Vendor Confusion is Wreaking Havoc

…and killing your success…

For the 13 1/2 years that I worked at the “Orange Box” as their Garden Specialist, I had to endure several vendor seminars to hear their blathering, about their products. Information that I watched everyone else in the room, suck down like it was gospel, and they never had grown a thing. I could tell, just by their questions, and the answers made me ill. Was it truly an attempt to educate, or was it just a ploy for more dollars to the vendor, limiting your success, because you were told, wrong? Ever notice, that as a huge ad comes out with any “Buy this, get this free and apply this now”, or whatever, that over there, on that shelf, is a product that will be in the next ad, claiming “If you have this, then apply this now”, with a picture of some un-Godly thing growing in a lawn or garden. They know you are being told wrong, but there is another chemical, to correct it. Don’t believe me? Look in the overheads, see what chemical is on like 4 pallets, that’s the next ad. Then do your homework on that product. You will see the “If you did this, then you need to do that”.

After about the 3rd year, I couldn’t take anymore from gardening my whole life, so I started asking questions I knew that vendor didn’t know the answers to, or wouldn’t truthfully answer. My absurd affliction of watching and knowing the climatology of my zone, and observing my customers failures because the same info being shoved at us, and why last year the same info was there, but people were failing was my dilemma. Their info was the same that was on the commercials, again. Yep, all the speaker could do was back up a few sentences, and start again. I was finally asked not to attend anymore lectures. And my attitude towards them and my clients, changed.

I didn’t set out to  kill their products, well, not at first, but I led my clients through scenarios of their past years of anything gardening, no matter what the project was. Especially when they say they “do this every year”. As we looked into their media generated practices, the switches were clicking on. In just one particular season, I was being inundated by clients wanting to see, “that guy”. See, I wasn’t dogging weekly sales plans, they were growing, because of repeat customers, and their friends. I told the truth, and their landscapes were improving. Funny how many times I was told not to tell their neighbor what I was telling them at first. But then, the neighbor was brought in to see me, because of the invasions of those “Un-Godly Things” they were growing. Don’t get me going about grass seed, just read the label on the back, it’s done by an independent lab, and they tell the truth about that particular batch. Add the percentage of seed blends and see if it’s near 100%. There is one in particular, that gets close to 50%, but “It’s NEW and IMPROVED!!” Please.. Just read the label. There’s more.

As the years went by, more info was out about “Organic” gardening and these vendors were clamoring over each other to produce all organic lines of money. Yeah, they went to the limits, even with the Federal Government, that there was a certain percentage of what they had to admit to that was “organic”. By Federal Law, a vendor only has to have their organic products labeled at 85%. The other 15%, they didn’t have to tell you what was in the product. Read any label listed as organic, see for yourself. If there’s no label of ingredients, then either pass on that product, or thank the MSDS.com people that they, would. Scary. Watch what you buy, and join MSDS.com, you will change your practices immediately. Reference to the movie, “Erin Brockovich” when she was at that one home, discussing where the chemicals were coming from that was killing families, the water, and the Mom frantically jumped up and got her kids out of the pool…. Imagine your backyard, the same way, the vendor doesn’t care, but there is another commercial.

A few years ago, I was asked to help a client figure out why most of her veggie garden failed for the past couple of years. She was a farm girl, and knew how to garden her soil first. When I arrived, we walked the landscape first, and it was beautiful. It was a horse farm, and she was completely organic. Last years manure was here, this years was there. But I noticed a weird situation. In the established beds, no weeds. But in the lawn areas, plenty. She used no chemicals at all. As we got to the veggie garden, I could see the nice composted manure, some sporadic rows of veggies, but mostly, bare everywhere else. After a few minutes of asking about and her answering me, her practices, her hay farmer showed up to drop her bales. We continued the tour, but something in me wasn’t right. I took several pics, and her time was up, and I ensured her I’d get back to her. A few weeks later, I was listening to a podcast about gardening with out “The Government” in your back yard. Something the gal said, got me riled up about a suspicion I had earlier. I did some digging, and the next day, called on my client. When I got there, two of her friends, horse farmers as well, were there, and had the same issues in their failed gardens. So as a group, I asked where they got their hay. They all, and a few more friends, got it from the same hay farm. Imagine that the three, all at once, explaining that they don’t know why I was asking about the hay distributor? After finally having the floor, all I asked was “Does he use 2-4d on his fields”? My client immediately called, and he said yes, so there are no broad leaf weeds…. Horses and cows, that eat the hay treated with 2-4d, eliminate the chemical, it’s in the hay. The chemical can be dormant for four years, unless there is a broad leaf anything, to consume it. Silence in a field is strange. Then the phones came out, and friends were called, because this garden problem had been discussed at length at their horse club meetings, and everyone was using the same practices and had the same hay producer.

