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Archive for April, 2011

Have you ever dreamed of owning your own grove of Christmas trees? Would you like to attract song birds and wildlife to your property? Do you have a view you’d like to screen or an eroding hillside you’d like to stabilize at low cost?

Well, you can do all of that and much more by ordering plants from the New Hampshire State Forestry Nursery. The New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands operates this nursery to “provide customers with the highest quality, bare root seedlings for forestry, conservation and education purposes at attractive prices.”

And the prices certainly are attractive; Where else can you buy 2 year old, 6-12″ Rugosa Rose seedlings for $1.00 each? Bulk quantities cost even less, with 100 seedlings selling for $60.00. These roses are among the toughest known, and are excellent for hedgerows and erosion control. The very fragrant, pink or white blossoms give way to bright red rose hips which attract birds and other wildlife.

Though Rosa Rugosa is not a New Hampshire native, much of what is sold at the New Hampshire State Forestry Nursery is. Whether these plants are native or not, all are grown from seed in New Hampshire and will do well here.

They sell many varieties of conifer and hardwood trees, native and non native shrubs and grapes, and mixed variety packages, such as their songbird / wildlife package. Don’t wait too long though; Balsam Fir and Hemlock seedlings have already sold out for 2011.

There isn’t enough room here to list all of the different plants sold by the New Hampshire State Forestry Nursery, so if you’re interested in their plants you should visit their website.  Just click on “NH Forestry Dept. Nursery” under favorite links to the right.

Keene Farmers Market opens this Tuesday, May 3. Hours are Tuesdays and Saturdays 9-2 through October.

Another under used resource is the Keene Farmers Market. Located on Gilbo Ave. behind the Colonial theater, the market sells everything from fresh herbs and vegetables to local cheeses, breads and crafts. Cut flowers, bedding plants; you name it, it can be found there. The only place you’ll find fresher herbs and vegetables is in your own garden.

Please pay the market a visit and support your local farmers and crafts people.

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I saw an earthworm the other day, so it’s a fair bet that slugs can’t be far behind. This damp weather is perfect for them, so if you see plant leaves full of irregular holes and looking as if they’d been shot with birdshot, the chances are good that you have slugs.

The best way to prevent slugs is to keep the garden clean and free of leaves, logs, stones and other debris that slugs use for cover. Keep mulch pulled back away from the base of plants, keep shrub branches up off the soil surface and keep grass and weeds at the edge of gardens mowed. Slugs lay their eggs in the soil and regular cultivation exposes them. The eggs look like masses of small, clear, jelly like pearls and once exposed can be squashed with the back of a hoe or your foot. Slugs like damp places, so don’t water in the evening. A fine, smooth, dry soil surface free of hiding crevices will discourage them.

If you’ve done all of this and still have slugs, try putting down pieces of board, shingle, damp carpeting, wet newspaper, or any other material that will lie flat on the soil surface and not blow away. Slugs feed at night and like moist, dark places to hide during the day. If you check the underside of which ever material you choose each morning by flipping it over, you should see slugs clinging to it. They can then be scraped off the surface into a container and discarded, or squashed. This should be done each morning for about a week, with boards or other materials spaced every few feet throughout garden beds. If yours is a vegetable garden, just run boards down the rows. One of the most effective ways to kill slugs and their eggs is to freeze them.

There are many other methods of slug control, but I think the above method is the easiest. I’ve used rings of wood ashes around plants and they work well, but the ashes have to be replaced every time it rains. I’ve also used many saucers of beer and have never caught a single slug. For those of you who want saucers of beer in your garden; in 1987, Colorado State University Entomology Professor Whitney Cranshaw had his students conduct a test for the beverage most favored by local slugs. Kingsbury Malt Beverage was determined the slug favorite, with Michelob and Budweiser coming in second and third. Slugs really love the yeast and barley in beer and will travel great distances to get it, so if too much is used in the garden, you may actually be attracting them.

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 I’m the first to admit that I’m always skeptical when new gardening gimmicks appear, and this upside down tomato bag thing I’ve seen on television has really brought out the skeptic in me. According to the website, this latest gimmick is better because it “saves space, eliminates weeding and bending, keeps plants away from the ground’s insects and potential diseases, and eliminates having to constantly tie your plants to stakes.” Though I haven’t spent any money on it (and won’t) I wanted to be fair, so I visited several other websites to read product reviews by people who’ve bought one.

The number one complaint about this thing is the weight. A tomato plant full of fruit is very heavy. Add water (8.35 Lbs per gallon) and it might pull down whatever you hang it from. Some people have actually gone out and bought steel tubing or 2 x 4s to support it.

