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Monday, September 30, 2013

Fish House Green Tomato Pickles

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright 2013, Jim Long

Green Tomato Pickles

We’re at the end of the tomato growing season with lots of green tomatoes on hand.  There are several choices about what to do with the tomatoes before cold weather arrives.

You could wrap them individually with newspaper and put them in a box where they’ll ripen slowly over the next few months. A drawback to this method is you have to unwrap every tomato to see if it’s ripening. You could use my method and leave them on the windowsill over the sink, unwrapped, where they will ripen slowly and provide tomatoes right up to the Holidays. Or, you could make a batch or two of fish house green tomato pickles. Here’s my recipe, it’s easy, quick and provides a batch of outstanding green tomato pickles.
Quartered tomatoes.

Fish House Green Tomato Pickles

2 quarts quartered green tomatoes
2 large onions, chopped or sliced
1/3 cup chopped hot peppers
1/3 cup chopped sweet red bell peppers
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons salt
3 cups white vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seed

Combine ingredients in a large cooking pan and bring to a 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 finger-tighten. Place jars into a boiling water bath, with at least 1 inch of water above the jar lids. Bring to a boil and keep slowly boiling for 15 minutes (for pints, 10 minutes for half-pints; if you are above 1,000 ft. elevation, increase processing time accordingly). Remove and cool on a towel. Don't tinker with the lids, they will seal in 30 minutes or so. Let cool overnight then label and store in the pantry. These are best after the flavors have matured, about 2 weeks or more, and will keep for one to two years in the pantry.
Fish House Green Tomato Pickles, ready for winter.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

World's Hottest Pepper

For many years I've been growing what was the World's Hottest Pepper, the Bhut Jolokia, or Ghost Pepper. In my book, Make Your Own Hot Sauce, I give some background of the pepper and offer a few recipes in using it in hot sauce. This year for the first time, I'm growing the current record holder for the world's hottest pepper, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. Later today I'll be making a batch of hot sauce with both of these peppers.
The two world's hottest peppers.
Depending on the source (I accept the New Mexico State University Chili Pepper Institute's measurements) the heat, measured in Schoville Heat Units, or SHU, can vary slightly. They rate the Ghost pepper at 330,000 to 1,023,310 SHUs. The new record holder, the Scorpion, weighs in at 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 SHUs.
In other words, it's pretty darned hot! So you may wonder, why would anyone want peppers that hot? Well, for the guys (and it IS a guy thing) who crossed the ghost pepper with a Red Savina habanero pepper and came up with the Scorpion, it means bragging rights. It also means they can license seed companies to sell their seed, and make a profit. But beyond that, believe it or not, these intensely hot peppers, have flavor, as well. Flavors not necessarily found in other peppers. And you don't eat them raw, or you shouldn't because it can be dangerous. But if you mix them with other kinds of peppers and ingredients, you get the flavor and not as much of the heat. To give an idea of where this heat comes on the giant pepper heat scale, keep in mind the Scorpion comes in at between one million and half and two million heat units. For comparison, look at the Jalapeño and Cayenne listing, below.
A Jalapeño pepper is rated at 3,500 to 8,000 SHUs. And my favorite for roasting and eating, the Poblano, is almost without heat, with 1,000 to 2,500 SHUs.
But if I combine some roasted Poblanos, a few Jalapeños, onions, garlic, vinegar, cilantro and a couple of Ghost peppers and a Scorpion, it will be a tasty hot sauce for just about anything I put it on. I'm getting ready to do a program on making hot sauce for the Ozarks Area Community Congress coming up next weekend and we'll have some tasting of my different sauces. This one I'll probably name, Two Ghosts and a Scorpion.
Various hot sauces I've made so far.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pepper Roasting

A pepper roaster, ready to work.

A few years ago I drove the entire Santa Fe Trail. I’ve been a speaker for the Santa Fe Trail Symposium, but had never actually driven the entire route from Independence, MO, through southern Colorado and into Santa Fe. It was enjoyable, of course, but it also created an addiction for me. Traveling that route in early fall means passing hundreds of roadside pepper roasters in action.
Pepper roaster in action.

