Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Free Plants

Everybody likes free, right? Well, I can tell you how to get free plants.
Most everybody knows now that my plant swap is coming up soon. If you don't, check back through some of my blog archives...It is April 10th, here in Charleston.
With the economy the way it is, finding ways to save some money is very high on every body's list. Gardeners are no exception. There has been a lot of talk about plant swaps and seed swaps lately, I have been doing mine for 7 years now! Apparently, it's the new IN thing.
Organizing a plant swap is actually very easy. For all you folks in the North, right now would be a great time to start organizing one. You can still do one here in the South, but you better hurry if you want to include some veggies. This also works well in the Fall, I will be doing my second Fall swap later this year.
How do you get started?
First off, locate a good place to have one. A city park, somebody that has a really large yard or even a vacant parking lot. The key elements here are, easy parking, lots of room for plants, bathrooms, tables for food (more on that later) and if possible something for the kids to do.
Okay, you have the perfect spot, let's say a city park. Call the city and see if you need any kind of paperwork, most of the time you won't but better to check anyway. Find out if you need to have someone open the bathrooms or if they are always accessible. You might want to check on the parking situation. Somewhere in here you also need to pick a date and time. That way when you call the city you can ask if there is going to be any conflict. When considering the time, figure on set up, the actual swap and clean up. I have people start coming at 10am. They can bring their plants, mill around a little and look at the other plants and ask questions. The swap then starts at 11am. The way I do it, the whole swap is over in about 30 minutes (if that long). You can usually tell the city you will be long gone by 1pm.
Okay, you have the place, date and time. The next step is the big one. PUBLICITY!
I spend a total of about $2 on publicity. LOTS of time, but very little cash.
HOW you say?
First, start with websites. Gardenweb has places for swaps. Blossomswap.com and Plantswap.net are also two very good places to post. There might be others that I haven't heard about.
You can go to your local extension office. Every state has a Master Gardener program, touch base with them. Ask them to post it on their website or news bulletins. The local newspaper might have a Gardening Calendar that will post for free. Check to see if you have any small neighborhood newspapers, they might even do a story on it for you. Check with your friends and see if they belong to any Garden Clubs or Horticultural Societies, that is a great way to get the word passed around. Facebook, Myspace and any other Social Networking website is a good source for advertisement. Fliers, this is where I spend my $2. I create a flier, go to Staples and print out 25 or so. Post these at Libraries or any place that you see Yard Sale Signs. Make sure you have all the pertinent information on it, Date, Time, Place, What it is, how it works and a contact e-mail or phone number. You can also put directions on it if it is hard to find.

This is what mine looks like:

PLANT SWAP
Come swap all those extra plants you have
April 10th 2010, 10am setup
Park Circle, by the Gazebo

More Information:
Cactusmusic@netzero.com


The Specifics
10am set-up and browse....11am swap...immediately afterwards...LUNCH!
Bring ALL your extra plants, if it grows, it will go! Including Houseplants! Also any garden related items, Hoses, Garden Art, Containers, Etc.
We are having it at Park Circle in North Charleston, by the Gazebo. There are picnic tables, bathrooms and LOTS of room for kids to play and even more room for plants, parking and food.
Pretty much everybody in Charleston is familiar with Park Circle....there are numerous ways to get to it, depending on which way you are coming. If you want or need directions, e-mail me, I will get it and respond ASAP.
The way we swap will be the basic Free For All. I will say go, everybody will grab ONE (1) plant and take it to their hiding area. After everybody has a plant, we repeat the process. Nice and Simple!
We will have plates and napkins and such, Please bring your own drinks and a covered dish for as many as you can. We like to do a Pot Luck style picnic and encourage everybody to stick around and participate. The socializing afterwards is as much fun as the swap itself, please try to give yourself enough time to stay and enjoy yourself!

Very straight forward. I couldn't get the clip art to show here, but, I have a picture of a woman handing over a plant.
Okay, the place, date, time and publicity is done. How exactly does the swap work?
I am sure there are numerous ways to do these things. I do mine quick and easy. The general free for all. This will sound chaotic, but I promise it works, remember I have been doing this for 7 years.
As the plants start arriving, put them all spread out...no order, no groupings. Kind of like this:



This was just the beginning. Make sure you leave room in between plants for walking around room. Just keep spreading them around until everybody is there, right up to designated start time. Let folks wander around and look at all the goodies. Just before start time, ask if there are any questions about a specific plant. The person that brought it can probably tell you anything that is needed to know. You might be able to label some of the more exotic or lesser known plants. Having Master Gardeners around can be very useful here. I bring a magic marker and some extra labels to mark the plants that I bring home so I know what to Google when I get home.
Then, if there are no more questions, have everybody step back a pace or two. Give them ready, set, GO! Have everybody take ONE plant. That is what the milling around is for, to find the first plant they want. Have them take it to a safe place, by their vehicle or just someplace away from all the action.
After everybody has grabbed a plant, do it again. After three or four rounds, have them grab two plants. Keep on going until all the plants are gone.
Sound like Chaos? It is to some degree, but it is also a lot of fun.

You will probably get some of the following questions:
How many plants should I bring?
A) As many as you want. I always bring lots of extras and usually take home very few. I have strange tastes and there usually isn't much that I want or need.
What should I bring?
A) If it grows it goes! You will see everything from showroom plants to stuff people just pulled out of the ditch. Houseplants, Bulbs, Perennials, Shrubs, Etc. I have seen some of the most dreadful looking plants be the first to go. It all depends on what they are, ugly rare will go before gorgeous usual.
I don't have very many plants, what else can I bring?
A) Garden Art, extra hoses, pots and containers, Garden Tools, anything Garden related. I have seen Chicken wire show up and be one of the first things snatched. They were going to make a compost bin out of it.

I also have anybody that wants to stick around afterwards and eat to bring food. Think Sunday social or picnic. Covered dishes. Tell them to bring enough food for themselves and a couple of other people. We have never run out of food. Have somebody bring plates and silverware. That's usually my mothers job. Also have them bring their own drinks, though we usually bring extra bottled water. The socializing after is as much fun as the swap itself.
Another tip is to get everybody's e-mail address.....use this for next year in the publicity department.
This what you are striving for:



I know this sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but the benefits and the appreciation from all the attendees will be worth it. Mine has been steadily growing every year, word of mouth is your best publicity you can get...and it's FREE!
What might be some of the benefits? It will be amazing what your neighbor down the street is growing that you had no idea would grow where you are and the friendships that can develop because of a plant swap. Plus, you might just pick up that plant that you didn't even know you couldn't live without!
If you have any question, go ahead and ask....I am more than willing to help.....besides, if you are close enough to me, I might just show up to your swap!!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Not a Palm Reader

I was perusing my e-mail today, when I got one from a friend of mine about Sago Palms (Cycas revoluta). I know a little bit about them, but decided to do more research on them anyway.
Sago palms (which are not true palms) are evergreen plants with stiff, palm-like fronds that radiate outward from a slow-growing usually non-branched trunk. They are very slow-growing and long-lived. It can reach a height of 10 feet, although 3 to 5 feet is more common. They are native to Japan's southern most islands. And is thought to be a plant that has been around since the time of the dinosaurs.



Sago's are evergreen here in South Carolina. It is considered a Zone 8-10 plant. I have seen it growing in a Zone 7, though the fronds usually get burned in the Winter. It actually got hit pretty hard this past Winter here.
They like sandy, fast draining soil, preferably with some organic matter. Also recommended is a light mulch of bark or leaf mold. Plants appreciate light feedings of balanced, slow release fertilizer or liquid fertilizers. They are drought resistant when mature. Their light requirements are everything from bright conditions including full sun to full shade with no ill effect (its leaves grown larger in the shade).
They can be propagated from offsets or seeds. The seeds should be allowed to age for a couple of months in a cool place before planting. New plants can also be obtained by removing offsets from the base of the trunks. Remove the leaves and plant in moist, well drained soil. This is most successful when done in the Winter when the plant is dormant.
Sago's also make an excellent container plant for use outdoors and in the home. It has been a popular house plant in the west for over a century and in Japan for even longer. In Japan the Sago is also used as a bonsai subject. Dwarfs of great value are produced by withholding moisture and packing the plant in sand. These often have very thin trunks or interesting deformities and are sometimes sold under the name Cycas nana.
Animals that graze on Cycas leaves may exhibit permanent nuerological disorders. Sago seeds are sometimes suggested as a natural remedy for certain conditions - do not use it! All parts of this plant are toxic. The symptoms of Sago poisoning include, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, seizures.
They make extremely nice focal plants, I encourage you to grow one if you can in your yard. If not, take a crack at containerizing one.