But wait! There’s more! You can also buy a special stand to support your tomato bag! (But doesn’t that kind of defeat the space saving aspect?)

Others have had to tie the plant up with pantyhose to keep it from pulling itself out of the bag. My first question when I saw the thing was “How do you keep gravity from pulling the plant out of the bag?” Now I know-pantyhose! (What was that about eliminating tying plants to stakes?)

The second most common complaint has to do with watering. Many people complain that the water runs out of the hole that the tomato stem goes through and runs down over the plant, keeping it perpetually soaking wet. (What was that about disease?) Many others complained about how quickly the soil dried out, saying they’ve had to rig up drip irrigation lines to keep it moist. How does overhead drip irrigation work, I wonder?  For your next purchase, might I suggest a Sham Wow to mop all that leaking water up with?

But wait! What about those pesky insects?  The most common pest on tomato plants is whitefly. Whiteflies lay eggs on the underside of leaves and the emerging nymphs suck the life out of the plant. How do they get to the plant? They fly, hence their name.  So much for upside down-ness keeping pests away.

In my opinion, you should save your money and plant your tomatoes in the garden. For the price of two of these things you can buy enough tomato plants to feed your entire neighborhood. If you’re an apartment dweller, take a five gallon bucket, drill holes in the bottom and fill it with compost or composted manure. You’ll have plenty of tomatoes and really will save space. If you feel that you must grow your tomatoes upside down, drill one hole in the center of a five gallon bucket bottom and thread the plant through it upside down, roots first, and fill the bucket with compost. Then, rent a crane or some scaffolding to hang it from, because it might just tear the porch roof right off the house.  Or, you could just grow a dwarf cherry or grape tomato in a standard hanging planter. I’ve done this many times and they do produce tomatoes, but not as many as they would if grown in the ground.  

If anyone reading this has bought one of these and believes my criticism is too harsh, I’d love to hear from you. Meanwhile, I wish you nothing but good luck, strong rafters, and bumper crops.

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This cool, damp spring we’ve had in Cheshire County has dampened gardener’s spirits and has held back some flowering shrubs, but the forsythia is finally blooming about a week later than usual. Most ornamental tree and shrub buds have broken now and leaves are just beginning to unfurl. Lilac buds are showing some color and daffodils and heather are in full bloom. Tulips are up and ready to bloom soon.

Now is the time to prune summer flowering shrubs that blossom on new wood like p g hydrangea (paniculata), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) , rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), cotoneaster and smoke bush (Cotinus coggyria). All but cotoneaster, which should be pruned to shape, can take a hard pruning back to one third of each shoot’s length, leaving at least two or three green buds on each shoot.  Any weak, dead or crossing branches should be removed completely. Grape vines can also be pruned hard at this time, as can hybrid tea roses. Don’t prune or trim evergreens until the new growth begins to elongate. Remember: do not prune spring flowering shrubs like lilac, azalea, rhododendron or forsythia until they’ve completely finished blooming.

It’s also time to think about staking any perennials that will need it, like delphinium and peonies. It’s much easier to do when the new shoots are short like they are now. Winter covering on perennials should have been removed in March so if it hasn’t been, it should be as soon as possible.  Perennials can also be fertilized now. If chemical fertilizer is being used, remember to put a ring of it around each plant without getting it into the crown, and then lightly scratch it into the soil with a cultivator so rain doesn’t splash it onto leaves.  

It’s an excellent time to plant grass seed and repair any plow damage before the grass gets too long. Fertilizer and lime will help tired lawns. Chemical fertilizer will do the job, but it’s a quick fix that has no staying power.  People who object to its use have the option of using one of the many organic lawn fertilizers available. Lawnmowers should also be checked to make sure they’re going to start next month when they’re needed. Now is also a good time to sharpen the blade, change the oil and replace the spark plug if they haven’t been done in awhile.

For those who haven’t already done so, April 20th is the traditional planting date for early vegetables like peas, carrots and spinach. Lettuce seeds can also be planted, but it’s a little early for transplants unless they’re going to be covered. Parsley transplants might also need covering at night. Beets seeds can also go in, as can radish, kale, Swiss chard, rutabaga, and onion seed or sets. Rhubarb will appreciate a side dressing of compost or composted manure.

As always, planting depends on soil conditions, so soil should be checked to see that it has dried out enough to be worked. If a ball of soil squeezed in the hand doesn’t fall apart with a light poke of a finger, it’s too wet. Working with wet soil will compact it and cause plant roots to struggle, so if there is any question it’s best to wait a little longer. Weeds pull easier when the soil is moist, so it’s a good time to get after them.

If you want to plant pansies this year you’d better get them soon because they go fast!

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Over the years I’ve heard so many times, “I wish I could grow things like you do, but I have a black thumb.”

This is nonsense. There’s no such thing as a black thumb; there is only a lack of knowledge and the black thoughts that creep into your mind to convince you that you can’t be a gardener. Plants need four things to grow; light, moisture, nutrients, (usually found in soil) and the correct temperature range. If you provide these four things you can grow any plant, anywhere.

When you buy a plant or seeds they have a tag or label on them. Read it. The label is there for your benefit and tells you all you need to know about what the plant requires. If the plant is a gift and has no tag, go to a library or go on line and read about it.  

Many of the most common mistakes I see are entirely preventable because more often than not, the problem was caused either by not reading the label or by ignoring what it said. If the plant requires full sun and fertile, constantly moist soil and it’s planted in the shade in sandy soil and watered only occasionally, there’s the black thumb. If the label had been read first the plant would have done fine.

Any gardener worth his spade will admit that he or she didn’t become a gardener by wishing and hoping; it took time, patience, effort and study, and studying the plants themselves to get to know them is as important as reading about them. Would you marry someone you had only read about, or would you get to know them first?  

But, you may be thinking, we don’t marry plants. You’d be right of course, but an asparagus bed can produce for 100 years or more. Peony plants have been known to last 75 years. You may find yourself spending a lifetime caring for and seeing to a plant’s needs, and that’s about as close as one can come to a marriage.  Wouldn’t it be nice to really know those you were devoting so much time to?

Someone once said “Fifteen minutes per day spent studying any subject will make you an expert in that subject.”

If you want to be an expert gardener, study the plants you want to grow. First learn how to care for them and then believe in your ability to provide what they need. If you do, you’ll find that your “black thumb” has miraculously turned green.

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Thinking I’d finally join the rest of humanity in the 21st century, I recently got a smart phone. After fooling with it for several hours I put it down, telling myself that if nothing else, I could at least make and answer calls on it. 

Though I jokingly tell anyone who asks that I have a smart phone but am too dumb to use it, there is a nugget of truth there, because some of its functions seem very complicated. I think that’s partly because you need fingers about the size of those on a G.I. Joe doll to type or to choose what you want to do. Every time I click on something, I get exactly what I don’t want. 

But, I don’t give up easily. Deciding that it would be handy to have a compass on the phone so I could find the amount of sun exposure on any given property, I thought I’d download an app for that. Four hours later I still didn’t have a compass on the phone and was about ready to throw it out the back door. 

Luckily my son was here, so I told him of my plight. He had a compass on the damn thing in seconds! (Of course, he’s the one who built a computer NASA would envy, so why wouldn’t he know cell phones?) When I complained that I’d like a plain black background instead of the animated, frilly thing that the phone came with he put the camera lens on his palm and took a picture.  Again, in seconds I had a black background. 

I never would have guessed that I could go from feeling like a technically savvy 21st century android user to a fossilized throw back to the 20th century so quickly. 

Anyhow, last night I went in search of gardening apps, just to see what was out there. A better question would have been: What isn’t out there? I was surprised by all the gardening information that anyone can have right at their fingertips; everything from composting to insect identification to vegetable gardening, and much more. For the novice gardener, many of these applications would serve as excellent reference tools. 

This morning I found a handy looking area and volume calculator and was finally able to download it. If I ever figure out where on the phone it is, I’ll try it out. Meanwhile, I’ll just use a pencil and paper.

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I spent this morning traveling to various garden centers to see what kind of stock was coming in and I found mostly what I expected; pansies, creeping phlox, and plenty of shrubbery. One thing I didn’t expect to find though, was some beautiful pericallis.  Pericallis is known as florist’s cineraria and a new variety called Senetti is flying of the shelves because of its spectacular cobalt blue flowers. Though the Senetti series is also available in magenta, the blue is causing a lot of buzz in plant circles. There is also a blue bicolor with a white halo in the center as the above picture shows, magenta, magenta bicolor with white halo, and two smaller flowered ones called “Mini Blue Bicolor” and “Mini True Blue.”

Senetti will not stand frost and doesn’t like temperatures to fall below 45 degrees so they have to be brought in at night right now, but soon they’ll be able to be planted in the garden just as you would any annual. They flower profusely with daisy-like blossoms that are 2-1/2 to 3 inches across and will reach 2 feet under optimum conditions. When they’re done blooming, cut off the flower heads and in 3-4 weeks they’ll bloom again. They also make an excellent container plant. If you’d like to see these beauties in person just visit Horse and Buggy Feeds on Dunbar Street in Keene, NH. But, you’d better get there soon, because Debbie says they go very fast.

At Agway on Martell Court in Keene I found peach trees blooming and some nice, stocky Japanese maples. They have a good selection of pansies and cool weather perennials as well, and plenty of summer flowering bulbs. Pansies and bulbs also go fast at this time of year so don’t wait too long. I didn’t have much time to spend there this morning, but I also noticed some nice looking bamboo that I have to go back and get to know better.

The rest of my day was spent with my hands in the dirt, cleaning up beds and pulling weeds. Yes, weeds. They aren’t wasting any time, so it’s best not to wait to get after them either.

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This is the time of year when people often notice that their lawn has been dug up overnight. These spots are usually quite small and shallow, and several may appear over a large area.

When people ask what causes this and what to do about it, I tell them do nothing, because it’s usually either a raccoon or skunk digging and eating beetle grubs. Beetle grubs spend the winter deep in the soil and work their way back to the surface in the spring to feed on grass roots. This happens at the same time that mother skunks and raccoons have had litters and have only a short time each night to feed.

Investigating this nocturnal activity should be done by peering out of a window, because skunks can spray up to twelve feet. When a skunk lowers its head and begins pawing at the ground, backing away slowly is the wise thing to do. Skunks aren’t the only ones to let be; I accidently stumbled into the midst of a mother raccoon and 5 babies one dark night and can say with certainty that I’d rather not repeat that anytime soon.

If you feel that you absolutely can’t put up with an animal eating the grubs from your lawn, setting out a shallow, leak proof container into which an ammonia soaked rag has been placed might work. Animals rely on scent to lead them to food, and the ammonia fumes will confuse and repel them. Ammonia will also kill the lawn faster than grubs or digging animals will, so it shouldn’t be spilled.

Another method some use is setting a motion sensitive oscillating sprinkler on their lawn. These run on two AA batteries and a garden hose and come on when an animal (or person) wanders near them. Though I’ve never used one, I think it’s more the sprinkler’s hissing noise than the water itself that scares animals away. In reviews I’ve read one woman said she saw rabbits showering under hers. Another said her Labrador pup loved playing with it. Still others swear by them.

Personally, I’d rather over-seed a few small spots on my lawn than douse it chemicals, chance spilling ammonia on it, or have to spend $60.00 or more for a sprinkler. Though I’m not against the use of chemicals when there is no other choice, in this case there is another choice; let nature work as it is meant to.

Neither raccoons nor skunks will kill your lawn by digging, but the insects they eat certainly will. In a week or two they will have moved on and you can be thankful that they saved you a lot of time and money on grub control while you sprinkle a little grass seed on the bare spots. In all likelihood you’ll have to do it after the first spring raking anyway.

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“The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.  The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.”  ~Henry Van Dyke

Spring: A period of time that comes after the three coldest months and before the three warmest. It’s the time when the earth is increasing this hemisphere’s tilt toward the sun and the length of daylight increases. Temperatures begin to warm and new plant growth “springs forth.” Snow melts and streams swell. Frosts become less severe. Spring is the time of growth, renewal and rebirth.

This year, it all seems theoretical.

I read the other day that in recent decades “season creep” has been noticed, which means that many signs of spring are occurring earlier in many regions by a couple of days per decade. Well, this year the “season creep” seems to be creeping the other way, because old man winter is refusing to budge. Spring is supposed to be a three month long “season,” but it isn’t. I have daffodils that “sprang forth” over a week ago and have sat there shivering ever since, most likely wondering how they could have made such a dreadful mistake. Now they’re being buried under a blanket of snow; possibly as much as a foot of it, according to the weather people. At least they won’t be lonely; the iris and daylily shoots that I saw yesterday are right there with them.

Whatever happened to the kind of spring I remember? Spring was when that strange, paper thin, white ice would grow on puddles an inch or two above the water surface overnight, and when you broke it you wondered how it was possible. When the driveway, frozen solid in the morning, would be mud by mid afternoon. When coats could be forgotten without fear of hearing “Do you want to catch your death?” When the teachers opened windows, making us all giddy with anticipation of the approaching last day. When recess was held outside again and there was plenty of warm, fifty degree daylight left for after school bike riding, can kicking and baseball. Birds chirped, grass greened, and people hosed off their lawn chairs.

And it all seemed to last for such a long, long time. 

Now, instead of a season, “spring’ seems to be a month of 30 degrees, followed by day or two here and there in the 50s, followed by two more weeks of 30s, (and snow) followed by an overnight change to months of humid 80s and 90s. Or, maybe not; maybe it’s just me, wishing I could return to my boyhood, when even a foot of snow in spring couldn’t slow me down and the season seemed to last forever.

“It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”  ~Mark Twain

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