At every roadside stand, people were standing in lines to buy hot roasted peppers to eat or freeze for later. I bought some to bring home, just to see what all the excitement was about. That’s what got me hooked on roasting peppers.

Now, 5 years later, I’m growing 40 varieties of hot and mild peppers. Some are for drying but many are for roasting and eating on top of steaks, or turning into hot sauce. I make lots of hot sauce and wrote a book last year with my favorite hot sauce recipes (Make Your Own Hot Sauce, available on my website, including directions for canning sauces for winter.

I’ve been roasting peppers on my grill and in the toaster oven ever since, but it’s more tedious and slow. I still have to put the hot, roasted peppers into a paper bag to steam them and loosen the skins. It’s certainly worth the effort, but not as efficient as using a pepper roaster.
The propane flame underneath roasts and peels the peppers.

This year I felt I could justify buying myself a real pepper roaster. It’s a metal cage with a hand-crank handle on the end. It holds 5 pounds of peppers and has a propane burner underneath. Turning the handle keeps the peppers moving over the flame and as they toss, the pepper skins char and fall off, leaving me with roasted and peeled peppers.

Sweet peppers are just as tasty as hot peppers, just without the heat. Thick walled peppers roast better than thin walled ones. Hatch pepper, an especially good flavored, little heat pepper are available through the fall season in several local grocery stories.

To see a pepper roaster in operation, one place you can visit is the Springfield (Missouri) Farmers Market on Republic Road any Saturday morning (or a check the farmers market near you). You can roast them on your barbecue grill, as well. Once you've tasted this amazing culinary marvel, you can join me in enjoying one of the authentic flavors of the 1840s and of life along the historic Santa Fe Trail.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Canning Salsa

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright 2013, Jim Long


Canning Salsa

This week I’ve been canning salsa. Like nearly every other gardener I’ve talked to this summer, I’ve had a lot of split and damaged tomatoes from the earlier rains. I don’t want to waste the tomatoes so I cut out the damage and turn the good parts into salsa. Over the years I’ve tried a lot of canned salsa recipes and this one has become my favorite. Using 2 jalapenos gives a mild sauce, 4 makes a medium and for a hotter sauce, use 5-6 jalapenos.

8 cups, peeled and quartered tomatoes
1 large yellow onion, sliced
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled
2-4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice

Combine the ingredients in a food processor and coarsely chop everything. Pour that into a cooking pot and bring to a simmer, about 10 minutes. Pour hot salsa into hot pint jars, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace. Seal jars with two-piece lids and process in boiling water for 15 minutes. Makes 4-5 pints.

If you want a simple fresh salsa, you might like this one.

Basic Fresh Salsa

3-4 medium sized tomatoes, chopped (about 3 cups)
4-5 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup red or yellow bell pepper, diced
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons freshly-chopped cilantro
1/2 (or 1 whole for hotter) jalapeno, seeded and diced fine
2 garlic cloves, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine ingredients and refrigerate for an hour before serving with chips.

Visit my website to see my books which have lots more of my recipes and gardening information. Happy gardening!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Grandma Harper's Sweet Pickles

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright 2013 Jim Long

Grandma Harper's Sweet Pickles

This has been a good cucumber-growing year. I make these pickles every 2 or 3 years, a necessary ingredient in tuna salad, potato salad and deviled eggs. It’s a recipe that’s been in my family at least 4 generations.

8-12 medium-sized cucumbers (about 8 inches long)
Wash cucumbers but don’t cut off the blossom end; if you do it will make the pickles softer.
Don't remove the blossom end, tests prove leaving it on increases crispness.

Place washed cucumbers in a stone jar (or stainless or enamel pan) large enough to hold the cucumbers submerged in water. Bring enough water to cover the cukes, to a boil, and pour that over the cucumbers, covering completely. Put a plate on the cucumbers to weight it down to hold the cucumbers under the water.
Cucumbers, ready for plate to hold them down.

The following day, pour off the water, bring fresh water to boil and cover the cucumbers again, also weighing down to hold them under the water. Repeat this process of drain, rinse and pour boiling water, for 4 successive mornings).
Cut-up cukes, ready for vinegar mixture.

