Tag Archives: plants

Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Garden Plants

April 10, 2013

Do’s and Don’ts of Buying Garden Plants

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Would-be and weekend gardeners are flocking to stores this time of year with hopes of finding already-started plants to put in their gardens. Some of those offerings have been in stores for weeks and now look a bit bedraggled. Often severely marked down, are they really a bargain? What should consumers look for in selecting a plant?

First, choose plants that come from certified organic seeds, which were developed to grow in the home garden, not thousand-acre fields of industrial agriculture.

If not available, the second-best option is to choose heirloom varieties.

Heirloom seeds are called “heirlooms” for a reason. They are treasured because of the flavor, taste, size, color and other characteristics of the plants they produce that make them worth handing down.

Big seed companies are focused on developing hybrids or varieties they can patent. That ensures bigger annual sales because patented seeds must be purchased anew every year. Heirlooms are stable (meaning they produce offspring that resemble the parent), are open pollinated (meaning they are not artificially manipulated) and have at least a 50-year history as a distinct variety.

The giant seed companies go so far as to create genetically engineered seeds that cannot be found in nature. Such genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can contain genes from bacteria, viruses, insects and even animals inserted into their DNA.

GMOs are prohibited in certified organic. So, when purchasing a plant or seeds, you want varieties that are open pollinated (non-hybrid) and untreated (not dyed or contaminated by chemicals, such as anti-fungals), and marked as being either certified organic or heirlooms.

A few companies even sell certified organic heirlooms, but they are extremely rare.

List of Don’ts:

Don’t choose tall spindly plants or, conversely, stubby plants that are “woody” on the stems. Both are examples of plants that have exceeded their prime.

Don’t choose plants that have leaves that are spotted, off color or rimmed with white (examples of various rots, fungus or other maladies).

Don’t buy plants with obvious signs of insect or other attack.

Don’t buy plants that have weak root systems: Stick your finger in the pot; if it’s wet and the roots are rotting, that’s a difficult condition to overcome.

Don’t buy plants that have roots that are wound around the inside of the pot or sticking out through the bottom. To replant it, you’ll damage the root system, which also will retard growth.

Don’t buy plants that already have flowering buds or small produce on them. You may think you’re getting “a head start,” but in fact, you are getting a plant that has been stressed into fruiting. If you buy it, pinch off the flowers or fruit once it’s planted. That way, it can more efficiently allocate its resources.

A Big ‘Do’

Finally, if the nursery or garden center offers a “sale” so that plants with any or all of these maladies are offered with big savings, do keep walking! It’s no “bargain” to waste time on plants that are already half dead. Stressed plants invite bugs and disease if they don’t already have blights on their leaves or in their soil. Don’t buy trouble!

Buy healthy plants for a healthy garden. You’ll have enough to do keeping your garden a happy place without 
importing problems.

Build an Organic ‘Jim’s Plot’ for Earth Day!

Earth Day is April 22. What better way to celebrate than by creating a small organic food garden–especially one that can serve others!

Certainly, you know there are elderly people who would love to grow their own organic vegetables or herbs, or perhaps a kitchen garden, by their back door. Or teach a child how to grow food, instilling life skills like self-sufficiency.

Start by outlining a 4-foot-by-8-foot area and enclosing it in nontoxic materials, such as synthetic lumber or materials on hand such as concrete blocks. Or, simply mound up the soil as a natural boundary, or use cedar or redwood lumber.

In the plot, dig up the soil, 4 to 8 inches deep, using a tiller or shovel (if you’re elderly or incapacitated, enlist a hardy neighbor or relative to do the work). Add bagged soil (check that it’s approved for certified organic use) or dig from areas of the yard where leaves may have accumulated over the years to provide loamy soil.

Voila! You have your garden. Add plants, and start keeping a compost bin to add to the plot periodically and to build up the soil.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Certified Organic Seeds

Want to know if a brand of seed is certified organic? See the Organic Seed Finder website, hosted by 
the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies: organicseedfinder.org.

