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The Garden Patch: Grow gardeners’ favorite fruit

Well, here we go with the last of the specific gardening series – today we finish with everyone’s favorite garden product – tomatoes! It has been said (and proven) that the majority of folks who plant only one item in their garden (or bucket or whatever) plant tomatoes. Why not? ‘Most everybody eats ‘em! So, let’s give a try with tomatoes

Nothing tastes quite as good as a fresh-picked, garden-ripe tomato. And you can easily grow them in your garden or in pots.

Sun and soil. Plant tomatoes in full sun, but provide shelter from high winds (in Kansas?) by planting them downwind of other tall crops or even by setting up a section of slatted lattice (who said snow fence?) in the path of prevailing winds. They do best in rich, well-drained soil.

Planting. Plant tomatoes about 2 weeks after the last spring frost. Plant them so the lowest set of leaves is at soil level, and press the soil down gently.

Growing. Provide support to reduce the risk of disease and ensure a better harvest. To avoid problems with disease, water from the bottom and early in the day. Tomatoes need even moisture, though, so don’t let your beds dry out. Once your tomato plants are established, apply a thick mulch of straw, grass clippings or composted leaves. As long as you’ve added compost to your beds before planting, you shouldn’t need to add any other fertilizer for tomatoes.

The Garden Patch: You can grow spuds and squashes

052514-garden-excericiseWell, here we go on another gardening adventure with a crop you have probably been growing in your garden already – or at least plan to grow. Today, let’s talk ‘tators!

Growing potatoes in your home garden can be an adventure! Choose unusual varieties you can’t buy at the grocery store or a favorite variety you’ve discovered through your local farmers’ market.

Sun and Soil. Potatoes need full sun. They will grow fine in moderately fertile soil enriched with organic matter. If the site isn’t well drained, build a raised bed, or at least surface-plant your potatoes as described below.

Planting. It’s critical to buy certified disease-free seed potatoes. Potatoes grow best when the soil is at least 50 degrees F. If you plant potatoes in a 4-inch-deep trench, cover the seed potatoes with at least 2 inches of soil right away. Fill the trench as the foliage emerges and then use a hoe to hill up loose soil around the plants at least once (twice is better) as they continue to grow. By the end of the season, the plants will be covered by a low mound of soil.

If you surface-plant, expect a lower yield than with trench planting. Loosen the top few inches of soil. Lay the seed pieces on the soil, cut side down. Mulch with shredded leaves, leaf mold or clean straw. Add mulch as the plants grow, maintaining a layer several inches thick over the tubers. The mulch will protect the tubers and minimize weeding. Spraying foliage with a fish emulsion and seaweed spray shortly after sprouts emerge and again just before plants flower may help make up the difference.

The Garden Patch: Spice it up with peppers and onions

052514-garden-excericiseWell, here we go again – this time we’re growin’ onions! This old favorite is eaten raw, cooked or any way you want them. We’re going to show you how to grow ’em – you figure out how you want to eat ’em! Here goes …

Onions add their pungent flair to dishes from soup to salad. And fresh ones from the garden taste great!

Sun and soil. Onions thrive in full sun and in light loam or sandy soil that’s well enriched with organic matter. They will not be happy in heavy clay soil. Amendments, anyone? Clay soil in Osage County? Who you kiddin’?

Planting. In general, onions are planted in the spring in our neck of the woods. More experienced gardeners may choose to grow onions directly from seed, but all gardeners find that onion sets are easy to work with. Plant them in the garden four to six weeks before the last expected frost. Simply poke each set into well-worked soil so the top of the set is about level with the soil surface. The set should sprout and grow rapidly in moist soil. Experienced gardeners may enjoy growing onions directly from seeds – or even raising their own sets.

Growing. Weed early and often. Onions don’t compete well with weeds because of their narrow foliage and shallow roots. Check soil moisture frequently, and if the soil is drying out, apply water to the top six inches of soil. Fertilize young onion plants, but stop about seven weeks before the expected harvest date. Late applications of fertilizer will prevent bulbs from maturing properly.

The Garden Patch: Grow the ingredients for salad and dessert

Hello! Fellow gardeners and wannabes! We’re on a roll right now so let’s continue with lettuce from the garden and for the table! Here we go …

The best tasting salads start with fresh lettuce right from the garden! It’s easy to grow and a great way to start your garden in the spring.

Sun and Soil. Average garden soil is fine for lettuce, but sandy loam is ideal. Lettuce grows well in full sun in cool conditions, but in hot weather, it does better in partial shade. Choose a site that receives about 4 hours of direct sun daily. In summer heat, plant lettuce between or under larger plants to shade it from strong sun.

