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Thursday, December 22, 2011

What to Do with Plants After the Holidays

The stores have been filled with plants to give as gifts and for decorating. Amaryllis bulbs on sale, poinsettias of all sizes, rosemary plants trimmed like Christmas trees, Christmas cactus and kalanchoes, all in holiday colors. What can you do with those after the holidays?

Poinsettias are beautiful when in bloom. However, once the leaves begin to drop and the color is gone, it’s time to toss out the plant. You can give it good sunlight in a window and keep it going for a few months, but it will never look like the plant you bought again, no matter what you do. Greenhouse poinsettias are products of very specific growing conditions, virtually impossible to duplicate in the home. Throw it away, and don’t put it in your compost pile if you care about organics, the soil is full of all sorts of greenhouse chemicals.
Rosemary Christmas tree.

Rosemary plants have become popular over the past several years. I saw lots in stores this year, in one and two gallon pots, shaped like neat little Christmas trees. This is a plant that’s easy to keep for years if you observe a few basic cautions. First, don’t overwater, and don’t let the plant stand in water in a saucer. A small amount of water about every 10 days is plenty. Second, keep the plant in an unheated room, like in the garage near a window, or a back porch. It needs as much light as you can give it, but you will kill it if you try to keep it in a warm room. Next spring, take it out of the pot and plant it in your garden. I have one I bought from Lowe’s 12 years ago that has lived happily in the herb garden.
Christmas cactus comes in several colors.

Christmas cactus are very easy plants to keep growing for years to come. They bloom best when they are root-bound, meaning growing in a small pot. If yours is in a very small plastic pot, after it has quit blooming, pot it in a clay or ceramic pot, just make sure it has drainage in the bottom. Keep it in the window where it gets light. Water it every ten days or so, remember, it’s called a cactus because it doesn’t need much water. Next summer, put it outside on the deck in part sun and in the fall, bring it indoors to a sunny window. It will rebloom again during the fall or winter. Kalanchoe plants need virtually the same care as Christmas cactus, little water, good light and minimal care. 
All of these plants, as well as your houseplants, are dormant indoors in winter. It’s important to remember not to fertilize any of them during the winter months. Wait until April to begin fertilizing lightly again and then you can fertilize once a month during the summer growing season. 
Amaryllis are easy to grow for years to come.

Amaryllis bulbs are easy, too. Let it bloom, water it once a week and let the leaves grow to gather strength for next year’s blooming. I plant mine in a flowerbed in early spring, about 7 inches deep, where it will come back each year and bloom in mid-summer. 

You can subscribe to this blog and be notified when more columns are posted. You can also find my books and products on my website. Happy gardening, seed catalogs are arriving!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Homemade Crackers YouTube Photoshoot

The focus of the video is my Homemade Crackers and Easy Dips with Herbs books.

You've probably heard me mention before that we have aYouTube/longcreekherbs channel where we post videos of my recipes and books. Check it out if you haven't. Yesterday we filmed 2 more videos. That's the easy part, the editing and pasting it all together is the harder, and more creative part. Thankfully, my job is to stand in front of the camera and let David Selby and his associates do all the work. Here are some views of the photo shoot from yesterday. The end product will be 2 videos, one that will be about 3-4 minutes long, where I'm showing my friend, Makala, how I make cheddar crackers. The other is a 2 minute video telling what roses are good to eat and which ones to avoid. (There's more about the Herb of the Year and the Rose, official Herb of the Year for 2012, on my Herb of the Year blog, here). In a few weeks the videos will be up on our YouTube channel, but for not they're "in the can" awaiting the editing process.

Makala is the daughter of one of our employees, Neva Milke. Neva is one of the 2 ladies who answers phones when you call us to place an order. Makala first came to visit Long Creek Herb Farm when she was 4 years old, with 19 other vacation Bible schoolers. She was interested in herbs and gardening then, and her interests continue to grow. I invited her to be a part ofHomemade Crackers with Herbs video taping and she was fun to work with. Here are some scenes from the kitchen and the crew yesterday.

I took this photo, looking down into the kitchen from my upstairs office. You can see the kitchen counter all set with our working tools, David and Ben are getting the cameras and lights set up.

Everyone just discovered I was taking their pictures, too.
David does lots of film projects. He intends to make movies but for now, does a great job doing videos. Ben, to the left, grew up with David. Ben is in the Army Reserves and is currently attending Drury University School of Nursing. Makala, standing on set at the ready, is a second year student at College of the Ozarks.
It takes a lot of tinkering with lights, sound, cameras to get everything working right.
I could have slept another hour!

