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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

KNOL: Building a Squash and Cucumber Vine Trellis Garden

Copied from Googlk Knol to be stored on my blog.

Squash and vine crops are great additions to the garden. They, however, take up a lot of space. One way to defeat this need is to plant them with a place to grow upward. Squash and vines need four things to do really well. They are heat, water, food, and space. This Knol is about giving them space to grow.

Building a Squash and Cucumber Vine Trellis Garden

Let them Climb!
By Gary Pilarchik LCSW-C
Visit my very active vegetable garden blog: The Rusted Vegetable Garden
I love gourds. I grow them out of interest and for my kids. Gourds come in dozens of shapes and if you let them dry on the vine, they last virtually forever. They can be stained, glazed, and painted. Some can even be turned into birdhouses, hence the birdhouse gourd. The vine crops in the pictures below are apple gourds and snake gourds. This design can be used for all vines were the fruits don't exceed 2 pounds. It is hard to create supports for large melons and pumpkins.

This project can easily be used to grow edible squashes, gourds, cucumbers, and anything that climbs. I am going to present this in pictures mostly because it is self explanatory. Types of crops for this project are:
  • Any type of climbing bean
  • Spaghetti, Acorn, Butternut squashes and the like
  • Sprawling zucchini versus bush types
  • Any type of cucumber
  • Small melons such as Tiger melons
  • Even tomatoes. They can be weaved through the support strings

The key elements to this project are:
  • Make sure the supports are strong enough to hold the weight of the crop
  • Keep the plants spaced, so they can grow to full size
  • Add extra supports when in doubt
  • Manage for disease, specifically powdery mildew and other mildew (sulfur spray or dust)
  • Add fertilizer to start. Gourds feed heavily as do most vine crops
  • Vary the way you tie the horizontal string supports to the posts

The Empty Space to be Turned

The plot was covered in the wood that is now stacked behind it. That wood was used to build my bench supports for my transplants. The first step is always to clear the space and turn the earth. The plants will also create a screen to hide that wood. I won't need it till next year.


Five Stakes to Support the Weight of 4 Gourd Plants
If you are growing beans versus spaghetti squash, you will need to worry less about the strength of the supports or the depth they get put into the ground. The plants I am using will produce a heavy crop. The wooden posts on the ends are hammered about 12-18 inches into hard ground. When in doubt add more posts.
The Gourds Grown from Seed and Peat Moss Amendment

Dig the Hole.  Add Amendments and Fertilizer.  Gourds Feed Heavily.
Gourds, squashes, and vine crops feed heavily and love water. Make sure you amend the soil with organic matter to hold water and give them some fertilizer to start off. This project should be started when the days are typically in the 80's. They grow best in heat.

Gently Break Up the Root Ball and Plant
While you wait for the warmer days, you can start your vine crops in cups, like I did. They will do well in the cups and can be moved in and out the house based on the weather. You can see below how large the plants grew in cups.

A Planted Snake or Apple Gourd

Jute Strung Post to Post to Support the Growing Vines

It is important to tie the jute/string to different posts and in different ways so the weight of the vines and gourds bares in various ways across the whole support structure. Notice the bottom string is tied (left) brown post to (right) white post. The upper string is tied from (left) brown post, (behind not tied) past the white post, and (right) tied to the brown post. Just do this randomly. The supports will be stronger in the long run.

Side View to See the String Supports

The Four Gourds and Support System
The general rule I use is one support/post for fairly heavy vine crops like this bunch of gourds. I can't stess enough that if you are unsure of the weight of the crops... add more supports. I added 1 extra to this group. You never run into a problem because you made the support trellis to strong.


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Monday, February 27, 2012

KNOL: Identifying and Removing Tomato Suckers (In Pictures)

Transfered from Google Knols to be stored on my blog.

This is a quick knol that provides pictures to help you identify the sucker. They are often removed to focus growth on one main tomato stem and to prevent over-growth. You don't have to remove them. Removing suckers is a method of tending your tomato plants. You will still get a ton of tomatoes.

Identifying and Removing Tomato Suckers: In Pictures

by Gary Pilarchik LCSW-C
Check out my active garden blog: The Rusted Vegetable Garden
When it comes to tomato suckers, you don't technically have to remove them. They don't  directly damage your plant. It is part of the tomatoes natural sprawling growth. I do leave some of on my plants sometimes. The problem is they are new growth shoots and will branch all over. They make the tomato more dense with leaves and that could, I say could, be problematic and lead to diseases. Since a tomato is typically caged or grown on a stake, you want to tend to you tomato plant on almost a daily basis to help control its growth. Removing the suckers focuses growth on a main stem or two.

