Steps for Planting Seed Garlic in the Fall
Tips on Planting a Fall Cover Crop
Whether you are growing vegetables on a large scale or as a home gardener, planting cover crops is a good thing to do for your soil’s health. Cover crops not only increases microbial activity, but helps prevent soil erosion, increases water infiltration, provides weed competition and if your mix includes legumes, it will add nitrogen to the soil. Cover crop seeds can be easily broadcast, raked in and covered with a thin layer of compost or a mulch like straw. Cool-season seeds can be planted in the fall and allowed to grow over the winter and turned under in the spring. The seeds will need to be watered until the fall rains arrive and allowed to establish before freezing temperatures arrive.
Get the Most out of Your Cover Crop
Raw legumes in your cover crops need to be inoculated (coated) with rhizobia bacteria in order to fix nitrogen on their roots. Inoculate your seeds right before you are ready to plant. Put your seeds in a bucket or big bowl and either moisten with non-chlorinated water or a mixture of milk and molasses (one quart and 2 Tbs, respectively). Adjust the amount of liquid you add to just moisten the seed. Sprinkle the inoculant over the seeds and stir to coat. Don’t skimp on the inoculant, more is better than not enough. Plant the seeds right away. The bacteria on the legumes’ roots in your cover crop will take atmospheric nitrogen and fix it in small nodules on the roots. When the roots break down, the nitrogen will be released into the soil.
Site Preparation and the Best Time to Plant Wildflowers
We all love the beauty of a field of wildflowers and so do all the pollinators. How do you prepare your site for planting and when is the best time to plant? Wildflowers do not compete well with weeds and the area you are planting should be weed free. So you want to encourage germination of surface weed seeds by watering the planting area. Once the weed seeds sprout, remove them with a hand weeder or spray with an organic herbicide. This process may need to be repeated to remove all of those weeds. If your soil is very compacted, incorporate some compost at this time.
Now when to plant–most areas can plant in the late fall but you can wait until the spring to plant but flowering will be a little delayed (some seeds should be stratified prior to planting). Some wildflowers need to go through the winter in order to germinate, so this is why late fall planting is a good practice. In the West where fall rain is spotty, you may want to water, but if seeds start to germinate, you will need to continue watering until Mother Nature takes over. Wildflowers will grow just fine in native soil, so no need to fertilize or amend. Unless specifically buying a shade-loving mix, wildflowers like full sun. But they don’t like soggy, wet feet, so a good draining location is a must. Many wildflower seeds are very small so it is best to mix with an inert material like sand (not sea sand) or vermiculite in a 1:10 ratio and add to a seed spreader to broadcast. After seeding wildflowers, roll area to get good seed-soil contact, or you can press down with a piece of plywood.
Tips on How to Grow the Biggest Garlic Yet
How to choose the right garlic to grow
There are two basic types of garlic available to plant–hardneck and softneck varieties. So how do you decide which one to grow? If you live in a region with very mild winters, the softneck garlic will perform better than hardnecks. Softnecks store much longer and have a milder flavor. Hardneck garlic requires colder winter temperatures to make large bulbs, so plant this variety if you live in a region with very frigid winters. If you live in a warm winter region and want to grow big hardneck bulbs, you will need to vernalize them first (place bulbs in a really cold refrigerator for a minimum of 3-4 weeks).
So now you have settled on either a hardneck or softneck, how do you choose within those groups. Well, hardnecks can be mild to very, very spicy. Read the description before buying to get the flavor you desire. If you want something really mild, and you live in a mild winter region, plant some Elephant garlic. It is not even garlic but a member of the leek family, but it smells and tastes like garlic. If you are unsure about what to grow, consider ordering our Garlic Combo Pack. It contains a mix of hardneck, softneck, and elephant garlic along with French Red Shallots.
How to Tell When Melons are Ripe
Best Ways to Store & Preserve your Garlic
Summer Prune Your Berries to Stimulate Growth and Increase Yield Next Season
Which Cool Season Seeds to Start for a Fall/Winter Harvest
Preparing Your Soil for Planting Garlic
Why are my tomato blossoms drying up and dropping?
