The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

January 12, 2017

Re-purpose broken window blinds into plant tags

A new winter gardening project presented itself yesterday. The frame on one of our window blinds snapped as I was pulling on the cord to open it and the whole works crashed to the floor.

As it turns out, mini-blind slats make fine pot markers, you know, those small white tags that gardeners use to identify trays and pots of seedlings. The slats are just about the same width as the markers that are sold in gardening departments every spring.

One big advantage homemade markers have over the garden-store variety is that you can easily cut them with a pair of scissors to whatever length you need, short ones for flats of seedlings, or longer ones for potted plants.


One set of broken window blinds will provide materials for years worth of plant tags.

One set of broken window blinds will provide materials for years worth of plant tags.

Homemade tags decreases the chance that seedlings will be mislabeled. Since each set of blinds will yield dozens of markers, you won’t be tempted to skimp on labels, that way every pot or six-pack divider can have it’s own tag.

Re-purposing old blinds reduces the amount of plastic debris that eventually finds it way into the landfill. And you save a few bucks along the way. Plus, it’s fun making your own gardening supplies and this happens to be a very easy project.

I’m looking at that high-quality braided pull-cord on those blinds too, but I haven’t figured out a use for that yet.


January 3, 2017

Preventing scale honeydew on overwintering plants inside your home

With Christmas and other hectic, holiday happenings , now may not seem like the best time to check those plants you brought inside for winter but it should be done soon.

When potted plants live outside during the summer, they become susceptible to infestations of all kinds of insects. Usually, if they are in reasonably good health they can tolerate a moderate insect attack. And natural predators like lady bugs and lace wings will keep the bad insect population to a minimum. But when plants are moved indoors, they loose the protection of those natural predators which can allow the insect population to grow.

Scale insects are the ones I have the most problem with. When I start to find a sticky coating, called “honeydew”, on the lower leaves, table, nearby furniture or floor, I know that the scale insects are ramping up their feeding. They can get out of hand quickly at that point and do some real damage to the plant– not to mention the mess they make. Honeydew is sometimes mistakenly called “sap” because the plant owner thinks it is the plant leaking sap all over the place. It’s not always easy to spot a scale infestation if you’ve never seen it before.

Yellow spots caused by scale feeding are one symptom to look for. The yellow spots are not always present however.

Yellow spots caused by scale feeding are one symptom to look for. The brown oval spots are the scale insect’s shell. The clear sticky substance is honeydew.

Scale feed by poking their “beak” into the the plant and feeding on the nutrients from the plant juices. Like most other animals, they excrete waste. In this case it is in the form of that sticky, syrupy  honeydew. Honeydew contains a high concentration of sugar. But how and why do scale insects produce so much sticky residue? The answer is that they pick their feeding spot very carefully. If you remember from middle school biology, plants have two basic types of tubes inside. Those that carry water from the roots up into the plant are called xylem. The other tubes that carry nutrients manufactured by the leaves to the rest of the plant are called phloem.

It is the phloem where the scale insects like to poke their beaks. If they pierced a xylem tube by mistake, all they would get is mostly water and some dissolved minerals. The phloem sap contains sugars for energy, proteins for growth and other things necessary to sustain plant and animal life.

The scale can’t use all of the sugar dissolved in the phloem juices so they excrete the excess sugar which then falls all over the immediate area. Since it is primarily sugar, it is water soluble and fairly easy to clean up with a damp cloth. Small plants can be rinsed off in the sink or bathtub.

My citrus trees are way too big to rinse off in the bathtub and too heavy for me to move to the shower. Instead I use a damp cloth — or even my bare fingers– to rub off the scale from the leaves and branches whenever I find them. I find that if I do a few leaves every day, I can usually keep up with the multiplying insect population, especially if I remember to start early. If you wait too long, it can turn into a tedious, frustrating job.

One other by-product of honeydew is sooty mold, a black, powdery mold that grows om the surface of leaves and other surfaces. All of that sugar provides food for sooty-mold fungus which will grow and leave sticky surfaces with an unsightly black film that can rub off onto clothing.

Even though you may feel overwhelmed by the holiday rush, remember your plants, they will thank you for it.


April 11, 2014

Use a heat mat for quick seed germination

Filed under: Equipment,Greenhouse,Seeds — bob @ 10:11 am

For many years I started seeds without using a seedling heat mat.There never seemed to be any problems doing it that way as long as I was able to find a warm spot for my seed trays. Those were the days when the tops of refrigerators radiated heat and were nice and warm. That was the best place to germinate small amounts of seeds because the constant heat warmed up the seed starting containers to the ideal temperature. Small heat mats for home use were not readily available back then.

