Square Foot Gardening by Byron Chitwood

Some good advice for a person who is thinking about starting a vegetable garden is to start small and gradually increase the size until you have reached your tolerance level for taking care of one.  There is plenty of tilling, planting, watering and weeding in a small garden that should make you think, can I handle more?  One of the best pieces of advice is to consider a square foot garden.

Square foot gardening is an easy way to garden if you don’t have time or space for a larger garden.  A square foot garden can be as small as one foot square and can be much larger if you have a place for it.  For a larger one, limit the width to no more than four feet.  This makes it easy to plant and weed from either side.  A four by eight foot garden can be made very simply by cutting the two ends 4ft 3 ½ inches long and using two 8 foot long boards for the side. 2X6 inch boards will give enough depth for almost anything that you wish to plant.  Lay down some impregnable material for the bottom in a location that is in the sun most of the time and well drained.  Lay the 8 foot planks or boards on their edge and four feet apart.   Screw or nail the 4 foot 3 ½ ends to the longer planks.  Keep the frame as squared up as possible.

Now fill the bed almost full with a rich soil mixture.  A good mix is equal parts of compost, peat moss and pearlite or vermiculite.  However, if you have access to rich topsoil, there is nothing wrong with using that instead of a more expensive mixture.   If you use six inch wide boards for the sides, the bed will require about 16 cubic feet of soil mixture or eight bags of potting soil mix.  Therefore for economy, you can’t beat your own soil mixture for economy, especially if you have access to a compost pile.

There are several ways to divide your square foot garden into individual one foot square foot plots.  Divide the entire garden with wooden slats or tie strings at one foot intervals running from each side and each end.

A good rule to follow is plan the garden so that the longest dimension runs north and south.  In the spring, plant the tallest crops at the south end and the shorter ones at the north end.  In the fall, just reverse the order of planting so that the tallest are at the north end and the smaller ones are at the south end.  This will allow plants to receive maximum sunlight.

In order to conserve space, a trellis will need to be built for climbing plants such as cucumbers.  These can be made from two rebars with strings tied between them.  As the cucumbers begin to climb, tie them to the strings and they will continue to climb in an upward direction.  You might want to strengthen the uprights by fastening another rebar across the top.

Suggested spacing for vegetables on a per square foot basis are as follows:  Extra large plants such as Broccoli, Cabbage, tomatoes and Peppers should only have one plant per square; Large vegetables such as Leaf Lettuce, Swiss chard and Marigold should be no more than four per square; Medium vegetables such as Bush Beans, Spinach and Beets can be planted nine per square; Smaller plants such as Carrots, Radishes and Onions are recommended at 16 per square.

A square foot garden will not require much weeding.   Water frequently but do not over water.  If possible, harvest your rain water from roof runoff.  Vegetables just love rainwater.  If you are using well composted leaves and garden wastes in your square foot garden, not much commercial fertilizer will be required.

You will be amazed at how many vegetables a garden of this size will produce.  This is a very good way to teach kids responsibility when caring for a garden as well as it will give them some outdoor exercise.

References are: All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza; Don’t Waste Your Wastes-Compost ‘em by Bert Whitehead

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Pruning Trees by Byron Chitwood

There are many reasons to trim or prune landscape trees.  Some of the reasons are as follows:

  • Promotion of plant health.  Some trees do not naturally prune themselves.  Limbs might die and need to be physically removed.  Also some damage might be as a result of storms.  High winds or icing can cause limbs to break.  Unfortunately, the breaks do not occur at places on the branch that are the most desirable.
  • Safety.  Some growth of certain trees can cause hazardous conditions such as those caused by aging and cracking in narrow “Vees” of adjoining branches.  This article does not give legal advice on the liabilities of a property owner regarding trees; however, it is the legal responsibility of the property owner to insure that hazards do not occur.  If some of your landscape trees encroach on a utility right-of-way, trimming might be required.  Rather than attempting to trim those trees, call the Utility Company.  They have a vested interest in protecting their power lines and will more than likely trim the trees and grind the trimmings and either haul them away or give them to the homeowner.
  • Trees may need to be pruned to maintain the intended purpose of the original landscape plan.  Most flowers and turf grasses require a certain percentage of sunlight during the day.  Branches can be removed to improve the sunlight hours on those plants.
  • Increase visibility.  Your landscape might have trees or shrubs that have grown up to block the view from a particular window.  Lower branches can be removed to improve visibility.

If you plan do it yourself and do your own pruning, there are some simple rules to follows: first, safety is the most important thing to consider.  The two most dangerous items in your toolbox are chain saws and ladders.  More people are injured by falling from a ladder.  I have also seen some rickety ladders being used.

