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Thursday, July 21, 2016

How to Grow a Pineapple from a Top Cutting

I've tried to "start" pineapple tops several different ways over the years, as indicated by so called experts on YouTube and never had any success. But, like Einstein, I never gave up. I decided to try it "MY WAY" and have been successful with 8 plants so far and I just started 10 more plants today.

Here's my "step by step" process. I ended up with 100% success rate with this process and if you follow it, you should have the same success, so give it a try! 

Here goes:
Cut the top off of the pineapple. Make sure you have NO FRUIT left on the cut end. If you leave fruit, you will likely end up with molds and then ROT!

Peel back at least 1-2 inches of the bottom leaves carefully to expose the tiny roots growing under these leaves. These are adventitious root and grow tightly under the base of the leaves.
Soak the cut end in lukewarm water for 2 hours so that the top can suck up a little water into the leaves.
Pull the tops out of the water and set them on their sides to dry out for at least three days. The cut end of the top will get dried out looking, and the rest of the top may look like it is dying, but don’t worry.
Plant in a container in good potting soil just up to the bottom of the leaves. You only need to plant it deep enough so that those roots that you exposed earlier are now covered with soil and the top stands up on its own and is stable.
Keep evenly moist prior to and as you start to see new leaf growth. I keep my pots in a “morning sun” area so that the new plants are not exposed yet to our hard Texas sun. Since the pineapple plant is a member of the Bromeliaceae genus, you can water into the center of the plant. There may be a little “cup” forming that may hold water, or at least direct rain or overhead watering to the base of the plant.
Once you have at least 3-5 new leaves, depending on what season you are currently in, you can plant up into a bigger container, or in its permanent place in the garden. However, planting and tending will be found in an upcoming blog article. Good Luck with your new plant starts.


Top plant in above photo is 4 months old. Plant on bottom was just planted.






Saturday, June 25, 2016

Canning Refrigerator Pickles

Canning refrigerator pickles from your garden grown cucumbers is very easy and gives you edible sweet pickles that you can eat within four or five days, instead of having to wait five or six weeks for regular sweet pickles to cure.


Growing the cucumbers is also extremely easy and one plant can provide an abundance of cucumbers to use for pickling. I planted 8 plants and was overwhelmed by produce. I have pickles in brine, for whole dilled pickles. I also have a pantry full of  bread and butter pickles, dill chips, sweet pickle spears and dilled pickle halves.

The following recipe for the refrigerator pickles should be followed without making any changes. This is a sweet pickle that will last in the refrigerator for about 60 days.

8 cups of thinly sliced cucumbers (3 large cucumbers).

1 ½ cups of thinly sliced sweet yellow onion (use red onion for added color).

¼ cup of sliced red bell pepper

¼ cup of sliced green bell pepper.

Making the brine.
Bring the following ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir this combination often. Boil for 3–5 minutes. Pour this mixture over the cucumber, bell pepper and onions. Mix well and let stand to cool. Fill your jars and chill for 3-5 days before eating to let flavors migrate into the cucumbers.

2 cups of White Granulated sugar.

2 cups of White Vinegar (5%).

1 tablespoon of pickling salt.

1 tablespoon of Celery Seed.

1 ½ teaspoon of Mustard Seed.


This recipe makes 2 quarts.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Growing "Kiowa" Blackberries

It's that time of year...that is to start picking some varieties of Blackberries. My friend from TAP Rabbitry, Todd Gamel, who raises meat rabbits, as I do, has prepared an exceptional, short video of his blackberry patches.


He gave me over 30 plants that he mentions on the video, but he gives some easy to understand information on when the berries actually show up...when and where. It's a great video and I hope you'll share it with all of your friends and family. This is a good one!

Click here to watch the video.




Saturday, April 30, 2016

How to Grow Cucumbers


What’s the secret to avoiding bitter Cucumbers?

