Monthly Archives: October 2016

Greenhouse Strawberries

by L.J. Hodek-Creapeau, Managine Editor

People often ask us if they can grow strawberries in a greenhouse. The answer is yes, they love it. There are just a few things to consider when growing strawberries in a greenhouse.

  1. Making room to accommodate their vining habit.
  2. Making sure they get adequate moisture but do not rot in the high humidity of a greenhouse environment
  3. Being mindful they do not get too hot in a greenhouse.

Almost all of the strawberries in the super markets are now greenhouse grown, and if you design your growing space efficiently, you can grow a lot of plants in the space in your greenhouse that isn’t being utilized by other plants, such as the ceiling area. This makes strawberries perfect for greenhouse growing, because they will utilize space in a small area that most other plants will not tolerate.

If you allow strawberries to grow in the raised beds of your greenhouse, or in planters on the floor, you will quickly be tripping over vines and have no room for any other plants. Therefore, the best place to grow strawberries is from the ceiling of a greenhouse; either in hanging planters or one very economical alternative is to use rain gutters as planters.

Strawberries have very small roots, so they don’t require deep pots or much growing space. Buy the deepest, widest rain gutters you can find at any home building supply store, seal the seams with a waterproof caulking or sealant, and fill them with dirt. Make sure to build a support for the gutters that will accommodate the weight and awkwardness of the gutter once they are full of dirt.

greenhouse strawberriesNext, the most convenient way to water your hanging strawberry beds is to hook up a soaker hose or drip system in the gutters. If you have a small greenhouse, you may not have to get very elaborate, you can just water them with a watering wand or hose. You may find this a bit messy, as the water runs down your arm, unless you use a watering wand or something of that nature on the end of your garden hose. Strawberries in a shallow planter such as a gutter will probably have to be watered at lease every other day, maybe every day depending on how dry your greenhouse environment is.

Hanging pots make excellent planters for greenhouse growing strawberries if you only want a few plants, but if you are like me, and love strawberries, you are going to want a lot more plants than can be planted in just a few hanging pots. You can, however, plant 2-3 strawberry plants in a large hanging planter to maximize the space, but if you like strawberries enough to be growing them, you will probably still find this is not enough strawberries for you; especially if you want to freeze them or preserve them for later use like desserts, smoothies, jams etc.

Having your strawberries in planters in the top of your greenhouse means you will have to make sure you have some ventilation in the ceiling so you don’t cook your strawberries and plants. Roof vents are, of course, the obvious choice. Also make sure when mounting your strawberry planters that you allow plenty of room above the strawberry plants for adequate air circulation.

You’ll also have to be a bit more particular about the type of soil you use in your strawberry planters. Depending on how humid your greenhouse environment is, you may need a lighter soil that does not stay wet too long and mold, or, you may need a soil with more organic compost in it so you don’t have to continually water. Be careful of using a soil mixture that is too rich, or too high in compost, or you will have big beautiful plants but very few berries. Strawberries, like most berries, require a small amount of stress to produce fruit.

Only you know how humid your greenhouse usually is and what type of soil will be best. Strawberries are fairly tolerant of dry conditions, but will produce better with adequate moisture – meaning the roots are not allowed to dry out.

One big factor to consider when planning what type of planters to use is that strawberry plants will only produce berries for about 2-3 years and then they stop when they get too old, so you will have to save the runners from mature plants and use them to start new plants that will produce berries. Keep in mind, whatever type of planters and supports you use, that you will have to allow yourself easy access to it, and be able to remove it, every couple of years to replenish your plants.

 

Crazy Easy Garden Projects

These have got to be the easiest landscaping or gardening projects ever; but that doesn’t diminish how wonderful they look, and friends and family will be astonished at your creativity.

tipsy-pot-planter

Tipsy Pot Planter

Any pot with a hole in the bottom of it will work for this nifty decor, but some wide pots or flimsy plastic pots do not work well. Light, flimsy plastic will break under the weight of the pot once you fill it with dirt and wide pots tip too much, often causing the dirt to wash out during a good rain storm. Clay pots actually work the best, and all you have to do is get a 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch diameter piece of rebar, just make sure whatever size rebar you get, it fits through the holes in the bottom of the clay pots.

Pound the rebar into the ground a good 6-8 inches so it will hold the weight of the pots filled with dirt without falling over.

Simply stack your pots on the rebar pole by feeding the rebar through the holes in the bottom of the pots. Fill with dirt, and you’re ready to plant. You can paint the pots for added color, but it’s not necessary.

Using a little bigger pot for the bottom is a good idea to help weigh everything down and prevent it from tipping over.

tin can bird feeders

Tin Can Bird Feeders

Looking for a good use for those empty tin can food containers?

Clean them out well, paint them in several different colors and tie wire, string or ribbon around them for hanging as shown in the photo.

It’s easy to poke a hole in the rim of the can with a punch or knife so you can insert a stick or small dowel to use for a perch.

This crafty bird feeder will keep the rain and snow off the bird seed as well as making a very colorful ornamental display in a tree. Best part about this project, it won’t cost more than a dollar a piece to make sine you would have thrown out or recycled the cans anyway.

cement block planter

Decorative Cement Block Planter

The most difficult part about this project is trying to decide how you want to configure the blocks for maximum appeal. This planter will last forever and never have to be painted or replaced. You can reconfigure it as needed and make it as large as you like.

To keep the dirt in the part of the blocks that are hanging over and not supported by anything, you can block the bottom so that part of the block will hold dirt with a piece of wood cut to fit inside the block, or set the block on a board, pour a small amount of cement in the bottom to seal the hole, then when it is set, stack it in your planter arrangement.

Practical appeal for apartment patios or tight areas. Veining plants work well for the areas where they can hang over and add some color. Great for strawberries too.

Controlling Slugs

One reason it’s so difficult to get rid of slugs is because they are hermaphrodites, which means they contain both male and female organs. Not only that, but they may alternate sexes at different times during their adulthood. Self fertilization is also possible, so if just one slug gets into your greenhouse, you will have an infestation in a very short time.

Slugs do have a purpose in that they eat dead and decaying debris in your garden, the problem is, they will also eat your plants, fruit and anything else they can reach; and slugs can climb up anything. Slugs look a lot like another garden pest, the garden snail, the difference being that snails have a shell on their back and slugs do not.

There are several ways to deter slugs, but as mentioned above, due to their extraordinary reproductive system, it is impossible to get rid of them completely. All you can do is slow down their numbers a bit.

Beer Traps: Almost every gardener has heard of using beer traps to diminish slugs; and it does work. Poor some beer in a shallow dish that is half buried in the soil around the plants they are devouring. They will crawl up the side of the dish and drown in the beer. Slugs are very attracted to beer. Once the beer trap gets too contaminated with dead slugs, dump it out. WARNING: be sure to dump it where other pets, especially dogs, can’t find it. They will eat the slugs and slugs can make pets sick.

Diatomaceous Earth: Is a powder you can find in most garden centers. It is considered safe to use around pets and on plants you will eat. It is made from crushed shells of crustaceans which cut the skin of the slugs when they crawl over it. Sprinkle it generously around plants you don’t want slugs to crawl up. You will have to replenish it every time you water.

Grass or Hay Mulch Works Very Well and Benefits Plants too: If you have a strawberry bed and the berries are being eaten by slugs, try putting grass clippings around all the strawberry plants making sure any berries are sitting on top of the clipping. Slugs don’t like decaying grass clippings because they create ammonia gas, but plants love it. Just be sure to replace the clipping with fresh ones when the old ones turn brown and are decomposed.

Are These Peaches or Almonds

by LJ Hodek-Creapeau, Circkles Managing Editor

Funny story about growing almonds, and you will know what I mean when you see the photos of them.

I bought an almond tree about 4 years ago to pollinate another almond tree I have. I watered it diligently for 3 years to get it going, and then one year, it took off: grew like crazy. However, one day I was walking by it and I noticed it looked suspiciously a great deal like my peach trees. I mean, identical to them. My first thought was that the nursery had sent me the wrong tree. It still had the nursery tag on it, but it must have been mislabeled, because when it got fuzzy green fruits on it that looked just like peaches, I was pretty convinced it was indeed a peach tree. I decided I would let the nursery know they sent me the wrong tree, but it blossomed profusely that spring and I figured if it was going to be a good producer, it wouldn’t be a total loss, so I held off complaining to the nursery, anxiously waiting to find out what type of peach it would produce.

almond tree blossoms
Almond tree in full bloom

Summer went on and I got busy and put off contacting the nursery to tell them they had sent me the wrong tree. The peaches on it got bigger and bigger, but when fall arrived and the peaches in my orchard were all turning ripe, the ones on this tree remained green, and once they got much bigger, they were starting to look a little different than a peach.
The closer it got to fall the more concerned I became that these peaches were not going to ripen before frost. Then it hit me that maybe I should go online and see what almonds look like when they are still on the tree; and when I did; low and behold, it turned out to be an almond after all.

I thought the almonds would look like they do in the tan shells you see in the stores. Needless to say, I was very glad I never contacted the nursery to complain. Imagine me explaining to them that they most certainly sent me a peach tree instead of an almond, and them insisting that my fuzzy green peaches are what almonds really look like. I’m sure it would have been just a little embarrassing for me and frustrating for them to say the least.

When the green, fuzzy pods split open in the fall they are ready to be picked. Peeling the pods off is best done right after you pick them because they have a sticky gel that coats the hardshell of the nut inside, and once dry, can stick like glue and make it very difficult to peel the green skin off.

Once peeled, allow the shelled nut to dry for a few weeks to a couple months. The shells are very hard to crack until they dry. Once dry, they look like the raw almonds in a shell that you see in stores,  upon which time you can freeze them if you don’t eat them right away to prevent them from getting rancid as nuts will do if left at room temperature too long.

Almond trees will grow anywhere peaches will. They need good watering to get them established, prefer full sun, and don’t mind drought conditions once they are about 3-4 years old. They are fairly maintenance free, and almonds are one of the most nutritionally beneficial nuts. The profuse spring blossoms alone make this tree a worthy ornamental edible. If you are limited for space to grow a nut tree: pick this one.

Photos by L.J. Hodek

 

The Story of the Fish Pepper

by L.J.Creapeau, Editor

The story of the fish pepper is kind of interesting.

“All the ‘Fish’ peppers now sold by seed companies trace back to seed I shared many years ago through Seed Savers Exchange. From my grandfather’s little seed jar, this unique variegated-leaf pepper spread to the world of pepper aficionados and, because of its ornamental character, to landscape gardeners.

My grandfather acquired the seed in the 1940s from Horace Pippin, a black folk painter in West Chester, Pa. Mr. Pippin suffered from a war injury that he referred to as “the miseries.” Because the miseries were of an arthritic nature, he would beg my grandfather to let him counter the pain with honeybee stings. My grandfather’s bee hives were his pride and joy, and the idea of killing bees (honeybees die shortly after stinging) in the name of an old wives’ remedy did not sit well with him.

So to humor my grandfather and “pay” for the dead bees, Pippin would bring seeds, sometimes wonderfully rare varieties from old-time gardeners in his far-flung network of friends stretching from Philadelphia to Baltimore and beyond. The ‘Fish’ peppers came from Baltimore, where they had been employed by black caterers to make white paprika for the cream sauces then popular with fish and shellfish cookery. In terms of heat, they are like cayenne, but are more mellow when cooked. The white pods were also used in soups where red peppers would have created a muddied appearance. As far as Mr. Pippin could tell, these peppers had been in use since the 19th century, one of those secret heirloom ingredients that never showed up in cookbooks. They were simply part of oral tradition.

Today, ‘Fish’ peppers are popular for their ornamental qualities and because the 2-foot plants are easy to grow in containers. The leaves, with their patches of white and gray-green, derive their unique appearance from the same recessive genes that cause albinism. This results in a curious combination of striped pod colors, from white to red. ‘Fish’ peppers make perfect accent plants in the landscape. Of course, they’re also grown for cooking, and are perfect for drying into wonderful hot-hot chili powder.” ~ William Woys Weaver.

The fish pepper is a little spicy gem. It is not as hot as a jalapeno, but more mild, similar to a cayenne pepper. It grows more like a small bush and just one plant will produce several, striped and multi-colored little peppers, so you don’t need to grow many plants. We like to dehydrate them and keep them in a jar to use in chili, stew or soups over the winter. This little edible ornamental makes a great potted plant as well, but is definitely a complimentary addition to any kitchen garden.

Rocky Mountain Bee Plant: A Useful Weed

by LJ Hodek-Creapeau, Circkles Managing Editor

You will probably not even notice this “weed” until it blossoms. We have them growing in only select areas of Colorado. The bee plant looks like any other ordinary weed, until it flowers; then it is a bouquet of beautiful lavender and humming with bees. That makes this “weed” worth establishing in your yard if possible.

The only challenge to growing bee plants is first, you can’t find the seed in just any seed catalog, and second, it is picky about germination conditions.

Technically labeled as Rocky Mountain Bee Plant, it is also known as Navajo spinach, stinkweed and skunk weed or skunk plant due to the unpleasant aroma the leaves give off if you rub them. One of the showiest wildflowers in the western and prairie regions of the United States once it blossoms. The Rocky Mountain bee plant is often found along dry roadsides and waste places, It is an annual herb that can grow up to 4-feet tall, has an unpleasant odor, and so is mostly avoided by livestock and deer: another good reason to grow it in your yard.

Rocky Mountain Bee Plant (cleome) can be found throughout western North America, from southern British Columbia, east to Minnesota, and as far south as Arizona and New Mexico. It is now also naturalized in eastern areas of North America. This species was one of the many new plants that was collected and catalogued along the Vermillion River in South Dakota on August 25, 1804 by Lewis and Clark’s “Corps of Discovery.”

Cleome serrulata is an important cultural plant for many Southwestern Indian tribes. The young, tender shoots and leaves are good sources of vitamin A and calcium. In the past they were used as potherbs or medicinally as teas for fevers and other ailments. The seeds were ground and used to make gruel or bread. The Navajo still use the plant as a source of yellow-green dye for their beautiful wool rugs and blankets. Many pueblo tribes use a concentrated form of dye, made from boiling the plant into a thick black resin, to paint designs on pottery or for decorating their baskets.

How to Sow Bee Plant

Cleome serrulata has traditionally been considered a member of the Caper (Capparidaceae) family but recent genetic studies indicate that it is much more closely related to the Mustard (Brassicaceae) family. It is an annual that readily self-sows but only under certain conditions. The seeds will only germinate if they are planted at least 1/4 inch under the soil and not more than 1/2 inch. They need moist conditions until they sprout, but once they get a good root system going, they are pretty drought tolerant.
The plants like full sun or partial shade and will grow where other drought tolerant weeds or herbs grow, in fields, such as alongside mullein, in abandoned pastures. Bee plant will start producing seeds while it’s still flowering, and because it flowers from the bottom up, it continues to blossom for a long time giving bees some much needed fall nectar. Once the seed pods turn brown, you can collect the seed and keep them to start new plants from year to year.

How to find Bee Plant Seeds

Not many seed catalogs carry bee plant seeds, so your best bet is to collect them if you know of a wild patch that grows nearby, or, we know of a couple online seed suppliers that do carry the seeds: such as prairiemoon.com or highcountrygardens.com. Your best bet is a garden supplier that specializes in seeds and plants for xeriscaping or carries naturally drought tolerant plants for rock gardens and such.

How to keep Bee Plant established in your yard

As mentioned above, once they get going, cleome are fairly drought tolerant and do not require rich soil or much moisture. One thing to keep in mind is they will reseed themselves, so be sure to start them in an area of your yard or garden where they can do so, or, save the seed and restart them indoors a couple weeks before your average last frost date and transplant them where you want them after all danger of frost. The bees will love you and your yard for it.

 

Photos by L.J. Hodek

After the Harvest: What to do With Yourself

by LJ Hodek-Creapeau, Circkles Managing Editor

By autumn, most gardeners are ready for a break, unless you’re like me and you prefer working in cool weather instead of the hot spring weather of the Southwest, and you are looking for things to do in the fall that will ease your gardening workload come spring because you have so much to do in the spring it’s just crazy. Or, maybe you are just bored now that growing season is over and looking for something productive to do. Here are a few autumn chores to ease your spring burden, keep you feeling like you are gardening when the season is over, or just to stave off the boredom of the bad weather months.

Spring or Fall Fertilizing?

People often ask us if it’s best to fertilize in the spring or fall. Well, that depends on the usage for the area you are fertilizing or the plant you are fertilizing. If you are fertilizing with manure, you should do it in the spring because the high nitrogen content of manures causes new top growth and you don’t want to encourage new, green growth that will be nipped by fall frosts and then frozen over the winter.
If you are fertilizing to try and promote root growth, that is best done in the fall since the roots do the majority of their growing over winter. You want to use a good compost to loosen up the soil around the roots, allow for good water retention and to give added nutrition to the root area. Work in your compost around trees, bushes and plant roots down to as far as you can without disturbing the roots.

Boost Your Mulch and Compost

Autumn is a good time to work on that compost pile so you will have plenty ready to go for spring. All those leaves you are raking up; throw them in the compost pile. All the dead debris from your garden plants; throw those in the pile. You don’t want to leave plants to die in the garden because bugs like to overwinter in them and lay eggs on them that will be just waiting for spring to eat your new crops. Also, cleaning up your backyard orchard of fallen fruit and debris will discourage mice and other rodents from living in your orchard and snacking on your young tree trunks over the winter.

When the weather is cool is a good time to also trim trees. It’s best to trim and shape trees and bushes in the fall to encourage new growth in the spring. Or maybe you have some trees that need pruning of dead broken branches or they need to be cut down. You can rent a wood chipper and make mulch out of those branches and cut trees, and mulching your plants in the fall will keep the frost from damaging the roots easily.

start Christmas cactusSpring Cleaning vs Fall Cleaning

You’ve heard people talk about spring cleaning for centuries, but I prefer fall cleaning since I will be closed up in my house all winter. Having a clean nest over the winter is healthier and just feels good. I clean my windows, the screens and dust from top to bottom once I am no longer opening the windows because it’s too cold outside. I clean out my frig and throw the old produce in the compost pile. I wash all my curtains, bed and couch coverings and anything else that has collected dust over the summer from having the windows open. Keeping the house dust free over the winter is a very good idea since it will be closed up and you will be forced to breathe the air inside for months.

Spruce up Your Winter

Nothing says you have to give up gardening completely just because it’s snowing outside. Start some culinary herbs in pots that you can use for cooking, some winter flowers like Christmas cactus or Easter lilies, or anything else that will add some color and spruce up the inside of your winter home.