Posts Tagged ‘Seedlings’

Here are a few tips for making sure the seedings you started inside stay alive and thrive.

  • Seedlings should have plenty of light to prevent them from getting leggy. Grow lights should be 2 inches above seedlings. If you have a south facing window you can put your pots close to the window and rotate every day to prevent them from overreaching towards the sunlight.
  • Seedlings should have good drainage and air flow to prevent damping off (a fungus that will cause seedlings to fall over and die). Place a small fan next to seedlings and set it on low.
  • If you see any signs of fungus or damping off make some chamomile tea and spray the cooled tea on the plants.
  • Be sure to keep soil evenly moist. Seedlings are very delicate and will die quickly if the soil dries out.
  • Feed the plants after they get their true leaves, the second set of leaves. (The first set of “leaves” is called the cotyledon or seed leaves.) Once the plant has its the true leaves, you should fertilize with a half-strength solution of liquid fertilizer.

These seedlings are ready for thinning or pricking out.

Once seedlings have true leaves it’s time to give those babies some room!

I know it’s difficult, but you need to thin or prick out your plants now. You can thin the seedlings by snipping off the tops of the unwanted plants. I have a hard time doing this, but your plants will be much healthier when they have room to grow.

Pricking out is the process of separating seedlings and putting them into individual pots. Choose the best and healthiest plants to repot. Take a spoon or fork and lift up the soil under the seedlings. Gently pull them apart by tugging on their leaves — the stems are too delicate to handle at this point. Then plant them into individual pots immediately. You can poke a hole into moistened soil with your finger or a pencil and then gently pat it into place. Remember that the roots are very fragile, be gentle and never let them get dry.

Prepare your seedlings for the great outdoors.

When the weather is finally warm enough (usually after last frost date) to plant your plants outside, you will have to harden your seedlings off. This means acclimating them to the outside weather. Do this slowly.

If you don’t have a cold frame to place them in you will need to slowly expose them to direct sunlight and fluctuating temps. Take them out into the morning sun for a little while then bring them back inside. Slowly over a few days increase their exposure a few hours each day until they are strong enough to be planted in the ground.

Taking care of your seedlings now means you’ll have lots of strong healthy plants to transplant into the ground in a few weeks.


Read Full Post »

Two Tuesday’s Tips in a row! We amaze ourselves.

This week Mary Beth wants to tell you about her favorite tool. Last summer she slapped one in my hand and I was an instant convert. Then I’ve got some tips for starting peas and beans.

Mary Beth: If I had to pick only one important tip to give you, it would be to find yourself a good tool to weed with. For years I never used a tool to pull weeds — never even thought about it. Then about twelve years ago my first client introduced me to the Cape Cod weeder and it was a revelation. Aaaaahhhhhh! It’s made weeding almost bearable.

During the growing season it never leaves my side. There was a time when I had only one Cape Cod weeder and then it disappeared (I later found in the compost pile). I was completely lost without it, so now I have at least 3 at all times. It’s oddly ergonomic and I sometimes give them to clients who are suffering from achy joints. Every single one of them is now hooked. I purchase mine through Amazon.

My other tip is buy some screaming bright paint and paint the handles of your tools so you can find them in your garden beds and compost piles!

Barbara: So many tips to share! Here are a couple for this week, just in time to help you get your peas and beans started.

The first one is a recipe for a soil-less seed starting mix. Everyone knows that you should use this or sterile seed starting mix (don’t sterilize soil yourself, buy it at the garden store) so you don’t loose your seedlings to damping off, right?

4 quarts shredded sphagnum moss

2 quarts fine grade vermiculite

2 quarts perlite

1/4 cup kelp meal

1 tablespoon ground limestone

Mix all ingredients in a clean bucket. Wet down the night before you plant your seeds so you’ll have a a nice crumbly mix to start your seeds in.

Tip #2: Using an inoculant when you start your beans and peas can significantly increase your crop yield, but did you know that you should only use bottled water to start? That’s because chlorine in tap water will kill the bacteria that are in the inoculant. So go get yourself some bean and pea inoculant from your friendly neighborhood, independent garden store. Soak your seeds in bottled water for a half-hour or so. Drain the water and spoon the inoculant into the container of wet seeds. Mix it to coat the seeds and then plant them right away. Make sure you use either new containers or old ones that you have washed with a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach + 9 parts water). Rinse well after washing with the bleach solution.

Happy planting!

Read Full Post »

Artichokes growing in the demonstration garden at the Farm and Food Lab

Barbara: The wonderful UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County are at it again. They’ll be presenting a series of five exciting gardening workshops March 13 — May 15 at the Farm and Food Lab in the Great Park in Irvine (details below and in the sidebar). If you live in Orange County and are a gardener you should go. No excuses!

