Archive: Apr 2016

  1. 2016 National Hardware Show

    The 2016 National Hardware Show is one of the largest national shows of its kind. Thousands of exhibitors representing 15 major product categories will be there in addition to Sun Gro and Fafard (BOOTH 10416). We hope to see you there!

  2. “Spur” on Pollinators with Columbine Flowers

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    Eastern columbine flowers in late spring.

    The elegant spurs of columbine (Aquilegia spp.) trail behind the spring blooms like the tail of a comet. Each projected spur is in fact an elongated, tubular nectary filled with nectar for a variety of visiting pollinators, from hummingbirds to bees to hawkmoths.

    Columbine are unique in that many of the 60+ species are just as pretty as the many hybrids offered at garden centers. Aquilegia comes from the Latin name, Aquila, which translates to “eagle” and refers directly to the flower’s talon-like spurs. All species in the genus hail from the North Temperate regions of the world and most bloom in late spring or early summer. All attract pollinators of one variety or another, but many of the species are specially adapted to certain groups of pollinators—making them very desirable for pollinator gardens.

    Their delicate, spurred flowers come in several colors that tend to dictate the primary pollinators they attract, though spur length, nectar sweetness and levels, among other factors, also influence pollinator attraction.

    Hummingbirds: Red- and Orange-flowered Columbine

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    Eastern red columbine

    As a rule, red flowers attract hummingbirds; research as shown that this is also the case with columbine flowers. Beautiful wildflowers, such as the eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis, 2’), with its tall stems of nodding red flowers, or the western red columbine (A. elegantula, 1-3’), with its more linear nodding, shooting-star flowers of fire orange-red, are sure to draw hummingbirds in spring and early summer. Hummingbirds flying through western desert regions will likely visit the blooms of the Arizona columbine (A. desertorum, 1-2’) with its many small, red flowers with shorter spurs. All of these flowers have spurs that hold lots of extra sweet nectar to fulfill the needs of visiting hummingbirds.

    Hawkmoths & Bees-Violet-blue-flowered Columbine

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    Colorado blue columbine (image by Zenhaus)

    Many columbine species have flowers that come in combinations of violet-blue and white. These flowers tend to be most attractive to both hawkmoths and native bees. (Hawkmoths are a group of moths easily distinguished by their hummingbird-like hovering flight patterns and long tongues adapted for nectar gathering.) Columbine with long spurs, such as the Colorado blue columbine (A. coerulea, 1-3’), are most attractive to long-tongued hawkmoths. Smaller-flowered species, such as the alpine Utah columbine (A. scopulorum, 6-8”) and small-flowered columbine (A. brevistyla, 1-3’) with their blue and white blooms, are better adapted to bee pollinators.

    Hawkmoths- Yellow-flowered Columbine

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    Long-spurred columbine (image by Cstubben)

    Some of the most impressively long spurs are found on columbine with ethereal yellow flowers that glow in the evening light. Most are adapted to hawkmoth pollination. One of the prettiest for the garden is the southwestern golden columbine (A. chrysantha, 3’) with its big starry flowers and long, long spurs of gold. When in full bloom, from spring to summer, the plants literally glow with beautiful blossoms. Another big-spurred beauty from the southwest is the long-spurred columbine (A. longissima, 1-3’) with its 4-6” long spurs. The upward-facing blooms are paler yellow than A chrysantha and bloom from mid to late summer. Both species look delicate but are surprisingly well-adapted to arid weather conditions.

    As a rule, columbine grow best in full to partial sun and soil with good to moderate fertility and sharp drainage. Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost is a great soil addition for these garden flowers. They don’t require heavy fertilization and should be protected from sun during the hottest times of the day. After flowers, plants often die back or develop a ragged look, so be sure to surround them by other full perennials with attractive foliage and flowers that will fill the visual gaps left by these plants. Good compliments are tall phlox, coneflowers, bluestar, and milkweeds.

    Columbine are great choices for pollinator gardens, so it’s no wonder that sourcing species is surprisingly easy. High Country Garden sells a western species collection, in addition to the dwarf eastern columbine, and many others. Moreover, columbine self-sow and naturally hybridize-making them truly enjoyable garden flowers for gardeners we well as our favorite pollinators.

  3. Easy Garden Vegetables for Novices

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    With a little help and some easy, confidence-building starter veggies, black thumbs can turn green. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    So…you want to grow your own vegetables. You have all the right reasons—great taste, unparalleled freshness, and the satisfaction of eating the fruits of your labors. Still, something holds you back. Could it be fear of the dreaded “black thumb”?

    Novice veggie growers can rest assured. Easy veggies turn black thumbs green. Start by choosing a few vegetable types and varieties, like the following, that are easy to love (and eat) and equally easy to grow. Some of the most popular vegetables are also perfect for beginners and can be grown successfully from seeds or nursery starter plants. With a few simple steps and a little TLC, the growing process will (practically) take care of itself.

    Baby Salad Greens

    Lactuca sativa (SALANOVA® GREEN MULTI-LEAF, SALANOVA® SERIES) JaKMPM

    Baby greens are a great starter veggie. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    These tender greens are a snap to grow and a cinch to harvest. Often sold in multi-variety mixes, like Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ “Premium Greens”, the seeds are tiny and can be sown directly over well-raked garden soil or in a wide, relatively shallow container. Follow package directions for seed distribution, surface sowing the seeds in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Plant in quality planting medium, like Fafard® Natural & Organic Potting Soil with RESiLIENCE®, and gently tamp down soil after sowing. Tiny seeds need gentle watering, so use a light-sprinkling watering can or gentle mist  to keep soil uniformly moist. In as little as a few weeks, when the greens are about five inches tall, you will be able to snip young leaves with scissors. Once washed, they will be ready to use in salads or on sandwiches. For a continuous harvest, sow batches of seeds at two week intervals.

    Cherry Tomatoes

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    The new ‘Candyland Red’ cherry tomato. (Image by AAS Winners)

    These miniature tomatoes grow equally well in-ground or in containers and generally bear lots of tasty fruit. Choose a spot that receives six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. If you are using a container, find one that is at least twelve inches in diameter and twelve inches deep, with bottom drainage holes. Make your gardening life as easy as possible by filling the container with a moisture-retentive, self-feeding potting mix like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with extended feed and RESiLIENCE®. Cherry tomato starter plants are available at nurseries and garden centers in the spring and early summer. Unless you have large family of tomato lovers, one or two plants should be enough. While you are at the garden center, pick up a wire tomato cage to support each plant. Install one young tomato plant in the center of each container or space, making sure that the top of the root ball is level with the top of the soil in the garden or container. Position tomato cages over the plants. Keep the soil evenly moist as the tomatoes grow. Yellow flowers will be succeeded by tiny green fruits. As the cherry tomatoes ripen, pick them regularly. The plants will reward you with even more fruit.

    Snap Peas

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    ‘Sugar Snap’ peas on the vine. (Image care of Baker Creek Seeds)

    Like cherry tomatoes, these edible-podded peas beg to be eaten right off the vine. Sow seeds of varieties like ‘Sugar Snap’ by making a shallow (one to two inches deep) trench with the handle of a garden hoe. Seeds should be sown about four inches apart. Peas will also prosper in long, rectangular containers with drainage holes in the bottoms. If you are growing rows of peas in a garden bed, separate the rows by about eighteen inches. Use trellising or inexpensive chicken wire to support the vines, which will cling and clamber upward via tendrils. Seedlings will emerge within ten to fourteen days, followed eventually by white flowers. Keep the soil uniformly moist and harvest when the pods are plump and full. As with salad greens, crops of peas can be sown successively to prolong the harvest.

    And a Few Tips For Novices…

    No matter whether your edible crop output is large or small, all vegetable plants require regular attention. Container-grown vegetables need more food and water than those grown in-ground and may have to be watered every day in very warm, dry weather. Beware of over fertilizing, which tends to produce lush foliage growth and fewer fruits on pea and tomato plants. (Choose a food specially formulated for vegetable gardening!) If you spot aphids on pea vines, a good spray with the garden hose should dislodge them.

    And, most important, harvest and eat the fruits of your labors. You have successfully refuted the myth of the “black thumb” and grown your own food. Vegetables seasoned with self confidence always taste the best.

  4. Border Veggies: Edible Ornamental Bulbs

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    Chives are pretty in the garden and on the plate. Their flowers are edible, too! (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Edible ornamental bulbs (or is it ornamental edible plants?) are wonderful garden playthings. As welcome in a recipe as in a mixed border, they appeal both to our love of beauty and to our utilitarian, subsistence-gardening roots.

    No plants go more to the root of edible gardening than the ones we know as flower bulbs (although most are not roots or bulbs in the strict botanical sense). From the moment humans discovered that many plants grow from nutrient-rich underground storage organs, we’ve been scratching the dirt harvesting and cultivating that subterranean bounty. At the same time, we’ve been captivated and seduced by the colorful things that many bulbs do above-ground. They’re a feast for the eyes and the palate.

    Allium obliquum

    Siberian native Allium obliquum has edible bulbs and yellow, early-summer flowers.

    Several other alliums make handsomer garden subjects. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) has long been treasured for its attractive clumps of hollow, quill-like leaves and its late spring to early summer globes of purple to white flowers. The somewhat similar (but much later-blooming) Allium chinense is a favorite potherb in its native East Asia, where it’s garnered a host of common names, including rakkyo and Jiao Tou. Also from East Asia, Allium tuberosum (commonly known as garlic chives) bears larger, looser heads of white flowers on 18-inch stems in late summer. The leaves and flowers make tasty and eye-catching embellishments for salads and other summery repasts. Whether eaten or not, garlic chive flowers should be deadheaded to prevent the prolific self-sowing for which the species is notorious. All the above thrive in sun and fertile, friable soil (amend heavy or sandy soil with Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend).

    Crous sativus 'Cashmerianus'

    Greek native Crocus cartwrightianus bears exceptional saffron.

    Shadier niches provide ideal habitat for two woodland onions traditionally harvested for their broad, piquant, short-lived leaves. The greens and bulbs of bear’s garlic (Allium ursinum) have played a part in European and North Asian diets for many centuries, and still find their way onto menus (especially in chic restaurants). In eastern North America, the tasty, trendy woodland onion is Allum tricoccum, subject of traditional “ramps” celebrations over much of its native range. Over-collecting has rendered it relatively scarce in the wild, but ramps (as well as bear’s garlic) is usually prolific in the garden, spreading vigorously into large leafy clumps. An ideal way to slow it down in cultivation is to sacrifice a few leaves to a springtime omelet, stir-fry, soup, or other morsel. Its flowers are also edible; they appear on 15-inch scapes in early summer, after the foliage has withered. Bear’s garlic produces similar (but slightly showier) flowers in spring, while still in leaf.

    Natural and OrganicSpringtime greens of a different sort are the stuff of Ornithogalum pyrenaicum. This high-rise star-of-Bethlehem is famous (at least in the neighborhood of Bath, England) for its succulent immature flower stalks that resemble asparagus spears. Formerly gathered from the wild and sold in markets in its namesake town, Bath asparagus is enjoying something of a culinary revival as a cultivated plant in Southwest England and elsewhere. Unharvested stalks mature into 30-inch spires of starry white flowers, which themselves are well worth a place in mixed borders and cottage gardens. Native to Southern Europe, Bath asparagus was likely introduced to England by Roman occupiers (who apparently also had good taste in ornithogalums).

    Southern Europe is also the home of what is almost certainly the most valuable edible bulb: saffron. Several thousand Crocus sativus flowers are required to produce one hand-harvested ounce of this precious seasoning, which is literally worth its weight in gold. Most of the world’s saffron crop comes from Iran, but it’s been cultivated for centuries in many other areas including Pennsylvania’s Amish country. It is not known in the wild.

    Bath asparagus in full bloom. (Photo by Garrytowns)

    Bath asparagus in full bloom. (Photo by Garrytowns)

    Crocus sativus has three sets of chromosomes and is unable to produce seed, suggesting that it probably originated as a hybrid or mutation of another crocus species (Greek native Crocus cartwrightianus is the leading candidate). Several other close relatives (including C. pallasii and C. oreocreticus) of saffron crocus also occur in Southeast Europe, all of them carrying the characteristic fragrant, orange-red stigmas at the centers of their purple to lavender, mid-autumn blooms. Crocus sativus and its relatives prosper in full sun and rich fertile soil in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 to 9. They’re perfect for planting near an entryway, where their tasty stigmas can be readily harvested for that next loaf of saffron bread.

    Edible bulbs offer possibilities for all sorts and sizes of ornamental plantings, from a container of herbs to a permaculture landscape. Dig in!