Flowers Nice Enough to Eat Edible Beauties You Can Grow

Cooking with flowers has been common since Roman times, perhaps even earlier. Flowers such as orange blossoms, pansies, rose hips, marigolds and roses have long been used for food and ornamentation. Today you can refresh this tradition and impress your friends with your gardening and cooking knowledge. But there are some cautions to keep in mind before taking the leap and eating flowers. First, only eat or cook with flowers that you know are edible. Do your research. If you have a doubt, it is always better to contact your local poison control center before cooking or eating a doubted flower. Never, ever eat a flower that has come from a florist. You cannot be sure what those flowers might have been treated with to keep them pretty and healthy looking. I also suggest taste testing any plant you plan to eat, after you know it is safe to do so and before harvesting large amounts. There is no point in cultivating and harvesting something for food if you do not like the way it tastes. At least with flowers, if you grow it and do not like the way it tastes, it will still add beauty to your home and garden.

Just to be on the safe side, eat only the flowers that you have grown, since those are the only plants you have a complete known history. Your own plants will only have been exposed to what you have introduced to them, so if you plan to eat your harvest keep it organic and free of poisons. One more suggestion, be cautious when you are trying to eat or cook flowers for the first time. There are some possible allergies, particularly for individuals that suffer from other plant allergies or hay fever, so try a small amount and be sure you do not have an allergy to eating the flowers of your choice before diving in. Now that all the dire warnings are out of the way, we can move on to the fun stuff, which plants are generally accepted as edible.... cooking with lavender at Merryspring Nature Center on Tuesday, May 21

Lavender is one of the most common flowers used in cooking today. The plant is simple to grow in a sunny and dry location. It is an attractive addition to a vegetable or flower garden, with the beautiful purple flowers. Those flowers can be used to make a soothing tea, in chocolate treats, to flavor lavender vinegar, to flavor jams or mixed with savory herbs in soups and stews. Lavender flowers are particularly good in wine reduced sauces and as a garnish for beverages or sorbets. You can also use the flowers as a bath water additive for a relaxing soak. Lavender has a fresh, clean scent that is soothing and can be used in gentle insect repellents.Atarcha - La'atarcha - Robert Geranium and Scented Geraniums

Scented geraniums are a nice low-maintenance perennial. The flowers tend to be tiny and pink. They are profuse in the spring. The scents of the geranium leaves vary, the most common are rose scented however, there are also lemon, peppermint and ginger scented plants as well. The flowers are often used as garnishes, most notably on wedding cakes. You can also use the flowers as floating garnishes in beverages. Just be sure to note which scent you have, since some flavors match up with your beverage of choice better than others. I strongly suggest steering clear of the Citronelle variety, since there are high doubts about this strain being edible, much less tasty.

Borage grows best in areas with full sun, but can still grow well in light shade. This plant grows easily from seed and will spread out like a ground cover and self-seed for future years. The flowers are delicate and star shaped in a brilliant shade of blue, similar to a forget-me-not (Myosotis). The blossoms are small and sweet with a cucumber type flavor. The borage blossoms look fantastic as a garnish for beverages like lemonade and sorbets. The leaves can be chopped finely, mainly to lessen their furry texture, and used in salads.

Chamomile is best known for its use in teas and lotions. Chamomile grows best in full sun to part shade. Once the plant is established, it will self-seed for future years. This annual can grow between two and three feet high with finely cut leaves and tiny flowers that resemble daisies. The flowers and leave have a slight apple fragrance. While it is easy to grow and harvest for a soothing cup of tea, I suggest avoiding chamomile if you are allergic to ragweed. It is likely you will be sensitive to this plant as well. To make a fresh tea with chamomile, you should harvest the flowers when the petals have begun to droop. Put around three teaspoons of fresh flowers in boiling water and allow the flowers to steep for around three minutes. They you can simply strain and drink. If you prefer a lighter chamomile flavor, you can blend the flowers with the tea of your choice.

