Stunted Seedlings

Are your seedling stunted? The seed starting mix may be the culprit, as many seed starting mixes do not contain added nutrients that are essential to plant growth. Why? Have you ever started seeds in a plastic bag with a ball of moist cotton? They sprout! Seeds contain all of the nutrients and energy needed to produce the first set or two of true leaves of the plant. After that, nutrients are needed. Seed starting mixes act much in the same way as the moist cotton ball – they provide a sterile, soilless growing medium (soil can sometimes harbor pathogens or pest eggs/larvae) that retains moisture, and provides a good amount of air space for root development. Some brands of seed starting mixes do contain a small amount of nutrients. While too much can actually hinder seed germination, a small amount is just enough to help the seed grow to a larger size before transplanting, without added inputs. You can determine if your seed starting mix has nutrients by looking at the label – usually the amounts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous are represented by numbers (2-2-2) or by percentages. In the case of these lettuce seedlings, growth stopped about 2 weeks after planting in a nutrient-less seed starting mix. Despite being under strong light and staying moist, they did not grow much after two more weeks. We’re looking at four-week old lettuce that’s at least a tenth the size it should be. What to do? At this point, we can: -Add a balanced liquid fertilizer at half-strength (the plants are really tiny, after all!). -Transplant to a larger container (“pot up”), and fill the remaining space in the pot with seed starting mix or potting soil mixed with granular fertilizer. -Transplant outdoors to a prepared garden bed...

Mid-Summer Transplanting Tips...

Although we experience some of summer’s highest temperatures in August, it’s time to transplant fall crops to the garden. These cool-weather plants may have a little difficulty adjusting to summer heat, but can transition to the garden successfully if hardened-off first. Hardening-off can take anywhere from a few days to a week or two. Keep seedlings in their original pots during the process – they will be able to adjust to differences in heat, light and wind much better.   Heat Summer temperatures in Chicagoland can rise past 90 degrees! If you’re moving seedlings from indoors, put them outside for the first time at night, when temperatures are a little cooler. If you’re direct-seeding outdoors, look for an area in the garden that receives a little shade. Light Outdoor light is more intense than indoor light – even grow lights! If you started your seedlings indoors, gradually expose them to brighter light before planting in full sun. You can do this by starting the hardening-off process on a cloudy day or in partial shade. Wind Summer storms can be very windy! Keep young seedling stems from breaking by introducing a fan while growing indoors – the gentle swaying will help them develop thicker stems. You can also place outdoors in a protected area, such as among others plants, to act as windbreak. Water Young plants will best survive summer heat if well-watered. Be sure to thoroughly soak seedlings before putting outside. Keep direct-seeded beds well watered. Planting Soil can be depleted of nutrients after intensive growing spring through mid-summer. Be sure to apply a little granular fertilizer to the soil or planting holes before transplanting fall crops. What can be planted? Seeds such as spinach, peas, lettuce, mustard, rapini and bok choy can still be planted directly in the soil....

Blossom Buddies

Many of the plants we eat from the garden produce flowers, but when is a flower good to keep and when is it best to snip?  Peppers and Tomatoes After pollination, the flower dies back and a tiny pepper or tomato begins  to form. Peppers and tomatoes are usually self-pollinating, not requiring a  visit from a pollinator (such as a bee) to produce fruit. Although they are  self-pollinating, the flowers are necessary – don’t pinch them off if you  want tomatoes and peppers! While it’s a good idea to pinch back  blossoms for a few weeks on plants that are too small (so the plant  can focus on growth rather than fruit production), doing so for the entire  season will end your chance of getting in a good harvest. Squash, Melons and Cucumbers These plants produce separate male and female flowers on the same plant and require cross-pollination by insects to produce fruit. It’s easy to distinguish the flower sexes – look for the swollen ovary at the base of the female. While you can remove many of the male flowers to make stuffed squash blossoms or to toss in a salad, you need to keep the female flowers on the plant. Be sure not to remove all of the male flowers, as some are still needed for cross-pollination (and fruit production) to happen. Basil When basil flowers, the stems get a little woodier and the plants begin to have fewer leaves as energy diverts from leaf production to seed production. Frequent harvesting can delay the production of flowers, but if you find yourself with a blossom-covered plant, you can snip them off to keep your basil producing more fragrant leaves for a longer period of time. Be careful to snip the flower stems at the correct point –...

About Peppers

This week’s lesson: Peppers! These vibrant veggies are related to tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and tomatillo, and come in a multitude of varieties, but there are two basic types: sweet, and hot. Sweet peppers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Most start out green and then turn red, yellow, orange, or purple as they ripen. The flavor also changes with the color, becoming more mild and sweet as they mature. Hot peppers also start out green and then change color as they ripen. A substance called capsaicin is what makes a pepper taste hot. How do you know when they are ready to harvest?  Early in the season, it is best to harvest peppers before they ripen to encourage the plant to keep bearing fruit; a mature fruit can signal a plant to stop production too early. Peppers will continue to ripen if left out on a sunny windowsill at room temperature, so resist the urge to wait until the pepper looks picture-perfect to pick it. Always cut peppers from the plant with a knife or sharp scissors. How do you store them? Sweet peppers will keep for 1-2 weeks stored unwashed in a paper bag (or loose in the crisper drawer) in the refrigerator. Store hot peppers in a cool dry place for 1-2 weeks (you can leave them at room temperature on the counter-top, or in the fridge). To freeze them- simply wash and dry them, cut into chunks, and place in freezer bags or an airtight container in the freezer. Peppers are one of the few veggies that don’t require pre-cooking before freezing. You can also dry hot peppers by leaving them in a bowl on the counter top in a well-ventilated, sunny room for 1-2 weeks (rotating them regularly). It is possible...

How to Use Soap to Kill Garden Pests...

Soap sprays are considered contact pesticides, meaning they must come into contact with the pest you are trying to remove for them to work. They do not work as a deterrent or preventative for garden pests, and they do not work on all pests. Soap sprays work best on soft-bodied insects such as mealybugs, aphids and whiteflies by destroying their protective cell membranes. Not all liquid soap is effective against pests or safe in the garden. Specially-formulated insecticidal soap contains potassium salts of fatty acids for destroying pest cell membranes and degrades in the environment within two weeks. For organic gardening, look for an OMRI-listed brand of insecticidal soap, such as Safer. You can also use liquid soap you may already have at home, such as unscented Dr. Bronner’s or plain Ivory. Be careful not to spray soap too close to the flowers of cucumbers, melons or squash, as these require cross-pollination by bees to produce fruit. Branded insecticidal soap will have specific dosage instructions on the package, but if you are making your own mixture at home, follow these instructions: to each gallon of water, add 3-10 tablespoons liquid soap and pour into a clean spray bottle. If your tap water is hard, use collected rainwater or purchase water at the grocery store instead, as the minerals in hard water can greatly reduce the effectiveness of the soap spray. If you are using more than 3 tablespoons of soap per gallon, injury on the plants’ leaves, such as brown spots, can occur. To kill the pests, yet reduce injury on the plant leaves, apply the soap spray directly on the pests, in late afternoon or evening, then rinse off early morning. Soap sprays should be used about twice a week for two weeks to fully remove the infestation,...

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On PinterestVisit Us On Linkedin