Cucumbers planted in the garden are very prolific producers and can be great for pickling or eating fresh in salads or just freshly peeled. Cucumber, Tomato and Onion salad in an Italian dressing has always been one of my favorites.
Since it is a warmer season vegetable, cucumbers should be planted, as with most other vegetables, after the last chance of frost.  Check the date on the seed packet for the expected last frost, as it is different across the United States. I keep the USDA’s website as a favorite on my computer for a variety of information.

Planting by seed has always worked best for me. I plant multiple seeds in groups four feet apart and then thin all but the strongest one plant.
Spacing between rows should be at least six feet as the plants can easily grow together. If you are planting so the cucumbers can climb a sturdy fence, I would plant seeds about 4 inches apart and thin to the best plants about one foot apart.

In my home state of Texas, if I am going to plant a second crop I make sure I have plenty of time for the cucumbers to reach maturity prior to the first frost late in the growing season. Cucumbers usually need about 2 months to reach harvesting size.
If you’d like to produce great looking and tasting cucumbers, you’ll need to mulch heavily; approximately four inches of straw,  water regularly; about an inch per week spread throughout the week and harvest before they get about 8 inches long. If you let them grow bigger, they tend to get pithy and dry on the interior.

I fertilize more often at half of the normal rate each time. I fertilize with about one pound per 100 square feet of row and apply it as often as every 2 to 3 weeks. I then water the fertilizer in very well each time. 
A salad cucumber on top and a pickling cucumber on bottom.

You can also scatter finely ground finished compost underneath the plants if you desire, however, this can get cumbersome, as you’ll need to lift the plants to place the compost. You risk plant breakage applying compost this way.

Insect problems consist of cucumber beetles (spotted or striped), spider mites and squash bugs (true bugs). You can identify a problem if you see evidence of chewed leaves, tan colored mottling. The leaves typically turn very crisp, indicating spider mite damage. Control spider mites with a miticide. Mildews can be controlled with fungicides. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How to Use Mulch in the Garden

Throughout history, man has used manures, fallen leaves, grass clippings, wood chips and many other natural materials for mulch in the garden. There are so many more types of mulch than this article can elaborate on, so we will cover the types that may be most readily available. The mulch mobile is filled and ready to head out to the vegetable garden.
It is a well-known benefit that mulches help to retain even moisture in the soil, so that plants are not going through dry periods between watering.  Mulches are also known for their ability to slow down weed growth and for those weeds that do make it through the mulch; they are easier to remove from the garden soil. Here's a photo of pine shavings used as a mulch on newly planted Blackberry plants.
Although living mulches are also known as cover crops, green manures or catch crops, these will not be discussed in this article. Plastic mats and rolls, rocks and ground up rubber tires, and similar mulching products, will also not be discussed here. This article will cover mulches that you can turn back into the soil after use.

Mulches make the garden look clean and neat; they keep soil off of garden vegetables that grow on or near the ground.  Once the mulch has done its job for the season, they are simply turned into the ground, and add to the soils tilth and structure. In addition, when mulches become part of the soil, they add nutrient and microbial activity to the soil as they break down.

Mulches can break down very rapidly, or they can stay in the same spot for years, returning to the soil very slowly.  An example of mulch that breaks down quickly is finished compost. Compost that has been allowed to complete the composting process, cool down to acceptable and usable temperatures, and be run through a fine mesh screen can be used as mulch at about three inches thick. It will break down within one season. This application may also be considered a side dressing for the benefit of nutrient in the compost.
On the other hand, mulch that lasts for an extended period of time in the vegetable garden might be something like wood chips. Unless the chips are shredded down into very small particles, they will take more than one season to break down. The bulkier the material you use, typically the longer it will take to return to the soil. Leaves will break down fairly quickly; however, shredded leaves will break down faster.