Out of camera view, on the sunporch, I had backups of the crackers, the baked crackers, the unbaked ones and the roses for the what roses to eat video that came next.
And here we are in front of the lights, almost ready for the rose video. Makala was patient and fun to work with. David and Ben were loads of fun and very professional. David's production company does an outstanding job. All the recipes for the crackers and dips came from my books.
I hope each and everyone a pleasant and peaceful holiday season.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

We’ve all seen those late night t.v. ads for, “Bring your old gold jewelry to sell - prices are the best in history.” The last I looked, gold was selling for $1724 per (Troy) ounce. I don’t really know what an ounce of gold looks like, but I know it’s a lot of money for not much to hold in your hand. Most everyone knows the story in the Bible of how the three wise men brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We know what gold is, but few people know what the frankincense and myrrh are.

Frankincense tears.

Frankincense is from the Boswellia tree and comes from Somalia on the southern coastal area of Arabia. It was used in ancient times as an incense, for embalming and as a treatment for depression. People used it in temples, believing the smoke from the burning incense would carry their prayers Heavenward. 
Myrrh "tears" meaning, drops of resin, caught from the tree after it has a cut in the bark.

Myrrh, a brown to red aromatic tree resin comes from Commiphora abyssinica (which is in the same overall plant family as the frankincense tree). It’s a scraggly bush-tree which grows in semi-desert regions of North Africa and near the Red Sea. It is considered a wound healer because of its strong antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used to treat wounds, bruises and bleeding as well as a treatment for swelling.

The three wise men, carrying gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Both frankincense and myrrh were burned, usually together, as incense and were deeply connected to holy places and worship. Even today in Catholic and Episcopal churches, you will find these two resins still burned as incense during special services. Back in Biblical times, these resins were extremely valuable, fully as expensive as gold. Harvested far from  Jerusalem, they were brought on the spice routes over long distances on the backs of camels. Everyday people couldn’t afford to buy them. The specific healing properties of both made them even more desirable. For a mother who had recently given birth, the two resins were even more useful and valuable.
Our Frankincense and Myrrh Incense Kit in a Keepsake box.

We use frankincense and myrrh today in much the same way as they were used in Biblical times, in medicines, incense and aromatherapy. With better growing conditions and faster and less expensive shipping methods, they are no longer equal to the price of gold. You can buy these in today’s world, for just a dollar or two per ounce.

Both frankincense and myrrh are created when multiple cuts are made into the bark of each plant. As the sap oozes out it hardens into a hard resin. The resin is collected into bags and sold. The cutting process, of not done to excess, does not kill the tree or bush and can produce resin for many years. It's a slow process on plants that grow slowly in desert climates. The resins are harvested by hand, the same way they were 2,000 years ago.
Our Frankincense and Myrrh Incense Kit in a Keepsake box.
If you would like your own Frankincense and Myrrh Kit, you can order one from my website. It's on special this month. Each kit contains a bag of Frankincense and Myrrh, a charcoal disk for burning the incense, a special tile for the charcoal, instructions, all in a keepsake wooden treasure chest. Order two for $25 or one for $12.95 plus shipping.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Growing Up in a Country Store

Colonial Bread is Good Bread, most stores had screen doors provided by Colonial Bread Company.
When people ask me where I grew up, I often tell them, “In the back of a country store.” While that is partly true, my parents didn’t simply begin in the store business when I was born. It wasn’t until I was about eleven when they bought the south grocery store (there were two stores at times) in Taberville, but the store came to define my childhood.
Mom and Dad early in their life.

My parents, Lloyd and Mada, had survived the Great Depression, an event and a time that profoundly defined the rest of their lives. They were married November 17, 1934, just weeks after my grandfather James Edward Harper unexpectedly passed away. Because of his death, they cancelled their plans for a simple church wedding and instead eloped, being married at the home of a pastor friend. Their first years together were spent trying to eke out a living on a rented farm outside Johnson City, MO near my grandparents Long. My parents describe those years as the lowest times of their lives. Crops failed, drought decreased the garden to a patch of turnips and the only livestock they had were a few chickens and some hogs. Mother always claimed all they had to eat were turnips and salt pork their first two years together, two foods she despised for the rest of her life.

My parents had run a store soon after starving out on the farm, in Iuka Springs, south of Johnson City, but not owning the building, had to move on when the owners sold the building. They moved to Tabverville, a slightly larger and more prosperous town than Johnson City - Taberville had 50 citizens, Johnson City had 12. My father drove a stock truck for awhile, hauling farmers’ grain and livestock to town. My mother taught school for a couple of years and did sewing for people. After I was born she stayed at home with me and sewed cloth toys and crocheting, items she sold through a shop in Nevada, MO. They rented out a bedroom to boarders from time to time, providing sleeping space and 2 meals a day for road construction crews. When the Taberville store business was offered to them by Roy Dody, who had been running it, they decided to go back into the grocery business. They borrowed money and opened the store.
My parents on the front porch of their store.