I discovered these workshops last fall and wrote about my experience in this post, A Morning Full of Surprises. Check it out for pics and more details about the Farm and Food Lab.

Sweet peas at the Farm and Food Lab

Master Gardeners

Do you have gardening questions? The MGs are very knowledgeable and they’ll be available at the workshops to answer any questions you may have. If you stump them, they’ll research your problem and get back to you. And it won’t be just any old opinion either. The answers will be research-based and scientifically accurate information. If you can’t wait for the first workshop on March 13th to talk to them,  you can call or email the Master Gardener hotline for answers to your gardening and pest problems: 714-708-1646 or hotline@uccemg.com

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Master Gardener in Training. And let me just say that this is the most fun I’ve had in a long time! Volunteering is an important part of the program — Master Gardeners are required to volunteer 50 hours a year. At first I thought this sounded like a lot. Now I say, “Piece of cake!”

I’m falling all over myself trying to take advantage of volunteer activities because they’re fun, the folks I’m working with are great, and I learn so much doing them. Two of the best so far have been planting espallier bare-root fruit trees, which you’ll see when you go to the workshops, and grafting persimmon trees. I’ll be doing a post on the bare-root fruit tree planting next week and one about the grafting shortly after that.

Here’s the workshop info. See you there!

Garden Workshops

At the Great Park Food and Farm Lab from 10 a.m.-noon. Admission and parking are free.

Grow it NOW: Warm Season Vegetables — Saturday, March 13
Ready to dig in the garden again?  Now is the time to plant warm season vegetables to feed your family over the summer months.  The Master Gardeners will give you the information you need to choose your crops so that you can follow the #1 rule: plant what you and your family like to eat!  Yum!

Tomato Time — Saturday, April 10
You could plant from dawn to dusk and still not plant every variety of tomato!  Whether you are a novice or a pro, you’ll enjoy learning about tomatoes:  the many varieties, their culture, diseases and pests, growing in the ground vs. growing in containers – and finally, how to use them.  Come hear the Master Gardeners on the “A to Z” about tomatoes.

The Backyard Orchard — Saturday, April 17
Not enough room in your backyard for an orchard?  With a little planning and know-how, it could happen. Learn about the varieties of fruit trees suitable for backyard growing and how to plant and care for them. The Master Gardeners will provide tips for fruit trees in small gardens.   Valuable information…ripe for picking!

Tool Time — Saturday, May 1
Okay, okay – there are some trusty standby tools that you need in your garden.  And then, there are the cool tools – the ones that take your breath away, that you don’t want to live without, that you see in your dreams.  The Master Gardeners will discuss and demonstrate tools for home gardens.  Be there!

Smart Gardening — Saturday, May 15
What does it take to be a Smart Gardener?  Knowledge – and application of that knowledge – about irrigation, soil care, pest control, energy and wildlife.  Sound complicated?  The Master Gardeners will simplify it as they provide tips for you to save time, money and create a healthier garden.   If you want to be a Smart Gardener, attend this workshop.

Garden Workshops will be held at the Orange County Great Park Preview Park in the Farm & Food Lab.  The Orange County Great Park is located on Marine Way off of Sand Canyon by the 5 Freeway in Irvine.  For more information, please visit www.ocgp.org or call 949-724-7420.

Read Full Post »

Barbara: Like most of you, I’ve been doing a lot of end-of-the-year/beginning-of-the-new year navel gazing, which I kind of hate, but can’t stop doing. I’ve been groping around for some profound, life-changing insight, some thought that can carry me into 2010 with energy and excitement, but which I have been having the hardest time generating given how unrelentingly crappy 2009 has been.

Of course there have been many moments, even days, filled with joy and gratitude, but like many others here in California and the rest of the country, I have been struggling to get by and I’ve been finding it harder and harder to keep my spirits up.

And then this morning I was in my garden and I saw this:

I have been walking by my little basket of lettuce for a few weeks now and it always brings a smile to my lips because I remember the story that led me to plant lettuce seedlings in a basket.

A few years ago my daughter visited her college friend, Holly, at her friend’s family’s home in Connecticut. There she observed a very quirky scene. Holly’s father craved summer-sweet tomatoes, but lacked sufficient sun in any one location. His solution was to plant his seedlings in a wagon and he “took his tomatoes for a walk” several times a day.