There are other considerations when using different types of mulch in the garden. If you use fresh manures as mulch directly under the plants, you are likely to burn your plants. Some manure is better left to dry out or to be composted prior to use.  Chicken manure is considered hot and will certainly do damage to your plants, so compost it first. Rabbit manure is considered a "cold" manure and can be added directly to your plantings. 

Horse and cow manure may contain pathogens, so they should be left to dry out for a season, or composted to kill off these troublemakers.  You can also turn manures under in the garden in the fall and let them decompose all winter long. 

Here are some quick notes and things to consider with the following mulches:

Manure:
It’s best to compost it before use, or to let it rot. Cow manure may contain a lot of weed seeds, so I always compost first. Horse manure may contain microscopic worms and other pathogens, so I compost first or turn under in the fall when I’m not growing anything. If you do decide to use horse manure as mulch during the growing season, use no more than 3 inches thick, as it will mat once it is wet, and will not allow water to penetrate very well. 
Manures are also known for being the cause of E.coli. All vegetables harvested from areas in the garden that used fresh, or uncomposted manures must be washed well prior to being eaten. When you work with any kind of manure, you should always wash your hands well before coming in from the garden.

Straw:
Straw is excellent mulch, and does a great job at retaining moisture and keeping the garden area relatively free from weed growth. This material is very high in carbon, so it may take away nutrient from the soil as it breaks down. I usually spread a high nitrogen fertilizer prior to placing straw mulch. Once the season has ended, straw mulch can be turned under and left to decompose through the winter months. You can usually find straw at your local feed store for a low enough prices that justify its use. Here's my YouTube video on using straw mulch
Grass clippings:
Grass clippings are full of nitrogen and break down quickly. I never use more than three inches of this kind of mulch, as it will mat down and may eventually begin to smell bad. Use only cool season grasses as mulch. If you use Bermuda, or any other trailing type of grass clippings, you are bound to grow a nice lawn in your vegetable garden, and you don’t want that. I try my best to keep any kind of grass clippings out of the garden and out of the compost; unless I’m certain that they are a cool season type like fescue or rye grass.

Wood chips:
Wood chips are also great as a mulch to use when you need one to keep the weeds to a much reduced level.  They are also very high in carbon, and take a long time to decompose. Fertilize prior to applying this mulch around your fruit trees. I’ve connected with multiple sources that provide me with an endless supply of wood chips for free. 

I try to keep a pile in the back yard all year long, so I have them on hand when I need them. I turn them under in new garden plots that I won’t actually be using to grow vegetables for a year or so, to add tilth to the soil. When mixed with horse manure and turned under, they break down very well over the winter months.
Leaves:
Leaves also make excellent mulch. Most leaves can be used directly as mulch in the garden.  Avoid using sycamore leaves unless they are shredded and composted first. Shredding leaves first avoids any matting of leaves and also helps to avoid any diseases brought on by matted leaves. Eucalyptus or Oleander leaves are also not good mulch. Do not use these in your vegetable garden.

Pine Needles:
Although I’ve used pine needles in the past, they just are not available to me here in the Dallas, Texas area. I would typically use them in the landscape rather than the vegetable garden. I would compost them before mixing that finished compost in my garden.  Pine needles are known for adding acid to the soil, but you’d have to add the needles for many years to have even a small increase in the amount of acid in the soil, so just add them to your compost pile when they are available.


There are so many more types of mulches available to you in your area. Give them a try and see what works best for you. Remember, just like it is important to use a variety of plant matter and manures in your compost heap, it is equally important to use a variety of mulches in the garden, You will be providing a variety of nutrient to the soil when you turn the mulch under. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

How to Grow Broccoli

Broccoli is considered a cole crop and can be grown in late summer and grown through the fall, or it can also be started in early spring. Broccoli is one of the most popular vegetables; however, it also gets a lot of negative comments about its taste from children. It is very easy to grow and should be planted in gardens across the USA.

