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Monthly Archives: March 2009

What’s Your Favorite Chore?

Please leave a comment identifying the gardening chore that you enjoy above all others.

As spring slowly gets rolling in my home kitchen garden, I’m doing a few gardening tasks that I particularly enjoy. I’ve finished pruning my fruit trees, and have made about three dozen grafts (here, in reverse order, are posts in which I wrote about pruning and grafting apple trees). I love pruning and grafting because it gets me outdoors in trees while most people are still indoors awaiting warmer weather. There are few times when unadulterated sounds of nature are so audible in my yard.

To pollinate squash or pumpkins, I pick a male flower, tear off its petals, and rub the stamen/anther structure around on the pistols of any open fruiting flowers. Since I started doing this, my squash and pumpkins in my home kitchen garden have been reliably prolific.

With the temperature finally climbing, I plan to lay out some rows in my garden, and start peas, spinach, lettuce, and, perhaps, cilantro during the weekend. The prospect of working in the garden has me a little jazzed, but I admit that I don’t care for some spring gardening chores. I don’t till the whole garden; I turn soil directly where I’m planting. However, I also dig out every weed that I ignored through last year’s growing season. I don’t enjoy weeding, so I reserve the job for early spring when I have greatest enthusiasm for gardening.

Chore Anticipation

As I’ve completed my cherished late-winter tasks, and I anticipate the early spring weeding and planting, I realize I’m looking forward to some specific gardening moments that won’t come until later in the season. Harvesting just about anything is right up there on my list of favorites. Even better is cooking with the harvested produce. I especially love to make new potatoes and peas (I meant to share this mid-winter, but now it’ll have to wait until I’m picking peas), and nothing beats this awesome tomato salad.

Still, there’s one gardening chore that I anticipate more than any other: pollinating squash and pumpkins.

Growing Squash and Pumpkins

A pumpkin surrounded by squash and (shudder) gourds from my home kitchen garden. In a moment of weakness, I planted gourds one season and they came back on their own for two more years. My attitude now: if I’m not going to eat it, I’m not planting it.

In my first year growing squash and pumpkins, I felt some despair when I’d notice a female flower blossom and then, a few days later, fall off the plant along with the fruit. Eventually, I guessed that only pollinated squash and pumpkin flowers grow into fruit, so I initiated the morning pollination patrol.

In the cool of each summer morning, I pluck a male squash flower and strip away its petals. Then I wade among the squash plants, and use the stamen/anther of the flower I hold to paint the pistols of any female flowers I find in bloom.

I listen to birds sing, I watch bees work, I enjoy textures and aromas of the vegetable plants, and I bask in the cool that will soon wilt under the rising sun. It takes about three minutes to spot all the squash flowers and pollinate the ones that fruit. Still, it takes about a half-hour for me to return from this gardening chore that I most enjoy.

What’s Yours?

Please share! Leave a comment describing the one garden chore that you enjoy above all others.

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How did a high school student use lemons to research gardening-related issues?

I recently attended a high school science fair that featured student’s experiments in biology. I was pleased to find many exhibits of interest to anyone who grows a home kitchen garden. Here are some things I learned:

The Best Miracle Grow Potting Mix

One exhibit described an experiment involving flowering cabbage growing in three types of Miracle Grow potting mix. Of the three, Miracle Grow Organic Choice produced the tallest seedlings, while Miracle Grow Potting Mix and Miracle Grow With Moisture Control produced shorter seedlings.

It was clear that the seedlings had received too little light during the experiment, but the difference in growth was obvious. If you’re shopping Miracle Grow, go with their Organic Choice product.

Soil Treatments

An exhibit showed the results of sprouting peas in soil that had undergone various treatments. Starting with one type of soil, the experimenter had baked some soil, amended some with soot and ash, amended other soil with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and amended still other soil with activated coal.

Peas grew best in the soil with added activated coal and worst in the baked soil. Soil amended with soot and ash or with nitrogen-fixing bacteria supported the peas adequately. But were I mixing soil based on the experiment’s results, I’d add activated coal to my potting mix.

