Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Early Garden Chores

I like Erica's post about getting some garden chores done early.   And like her, I'm planting some early season cool weather vegetables seeds in the garden and getting some early weeding done.  But, unlike Erica, I am putting down my drip tape (see MG 6 Drip Irrigating Your Garden) to water the bed and covering the it with row cover to provide some frost protection for those emerging spinach and kale seeds.

Extended forecasts for our region (temperature and precipitation) show a good chance of above average temperatures and below average rainfall.  Of course, this could mean by a tenth of a degree or several degrees.  But when comparing the cost of a few seeds to some earlier than expected fresh vegetables for the table, I'll always plant a few seeds early.

To my surprise, my arugula wintered over and my garlic looks great. My onion sets have been ordered as have my new red and yellow raspberries and new strawberry plants. After all this is the year of small fruit and there is nothing like fresh strawberries or raspberries from the garden

I'm also finishing up the rejuvenation of my 30 year old blueberry bed and will be pruning my trellised black raspberries in the next week or so.  Here are some before and after pictures.


Seeds started in the basement under florescent lights are broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, leeks, kale and fennel.  Toward the middle to end of March will be eggplant and peppers.  And just a reminder.  Fluorescent tubes start to lose some of there brightness (lumens) after about 15 to 20 percent of their life (20,000 hours).  So I change my fluorescent tubes out every two years (16 hours a day x 100 days x 2 years = 3200 hours or about 16% of the tubes expected life).  So if your seedlings grown under lights looked spindly and you had the tops within an inch of the lights, try changing the tubes.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Winter weirding

2016 was the warmest year on record globally, and given the evidence of the past few weeks, 2017 could well eclipse it (we have a lot of the year to go still, of course!). But certainly we've been having an unusually warm February in this region, and while this is worrying, it's also making us feel like we want to be out in our gardens. And we should be! But not necessarily doing the tasks that are usually completed in April, even if the weather is April-like.

No, it's not time to plant all your spring crops. We could still have weeks of temperatures dipping below freezing - in fact it's below freezing in much of our region this morning, and forecasts indicate some chilly nights next weekend as well - and while your overwintering greens are probably loving this weather, young seedlings will be much more vulnerable.

Here are some tasks that you could accomplish on spring-like February days, however:


  • Get the weeding done. Winter weeds are LOVING this weather, and some, like hairy bittercress, are flowering and getting close to spreading their seeds in April-like fashion. Pull them out now! Here's a photo of hairy bittercress and its friend, purple deadnettle, in my lawn:





  • Do some pruning. I pruned my blueberries last weekend. February and March are excellent times to prune blueberries, but we don't usually get to do it in short sleeves. Here's our blueberry pruning page, and you can find information about pruning other fruits on our website as well.



  • Work on your soil. Our winter has been very dry, which is not good for plants in general, but does mean that soil is not heavy and waterlogged, so if you didn't spend time this fall spreading compost and working it into your soil, you can do that now. If we do get a heavy rain, put that task off for a day or so, because working wet soil can compact it.



  • Work on hardscape tasks like putting in fences, trellises, elaborate support systems for those enormous kiwi vines you're all going to be inspired to plant this year, compost bins, new paths, etc.



  • Start some seeds inside. It does look like our spring will come early, even if it's not guaranteed to be here yet, so jumping the season a bit on seed-starting may pay off. By which I mean a couple of weeks, not months. If you start your tomatoes in February you will have GIANT PLANTS in April and then we are guaranteed to have chilly weather that they can't tolerate.



  • And okay, go ahead and start some seeds outside. I did. I put in radish and pea seeds at the demo garden, and will probably try some in my own garden as well. Stick with cold-tolerant, quick-growing plants, and be prepared to shrug your shoulders if they succumb to frost. But they might not, and it's only a few seeds lost if they do. Thanks to all the sun, the soil is warm enough for many cool-season seeds to germinate.



  • Just get out there and observe. I've had crocuses blooming for a while now, and also have daffodils and miniature iris as of yesterday. Trees are budding and bursting into flower and leaf weeks ahead of schedule (if there is such a thing as a schedule anymore). If you want to participate in citizen science, check out Project Budburst, which tracks plant phenology (the relationship between plant stages and seasonal changes) thanks to data provided by thousands of people like you. Just register, pick a plant or two in your yard, and keep an eye out for buds, leaves, flowers, etc., then upload your observations.
And do have fun out there!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Small Fruits page is up at GIEI

Please visit our Year of Small Fruits 2017 page and learn all about the fruit plants you can grow easily in your garden!


Ooh, look at those aronia flowers and fruit! Both a good fruit for jam AND a native plant. What fruits are you growing this year?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

MC MG Spring Conference, and climate change links

Readers in Montgomery County and environs are invited to register for the upcoming MoCo Master Gardeners' Spring Conference on February 25:


Register (and read the event schedule more clearly!) here. I'll be giving a talk called "Vegetable Gardening When Mother Nature Doesn't Cooperate," which is about weather challenges. We hope to have a page up at the GIEI website on this topic by March, which will include links to our pages on plant problems caused by cold, heat, rain, drought, and other weather conditions, and also resources on climate change and extreme weather.

Visit HGIC's page on gardening and climate change for more information right now. You may also be interested in the National Wildlife Federation's publication "Gardener's Guide to Global Warming" and the Union of Concerned Scientists' "The Climate-Friendly Gardener." Neither are specific to vegetable gardening, but contain good strategies and useful information for all kinds of plant-growing.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

2017 is GIEI's Year of Small Fruits

Every year we celebrate a particular group of edible plants, and this year we're moving out of the vegetable world into small fruits!


Small fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants, grapes, and many others can be long-lived, attractive, and productive additions to your garden, and don't require lots of labor once a site has been prepared well and the young plants cared for. Watering, weeding and mulching will be regular but not strenuous tasks; most small fruits require pruning once or twice a year; and a few plants (such as grapes) will need pest control. But on the whole small fruits are easier to care for than tree fruits, and the results are delicious and nutritious.

Read our Getting Started with Small Fruits page for more information and links to care instructions for particular plants. Soon we'll have a page up for 2017's Year of Small Fruit - expect an update here when it's ready! And start perusing your catalogs for small fruit plants you might find room for in your garden.