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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Welcome!

You have reached The Learning Place.  We're glad you stopped by!

Here you'll find a variety of articles about gardening, homesteading, growing food and much more.  We are also a great place to read and learn about one of the most popular part shade plants, hostas! 

So come on in, sit a spell and peruse lots of great gardening information. And if you love hostas like we do, visit us at SunsetHostaFarm.com to see some beautiful hostas at affordable prices.

Welcome!


Friday, October 30, 2020

All About Hostas -- Hostas 101

Hostas (plantain lilies) are hardy herbaceous perennials that grow well in Zones 3 through 8, with some that can tolerate the heat of Zone 9. 


It's no surprise they continue to be one of the most popular perennials for shade gardens. Their beauty, toughness, and ease of care make them well suited for a shady or partly shady area and they will quickly become even a new gardener's favorite plant! 


 

First, why ARE hostas so popular? Here are just a few reasons to start with.


Variety of Sizes

Mini Height -6"

Small Height 6-10"

Medium Height 10-18"                                    

Large Height 18-28"

Very Large Height +28"


Variety of Colors

Their leaf colors range from green, blue, gold, yellow to white and countless variegated varieties.


Variety of Leaf Shapes

Hostas are known mostly for their durable, colorful foliage. There is no shortage of leaf shapes including heart-shaped, narrow, smooth, puckered, elongated, oval, rounded and those adorable mouse ear shapes.



The Shining Hosta

The Blooms

While hostas are basically known for their leaves, their lily-shaped blooms are nothing short of beautiful. Some hosta blooms are very fragrant, like in the above picture of H. The Shining, and they're a great choice for planting by a garden bench or on a deck or patio.



Other reasons hostas are so popular


  • They can be planted en masse for an attractive ground cover or hedge or to soften a fence line.
  • They can thrive in shady conditions where most other perennials suffer.
  • They're the perfect complement plant for other perennials. A hosta's earthy leaf color won't clash with a neighboring perennial's color or bloom which makes hostas the perfect foundation plant.
  • Once established, they're a great weed barrier and are tolerant of occasional droughts.

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Location, Location, Location – Sun or Shade?


Contrary to what many people think, hostas DO need some sun. Morning sun with afternoon shade is generally recommended to encourage lush growth and proper color development.  


This kind of area will also give the hosta enough sun to thrive yet shield it from the afternoon sun, especially in the south where the summer sun can stress hosta plants and fade or burn their leaves.


  • As a rule, light-leaved hostas will thrive in areas getting four to six hours of morning sun, especially if adequately watered.
  • Blue hostas will keep their color longer if grown in no direct sun and open, dappled sun/shade.
  • Green hostas can take more light, morning or dappled sun and even limited afternoon sun.


Tips for Planting a New Hosta

  • Plant the root ball at the same depth as it was before with the crown even with the surrounding soil and the growing tips visible at the soil surface.

  • Plant with enough elbow room to allow for growth and air circulation.
  • Apply a 2" layer of mulch after the soil warms in late spring to early summer. Shredded bark, shredded leaves or pine needles are some of the best mulches for hostas.
  • Keep the mulch away from the center stem to prevent crown rot.


The Right Soil


Although hostas can grow well in nearly any soil, a soil with good drainage, a mix of organic material like peat moss, compost or coir will hold in the moisture that hostas thrive on.   Hostas also prefer slightly acidic soil. 


Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, we add leaf mold to our gardens and container hostas for just this reason.


For our detailed article on making leaf mold, click here.


One of the reasons that hostas continue to be so popular is the fact that they're a very low maintenance perennial. 


That being said, if you follow a few basic steps to care for them, you can keep your hostas looking healthy and beautiful throughout the season, whether they're snug in the ground or in pots.


Hosta Seasonal Care



Water


On average, hostas require 1" of water per week, whether by rainfall or irrigation. However, do not water hostas in the Spring until the threat of frost has passed to prevent root rot. Drier is better since there are still some pretty cold days and nights ahead.



Soil

Hostas are known for their ability to grow in just about any soil. However, rich, slightly acidic, well-draining soil will keep your hostas looking their best.  An addition of compost worked into the soil can do wonders for their early growth.


To read our garden on the best soil for hostas, click here.