The store building was owned by the Taberville Masonic Lodge # 419. It was a two story brown brick building, the lodge hall in the second story, grocery store below. The walls were not insulated in any way, just brick, the ceilings high and the store was difficult to cool in summer and impossible to keep warm in winter. There was no indoor plumbing, no running water, and no well. Water for hand washing had to be carried in buckets from home, bathroom facilities was an outhouse next to the building that housed animal feed. The Masonic Lodge refused to modernize the building, would not agree to any changes nor the drilling of a well. Their stance was, “if you don’t like the building, we’ll rent it to someone else.” My parents put up with conditions that would today seem impossible to live with.

Customers monthly charges were kept in a register under the counter.

Taberville was surrounded on all sides by farms and farm families and everyone in the community came to the store on a regular basis. Because a store in those days was expected to stock just about anything a farm family might need, the list of items my parents stocked was extensive. Boots, socks, overhauls, children’s’ ladies’ and mens’ underwear, gloves, tires, animal feed, salt blocks, seasonal gift items, over-the-counter drugs and first-aid, along with fresh meat, cheese, bologna, watches, produce and canned goods. Stocking shelves was an endless activity, one I could barely stand to do. Because the floor was concrete and very difficult to keep clean with floor sweet, the shelves required constant dusting, another disagreeable job.
My father, mother and me at the front counter.

The store was also the main social gathering place in town. Everyone, regardless of age, passed through our store with regularity. Workers going to work in a nearby town stopped for supplies or a candy bar and cigarettes. School children stopped in on their way to and from school for school supplies or ice cream. Farmers, whose days were filled with the work of raising crops and tending animals, came to town in the evening. The wives, sometimes worn down by days of gardens, cooking for farm hands and canning, came, too. They’d come at dark, after their chores were done and often eat something in the store. My parents made sandwiches out of the deli case upon request. Some people were content with a bottle of pop and a candy bar, anything for a change of pace from their own cooking.

Every day, six days a week, my father opened the store at 7:00 a.m. My mother would finish up the breakfast dishes, do housework, then arrive at 8:00. Most days they would close the store at 6:30 in the evening, but on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, they kept the store open until 9:00 p.m. for farmers who couldn’t get to town during daylight. Because people would predictably knock on our door at home on Sunday morning for some item they’d forgotten during the week and my father would obligingly open the store, he began keeping Sunday hours, as well, 8:00 to noon.

The front porch of the store had a long, wooden bench and a couple of nail kegs and in summer people would gather there to visit. Old men took up residence there on a daily basis, bored, just wanting someone to talk to. In the evening, because the store had no windows that opened for air, patrons and my parents sat outside on the porch, as well. But in winter, the spit and whittle bunch gathered around the old gas heating stove in the back of the store. Up front, near the cash register and counter upon which it sat, were 2 old wooden folding chairs and those were often occupied day and evening. Not by my parents but by people who just came to socialize. It was often a frustration to my parents that people would come and sit for hours at a time, taking up space and my parents patience and energy, and sometimes not buy anything but a ten cent bottle of pop.

There was no place to sit for my parents. The store’s concrete floor was painfully hard and they had to stand, eight, ten, twelve or more hours a day. There simply wasn’t room behind the counter for a chair or stool, and since the folding chairs were always occupied, my parents stood. On winter nights when it got dark at 5:30 and farmers and their wives came to town, the old chairs, pop cases on end, even the counter, had people sitting for hours at a time. My parents would stand and patiently listen to stories, carry groceries to peoples’ cars, socialize, all the while wishing people would go home so they could close. There are more nights that I can remember when people would stay, sitting, talking, long hours after closing time. My parents never said, “We’re closing now” as they thought that rude. Instead they stayed, feet and backs hurting, wishing for supper, anxious for bed.

As a young teenager I bored quickly of the life in the store. Sometimes I’d sit and listen to the older people tell stories but usually in wintertime I had homework to do. I hated homework but I hated going home to an empty house even more, so my habit was to sit in the back of the store on the piles of sacks of pecans that were waiting to be trucked away, and do my homework. I was within earshot of people and activity, but far enough away that I wasn’t distracted from my math and reading assignments.

In the summer my escape was delivering groceries on my bicycle. The little town of Taberville was made up mostly of retired farmers who had moved to town in their old age. There were a couple of families with kids but those were older than me, so I felt like the only kid in town. The older widow ladies would call the store and make an order for groceries and my mother would tell me who they were to be delivered to. There wasn’t any charge for the service but the treat for me was getting out of store duties and getting to visit with old ladies who liked flowers, remembered stories and who sometimes would feed me cookies or a piece of pie they had saved just for me. Delivering a bag of groceries two blocks away, by bike, would take me about two hours or longer, much to my mother’s displeasure.

