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Features (Green Living)

One-step potting

Larger seeds — such as those of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplants, marigolds, peppers, tomatoes and zinnias — can be direct seeded into the containers in which they will grow until they are ready to be transplanted into the garden. This eliminates the shock associated with transplanting. Direct seeding requires more space initially, but these large seeds do not require the tender care essential in germinating small seeds.
    They will germinate easily providing you keep the rooting medium moist but not wet.
    The container size you select for direct seeding will depend on the rate of growth of the species and the size you want the plant at transplant time. For most vegetable transplants and most flowering plants, three- to four-inch pots will be adequate.
    However, to produce tomato plants or pepper plants with fruit already well formed by the time you transplant them in the garden, you need two stages. To produce such plants, direct seed into three-inch pots. When the plants are eight to 10 inches tall, transplant them into six- to 10-inch pots. Transplant them before the roots circle the inside walls of the three-inch pots.
    To start all these larger seeds, fill the three-inch pots with commercial potting medium such as Pro-Mix, Sunshine Mix, Metro Mix or Farfard Mix to the top edge of each pot. Unless the seed packet indicates that seed germination is 100 percent, which is highly unlikely, place at least two seeds in the middle of each pot and press them in the soil lightly with your fingers. If you are using seeds that you stored from previous years, sow at least three seeds in each pot. As seeds age, germination is reduced.
    Irrigate each pot thoroughly until excess water drains from the bottom.
    Seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, pak choi and lettuce germinate best at temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees. Sow them in March to be tall enough to transplant into the garden in early to mid-April while temperatures are cool. To prevent sunscald, acclimate the plants by placing them in trays outdoors under light shade for at least a week before transplanting them to the garden.
    Seeds of tomatoes and peppers germinate best at temperatures near 80 degrees. Soon after the seeds have geminated, place them in full sun. Never allow them to dry out.
    Because seeds of peppers, both hot and sweet, are slow to germinate, they should be sown in March
    Like tomatoes, seeds of calendula, gazania, gaillardia, marigold, sunflowers and zinnia germinate rapidly and their seedlings develop rapidly. Delay starting these seeds until five or six weeks before you plan to transplant them into the garden.
    If you wish to grow your plants organically, blend any of the potting mixes with one-third by volume compost such as crab or lobster waste compost, which will provide all the nutrients the plants need until they are ready to be transplanted into the garden. Otherwise, within six weeks of germination, you will need to initiate a liquid fertilizer program.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Transplanting seedlings

The sooner you can transplant seedlings after they germinate, the better they can survive and continue growing. Delay transplanting your seedlings after they have become crowded and have true leaves, and you’ll get stunting, resulting in slower growth.
    The first green leaf-like structures you see on seedlings are called cotyledons. The cotyledons contain all the energy necessary for germination and the development of the first true leaves. To minimize transplant shock, transplant seedlings soon after the first true leaves appear.
    Small plants grow rapidly, and the sooner you transplant them the faster they grow. Transplant bedding plant seedlings into individual three- or four-inch pots in cell packs such as 804. Metro-Mix, Sunshine Mix, Farfard Mix or Pro-Mix can be used as a transplant medium. These commercial blends have sufficient fertilizer to supply the needs of the transplants for six weeks. Eliminate the need for later fertilizer by blending one-third by volume compost made from lobster or crab waste with the commercial mix.
    Your growing medium must be moist, neither wet nor dry. Using the point of a plant label or the point of a knife, lift each seedling or clump of seedlings from their growing medium. With the same instrument, separate the clump of seedlings into individual plants. Using your fingers, lift each seedling by gently grasping the cotyledon. Never lift young seedlings by grasping the stem. The stem is the permanent part of the plant while the cotyledons are only temporary structures engineered to drop from the stem as soon as the plant becomes well established. If you accidently squeeze the stem, you can permanently stunt the plant’s growth.
    At this point of development, the seedling will require full sun. Minimum temperatures should not drop below 65 degrees. The containers should be irrigated only when warm and dry to a fingertip pressed lightly on the surface of several containers.
    Consider conditioning the plants by placing them outdoors in partial shade for at least a week before transplanting them into the garden.  
    Seeds of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers and lettuce should be sown now, from late February through early March. Seeds of tomatoes should be sown approximately five weeks before they are to be transplanted into the garden — unless you desire to transplant tomato plants with tomatoes already attached to the stem.
    A certain amount of pride comes with growing your own bedding plants from seeds.

