Neighborly Garden News
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Short on outdoor growing space? Try Hydroponic gardening
You need not have a garden plot in order to grow your own veggies. Hydroponics is the science of growing plants without soil, in a water solution. Hydroponic theory is by providing the right amounts of the necessary growing elements at the correct time, will optimize the growth and production of your vegetables. Participants in hydroponic growing have had amazing results. One gardener reported over 300 tomatoes from only 3 plants.
You can opt to buy a pre-made hydroponic system, or build your own. The main advantage for buying pre-made system is that it is all spelled out for what you need to do, and when to add the necessary nutrients. According to Dan Lubkeman, president of the Hydroponic Society of America, gardening in soil is less prone to over watering or fertilizing errors. Soil can buffer most mistakes without harm to the plants, but hydroponic growing is less forgiving. Combining your new setup with a good source of information, like the hydroponic unit vendor, or a ready reference book is recommended.
Whichever way you decide to go, all hydroponic setups will utilize the following:
Seedlings or seeds suitable for container growing.
A reservoir for the nutrient solution.
An aeration pump to oxygenate your nutrient solution.
A water pump to move the solution into the root zone of your plants periodically.
A light source.
Growth medium, such as rock wool, for the plant roots to grow on.
Basic Hydroponic growing setup
Typically premade table top sized units can cost about $100, and larger floor sized models can run $300-600. DIY units can be assembled for about half the cost of a premade unit, and the time it takes to get your supplies and put it all together. Something you might not think about is checking the pH (alkalinity) of your water source. This small thing can greatly affect the productivity of your setup, and health of your plants.
Tabletop model Hydroponic garden
Plan to trim leaves, and groom your plants at least twice a week. It is helpful, too, to wipe down the surfaces of your unit every other week or so. It is definitely not a plant and forget kind of setup, your plants will still require monitoring and care, but certainly not as much as an outdoor, in-the-ground-garden. No weeding required!
January’s ‘to-do’ list
As I write this on our winter solstice, I am thinking about what it means to grow a garden. Much of life seems to parallel the cycle of growth in our gardens. Sometimes our best thought out plans just do not materialize, and we must accept that this plant or crop did not work. We do our best to manage our gardens; prepare the soil, select the best plants and tend to their upkeep. But, many factors are out of our control: weather, temperature, disease and pests to name a few. Do we give up, after a plant or crop failure? Generally no, as gardeners we try again for success, because there is always the next growing season. Don’t dwell on the small failures, acknowledge your ambition, and keep trying for success.
January, and throughout the winter, is a good time to perform corrective pruning and shaping of your trees. You have a clear view of the whole tree, and needn’t worry about oozing sap.Fruit and ornamental trees need annual pruning to keep them healthy. Fruiting trees especially, have a very vigorous nature and will grow quickly. Pruning helps channel that energy into fruit production, by eliminating extraneous twiggy growth, and poorly shaped branches. Overgrowth, too dense a canopy, and letting water sprouts develop, all can contribute to a tree’s decline. Always remove any dead or diseased wood; during winter storms, these weak spots can tear off and cause greater damage, than if they were preemptively pruned.
Dormant oil spraying is a very low impact, yet highly effective way tomanage insect pests on many fruiting, and ornamental trees and shrubs. Many pests overwinter as eggs or juveniles on the dormant plant. Spraying smothers these pests before they can emerge in the spring. ‘Sunoil’ or ‘Horticultural oil’ is ultra fine grade with the consistency of water, and odorless, and will not harm non- targeted insects or mammals.
We may receive a ‘January Thaw’, but be careful not to walk on your garden beds when they are wet and muddy during a thaw, because it can permanently compress the soil structure. Do check for any plants that may have ‘heaved’ out of their planting holes during freeze/thaw cycles. Gently push them back into place.
It’s great to be seeing more daylight, and your houseplants will sense this move back to the light, too. Plan on resuming a weekly dose of half-strength fertilizer to their watering schedule in late January. I’ve noticed mealy bugs here and there on my houseplants, and have removed them as soon as they were spotted, to avoid a larger infestation. With increased light levels, insects on houseplants might be making a come-back. Look at the undersides of leaves, and remove any dead leaves and debris that might hide insect eggs.
If you have noticed ‘browsing’ on your garden plants, animal repellent sprays can be applied as needed throughout the season. You can achieve good results if you are consistent with applications. It may be helpful to rotate products so tolerance doesn’t develop. If you have persisted with repellent strategies without favorable results, it may be time to consider temporary winter fencing, or changing your garden design; including less appetizing plants. Countryside offers this service.
Cut branches of forsythia, quince, and pussy-willow for indoor forcing. This is a fun craft to do with kids; it teaches kids about circulation through the plant’s dormant branches (even when they look dead). Arrange cut branches in a deep heavy vase, and bring into a warm room; to slow development put them in a cooler room overnight. It takes between 4-7 days to force bloom, and blooms last about 2 weeks if kept cool.
If last season was an indication of the popularity of home gardening, plan on ordering your mail order seeds and starter plants soon for the best selection. Last spring many varieties became sold out quickly due to the very high demand from home gardeners. Make this the year you try out your green thumbs and grow some plants from seed. I usually start my warm season veggies, like tomatoes and peppers, in March, for planting outdoors in May/June. Cool season crops, like broccoli, kale and cabbage, can be started 4-6 weeks before your preferred outdoor planting date.
