Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Container Gardening vs. Raised Bed Gardening

In my book, the winner is raised-bed gardening, hands down.  I prefer to get down in the dirt.  I like the look of a garden in my yard, rather than on my deck.  And for those who have been reading my blog, you know that I don’t do too well with plants in a pot.  I’m not an indoor grower!  (Although, you’ll be happy to know that my spider plant is thriving in the dining room.)

Preferences aside, is there a difference?  Sure, if you’re short on yard space, or have no yard at all, even a balcony is perfect for gardening.  All types of city dwellers have gardens on their balconies and roofs.  And I applaud their creativity and success.  However, given the option, I still believe that in the ground is the best option.

I’ve heard that a goldfish will grow to the size of its bowl/aquarium.  My son’s goldfish remains small to match the bowl he lives in.  And the beets in the pot on my deck are proof as well.  The same beets we’re growing at the elementary school in a raised bed are twice the size!  As for my sugar snap peas, last year I grew them in a pot with a tomato cage stuck in the dirt.  It looked rather sloppy, but they grew and I was happy.  This year I planted the same type of seed in my raised bed and clearly did not anticipate the yield!  Last year’s plant was about 3 feet tall and I harvested a handful of sugar snap peas.  For a first-timer, I thought that was good.  This year, in my raised bed, the plant is massive!  We returned from Memorial weekend to find that it had surpassed me in height and the pods currently growing are too many to count.  I have to wonder if it just wanted more room to grow.  I’m now hoping it finishes soon so I can harvest and pull the plant.  It’s hogging up the sun from the tomatoes planted nearby.  So if you have the room to grow in a garden, my non-scientific research points to that being your best option for the most harvest!

leftover raindrops make them so appealing!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pennsylvania Gardener's Guide, book review

Continuing with the last blog about the plants/flowers that are native to our area, I have to recommend one of my favorite books.  Pennsylvania Gardener's Guide, by Liz Ball, is a great book for anyone living in Pennsylvania.  It's always fun to plant something from out of your area, however, if you want to know what's easy to grow in PA, just open the book and pick from one of the MANY species native to our neck of the woods.  If you're from outside of Pennsylvania, just search Amazon for a book on your own area.  There's many out there.

Pennsylvania Gardener's Guide is a must have for the PA gardener.  I have referred to the book many times prior to purchasing plants and even afterwards.  Imagine having all those little descriptive plastic spikes that come with the flowers, assembled into one book.  In here, you'll find sections on:  Annuals, Bulbs, Grasses, Ground Covers, Perennials, Shrubs, Trees, Vines and Water Plants.  Under each section are the most common ones for Pennsylvania. 

Once you've found your particular plant you're looking for, the book gives all the advice you'll need from planting, care, growing and other great facts about it's history or companion plantings.  Each page also gives the sun/shade preference, bloom time and mature height and spread.  These are great facts to have prior to a trip to the nursery.  I highly recommend the book.  Remember, if you plant what's natural for your area, you'll have greater success at growing it too!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Native Plants: Rhododendrons at Home in the Northeast US

Rhododendrons surrounding the waterfall
For Mother's Day, our family went hiking into the Lehigh Valley Gorge area via Jim Thorpe, PA.  It was a wonderful day of getting out and back to nature.  Along with all the water (waterfalls, rivers, lake, streams, etc.), which was the whole reason I picked this area for Mother’s Day, was the beauty growing all around us.  And most surprising were the MANY rhododendrons growing wild in the mountains.  This wasn’t the first time I’d seen them growing wild.  On another hike near White Haven, it appeared to be a whole forest of rhododendron just waiting to bloom.  I wished we had been there a few weeks later and seen a whole forest lit up with the colors of the blossoms.  Again, this past weekend, I was not so lucky to match the timing of our visit with the blooming. 

However, I did walk away with a respect for what nature does on its own.  So often we focus on the newest plant hybrid or the latest methods for growing our plants bigger and better.  We “shop” for the ones that are deer-resistant, pest-resistant, award-winners, drought-tolerant, and on and on.  Meanwhile, God already designed the plants to grow without any help at all…in their own habitats.  The rhododendrons were growing out of rocks!  (That tops the clay soil of my PA yard!)  They were growing under tall trees, fighting for the same sun and rain.  Complementing the landscape could be seen fields of purple and white phlox.  They were also in their native habitat. 

So while it’s important to pay attention to the labels and conditions when buying new plants, we need to worry less about “perfecting” our gardens when the plants are native to our specific area.  I have a rhododendron in my garden, and now that I think of it, I rarely need to tend to it.  After all, it’s not just at home in my yard, but the Northeast US is its native home also!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Harvesting Leafy Vegetables: Easy Cheat Sheet

After an unintended hiatus of hosting and then illness among family members, I'm back in time to harvest.  Being the month of May, it is now harvest time for most of the cold weather crops that went into the ground in March.  Over at the elementary school where we are doing raised beds for the local foodbank, it is also harvest week.  Therefore, it’s the perfect time for a reminder about harvesting leafy vegetables.  Here’s just a simple cheat sheet.

1.  Cut and come again types (Loose leaf lettuce, Pak Choi, Gourmet leafy lettuce, Kale):  Cut the whole vegetable to within 1” of the ground.  The plant will then resprout at least one more time, maybe two.  If the weather doesn’t get too hot, you might get 3 harvests out of one plant.

2.  Head (Romaine, cabbage, iceberg):  Unlike the “cut and come again” varieties, the head lettuces only provide one harvest.  When fully mature, harvest the whole plant.

3.  Harvest outer leaves:  (Swiss chard, spinach):  Pick outer leaves often to encourage resprouting.  This allows for harvesting many times throughout the season.

Enjoy your've earned it!  Pass the salad dressing and dig in!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In Praise of Mulch: Why Mulch?

Everywhere I go, I see fresh mulch being laid down.  There’s the bags of individual mulch being wheeled around, the large deliveries of mulch brought by truck to a driveway, and even my favorite, the mulch blower.  You know the blowers.  They’re the ones that are from professional landscaping businesses that have the giant hose with mulch spewing out.  I would love one of those guys to come do my garden someday. 

Yes, it’s that time of year for mulch.  Besides the mulch that includes manure, it generally has a pleasant smell.  It’s the smell of spring and turning over a new garden.  It makes the appearance of a garden fresh again.  Beyond that, mulch also keeps the weeds down and adds nutrients to the soil.  And most importantly, in the heat of summer, mulch helps to maintain moisture.  So open a bag or get a dump truck delivered.  It’s mulching season!