Planting. Two weeks before the last expected spring frost, sow seeds directly into the garden or plant transplants. You can also sow lettuce in late summer.

Growing. Lettuce needs about 1 inch of water each week to thrive and will wilt very quickly if it dries out. Water it with compost tea or fish emulsion once a week until it’s 4 inches tall.

Problem Solving. Powdery mildew gives plants a white, powdery coating. If your plants have yellow or light green spots on them, you most likely have downy mildew. In either case, pick off infected plant parts and remove them from the garden. Switch to drip irrigation or use a handheld hose. Apply copper as a last resort to prevent the disease from ruining a crop.

The Garden Patch: Anyone can be an expert cucurbit grower

052514-garden-excericiseWell, here we go again with our series of ideas on summer garden crops (the 11 most popular in our area). Let’s go this time with cucumbers

Although cucumbers need warmth, you can grow them here with little or no problem – some varieties even go from seed to harvest in as little as 50 days. If you can avoid cucumber beetle damage when plants are young, keep fruits up off the soil and prevent fungal diseases from spreading, you’ll harvest a good crop of juicy cucumbers.

Sun and Soil. Plant cucumbers in full sun in loose, rich soil that holds moisture well. For soil that isn’t rich in organic matter, spread up to 4 inches of compost over the planting area and work it in, loosening the top foot of soil as you work.

Planting. Sow seeds or set out transplants after danger of frost when the soil is warm (at least 60 degrees F; 70 degrees is ideal). Plant again if your growing season is going to be long enough (watch the date and the temps) to allow a second crop. Sow seeds 3 to 6 inches apart and thin the plants to 1 foot apart once they have 2 or 3 leaves. Sow the seeds directly in the garden in raised hills or in rows. Start seedlings indoors in peat pots 3 weeks before you plan to set them outside. Harden them off in a protected outdoor area (such as a coldframe for the last week).

Growing. Cucumbers and trellises are a great combination. The fruits grow straight, they’re easy to find and pick, they suffer fewer disease problems and you can grow more in less space. Construct an A-frame trellis or a vertical trellis. The vines don’t need any special support once they start to climb – the strong tendrils will cling to the trellis as the vines grow. Set up the trellis before you plant. As the vines elongate, pinch off the first few side shoots that form on each vine. After that, allow the side shoots to sprout and spread.

The Garden Patch: Grow (and eat) your broccoli; it’s good for you

052514-garden-excericiseWe’ve been writing about the most popular vegetables from the garden and this is no time to quit – we have a few more to learn about – probably the ones we’ve been raising all along. But, maybe we can improve on what we’re doing! Let’s see – let’s begin today with broccoli.

Broccoli that matures during cool weather is the sweetest you’ll ever taste! High temperatures as broccoli matures can cause bitter, loose heads to form, leaving you with smaller and less tasty florets. In fall, broccoli produces bigger and tastier heads, as plants mature during cooler weather.

Sun and soil. Broccoli grows best in full sun and in soil that is slightly acidic (pH between 6.0 and 6.8), rich in organic matter and well drained, yet consistently moist. The right pH and the organic matter help ensure that nutrients, particularly essential micronutrients such as boron are readily available. (A boron deficiency can cause broccoli to develop hollow stems, but adding too much is toxic to plants, so a soil test is essential.)

Planting. Fall broccoli has specific spacing requirements. If you’re gardening intensively in a raised bed, space your plants 15 to 18 inches apart; for gardening in rows, set the transplants 12 to 24 inches apart within the row and space the rows 18 to 36 inches apart. Be sure to set transplants slightly deeper in the ground than they were in the pot.

Growing. Broccoli is a moderately heavy feeder, so work in 2 to 4 inches of rich compost or a thin layer of well aged manure before planting. The best time to side-dress (scratch a little nitrogen-rich, such as fish meal or aged manure, into the soil around the plant’s base) sprouting types that have been over wintered is in late winter or early spring when growth resumes.

The Garden Patch: Join the popular crowd – grow beans

052514-garden-excericiseHello! Ready for the second of a series of the most popular garden plants for our area? Hope so! Here goes …

Last time we talked about asparagus, let’s visit now about another favorite of yours and mine, beans!

Beans grow with little care, produce an abundance of pods, and can add nitrogen to the soil, making them ideal plants for organic (or regular) vegetable gardens. Be sure to select varieties that will mature within our growing season and thrive in our region’s conditions.

Sun and Soil. Choose a spot that’s sunny most of the day. The soil should be well drained; otherwise bean seeds can rot before germination occurs.

Planting. Sow bean seeds directly into your garden around the last frost date in spring – beans get off to a strong start in soil that is at least 60 degrees F, usually two weeks after the last frost date. Plant bush bean varieties every 2 to 3 weeks until 60 days before the first expected fall frost.