Happy Growing!
Darren

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tag You're It....Redo

I am redoing this listing for a couple of reasons. One, I had a friend tell me she was having problems accessing this particular posting. Hope this helps Susan. Second, I have a bunch of new followers since I did this one and it was one of my most popular posts. I got dozens of e-mails about it.
I hope you enjoy it, for those of you that saw it the first time, use it as a refresher course. This can even be fun for kids to do. Feel free to pass this around to everybody and anybody!

When it comes to buying plants or anything else I am poor....also read cheap! I love deals, plant swaps, trades, the barter system and making things for myself. Today's post deals with the last thing, making things for myself.
As you know, I have a great many varieties of Citrus. Many of them look very much alike in growth habit, leaf shape and size, etc. I am also amassing a decent size Camellia collection, through trades, grafting, cuttings, friends etc. The different cultivars there also have a great many similarities. I am very anal when it comes to keeping my plants tagged. I like to know who is doing what, if they need a little different care, etc. I have been using plastic tags stuck in the pots for years now. Occasionally they get lost, stolen (squirrels take them believe it or not) or just fade over time.
I have noticed many of my friends at the Camellia Society use aluminum tags hung from the plants. They are permanent, are always with the tree, and easy to spot.
I looked them up online. I found that I could get 100 of them for $15.95 +shipping. So basically, right around $20. Remember at the beginning I said I was poor, read cheap? Just like a lot of other families in the country, I don't have an extra $20. So, then a brain storm hit me. I drink soda and they come in cans....HMMMMM?!
I will make my own!

Start with an empty aluminum soda can. I find empty is easier to work with. Ha Ha.



I use Pepsi, it is the only one that will work. You can try Beer or Coke or some other kind, but I am pretty sure Pepsi cans are the only ones that work. The last two sentences were a joke, ANY aluminum can will work.



Cut the top and bottom off. Then slice it down the side. You will need to uncurl it a bit. Remember the sides will be rather sharp. You can file them down or wear gloves if this concerns you.



Cut the aluminum into approx 1 inch strips. They don't have to be exact, this isn't brain surgery. I get 7 from one can.



Punch a hole in it at one side with a nail.



Then with a ball point pen, write the name on it. If you write on it on a towel or several layers of newspaper it will indent better.
If you know the botanical and the common name put both. It could very easily be useful in the future if you have both.



You then slip a piece of wire through the hole and hang it from the plant. Make sure you tie it loosely to the plant so you don't girdle it. If you don't want to hang it, make a little hanger from an old coat hanger and stick that into the pot.
There, nice and cheap....especially if you already buy beverages in cans.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thankful for my Intelligence

There is something different about gardeners. We love to share what we have. Whether it be Vegetables, Fruits, Plants or Seeds. We love to swap things too. I will send you this, this and this, for your this and this. I have been swapping plants and seeds for years. There are a number of great sites to do this on, Gardenweb, Blossom Swap, Plantswap.net, just to name a few. This is a great way to get rid of your extra seeds of something and get something else that you don't have. I love doing it!
HOWEVER, and this is going to be huge, make sure you know what your plants are that you are getting. Had it not been for my decent knowledge of plants, I could have been in trouble last year.
I was in a Hot Pepper craze last year (still am) and I was swapping for all kinds of peppers from around the world with people. I had been in contact with somebody, and honestly I don't remember who it was, to get some Trinidad Scorpion peppers (Capsicum chinense). These are some very hot Habanero type peppers from Trinidad.
They look something like this:



Well, we worked out the trade, I sent my end and he sent his. No problem. We did this sometime during the Winter, so I had to wait until Spring to plant them and grow my peppers. I couldn't wait!
Spring finally arrived and I eagerly planted all kinds of peppers. I ended up with 18 different types. I am very anal when it comes to tagging my pots, I like to know what works and what doesn't. Things started to germinate and all looked well, at first. Then as my "Trinidad Scorpion Peppers" began to get some height to it, something just didn't look right. The leaves were wrong. I got told by some folks that saw them that I was imagining things and it might just be the juvenile leaves. I wasn't convinced. The plant began to flower. Now, the flowers were wrong. The color wasn't right. They are suppose to be Blue:



Mine were orange. So, I thought, "Okay, I got some other kind of peppers, they aren't the Trinidad, but they should be okay". The leaves were still bothering me though.
After it started to fruit, I KNEW something wasn't right. Check out these pictures from the actual plant:





As you can see, nothing like the Trinidad Peppers. I had all kinds of people checking these things out. Nobody knew for certain what they were. I sent the very pictures you are looking at to a Chili Pepper Expert I know. What he told me scared the daylights out of me. My "Trinidad Scorpion Peppers' were actually Solanum pseudocapsicum 'Cherry Jubilee'. Jerusalem Cherry is it's common name. Fruits and leaves of Jerusalem cherry contain solanocapsine and some other substances which are toxic both to humans and animals. Ingestion of the fruits can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea and weakness, supposedly it is not life threatening. They are still considered moderately poisonous.
I do not know how or why that person sent these to me. He could have gotten them mixed up, could have been a psychopath, I just don't know. I unfortunately do not remember who sent them. I would not have been able to prove anything anyway.
The moral, enjoy swapping plants and seeds with your garden friends. Once you are growing something that maybe unfamiliar to you, research the heck out of it! I was fortunate enough to know what pepper leaves should look like. I eat a lot of peppers and the results from eating a lot of THESE could have been very costly.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Saturday, March 27, 2010

With a Cherry On Top

While working in the yard today, it was nice to see things starting to flush new growth and flowering. I was especially excited to see that my Surinam Cherry (Eugenia uniflora) is still alive. The one had lost all it's leaves and I thought for sure it was a goner.



The Surinam Cherry is a very interesting plant. It is also called Brazil or Brazilian cherry. The plant is native from Surinam, Guyana and French Guiana to southern Brazil and to northern, eastern and central Uruguay. It usually only reaches a height of 25 feet. In Florida, the Surinam cherry is one of the most common hedge plants throughout the central and southern parts of the state and the Florida Keys. Young plants are supposedly damaged by temperatures below 28 degrees,I have not pushed the limit myself. Well established plants are suppose to be hardy to 22 degrees. I, of course grow mine in containers. They need full sun and are relatively drought tolerant. The Surinam Cherry will do well in just about any soil type, but does not do well with salt.
Propagation is usually done by seeds. They remain viable for not much longer than a month and germinate in 3 to 4 weeks. They can usually be found online at http://www.tradewindsfruit.com/surinam_cherry.htm
But of course when I checked, they were out. Check again often. From seed you can get fruit any where from 2-6 years, depending on growing conditions. The plant is said to be bothered by scale and caterpillars, but I have not had any problem. The fruits are today mostly eaten by children. In the past, many people allowed the tree to grow naturally and harvested the fruits for culinary use.
The fruit can be used as a substitute for strawberries on shortcake and topped with whipped cream. They are an excellent addition to fruit cups and salads and can be made into pie or sauce or preserved whole in syrup. They are often made into jams or jelly. Brazilians ferment the juice into vinegar or wine, and sometimes prepare a distilled liquor.
This plant will make an excellent conversation starter and will definitely add a flair of the tropics to your patio. I encourage you to locate some seeds and give them a try!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Calamondin

While making a delivery today in Downtown Charleston, I noticed something interesting. There was a tree next door to where I was delivering that seemed to have a lot of bird activity in it. I looked up into to see what might have been attracting them. To my amazement, I was looking up into a 25 foot Calamondin, with lots of fruit hanging on it, in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, planted in the ground. To say the least, I was extremely impressed! What is a Calamondin you ask?
Most likely of Chinese origin. It was introduced in Florida in 1899. The Calamondin is thought to basically be an Orangequat resulting from a cross between a sour, loose skinned Mandarin and a Kumquat. The peel is thin and smooth, yellow to yellow-orange and easily separable.
They look like this:



