Thursday, April 06, 2006


Spring has sprung in the St. Louis area, and many gardening novices are making their first treks into the garden center with tons of questions. Many of the questions and statements are in regards to their neighbor's garden. They "turn green with envy" while admiring the neighbor's garden but don't think their thumb is green enough? My typical answer is anyone can develop a green thumb, as long as you're willing to invest a little time, patience and BLISTERS.

Good planning is essential to successful gardening. Start your garden off right by selecting a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. Check the site for good drainage by making sure water doesn't tend to stand after a rain or irrigation. Try to steer clear of trees and shrubs that will compete with your garden plants for water, light and nutrients.

Once you've selected your site, sketch your plans on paper. Decide how big the garden will be, what crops you want to grow and where to place them. Beginners have a tendency to go overboard, not realizing how much work lies ahead. It's best to start out small and gradually add to your patch each year as needed. A 100-square-foot plot should be plenty for your first venture. Many different vegetables will produce well in St. Louis. Most new gardeners start out by picking up a few seed packets at the garden center.

Before heading out to the garden to plant, you'll need to gather some tools and properly prepare the soil. A hoe, rake, spade, sprinkler, string and stakes are about the minimum tool supply you'll need. It's a good idea to have your soil tested as early as possible to learn how much of what kind of fertilizer to apply.

Next, you should prepare a good planting bed, but make sure the soil has dried sufficiently before you work it. Working wet soil will damage the soil's structure. Squeeze a handful of soil, and if it crumbles away easily, it's ready. If it sticks together in a muddy ball, you'd better hold off. When it's ready, work the soil at least 6 inches deep. The best recommendation is to add some soil amendments to our lousy clay soil. Compost or manure tilled into the garden will make your first garden a success. Then rake the soil surface level. Most seed packages will list planting directions such as depth and spacing. When setting out transplants, be sure to dig a hole larger than the soil ball of the plant to aid root establishment. Most transplants are sold in containers that must be removed before planting. Score the sides of the transplants to encourage the roots to expand out of its previous packaged size. Transplants dry out and wilt rapidly, so be sure to get those transplants watered thoroughly as soon as possible.

The job doesn't end with planting. There are always weeds, insects and diseases to battle. There are numerous cultural types of controls and preventive measures along with chemicals. No one chemical will control all problems on all crops, so you'll need to identify your problem correctly and then choose the proper control. Your first garden will be a learning experience, the knowledge and fruits (vegetables) will be well worth the sweat and blisters. Good Luck!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Here Comes Cherry Blossom Season

Japan: It’s cherry blossom time—in Japan and at other northern latitudes where the snowy-flowered plants are cultivated. The renowned trees are under close scrutiny in Tokyo and in Washington, D.C., where bloom experts are keeping a close eye on the genus Prunus right now.

In Japan, Eishin Murakata has a pleasant, relaxing job. In springtime, he strolls every day to the same cherry tree in central Tokyo and gazes at the boughs. When he spots a full bud on the verge of blossoming, he snaps a photograph.
But Murakata is also on edge. An employee of Japan’s Meteorological Agency, his annual quest is to determine the official opening of Tokyo’s hallowed cherry blossom season — and this year the competition is closing in.

“I have to look very carefully so I won’t miss anything,” he said one recent afternoon as he examined the agency’s main benchmark tree at a Tokyo shrine. “Our mission is so important I don’t have time to enjoy the flowers when we spot them.”

The cherry blossom is the ultimate emblem of Japanese culture. Delicate, elegant and ephemeral, the pink flowers have inspired poets, philosophers and even soldiers for centuries — and served as an aesthetic pretext for all-out parties under the trees.

So it’s easy to imagine the outrage among the super-punctual Japanese last year when the Meteorological Agency predicted the blossoms would open four days earlier than they actually did — triggering a wave of angry calls for greater accuracy.
The foul-up by the agency — the long established standard-bearer for forecasts of the cherry blossom “front” as it moves up the archipelago — has brought upstart weather services to the fore in a heated competition for the most accurate predictions.

“Who will get the right answer?” nationwide newspaper Yomiuri asked in March in a front-page article, comparing two conflicting forecasts. “Soon we’ll find out.”

Washington, D.C.:

Delicate yet showy, Washington, D.C.’s cherry trees are usually in high bloom by early April. The mayor of Tokyo gave 3,000 trees to the U.S. capitol in 1912. These specimens are putting their show on by the Potomac River.

The calls begin for Robert DeFeo on the first warm day in January. When will the cherry blossoms be at their glorious best?

It’s DeFeo’s job to know. He’s the National Park Service’s chief horticulturist for the Washington, D.C., region, and the nation’s capital is home to what is probably the biggest cherry blossom celebration outside Japan. It runs from March 25 through April 9.

There’s a lot hanging on DeFeo’s prediction. Festival goers time their visits to when the blossoms around the city’s Tidal Basin are most stunning. Restaurants offer cherry-themed meals and drinks; hotels have special packages. They want to hear that the peak will be on a weekend, when more people can come out.

The blossom period is “short but sweet,’’ said the 50-year- old DeFeo, who isn’t ready to give his prediction of the peak—when at least 70 percent of the trees will be in full bloom—just yet. Maybe later.

This all goes back to 1912, when the mayor of Tokyo gave Washington 3,000 cherry trees, mostly of the Yoshino variety, as a symbol of “the continued close relationship’’ between the countries, according to the festival’s Web site. The city now has 3,750 cherry trees, including 125 of the originals, the park service’s DeFeo says. The festival itself began in 1935 and became a two-week event in 1994.

St. Louis:

The cherries are just about ready to burst into color. Now is the best time to purchase a cherry tree and plant it in your yard. Have your own "Cherry Blossom Festival".

Sunday, April 02, 2006