Friday, March 12, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is a member of the lily family and has been grown and eaten since 1000AD. It’s thought to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean region as a wild plant and modern varieties have been selected for larger and tastier spears. Asparagus is unique, because, unlike most home garden vegetables, it is a perennial, coming back year after year. A well-maintained asparagus bed can produce spears for 20 years.
Asparagus is a hardy (USDA zone 4), cool- loving crop that sends spears out of the ground when soil temperatures are above 50 degrees F. Since asparagus evolved around a salty sea, it likes a well-drained, slightly alkaline soil. One key to selecting the right variety of asparagus is making sure you get one adapted to your soil and climate conditions. The other is to choose a variety that is predominately male. Asparagus plants are either male or female, that is, male and female flowers are produced on separate plants. The females produce red berries in summer. The flowering and fruiting reduces the amount and size of spear production. Another problem with female asparagus plants is the berries drop and germinate in the row creating many small asparagus plants. These can overcrowd an asparagus bed and become weeds.
'Jersey Knight’ – One of the best performing Jersey hybrid varieties, it’s a vigorous plant that’s resistant to rust, crown rot, and fusarium wilt. It is especially adapted to growing in clay soils and in warmer climates.
'Jersey Giant’ – One of the first in varieties the Jersey series, this hybrid is best adapted to colder climates and produces spears 7 to 10 days before ‘Jersey Knight’.
'Jersey Supreme’ - The latest variety in the series this variety produces more uniform-sized spears and is earlier than previous Jersey hybrids. The plants are disease- resistant and best adapted to lighter, sandier soils.
'Purple Passion’ - This uniquely-colored asparagus is widely adapted and produces purple colored spears that fade in color when cooked.
‘UC 157’- This California hybrid is adapted to warmer climates with mild winters and produces high yields of uniform spears. It does have some female plants.
‘Viking KB3’ – An open pollinated variety that has a mix of male and female plants. It is a better producer than the traditional ‘Martha Washington’ open- pollinated variety.
Choose a sunny, well-drained site with neutral to slightly alkaline soil. Since this is a perennial it’s important to remove weeds and amend the soil well. It’s easier to amend the soil now than trying to do it after the asparagus is growing. Till the soil and dig a trench 1-foot deep and as long as you desire. Each crown can produce 1/2 pound of spears when mature. For most families, you can estimate planting 15 to 20 crowns per person with crowns spaced 18 inches apart.
Plant outdoors 2 weeks before all danger of frost has passed and soils have dried out. Backfill the trench with 4 to 6 inches of finished compost and soil mixed evenly together. Form 4- to 6-inch high, volcano-like mounds with the compost every 18 inches in the trench and lay the spider-like crowns and roots over the mounds. Drape the roots evenly on all sides of the mound with the crown sitting on the top. Cover the crowns with soil and backfill the trench as the spears grown with more soil until the trench is filled and crowns are buried 3 inches deep.
Another key to growing asparagus is keeping the bed well weeded. Be careful using a hoe when weeding since the crowns are not deeply planted below the soil surface. Some people have taken advantage of asparagus’ tolerance to salt and spread salt on the bed to kill weeds. However, this practice is not recommended because eventually the soil gets too salty for even the asparagus plants. Fertilize the bed every spring with compost or a balanced organic fertilizer, such as 12-12-12. Keep the bed well watered and mulched with a 2- to 4-inch thick layer of bark mulch.
Asparagus beetles will attack the spears and ferns. These small, bright red beetles emerge as asparagus spears start growing in spring. They feed on the spear tips and eventually lay eggs on the ferns. The eggs hatch into soft bodied gray grubs that continue to feed on the fern fronds. Their feeding can defoliate the ferns and reduce the energy sent back into the roots, weakening the crown and lowering production. Control the asparagus beetles by hand squishing the adults and spraying the grubs with neem oil or Spinosad organic sprays.
It’s important not get over eager in harvesting your asparagus spears. The first year after planting don’t harvest any spears: let them all grow into ferns. This will strengthen the crown for higher future production. The second year after planting harvest only those spears that are larger than a pencil’s diameter for 2 weeks in spring. The third year you can begin harvesting all spears larger than a pencil’s diameter for 6 to 8 weeks in spring.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Raised beds are a great way to garden without taking up too much space. They are perfect for urban small- space gardens, but also have advantages for gardeners with more room. Their benefits are numerous. The soil in raised beds drains water fast, a boon in our heavy clay soils, and warms up quickly in spring, making for earlier planting. If you don’t step into the beds, the soil structure stays loose, allowing roots to extend deeply into the soil, making them perfect for crops like carrots and beets. They allow you to concentrate your watering, weeding, and fertilizing into a smaller space. This means you can get more production from your garden with less weeding and care.
Here’s how to build a raised bed
There are two general types of raised beds: permanent and temporary. Let’s look at each.
Permanent bedsPermanent raised beds are usually supported by a long lasting material. You can use rot-resistant wood such as cedar, bricks, plastic wood, rocks or cement blocks. Greenscape Gardens will also have recycled plastic planks available for raised gardens this year. Don’t use treated woods because of concern about harmful chemicals leaching into your soil.
Locate the bed in a sunny spot on top of soil, grass, or even concrete.
This stone and concrete raised bed has been incorporated into the permanent landscape.
If building the bed on soil or grass, improve drainage by loosening the soil at the bottom of the bed with a shovel or spading fork. I like to kill the grass first by laying down 4 layers of black and white newspaper, then covering it with soil. The newspaper helps prevent grass and weeds from growing in the raised bed and decomposes over time.
If building on top of an impermeable surface, such as concrete or asphalt, consider making the beds a few inches taller to compensate for the lack of natural soil.
To create a bed, build the frame so that it’s at least 8- to 10-inches deep, no more than 3 to 4 feet wide, and as long as you like. While rectangles and square shapes are most common, you can get creative with ovals and other shapes. Just be sure the width isn't more than 3 to 4 feet wide. Anything wider means you’ll have to step in the bed to weed, water, and fertilize. Walking on the soil will compact it, reducing root growth.
If you use wood, attach the pieces together with wood screws instead of nails for better holding. Slow the rotting process by painting the wood with an earth-friendly preservative, such as linseed oil or borax-based treatment.
Fill the bed to the top with a 50:50 mixture of potting soil and seasoned compost. The soil may settle after a few days so you may have to add more.
You can produce a bountiful harvest when growing in raised beds.
Shovel garden soil into raised beds, or bring in a mixture of potting soil and compost. Beds can be any shape you desire: rectangular, curved, or even round.
Make the beds 8- to 10-inches deep and no more than 3 to 4 feet wide.
Remove sticks, rocks, and other debris, and rake the tops of the beds smooth and flat.
You can build a cold frame or shelter to fit on top of a raised bed that will extend the growing season earlier and later. The frame pops off during the summer season.
Plant tall plants on the north side of the raised bed so they don’t shade lower plants.
Water regularly since raised beds will dry out faster than level gardens. Place shredded bark, straw or any organic mulch around established plants to conserve soil moisture and prevent weed growth.
Come by Greenscape and check out the raised beds by the chicken coop. Last year's raised beds produced a bumper crop of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and brocolli. The lettuce and beets were planted today. The chickens will love the extra lettuce that was planted for them.
Monday, March 08, 2010
- 'Flame'--more erect branching, flowers double, blooms later, sterile.
- 'Forest Pansy'--purple-red leaves in spring, fades to green in the summer.
- 'Pink Charm'--pink flowers.
- 'Pinkbud'--pink flowers.
- 'Purple Leaf'--purple young foliage.
- 'Silver Cloud'--leaves have white variegation.
- Cercis canadensis var. alba--white flowers, blooms late.
- C. canadensis var. texensis 'Tesas White'--superior foliage.
- C. reniformis 'Oklahoma'--superior foliage, white buds/flowers.
Unfortunately, Eastern Redbud is subject to many liabilities. Its functional life is 10 to 20 years in urban landscapes, due to a combination of urban stresses, diseases, and pests. The tree is prone to trunk canker, heartwood rot, verticillium wilt, and scales, any of which can be fatal. It is also prone to storm damage with advanced age due to leaning and heartwood rot.
However, after a long hard winter, its beauty in spring provides a welcome that warms the heart of people everywhere.