Calamondins make excellent container grown specimens and the fruit can be used for a many things. Marmalades, Chutneys, or they can be halved or quartered and served with iced tea, seafood and meats, Some people boil the sliced fruits with cranberries to make a tart sauce. They were commonly used in Florida before limes became plentiful. My favorite use is to substitute it for lime or lemon juice and make gelatin salads, desserts, custard pies or chiffon pie. A Calamondin Meringue Pie is my ultimate favorite.
Calamondins are usually fairly easy to obtain. If you can't find one, check with your Citrus growing friends or look online. Calamondin trees may be easily grown from seeds or as rooted cuttings. You can easily get fruit within 4-5 years from seed and as early as 2 years from cuttings. The flowers are self-fertile and require no cross-pollination. They are as cold-hardy as the Satsuma orange. The tree seems able to tolerate a wide range of soils. There is also the possibility of having ripe fruit and flowers at the same time. Treat these tasty little fruits just as you would any other Citrus tree.
There is even a Variegated Version:



The fruit is variegated when it is young, but will turn orange when ripe.

I have both of these trees and really enjoy the fruits it produces. Hopefully this will entice you to find it and grow one for yourself!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Thursday, March 25, 2010

That Can't Be True!............ Can It?

There are tons of different gardening myths out there. Even more than what I thought. The statement of, "If something is said or repeated enough times it must be true" comes into play even in the garden.
How many of these have you heard or believed in?

NO. 1) Young trees should be supported with stakes after planting. (I used to believe this one.)
In nature, saplings develop strong, flexible trunks and branches as a result of bending and swaying in the wind. This flexibility helps them survive damaging winds as they grow older. Staking a young tree denies them the ability to develop naturally, and all too often stakes and ties are forgotten or used improperly and end up causing damage to growing trees or interrupt sap flow. A better strategy is to plant trees small enough to not require support.

No. 2) Drought-tolerant plants don’t need to be watered
All plants need to be watered to become established. Most “drought-tolerant” plants are those that can survive through an average summer without supplemental watering. These plants, however, are usually not drought tolerant in the first year, and regular watering and an application of mulch are good ideas. After that, you can pretty much allow them to fend for themselves, but even the toughest of plants will benefit from a monthly soaking.

No. 3) When planting a tree or shrub, dig the hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the root-ball (Master Gardeners hear this as a question a lot)
A planting hole should be twice as wide as the root-ball but NOT deeper. By applying this planting principle, you will encourage the roots of a plant to grow out, which creates stability and allows the plant to readily find water and nutrients. A good way to make sure that the root-ball is at the right depth is to plant at the same height as it was in the pot or even slightly higher. Many plants are killed by planting too deep. Don’t add compost or potting soil when backfilling the planting area. Most roots prefer to grow in these amended soils instead of spreading out through the landscape.

No. 4) Watering during the heat of the day will "burn" plants
The diffused rays of the sun are not power­ful enough to cause burning. Yes, it's true that it is better to water in the morning, because wet leaves combined with cooler nighttime temperatures can help promote certain types of diseases. Less water will also be lost to evaporation if you avoid watering during the heat of the day. In fact, lawn care professionals often cool turf by spritzing water over the foliage during the hottest part of the day. With that being said, if they are thirsty, give them some water!

No. 5) The bigger the vegetable, tree or flower, the better
Only if you are entering a contest! Usually smaller is tastier and more tender.

And lastly,
No. 6)
Gardening is an Exact Science
I will wait until the laughter subsides on this one. Let me know when you are done.
Just like life, gardening is all about trial and error. It's about celebrating your successes, learning from your mistakes and enjoying the process. Gardens are like people, they're all different. What works for me, may not work for you. We can share our experiences with others, hopefully what we have learned will help someone grow more flowers or more food.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Proud Chili Head

Yes, I will admit it, I am a major Chili Head!! I love it hot! I have grown some of the hottest peppers in the world, Bhut Jolokia's.....also known as The Ghost Pepper, and loved them!
The Ghost Pepper in all its Glory:



There is an interesting article that I got alerted to from a friend of mine on BlossomSwap.net. It involves the Indian (India) Military using Bhut Jolokia Peppers as weapons. They are wanting to use this pepper in their hand grenades. It could be used to flush insurgents out of caves and hiding places and to temporarily choke and incapacitate them. It has no environmental side effects. It may be the perfect weapon. Though, this would still not be as strong as the US Grade pepper Spray.
The Bhut Jolokia comes in at a record 1,000,000 Scoville units. That's One Million in case you were having trouble reading zero's. What's a Scoville Unit?
Devised by Wilbur Scoville in 1912, a Scoville unit is the measure of capsaicin in a particular type of pepper. Capsaicin is what makes a pepper hot. To give you an idea of how hot a million Scoville Units are, let me break it down for you.
A Bell pepper is between 0-100 Scoville Units....Basically not hot.
A Jalapeno Pepper is between 3,500-8000 Scoville Units....I love these on my Hot Dogs.
A Cayenne or Tabasco is between 30,000-50,000 Scoville Units....Great on Pizza.
A Habanero or Scotch Bonnet is between 200,000-350,000 Scoville Units...Dehydrated flakes are also good on Pizza.
Then you have the Bhut Jolokia at 1,000,000 Scoville Units....A piece the size of a pea can heat up an entire pot of Jambalaya. I admit it, these go on my Pizza too. I have even sprinkled some flakes on my scrambled eggs.
Here is the Full Chart:


The reason there is such a wide space of units in each pepper variety is because the heat can differ from pod to pod and plant to plant. This is just a basic scale.
How Scoville first started doing the tests on the heat of peppers is actually kind of funny. He used human guinea pigs and their tongues. One problem with Scoville’s test is that no two tongues ever agreed, so the panelists’ estimates had to be averaged. Another problem was that the number of tests a panelist could do in a day was limited. Because the tongue would temporarily get used to a given level of pungency, it had to be given rest to cool down before resuming the task. In an eight hour period, no more than 6 samples could be run through the panel. Today it is tested with a machine known as a High Pressure Liquid Chromatograph, it is supposedly as sensitive as the human tongue.
So, the next time somebody tells you that their food is hot. Ask them how many Scoville Units they think it is. Then give them a Bhut Jolokia. A serious note however, the Jolokia peppers are nothing to play with, these things are EXTREMELY HOT and can cause blistering on persons that are very sensitive, so please be careful. I luckily am not and am in the mood for some hot spicy food! I think it's time to go make some scrambled eggs with pepper flakes, Ghost Pepper anyone?
Happy growing!
Darren