My parents worked very hard running their store business. In the back of their minds, there was always the memory of the Depression days, of their first years of nearly starving and of having failed at farming. It caused them to be frugal in ways that seem silly today - saving aluminum pie pans, for instance. Or of sewing patches upon patches on bed sheets rather than buying new ones. I wore homemade shirts to school and by the time I was in high school, I was embarrassed when I would splurge and buy myself a new, not-made-at-home shirt with my own money, earned from summer jobs.
Mom and Dad, late in life, after retirement.

I learned my work ethic from my parents. In grade school I would buy penny candy from my father at his wholesale price of 60 cents for a box of 100 pieces, for which I charged my school mates a penny a piece, netting a profit of 40 cents. I mowed lawns for neighbors, I worked in the hay field for farmers, raking hay and bucking bales into the barn. I cooked in a local restaurant on weekends. I learned to work because that’s what my parents did, all day, every day. Even on holidays, work at home for them was the garden, canning and freezing, keeping some cattle or shetland ponies which they sold.

So that question, when it arrises of, “Where did you grow up? can pretty much be summed up, “In the back of an old country store.” It was a hard life, sometimes fun, rewarding in that it provided us with a living. It was a time and a place that no longer exists but remains part of may peoples’ history.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Traditional Holiday Seasonings

Garden sage on the left, Biergarten sage on the right, both have the traditional flavor.

Ever wonder why we have a taste for certain flavors at different times of the year? For example, why do we look for foods like pot roast, baked turkey or boiled ham in winter? Why do foods like spicy chili, corned beef and cabbage, beef stew or chicken pot pie not appeal to us in the summer? The answer has a lot to do with our body’s metabolism. In warm weather we crave foods and flavors that help cool us. In winter, our cravings turn to foods that warm us and give us more fat - a bit like a bear before hibernating.

The herbs considered by many to be, traditional holidays seasonings include rosemary, thyme, savory and sage. Not surprisingly, those are all warming herbs, seasonings that not only give our body a warm feeling, but actually add a warming effect. Those seasonings were traditionally used with the heavy, fatty winter meats. Roast goose, a seriously greasy food, was traditionally seasoned with hyssop, winter savory, onion and thyme. Those herbs helped cut the greasy taste while still warming the meal.

The same holds true for pork. Back in the days when most people raised their own pigs and butchered, putting up pork loin, pork roast and bacon, all had more fat left on than you will find today. If you buy a pork roast now and it will be trimmed of most of the fat, but back in earlier days, people believed fat made flavor and left it on. Rosemary, thyme, savory, sage and hot peppers went into sausage, seasoned roasts and was used in mixes for curing the meat.

Our tradition and tastes for the traditional holiday dressing or stuffing, the seasoning in the gravy and in roast turkey, all come down to us from those olden days. Poultry seasoning, a must-have in the traditional dishes is a mixture of sage, thyme, rosemary and savory. Even though today the modern turkey isn’t fatty, our yearnings for seasoning are still there. What would a pan of baked turkey dressing be without sage? What a bland dish the turkey and gravy would be without the herb flavors.
Bed with several varieties of thyme.

Several years ago I chose to go to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. The meal was advertised as a, “traditional” family-style dinner. I love dressing, maybe as much as turkey, so imagine my surprise at my first taste of the dish. I almost spit. I don’t know where the restaurant chef was trained, but it isn’t traditional to have cilantro instead of sage in turkey dressing! I looked around the restaurant and saw that everyone else was leaving a pile of cilantro-seasoned dressing on their plate, too. No, the flavors we Ozarkers crave for the holidays is traditional sage, rosemary and thyme, just like our ancestors used.
Rosemary has a warming, robust flavor, perfect for winter dishes.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Winter Cold Frames

Swiss Chard grows well in a cold frame.

Ozarks Gardening

I grew up reading Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News magazines. As early as the late 1950s, my mother was composting kitchen scraps and garden debris, turning it into rich soil from the directions in Organic Gardening. I remember stories in both magazines about Helen and Scott Nearing, a couple who retired and moved to the Green Mountains of Vermont in 1932 to establish their self-sufficient farmstead. In the articles they wrote, they explained how they were able to grow vegetables the year around, even in the harsh Vermont's winters by using cold frames.

This is over a raised bed, 3 1/2 ft x 30 ft. long.
Eliot Coleman was another pioneer in the use of cold frames and wrote for the magazines I've listed. In 1968 he moved to moved to a farm in Maine, on land purchased from the Nearings. He used a simple hoop house made of bent pvc pipes, covered with 2 layers of plastic. You can see more of what Eliot promoted and his simple but effective methods here.

