Grow Your Own Microbrew! How to Grow Hops

how-to-grow-hops.jpgAs an ornamental gardener, I’m used to growing hops as a summer screen for chicken coops, bare walls and other elements in the garden that can be unsightly. It’s easy to grow, but needs to be sited just right, as it has an eat-your-home style of rapacious growth that can be either exactly what you need or overwhelming – depending on the spot. Here in Humboldt, we’re known for our amazing microbrews (and have a lot of home-brewers), so when I connected the dots that this lovely garden vine was actually useful, it upped my enthusiasm for it even more. I love plants that do double-duty in the garden! Hops, or Humulus, is a great plant for Humboldt County. It’s related to our local cash crop, and you’ll know why when you see those sticky buds forming in late summer. Yet it’s not just for Californians – it’s hardy to zone 3, so people in much harsher climates can grow it successfully. Fern Richardson of Life on the Balcony joined me in making this video to show you how to grow your own: You can see it’s pretty easy – here’s what you need:
  • Hops plant (either bare-root or potted)
  • Stakes or trellis (remember to put up supports the day you plant it as it will grow FAST once it gets started)
  • High quality organic amendment to create a planting mound, as hops are heavy feeders and need good drainage
how to grow hops If you’re growing hops for home-brewing, you may want a few types. You’ll need both a bittering and an aroma hops, and maybe more just to have a variety of flavors. ‘Cascade’ is the classic aroma type, while ‘Nugget’ is the most common bittering variety. Or if you’re like me and just appreciate the fast summer growth and lush look of the hops vine, there are some lovely ornamental varieties, including golden ones. ‘Summer Shandy’ is a new dwarf golden vine (hardy to zone 5) which is much better-suited to small sites, as it grows only 5-10′ tall and 2′ wide. While it may produce buds, it’s been bred for its looks and small stature more than for flavor. ‘Summer Shandy’ could even go into a container for vertical interest. Of course, whatever variety of hops you choose – when you plant – don’t let Fern hold your beer! how to grow hops (2) Further reading: The Homebrewer’s Garden, a great book on growing fresh microbrew ingredients at home. Disclosure: Gardner and Bloome paid to produce this video with me, but opinions are my own (I’ve bought over $3K of their products in the last two months for my landscaping business, so you know I’m a fan of their soil and fertilizers!).

Got No Pot? Grow Tomatoes Right in the Bag!

Planting-tomatoes-in-a-potting-soil-bag.pngHere in Humboldt County, it’s time to plant warm-season vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini and more. But some of us don’t have a plot of land to work, and sometimes, there’s not enough cash to buy a pot. I mean, have you seen the cost of pots these days? Some of them can run pretty steep. Planting high-yield crops right in the potting soil bag is a trick I learned when I worked at a nursery years ago. It’s cheap, effective and fast. Beyond the ease and the price, there is another advantage to planting this way. If you’ve ever gotten late blight or other diseases on your tomatoes, you’ll know that you’re not supposed to plant the same crop in that spot for three years to make sure the disease won’t come back. Planting right in a fresh, sterile bag of potting soil avoids all of these soil-borne diseases and allows you to have a great crop every year with little planning or expense. My friend Fern from Life on the Balcony is a container gardening expert (she literally wrote the book!), and we created a video together showing you how to do this: The most important elements:
  • Start with a high-quality potting soil, especially if you’re using plants that need a lot of nutrients like tomatoes or squash. I’m a Gardner and Bloome girl since I’m a totally organic gardener (their Eden Valley Blend feels like velvet!).
  • Choose varieties that will do well in a container (I love the ‘Sun Sugar’ grafted tomato from Log House Plants, as well as the ‘Astia’ patio zucchini seeds from Renee’s Garden).
  • You don’t need to fertilize for the first six weeks, as a high-quality potting soil has the nutrients to you get started. After that, one application of a granular organic fertilizer will get you through the rest of the season.
Beyond that, it’s pretty simple, as you can see from the video! If you haven’t gotten around to preparing a raised bed this year or you just don’t have the space, try this technique on for size and see how it works for you. Disclosure: Gardner and Bloome paid to create this video with me, but the reason they invited me is that I’ve been using their organic soils and fertilizers in my business for years (I just bought half a pallet of fertilizer for all the gardens I maintain!), so the opinions here are definitely my own.

How to Plant a Hanging Basket With an Angel Moss Liner

IMG_5753.jpgYears ago, when I worked at a local independent garden center (Hi, Miller Farms!), one of my favorite winter activities was creating moss baskets to sell. We used loose sphagnum moss to line the baskets, and stuffed the sides and tops with lettuces, annuals and herbs. It was a blast! So when Discoveries in Gardening asked if I’d like to test out one of their hanging baskets with the Angel Moss lining, I was excited! Eliminate the messy and time-consuming process of soaking the loose moss and stuffing just the right amounts around the wire frame? Yes, please! More time for planting and chasing the kitties around the yard. I made a quick tutorial on how I planted it up so you can see how easy the process is and feel inspired to make your own basket. They’re lovely hanging on a hook on the porch or in your front entry. I’m going to sink a post in the ground so I can hang my basket right in my garden bed for a little vertical interest – hopefully the fact that the post is made of wood will encourage the cats to use that as a scratching post instead of my poor tortured peach tree. (One can hope.) Anyway, the process: [Read more...]

Planting the Triolife Triangular Planter (Kitty “Helped”)

Triolife-triangular-planter-2.jpgI’ll admit it: I’m bad with containers. I love planting them, placing them and admiring them. What I’m not so great at is watering them. So when Eartheasy offered to send me one of these stylish triangular Triolife planters to test out, I wasn’t feeling too confident that I’d be able to create an effect worthy of its awesomeness. I mean, look at the thing – it’s all modern and fresh and thrilling-looking. But when I looked further at the design, it’s actually got an open center which allows a core of soil to run down the middle, making the planter a lot easier to keep watered and happy as there’s plenty of root room for all of the plants. I am getting ahead of myself, though. [Read more...]

Small Space Container Gardens by Fern Richardson

Small-Space-Container-Gardens-Review-photo-by-Fern-Richardson-2.jpgLongtime readers will know I’ve been a fan of Fern’s stylish blog Life on the Balcony for some time. Fern’s like an approachable version of Martha Stewart for container gardeners – while her photos and ideas are gorgeously inspiring, her projects are never so difficult or time-consuming that I feel I couldn’t possibly fit them into a weekend, unlike some of Martha’s cool but overly involved eye candy. So when Fern’s new book Small-Space Container Gardens came out, I already had two copies pre-ordered, one for myself and one to give as a gift. I just knew I was going to love it. And sure enough, I do! The book is structured as a total from-the-ground-up guide to having a gorgeous balcony garden. While you might think that would encompass only container planting, she also shares numerous tips on design and décor, dealing with narrow spaces, vertical gardening, and issues unique to balcony gardeners like how to deal with rain pouring in sheets off the roof and onto your potted plants. Small Space Container Gardens Review photo by Fern RichardsonEven better, Fern’s DIY style is made easy and fun with numerous tutorials and crafts throughout the book. I absolutely adored this chalkboard planter idea for taking ordinary, inexpensive pots and making them cute and functional. How many times have I gotten a call from a client just before dinnertime wondering whether the plant with big leaves was the oregano or the sage? Now, I can show horticulturally-challenged gardeners this tutorial and they can create their own (very chic) labeled pots for their edibles. What a great gift idea! I felt this way with all of the tutorials in the book. Fern made everything look so elegant that I immediately wanted to rush out, get a few supplies, and make ‘em happen. She showed a small-space DIY birdbath which would be perfect nestled among a few potted plants. And this mod-minimalist bird feeder? I totally want to adapt this project and make it my own (I mean, purple would be mod-minimalist too, right? Right?). Small Space Container Gardens Review photo by Fern Richardson (3) I also loved that Fern made cohesive garden design easy with her small-space patio design plans. She created full container planting designs for a Verdant and Vertical Garden, Potager With a Twist (some great edible and cocktail garden ingredients!), Succulents and Scents, and more. It’s not just the planting ideas, either; she mixes décor tips and layout ideas into her plans so you can see how all the elements fit together. The book is beautifully-photographed and designed, and would make a great gift for the beginning or advanced container gardener. The text covers all that a beginner would need to know in clear language, while the designs and DIY projects offer enough interest to keep even pros like me coming back for more. Want to win a copy for yourself? Timber Press has offered one up to a lucky reader! Just leave a comment for your chance to win. I’ll pick a winner at random on Friday April 6th, US only. Brynda is our winner. Congrats, Brynda! (All photos copyright Fern Richardson)

Planting in Tight Spaces with Smart Pots

smartpots.gifRecently I had a client who wanted some plants tucked behind her waterfall. The waterfall had been built right up against her fence, so there was no real planting area – you can’t just pile up soil against a fence, of course. Enter the Smart Pots. Because the spaces were so cramped and oddly-shaped, there was no way to fit normal containers back there. But I remembered seeing some weird, flexible new pots at the nursery on my last trip, so I decided to pick up a few and see if I could make them work in this tough spot. Smart Pots are made of a flexible polypropylene (read: non-degrading) fabric, which allowed me to tuck them in between the waterfall and the fence and scrunch them into whatever shape was needed. It still allowed plenty of root area for the plants, but I was able to fit the pot invisibly between the rocks. Here are the Smart Pots before using: smart pot packaging smartpots are flexible And the waterfall that abruptly ended at the fence, with a sad little ostrich fern trying to grow from the soil a few feet down: before First, I scrunched the Smart Pots into the right places, putting rocks under or to the sides of them to hide the pots. I figured, rightly, that the foliage would hide the pots once they were planted. Tucked in Smart Pots I chose holly ferns and autumn ferns, since holly ferns have a strong evergreen, architectural shape, and autumn ferns have all that fun orangey new growth in spring. placed the ferns in the smartpots to see how they're positioned after - the ferns are now able to fill the area and grow larger These pics were taken right after planting, so they’re still rather small, but I think as the ferns fill in this will look so much more lively and fresh than just having bare fence.

Other benefits:

What I didn’t know when planting is that Smart Pots have a lot of benefits beyond their flexibility. Apparently, plants growing in Smart Pots need less maintenance than plants growing in hard-sided pots. Plants in hard-sided pots need regular transplanting and root-pruning so they don’t become pot-bound, with circling roots that choke the plant. But because Smart Pots are well-aerated – remember, they’re a fabric – the plant roots reach the sides of the container and are “air-pruned”, which means they simply stop growing once they reach the sides of the pot. So you could conceivably leave plants in a Smart Pot longer than in a traditional pot, because plants will naturally stay at the right size. Plants really benefit from highly oxygenated soil, too, so I could see them being particularly healthy in a pot like this. (Fern Richardson from Life on the Balcony actually did her own side-by-side test of a Smart Pot and a regular pot – see the results here.)

Creative uses:

You know what else is cool – apparently, Smart Pots are gopher-resistant!  I guess they don’t like to eat through the sturdy polypropylene felt. So I’d be curious to experiment with using Smart Pots as in-the-ground protection for bulbs or other plants that gophers love to nosh on. The nice thing is that as your bulbs multiply, you can lift up the Smart Pots and easily transplant out some of the bulbs. Usually when I try to divide bulbs, there are a few “dammits” involved as my shovel cuts one of my prized bulbs in half.strawberries in smartpots You can cut holes in the sides and use them as a strawberry pot, or use them inside of a ceramic pot to get the benefits of air-pruning and less transplanting, while having the look of a more permanent ceramic pot. (Kerry Michaels from About.com grows her potatoes in them – see the video here. Fern also has a step-by-step guide to growing potatoes in Smart Pots.)

The giveaway!

After I wrote this post, I asked Smart Pots if they were interested in giving a few away to you guys, and they were kind enough to offer no fewer than FOUR SETS of mixed Smart Pots! Each winner will get a 3-, a 5-, and a 7-gallon Smart Pot, so you can try them out in a variety of ways. If you want to win, just leave a comment, and I’ll pull four winners using random.org next Thursday. Good luck! EDIT: Congratulations to Sharon, Alison, Justin, and Roberta who have each won a set of three Smart Pots! Thanks so much to Smart Pots for providing such a generous giveaway. And thank you to ContestGirl for helping me promote!