You can direct seed your broccoli into the garden in both the spring and the fall because you need a good lighting system in the house if you are going to start your own transplants. The seedlings tend to get leggie very fast if you don't control the lighting consistently. Plant seeds in your fall garden by about August 20th in Texas, but sometimes it's still too hot, so, you might need to adjust accordingly. You may need a shade cloche to protect the young seedlings until they are strong enough to handle the late summer sun.

You can plant seeds about 1-2 weeks after the last frost at springtime, and plant transplants at about the same time. Plant seeds about 15-16 weeks before the first frost in the fall/winter. Planting seed should be done at no more than a half inch deep, approximately 2 feet apart. If you are planting more than one row of broccoli, plant the rows 3 feet apart.

Keep the ground around your broccoli plants evenly moist by adding a 6 inch layer of straw mulch under the plants. You may consider laying a soaker hose down the middle of the row at the base of each plant, and then cover with the mulch. There are many types of mulches that you can use in the garden but consider using straw mulch for your entire garden, as it retains a lot of moisture and keeps the plants and garden looking clean.

Fertilize once per month with a balanced fertilizer, watering it in heavily after applying. Use about one pound per 50 foot row. If fertilizer is not available, or costs are prohibitive, side dress with newly finished and screened compost. If you have a large garden, you may already have a large compost heap cooking for future use.

Since there are a few insects that like to eat your broccoli as much as you do, use hanging sticky boards around the plants to control the flying insects like cabbage loopers. If the plants are infested with soft bodied insects like aphids, use a simple soap (dish soap) and water solution (about one teaspoon per gallon of water) to spray all over the plants, including under the leaves. If you are going to use a pesticide, please use it according to the label.

Harvesting can be a little tricky if you are doing it for the first time. The key is to wait until just before the flower buds on the head of broccoli open up. Don't let the flower buds swell up too much as it will be too late. Make sure the buds are still tight. Let the buds get as big as they can before you cut them. Broccoli will produce side shoots for multiple cuttings.


Broccoli is used in a variety of ways, including fresh. Lots of recipes for stir frying are available from multiple website cooking resources, as well as pasta, beef and chicken dishes that include broccoli too. It can be blanched and then frozen or canned up using a high pressure canner. No matter how broccoli is stored or prepared, you are sure to enjoy this wonderful vegetable from your own garden.

How to Apply a Pesticide Safely

The best way to apply a pesticide safely is to READ THE LABEL prior to purchasing one! 

All too often you hear that people have had adverse effects to their plants or their person after applying a pesticide. Pesticide labels have been put in place to protect the applicator as well as the environment.

There are people out there who think that if the label calls for one ounce of pesticide to a gallon of water, it must be better to use 2 or 3 ounces per gallon of water. This is not always the case. So, what should you do to protect yourself, your landscape or vegetable garden and your neighbors when applying a pesticide? READ THE LABEL!

While working for the San Diego County Department of Agriculture, I was taught that the label was the law. There’s a variety of information on a pesticide label that will allow you to apply it in the most effective manner. The following is a list of statements, if you will, that help you to make the very best decisions when a pesticide is needed.

First, let me say that the word “pesticide” is an umbrella word that covers insect controls, weed controls, disease controls, bio controls and more. When you are looking for any sort of control for things like rabbits, moles or gophers, you are looking for some sort of “vertebrate” pest control. So the words “pest control” is used to cover a lot of different control methods (methods that will kill or control a pest to an acceptable threshold).

All proper pesticide labels should contain the following:    
The brand name, like Sevin or Roundup.
The active ingredient and the percentage of the mixture.
The weight of the product.
“Keep out of reach of children.”
 A cautionary statement (i.e. Caution, Warning or Danger).
Storage and Disposal information (information that tells you how to store and dispose of the container when empty).
Pre Harvest Interval in days (if allowed to be used of food crops).
A list of the crops and ornamental plantings that the pesticide is allowed to be applied to.
A Precautionary Statement that includes what to do if swallowed, or if on skin or clothing. A note to physicians and First Aid treatments as necessary.
 Environmental Hazards – what the pesticide is toxic to (e.g. Birds and animals).
The rate you are allowed to use on individual pests for best results. (i.e. how many ounces per gallon or how many pounds per acre).
An EPA Registration Number
An EPA Establishment Number (the number given to the establishment that produces the pesticide).