On the 5th day, drain off the water and rinse the cucumbers. Rinse out the container, too. Cut the cucumbers into slices or chunks and put those back into the container. Over that pour the following:

8 cups sugar
4 cups apple cider vinegar
5 tablespoons pickling salt (not table salt)
2 tablespoons mixed pickling spices, available at the grocery store

Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Pour this boiling mixture over the cut-up cucumbers in the container, replace the plate to hold the pickles down in the mixture. Leave this for 2 to 4 days before you can them. Process in a boiling water bath. (Consult the Ball Blue Book for processing times based on size of jars you’re using).

Visit my garden blog, as well, for more stories and recipes:
The finished sweet pickles, ready for the pantry. They'll keep 3-4 years easily.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Deadheading Summer Garden Plants

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright Jim Long, 2013

One of the jobs I’ve given my garden interns this season is deadheading. Our first intern from Pennsylvania, arrived in early April and stayed through mid-June. Our second intern came from Minnesota and worked for a shorter period. Both, however, had never heard the term, deadheading, nor understood its purpose. I’m pleased to say they went away fully grasping its importance in the garden.

Perennial herbs such as sage, lavender, hyssop, thyme and a few others that come into blooming in the spring need some deadheading. They look picture-perfect for several weeks before the flowers wither and the plants begin to look leggy. Unless you do some pruning of the flower stalks after they bloom - called deadheading, the plants will likely die out in spots. This is particularly true of creeping thyme and sage (lavender, too, if you want it to bloom a second time). Prune off the flower stalks to encourage new growth.

Roses, too, benefit greatly from being deadheaded. Even the perpetual bloomers will try to set seed and when a plant does that, its chemistry changes and the plant resources go mostly toward growing seed. Simply pruning back the limb tips where the roses have withered will encourage more blooming.

If you don’t deadhead or prune back the blooming tips of basil plants, the leaves will turn bitter and stop producing. Left un-pruned, basil will quickly go to flowering, produce seed and the plant will die. For the best flavor and healthy growth, all basil plants should be pruned with scissors about every ten days. You can prune back up to a third of the plant without doing any damage, and what you will receive in return for your efforts is tender, tasty new basil leaves for cooking and pesto.

Even annual plants like broccoli need the process of pruning. That head of broccoli we like to eat, is actually the beginning of the flowering process. If you left broccoli alone and didn’t cut out the broccoli heads, it would start blooming.

Those of us who’ve received no rainfall for several weeks need to start mulching our vegetable beds in earnest. A thick layer of straw, 6-8 inches deep, helps hold in the moisture. Watering every 4-5 days instead of daily is recommended for all garden plants. Watering at the base of plants like tomatoes, peppers and beans is best. One of the ways to encourage mildew and fungus problems is by spraying the leaves of plants instead of watering their roots, so we all want to avoid that.

It’s the season of ripe tomatoes, sweet, tasty roasting ears and lots of green beans. Happy gardening!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Long Creek Herb Farm Pizza

Ozarks Gardening
Copyright 2013, Jim Long

USA Today story.

We’ve been honored with a pizza named for us! Three years ago USA Today asked readers to choose the best pizzas in America. One pizza place in each state was chosen as the winner. Reeds Spring Pizza won the best Pizza in Missouri, and was given the honor of one of the top-50 best pizza places across America. This year, once again, Reeds Spring Pizza came out number one in Missouri. That’s high praise from customers.
Flavie Mirat with a Long Creek Herb Farm pizza out of the oven.

So it’s easy to see why we felt especially honored when Reeds Spring Pizza announced this week they were adding a special Long Creek Herb Farm pizza to their already impressive menu. (They have been using two of my salad dressing recipes from my book, The Best Dressed Salad, for several years).
Long Creek Herb Farm Pizza

What’s on “our” special pizza? First, their own recipe thin crust pizza dough, covered with lemon-rosemary olive oil, then spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, parmesan cheese, pecans, bacon and topped with kalamata olives and baked. When the pizza comes out of the oven, it’s topped with fresh, edible flowers! People drive from several states to eat at Reeds Spring Pizza and if you happen to be there, ask for the Long Creek Herb Farm Pizza.

