Saturday, July 25, 2015

Keeping Stressed Plants Alive During the Summer

During the extreme heat of summer, plants can become stressed. Plant stress can be identified by wilted leaves, discoloration and increased pest problems. While there is no single solution to keep stressed plants alive during the summer, there are some steps you can take to help them survive until conditions improve. 

Managing Stressed Plants

  • Focus your effort and money on what is truly important- I’m not going to tell you not to water your lawn, but if you have to choose between keeping the lawn pretty and keeping your fresh veggies growing or your shade trees alive, choose wisely!
  • Water your trees- Large, established shade trees are impossible to replace. They add value to your property as well as save money and preserve fuels by lessening the sun’s heat effect on your home. During times of severe drought, even older trees can become stressed so use drip irrigation to water them deeply if conditions are very dry.
  • Water the garden at night- Generally speaking, this is a gardening no-no. We are told to water during the day, which is wise advice when you are trying to avoid powdery mildew. During severe heat and drought, consider watering at night to allow water extra time to sink into the soil without evaporation.
  • Postpone changes- When our plants are stressed do not move or adjust them in any way. This is not the season to divide plants or to plant anything new. Even fertilizing can be postponed during this time because we do not want to try to force our plants into new growth while they are stressed.

The best advice I have to offer is this: Just try to keep it alive. Keeping stressed plants alive during the summer is a challenge but it is not impossible.

How do you deal with stressed plants?

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Gardening in the Heat of the Summer

When summer arrives, it is easy to lose track of the garden. Weeds take over because it is simply too
hot to get out there and work, so we often avoid gardening in the heat of summer. Not only do we feel the stress of the heat on our bodies, plants feel it, too. Here are some tips to beat the heat in the garden this summer.

Water Containers Frequently

Water evaporates out of containers much more quickly than it does in the ground, so while you could probably get away with watering the garden twice a week, containers should be watered at least once a day in the summer. To see how frequently you need to water, stick your finger into the top inch of soil. If it’s dry down to an inch go ahead and water. If it’s still moist below the top layer, hold off. Too much water can cause root rot.

Water In-Ground Plants Infrequently

To encourage deep, healthy growth of plant roots, water in-ground plants infrequently. These plants will do better with infrequent, deep watering rather than frequent, shallow watering. Check your soil daily using the 1 inch method above.

Combine Work and Play

Remember the joy of playing in the sprinkler? Turn on that overhead sprinkler at any time of day and take care of your garden business. It is fun and refreshing, and you might even be able to lure the kids out to play. Just don’t forget to protect your skin from sunburn.

Do Garden Work Right After Breakfast or After Dinner

The coolest part of the day is early morning, but if you can’t (or won’t) get outside early, wait to do garden chores until after dinner when the sun has gone down. I have been known to pull weeds until it is too dark to see them.

Prepare to Sweat

A lot of us don’t like to sweat, but it is good for you so I would encourage you to embrace the sweat. It is a great way to rid the body of toxins. Just be sure to drink plenty of water before and after working.

It is easy to feel restricted by the weather when you are gardening in the heat of the summer, but there is something special about working in the garden when the fireflies begin their show.  Once the work is done, it is nice to sit back with a big glass of lemon water and watch the night creep in.

What is your favorite time to work in the garden?

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Keeping the Garden Watered Frugally and Efficiently

During the hot days of summer, keeping the garden watered frugally and efficiently is important for the health of your plants, and it saves money and time. Here are the basics for keeping your garden alive during the months when it produces the most food.

When do I Water?

Containers and raised beds dry out faster than in-ground gardens, so they require more frequent watering than in-ground plants. The rule with watering anything -- houseplants, outdoor containers, in-ground plants, etc. -- is to water deeply when the soil is dry one inch below the surface. If you aren't sure when to water, consider getting something like this soil moisture sensor from Gardener's Supply.

How Long do I Water?

