“Lettuce” Talk

When it comes to home grown vegetables, there’s no question that tomatoes and peppers top the list in popularity. In the past few years however, the interest in both eating and drinking your garden has caused an explosion of interest in everything from kale to cucumbers and kohlrabi. So when do we eat cake? After dinner of course, and the same is for vegetables as the recipe for great tasting and healthy veggies starts with the dinner preparation: soil building. Soil building sets the stage for increased crop response and increased vitality.

Fun and "Veg"-ucational

Fun and “Veg”-ucational

“Turnip” the “beet” so to speak, because healthy soil means healthy plants which means, you’ve got it, healthy you. Your soil needs to be a good blend of carbon, minerals and biology. It’s not difficult and with a little “veg-ucation,” you’ll soon be harvesting the benefits. The best way to explain the ABCs to building blocks of better soil and ultimately better vegetables is as followed:

A Carbon improves the soil structure. Organic material provides both water holding capacity and air spaces. Think of carbon as plant and animal materials in various stages of decay; nicely stated, “lettuce” call it compost. One pound of carbon can hold up to 40 pounds of water while providing air space.

B Minerals, especially trace minerals or micronutrients, are lacking in tired soil and are needed for good taste and health.

C Biology (think micro-organisms and earthworms) in our soils help release locked up nutrients making them available to the plant.

With these three elements, we have a “living soil” able to support terrific tomatoes and rocking radishes.So you say you want Rick’s secret recipe for the best tasting healthiest vegetables? Details that aren’t “cucumber”-some?

Here are three simple steps I use to ensure proper soil nutrients year after year:

Every fall I work leaves into the soil to build carbon and add compost in spring.

I use Azomite to add minerals. Azomite is a natural source of 77 trace minerals (many soils are depleted of nutrients). Trace, or “micronutrients,” are important and should be considered in addition to the “major” nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Healthy soil Healthy plants Healthy you!

Healthy soil Healthy plants Healthy you!

To add biology to the soil, I use Dairy Doo formulated as a soil amendment crafted using dairy manure. Don’t forget herbs are the perfect companion to plant with your vegetables for many reasons including they both grow best in a sunny location. I don’t have any scientific evidence, but I am personally convinced that tomatoes taste better if grown in close proximity to basil, and peppers seem to pop in the presence of oregano.

Happy planting and harvesting. Healthy homegrown vegetables will soon have you feeling good from your head “tomatoes.”

Here today and gone "tomato"

Here today and gone “tomato”

Sprout it from the rooftops!

“Sprout” it from the rooftops! Spring has finally arrived.
April is an amazing month in West Michigan. We all emerge from our homes and become reacquainted with our neighbors as the sounds of lawn mowers once again fill the air on a spring evening. The lush green grass grows so fast it seems you can watch it grow. Tulips and daffodils push their way out of the soil and the once dormant stems of forsythia, lilacs and magnolia seem to swell with pride as their buds pop open. Easter celebrations and Arbor Day tree plantings symbolize a new beginning.

Say "yellow" to spring!

Say “yellow” to spring!

“Sprout” it from the rooftops….spring is finally here!
April is a good month for soil preparation, top dressing planting beds with compost and refreshing mulched landscape areas. Consider application of pre-emergence weed control in landscape beds as the soil warms up. Most weed seed will germinate when soil temperatures get to around 60 degrees. The same applies to your lawn as this is month to avoid crabgrass by applying pre-emergence crabgrass controls in April. An organic weed seed suppressant and natural nitrogen source you may want to try for both your lawn and landscape beds would be corn gluten.
Remember that after a long cold winter the deer and rabbits will find the emerging new vegetation a wonderful salad buffet and taste treat. Oh “deer”! Use some natural repellant sprays on emerging vegetation like tulips and hosta before they are “deerly” departed. Many good repellants use garlic and herbal oils as well as other smelly and bitter tastes to make the sprouting buffet less attractive. I also like to use Milorganite as a fertilizer at the base as it will also double as a helpful repellant to foraging creatures.
If you’re doing some tree planting or tree care to celebrate Arbor Day this month, make sure to do it right. Tree planting depth is an important consideration when planting. Trees planted too deep or trees that have a “volcano” of mulch mounded at the base do not establish well and suffer in future years. Good taper at the base, root collar health at the soil level and roots that are allowed to spread and work their way into the upper profile of the soil to seek out nutrients, water and footing are important considerations for your tree.

If this tree had been properly planted years ago issues like poor taper and girdling roots would not be an issue now

If this tree had been properly planted years ago issues like poor taper and girdling roots would not be an issue now

As you “sprout” it from the rooftops remember that even though we get some nice warm April days the overnight temperatures can drop to below freezing. We often get a few “zinger” overnight frosts in April and our last frost date is usually not until between May 10 and May 20. Some plants like Pansies can handle light frosts but other tender vegetation and sprouts may need to be protected from time to time so watch the forecasts and harden off tender plants gradually before planting outdoors. Container gardening affords you this opportunity by giving you the flexibility to move plants inside on the occasional frosty night.
Have fun and “sprout”it from the rooftops….it’s finally spring!