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Supper for Citrus

When I am out doing lectures on Citrus, one of the most asked questions is "What do you feed your Citrus"?
This gives me some hope because at least I know they are going to feed them. Some of the stories I have heard about people NOT feeding their trees. Wow! There was a woman that came to me onetime when I was doing a Home and Garden show. She was all worried about her Meyer Lemon that was completely yellow. Here was her story. I have a Meyer Lemon that I have had for three years now. It is in a container. It had fruit on it the first year that I had it, nothing ever since. I asked her the normal preliminary questions, watering, sunlight, feeding schedule. Feeding? she asked. I am suppose to feed it?! Like I asked her, How would you feel after not eating for 3 years?
Citrus are heavy Nitrogen feeders. Everything you have ever heard about too much Nitrogen causing more growth, than flowers.....out the window when it comes to Citrus.
ESPECIALLY when grown in containers. Nitrogen leaches out the fastest of all the nutrients.
SO, with that being said...my feeding regiment? I will warn you now, Mine is WAY out there and most definitely not in the mainstream.
I use Citrus-Tone made by Espoma. The directions on the package read, For potted plants, use one teaspoon per 4" of pot diameter.
Double for pots over 12".
Feed every 60 days late winter to fall.
I will be the first to admit, I use a wee bit more than that. I probably use about half as much again as the recommended usage, every two weeks.
The product fact sheet for Citrus-Tone is at:
http://espoma.com/p_consumer/pdf/products/tones/Esp_Citrus.pdf
I discovered this stuff about 3 years ago and swear by it now.
Lets say you can't find Citrus-Tone where you live.
The very next best thing is Miracle-Gro for Acid Loving Plants. Formally called Miracid for you long time gardeners. Again, I use it every two weeks on my container grown Citrus Trees.
For those of you that do get to grow them in the ground. You can probably use all of the above products about every 4 weeks or so. It depends a lot on your soil type. Sandy soil will need more fertilizing than clay. The leaching effect in action again.
Now, I told you my feeding schedule is not mainstream. You read the above and said to yourself, "That's not too far out there"........ I ain't done yet.
On top of the Citrus-Tone and/or Miracid every two weeks, I usually have some slow release on there. I am not sure it helps a lot, but I figure it doesn't hurt. I usually put the slow release on in Spring time, right after they come out of the greenhouse. Still not far enough out there for you?
The alternating weeks of the CT and Miracid, I give them a nice shower of Fish Emulsion. Stinky, but effective.
This whole thing must work. I had the USDA from Florida and the Department of Plant Industries out to inspect my plants this past year after Citrus Greening was discovered in Charleston County. The gentleman from the USDA said that he sees LOTS of Citrus trees on a daily basis, but mine looked exceptionally good for being so far North and in containers. I took this as about as good an honor as I can get.
Here is a picture of one of my trees, you be the judge.

Moral: Feed the Citrus trees and they will feed you!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Monday, March 22, 2010

Where I'm seeded

Well, it is March and everybody wants to be the top seed, right? Okay fine, I know nothing about Basketball, but I do know something about seeds!
I sure used that knowledge this past Saturday.
I planted 6 kinds of Cucumbers, 3 kinds of Squash, 2 kinds of Okra, 5 kinds of Corn and some Cantaloupe.
I received seeds from around the world. I planted Black Fruit Cucumber, Chinese Mandarin Cucumber and of course Straight 8 Cucumber. I do have to keep it somewhat normal. Also in the Cucumber bed is Early Cucumber, Apple Cucumber and a Hermaphrodite Cucumber. The last one I will have to give you an update later, I know nothing about it.
The Okra is Clemson Spineless and a Red Variety.
The Corn is Yellow Dent, Early June, Yellow Sweet, Peaches and Cream and Chihuahua 7. It is from the Mexico providence of Chihuahua. Again, I will give you the updates on it as it matures.
The Squash is Acorn, Summer and Spaghetti.
I know it's probably a little early to be planting all this, but hey....I'm mad and it is March! (March Madness?)...I know, don't quit my day job!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Goin Bananas!

Well, hopefully Winter is finally going Bye Bye. We are forecasted to be about 5-10 degrees below normal still, but that sure beats Snow and freezing temps!
I was reading an e-mail from my friend at Simply Bananas.
(http://www.bananas.org/member-simply-bananas.html)
These couple of sentences really tell all about this Winter.
"The extended cold spells have no doubt taken its toll on the banana plants. Here at the Simply Bananas Banana Plantation, we had full freeze thru on all plants. As a result, most have been cut way down. The super cold hardy not-edible-fruit producing Basjoos have shown the most resilience showing green as early as last week.
We are recommending cutting the plants' stalk until the core looks fresh/alive. In some plants this may be very close to the ground. While its possible that all above ground growth may be damaged, the winter should not have caused any permanent damage to well mulched roots. I suspect that in the next few weeks we'll see new pups and other new growth".

I agree with what he said, I had even already done it before I got the letter. My banana plants where hit HARD this Winter. I have cut them all back to the ground.
I plan on hitting them with a good dose of Potassium later this week. Or maybe next week, depending on if I can get the yard cleaned up.

Bananas are actually very easy to grow. You can get fruit here in Charleston, if you pick the right variety.
The banana and plantain are native to southeast Asia, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years. Bananas are believed to have been introduced to Africa in prehistoric times. Recent evidence suggests bananas were introduced into the New World, down in Ecuador, by southeast Asians around 200 B.C., and more recently by Portuguese and Spanish explorers in the early 16th century. The Portuguese introduced bananas into the Canary Islands and the Spanish to the Island of Hispaniola during the 1500s.
Simply Bananas is here in the Charleston area and grows: Pisang Raja, Saba, Orinoco, Raja puri, Ele Ele, Basjoo, and Ice Cream bananas. He discusses fruit and gets many e-mails from folks here that get fruit from the plants he sells. I have an Ice Cream Banana, though I have yet to get it to fruit. I am also growing it in a container, which makes my work even harder. I have some non-edible ones in the ground, they do fantastic. Maybe I should switch them.
I was doing the research for this article and came across some things bananas are good for that I had never thought of.
* They make great windbreaks or screens,
* they can keep the sun off the hot western side of your house,
* they utilize the water and nutrients in waste drains (think washing water or outdoor shower and runoff from your yard and street),
* the leaves can be fed to horses, cows and other grazers,
* the dried remains of the trunks can be used for weaving baskets and mats.

The NEEDS of bananas. They like rich, dark, fertile soils. They require a huge amount of water. The huge soft leaves evaporate a lot, and you have to keep up the supply. Bananas also need high humidity to be happy. Lots of nitrogen and potassium, think Chicken manure here. The most common cause of death for bananas is lack of water. The most common cause for not getting fruit is starvation. They like lots of warmth, not too hot and not too cold. Temperatures below 28 F may kill plants to the ground. However, new growth usually sprouts from the underground rhizome with the return of warm weather.
One thing to keep in mind is, they are not even trees! Yes, you have heard about the grove of banana trees. Banana trunks consists of all the leaf stalks wrapped around each other. New leaves start growing inside, below the ground. They push up through the middle and emerge from the center of the crown. So does the flower, which finally turns into a bunch of bananas. A banana plant takes about 9 months to grow up and produce a bunch of bananas. Then the mother plant dies. But around the base of it are many little baby plants also called pups. You can cut the pups out and plant them and have new banana plants or just leave them to form a thicket.
I mentioned earlier that I grow mine in Containers. You need a really large container! I water it more often and feed it more often than somebody that grows it in the ground. I do this because I rent and I can take it with me when/if I move. I can also change my landscaping around a little easier.
Hopefully, this has encouraged you to go out and try growing a banana. Even those in the bitter cold up North can give it a whirl. I will leave you with the wisdom of my friend at Simply Bananas.....After all...doesn't everyone want a bigger Banana?
Happy Growing!
Darren

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Grandfather Grapefruit

Everybody loves a good Grapefruit. Okay, maybe not everybody, but a great many people do. The Pomelo (Citrus maxima) is thought to be the ancestor of the grapefruit. It's Grandfather if you will.
Pomelo pronounced [pom-EH-loh] is found spelled pommelo, pumelo, and pompelmous. It is also called Chinese grapefruit, and Shaddock.


Picture courtesy of Gourmetslueth.com

It is the largest of the citrus fruits with a shape that can be fairly round or slightly pointed at one end. They can grow to be as large as a foot in diameter and up to 25 pounds. Though I must admit, I have never seen one that big. It tastes like a sweet, mild grapefruit. Like grapefruits, they can range from almost seedless to very seedy, from juicy to dry, from sweet to sour. Pomelos commonly have 16 to 18 segments, compared to most grapefruit that have about 12 segments. There is some labor involved in eating one, it is worth the effort to peel a good pomelo, skin the segments, and eat the juicy pulp. The skinned segments can be broken apart and used in salads and desserts or made into preserves. The extracted juice makes an excellent drink. The peel is sometimes used to make marmalade, or candied, then dipped in chocolate.
The pomelo is native to southeastern Asia and all of Malaysia, it grows wild on the river banks in the Fiji and Friendly Islands. It may have been introduced into China around 100 B.C. The first seeds are believed to have been brought to the New World late in the 17th Century by a Captain Shaddock who stopped at Barbados on his way to England. Hence the reason it is also known as a Shaddock. There are some 22 named cultivars of Pomelo. The Chandler is a Californian variety, with a smoother skin than many other varieties. It is probably the most widely known variety and available in stores today.
You can propagate them from seed. Seedlings usually differ little from their parents and therefore most Pomelos in the Orient are grown this way. Usually the best varieties are grafted or air layered however.
Pomelos may flower 2 to 4 times a year. Other than that, they can be grown just like any other Citrus tree. A unique quality about Pomelos is the fruits keep for long periods and ship well because of the thick peel. After 3 months, the peel will be deeply wrinkled but the pulp will be juicier and of more appealing flavor than in the fresh fruit. If stored too long though, they may become bitter.
I encourage you to find and try a Pomelo. Plant some seeds and grow one for yourself. Bear in mind however, the seedlings could take as much as 10 years to produce fruit. I'll wait.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Mole or A Cricket?