We’ve picked our first ripe tomatoes this week, along with the first blackberries and raspberries. I’ve been keeping the tomato plants sprayed with Neem oil every 10 days and the aphids and wilt signs haven’t showed up yet. Prevention is always the best cure and I’m hopeful this will be a bountiful tomato year.

If you don’t have access to Neem oil (available at many Ace Hardware stores), and you want to avoid using chemicals in your garden, you might consider using Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew. It’s certified organic and does an excellent job of combating garden pests. It works on potato bugs, loopers, leaf miners, spider mites, borers, bagworms, beetles and several more. Spray it late in the day so as to not kill your beneficial lady bugs and bees.

Happy gardening!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spittlebugs on Garden Plants

Spittlebug bubbles on lavender stem.

Who Spit on My Plants?

It’s the season for spittlebugs (Cercopidae family). You may see what looks like spit on plant stems but don’t blame it on the neighbor kids or the guy next door. The spittle, or foam, is made by a tiny insect that's so small you will likely never see one. The bug likes lavender, strawberries, salvia, rosemary and a variety of other plants. The spittle is a protective covering for the nymph of this insect. It attaches itself to a plant stem, then secretes a liquid that turns into bubble-like foam, around itself. This foam hides the spittlebug from predators, insulates them from temperature fluctuations and keeps them moist.

Spittlebug eggs are laid in late summer and overwinter on plant debris. The eggs hatch in spring and the young nymphs then crawl up plants and attach themselves, then make their protective covering of “spit.” These insects do little harm to plants. They feed somewhat on the plant’s sap, but unless you have large amounts of these little clumps of spittle, there’s no need to use any kind of poison on them. The easiest control is to use the spray from a garden hose and wash them off the plant with plain water onto the ground, where predators can easily eat them.

The "spit" is a protective coating around the tiny nymph inside.

So don't despair when you see the cluster of bubbles on your lavender or other plants. The spittle is made by a tiny insect to protect itself from birds and other insects. Spray it away with a garden hose and forgive it for looking like spit. Who knows what our house looks like to it?

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Organic Fungus Controls in the Garden

Powdery mildew can affect bee-balm (Monarda) as well as roses, squash and other plants.

Copyright Jim Long 2013; Ozarks Gardening
Cool, damp weather encourages a new set of problems in the garden. We’ve had rains, chilly nights, humid and cloudy days, all things which create conditions for fungus and mildew to grow. If let untreated, either of those can slow down or kill garden plants. There are some simple solutions and remedies that cost little and are effective. 

Powdery mildew is a condition you may find on squash, cucumber, melon and rose leaves. As the name implies, the leaves take on a white or gray, dusty coating. Powdery mildew starts as a small, round white spot on the leaves. In just a few days, the spot has grown to cover the entire leaf. Here’s a simple treatment that shows good results.

Mix up 1 part plain whole milk from the refrigerator with 9 parts water. Pour into a garden sprayer and spray the affected plants in early morning. Repeat the spraying twice a week until the mildew disappears. There’s lots of research showing plain milk is as effective as chemical fungicides, and it’s a whole lot cheaper and more safe. It’s also good to avoid excess fertilizer in cool, damp weather as that can encourage mildew problems, as well. 

Pepper plant suffering from root rot.
Root rot is another common problem when the weather is damp and cool. Plants appear to wilt and die for no apparent reason. Watering the plant makes the problem worse as the fungi, including Pythium, Rhizoctonia, Pytophthora and Fusarium, can be spread to other plants by water run-off. Here’s a simple treatment that costs almost nothing.

Cornmeal, worked into the soil before planting encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria that combats various fungi from growing (which is why I always recommend using agricultural cornmeal in your tomato beds in February and March). But simply sprinkling a half cup of agricultural cornmeal (or even plain, cheap cornmeal from the grocery store) around each plant is helpful. Work it into the soil around each plant to prevent root rot. For plants that are already affected, use the same method, but if the plant doesn’t show some response in about 10 days, pull up the plant and destroy it to prevent the fungus from spreading to other plants.