I tend my tomatoes by removing bottom growth and thin them out by removing suckers. I might run a future experiment where I actually tend a single vine up a pole and remove every sucker.  That is what you read often in books, but I rarely have that much time to get every sucker.
I never get them all but I remove many and that helps manage the tomato's growth.  Here are two pictures to show you what a sucker is, so you can decide what to do with them. I suggest removing them regularly.

My Finger is Pointing Directly at the Sucker.

The sucker grows between the V of a branch and main stem. This one got a bit large. They grow fast and sometimes the get so large the don't easily snap off. When the are small they will snap easily off.

Removed! You can See the Nub.

Try and cut as close as you can to the stem without damaging the stem or branch when they are this large. You should do this on a dry sunny day. The opening could let disease in. The sun will dry the wound and help it to heal and seal. You could also put some sulfur spray or dust on the wound. I don't always do that but I am, more often, now pruning and tending as I carry my sprayer. I left the nub so you could see from where it was removed.
Just about every V section will get flowers or sucker growth. If you let a sucker grow, it will become a stem and begin to grow as a main stem in whatever direction it wants to go. If the tomato was wild and sprawling on the ground, you would want this. The tomato will actually grow extra roots from whatever parts of stems touch the ground. It is survival tactic for the sprawling tomato. The problem is, as I mention, extra wild growth can lead to diseases and other problems. Removing suckers helps manage your tomatoes growth and allows you to tend to it as it grows in a cage or up a pole.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thyme and Oregano 7 Weeks Later: Over Seeding Can Work!

7 or 8 Week Old Oregano and Thyme: Gary Pilarchik

My Oregano and Thyme are doing fine!

You can't over seed every plant. I found that out with Tarragon. But as I have mentioned due to space reasons, I over seed. Thyme and Oregano should never be planted 1 seed to cell. It doesn't make sense.

A walk down a memory lane. Oh they were so young!

Oregano Seeds: Gary Pilarchik
Thyme Seeds: Gary Pilarchik
Over Seeding Cells with Herb Seeds: Gary Pilarchik
Oregano and Thyme Seedlings: Gary Pilarchik
Oregano and Thyme Close to be Transplanted: Gary Pilarchik
Oregano and Thyme Ready for Cups: Gary Pilarchik
Thyme and Oregano 7 Weeks Later: Gary Pilarchik

Transplanting Coleus Plants From Cells to Cups: Save Money!

Coleus are annual flowers in my area and most areas. They are tender, don't like cool weather and die at first frost. They are also really expensive to buy! They make for great container plants and flower bed fillers.  They aren't grown for their flowers but for their leaf color.  In fact, pinch off the flower heads.

They take time to grow and should be started indoors well before last frost. The Coleus seeds are small and growing them 1 seed at a time doesn't make sense to me. It is true and you can see by the pictures that 1 seed per cell or fewer seeds per cell mean bigger plants initially. However, they are being grown to fill space my garden and I just don't have the room to grow 100 single Coleus plants indoors. I wish I did!

I over seed cells, divide into cups and divide again once they are hardened off to the outdoors and ready to be transplant into my containers or ground. That means 1 cell of plants get divided. That leaves me 2 cups. The  2 cups will get divided or even quaded (is that a word?). I can end up with 4 to 8 plant bunches for my garden from a single seed starting cell. This is how I manage minimal room in my house and great desire for plants. It works for me.

Coleus Seeds: Gary Pilarchik

I planted my seeds the first week of January or close to that and now about 7 weeks later, they go into cups. I use Miracle Grow starting mix as part of my mix or fertilized starting mix. Planting this many seeds in a cell sucks out nutrients. The cells with bigger Coleus seedlings had fewer seeds.

Coleus Seedlings for Transplanting: Gary Pilarchik
Coleus Plugs Torn Down the Middle: Gary Pilarchik

The cells with bigger and fewer plants went straight to a cup. The plugs with 20 plus seedlings just got torn down the middle. Some will die but most will survive nicely to be divided later. The plugs in the upper right corner (above) are torn starting from top to bottom. 

Coleus Transplanted into Cups: Gary Pilarchik

Hardening Off Vegetable and Herb Seedlings

The process of hardening off your seedlings and soon to be transplants is to get them acclimated to the sun, temperature and weather. If you just put them out into full sun, they can get damaged. They can also get temperature shock.