Johnny-Jump-Ups, or violas, are a favorite in my garden simply because I love the combination of purple, yellow and white colors and the ease of growth. This annual takes very little care. It will bloom profusely in sun or shade. The plant does best in cool weather and has a light wintergreen flavor. Once planted or started from seed this flower will self-sow. The flowers can be used as a garnish floating in a punch bowl or decoration for a dessert or salad. The flowers can be crystallized or candied for a wider variety of decoration and culinary use. Pansies and violets are related flowers and can be used in the same way.

Nasturtiums are often seen as an invasive weed. This annual grows best in full sun and poor soil. Part of the beauty of intentionally growing this flower is that it is not bothered by neglect, so it is great for beginners and forgetful gardeners. The plant has round shaped leaves and beautiful sunset shaded flowers grow on a vine. The leaves and blossoms are both edible and are great in salads, omelets, sandwiches and soups. The flavor is close to that of watercress. Varieties of Nasturtiums all grow easily from seed; including a tall, dwarf, and climbing vine which grow between one and three feet.Marigold-Calendula-Flower-Petals-Organic-Gourmet-Quality-For-Cooking ...

Pot marigolds or Calendula are often already in your vegetable garden, I usually use them as a companion plant around the edges of mine. These are low maintenance annuals which can easily be grown from seed and which will self-sow for future years. The plants can grow up to eighteen inches tall and do best in full sun. Calendula is at its peak during the early summer, and will start to fade a bit in the hottest days of summer. For optimum growth cut the plant back after the first bloom to help encourage more growth. The orange or yellow flower petals can easily be harvested from the flower head and be used fresh in a salad. Petals that have been harvested and dried can be added to chowders, paella, or muffin mixes. The dried petals can also be used as a substitute for pricey saffron.

Flowering onions (Allium) includes around four hundred species including shallots, onions, leeks, garlic and chives. All members of this genus do well in well-drained, rich soil in a sunny area. Seeds, nursery plants or bulbs for these plants can be planted in mild wintered areas during the fall. All parts of these plants are edible, and all members of the genius are edible with the flowers having a slightly stronger flavor that the leaves. The flowers within this genus tend to be lavender colored, some more pink than light purple. The flowers and leaves are a nice addition to salads. Leaves can also be added to stews and soups. The florets can be broken apart and added to egg dishes, potatoes, cream cheese, and cooked vegetables for added flavor.Kate Ward: Cooking with Flowers - part 1

Rose petals are another popular addition in the kitchen. The flavor and ease of growth depends on the rose you grow. All rose varieties have edible flowers, with the flavor of the darker flowers being stronger than the lighted shaded petals. When choosing a rose to harvest petals from choose the roses with the strongest scent, as those will have the most flavor. The petals can be added to butters, fruit salads, meat dishes, jellies, beverages, syrups, and a variety of desserts. Roses are also a great addition to brewing teas and soothing baths. One helpful note, the white section of a petal is bitter, so it is best to remove that potion of the petals before using.

There are quite a few poisonous flowers that you absolutely need to steer clear of ingesting, but still look terribly pretty. These include the daffodil, foxglove, calla lily, azalea, crocus, hydrangea, hyacinth and wisteria among many others. You also need to avoid the leaves of a few friendly vegetable plants like those of tomatoes, potatoes eggplant and peppers. I know I have seen some of these non-edible plants as garish or decoration on desserts. So again, I recommend that you do your research and make sure that the plant, and the part of the plant that you intend on eating, is edible before you harvest it. Not everything that is used as decoration is strictly edible, so do not eat it if you do not know it is safe!

Harvest your flowers in the morning if you can. Like any other plant product you want to eat, flowers will need to be washed. Simply rinse the flowers in cool water, gently shake them to remove excess moisture and then let them dry on a paper towel. I recommend doing a second check of your flowers before eating or cooking, just to be sure that there are no tiny pests hiding out in the flower petals or on the undersides of leaves. It does not hurt to give the flowers a second, or even third wash if you feel the need. After the flowers are clean and dry it is time to use them or store them. If you do not plan on eating or cooking with the flowers right away then keep the plants between layers of damp paper towel in your refrigerator. Another rinse and check of stored flowers before use is suggested, not necessary if you did a thorough job the first go round.

