Monday, December 28, 2009

Grow your own mushrooms - easy!

I’m not sure anyone thinks of mushrooms when they think of gardening. But vegetable gardeners are growing their own food, and mushrooms are food, so why shouldn’t we play in that garden, as well?

Those button mushrooms (white or brown) standard in the grocery aisle are grown in large, dark houses on a compost. The more exotic portobellos, shiitake, oyster mushrooms (among others) are grown similarly on their own favorite compost, in beds, bags or jars, under varying temperature and humidity conditions.

But you don’t have to have a large, dark house to grow mushrooms. There are table-top kits available by mail order and (occasionally) at local home and garden shows. These are easy to care for and such fun to watch grow. And then you actually get to eat mushrooms you grew yourself!

I wouldn’t say that they save money (much like regular city vegetable gardens), but they are no more expensive – pound for pound – than store-bought mushrooms.

Here are some mail order resources:

I got mine from: Fungi Perfecti
Olympia, Washington
Kits for oyster, shiitake, wine caps, cinnamon caps, and almond Portobello

Territorial Seed Company
Cottage Grove, Oregon
Kits for shiitake, oyster, button, maitake

Gardeners Supply Company
Burlington, Vermont
Kits for shiitake, Portobello, oyster, button

Friday, December 18, 2009

Coming up . . .

Weeds, Worms, and Winter Damage

How can it be that our recent freezing temperatures burn and blacken many favored plants, but the weeds are never damaged? In the vegetable patch, in the rock garden, in the driveway cracks, our winter weeds just keep coming. I think the two most common ones are the chickweed and the little bittercress or shot weed. Letting them go to seed only means more work next season. When weather permits, get out there with a sharp hoe or hand-pull the ones you can reach.

The cold doesn't seem to bother the worms either. They are happily pulling leaves down into the soft ground all over the yard. They must do this at night, 'cause I never seem to catch them at it during the day. Another good reason to cover beds with fallen leaves. Earthworms are able to move them and other organic matter deep into the soil.

What about those plants that have trouble with the freezing temperatures? My lovely scented Daphne has a good proportion of leaves with cold injury. However the flower buds are beginning to open and look just fine. Once the bloom is over, a bit of pruning will remove the bad leaves and new spring growth will fill in quickly. And my winter honeysuckle has opened its first sweet blooms. No cold problems for this charmer!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Coming up . . .

Winter and more winter!

I got the cold frame up (for the grapefruit tree) and brought in a couple of plants I couldn’t stand to lose, but didn’t get to my hardy bananas, as you see.

I’m not worried. Each of the past five or six winters they have died back to the ground, and each spring they have come up again. I mulch thickly with compost and leaves to protect the crowns.

Other gardeners have these hardy bananas growing close to the house or other spots protected from the coldest temperatures. Those bananas may keep some or all of their leaves through the winter. Mine are in the parking strip, exposed to the worst of the elements. However, the crown and roots stay warm enough to send up many new banana babies the following year.

Don’t Panic – back to the holiday cheer!

The cold weather has probably nipped many of our garden plants. But now is not the time to act. Rolled up, drooping leaves are the plants natural protective reaction to the low temperatures. Just the tips of branches may be damaged. In many areas, the roots of fall-planted perennials keep on growing through the winter, even as the leaves brown and curl.

Bring potted plants closer to the house and cover with straw, dried leaves, evergreen boughs, frost protective fabric, or even sheets. But don’t forget them. They’ll still need a bit of water, if they are out of the rain, just to keep them going. Drying out can be just as damaging as freezing.

Have you had enough of elves, grinches, and flying reindeer?

Find out about other unusual critters. Sally Fisher, Sally Fisher, waste reduction expert, Clark County Solid Waste Program, will tell you about Bats: Insect-Eaters of the Night. Find out about attracting these insect eating garden allies to your yard.
Clackamas County Master Gardeners (Milwaukie Center, 5440 SE Kellogg Creek Dr.); Monday, Dec. 14th, 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Last of the Paperwhites

It was just a small experiment and seemed to be going okay. Then, boom!!

To catch you up - Paperwhites (a relative of the daffodil) are a winter-season favorite for indoor blooming. Their big problem is that they grow very tall and often fall over. A listener (and a number of reputable source on the internet) said that adding alcohol to the water of the bulb would keep the leaves shorter. So I tried it.

My bulb in water grew to be two feet high and fell over - so far - normal. The leaves of the bulb growing in a 5% ethyl alcohol solution grew slower. It began to set flowers lower. So far; so good.

Then it just died. It could be:
- just a bad bulb
- I should have used isopropyl alcohol
- the alcohol method doesn't always work

I'm a bit discouraged, but I might try this again next time paperwhites are avilable (usually September/October). I need more data before drawing conclusions.

Anyone with their own method of growing paperwhites indoors is welcome to share.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A little more from Saturday

I mentioned my papyrus. It’s a plant I never would have bought myself (too big and showy), but the grower sent me a sample and I gave it a try. Papyrus usually grows by water, in a bog environment – which I don’t have. So I taped over all the holes in the pot, but one. This kept the water from draining out of the pot too quickly – keeping the soil on the wet side. It was quite a treat!

They’re hard to photograph, so see another one here.

Saturday caller, Harlan wondered why his chokecherries might be disappearing, just before he could harvest them. It turns out that Harlan isn’t the only one who enjoys this fruit. Chokecherries provide food for deer, chipmunks, raccoons, mice, squirrels, and over 70 bird species, including woodpeckers, thrushes, and cedar waxwings.

Fast-growing? Are you sure?

Sometimes you want to hide that neighbor or hide from that neighbor. So, you want something fast growing – Arborvitae? Leyland cypress? Bamboo? Consider:
--- Arborvitae need very well-drained soil to succeed. Do your preparation well.
--- Leyland cypress does grow fast – to 100 feet tall. That’s a lot of pruning in your future!
--- Bamboo screens quickly, but it may not stay where you want it. Strong barriers are needed.

You may have to live with your decision for many years. Consider buying larger plants or filling in with trellises and vines as plants mature. To get the look and feel you want, some patience may be in order.