BOTH! Well, not really. Today's topic is the Mole Cricket. I was outside working today and I was emptying some dead pots. I was surprised when a Mole Cricket came out of one of them. It was only a three gallon pot and it was a big one. I wanted to know more about these nasty little creatures.
There are three species of mole crickets in the southeastern U.S.and they are considered a serious plant pest.


Tawny Mole Cricket (Scapteriscus vicinus)


Southern Mole Cricket (Scapteriscus borellii)


Shortwinged Mole Cricket (Scapteriscus abbreviatus)

Mole crickets can damage plants by feeding at night on above ground foliage or stem tissue and below ground on roots and tubers. The list of plants they damage is very extensive, Commonly injured plants include tomato, strawberry, beet, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrot, cauliflower, collard, eggplant, kale, lettuce, onion, pepper, potato, spinach, sweet potato, turnip, chufa, peanut, sugar cane, tobacco, such flowers as coleus, chrysanthemum, and gypsophila, as well as weeds such as pigweed. I will bet you grow at least one or two of these. As they tunnel through the soil, they uproot plants, which dry out and die. I guess you could say they help a little by aerating your soil, but the damage they inflict completely negates the positive.
Mole crickets spend the winter in deep burrows in the soil. Once the soil warms up and the night temperatures maintain about 60 degrees they start to become active, usually in March and April. .
Female mole crickets lay eggs in chambers beneath the soil surface in spring and early summer. The eggs begin hatching during May and early June. Nymphs feed and develop during the summer. There is one generation a year, although egg laying and hatching may be spread out over several weeks.
To determine if you have Mole Crickets, use a soap drench. Mix 2 tablespoons of any lemon scented liquid dish soap in 1 gallon of water. Pour the soapy water onto 1 to 2 square feet of your lawn. Any mole crickets present will surface in a few minutes. After the test, water the area very well to avoid scorching the turf in the sun.
Mole Crickets do have some natural enemies. Among them are toads and some lizards, birds and armadillos. They are usually not very effective though.
To control them use one of the many products on the market. Make sure you read the labels and use only what is labeled for Mole Crickets.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Naughty Gnats

I started a lot of seeds this year, mainly Tomatoes and Peppers. I seem to have also planted an unwanted guest. Fungus Gnats!
Fungus gnats thrive in damp, moist environments. You know, kind of like what you need to start seedlings. They are also a common houseplant pest. The larvae can cause serious damage and even death to young houseplants and new seedlings. However, Fungus gnats are typically harmless to healthy mature plants, they are just no fun to have living inside your home.
The adults are small (1/8 inch long), mosquito-like insects, with long legs and antennae.
They look like this:


Shown MUCH larger than actual size!

The fungus gnat's life cycle from egg to adult may be completed in as little as three to four weeks depending on temperature. Eggs are laid in cracks and crevices in the media surface and mature in four to six days. Fungus gnat larvae feed and develop for about two weeks at 72 degrees. Basically, the temperature you probably keep your home. After four to five days, adults emerge. Overlapping and continuous generations make control difficult.
Recent studies have shown that fungus gnats may be introduced in soiless media.
One of the best ways to control them is to make sure your soil completely dries out between waterings, and get rid of decaying stems and leaves. Don't let your plants become too stressed for water though. Other ways to control them include, watering with a solution of Bacillus thuringiensis, an organic control for caterpillars, to kill insect larvae. If the infestation gets too bad, you can drench the soil with a solution of pyrethrin, an organic pesticide made from chrysanthemums. Make sure you read and follow the directions. Always try the least toxic method of pest control as your first step.
I will be putting the plants outside soon. I have started to allow the soil to dry out a little more between waterings. Hopefully soon, I will be able to say no more naughty gnats!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

To Toil in the Soil

I did a lecture out at one of the local high schools today on growing Citrus in our area. For the most part, they were very attentive. There were a couple that really didn't seem that interested, but that's okay, it is high school after all.
The ones that seemed interested asked some very good questions. One in particular had to do with using a soiless medium in containers. Both the teacher and I thought this was an excellent question. Why do we use a soiless medium instead of good old garden soil?
Well, there a numerous reasons. To begin with, I don't care how good your soil is it will not provide adequate drainage, and over time it will become compacted. This will cause it to not have enough oxygen and interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Garden soil also tends to have clay in it which when dry resists water. When this happens the soil will tend to pull away from the sides of the pot, watering then becomes a real challenge as the water will just run down the sides and out the drainage holes.
There is also the hazard of introducing different non beneficial organisms. Potting mix that you buy in the bag has been sterilized to keep from introducing fungi, weeds, insects, nemetodes, etc.
So what exactly is a soiless potting mix?
The potting mixes you buy in a garden center are comprised of three basic ingredients: Peat moss, Pine bark, and either perlite or vermiculite.
Peat moss comes from the peat bogs of the northern United States and Canada. There are some peat bogs in the southern US, but the quality usually isn't as good.
Pine Bark comes from paper mills from all over and acts to provide moisture and fertilizer retention. It also gives a little more air space to the roots.
Perlite & Vermiculite are both volcanic in origin and are put into potting mix to provide additional air space. It is also used to lighten the mix up so it is not as dense and heavy. I have seen people use very small pieces of styrofoam to lighten it up and give more air space also.
One last piece of advice. Have you ever run out of potting soil in the middle of planting and had to improvise or go out and get some? Only to find out you have to get a different kind because they were out of what you were using?! I know I have. Make sure you mix the two different types or kinds of soil very well. You will have a better mix this way. If you just put one kind of potting mix on top of a completely different one and don’t mix them together there is the possibility that if the two mixes are different enough your plants will have a hard time growing down through one mix and into the other. The top mix might be heavier and compact the bottom soil for example. Thus, not allowing root penetration or air and water. It is kind of the same thing with planting in the ground. When you dig the hole, mix together at least part of the soil you took out with whatever you were wanting to add. If you don't, the roots may blow through the nice soft soil, then, when it gets to the garden soil they may start to curl around, like in a container. Basically creating a rootbound plant. Water can also sit in the bottom of the hole, like a tub.
I hope this has answered any questions about WHY you should use a potting mix instead of your garden soil. Your plants will thank you for reading this!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

AG Day...March 20th

I had never heard of National Ag Day until I received my latest Florida Grower E-mail today. Apparently this sounds like a fun thing and VERY educational. SO,being that one of my goals for this Blog and being a Master Gardener is education, I thought I would spend some time on it today.
What is it? It's a day to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture. Every year, producers, agricultural associations, corporations, universities, government agencies and countless others across America join together to recognize the contributions of agriculture.
Here are just some of the key reasons why it's important to recognize - and celebrate - Ag Day each year:
The National Ag Day program believes that every American should:
1) Understand how food, fiber and renewable resource products are
produced.
2) Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong
economy.
3) Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant
and affordable products.
4) Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the
agriculture, food, fiber and renewable resource industries.
Increased knowledge of agriculture and nutrition allows individuals to make informed personal choices about diet and health.
Agriculture provides almost everything we eat, use and wear on a daily basis. But too few people truly understand this contribution. This is particularly the case in our schools, where students may only be exposed to agriculture if they enroll in related vocational training. If you want proof of this, ask a school age child some easy questions:
1) Where does Milk come from? I bet you will get all kinds of crazy answers like, "The grocery store" "My mother brings it home" or "The container in the refrigerator".
OR
2) Where do Peanuts grow? I guarantee there will be at least one that says "On Trees".
OR
3) If you really want to have some fun, ask them what paper is made of? The blank stares you will get say volumes!

