Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Companion Planting - Strawberries and Onions

For years, I have planted in rows - a row of this next to a row of that.  This is the first year that I’m trying my hand at companion planting in beds.  Even with the raised beds, I would usually dedicate one for asparagus, one for blackberries, etc.  Having the good luck to have a couple of onion sets to plant one day while Jennifer was visiting, I am now a firm believer in companion planting.  I had just planted strawberries in a raised bed and she pointed to it and said that we should plant the onions in with them.   Realizing that I’m not too old to learn a new trick, I agreed to give it a try.

Wow, look at those happy plants!  Honestly, I’ve struggled to keep strawberries happy in the past.  The leaves have stayed small and the berries have also.  I’ve had very few runners and by mid-summer they had just given up.  If these plants were any more enthused about growing right now, they’d be taking over the other beds as well.  The onions are doing super too.  They really do like each other!  The onions will keep the bugs away from the strawberries.  There are other plants, such as borage and thyme, that will do that as well, but that’s not what I had on hand.

It is early in the year and the weather has been cool, but I have high hopes of keeping these plants healthy throughout the summer.    Next year, I’ll make sure to plant some friends in with them again and maybe I’ll finally get a strawberry patch going. 

Companion planting might not work for every plant, or every person.  That’s ok.  If you haven’t tried it yet, you might be surprised at the difference it makes in your garden.  There are loads of online references to plants that like and dislike each other.  Just be careful what you put together and give it a try!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hay vs Straw

Although for the most part, I use the terms hay and straw interchangeably, I do know that there is a difference.  This was brought to the forefront of my mind the other day when I was getting garden mulch.  Since we have baby chicks, I figured to use the hay/straw as bedding for the chicks as well as mulch for the garden.  The good folks at the feed store suggested straw for our fine feathered friends since it was cheaper and the birds wouldn’t care either way.  When I asked if it was as good as hay for garden mulch, they didn’t know.  I bought the straw and then did some research.  It turns out that there is no consensus on the matter. 

Hay comes from cut grass and is purported to litter your garden with grass seeds, potentially making weeding a nightmare for the foreseeable future.  Straw, on the other hand, comes from cut grains stalks, with the seeds (grain tops) mostly removed.   Hay is often used for feeding animals, thus is more expensive in most areas than straw.  So far, it seems like straw is the winner in this debate – but wait, there’s more! 

It turns out that hay contains more minerals than straw and will add nutrients to the soil as it decomposes (  Several pages I scoured (including the link referenced above) suggested leaving the hay sit for a season before using it.  Buying year old hay from nearby farmers or just planning ahead can help with that.  It was also suggested that the hay be used as bedding for chickens, before being added to your garden.  That way, the chickens eat the seeds and supply a little extra fertilizer. 

Then there were the practical pages that suggested you use whatever was the cheapest.  Either will help with moisture content and controlling soil temperature.  One page even suggested that if your hay sprouts, add more hay to choke those seeds out!  So there you have it.  If you’re mulching on a budget, straw is most likely the way to go.  If you’re mulching to keep the weeds at bay, straw is most likely the way to go.  If you want to add more nutrients back to your soil and have either chickens or time, you may want to go with hay.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Plums vs Frost - update!

Isn't that a pretty picture?  A baby plum!  It seems that the late frost didn't wipe out this year's crop.  Our two trees have a scattering of little plums.  A lot of them are still quite small, so I haven't determined if the crop yield will be as great as some years, but barring any future problems, we should at least have some.  I don't know if it was the lights we strung up for those two cold nights or the tree's natural hardy nature, or maybe a combination of both that helped the blossoms survive.  Either way, I'm not complaining!

I hope your fruit/nut trees handled the frost as well. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Deciding when to Mulch

Most people will agree that mulch, properly applied, is very good for your garden.  The mulch master website ( has a nice summary of the good things that can come from mulching.

Reduce surface evaporation from the soil

Improve water penetration and air movement

Moderate soil temperature fluctuations

Protect shallow-root plants from freeze damage and frost-heave

Discourage weed growth

Improve soil structure and nutrient availability as they decompose

One of the questions that has recently been asked around here is not whether to mulch, but when to mulch.  You may mulch in the late fall, preparing the beds for winter.  You may wait until spring when you’re preparing your beds for planting or wait until after the seeds have sprouted and mulch around them.

There are a few problems that may be encountered by mulching over the seeds.  Considering that mulch helps prevent weeds by slowing down the germination of the weed seed, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that it may also inhibit the germination of the flower or vegetable seeds that are trying to grow in the same area.  Although mulch can protect small plants from a freeze, it may hold the cold in the ground if it’s been covered for the winter.  This will delay germination while the seeds are waiting for the soil to warm up.  It may also hold so much moisture in the ground that the seeds will rot, or block out the sun that some seeds need for healthy germination.

If you have mulched for the winter, it is a good idea to scoop the mulch away from the area where you plan on planting and then spread it back out after the plants have sprouted.  Even clearing an area as small as a bowl is sufficient to overcome the hazards of mulching over the seeds.  If you do want to keep the mulch on the bed, it is a good idea to make sure it is very thin – half an inch is plenty until you see sprouts.

Hope this little bit of information helps out!