Chainsaws can be very dangerous.  Even woodcutters with years of experience have been severely injured using one of these hand held mechanical sharks.  They can eat you up, belt buckle, bones and all. It might be better for you to use a good sharp pruning saw rather than standing on your tiptoes on top a rickety step ladder while trying to reach way over your head and sawing off that last branch.

There is a proper way and place to cut off a branch.  A branch growing from a larger limb will have a branch collar at its base.  Cut the offending limb at the base of the branch above the collar which will leave a stub. Then, cut the stub off avoiding cutting the collar.  Make the cuts so that they angle down and away from the main branch.

Personally, I might cut a branch here and there when they die or need to be removed but if some big time pruning needs to be done, I call in the professionals.  There are some really good ones in the community and they can usually do a very good job and safely remove those branches that need pruning.  Also, most of them leave the yard in immaculate condition.

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Egardening with the Master Gardeners February 2015

eGardening with the Master Gardeners February 2015

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Taking the mystery out of Rose Pruning by PJ LaRue Smith

The rose bush benefits from pruning in much the same way we benefit from receiving a hair cut.  While removing long, scraggly canes (long hair); or canes that cross one another (split ends); or thinning the bush’s center (thick hair); or cutting out old, corky canes (dry, damaged hair); and cleaning up the rose bed (sweeping up the cut hair) may not be essential to life (either the rose’s or ours), it certainly can improve the overall look and performance of both!.

Once-blooming roses (some climbers, shrubs, and Old Garden Roses), should not be pruned until after flowering in the spring since blooms are produced only on growth from the previous season.  Rose varieties that bloom repeatedly from spring until fall can be pruned in late February, or early March.

Generally, the “perfectly pruned”  rose bush should resemble a tall vase – open in the center, with canes on the outer perimeter.  Typically, this is achieved by pruning the plant down to 4 or 5, 12” – 16” pencil to thumb-sized canes.  However, like us, each rose plant is unique and should be assessed individually.  Some will require more (or less) pruning depending upon overall health, whether grafted or own-root, growth habit etc. Weak plants, for example, should have only the diseased, damaged, or dead wood removed.  Grafted plants (recognizable by the hand-sized “knot”, the bud-union, located at the base of the canes) should have any growth below the bud-union removed (aka suckers) and canes cut no shorter than 12”.  (Hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, and modern climbers are generally grafted.  Tree roses will have two grafts, one to a rootstock, and the second just below the cluster of canes.)

Miniatures and polyanthas, on the other hand, are typically on their own roots and can sustain much heavier pruning, and can tolerate being pruned down to 5-7 inches above soil level.  Roses classified as species, shrub, or Old Garden Roses (OGR’s) are generally grown on their own roots as well, but unlike miniatures, need little pruning.  Simply remove the dead, diseased, and crossed canes; take a little off the top; lightly thin the middle and they’re done.

Tools for pruning:  a pair of leather gloves (to protect hands); a sharp pair of bypass (scissor-action) pruning shears; a pair of loppers (for large canes in tight places); a pruning saw to cut large, woody canes; and a whetting stone for keeping the pruners sharp.  Always wear protective clothing (long sleeved, heavy shirt and jeans) and be sure your tetanus booster is current (within the last 10 years).

Basic guidelines for pruning – cut to an outside facing eye (this limits stem growth in the center of the bush); cut 1/8” to 1/4” above the eye (limits cane die-back); cut at a 45 degree angle with the height of the angle at the eye (enables moisture to run off the cut, away from the eye); and lastly, cut down to a clean white pith/center (discolored pith is a sign of freeze or other damage).

Clean-up is an integral part of rose pruning – remove last year’s leaves, both remaining on the plant and on the ground; bag up all trimmings, mulch, and if so inclined, spray bushes with a fungicide to protect the emerging new growth from any residual spores.

Enjoy the “new look” your roses will have this spring!

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Early Spring Gardens by Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D.

The first week of February is time to plant early vegetables in Hunt County.  Even with all the weird weather we have had this year, you should give it a try.

First, be sure and prepare your bed to receive the seeds and plants it is about to cradle.  Till it to a depth of twelve inches either mechanically or by hand.  Spread three inches of compost on the tilled area and mix it in with the soil well.  The compost not only fertilizes your land, it helps with drainage and to keep soil from becoming compacted.

Most of the root crops are planted from seed.  The seed packet will tell you how deep to bury them so they germinate best.  Gardeners in this area usually plant turnips, beets, radishes, and carrots for their early garden.  The more adventurous also plant rutabaga and parsnip.

Other vegetables planted from seed this time of the year are sugar snap peas, English peas, Swiss chard, and rhubarb, kale, lettuce, and other greens.

Transplants include most of the familiar cole crops, including cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.  Brussels sprouts do better in the fall garden as it gets too hot for them too soon to make much of a harvest in the spring.

Be sure and mix frost tolerant flowering plants in and around your yard.  These attract bees and other pollinators to your vegetable garden and make sure your plants get pollinated.  It is very frustrating to have beautiful foliage and not a vegetable in sight because of poor pollination.

Although we have had several recent rains, it is necessary to water in both seeds and transplants.  They will need to be kept moist but not soggy so if Mother Nature doesn’t supply enough rain, you will have to step in and water them.

This year the Hunt County Fair is earlier in the year than usual.  The horticulture competition is on April 30th.  You deliver your vegetables and other items from 4pm to 6pm and judging begins at 6:30.  It only costs $2 an entry, so please enter your vegetables and support the horticulture competition this year.  Master Gardeners will be the judges and it will be a lot of fun. Hope to see you there.

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Onions by Diana Sidebottom

I know you’re thinking, who gardens in January?  Well, onion lovers do, and it’s time to get onion slips in the ground.  Onions are rugged plants that can withstand some temperatures below freezing, which is good because they need to be planted 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date.  Varieties well suited for East Texas can be purchased in small bundles of 50 -100 at this time of the year.

Plant your slips as soon as possible, but if you are unable to plant immediately, spread them out in a cool dry area.  The onion is a member of the lily family and can survive up to three weeks without being planted.

Onions require very specific conditions to produce really good results.  They need full sun and prefer a rich loose soil that is full of organic matter, but will grow reasonably well in clay soil.  They prefer a pH between 6.2 and 6.8 so test your soil and amend as necessary.  For the best growth and yield, fertilize right from the start.  Dig a 10 foot long 4” deep trench and sprinkle with ½ cup of 10-20-10 fertilizer.  Cover with 2 to 3 inches of soil and plant the transplants no more than 1” deep and at least 4” apart.  Water thoroughly after planting, and regularly thereafter.  Onions have shallow roots, so don’t let the soil become dry and cracked.

Fertilize every 2 to 3 weeks after planting.  Use ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) for alkaline soils or calcium nitrate (15.5-0-0) for acidic soils.  Water after each application.  Remember that soil test you did?  It will come in handy now!

Weeds are a problem with onions, so apply a light layer of compost mulch and weed by hand, being careful to not damage the roots or bulbs.

When the soil starts to be pushed away as the onion grows, the bulbing process has begun and you should stop fertilizing at this point.  When the tops start falling over, generally in May, stop watering and let the soil dry out before harvesting.   Pull or gently dig up the onion, brush off excess soil, and lay them in a shady spot for a week to dry.  Clip off the roots and cut the stalk about 1 to 2 inches from the bulb, and store in a cool dry place with onions not touching.  You can also store in onion net or nylon hose with knots tied between each onion.

Due to temperature fluctuations in this area, sometimes onions will send up a flower stalk know as bolting.  Onions are biennial, and if the plant is exposed to alternating cold and warm temperatures the plant becomes “confused” thinking two seasons have passed, and will prematurely bolt.  Once the plant has bolted, it doesn’t matter if you remove the flower stalk.  The bulb is completely edible; however, the storage life of the onion will be shortened, so plan to use those bulbs first.

So get those slips in the ground and prepare to be amazed in about 4 months when you are holding an onion that will rival any you have ever purchased.  As always, happy harvesting!

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Potatoes and Onions by Byron Chitwood

Now is the time to start thinking about planting potatoes and onions. As of mid January, most of the sources for seed potatoes and onions were stocked up and ready to make a sale. The planting guide suggests planting onions between February 1 and the 20th. The recommendation for potatoes is February 10 and the 26th. However, these can safely be planted up until St. Patrick’s Day which is March 17. I am beginning to think Neil Sperry is right. We are at the very north end of zone 8 so we don’t have to plant on the first recommended day for zone 8 but can delay for several or more weeks.

Potatoes are one of the world’s staple foods second only after rice. There are literally thousands of varieties of potatoes. We are beginning to see more of these different varieties in the “upscale” grocery stores. My suggestion for the variety you should choose is one of the red varieties commonly referred to as “new” potatoes. Another variety that does real good in this area is Yukon Gold.

Several days before planting, cut your potatoes into chunks with at least one eye per piece. Let then set for a few days to scab over the cut area of the piece. Potatoes will do the best if the soil is loaded with organic matter such as shredded and partially composted leaves. Till the soil and dig trenches about five inches deep and two to three feet apart. Lay the seed potato parts in the trench about one foot apart and cover. They take about four to six weeks to sprout and a total of three months or more to reach full maturity. Some of the potatoes can be harvested when about an inch and one-half in diameter. In Sweden, these are considered the best vegetable a garden can produce.

If space is limited or you are planting a square foot garden, it is recommended that you dig the soil about five feet deep and lay four or less potatoes per one square foot area. Cover slightly and as they begin to sprout, cover the plants with a mixture of equal parts peat moss, composted material and vermiculite or pearlite. Keep doing this until the seed potatoes have been covered by about six inches of the mixture. Potatoes can be planted in containers using the same method. For fully mature potatoes, harvest after the plants have matured and turned yellow.

