Felco Pruner

I got a good start on those grape vines this afternoon and hope to spend most of the day tomorrow ( Tuesday) working on them.

My tool of choice for this job (and other pruning work) is the Felco#2:

Felco Pruner

I use the Felco on grapes because of the range of diameter of the vines that need to be cut. They typically range from pencil thickness to the diameter of your thumb (or even someone else’s thumb). It would be over-kill to use them on light pruning such as cutting perennials or flower stems.

This is an exceptional pruner made to very high standards. They are a bit pricey compared to the Chinese knock offs that are out there but are well worth the money. This tool should last you a lifetime. It even comes with a special wrench allowing you to replace the cutting blade if need be.

This model, the #2, is designed for people with medium to large hands. Felco makes models suited to folks with smaller hands as well.

The only problem I have with this tool is that it has a tendency to disappear. People like to “borrow” it without telling me, then never return it! One time I even had someone “swap” his old, abused Felco #2 (I think he liked to use it to cut fence wire) with mine, thinking I would never notice! Scheesh…

I used a Corona pruner for many years (and stiil have it). The Corona is a fine tool as well.


Artifical Sunlight

Those grow lights I wrote about in an earlier blog are used in our greenhouse mostly during the winter months to supplement natural sunlight. As the days grow longer we use them only to “brighten up” a dreary day this time of year.

HID Grow light
These lights are of the High Intensity Discharge type and produce very intensive light. The model we use is a two bulb system. One bulb (Metal Halide) creates the blue spectrum of light and the other (High Pressure Sodium)the orange spectrum. Together, these bulbs come pretty close to mimicking the spectrum of natural sulight, which means good growing conditions for your plants…even those that require high-light conditions.

HID Growlight

This type of fixture cannot be plugged directly into a wall outlet. It needs a Ballast to regulate the voltage for the lamp. It gets a little complicated from here how a Ballast works, with its transformer, capacitor and ignitor. Anyhow, the Ballast itself is then plugged directly into the household outlet.

Growlight Ballast

The light these lamps provide is so bright that we can hang them 3-1/2′ to 4′ above our growing plants and still provide all the light they need.

Our fixtures came from Charlie’s Greenhouse Supply. Purchasing these are not for the faint of heart… cost of the dual fixture $619.00, the ballast…$495.00, the sunlight they provide..priceless.

Other types of growlights are available, cool temperature florescent fixtures can be used for starting and growing seedlings. This type has to be place just a few inches above the growing plants to provide enough light. The advantage is their cost…maybe 1/10th the price of our HID lights.

We will discuss this subject in more detail later, perhaps in the fall as our outdoor season ends and we move back inside. In the mean time let’s enjoy the spring.


Figs in the South of Italy…or Michigan?

All of the snow we’ve been having has chased us indoors. That’s OK though, our indoors is a greenhouse.

It was so dark and dreary today that I turned on the high intensity grow lights during the middle of the morning and kept them on all day. The light really helps to improve one’s general mood.

I found something in the south end of the greenhouse that you may “get a kick” out of…figs!

These are Kadota figs from Stark Brothers Nursery:

Fig tree

The fig trees were delivered last spring as small seedlings but grew very fast and produced fruit by the end of the summer. That first flush of fruit fell off and we didn’t get to pick any figs.

We let the trees get frosted in the fall then brought them in before the weather really got cold. They dropped their leaves, so I stopped watering for a while to let them go dormant. I started watering them again in early December, if I remember correctly.

Now that spring has arrived, they have begun setting fruit again. The fruit is already larger than it was last summer.

Figs in April

So between the grow lights and the figs, I can imagine I’m in the south of Italy while I’m working!


Prune Your Grapes…Now!

The cold weather has been a mixed blessing. By now I would have had our grapes pruned. The cool temperatures have slowed down their development enough for me to catch my breath and get caught up a little bit.

Usually, in April, the grapes would be budded out, making pruning a hazardous prospect for the vine. You see, if grapes buds start to swell, they become soft and fragile. Many of the buds that you would like to keep can be broken off during the pruning process. As you well know, grapes become a tangled mess when growing and when pruning you have to tug and pull on the vines to get them out of your arbor.

Pruning before bud swell eliminates all of this damage.

As you can see, I have a lot of pruning to do. This photo was taken from above the grape arbor, looking down. It is about 75′-80′ long and 10′-12′ wide.

Looking down on Grape Arbor

Describing the whole process of grape pruning is a discussion that is too long to cover in a blog post. I will tell you a couple of things though. You cannot over-prune established grape vines. They are very vigorous growers.

If you have a traditional two wire system holding the grape vines, prune back everything except 8 or 10 buds on each branch coming off of the main trunk. A two wire system gives you 4 branches; one to the left, and one to the right of the trunk on the top wire; and one to the left and one to the right on the bottom wire. This is the most common method of training grapes.

So, 90 to 95% of the vines have to be cut off each year! This is a whole lot more than if you were pruning a fruit tree or shrub.

That’s all I have time for now, if I get a chance I’ll post an “after” picture of the grape arbor. Meanwhile, take advantage of this lucky turn in the weather and prune those grapes before it warms up!


Good Friday Potatoes

An old farmer’s tradtion says you plant your potatoes on Good Friday. We were all set to do just that. This record breaking cold weather put a schreeching-halt to our well laid plans.

In addition to the regular potato varieties we grow, ( Russet, Irish Cobbler, Pontiac, Yukon Gold) we are planting German Butterball this year.

The desciption in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog reads:

First place winner in Rodale’s Organic Gardening “Taste Off”. A good choice for roasting, frying and especially for mashed potatoes. Russeted skin and buttery yellow flesh. One of our favorite all-purpose potatoes. Excellent for long-term storage. Very good yields. 100-120 days

Here’s the five pound bag of seed potatoes we received from SSE:

Bag 'o taters...German Butterball

I know you can’t judge a book by its cover but, they look just like any other ‘tater to me!


Easter Lilies 2007…Final Chapter

I believe I mentioned something about growing Easter Lilies way back in my first post last December. This week marks the end of our annual Easter Lily growing project. So I thought it only fitting to “bid them adieu” in this post.Easter Lily

Lilly delivery began on Monday and ended today, Holy Thursday.

In the following photo taken on Monday, you can see how excited the Lilies were about Easter…they could hardly restrain themselves from opening. Some actually did open.

Lilies in the greenhouse

Some got dressed up for the trip:

Lilies with wrapping

Here they are, all set for the ride to their new homes:

Lilies in van

We always like to pass along some simple suggestions for Easter Lily care to the new owners:

1) The Lilies prefer a brightly lit yet cool area of the house, if that is possible

2) Don’t over water them nor let water sit in the foil wrapper…let them dry out a bit before watering

3) Remove the yellow anthers to keep the pollen from staining the flower petals and your clothing:

Easter Lily anthers

4) Plant them outside after the weather warms up to enjoy them again next summer (2008)

In a way, I kinda hate to see them go… but we need the room!! The best part of the whole project is seeing the pleasure folks get when they receive them. 🙂


Canna From Seed

Most seasoned gardeners know that generally, Cannas are grown from roots that are stored from one year to the next, much like potatoes.

Cannas can also be grown from seed, just like a Marigold or any other type of flower. We have grown Cannas from seed for the past four or five years, always sowing a couple dozen or so. This year I decided to do a large planting of these flowers. So I ordered several packets of the variety; ‘Indian Shot’, from Thompson & Morgan Seed Company. ‘Indian Shot’ has various colored blooms rangeing from yellow to red, set on green or bronze foliage.

We sowed the seeds back in late January into one of our greenhouse flats. They germinated in about 2-1/2 weeks with about a 60% gernination rate, which is typical for this species. The seedlings were moved into 1-1/2″ cells about a month later. In early March they were transplanted into 4″ round pots.

Here is the stage at which our Cannas are now:

Canna seedlings.

After Memorial Day, when then soil has warmed up, they will go into the long flower bed that is located next to a driveway. The same 90′ long bed that has crocus flowering in it right now.

Often, Cannas from seed will make a first flush of blossoms after reaching a height of about 3′. As the season progresses, they will continue to grow and bloom again at their final height of around 4 to 5 feet.

After the growing season has ended, these Cannas can be dug up and stored just like any other Canna and replanted next spring.

The seeds sure take up a lot less space than the roots!


What’s Up in the Garden

I thought you might be interested in seeing some photos I took a couple of days ago during that record breaking warm spell. Here are just a few of the things happening this week.

These are part of a 90 foot long crocus bed with some tulips mixed in:


Look here, some early daffodils already have their flower buds up and ready to go:


The ‘Black Watch’ Hollyhocks have been out of the ground for quite a while now:

Black Watch Hollyhocks.

What does this tulip think its doing? 2999 of its brothers and sisters in this bed are still waiting to bloom:

First tulip.

The rhubarb is awake now too:


That lettuce mix I planted back on March 13th is doing fine:

Lettuce mix seedlings

Have you had a chance to see what’s up in your garden?


How We Sow All Those Seeds

Someone asked me a couple of days ago how do we manage to sow all those different seeds each spring. You see, we sow thousands of seeds, involving dozens of varieties. Each type of seed is a different size and shape.

Other than our fingers, we have some tools and devices that help the process along.
Here we see the five main tools we use in the greenhouse; tweezers, a suction-type seeder, a hypodermic-type seeder, a vibrating seeder, and a seed holder.

Seeding tools.

Tweezers are used quite a bit for medium sized seeds, we just place a small pile of seeds in the palm of our hand and pick them out one by one. It is a slow process but you can develope some speed with practice.

The suction-type seeder is used for the smallest of our seeds, begonia, petunia and the like. The device comes with three different size tips. You use the one closest to the size seed you are working with.

Suction-type seeder.

The suction seeder also picks up one seed at time. You just squeeze the bulb and release, it creates a vacuum that is used to pick up the seed. Many times the seed we sow with this tool is very small and hard to see. It helps to place the seed on a piece of white paper. This tool occasionally will get plugged up with debris. The manufacturer sends along three stiff pieces of wire that you use to unclog the tip. Don’t do what one of my helpers did and throw away that little 1″ piece of paper. That is how the cleaning wires are packaged!

The vibrating seeder is used for medium sized seed that are some-what heavy. The vibrating action of the tool can flip light weight seeds right off your table and on to the floor ! This device has a knurled wheel on the handle that you turn with your thumb. The wheel rubs on an internal part of the seeder causing it to vibrate thereby shaking off the seeds from the tip. A set of interchangeable baffels with different sized openings keeps too much seed from collecting at the tip.

Seedmaster vibration seeder.

The “hypodermic” style seeder has a plunger with a groove cut into it. As you press the plunger up and down it picks up a seed from inside the seeder and deposits it on the soil.

The tool we use the most is the seed holder. This simple tool has a round part to place your seeds into. A clear cover that has different sized holes cut into it, keeps too many seeds from moving into the spout. To use this tool you just tap the side with a pencil or rub the ridges molded into it. This causes a slight motion that moves the seed. If you have it slanted down at just the right angle, the seeds can be placed very accurately onto your potting mix.

We use a variety of containers for sowing seed into.

A six inch pot works great whenever we have just a few seeds to sow; anywhere from a half dozen to a maximum of about 60 or so.

6 inch plastic pots.

The divided-row flat is used for a greater quanity of seed, twenty five to fifty seeds fit in each row. It is also used to sow different varieties that you would like to keep apart but have the same germination requirements.

Divide row flat.

An undivided flat is used when we want to sow the seeds thickly as in the case of onions. Here we divided the flat in two using plastic pot tags.

Standard flat with two varieties sown into it.

On occasion we sow the seeds directly into “cells” that range from 48 to 128 cells per flat.

We also have sown into Jiffy pots and other containers. The old stand-by, a cut down milk carton works wonderfully as do yogurt containers with drainage holes cut into the bottom.

Next time we will discuss starting mix and seeds.