I have a tendency to push things but I would recommended taking a at least a week to acclimate your plants to the outdoors. Believe it or not an hour of full afternoon sun can damage plants that have been grown indoors for weeks and weeks.  They have no sunscreen yet!

Get them out on full cloudy days if you can first. No sun. Just wind and clouds and typically cooler temperatures than your home. They can sit 6 hours outside if there is NO sun. Two days is a nice warm up.  Just get them out there before starting the sun routine. If you don't have a cloudy day to start that's okay.  I typically look about a week before I am ready to start the full transition outdoors. Typically there are cloudy days. Once warmed up... follow this:

  • Days 1-3: Morning sun for 1-2 hours
  • Days 4-5: Morning sun for 3-4 hours
  • Days 6-7: 5 hours of any sun

Don't leave them out overnight to freeze. This is for Zone 7 Maryland starting in March's sun and temperatures. You want a minimum of 50 degree days to avoid significant temperature shock.

My other tip is to put your whole seed tray out in the sun for 20 minutes whenever you can. Any time during the process of growing them indoors - get them some real sun and temperature. Do this as often as you can. It will acclimate them too and make for better plants. This 'toughens' them up and makes hardening off much easier.

Here is my parsley that was started in seed trays during the first week of January. They were out in the rain and are getting the cloudy day treatment. Believe it or not I am harvesting and using the leaves now.

Hardening Off Herb Plants (Parsley): Gary Pilarchik

Friday, February 24, 2012

Starting Perennial Flowers Indoors: Lupine, Foxglove, Painted Daisy, Carnations

The perennial flowers are great for gardens because they come back year after year. They grow well and need to be divided every 2 years or so. Before you know it, you have lots of flowers to landscape your whole yard and some to trade. That saves you a lot of money. At $6.99 to $8.99 a quart/gallon pot, you quickly run out of cash. Gardening is about the moment and the vision of the future. Here are some perennial that are easy to grow indoors for the moment and hardy enough for your vision.

Starting Lupines Indoors: Gary Pilarchik

Lupines don't like the heat I found. If they bake they won't grow. Some shade in Zone7 will help them. Stay away from full southern exposure. They produce large seeds. Soaking them for 4-6 hours before planting, helps jump start them. 

Germination isn't great. Two seeds per cell works well. You can thin them by removing the weakest or let both grow. I press my thumb into well packed cells and cover as seen below.

2 Lupine Seeds to a Cell: Gary Pilarchik

Red Carnations: Gary Pilarchik

Red Carnations grow well in the ground or in containers. They are hardy but sometimes die out because of hard cold Winters with consecutive deep freezing nights. Plant about three seeds to the cell and just let them go. If you must, you can gently divide them.

Foxglove is also know as digitalis which is or was once used as heart medicine. It is poisonous. Please don't add it to your salads. I over plant the cells with 15 seeds or so and divide them into cups and then I divide the cups again when I plant them in the yard. I think these are more biennials then perennials.  The plants release tons of seeds and repopulate the area. Some shade helps these plants too. Don't let them bake in dry soil.

Very Small Foxglove Seeds: Gary Pilarchik

Painted Daisy Adds Great Color: Gary Pilarchik
Painted Daisies like the heat and grow most anywhere. Rabbits do like them so beware. They are easy to grow and can be started as below and divided when you put them into cups. One benefit of over planting this plant is the variety of colors you get, in the bunch, when transplanted into your yard.

Seed Starting Painted Daisies: Gary Pilarchik

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Time to Plant Onions: Bulb Sets for the First Planting!

How exciting. You can plant your Zone 7 Garden now.  Start with onion sets. You can buy onion bulbs now at Walmart, local nurseries, home building mega-stores and just about any place that sells seeds. Onions  come in various forms from seeds to bulbs and one in between.  The bulbs can go in right now. Yes right now!

In the picture are a mix of red, yellow and white onion bulbs. They can go in now (did I mention that).  They can be planted quickly about 2 inches deep and anywhere from 3 to 6 inches apart depending on what size you want them to grow. I find 4 inches works just fine. Turn and fluff you soil to about the length of the spade.

If you can't plant yet because your ground is frozen.... as soon as the soil can be worked! Plant them root side down and if you can't figure that out, plant them on their side. They will correct themselves. Gardening is easy.

The cost for all those onions. Only $1.49. The onion bulbs in the picture are about the size of a quarter. The plate is a medium sized serving plate. Just FYI.

Red, Yellow and White Onion Bulbs for Planting: Gary Pilarchik

Lumens and Fluorescents and Light in Your Vegetable Grow Closet

I wanted to give you an idea about how cheap it is to buy fluorescent bulbs for your grow closet. I also have some information to keep in mind, so you don't pay a lot or more than you should.

The tubes in the picture are 48 inch tubes and that should be the standard you are buying. They are 40 watt bulbs. That is what you want. The Lumen output (amount of visible light omitted) is 3150 Lumens for the bulbs in the picture. That is pretty high. The higher the better.

The tubes were only $2.59 each. Next to them, in the store, were 48 inch tubes in a box that said plant and aquarium bulbs. They were $10.49 per tube. The difference is that the tubes packaged pretty for plants had under 2000 Lumens.  I don't understand why they are under 2000 but your plants want high Lumens not pretty packaging.

I also had my original bulbs for about 3 years (maybe more) before they burned out. Seems like that is about the time frame because 3 burned out this week.

Vegetable Grow Closet Bulbs: Gary Pilarchik

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Play with Your Parsley and Plants

I know it sounds weird. The actual term would be to stimulate your transplants but either way you say it - it sounds odd. The truth is that without stimulation of wind and motion your seedlings and transplants will be weak. Moving your hand across your plants is important. It stimulates normal development. Some growers use fans to move wind across their transplants. That is a great idea... but you do have to make sure you keep an eye on moisture. Wind not only stimulates strong stem development it also evaporates water. Touching your plants daily and moving them will help them develop.

Parsley Plants: Gary Pilarchik

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rotating Seed Transplants: Rotation Saves Room!

Well I am lucky enough to have a grow closet. I am stubborn enough to grow more than it will hold. You can see I have my Thyme and Oregano in containers with a light on them. It helps a bit but it really has to be closer to get maximum light to the transplants. On the floor is my Parsley. It has been under there for a while and it is getting great light. An open container is available for rotation.

Rotating Herb Transplants: Gary Pilarchik

Essentially all the Thyme and Oregano were put into the empty container and rotated under the light where the Parsley sat. The Parsley came out and the light was place across the top. The light is close enough to help the plants it sits over but I really need two lights for maximum light. I don't have it. So... there is no need to be perfect. I will just rotated the trays every three days or so until I can get them outside. What till I have tomatoes growing! Even less room!

Parsley, Oregano and Thyme: Gary Pilarchik
Parsley Under A Grow-Light: Gary Pilarchik

This my solution to planting more then I can manage till the days warm up. It isn't perfect but it will work.

Dried Out Oregano and Snapdragons: No Worries!

There is no timer to tell you when to water. Sometimes I forget or miss by a day and my cells dry out. Very often the cells to the edge of the seed tray dry out first. It is sort of a casualty warning watering system. A few will show dehydration first and save the others. This is because the water trays slightly curve up and they don't evenly disperse the water to the roots. No worries if you miss by a day. Two days... and worry.

Dried Out Oregano: Gary Pilarchik
Dried Out Snapdragons: Gary Pilachik

I filled the trays with water in the morning and when I got back from work... good as new. Now they will be stressed and probably grow a little slower but in the long run they will be fine.

Re-hydrated Oregano: Gary Pilarchik
Re-hydrated Snapdragons: Gary Pilarchik

Sheepskin Car Seat Covers... Sure!

We are logging in driver education miles for the next six months. My daughter is doing a great job. Soon she will be driving on her own. Thank goodness I have the garden for a break between drives. The highway comes soon!  She is having a great time looking for a vehicle and has moved on to sheepskin seat covers. All I could say was - sure why not.  She found the website and the look she wanted along with all kinds of sheepskin products.

She has picked out her vehicle and is accessorizing as the days go on. I had a chance to look at the website she found for her sheepskin seats and was impressed by the depth of  their products. Free shipping and high quality items has made me consider sheepskin luxury car seat covers as a fun warming gift for her when she does get her license.

They have so many products. I have a granite floor in our basement and thought about a sheepskin rug as a way to bring some character into room. You won't believe the number of sheepskin products they have available. Yoga mats,  seat pads, sheepskin sandals and clogs,  pillows and all kinds of items that would make great unique quality gifts for someone close to you. For me... looks like car seats come in sheepskin.

KNOL: What is Garden Soil PH? Alkaline or Acidic? What Does it Mean?

Transfered from Google Knols to be stored on my blog.

Your garden soil has a PH value that determines whether or not the soil is on the acidic side, alkaline side, or relatively neutral. Vegetables and other plants do have a preference for soil PH but it is often a range. This is a good thing. Generally speaking you want your garden to have a neutral PH. This Knol will answer all your questions about garden soil PH.

