Just Do the Soil Test

You’ll be glad you did

Soil test picture

Do you have an area of your yard that is not doing as well as you’d like? Or maybe you’re considering creating a new planting area? Have you tested the soil in your vegetable garden in the past 5 years? Or ever?

A soil test can give you valuable (and sometimes surprising) information. Proper soil nutrients create healthy plants that are better able to fend off diseases and pests without any intervention. Knowing the state of your soil can help prevent the expense of excess fertilization, not to mention the environmental damage that excess fertilizer can cause.

Now is the perfect time to get that soil test.  If the soil test indicates that your soil is too acidic, you can apply the lime in the fall so it has time to alter the soil pH over the winter. If your soil is low in organic matter, you may decide to grow a cover crop over the fall and winter.

 Any needed fertilizers should be added in the spring before planting.

Soil test kits can be purchased from the Penn State Extension Office in Smeadley Park. Follow the directions for sampling carefully – your test results are only as good as your sample.  You will receive a soil report sent directly to your home with all the recommendations for improving your soil.  If you have any trouble interpreting your test report, you can always contact the Master Gardener Hort Line for help.

Want more information? Here are some links:

Penn State Extension: Soil Testing Overview

Penn State Extension: Don’t Guess… Soil Test

Penn State Extension: Interpreting Your Soil Test Reports

Penn State Extension: Soil Test Results: “What’s Next?” Guide for Homeowners

Glorious Garlic

Garlic is planted in the fall – the same as ornamental bulbs like tulips and daffodils. In Southeastern PA, garlic is generally planted in mid-October. The timing is based on giving the bulbs time to create a good root system before cold sets in, but not so much warmth that they sprout before winter.  

There are many varieties of garlic which fit into two main types, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck varieties are generally more hardy and easier to grow in our climate but softneck varieties store more easily and for longer. I have been growing a softneck variety called ‘California White’ for the past 5 years – so it never hurts to experiment.  Garlic bulbs for planting can be purchased from many places where you would purchase fall bulbs.

Garlic bulbs should be broken into individual cloves and planted about 2 inches deep, 6 inches apart in an area with fertile, well-draining soil in full sun.  Like other bulbs, your garlic will sprout in spring and grow through the beginning of summer.  To get the largest bulbs, keep your garlic well fed, watered in times of drought and weed free. The flower stalks (or scapes) of hardneck garlic should be removed to maximize bulb size.  They are edible!

Garlic is harvested when the leaves start turning brown. You want at least 4 of the leaves still have some green, otherwise the bulbs will split open, start to lose their papery wrappers and will not store well. Garlic is usually ready for harvest in our area by mid-July.

Harvest the bulbs carefully as they bruise easily when fresh. Allow them to dry for two to 3 weeks in a well-ventilated, shaded area. Then brush off any soil, cut off the dried tops and roots and store in a cool, dark location.

You can save some of your garlic bulbs to plant again next year. Save the largest bulbs to get the biggest crop.

Want more information? Here are a couple links:

Penn State Extension: Growing and Using Garlic

Penn State Extension: Garlic Production

Gardening by Phone

Article by A. Goldman

Phone photo

With the plethora of new gardening gadgets, there is one that pretty much everyone has in their pocket or purse; your phone…or more specific the camera on your phone.

Since we are winding the garden season, now is a good time to document both your garden and also your purchases for the 2019 season. 

When purchasing plants throughout the season, I group the plant tags together and snap a picture just in case they are lost.  If you are extremely diligent, this can be done for specific planters, especially if the combos are ones you like and want to replicate next year. 

I also document plants that I might want to buy in the future but may not remember the name or cultivar.  You can also research a plant easily while still in the store using any search engine.  This may or may not save you money! Flowerchecker  is an app for handy identification as well as NatureGate which will ID plants, birds, fish, and butterflies. 

Everyone’s garden goes through many changes both good and bad so take a few pictures of areas that you are really pleased with, plant combos that worked out, plants you think you should buy more of or need to repeat again for a continuous look, areas that could use some spring, summer, or fall bulbs, or maybe even some garden art to spice things up. 

Areas of your garden that are looking peaky (rundown), overgrown or in need of something different, having a picture with you can help you make wise decisions when shopping those fall ½ sales!  Just looking at a picture sometimes will give you a fresh perspective on what that area needs.

Once the garden season is over and winter sets in, download and establish files for plants and sections of your garden for future reference.  Winter is a good time to start your lists for next season’s garden, which can easily be done with your phone’s apps.  When the 2020 garden catalogs start arriving, I sometimes snap a picture of a new variety to be on the lookout for.

Your phone can help you in the garden in many ways but try not to lose it in the garden.  It will be of no use then. 

Master Gardener Second Saturday Review – Colonial Medicine

Article by Barbara Raczkowski

Photo courtesy of Clarissadillon.info

Did you ever meet anyone, who owned their own still?  Then…..you discover that the owner of this apparatus is an 86yr. old woman, attired in period clothing, who has a PhD. in history from Bryn Mawr College.” Oh, my….this is going to be interesting.”

This was my experience when I met the speaker at the Master Gardener’s “Second Saturdays” event, which was held on Aug. 10.   Her name is Clarissa F. Dillon, whose scholarly knowledge covers two continents….North America and Europe.  She talks about 17th and 18th century housewifery. Standing behind her still, which she calls her penguin as it does indeed look like a copper bird, Clarissa began her lecture talking about “Dr. Mom”. Colonial women besides being wives and mothers were also doctors, nurses and apothecaries.

The lecture was illustrated by a table filled with colonial artifacts….tool, syrups, compresses and herbs, referring to different objects Clarissa lead us through a mesmerizing and fascinating lecture.

Our colonial ancestors evolved from the belief that an evil life style caused  disease, (the devil made me do it…..blood letting anyone?) to a more enlightened and scientific approach of cause and effect.

What I found particularly fascinating was that Clarissa goes back and studies first hand, original documents.  She told us that it was customary for colonial women to notate their experiments and their results and very often the “successful cures” would be passed down from generation to generation and often from friend to friend.  She has researched hundreds of these documents from ordinary citizens.  In addition, she jokingly told us her PhD and scholarly acclaim have also given her access to some colonial celebrity healers such as  Ben Franklin’s first wife….whose name was Guilelma Springett.

Even more fascinating is the fact that she then goes back like the scholar that she is and duplicates all the receipts (recipes) which she researches.  She shared many interesting things including the fact that there are three different plants which, when applied to a bleeding human body, will stop the blood flow.

If you are interested in learning more about her, you can go to her web-site: Clarissa Dillion.info

And just for the record, Clarissa has a permit for her still, which holds less than a  gallon of liquid…..and uses it for scientific and historic purposes only…..and she never served us any “refreshments” although Second Saturdays are always accompanied by tasty treats !  Hope you will join us for some upcoming events……