Now that your tomatoes are bursting with growth and flowers and you are waiting for the fruit to ripen, you find flowers dropping or withering on the plant. Why is that happening? The problem is called blossom drop. The main reason is that the flowers are not getting pollinated. Tomatoes have perfect flowers, meaning both male and female flower parts are in the same flower. The pollen is moved from the male part (stamen) to the female part (pistil) by wind movement of the plant or by vibration of the flower by bumble bees or other pollinators.
So what are the causes of lack of pollination?
One of the main causes is from daytime temperatures exceeding 85°F or nighttime temps rising above 70°F or dropping below 55°F. You can put up some shade cloth (30% should be enough) over your tomatoes, positioned so it is shading your plants during the hottest time of the day. To learn more about other causes of flower drop, you can read the blog Why are My Tomato Flowers Falling Off and Not Making Fruit?
Preventing Blossom End Rot on Your Tomatoes and Peppers
Tip of the Week: Blossom Rot
If you see black or rotting bottoms on your tomatoes, peppers or eggplants (less common), it is most likely blossom end rot. Tomato varieties that set all of its fruit at once (determinate) are commonly affected; cherry tomatoes rarely get blossom end rot. It is caused by a calcium deficiency in your plants caused by soil deficiencies or from uneven watering (calcium is not taken up).
To help prevent this, mulch around your plants to help conserve soil moisture, keep your plants evenly watered, and make sure your soil has sufficient amounts of calcium. If your soil has sufficient calcium, then no supplement is needed. Don’t over fertilize your plants with high nitrogen either. Excessive nitrogen will lead to more foliage which will reduce the amount of calcium available to the fruit. Remove the damaged fruit.
Is it Time to Harvest Your Garlic?
After your garlic has produced scapes (hardneck varieties) your bulbs are really starting to size up. Once your garlic has a couple of dead bottom leaves you will want to stop watering. You can dig your garlic in a couple of weeks. If you are unsure if your hardneck garlic is ready to harvest, look for about 3-4 dried leaves at the bottom of the plant. Dig up a test bulb to see how well the bulb has sized up. If it is nice and large, you can dig up the remaining bulbs. Don’t harvest too soon or you may have small bulbs, too late and the wrappers may have broken down and your garlic may not keep as long. If this happens eat those bulbs first. Softneck garlic is a little different than hardnecks. Softnecks are ready for harvesting when the top of the plant falls over, similar to onions.
Once your garlic is ready to harvest, dig the bulbs up carefully with a garden fork or shovel. Remove most of the soil, being careful not to hit the bulb (it bruises easily), leaving the roots & stems. Tie the garlic with twine in bunches of 6 to 12 plants. Hang the bunches in a place out of direct sun and rain. Temperatures should be around 80°F and garlic should be cured for at least two weeks. Once cured, trim off the leaves (don’t cut too close to the top of the bulb) and roots, leaving about 1/2” of roots. Store in mesh bags at around 60-65°F in an area with some air circulation.
Pruning out Suckers on Your Tomato Plants
Now that your tomatoes are growing like weeds it is time to prune out the suckers. The advantages to pruning out the suckers on your tomatoes are increased fruit size, better air circulation, which will help with disease prevention and earlier fruit development. The suckers are the stems growing out of the leaf crotch. You should remove the suckers from the bottom of the plant up to the first flower cluster. Remove them before they get too big, less than 2-3” long is a good rule of thumb. You will need to keep an eye on your tomato plants throughout the season and prune the suckers as they get big enough, look for new growth coming up at the ground too and cut those out. Also you want to remove the yellow or dead leaves (especially seen on the bottom of the plant). Only prune the indeterminate varieties; determinate varieties should not get pruned, you can leave the suckers on those plants.
If you are supporting the plants with an overhead trellis with string or wire supported at the top you can allow your plants to develop two leaders or more commonly, it is pruned to a single leader. Prune out suckers along the plant to allow for better air circulation and less weight. You will have a reduced yield, however, the tomatoes that are left will develop earlier and will be bigger. Read the whole article on tomato pruning.
