Celebrate the Irish

March 17th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant potatoes! St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to plant potatoes, so the season is upon us now.
    • Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and other cool season crops should be planted this month for delicious spring harvests.
    • Mouth-watering strawberries should be planted now for delicious berries this summer. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained bed.
    • Plant sweet peas for bouquets of delightful blooms.
    • Last call for bare root fruit trees. This is the most economical way to plant an orchard, so choose your trees now.

Celebrate the Irish

This St. Patrick’s Day, let’s celebrate the Irish by considering the botanical gifts that have come to us from the Irish.

The shamrock or clover has a special significance to the Irish. It is told that St. Patrick used this three-leafed plant to demonstrate the mystery of the Christian Trinity, and thereby converted the King of Ireland to Christianity. There are many different kinds of clover and several if them are grown for shamrocks, including white clover that is the most common one used.

The Irish potato is well-known to all of us. Actually, it didn’t originate in Ireland. It is native to the Andes region of South America and was first brought to Spain by the Spanish explorers. From there it was imported into Ireland in 1543, and came to North America by way of England in 1719. A staple food for many a family in Ireland, England and America, it has made its way into the American diet of meat and potatoes.

St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect time to plant potatoes in our area. You can choose from dozens of varieties now: Yukon Gold, Red La Soda, Yellow Finn, French Fingerling and German Butterball and just some of the many varieties ready to go into your garden.

The Irish yew, Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’, is an Irish original. In about 1760, a wild yew was taken from the mountains and planted at Florence Court in Northern Ireland. As it grew, it took on an unusually upright form, and by the early 19th century, a nursery was taking cuttings and selling them. All Irish yews grown throughout the world are descended from this one ancient tree.

Hazelnut trees come to us from Ireland. Hazelnuts, or filberts, are a tasty and vitamin-rich nut. Modern cultivars now make larger nuts that are disease-resistant. ‘Jefferson’ produces a sweet, buttery nut, and it is pollenated by the variety ‘Eta’. Forked hazel twigs are still used by water diviners today to locate underground water sources.

The strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, is native to Ireland. It grows wild in western Ireland where it shares the rocky lake shores with oaks and yews. Its red-brown, shredding bark is very attractive. Clusters of small, white, urn-shaped flowers produce round, red, ¾-inch fruit that resembles strawberries. The dwarf variety, ‘Compacta’, grows only 8–10 feet tall and makes a fine, small specimen tree.

Irish moss doesn’t come from Ireland at all, but rather from the drier climates of Europe. It is called Irish moss because of its rich green foliage, and it makes a good groundcover in sunny places with plenty of moisture.

So here’s to the Irish for sharing their plants as well as their good name.

The Spring Vegetable Garden

March 10th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Spring vegetables can be planted now from nursery starts. Begin your garden with broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, chard and onions. It pays to grow your own!
    • Potatoes can be planted this month. Plant red, white, yellow, blue and russet for a variety of uses and flavors.
    • Raspberry, blackberry, loganberry, and boysenberry vines should be planted now for delicious, home-grown berries.
    • Prune wisteria trees and vines by cutting out unwanted long runners and removing old seed pods. Don’t damage flower buds that are clustered at the end of short branches.
    • Fruit trees are still available as bare-root trees, but only for a short while longer. Start your orchard now!

The Spring Vegetable Garden

A few lovely, warm spring days finally give us the chance to get outside and enjoy the sunshine. And what better way to enjoy it than to set out some spring vegetable plants in your garden or raised beds. The warm days and chilly nights that we get this time of year are perfect for many delicious vegetables.

You can now set out seedlings of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, onions, chard, sugar snap peas and lettuce. From seed you can start beets, carrots, Swiss chard, lettuce, peas and spinach.

Cabbage and broccoli are members of the cole family. “Cole” is the Old English word for cabbage and is the name given to a group of vegetables that share a common ancestry and a family preference for cool weather. Other garden relatives include cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, collards, turnips, radishes, bok choy and baby bok choy.