Now, I wasn’t wanting to end someones livelihood, but the story, is true, and ties in with the first part of this article. How many failures does it take, especially with seasoned gardeners, before they quit too? My info to these people wasn’t just from articles I read. As a Garden Coach, some proof needed to be found. There was actually a middle visit at this farm, and it was to get some of the composted manure for me to make some manure tea for myself, and was offered all I want. But it wasn’t for my gardens. It was experimental, because of my suspicions about the manure. I used it on some of my own seedlings, some from just watering, and some by spraying on. All died or looked like they wanted to. The chemicals from the hay, was in the poop.

In the discussions I’ve had and lectures given over the years, not just in regular gardening practices, but also water gardens, people don’t understand what’s in the chemical they are “sold”. For example the aquatic chemical used to “clear up algae blooms” at about $23.00 per pint, is simply Hydrogen Peroxide. Just a cap full per so many square feet of pond. All it does is sterilize the existing algae so it can’t reproduce, it dies, and is fuel for the next bloom, again and again, until they are sold a mechanical filter or a magic light fixture. I gotta tell ya, I’ve never seen such a thing in a real pond. But the vendor has a method of making a simple project cost you out of enjoyment, it’s now a chore. Simple practices in the maintenance of any water garden, makes it just that, a garden. But you aren’t supposed to know about moving the pump seasonally, and more.

My Apartment gardening clients are all of a sudden, a new breed. There has been a little info out there about containerizing veggies, but none from vendors. I have had several in the past few years, start with a few, and now no room out there. I did have enough that had an interest, that WWBT’s “More Bang for Your Buck” series aired me on just that. And you people went crazy in your gardening on balconies. But, unless you know someone with compost, you have to buy bagged. Just read the label about potting mixes, garden soils, and keep it cheap. Anything that boasts about “water retention”, “longer feeding”, or any other “thing” and has great pics on the bag, let it go. In containers, you have the luxury of no weeds, and maybe less bugs, but…. You have to control your watering and feeding times more than an in-ground garden. Drainage and fungus is where your extra education needs to be above others. So you don’t want that “new and improved” anything. There’s more, but you are a 3rd floor gardener, and it’s worth the effort.

With the onslaught of GMO vs Non-GMO, there is a question of that vendor side as well. If you aren’t saving seeds already, it may be too late soon. With the formation of Seminis Seed Company, a Monsanto entity, it appears that all seeds in the companies they are buying up, will be GMO, and will not reproduce from seeds of that plant. You will have to buy all your seeds from now on. End of the world folks. Some will reproduce, but will not be the same plant. I have already seen some of this, and the packets planted, were not all the same, already. The “vendor” states they are healthier, more resistant to a nuclear blast, etc… But, you have to buy again next year. And yes, the Government is involved with this too. Pretty soon, my seed stash I save year after year, will be illegal, and they will raid that one kitchen drawer we all have, with just “stuff” in it. Imagine it, “Seed Cops”.

Any type of gardening is supposed to be therapy in my book. I already work, I don’t want a pleasure to be work. As a kid, there weren’t many chemicals or bagged goods like today, and we ate good. Certain weeds meant something about the soil, weather, nutrients, etc. Rotating crops, gardening your soil, companion planting, inter-planting to attract good bugs, were all you needed. I’ve never seen Ma Nature shop in a box store. I can go out to the middle of nowhere, and see beautiful things growing, and not the first empty bag of anything. So why can’t you grow without a vendor? Make it pleasurable, therapeutic, and profitable to garden again. Who’s your Garden Coach? Class begins as I step out of my vehicle with my clients, I have a compass, and a watch, and it’s the first thing I note, then it’s on. My interview with you simply includes, my exploring your “chemical closet”, your previous practices, ask about your non-existent garden journal, and then, what do you want, as we tour your property. Then you’re mindset will change, and you are gardening again. Simply keeping a journal, will keep you from listening to those commercials, when the vendor says, “Do this now”.