Greenland Gardener Wall Garden Kit

IMG_6275.jpgIf you’ve read Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet’s book Garden Up! about vertical gardening, you’ve seen the drool-worthy photos of succulent walls. You might have even thought about getting one of those flat wooden frames to make one of your own. The problem with so many of those succulent wall frames is they require patience, a virtue I have not yet discovered in my gardening life. You plant them, and then you leave them flat until they root – a few weeks at best, months at worst. Not only do you have to be patient, but you have to somehow keep your chickens off the planted frame until you can hang it on a wall (am I the only person with this problem?). The Greenland Gardener wall garden kit changes all of that. It’s a simple metal frame that holds four plastic trays, which hook onto the metal bars on the frame. You can see how it works in the video: It kind of reminds me of that gutter garden trend that’s been popping up lately – the trays are pretty much the same size and shape, only these are oriented diagonally and outward so you can actually see what you’ve planted right away. The one complaint I have is that the endcaps on the plastic trays are a bit flimsy, and snap off easily. I used a bit too much force when planting mine, and had to glue the endcap back onto one of my trays. But when you compare the price of this vertical gardening kit to others (it’s only $30 including shipping, while most of those wooden wall kits that require so much time to root start at $80), having to do a little DIY repair is a small price to pay.

Here’s me in the process of planting mine up:

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And the finished wall garden, prettying up my chicken coop:

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Want to win one?

You know you do. Greenland Gardener has been kind enough to offer up TWO kits to give away, so you’ve got doubly-good chances of winning. Just leave a comment, and I’ll choose two winners next Wednesday June 1st. Good luck! EDIT: Big congrats to Karen and Charlotte, who have each won a kit!

Amy and Gen Tropicanna the Garden: a Giveaway!

tropicanna-from-tesselaar.jpg***Giveaway below*** Outside of the garden, I’m attracted to cool, subdued colors, like purples, blues, blacks and greys. But lately, in the garden? Give me some color! Wild, exuberant color, that shocks the eyes and cheers the soul. So when the kind folks out at Tesselaar Plants offered to send Amy Stewart and I some Tropicanna cannas, I was all over it. Miss Zonal Denial is ready for spring! Three Tropicanna varieties The original Tropicanna, Tropicanna Gold, and Tropicanna Black (photo courtesy of Tesselaar Plants) happy lemonsWe took some of our Tropicanna bounty over to local artist Linda Mitchell’s home. Linda (yes, those are her lemons at left!) has a gloriously tropical garden of her own, with loads of exotic fuchsias, bold foliage and exciting colors that come up in summer. Here’s Amy and I finding homes for all the different kinds of Tropicanna: These are one of the hardiest “tropical” plants around. They’re safe in the ground to zone 7, and gardeners in zones 6 and below can plant them in containers, or just dig them up each season and bring them in. In my area where they overwinter easily, they reach about 6′ tall, but in pots they’ll stay a more sedate 3-4′. Inspiration board for the three kinds of Tropicanna canna:
Tropicanna4173954047_e6f935f9c5_bCanna Tropicanna Black AlstroemeriaEuphorbia photo by wlcutler on Flickrsunrose or helianthemum UnciniaGolden CallunaClianthus puniceus Parrot's Beak - Copy
Top row: Tropicanna canna, Alstroemeria ‘The Third Harmonic’, and Uncinia uncinata ‘Red’ Second row: Tropicanna Gold, Euphorbia characias, Calluna ‘Beoley Gold’ Third row: Tropicanna Black, Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’, Clianthus puniceus ‘Red’

Would you like to grow your own Tropicanna cannas?

Tesselaar Plants has provided a whopping FOUR SETS of Tropicannas for Amy and I to give away to some lucky readers. Each winner will get a generous set of all three types of Tropicanna, enough of each to try them in a number of cool combinations. All you have to do is comment here and over at Garden Rant to win, and next Thursday Amy and I will each announce our two winners. US only. Good luck! And if you want to connect with the nice folks out at Tesselaar Plants, you can check them out on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

Monday Miscellany: Twitter, Container Ideas, and Garden TV

MondayMiscellany.jpgThe garden blogging world seemed to take a short hiatus from posting cool stuff when spring first arrived, but now they’re back in force, with all kinds of new ideas, hot photos, and inspiration we can bring back to our own homes and gardens.

The last couple weeks have seen some great lists of gardening folks on Twitter:

@containergarden (Kerry Michaels) is the about.com guide to container gardening, and she posted a list of her favorite tweeps to follow here. @Michelle_at_FG (Michelle Gervais) is an editor at Fine Gardening Magazine, and she’s posted a list of her favorite gardening tweeters as well. [Read more...]