The above list is posted in a variety of ways on different products, so, make sure you read the entire label before purchasing a pesticide. This way you will know if it is the proper product you need for the pest or pests you are trying to control.

Identifying the pest that you need to control is one of the single most important piece of information you can have prior to your selection of a pesticide. Without this information, you may certainly be wasting your time and money, and potentially do harm to someone of something. You do not need an Entomology degree from some prestigious facility of higher education to identify common insect pests. Searching online these days via Google can make you a better vegetable gardener by education yourself in this area.

Ask yourself these questions before you purchase a pesticide:
1. Will the product control the pest I have?
2. Have I read and do I understand the label? Do I understand how to protect myself before, during and after application?
3. Is the pesticide usable on the plants or food crops I am trying to control the infesting pest?
4. What are the safety precautions, reentry times and harvest intervals I should follow before application, during the application, after the application and prior to harvest?
5. What do I do in case of an emergency?
And finally…
6. Have I looked at other appropriate options?

If a product or a recommendation is given to you for a mixture of different home remedies that do not come with a label, I would use extreme caution and sound judgment prior to its use. So called “Homemade Organic Mixtures” are not always the best or safest approach to pest control and often times they may do more damage, or very little control, than traditional pesticide approaches.

Traditional pest control methods may not be the best approach either. It is very important for you to do your homework, and to know that whatever you choose to use to control a pest has a label to indicate all of the things necessary for you to do to control the pest, protect yourself, protect your neighbor and to protect the environment. ALWAYS use a pesticide product according to the label. It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO READ AND UNDERSTAND THE LABEL PRIOR TO PURCHASING ANY PESTICIDE PRODUCT.

Authors Note: This article was written so as to give you information ONLY. The article was written to remind readers that it is the reader’s responsibility to use a pesticide within the limits of the label. The author cannot be held responsible for unsafe actions taken by a reader of this article, who misuses a pesticide outside of the limits of a pesticide label!         


Monday, March 28, 2016

How to Grow Asparagus


Vegetable gardening is fun, easy, and the extra work is enjoyable. One of my favorite vegetables to grow is asparagus. The crisp snap of a well grown asparagus spear is music to my ears. It is said that you can grow asparagus anywhere in the United States, except for where it is very hot. I have a bit of news for you! I live in Texas and we saw temperatures reach over 100 degrees for approximately 26 days during this summer. My asparagus is thriving and I'd like to share with you how I grew my stand.

Soil
I live in what is called the "Blackland Prairie" in North Central Texas and the soil here is certainly heavy black clay. Although asparagus loves to live in a sandy loam soil, it will survive in heavy clay soils. You should make sure that there is sufficient drainage. Once planted, mulching with finely ground finished compost to maintain soil moisture is a must.

Previous to setting out one year old crowns, purchased from a reputable garden supplier, I turn in about 6 inches of quality compost to a depth of about 12" through a process called double digging. For best results, the best soil ph range should be about 6.5 to 7.0. Make sure you test your soil before planting, so you give your asparagus the best chance to produce for years to come.

Planting and Fertilizing
Buy quality plants! Purchase plants that are at least 2 years old. Set your plants into a trench 6" deep. Cover them with about 3" of soil. As the spears start to grow, cover with more soil until the trench is full. This is when I use a finely ground finished compost as a mulch. I usually plant multiple rows about three feet apart. At planting time I use a standard vegetable fertilizer, spreading about 3-4 pounds per 100 square feet. I'll also fertilize in late July with about 1 pound per 50' row.





Disease and Insects
Your plants can be affected by Frusarium wilt. This disease is brought on by too much moisture. Typically in Texas, it comes with summer rains in July through August. It is best to just remove infected plants as there is no control available.

Rust disease can be seen as small orange patches on asparagus spears and on the fern part of the plant. Rust is usually caused by high humidity and warm temperatures, so pick a rust-resistant variety. There are many rust resistant variety's available.

Asparagus beetle can become a menace to more than just asparagus in your garden. The beetle is small and cylindrical shaped and black with yellow markings. You may also see them on your bush beans and squashes. I watch for the beetle when my spears start to break the soil. I usually hand pick the beetles, however, if necessary I treat with a vegetable garden insect killer that lists asparagus and asparagus beetle on the label.

My first focus would be to try to introduce beneficial insects into the garden to control soft bodied insects like aphids instead of just applying a pesticide. I would also consider insecticidal soaps for thrips as well.
In early spring the spears can turn brown. This is usually caused by extremely cold weather, frost or freezes. The problem can be best controlled by removing the damaged spears and mulch with straw when you know the nighttime temps will plummet.

During the growing season
My main focus is to maintain even moisture to the asparagus plants. Their roots will reach into the next row, so keep the entire growing area evenly moist. Fertilize in the same manner; evenly. You may side dress your plants with your summer feeding, but I usually make a broadcast type of fertilizing for even coverage as well.





I started off with one year-old crowns, but spent two very patient years waiting to harvest. It was well worth the wait. Then I limited my first harvest so that I would not remove too many spears that were needed for crown support later in the season. In the third year, I harvested for a longer period of time because I had many more spears come up earlier. Once you get past that third year, you can usually harvest for a period of up to two months or more. 

Stop cutting the spears when they start to get thinner and the temperatures start to rise significantly. I cut my spears at the soil level. Let the rest of the plants that grow this season grow into full grown plants. These will provide food and strength for next seasons spears.




Preparing Asparagus
Although there are a multitude of recipes for asparagus, my favorite way to cook them is on the grill. I will steam them for just about 4 or 5 minutes, and then throw them on a very hot grill to put sear marks on them. The searing/grilling just brings out the flavor.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Quick Composting: The 14 Day Method


Starting a compost heap is easier than you may think. Getting compost to the finished stage, quickly, is just as easy. Follow these steps and you will have completely finished and ready to use compost in just 14 days:

Day 1: Loosen up the dirt area with a heavy pitch fork or roto-tiller where you want the compost pile to live for the next two weeks. Saturate the ground with water and let it soak in.


Your first layer should be at least five to six feet wide and as long as you think you can physically handle every three days. Start making alternate layers with grass clippings or other green wastes, then brown materials like straw, dried twigs or shredded bark or mulch. Include household vegetable scraps and manures as well.



Wet each layer, adding just enough moisture to soak the layer thoroughly. Build your layers at least five to six feet wide at the base, building up in a trapezoid shape to at least four feet square at the top of the pile. 


Continue to layer and moisten the pile. Build the pile up to approximately five feet tall. Wet down the entire outside surface, once your pile is complete.



I've covered the outside of the completed heap with a thick layer of manure that then gets wet down. Since I raise rabbits, I have a ready source of manure on hand. Drive a six foot tall stake into the ground. Don't drive it too deeply, as you'llhttp://csc.beap.ad.yieldmanager.net/i?bv=1.0.0&bs=(1281j1skl(gid$AWFE70SOxREiP9muTf8_egG9GCALzU4E2w4ADSO5,st$1308941070862824,v$1.0))&t=blank-D&al=(as$12cmpur49,aid$9YpGDUJe5p4-,bi$712209051,ct$25,at$0)need to remove it in a few days.

Day 2: The pile should begin to heat up. With the mass of the pile, more than one cubic yard, the pile will heat up on its own. The pile will begin to break down and you'll notice some settling. If you stick your fingers in around the stake in the center of the pile, you can feel the warmth. Ideally, you need the heap to heat up to at least 140 degrees to start killing off bad pathogens. Don't let it get much hotter than that, or you'll start killing off the good bacteria.