Over the years I have used the Nearing’s and Coleman's methods for growing winter produce by constructing simple cold frames in my own gardens. Our Ozarks climate is definitely milder than the mountains of Maine, and the methods are simple and even more productive.

The most simple cold frame I’ve used many times is a rectangle built of bales of straw. One bale laid on its side makes up one end and 3 bales laid the same way make up each side, 8 bales in all. I till up the space with a hoe, smooth the soil and plant rows of lettuce, spinach, even onion and radish seed. (Mustard greens, kale, lots of other greens grow well, too). Then I lay down a little loose straw for mulch over the seed bed and cover the cold frame bed with an old window. Some years I use a couple of layers of clear roll plastic and hold it down with scraps of wood.

On sunny, warm days I open the cold frame any time it’s above freezing. At night I pull the plastic or window cover over the top. Even in the dead of winter, when the ground is frozen and snow is piled up, I can go out to the cold frame, open it up and harvest greens and vegetables for the table. And the nice thing is, there are no bug pests in winter!

This year I’m using a somewhat different cold frame, more like Eliot Coleman's menthod. I used 8 ft. sections of 1 inch plastic pvc pipe, bent into hoops over a raised bed. The bed is 3 1/2 feet across and about 30 feet long. I braced the hoops with a single pipe at the top of the peak, held in place with duct tape, then covered the whole frame with 6 mil. clear plastic. Currently I have spinach, cilantro, 3 kinds of lettuce, carrots, onions and radishes growing. Using this method you can replant and grow vegetables all winter long, just like the Nearings did on their farmstead in Maine.
The bent-looking pipe in the foreground is intentional for the slope of the end of the cold frame.

This is a bit like Eliot Coleman's method except that I'm using a single layer of plastic rather than the double layer he used. Since I'm in the Ozarks and not in Maine, the extra insulation isn't needed. Rolled plastic has gotten somewhat expensive, too. I paid $68 for a roll of 100 x 16 ft plastic and about $2.50 each for the 8 ft lengths of 1 inch pvc pipe.
Ready made cold frame folds up and stores flat in the off-season.

Here's a read-made cold frame, above, I bought last year and have used it for 2 seasons. It's too small, but the nice thing is it easily comes apart and stores flat for the summer season. I can grow small amounts of greens without much work.
Plenty of greens, salads and onions all winter.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Green Tomato Pickles

This week I've been picking as much of the garden produce as I can before a killing frost comes. We've had 2 light frosts but even the basil plants haven't been hurt much. Yet. After a summer of drought and heat and low tomato and pepper production, those plants have gone into high gear, trying to catch up on production.

Adam, who I have written about here many times, left us with a fabulous fall garden. Too bad he didn't get to enjoy such lushness during the summer when he was farming the garden and selling at local farmers markets. (Adam left in mid September to work on a farm in Maryland for the winter; that farm sells at the DuPont Circle farmers market the year around).

Ten pints of fish house green tomato pickles.

I've spent the day today, putting up some of the excess produce. With all the green tomatoes, I wanted to use the smaller ones for fish house green tomato pickles. They're a favorite in the catfish restaurants in the South and it's a great way to use up some of the tomatoes. Josh plans on making green tomato mincemeat, too, for pies this winter.

Tomatoes ripening in the window.

The larger green tomatoes will simply stay on the kitchen windowsill where they will slowly ripen over the next couple of months. (I've used the wrap-in-newspaper method, which is a hassle, also the put-in-the-basement method, also a hassle to check every couple of days; on the windowsill, where I see the tomatoes every day, is the easiest and simplest and works just fine. Some years we have the last of our summer's ripe tomatoes on Christmas Day).

You can use green tomatoes in any recipe that calls for ripe tomatoes, too.

Here's the recipe in case you want to use up your green tomatoes:

Catfish-House Green Tomato Pickles

2 quarts quartered green tomatoes
2 cups chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped hot peppers
1/3 cup chopped sweet red bell peppers
2 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons salt
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seed

Combine ingredients in a large cooking pan and bring to a slow boil. Let simmer for about 5 minutes. Ladle into hot, sterile jars, wipe lip edge of jars, screw on hot, new jar rings and flats and lightly tighten. Place into a boiling water bath, with at least 1/2 inch of water above the jar lids. Bring to a boil and keep slowly boiling for 15 minutes (for pints). Remove and cool on a towel. Don't tinker with the lids, they will seal in a few minutes. Let cool overnight then label and store in the pantry. These are best after the flavors have matured, about 2 weeks or more.