In my public lectures, weather they are small groups or upwards to 200-300 people, after about five minutes in, they find out I am not a vendor. Questions come early on of what the commercials are that week or what the box store has in their ads, and why am I saying different?…. As I answer them, also with scenarios of what I know what is going on in a garden, certain veggies, weather, whatever, that if they are following the ads, then they start admitting, they have that problem too. Then I ask, why? Now, I got them.

Go Grow Something.

 

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March and a “Gardenistic” Approach to “Gardenology”

How Many Times Does It Take?

So it’s March. In about 4 days, we will see two more hours of daylight, we will turn our clocks back, we will see Forsythia soon bloom, and we have made our plans for the upcoming garden season. We’ve cleaned our tools, started seeds indoors, shoveled enough snow exhausting ourselves into oblivion. Ran out of projects for “snow day kids”…. Or have we?

For me, as a garden coach, it has been great. Most of my clients have been, like me, chained inside because of this weather Ma Nature has tossed at us this long Winter. Our homes are so clean inside for lack of anything to do outside because of the newly named, “Polar Vortexes”. I have enough exes, don’t need another with a fancy name. OK, back to my clients. Most have gotten the message about “home grown” food. Most have gotten very creative about finding a place to start seeds indoors. Some found a closet and rigged lighting, some just a table, some, found racks for free at stores like I suggested. Now the good part about the weather. Parents have gotten their kids interested in growing indoors as “snow day” projects. I have received a lot of cool feedback on my previous posts about how they made something fun, productive, and a good learning experience for their kids. Funny how the young gardeners don’t realize the “Gardenology” class they are attending while out on a snow day. I think some can’t wait till the next one to add to their crops!!

While at a clients home recently, who I knew they had a “Grow Room”, they showed me some interesting ways their kids were getting involved. They all had their own flat of seeds started, personal garden journal, plot picked out in the garden bed, and yes, they have to “grow” bigger this year, and what each was going to produce for upcoming menus for the season. It was kinda funny, that the youngest was “allowed” to be the Cold Crop Queen!! She’s 6. And her flat was up and going. I had a chance to chat with them about transplanting, feeding, irrigation, soil amendments,  last years bugs, etc. They were into it so far, they’re stuck, as gardeners… Or is it, “hooked”? Either way they are in for the long haul of a life of great memories and peaceful therapeutic progress. Nice way to grow, and the parents didn’t realize they were cultivating 5, yes 5, new gardens within their kids. “Gardenology” is something to practice. I understand, from my clients, that their kids, can’t remember the last time they played a video game. When they call the kids for dinner, they come running out from the grow room where there are crayon pics of charts on the wall, on the wall now, not on paper, dates, plans and all “organic” treatments. We talked about companion plantings, succession planting, crop rotation, NPK, and phenology. I think my “new” clients are putting their WII and games on EBay to purchase new garden tools. I talked to the really chatty 11 year old a lot about my big time garden writer friends on Facebook, and thought she’d be the next big garden speaker.

Yeah, it’s March. What did you do with your “snow day kids”? I bet this crew, won’t buy any veggies at all this coming season. I will go back to this home-turned-greenhouse, and include them in my upcoming garden lectures. I kind of have to. Ya see, I started it with the parents, 2 years ago, and they had never put a seed to soil in their lives. This year, they are going total edible landscaping. If they can’t eat it, they ain’t plantin’ it.