I haven’t tried this one, but if you have, let me know of your results: Farmers in India are using Coca Cola as a spray pesticide on crops instead of commercial pesticides, with good results. Either the sugar or the caffein (or both) seem to deter insect problems. I couldn’t find the ratio of Coke to water, but if you have tried this successfully, please let me know. 

You can find more of my stories and gardening information on my garden adventures blog, You can order my books and products from my website by clicking on this link: Happy Gardening!

One of my newest books is the Make Your Own Hot Sauce. Check it out on my website.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Safe Organic Garden Pest Control Formulas

Anytime I can find a safe control for pests in the garden or yard, I use them. Rather than using a chemical that kills everything, I choose methods that only target a specific pest. Here are some simple pest controls I use.

Packrats and mice in the riding lawnmower: buy a little bottle of mint oil - spearmint or peppermint, and soak a cotton ball. Place it somewhere around the motor and wiring where it will stay put. Rats and mice hate the smell of mint and will stay away. Replace the cotton ball and mint oil every 3-4 weeks. Mint cooking extract works, too, although the smell disappears faster than the mint oil.

Cabbage worms: once the worms start, you can control them with a safe, non-chemical spraying once a week of bacillus (available at garden centers, feed stores). To prevent the worms, make a simple paper barrier early in the year, as soon as you plant cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower or kale. To do that, cut a square of heavy paper or cardboard, about 4 inches by 4 inches square. Make a slit halfway across the square, then slip it around the base of the plant, flat with the ground. Cabbage worms start out as cabbage moths, which lay their eggs at the base of the plants, then they hatch into cabbage worms. By preventing the egg-laying, you are preventing a good many of the worms you would have later.

Soft-bodied insects, such as mites, aphids and mealybugs: Mix 1 tablespoon canola oil and 4 drops of Ivory soap (Ivory works best) into a quart of plain water. Pour into a spray bottle, shake well and spray the leaves of the affected plants both on top and underneath the leaves.

Mites: mix 2 tablespoons of hot pepper sauce with 5-6 drops Ivory dish soap into a quart of water. Let the mixture stand overnight, pour into a spray bottle, shake well then spray affected plants. Shake container often during application.

Slugs: Little lids of beer placed under the plants that are affected works well. Diatomaceous earth (a natural finely-ground shell) scattered around the plants works on slugs, snails and other soft-bodied insects. The tiny shell particles, called diatoms, work by puncturing the outsides of soft-bodied pests but are not harmful to pets or humans.

Fungal diseases: Mix 2 tablespoons baking soda into a quart of water. Pour into a sprayer bottle and spray affected areas. Repeat application every few days.

Hollyhocks: the bugs that riddle the leaves of hollyhocks can be stopped before they destroy the plant buy using this formula I first learned about from Sharon Lovejoy: combine 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 tablespoon canola oil, 1/2 teaspoon dish soap (Ivory works best), 1/2 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon of water. Shake well and pour into a sprayer. Spray the underneath sides of the leaves at the first signs of holes in the lowest leaves. Repeat, spraying underneath all of the leaves each week.

Caution: sprays which kill harmful insects may also kill beneficial insects. Use the homemade formulas selectively, only spraying plants that are infected. Always apply early in the morning or just before dark to avoid bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. Apply again after a rain.

Happy gardening!

Copyright May, 2013, Jim Long

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What's to Know About Garden Soil?

In my early 20s I worked in a garden center. We sold Scott’s Miracle-Grow fertilizers, potting soils and pesticides. Back in those days, shortly after Rachael Carson’s ground-breaking book, Silent Spring was published, most of us still didn’t question what we put on our gardens or lawns.

We’ve all learned a lot in the years since 1962 when Silent Spring was published, about the relationship of the chemicals we use and the quality of our streams, lakes and water supplies, and of our health. Often when I speak to groups about growing herbs and vegetables, I am asked for my recommendations for fertilizing the garden.

