Late winter and early spring is a great time to start seedlings and get the gardening season underway. Growing your own seedlings from seed is highly rewarding and can open doors to even more species that are not often found in garden centers. However, a couple of problems can sometimes curb the indoor green thumb and seriously affect the success of growing seedlings. Fungus gnats and damping-off are two afflictions that commonly affect gardeners. However, before you spend money on expensive chemicals, the solution to these problems may actually be much more low cost that you suspect.
These tiny, black insects seem innocuous enough as they buzz over your plants. While the adults rarely cause any problems to plants, if the young larvae are in large numbers, they can damage your seedlings. Fungus gnats search out moist soil in which to lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae will feed on the roots of your plants. Healthy seedlings will often be able to withstand this feeding but any seedlings that have small root systems like onions and leeks and those that are showing symptoms of nutrient stress can be put back quite significantly.
The easiest way to prevent fungus gnats is to water your plants properly. Overwatering, which causes your potting mix to remain moist for extended periods of time, seems to attract fungus gnats. If your plants are already infected, allow the soil to dry out between watering. Alternatively, sprinkle a ¼” of sand on top of your soil to confuse the adults. Since the sand drains water quickly, it can sometimes trick the adults into thinking the soil is dry.
Potting mixes containing peat seem to be particularly affected by fungus gnats. If the problem is reoccurring for you, think about switching from a peat-based mix to one that only contains perlite and vermiculite. Lastly, if the adult fungus gnats are bothersome, trap them by making your own sticky trap. The adults are attracted to the color yellow. Make your own sticky trap by smearing Vaseline or Tanglefoot on a yellow surface and hang it up close to where the adults congregate.
Not only will controlling your watering help to prevent fungus gnats, it will prevent the second most common problem, damping-off. This condition is caused by several fungi such as Phtophtora and Pythium. These fungi live at the soil line, just where air meets the moist soil surface. When your potting soil is kept continuously moist by overwatering, the fungi attack your seedlings. The telltale symptom is a constricted stem, just at or below the soil surface. Once seedlings are infected, they tend to fall over at the soil line.
As mentioned, allowing the soil surface to dry out will go a long way in preventing this problem. If, for some reason, your potting mix remains wet for an extended period of time, look to your kitchen cabinet to help prevent the disease. Cinnamon powder is a natural fungicide and has been shown to be particularly effective against damping-off. In addition, Weak chamomile tea (after it has cooled) is another natural fungicide.
Ensuring seedling success need not be complicated or expensive. Controlling your watering and a few home made remedies will go a long way to guaranteeing healthy seedlings.
Arzeena is an agronomist and freelance gardenwriter. When she’s not working on her garden, she runs Terra Viva Organics.
There is nothing more beautiful than a flowering shrub in full bloom, except maybe a flowering shrub in full bloom that has been trained to grow as a single stem tree. Imagine having a fragrant Viburnum Tree next to your patio or outside your bedroom window, waking up to such a wonderful aroma.
Don’t confuse what I am about to explain here with the common technique of grafting flowering shrubs on to the tall stem of some sort of rootstock. Grafting is very effective, but not so easy to do. This is much easier. Not only that, when you train the shrub to grow into a single stem tree, you can end up with some very interesting plants.
Training a flowering shrub to grow into a single stem tree is actually pretty simple. The younger the shrub you start with, the easier it is to train. I have a friend who grows thousands of Tree Hydrangeas a year, and this is how he trains them. The variety that he grows for this purpose is P.G. Hydrangea. (hydrangea paniculata grandiflora) This is the one with the huge snowball blooms.
He starts with rooted cuttings and lines them out in the field about 30″ apart. The first year he allows them to grow untouched as multi-stem shrubs. Being a fast growing shrub, they typically produce 3 to 4 branches that grow to a height of about 3 to 4′ that first season. The following spring he goes into the field, examines each plant and selects the one stem that is the straightest, and is likely to grow straight up from the roots if tied to a stake. He then clips all of the other branches as close to the main stem as possible. Then he pounds a stake in the ground as close to the main stem as possible, and clips the tip off the single stem that is left. This forces the plant to set lateral buds just below where he clipped the top off, rather than continue growing straight up. These lateral buds will grow into branches that will form the head of the tree. He then ties the stem to the stake. As it begins to grow, any buds that appear below that top group of buds are picked off to keep the single stem tree form.
That’s all there is to it. You can use almost anything as a stake, and just tie the stem to the stake with a piece of cloth. I also anchor plants to stakes with a single wrap of duct tape. I find that if I only wrap the tape once, the sun will dry the glue and the tape will fall off by itself in about 12 months. ½” electrical tubing (conduit) also makes a good stake, and is just a couple of bucks for a 10 foot piece.
You can do the same thing with an older established shrub if you can find one branch that can be tied to a vertical stake. The stem is likely to be crooked and not too smooth because of the wounds from where the branches were removed, but that doesn’t mean that you can not create an interesting plant.
Some of the shrubs that make beautiful and unique ornamental trees are many varieties of Viburnums, Burning Bush, Winged Burning Bush, Red and Yellow Twig Dogwoods, Weigelia, Mockorange, Rose of Sharon, and Flowering Almond. I’m sure there are many more.
My favorite shrub to train into a single stem tree is Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. In shrub form this plant is extremely interesting with it’s twisted and contorted branches. The new growth is reminiscent of a pig’s tail. Using the same technique as described above I select a single stem, tie it to a stake, and train it to grow as a single stem tree. The effect is totally unique. Call your local garden stores and ask them if they have a Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick plant.
Give it a try, I’m sure you’ll have fun as well as create some very interesting plants for your landscape.