It wasn’t until I worked in a large private greenhouse that I really found out the advantages to using bottom heat. I needed to grow thousands of flower and vegetable plants from seed. Time was, and still is, a valuable commodity, I couldn’t afford to wait for seeds to sprout.

Seeds I grew on heat mats seemed to jump up through the soil surface compared to their unheated brethren — germination percentage went up too. After the first transplant growing season, I invested in a few large commercial heat mats.

These days, nearly all garden centers sell small heat mats. They are usually preset at a specific temperature and are not adjustable, unlike the commercial mats.

Heat mats will last for years  if you use them properly and store them carefully.

Heat mats will last for years if you use them properly and store them carefully.

The small mats work just fine for small amounts of seeds. By small amounts, I mean you can still germinate enough seeds to grow hundreds of plants. That’s more than enough for an average home garden.

If you are even a little bit serious about growing plants from seed, a seedling heat mat is an essential investment, especially now that refrigerators aren’t warm anymore.


April 4, 2014

Supplemental light for growing seedlings

Filed under: Greenhouse,Indoor Gardening,Seed Starting — bob @ 9:35 am

Plants need light for photosynthesis and without light they can’t grow. But not all light is equal.

If you remember from your middle school science class, sunlight contains many colors or wave lengths of light. Plants mainly use the blue and red part of the light spectrum and not much else.

Seedlings need good quality light to thrive. The ideal place to grow seedlings of course,  is in a greenhouse or sun-room where there is plenty of natural sunlight. However, not everyone has access to a space like a greenhouse. A south window can help, but even in that case, supplemental lighting may be needed.

An adequate substitute for natural sunlight is light from fluorescent bulbs. Special “grow lights” are available but are quite a bit more expensive than standard fluorescent tubes and they don’t last as long. Research has shown that plants do as well or even better under “cool white” bulbs. Cool white bulbs provide plenty of blue light.

You don't have to spend a lot of money for supplemental lighting. I bought this light fixture for one dollar at a garage sale. I had to buy a new bulb separately.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money for supplemental lighting. I bought this light fixture for one dollar at a garage sale. I had to buy a new bulb separately.

Despite all of the newest research, some gardeners still feel that seedlings grow better if the light is “blended”. So, they’ll add a “soft white” bulb to a florescent fixture to provide some red light for their seedlings. The plants certainly look more natural under mixed lights. Shining light from an incandescent bulb onto the seedlings will also add some red light.

Most vegetable and flower garden seedlings need bright light, at least 500 to 1,000 foot candles. Placing the light fixture within six inches or so will provide them with that amount of light. Still, that is not a bright as a sunny day where there can be 10,000 foot candles shining on a plant.

Just as people need sleep , plants require some darkness every day. So, dig out your Christmas light timer and set it so the lights go out at night  for six to eight hours, that is sufficient for most plants.

If you are really serious about growing a large number of plants under artificial light, special high output light fixtures are available starting at around $300 each.





Old and new crops in the hoop house

Filed under: Greenhouse,Planting,Vegetables — bob @ 9:18 am

A while back, I mentioned I was planning on planting some seeds in the hoop house since the  soil temperature warmed up so nicely undercover.

Last week I planted about a third of the space with round red radishes, french slicing radishes, bib lettuce, a leaf lettuce salad combination, two varieties of spinach  and a couple varieties of scallions.

When I went into the hoop house to move away the inner plastic covering, I was surprised to see several lettuce plants growing. Those were the same ones I gave up for dead a few weeks ago. Since they are already growing, they have a big head start compared to the seeds I just planted. I decided to leave them in place and nurse them along thinking, may as well harvest them for salad since I really don’t need the extra room right now.

At this stage of growth, those lettuce plants will act like a biennial instead of an annual plant.

Biennials are plants that need two growing seasons to complete their life cycle.

A complete plant life cycle starts with a seed that grows into a plant, the plant flowers then produces more seeds.

Since biennials need two seasons, they grow the first season then go dormant through the winter. They start growing again in the spring, then flower and produce their seeds. Once the seeds are produced, those original plants die and the life cycle starts over again.

Beets, onions, carrots and most of the cabbage family of plants are all biennials. Foxglove, pansies and hollyhocks are common biennial flowers.

I have seen this type of thing happen before after a mild winter. Usually the lettuce plants will make some growth, then quickly flower and begin to produce seeds.

I’ll just help them grow as much as possible and harvest them when they’re big enough to eat before they decide to start making seeds.





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