The duration of watering depends on your watering method; drip irrigation systems will water more slowly than an overhead sprinkler. Making sure you water thoroughly will take some trial and error. Water for 30 minutes, then dig a hole and see how deep the water has penetrated. Adjust your timing as needed to make sure water reaches the plant roots at 4 to 6 inches deep. Water after dusk or before dawn to keep evaporation to a minimum. Mulching well also prevents evaporation.

What is the Best Method?

There is no one-size-fits-all method of watering. For small gardens and containers, a hose end sprayer works well. For large gardens, an overhead sprinkler is a frugal option, while a drip irrigation system offers an efficient use of water. For gardens close to the house, a rain barrel provides the best solution for free, biologically active water which is the best option for a healthy soil environment. Think about your budget and the size of your garden before deciding on an irrigation system. A combination of systems may work well for a large yard; consider a rain barrel for a small garden close to the house and a large overhead sprinkler for the veggie garden.

Dry spells are hard to anticipate but in NWA we almost always have at least six dry weeks in the summer, sometimes a lot more. Have your irrigation plan in place so you are prepared to keep the garden watered frugally and efficiently throughout the growing season.

What is your favorite watering method?

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Simple Method for Canning Tomatoes

Every summer I end up with copious amounts of extra tomatoes so I use this simple method for canning tomatoes so we can enjoy them year round.  While I also freeze and dehydrate tomatoes, this is the quickest way of preserving large amounts of them.

Be Safe

The most important thing when it comes to canning tomatoes is to make sure there is plenty of acid. Low acid levels increase the possibility of botulism, a deadly bacteria that can grow in improperly preserved foods. It’s rare, and yes, your grandmother probably canned without adhering to the new canning guidelines, but it simply isn’t worth the risk. Pressure canning tomatoes eliminates the possibility of botulism, but pressure canners can be expensive. Thankfully, tomatoes can be safely canned using an inexpensive hot water bath canner.

Canned Tomato Recipe

This is my method. If you don’t want the skins on the tomatoes, blanch them quickly first and the skins should slip off.

1. Remove stems and damaged areas, then run all tomatoes through a food processor, including slicing and cherry types.
2. Bring chopped tomatoes to a boil in a large pan.
3. Pour boiling tomatoes into canning jars, leaving ½ inch head space.
4. If tomatoes are very ripe or bruised, add ½ tsp. citric acid or 4 tbsp. vinegar per quart. (I add vinegar to every quart just to be safe.)
5. Wipe the mouth of the jars with a clean cloth.
6. Secure lids.
7. Place jars in a hot water bath with at least 1 inch of water covering the top of the jar.
8. Place the lid on the canner and process pints for 35 minutes and quarts for 45 minutes. Start the timer when water comes to a rolling boil.
9. Remove jars from the water as soon as processing time is up and allow to cool on the counter.

Once this simple method of canning tomatoes is done, just sit back and enjoy the popping sound of sealing lids and look forward to enjoying your harvest well into winter.  

 What is your favorite way to preserve tomatoes?

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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Best Options for Watering the Backyard Garden

Every gardener must water his plants occasionally and there is a lot of information out there about the best options for watering the backyard garden. Each author seems to believe there is one correct way to do it, and of course each “right way” is different.

As in most garden related processes, there is not one correct way for everyone. This type of thinking alienates people and keeps them from gardening either because of cost or ability. My philosophy is, just do the best you can. Nature is forgiving.

Overhead Watering vs. Drip Irrigation

Most professionals suggest drip irrigation and there is a good reason for this. When plants are watered overhead, soil splashes up on the leaves potentially causing fungal diseases, such as blight, to spread. Drip irrigation systems also use less water, which saves money for those using municipal water. The problem with drip irrigation is the initial cost and the complication of design. A more frugal solution is to mulch the garden well and use a typical overhead sprinkler. There are so many benefits of mulch, and, since nature waters from overhead in the form of rain, the design can’t be that flawed.

Water Sources

Water sources fall in the categories of good, better and best.

  • Good: Municipal water from the house. There’s no setup fee, but your monthly bill will increase depending on how much water you use. Plants do not care for chlorinated water, since it’s sterile and lacks the beneficial minerals of rainwater, but in a pinch, it is enough to keep your garden alive. 
  • Better: Rainwater from rain barrels. Saving rainwater is obviously a great thing because it conserves resources and money. You can either purchase pre-made rain barrels or make some yourself from food-grade containers or trash cans. Some skills and tools are required to make your own but it is rather uncomplicated. Unless you invest in a water pump, you will have to also invest in a drip irrigation system to use with a rain barrel, or fill watering cans and water the garden by hand. 
  • Best: Rain straight from the sky. As long as it rains at least once a week, I don’t bother with watering. I wait as long as I can without putting the plants in stress.

Tips for Watering Your Garden

  • If you are an early bird, water in early in the morning. Morning watering allows the water to be absorbed by the soil with very little evaporation and moisture will not remain on leaves causing mildew. You can water at night, which offers the least amount of evaporation, but water remaining on the leaves overnight could lead to mildew issues on leaves. If you are watering at night and start noticing an increase in mildew, switch to morning watering.
  • Frequent, shallow watering causes plants to put down shallow roots. Water deeply less often for stronger plants.
  • Mulch well to prevent evaporation, erosion and the spread of fungal issues.
  • Water well anytime the soil is dry 1 inch below the soil surface. If you aren't sure about watering, consider getting one of these soil moisture sensors.
  • Containers require much more frequent watering than in-ground plants. In the heat of summer they will likely require watering once or twice a day.

The best options for watering the backyard garden really depend on the ability of the gardener, the type of garden and availability of funds. Do the best you can with the resources you have and do not worry about doing it "right."

Do you have a watering tip to share?

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

July Garden Plan for Songbird Gardens

It's all about maintenance this month -- watering and weeding, mostly. I always have a hard time getting things to germinate in the heat of July but we've had such a rainy summer that that might not be the case this year. I do have a couple of empty beds where I'll pull out green beans and garlic this month. Those will get planted with zucchini and cucumbers. Late this month I will start thinking about fall crops. Already!

I document my harvests and the growth in my garden almost daily on Instagram and I'm broadcasting live on Periscope (search for songbirdtiff). Follow me on either of those apps or using the social media links below to see the garden grow!

Click to enlarge

How is your garden growing?

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Properly Harvest Fruits and Veggies to Prevent Damage

Properly harvesting fruits and veggies without damage, for the most part, requires the use of two hands. You need one to hold the stem securely, the other to pull. Be methodical and do it right to keep healthy plants.

Thick Stemmed Plants

Thicker stemmed veggies should be harvested with a sharp set of pruners. Squash and okra have thicker stems, so snip the stem just above the fruit. Winter squash and gourds must have a little extra stem attached in order for them to store well, so leave at least 1 inch of stem when you harvest.

Thin Stemmed Plants

Vegetables like peppers and tomatoes with thin stems can easily be pulled off without a cutting tool. You can’t go in and just give it a good yank, unless you want to pull the plant out of the ground or break a branch. Hold the stem with one hand and gently remove the fruit with the other.

Root Vegetables

Heavy clay soil can make harvesting root veggies difficult, especially when it’s dry. Before harvesting turnips, onions or garlic, loosen the soil around the plant with a spading fork. If the roots don’t come up with a gentle pull, while leaving the stems fully attach, keep loosening the soil.

Leafy Greens

Use a sharp pair of garden scissors to harvest green, leafy things like kale and lettuce, although breaking them off at the base of each leaf works pretty well. Veggies that form heads like cabbage and head lettuces can be cut with a sharp knife at the base of the plant, above the lowest leaves.

Teach everyone in your house, and everyone who visits your garden, to properly harvest fruits and veggies to prevent damage. There's nothing worse than coming out to the garden to find a lot of man-made damage. Work slowly and carefully to keep plants healthy.

What is your favorite harvesting tool?

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