Archive for April, 2013

Master Rosarian Endorses CobraHead

Monday, April 29th, 2013
CobraHead vs. Bluegrass

CobraHead vs. Bluegrass

Dan Keil is the President of the Stephen Decatur Rose Society in Decatur, Illinois.   He has let us know several times that he really likes the Cobrahead Weeder and Cultivator for weeding and maintaining his 460 roses.

I’m not a rosarian, but I’ve learned that keeping grass from taking over is a major issue.  That’s not much different than for just about anything that’s cultivated, but grasses really mess up roses and Dan does not want to use chemicals, mainly because the roses don’t like them.

Dan sent over these pictures.  Here are some of his comments:

“Hi Noel,  I thought I would send you some pictures of how I use my CobraHead tool. I use it to remove the bluegrass from my rose beds, it gets all the underground runners and tillers. I have to be careful that I don’t pull the rose out of the ground. The CobraHead is the best weeding tool I’ve ever had.  You’re free to use these photos any way you want!

Bluegrass is extremely hard to control. Using Roundup will damage the plants. There are some grass herbicides, but they are expensive. I’d be afraid they would hurt the plants.

My garden is mainly to produce show roses. So that is why I use the CobraHead Tool. I just dig in on any edge  and start ripping it out of the ground. I use the small hand model because my back is real bad and it’s hard to get up and down. Also I can see what’s going on with the minis and minifloras.

Grass in Baldo Villegas Rose

Grass in Baldo Villegas Rose

Baldo Villegas Rose After CobraHead

Baldo Villegas Rose After CobraHead

I used to use a gasket scraper to work close to the plants until I got my CobraHead. You can see the before and after picture of that rose. The rose roots run deeper than the bluegrass so I don’t have to worry about pulling the rose out of the ground.  I get bluegrass coming into my rose garden and the CobraHead tool takes it out real easy. It’s great to get out thick patches of crabgrass too!  It is good to loosen hard soil. I use it to work in fertilizer.  I also use it to grub out the Ash seedlings. It works great.

Garden Edge Before

Garden Edge Before

Garden Edge After

Garden Edge After

My back is so bad that I have to sit and work that way. The hand tool works great. Weeds don’t stand a chance. It is the only weed removal tool I use now.  I won’t trade my CobraHead Tool for anything! I’m a horticulturist and I’ve used a lot of tools to remove weeds in the past 35 years. The Cobra Head Tool is the best tool I’ve ever used!

I am a Master Gardner with the Cooperative Extension Service/ University Of Illinois, I am also a Master Rosarian thru the American Rose Society. I am the President of the Stephen Decatur Rose Society, and the Illinois-Indiana District Consulting Rosarian Chairman.  I grow 460 roses.”

All we can say is, thank you, Dan!!

Plenty of Compost

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
Lots of Compost

Lots of Compost

Compost solves everything!  Well, not quite, but one can garden in compost alone and you cannot have too much.  This year I’m way ahead.  I’ve got a pile of ready to apply material (the smaller pile in the picture).  And even though it’s still too wet in the garden beds to do much work, I took advantage of two unexpected warm and dry days to turn the pile I had created throughout last year.

Last Year's Compost Pile

Last Year’s Compost Pile

This is what I started with.  The picture was taken in December.  The pile is all the plant residue left from the harvests, all the weeds I harvested,  plus the contents of a 55 gallon drum of household compost we collect.  I talk about using the barrels to save household compost here and here.

I took last year’s pile and moved it over about 10 feet.  Turning the pile will speed up the decomposition and accelerate the cooking process that breaks down plant material into compost.

Turning the pile could be very difficult and time consuming.  The layers of spent plants, twigs, stalks and stems form a matted layer that is woven together and very hard to separate.  Trying to scoop it off and separate it with a fork or shovel approaches futility.

Manure Fork, Spear Head Spade, 5-Tine Cultivator

Manure Fork, Spear Head Spade, 5-Tine Cultivator

That’s where the old five-tine cultivator again shows itself to be a multi-dimensional tool that should still be made.  I used that tool to rip apart the matted mess.  Then forking the compost to the new pile becomes quite easy.  The third tool I use is a shovel with a novel design that I was introduced to two years ago at the Philadelphia Flower Show.  It’s sold under the trade name Spear Head Spade.  Its small sharp and strong head makes it ideal for slicing through hard soil and plant material.  It’s very easy to use to cut compacted soil and cut into and through plant material.  So with these three tools, a manure fork, an old fine-tined cultivator, and a Spear Head spade, I turned over this very large pile of compost in just a few hours.

I also used the old five-tined tool to loosen and level the soil where last year’s pile resided.  I laid down some stalks from the semi-wild patch of Jerusalem artichokes I have growing in the area.  That’s where I’ll build this year’s compost pile to keep the process going.  Compost is extremely easy to make.  It’s a naturally occurring process and good gardeners covet it.  I’m lucky I have a large area and ample inputs to have almost all the compost I could want.

Braised Salmon with Mushrooms and Rice with Leeks

Saturday, April 13th, 2013
Braised Salmon with Mushrooms and Rice with Leeks

Braised Salmon with Mushrooms and Rice with Leeks

Here’s a quick salmon meal using leeks and corn frozen from last year’s harvest.  It’s a great way to use up chopped and frozen leeks, but of course fresh leeks will work just as well.

Start the rice first and it will be cooked and ready to go by the time everything else is done.  Start warming the corn on low heat if it’s frozen, then prepare the salmon.

Rice with Leeks

1 cup brown rice (I used Lotus brand Volcano Rice)

1 cup chopped leeks

2 cups veggie broth

Put rice, leeks, and veggie broth in a 2 quart sauce pan.  Bring to a boil then turn down heat and simmer covered for 30-40 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Note that the whole grain volcano rice takes only 30 minutes to cook.

Braised Salmon with Mushrooms

2   4 oz frozen salmon filets (or one per person)

½ cup sliced portabella mushrooms (or your favorite mushrooms)

½ cup sliced onions

2 cloves minced garlic

2 T. Olive Oil

2 T. white wine

½ to 1 T. Tamari

¼ cup water

Sauté onions and mushrooms for about 5 minutes on medium low, add the garlic for the last 30 seconds.  Remove all from pan and set aside.  Turn up the heat to medium.  Add a little more olive oil if the pan needs it.  Add frozen salmon filets, cover pan and sauté for 6 minutes.  Remove cover, turn the filets over and add the mushroom onion mixture back to the pan.  Mix white wine, tamari and water and pour into the pan.  Cover and simmer for another 5 minutes.  Fish should be cooked all the way through.  If your salmon is not frozen adjust your cooking time down.

Corn (frozen garden corn)

Thaw, heat and serve with butter.

Serve with a cilantro or parsley garnish.  It’s quick, easy, tasty, and substantial.

Starting Seeds – Better Late Than Never

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Seeding Tomatoes

Were I growing vegetables for money, I’d make sure I got my seeds started on a very specific schedule.  But as a casual home gardener, I don’t have to worry much about getting everything exactly right.  I’m just getting most of my seeds started now, and by the rules, some are a little late.  That doesn’t bother me a lot.  I’ve learned that you have a lot of latitude in growing your own food, and most of the “rules” are only guidelines, not commandments.

I should have had my peppers, brassicas. celery, and a lot of other crops started around March 15th.  But I know from past experience that I can still have excellent output starting these crops as late as May 1st, and I probably could even cheat on that date.

I’ve been using 5 ounce Dixie cups as my favorite seed starting container for quite a few years.  I like them because they are large enough to handle most any seed and they are biodegradable.  I just toss them onto the compost pile after I’ve emptied them out.  In the last couple years I’ve also switched from concocting my own potting soils to just using commercially prepared mixes.  It’s so much easier and the results for me have been so much better than what I was getting with my home made formulas.  And by results, I mean healthy and heavy root sets.

Seeds in Cups

Seeds in Cups

The Dixie cups are not very stable so to keep them from tipping over I put them into a flat lined with newspapers.  The picture here shows seeded cups on trays ready to be moved to flats.  From here they will go to the basement for some bottom heat and grow lights.  I talk more about the cups in flats here.

The big advantage of starting your own seeds is cost.  You can purchase a hundred seeds for what one plant would cost from a garden center or farm market.  But variety is a close second to cost.  I’m starting 27 different tomatoes, most of them heirlooms that would not be available to me otherwise.  And while I save a lot of seeds, I buy most of my seed from the small seed companies that are working hard to save the unusual, the historical, and the usually better tasting varieties than what mega-agriculture is trying to force on us.  The little seed companies are really the people that make gardening the most interesting for me.