Category Archives: vegetable gardening

Botanical Interests Spring Seeds – So Much Promise In A Packet

On a gray, cold day in the middle of February, the promise of a beautiful spring and all the summer days to follow arrived in two nondescript boxes. Tearing them open, I looked at brightly colored seed packet after seed packet of herbs, flowers, vines, and vegetables, and began sorting them out.Spring Seeds - Botanical Interests

This was easier said than done, as we’re still in the midst of a major rearrange of the greenhouse, moving our work/design area from one end to the other, in the process cleaning, painting, reorganizing, and generally going through the proverbial “mess before it gets into some semblance of order” phase.

Spring Seeds - Botanical Interests

 

 

 

Jamie and I had prepared though, setting up seed racks by the front table where our garden shop cat, Liam, likes to sleep. I pulled all the fall “cool season” seeds and set out a 50% off sale sign on them.

Purchasing them now at a discount is a smart move. Keep them cool and dry, since humidity and warmth may shorten a seed’s shelf life.  Knowing this, the best way to store any seed you purchase is in plastic food storage bags, glass jars with tight fitting lids, or any other container that will stay sealed. Place them in your refrigerator (Not the freezer!) until you’re ready to use them.image

Once you’ve browsed the sale seeds, don’t forget to check out this season’s selection for your summer flowers and vegetables.  I’ve already set aside some of them for the Better Late Than Never Garden – assortments of tall cutting zinnias, sunflowers, tithonia (Remember the tall, beautiful orange flowers that bloomed late in the season?), spider flower, moonvine, ‘Red Burgundy’ okra (It’s ornamental and edible!) and more. I’ll be putting them in my refrigerator at home until I sow them sometime in late spring/early summer.Spring Seeds - Botanical Interests

Of course there are many things that can be started inside under grow lights or in a greenhouse much earlier, and this can be a fun and educational project for anyone with children. Simply follow the directions on the seed packet to ensure success. It will say how many days to sow before or after the last average frost (For us, that magic date is April 15th.). Knowing that will help you start your seeds at just the right time.

So plant some seeds this year. You just might be surprised at what comes up!

By Kris Blevons

Try Some Compost Tea This Year – Haven Brand Authentic Tea Is Easy To Use!

imagePlants are like people; they need food to grow…and nutritious food for best health.  I would take that one step further and say that, not only should you feed the plant, you need to add organic amendments and nutrients to create healthy soil that your plants will  thrive in.

My friend Annie Haven of Authentic Haven Brand Natural Brew created her product  with this principle in mind.  On her ranch in California (It’s been in her family since the 1800’s!), the cattle are free ranging and graze in native grass pastures, free of antibiotics, hormone-added grain, and pesticides. The manure that is produced is dehydrated, then packaged, and the tea bags are shipped out and ready for you to steep. What you make can either be used as a soil drench for roses and other plants or as a foliar spray.

Little "tea" bags, ready to brew!

Little “tea” bags, ready to brew!

At Oak Street Garden Shop we’ve carried Annie Haven’s Moo Poo Tea since last spring.  The most popular has been the Soil Conditioner Premium Manure Tea, labeled for houseplants, container plants, the vegetable garden, shade plants,  shrubs and lawns. Both are in sturdy, sewn-together “tea bags”,  ready to brew. I’ve used it at the shop and in my own garden.

They couldn’t be any easier to use; just drop each bag in a 1 gallon, or up to a 5 gallon container, fill with tap water, cover and allow to steep for one to three days.  Then use it to water any plants that need a good, rich organic boost.

steeping...

steeping…

One of my friends in Atlanta, Nancy Wallace, of Wallace Gardens, uses Annie Haven’s tea each year on her amaryllis bulbs and reports that her blooms are easily one third larger than they were on the same size bulbs before she started using this tea. She  soaks them in it prior to planting, then waters them  with it until they bloom. I’ve seen pictures of her amaryllis, and they are truly impressive.

Wallace Gardens beautiful amaryllis..

Wallace Gardens beautiful amaryllis..

Another way she uses it is as a “Super Brew”, placing 4-6 bags in a jug to make a very concentrated mixture. Then, using a hose end sprayer, she foliar sprays all of her plants with it. Summer foliar feeding like this also seems to deter bugs!

For a quick tea, if there’s none at hand, put a bag in a bucket and fill it up with water. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then begin squeezing the bag over and over; you’ll see the tea releasing into the water. Continue doing this 20-30 times and you’ve got yourself a fast made tea.

When you’re finished with the tea bags, cut them open with a pair of scissors and add the contents to your container gardens…it’s all useable!

Pricing for individual tea bags is $4.95 or you can purchase 3 for $12.95.

 

 

 

 

Malabar Spinach – A Beautiful Plant, And Tasty Too!

Malabar spinach...One of our growers called the other day, offering a few trays of a plant called Malabar Spinach. “It’s a heat tolerant green that we can grow in the summer,” she said.  “It also grows like a vine with really big, spinach-like leaves and pretty ornamental red stems.” Well, how could I resist that? I ordered a couple of trays, received them, and promptly planted some in a couple of combination planters.

Jay put one on each of the trellises in the garden across the street, too, so we could see how they grow out in the ground. Basella alba ‘Rubra’ is native to India and Indonesia, so it’s used to some heat, and, unlike other leafy greens such as kale, lettuce, and mustards, it needs heat to thrive. It’s the perfect plant for Alabama in the summer!

Growing up birch branches...

Malabar spinach is also known as Ceylon spinach, Indian spinach, vine spinach, and Malabar nightshade and will grow 8′-10′ tall or more; so give it something to climb on. The flowers are inconspicuous. Some references say to remove them so the leaves don’t become bitter; others just mention that the seed the flowers produce is commonly used to make a purple dye where this vine is native.

Garden writer Barbara Damrosch calls this her “everything green”…the one she picks when she needs green in a dish for color, taste, or nutrition. Young leaves are best, and there are many recipes online. Both leaves and stems are edible. The hotter the weather, the faster it will grow, especially if it’s provided loose, rich soil with plenty of moisture, sun, and a sturdy support.

Since it’s still August and the temperatures are heating up, this might be a good addition to your late summer vegetable garden. Alternatively, it can be planted along along a fence or on a trellis where you can enjoy its ornamental beauty until frost. If you’re in the Crestline area of Mountain Brook, you’ll be able to watch ours as they grow in the garden across the street. It’s fun to try new things!

Late February and March To-Dos

See the green growth at the base of this snapdragon?

See the green growth at the base of this snapdragon?

February is usually the month the temperatures begin to rise, though there is always the possibility of cold weather still through March. This year it’s definitely been colder than usual, and the pretty pansies, snapdragons, and other cool season annuals we all planted last fall have definitely taken a hit.

 

 

These pansies need to be deadheaded - they have cold damaged blooms and buds...

These pansies need to be deadheaded – they have cold damaged blooms and buds…

Normally in February, regular deadheading (pinching off faded blooms) should  be done to keep pansies and violas blooming well. Many of the snapdragons you planted will still be green at the bottom, but have dead growth that needs to be clipped off. With temperatures moderating and even rising, they will begin to grow again. In fact, they may be prettier than ever late spring into early summer; think of the cold damage as a rejuvenating pinching back!

Mondo grass, prior to being cut back with a string trimmer...

Mondo grass, prior to being cut back with a string trimmer…

 

Mid-February is the traditional time to cut back mondo grass, liriope, and acorus  in your landscape before spring growth begins. A string trimmer makes quick work of this job. Don’t wait too long to take care of this necessary grooming maintenance or you’ll risk damaging new growth.

This big clump of miscanthus needs to be cut down to make way for fresh growth...

This big clump of miscanthus needs to be cut down to make way for fresh growth…

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have tall perennial grasses in your landscape? They should also be cut back now. The easiest way to address large clumps of grasses is to bundle them up with strong twine or a bungee cord, then, if it’s a small clump, cut it back with your hand pruners. Or, if the clump is large, use a power hedge trimmer and simply cut the entire clump to the ground.  Again, don’t wait too long to tackle this chore or the new spring growth will already be up. Be very careful with these large perennial grasses; wear long sleaves to protect your arms and glasses to protect your eyes from the sharp grass blades.

It’s still a bit early to fertilize shrubs and trees in anticipation of spring growth – that is best left for the end of March into April.  However, if you didn’t shred your leaves this fall and work them into garden beds, resolve to do it this year. Adding any organic matter to beds helps loosen soil and provides nutrients,  contributing to the overall health of your soil and microbes that live in it.

These 4'x8' beds are just the right size for a few veggies...

These 4’x8′ beds are just the right size for a few veggies…

Have you been thinking about creating a new bed in your landscape? It’s a great time to do this as well. Perhaps you’d like to have a vegetable garden this spring. Even a small area of 4’x8′ can provide enough space to grow a couple of tomato plants or some peppers or a combination of a few different things.