Time to Thin Your Fruit
Caring for Garlic in Late Spring
How to Make Compost Tea for Your Plants
Throw your plants a compost tea party this spring! Compost tea can be applied as a foliar or soil drench. It is easy to make with just a few components and can be customized to your plants' needs. Compost tea takes all the goodness from your compost and makes it even better. We have a great video showing you step-by-step on how to make it. There are so many versions of compost tea recipes but you can “brew” your own version. The basic components of compost tea includes water, compost (or you can use arctic humus or worm castings) and a tea catalyst. Additions can be made to your tea–liquid kelp or maxicrop (a kelp extract), or liquid fish are great to supplements your compost tea. You can customize your brew according to the stage of growth your plants are in (growing, blooming or fruiting). The additions can be added at the end of the brewing process. You can apply the tea using a watering can or sprayer (clean).If foliar feeding, dilute the tea to one part tea to 10 parts water (dechlorinated water). Or if applying to the soil, dilute one part tea to 5 parts water (dechlorinated water).
Which Seeds to Direct Seed in the Spring
How to Improve Soil Biology
What is meant by soil biology? Isn’t soil just a bunch of minerals? The answer is no and your soil contains so many living organisms, most of which are not visible with the naked eye, but all are important for the soil’s ecosystem. The visible organisms are earthworms and small mammals like gophers, moles or voles, however the vast number of organisms are only visible with a microscope such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa and more. What does all of this biology have to do with the health of my garden? Well the answer is without soil biology, your plants will have problems accessing nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, both essential for growth. What can be done to improve and increase your soil’s biological makeup? Well they need adequate organic matter, good aeration, proper moisture, and a fairly neutral pH. One of the easiest things to do to improve your soil biology is to work in some good quality compost. The compost will help hold onto moisture, help aerate the soil by maintaining soil porosity and supply nutrients to the microbes already living in your soil.
Another important practice that will help improve soil biology is to plant a cover crop in areas that you are not actively growing in. Cover crops can be planted in the fall and cut down in the spring, or grown in the summer and finishes in the summer. Don’t forget to inoculate your cover crops if they contain legumes and inoculate legumes you are growing for food, like bush beans or pole beans. The Rhizobium bacteria in the inoculant forms a symbiotic relationship with the plants’ roots and converts atmospheric nitrogen into a plant usable form, in turn the plant supplies the bacteria with carbohydrates needed to live. Any extra nitrogen the plant does not need is stored on the roots and can be used by the following crop.
Choosing the Right Irrigation for You
Harden Off Your Seedlings Before Transplanting Into the Garden
Control Adult Flies and Larvae Early
When to Cut Down Your Cover Crop
How to Monitor Codling Moth Activity in the Spring
How to Take a Good Soil Sample
Getting your soil tested is a great idea and it all starts with taking a good sample. First of all start with a clean trowel; don’t use ones made of brass or soft steel and never use your hands. Have a clean plastic bucket or pail to use, don’t use galvanized steel or rubber. Do not sample your soil if it is wetter than you would want for tilling. Take about 10–12 subsamples in your garden soil or raised beds to get a good composite of your soil. Clear away any debris or organic material from the top of the soil. Dig down about 6” or as deep as you are planning to cultivate. Dry soil should be submitted for analysis, so if your soil is too wet, spread out on a newspaper and allow to air dry (and out of direct sunlight). Watch our video on How to Take a Good Soil Sample for Soil Testing for more information.
