Monthly Archives: February 2012

Amaryllis Year After Year Show

Many of us around Christmas time plant these big beautiful bulbs.  Caring for them and getting them to bloom is fairly easy and we enjoy the show.  But what happens to these bulbs after blooming time.  Some will toss the bulbs just because they don’t know what to do with them and some, more than likely the gardeners in us will save them trying to get them to bloom again.  Unlike most forced bulbs, Amaryllis can bloom again and again if we take the proper steps.  Fertilize with a well-balanced fertilizer once a month until early autumn.    If you have your plant outside during the warm months bring it in before frost.  Stop watering the potted Amaryllis.  Cut down the foliage, uproot the bulb from the planting medium and  store it in a cool, dry, dark place for eight to 10 weeks.  They need a nap!  I like to keep them in a brown paper bag in the cellar.    After nap time, it’s time to replant the bulb in fresh potting soil.  Water thoroughly, fertilize and in no time you will have new leaves emerging with blooms not far behind ready to bloom.

Happy Frog Potting Soil

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Filed under Flower Gardens, Gardening

Making Your Garden’s Dirt, Living

When I first started my garden years ago I can honestly say it was definitely dead dirt.  Nothing living in it at all except the local gopher.  Not even a worm.   Soil should have life and lots of life to it to make healthy plants.  It all starts with the soil.  From the ground up.  One thing I have always have said is “Feed the earth that feeds the plants that feed you”.  Healthy soil wards off diseases and insects.  When the plants are healthy they have less chance of becoming weak and diseased.  Just like us human beings.   Insects will always go to the weak plants first.  Healthy soil means that organisms in the soil are present and doing their job to support the growth of plants.  There is microscopic life performing its own function in the soil food web.  There is good bacteria, which requires oxygen to survive while the disease-causing bacteria thrive on low-oxygen.  Makes since!  Think about compacted soils verses loose loamy soils.   This was my story when I first started my garden.  Believe it or not good soil contains Fungi, microorganisms that help hold soil particles together and improve soil structure.  These little buggers consume things like pine needles, branches and leaves.  Larger hard to break down materials.  So you can see that having both these good guys are more than valuable they are essential.  Nematodes are something else in the soil you may not associate with as being good.  Most people think of root-feeding nematodes that cause havoc while the beneficial nematodes help protect the roots from disease and build soil structure.

So this brings me to Organic Fertilizer vs. Synthetic.  Natural or synthesized.  While many people have had success with synthetic, overtime they are destroying your soil.  Killing off any good microorganisms, not to mention run off and leaching into our water tables.  Synthetics do not feed the living organisms while organic soil amendments and fertilizers do.  synthetic chemicals leave your plants without beneficial life which is their support system! Yes, organic is bulkier, but in the long run your soil, plants and your body will thank you!  synthetic is a quick fix, but is it?  The chances of burning are higher.  The salt content is higher.  Organic fertilizer is a slow release and gives gardeners a litter more leeway to make mistakes without seriously harming the soil or plants.

If you are starting a new garden spot, you need to know your soil.  Is it clay or sand?  Loamy?  Silt?  But what ever you have the very first thing I would add is compost.  Not just a little compost, but a lot of compost.  Every time you plant!   Every Time!  Make sure your compost is truly composted.  Sometimes people think that compost means just manure.  Don’t think that this is compost.  It is raw material that will take time to break down.  If added and then planted right away it can burn new plants and seeds may not germinate.  Raw material will also rob your soil of nitrogen.  I like a well-rounded compost made from more than just manure.  Add peat moss or coconut coir, depending on your pH.  High pH, add peat.  Low pH add coconut coir.  If your soil is sandy add some vermiculite to help hold the water. If it is clay, add perlite to open up the soil for better drainage and help the good bacteria.  These three things, peat moss, vermiculite or perlite and compost can be used for raised beds, but make sure you add some good old dirt to the pile.  I really have seen much better results when you add your native soil to the mix.  Peat will last for 4 years in the soil and vermiculite and perlite will last for 5-7 years.  Another important soil amendment that you shouldn’t forget is GreensandGreensand supplies no organic matter, but it helps loosen clay soils, improves water and nutrient retention in sandy soils, and is a rich source of potassium and micro-nutrients.  I put it in my soil every spring when preparing my garden beds.  As far as working the beds with a tiller I am all for it!  BUT, please don’t pulverize your soil.  Less is more in this case.  I like to work my amendments into the existing soil, but not overwork it.  It really isn’t good for the worm life.  I use a small tiller in my raised beds and the tines only go 8-10 inches deep, so every 3 or 4 years I deep dig (great cardio exercise) with a shovel below the point of where the tines go.  The soil gets somewhat of a hard-pan that isn’t healthy for your plants.  Add organic fertilizers to the needs of your plants.  I suggest to use less more often then loads less often.  The plant will react better and will be healthier if you do it this way.