Day 3: First chop with a mattock or a turning with a pitch fork! Remove the entire outside layer of material and put it out of the way for now. Chop the rest of the pile, making sure you get a thorough turning of the material. Replace the material that was the outside layer into the center and wet it down. Put the pile back up around the stake, one foot at a time and wet down each foot tall layer.



Day 4 and 5: The heap will start to break down and settle once again. It will get hot, heating up to 140 degrees again. Use a thermometer to check the temperature. Remove the stake to allow for good air movement from the center of the pile.

Day 6: Second Chop! Repeat Day 3 steps. Add water as needed. Re-set the stake into the center of the pile.

Day 7 and 8: The heap will be smaller still, as it breaks down. Continue to check the temperature.

Day 9: Third chop! Repeat Day 3 steps. Add water as needed. Re-set the stake. You'll notice that I have moved my pile into a bin area to help the area look a little neater.



Day 10 and 11: You'll notice the original material has decayed very well, but is not quite ready yet. Watch your temperatures.

Day 12: Final Chop! Repeat Day 3 step. Re-set the stake and wet down the outside surface lightly.



Day 13: At the end of the day, remove the stake and check the temperature of the pile. It should be below 110 degrees.

Day 14: At the end of the day, you should be able to use this compost. You can screen the material or just use as a side dressing for your fruits and vegetables or to make a bigger compost pile by layering compost between the green and brown layers.






Making compost with this 14 day method is easy, but is more difficult and time consuming the bigger the pile becomes. Keep your pile at a manageable size of about one to one and a half cubic yards. You'll find great joy in the physical work-out, and even greater joy knowing you just kept your yard wastes out of the landfill.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Growing Sweet Potatoes From Your Own Rooted Cuttings

When you place a sweet potato into a mason jar full of water, new stems and roots will grow from the potato. It may take a while, so be patient. I poke three toothpicks into the potato to hold it upright in the jar. Keep the jar filled with more water as it is used by the tuber and it evaporates.Once you start to see little white "nubs" on the side and bottom of the potato, you'll know that roots will be growing out soon.
I took cuttings, some rooted and some not, from my two sweet potatoes that have been sitting in these jars full of water for the last few months. It is obvious where you should make your cut with the stems that have roots on them, but a non rooting stems should be cut below the leaf (where you see little root "nubs" ever so slightly protruding from the stem (just below each leaf). 

I cut anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 inch below the leaf junction so that when I place these cuttings into another jar of water, I have a few nubs ready to grow more roots.



When these non rooting cuttings have some root growth on them, I'll plant them out into the garden bed. It may take a few more weeks to get some roots on them, so a little more patience is needed. Once rooted, plant the stems 2-3" inches deep and in rows about 18-24" apart in soil amended with compost.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Would you grow your potatoes this way?

I just finished planting a "new" way, for me, to plant potatoes! In a bed about 6' X 8,' I dug small depressions in the ground and placed potato cuttings in them. I filled the bed with cuttings spaced about 18" apart.

I then covered them up with about 3" to 4" of wheat straw. Once the plants start to grow through the straw to about 10" tall, I'll add more straw to just under the top two sets of leaves. and then keep doing that until the mulch is about 12" to 18" above the top of the block border. That will equal approximately 20" to 26" of straw mulch covering the potato cuttings.

The reason that I'm trying this method, is because with all of the changes going on in outlining my beds with concrete block, I do not have the soil prepared as I would normally have. I had heard of this method from a Rodale gardening article that measured the effectiveness of planting potatoes several different ways, to determine the potential improvement in yield. 

We shall see, so please follow along as they grow and are harvested at the end of the season. I will post more photos as the plants emerge from under this first application of straw, then throughout the rest of the potato growing season here in North Central Texas.

