Monday, September 26, 2011

Make Your Own Planting Mix

Note: for all recipes, coir can be substituted for peat moss.


The Rodale Instute Mix (organic):
Finely screened compost  4 parts
Peat Moss  2 parts
Perlite  1 part
Vermiculite 1 part


Another organic mix (from the book, "Rodale Organic Gardening Solutions"):

shredded peat moss  1 bushel
perlite or vermiculite  1 bushel
ground limestone  1/2 cup
bloodmeal  1 cup
colloidal phosphate  1 cup
greensand   1 cup

(1 bushel = 1.24 cubic feet)

Container mix for herbaceous and woody ornamentals

Equal parts by volume of:
coarse sand
peat moss or milled pine bark 


Cornell University Modified Peat-Lite Planting Mix:(especially good for seedlings)
for large jobs (1 part=one full wheelbarrow, about 4.5 cu. ft.)
Peat Moss 2 parts
Perlite  1 part
Vermiculite  1 part
Dolomitic Lime (raises pH) 4 cups
Superphosphate (0-20-0) 5 cups
Osmocote or other slow release fertilizer (19-6-12)  8 cups

for small jobs (1 part= a 32 oz. coffee can)
Peat Moss 2 parts
Perlite  1 part
Vermiculite  1 part
Dolomitic Lime (raises pH) 1 tsp.
Superphosphate (0-20-0) 2 tsp.
Osmocote or other slow release fertilizer (19-6-12)  1 Tbs.


Note: when using peat moss, pre-moisten the peat moss to aid moisture retention. In a hose-end sprayer, put one tablespoon liquid dish detergent in the jar. Set sprayer to mix one tablespoon per gallon of water. Thoroughly water the peat moss with this solution before mixing with other ingredients.


Purchasing a commercial potting soil or planting mix?

• Select mixes high in bark, forest materials, or spaghnum peat with vermiculite or perlite.

• Thoroughly leach any potting soil before placing seed or plant material in the mix. Leaching will reduce soluble salts to acceptable levels in most mixes.

•Fertilize with a soluble fertilizer according to manufacturer's directions within two weeks after plants are growing in the new potting/planting mix or potting soil. This will replace leached nutrients and those taken up by the plants.


The difference between a potting/planting mix and potting soil?
There are no hard and fast rules. Ask 100 experts, you may get 100 different answers. Generally speaking, if the bag says "soil", it probably contains soil and sand, along with ingredients such as perlite, vermiculite, peat moss or bark.

When you buy a garden product with the word "soil" - especially at a low price - you are increasing the chances of buying someone else's problems: a package that contains weed seeds, nematodes, fungal diseases, heavy clay, sludge.
Your best bet, as stated above: choose a product high in bark, forest materials, or spaghnum peat with vermiculite or perlite.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Day at the National Heirloom Exposition

For the last three days, the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, CA have been Disneyland for heirloom vegetable heads. The National Heirloom Exposition and Pure Food Fair attracted thousands of spectators and gardeners, most of whom had the same goofy, wide-eyed, jaw-dropped look on their faces when they walked into the Exhibit Hall and saw Squash Mountain, built by Mac Condill of the Great Pumpkin Patch in Illinois.

 Exposition goers were greeted at the main entrance by a huge, ornate pumpkin maze.

The Heirloom Exposition had it all: 250 like-minded vendors, including seed companies, tool companies, organic nurseries; 70 speakers; workshops galore on seed collecting, storing and sharing; movies about the food industry, including "Vanishing of the Bees" and "Food Fight"; food tasting; poultry and farm animal exhibits; bee exhibits; and the largest display of heirloom vegetables in the world: over 2,000 varieties from all over the country!

 This event attracted a large number of teenagers, young adults and young families. 

 This tomato, Pink Berkeley Tie Dye, took first place honors at the recent Kendall-Jackson Tomato Festival.

 Apple varieties more than 100 years old, courtesy of the California Rare Fruit Growers.

 Note to self: plant this next year. Trevor's Golden Beam was my favorite at the tomato tasting on Thursday. More sweet than acidic, but still had full tomato flavor.

                       A red meat watermelon RADISH?!?

 These are the hands of master chef Ray Duey. His freestyle carving creations took first prize. These are amazing melons!

                       No shortage of tomatoes here!
Tierra Madre Farm of Santa Cruz County, growers of heirloom fruit trees, demonstrates bud grafting.

 Live bluegrass music, indoors and outdoors

This was the first year for the Heirloom Exposition. Organized by The Petaluma Seed Bank and their parent company, Baker Creek Seeds, this was a not-for-profit event, with proceeds donated to special projects, such as school gardens. If they return next year, make it a point to attend.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Now's The Time to Harvest Herbs

Gardeners are in harvest mode this time of year, gathering tomatoes, peppers, pickles, grapes and other fruit for canning, freezing or drying. 

Don't overlook the herb garden when preserving your garden goodies.


Great for art or craft projects such as wreath making and potpourri, creating oils and brewing tea, dried herbs from your garden are also a bargain for your kitchen spice rack. Rose Loveall-Sale of Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville offers these tips for harvesting your herbs at the peak of perfection:

• Pick herbs during the morning, when the flavor and aroma are best. 

• September and October are the best months for harvesting herbs. Although your herb garden will look outstanding all the way through October, the cooler weather of mid and late fall will diminish the herbs' potency.
• Harvest only from healthy plants. Avoid drought stressed herbs.
• Prune herbs from the top of the plant, harvesting the younger stems and leaves. 

• Don't wash herb cuttings until you are ready to use them. Or, overhead water the plants the day before harvesting to wash off the dirt. 

• If using fresh herbs for cooking, don't damage the leaves before you are ready to cook. Cut whole stems, keeping the leaves intact. 

• For drying, tie herb branches in one-inch bunches and hang upside down for about a week, out of the sun in a cool, dry place. Then, store the dried herbs in glass jars or plastic containers in a dark place. If using a dehydrator, use the lowest temperature setting.

Loveall-Sale also recommends three culinary herbs for planting now that will last all winter outdoors: salad burnet, winter savory and Italian oregano


The leaves of salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) have a mild, cucumber flavor and are often used in French dressings. 

The peppery flavor of winter savory (Satureja montana) is more intense than its close relative, summer savory, and is best used in soups and stews. 

Italian oregano (Origanum x majoricum), also known as Italian marjoram, is sweeter than other oreganos and is a staple for seasoning by gourmet cooks.