First I explain herbs don’t need fertilizer. Unless you live on a big, flat rock, there’s plenty of fertility in your soil for growing any kind of herbs. Fertilize them and you’ll have less flavor. Then I explain I recommend not using Miracle-Grow or similar water-soluble fertilizers on garden crops. Why? Aside from requiring gas and coal to manufacture them, they contain salts and soaps (which help the chemicals dissolve). Those wind up running into streams and lakes where they stagnate the water and ruin areas for fish and other aqua-wildlife. Worse, many of those fertilizers also contain pesticides. You’d be right if you said they’re not listed on the label, and Scott’s in particular was fined several million dollars for not labeling their bird seed products correctly and killing thousands of songbirds recently.

Do you really want pesticides in your tomatoes and lettuce? If you use a water-soluble fertilizer and spray your garden plants, or if you simply pour it on with a sprinkler can, the plants will take up the fertilizer along with the pesticide. (Ever wonder why Miracle-Grow plants look so blue-green and have fewer insects than plants without it?) Once your plants take up the fertilizer-pesticide, it’s in the tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and other plants you eat. Over time, how much damage does eating pesticides do to your body? Is it worth the risk? I don’t think it is. That's just my opinion.

The same companies that make those fertilizers also make potting soils. Cheap potting soils that the big box stores sell. Those soils include the same ingredients - fertilizer with pesticides, along with soap (a wetting agent to keep the soil moist). One such “organic” fertilizer, Hyponex, is made from a combination of construction wastes such as ground-up lumber, sand and debris, and has such a bad reputation that Colorado State University released a warning about using it. (The Garden Forum website also lists discussions about this).

My advice for fertilizers and soil? Use what nature provides. Use compost and organic materials and keep pesticides and herbicides out of our streams and out of our food. Happy gardening!

Copyright©2013 Jim Long

Monday, March 11, 2013

Shady Garden Herb - Spicebush

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Spicebush is one of the earliest herb bushes to flower in the spring. Some years it's blooming in late February and ours was just beginning. But this week it's in full form. The flowers are tiny - although in my photo above the look deceptively larger. The fragrance is sweet but faint, the kind of smell you notice while walking in the woods but can't quite detect where it's coming from. This is a plant I came to love, thanks to my late friend, Billy Joe Tatum (who I've written about many times here, before).

Spicebush berries in the fall, also good for seasoning.

Spicebush is one the few shade-loving herbs. It will grow in dense shade or part sun, even finding its way into open meadows. The plant is native from Ohio down into Eastern Texas and as far north as Central Missouri. It can grow out of its native region and likes moderate to moist soil conditions. It grows to the size of a lilac bush and spreads very slowly by root division.

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly on spicebush leaves.

Why is this such a good herb to grow? The leaves, twigs and red berries are all excellent for cooking. It's especially good for wild game, venison, stews and the like. My friend Billy Joe, used to cook venison using a combination of spice bush leaves/twigs or berries, along with red wine, soy sauce and garlic, making a marinade for the venison. After 12 hours marinating, the venison was cooked slowly until tender.

The leaves, twigs and berries are also used to make a winter tea when you have a sore throat or fever and is an old-time folk remedy. This is a good plant to grow if you want an unusual but native plant for your shade garden. There's also the bonus of bright yellow leaves in the fall!

If you do a Google search for spicebush plants, you'll find several nurseries that sell them. Happy almost spring!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Buy Spring Bulbs While They're Fresh

Garden centers, nurseries and big box stores have been receiving shipments of new things for the garden. Many, like Lowes, Home Depot and Wal-Mart, have already put their bulbs and packaged bare root plants on display.

I have a bad habit of not looking at their offerings until late in the season when prices are marked down. By then, the packaged bare root plants are either growing out of the packages, or dead. Bulbs have turned into little, round mummies with no sign of life. Even at half-price, those are no bargain if they don’t grow.

This week I found 2 clematis I didn’t have in my garden, at one of the box stores. Clematis have notoriously tender stems and it’s easy to break them off from the roots. By the time a few hundred shoppers have dug through the display, lots of the plants will be damaged. But this week they were in pristine condition, and at a good price, so I bought them. Because they were bare root, in a bag with peat moss, I opened the bag and potted the plants. I’m keeping them in an unheated room to slow down their growing until time to plan them in the garden.