Coming next week: One-step potting.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Here’s what to sow when

It’s time to start on your garden.    
    Sow slow-germinating small seeds inside in late February through March. These include begonia, celery, impatient, petunia, snapdragon, etc. These small seed plants are not only slow to germinate but slow to grow.
    Wait until March to sow larger seeded plants. Broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi and pac choi should be sown so that the plants will be tall enough to transplant into the garden in early to mid-April while temperatures are cool. The seeds of these plants also germinate and grow best in cooler temperatures. To prevent sunscald, acclimate the plants by placing them in trays outdoors under light shade for at least a week before transplanting them into the garden.

What’s Next for Forced Bulbs?

Q  My forced bulbs, amaryllis and paperwhites, have finished flowering. What can I do to bring them back next year?
    –Sandra Olivetti Martin

A  Are the bulbs in gravel or in soil in pots? If they are in gravel, plant them in a mix of half potting soil-half compost, put them near a window facing south and keep them growing until you can plant them outdoors in full sun come spring. In soil, give them some liquid fertilizer. Next fall after the leaves have died back, dig up the bulbs, plant them in pots, place them near the foundation of the house on the north side and mulch heavily with leaves held in place with chicken wire. Near early December, bring in a few pots of potted bulbs and start forcing them. Do not fertilize them again until they have flowered.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

    Because seeds of peppers, both hot and sweet, are slow to germinate, they should be sown in March, under 80-degree temperatures. Pepper seeds require two to three weeks to germinate and seedlings are slow to grow initially.
    Seeds of tomatoes, calendula, gazania, gaillardia, marigold, sunflower and zinnia germinate rapidly, and the seedlings also develop rapidly. Seeds of these species can be delayed five or six weeks before they are transplanted into the garden. This prevents the seedlings from becoming root bound, which will permanently stunt their growth. If you want to grow extra large plants, start them in five- and six-inch containers.
    Many seed catalogs publish seeding schedules, but you must know your climate zone and growing conditions, such as growing in a cool or heated greenhouse or on the window sill. The heated greenhouse in full sun provides the ideal growing condition, while the window sill is the least desirable situation for growing plants, especially those that require full sun.
    If you are growing plants on a window sill, rotate them daily (weekly if that’s the best you can do) to prevent them from leaning toward the light. Follow the same rule if you have a lean-to greenhouse that faces south.
 

That means you forgot to feed them

Are your azalea leaves yellowing and dropping? The loss is more than winter’s toll. You could have prevented it if you had mulched your azaleas with one or two inches of compost in early to mid-September or applied one-quarter cup of an ammonium-based fertilizer soon after the first frost.
    Lacking that help, nitrogen is now translocating from the older leaves to the flower and vegetative buds at the ends of the branches. During late fall and winter, buds are enlarging in preparation for spring when the flower buds open and vegetative buds produce new stems. If the roots of plants cannot provide sufficient nitrogen to the ends of the branches after the plants have stopped growing in the fall, nitrogen from the older leaves will migrate out of these leaves and move up the stem to where terminal flower and vegetative buds develop. Nitrogen is the only plant nutrient that can move about after its initial distribution when plants were in active growth. The translocation of nitrogen is most active in the fall when temperatures are above freezing.
    The leaves of white-flowered azaleas yellow before falling. The leaves of red- and pink-flowered azaleas generally turn red to purple-red just prior to leaf drop.
    This same problem occurs with American holly, especially female hollies that produce an abundance of berries. The production of holly berries requires an abundance of nitrogen. If the roots cannot supply the nitrogen needed, buds will rob the nutrient from the leaves. However, with hollies, the nitrogen is translocated rather uniformly from all of the existing leaves, which causes the uniform yellowing of the foliage. Under severe nitrogen-stress, hollies will drop leaves extensively.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

