Gardening Tip of the Week

Onions: Good For More than Just Eating

March 26, 2019

There is a lot of questionable information and old wives tales circulating about companion planting. Some pairings work well in very specific circumstances and not in others and sometimes the science behind successful pairing is not well-documented. However, one of the tried-and-true is planting onions among or around your other crops to deter pests – insects and rabbits. The strong scent of onions can drive off some pests and it will disguise the scent of other crops.

Even if you are not terribly interested in onions as a crop themselves, they are easy to grow interspersed with other crops. And they store well once harvested.

There are a couple of ways to grow onions – they can be started from seed indoors in late winter or direct sown outdoors in early spring. You can sometimes find seedlings to plant as well.

However, the easiest and most common is onion sets, which are young onion bulbs grown from thickly sown seeds (the plants were not given enough room to grow full-size onions). These can be re-planted and with adequate space, they will grow into full-size onions. Plant the sets with the point is just below the top of the soil and space them about 4-6 inches apart (or vary depending on what you are planting next to). Like most root crops, onions like a soil that is consistently moist.

Time to Start Peppers and Eggplant

February 27, 2019

It is time to sow hot and sweet peppers and eggplant seeds indoors. Both of these plants are slow growers that like heat and do not tolerate cold temperatures. Starting them indoors now means the plants will be a nice size for transplanting when nighttime temperatures are consistently above 55ºF (usually beginning of May)

Both Eggplants and Peppers are thirsty plants but do not like to be waterlogged, so we recommend using trays or pots with drainage holes and a separate water tray. Before planting, be sure to wash trays with hot water and soap, sanitize with a 9 parts water, 1 part bleach solution to prevent last year’s pests from causing disease this spring. Fill with a seed starter mix or use peat pellets. It is important to have a well draining soil mixture. If the soil is too heavy you can have mold growing on your seedlings! Keep growing medium moist, but not wet!

Eggplants and Peppers also like warm soil, so set your tray on a propagating mat or on top of the refrigerator to encourage germination. Once sprouted, give the peppers plenty of light (cool fluorescent lamps as close to the tray without touching the plant).

When transplanting them outside both eggplants and peppers need full sun and about 18″ of space per plant. Avoid planting peppers and eggplants in places where tomatoes grew last year as the three are susceptible to the same diseases.

Getting Your Tools Ready for Spring

February 13, 2019

We are getting close to Spring so this is the time to check the conditions of your tools. Make sure they are clean, sharp, and in good working order.

While tools should be cleaned after every use and particularly before winter storage, sometimes one gets missed. Start with clean tools. If any tools are cracked or broken, asses whether they can be fixed or need to be replaced. If there is any rust on functional tools, sand the rust spots off with 80 grit sandpaper, a wire brush, or, for extensive rust, a drill with a wire brush attachment.

If your tools need sharpening, brace the tool and use a simple mill file. Draw it at an angle across the edge you want to sharpen in one direction, in one smooth stroke along the length of the edge, maintaining the angle of the factory bevel (cutting edge) until you’ve achieved the desired sharpness.

With cleaned and rust-free (or as close as you can get) tools, wrap up the chore by oiling the exposed metal with boiled linseed oil.

Low Tunnels and Cold Frames

February 6, 2019

You can get a jumpstart on spring planting by putting up a low tunnel or cold frame.Putting them up now will warm the soil several weeks early and allow your cool season vegetables to germinate. They will continue to protect seedlings from freezing temperatures and sun scald as we head out of winter and can also be used to harden off the seedlings started indoors.

Low tunnels are simple to construct and many different ways to do them. The way we normally do them is using PVC pipe.  To build them – Attach pipe straps – found in the plumbing section of the hardware store – to the outside of your bed. Bend small diameter PVC pipe (keep it warm until you are ready to bend it in place – cold PVC will snap!) and slide them into the pipe straps. Then cover with clear plastic sheeting. The heavier the plastic the better, it will stand up to UV light and protect from cold temperatures. However, heavier plastic also lets less light in, which leads to slower growth. Greenhouse film is the the best type of plastic sheeting.

A cold frame can be constructed out of scrap lumber and an old window (avoid using windows with frames with lead paint). Construct a box from the lumber and add the window to the top with hinges so you can vent the cold frame on bright, sunny days. Ideally, the window slopes and you position the frame so the slope is south-facing in order to get the most sun exposure.

Even more simply, a cold frame from an old window and straw bales. Arrange the bale so the window rests on top. When the weather warms, remove the window and use the straw bales to mulch the garden.
Do remember that on bright, sunny days, even quite cold ones, temperatures inside cold frames and low tunnels can climb high enough to stress plants. They need to be vented during the day and sealed up as night approaches and temperatures drop.