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Washington County Spring Garden Seminar stars Mrs. Know-It All on March 7

Written by Doug Oster on .

DeniseDenise Schreiber is Allegheny County's greenhouse manager and Mrs. Know-It All on The Organic Gardeners Radio Show.The time if right to start thinking about this year's garden and there's no better way than attending the annual Washington County Master Gardener's Spring Gardening Seminar.

This year's keynote speaker is my friend Denise Schreiber, greenhouse manager for Allegheny County Parks and Mrs. Know-It All on The Organic Gardeners Radio show, heard every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio.

 

Come enjoy Denise Schreiber talk about "The Future of Horticulture and Where We Are" and "Urban Myths and Legends of the Garden. Denise really knows her stuff, is a great speaker and will answer all your garden questions too. She will also have copies of her book, Eat Your Roses.

There will also be workshops being offered, including "Let the Roses do the Work,"  "How to Harvest and Preserve your Herbs," "Make and Take Floral Arrangement," "Crop Rotation in the Home Vegetable Garden," "Cooking Class," "Habitat Gardening," and "Four Season Gardening."

It's only $20! There is an additional $15 fee for the floral arrangement workshop.

The event is March 7, 2015 at the Trinity Middle School 50 Scenic Dr., Washington, PA 15301. All the details are here.

 

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It's time to start seeds! Here's how and some free seeds too

Written by Doug Oster on .

 

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20150225dohomesseeds1Tyler Dixon, greenhouse manager at Soergel Orchards in Franklin Park gets ready to start some 'Tiny Tim' tomato seeds in the greenhouse. Photos by Doug Oster

By Doug Oster Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

20150225dohomesseeds2These lettuce seedlings will go out in the field early in the spring.Sunlight streams through the greenhouse windows at Soergel Home and Garden in Franklin Park as greenhouse manager Tyler Dixon drops small tomato seeds into 72 cell flats. The temperature is in the low 80s,
He fills the flats with a light, organic planting mix from Dr. Earth. After moistening the growing medium, he plunges his fingers “knuckle deep” into the mix to provide a home for the seed, covers them with more mix and then adds a little more water.
The flat is being filled with ‘Tiny Tim’ tomato from Livingston Seed, a diminutive heirloom variety dating back to 1945. The plants only get about 1 foot tall and produce cherry tomatoes all summer long. He’s planning to fill larger containers with ‘Tiny Tim’ for deck or patio growing.
Even though he’s starting some tomatoes now, “the rule of thumb of thumb is to take the average last frost date and count back six to eight weeks,” he says. That means Pittsburghers should start most vegetable and flower seeds anywhere from mid-March to early April. Because every gardener wants the first tomato of the year, a few early varieties can be started soon as well.
One trick Mr. Dixon uses to get seeds to sprout is providing bottom heat. He recommends a flat rubber electric heat mat beneath each flat. Seeds like tomatoes and peppers will germinate much quicker when given warm temperatures.
Mr. Dixon says when the soil is moist and seeds planted, the flat should be covered with plastic so the seeds don’t dry out. Once the seeds sprout, the plastic is removed and the flat is taken off from the heating mat.
Behind him is a large table filled with flats of sprouting lettuce, greens and cole crops like broccoli. They were started weeks ago and will be planted in the garden sooner as a mild frost doesn’t bother them.
Matt Hirsh, greenhouse manager from Chapon’s Greenhouse in Baldwin Borough, grows his vegetable seedlings organically. He keeps them on the cool side after sprouting.
“Once they are up, run them a little bit cooler” -- 50-60 degrees with as much light as possible. Cooler temperatures will keep the plants compact, he added.
Mr. Hirsh recommends a large, south-facing window as a light source, and if that isn’t possible, fluorescent shop lights will keep seedlings happy.
He adds that the seedlings can’t just be planted outside when the weather breaks. They need time to adjust to the fluctuating temperatures, wind and other variables spring has to offer. “Slowly get the plants used to the outdoor conditions, gradually put them out in a partially shaded area and then get them used to the sun,” he said.
The techniques for vegetables works well for most flowers, too. Some smaller seeds that need light to germinate are surface sowed. The seeds are sprinkled on to a planting mix, pushed into the growing medium and then sprayed with a little water. The flat is covered with plastic and placed under lights until germination.
For bigger flower seeds like nasturtiums or black-eyed susan vine, Mr. Hirsh soaks them in water overnight to speed sprouting.
Both greenhouse managers agree that starting from seed gives gardeners many more options in what they grow; they’re not limited to the seedling varieties at garden centers.
“Many gardeners enjoy growing plants that are unique. Sometimes the only way they can do that is starting from seed,” Mr. Hirsh said.


Since 2000, I have been giving away seeds of ‘Limbaugh Legacy Potato Top,’ a great Pittsburgh heirloom tomato. All I ask is that gardeners send back seeds from their ’Potato Top’ tomatoes at the end of the season to keep the project going. For more information, check my garden blog at the end of this column.
To get a small packet (approximately five seeds), send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Doug Oster, c/o Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. The seeds come with instructions for planting and saving the seeds. Be patient: The seeds will be sent out soon as the orders are processed.

 

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Fairy gardens are fun for big and little kids

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog gumbyFairy gardens can be anything you want them to be, even Gumby will enjoy time with the fairies. Photos by Doug Oster

After a garden talk at Wholey's, three and a half year old Meadow Santucci came up to me an asked, "do fairies like parsley?" I told her yes and after talking to her mother Sandy, I realized why she asked. The parsley growing in their fairy garden was struggling as the succulents thrived. Here's a segment from Pittsburgh Today Live which includes a video I made of Meadow and Sandy talking about their fairy garden. I also plant a fun fairy garden with Jon Burnett and Kristine Sorensen and solve the Santucci's problem with their garden.


meadow and sandy2Meadow and Sandy Santucci love their fairy garden. Fairy gardens have become all the rage, and why not, they’re fun. It’s a small garden for fairy’s, gnomes, trolls and more. Even though it’s wonderful project for children, big kids can enjoy making these gardens too. There are fairy garden Steelers tailgate decorations available.
I found everything I needed at Chapon’s Greenhouse in Baldwin. They have a huge selection of fairy garden supplies.
At the Santucci’s, the parsley needed water, the other plants wanted it dry. It would be hard to grow both together, that’s something to think about when choosing plants.
I prefer the succulents as they are almost indestructible. First pick a container with drainage, the Santuccis found a cracked pot which was the perfect home for fairies and everything they love. Fill the container with a moist planting mix and then the garden can be filled with small plants, moss, rocks small benches and more.
A fairy garden is only limited by your imagination.
Maybe you’ll be lucky like Meadow and get some fairies visiting your garden. She told me, “fairies blow pixie dust so our flowers grow.”

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Finally a commercial, natural control for fungus gnats

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog gnagnix"gantnix' stops fungus gnats without using chemicals. Photo by Doug Oster

There's nothing more annoying than fungus gnats buzzing around houseplants and this time of the year I get lots of questions about what to do about the pests.  Once they get going, it's hard to stop them. I often tell gardeners to let their plants dry out and that can really slow them down.

Fungus gnats love wet soil, so for most houseplants, restricting water will help. There are some plants, like cylcamen though, which need moist soil to keep blooming through the winter.

While visiting Soergel's Home and Garden in Franklin Park to film a Digging with Doug segment on seed starting, they had some "gnatnix," a non-toxic control for the gnats and it only costs seven dollars. When my boss looked over the video, she was overjoyed to see the product as her plants are plagued with gnats.

It's made from recycled glass and forms a barrier on top of the soil when applied. It prevents adult from emerging, the larvae from hatching and deters the females from laying eggs. By disrupting the fungus gnats life cycle, the pests can't survive.

I'm thrilled to have this product to recommend to gardeners so they don't have to use chemicals indoors to battle the gnats.

 

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Mushroom club offers free walks and talks

Written by Doug Oster on .

Gilled-boleteAn edible mushroom called a gilled bolete found in the woods at Hartwood Acres. I shot this picture while spending the day with the club. Photo by Doug Oster

Wild mushrooms are a beautiful mystery and need to be treated with care because they can make you sick and even kill you. The best way for beginners to learn about them is hooking up with the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club.

It's important to have experts to teach what's edible in the forest and what's not. Chicken of the Woods is a mushroom I know well and harvest each fall. Even though I'm sure of what it is, I always ask for confirmation from an expert at the club.

Here's some upcoming events from the club which will keep you safe and provide you with the knowledge to find culinary treats in the woods.

The Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club announces the following walks and meetings for the months of March and April 2015:

WALK:  Saturday, March 14, 10:00 a.m. in South Park, Allegheny County. Meet WPMC mycologist La Monte Yarroll at the South Park Nature Center to collect mushrooms for our first meeting of the year.

MEETING:  Tuesday, March 17, 7:00 p.m. Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, 614 Dorseyville Road.  Topic: Morels and how to find them.  Speakers:  WPMC members Jim Wasik and Dick Dougall.

WALK:  Sunday, April 19, 10:00 a.m.  Hartwood Acres, Allegheny County.  Meet Jim Wasik at the Mansion parking lot to collect mushrooms for our next meeting.

MEETING:  Tuesday, April 21, 7:00 p.m. Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, 614 Dorseyville Road.  Guest speaker: Dr. Sarah Meiss from California University of Pennsylvania Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences.

WALK: Saturday, April 25, 12:00-3:00 p.m. at Ryerson Station State Park, Greene County.  Meet Brian Davis and La Monte Yarroll at the ranger station at Ryerson Station. There should be morels.

Admission to all walks and meetings is free.  For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit wpamushroomclub.org.

I had the pleasure of joining the club on a foray back in 2003 and wrote about it here. It's a great group of people and hunting with them is a lot of fun.

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