A Sweet Morning, and Blossom End Rot…

   Wow… If you didn’t get out this morning and appreciate this very sweet morning, then too bad. I did, and it was great sitting on my back porch with a cup of coffee.. Yeah, won’t be many more of these before the heat settles in. We are actually having a real Spring here in Richmond this year. Cool nights, warmish days, rainy days and more rainy days. Yep, here comes the dreaded Blossom End Rot (BER). Lots of moisture, cool nights, and then warm sunny days. Most folks see a slight yellowing on their Peppers, Tomatoes, and Egg Plant, so the first thing they do is throw the “All Purpose” MG fertilizer to them. I guess because there is a picture of a Tomato on the box with blooming flowers. Last thing they need is Nitrogen folks, read the NPK labels on the plant food before you buy. All this rain, and the calcium levels drop out in the soil, and now the plant cannot take up what it needs.. The one thing it doesn’t need is more (excessive) Nitrogen. I always tell folks to have their soil tested for anything planted, especially a vegetable garden. If when you tilled your garden in March, and you applied slow release lime, then you are probably OK. If not, here’s an old remedy that I know works. Add 1/3 cup of milk around the root base of your Tomatoes, now. You can’t stop BER after the fact.  Here in Richmond this year, you’re probably gonna have it. I have already “milked” my veggies. 3 Matches around my Peppers, and well, the Egg Plant will just have to get on with it. Other than that, everything else is coming up great.

  Let’s see, back to that NPK thing again. BER is a fungal condition that sets in, and has something to do with over Nitrogen feeding. Tall fescue has the same issues with improper feeding, rain, daylight hours, heat…. Those “Weed & Feed” jockey’s who feel the need to throw all that Nitrogen down now, well, the fungicides will be on the shelf very soon, feel free to pick up a bag or two, you’re gonna need it. All the milk in the fridge won’t help…. Ever notice that when a lawn starts getting a fungus, it’s either in a slight depression in the yard, or where there is some run-off. Same with Hardwood Mulch and that “Dog-Puke” fungus.. (Really, Google that and you will see it’s actually the name for it). That also occurs in mulch beds mostly applied in the late Winter or early Spring, when we get all this rain, and there is a slight depression in the mulched area. Looks like a Dog, well, “Puked” there. Nothing you can do about it, no way to treat it, and it does not affect your plants at all. Just happens. It’s just unsightly for a bit.

Yep. I am enjoying Spring this year. The Southern Oscillation is being good to us for a bit, except for the Tornadic outbreaks all of a sudden, which tells me that La Nina and El Nino are getting ready to switch back next yearish or so… We aren’t usually connected as a “Tornado Alley” city here in Richmond, but the storm fronts are pushing South East a bit. So be mindful of any storm for a bit, especially while we are going through these extreme temperature changes.

I will be posting more pics here soon at www.picasaweb.google.com/Kevinthegarden

I Know It’s Cold, But….

The time is right to start thinking about that vegetable garden, now… Instead of drudging through the cold part of the year, and getting “house madness”, I opt to start my garden in my head. What went wrong last year, went right, wanted more of, some of… Yeah. All that is buzzin’ around in my head. So, the first thing I will do is figure out how much more space I can conjure up on my property. I will even make use of growing food in large pots that almost made it to the dump. I have already amended the old part, as well as composted a newer part I will till in March. Yeah, I will have more this year.

But when do I?…… Start the seeds, start saving milk jugs, solarize, etc…. First things first. The seed racks are out already, and I have some dried out from last year. The proper timing in my experience is this, and its streamlined, you betcha…. On every pack of seeds, there are some important bits of info for you, after all, those folks have been selling seeds a long time, and it’s their job to keep us straight. There is a growing zone chart on when to plant outdoors, height, width, depth, spread, row length, etc. But the one piece that  most people ignore, is the “emergence” time.  That is the time to expect the seedling to pop up and say hello. Here in Zone 7a, my last average killing frost is around April 15th. Sooo, I will take the timeframe they say for each individual crop, add 3 weeks, do the math and subtract that many days from April 15th, and thats the day I start that particular plant, indoors…. Too soon, and I will have to repot because of root mass, and who has time to do that over and over, plus the space it will take, and too late and my neighbors are eating fresh veggies before me. Nah. not me.

