Try Bonnie’s Unique Soy-Based Fertilizer
I count on the well-rooted transplants sold by Bonnie Plants to start my tomatoes and other important spring garden crops. They buy me time. I learned recently one reason the transplants are so healthy looking is a unique fertilizer Bonnie uses to grow their plants. It is a patented formula made from soybean seeds containing enzymes and many of the life giving chemical compounds found in a seed. Although the label states only the nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium content, this organically-based formula offers biological benefits beyond mineral nutrition. If you’d like to give it a try, it will be sold in many outlets along with Bonnie plants this spring.
Is That Iris Blooming Again?
Have you seen iris bloom in summer or fall? If so, you’ve experienced a rebloomer, the latest "gotta have" among iris aficionados. Breeders have been working on this particular trait for a while and there are more and more varieties now available that will bloom more than once if properly cared for. Generally, iris that bloom more than once are better suited to North Alabama. Some names of rebloomers include Queen Dorothy, Feedback, Pink Attraction, Immortality, Plum Wine, Grape Adventure, Autumn Burglar…love the names. According to an iris hybridizer I met some time ago, the key to getting a good rebloom is you must have a clump, so be patient and give them a year or two to establish. Each rhizome blooms only once. Sprinkle a little fertilizer around them, not on them, after their first bloom. Also water deeply once a week in midsummer. Irises grow best near the surface of the ground so don’t plant too deeply.
Blueberries Are a Great Home Fruit
Those delectable berries selling for $1 a handful at the grocery store can be ours for pennies if we want to grow our own. Most of the best hybrid blueberries for Alabama are descendants of Southern native rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei) and are superbly well adapted to our area. The ideal time to plant is fall and winter, but if you hurry, there is still time to get some in the ground. Blueberries are native to acid soils; they need a pH of between 4.5 and 5. Add plenty of peat moss to the planting hole or use compost made from pine bark, which is also acidic. When planting, make a wide, but not deep hole. Set the plants so the top of the rootball is level with the surface of the ground and don’t be tempted to pile soil deeply over the top of the roots. Like azaleas, blueberries have very fine, hair-like roots that don’t take well to smothering. You can put a light layer of pine straw (which is acidic) over the bare ground to help retain moisture. Watering is very important at first; if possible, use a soaker hose to water your plants regularly during the first couple of years. Water deeply so the roots will follow the water down into the ground. Deeply-rooted plants will tolerate drought better down the road when the babying ends. Fertilize with an acid-forming fertilizer like azalea-camellia food or cottonseed meal. Because they freeze so well, it’s hard to have too many blueberries as long as someone in the family has time to pick them. Having a lot also makes it easier to ignore the birds, otherwise you’ll need to cover your precious few with bird netting at fruiting time. Recommended varieties for Alabama include Climax, Woodard, Premier, Tifblue, Centurion and Powderblue. In coastal South Alabama, try some of the introductions from the University of Florida like Beckyblue and Bluecrisp, which are hybrids of Southern rabbiteye and Northern highbush.
Swiss Chard Adds Color to Your Meals
Swiss chard seems to get more attention as an ornamental than an edible, but this is a nutritious and tasty green you can plant now to enjoy in spring, summer and fall. The stems of Bright Lights, a well-known variety, include gold, red, white and shades in between. Plant seeds or set out transplants this month. Harvest the young leaves to add some pretty color to your salad. You can cook larger leaves lightly by sautéing with a little olive oil. The wilted leaves make a healthy bed over which to serve pasta or a chicken breast. In the summer, the bigger leaves may be a bit tough and perhaps more strongly flavored than you’d like. If this is the case, use them "as is" for a beautiful leafy garnish or "platter" on which to serve a scoop of chicken or potato salads.
Learn Bird Songs Online
Perhaps you recognize every bird on your property simply by its song. If you can’t, but would like to, there are several websites that have short audios of different bird songs you can listen to for free. No tapes or CD! They also include pictures and information about each bird. Check out the possibilities at www.enature.com and follow the birding links. A smaller collection also resides at www.learnbirdsongs.com. Be careful, you may find yourself listening and forgetting about everything else. Do it when you have time to explore, as nature offers the songs of more than 500 North American birds. It’s fun to compare what the different species of a varied group like quail sound like in another part of the country.
Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.