Sunday, December 4, 2016

Raised Bed Gardening - Pros and Cons




Many people are drawn to raised bed gardening for several reasons.  In addition to the fact some areas do not have sufficient soil, raised bed gardens generally look nice and appear easy to maintain. In many parts of the United States, reasons for building raised beds are to keep gophers out or to have warmer soils in the early spring after the winter thaw. For portions of the Hawaiian Islands, gardening in raised beds or containers is necessary because of a lack of soil on lava hardened  terrain.  

Other reasons for building raised beds are 
 (1.) the soil may be extremely alkaline (a high pH) or acidic (low pH), 
 (2.) the soil is too compacted,  
 (3.)  the gardener needs wheelchair access and
 (4.)  the gardener prefers less stooping.
On the other hand something to consider is the maintenance of raised beds. If the frame is made of wood, it will eventually rot. If metal is used, it may rust. Actual construction of the bed can be time consuming and costly. In addition to wood, rock and plastic can also be used.
Two questions often arise. First, how deep do I need to make the beds?  The literature gives a range of 6” to 18”.  Crops like lettuce, onion and bok choy will do fine in a shallow bed. Yet deeper beds are needed for carrots, parsnips, corn and tomatoes.  Secondly, where do I get good soil? You can buy bagged potting mix at the garden store, which can be very expensive. Or you can buy a truck load of soil but be cautious. Soil may look good, but you can’t see N-P-K deficiencies or excesses, pathogenic fungi, bacteria, nematodes or pesticide residues including persistent herbicides. Bringing in soil can be risky.


Installing raised beds can be a satisfying project. But first, find out what your particular problem really is and why you are considering a raised bed. Perhaps correcting the problem would be a better solution than a raised bed project.  Possibly cheaper and less time consuming.

Photos from University of Missouri.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Yams or Sweet Potatoes?




What is the difference between yams and sweet potatoes?  Are they the same, yet by a different name?
 
Many years ago orange colored sweet potatoes were introduced to the Southern United States. In an effort to distinguish these from the traditional white-fleshed potato, producers called them yams, which is the Anglicize African word, nyami. Today, most of the starchy tubers consumed in the US and labeled as yams are in reality sweet potatoes. Yet yams and sweet potatoes are not the same; in fact, they are quite different from each other. 

As far as botanical order is concerned, they are at opposite ends. The sweet potato is a dicot, set in the morning glory family. The sweet potato, whose sweet and moist flesh varies in color from white to yellow and orange, is native to South America; the skin is typically smooth. Garnet, Jewel, and Beauregard are orange fleshed sweet potatoes that often masquerade as yams in the local supermarkets.



 Yams, on the other hand, are a monocot, closely related to grasses. In contrast, yams are dry and starchy and rather bland. While yellow or purple in color, the skin is rough and a bit shaggy. Yams are native to North Africa and Asia. They range in size from that of a small potato up to 150 lbs. Yams are a primary agricultural crop in West Africa, where 95 percent of the world's yam crop is grown.  Incidentally, both yams and sweet potatoes can be purple.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Heirloom Seeds and Hybrid Seeds

Note:
 In this article, we are not speaking about genetically modified organisms (GMO'S).  A GMO  is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using genetic engineering, i.e. gene modification, recombinant DNA methods (also called gene splicing) or transgenic technology.


A hybrid is defined as a plant that results from the cross between two plants of differing genetic characteristics, i.e., two species, subspecies, cultivars, varieties, etc. Some crosses may occur naturally, but most hybridizing is deliberately done by man in order to produce a plant with improved characteristics such as disease resistance, greater vigor and uniformity. Hybrids generally have higher yields and better exterior quality.   
  
Today, hybrid seed is prevalent both in agriculture, as well as home gardening, and is a major contributor to the rise in agricultural output in the last 50 years.  The commercial hybrid market actually began back in the 1920’s, when the first hybrid corn was produced.

The disadvantage of using hybrid seeds is that the resulting seed cannot be used at the end of the season for next year’s crop. The seed taken from a hybrid will either be sterile or produce plants that are not true to the mother plant, i.e., not true to type. Thus it becomes necessary to purchase new hybrid seeds each year. 

On the other hand, heirloom seeds are from open-pollinated varieties. This means that plants grown from these seeds will be identical to their parent.  In addition, their genes have not been subjected to modern breeding techniques and manipulation. Note: All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated but not all open-pollinated varieties are heirlooms.

Heirloom seeds can be saved from year to year and planted for the next crop. Although they may have some built-in hardiness, heirlooms generally do not possess disease resistance, vigor and uniformity that hybrids do.

One of the main advantages attributed to heirlooms is their excellent flavor.  In hybridization programs, plant breeders sacrifice flavor in preference to other attributes such as disease resistance and higher yields.