Monday, October 2, 2017

Review of the Dirt Doctor

Have you ever accidentally happened upon information that you needed at just the right time? A few weeks ago I had a blast at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA. One workshop I almost missed out on was "Tree Maintenance and Care" with Howard Garrett.  I almost didn't go (end of the day) but our only mature tree had been showing signs of distress and I was also planting several other trees and didn't really know what I was doing. This class really helped.

Please note, I don't get paid any thing from Mr. Garrett or his company nor did I get special permission to write about his methods. This is just my review of the class as well as how I've applied the information to my yard. Also, Mr. Garrett is also known as the "Dirt Doctor" and you can learn a lot from his website: 

Mr Garrett's main theory is that it is very difficult to plant a tree too shallow but it is very easy to plant a tree too deep. He says trees need to show a "flare", that is, you should see the root system starting to branch out away from the trunk. Trees should not look like telephone polls coming out of the ground he says. So, if you have a tree in need of help, here are his three steps.

1. Dig away from the tree till you can see the root flare. You may see some superfluous roots spiraling around the trunk and they should be removed. 
2. Aerate the soil and sprinkle soil amendments over it. He mentioned a few but the only one I remember is Corn Meal. I remembered that one because it was the cheapest. 
3. Make Garrett Juice and spray on the foliage. He generously gives out the recipe so you can make your own. It's an organic plant food. 

So, on my ornamental cherry, I dug out several inches of mulch and soil to expose several roots. I had to remove spiraling roots and then placed decorative rocks to fill in a bit of the hole created without touching them to the trunk or putting them over the roots. I could have made the Garrett Juice but it was so much cheaper to order the concentrate online so that's what I did. I sprayed it on many of the leaves and also created a ground soak to pour around the trunk. I've bought corn meal but haven't used it yet. I won't really know how well it works till next spring though.

How about you? Have you tried Mr. Garrett's advice? What advice do you have for tree care?

Friday, September 22, 2017

How to Perk Up Your Fall Garden

For those of you ambitious gardeners that planted for a fall crop to extend you harvest, this post is for you. If you haven't started your fall veggies yet, then here in central Pennsylvania it's too late to plant. Except for garlic and perennial onions of course, but that's another post. However, if you've planted lettuce, spinach, peas, beets, etc then I'm here to help.

So, fall gardening is all about managing resources. The days are getting shorter, so sunlight is more scarce. The weather tends to be drier in the fall so water is of concern. If you fertilized your soil in the spring, it may be in need of a boost. All of these things can cause your garden to stall. If you're disappointed in how your veggies are doing, then follow these steps.

First, eliminate competition for resources. That means be thorough with pulling out weeds. The good news is that weeds aren't as aggressive now as they are in the spring but be sure to get rid of the ones that are there. Also, it means thin out your seedlings more than you usually do. Seedlings packed together too closely will be stunted in growth.

Second, you can't do anything about a lack of sunlight but you can keep your garden beds watered regularly. As I'm writing this, we haven't gotten rain in quite a while so I gave my plants a good shower tonight.

Third, if you haven't fertilized it recently, now is a great time to side dress your plants. That means putting fertilizer or well rotted compost alongside your plants. Don't put them right on the plants as it may burn them. Your plants will thank you for it.

Do you enjoy fall gardening? Feel free to post your tips in the comments below!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Garden Center Review: Ashcombe Farm and Green House

Every once in a while it's good to try something new, so here's my first garden center review. Anyone who's into gardening loves a good garden center so here's my take on Ashcombe Farm and Greenhouse in Mechanicsburg, PA. Please note I'm not getting paid by them or any other garden center to write reviews.

So, I'd heard about Ashcombe's from my co-workers back when I was a full time florist. However, I just assumed it was a small green house in a field some where. Out of desperation for some winter savory, I decided to follow the signs off of route 15 in Cumberland county and see if they carried unusual herbs. Boy, was I surprised to find a massive barn encompassing a gift shop, a cafe/ice cream parlor, a winery booth and more. Outside of the barn was several green houses with the largest selection of plants I've seen anywhere. They also have a picnic area, a children's garden and a separate area for bushes and pond plants.

If you're looking for a great selection, Ashcombe has it. Their herb selection was amazing. (Yes, they have winter savory). Imagine whole rooms full of tomato, pepper, and any other kind of vegetable and flower plant you can think of. Having a two year old, I was a big fan of the children's garden which is a bit rough around the edges but my daughter didn't notice. She loved it. The picnic area is very pretty and we really enjoyed the ice cream parlor too.

Where there any down sides? Sure. Most of the gift shop was way too expensive for me. It's not the cheapest place to get plants either but if you want an unusual variety then I think it's still worth it. Some plants seemed reasonably priced to me and other seemed too expensive. Also, their clearance plant section was overpriced. If a plant looks that bad, you've got to mark it down more than 25% to get me to buy it.

Getting back to positives, the staff were all helpful and pleasant. They also have a lot of special events, including stuff for kids. Over all, I'd definitely recommend going there but give yourself lots of time and prioritize your budget ahead of time. For more information, check out their website at Have you been to Ashcombe? Feel free to write about your experience below!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Fall Gardening 101

The beginning of August may seem too early to talk about fall but if you want to get into fall gardening, now is the time to start. I don't mean start planning, I mean get out there and plant stuff. If you haven't gotten into fall gardening before, you should try it. Harvesting fresh vegetables in October and November is really great.