Bulbs such as gladiolas, callas and other summer bulbs, don’t do well when exposed to the dry, 78 degree air inside stores. Bulbs do best when stored around 40 degrees until planting time, so what happens in the store displays is that either the bulbs start sprouting, trying to grow, or they die. So if you wait until the close-out half-price sale, you can expect disappointment. It’s better to buy what you want now, while the plants and bulbs are fresh and undamaged.

When buying bare root plants, such as bundled strawberry, onion or leek plants, it’s a good idea to soak the bundle in water for half an hour before you plant them. The bundled plants are dormant and by soaking them briefly, they begin to wake up, breaking dormancy and will perk up faster once you plant them. The same holds true for bare root asparagus, berry plants or grapes. Keep those in a cool place with some damp newspaper or sawdust around the roots until ready to plant, then soak them in a bucket of water for half an hour.

If you are tempted by the inexpensive rose bushes sold in a bundle of sawdust, keep in mind you don’t want them breaking dormancy this early. While the tops have been dipped in wax to somewhat keep them dormant, should you bring them indoors where it’s warmer, they will start growing. It would be better to keep the bushes outdoors in a protected area to keep them from trying to grow too early. Otherwise the new growth will get damaged by freezes and frosts yet to come and that can sometimes kill back a new plant like bundled rose bushes.

Happy gardening!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wood Chips, Good for Gardens?

Wood chips are in abundant supply across the Ozarks. From road crews and electric companies grinding up trees and limbs, it’s easy and tempting to use chipped wood in the garden. But if you choose to use wood chips, there are some cautions about how you do it.

Wood chips do an excellent job of blocking out sunlight, preventing weeds and holding in moisture. However, as the chips decompose and break down, they rob large amounts of nitrogen from the soil and can weaken or damage your plants. Additionally, some kinds of wood chips can damage the plants in other ways. You can’t always tell what kind of wood has been chipped, and if there’s walnut or cedar mixed in the chip pile, both of those contain natural growth retarding chemicals. (That’s why you don’t see weeds growing under cedar trees, for example).

The bigger issue, though, is the nitrogen robbing that fresh wood chips cause. It’s part of the decomposition process for the wood breaking down, but as a mulch, fresh wood chips are not good for garden plants.

A safer method for using wood chips is to let them compost for at least a year before applying them to the garden. Two years is even better as that allows for any cedar oils or walnut oil (known as juglone) to leach out of the wood. Then you can apply the rotted wood chips as a mulch or soil additive and not be in danger of robbing the nitrogen the plants need.

Much of the soil in my garden has been created from, or with, wood chips. My method 30 years ago was to haul in piles of fresh wood chips and spread them in pathways in my garden. The chips would remain there for 2 years, then I would till up the rotted chips, mix them with well-composted manure and build new raised beds. (In the photo above, I am now using gravel in my pathways as I no longer need to create new soil).

If you do choose to use wood chips around your shrubs, berries or vegetables, use chips that are at least a year or two old. Mix them, half and half, with composted horse, chicken or cow manure, as long as the manure has been composted at least a year, also. That will add some nitrogen but in levels safe enough for your garden plants.

Wood chips are an excellent source for building new soil for beds. If mixed with manure and left to rot for 18 - 24 months, then tilled into existing soil, it can help the soil hold moisture and add fertility. Just be aware that if you use freshly chopped wood chips on the garden, you are likely to have weakened plants, slow growth, lots of fungal problems in the mulch and possibly even dead plants. Always use caution when using fresh wood chips around plants.

Copyright 2013 Jim Long

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Planting Potatoes, Onions and Peas

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My orders of seed potatoes and onion plants should arrive this week. Since I always plant both crops before Valentine’s Day, I order from companies that will ship to me when I’m ready. Most seed companies selling potatoes and onion plants have the caption, “Will ship at the correct planting time for your region.”

I’ve learned over the years that seed companies rely on their wholesale growers to ship to them first, before the catalog folks can ship to me. Years ago I decided to go right to the source and skip the seed catalog completely. Since the wholesale growers already have their onion plants and seed potatoes in stock, they’ll ship anytime the customer wants them shipped.