Seeing these plants side by side, you might find it hard to see what cabbages have in common with kohlrabi or broccoli. But the diverse appearance of cole family members comes from a single remarkable family trait — the ability to thicken various plant parts. Thus the kohlrabi has thickened stems; broccoli has thickened immature flowering branches; turnips and radishes have thickened roots; and with cabbage, the thickening forms the heads.

Lettuce also needs cool weather to be at its best. There are many different kinds of lettuce: looseleaf has tender, delicate, and mildly flavoured leaves; butterheads, also called Boston or buttercrunch, form loose heads; romaine, also called cos, grows in a long head of sturdy leaves and crispheads, also called iceberg, forms tight, dense heads. Leaves come in various shades of red and green. You can set out plants and plant seeds at the same time to have successive crops this spring.

Root crops grow well in the spring also. Carrots are easy to start in the cool, spring weather. Carrot seeds are tiny and germinate best in damp soil when the soil temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees. Beets, onions, radishes and turnips all grow very rapidly in the spring.

Peas are perhaps the most popular spring vegetable. There’s nothing quite so sweet and delicious as fresh garden peas. Dwarf varieties grow 18 to 24 inches tall and stand best with some support. The tall varieties grow 6 to 8 feet high and need poles or string, or wire trellises to climb. You can grow shelling peas or edible-pod varieties, also known as sugar peas, or the flat edible-pod varieties known as snow peas, popular in Asian cooking.

Take advantage of this nice spring weather and start your vegetable garden producing now.

The Pie Plant

March 10th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant bright and cheery primroses to brighten your flower beds and boxes.
    • Plant peas in well-drained soil for a spring crop. Protect from birds with bird netting or lightweight row cover.
    • Blueberries make delicious fruit on attractive plants that you can use in the orchard or the landscape. Choose varieties now.
    • Clean out bird houses. Remove old nesting material and scrub the inside with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.
    • Cut branches of forsythia, pussy willow, quince, spirea, and dogwood and bring them indoors to force them into bloom.

The Pie Plant

Rhubarb – the name alone starts pie lovers’ mouths watering. Rhubarb is a very cold-hardy perennial vegetable grown for its leafstalks that have a unique tangy taste used for pies and sauces. Native to western China and Tibet, it grows best where the ground freezes in the winter. In the spring, up shoot new leaves and bright red, succulent stalks from which pies and sauces are made. While the leafstalks are edible, the leaves themselves contain oxalic acid and should not be eaten.

Rhubarb will grow and produce on most soils, but grows best in fertile, well-drained soils that have good organic matter content. Careful soil preparation will help rhubarb stay healthy and productive for many years. The planting area should be cleared of any weeds, especially tough, hard-to-control perennial weeds. Good garden drainage is essential in growing rhubarb. If necessary, build a raised bed to help ensure against rotting of the crowns.

Space rhubarb plants 3 to 4 feet apart with the crown at the surface of the soil. For each plant, prepare a large hole and mix in 3 to 4 inches of compost or well-aged manure and a handful of fertilizer such as 5-10-10. Firm the soil around the roots. Water the crowns after planting and keep them well watered, especially in hot weather.

Rhubarb responds well to fertilizing. Give each plant 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer each spring applied in a circle around the plant, after you finish harvesting. Keep weeds pulled around the plants. An application of composted manure or leaves is beneficial in late fall and early winter, but do not cover the crowns as this may promote rotting.

During the first year after planting, the stalks should not be picked, since food from the leaves is needed to nourish the roots for the next year’s growth. One light picking may be taken during the second season if the plants are vigorous. Beginning the third season the stalks may be harvested by pulling them off. Choose only stalks that are 10 inches tall and one inch thick. The stalks may be harvested a 4-6 week period, as long as they are long and thick. Stop harvesting leafstalks when the plant begins to produce slender stalks, a sign that its reserves are low. Rhubarb is harvested in late May through June.

When summer temperatures rise, plants will go semi-dormant until it cools down again. In summer some stalks will grow taller – up to six feet and bear small, creamy white flowers. Just remove them as they appear as the blossom robs the nutrients from the plant and affects the quality of the stalks.

Rhubarb should be given some shade in our area. Find a good location and you will be harvesting delicious stalks for years to come. It is one of the easiest, long lasting, high yielding, great tasting, nutritious crops you can grow in your home garden.