What is Garden Soil PH?

What is Alkalinity? What is Acidity?

Neutralizing the Fear of Garden PH
by Gary Pilarchik LCSW-C
To learn more about vegetable gardening visit my very active blog The Rusted Vegetable Garden

What is Garden Soil PH?

Garden soil PH is the measure of soil acidity or alkalinity. Actually, I read it is technically a measure of hydrogen-ion concentration in the soil. Sometimes PH levels are also known as sour and sweet soil. The value of your soil is measured by a number on a scale of 0.0 (most acidic/sour) to 14.0 (most alkaline/sweet). A neutral value, which unlike Chinese food is neither sweet or sour, is 7.0 (neutral).
The optimal range of PH for a vegetable garden is generally 5.5 to 7.0. PH is mostly a concern for gardeners because values outside the optimal range can cause problems with nutrients in the soil. Specific ranges may effect how soil nutrients are available to your vegetable plants. Acidic PH levels, for example, may cause certain nutrients to quickly leech out of your soil. Or your vegetables may not be able to absorb or access certain minerals and nutrients. The most important factor to remember is that the optimal PH range of 5.5 to 7.0 allows the soil to work best with your vegetable plants. That range is the goal.

How to Make Garden Soil More Alkaline (Increase PH)

If your soil is acidic or slightly acidic you can make it more alkaline by adding a lime. Lime basically contains calcium. Calcium will increase alkalinitiy. On a side note calcium if also good for your tomatoes. The best type of lime to use is pulverized lime. Be cautious breathing in the dust and water your garden down after you mix it into the earth. It can take up to 90 days for the soil to react with the lime and reduce acidity levels or increase alkaline levels, depending how you prefer to look at it. Lime use is the easiest method to increase PH.

How to Make Garden Soil More Acidic (Decrease pH)

Aluminium sulphate or sulphur is used to decrease PH and add acidity. Aluminium sulphate will increase the acidity as soon as it disolves into the soil. You must follow the directions carefully when applying aluminium sulphate. Another way to increase your soil acidity level is to use sulphur. Sulphur actually becomes sulphuric acid with the help of  water and nature. Unlike aluminium sulphate which is fast acting, sulpher can take several months. Peat moss is another way to very slowly increase acidity in your garden.

Don't Add Chemicals Without a PH Test

Don't randomly add chemicals to manipulate levels without a PH soil test. I do use peat moss which is acidic and I add some pulverized lime to it when I use it. They neutralize each other. I am not using these products to increase or decrease my soils PH. I am using them to add organic matter to my garden. However, I want the peat moss to be close to neutral when I add it into my garden, so I use some lime.

Using a PH Test Kit in Your Garden: One Tip

Garden soil PH test kits can be bought on line or at your local nurseries. I find they are cheaper on line. The test kits will tell you exactly how to test and measure the PH level. I want to stress the importance of taking a balanced measure. You don't want to dig only in one place in your garden and measure the PH. You want a good sampling of soil from around your garden. The best way to do this is to get a bucket and fill it with 5 hand shovel scoops of soil on a dry day. Mix the soil together well in the bucket. Use that soil for the PH test.

Do You Need to Test the PH Levels of You Garden Beds

Yes and no. If you are just starting a garden, the chances are your vegetables will grow just fine. If you plant in over worked soil or are starting a garden in a place where there is no grass or weed growth, you might want to test the soil.
A rule of thumb I use is to test my soil every three years. I did not test mine the first year. To better answer this question I would say, test your soil the first season and amend it accordingly. After the first test, test it every three years.
The other thing to keep in mind is that if you are adding a lot of bags of garden soil (not topsoil) from home improvement centers, you soil is probably just fine. These products are neutral to start. It just depends on how much you add to your garden. If you use raise beds like I do, you will concentrate these amendments to one spot. That is one benefit of raised bed gardening.

What PH Levels Do Vegetables Prefer?

They mostly prefer a neutral range of 5.5 to 7.0. Remember vegetables want to grow and adapt to ranges of PH. Here is a list of vegetables and PH preferences.
 This list comes from www.almanac.com




Bean, pole






Brussels sprout




















Pea, sweet


Pepper, sweet










Squash, crookneck


Squash, Hubbard





My Other Gardening Knols

Join My Garden Blog:The Rusted Garden
Sometimes the links below, by title, are defunct for unknown reasons.
Here is a main link, if one below is not active. This link is always active My Gardening Knols Direct Link 



My Gardening Recipe Knols