Fertilizer

As the hostas emerge in the Spring, apply a 10-10-10 balanced fertilizer (preferably granular slow-release) around the emerging clumps.  Fertilize pot-grown hostas with a diluted fertilizer (at 25% strength) every few weeks.


Protection

Don't uncover your hostas too early!

Protect ones that have already emerged from any late Spring freezes by covering them with frost blankets, sheets, cardboard, etc. You will need to do this when the temperatures are expected to go down into the 20s.


Covering plants with plastic is not recommended as the plastic can freeze to the plant causing damage when removed.  



Division

Division is possible now if the ground is workable. However, this is not the best time since the roots will not grow until after the leaves form. 


To read our article on when to divide hostas, click here.


Transplanting

Late Spring is a good time to transplant an entire hosta plant.




Other Care Tips for the Spring


  • When all danger of frost has passed, rake the mulch that you mounded up over the hosta as winter protection away from the developing eyes to prevent crown rot.
  •  Apply some fresh mulch away from the center crown.
  • Disinfect all hardscapes with a solution of 10% ammonia to water to kill slug eggs.
  • A sprinkling of clean crushed eggshells will help deter grubs and give the hosta some added calcium.




Potted Hostas

If you've stored your potted hostas in an unheated garage or shed, slowly begin to acclimate the hostas to outside temperatures as it warms.


This may involve moving the potted hosta indoors and outdoors several times as the weather shifts. If the temperatures are expected to dip down in the 20s, you should cover the pot with a layer of cardboard, sheet or light blanket, etc, or better yet, bring them back inside.



Water

Be careful not to water too much now. Drier is better since there are still some pretty cold days and nights ahead.


Fertilizer

As hostas emerge in Spring, apply a slow-release balanced fertilizer. Other gardeners prefer to fertilize pot-grown perennials with a diluted fertilizer (25% strength) every few weeks instead.




 


Water

Lack of sufficient water during a dry summer can cause the hosta to go into mid season dormancy where the outer leaves will fade and wither and the hosta will stop growing.


By keeping the hostas well watered through the summer, especially during the hottest parts, you can help to avoid the hosta looking ragged, affectionately called "The Summer Uglies" by keeping the roots moist. 


Increase watering so the plant receives at least 1 inch of water weekly, and cover the soil with a 2-inch mulch layer to help conserve moisture.


If you have a substantial hosta garden, it's a good idea to use a soaker hose for use on those dry summer days.   The one below is the ones I use.  I like the fact that you can just move them around since they're not staked to the ground.




You can use these to stake them into place.




A timer is also a good idea.


  


Hostas can tolerate periods of dryness if they are otherwise healthy. Hostas that are never stressed from lack of water will grow bigger, faster and will hold up and look nice longer into the season. 


Usually, they can fend for themselves, but watering during periods of dryness will certainly help our hostas look and grow their best.





Fertilize

In early summer, give the hostas a second (and last) feeding of a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. Some gardeners prefer a fertilizer with a little more nitrogen at this time. 


Hostas can be fertilized through the early summer, but be sure to stop two months before your expected first frost date to allow the hosta to slowly settle into its winter dormancy.



Division

It is possible to divide your hosta in the summer provided you keep the hosta divisions well watered until established. 


Late summer, after the heat of the summer has passed, is the best time to divide hostas. 


 August is usually the perfect time and will give your hosta divisions six weeks before the first frost to establish new roots in their new home. 





Other Care Tips for the Summer


Hosta blooms can vary in their timing from May to September depending on the cultivar. For a tidy appearance, you can pinch off the flower spikes after they bloom.


 


Water

Water every other day as needed if no rain and let soak through. This is not only to hydrate the hosta plant, but will help to flush out the salts that tend to develop in potting soil.


Fertilize

Hostas generally will not need fertilizer during the summer if adequately fertilized in the spring.  However, if a second fertilizing seems to be necessary, do this in early summer and then stop fertilizing for the year.


Other Care Tips for the Summer


Move the container to a shadier spot in the garden during the hottest part of the summer to reduce plant stress or use some man-made shade to give the hosta a respite from the summer's heat.





Water

As long as the hosta leaves are green, the plant will need to be watered at the base, even in the Fall.  


