» Archive for April, 2012

Crisp, crunchy carrots

Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Sweet peas, with their memorable fragrance, can be planted now from nursery starts for wonderful bouquets later this spring.
    • Potatoes like to grow in the cool weather of spring. Plant them as soon as possible.
    • Wildflower seeds can be broadcasted now on hillsides for colorful blooms and erosion control.
    • Lettuce, cabbages, broccoli, onions and other cool-season vegetables can be set out with no frost protection. They will give you a delicious early harvest.
    • Mouth-watering strawberries should be planted now for delicious berries this summer. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained bed.

Crisp, crunchy carrots

Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables, loved by young and old alike. And fresh carrots right from the garden are really a treat.

Carrots are easy to grow and every garden should have a good-sized plot of them. A loose, sandy soil that is free from stones is their main requirement. Rocks and hard clods make the roots deformed and cause them to split. Raised beds are ideal for carrots, just make sure the bed is deep enough for the roots.

Prepare the soil with compost but don’t add too much fertilizer. Carrot seeds are tiny and germinate best in damp soil when the soil temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees.

Sprinkle the seeds down a shallow trough and cover with a quarter inch of fine soil. Firm the soil and water gently.

The seeds must be kept constantly moist during the two to three weeks they take to sprout. If you have trouble getting carrot seeds to sprout, cover them with a layer of vermiculite, which will retain moisture, or lay a piece of burlap over the seed bed until the seeds germinate. As soon as they have their true leaves, when they are half an inch tall, it’s time to thin them. For baby carrots, thin plants to 1 inch apart, and for full-sized carrots, 2-4 inches.

Carrot varieties range from three inch miniatures to 12-inch tapers that need deep, well-worked soil.

‘Little Finger’ is an extra-early tender, sweet baby gourmet carrot that are nearly coreless. ‘Danvers’ is a popular variety with a strong top and smooth, tapered root that pulls up easily.

‘Chantenay’ is a standard variety that grows 5-8 inches long and does well in all types of soil. ‘Nantes’ and ‘Scarlet Nantes’ carrots are nearly cylindrical in shape, and are blunt and rounded at both the top and tip. Nantes cultivars are often sweeter than other carrots and have fine flavor that is sweet and full of carotene. They are excellent eating when young and tender, and also make good storage carrots.

‘Juwarot’ is an excellent variety for juice as it has twice the normal vitamin A content, and is a very tasty carrot. ‘Saint Valery’ is a large carrot, 10-12” long with 2-3” shoulder. Its flesh is fine-grained, sweet and tender with very little core, and it stores well in the ground.

‘Imperator’ carrots are the carrots most commonly sold whole supermarkets; their roots are long and tapered.

‘Solar Yellow’ and ‘Dragon’ will add variety to your carrot patch. ‘Solar Yellow’ is a variety of Danvers, and grows about 6 inches with a sweet flavor. ‘Purple Dragon’, or ‘Dragon’, is a purple skinned carrot with a bright orange interior that is very sweet. ‘White Satin’ carrots are sweet and juicy with a smooth flavor. They have more fiber than other carrots.

April is a fine month for planting carrots. Keep the soil moist and the bed weeded and in 2-3 months you should have a bed of carrots worth bragging about!

Tulip Trees

Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Last call for bare root fruit trees. This is the most economical way to plant an orchard, so choose your trees now.
    • Plant sweet peas for bouquets of delightful blooms.
    • Forsythia, with its bright yellow flowers, is one of the first shrubs to bloom in the spring. Plant one in a sunny spot where you can enjoy its cheery flowers.
    • Plant peas in well-drained soil for a spring crop. Protect from birds with bird netting or lightweight row cover.
    • Primroses are bright and showy and bloom beautifully throughout the spring.

Tulip Trees make a dramatic focal point

To most people the term “tulip tree” refers to the beautiful saucer magnolias that are now coming into bloom. There are others who know the “tulip tree” to be the Liriodendron, a huge tree native to the eastern states. But this article is about magnolias.

“Tulip trees,” so called because of the shape and bright colors of their flowers, originated as a chance seedling from a cross of two species of Magnolia made by M. Soulange-Bodin near Paris, about 1820. They are named after him as Magnolia soulangiana. Unlike many other trees, they will bloom when still very small, making a nice show at only 2-3 feet tall. Blooms open in early spring before the leaves emerge.