The one thing to remember when making a new planting bed is you must add organic matter to our clay soil – leaf mulch, cow manure, soil conditioner, homemade compost (Do you have a compost pile? You should!).  Work as much organic matter as possible into your new bed. This will aid in drainage and soil fertility and make it easier to plant too!  If you have old newspapers, these can be laid over the top of your bed and a thick layer of mulch or leaf mold placed on top. Not only does the newspaper smother weed seeds you may have brought to the surface but it will decompose – the perfect way to recycle your newspaper!

Narcissus 'Baby Moon' foliage beginning to come up through the ipheion...

Narcissus ‘Baby Moon’ foliage beginning to come up through the ipheion…

You may have perennial bulbs appearing in your garden. As this foliage emerges, it is the time to fertilize them with a bulb fertilizer. If they seem crowded and don’t bloom well,  consider dividing into smaller clumps this spring.

Taken a bit at a time, these tasks aren’t too demanding, and the deadheading, cutting back, and fertilizing will make your landscape shine!

 

Fall Veggie and Flower Seeds…Try Some This Year!

Planting seeds is a fun project for the little ones!

Planting seeds is a fun project!

Our fall seed selection has arrived, and many folks have already been perusing the seed rack. From radishes to radicchio, lettuces to larkspur, the selection is varied, and the package description on our Botanical Interests seed packets are fun to read too.

Additionally, I’m so pleased this company only supplies us with GMO free seed, which means none of this seed is genetically modified.

If you’re planting seeds for the first time, be sure to read the instructions on the packet. They’ll tell you how deeply to plant and how long it will take them to come up, as well as any other instructions you might need to produce a healthy plant.

Seed packets have lots of information on them...

Seed packets have lots of information on them…

Remember, in Birmingham, our first average frost date is usually the beginning of November. This will help you determine the latest you can plant certain seeds.

Prepare your garden bed by pulling any old vegetation out. If you have a compost pile, everything but weeds can be put into it to decompose. Next you’ll need to loosen the soil – a garden fork works well for this. Push the fork into the soil 7″-8″ and rock it back and forth to loosen it, being sure to break up any big clumps. Many gardeners try to keep turning up the soil to a minimum, since that can bring weed seeds to the surface, providing them the light needed to germinate. Next, add 2″-4″ of soil amendments (dehydrated cow manure, Plant Tone, soil conditioner and/or your own compost) over the top and lightly fork all of it in. Rake the top of your bed to even it out and you’re ready to plant!

Watering your seed bed is important. If you’re sowing very tiny seeds, you may want to water the soil before planting. Once the seeds are sown at the proper depth, keep the soil consistently moist with gentle showers from your hose. Don’t get it too soggy or your little seeings may rot.

Seedlings of many vegetables and flowers benefit from being thinned. This term simply means taking out the smallest, weakest seedlings so one strong plant is able to grow large enough for you to eventually harvest.

Look at that cabbage!

Look at that cabbage!

The easiest way to thin is simply to cut out the weakest with a pair of scissors, leaving the largest to continue growing. Talk about survival of the fittest! You could also tease the weakest seedlings out of the soil and replant in another area – the more the merrier!

Some fall vegetable seeds we have include many lettuces, chard, beets, broccoli, mustard, spinach, turnips and more. If you’d rather plant flowers, larkspur, delphinium, poppies and bachelor buttons are just some of the choices.

Doesn’t this sound like a fun and ultimately rewarding project? If you have children, find a spot in your yard for even a small garden, and start planting!

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See How The Garden (Emmet O’Neal Community Garden) Grows…

Learning...

Learning…

Leah watering new vegetable plantings...

Leah watering new vegetable plantings…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oak Street Garden Shop’s owner, Billy Angell, and the Mountain Brook Emmet O’Neal Library have begun this summer’s vegetable garden across the street from the shop…soon it will be filled with all sorts of veggies, and flowers too.

imageThe garden is a teaching garden, and this year our market manager, Dená Hand, is lending her teaching abilities and helping Billy. This is a fun learning experience for kids who sign up with the “Dig Into Reading” program. Feel free to come by even if you’re not signed up though!

Each Tuesday and Thursday morning through June, the kids learn what vegetables they’ll be planting, how to plant seeds and seedlings, and how to care for them. Soon there will be okra, peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and more in the small plot – all planted with help from little hands of new gardeners!

imageIt’s a display garden as well, and folks are encouraged to come by, see how things are growing and ask questions throughout the summer. Do you have an elderly neighbor or friend that would appreciate any of the vegetables that are grown? Feel free to harvest and share with the community!

We’ll add more pictures as the garden progresses – but come see in person what’s going on in garden if you’re in the area!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone