Tropical and Exotic Plants
With spring fast approaching, many of you are in the final stages of deciding what to grow in your vegetable garden this coming year. Most of us will agree that growing our own food not only produces better tasting produce, but also allows us to control the chemicals that come into contact with our food. With all of the preservatives and chemicals used today, it just makes better sense to grow as much of our own food as possible.
Try Companion Planting This Spring
Basic garden produce usually includes green beans, peas, corn and tomatoes. Companion planting has become quite popular in the past couple years. It is especially useful in small areas. For example, try planting tomatoes, geraniums and basil together. The geraniums will help the tomatoes to turn color faster and produce more, while basil has always been a good companion plant for tomatoes. It also makes it more convenient when picking for freezing. Just add a few leaves of basil to your tomatoes and freeze. This allows the basil oils to flavor the tomatoes without much additional work on your part.
Don’t Forget About Fruit!
These beautiful fragrant plants are commonly known as Angel’s Trumpet. This week we will take a look at the Brugmansia family. Hailing from South America, these beauties love damp conditions with warm days and cool nights. They are in the Solanaceae family, which is the same family that tomatoes, potatoes and petunias are in. However, a word of caution: Brugmansias are toxic.
Over Wintering Brugmansia
If you live in zone 9, these are long-lived perennials, but if you are in zone 8 or lower and the roots should freeze, they will die. The best thing to do is over winter them in either a sunny window or by pruning them back and storing them in a cool, dark place such as a basement. Another option available if you have limited space is to save the seeds by placing a pantyhose or similar material over the seed pod and allowing it to open naturally. The liquid inside the seed pod is extremely dangerous, and should not be touched with bare skin. You can take a cutting, dip it in rooting hormone and roll it in newspaper before placing in a safe place. These plants have been known to root up to two years after they have been stored in this way.
Getting a head start on the vegetable garden can be tricky if you wait until January because of frozen ground. It seems this time of year if the ground is not frozen it is wet. Neither condition is conducive to tilling, seeding or planting. There are some ways to get around these conditions so you can get your seeds and plants in the ground in plenty of time to get an early spring harvest.
Start Your Vegetable Garden In August
One way is to plant your garden in August. The ground is usually workable then, the seeds will germinate easily and then all you have to do is cover the young seedlings with a cold frame and wait. Starting seeds in August will allow you to harvest vegetables throughout the winter months. Good choices are brussels sprouts, cabbage, spinach, kale, lettuce and carrots. Brussels sprouts and kale can over winter without a cold frame and often taste better if they are not picked until after they have been frosted upon.
Fall Preparation For Early Spring Planting
If you don’t want to mess with winter gardening but do want to get a head start on your vegetable garden early in the year when conditions may not be favorable for working the ground, now would be the time to till up empty spots in your garden so the ground will be ready when you are. You can also pre-dig holes. For example, if you know you are going to plant potatoes in December, dig the trenches now. Cover the soil you dug with black plastic to help it retain heat. Go ahead and put the grass clippings, straw and compost in the bottom of the hole. When the time comes to plant those potatoes all you will need to do is lay them in the hole, cover them with more grass clippings, straw, compost and soil. Dig holes for any other early spring plants you intend to grow such as cabbages and if you grow lettuce or other greens in rows, go ahead and draw those rows in the dirt.
January is a good time to prep your vegetable garden, plant cool season crops and get your seed starting supplies ready for the upcoming season. For those who were unable to get into their garden in January due to snow and cold weather, there is still time in February and even March to get a head start on the gardening season.
Spring is just around the corner. Seed catalogs are arriving almost daily in the mail. It’s time once again to sit inside where it is warm and decide what vegetables to grow from seed this coming spring. For gardeners who plan to get an early start on the season, now is the time to place those orders.
Even gardeners with a short growing season can begin planting some crops outside in mid-January as long as the ground is workable. Cabbages as well as other leafy greens can be direct seeded around the 16th of January.
Seed potatoes that did not get planted in November or December can be planted now. With winter sown potatoes, remember to plant them eight inches deep and use grass mulch both under the seed potato as well as on top of the seed potato. Cover the mulch with about an inch of soil and by mid-summer you will be digging potatoes.
Some gardeners prefer to place a small cold frame or a frost cover over anything they plant early in the season. Although it is not necessary, using a cold frame will bring a faster harvest because of the heat buildup inside the cold frame. It will also protect your seeds from being washed away by harsh rains.
We had a killing frost last night, so most of the garden was already gone today – including my hardy figs. I did not get them covered in time to save the figs that were almost ready to pick – but there is always next year. After a careful survey of the garden I did find several cold hardy plants up in the big vegetable garden that were doing well. I dug those up and transplanted them to the small hoop house for the winter. Those plants were celery, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and lettuce. Growing inside the hoop house was some onions left over from last year. I watered all the plants in well and am sure they will do just fine thought the winter.
There’s nothing quite like a fresh picked tomato when the weather outside is frightful – and it certainly has been here in Indiana. The catfish we put into the aquaponic system this spring didn’t make it – and with everything going on, I never bought more fish to put back in the tank. I did leave the tank running because there were plants that still needed water. I figured without the fish they would die off sooner or later. That is not the case. While it is true that the tomato plant has some dead leaves on it, it is full of flowers and fruit in different stages of ripening.
Oddly enough I have ignored that tomato plant only adding water to the tank below when it got low. I have not hand pollenated it however as we walk past to go out the door it does get bumped. Another thing I noticed is the fruit is in the center of the plant and on the far side that gets the least light. The flowers are nearer to the door so they do get some light, however they also get the first blast of cold air from outside when the door is opened. That happens twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening – when we feed the animals.
I really need to get some help to string the tomato plant up so it reaches towards the ceiling – and the grow light. That would give it more air circulation and allow me to remove some of the dead leaves. I did notice a few white fly caught in a spider nest today so I know I need to take action now instead of waiting. I certainly don’t want a white fly infestation in my greenhouse!
Plant lovers know plants make the best gifts. You simply cannot have enough plants and there is always room to add “just one more” plant to the mix. This can drive the non-plant people in your life up the wall. Dodging bags of soil, large pots that don’t quite fit where we want them and that little matter of dealing with watering them in the winter – especially those really big pots that no one wants to move – is challenging to say the least. Usually I put saucers under my pots – but some of my pots – especially the larger or odd-shaped ones – are a bit harder to find saucers for. These require that someone move them into the bathtub at least once a month so I can shower them down.
Yes, I use the shower on my plants. It removes dust from their leaves, adds humidity for a short time and does a very good job of hydrating the soil. After I drench them for about 10 minutes four to six times, I allow the pots to sit in the tub for several hours to drain. I always end up tracking drops of water through the house when I get ready to move them back into their winter home, but those drops of water are easy to wipe up because I have a wood floor.
Yesterday another box of plants arrived. A friend had told me that another friend had the Heliconia ‘Lobster Claw’ that I so adore. I had this plant once, then lost it when my greenhouse was damaged by hail. I was so upset that I gave up trying to replace my lost plants. I was heartbroken because all the rare plants I loved and had worked so hard to keep alive died. In that one night I lost various bananas, heliconias, gingers, the true nutmeg, clove, a vanilla orchid, my Theobroma plants, a dwarf ylang-ylang and so much more. The only plants that survived were the ones in the house.
Fall is here which means winter isn’t far off and it’s time – once again – to bring your tropical plants indoors. We all know the drill – move the plants out in spring, redecorate, then panic once the nights begin to cool down. If you’re like me, not only have the plants you moved outdoors last spring grown drastically but you’ve added more plants to the list. Space is tight here and sometimes I truly wonder how the heck I managed the winter before – even with a greenhouse – because as we all know, in cold climates like Indiana you just can’t rely on keeping your greenhouse hot enough to keep the really tropical plants alive. Never mind the ice and heavy snowfalls that often knock the power out – and believe me, a greenhouse cools down real fast when it’s dark outside and the heater quit working.
So, what’s a plant lover to do? Make room of course. Donate or store the stuff you can’t use or don’t need. After all, the plants deserve a place in your house. The other option is to get creative. Choose indoor decor that looks good with or without plants. Now, you may be thinking what the heck does she mean. Bird cages are a great example. You can decorate with them by themselves or fill them with live plants, nicknacks, candles or even silk flowers.
Michelia is one tough cookie to germinate. I have literally tried everything to get this fragrant, must-have plant to grow from seed – and failed miserably every time. Of course, when I saw the seeds this year, I couldn’t resist – and thus am trying again. This time I am using a different method and the seed actually looked like it was swollen.
Here is what I did:
First I ran hot tap water, placed the seeds in a small tea ball and swished them around in the sink and under the running water.
Then I filled a glass jar with hot water – not hot tap water, but hot water from the stove. It was not boiling, just simmering. I then lowered the seeds into this hot water. Michelia have a hard seed coat and I was hoping to quickly pentrate that as well as wash off the majority of the germination inhibitors.
Those of us who grow vegetables year-round are really no different than those who grow seasonally other than we choose to grow varieties that – like us – brave the cold weather. Figuring out which varieties do well for us in our individual climates does take some experimentation. We can learn what works well for others by reading articles, blogs and of course participating in online discussion groups – but even then, what works for one person may not work for another.
Here in Marion, Indiana I have found the round Black Spanish Radish does quite well over winter – even in the open ground without protection. I love the dark black color of the skin – and the spicy taste of the flesh. Often though I find it necessary to remove the skin from these radishes before I eat them – it really depends on how tough the skin is – and you can tell by looking.
The ideal time to sow seeds of the Black Spanish Winter Radish is August or September. These radish do get larger than the typical round radishes you see in the stores. In fact, they are close to the size of a small turnip when they are ready to harvest. I find one radish is more than enough to use in an entire salad – and when I eat them sliced, the radish often lasts three to four days.
Adding a dash of salt seems to lessen the spiciness of this particular radish – but let me tell you, if you grow it during the summer, the radish is downright hot. So hot, in fact, I refuse to grow this variety during the summer months. Another thing I have noticed about this variety is – just like other radish – they do self-seed. If you’ve grown them and had them go to seed, head out to your garden this winter and look around to see if some are coming up on their own.
Once you acquire seeds of this particular variety, it is a good idea to save some seeds from the plants you grew. This is not the easiest radish seed to find. Saving radish seed is very easy – but you must be aware if you let more than one variety go to seed at the same time you do risk cross-pollination.