Hot sauce with a kick, and green tomato salsa are from a single recipe. 

I also made a batch each of green tomato salsa and one of green tomato hot sauce. If you'd like the recipe for those, visit my recipes blog. Both are a combination of varieties of hot peppers and it's a tasty hot sauce with a real kick.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Planning a Different Kind of Garden Next Year

Lettuce is a crop that thrives in cool weather and does great in a cold frame - even in January!

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

Planning Now for Next Year’s Garden

I have gardened in the same spot for 32 years and in that time I have seen a constant warming of our summers. In 1979 when I planted my first garden here, the winters were colder, frost dates were earlier in the fall and later in the spring. Warmer zone crops, like figs, were only a dream. Not only can I now grow those (two figs for breakfast this morning), but muscadines, another warmer-climate fruit, are doing fine. Amaryllis and gladiolus bulbs once had to be dug, now I leave them in the ground the year around. Texas tarragon, once only an annual in my garden, now thrives as a hardy perennial. The same holds true for a good many tender, annual crops, that I now grow as established perennials.
This is one of my garden beds from August, 2011. Sad, really sad.

With the disappointing experience of this past summer fresh in my mind, the stinging heat that was too hot for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants to set fruit, the hot winds, the lack of moisture for nearly two months, and the hordes of insects that attacked every food crop, I’m making changes for next year. It didn’t matter what the crop was, or how much water we poured on the garden, there was a lull between the first of July and the end of August. No plant produced like it should have, most barely survived to be alive. The same was true for last year, as well.

What I’ve learned from this recent experience it’s likely we’ll continue having severe summers and disappointing gardens for some years ahead. With that in mind, I am planning for a very different garden next year. I will plant an early spring garden, some of it in waist-high cold frames (you can see photos on my garden blog). They’re cheap and easy to use. That provides an early season crop before bugs are a problem.
This simple cold frame is nothing more than 1/2 inch pvc pipe bent to support clear plastic.

I’ll still plant a few tomatoes and peppers, but not as my primary crop. Instead, I’ll plant more of those in late June rather than late April, and aim for a later summer crop. We have the best garden of this season right now, in October, with more lettuce, carrots, green beans, beets, squash and eggplant, better than anything we produced during the summer. Another good thing about planting a garden in mid to late August for fall crops, is you avoid a nearly all of the insect pests. Squash bugs, stink bugs, Japanese beetles and potato bugs, are past their cycles and the crops they attack are thriving now without bug problems.
This is early April and the coldframe is full of spinach and lettuce.

While it’s too late to plant a fall garden now in October, you can still plant things for spring. You can plant onion and leek seed now, lettuce, spinach and kale can still be planted and kept over with just a little protection like a sheet of clear plastic or a simple cold frame. It’s not too late for garlic and shallots, as well. Poppies, larkspur and cilantro can also be seeded into beds this month. Cover crops like buckwheat can be planted in the garden beds for winter, then plowed in next spring, adding fertility and organic matter.

You might enjoy my book, How to Grow and Use the Ten Most Popular Herbs, available from my website.
Happy gardening!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Better Gardening Next Year

Ozarks Gardening; Sep. 1, 2011
Jim Long

My cousin, Bonnie and husband, Ernie, who live in Seattle told me they are still waiting on their first ripe tomato of the season. It’s normal for the Pacific Northwest to have moderately cool summers, but generally they pick their first ripe tomatoes about the third week of July. Not this year, with daily temperatures staying in the low 70s.

This past week I made my annual trip to the Garden Writers Association conference, held this year in Indianapolis. The trade show is a large part of the event, along with lots of speakers and workshops about the business of writing. I was there promoting my book, How to Eat a Rose, in conjunction with the International Herb Association’s designation of the rose as the official Herb of the Year for 2012.
Josh Kirschenbaum with the Mighty 'Mato brand of grafted tomatoes.

At the conference I visited with Josh Kirschenbaum, the PR guy for Territorial Seed. They’re the seed company who introduced the Mighty 'Mato brand grafted tomato plants, with 2 different tomato varieties grafted onto one stem. He asked how the two plants he’d sent me back in May were doing. I admitted I hadn’t seen specific results, good or bad, since every bug in the Ozarks had attacked all one hundred of my tomato plants. And how there was just no control for the weeks of temperatures in the early one hundreds.

Josh had brought along tomatoes from Territorial’s trial gardens. They’d collected their first ripe tomatoes, near Portland, Oregon, on August 21. What he brought, which he described as the entire crop of ripe tomatoes to date (on 60 plants) could be piled into two cupped hands. The tomatoes were small, ping pong ball to golf ball size, and those were Better Boys! Like Seattle, Portland has been plagued with chilly days and even chillier nights and tomatoes don’t like that any more than ours have liked the heat.
The tomatoes produced, they just were dwarfed.

