Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health in collaboration with Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are exploring the relationship of childhood experiences with plants and adult beliefs and behaviors towards plants and nature. For that reason, they are surveying subscribers of the Phipps e-newsletter and asking that you complete a brief (approximately 15 minute) questionnaire. You will be asked about your experiences with plants as a child, and your current level of interactions with plants, views about plants, and reasons for interacting with plants. There are no foreseeable risks associated with this project, nor are there any direct benefits to you. Each participant will be eligible to enter into a sweepstakes to win a free year membership to Phipps Conservatory. This is an entirely anonymous questionnaire, and so your responses will not be identifiable in any way. All responses are confidential and results will be kept under lock and key. Your participation is voluntary. This study is being conducted by Dr. Jessica Burke from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. She can be reached at 412-624-3610 if you have any questions.
I'm one of the lucky ones. When paperwhites bloom it only takes my wife about an hour to figure out the dog didn't have an accident.
Such is the love/hate relationship with the flowers.
To me they smell like spring, to others, not so much.
These daffodil bulbs are sold for about $1 a piece and will bloom in about four weeks after planting. They are one of the plants that keep me going during the winter.
The bulbs get planted every few weeks in a pot of planting mix, that way the blooms are around most of the season.
Three or four bulbs will provide plenty of fragrance, maybe more than some can take.
After they bloom the foliage will remain, but it's almost impossible to make them bloom again. They aren't hardy for outdoor use. At some point my wife usually takes the pots out into my unheated greenhouse where the persist with green leaves.
Eventually they find their way to compost pile.
Winter wouldn't be the same for me without some paperwhites blooming. When I close my eyes and take in the strong aroma I can picture my garden filled with wonderful daffodil blooms, heralding the arrival of spring.
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This week's Digging with Doug is all about keeping your plants safe from deer. I use lots of commercial repellents, but have found two homemade versions which actually work.
Last year, after a speaking engagement at Sherwood Oaks in Cranberry a gentleman stopped to give me a tip.
His son breeds daylilies and has had a terrible time with the deer.
Deer love daylilies almost as much as tulips and hosta.
The Bitter Apple is available at pet stores and is used to keep puppies from chewing things. The Wilt Pruf can be found at local nurseries adding it to the Bitter Apple gets it to stick to the plants.
The Bitter Apple can be bought in bigger containers to cover more area too and the combination is much cheaper than commercial repellents.
They use the formula on their daylily farm and at Sherwood Oaks and it's effective at keeping the deer off the plants.
Mary Dutkovic's of the Pittsburgh Rose Society has a great recipe to deter deer.
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Winter has a way of weighing on gardeners. With local snowfall 12 inches above normal, fantasizing about homegrown tomatoes is one of the things which gets me through the season. I know I shouldn't complain, but I'm old, grumpy and already sick of winter. I understand cold weather is what make's spring so special and before you know it, snowdrops will bloom, crocus flowers will dot the landscape and daffodils will herald the arrival of spring. Until then thinking about what to plant will keep me occupied.
It's way too early to start tomato seeds. I don't get mine going until the end of March.
Over the years I've grown many wonderful varieties. As far as I'm concerned there are no bad varieties, it's just that some become favorites. One of the fun things in my garden is trying seeds sent to me from readers. They always produce something interesting.
Every season I start way more varieties than I could ever grow and give them away to friends. The third week of May is the busiest for my little unheated greenhouse.
Here are some of the varieties I must grow each season, followed by a few I want to try in 2014.
'Potato Top' was introduced to me by the late Fred Limbaugh. It's a large, pink, meaty and ugly beefsteak tomato. The story is wonderful for this Pittsburgh Heirloom, as it was grown by his grandfather and father. Fred gave the plants away for decades to friends and family. You can read all about it here. It's usually one of the last tomatoes to be harvested, but worth the wait.
If you would like a few free seeds, send me an SASE to Doug Oster c/o Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 34 Blvd. of the Allies Pittsburgh, Pa 15222. The catch is you have to save some seeds and send them back to me at the end of the season to keep the project alive. Since Organic Gardening Magazine and Redbook discovered the project, I've been low on seed. There's enough to send out this winter, but I'll need your help in building up my reserves.
'Sungold' is actually my wife's favorite which makes it very important in the garden. These orange, cherry tomatoes are sweet, but still retain some tomato flavor. The are early, prolific but are prone to cracking.
'Brandy Boy' was bred by Burpee using the most famous heirloom tomato, 'Brandywine.' It's not quite as tasty as it's parent, but is earlier, sets fruit more reliably, offers firm flesh and has a wonderfully thin skin. I can't imagine my summer garden without this hybrid.
'Cherokee Purple' is one of my favorite heirlooms. It sets fruit in trusses of three reliably, is disease resistant and has an intense tomato flavor. It's becoming a very popular tomato for home gardeners.
‘Heart of Italy’ Looks like a pink bull’s heart and is both tasty and meaty. It's a new addition to my favorites, I've grown it for the past two seasons. The flavor and texture is outstanding. This one is also a great storage tomato at the end of the season.
'Fourth of July’ is early, prolific and produces all season. The first tomato of the year is important, but in my garden the plants have to keep churning out the fruit and that's just what this variety does.
'Early Girl' was the winner when I trialed every early tomato I could find in the catalogs. Some tomatoes were ready sooner, but none tasted as good at this one.