Agriculture is extremely important to this country. Here are some of the interesting facts I found:
* Agriculture is America's #1 export.
* U.S. farmers and ranchers produce more than 200 raw commodities yearly for domestic and export markets.
* One farmer produces enough food to feed about 144 people in the United States and abroad compared with just 25.8 people in 1960.
* Agriculture generates 20% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product.
* One-fourth of the world's beef and nearly one-fifth of the world's grain, milk and eggs are produced in the U.S.

If you would like to learn more about National Ag day, go to: http://www.agday.org/
I encourage you to find an event in your area on March 20th. If you can't find one, maybe just pause for a moment or two to think about all the wonderful things that Agriculture does for you on a daily basis. Things such as, the cotton in the clothes you wear. The food you eat. The lumber in the house you live in. The list is very extensive. If you happen to come face to face with a farmer, shake his (or her) hand and tell them Thank You!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's About Bloomin' Time!

I wanted to give you a little inspiration today. Spring is finally really starting to show it's head. So, I wanted to share a few Camellias that are blooming in my yard right now. They are all in containers, in case you were wondering.



Camellia japonica 'Something Beautiful'


Camellia japonica 'Mathotiana'


Camellia japonica 'Nuccios Gem'


Camellia japonica 'Mathotiana Variegated'


Camellia japonica 'Betty Sheffield'


Camellia japonica 'Dubonnet'


Camellia non-reticulata hybrid 'Taylors Perfection'

These are just some of the Camellias that are blooming right now. I have really gotten into growing them. Currently my collection stands at 19 named varieties. I have a couple that I am still trying to identify.
I hope this gives you some inspiration for the coming season, it does me every time I walk out my front door!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Quit Bugging Me!!

According to research there are more than one million insect species that have been identified, and nearly 100,000 live in North America. Lucky us! I swear I have at least one of everything in my yard!! However, only a few damage landscape plants. The most common plant pests are aphids, mealybugs, scales, white flies, thrips, spider mites and caterpillars. All of which I am sure you have dealt with at one time or another. Aphids, mealybugs, scales and whiteflies have needlelike mouthparts to pierce plant tissues and feed on plant sap. Literally sucking the life out of your plant. It is common for foliage infested with these insects to be covered with a black sooty mold. The reason for this is because they secrete a sugary product known as honeydew. Sooty mold indicates pests are present. Ants are also a good indicator of the presence of insects. They feed on honeydew, and often care for and protect the insects that produce it.
I just did a lecture at the Carolina Yard Experience on Integrated Pest Management, also known as "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly". The gist of my lecture was, Allow the beneficial insects to do their work. Ladybugs and lacewings are common predators that feed on piercing-sucking plant pests. If you don't use a lot of broad based insecticides these GOOD insects will help control the other BAD insects.
I touched on a few bad insects there and I will do so here.

Aphids:

Courtesy of University of California

Aphids may be winged or wingless. They have pear-shaped bodies. They are usually green but may be yellow, black, red or other colors. Aphids attack succulent young leaves, and they typically congregate on the undersides of growth. You will know that you have an aphid problem when you see leaves becoming twisted or distorted, lots of ants and sooty mold. To help control them and give your good bugs a little help, Fertilize and water moderately to avoid excessive new growth. Flush aphids from branch tips with a garden hose. Insecticidal soaps do little damage to aphid enemies. A few aphids should be tolerated because they are a good food source for beneficial insects. Think of it as leaving a little snack for your friends.

Mealybugs:



Mealybugs are small insects that have soft bodies and well-developed legs. Their bodies are covered by a powdery, white, wax coating that may also surround their egg masses. They attack leaves, twigs and roots. Mealies are usually pretty easy to spot, but if you see white waxy deposits, sooty mold on foliage, and lots of ants there is a good chance you have them. To control them, Horticultural oil and insecticidal soaps may be applied as a spray. Again, these will be less toxic to your beneficial friends. Control can be difficult however, because mealybugs like to hide in tight, hard-to-reach places and protect themselves with wax deposits.

Whiteflies:



Adults appear as white specks on plants. They deposit lots of eggs on the underside of leaves. Stationary larvae are oval, flat, transparent to greenish in color when they are alive, and dull white when dead. You know you have Whitefly when you brush up against the plant and it looks like a upward bound snowstorm. The top sides of leaves become pale or spotted. You have lots of Ants, and sooty mold. Some whiteflies have developed tolerance to pesticides. Insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils are effective and of course, environmentally friendly. There is another environmentally safe way to control Whitefly, yellow boards smeared with oil will trap many of these insects.

Spider mites:



Spider Mites are tiny, have oval bodies and are about the size of this period. They may be red, yellow, greenish or spotted. Adults spin loose webs on foliage and reproduce rapidly in hot weather. The Injury they do looks like light-colored dots, which gives leaves a dull, gray-green, stippled appearance, fine, loose spider webs and ashy looking residues. You will need a magnifying glass to see these tiny little insects. These guys are difficult to get rid of because mites multiply quickly, they develop pesticide tolerance when the same product is used over and over again. Alternate horticultural oil with insecticidal soap. Use a garden hose to dislodge mites from plants. If you must use a chemical, make sure it is labeled for Spider Mites or arachnids.
As always, make sure you follow label directions!! I can not emphasize this enough, it is the law!
Hopefully, this will give you some idea of what to look for and what to do for them. I didn't get to lecture in front of very many people, but I sure talked to a lot! They were more interested in my Aluminum Can Permanent Plant Tags, (See, Tag You're It, in the February listing of my blog).
Happy Growing!
Darren

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Deep Seeded Question

Well, just got home from the Carolina Yard Experience. It was a long day, but definitely a success. There was 572 people came through the gate for gardening and other yard information. I talked to many good folks, gave a couple of good lectures and demonstrated how to make permanent plant tags out of aluminum cans (see Tag Your It on this blog site).
I had one woman come up to me and ask about starting seeds. She had planted some 5 weeks ago and nothing came up. Also repeated the process two weeks ago with the same result. I was puzzled. Surely SOMETHING had to come up, even with very old seeds. She assured me they were fresh, she had just bought them. She was giving them warmth and good light. After about a dozen more questions, I finally found the answer. She was using a soiless potting mix, that was hydrophobic. It is basically afraid of water. She had planted the seeds and when she tried to water them, the water just sat on top. She then proceeded to just mist the plants every couple of days. The seeds never received any moisture to germinate. I got her straightened out and sent her on her way. I wondered how many other people have trouble with starting plants from seeds.
Here is the Readers Digest version.

Commercial seed-starting mixes, usually composed of vermiculite and peat, without any true soil, are recommended for starting seeds. They're sterile, lightweight and free from weed seeds, with a texture and porosity especially suited to the needs of germinating seeds and tiny seedlings.
You can use a flat, tray, pot, egg or cottage cheese carton or any other kind of container that has drainage. (Be sure to punch drainage holes in the cottage cheese cartons.) Make sure the containers are clean. Wood, plastic and clay pots can be brushed and cleansed with a solution of 10% bleach and 90% water, if they are moldy or slimy.

Set the cell flats or containers into a solid tray, fill them with potting mix, and water the mix before sowing seeds. The potting mix will settle down into the containers, sometimes dramatically so. Add more potting mix and water again, until the containers or cells are nearly full. Then sow the seeds according to the package directions.

Transplants grown indoors need adequate light. Under low light conditions, vegetable seedlings become leggy and weak and tend to topple over when they are a few inches tall. A total of 16 to 18 hours of light (natural and artificial) is required to produce stocky seedlings.

Containers can be placed near a south-facing window and receive supplemental light provided by fluorescent lights. Seedlings can be grown under fluorescent lights alone. Forty watt, 48-inch long fluorescent tubes, with a timer, placed 2 to 4 inches above the seedlings is an adequate set-up. Consider attaching aluminum foil from the light fixture to reflect light onto the plants.