There are many more edible flowers out there, and many more ways to use them. These are the easiest to grow and ones that I suggest for getting started in the tradition of cooking and eating flowers. For a more comprehensive list, and more ideas, I suggest talking to fellow gardeners, chefs and staff members of a trusted garden center. You can also visit How to Choose Edible Flowers – Edible Flower Chart for a more comprehensive guide to flowers and how you can use them.

War Against Verticillium Wilt: A Dreaded Tomato Fungus

Verticillium wilt is a common fungus throughout North America that is best known for its effects on tomatoes; although other vegetables such as eggplant, okra, cucumbers, peppers, melons, potatoes and other crops can also be at risk. This fungus also does a number of some trees and fruit bushes. What makes this particular fungus so hard to fight is that the spores can remain in your soil for up to ten years. So, in truth, verticillium wilt has been introduced to your garden, it is pretty much there to stay. So what is an avid gardener to do? Fortunately, some preventative measures, control measures, promoting healthy growth and the planting of resistant varieties of vegetables can help keep this fungi from ruining your fun time in the garden.

Verticillium wilt tends to be widespread in garden soil and in cool, wet conditions will attack your crops through small wounds. The attacking spores sends its hyphae through your plat’s vascular system, cutting of the necessary water and nutrients from the higher parts of the plant. The fungus also releases a toxin that causes damage to plant tissues. On tomatoes the first symptom of this fungus can be as simple as slow growth and leaves that turn yellow and drop off. Eggplants that are infected while young will often fade and die off. General symptoms include one or more branches that wilt midday but recover later. As the infection, and days, progress the branches will stop recovering at the end of the day, even with watering. To double check that verticillium wilt is the correct diagnosis you can cut a stem from the base of the plant. If you see dark streaks down the middle it is indicative of the fungus blocking the vascular system.

To fight infection, and limit the damage it does to your garden, it is best to keep your garden watered and well fed to avoid stressing the plants and allowing a weakness for the fungus to exploit. Be careful not to over water. When you are weeding and doing other work in the garden be careful not to damage or disturb any of the roots, this would offer an opening for the fungus to attack. Use compost tea and mulch with compost to encourage healthy plants and to support beneficial soil fungi. Tomato plants can go symptom free until they have developed green, or sometimes ripe, fruit. If this is the case in your garden pick the fruit immediately. The fruit will be edible since even green fruits will ripen after picking. After picking any viable fruit uproot and dispose of the plant immediately. If plants are infected and showing symptoms before fruit sets then the plant is not likely to produce a harvest that is worthwhile. Uproot these pants and dispose of them as soon as you not the infection. When your growing season is over dispose of any remaining infected crop residues or bury them deeply in your soil. These steps will help to limit the spread of this infection. The same goes for any weeds that are pulled from the infected soil. Do not forget to thoroughly disinfect any gardening tools and gloves that have come in contact with infected soil or plants. Fungicides are not an option, this particular fungus will not be effectively controlled with them. Although, those with many garden beds, or commercial growers, can benefit from long, four to five year, crop rotation with non related crops.

When you are gearing up to plant again there are a few things you can do to limit the negative the impact of verticillium wilt. If you have the time and inclination, solarizing your soil during the hottest part of the summer can help kill nematodes and fungi spores in your soil. Prepare your soil before you plant by adding compost to the soil to increase the population of beneficial soil fungi. It would also be wise to chose tomato varieties that are Verticillium Wilt, Fusarium Wilt, and Nematode (VFN) resistant. There are several varieties of tomatoes that fit the bill. You should also be sure to choose plant certified disease free seeds for potatoes. There are some resistant varieties for potatoes, but to my knowledge no resistant varieties of eggplant have been cultivated. Just be sure to read your labels and as always if you have any questions or concerns ask an professional. This includes staff at your favorite garden center, nursery or seed catalog. It can also be helpful to ask other area gardeners, as they have probably been through similar trials and will be willing to share the knowledge that they have gain through experience.

