting to see some warmer temperatures than we’ve had all winter. This makes most of us itch for spring so we can get out in the garden. There are many seeds that you can start indoors and then transplant outside when the air and soil temperatures are warmer and there is no longer the threat of frost.
Start by gathering some seed catalogs or look online to get some ideas for your area. Germination rates, seedling growth, transplant dates and time to maturity or flower vary by the plant. Check the descriptions in the catalogs or on the seed packets to see how soon you’ll need to start the seeds indoors before they are of sufficient size to plant outdoors in warmer weather.
You’ll need the proper growing materials as well. Seedlings are very delicate; you should purchase sterile planting medium, such as a seed starter mix or compressed pellets that expand when watered. If using last year’s containers, they should be sterilized. You can purchase seed starter kits in the store, which make it easy to get started with as they generally come with everything you need such as containers, a shallow tray to set the containers on and a see-through lid to hold in the humidity.
Warmth is necessary for germination and growth. Germination is when the embryo emerges from the seed. Soil temperature for germination generally ranges from 50°-72° depending on the crop. You can purchase special heating mats specifically for germinating seeds. Some seeds need to be covered with perlite or vermiculite to germinate; others need light and should not be covered. Once the seedlings have sprouted and are about half an inch tall, they should tolerate room temperatures of about 60°-75°.
Water is important during both the germination and growth stages. Sow the seeds in adequately moistened mix and keep the see through cover on to keep humidity in. Once the seedlings emerge, carefully remove the covering and provide adequate water from the bottom, being careful not to overwater the seedlings. Too much moisture will cause them to “damp off” (a fungal disease) or may possibly dislodge them from the planting mix. Be sure air circulates freely around the plants to keep disease at bay.
Seedlings need adequate light or they will be become spindly and weak. If you don’t have enough light from your windows, purchase grow lights to ensure vigorous growth. It’s important to use special grow lamps and not regular incandescent light bulbs, which may be too hot and not give the seedlings the proper lumens and wavelengths necessary for growth. Depending on the light source used, you may choose to set up the lighting so that it can be raised as the plants grow, keeping the lighting about 3 or 4 inches from the plants depending on the light used.
If all this is too much for you, then wait until planting season and purchase transplants from your local greenhouse or garden center, which we’ll cover next time.

Running Creek Farm Greenhouses, LLC
Valatie/Greenport, NY

13 February 2011

Pest Control in and Around the Garden

Many times I am asked how to rid gardens of pests of the four-legged variety. This can prove to be a very challenging task and I like to recommend that gardeners contact their local Cooperative Extension office once other methods have failed.
I have done some research and offer you the following tips for keeping pests out of your garden. It is important to remember here that it is best to combine different strategies with stubborn pests and to rotate them so that the animals in question do not get used to any one particular defense.
The first is repellent that can be sprayed. You will likely find several types at your local garden center or hardware store. Be sure to read labels carefully so you are purchasing the correct product for your needs and applying it properly. Many repellents will need to be reapplied after a soaking rain or if, during the growing season, the plants have outgrown the efficacy of the product.
You can also use sound deterrents, such as ultrasonic or sonic devices that emit sounds on a regular basis. One that varies the frequency and pitch is better than one that makes the same sounds over and over.
Visual aids work well and it is important to be sure that there is some type of movement. For example, strips of iridescent foil can be hung on fence posts, trees and the like surrounding the garden. As they blow in the wind, they will catch rays of sunshine and produce different colors and patterns on the ground. In addition, they will also produce a metallic, rattling sound that should scare away the unwanted guests. Another type of visual device that may work with smaller critters such as bunnies and chipmunks would be a plastic owl or something with owl-like properties. It is important to be sure this type of device has movement associated with it so that the “prey” does not become used to it being there so that it becomes non-threatening to them. You could also try a brightly colored holographic sphere that will appear to move when a creature looks at it from different angles. By mounting this object on a spring, it will also move in the wind.
A few other options: there are physical barriers, such as netting, that work well and you could create access doors through the netting with Velcro if need be. You could try pepper sprays to keep the offending critters from eating certain plants. Items with strong odors may work well also, such as predator urine (like coyote urine…try a hunting shop for this) and organic fertilizers such as
Milorganite ®. If using Milorganite, ® be careful not to over-apply other sources of Nitrogen as Milorganite® is already higher in Nitrogen.

Blight Disease

Late blight is a fungus of which mainly tomatoes and potatoes are susceptible. It can also affect other vegetation within the same family (Solanaceae). Late blight was a factor in the Irish Potato famine of the 1850’s. Late blight is produced from a pathogen that is known to survive from one season to the next in infected potato tubers. This pathogen produces such a great number of spores that they can then be carried via the wind to both neighboring gardens and farms and also many miles away.

Late blight can only survive on live tissue, therefore it is important to be careful that you plant only healthy transplants or certified potato seed to lessen the chance of infection. If you have a small amount of plants and they become infected, it is necessary to destroy the plants by cutting them off and immediately bagging and disposing of them. If you have a large amount of infected plants, then either thoroughly till them under or cut them off and bury them to avoid having them produce large numbers of spores that could potentially infect neighboring gardens and farms.

The Northeast had such a tremendous problem with late blight two years ago because of all the wet weather we had. Try not to overwater your plants; let them dry in between waterings, do not water over the tops of the leaves but rather water at the base of the plants and water in the morning rather than at night. Most diseases thrive under wet, humid conditions. By watering in the morning, you can take advantage of the sun and air currents to dry off the plants and keep disease at bay.

There are preventative fungicides you can spray; be sure to read the label carefully and make sure what you choose is labeled for blight. Alternatively, you can try spraying a one percent solution of hydrogen peroxide to the plants once a week as a preventative measure; every three days if you start to see lesions.

For fact sheets and pictures of late blight, visit Cornell’s website at:

http://www.nysipm.cornell.edu/publications/blight/

You can also contact your local County Extension agent and can find them at the above website address.