Snow Mold when the snow is “Lawn” gone

When the snow finally clears Grey Snow Mold becomes evident on the turf with a dramatic display

When the snow finally clears Grey Snow Mold becomes evident on the turf with a dramatic display

So why all the problems with snow mold this spring? The answer lies in my opinion with the weather last November. Even though you possibly did everything right, weather conditions set up for the perfect storm, especially if your lawn is clay soil based or you haven’t core aerated in a few years. The lawn was still growing when the early snows hit last year….followed by a long winter of snow cover. The lawn is the host and the disease we call snow mold was present waiting for conditions to be ripe. You see even though we as people are dealing in winter with frigid winds and cold….under the snow which serves as insulation the turf is in a wet humid dark environment with temperatures around or just above freezing….ideal conditions for snow mold. I went back to look and the first 10 to 15 days of November we had some days in the 50’s and 60’s. Mid November on we had wintery wet snow and the blanket caused a problem. Especially if you are a person who puts their lawn mower away based on a calendar as opposed to putting it away with a good short cut when it stops growing. The turf continued to grow and could not photosynthesize due to dark conditions. At that point the dormant snow mold had the “perfect storm” conditions to develop under the snow and persist until the snow finally cleared last week. In most cases a leaf raking with some sunlight and air will allow the lawn to recover. In serious cases where there is crown damage their may be dead grass where turf areas need to be re-seeded. It is a good reminder too in my opinion that if you have a clay based soil lawn that fall aeration is a good idea. It is also interesting to note that the fungus under the cover of snow produces a gas that can be toxic to turf leaves.

Matted turf and the grey mycelium appears as the snow piles clear

Matted turf and the grey mycelium appears as the snow piles clear

Some people startled by it's appearance describe it to look like "spider webs" all over the lawn

Some people startled by it’s appearance describe it to look like “spider webs” all over the lawn

Then add the damage from Voles actively shearing vegetation below the cover of snow and the brown clippings that remain...you have a mess!

Then add the damage from Voles actively shearing vegetation below the cover of snow and the brown clippings that remain…you have a mess!

The good news is in most cases a light raking with a leaf rake allowing light and air into the turf will eventual fix the problem and the lawn will grow out of it. Feeding and some over seeding when the soil get’s warm enough in April will also make the difference in recovery.

What’s “Growing” On?

Purp tulips

Could it be….spring is arriving?

(Garden Trends 2015)
The activity of gardening is synonymous with a healthy lifestyle. People see their outdoor space and activities as an extension and reflection of themselves. Not only is the outdoor area a living space, it is also a reflection of our personalities and a healthy lifestyle.
The Millennial generation (18-35) is leading the charge for change including front yard gardens and goats in cities and suburbs. In some cases this includes movements to change neighborhood ordinances. Recently we posed the subject of the return of the clothesline to the yard on my radio show. The phone lines lit up with wide and varied opinions. As a kid I remember the clotheslines in the neighborhood and the sometimes embarrassing public displays of garments flapping in the breeze. Many Baby Boomers like me have these memories including the smell of line dried sheets on the bed at night. For others they couldn’t imagine having to hang laundry in the yard and dealing with weather, bird droppings or airborne pollen.
Young men today are a demographic that has inspired the backyard to be an entertaining area with food to grow, grill, and a place to play games with their young children. They are a group with tremendous influence and buying power customizing their outdoor area to suit their needs including what is being called “Garden-tainment”.

If you're lookin you ain't cookin...let's get grilling!

If you’re lookin you ain’t cookin…let’s get grilling!

Interest in soil health is well “grounded” as we continue to grow “local food” and understand the need for healthy soils. Planting trees is making a comeback including community trees to enhance urban living. Trees experienced a downturn in planting during the economic struggles the past 8 years but as the housing market improves so does the interest in the benefit of healthy trees to the value of a property and a community.
Edible plants, berries, herbs, vegetable plants and “farming” your deck or patio with containers to grow in “bite-sized pieces” has great appeal to time pressed but health conscious gardeners. The concept of the garden no matter how small is aligned with the sense of living a healthy lifestyle. An “urban farmer” so to speak that cultivates and works the small piece of land they own. Along the lines of “bite size pieces”, reckless gardening is out. In other words if you have the money to put in a high maintenance garden and landscape then you probably have the money to have someone take care of it for you. Few people do, and what’s the fun in that? Workhorse plants that are easy to grow and give 3 seasons of interest are in great demand.

Viburnum is a workhorse in the landscape providing 3 to 4 seasons of interest....easy to grow and attracts wildlife!

Viburnum is a workhorse in the landscape providing 3 to 4 seasons of interest….easy to grow and attracts wildlife!

Demand for new varieties that bloom longer or are attractive with little care continue to drive the trends in the landscape. The resurgence in interest in succulents or air plants like tillandsia for example is a result of water conservation awareness and low maintenance trending. Everything including your phone and car are “smarter” today….why not your garden?
Finally color in the garden to express your personality. There is less concern about what the current trending color palettes are, and more about inspirations that allow you to express your personality.

Pamper your Plants

In social media lately a post has been circulating about the use of diapers to improve your plants. If you want to “pamper” your plants or give your houseplant a “huggie” I suppose you could consider using a diaper. You see the super absorbent material in disposable diapers is just that….”SAP” or super absorbent polymers. The “bottom-line” is it’s much easier to use “Soil Moist” granules where you can use just a few in the soil to help retain moisture. Each granule can hold 30 times or more it’s weight in moisture. Understanding OVER-watering kills many plants be careful how much you use. Want to learn more? Check out this video of a recent TV segment I did on the subject……


Diaper dandy idea for your plants

Diaper dandy idea for your plants