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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Francis Gouin

Yours if you build a cold frame

You can now pick fresh, crisp ruby-red radishes from your cold frame, as well as spinach, lettuce and green onions. If you have a cold frame, that is. If not, here are instructions so you won’t miss out next year.

Not in natives; Mother Nature knows what she’s doing

Several readers have expressed concern that the warm winter will cause plants to flower and grow. There is no need to worry about native plants in our climate initiating growth or flowering before spring.

Some seeds are worth trying; others you should avoid

My 2011 vegetable garden was the most productive I have ever had. Even as I write this column in early January, I am still harvesting kale, collard greens, kohlrabi, cabbage, mustard greens and Brussels sprouts. I also had the best harvest ever of fall peas, snap beans and carrots.

How to use seed catalogs to best advantage

The seed catalogs have been coming in the mail since early December; most will have been mailed by mid January. Many of the catalogs offer bonuses if you order early. You can save money by purchasing early, and you are guaranteed against having to accept substitutions.     Concentrate on the same catalog to save money on packaging and shipping. If you examine servicing charges closely you will notice that as the sub-total increases, the packaging fees decrease.

Heat and steam mean the microbes are working

The temperature in the middle of my compost pile ranges from 90 to 120 degrees. I measure using a compost thermometer with a 14-inch stem. The height of the pile has been shrinking rapidly, with the center sinking faster than the edges. Temperature and shrinkage tell me that the microbes are feasting, changing those leaves, weeds and grass clippings into compost.

Otherwise winter’s chill will wilt your Christmas blooms

Keep Christmas in bloom by shielding your poinsettias from sudden drops in temperature. Remember, poinsettia are a tropical plant, so a sudden chill below 40 degrees can cause the plant to quickly lose foliage, including the red or white bracks.     At 36 degrees, foliage can be freeze-damaged. Within 24 to 48 hours, tissues between the veins in the leaves will appear water-soaked and turn black-green. There is no recovery.

Stop them now and save yourself extra work come spring

Have you looked at your garden lately? When you do, don’t be surprised if you see chickweed, henbit, annual bluegrass, cranesbill, etc. starting to create a green carpet. Those weeds are pretty small now, but if you don’t get out there and control them, they will be much larger next spring.

How to buy and keep a fresh, fire-safe tree

The best way to purchase a Christmas tree from a corner lot is to buy as soon as the tree lot opens. The longer you wait to purchase that tree, the more water it will lose and the more likely it will become a fire hazard.

Cutting excursions are fun for the family; plus, fresh-cut Christmas trees are safer and smell better

Until 1970, when I published the first directory of Choose and Cut Christmas trees in Maryland, only two growers in the state were marketing their Christmas trees — with limited success — by inviting people to cut their own. Thinking it was a good idea, I convinced another 10 Christmas tree growers to give it a try. The directory was printed using a mimeograph machine and was distributed to local newspapers and county libraries.

Thanks to my garden, we eat fresh and well all year long

This year’s fall vegetable garden has been a success.