Are Your ‘Green’ Products Really Green?

Consumer Reports has an online resource for quickly looking up product labels using your smartphone to determine if a product at the supermarket is really “green.” You can search by product, category or certifier.

Visit greenerchoices.org/eco-labels.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

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Playing odds of last frost can be risky

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Just about every day, I hear of someone who just couldn’t wait until planting time to start digging in the ground and planting a crop for summer. Let me reiterate: We may be in the South, but it’s still too early to plant!

If the soil is too cold, seeds won’t germinate properly resulting in sickly plants, disease and insect damage. It’s not enough to simply plant past last frost; plants need a good start. That’s why even if the temperature turns prematurely warm, as happened last winter, planting now is so risky. Even with such “tricks” as using frost cover (sheets of Agribon or old blankets over seedbeds or early seedlings when its frosty) and passive solar heating (plastic jugs painted black and containing water to heat up in the day and retain it during the cold nights), a sharp cold snap can knock back and mortally wound your crop.

That’s why you want to be careful in playing the odds of “last frost,” to minimize potential damage.

For a lot of gardeners in Mississippi, planting time is around the first week in May. But there’s a caveat to this, too. For organic gardeners, it pays to plant as early as possible, to get a jump on the insects. Waiting until May could be inviting insect damage.

So, the best time to plant for organic growers (who don’t use insecticides) is sometime between last frost and before the insects go full bore. Traditionally, here in central Mississippi, folks used to plant seeds on Good Friday, which this year is March 29. To be cautious, I’ve always planted a week after Easter, as we sometimes have a frost the week after Easter, this year observed March 31. That’s kind of late.

As you can see from this frost chart for Mississippi (http://bit.ly/f8QSAb), the percent probability of a freezing temperature (32 degrees F.) for Jackson is:

March 7 — 90 percent;

March 23 — 50 percent;

April 8 — 10 percent.

For today, there’s a 50 percent change of a temperature of 28 degrees, according to the chart. Naturally, those numbers change the further north or south from Jackson in the central part of the state, as shown by the chart. For all states, see: http://bit.ly/i5SmsT.

Planting By The Moon & Stars

In the old days, gardeners would plant by “the signs” — the moon and stars.

The best guide is by the late Maria Thun, who died last year. Her work is being carried on and, now in its 51st year, her North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar 2012 (Floris Books, $13.95) is available from Steiner Books: P.O. Box 960; Herndon VA 20172-0960; (703) 661-1594; or http://www.steinerbooks.org.

Thun’s guide is detailed and considered something of a bible for natural growing by biodynamic farmers (those who follow the natural rhythms and Earth-based soil amendment methods of founder Rudolf Steiner). It shows the optimum days for sowing, pruning, and harvesting various crops, as well as working with bees.

Wondering Why Your Seeds Won’t Germinate?

In order to sprout, seeds require a minimum temperature. Even if we put them in little cups in the windowsill, they may still fail to sprout if there’s cold air seeping in. Some require 85 degrees to sprout! Here’s a chart: http://www.heirloomseeds.com/germination.html

Some people buy or build seed heating tables or mats with hot water circulation. You can do it yourself using plywood and lightbulbs. Here’s a DIY project from Mother Earth News: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/seed-incubator-zmaz78mazjma.aspx#axzz2LBiT8MoA

Whatever you do, don’t use heating pads or electric blankets, as you will be watering your seeds and can cause a potentially hazardous electric shock.

Jump Start on Weather? Use a Cold Frame

Simply stated, a cold frame is a box similar to a 4-foot by 8-foot “Jim’s plot” but has a removable, clear glass or plastic top. Consider it a mini-greenhouse.

Cold frames can be simple DIY projects, such as planting between a few square bales of hay and recycling old windows or shower doors as the removable tops. You can also purchase pre-made kits from local garden stores or online. You can build a cold frame anywhere; make sure it has southern sun exposure, and vent the top during the day. At night, keep the cold frames closed, and they’ll retain heat.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.