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Tips for Growing Cilantro

cilantro plantCilantro is used in a great many different dishes, particularly Mexican and Asian dishes, but despite the growing popularity for this dish in cooking, you do not see cilantro growing in the home garden as much as you do other popular herbs. This may be due to the fact that many people think that growing cilantro is difficult. This is not the case at all. If you follow these few tips for growing cilantro, you will find that you will be successfully growing cilantro in no time at all.

Cilantro Seeds

In cooking, cilantro seeds are called coriander. The “seeds” are actually two cilantro seeds encased in a husk. The husk is hard, round and is light brown or grey in color. Before you plant them in the ground, you need to prepare the cilantro seeds to increase the chances that they will germinate. Gently crush the seed husk holding the two seeds together. Soak the cilantro seeds in water for 24 – 48 hours. Remove from the water and allow to dry.

How to Plant Cilantro

Once you have prepared the cilantro seeds, you need to plant the seeds. You can either start cilantro indoors or out doors. If you are starting the seeds indoors, you will be transplanting cilantro to the outdoors later on.

Put the seeds in the soil and then cover them with about a 1/4 inch layer of soil. Leave the cilantro growing until it is at least 2 inches tall. At this time, thin the cilantro to be about 3-4 inches apart. You want to be growing cilantro in crowded conditions because the leaves will shade the roots and help to keep the plant from bolting in hot weather.

If you are transplanting cilantro into your garden, dig holes 3-4 inches apart and place the plants in them. Water thoroughly after transplanting.

Cilantro Growing Conditions

The most important thing to remember when growing cilantro is that it does not like hot weather. Cilantro growing in soil that reaches 75F will bolt and go to seed. This means that the ideal cilantro growing conditions are cool but sunny. You should be growing cilantro where it will get early morning or late afternoon sun, but be shaded during the hottest part of the day.

Additional Tips for Growing Cilantro

Even with ideal cilantro growing conditions, this is a short lived herb. Taking the time to prune cilantro frequently will help delay bolting and prolong your harvest time but no mater how much you prune cilantro it will still eventually bolt. Plant new seeds about every 6 weeks to keep a steady supply throughout the growing season.

Cilantro will also reseed in many zones. Once the cilantro plant bolts, let it go to seed and it will grow again for you next year. Or collect the cilantro seeds and use them as coriander in your cooking.

So as you can see, with just a few tips for growing cilantro, you can have a steady supply of this tasty herb growing in your garden.

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Gardening in the Fall: Preparing for a Frost

Once autumn begins, it’s a good time to start thinking about frosts and freezes and the effect they can have on your plants. Most garden plants, assuming they’re hardy in your area, will weather the winter without any problem. An abrupt, early freeze may cause them to drop their leaves prematurely or cause some tissue damage, but most will rebound next spring.

However, there are exceptions. Use the following tips to ensure that your garden is ready when the frost bites.

Bring tender plants indoors. Depending on where you live, some plants may behave as either annuals or perennials that simply can’t handle even a light frost. Many people don’t bother trying to extend the life of plants generally not meant to last more than a year and let them die back after a freeze hits.

However, if you grow tender annuals and perennials in pots and want to save them, move the pots into the garage or house when frost threatens and take them back out when the weather warms a bit, at least for a week or two. This process allows the plant acclimate better to a drastic change in growing conditions.

Tropicals can go in the house or garage before temperatures drop below 45 degrees F. Before bringing them inside, spray any plants that appear to have pests, such as spider mites, aphids and mealy bugs. A solution containing neem oil works well for treating these pests. Once the plants are inside, cut back on watering and withhold applying any fertilizer until next spring.

Don’t forget to prepare your house for the new arrivals. There’s nothing worse than watching the evening weather, only to discover that a freeze is on the way, and realize that you don’t have any room for your plants.

Protect evergreens. Evergreens in pots can be especially vulnerable. If their roots freeze, they may not make it through the winter. Those in large pots may be fine during mild winters, but evergreens in small pots should be protected. Place them against a wall and cover the pots with mulch or shredded leaves. Keep them watered throughout the winter. Don’t allow the root balls of evergreens in the garden dry out completely, even if it means dragging the hose out in the middle of winter and giving them a thorough soaking.

