Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Time to test the soil

 Every garden book I have ever read starts out by saying the soil it the most important thing about gardening. They say if the soil it right, you will have a better garden. That is why it is time to do a soil test, now, while there there are not a dozen garden chores you need to do. It also is a good time because the testing facilities won't be so busy since most people procrastinate.

A soil test is easy to do and it doesn't take very much time. You dig up dirt from a number of areas in your garden (or lawn) and put it all in a bucket. Stir is up and put the amount required for the test in a bag or a plastic bag, fill out the information and send the soil in to the testing lab.

You have two options, one is to send the sample into the the state testing lab and the other is to send it to a private lab.

Over the year we have done both. The cost of a simple test in Georgia where we live is $8. Last year we had a more comprehensive test done and the cost was $25. Though the $8 cost was very appealing, and it does let you know what kind of basic soil amendments we needed, the $25 test gave us information on how our soil micro nutrients that were very helpful.

It's easy to get the information, just check with your local extension agency. In Georgia, the web address is http://aesl.ces.uga.edu/soiltest123/Georgia.htm. You will get all the information plus a nice video explaining the process, and where to take your sample by giving your zip code.

For other states it is easy, too. I did a search for soil testing, then the state. For instance, when I did this for Alabama, the web address is, http://www.aces.edu/anr/soillab, for Colorado -- http://www.soiltestinglab.colostate.edu and for Vermont -- http://pss.uvm.edu/ag_testing/?Page=soils.html.

When we did the test by a private lab, we took ours to Country Garden Farms. I think this is helping because our soil gets better every year.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Friends Make Gardening Fun

As you have heard, my sister has been a great gardening partner for the last several years. Working in the vegetable and herb gardens with Deberah, my sister and Jerry, my brother-in-law, has made my experience and hard work enjoyable, regardless of the weather, rain or shine, hot or cold and regardless of any project or job, digging, hoeing, planting or weeding.

But I want to introduce two other friends, Tia and Todd, as pictured above, both make gardening and yard work fun when Deberah and Jerry are busy working and I have projects to complete outside in the yard by myself.

Tia's proper name is "Tiasoadora" because as a puppy she was "my cup of tea" and she was "so adorable." She is a pure bred Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the first dog I acquired to keep indoors. Prior to deciding which breed I wanted to live in the house, I researched on line many breeds considering their size, temperament, exercise and grooming needs, plus inbred health problems but mainly, I wanted to know what breed would make the best companion to match my lifestyle.

After, a lot of research, I chose this breed because of their love of family, loyalty, intelligence, and also they make an alert watchdog, only barking when needed. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi originated in Pembrokshire,Wales around 1107 AD when it is believed the Vikings sailed to Wales with the Corgi linage on board. Bred for herding geese, ducks, sheep, goats, horses and cattle these agile little powerhouses are also known for sleeping on the fireplaces in their masters homes. Maybe that's why Queen Elizabeth II and British Royalty have raised them in their castle for seventy years and that's probably why I bought her as a pup through an online breeder, traveled to Tennessee, picked her up and brought her home in 2002. She was eight weeks old.

On the other hand, I adopted Todd, pictured at top left and below, from Paws Rescue, Inc. in February, 2010, at the Pet Smart in Newnan. He was eight months old. I questioned the volunteers and learned he was a Chiweenie, often nicknamed "Mexican Hotdog," a designer hybrid, half chihuahua and half dachshund. Designer dogs such as, Labradoodles or Chiweenies are not pure bred but crossbreeds of two or more recognized breeds. Chiweenies are sweet, loving family dogs that have characteristics from both breeds, energetic and intelligent, they are often known as "social butterflys," because like the chihuahua, may bond to only one person in the family. They are also known as lap dogs that like to cuddle with you under the covers.

Naturally, Tia and Todd love to be outside, unless they are chasing squirrels or birds, they are always interested in what I am doing. Their company is a plus and makes any chore fun.

Two points I am making on this post -- first just like any endeavor, going to the movies, going on a diet or shopping for something special, yard and gardening chores are always more fun when you have good company who enjoy the same goals and objectives. And secondly, if you and your family intend to buy or adopt a pet, do some research and make sure the choice works well with your household.

P.S. Keep the mouse handy to view another blog post this week, a list of garden and yard chores for February. Hope to hear from you then!

-- Posted by Wilma Smith

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An American Favorite

I have always loved African Violets. Probably because they remind me of my grandmother's house and the numerous violets she kept on her window sills in her living room.The picture above is one of two that I keep on my kitchen window sill and I have enjoyed their blooms all year.

The botanical or generic name for the African Violet is Saintpaullia and was discovered in the hills of Tanzania, East Africa by Walter Von Saint Paulliare who lived between 1860 and 1910. After introduction, North America took this tropical beauty to heart and as Americans do so well, soon adapted the African Violet into an indoor favorite. Also within several years the original deep violet flowered, hairy succulent-leafed plant was bred into a variety of hybrid plants sold in colors such as, white, red, blue, mauve and bi-color to include single or double blooms, and smooth or frilly leaves.

Buying Tips:
Regardless of the variety, size or color insure the plant you choose has no brown spots or mold. There should be plenty of buds and evidence of new leaf growth.

Maintenance Tips:
African Violets love bright light but not direct sunlight. Keep in a constant temperature year long between 68 and 77 degrees. Plant in soil of peat, sand and compost or buy mixtures sold specifically for African Violets. Never put water over the blooms or leaves but in the saucer or hold the leaves up to water in the pot under the leaves. Keep the soil moist. A good watering once a week will do well depending on the plant's location in your house. Pinch or cut off all dead or wilted leaves and flowers. Just like most plants violets love company, the more the merrier (however this is not a must). Some plant manuals and growers recommend fertilizing every 10 to 14 days during blooming periods throughout the year, however I have found two to three times a year will suffice. The easiest propagation is with leaf cuttings (propagation of seeds is difficult). Plant a healthy leaf and stem any time of year in the same type of soil you used for the parent plant. Cover the stem approximately halfway and keep it moist and around 72 degrees until the plant emerges from the rooted stem. Transplant the new plant into it's own pot when the plant reaches a diameter of around 4 inches.

Your Plant Doctor Says:
All in all, African Violets are healthy plants that are easy to maintain but can suffer from neglect without just a little loving care. Brown, shriveled leaves may mean too much direct sunlight or water spilled on leaves or blooms You can easily spot crown rot fungus because the main core will turn brown, then the blooms and leaves will shrivel. If this happens, discard the plant and disinfect if you have plants growing nearby. Two other problems which affect this American favorite can be mildew and thrips or cyclamen mites. If both are severe, discard the plant as not to infect other violets. Both will appear basically the same way with shriveled brown leaves and no evidence of new growth.

Maybe my reason for loving this American favorite is a little nostalgic but there is no doubt (as I show you a photo of the second violet on my kitchen window sill), America has a place in it's heart for the African Violet.

-- Posted by Wilma Smith

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Find Your Spring Seeds Online

Even winter can be time to plan for spring gardening and part of that planning is finding the seeds you want to plant when the weather changes. I am not quite ready to plant tons of seeds since we still have quite a bit of winter left, even here in the south, but I think it is time to start a few seeds indoors so that they will be ready for spring.

Last year I ordered Evergreen Bunching Onions, American Flag Leeks, Genovese Basil and Oregon Sugar Pod II Pea Seeds. I have ordered a couple of times from Sustainable Seed Company and I have been happy with their seeds -- plus, I am pretty cheap and their seeds were about the cheapest I could find, $1.99 per pack. I like the fact that they also tell you which areas of the country the seeds will do well in because of the recommendations of state extension services. This makes me feel better about my choices.

I really like the Baker Seed Company. They have tons of rare and heirloom seeds -- maybe more than any company around. I received their beautiful catalog and I have seen one of their lovely magazines, new this year. I would love to just order every unusual vegetable or flower they have but I just can't because I don't have the money or the room. I sure do love their company. They have set their company apart from the rest with their exceptional marketing skills. One day I will try them but the price was not right for their seeds this time.

I like Territorial Seed Company. They have so many seeds and I believe they have many of the popular heirloom seeds, too. They are a little higher in price but I believe, a good company.

Gurney's has so many sales and good offers. I would love to try them because they have so many varieties.

I have tried many of the Landreth Seed Company's seeds because they always have a booth at the Atlanta Flower Show. I always stand in line to buy seeds from them. I have found out from buying their seed, for instance, that I like the Italian version of Zucchini. I think I still have a few packs of unusual seeds that I haven't tried yet, but I will dig them out around planting time. I can't get seeds from the Atlanta Flower Show this year because it has been cancelled. What a disappointment!

I have ordered a couple of things from the Whatcom Seed Company. They have really rare plants and seeds. I ordered Tea Plant seeds or camellia sinensis and they never sprouted.

That has also been a problem with the basil and onion seeds I have ordered in the past but this year I am planning to change all that by researching and finding better ways to start seed for spring.

It is easy to find a seed company online, just do a google search and find the company you like. If you have a favorite, I can assure you, some of these companies will have seeds for you!

-- Posted by Deberah

Friday, January 20, 2012

Welcome to Two Sisters Gardening!

Welcome to Two Sisters Gardening, a new blog that will feature the gardening experiences, trials and tribulations of Wilma Smith and Deberah Williams, sisters who have been gardening together for the past several years. "The more we garden, the more fun we have together!"

Wilma, loves everything nature has to offer and is naturally gifted with a green thumb. She loves the great outdoors, animals and loves to plant, tend and decorate with flowers, raise vegetables and tend to her outdoor landscape. Living by a lake gives her plenty of opportunity to see nature at its best.

Deberah is a graphic designer who loves to garden, though her true love has always been growing vegetables. Speaking of vegetable gardening she says, "I love to grow them, cook with them and I am always looking for a better way to raise my veggies organically." She is an Art Director for the local, Newnan-Coweta Magazine, and shares experiences about gardening, recipes and hints and tips on her blog, Everyday Finesse.

This past year their successes have been great but found it discouraging at times to raise an organic garden in middle Georgia where they live. Because of their struggles, they decided to apply to become Master Gardeners at their local extension office. They felt that being involved in this program would help them fill the holes in their garden knowledge because it offers participation in college-level gardening courses and volunteerism. Deberah was promptly turned down and Wilma had an interview and received her rejection notice soon after.

Though discouraged, this didn't last long because they hatched a new plan that would help them to receive garden knowledge plus help other aspiring gardeners at the same time. The plan included starting this blog where they would offer the techniques they had learned as organic gardeners to others and enlist experts and novices to share their experiences, too. They decided that the tips and hints will include how-tos, videos, and they will answer all gardening questions they receive as best they can by exploring existing publications and asking experts for advice.

This blog will include recipes, endless tips, advice from experts, tours of gardens of all types, guest bloggers and reviews of garden products and techniques. In other words -- all things gardening.

Also, they are starting a new local and online garden club called the Crossroads Garden Club, and the meetings and useful information they learn will be shared as well. This club will be affiliated with the National Garden Club and the Georgia Garden Club and will be in the Redbud District, just as any other local club would be. There will be regular meetings, but it will be open online for those who can't attend meetings.

It's time to get started because spring will be here before you know it! So readers, get your garden tools, fertilizers and garden seeds ready and tune up the tiller, because we are ready to break new ground!