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Guide to Growing Cucamelons

Written by Mindy on July 11th, 2018

This may be a vegetable that you have never heard of but its common name is mouse melon or Mexican sour gherkin. While you can find plants in selective areas, it is best to simply grow your cucamelons from seed.

When it comes to starting your cucamelons from seeds you can either directly seed into the garden space or start indoors, which should occur in April or May. If you want to get a jump on the harvest, consider starting your seeds indoors. The reason for this is the fact that the seed of the cucamelon can take up to three weeks to germinate.

Since I know you cannot wait to try this new vegetable, let’s take a look at how to start your seed indoors. Prior to beginning this process let me say one thing. When it comes to this plant, I like to use peat pots. The reason for this is it reduces the chances of damaging the roots of the plant and prevents plant shock. While this plant will come out of the stress, it will delay fruiting until the stress is gone. Stressing the plant takes away from the jump on harvesting. In doing so, I use peat pots that do not require me to remove the seedling from the pot.

Next, the soil is another consideration. Yes, you can use a seed starting medium but I simply use a light bagged soil. This reduces the cost and frankly the short amount of time the seeds will be in that soil really does not warrant the extra cost, in my opinion.

To begin the planting process, fill your peat pots with a sterilized planting medium of your choosing. Place the peat post in a shallow pan of water and allow to sit until the soil is moist and the pot itself is dark brown. Once that has happened, plant several seeds per peat pot at a depth between ¼ to ½ inch deep. Mist the soil with water and place the potted containers along a windowsill in a room that is kept on the cool side. In about three weeks, you should see seedlings emerge from the soil.

After the seedlings have their second set of leaves, remove all but one of the seedlings from each pot by cutting them at soil level. Continue to monitor soil moisture and harden the seedlings off one week prior to your local frost free date.

If you are going to grow your cucamelons as container plants, you can go ahead and plant them in large pots with trellises prior to hardening off.

After the nighttime temperatures have been a consistent 50 degrees Fahrenheit for several days place your seedlings in their permanent place either in the garden plot or container.


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Organic Control of Crickets and Woodlice in Irises

Written by Mindy on June 21st, 2018

As a child, nothing sounded as sweet as hearing the male crickets call for a girl friend along with playing with those fun and delightful bugs that would roll themselves up in a ball. I knew them as pill or rollie-pollie bugs. When I go older and started planting my own landscape, I learned that while these bugs were fun to listen and play with as a child they can really destroy irises before you know it. Once your iris shows signs of decline, it is too late but there is a simple, organic technique that you can use to reduce the chances of losing your beloved irises.

Before I get to this technique, let me describe to you what happens when a cricket gets a hold of an iris. You see, crickets create shallow tunnels under stones, wood, and plants. They hang out in these tunnels during the day and come out at night to chirp or call for a mate. But as you can image, they do get a bit hungry while in the tunnel so they consume seeds, paper, dead insects, and plants. When it comes to the iris, this means that nice juicy rhizome that is in the ground alongside their tunnel. While the do not eat the entire rhizome, they do eat holes in the rhizome. This then creates homes for the woodlice and can eventually cause the rhizome to suffer from soft rot. But before you reach for that insecticide to control the crickets, take a look at these organic approaches.

The first approach is to simply attract predators to your yard that love crickets. This includes birds and even frogs. While this is a wonderful technique to use to control many garden pests, another approach is to make a simple trap that will keep the crickets at bay. Yes, this technique can trap innocent insects that are harmless to your plant material but the alternative is more damaging. To create a cricket trap starts off with a sticky trap displayed among your irises. While you can buy sticky traps, another choice is to make one. This is easily done by taking a small piece of cardboard and punching a hole in it. Once that is done, run a string through the cardboard. To catch as many crickets as possible, do not simply use brown or white cardboard. Instead, pick bright colors for your trap(s). After your trap has been strung, paint on commercially prepared insect trap glue that can be found in garden centers. Once that is done, you will need to tie your trap to a stick that is placed around your irises. At this point, you are done but once the trap fills up or it rains, you will need to make a new one. Repeat this process throughout the gardening season to prevent or control crickets around your irises.


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Tips for Growing Swiss Chard

Written by Mindy on June 7th, 2018

Ok, I have to admit I have never had a problem with getting my kids to eat their vegetables. As a matter of fact, the problem I had was keeping them from eating all the vegetables out of the garden and not leaving any for the rest of the family. This was especially true with cherry tomatoes and Swiss chard.

At this point, I know you are shaking your head in disbelief but…….the only salvation I had with these two vegetables was one, to fence the cherry tomatoes off and two, only grow the white-stemmed Swiss chard. While all Swiss chard is delicious, my daughter thought the colored stem variety was candy for garden fairies and would eat it up raw before nightfall.

Now that you know my Swiss chard story, let’s learn how to grow it for your own garden fairies and/or vegetable lover.

Swiss chard is a cool season green that should be planted in the spring and fall. When planning on growing this green for a spring harvest, you can either directly seed into the prepared garden space two weeks prior to your local frost free date. If you want to harvest your Swiss chard a little bit sooner, start your green indoors three to four weeks prior to your local frost free date. But since there really is not that much difference in time, I have found that seeding directly into the garden in the spring is the best approach.

On the other hand, if you want a fall crop you will need to plan to start your seeds indoors 10 weeks prior to your local frost free date. To prevent plant shock, make sure to harden off your seedlings four weeks prior to the date that you plan to plant your Swiss chard in your prepared garden.

When it comes to directly planting your Swiss chard seed, the first step is to prepare the garden space. You will need to loosen the soil and incorporate a large amount of organic matter into the soil. While you can broadcast the seed, it is better to mark rows with either powdered milk or use the string and stake method. Next, pull out your ruler and begin the planting process. Swiss chard seeds initially need to be spaced three inches apart at a ½ depth. Once all the seeds have been planted, mist the soil surface until the soil is evenly moist.

Continue to monitor soil moisture until the Swiss chard dies due to heat or cold.

After the seeds have germinated, you will need to thin the seedlings so that there is 12 inches between each plant. When doing this process, do not pull the plants out instead cut them to ground level with scissors.

If you started your plants indoors, space your seedlings so that there are 12 inches between each plant.


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Product Review: iPhone Plant Light Meter

Written by Mindy on March 24th, 2018

Ok, now there is a technology that can answer the burning question every gardener has when it comes to indoor light. Is it very low, low, medium, or high? While the latter two may seem simple to answer, the very low to low can be confusing. What is the big hype about the light requirement? Well, believe it or not, improper sun exposure is a leading cause of plant death, which ties with overwatering. The problem is this, if your plant does not receive enough light it will grow spindly and the stem will continue to be smaller and smaller as the plant tries to reach more light. The leaf nodes will also be spaced farther and farther apart. Once your plant reaches this point, the only thing you can do is take a cutting and start over.

iphone.plant.meterOn the other hand, too much light can burn it up like a piece of paper in a campfire. To prevent either one of these situations, one must know what level of light you have in your planned space and now you can find out with just an app called “Plant Light Meter.”

How this app works is simple. You aim the camera on your phone at the natural light source and take a “picture.” From this “picture” the amount of light is measured and classified as very low, low, medium, and high. All of this with a simple click of your phone camera and the guesswork is done for you.

Another wonderful feature to this app is what if you do not know what light level is required for your houseplant. Well, this app has a data base by which you can search for your plant and its light requirement. Keep in mind though that there is no way of encapsulating all the houseplants in the world so you may find that your plant is not listed.

As wonderful as this app is there are a few problems. First, it only works on IPhones, which I do not have and had to borrow one to test the app out. Second, this app can give a beginning gardener a bit of falsehood when it comes to measuring the light. As outdoor light can change as trees leaf out or fall due to seasonal change, so can the indoor environment.  A windowsill that was once consider high light can change with the tree right outside the window leafs out and shades that space. While an experienced gardener knows this, one less knowledgeable may not think about this fact.

All in all, this is a fun gardening app to play with. It is inexpensive but do not solely depend on technology to read the sun.


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Guide to Growing the Zebra Plant

Written by Mindy on March 14th, 2018

Looking for a houseplant that is hard to kill? Well, if the answer is yes then you need the Zebra plant (Hawothiopsis altenala). This is a tough little succulent that can survive even when conditions are not ideal. While you may guess where the “zebra” part of the name comes from, the best part beyond its easy care, if the fact that it adds texture to a singular planting or cactus garden. Past the white stripes on the plant, it also has pointy leaves that add visual interest.

growing.the.zebra.plantWhen it comes to grow the Zebra plant, the process is simple and begins with the soil selection. Since this plant is a succulent, it does require a well draining soil. The best choice is a planting medium that is especially designed for succulents and cactuses. If you cannot find one, do not worry you can make your own. This is simply done by combining an all purpose potting soil with coarse sand at a one to one ratio. If you have not already selected your container, this is the time but…..keep in mind that you only need a small one if you are using the Zebra plant as a specimen. The reason for the small pot size is the fact that this plant grows very slowly.

Once that is done, clean your pot, add drainage material and fill half way with the planting medium. Now you are ready to remove your Zebra plant from its container and plant.

As stated before, the Zebra plant is hard to kill. It loves bright sunlight so the best location is a sunny windowsill but it can tolerate darker environments that receive indirect sunlight.  If you are to kill your Zebra plant, the easiest way is to overwater and/or getting the leaves wet. When it comes to watering this succulent, you will want to check the soil’s moisture first. Yes, there are meters that can be bought to test the soil moisture but you are actually born with the best meter. What is it? Your finger and it can tell you everything you need to know. To use this technique, just push your finger down into the planting medium and pull straight up. If your finger comes out dry then you need to water. On the other hand, if it appears covered in soil then do not water.

When it comes to watering, do not just throw water on the plant. As I stated before, one of the ways to kill this plant is to get the leaves wet. Because of the shape of the leaves, water easily pools in between the leaves. This pooling will eventually cause the leaves to rot. To prevent this, only water the soil. Continue to add water until you see moisture coming out of the drainage hole.


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