Battling with Blossom-End Rot

Blossom-end rot is a common issue for gardeners throughout Canada and the United States. I have found blossom-end rot on my tomatoes occasionally, but the infection can also be found on peppers, eggplants, melons, squash and zucchini. The infection begins with a small tan or water soaked area forming at the blossom end of a growing fruit. As the fruit continues to grow, so does the infected area. The tissue in that area dries and shrinks, which can cause the bottom of the fruit to become sunken or flat. Fruits can then either drop of the plants or remain clinging to the vine, which can cause the infection to spread. On occasion, the blossom-end rot symptoms will occur internally, with no spot forming on the outside of the fruit.

Blossom-end rot is most often caused by water stress that is triggered by a lack of soil moisture, but that is not the only cause. Too much water, rough cultivation that can damage the roots systems of crops, off balanced soil pH, and cold soil are among other factors interfering with proper root function, which can contribute to the onset of blossom-end rot. Other contributing factors can include too much nitrogen fertilizer, which can stimulate so much growth that it triggers too much competition among your crops for calcium.

To fight infection you need to inspect fruit periodically for the symptoms of infection. This is especially important if the weather has been very dry or very wet recently. Remove any fruits that are showing the symptoms of blossom-end rot as soon as you notice them. This will allow the plants to put all their resources into new, healthy fruits. The immature fruits that you have pulled will probably not mature properly, so it is best to compost them. If your soil is dry, water thoroughly and then mulch to conserve moisture levels. At the end of the harvest season, continue removing any infected or fallen fruits to prevent further rot problems. Those fruits could be harboring the makings for secondary rot infections.

When you are ready to think about your next round of planting, remember the underlying causes of blossom-end rot. One of which was cold soil. Therefore, if you are planning on undertaking some early planting be sure that you take steps like using raised beds, or covering your soil with black plastic or plastic mulch before planting to encourage soil warming. Plant your most susceptible crops in loose well-fertilized soil to encourage large, healthy root systems. When you are removing weeds around your crops remember to be careful, damaging the root systems will make the vegetable plants vulnerable to blossom-end rot as well as other problems. I suggest pulling weeds by hand rather than using a hoe or other garden tools. It is also important to maintain the proper moisture level in your soil through watering and mulching as needed. Be especially attentive to this when the weather is not cooperating with your needs. If the weather becomes hot and windy, it would be wise to try to shade your plants during the hottest parts of the day. Checking the soil pH could be necessary if blossom-end rot remains a persistent problem. Remember to follow the instructions on the kit and respond appropriately to adjust the soil pH if needed.

Beyond these steps to control and prevent blossom-end rot you can also use some crop rotation methods to further balance the nutrients found in your soil. You can also find some blossom-end rot resistant or tolerant varieties of your favorite vegetables. There are several varieties of tomatoes that are tolerant. As always read labels and when in doubt talk to a professional at your favorite garden supplier. It can also be helpful to talk with other local gardeners, as they have to deal with similar conditions and infections that you are likely to encounter.

How to Deal with Downy Mildew

Downy mildew can appear on garden crops throughout the United States and Canada during long periods of cool, wet weather. A wide range of vegetables are susceptible to this mildew, though it can become a serious issue with crops of onions, spinach, cucumbers, lettuce and melons. Infection can develop very quickly and make the plants appear to be frosted in the overnight hours, even though temperatures are above freezing, The spores of the mildew form furry looking masses on the undersides of leaves and disappear when dry. Infected plants will survive the infection, but will not provide a good harvest.

The first visible symptom of downy mildew on many crops is an irregular yellowish brown or pale green spots on older leaves. When the weather conditions are right a downy coating will appear on leaf undersides. However, the color of that coating varies by type of crop infected. Crops from the squash family will have a coating that can range from pale gray to dark shades that are almost black while spinach the coating will display as purple or blue. The coating on lettuce will be yellow or brown, and it will be blue-gray on onions. In the end the infected leaves will turn brown and die. There are other possible symptoms on the variety of crops that can be infected. For instance, lima beans show the mildew on the pods, infected squash fruits do not show the mildew but produce stunted or sun-scalded fruits due to the loss of foliage, and beet plants form a rosette. Sometime secondary rots and diseases can attack the sun-scalded and vulnerable plants already infected by downy mildew.