The Best Fertilizer for Young Garden Beans

One exhibit described garden beans having been fed with various mixes of fertilizers. Apparently, there were five sets of seeds or young seedlings. Each set received its own fertilizer mix ranging from no additional fertilizer to a 30-10-10 mix, a 12-55-6 mix, a 10-10-10 mix, and an 11-35-15 mix. The experimenter’s conclusion? Fertilizer hinders the growth of a plant.

Save the Lemon Juice for Cooking

To simulate acid rain, one experimenter mixed lemon juice with the water given to bean plants. Some plants received water with a ph of 2, some received water with a ph of 3-to-4, some received water with a ph of 4-to-5, and some received water with a ph of 6. After 10 days of these treatments, the low-ph plants actually shrank while the plants receiving water of neutral ph grew well. What would I conclude? If I use lemon juice on my vegetables, I’ll wait till I’m cooking them.

From a high school science experiment, it’s not clear which artificial lights are best for beans… but whatever type of bulb you use, it’s hard to provide enough.

Artificial Light

In one experiment, some beans grew under halogen lights, others under black light, others under grow lights, and still others under fluorescent lights. Actually, the beans under black light and grow lights didn’t grow; the ones under halogen lights grew very well. But from reading the researcher’s comments, I wouldn’t make decisions about lighting from these results. The plants and their respective lighting were in rooms all over the house—temperature differences may have been a greater factor than lighting differences. Also, apparently there was no control over watering; some plants might simply have dried out while others received adequate water. It’s helpful that the researchers described their methods and highlighted possible flaws.

An Engaging Hour

I spent an hour reviewing the science experiment displays and would have been happy spending more time. I learned about compost, about the effects of filtering light on plant growth, about soil nutrients, about germination rates, about soil types, and about insects (including honey bees).

My favorite exhibit featured a question in bold characters across the display: How do you make flowers last? The experiment had to do with prolonging the health of cut flowers, but I couldn’t help answering that leading question in my own twisted way: If you want to make flowers last, make everything else first.

 

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There are not yet blossoms on my apple trees… and if there were there’d be no bees to pollinate them. This year, my bees will miss the apple blossoms, but next season, they’ll be first in line.

Some weeks ago I started this discussion about getting beehives for your home kitchen garden. Then, I posted a video that describes a starter beekeeping kit and I promised more videos that show fine points about assembling parts of a beehive, and that show how to install a mail-order package of bees in a hive.

If you’re in hardiness zone 6 or below (farther North), plan to start bees in May. Unless there’s a local retailer who sells hives, you should order gear now so you have time to assemble it in April before your bees arrive.

I’ve browsed dozens of videos on YouTube in search of some to help explain beekeeping and show how easy it is to do. There are plenty, each with its own quirks. The two I’ve embedded here show typical steps to starting hives. I’ll be starting at least one hive in May, and will share my experiences as they unfold. But this blog isn’t about beekeeping, so, as the growing season approaches, I’ll present other topics of use to all home kitchen gardeners.

Whether you’re starting bees in May along with me, or visiting to learn more about growing, eating, and preserving your own produce, please visit often, leave comments and questions to move the discussion along, subscribe to my RSS feed, and bookmark to show your support. I’m looking forward to a productive season in my home kitchen garden as I hope you are in yours. In the meantime, please enjoy these videos about beekeeping.

A Frame and Foundation

This video shows a man assembling a frame and installing foundation on it. You’ll see such assembled frames in the next video as the beekeeper there fills a hive body with them.

Low-Impact Installation

I like the installation technique in the following video. Traditional beekeepers often bang the bees around severely and shake them into the hive. This video shows a gentle aternative: putting the shipping container into the hive box and letting the bees emerge from it in their own time. If you use this approach, you’ll need to go in in a week or two, remove the shipping box, and insert frames to fill the space.

If you don’t like to get stung by bees, WEAR PROTECTIVE GEAR! There’s no shame in it, despite the daring beekeepers who work without gloves and bonnets. I’ll be dressed heavily when I work my bees!

 

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