Seedlings growing in soiless mixes need to be fertilized when the first true leaves appear. Feed at every other watering with a water-soluble starter fertilizer to promote faster plant growth and until the plants are ready to plant outdoors. Wash the seedlings with plain water to remove any fertilizer from the leaves. Water between feedings with plain water to prevent any salt from accumulating in the media. Seedlings growing in mixes containing compost, rotted manure or commercially prepared soil may not need to be fertilized.

Water the transplants when they are slightly wilting. Stop watering when water runs out of the bottom of the container. For soilless media, determine the need for watering by squeezing the top half-inch of media between the thumb and forefinger. If water squeezes out easily, there is adequate moisture; if the medium feels slightly moist but water is difficult to squeeze out, water should be added.

Before the transplants are moved into the garden, they need to be hardened off. To condition plants to growing outdoors, set the seedlings outdoors during the day and bring them inside before sundown. The plants should be gradually exposed to more direct sun to avoid injuring the plants. Outside, the seedlings are exposed to varying temperatures, more direct sunlight, drying winds and greater moisture stress. The transplants will produce a cuticle on leaf and stem surfaces to reduce water loss. Continue this routine for two to three weeks to condition the seedlings. This adjustment may result in a temporary slow-down of growth, but it helps the plant successfully adapt to outdoor conditions. The adjustment must be gradual or the plant will be damaged, resulting in delayed growth, retarded fruiting and reduced yields when the plants are set out. Before being planted in the garden, transplants can also be moved to a hotbed, coldframe or other outdoor location where there will be plenty of sunshine, adequate ventilation and suitable temperature.

I hope this answers any questions or solves any problems you may have. Buying seeds is so much cheaper and there is a MUCH larger selection of varieties out there. Check online or your favorite garden catalog and try something new this year! The box stores can carry just so many plants and most of the time it is just the basics.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Eve of THE EXPERIENCE


Well, it's the eve of the Carolina Yard Experience. If you don't know what it is, or are deciding whether to go or not, read on for all the insights.
Come join Clemson Extension Tri-county Master Gardeners, Clemson's Carolina Clear Program, the Ashley Cooper Stormwater Education Consortium, Charleston, Berkeley & Dorchester County Recycling, DHEC, and the Charleston Exchange Park for the first ever Tri-County Carolina Yard Experience!
Based on the Carolina Yards & Neighborhoods program, this event will inspire participants to create attractive and healthy yards by working with the
environment, rather than against it. This is a free, environmental event focused on the home landscape-including environmentally friendly gardening
practices, recycling, rainwater harvesting, pond management and much more! Hands-on demonstrations and educational displays by county extension agents and Master Gardeners.
If that is not enough to get you to come, here are some of the things that are actually happening.
What to bring:
An electronic for recycling. Items such as Home and office equipment: CPUs, monitors (color and b/w), laptops, hard drives, keyboards, mice, printers, copiers, scanners, fax machines, adding machines, calculators, telephones, cell and cordless phones, PDAs, pagers and shredders.
Audio visual equipment: TVs, VCRs, stereos, radios, camcorders, CD players, DVD players and cassette players.

Hazardous Household Materials for recycling. These include: Household Cleaners and Polishes, Pesticides and Repellents, Paints and Solvents.
A bucket and shovel for your free compost. There will be a mound of compost available for the public to load up on as much compost as they want!
Lawnmower blade for sharpening. Someone will be on hand to sharpen lawnmower blades so that your lawnmower can run better and longer.
Sample of your soil to get free advice on the health of your soil.
Lastly…. The Lawn Mower Exchange
Trade in your gas powered lawnmower for an electric lawnmower at a discounted price at the Second Annual Lawn Mower Exchange held in the parking lot from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Demonstrations, Lectures and Seminars:
10:00 AM -- Carolina Yards and Neighborhoods Overview-Water Smart Landscaping
11:00 AM -- Pond Management 101
11:00 AM -- The Good, Bad and Ugly...In the Garden: Integrated Pest Management
12:00 PM -- Environmentally Friendly Turf Management
1:00 PM -- The Good, Bad, and Ugly...In the Garden: Integrated Pest Management
11:30 AM -- Saving a Rainy Day: Rainwater Harvesting 101
12:30 PM -- Rain Garden Installation
1:00 PM -- Beautiful Borders: Installing Vegetative Buffers
All Day Long Demonstrations:
Garden Zone:
Secrets to Great Container Gardening
Plant Crimes: Victim or Perpetrator--Tree and Shrub Management
Lasagna Gardening
Proper Fertilizer and Pesticide Application and Safety
Water Zone:
Pervious Hardscaping
Green Roofs
On the Water: Boat Maintenance
Rainwater Cistern Technology
Plant Zone:
Ask a Master Gardener
Wheel of Horticulture
SC Native and Well-Adaptive Plant Sale
Carolina Yard Zone:
Vegetable Gardening
Self-Guided Tours
Compost Zone:
Composting Methods and Demonstrations
Composter Display
Wildlife Zone:
Bird and Butterfly Garden Installation
Kid Zone:
Build-Your-Own Pine Cone Bird feeder
Parsley Planting
Storm Drain Marking
Displays in the Ag Building:
Charleston Water Systems
Community Pride
SC Amphibian, Arachnid and Reptile Society
Charleston County Mosquito Control
Fields to Families
Berkeley County Water and Sanitation
Clemson DPI/Invasive Plants
Dorchester County Recycling
Charleston County Recycling
Berkeley County Recycling
What will be for sale:
Master Gardener Books
Master Gardener plants
Mepkin Abbey Native Plants
Come ready to eat!
The Hanahan Band Boosters will be selling food so come check it out!

As you can see, this is going to be an event filled day. The weather, I hope, is going to co-operate....I think it will. This event has been in the planning stages since February 2009. Please come on out! I look forward to seeing everybody at THE EXPERIENCE!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Thursday, March 11, 2010

HomeGROWN Upside Down Cake

One of my favorite tropical fruits to grow, other than Citrus, are Pineapples. They are easy to grow, look really cool, and provide me with some of my favorite cake ingredients.
First, a little history and information about Ananas comosus, Pineapple.
The pineapple is the leading edible member of the family Bromeliaceae or Bromeliads.
Native to southern Brazil and Paraguay area where wild relatives occur, the pineapple was apparently domesticated by the Indians and carried by them up through South and Central America to Mexico and the West Indies long before the arrival of Europeans. Christopher Columbus and his shipmates saw the pineapple for the first time on the island of Guadeloupe in 1493 and then again in Panama in 1502. Caribbean Indians placed pineapples or pineapple crowns outside the entrances to their dwellings as symbols of friendship and hospitality. Spaniards introduced the pineapple into the Philippines and may have taken it to Hawaii and Guam early in the 16th Century.
I can find evidence of some 36 different varieties of Pineapple. There quite possibly could be more than that!
Growing them is easy. The pineapple is a tropical or near tropical plant. A temperature range of 65°-95°F is best, though the plant can tolerate cool nights for short periods. That is the official temperature range by the "experts". Keep in mind, I am a zone 8 and mine have actually gone down to 33 degrees in my greenhouse. They don't seem to be bothered very much. The pictures are the proof of that!





These are being grown in containers.