First, you have to know when your first frost date is. That's when you're most likely to have a first killing frost. Here in south central PA, the date is October 21st. To find your frost date, go to Look on the seed packets to see how many days they need to ripen. Then you can count backward to figure out when you have to plant them. For instance, I just planted peas and they require 65 days to ripen. So I know I have more than enough time.

Second, you have to plant cold hearty vegetables. Many of the veggies you planted last march will work great now. Great selections  for fall include: peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, and beats. These plants will thrive in cooler temperatures.

Third, do what you can to keep the seeds cool during the hot August days. Probably the hardest part of fall gardening is keeping your seedlings well watered. When the seedlings get three to four inches tall, you can thin them out and mulch them to help keep the soil cool and moist.

As a side note, October is the best time to be planting garlic. It won't ripen till the following July, but it is SO GOOD. So, try some garlic.

And that, my friends, is it. If you want to extend your harvest even longer into the winter, you can use row covers to keep the frost off. It's not hard. It's not expensive. You can do it and enjoy delicious vegetables this fall. Have you ever gotten into fall gardening? Please write about it in the comment section below!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

5 Recent Lessons in Gardening

One of the best things about gardening is that there is always more to learn. I'm always making mistakes but I learn from them and get better. Here are some lessons I've learned so far this year.

1. Don't freak out about a few bugs. My green beans had something eating them early on and I thought about spraying them but they did well despite the bugs and I've been impressed with how many beans I've gotten off them. Vegetable plants are rarely perfect, don't sweat the small stuff.

2. Don't mulch your basil. I tend to mulch everything. Mostly because I don't enjoy weeding or watering and mulching reduces the need to do both. However, basil plants prefer dry soil and will turn yellow if they're too wet. Fortunately, I figured that out before my plants were killed.

3. Don't underestimate cute little furry things. Jeeze, those darn rabbits. My daughter thinks they're so cute but they need to stay the heck away from my garden. I figured on the lettuce, but can't they leave my little apple tree alone? Darn things.

4. Speaking of rabbits, don't try using moth balls to get rid of them. I'm cheap and lazy so putting moth balls under my shed to get the rabbits out sounded like a great idea. Yeah, now the shed stinks so bad you can't stay in there for more than a minute or so and the smell waifs out into the yard at times too. Sigh.

5. On the plus side, I've learned that wild currants are delicious. Seriously, everyone should be growing them. Even my two year old couldn't get enough.

So, what have you learned this year in your garden? Feel free to share your thoughts - and your ideas for getting rid of rabbits, in the comments below.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Growing, Harvesting and Preserving Parsley

If you follow my blog, you know I really enjoy herbs. One herb most gardeners consider essential is parsley and it's easy to grow. There's no reason why anyone can't grow their own parsley even if you live in an apartment. It tastes great in soups and with chicken and has other uses and growing your own is much cheaper than buying it fresh at the store every time you want to cook with it.

Now, if you want instant gratification, you can buy plants everywhere from Lowe's to the grocery store. However, I'm cheap so I prefer to buy seeds. I've had no problem growing parsley from seeds, it just takes a little longer for the seeds to sprout. Be patient! Parsley has no unusual needs, just decent soil, water and full sun.

The plants on the bottom left corner are healthy parsley plants grown from seeds. The flowering plant is a second year plant that is just going to seed without much in the way of leaves to harvest. 

One interesting fact about Parsley is that it's a biennial - meaning it lives two years. If you grow it outside, it will come back for a second year. However, when it comes back the second year, it will just set seeds without much of the foliage you want for eating. The only reason to encourage the plant the second year is if you want to harvest the seeds. My approach is to buy a small packet of seeds every spring and plant a few weeks before the final frost date.

To harvest parsley, just pick the leaves you need for the recipe you;re making when you need them. Parsley will stay fresh in the fridge for several days, especially if you put it in water. To dry parsley, just tie them in bunches and hang them upside down in a dry, ventilated, dark place for a few weeks. Easy peasy.

The nice thing about parsley is that it grows great in containers as well, so if all you have is a sunny windowsill, then you can still grow it. Do you grow your own parsley? Feel free to write about it in the comments below!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pennsylvania Pickled Beets and Eggs

One thing you won't ever see on this blog are a bunch of recipes. However, when it comes to traditional ways to use your garden produce, I'm all in. I grew up with pickled beets in Michigan but the egg part I picked up since moving to Pennsylvania. With a little bit of thought I was able to use my great grandmother's pickling recipe and add the hard boiled eggs at the end. Here is how you too can make pickled eggs and beets.

First off, this blog is about gardening and right now is a great time to be harvesting beets in central PA. My family has always used Detroit Dark Red Beets but I'm sure you could substitute the beets of your choice. Pick enough beets to fill a regular sized stock pot, scrub them down and cut off the root tips and greens (please don't throw your greens away, they are delicious!).

Second, boil the beets till the skins are loose, about an hour. Strain the beets and let them cool before removing their skins.

Third, cut the beets to uniform size before returning them to the pot. Don't get too fussy about it.

Fourth, add 2 1/2 cups sugar, 1 cup apple cider vinegar and 3 cups of water and mix it all up. Boil for another hour or until the beets are the consistency you want.

Fifth, hard boil 12 eggs and peel off the shells.

Finally, take a 2 quart jar and take turns adding beets and eggs then poor the pickling juice over it all.

Refrigerate for at least 24 hour and enjoy!