Growing. Keep the soil moist but not wet. Do not wet the leaves when watering because it can encourage rust and other fungal diseases. Support pole beans on a trellis or other structure. (I grow and use bamboo for this purpose).

The Garden Patch: Growing the ABCs of vegetables

052514-garden-excericiseWell, we’re going to do something a little different (hopefully to make gardening a little more productive for you – and me). Starting this week, we’ll feature 11 different produce items for the garden and how to plant, grow, harvest and solve problems with each of them. Hope you enjoy this as much as I did researching it! Let’s give it a shot…

We’ll start (alphabetically) with asparagus. I gotta plant some this year ‘cause my patch is nearly 20 years old but still producing, though it shouldn’t be.

Asparagus can produce for 20 years or more and requires little care. The Extension office can recommend varieties that will grow well in your garden. It’s important to select a variety that is resistant to serious diseases such as rust and Fusarium wilt. Select only male plants, which yield more.

The Garden Patch: Believe it or not, spring is on the way

052514-garden-excericiseSpring will spring before we know it and we gotta be ready to garden! Can’t you just taste all those fresh veggies that will be on your plate? Winter is progressing, so we’d better be ready! Here goes …

  • Prepare your garden soil once it has dried out and crumbles easily in your hand. Turn under winter-killed cover crops in early spring. Incorporate green cover crops such as winter rye into the soil at least 2 weeks before your transplant date. Add compost.
  • Top dress garden beds with compost.
  • Use mulch to deter weeds; reapply as needed.
  • Keep all newly planted crops well watered if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate by providing sufficient rain.
  • Presprout peas and potatoes in advance of setting them out in the garden to give them a head start.
  • Plant cool-season veggies and flowers such as peas, spinach, foxgloves and hollyhocks as soon as the ground can be worked.
  • Start seeds of cool-season vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale indoors under grow lights in March (if you didn’t start them in February).
  • Plant cool-season vegetables such as mustard greens, lettuce, peas, radishes and spinach in cold- or warm-frames (cold frames with heat cables or other heat source) in late March or early April.
  • Start seeds of warm-season vegetables such as eggplant, peppers and tomatoes indoors the first week in April to transplant into the garden in late May.
  • Direct-seed beets, carrots, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce, parsnips, peas and spinach and place onion sets into the garden in April. Set out hardy seedlings such as cabbage, leafy greens, onions, pansies and snapdragons, allowing them to harden-off for a day or two in a protected area.
  • Plant out warm-season vegetable plants – cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, squash and tomatoes – around the safe planting-out date.
  • Go ahead and pick those long awaited first asparagus spears in April and May.
  • Set out warm season bulbs such as dahlias, cannas and gladiolus in May.

The Garden Patch: No space for a garden? Try containers

052514-garden-excericiseWell, we talk a lot about gardens in this spot in this publication – that’s what we’re supposed to do. But – what if you don’t have the space for a typical garden? Well, then, let’s talk about container gardening. Anyone can do that – you don’t need a lot of space – just the desire and motivation! And, once started, it’s far less work than a big garden! Here we go …

Container gardening is simply growing plants in anything but the ground. It is the easiest kind of gardening because it can be done anywhere at any time of year! Fresh veggies for Christmas? Who you tryin’ to kid? And, you can grow plants in almost any container that will hold soil. Some examples include:

  • Clay – the inexpensive reddish-brown pots made of terracotta that you see in every garden center.
  • Ceramic or glass – fancier containers purchased for their beauty.
  • Concrete – heavy-duty planters that are often large and difficult to move.
  • Plastic – low cost alternative to ceramic or glass containers.
  • Wood – old barrels and livestock water troughs that add a casual look to a garden.
  • Synthetic – relatively new to the garden market, containers that look like heavy terracotta or concrete but are in fact made of heavy duty foam and are very lightweight.

Other fun containers include old leather work boots, old bath and wash tubs, old wooden boxes or dresser drawers, and recycled plastics such as 2-liter drink bottles or gallon milk jugs.

The Garden Patch: Extend your gardening season

052514-garden-excericiseGardening season is just TOO short! I’ve said it, you’ve probably said it or thought it and many, many others share this thinking. OK, then, how do we make gardening season longer? Read on for tips and techniques for a longer season …

Beets – Sow (in the garden) about 10 weeks before the average first frost date. Pick mature beets before the first hard freeze. Harvest immature beets in autumn or mulch heavily to over winter.

Broccoli – Sow seed directly by mid-July or at the latest by August. Protect with floating row covers. SOME cultivars can withstand temperatures below freezing as long as the weather is evenly cool.