Cover tender seedlings in the vegetable garden. Fall veggies, especially tender seedlings, may need protection, although most can survive temperatures of around 28 degrees F with little or no tissue damage. Nevertheless, when the forecast calls for temperatures in that range, keep a few blankets handy to cover crops overnight.

During the day, if temperatures rise above freezing, remove the blankets so that excessive heat doesn’t accumulate beneath the coverings. Some people use clear plastic to protect their plants. Plastic causes more accumulation of heat, which is good, but if you don’t take the plastic off before direct sun hits it the next day, your plants will cook.

Grow hardy selections of culinary herbs during the winter months. Most culinary herbs are fairly tender but can survive temperatures in the upper 20s. However, some herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, can overwinter in their pots outdoors.

Watch out for new plant growth. Interestingly, some plants may actually start to put on new growth in response to cooler temperatures, especially if summer temps were really hot. But that new growth is tender, especially in the case of broadleaf and needled evergreens, and unless it has a chance to harden off before a freeze, it may die back.

Resist cutting back ornamental grasses. If you grow ornamental grasses, resist the temptation to cut the foliage back until late winter or early spring because all that top growth helps insulate the root ball. That’s especially true if the grass is only marginally hardy in your area.

Keep in mind that freezes don’t just affect plants. They can wreak havoc on other features in your garden as well.

Clean out and store pots in a protected area. Even the best pots can crack if the soil is left in them over the winter, so remember to remove the soil. If you have time and are so inclined, scrub the pots clean with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.

Store watering cans in a protected area. Watering cans, especially galvanized cans, may expand and crack if water left in them freezes. Empty watering cans and place them where they can’t collect rainwater.

Winterize water features. Water features are of particular concern during the winter. Small features will freeze, despite the running water produced by the fountain, and that can ruin the pump and the pot. So make sure you drain them and store the pot and pump in the garage or garden shed. Depending on where you live, larger water features and ponds may freeze over somewhat, but if they are deep enough or have a waterfall rapid and large enough, they shouldn’t freeze solid. Consult a pond installation expert on how to properly winterize your water feature.

Prepare fish for the winter. Koi enter a state of suspended animation during the winter and survive the cold water with no problem. Cut back on feeding the koi because the more they eat, the more waste they produce. In cold water the bacteria that breaks down that waste doesn’t work well. So to maintain water quality, limit feeding to those occasional warm spells that may occur in the winter.

Generally speaking, winter frosts and freezes don’t cause nearly as many problems in the garden as late-spring freezes, when plants are busting out all over with tender new growth. So don’t panic this winter when the mercury takes a dive. Just do what you’ve got to do, then go inside and warm up by the fire.

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7 Secrets for a High-Yield Vegetable Garden

Imagine harvesting nearly half a ton of tasty, beautiful, organically grown vegetables from a 15-by-20-foot plot, 100 pounds of tomatoes from just 100 square feet (a 4-by-25-foot bed), or 20 pounds of carrots from just 24 square feet.

Yields like these are easier to achieve than you may think. The secret to superproductive gardening is taking the time now to plan strategies that will work for your garden. Here are seven high-yield strategies gleaned from gardeners who have learned to make the most of their garden space.

1. Build up your soil.

Expert gardeners agree that building up the soil is the single most important factor in pumping up yields. A deep, organically rich soil encourages the growth of healthy, extensive roots that are able to reach more nutrients and water. The result: extra-lush, extra-productive growth above ground.

The fastest way to get that deep layer of fertile soil is to make raised beds. Raised beds yield up to four times more than the same amount of space planted in rows. That’s due not only to their loose, fertile soil but also to efficient spacing—by using less space for paths, you have more room to grow plants.

Raised beds save you time, too. One researcher tracked the time it took to plant and maintain a 30-by-30-foot garden planted in beds, and found that he needed to spend just 27 hours in the garden from mid-May to mid-October. Yet he was able to harvest 1,900 pounds of fresh vegetables—that’s a year’s supply of food for three people from about 3 total days of work!

