“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”

That’s a Wrap

That’s a wrap. No more “hoe hoe hoe” and lots of “ho ho ho” as another gardening year ends and the holidays arrive. How was your year? Here’s “ho ho hoping” your tomatoes were all you thought they would be this year and your landscape brought you the “ho ho horticultural” joy you were seeking. Were you naughty or nice? Doesn’t really matter at this point with the ground frozen solid. What matters are visions of sugar plums and spring blooming dreams dancing in your head.
Provide the wild birds a holiday “tweet” with some seed and suet offerings in this season of giving. The landscape color they provide in a white and grey tundra backdrop is a welcome sight as we approach the shortest days of the year. Make sure feeders are clean and seed stays dry so your feeding station is the gift that keeps giving.

When the weather gets cold backyard birds need more than just bird seed....they need a water source and suet too!
When the weather gets cold backyard birds need more than just bird seed….they need a water source and suet too!

Make sure to keep fresh clean water in the tree stand so your live cut Christmas tree continues to draw fresh water. If not, the base of your tree trunk calluses over and then has a “drinking problem” unable to pull water into the tree similar to a straw. One way to check the water level at a glance is to float a ping pong ball or fishing bobber or other small floatation in the bowl. You can visually gauge the level versus having to crawl under the tree and use the finger method. A household pet can usually provide a good indication too based on their level of interest.
Poinsettias provide great seasonal color indoors and are quite festive and durable through the holidays provided you avoid a couple conditions. First and foremost is over watering. Most people kill the plants with kindness. Don’t commit involuntary plant slaughter by drowning your plants. Secondly avoid cold drafts. I’m not referring to a holiday draft brew, save that for yourself. I’m talking about drafty doorways sure to bring on rapid decline of the plant.

Proper care for Poinsettias...don't over water and avoid cold drafts
Proper care for Poinsettias…don’t over water and avoid cold drafts

Conversely the dry air of close proximity to a heat register is not good either. Look for a well lit area that is removed from “extremes” and you should be just fine. Today’s improved varieties of poinsettias developed by breeders for longevity and color should easily survive until April when your thoughts again return to the great outdoors and the plant is pitched into the trash.

Be a Smarty Plants

Recently I asked my friends on Facebook what their word of advice would be for someone new to gardening and just starting out. Many offered some well rooted advice to mulch or water or be open to change. Having a vision, a good foundation of organic soil and to start small were other popular words of well grounded wisdom. One of my Facebook friends suggested that frozen berries in wine was a good pain reliever.

Don't "wine" about your landscape....do something about it this fall
Don’t “wine” about your landscape….do something about it this fall

Another suggested buying Motrin along with a lot of plants. Those who had thrown in the “trowel” suggested the new gardener give up before their backs and hips, have a drink and hire someone to do it for them. I liked the fact some felt variety was important and that gardening is good therapy.

In the spirit of turnabout is fair play, I asked myself the question. If left with suggesting one thing, I would recommend that a “smarty plants” invests time in their garden in September and October. Along with great deals on plants, the fall climate is perfect for plant establishment. In fall the soil cools down after a hot summer but is still warm and rainfall is more plentiful. Plants put in the ground focus on root establishment instead of top growth. Plants put in the ground in fall are well rooted and take off quicker in spring. This applies to woody landscape plants, trees, perennials, bulbs and even annuals like pansies. Frost tolerant pansies provide color in fall and then overwinter under the snow to outperform spring planted pansies the following spring.
The weather in fall is enjoyable for yard work, even mundane work such as the lawn. Feeding your lawn in fall is important to develop a thick well rooted lawn. Grass seed grows well in the fall for patching or starting a new lawn, September is arguably the best month of the year to start a lawn in Michigan. And when it comes to weeds, well “weed” need to talk. Perennial weeds send their food reserves to the roots in fall just like the trees. If you apply weed killer you’re getting good translocation of the herbicide into the roots instead of just top kill. Also many annual weeds like Henbit germinate in the fall to become rampant and blooming in the spring. Fall applications of weed control keep these weeds from becoming a problem in spring.

Lawn along top of the picture cut short all summer.....lawn in foreground deck was raised on mower. Any questions?
Lawn along top of the picture cut short all summer…..lawn in foreground deck was raised on mower. Any questions?

If you “plant”-asize about gorgeous flowers in spring, September is the perfect month to plant flowering bulbs. It can be as easy as dig, drop, done. Bulb selections go way beyond tulips with many of the “minor bulbs” like Scilla, Fritillaria and Alliums or Dutch Iris to name a few. Planted in a well drained soil these miracle orbs will pop up and surprise you next spring.

Bulbs are planted....time to run in the 5K event
It’s bulb planting time!

September planted Mums provide brilliant fall color. Mum-Ma-Mia! Hardy Mums and Asters can be displayed in pots for fall color and then if planted in the ground before winter with a light mulch covering should come back next year.
Be a “smarty plants” and make a date with your yard and garden this September.

Mum Ma Mia!
Mum Ma Mia!

More “Flower” to you

It’s planting time and we’re excited about the flowering annuals we selected on our shopping trip. They’re going to look great and visions of blooming colors are dancing in our head.

More “Flower” to you!

But what if they don’t meet up to our expectations? Plants like people have basic nutritional needs. And plants just like people can’t live on just energy drinks or water, you need a meal now and then. Water alone is not enough. Well more “flower” to you. If your annuals need to go “potty” and are in a hanging basket or pot every time you water nutrients are carried out the drainage holes with it. The nutrients need to be replaced.

I recommend a combination of water soluble and time release or granular fertilizer.


One is the energy drink and the other is meat and potatoes. The great thing about water soluble fertilizer is that is quickly available to the plants and can be taken in through the foliage or roots.

Slow release “dry” on the left and water soluble fertilizer on the right

Most water soluble fertilizers recommend use every 7 to 14 days. It depends on how often you’re watering the plant. You may want to consider using it more frequently than 14 days and going to half strength. Remember that even though many of today’s annuals are sold as “self cleaning” a good pinching or pruning now and then with a dose of water soluble fertilizer will rejuvenate blooming. A dry granular feed in combination with the water soluble in tandem will get you best results. The “dry” or slow release feed is the meat and potatoes. My favorites are Osmocote and Flower Tone. Osmocote because it’s easy to scoop into a pot and provides feeding for 3 months or more. Flower Tone because in addition to the Macro Nutrients it has essential Micro Nutrients and is affordable. More “Flower” to you!

Sign up now for Garden Seminars

Spring is coming! Winter weather has become “cucumber”-some so let’s get growing! I have a great series of educational (or as I call them “Hedge” or “Veg”-ucational) seminars lined up for a weekend in late April. My friends who are experts in Lawn Care, Vegetable gardening, Herbs, Container planting, Birding and Perennials are coming to town to help me give you a kick in the plants! Class sizes are limited so order your tickets now. Please click on this link to sign up for the classes you’re interested in. See you there! http://myflowerland.com/upcoming-events/

Crocus in bloom
Spring is coming!