At the time I thought this was funny and just a teensy bit eccentric, but this summer when I was desperate to grow something, anything edible, I remembered this story and saw it for what it was, an elegant way to solve the seemingly insurmountable problem of not enough sunlight.

So I planted my seedlings and I’ve been walking them around the patio into the pools of sunlight that manage to sneak through the canopy of eucalyptus trees surrounding my property. And every time I do, it makes me chuckle a little thinking of Holly’s dad pulling his bright red tomato wagon around his yard.

This morning though, I realized that my basket of salad greens is more than a solution to not having enough sunlight. This little basket of greens represents one small victory over circumstances that I had been letting get the best of me. And there was my insight, a small glimmer of profundity, proof that creativity and persistence will overcome all obstacles. It might not be the Big Revelation, but it’ll get me where I need to go.

Happy New Year everybody! Mary Beth and I send our best wishes for a love- and light-filled 2010!

Read Full Post »

Barbara: Once upon a time my parents dreamed of a place where they could live by the sea with their five children during lazy summers. So in the winter of 1964 my mom pored over the rental ads in the Sunday New York Times. She found a tiny ad for a summer cottage on Block Island, a place she’d heard of only in weather reports that at the time contained the phrase, “from Block Island to Cape Henlopen.” She called the number, spoke to Fran Quillan and rented a cottage by the sea for two weeks the following summer.

In August my parents loaded up the old Pontiac station wagon — a feat that would be repeated for many years to come. In piled three feisty girls, one sweet boy, a bright-eyed baby girl and a rambunctious, stinky dachshund, all of us squeezing in between boxes filled with cereal, peanut butter and tuna fish. My Dad lashed our overstuffed suitcases to the roof with knots that proved impossible to untie. Mom passed out Dramamine. The car creaked and groaned as the undercarriage scraped the concrete on the way out of our driveway. Much cursing ensued – a continuation of a days’ long stream of invective from our overworked Dad. But who cared, we were on our way to the greatest adventure of our young lives.

Four of us in front of the pond by the Quillan's cottage in August 1964. The ocean was a short walk over the bluff.

In front of the pond by the Quillan's cottage in August 1964 - the ocean was a short walk away

All five of us with our Mom on Mansion Beach in 1965

All five of us with our Mom on Mansion Beach in 1965

Thus began our family’s love affair with Block Island, the most magical of places. This first summer stretched to two and then three until my parents could finally scrape together enough money to put a down payment on their own piece of the island — a magnificent Victorian-era boarding house known as Cottage Farm House.

Cottage Farm House in the 1920's as it appears on a vintage postcard.

A vintage postcard shows Cottage Farm House in the 1920's

My father took one look at the broad lawns and saw beautiful flower-and vegetable-filled gardens. The original garden, a weedy bed hugging a stone wall by the road, was a just smattering of daisies and irises. From there my Dad went to work. Bit by bit over the summers when he could get away from the office, and later after he retired and lived on the island full time, he created his gardens working himself to the bone to bring his vision to life.

Dad in his vegetable garden with just-harvested lettuce - as always in paint-spattered work clothes and a bandaged finger

Dad in his vegetable garden with just-harvested lettuce - as always in paint-spattered work clothes

The gardens grew in size and beauty until they became a stopping point for photographers, painters, and the island tours heading down Corn Neck Road. But in his final years, they started to get overgrown and untidy. Dad still dreamed the dream, but his ticker was bad and he had trouble keeping up with the demands of the flowers and vegetables and the endless repairs on the “old gal”, as he called our house. We all helped when we could, but we had spouses, babies and careers that limited our time there.

Enter Mary Beth. A master gardener, Mary Beth loved the place and couldn’t bear to see my Dad struggling, nor could she stand to see all his good work go to seed. So she sweet-talked her husband into moving to the island for a while so they could help Dad keep his dream alive.

Dad watering some late season cuttings

Dad watering some late season cuttings

My Dad was delighted to see the work Mary Beth did. (Nothing ever pleased him so much as to see his children doing his bidding in and around the house.) And he loved working with her in his gardens. Together they studied catalogs in the winter, raised seedlings in the spring, planted in the summer, and harvested in the fall. They battled Japanese beetles and deer. Dad lost tools and Mary Beth found them. He said it wasn’t possible to grow roses in that briny climate; she proved him wrong. Mary Beth breathed new life into his garden and his dreams.

Mary Beth transformed Dad's garden

Mary Beth transformed Dad's garden

My Dad passed away a few years ago, but his gardens, which are now Mary Beth’s gardens, are magnificent. And I want to share them with you. I have many, many pictures taken over the last few years and for the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting some of them a few at a time. Come with me for a tour of the Cottage Farm House gardens.