Author's Note as of April 3rd, 2016: Prior to the beginning of April, we had a lot of rain, so the above test plot all died from being too wet. This is how I usually prepare my seed potatoes. And, this is how I mulch my potatoes once they are growing

Please feel free to share this with your vegetable gardening friends!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Preparing Your Springtime Plantings

For those of you, like me, who enjoy planting their own seeds for springtime plantings, rather than go buy them at the local nursery, the following are a few tips that I have used for years. Please keep in mind that there are several different USDA Zones across the country, so please go to USDA.gov to find out what yours is in regard to when you should get your seeds started indoors (find out when the last frost date is in your region).

There are a few things that you’ll need to get your seeds off to a good start…some are optional, but all of them have proven to help my pre-season seeding practices be successful.
Soil: If you choose a cheap bagged soil, you may get poor results. I do not have any personal connection with “Jiffy” brand of products, but they have worked VERY WELL for me over many years.  I use the Organic seed starting mix, not because I have a “bend” toward being organic, but because it WORKS! After many attempts at finding and using several different brands, Jiffy works the best for me and my situation.

I also use Jiffy brand “Peat Pots. I choose to start my seeds in the 3” pots, so that by the time I can transplant some of the more sensitive plants into the vegetable garden, like peppers, I can plant the entire pot without disturbing the roots of these delicate babies.

Water: I have consistently expressed the need to keep your seedlings evenly watered. As you can see by the photo above, I place all of my seed pots in trays (with no drainage holes in the trays).  I ALWAYS water from the bottom of the pot (I pour water into the tray), rather than watering into the top of the pot. 

The potential to dislodge the seeds is a risk I do not want to take. I am also able to avoid “damping off” disease. The peat post start to soak up the water and within just a few minutes the entire pot is moist and the seedlings get all the water they need.
Light: I am a simple man, without a lot of resources. To provide my family with quality produce from the garden, at a better price than the grocery store, which always seems to be a challenge, I do not own EXPENSIVE grow lights. 

For all of the years that I’ve been growing my own seeds, I have found that a simple “shop light” with T-8 or T-12 cool white fluorescent bulbs work just fine. I use 4 shop lights with 2 bulbs in them and they are set on a timer for 14 hours per day. Yes, the “grow lights” may have beneficial light waves, or some other magical force, but the cost is too prohibitive for my situation.
Heat: All too often I am told by the so-called experts, on some social media sites, that a warming pad placed underneath the seed trays is unnecessary. Even though I have expressed that I grow in my garage, and it gets below freezing on some days while I’m growing the seeds, they still lambaste me for such a foolish waste. And then I ask them “what is their germination rate?” When I’m told that they get a whopping 75% to 80 %, I kindly let them know that I typically get 95 to 100%.

So, if you can afford a warming pad, because you do not have the proper spot inside the house to grow, then I’m suggesting that you consider getting one.

Seed: It seems like most “forward thinking” vegetable gardeners are shifting to, or have shifted a long time ago, to growing only “Heirloom” seeds. I have, and found it to be a good move. Yes, I do still plant a few “hybrid” varieties, but 95% of my seeding consists of heirloom varieties. I have used several providers in the past with so-so results (considering all of the other things above are the same), but have rested on one provider, The Seed Guy. His seeds are clean and plump and for the last three years (again, considering all of the other things above are the same) I have gotten 100% germination rate.

(NOTE: I am in no way suggesting that any seed company, or myself, are saying that you can ALWAYS get a 100% germination rate. I will say, however, that if you do all of the things listed above, your chances will be much better.) When I plant my seed, I usually plant a seed or two more in each hole. That way, when it’s time to thin the seedlings, I can choose the biggest and healthiest one or two in each pot.
Well, there you go. The things I do to get my seedlings prepped are listed above and I hope you will have the same success and fun that I have had throughout my gardening experience. Good luck to you and your gardening efforts.