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Organic Gardening Tips
Terra Viva Organics

Website Update
Start Healthy Tomatoes
Pollinating Your Garden
Grow Perennial Herbs from Seed
Chickweed Herb Pasta

Website Update

Planting in the favorable signs and phases of the moon can improve the strength and vigor of your plants, and give them every advantage by working with the natural energy of the moon. Just as the moon pulls the ocean tides, it also pulls the smaller bodies of water, causing moisture to rise closer to the surface during the waxing (increasing) moon, or drawing the roots down in the waning moon.

Terra Viva Organics is now providing a calendar that pulls all the information together for your climate, and keeps you on track for a more productive vegetable garden. The calendar has these features:

  • The best phase and sign of the moon for planting and cultivating
  • Lists when vegetable and flower seeds can be started in flats or set out in the garden
  • Monthly reminders of seasonal garden activities
  • Shows daily moon phase and sign, time of full and new moon
  • Three climate versions for short, medium and long growing seasons.

Start Healthy Tomatoes

by Arzeena Hamir

Tomatoes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow from seed. However, unless you live in the tropics, your summers are probably too short to direct seed these heat loving plants. Starting tomato seeds indoors gives them a jump on the season, especially with late maturing varieties. Start seed 6-8 weeks before your last frost. Check if you'd like to check your frost dates.

Tomato seeds themselves are easy to handle and can be planted in any type of container you have around the house: yogurt containers, milk cartons, etc. Try not to use too small of a container (egg cartons for example) or else you'll be watering more frequently.

The key to starting tomato seed is to keep the seed moist. Pre-moisten the potting mix so that it's wet but not soggy. When you squeeze it in your hand, no water should come out. The soil should form a ball that falls apart when you poke it. Fill your container and place 1 or 2 seeds on top, covering them lightly with more soil. Next, cover the container with either a plastic dome or saran wrap. Not only does covering prevent the soil from drying out, it prevents you from overwatering the soil as the seed is germinating.

In addition to moisture, warm temperature is the key ingredient to helping tomato seeds germinate. At 75-80 F, seedlings will emerge in just 3-5 days. Bottom heat is best so place your containers in a warm spot like on top of the water heater or even on top of the VCR. Alternatively, you can use heating cables or a heating mat under the containers.

Once the seedlings are up, move them off the heat and provide them with lots of light. If you have a bright, south-facing window, keep them there. However, if you notice that your seedlings are getting lanky, it's an indication that you need to provide supplemental light. Grow lights or fluorescent shop lights can be used to keep plants short & stocky. Suspend them close to the plants, no more than 4" from the top of the leaves.

Once the seedlings have developed at least one set of true set of leaves, pot them up into their own individual containers. Each time you do this, add some fertilizer to the soil mix. I find worm casts to be a great source of organic nutrients that won't burn the seedlings. Other options include compost or half-strength fish fertilizer.

Each time you pot up your seedlings, take off the bottom two sets of leaves and bury the entire stem. Why? Tomatoes have this wonderful ability to sprout roots along their stems. They are, after all, related to potatoes. Burying the stem & stimulating more root production ensures that the seedling has a well-established root system that will withstand the fluctuating moisture conditions in the garden.

Pollinating Your Garden

by Taren Urquhart

Have you ever seen what you suspect to be a blue bottle fly entering that small hole at the bottom of your screen door or investigating nail holes left in your house siding? What you probably saw was not a fly but in fact a bee!

Blue Orchard Mason Bees (Osmia Lignaria Propinqua Cresson) find nesting holes in the most unlikely places. Since they cannot excavate their own holes, they depend on others for nest sites. Woodpecker drillings, hollow stems, roof shingles, BBQ handles, and wind chimes are just a few places these resourceful bees use to their advantage.

Now you are probably wondering what does all this have to do with gardening? Well in two words: Pollination Power! While one third of all the food we consume in a day has been pollinated by some hard working insect, many urban gardeners are having trouble adequately pollinating their own fruit trees and berry bushes. In recent years, the honeybee has come under attack by several predatory mites.

Mason Bees have been able to withstand these mites. Most gardeners will find that them and other solitary bees are already present in their neighbourhood; providing them with a plentiful food supply, and a dry and clean nesting hole can attract them. These bees are very docile and do not bite, they are smaller than a honeybee and are black in colour with a blue iridescent sheen. Since they are solitary they do not swarm, but sadly they do not make honey.

The season begins in late March with the newly hatched female mating and locating a suitable nest. She then begins the tedious process of collecting nectar and pollen to make a lump of "bee bread" which she places at the back of her nesting hole. She lays one egg on this food supply and then constructs a mud wall, securing the developing offspring within its own chamber. After repeating this process several times she will reach the end of the tube and cap the end with a final thick mud plug. In order to provide her offspring with suitable protection from predators, she intentionally lays female eggs first, in the back cells, with males at the front. Production of female progeny is most important in continuing the species and they are best protected when concealed behind several hapless males!

Blue Orchard Mason Bees are fascinating insects and will provide you with hours of enjoyment during the spring and summer months. I invite you to welcome these bees into your garden this spring and they will repay you with the very important and essential service of pollination.

Grow Perennial Herbs from Seed

by Sharon Hanna

Why grow your own perennial herbs from seed? Well, for one thing, you can make hundreds of lavender or rosemary plants for a few dollars. In addition it is gratifying to grow something which is not particularly easy.

Most 'woody' perennial herbs are native to rocky/sandy semi-arid geographical areas such as the seacoast of southern Italy or Greece. The sharp drainage makes woody herbs very happy - try to duplicate these conditions yourself when you grow them. This means they absolutely cannot stand to have wet feet, especially cold, wet feet.

Start perennial herb seeds in early spring. For better germination, "stratify" the seeds. This freezing and thawing duplicates nature, and aids in breaking down the hard seed coat. Place required number of seeds in a wet paper towel, and inside a baggie. Place everything in the freezer, and leave it for two or three days. Remove, thaw, then repeat cycle.

To sow seed, mix 1 part sand to 2 parts moistened seed starter mix. Clay pots are perfect for germination, since water is less likely to be retained than in plastic pots. Sow seeds sparingly, barely covering. Do not add additional water! Secure plastic bag over seed pots and set in a warm, bright, well-ventilated place indoors or in a greenhouse.

Germination will be uneven in 7 to 30 days. Observe your seeds daily, and when seedlings emerge, remove the plastic bag.

Woody herbs grow slowly, especially at first. Always water them sparingly. After they are about 2-3 weeks old, they would like a bit of compost or manure tea or really watered down kelp or fish fertilizer. When the little herbs approach about 1 inch tall and are nicely leafed out, and you feel confident you can handle them, knock the pot bottom to loosen the roots. Gently remove the plants, roots and all.

You'll see that the roots have put on a LOT of growth compared to what you see above the ground. Carefully repot at the same level they were in the original pot - do not bury the 'crown' of the plant under the soil. 4" pots work well, either clay or plastic is fine. The soil mixture should be on the sandy side, not too composty. Don't put them out into the garden soil until they are about 4-6" high - most likely they'll be ready to go in at the end of the summer, around August or early September.

Feed your woody herbs occasionally with dilute organic fertilizer. NEVER use 6-8-6 on them, or any type of chemical fertilizer. I once lost a beautiful rosemary in a gallon pot by sprinkling it in only lightly! Grow your herbs in full sun, in well-drained soil. Raised beds or huge clay planters are ideal.

Sharon Hanna is a garden writer and avid cook. Read her latest articles on Themestream


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