Archive | February, 2012

Orchid Confession

26 Feb

Paphiopedilum

 

I confess.  I may be a lover of plants, and have a lot of experience growing them, but I don’t know much about growing orchids.  I do grow some, but I think it is mostly by chance and luck that they grow well.  After attending the Greater Lansing Orchid Society’s (GLOS) Orchid Show yesterday at Michigan State University, I confirmed with growers that once you find the right spot that makes your orchid happy, you will have no problem growing them.  But where is that?  According to the American Orchid Society (AOS), each type of orchid has a preferred location in your home and with proper care; GLOS tells me you could even have orchids thriving in your windowsill. 

 

Temperature ~ Orchids will tolerate averages of 75 during the day and 55-65 at night.  Don’t allow them to sit in a cool draft or in the direct path of a heater vent.

Phalaenopsis "Mini Mark"

Humidity ~ On average, home humidity may be about 20-30%.  Orchids prefer 50% humidity or above.  AOS suggests you group plants together or place on a gravel-filled humidity tray to raise it.  GLOS recommends 70-80% humidity.

Watering ~ Ah, the trick is….getting to know your orchid and what makes it happy.  I know some people that have the Phalaenopsis orchids that are watered with “three ice cubes per week”.  Interesting marketing, but cold!  Not all orchids will respond well to this, but, it seems to work for some.  I gather my orchids and put them in the sink, water thoroughly, allowing the excess to drain out, then put them back where they belong.  That works best for me since I only have a couple.  The key is to get the media wet, but not keep the orchid drenched.  A true balancing act.

Fertilizer ~ Fertilize with an orchid fertilizer, low doses and even lower in the winter.  Consistent fertilizing will provide the plant the necessary nutrients to flower and live happily ever after.  Easy right?

With over 30,000 species in this flowering plant family, the plant systematics is a little overwhelming.  So many types of orchids! I noticed this year at the show I took more pictures of the Paphiopedilum group, AKA, Paph or Lady Slipper Orchids. I must have been more attracted to them so, I bought Paphiopedilum “Oriental Limelight”.  I think it will do well in my bathroom which has a south facing window.  We’ll see.  For more information about growing orchids, visit the website of the American Orchid Society http://www.aos.org or the Greater Lansing Orchid Society at http://www.greaterlansingorchidsociety.com

Paphiopedilum "Oriental Limelight" Flower with an attitude!

Starting Seeds Indoors

19 Feb

Seeds germinate easily with a little help by providing the proper growing media, container, water, temperature, and light.

  1. Growing media for seed starting is what you plant your seeds in.  Think dirt, but it’s not dirt.   It should be fine in texture but most of all it should be sterile.  You can find several seed starting mixes out there but I have had the best luck using “No Damp Off” by Mosser Lee.  Simply, it’s a finely milled sterile sphagnum peat approved for organic growing.  A little goes a long way.  Avoid breathing in this light and airy peat.  Seeds carry all of the necessary nutrients to get them started so don’t be fooled by those with a lot of unnecessary ingredients such as fertilizers and wetting agents.   Most of these have not been approved for organic growing.
  2. It doesn’t really matter what type of container you plant your seeds in as long as it is shallow.  I use a lot of recycled materials that have been disinfected in a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water.  Plastic egg cartons, plastic veggie containers and some of the oven or microwave containers work well.  They only serve as a vessel to hold the growing media, seeds, and water for a short time.  Make sure they have drainage holes.  I use a 20 row seeder when I am sowing a lot.  These individual rows provide dividers when I want to sow several different seeds and it only takes up the space of a flat.
  3. The growing media needs to be kept moist.  I water from the bottom of the drip tray (the tray underneath the container) and allow the water to soak up.  I then spray the top with a spray bottle after sowing the seeds.  I’ll use the spray bottle daily to mist and keep the media evenly wet.  You can use a clear plastic dome that will increase humidity and prevent from drying out as quickly, or regular plastic wrap works well, but is a pain putting it on and off. 
  4. The soil temperature is more important that the air temperature.  Each seed has an optimum temperature for germination.  Detailed information can be found in the book The Seed Starters Handbook  by Nancy Bubel or in Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers, Fifth Edition by Donald N. Maynard and George J. Hochmuth .  Odds are, in your home, if the temperatures are 70 degrees, the soil media in your little germination trays will be 70 degrees.  If you grow in the basement, like I do, it’s a little cooler, so for some veggies, like peppers, I will use a heat mat to increase the temperature allowing for improved germination.  Keep in mind that when seeds are germinated at their optimum temperature, you will see a more even, improved, and quicker germination.  Items such as this Germination Station with Heat Mat from Hydrofarm work great.
  5. Your seedlings will emerge at different rates.  You will notice the stem first, arching like a sea serpent with leaves to follow, roots beginning to anchor in the soil.  Within a day or so you will see little plants reaching toward the light with their cotyledon leaves.  At this time any plastic should come off and the lights should go on.  The cotyledon leaves are the leaves which hold all of the nutrients necessary for the plant to start growing.  The next set of leaves are called the “first true leaves”, which means exactly that.  Once this set of first true leaves unfold  the plant really starts growing and now is the time to transplant these new seedlings into larger containers or cell packs.  It is important to keep the lights on for 12-14 hours to allow for proper photosynthesis and to avoid stretching.  Providing proper lighting will encourage shorter, compact plants reducing that “leggy look”.  Even if you have a very sunny window sill, you will benefit by providing supplemental lighting for healthier plants.  For seed starting, full spectrum fluorescent bulbs work best.  These are available in many shapes and sizes.  The Two-Foot Grow Light from Hydrofarm fits well in most spaces.  If you have more room, this Four-Foot Grow Light will have enough space to grow two flats.  You will notice soon that the cotyledon leaves will dry up and fall off.  That’s normal so don’t worry!