How do raised beds save so much time? Plants grow close enough together to shade out competing weeds, so you spend less time weeding. The close spacing also makes watering and harvesting more efficient.

2. Round out your beds.

The shape of your beds can make a difference, too. Raised beds are more space-efficient if the tops are gently rounded to form an arc, rather than flat. A rounded bed that is 5 feet wide across its base, for instance, will give you a 6-foot-wide arc above it—creating a planting surface that’s a foot wider than that of a flat bed. That foot might not seem like much, but multiply it by the length of your bed and you’ll see that it can make a big difference in total planting area.

In a 20-foot-long bed, for example, rounding the top increases your total planting area from 100 to 120 square feet. That’s a 20 percent gain in planting space in a bed that takes up the same amount of ground space! Lettuce, spinach, and other greens are perfect crops for planting on the edges of a rounded bed.

3. Space smartly.

To get the maximum yields from each bed, pay attention to how you arrange your plants. Avoid planting in square patterns or rows. Instead, stagger the plants by planting in triangles. By doing so, you can fit 10 to 14 percent more plants in each bed.

Just be careful not to space your plants too tightly. Some plants won’t reach their full size—or yield—when crowded. For instance, when one researcher increased the spacing between romaine lettuces from 8 to 10 inches, the harvest weight per plant doubled. (Remember that weight yield per square foot is more important than the number of plants per square foot.)

Overly tight spacing can also stress plants, making them more susceptible to diseases and insect attack.

4. Grow up!

No matter how small your garden, you can grow more by going vertical. Grow space-hungry vining crops—such as tomatoes, pole beans, peas, squash, melons, cukes, and so on—straight up, supported by trellises, fences, cages, or stakes.

Growing vegetables vertically also saves time. Harvest and maintenance go faster because you can see exactly where the fruits are. And upward-bound plants are less likely to be hit by fungal diseases thanks to the improved air circulation around the foliage.

Try growing vining crops on trellises along one side of raised beds, using sturdy end posts with nylon mesh netting or string in between to provide a climbing surface. Tie the growing vines to the trellis. But don’t worry about securing heavy fruits—even squash and melons will develop thicker stems for support.

5. Mix it up.

Interplanting compatible crops saves space, too. Consider the classic Native American combination, the “three sisters”—corn, beans, and squash. Sturdy cornstalks support the pole beans, while squash grows freely on the ground below, shading out competing weeds. This combination works because the crops are compatible. Other compatible combinations include tomatoes, basil, and onions; leaf lettuce and peas or brassicas; carrots, onions, and radishes; and beets and celery.

6. Succeed with successions.

Succession planting allows you to grow more than one crop in a given space over the course of a growing season. That way, many gardeners are able to harvest three or even four crops from a single area.

For instance, an early crop of leaf lettuce can be followed with a fast-maturing corn, and the corn followed by more greens or overwintered garlic—all within a single growing season.

To get the most from your succession plantings:

  • Use transplants. A transplant is already a month or so old when you plant it, and so will mature that much faster than a direct-seeded plant (one grown from seeds sown in the garden).
  • Choose fast-maturing varieties.
  • Replenish the soil with a ¼-to-½-inch layer of compost (about 2 cubic feet per 100 square feet) each time you replant. Work it into the top few inches of soil.

7. Stretch your season.

Adding a few weeks to each end of the growing season can buy you enough time to grow yet another succession crop—say a planting of leaf lettuce, kale, or turnips—or to harvest more end-of-the-season tomatoes.

To get those extra weeks of production, you need to keep the air around your plants warm, even when the weather is cold, by using mulches, cloches, row covers, or coldframes.

Or give heat-loving crops (such as melons, peppers, and eggplants) an extra-early start by using two “blankets”—one to warm the air and one to warm the soil in early spring. About 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date, preheat cold soil by covering it with either infrared-transmitting (IRT) mulch or black plastic, which will absorb heat. Then, cover the bed with a slitted, clear plastic tunnel. When the soil temperature reaches 65° to 70°F, set out plants and cover the black plastic mulch with straw to keep it from trapping too much heat. Remove the clear plastic tunnel when the air temperature warms and all danger of frost has passed. Install it again at the end of the season, when temperatures cool.

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