Brussels sprouts – Sow in succession for harvesting from early fall until late spring. Cold-hardy cultivars survive temperatures as low as 14 degrees F. Freezing temperatures enhance flavor.

The Garden Patch: You can be a Master Gardener

052514-garden-excericiseWell, hello! For a little change of pace this week, I thought I’d give you a little insight into the Master Gardener Program – if you’re an obsessed gardener, you should consider the Master Gardener Program for yourself – you’d love it! So, here goes …

The National Master Gardener Program was founded in 1972 by a county horticulture agent in Washington state as a training tool for volunteers wanting to assist in the delivery of horticulture education programs on a countywide basis. In exchange for extensive horticultural training, volunteers agreed to help the Cooperative Extension Service provide information to the public. Historically, the main activity of Master Gardeners has been to answer gardening questions at county Extension offices or community garden clinics.

The Master Gardener Program is more than a horticulture class or a garden club. It is a volunteer program that enables participants to serve their communities through horticultural education. The knowledge and leadership skills developed through this program illustrate additional benefits. Today, the Master Gardener Program is popular around the nation and has participants in more than 20 universities.

The Kansas Master Gardener Program began in 1980 in Johnson County as a joint effort between the Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service and the Johnson County Extension Council. The program has grown considerably with 17 counties participating today including Butler, Cherokee, Crawford, Douglas, Ellis, Harvey, Johnson, Leavenworth, Lyon, Miami, Montgomery, Reno, Riley, Saline, Sedgwick, Shawnee and Wyandotte. Also participating is Post Rock, a two county extension district (Lincoln and Mitchell counties). The Kansas Master Gardener Program has educated well over a thousand volunteers to date and currently graduates more than 250 new Master Gardeners each year.

The Garden Patch: Growing succulents

052514-garden-excericiseA little change of pace this week – some information on succulents (or cacti to us that are more basic gardeners).

Succulents are plants that have become adapted to the shortage of water by developing water storage tissues, which make the leaves or stems juicy or fleshy and produce bizarre and weirdly beautiful plant shapes. Since these camel-like plants have the ability to hold water in the driest atmosphere, our modern homes with artificial heat and dry air provide a good environment. Most succulents, including the cacti which are a special family, require full sun. Others, strangely enough, grow best in shade.

Succulent plants have such varied shapes and forms, and so many dwarfed varieties that they are ideal houseplants for the most unusual containers. Planting and care are easy when you understand their special heat, light, soil and water requirements.

The cactus family numbers over 2,000 species all of which (except the most primitive members) are devoid of leaves, having swollen stems and spines. Their vividly colored flowers are composed of many petals and sepals with numerous stamens and a single pistil.

The Garden Patch: Pruning trees and shrubs; improve songbirds’ habitat

052514-garden-excericiseI have been asked (many times) why I studied horticulture in college. The answer is simple – I didn’t – at least not at first. I completed a Master’s Degree in Economics in 1971 (after I’d been out of college for 10 years) and got interested in the Master Gardner program 13 years ago – and it’s been a natural for me! I’ve always gardened, but now I get to help others – what a blessing! ‘Nuf of that! Let’s get on with the business at hand…growing trees and shrubs. Ready? Set. Go!

When do we prune trees? (Depends on why you’re pruning). Winter or early spring can see structural problems. In the spring and summer we can locate dieback. Fall is only to repair storm damage. Wounds heal slowly and a lot of fungal spores are created.

Where to prune is more important! Cuts should be back to a vigorous side shoot or…cut back to just outside the branch collar. NEVER allow topping, stubbing or heading back. DO NOT leave stubs – they heal very slowly or result in abundant sprouting. Also, flush cuts make overly large wounds and expose trunk to decay.

Young shade tree pruning. Prune little if any at time of planting. Remove a few of the lowest branches beginning in year 1 or 2. Take off largest non-permanent branches first. Remove double leaders, taking out the weaker side or fork leaning north.

The Garden Patch: Asking and answering

052514-garden-excericiseThinking caps anyone? Here are some Q and A’s from the Master Gardner training program – see how many you can get correct – here goes!

Somebody told me that I should have my garden plowed in the fall, rather than waiting until spring – is that right? Personally, I prefer fall, but either is OK. By turning the soil in the fall you can take advantage of the freeze/thaw cycle that winter provides and that leaves the soil with a finer texture and faster drying time in the spring planting season.

We just finished building our new house and will soon be sodding our lawn. The contractor has recommended applying a layer of topsoil over the existing grade to create a better root zone for the grass. Is that a good idea? That’s better than a good idea, it’s a great idea!

My yard seems to be hard and compacted – what can i put on to improve the soil? Aereate – add and work in compost – and add humus.

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