Author: Stefanie Yeung

Some Watering Tips

On Wednesday, Alex gave a fantastic and much-needed presentation on watering techniques.

He listed something factors to consider:

  • Sun v. shade
  • Morning v. afternoon sun
  • Reflected heat from pavement, buildings, etc.
  • Type of soil (sandier, lighter soil needs to be watered more; clay-like, heavier soil needs to be watered less)
  • Type of plant
  • Plant age
  • Mulch
  • Weather conditions (sun, wind, etc.)

The soil should always remain somewhat moist, like a damp paper towel. It should not be crumbly and dry but also should not be dripping wet. You can test this out by feeling the surface of the soil.

Young plants need more consistent moisture closer to the surface to penetrate shallow roots. They should be watered lightly and more frequently.

Some recommended techniques include bottom watering, as watering from the top could kill seeds. However, our garden mentor, Professor Ellmore, says that as long as the seeds are watered with a watering can that has a sprinkler head, plants should be fine. After all, seeds have to live through rainstorms in nature.

Also, plants must not be overwatered because damping off could cause fungi and diseases, which can adversely affect or even kill new seedlings. Chamomile tea is supposedly a holistic anti-fungal natural remedy that can be sprayed on soil. Garlic serves the same purpose.

For mature plants, here are some watering techniques:

  • Slow, deep watering: it builds deeper roots. This sometimes means 2 rounds of watering. In our garden, we often do a round of watering, do some other garden chores, then come back and water some more.
  • Water close to the base: this prevents splashing , which can cause fungi in the soil to spread to the plants.
  • Avoid leaves: this avoids sunburn, which can occur on very sunny days if there are droplets of water on the leaves. Water on leaves also encourages fungal diseases to attack leaves, buds, flowers, and fruits.

Alex also noted that people tend to underwater, not overwater.

Happy gardening!

George Ellmore Shares Some Gardening Wisdom

Last Wednesday, Professor George Ellmore gave a wonderful talk about the life of plants, how and when to plant seeds, and his experiences as a gardener in Massachusetts.

Ellmore is a professor in the Biology Department at Tufts University. Not only is he an expert at gardening in New England, but he also does awesome experiments that take gardening where no man has gone before.

He started his talk by walking us through plant life history: the plant spends its first 10 days as a seed. It then takes 2 months for a plant to develop its roots and leaves and 3 months for the plant to flower. After 4 months, the flower is pollinated and the ovary of the flower makes fruits.

Planting in the greenhouse can begin as early as April 1st. The plant only needs warmth (70 degrees F) and humidity. Leafy plants (lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, and cabbage) make leaves in June and continue until November. Fruits (eggplants, okra, tomatoes, zucchinis, and peppers) are hardest to grow because they require the longest duration of care. Mild winters do not alter this timeline.

Plants in the greenhouse must be checked on at least twice a week. They can be checked by weighing the lightness of the box; if it’s light, the plant needs to be watered. It takes about a month for plants to outgrow their container and for the soil to be depleted of food if 4-6 seeds are planted per container, so plants should not stay more than one month in the greenhouse. Their growth slows down as plants run out of food and run into each other.

When plants are transferred, they should be dipped in water so that the dirt dissolves away, then picked up by their tops. The roots are delicate and will probably tear, especially at such a young stage.

According to Ellmore, June is an excellent month for gardens because the bugs are not out yet, but by August, the plants will look terrible. Don’t let appearance distract you; all that matters are the fruits, which contain all the sugar of the plant.

The latest to plant is September/October, which will result in a December harvest. The first frost occurs in October, which actually makes plants sweeter because they use their sugar as an antifreeze. If spinach is planted in Sept/Oct, it grows super fast because of the cold, then stops growing in November and sits, sweet and ready to eat.

Ellmore also discussed cold frames, which are simply plastic boxes that keep frost off of plants. Cold frames extend growing season from March to December. He experimented with them this winter and grew surprisingly sweet and delicious cabbages. He warns against glass, which can crack in extreme cold.

A neat tip he showed us was to use a calendar as a garden log.

In terms of plants, peas are traditionally planted on St. Patrick’s Day every 2 inches in rows 4 inches apart. Half of them are lost to rot in the cold, wet soil. However, the early planting means the peas will be ready in June. March is an excellent time to grow red beets because they taste sweeter when grown in cold weather. They’re ready in June – mid-July. Fast-growing vegetables include radishes, which love cold weather and grow in 3 weeks. Red beets need only one month in the greenhouse, then 2-4 weeks outdoors.

To plant seeds, Ellmore swears by commercial potting soil. It does not have fungi and bacteria that could kill seeds and it allows oxygen to filter through more easily. He also recommends planting in square or rectangular boxes to make it easier to plan out seeds and placing a paper towel on the bottom to prevent soil see seepage. Make sure to take time to place seeds and make holes evenly spaced so that each seed has a chance to grow.

Ellmore also shared anecdotes about gardening experiences in France and the consternation of his neighbors over his unbelievable garden, giving an informative yet entertaining talk. Thanks to his advice, we have high hopes that our garden will flourish this year!

A Brand New Fence

Sunday morning was beautiful, crisp and sunny: perfect weather for fixing the fence.

The first part of the fence had been fixed earlier in the semester and stood up wonderfully against the wind, rain, and our first snow. Inspired by our success, we finished the fence on Sunday. First, we dug holes for poles and buried the base as solidly as we could, then we took our roll of slatted fencing and attached them to the poles, tying them with twine to enforce them.

Our garden now has a clear perimeter, making all the beds easily accessible by comfortably wide paths, which will make work in the spring much easier. The fence itself looks amazing! It now stands tall and will not fall over easily. We also decided that the garden only needs to have one gate, which is located by the shed.

We also opened up the hoop house to let in a little sunlight, and were amazed to find that the temperature inside the house was close to 100 degrees! The radishes looked great and some were definitely ready to be harvested.

The composting bins were fixed so that hopefully, we’ll no longer find any nasty small animal surprises in there. It is important to note that the lids need to be twisted before they can be removed from the bin, and if they are not coming off, they should not be yanked on because that will cause the middle layer of the bin to pop off the bottom part. We also checked on the winter rye, which has begun to sprout in one of the beds.

We talked about possibly working towards getting a real fence, because as wonderful as this new fence is, it is still temporary. One idea was to apply to TCU for a grant to fund the construction a permanent fence.

All in all, it was a fantastic day in the garden. We accomplished exactly what we set out to do, and we now have an amazing fence that makes our garden look more organized and lovely.