There are so many things you can add to your soil to help improve its structure and tilth.  Weed free straw, leaves, leaf mold, cotton burr compost, shredded pine needles and so many more things.  I like to add these in the fall so they have time to break down through the winter.  Work them into the soil.  Another thing that some people really like and I use it as well, but I always compost it first is shredded tree branches.  If it hasn’t been composted first it will inhibit seed germination and seriously rob your soil of nitrogen.

There are a few amendments to really feed your micro organisms if you want to get them really active:  Crab Meal, Neem Seed Meal, Karanja Seed Meal, and Alfalfa Meal.  These are great in the compost pile too for basically the same effect.

Greensand, Organic Fertilizers

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Good Bug? Bad Bug?

Many of times have I had  people come into my shop bringing in what they were sure to be a pesky bug about to emerge from their egg and create havoc on their gardens.  When I tell them how lucky they are to have such a wonderful insect egg of the Praying Mantis, their mouths drop and let me know they have been trying to eliminate them.  Well, that brings me to this blog!  The Good Bug, Praying Mantis.  I have kept a twig on the counter with the egg of a praying mantis just to let people know these are  the ‘Good’ guys.  When I trim my fruit trees and see the mantis eggs on the twigs I have just cut I make sure to weave the twig with the egg into the nearby fence so these little guys can hatch and become my little workhorses in the garden during the summer months. 

The life of the Praying Mantis starts in an ootheca egg mass. Taking place usually in the fall on a small branch or twig, the egg mass then hatches in the spring or sometimes early summer as the temperature rises and helps facilitate the time for the hatching of the numerous eggs.  Some eggs look like  a carmel colored packing peanut while others  have a harder type egg that are typically smaller like the picture below.

File:Praying mantis egg pod1.jpgPraying Mantis feed on grasshoppers , ants, moths, crickets, spiders, dragonflies, butterflies (yes, they eat beneficial as well), gnats, worms, meal-worms, grubs, termites, maggots, katydids, aphids, most flies, and some types of water bugs. They are great for eating pests in gardens and yards.

Nurseries carry the egg cases during the spring time and they are great to get mantisbabiesaas long as you don’t spray chemical pesticides that will harm these beneficial beauties.  Just set them out in a protected area and wait and watch for the very tiny babies to emerge and begin feasting on pesky bugs.  So the next time you see these odd-looking egg casings, know that you have help on its way with bug patrol this spring and summer!

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Keeping Your Sour Dough Alive and Using It!

Sourdough Starter

Active Starter has lots of bubbles

25 years ago my mother gave me a start of Sour Dough Starter.  She got it from a friend the previous year who got hers from a friend and I am sure that it could have come from a longer line then that.  I would love to know if the history went farther back than that, but at least I have a 27 year history behind my starter.  I have heard of starters of 100 plus years old.  One could start their own each time they make sourdough, but I think keeping the starter alive is somewhat of a rugged pioneer spirit.  And, I think the flavor is fuller then a new batch. 

Sourdough is a fermented dough that was traditionally found in mining camps, chuck wagons and it was a staple for pioneers.    In the pioneer days yeast was hard to come by and when it was available, it was almost always dead from the extreme conditions.  Supplies were so precious and the use of an active Starter was always dependable.  Sourdough has always intrigued me, even though it is such a simple, but yet rustic process.