In awe and gratitude. Thank you, Mary Beth.

Roses in early July

Rest in peace, John Hobe

Rest in peace, John Hobe

Read Full Post »


Mary Beth: Memorial Day weekend on Block Island was a busy one and if it hadn’t started to rain I’d still be out there. The reason I was so busy was that this is the year Ray and I decided to come up with a real solution to the deer problem — well, I decided and Ray graciously offered to help make it possible (encouraged no doubt by my promise of delicious home-baked goodies).
In years past I’ve relied on some temporary netting and deer repellant spray made from a recipe I learned in my Master Gardener training. These tactics deterred the deer most of the time, but I was so tired of re-spraying the veggies after watering them and of the deer trampling the plants while trying to find something that didn’t taste bad. Plus I like eating the cherry tomatoes off the vine and it grossed me out to think about the rotten raw eggs I’d sprayed on them.

We’d talked for years about a more permanent solution and a few weeks ago we finally ordered the supplies for a deer fence. Ray found some untreated Atlantic White Cedar that he had milled by a one-man shop in Massachusetts. The mill trimmed out twenty-two 4” x 4” x 8’ rough-cut posts which we set into 2-foot deep holes. We compacted the soil around the posts and then stapled 7’ black PVC 2” x 2” fencing to them.


Once we got it all set up, the posts were about 6’ tall and the PVC fencing stood at about 5’ 8”. The black fencing is great because when you look at it straight on it’s almost invisible. Ever the perfectionist, Ray decided the fence needed to be “prettied up”, so he beveled the tops of the posts. And he was right; it’s amazing how a small detail can make such a big difference.

I confess that when I first saw those honkin’ big posts in the ground I had my doubts, but it looks really nice and the fence is attracting lots of attention and more than a few compliments. (Hopefully it’ll attract some new clients for Ray as well.)

We still need to add finishing touches like gates, but the hard part is over and, with luck, I won’t have to use a posthole digger anytime soon! Best of all, it will be so nice not to wake up in the morning worrying about the damage the deer inflicted on the vegetable garden. Not that I’m wishing ill on my neighbors, but I hope the fence discourages the deer enough that they will take our property off their list of places to munch.


Another benefit of the fence came as a pleasant surprise. As you know from previous posts, I’m a bit of a freak and another thing I’m freaky about is feeling confined. I was a little worried that I might not like working inside the fenced area. What actually happened was the fence made me focus on the task at hand! I’m pretty distractible and if I notice something in the periphery, I’ll wander over to it and lose track of my original task. Now I can’t do that anymore. I wonder if I can apply this technique to other areas of my life? Small portable fencing anyone?

In addition to the fence project, I decided to plant out half of my tomatoes. They were getting quite large and I wasn’t sure when I’d get back into the garden. (Between the persistent rain and the backlog of clients that are eager for me to begin the season’s work in their gardens, it may be a while till I can tend to my own.) I spread out the lettuce plants in between the tomatoes and it felt great to see everything coming together.

I also planted some plants I bought for the bees: scabiosa, white salvia, baptista, more lavender, Joe Pye weed and lemon balm. Next I found the 37 dahlias that I’d stored away this winter in the cellar and put those in the ground. Then I fertilized all the roses and gave everything a dousing of fish emulsion with EM-1 mixed in. I was cross-eyed with exhaustion and shocked that it was 7 pm when I finally made it into the house. Yup, I’m so glad I took two days off from work!

The Block Island Bee Report

My bees are generally doing well, but there was some weird thing going on with one of the frames. For the second time the bees had built a comb that bubbled out in the lower brood box and they’re able to get behind it. I took the last one off, but this one was bigger. It had lots of larvae and they seemed to really be busy on it so I didn’t have the heart to pry it off.

The bees were edgier than usual and seemed to be pissed off — maybe it was the storm that was brewing, so I closed up everything and let them be. I’ve decided to let the whole thing play out and see what happens.

The bees had really loaded up the bottom brood box. The second brood box was coming along too and they had 3 frames built out with comb. Another frame was loaded with a different color pollen. Pretty neat! Overall, I noticed there were a lot more bees. Because it was so crowded, I didn’t see the queen this time, but she’s clearly been very busy laying eggs.


I got two new tools last week and they made it easier to handle the frames. One tool is a frame perch and the other a pry and grip tool. I recommend both of them to the beekeeping readers.


Flowers that are blooming this week: clematis, rosa rugosa, rhododendron, iris, columbine, clover, buttercups, amsonia, allium, red honeysuckle, purple salvia, blueberries and wisteria.  Summer’s almost in full swing!