Not all seeds require starting indoors, and some may only need to be started a couple weeks before planting outside.  I love starting seeds.  It gives me the option to grow so much more than what is available at the garden centers.  If you are hesitant about starting seeds, just try one new thing this year.  You may be surprised!

 

 

Click on the links above and below for more information on seed starting supplies!

 Hydrofarm CK64050 Germination Station with Heat Mat

 Growers Supply Company GS2211-4 4-Pack 22-by-11-by-2-1/2-Inch Perma-Nest Plant Trays, Green

 5 Pack of Durable Black Plastic Growing Trays (with holes) 21″ x 11″ x 2″ – Planting Seedlings, Flowers, Wheatgrass

Online Garden Planning Tools

12 Feb

There are several online tools available that would help make your garden planning easier.  You can find some for free; others are available for a small cost.  Play around with the free offers before you buy to make sure that the program will do all of the things that you want it to do.  The free planning tools may be good for a simple layout but the more involved you get with your garden, the more you should expect the planning tool to do, which may come at a cost.

Last year I used the Kitchen Garden Planner from Gardener’s Supply Company.  It was free and allowed me to plan rows any size or width.  There are 50 crops to choose from.  You can create an account and save your garden information on their website or print it out.  They also offer pre-planned gardens for you to follow which might be the best choice for a beginner.  This planner works well to get a general layout for a new garden.  http://www.gardeners.com

Vegetable Garden Planner is free and has more to offer.  You must register to become a full member giving you the ability to create your garden, a journal, upload photos and keep track of your information.  They also have smart phone apps.  I downloaded the app for my iPhone which provides a lot of plant and gardening information.  What I found most interesting and useful was the “Family Feeder Calculator”.  You can select a “vegetable”, “herb” or “rare”, and then how many people are in your family, and it tells you how many plants to grow.  I chose from a drop down menu two people in my family and then selected pole beans for the crop to grow.  The recommendation I was then given was to plant 40 plants! Most experience gardeners know that bean plants produce a lot of fruit so would make an adjustment, but for a beginner, you may become known around your neighborhood as the bean person, which might not be all bad if you are really into beans.  There is mention on the bottom of the page that it does now account for succession planting.  Up to 90 crops are available with this program.  http://www.vegetablegardenplanner.com

            The Interactive Vegetable Garden Planner from GrowVeg is what I will be using this year.   Go to GrowVeg.com  and sign up to use the 30 day free trial and if you like it, you can purchase an annual membership for $25.  With this program you can plan your garden to the inch or chose metric measurements if you like.   You have the option to design your garden using traditional rows or by the Square Foot Garden method.  I will go into further detail about the Square Foot Garden method in a future post.  I use a lot of this in My Urban Farmscape.  The program can select from 5000 geographical locations which will allow your garden plan to be specific to your growing region.  This is important because different regions will grow and plant different plants.  GrowVeg will e-mail you updates for planting reminders based on our growing region twice a month.  What!  Once the gardening season is in full swing, I am so busy, I could use all the reminders I can get!  You can select from 130 vegetables, herbs and fruits.  They even provide information regarding crop rotations and warns you when you are about to place a crop in a location that might not be suitable based on last year’s plan.  This is important in order to prevent diseases and deter pests that may harbor in your garden from the previous year.  You can undo, copy and paste allowing you to create and re-create your gardens.  I’m sure that once you get started, you will love everything GrowVeg does.  When your garden is all designed, you can click on the plant list button to get your complete list of plants and quantities.  Awesome!  All you need to operate the program is Adobe Flash Player.  Try it free for 30 days and you will probably be able to plan your initial garden in that time.  But gardening doesn’t end in 30 days and neither does garden planning!  It will be worth the twenty five bucks to become a member.  GrowVeg has just launched their version for the iPad and expect their iPhone version be available toward the end of the year.  I draw and sketch my gardens initially,  then I finalize with a digital plan using all the tools and resources available to me to ensure a successful planting and growing season.  It’s almost time to start planting so finish up your planning with your favorite online garden planning tool.  Be sure to check out GrowVeg!

Online Garden Planning Tool

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