I visited my friends up near Osceola, Missouri a couple of weeks ago to check on their experiment with tomato grafting. As you know, tomatoes in Missouri or Arkansas, in mid August, should be over shoulder high and lopped over, hanging downward. You may recall their grafting experiment was with 2,000 grafted tomatoes, growing beside 4,000 non-grafted ones.
Big tomatoes off of little bitty plants.

My friends took me out to the field to see the tomatoes, saying I should prepare to be shocked. When we got there on the 4-wheeler, I admit I stood with my mouth hanging open like I’d been struck dumb-stupid. The scene before me were acres of tomato plants, no more than knee-high. Each plant was full of large 6 and 8 ounce tomatoes, about a bushel per plant, but the plants were dwarfed. They explained that every plant was that way, regardless of whether it was a hybrid or heirloom, grafted on not. The tomatoes had been irrigated regularly and all received the same fertilizer, but simply had not grown to full size. I inquired whether they could draw any conclusions about the grafted vs the non-grafted tomatoes and my friend, Lonnie said, “The one thing I’ve learned from this experiment, is that this was not the year to do experiments.” I think it’s a pretty good observation. Don’t judge your gardening talents by this year’s results, nothing was going our way this season, for anyone.

Better gardening next year!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Water Regularly to Keep Your Plants Alive

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

Water to Keep Your Plants Alive

My father had a theory about watering plants. He said that once you start watering plants in a dry season, they come to depend on it, therefore, he wouldn’t start. Of course he was right, once you start watering garden plants, they do start depending on you. But the alternative is to let your plants die, or wait so long to begin watering that they are so completely stressed they won’t recover.

Here are some suggestions for keeping your plants alive. With trees and shrubs you planted this spring (or even last fall), they need a minimum of 10 gallons of water a week, allowed to soak in slowly. It’s better if they have two 10 gallon buckets full a week, soaked in slowly. Don’t make the mistake of soaking them every day, too much water is almost as bad as not enough; the roots will sit there in the wet and not grow at all. If you paid out good money for the tree you planted back in the spring, then weekly watering to keep it alive is a good investment in a shade tree of the future.

With lawns, 3 waterings a week, about 2 hours each time, should keep the grass green. However some varieties of grass will go dormant in dry weather. Bermuda grass, for example, will survive the heat and drought and when it starts raining again, will commence growing again. Bluegrass or similar turf grass lawns, by contrast, need a constant supply of moisture, so it’s best to water those every other day.

Roses and tomatoes both do best if watered in early morning. If you are one of those folks who likes to take the garden hose and spray down your roses or tomatoes late in the afternoon, wetting down the plants and shooting a bit at the roots, then you are doing more harm than good. Both roses and tomato plants are prone to fungal problems, and fungus spores love a hot, wet environment. That method of watering insures you will have blackspot and mildew on your roses because the leaves stay wet overnight. It insures your tomatoes will develop wilt faster, and spread quicker, as well. A much safer and more efficient method is to use a soaker hose in your row of tomatoes and soak them for about an hour, twice each week. Or, use the garden hose without a nozzle, and soak around each tomato plant (or rose bush) for 2 minutes, move on to the next one then come back and do the first one again. Aim only at the root area, don’t soak the leaves. If you must use an overhead sprinkler, use it in the early morning so that the air and sunlight evaporates the moisture from the leaves quickly.

For herbs of most any kind, along with beans and carrots, they are less picky about how they receive water. Overhead sprinklers are fine, soaker hoses work well, too. But with peppers and eggplant, they also do best if watered early in the morning rather than late in the evening. Peppers, eggplants and tomatoes are all distant cousins and while peppers and eggplants don’t suffer from as many fungal problems as tomatoes, keeping their foliage dry when you water the roots is best.
The important thing is don’t use my father’s advice. He would let his garden plants suffer until they couldn’t be revived with water. The better method is to water your plants on a regular basis, not daily because the roots need to go a bit deeper. But 2 or 3 times each week, soak the roots of all your plants well and they will have a very good chance of making it through this persistent drought.

Click the “Follow this blog” button, and you will receive a notice each time a new column appears. Stay cool and keep your plants healthy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Worst Garden Year!

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

“Worst Garden Year, Ever”

This week I was in upper Michigan, between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The temperatures should be fairly mild there, but instead, were in the mid-90s. Not nearly as bad as the 105 degrees we had in Taney County, MO the day I left, but still hot for those folks.

My reason for being there was to speak at the International Herb Association conference, which draws people from as far away as California, Virginia, Massachusetts, Florida and Texas. The big topic between events and in the evenings, was how difficult a garden year this is. For everyone. I kept hearing, “this is the worst garden year ever!”