‘Eva Purple Ball’ has been a favorite in my garden for 20 years. This heirloom produces tasty pink tomatoes the size of tennis balls which fall off the plant when ripe.
‘Juliet’ is a hybrid which is a 1999 AAS winner. It pumps out lots of sweet, meaty but small tomatoes. It's kind of a cross between a grape and sauce tomato. The trick is waiting until the fruit is really ripe to get the best flavor.
Here are a few others which I love, but don't have room to grow each year- 'Stupice,' 'Paul Robeson,' 'Hillbilly,' 'Amish Paste,' 'Marglobe' and 'Cosmonaut Volkov.'
There are more, but I always want to save room to try something weird, different or interesting.
Heirloom Seeds is a local company who I've ordered seeds from for 15 years. I'm intrigued with 'Djena Lee's Golden Girl'. It's a family heirloom which won the first prize at the Chicago Fair 10 years in a row. It's said to have a great old fashioned flavor. The company offers hundreds of interesting tomatoes along with a full section of amazing vegetables and flowers. They are an Internet only company without a printed catalog and are one of my favorite places to get my seeds.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is also one of my favorite places to get fascinating varieties of seed. I write for their magazine The Heirloom Gardener, but became a fan a decade ago. One year I visited their farm in Missouri as they were testing 'True Black Brandywine' tomato. I've fallen in love with black varieties and need to try this one.
Many of these varieties will be available at local nurseries, but all can be found in catalogs.
I'll be writing about how to start seeds as we get closer to the season. Order what you want now and dream of picking warm tomatoes this summer.
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It's not time to put the gardening gloves away just yet.
There are plenty of jobs for gardeners as winter officially arrives. Completing them now will pay off next spring.
One of my favorite things is the final bulb planting. Because the soil isn't frozen, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, crocus and more can still be planted. As the snow thaws, the ground will be wet, but if the planting bed is raised or rich in compost, the bulbs can still be planted.
I like to use a bulb auger, a giant drill bit that attaches to any power drill. It makes bulb planting fun and easy. It's a big improvement over the old hand tool -- cruel and unusual punishment for gardeners. Bulbs should be planted three times deeper than they are tall. A daffodil is about 2 inches high and should be planted 6 to 8 inches deep.
This time of year, garden centers have their bulbs heavily discounted. For the past couple of months, I have bought a few dozen at a time, planting them and then returning to the nursery for more. I used to buy a couple hundred and sometimes would get stuck with 50 or so when winter officially kicked in, freezing the ground solid.
I planted lots of my favorite bulbs in September, but because they are so cheap now, it gives me a chance to try different things. I have fallen in love with double daffodils and discovered 'Tahiti' a few years ago during a winter planting spree. Doubles such as 'Tahiti' look completely different than the normal yellow trumpets we're used to planting. It has a large yellow flower with bright orange ruffles on the interior of the blossom. The stems are strong enough to hold the big flower erect even during spring storms.
Don't stop there. Look for some other unusual bulbs like snowdrops, glory of snow, alliums, frittilaria and others. Snowdrops are one of my favorites. The tiny white flowers are one of the first to bloom and will form a nice colony in several seasons. These diminutive bulbs are easy to plant and could flower as early as February.
Another great winter job is covering flower and vegetable beds with compost, well-aged animal manure or some other organic matter. It will act as a blanket and keep good soil in place, preventing erosion. Every time it rains or snows, the organic matter will leech nutrients into the soil. That compost can be planted with seeds or plants next spring without cultivating. It's called no-till gardening and it works. Because my beds have compost added every season, they need only an inch or two applied for planting. You might need more if the quality of soil is in question. Six or 8 inches should be plenty.
The trees seemed to hold onto their leaves a little longer this season, and gardeners might not have had a chance to rake them. On a dry sunny day, get fallen leaves off the lawn and garden beds. Otherwise they will mat down and form a barrier that can stop air and water from getting to the roots, especially with a thick layer of oak leaves. When the snow recedes, blow or rake them off the lawn and garden.
Shredded leaves are another story. They actually work pretty well as a winter mulch. The leaves break down quicker and let the soil breathe. In the spring, do soil testing to get the pH right. Leaves can be acidic, and most plants thrive when the pH is normal.
Along the same lines, plants and beds can be mulched now to help avoid heaving during this freeze and thaw cycle. The choice of mulch is up to the gardener. In the vegetable garden, I use straw. In flower beds, I prefer bark mulch.
Remove any dead foliage in your vegetable garden; pests and diseases can overwinter there. I put everything in the compost except plants that were diseased. Those have their own area to decompose.
Here's one job you might not need to do: Perennial and annual flowers don't have to be cut back for the winter. For years, that's what experts told us to do, but conventional wisdom now says to leave them as a habitat for beneficial insects and let the birds eat the seeds. I have already sent many frosted annuals to the compost pile but leave the woodier plants out in the garden for the season. If it drives you crazy to see all that brown foliage, there's nothing wrong with cutting it down.
I also leave my ornamental grass standing until spring. It's beautiful swaying in the breeze, the tassels illuminated by the low winter sun. They will be cut back first thing in the spring to encourage new growth. Some gardeners think it's better to cut them in the fall, and that's fine, too.
There are 100 ways to do each gardening job. Whichever one works for you is the right one.