This is because when a hosta emerges in the Spring, it is emerging on the energy and food reserves that the plant stored in its rhizome late the previous summer and Fall. 


If the hosta received sufficient water in late Summer and Fall, it should emerge the next spring as a larger plant because it was able to store away more energy than it used. 


However, a hosta that does not receive adequate moisture in late Summer and Fall cannot build up the energy reserves it needs to increase in size. The result is a hosta that emerges the following spring smaller than it was the year before.


 Multiple unusually dry summers in a row can be especially devastating for hostas, as they are unable to replenish their depleted energy reserves.

  


Fertilizer

Your hostas need no further fertilizer than the Spring and early Summer.  As a rule, stop fertilizing hostas two months before your expected first frost date.  This will aid the hostas in preparing for their winter dormancy.


Dividing

Stop dividing any hostas six weeks before your average first frost date. 


Protection

Time to prepare your hostas for their winter sleep.


Cover newly-planted hostas with an extra layer of leaves or mulch for their first winter protection.  Be careful not to over mulch which can actually smother the plant. 


The best mulches are leaves, straw and other biodegradable materials that are light and allow for air pockets. 




Other Care Tips for Fall


Some gardeners prefer to mark the spot where the hosta will come up next spring. A small heavy rock next to each crown works well.
Since slugs produce eggs in the Fall, this is a good time to apply a slug killer. 


 For more detailed information about slugs in the garden, click here.

As the greenery dies back in the Fall, you have one of two choices:


1. Leave it be. The dead foliage does provide an extra layer of mulch so many gardeners feel that removing the dead foliage is unnecessary.


2. Remove your dead foliage before the first frost and discard. (Do not compost.) This will help remove nematodes, slugs, and any diseased leaves. First, disinfect the scissors or knife you're using between cuttings with a solution of 10% bleach 90% water.


 


Water

Hostas in pots that are stored in an unheated space for the winter could dry out completely. Check pots once a month and add a little water if it is very dry. 


The most important time to check on the soil is right after you've stored them until the hard frosts hit, and then in early Spring as it warms up.  


Once it's the dead of winter, no care is needed. Do not water over frozen soil. 





Protection

There are several ways to protect your hostas in pots over the winter months. The key is to keep the hostas away from direct overhead rain and to protect them from sudden swings in temperature.



There are several ways to do this:


  • Move them to an unheated garage or shed.
  • Bury the entire pot or group of pots in the ground or cover the group with leaves.
  • Large potted hostas will normally overwinter well in place with an additional layer of mulch on top of the soil. Pots can be huddled together out of direct sun.
  • After the soil is nearly frozen, you can tip the pots over on their sides to give them extra protection from overhead moisture.
  • More labor-intensive, but if you have a prized hosta in a pot, you can plant it in the ground and repot it again the next Spring. 


Side Note:

With hostas, there is no growth during dormancy as there might be with other perennials.

  


Water and Fertilizer

None.  Don't worry about the snow -- It's a great insulator! 



Protection

Hostas don't need anything during their dormancy except protection. 


Hopefully you've already protected them in the Fall. If not, protect them now!




Check monthly the soil in the potted hostas that are stored in an unheated garage or shed. Only water if completely dry to the point of being dusty.


Never water frozen soil. At this time, drier is better than wetter.

Winter is a great time to search for next year's hosta purchase!


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Hostas continue to be one of the most popular perennials on the market because of their beauty and ease of care.  I hope you found the above hosta tips helpful for keeping your hostas healthy and beautiful season to season.


And if you haven't incorporated hostas into your garden yet, you are really missing out!


Take a stroll around our website for some great hostas at an affordable price! But ... a word of warning... There is a good reason why there are so many Hosta-Holics, including myself!

   



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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Canning - Why Headspace is So Important

 



So first, what is headspace? 



Headspace is the space at the top of the canning jar between the underside of the lid and the top of the food or liquid in the jar. 


According to the NCHFP (The National Center for Home Food Preservation), this headspace should be completely empty space. There should not be any food sticking up into that headspace.




Why is Headspace so Important?



Quite simply, having the correct amount of headspace in the jar is important in order to get a good vacuum seal during processing.

As the canning jars are heated, food will expand. The amount of expansion depends on the amount of air in the food, its starch content and the processing temperature. The higher the temperature, the greater the expansion.


Foods that are packed into jars hot may shrink when cooled. Air spaces in raw packed foods rise to the top of the jar when heat processed and may increase headspace.

In addition, starchy foods such as corn, potatoes, lima beans and rice expand and absorb water during heat processing.


These fluctuations are why the headspace you started with may not be the same as when you finish and why it is so important to follow the instructions as to headspace in each recipe.



 




General Canning Headspace Recommendations



The United States Department of Agriculture has given the following recommendations:


  • Jams and jellies - 1/4 inch.


  • Tomatoes, fruits and pickles that are processed via water bath - 1/2 inch.


  • Most low-acid foods that will be pressure canned -- 1".


  • In addition, some vegetables and meats require 1¼ to 1½ inches headspace.




The Debubbling Process



Debubbling the jar of food goes hand-in-hand with headspace.


Debubbling is needed to release the air bubbles from the jars after the food and liquid are added. Any plastic or wooden utensil will work without leaving small scratches or scars in the jar like something metal may do. I prefer the one pictured above as it also has a guide for measuring headspace at the top.



It's a simple process. The debubbler is placed into one side of the jar and gently pulled towards the center. You will see air bubbles rise to the top and release. Continue to do this until you no longer see air bubbles release.


After debubbling you may notice the fill level has dropped visibly because of the air that escaped. You then need to recheck the headspace and add more liquid or food as needed to get back to the appropriate level.



If you leave those air bubbles trapped somewhere in the middle of the jar, they may try to escape during processing and can end up pushing some of your liquid out of the jar.




So what happens if the headspace isn't correct?



Too Little Headspace


If too little headspace is allowed, the food may expand and bubble out as the air is being forced out from under the lid during processing. The bubbling food may leave a deposit on the rim of the jar or the seal of the lid and prevent the jar from sealing properly.




Too Much Headspace


Cooling jars naturally contract and pull the lid down tight to seal the jar completely. If there is too much canning headspace, the processing time called for in the recipe may not have been long enough to drive out the air in the jar. More air in the mason jar means more oxygen is present to discolor the food and promote rancidity in fats, which can lead to an improper seal.



Other Tips


As not all canning jars are shaped the same, you may want to occasionally use a ruler to check the accuracy of the headspace. The picture in the heading is one of the most common type of Ball jars.


Tattler (Reusable) Lids and Headspace



The Tattler reusable lids work differently than disposable lids and, in my experience, seem to need slightly more headspace in order to work properly.


More about using Tattler Lids





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So if you're a new canner, you will have much more success by being very vigilant in having the recommended amount of headspace after debubbling!


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Friday, October 2, 2020

Best NEW Books for Vegetable Garden Growers





In this current time of food uncertainty, there is no better time to learn how to grow your own food. By learning how to plant a vegetable garden, you can bring fresh, nutritious veggies to your family's table and even have enough surplus to preserve for the future!


Some topics covered in these books are garden planning, where to plant your garden, when to plant vegetables for maximum harvest, soil health, container and raised bed gardening, and much more.

Here are our picks for the top 10 vegetable gardening books.


These are all current, published in 2020. So grab some of these books now and learn how to grow great vegetables now, or be ready to hit the ground running for the next growing season!


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Vegetable Gardening for Beginners


When food supplies run dry, and grocery stores sell out, how do you feed your family?


Are you ready to be hands-on in your food supply chain, so you no longer have to rely on a fragile system?


If you are willing to grow your own vegetable garden in a step-by-step manner, then this book is for you.




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The Beginner's Vegetable Garden 2020



Setting up your own vegetable garden is a very rewarding venture that will give you the ability to no longer have to rely on the fragile systems of our modern world.


But, if you are a beginner in the genre of vegetable gardening, you might find it intimidating because of so many things involved. But with a proper guide by your side, nothing will be too difficult. 


Whether you want to grow your vegetables or learn about the basics of gardening, The Beginner's Vegetable Garden 2020 can offer you everything that you will need.






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Survival Guide for Beginners and the Beginner's Vegetable Garden


Are you ready to be hands-on in your own survival including being hands-on with your own food supply chain, so you no longer have to rely on a fragile system?


Modern challenges have left many of us wondering what on earth we would do if
everything came to a crashing halt. When food supplies run dry, and grocery stores sell out, how do you feed your family?


What if a natural disaster struck and you had to leave your home? Could you do it?





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Introduction to Raised Bed Gardening



Raised bed gardening is the perfect simple approach for beginners who want to grow their own food. Raised bed gardening eliminates many of the challenges that traditional planting brings to the table.


You’ll be free from having to worry about weeds, pests, and extensive soil manipulations.
Not only that, but raised bed gardening also offers ideal conditions for growing a wide range of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

End your reliance on grocery store fruits and veggies for good by starting your own garden in five steps.




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Aquaponics and Hydroponics Gardening 
2 In 1



Have you considered establishing your own hydroponic or aquaponic garden, but haven't the slightest idea where to begin? Do you want to learn how to grow edible and important fruits, herbs and veggies for consumption and profit while conserving water?


Learn how to set up your own aquaponic or hydroponic system and cultivate and raise fresh produce and fish at the same time, as well as take the headache and guesswork out of soil-free gardening.






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Vegetable Container Gardening



Do you want to plant vegetables but you have no space in your backyard?


Container gardening is the answer! Container Gardening which is also known as Urban Gardening is an excellent means of adding spices, veggies, and life to your living space. 


You could allow plant containers to grow in the interior of your house in a semi-sunny, windowsill spot, outdoor on a walkway or deck. Your only limitation is the type of plants you intend to grow and space. You may plan to grow flowers and plants for dramatic impact or color, or herbs and veggies for your table, or a mixture of both ornamental and edible crops. The choice is yours.





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Raised Bed Gardening


Raised bed gardening is experiencing a surge in popularity, and it's easy to see why. It involves far less bending as well as being aesthetically pleasing to look at and often has a more bountiful harvest than traditional gardening.


In this comprehensive guide, gardening expert Luke Smith shows you how to set up your very first or next raised bed garden with the best practices from choosing the right materials for your raised bed garden frame to practical tips that will help you produce a bountiful harvest yield.





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Raised Bed & Vegetable Gardening


Take your gardening skills to the next level and learn how to grow your favorite vegetables and herbs right in the comfort of your backyard with the ultimate 2-in-1 gardening bundle.


In this special gardening bundle, gardening expert Luke Smith condenses his extensive gardening experience and hands you the tools, techniques, and strategies to not only help you build a lovely garden in your outdoor space but cultivate a vibrant garden filled with healthy produce without the headaches of traditional gardening.


This special bundle covers everything you need to know about growing vegetables and setting up raised bed gardens. 




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Gardening for Beginners
 3 books in 1



This book includes information on gardening in containers, companion planting, and hydroponic. Everything you need to know to grow healthy vegetables, fruits and herbs easily at home.




 


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Vegetable Gardening for Beginners



A comprehensive beginner’s introduction and guide to the world of vegetable gardening, and how you can begin cultivating your own organic set of greens and veggies


Are you interested in learning how to grow your greens? Are you considering creating your vegetable garden in your backyard? Are you feeling lost on how and where to start? If your answers to these questions are yes, then this is the right book to help you!




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Ball - Complete Book of Home Preserving

After you've learned to grow your own food, it's time to dive into the world of preserving!


This last book comes from the experts, the updated bible in home preserving.

The hugely bestselling Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving has been broadly updated to reflect changes over the last 15 years with new recipes and larger sections on low sugar and fermentation. 


Ball Home Canning Products are the gold standard in home preserving supplies, the trademark jars on display in stores every summer from coast to coast. This companion to their products is this bible of home preserving from the experts on the practice which has sold more than a million copies. 


The book includes 400 innovative recipes for salsas, savory sauces, pickles, chutneys, relishes and of course, jams, jellies, and fruit spreads. The book includes comprehensive directions on safe canning and preserving methods plus lists of required equipment and utensils. 


Specific instructions for first-timers and handy tips for the experienced make this book a valuable addition to any kitchen library.




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So there are our top picks. I hope you found our list helpful. Start your vegetable growing adventure today!



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