Southern California News

Barbara: Traveling and work demands have left a big gap in our blog, but I’m happy to be back with some time to catch up.

There’s not a whole lot happening in the garden. Our weather has been pretty gloomy between “real” clouds and the persistent marine layer. My natives seem fine, but I think they’re sulking about the lack of sunshine. They’re bound to start growing when the sun returns. Of course, by then the heat will be blasting, and I’ll have to remember to be sure they get enough water this summer. Mary Beth tells me that the number one reason drought-tolerant plants fail to make it in the first year is that they don’t get enough water because these plants aren’t truly drought-tolerant until they get established. Of course, the number two reason they don’t make it is because of too much water. I’ll just need to pay attention and get this mix just right.

This weekend I went to the nursery determined to stick to just returning something I didn’t need. How may of you want to guess what happened next? Right. I came home with more plants. Sigh.


At least I was a little more selective than usual. I have a little atrium where I decided to try to grow herbs for cooking and garnishing. The nursery had a nice selection of organics that should do well in part shade and I chose plants that bees like. I bought lemon balm, lovage, German chamomile, purple sage, and onion chives. I’ll also plant two “bee pots” — containers of plants that bees love — in a sunnier spot. For those, I got hyssop, which smells amazing, and borage. That should make the little wild foragers here in Irvine happy.

Read Full Post »

Tomato Daydreams

MB: This is the time of year when everyone’s daydreaming about their vegetable gardens and the star of the dream is usually the tomato. Everybody has their favorite tomato — or ten. The reasons for these preferences are as numerous as the varieties of this delectable vegetable. (And don’t start with the “Is it a fruit or a vegetable?” please!). Some people favor a tomato because it ripens early, or because the flavor’s sweet, or salty, or tangy, or meaty. The list goes on and on.

The other thing that goes on and on is the debate about the “best” tomato. Passions run very high on this topic. Even so, at the risk of being the target of some overripe globes, I’ll forge ahead and add my two cents.


Every year I spend a lot of time pouring over seed catalogs to select the tomatoes that will grace my garden beds. This year’s list consists of my all-time favorites and a few new varieties that I’ve wanted to try. I’ve also included a list of the disappointments from last year.

The 2009 VIP List (or should I say VIT — Very Important Tomatoes?)

Black Krim — a large slicing tomato
Brandywine — a slicing tomato and my Mom’s favorite
Dr. Wyche’s Yellow — a large, beautiful golden slicing tomato
Persimmon Orange — because it’s a pretty golden-orange, big, meaty and tangy
Sun Sugar — a yellow cherry tomato
Sun Gold — a sweet orange cherry tomato
Super Sweet 100 — a red cherry tomato
Sweet Gold — a yellow cherry tomato

I grew Black Krim for the first time last year and it was amazing! I’d never had a “black” tomato before and will never again be without one in my garden. I also highly recommend at least a couple of varieties of cherry tomatoes. They are vigorous plants, easy to grow and super sweet. Cherry tomatoes are like peanut M&M’s; once you start you can’t stop popping them in your mouth. Even my dogs love them and wait for me to toss them a few. Everything stops when I start eating those suckers!

The 2009 Newbies
Big Beef — a beefsteak tomato
Cherokee Purple — a slicing tomato
Chocolate Cherry — a cherry tomato
Pompeii — an Italian plum tomato Principe Borghese — a small Italian sauce tomato
Stupice — an ultra-early tomato, because I don’t want to wait a minute longer than necessary
Super Marzano — a roma-type sauce tomato

Now here’s where I may really get into trouble. Apologies if I offend anybody, but these guys really disappointed me last year so I ruthlessly crossed them off the list:
Costoluto — suffered from blossom end rot and tasted like dirt
Green Zebra — bland, blah
Marvel Stripe — didn’t impress
Red and Yellow Pear tomatoes — great taste, but suffered from too many diseases

Before I plant my tomatoes I amend the soil with lots of compost, seaweed (a benefit of living on an island), manure, and some wood ash from the wood stove. When it’s time to plant the seedlings, I bury the tomatoes deep leaving only about 3 inches of stem above ground. Then I water with a mixture of fish emulsion and a product called Stress X (a water soluble seaweed extract powder).  Ever since I’ve been using fish emulsion and Stress X on my tomatoes (and everything else) they do incredibly well. Plants love the stuff!

Mmm! All this talk of tomatoes has my mouth watering. I’m daydreaming of kicking back in the sun, having a drink, snacking on some Caprese Salad, and gazing out onto my beautiful gardens bursting with life. Sigh!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »