Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Best Way to Grow Strawberries

 Photo by: MirellaST

The Best Way to Grow Strawberries
Strawberries are delicious and nutritious. They contain essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, calcium, folate, iron, manganese, magnesium and potassium but sometimes the plants can be hard to grow so they produce abundant berries. If you want to have a productive strawberry bed, there are many ways to do this. I've tried growing strawberries different ways through the years to see which worked the best for me.

Find the best location for your strawberry bed. You need to be fussy and take some time to find the right location. Find a place that has the full sun exposure, adequate air movement, and good soil drainage. If your soil is clay based, you’ll have better luck planting the strawberries in a raised bed. While this gives you better soil, the bed will need to water more frequently. Avoid planting strawberries where you have recently grown tomatoes, raspberries, and potatoes.
Prepare the Soil
Late in the fall, when you have picked out the place to grow your strawberries, prepare the strawberry bed. Remove the weeds and til the soil until it is fine. By doing the ground preparation in the fall, the soil has time to settle. 
In the spring when the ground is dry enough to work it, remove the weeds. Amend the soil with 3 to 5 inches of organic compost and fertilizer. For every 100 square feet of soil, add 2-3 pounds of a high-phosphorus fertilizer mixed with 1-pound Epsom salts. Work this into the top 6 inches of soil. 
Types of Strawberry Plants
There are two types of strawberries, spring-bearing and everbearing. The spring-bearing produces one crop of large strawberries in the spring. The first year of planting spring-bearing plants, you will not be able to harvest any fruit until the second season. 
Everbearing strawberry plants produce strawberries in the spring and another in the fall. With everbearing, you can pick the strawberries the first year of planting in the fall. 
When picking out strawberry plants at the store, look at the root section. They should have many light-colored roots with single crowns. Another good idea is to read the label and find disease resistant plants. Choose the varieties that are resistant to gray old, leaf spot and powdery mildew. These are popular diseases of strawberries, and after you go through the time it takes to prepare and plant, it would be a shame to lose the plants to disease. If you are getting plants from a friend, make sure the plants are a year old for best results. 
Planting Strawberries 
Spread out the strawberry roots and this will show you how wide the hole needs to be. The depth of the holes should be only deep enough to keep the crown just above the surface. This is the most important step when planting strawberries. You don't want the crown too high, or the roots will dry out. If the crown is too deep, the strawberry plants will rot.  
When you have the hole dug, spread the roots out like a fan and place them in the hole. Fill in the hole with soil and firm the soil in place with your hands to collapse air pockets. Space the plants 15 to 24 inches apart, with rows spaced 42 to 48 inches apart. 
After you plant each strawberry, water it thoroughly. Strawberries need plenty of water until they become established, so keep the bed evenly moist. To help retain moisture, lay a 2-inch layer of organic mulch, grass clippings, or straw over the soil and around the plants. This will also help keep the weeds from growing.
Strawberries will need to be fertilized several times throughout the growing season. When applying fertilizer, always read and follow label directions for the proper amounts. Too much fertilizer will burn the plants, so it always better to use too little than too much. 
Remove Blossoms 
If you planted the spring-bearing variety, remove all the blossoms for the first year. It seems a shame to do this, but it forces the strawberries to put their energy into root formation and/or runners, instead of the formation of fruit. If you planted everbearing, remove the flowers until mid-summer for the first year. After that, you can leave the blooms for a fall harvest. 
Harvest the berries early in the morning when they are full of juice and flavor. The berries are firmer and easier to pick at that time also.
Winter Care 
In the fall, it is time to prepare the strawberry bed for the winter.  This is also a good time to transplant some of the runners into another section of your prepared garden if you want. Cover the entire strawberry bed with 2 to 3 inches of straw. This will protect the plants from being heaved out of the soil when the ground freezes and thaws. In the spring, when you notice new growth on the strawberry plants, remove the straw. You can leave it between the rows to help maintain moisture, or put it in your compost pile.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Ten Signs of Spring

The calendar tells us it is spring, but spring snows aren't willing to release the rights of winter just yet. But the snows melt fast, leaving you with wonderful, glorious signs that spring has officially arrived. 

You can tell it’s spring. People are outside raking leaves.  

Photo by: Nemo

 Photo by: Nemo
The farmers are preparing the fields to plant corn, soybeans, wheat, or sunflowers. Remember to watch for tractors on the road or turning out in front of you.
Photo by: werner22brigitte

The fruit trees and ornamental trees are bursting into bloom. 
 Photo by:  RococoNeko
 Photo by: LoggaWiggler
The lilac trees bud and bloom filling the air with a wonderful sweet fragrance. I love lilacs and look forward to the blooming season.  It seems that when the lilacs bloom, we get a lot of rain.
Photo by: Hans

The leaf buds begin to swell. Almost overnight, the trees will be clothed with leaves again.
 Photo by: Aquilatin

The grass is getting green. People are tuning up their lawnmowers, getting ready to start mowing. 
Photo by: sissynmaru
Photo by: Tim in Sydney 

The birds have begun to build nests together so they can start their families. 

Photo by: GazeL
 Bunnies come out to eat the green clover and play in the grass. 

We anxiously start waiting to see the first butterfly. And if you’re a kid, the first flower, the dandelion. 

Photo by: muffinman71xx  

The biggest sign of all is this: Thousands of little green-houses or hot-houses pop up outside of stores. Varieties of vegetable plants and flowers take up all the available room on the shelves. You go into farm stores, and the scent of seed potatoes, onions, and bulbs greet your nose.
Photo by: JamesDeMers

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Garden Tips for First Time Gardeners

Photo by: Hans

Gardens are hard work, but if you plant in the wrong location, have too many plants for the area or not enough space for the plants when they mature, then you will have problems. You can make it easier on yourself by doing a few things beforehand. This article will have several tips for a happier gardening experience.  

Once you choose the area for your garden, have the soil tested. A healthy soil is vital to plant growth. A strong, healthy plant is less susceptible to disease and insect problems. It is easy to take a soil sample though. Come on, let’s get started.

Dig a hole that is at least 8 inches deep. Position your spade ½ to 1 inch away from the wall of your hole and slice straight down through the dirt. This is your soil sample. Place the soil sample into a clean bucket. Dig another hole in another part of your garden and take another soil sample. You will need at least six different samples.

Thoroughly mix the soil samples in the bucket. Remove two cups of the soil and place it in a plastic bag. This is what you will send off to the State testing laboratory. When the results come back, you will know what nutrient it has too much of or what your soil is lacking. Now you can add the missing nutrients with organic fertilizer.

Diagram the Area
Grab a tablet and pencil and start making a diagram of the area you want to use for gardening. Next, make a list of the plants you want to grow in your garden. Be sure to note if the garden site has full sun exposure, shade, or a mixture of both. As you look through plants, and make your list, write down how much light it needs, the height, and spread, along with flower color if applicable. In flower gardening, you'll want the taller plants toward the back of the garden, or close to the foundation. Plant them in graduated size with the shortest in front. Central flower gardens should have the tallest plants in the middle with graduating heights going down on each side. You will want a garden that has aesthetic visual composition. Flower gardens should be pretty from any angle.

If you are planning a vegetable garden, the tall plants should be on the east end of your garden with rows running north to south. I usually plant my corn in the first row, tomatoes in the middle and peppers on the west side. This way, the tall plants won't shade the garden.

Each plant takes up space. You don't want to overcrowd your plants because this invites disease. All plants need good air circulation to prevent fungal diseases. Measure out the dimensions of your garden. You have your plants picked out, so all you need to do is figure out how many plants you'll want or need to fill a space. Remember also, when you first plant your garden, you'll have bare earth showing. Be patient and the plants will grow. Soon you won't see the ground amongst all the green leaves and flowers.

Once you have the plans for your garden and the soil tested, you're off to a great start. You'll know what you want to buy and the number of plants needed for your garden. What do you do to make gardening easier? If you have any tips or suggestions, please share them.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tips on Sowing Flower Seeds

Tips on Sowing Flower Seeds

Go to your local garden store, look through a garden catalog, or check out the online store and you will see thousands of flower seeds. They seem to beg you to buy them and plant them in your garden. But wait. Before you put it into your shopping cart or fill out the order blank, there are some things you need to ask yourself first. 

Is the plant hardy in my growing zone? Will they grow in my area? Are they annuals, perennials, or biennials? Are the plants short, or tall, and will they need to support? Do they grow in full sun, deep shade, partial sun or shade with some sun. What kind of soil do the plants need to grow in and what is the pH level? The list is almost endless. By knowing these answers to these questions. you can choose the plants that will thrive in a particular area. All this information is on the back of the seed packet.
Preparing the Flower Bed

Once you have chosen the seeds you want to grow, you'll need to prepare the flower bed. Most flower seeds are  planted in the spring. Read the back of the seed package to find out the best month to plant. Some flower seeds cannot be planted until after all danger of frost is past.  
Use a garden fork or tiller to break up the soil. It never hurts to amend the soil with 2 to 4 inches of organic compost. This helps to increase the drainage, as it loosens the soil and provides nutrients that your plants will need to grow healthy. 

Rake through the soil to break up the clods and to level the garden area. Pick up any rocks, sticks, or hard dirt clods that your rake brings to the surface. Try to make the garden level because unlevel soil allows the water to run away from the plants or collect in a pool around the plant’s stem, causing the plants to rot. If possible, allow the newly dig bed to lay idle for at least a week. If you need or want to plant right away, lay a board over the planting area, and walk across it. This will compact the soil and collapses air pockets.  

Marking the Rows
It is often a good idea to mark the row by placing a stick at the beginning of the row and another stick at the end of the row. For straight rows, connect the sticks with a string or twine and use this as a guide. To keep track of the flower type you are planting, write the plants name on a plastic marker or popsicle stick with a waterproof marker. Insert this in the row.  

Sowing Tiny Seeds and Large Seeds
Some seeds are tiny, and it is hard to see where they fall on the soil. I like to mix my seeds with two to four cups of sand. This provides a visual, so you can easily see the areas you've already covered. It also keeps you from sowing the seeds in a puddle. Planting big seeds are easier. Place the seeds on top of the soil spacing them according to the package directions. With your finger, push the seed into the soil to the depth indicated on your package. The only downside to planting the seeds at the required spacing is, not every seed will germinate. Therefore, there may be a gap between plants.

Cover the seeds according to package directions. If the seeds are small, just barely cover them with a fine layer of soil. Firm the soil with your hands to ensure that the seed coat is in firm contact with the soil. 

Gently water the seeds using the misting nozzle of your hose. You can also use a sprinkler head watering can. It is vital that you keep the seed bed moist until the seeds germinate. Therefore, it is a good idea to check the seedbed several times during the day and water as needed. The soil dries out fast when the wind is blowing and/or it is overly hot.  

Pull any weeds that you find growing. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate between weeds and flowers. If you check the back of the seed package, they usually have a drawing of what the flower seedlings look like. 

By preparing the soil, sowing the seeds to the right depth, spacing the plants out for proper air circulation, and keeping the bed moist, you should have great success at growing flowers from seed.