How to Use Soil Blockers for Starting Seeds
How to Use the Seed Starting Calculator
Which Trees to Prune in the Dormant Season
Best Trees to Use for Creating an Espalier
Seeds to Start Early for Your Summer Garden
Fruit and Nut Trees Need to Chill Out for Winter
As fruit and nut trees go into fall, shorter days and cooler temperatures stimulate a hormone which triggers the trees to go into dormancy and stop growing. Cold temperature breaks down that hormone and when the tree experiences enough cold temperatures, dormancy is broken and the tree starts to grow again, by flowering and developing leaves. The period of cold temperatures needed to break dormancy is the cumulative chill hours, temperatures between 32- 45°F from November to February. What happens if your tree does not get enough chill hours? The tree will produce leaves later, blossoms may not open or just drop and therefore your fruit tree will not produce fruit. One the other hand why not just plant trees that have a much lower chill requirement? If you plant low chill trees in a high chill area your trees will break dormancy too early and the blossoms will be killed by cold temperatures and you have the same result, no fruit. Chill hours needed are not an exact number, it is usually a range. If you don’t know the chill hours in your area, consult your local Farm Advisor, Master Gardener or even a local nursery may be able to help. We have an article on chill hours, however, the links included to find your chill hours are only for California counties. If you live outside of California, you will need to search the internet to find sources, weather stations or county Ag Offices that can assist you. There is another site you can use, but it will take a little bit of work since the chill hours can only be looked up 10 days at a time. But once you get your chill hours calculated you are done. Might want to look at chill hours for several periods, since it does fluctuate. Just start from November 1 and go through February of the following year.
Dormant Pruning Your Blackberries & Raspberries
Raspberries really benefit from winter pruning. Once the second year canes fruit they will die and can be cut back right after fruiting or in the dormant season. Remove damaged, weak or dead canes by pruning at ground level. Leave canes that are robust (about 1/4” in diameter), but thin out canes to about 6” apart. You should keep your raspberries to about a 2’ wide hedgerow. Since raspberries spread by underground runners, the berry patch can get quite large if not thinned out. Dig up any plants that have escaped the 2’ wide row. You can either plant these in another area of your yard, share them with friends or put them in your compost bin.
Blackberries have three possible growth habits—erect, semi-erect or trailing. The way to train and prune them will depend on the type. If you did not top the new canes during the late summer, you should top them to about 5’ (or the height of your trellis or fence). Dormant pruning of erect blackberries entails removing dead canes (color is brown vs a newer green cane) and cutting back laterals to 12–18”. Semi-erect blackberries should be thinned to 5 to 8 of the strongest canes, shorten the laterals to 12–18” and remove any growing on the lower 3’ section of the main canes. Tie to a fence or trellis to provide support. Trailing blackberries are less cold tolerant and in cold regions the canes can be left on the ground and protected with rowcover or mulch over the winter. In spring the canes can be lifted and tied to a trellis at 3’ and 6’.
How to Best Plant Your Bare Root Fruit or Nut Tree
Heeling in Your Bare Root Trees or Plants if You Can't Plant Right Away
How to Care for Garlic Over the Winter
Garlic plants can withstand cold weather as long as they are not exposed to a sudden drop of freezing temperatures. To help protect garlic from sudden drops in temperatures, apply a thick layer of mulch such as straw mulch (seed-free); a minimum of 4 inches is recommended, and thicker in regions with harsh winters (up to 8 inches). In the spring the mulch can be pulled back to allow the soil to warm up faster and also helps avoid excess moisture, which can cause rot. Another benefit to mulching is weed control. Garlic does not like to compete with weeds and it will suffer if weeds are not removed. You should not be applying any nitrogen fertilizers over the winter as that will lead to an increase in top growth. After weeding and mulching, now you just have to wait until the spring. Once spring arrives and the soil starts to warm and snows melt, pull back the mulch and feed with an all purpose fertilizer, bone meal or another mix that is high in phosphorus.
For more information on caring for your garlic over the spring, click here.
We have many other tips for winter gardening as well in our Resource Center.
Orchard Care During the Dormant Season
In addition to good orchard sanitation (picking up rotten fruit and raking leaves), applying dormant sprays in the fall and winter is a great way to reduce overwintering pests & diseases in the home orchard. Dormant oils are applied when trees have dropped their leaves and are dormant. The oils can be applied when daytime temperatures are over 35-40°F. Dormant oils control aphids, scale, spider mites and many other insects by smothering eggs and larvae.
Peach leaf curl, also known as curly leaf, curly blight or leaf blister, has been recognized as a common disease since the early 1800s. It is caused by the fungus Taphrina deformans and can affect the blossoms, fruit, leaves and shoots of peaches and nectarines. Peach leaf curl is the most common disease found in backyard orchards and can weaken the tree over time if the disease is not controlled. Cool (48-68°F) wet weather when leaves are first opening favors the disease. Watch our video on Peach Leaf Curl where Tricia shows how to care for your trees.