For the last several seasons I’ve order from Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, Maine (; 800-829-9765). They sell to gardeners as well as wholesale to other companies. I want my seed potatoes shipped the first of February, and it’s not a problem for them, and they don’t give me the runaround about “planting time in my area.” By ordering from these folks, I have a considerably larger selection of potato varieties than will be available in garden centers in a month or so. I like Rose Gold and Yukon Gem, both yellow-fleshed, good producing potatoes. I also grow the red-fleshed Adirondack Red, all of which produce well in the Ozarks.

Super Star onions

I order onion plants from Dixondale Farms in Carrizo Springs, Texas (877-367-1015; They are a commercial grower for the seed catalogs as well as shipping to garden centers, hardware stores and nurseries. They are also happy to sell to the home gardener and offer a good variety of onion plants. You can order by what grows best for your region (based on day-length). The Intermediate-Day varieties do best in the Ozarks and I order both a mixed selection or super sweets and red varieties, along with Super Star, the only onion to win the All-American Selections award. I’ve had great results with those in the past.

I’ve done comparisons in previous years, planting onion sets and onion plants side by side on the same date. Plants are always ready about 10 days earlier than sets in my garden, but lots of people still prefer sets.

If we have a repeat of last year’s heat and drought in mid-summer, as predicted, the best bet for good crops is early planting. By planting both in mid-February, potatoes and onions will be mature and ready for harvest well before the drought begins.

According to Ozarks tradition, peas should be planted on Valentine’s Day and I have mine ready to go. I’m planting 4 varieties this year, some for early harvest and others for later. Even if we have frigid weather, all three of these crops will survive just fine. Happy spring!

To see more garden stories, visit my gardening adventures blog

Ozarks Gardening, Copyright Jim Long, 2013

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ozarks Garden Planting Schedule

It’s always interesting to listen to someone who’s moved to the Ozarks from states farther north, talk about when they intend to plant their garden. The Ozarks climate is different than even northern Missouri, and with the repeating pattern of heat and drought in mid summer, here are my recommendations for planting schedules. Actually these are the times I use every year, but with the climate changing, it’s even more important to take advantage of early planting.

Beginning in early February
(Valentine’s Day is the traditional time in the Ozarks), I plant peas, onions and potatoes. It’s also the month to trim back sage and lavender plants by half to encourage better blooming and production, and to prune grape vines. Peach and apple trees should be pruned in mid to late February, as well, but wait until late March to prune rose bushes.

is time to sow parsnips and the first plantings of lettuce and radishes. Planting more lettuce and radishes every  2 or 3 weeks insures a continuous supply of those. Spinach and kale can be planted this month, as well.

In April, I till the garden beds, getting ready for peppers, tomatoes and carrots, even though I won’t plant those until about the third week of the month. Our average last frost date in much of the Ozarks (except for valleys or lower elevations) is May 1. For the past 2 years, the last frost I’ve had in my garden was in the last week of March.

I like to have my first planting of corn and beans in the ground by about the 20th of April.  I use a soil thermometer to check the soil temperatures. If it’s still too cool, I wait on planting corn for a few more days, otherwise the seed will rot.

Dark-colored beans can be sown in the garden in April but white-seeded beans need more soil warmth to germinate so I wait until after May 1 to plant those. By the end of April or first of May, any garden crop can be planted safely.

This year I’m looking at varieties of vegetables that are listed as, “does well in dry conditions.” Look at the descriptions in your seed catalogs. Check especially in Seed Savers, Johnny's Selected Seeds, Southern Exposure catalogs. Here are some varieties I'm planting this year, that are better suited to dry and hot conditions.

Beans: Cherokee Trail (Seed Savers); Empress (Seed Savers). Most beans do well in hot summers.
Okra: all okra varieties do best in hot summer conditions.
Tomatoes: virtually no tomato will set fruit when temperatures are above 94 degrees, but these can take more heat than some other varieties: Early Girl, Super-Sioux, Legendary (which is a determinate tomato). Cherokee Purple.
Malali watermelon

Watermelon: Malali, a variety that requires hot, dry conditions, from Seeds of Change.