Keep feeding the birds, once you’ve begun. Your resident feathered friends depend on you for their survival over the winter. Yes, wild birds do forage, but heavy snow cover makes this more difficult as winter wears on, and they do succumb to the effects of hunger and cold. It is great fun to watch the birds as they visit your feeders and these wintertime visitors will take up a more permanent residence in your area; helping to diminish the insect population that may otherwise infest your garden plants.
Try growing microgreens this winter!
Microgreens are a very nutritious food crop that is comprised of sprouted seeds leaves, or cotyledons, with maybe a few mature leaves attached. It is basically a sprout that has had a bit longer to develop, but not as mature as ‘baby greens’. They can be easily grown on your windowsill or indoor growing setup. Seeds from leafy greens, herbs or even root vegetables make suitable candidates for growing microgreens, according to Kate Spring from Good Heart Farmstead of Vermont.
Microgreens are a premium type vegetable, costing upwards of $32 per pound at the grocery store for a small clamshell box of greens. The US Department of Agriculture states that the nutritive content of the young microgreens has more than forty times the concentrated nutrient value than the regular mature leaves. Wow, that’s some big bang for your buck!
The intense flavors can really punch up your ordinary meal, into something extraordinary, and packed with vitamins. Because you only grow them to the 1-2 leaf stage, there is less fuss and worry about keeping the plants going for the entire winter; you can sow and harvest your greens in a matter of weeks, not months.
The easiest and quickest are seeds from plants in the cabbage family: the Brassicas-arugula, kale, and radish. But you can also grow basil, cilantro, and mustard seed mixes. Johnny’s selected seeds catalog has an extensive variety for growing microgreens. You will need seed starting mix, seed starting trays, a hand mister, a clear domed cover for your seed trays, and your selected seeds. If you don’t have adequate light available, a grow light or fluorescent light source will be necessary.
Moisten your seed starting mix with enough water to just allow you to squeeze the soil into a ball, but not so wet as to have water dripping from it. Press your soil mix into the seed tray to about one inch deep. Sow your seeds thicker than you might normally do when planting; approximately 10 seeds per square inch for small seeds, and lightly press these down onto the soil mix. Gently mist the planted seeds with your hand mister, and cover with the germination dome. The seeds won’t need light until they germinate, typically 3-5 days. Prepare to mist your seeds daily until they germinate.
Once your seeds have germinated place them under your light source for 16 hours of light per day. Brassica family seeds can mature to harvest size in 10-15 days. Basil and other herbs can mature in 15-25 days. You can tell when they are ready, by the appearance of one or two mature looking leaves. Harvest by shearing with a knife or scissors, and enjoy your indoor crop.
January would be very bleak with all the bare trees and deep snow; if not for our evergreens we would only see a world of black and white during the winter. So many different species of evergreen will grow in our area; there is a wide color and textural palette to choose from.
the Fraser fir is a hearty native evergreen tree. It is prized for its very uniform shape, dark blue-green needles, and graceful upward turned branches. Fraser fir is the #1 Christmas tree species in the USA. This evergreen is related to the Balsam fir, and thrives in cool temperatures. Fraser firs prefer consistently moist and well drained soil, with a full or partial sun exposure. Considered a slow growing tree; grows to 30-40 ft tall, x 20-25 ft wide.
Juniperus chinensisthe Chinese juniper has been used as a garden plant for centuries, and there are numerous cultivars. There is a size and shape for almost any application, from ground cover plantings, to hedges and screens or single specimens. Chinese juniper needs full sun exposure to do their best, and will tolerate a wide range of soil pH.
Juniperus chinensis ‘Hetzii columnaris’
Pinus strobus, the Eastern White Pine is native to our New England woods. It is adaptable to a wide variety of growing conditions. In the wild White Pine can be found in bogs or dry rocky ridges, it prefers direct sun exposures, but can tolerate some light shade. Needle bundles are grouped on 5’s, and long and slender, bluish green. P. strobus maintains its soft plume-like appearance through the trees’ youth. It is considered fast growing; reaching 50-75 ft tall x 20 ft wide in 25-40 years.
Pieris floribunda or ‘Mountain Pieris’ is a native broad-leaved evergreen. A great candidate for a partly sunny or shady area, it has long lasting panicles of creamy-white fragrant flowers that bloom in April. Pieris floribunda is also called: Lily of the Valley shrub. Mountain Pieris is more adaptable to higher pH soils than other broad leaved evergreens. Depending on the variety, grows 2-6’ tall.
Pieris floribunda in bloom
Picea pungens glauca ‘Globosa nana’ is the dwarf blue spruce. This is a natural dwarf form of a US native tree. Dwarf blue Spruce has a broad rounded form. Just the right plant when you’d like a touch of blue in your garden. Dwarf blue spruce prefers full sun, and moist soil with good drainage. A very hardy shrub, it is more drought tolerant than other species of spruce. Dwarf blue spruce grows medium-slow to 3’ tall X 4’ wide.
Picea pungens glauca ‘Globosa nana’