Get out and dig to be ready for spring

If you did a good job of building your compost pile last fall, now is a good time to stimulate more microbial activity.
    Just before Christmas, temperatures in my compost pile dropped below 100 degrees from a high of 130 degrees measured just three weeks earlier. This falling temperature is due partially to a drop in surrounding ambient air and partially to a lower rate of microbial activity.
    Microbial activity in composting can fall because of low levels of oxygen, excessive dryness, less available carbon or fewer sources of nitrogen. For most home composting projects, low levels of oxygen are unlikely unless your compost pile is taller and wider than 12 feet. Exchange of gasses is likely to be fine as leaves are bulky and do not pack easily. Thus, compost cooling is most likely due to a sudden drop in ambient air or dryness.
    To check for moisture, thrust your hand into the compost and squeeze firmly. If the composting waste feels wet like a sponge, there is adequate moisture. If the compost feels on the dry side, drag out the hose and wet the pile down with a heavy stream of water. After the compost appears adequately wet, use either a grub-hoe or digging spade, going as deep into the pile as possible while adding more water. The excess water will drain deeper into the composting mass.
    If possible, empty the composting bin and wet the waste before re-filling the bin. Digging into the composting materials will grind the larger particles into smaller pieces, stimulating greater microbial activity. Ground leaves compost faster than whole leaves.
    Within a week after you’ve reformed the pile, temperatures within it should increase. However, if your compost pile is less than three feet by three by three, it is not likely to give you much temperature rise due to a lack of mass.

Here’s your recipe for making them into rich compost

Don’t bag those leaves for the county to collect. Use them in making your own compost. It takes about a bushel of leaves to make a gallon of quality compost, which contains more nutrients and fiber than peat moss and is less acetic.
    Yard debris compost is made by blending grass clippings with fall-harvested leaves. The compost is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium and lots of important trace elements. Because the nitrogen from the leaves drains back into the stems of the branches from which they fell, yard debris compost contains less than one percent nitrogen, which is contributed mostly by the grass clipping.

Ancient Ailing Oaks

Q    I live in the St. Margaret’s area near the Bay Bridge. In my neighborhood, many, if not most, of the old oak trees are dead or dying. These are original trees in an area that was never farmed; I’m sure many of them are well over 100 years old. It is so distressing since they are beautiful and I love them and because it costs $2,000 to $3,000 to have them cut down. Do you know why they are dying? Is there anything I can do to save them? I think they are red oaks, though my tree identification skills are poor.
    Thanks so much for your help. I read your column every week and thoroughly enjoy it.
–Linda Williams, Annapolis   

A There is no way that I can determine the cause of death without seeing the conditions in which they are growing. I have cherry bark oak trees in my yard that are over 150 years old. I keep them healthy by vertical mulching every four to five years. When I moved here 22 years ago, they were in a sever state of decline, but after being vertically mulched, they revived. I suggest that you contact Mark Emmel at 301-345-2981. Mark is a good arborist and is familiar with vertical mulching.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

    Since grass clippings are not readily available in the fall, use this recipe to hasten the composting of leaves so that you will have compost ready for next spring:
    1. Build a compost bin that is at least five feet in diameter using snow fencing, turkey wire, pallets or such. The larger the bin, the better. Place the bin where it will not accumulate water.
    2. Fill a five-gallon pail with a shovel full of garden soil, one-half cup dish detergent and a cup of urea or ammonium nitrate fertilizer; top off with water. Stir thoroughly to create a soupy mud. The detergent helps wet the leaves, and the nitrogen-containing fertilizer replaces the grass clippings in providing the nitrogen microorganisms needed to build their bodies and digest the carbon in the leaves. The garden soil provides the necessary microorganisms, and the mud also helps wet the leaves.
    3. Place 12 to 18 inches of leaves on the bottom of the bin. First, pass the lawnmower through the leaves to chop them up and hasten the composting process.
    4. Use an empty coffee can or the like to wet the leaves with the muddy water. Before dipping into the muddy water, stir thoroughly to maintain a suspension.
    5. With a garden hose misting nozzle, wet the leaves thoroughly, washing some of the muddy water down through the layer.
    6. Repeat steps 3, 4 and 5 until the bin is full.
    7. Check the bin weekly. The composting process can be hastened by dumping your dirty dishwater over the surface of the compost pile. The detergent and grease will help wet the leaves.
    If you need exercise to stay in shape, mix the compost pile by turning it inside-out. Turning the pile in late January or February provides additional aeration, chopping the leaves and eliminating dry pockets that can occur in the initial building.

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