If you can’t obtain an heirloom or close to heirloom starter (mine has a few years to go), the next best thing is to make your own.  Combine 2 cups cooled potato water (made from boiling potatoes with skins) 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 cups all-purpose flour (white or wheat).  Beat by hand until you have a smooth, creamy batter.  Keep this in a crock or bowl of at least 8 cup capacity so your starter will have room to grow.  Active sourdough starter will have large bubbles and double in size.  Cover with a clean cotton or linen cloth or a lose fitted lid.  Make sure you don’t seal the container off airtight or you will be looking for an exciting explosion of dough all over your kitchen.  Set your starter aside in a warm place for 3 days to begin fermentation.  The starter can be used at this point as long as you have nice big bubbles, but it’s best to wait a few more days to have a more active starter and better “sourdough” flavor.  At this point feed your starter with equal parts water and flour everyday to every other day depending on how often you use it.  You will have to discard all but 1/4 cup of the starter each time you feed if you didn’t use it for making bread.  I don’t always make sourdough bread, so I will feed it and put it in the frig for a couple of weeks and let it go dormant.  Don’t let it go more than 3 weeks without feeding it or you could loose it’s vitality.  When storing in the frig I always feed with white flour rather than wheat because wheat will go rancid faster.  To feed it just pull it out, bring it to room temperature and then feed as above and you should be ready to make bread the next day. 

The night before you make your bread, feed the starter and cover with a towel.  Overnight the wild yeasts will develop.  This will be your leaven.  By morning your starter should smell sweet in an overripe fruit sort of way.  You can always test your starter by dropping a spoonful of starter into a luke warm bowl of water.  If it sinks, it’s not ready.  If it floats, it’s ready. 

Basic Country Loaf:  I like to start my bread in the early morning so I have enough time for resting and rising.  In a large bowl add 700 grams (I like to weigh my bread dough ingredients) of luke warm water and 200 grams of leaven (starter).  Mix to disperse the starter.  Add 1,000 grams flour (80/20 white/wheat if desired).  Mix Thoroughly by hand until you do not see any bits of dry flour.  Let the dough rest 25 to 40 minutes.  Don’t skip the resting period!  After resting period, add 20 grams of salt and 50 grams of warm water to the dough.  Incorporate the salt with your hands.  Fold the dough on top of itself and place dough in a bowl for its first rise.  Cover with a cloth and place in a warm room, 78 degrees  for 3 to 4 hours.  Dough will be rather sticky.  Turn out on a floured work service and start to knead with a dough spatula.  Use as little flour as possible.  Divide the soft dough in half and start to shape by folding dough into the center and creating a smooth surface on top side. Place dough on a floured pizza/bread paddle or in a cast iron pan, folded side down and cover with a cloth.  Let rise for 2 to 3 hours.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If using a paddle and pizza stone make sure your stone is also preheated.  Once dough has risen, slash tops with a very sharp knife or dough slicer.  Slide into oven on stone or cover with a lid for the cast iron pan.  Splash oven with water to create steam.  I use a an old cast iron pan with lava rocks preheated and at the time of adding the bread I will quickly pour in 2 cups of water to create steam.  You have to be very careful not to burn yourself when doing this, but it makes the best chewy crusts ever.  Bake  until the color of the crust is deeply carmelized, 20-30 minutes or longer if you want a strong crust.

Nothing beats the smell of fresh bread!

A couple tricks of the trade:  Never use metal to stir, store or rise your dough.  Metal causes a chemical reaction with sourdough.  Don’t use tap water unless it filters out the chlorine.  I feel that when using chlorinated water the sourdough never bubbles as well.  If you feel like you can’t feed your starter for a long while you can dehydrate some of your starter on wax paper sheets, then powder it and store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a year.  I do this anyway just in case I lose my starter for some reason, I will always have a back up.

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Filed under A little bit of Old Fashion, Life on the Farm