Also known as saucer magnolias, there are many varieties with flowers ranging in color from white, to pink, to deep reddish purple. Blooms are six to ten inches across appearing before the leaves begin growing in the spring. The effect is very spectacular. ‘Rustica Rubra’ is a vigorous grower with large, reddish-purple flowers. ‘Alexandrina’ has large tulip-shaped blooms that are purplish-pink on the outside and pure white on the inside.

Saucer magnolias make fine lawn ornaments. They grow as large shrubs, with many stems, rather than single-trunked trees, and like the extra water that a lawn receives in the summer. They can be planted in full sun, or in partial shade, and grow to 20 or 25 feet tall, and almost as wide.

The star magnolia, Magnolia stellata, is another deciduous magnolia which comes to us from Japan. It produces white flowers in early spring before the leaves. The blossoms are composed of several long, strap-shaped petals that give a star-like effect. They are 3 to 4 inches in diameter. The variety ‘Royal Star’ has pink buds that open to fragrant, blush-pink blooms on a plant that grows 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide.

Star magnolia is a dense shrub or small tree and makes a fine specimen plant. It has twisting, irregular branches with pretty gray bark. The long, narrow leaves are thick and dark green, turning an excellent bronze in the fall. It is the first magnolia to bloom in the spring and one of the most attractive.

‘Dr. Merrill’ is a particularly fine variety with large, star-like white flowers that are fragrant. It grows to 25 feet tall and wide and when in bloom, the tree is a blizzard of white.

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ is a rare, yellow-flowered tree with tapered buds that open to large, primrose-yellow blooms. An upright, pyramidal grower to 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide, it makes a fine specimen tree.

Saucer magnolias are often planted along the edge or property line in combination with evergreen shrubs where they may get lost in the crowd until the showy blooms arrive in late winter. Magnolias thrive in full sun, but they flower satisfactorily under the high shade of neighboring trees.

“Tulip trees” and star magnolias are prize plants that add a touch of class and beauty to any yard.

“Irish” Potatoes

Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant potatoes! St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to plant potatoes, so the season is upon us now.
    • Spring vegetables love cool, moist weather and don’t mind a little frost. Set out lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, spinach and Swiss chard starts now.
    • Apple trees are still available as bare-root trees, but only for a short while longer. Start your orchard now!
    • Cut branches of forsythia, pussy willow, quince, spirea, and dogwood and bring them indoors to force them into bloom.
    • For blue hydrangeas, apply aluminum sulfate around the plants this month.

“Irish” Potatoes

The history of the potato has its roots in the windswept Andes Mountains of South America. The Incas were cultivating them for a long time before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Peru in 1532 in search of gold. Though gold was scarce, potatoes were plentiful and the Spaniards took some with them when they left for home.

From Spain the lowly potato spread through Europe. In many places it was considered weird, poisonous and even evil, but in Ireland it found a home. The Irish were the first to seriously consider potatoes as an important food, and by 1688, they had become a staple of the Irish diet. By 1770 it became known as the Irish Potato.

The Irish became so dependent on the potato, that it displaced many traditional foods. In the 1840’s the potato crop became diseased and the “Great Famine” was the result. At the height of the famine (around 1845), at least one million people died of starvation.

Fortunately, thousands of varieties were still being cultivated in the Andes, where over 100 cultivars might be found in a single valley. Proper genetic diversity is the key to insuring a healthy potato crop.

Today we have a great number of potato varieties available to the home gardener. There are reds, whites, blues, yellows and russets. Reds may have white, yellow or rose-colored flesh, and blues or purples are bluish all the way through. Fingerling potatoes are small, finger-shaped potatoes, often yellow inside.

Potatoes should be planted as soon as the soil has dried out enough to turn it. Potatoes like cool weather, especially when the tubers start forming. The best crops are produced when the daytime temperature is in the 60°-65°F range. When the temperature goes over 84°, tuber production stops.

Potatoes can also be grown in large containers. Fill the container about one third full with potting soil. Put the seed potatoes on top of the soil, spaced about 6 inches apart, and at least 4 inches away from the sides of the container. Then cover them with two inches of potting soil.

When the plants reach 6 inches tall, add two or three inches of potting soil, covering the lower leaves of the plants. Repeat this every time the plants reach a height of 6 inches above the soil, until the soil is 2 inches from the top of the container. Try to keep the soil evenly moist through the growing season.

It is best to plant certified, disease-free potatoes sold at nurseries. About eight to ten pounds of seed potatoes will plant a 100-foot row and yield 50 to 100 pounds of potatoes. Plant your favorite varieties now, and look forward to those delicious, home-grown flavors.