To control diseases such as peach leaf curl, a fungicide is applied multiple times throughout the dormant season. An easy way to remember when to apply the fungicide is after leaf drop, New Years day (or around that time) and a final treatment on Valentine’s Day (before buds have broken or blossoming). For more information you can also read our blog Peach Leaf Curl Control.
How to Choose the Right Fruit Tree for Your Home
Putting Your Perennial Veggies to Bed for the Winter
Perennial vegetables need help to survive cold winters
Perennial vegetables like asparagus or rhubarb need protection over the winter to help survive freezing temperatures. Asparagus is hardy down to zone 4 and needs a little care in the fall. When the ferns start to turn yellow to brown, or after the first frost, cut them back to about 2 inch stubs. This will help cut down on disease setting in over the winter.
Apply about 2–3” of compost around the remaining plants and cover with a mulch such as rice straw to a depth of about 4–6”. Rhubarb is a tough plant and only needs to be cut to the ground and covered with a 4–6” layer of compost. Jerusalem artichokes can be if left in the ground until you are ready to eat them.
However, if your ground freezes, you should dig up the remaining tubers and store in moist sand or soil in the garage or a shed (that stays above freezing but below 40°F).
Check out our related article on caring for artichokes for more detail.
How to Plant Fall Bulbs for Spring Blooms
Now is a great time to plant your fall flower bulbs for a dazzling spring display of color. If you live in cold winter zones (1-7), you can plant when the soil has cooled to at least 50°F and your ground is still workable. For areas with warmer winters (zones 8-11) you may not get enough cold temperatures for the bulbs to do well, so the bulbs can be placed in the refrigerator–but not by any fruit that may give off ethylene gas. Bulbs do not need more than about 11-15 weeks of chilling, and the good news is that we store our bulbs in a cooler until they have shipped out, so they have already chilled about 8 weeks! Plant your bulbs in areas that have good drainage, they will not do well sitting in soggy soil. They also like full sun, so since they bloom in the spring when many trees may have not leafed out, you can plant them almost anywhere in your yard!
Follow the planting instructions on the package, and make sure you plant pointy side up. Some bulbs are kind of hard to figure out what is the bottom, so if you can't tell, plant it sideways and the bulb will right itself. No need to fertilize at planting time for new bulbs, but come spring you should give them some quality bulb fertilizer so they will have enough nutrients to return another spring bloom.
If you don’t want to wait until spring for your blooms, many bulbs can be forced to bloom in the winter indoors. For more information on forcing bulbs, read our article “Forcing Flower Bulbs”.
What to Do with All My Green Tomatoes
Tip of the Week: Green Tomatoes
Cooler weather is here to stay, but what about the green tomatoes still on the vine. Not to worry, you can ripen them and maybe even try your hand at fried green tomatoes! Fruits stop ripening when temps drop below 50°F, so if you are still warmer than that during the day, leave the fruit on the vine as long as possible. Remove any flowers & small fruit, and decrease the watering. Once daytime temps are consistently below 50°F and before the first frost, harvest all of the fruit. Place it in a single layer in a box lined with newspaper, and store between 55-70°F. To speed up the ripening process, add a couple of apples to the box. Check weekly for ripened tomatoes and remove any rotted fruit. If some just don’t seem to be changing color at all, try some fried green tomatoes.
Check out the recipe we have posted (under Entrées) for all the details.
Things to Do in the Garden During October
The air has a fall chill to it and the leaves are starting to turn, but there is still plenty to do in your garden and yard. Harvesting the last veggies and flowers, planting bulbs for a spring bloom and putting in your garlic and onions are just a few things that can be done in October. Here are just a few ideas to add to your "To-Do" List. Tricia talks about some things she is doing in her fall garden in our video, October Gardening Checklist.
Things to Plant in the Fall – Spring flowering bulbs, garlic, shallots, native plants, cover crop, wildflowers, annual flowers like mums, cool weather seeds like lettuce, kale, beets, greens and more! Read the full article, 20 Great Gardening Tips for Your October Garden for more information.