To fight the infection you need to start by picking off infected parts of your plants and taking them out of the garden. If possible switch to watering your garden bed with a hand-held hose or drip irrigation. When the weather cooperates and turns a bit warmer and dryer then those small steps might be just enough to stop the spread of downy mildew. If the weather waits awhile to change then you might have to repeat your removal of infected plant parts. If the weather continues, or the condition seems determined to spread then you can apply copper to prevent the disease from completely ruining the crop. However, I do suggest the application of copper, following package instructions of course, as a last resort.

To clean up your garden after an outbreak it is best to dig in or compost any crop remains for plants in the squash family. For other crops it is best to completely remove and destroy all noticeably diseased crop remains. Any other crop remains should be composted in a hot compost pile, which will destroy any remaining spores. Do not forget to remove any weeds or other plants that might carry the downy mildew, such as wild mustard and shepherd’s purse.

When you are ready to plant again go with varieties that are resistant or tolerant if they are available. As always plant clean seed, if you doubt the cleanliness of the seed do a test germination to make sure the seeds are healthy and viable. Another change you can make to lower the risk of infection reoccurring is to shift your planting dates to avoid having your crops growing during the cool, wet weather that most supports the mildew’s growth. In some areas that time of the growing season falls during the early spring, in others it happens in late fall. So, it all depends on the climate in your specific area. If spring plantings are the ones that displayed downy mildew symptoms then you should avoid planting your fall crops of cabbage family or spinach crops in the same area. Make sure you space the plants widely, prune plants as needed and stake plants as necessary to allow for the best level of air circulation.

If you want to take additional steps then applying preventative sprays could be in order, particularly if it is a reoccurring issue for you. To go organic and with materials you might have available for free try applying compost tea to the area. Bacillus subitilis, a bicarbonate fungicide or even neem can be used. If using a preventative spray then use it before or after planting, if spraying neem you should only begin spraying if and when symptoms appear. Again, be sure to follow package instructions for anything you purchase for garden use. Unfortunately with crops in the squash family, crop rotation will not help matters since the mildew spreads mainly through windblown spores. However, a two to three year rotation by crop family can be helpful with other vegetables.

How to Deal with Damping-Off

Damping-off can be an issue in coldframes, garden beds and when starting seeds indoors. It is found through out Canada and the United States, attacking most vegetable crops. While a few fungi can be the cause of the problem, the best strategy is to avoid the environmental conditions that support damping-off rather than destroying the fungi, since they can be valuable parts of your soil’s ecosystem.

First off, clear signs and problems caused by damping-off include spotty germination, gaps in rows of seedlings, some seedlings dying before they emerge from the soil, and new seedlings that previously seemed healthy but suddenly collapse are the signature signs of damping-off. Infected seedlings may have red-brown areas near the soil line which are constricted or are just dark and soft at the soil line with rotted roots. Seeds and seedlings that do survive tend to become stunted in growth with little to no yield.

As the name suggests, damp conditions encourage the growth of fungi that cause damping-off. Some of the infecting fungi thrive in cool soil while others do the best in warm soil, it is the damp conditions which are constant. When the conditions are just right the fungi can infect seeds and seedlings through their natural plant openings and then attack as the seed swells and softens in moist soil. The fungi most likely to be at fault are Pythium and Phizoctonia. These, and and other fungi, get their nourishment from decomposing organic matter as well as your seedlings, so they contribute to the creation of compost and quality soil as well as living plants, so they do contribute good as well as bad. In healthy soil other microorganisms will suppress the damping-off fungi.

To battle an outdoor infection of damping-off the first step is to pull any infected seedlings and see what happens. Refrain from watering the garden bed for a few days, as the damp conditions are conductive to continuing and spreading the fungi. I know the urge to water is strong, but sometime you do need to refrain from continuing the routine you have developed in garden maintenance. As you wait and watch the rest of your crop may or may not become infected. The best chance for stopping the spread involved actually letting the soil surface dry out. If the infection continues to spread the best bet is to pull up all the seedlings in the effected area. Then you should let the area dry out completely before improving the quality of the soil and starting fresh. Make sure you remove all infected seedlings and clear away any partially decomposed organic matter before replanting in any previously infected area, or you run a serious risk of going another round with the infection. More detail on the steps to take follow below.