It does not matter whether you put your Kitchen scraps in the compost or the bin, did you know that you could grow many of your favourite fruit or vegetables from those scraps. Indeed, unless your compost is very well matured you will find stray veggie seedlings may appear wherever you deposit the compost.
Take for instance those potato peelings, if it is a fairly thick section of peel with an eye (shoot), then you can often get these to grow into full potato plants. You can also get sweet potatoes and taros to grow from sections of the tubers.
Have you ever tried to plant or thought about trying to plant the seeds from a particularly nice tomato, capsicum, chilli, watermelon or pumpkin. While any plants grown from such seed may vary quite a lot from the parent fruit, you can still achieve fairly good results from them if you are on a tight budget.
While the plants grown from seeds of many of your kitchen scraps will not produce fruit to the same high standard as the original fruit/vegetables, this is because of the complicated interbreeding programs put into place by the big seed companies. The progeny can give a very wide range of resulting offspring in relation to the size, quality and quantity of the fruit. But if you come across one or two particularly good plants in the resulting season, then reuse the seeds of that and always-in future pick the best fruit from the best plants for your future propagation material.
Though there are some veggies in the kitchen where it is not possible to grow them from the seed in the fruit. These are those vegetables where the edible fruit is still in an immature state and the seed is not yet viable. These fruit/veggies include the cucumbers, okra, zuchinni and squashes to name just a few. This is because the fruit when it reaches a stage where the seed is viable is just too big and coarse for human consumption.
If you leave the top of a pineapple out in a shady spot for a week or so during warm weather, then strip back the lower dead leaves. You may even notice some small juvenile roots already forming at the base of the plant top. One thing to remember with pineapples is that it is a species of bromeliad. And as such it requires the same moist but well drained growing conditions.
When the garlic cloves are starting to get a green sprout coming out of the top, it is a pretty good indication, that it might be a good idea to plant them out individually for a good harvest in about 8-10 months time of this fairly expensive herb plant. Treat it like any member of the onion tribe, because they like moist, well drained soil and a fair amount of feeding during the growing season. Harvest as the tops are dying back. But let them dry out in a cool but airy place, before you try to use them back in the kitchen.
Why not try growing your own peanuts (groundnuts), always only use the raw nuts, and only choosing those nuts, which are still whole and encased in the brown skin. Peanuts can be grown during warmer weather in most temperate and subtropical parts of the world. One of the fascinating things about peanuts is that they are one of the only plants which flower set fruit and then bury and preplant their own seed ready for later germination. Yes the peanut, which is dug from the ground, is actually a fruit buried by the parent plant, after flowering.
You can always grow your own ginger; all it takes is a section of the root, purchased from a greengrocer. Plant it in a well drained but moist soil. Allowing plenty of room for the plant to spread out. You can be harvesting your own ginger roots within about 8-12 months.
If you have a few dollars why not look at purchasing some of the heritage or heirloom seed ranges of Fruit and vegetables. Many seed firms as well as organisations like the Seed Savers Network have many fascinating and unusual varieties of plants available for the home gardener to grow.
Of course once you have various plants growing in your veggie garden don’t forget to keep some propagating material back ( whether it is root sections, seed or divisions), for future plantings. Also you should think about letting certain plants like lettuce, parsley and basil go to seed, for planting later. I regularly have to weed my lawns around the gardens for rouge seedlings of the above plants. Such spare seedling weeds are easily replanted or swapped with other gardeners for plants I don’t yet have, or given to school and/or charity plant stalls. It is useful to have weeds that other people want and are willing to pay for.
While it usually not a good idea to try and propagate most of the tree fruit, simply from a time perspective and again because the results can also be very variable. It is still interesting to try even if you only end up getting a potplant out of the results. It is possible to grow the seeds of such trees as mangoes, citrus, avocado, apple, pear, etc. While the fruit of some species simply have no viable seed at all eg, bananas. There is however a few, which readily lend themselves to home propagation eg, pawpaw (papaya), tree tomatoes, unroasted coffee beans, etc. I remember as a child, accidentally germinated a coconut palm, from throwing the mostly eaten out shell onto a garden bed for a few months. Another suggestion for those of you out there, who are visited by birds to your garden, why not take a handful of birdseed and plant it out in an out of the way section of your garden. These bird friendly plants like Sunflower, oats, sorghum, etc, can be a real bonus for many native birds to supplement their diet. Many of the seeds in any packet of birdseed are very viable.
When my kids were younger and I was showing them such wonders, I used have had trouble convincing them that I could not do similar things in growing and multiplying with a variety of items of importance to them at the time, from toys to chocolate, lollies and even coins.
Ron Williams is a Freelance writer as well as being a Horticulturist and a Rehabilitation Therapy Aid at a Psychiatric Hospital in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. He writes ezines for wz.com. He also owns a diuscussion group about Australian Gardening, called austgardens at groups.yahoo.com.
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup water, plus additional if needed
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Choose a stainless stell or enameled pot large enough to hold the endives in a single layer. Smear most of the butter on the bottom of the pot. Cut out a round of parchment paper to fit inside, butter the parchment paper on one side, and set aside.
Arrange the endives in the pot and add the lemon juice, sugar, water, salt, and pepper. Cover the endives with the parchment paper, buttered side down. Place a plate on top of the paper and cover the pot with a lid. The paper helps the endive to steam better and the weight of the plate gently presses them down into their own juices. Cook over medium heat until very tender, 30 to 45 minutes. (Tender as butter). Check the water once in a while and add a little more if necessary to avoid burning the endives. Turn the endives over once halfway through the cooking process.
Carefully remove the plate and the parchment paper. Place the pot uncovered over high heat and cook to reduce the buttery sauce to a dark syrup. Turn the endives over as you are doing this to brown and caramelize them on all sides. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.
Organic Living ISSN 1492-5451.
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