Hearing people from across the country telling their garden woes, somehow eased a little of my own discouragement. This is a tough garden year, for everyone.

First, we had too much rain, too little sunshine and longer cool temperatures than are ideal. From the chilly, wet spring we went directly into heat, wind and drought. Plants in the spring didn’t put down deep roots due to the excess moisture. Then when the rains quit, plants suffered from too shallow roots, which in turn, stressed out the leaves and tops.

When plants struggle, like tomatoes, corn, kale and other crops have in these past few weeks, insect pests launch their attack. Insects can sense when a plant is under stress, and they start chewing.

This year we’ve been struggling with squash vine borers for the first time, coupled with cucumber beetles and squash bugs. Fortunately, Japanese beetles are fewer this year in our garden, due in part, I believe, to the Milky Spore Bacteria I’ve been applying spring and fall. It takes awhile for that to have an effect, but it seems to be doing its job.

We’re getting crops of tomatoes, beans, peppers and more, but not in the quantities we’d expect. When temperatures climb over 90 degrees, tomato plants start dropping their flowers instead of setting fruit. We have soaker hoses in most beds, lots of mulch on everything and using all the organic methods we can to keep plants alive and happy, but it’s hard to do anything about the intense heat.

So, if it’s any consolation to your gardening woes this summer, you’re not alone. Lots of us are in the same boat and gardens everywhere are struggling.

Here's what a friend told me he uses for squash vine borers and says it works pretty well:
When you see the hole at the base of the plant where the squash vine borer has entered, stick a crochet hook into the hole and pull out, and kill the borer. Then pile up soil around the wound on the squash stem. The squash will send out roots into the new soil above where the borer was, and the vine will be saved.

He also sprinkles several moth balls around the base of squash plants just as they begin to bloom. Evidently the moth that lays the egg of the borer doesn't like the smell of moth balls and avoids most of the squash!

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Grafted Tomatoes

Tomatoes are grafted when quite small. Notice the grafting clips.
Grafted Tomatoes

In recent years heirloom tomatoes varieties have made a big comeback. The buying public has grown increasingly weary of store-bought tomatoes which have no flavor. More gardeners have turned to growing heirloom tomatoes, which have outstanding tomato flavor. But many heirloom tomatoes are prone to virus problems (which is one of the reasons tomatoes were hybridized, to avoid some of the disease problems).

Heirloom tomatoes have the best flavor in taste-tests.

According to several garden forums and blogs, the top-rated tomato for flavor is the ‘Brandywine,’ followed by ‘Cherokee Purple’ ‘Sun Gold’ and ‘Beefmaster.’ Of course, each gardener has their own tastes and preferences.

Log House Plants in Cottage Grove, OR has been testing grafted tomatoes for several years, attaching such varieties as ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Sun Gold’ to the roots of reliably stronger, disease resistant root stock. Their testing has shown an average of 30% increased tomato production, without the disease problems.

In their growing trials, Log House Plants planted grafted and non-grafted tomatoes of the same varieties side by side, in exactly the same growing conditions. The results were dramatic. The grafteds produced larger, healthier plants with more pounds of tomatoes per plant than the non-grafted ones. Additionally, near the end of the season when the non-grafted tomatoes had ceased producing, the grated tomatoes continued producing fruit right up to frost.
A grafted tomato that is well established, the graft is between my fingers.

Grafting tomatoes isn’t new, it’s been done commercially in New Zealand and Japan for many years. What is new is growers, like Territorial Seed, are making the grafted tomatoes available to home gardeners. There’s considerable labor involved in the grafting process, making the tomato plants more expensive, but tests have shown the stronger plants and longer production make it a good investment.
Field trials side by side of grafted and non-grafted tomatoes.

I visited a certified organic commercial farm in central Missouri recently where friends grow for both farmers markets and Whole Foods stores. They are conducting their own trials with grafted tomatoes to see if the claims about production yields are true. They’ve planted 4,000 non-grafted tomatoes, beside 2,000 grafted ones and are keeping detailed records. If the grafted tomatoes live up to their reputation, these folks will move to using all grafted tomatoes next season.
Lonnie and a flat of grafted tomatoes, ready for planting.

What’s this mean for us little gardeners? It means if you like the flavor of heirloom tomatoes but are tired of the virus problems that often come with them, you may want to consider ordering some grafted tomatoes next year. I’ll be reporting more about my own small trials with Territorial Seed grafted tomatoes, along with the trials of the friends who have the 2,000 grafted tomatoes.  Territorial Seed offers a variety of grafted tomato varieties by mail. Happy gardening!