Rainfall should be about 45 inches per year, though the pineapple is drought tolerant and will produce fruit with as little as 25 inches , depending on cultivar, location and degree of atmospheric humidity.
The best soil for pineapple is a well-drained, sandy loam with a high content of organic matter. The pH should be within a range of 4.5 to 6.5.
Rooting one is fairly easy, though I will admit, this IS the trickiest part.
First, buy a pineapple at the grocery store. Get one that has some nice green leaves on top. If they have been trimmed, that is no problem. Cut off the top of the pineapple about 1/2 inch below the cluster of leaves. The pineapple top should then be allowed to dry for several days. Just a side note here, I accidentally left a pineapple top to dry for 6 weeks in a spare room of the house, and it still rooted. I don't recommend this, but just wanted to let you know there is no "set" time limit.
After drying, insert the pineapple top into perlite, vermiculite, coarse sand or any combination of these that you prefer, up to the base of its leaves. Keep the rooting medium moist, but not wet, during the rooting period. Rooting should occur in 6 to 8 weeks, depending on conditions. A little bottom heat will speed things up also. Keep it in bright indirect light for this time. After it has produced some roots, move it out to more dabbled sun for about 2 weeks. After this period of time, move it to full sunlight.
After you get them going, you will want to feed them. Nitrogen is essential to the increase of fruit size and total yield. I use just a balanced fertilizer of 10-10-10. You can use pretty much anything with a high first number.
It will take two to three years to get fruit, depending on how well you take care of it.
Once you get fruit, the way I can tell it is ripe, is by smell. There will be a very heavy scent of pineapple.
I have not had any real pests attack my pineapples. Mealybugs can be a problem, but again, I have not had any.....at least not on the pineapples, I think they prefer the Citrus!
I did come across a few little interesting tidbits while I was researching for this post. When unripe, the pineapple is not only inedible but poisonous, irritating the throat and acting as a drastic purgative. I have tried to eat an unripe Pineapple once. It broke off too early in a storm and I wanted to see if it would be edible. It wasn't even close! I had a piece about the size of a peanut and couldn't even keep it in my mouth, it was very bitter. So, I know I won't have to worry about being poisoned by unripe pineapple, it's too gross to eat.
If the flowers are pollinated, small, hard seeds may be present, but generally one finds only traces of undeveloped seeds. Since hummingbirds are the principal pollinators, these birds are prohibited in Hawaii to avoid the development of undesired seeds.
And finally, Pineapple juice has been employed for cleaning machete and knife blades and, with sand, for scrubbing boat decks. I can only imagine how sticky that deck was. At least no one would fall overboard!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ketchup to a Growing Trend

I was reading an article today that really got me thinking. It was from the electronic version of Growing Produce Magazine. It was discussing the loss that Florida Growers suffered this past January. Here is the article:

The record-breaking cold spell that affected Florida for almost two weeks straight in January hit many growers hard, especially tomato growers. Almost 70% of the early spring crop was destroyed.

Fresh tomato prices have been impacted greatly. Reggie Brown, executive vice president of Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, is reporting that a 25-pound box of tomatoes is trading for $30, compared with $6.45 a year ago. The prices are expected to take a tumble in April as South Florida’s crop, which appears in tact, comes on line.

The current shortage in fresh tomatoes have restaurants scrambling to adjust their menus and/or ration what they have. It also has forced supermarkets to consider more imports.

The very last sentence is what really got me to thinking. "It also has forced supermarkets to consider more imports". There are a lot of problems with this. The sanitation of many foreign countries is WAY below ours. Pesticides used by some countries are forbidden in this country, yet we eat the produce that it is used on from them.
I have been screaming for years, trying to get people to grow more of their own fruits and veggies. It is one of the many reasons I became a Master Gardener.
It truly is not that hard. I hear excuses like,
"I don't have enough room". Well, Tomatoes, Peppers, Okra, Carrots, Herbs, and a whole bunch of other things can be grown on a small scale in containers. I am not saying you will be able to live on what you grow, but you sure can grow enough for a few sides of meals.

"I don't have a green thumb, nothing grows for me". There are more books, websites and helpful information available than ever before. Certainly more than our Grandparents ever had! They just kind of knew and passed it down to the next generation. Sadly, gardening is a dying art! How long does it take to Google "How to Grow XYZ?" Yet, many of these same people can tell you were to find the words to a new song or a secret code to do something in a video game online.

"I don't know what to plant".
This one is easy....what do you like to eat? Beans are a very easy crop to grow. They are very easy to find seeds for. They are very nutritious and are usually very heavy producers. If you don't like beans, there are hundreds of other things.

"I don't have time". Most of the time a little water, the occasional feeding and watching for weeds and bugs is all it takes. For a small garden or a couple of containers, I would bet the average time needed would be about 15 minutes a day. Or at least every other day. While you are drinking your morning coffee, wander the garden or observe the pots. It is therapeutic as well as helpful.

I won't even get into the healthy aspect what of a little exercise will do for you.

There is a huge trend to grow your own veggies right now. Why not jump on the train? The amount of information out there is steady and strong, take advantage of it. Buddy up with your friendly, local Master Gardener. Ask questions, join garden clubs, go to plant swaps...read and pass along my blog. (ha ha) I bet you can/will learn a lot!! Gardeners are some of the most generous people I have EVER met!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Meyer a Lemon


There seems to be a resurgence of wanting to grow Meyer Lemons lately. I have been asked about them a lot. So, I thought I would give you some information about them.
The Meyer Lemon (Citrus × meyeri) was introduced into the United States from China in 1908 by Frank N. Meyer. The fruit more closely resembles an Orange than a Lemon internally as well as externally. It is a cross between a sweet orange and a Lemon. The plant itself has many of the lemon traits such as lemon-scented foliage, a serrated leaf edge, reddish new growth and purple tinged blossoms.
The fruit, however, has many of the characteristics of the sweet orange. The fruit initially turns yellow but then it continues to change to a deep yellow and sometimes even orange. It is a pale orange color with a decent lemon flavor, only sweeter than typical lemons.
Meyer Lemons tend to be a little more cold tolerant than normal lemons. Again, a sign of the sweet orange ancestry.
Here are some important facts to know:
# Meyer Lemon Trees perform best with full sun (at least 8 hours per day).
# Regular water with well drained soil. It does not like wet feet.
# Hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit
# Can grow in a pot to restrict size or in areas that can suffer a heavy freeze.
# Grows to 15 feet tall and wide or larger if planted in the ground.
# Sandy, well-drained soil.
# Low salt tolerance.
# Rounded growth habit.
# Medium rate of growth.
The Meyer Lemon has a thin skin and does not survive shipping well. As a result, the Meyer Lemon is not widely grown by commercial lemon growers.
I personally am not crazy about a Meyer Lemon if it gets too ripe. They are not bad, in my opinion, if they are picked just as they start to turn yellow. But do not go by my tastes, everybody is different. I encourage you to go out and try one. It may just become your favorite Citrus tree.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Monday, March 8, 2010

Why not bring the outside in?

I was asked to do an article on Houseplants. No Problem! I actually did a lecture on houseplants a couple of months ago and produced a handout. It looked something like this:
How to Care for your
HOUSEPLANTS

This leaflet is designed to familiarize you with the basic aspects of Houseplant care rather then attempting to acquaint you with specific cultural requirements of the more than 250 commonly grown plants known as houseplants. They help us stay in touch with nature and, in a sense, "bring the outside indoors."


SELECTING YOUR HOUSEPLANT:
Select only plants which appear to be insect and disease free. Avoid plants which have yellow leaves, brown leaf margins, wilted leaves, spots or blotches and spindly growth. Choose plants that really appeal to you. If you don't like the plant, you won't want to take care of it.

LIGHT: Light is probably the most essential factor for house plant growth. Light levels are classified in four categories: Low, Medium, High and Very High. Few homes have areas with sufficient light levels to grow plants that require Very High Light, so we will concentrate on the other three. High light plants can usually be grown well near windows or glass doors with western or southern exposures. Your Medium and Low Light plants are your best bet for Houseplants. These guys will do well in just about any window in your house.

WATER: Over and Under watering are the two biggest problems of houseplants. The general rule of thumb is: Stick your finger into the soil up to between the first and second knuckle. If moist, don't water, if dry, water. Make sure to give your plants a good drink. Water should be running out of the bottom of the pot.

FERTILIZERS: Use a good household plant food, there are many on the market. Follow the directions on the box. Again, a good rule of thumb is every two months from March until September. Growth slows during Fall and Winter and feeding is not needed.

CONTAINERS AND SOIL: Almost any type of container can be used for your plant. Just make sure your plant fits in it and the plant is not too top heavy so that it falls over. The most important thing to remember is that it have good drainage. Holes punched in the bottom will accomplish this. If you have a very pretty pot you want to display your plant in, but don't want to punch holes in it, no problem. Put your plant in a pot that is a little smaller than your pretty pot. Just remember to empty any water that accumulates in the bottom before returning your plant to the window sill.
Any kind of commercial potting soil will work. Again, you can buy all different kinds at the store. Do not use soil from your garden however. It will turn very hard and has the possibility of introducing weed seeds and insects into your home.

I hope this answered your questions. If there is something more specific you needed info on, please let me know.
Happy Growing!
Darren