If waging war indoors, it is quite likely that you can save the majority of seedlings in a flat that has begun to damp-off. Again, the first step is to remove any infected seedlings. Then use a fork, or any other handy tool, to gently rake the soil surface around your seedlings. If possible, increase the amount of light in your growing area, or move the flat somewhere that they will receive more light. Set up a fan, a small electric or clip on fan will do, and run it continuously to provide constant air movement. This sow stop the spread of the infection, but if it continues it is best to compost all the soil and seedlings in the infected flat or container.

After waging war with damping off there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of a return engagement. No matter where you are planting, indoors or out, the gardener’s goal is to help seedlings germinate quickly and grow steadily. I suggest using fresh seed, or if you are using harvested or old seed make sure you test the seed’s viability before using it on a large scale. If the seed grows slowly or shows any other signs of not thriving throw out those seeds and obtain new seed. It is possible for the fungi to be seed-borne of hiding in soil-less seed starting mix or left over bits of soil left behind on containers. So, if your problems began with a particular batch of seeds or soil blend, you might want to toss the remaining product and get a new package. When you replant be sure to do so in clean containers with fresh soil. Do not forget to sterilize or dispose any plant containers that have held infected soil or plants before reusing. Use a bleach solution of ten percent to cleanse the containers.

To deal with the aftermath of an outbreak outdoors there are some steps that need to be taken to lower the risks of a second attack. The first step is simple, add compost, manure, peat moss or other additives to improve the quality of your soil. You will also need to check on the drainage in the previously infected area and do what you can to improve it. Improving the soil will be a big step in that direction, make sure the soil is well aerated and not over watered with no downspouts or other sources of water waste spilling in that direction. It is also a good idea to check your soil temperature prior to planting. While planting early is often desirable, and doable, in garden beds that have had outbreaks of damping-off I suggest holding off. The reason is moisture, early in the season is when the majority of rain and melting snow can cause the damp conditions that will encourage the guilty fungi to bring about another bout of damping-off. Also be sure to sow your seeds at the correct depth. Sowing to deeply will cause the seedlings to have extra time underground and vulnerable to the fungus. You do still need to water your seedlings, just be certain that you do not over do it, and that you water early in the day so that the seeds do not stay damp overnight.

Indoors, there are some steps that are obviously similar, and some that are a little different. Try to avoid an overly damp, humid atmosphere in the area where you start your seedlings. Be certain to provide plenty of light, preferably with a lamp only an inch or two away from the seedlings. Use a thin layer of course sand or peat moss to help maintain a proper level of moisture in the flat or containers. You can further regulate the moisture by watering your containers from the bottom, but by not allowing them to sit in water, which will cause them to become waterlogged. Continue using the small fan you used to combat the original; infection of damping off to encourage air circulation. If it is at all possible try aiming the fan to blow directly across the surface of the soil, which will keep the soil surface dry. If all else fails, and no matter what you have tried damping-off still plagues you then I suggest trying a beneficial fungus product, like Trichoderma harzianum,and applying it to the infected area. As always, follow the instruction on the package to the letter.

Start Your Growing Season Early

Planting seeds and keeping them safe in a structure, or in your home, can enable you to start the growing season early. However, you can still start early without building any structures or resorting to growing seedlings indoors. You can get a early start by warming your soil, covering the garden bed, or a combination of the two. Winter-sowing is another option, which is the closest to what nature does for wild grow plants and trees.

It is generally best to begin at the beginning, the soil. If you have the time and inclination you can warm your soil to gain an advantage. Warm your soil by planning ahead. Cover your garden bed with a think layer of mulch, some compost or thick black plastic before Winter hits your area. With the added protection, the covered soil will not get quite as cold as your unprotected soil. This means that the covered soil will also get warmer earlier come Spring. Therefore, the soil will be above average temperature and easier to work with for early planting. When putting your seeds into the ground, leave that protective layer in place, simply move aside the mulch or compost covering where you want to plant, or cut a small hole in the plastic, and keep that soil protected as the seeds germinate and begin to grow.