Plant sets about two inches deep with a spacing of about three inches and row spacing of 18 inches. When you need green onions, pull ever other one which will allow for the remaining ones to mature. For the square foot gardener, plant sixteen onion sets per square foot and harvest the same way as the row cropper. When the onion tops break over, they are ready for harvesting.

For a different treat, try my all-time favorite: clean and dice potatoes and start frying in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add chopped onions and cook until almost done. Break eggs on top of the potatoes and onions, salt and pepper the eggs and put several tablespoons of water in the skillet. Cover and steam until the eggs are done to your liking. Serve with a glass of tomato or V8 juice.

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Choosing and Maintaining Garden Tools By June Morgan

January is an excellent time to assess the contents of the gardening shed.  Whether a beginning gardener starting anew or needing to replace old and worn out hand tools, quality should take first consideration.  That, and proper care will add much to the pleasure of gardening.

The collection should have at least two spades, one wide bladed for shoveling dirt and compost and a narrow bladed for digging. Add a heavy-tined fork for digging rough ground and a lighter tined for lifting crops.  Two rakes, one for leaves, preferably expandable and a sharp-tined sturdy one for leveling. Smaller hand tools should include trowels, bulb planters, pruners, and a Japanese Hori-Hori knife useful for cutting bags and heavy roots. The latter is serrated on one side and can even take the place of a trowel in some cases. Before grabbing just any tool available at the local big box store, consider the quality of construction.  The junction of the blade and the shaft should have at least two rivets. The shaft should be ash or other hardwood and the metal blade should be the best steel affordable, stainless or an alloy, forged, not stamped and thick enough so as not to be easily bent. Handles should be the right length for the height of the user. Like buying a golf club, the “feel” should be right.

This is especially true of pruners as the best ones are both expensive and a lifetime investment. The most popular brand is Felco as they come in both types, anvil and bypass. The bypass blade is sharp and cuts with the blade like scissors whereas the anvil blades work like a knife on a cutting board. They can come in either right or left handed, several sizes and prices, and some models have replaceable anvil blades.

The larger tools are to be hung on the wall of the shed so as not to dull the blades; the smaller go in a bucket or a portable container. The cleaning equipment should include a file or other sharpening tool, towels, Scotch Brite pads, lubricant, and sterilizer solution. The beveled edges of the tool blades are to be sharpened as needed. After each use, the tools should be hosed, dried, and lubricated with a thin coat of boiled linseed oil (a plant based product) not petroleum, and wiped dry. This sets up a barrier which prevents rust. The sterilizers of choice are hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, not bleach. These are used to prevent transferring pathogens from one plant to another especially in pruning and propagation.

If local stores do not carry the tools that meet the standards, try the higher end nurseries and catalogs that offer some imports and detailed descriptions of the construction. Quality garden tools are not cheap, but the good ones that have been cared for can be handed down for generations.

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Pecan Grafting Seminar by Sara Allen

Pecan production is popular in Hunt County in both backyard small orchards, as well as larger orchards. We have had requests recently to host a Pecan Grafting Clinic, and are pleased to be doing so on Thursday, January 15, as part of the Art of Gardening Seminar Series.

This seminar will be the first “Art of Gardening Series” seminar for 2015. The program will begin at 6:00 p.m. at the Fletcher Warren Civic Center, 5501 Business Highway 69 South in Greenville.

The speaker for this free program is Winston Walls, of Walls Family Farm in Terrell, TX. Mr. Walls has a long and successful past with grafting pecans, and estimates he has grafted over 6,000 trees. He learned his skill from his family, and is honored to be sharing it with others. His family’s pecan orchard is well known in our area, as well as the trees they graft and sell. He is excited to be sharing his skills with participants in the seminar.

This seminar will be devoted to teaching the various types of grafts, including the Whip Graft, Clevice or Inlay Graft, and Banana Graft. Mr. Walls will also be giving away a tree to one lucky participant. There will also be time for a question and answer session.

If you are interested in learning how to graft, you will not want to miss this seminar. In addition to the door prize, refreshments will be provided. Make plans to attend each “Art of Gardening Series” event this year as well. Programs are held at 6:00 p.m. the third Thursday of January, April, July and October. Watch for details of upcoming programs here, or you may also find information at http://huntcountymastergardeners.org. The Master Gardeners also have a Facebook page (Hunt County Master Gardeners), which we welcome you to “like”.

We encourage children and youth to attend with families. For questions on this seminar, please contact the library at 903-457-2992. Questions concerning the Hunt County Master Gardener program are welcomed at 903-455-9885.

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Art of Gardening 01-2015

Pecan Grafting Workshop January 15, 2015

art of gardening flyer

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