There are several hundred ways, creative, and marketable gadgets, to start seeds in. It’s a great feeling to see the little guys pop up, but here’s the thing. From the time they emerge, they are hungry, so now feeding is going to be a priority. They don’t get food in the soil while germinating, or it will make them leggy most times. I want my little fellas to come up, and sprout leaves soon. Then I will start a little balanced feeding. When that happens, they start to root out more, which is a good thing. From root, you get bloom, from bloom, fruit. So less leggy leafing, gets me more root mass, see? If I have to repot, then the feeder roots keep getting disturbed, and start producing more leaf, which takes away from my precious root mass. So one transplant time is good enough for me. Matter of fact, when I transplant to the garden bed, I place bottomless one liter bottles on them, then feed so the food isn’t right at the root. My guys have to work for their food by spreading their roots to get to it. After all, I have to work on picking it later. It’s kind of a thing we have, me and the plants that is.  Wow. I’m picking Green Beans and Squash in my mind already. Yeah. I’m ready. But there is a little more to do yet.

Later we will discuss the art of solarizing a garden bed and setting up the irrigation, etc. But for now we need to remember High School Biology a little. It takes seed to soil contact, moisture, and light to get your seeds off right. I will add some pics (hopefully) on a cheap, easy seed starting contraption and even a easier way to transplant to the bed, without even touching the plants. Time to get creative a little on your garden sense. After all, I do know those folks out there who did this stuff last year for the first time, and you are wanting to go, now… Timing people, timing and planning will get you off to a better start with memorable times next Winter, when you are still eating veggies from your own garden, instead of buying them. The time is coming. Start planning. If you need to get something going now, and just can’t stand it, go out and get some cuttings from a bunch of your Spring blooming trees and shrubs, bring them in the house and put them in a vase with water in a well-lit room. They will explode waaay sooner than outside, and maybe give you a little hope that it will be warm soon… Just a little.

Never Snows in Richmond?

For all the folks who move here in the “off” winter years, who say it never snows here, for the retired extension agent doofus who just last week in the Times Dispatch, suggested we all start planting Zone 8 plants here, for all of you who wipe out the grocery stores in a mad dash for a “dusting” all the time…. HEY, IT’S SNOWING… Mark your calender, set an appointment on your PC for 5 years from now, and it will happen again, BUT… If you look at the 20 year history of Richmond, we may get hammered next year even worse. Last Spring was the 15 year “Early Bloom”. (This is what a digital camera is excellent for). Usually when that happens we have this nice 12″ or so storm. Within the next year or so, we will probably need to go the the grocery store again. The squirrels knew it. I have not seen so many of you with attic squirrel problems in a long time. The pest control folks are making a “killing” (get it?) this year. Hey, that’s a little phenology aspect for you. Squirrels in the attic? Go to the grocery store, fill up your tank, and don’t forget the liquor store. Get your new sled while you see them in November, (studies show that looking for sleds while it’s snowing is a bust), and sit back and wait. It will come. FoodNetwork.com may have a robust squirrel recipe, so get to Trader Joe’s and get a 2 Buck Chuck red wine. You may lose power, and it will be off for a good while, because most people don’t go out in their own yard, look up and see the limbs on the power line and call someone to take care of it. Too bad. It gets cold when the power is out, especially when the sun goes down. Hey, remember the squirrel in the attic? You could make a hat! Or a glove! You could even work up a sweat chasing it around or running from it. Look at Clark Griswold during the “squirrel” scene. He was sweating.  Speaking of phenology, the old “tons of acorns on the ground rumor” may be false. Some dude at Cornell University had an article last year on this. Hard winter coming, the squirrels will be getting them before they drop. Mild winters, ehhh, who needs them, let them fall. I had none on the ground this year. It’s been a long, coldish Fall/Winter.  I think on the 5th of March, we will have gained  2 hrs of daylight since the week of Christmas. And I don’t think we have seen the last wintry weather for this year. I’m betting on another dusting, so be ready to crowd the stores and empty them out. Hey maybe a little Ice Storm like the Easter of 2007. That was great fun huh? Fried everything in bloom.

I dunno.. I think we are still in zone 7a, but then again, I’m not a doofus. The sky isn’t really falling, is it?