Another thing you can do is to protect freshly planted seeds and seedlings is to work from above. Use a row cover or frost cover to protect your vulnerable garden bed. Covers are polyester or polyethylene fabrics which let in water and sunlight but protects plants from cold temperatures. If you have chosen a very lightweight cover, and all threat of snow has past, then you can simply lay the cover on your plants. With the heavier covers, or if any threat of snow remains, then it is best to support the cover with plastic or wire hoops. Pull the supported fabric tight enough to keep it from drooping and touching the plants or soil. Do not forget to secure the edges of your cover with rocks, soil or other implements.

Wintersowing takes advantage of the natural order of things. This is simply doing what nature does with wildflowers and trees. They drop their seeds in the fall or late summer, spending the winter getting rained and snowed on, freezing and thawing again, and then still sprout and grow come Spring. Wintersowing generally is done in January or February, right in the heart of winter. To wintersow you place seeds in a moist growing medium in prepared containers, then setting your planted seeds, in their containers, outside in the winter weather. Leave the tops of your containers open to allow for air circulation and some precipitation to keep your soil moist. It would be wise to check your moisture level occasionally so that the container does not dry out. While out in the weather your seeds will freeze, thaw, get wet and do all the things seeds do naturally. When the weather begins to warm up the container will act like a greenhouse, providing your seeds with some extra warmth. If a late cold snap or frost makes an appearance then the containers will protect the seeds from that as well. When the time is right, and your seeds are ready, you will have sprouts and then seedlings.

Some of the plants that do well started early under and of these conditions, or a combination of them, include leeks, peas, turnips, beets and carrots. Salad mixes, spinach, scallions and watercress are also resilient to handle early starts. When in doubt read your seed packets, talk to an expert at a nursery or seed company, or fellow gardener.

Regardless of what you are growing, or why, the earlier your plants reach maturity the better. If you are selling your harvest for profit, being first to produce can be important to your market share or profit and allow for a second harvest. If you are growing to provide food for your own use, or flowers for pure esthetics, than early can also mean a second round of harvest or simply early and long enjoyment of your favorite garden plants.

Grow Your Own Fruit Trees: It’s Easier Than You Think

Gardeners often think that growing fruit trees is horribly difficult, but that is not true. Fruit trees simply require a lot of patience and sunshine. While it will take a few seasons for any fruit tree to produce a tree full of viable fruit, it is well worth the wait. Once that tree is established and producing fruit, you will be able to enjoy free fruit for years to come.

There are a few important things to think about before choosing and planting a fruit tree. First off, you need to think about the climate and soil type you will be introducing to the new tree. If you live in an area with cold winters then it would not be wise to plant a fruit tree that requires warm weather year round. Fruit trees generally require a particular amount of low or high chill time so that the tree can break dormancy and develop fruit correctly. Local nurseries or garden centers should be able to help you figure out which fruit trees are best suited for your climate. They can also help you find a tree that is suited to your soil and to find a tree that will self-pollinate, eliminating the need for a companion cultivator planted nearby. Nursery staff can also help you find a disease resistant tree and let you know when it would be best to plant that particular tree, generally the spring or fall.

Now that you have eliminate the fruit trees that would not thrive in your climate it is time to look at your yard and where you might want to plant a fruit tree, or two. All fruit trees require a lot of sun and well-drained soil. Even a couple hours of shade can cause small, less colorful fruit. You can plant fruit tress in mixed boarders, in containers, near your vegetable garden or anywhere else on your property, that receives enough sun. You also have to consider how much room you have for the tree. A standard fruit tree can grow between thirty and forty feet tall, while dwarf trees will reach between ten and twenty feet high. Do not simply plan for the space of your young tree, plan for the tree at its predicted size once it is full-grown including the root spread. Do not plant within six feet of buildings or underground foundations, or within three feet of sidewalks. Keep in mind that the tree will use the same soil and resources that you use in your lawn and garden. If you plant the tree within or close to a garden, you might find yourself watering and adding to that soil more often. As the tree grows and begins to provide fruit the amount of on resources the tree uses will grow.

Planting Trees Gardening: Planting Fruit TreesNow that you have chosen the type of tree, and where you want to plant it, we can get down and dirty. It is time to take a good look at your soil. Fruit trees do the best in soil that is high in magnesium, potassium and calcium. On the other hand, soil that is too high in nitrogen can lead to quick and lush foliage growth, which might sound good however can be an open invitation to disease and pests rather that the fruit you really want. I recommend doing a soil test to see just what you are dealing with nutrient wise so that you can make any necessary adjustments. You might be tempted to simply dig the hole for your tree and pile in your soil amendments and compost. It would seem the most logical base for promoting good growth, however doing that could cause significant growth problems. While that seems the logical option, it can actually stunt the tree’s growth since the roots will have no incentive to grow and spread out in search of water and nutrients. The best way to amend the soil for fruit trees is to rake in the compost and soil amendments lightly into the top soil where you will be planting the tree. To go one better, you can lightly rake the compost into the top soil throughout the entire area that will be under the full-grown tree’s canopy. Then you are ready to do the actual planting. When doing so I do suggest adding a little compost tea to the hole and surrounding area to give the tree and surrounding soil a quick nutrient and moisture boost.

To plant your tree, begin by digging a hole at least twice the width of the tree’s root ball. This will guarantee enough loose soil around the root ball to encourage spreading roots. The hole should be at least as deep as the same depth of the container the tree came in. If the tree is bare root or come in a burlap bag then the hole should be twice the depth as the root ball. Leave a small cone of undisturbed dirt in the center of the hole. Place the root ball in the hole, directly over the undisturbed cone. Fill the rest of the hole in with the dirt that you had removed in digging the hole. When you are about halfway done refilling the hole with dirt take a break and fill the hole with water. Let the water slowly sink into the earth before finishing adding the soil to the hole. Water the soil around the tree one more time before shoveling on any remaining soil and packing it down firmly.

Once you have your tree firmly planted in the ground, it is best to give the roots a good soak once a week for the first year. Moisture is very important to the roots of young trees to support good growth. It is easy to test the soil to be sure your young tree is receiving enough water. Simply dip your finger into the soil, about three inches should be deep enough, and gauge the moisture present. If the soil is dry three inches down the tree’s roots are due for a good soaking. When watering, the goal is to get the soil damp as few feet deep. Long-term fertilizer will not be necessary for your new tree if you add compost to your yard once or twice a year. The tree should grow an average of a foot a year, but if it is lagging behind, fertilizing in the spring would help. I suggest a simple application of compost to the soil, gently raked into the soil surrounding the tree. There are also foliar sprays that you can purchase at a local nursery or online. The foliar sprays can be absorbed into the tiny pores on the tree’s leaves and taken into the plant around twenty times faster than the nutrients added to the soil for the roots. The time to use these sprays is when the buds on the tree begin to show color. Mulching around the tree is not recommended, because the mulch is the perfect home for several pests that would worry your poor tree.

Do not feel the need to dormant spray or use any other chemical fertilizer or pest control on your young tree. If you do chose to spray your tree for fungal or insect issues the spray after the tree has lost its leaves and gone dormant. Usually three applications during the dormant season are best to rid yourself of any problems. Remember to water well before spray and to avoid doing so on windy or rainy days. However, you could also simply let nature and beneficial insects to their part, letting your tree do what it does naturally in terms of pest and disease control. Although, simply keeping your tree well watered will help keep it stress free and resistant to bad elements. One simply thing you can do to avoid critters from attacking your tree comes after your tree is big enough to start producing viable fruit. Remember to pick what you want from the tree as it becomes ripe and to get rid of any fallen fruit. Toss any fruit that has been on the ground into your compost pile or simply as far away from your tree as possible, reducing the possibility that those pieces of fruit will invite pest or animal and insect varieties from setting up shop.

Remember that you will need to prune your tree during the dormant season as well, if you are going to prune at all. If buds or leaves have already appeared on your tree then you will need to wait until the growing season to end before picking up your pruning shears. I highly suggest reading a book dedicated to pruning fruit trees before you get out there and start cutting so that you have a visual reference rather than depending on what you might know about other trees. Each and every kind of tree has its own set of idiosyncrasies and quirks that will cause it to react differently to pruning and other actions.

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