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Saturday, August 1, 2020

Growing Swiss Chard - Homesteading 101









Swiss Chard


aka  Spinach Beet, Leaf Beet                               
Annual, Perennial in warmer climates.
Height:  1-3'   Width:  Up to 2'


Swiss Chard is both edible and beautiful as an ornamental plant.  It has colorful stems and bright green leaves making it as glamorous as it is nutritious.  It is high in vitamins A and C and a good source of calcium.  Swiss Chard will keep growing long after other greens have bolted.

Types:
Reddish, creamy white or colorful stalks, all of which taste mostly the same.




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Starting Seeds of Swiss Chard

Seed Depth:                    1/2" to 3/4" deep.
Seed Spacing:                 4", or thin seedlings later to 4" apart.
Germination Temp:          50+ degrees.  Optimum 85 degrees.
Days to Germinate:          5-7 days.
Days to Harvest:              40 - 60 days, depending on the variety.
Seed Longevity:               4 years.


Sowing Indoors:
Spring:  Sow 2 weeks before your average last frost date.  Plant outside after threat of frost has passed.


Sowing Outdoors:

Spring:  Direct Sow outdoors after the last frost date.
Fall:   Direct Sow 10 weeks before the average first frost date.


Lettuce Spinner





                                            

Winter Sowing

If you haven't tried winter sowing, you're in for a treat.  This method is especially good for sowing herbs and greens.  Winter sowing is basically sowing seeds in the bottom of a milk jug during the winter, setting the milk jugs outside for the winter and leaving them there until the seeds germinate in Spring.
See our Winter Sowing article on our website for detailed information.


Salad Tongs





Growing Swiss Chard Plants


Growing Temperature:   Tolerates both cool weather and heat.
                                       Tolerates light frosts in the spring and fall.
Plant Spacing:                5" to harvest often.  Mature plants 12".
Container Size:              12" deep, 12" wide.  3 in a 14" wide pot.
Sun/Shade:                    Prefers sun, but will tolerate shade.
Soil:                                Rich, fertile.  Amend with some compost.
Watering:                       Consistent moisture for best flavor.



Fertilizing

Since greens are such a  fast-growing crop, as long as they are grown in rich soil there may be little need for further fertilization.    That said, a liquid balanced fertilizer when the seedlings are 4" tall will give your greens a boost and carry them through their short season.  After the temperatures warm, though, the leaves of Swiss Chard will turn bitter and no amount of fertilizer will help at that point.



Salad Lunch Container

Harvesting Swiss Chard


Harvest anytime leaves are big enough to eat, usually at 6".
Cut stalks from the outside of the plant, leaving the heart which will continue to grow.  Overgrown chard will lose flavor.




Using Swiss Chard

  • Use young raw leaves in salads.
  • Large leaves can be cooked down like Spinach to use in casseroles, soups, and pasta.



Storing Swiss Chard For Later Use

Although tender green-leafed plants, like lettuce, cannot be preserved well, the thicker green-leafed plants can be.
Fresh
  • Clean and pat dry.  Bundle stems lightly, place on a paper towel (to absorb moisture) and wrap in a plastic bag.  Keeps in refrigerator for 10 days.


Freezing for Later Use in Chilis, Soups, Sauces, and Casseroles.
  • Steam or saute' leaves, chop them and store in freezer bags.
  • Puree with water and freeze into ice cube trays.
  • Clean and dry the leaves and store in quart size freezer bags.
  • Frozen leaves will keep for 6 months.
  • Blanching the leaves first will extend freezer storage to 14 months.


To read the other articles in our Growing Your Greens series, click on the name below:








Check out our other great gardening articles:  Click Here

Check out our hosta articles:  Click Here




This post may contain Amazon affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases without costing you anything extra.





Fast Growing Hostas




The sheer amount of hostas available on the market today can make your head swim! And there is a special beauty in those well-established mature hostas. They are always a stand out in the perennial garden.  


So how do you get your hostas to grow quickly in your garden?


Here are some things to consider.

  

Hosta Variety


The first step to getting that great hosta size is to purchase hostas that are known to grow faster than other varieties.


These days hostas are available in a multitude of sizes, shapes and leaf and margin colors.  Hosta varieties can also vary in the speed in which they grow.   Some are labeled as "fast-growing," which basically means that they will quickly produce large numbers of buds each season which results in a larger clump the following year. 

  
For a list of the fast-growing hostas available at Sunset Hosta Farm.com, click here.








Golden Tiara, pictured above, Guacamole and Blue Angel and many others fall into the fast-growing category.  Generally, hostas with higher levels of variegation will put on divisions more slowly than, say, a solid green hosta.


Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, we grow and sell a nice variety of fast-growing hostas.  To see our selection, click here.  







Lack of Sunlight



The most common reason for slow growth in any hosta is the lack of sunlight. It is not true that hostas can grow in complete deep shade. All hostas need some sunlight for healthy growth. A site with morning sun and afternoon shade are commonly felt like the best spot for healthy hosta growth, however, the more sun the hosta gets, the faster it will grow.



Perhaps over the years, a tree has grown over the hostas cutting down on the amount of sun they're getting. If too much shade is the problem, simply moving them to a sunnier area may very well correct the problem.  Placing them in more sun may result in the leaves becoming more elongated and there may be a change in leaf color, but they will grow faster. 


To read our article on the sun's effect on hosta leaf color, click here.








Adequate Moisture



This is probably the most important consideration in getting hostas to mature in the earliest amount of time.


Although older, more mature hostas can be rather drought tolerant and may need less water as the years go by, dry soil will cause hostas to grow more slowly and put out fewer leaves.  Hostas receive plenty of rainfall in their native land, so a steady dose of water, at least one inch per week, is necessary during the growing season, and more water is necessary during the hot summer months.  


Hostas that have a lot of white or yellow variegation in its foliage are more easily stressed by lack of water.  This will really slow down their growth.



Water well in the Fall!


As long as the hosta leaves are green, when there's a lack of rainfall, the hosta 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. 


Here is where a good soaker hose comes in really handy.






Fertilizer


Hostas are known to grow in nearly every soil type which is another reason for their continued popularity.  If your hosta is remaining smaller than expected, a shot of fertilizer in early spring can give it the jolt it needs to encourage new growth.

  
One way to give your hostas a boost is to apply a balanced 10-10-10 slow-release fertilizer around the emerging clumps in the spring as they emerge. Hostas fertilized in the spring will likely not need another treatment. Remember not to fertilize hostas in the fall, as the plants are getting ready for their winter dormancy.




If you find your hosta needs a boost in early summer, a fertilizer with a bit more nitrogen will help the leaves look their best.






Another way to give your hostas a magnesium boost is to treat them with Epsom Salt.  For an article about using Epsom Salt on your hostas, click here.





Investing in a portable leaf sprayer is a good investment if you have plenty of hostas.






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If you have a large space to fill quickly, start out with fast-growing hosta cultivars, give them a partly sunny spot, give them lots of water and a shot of spring fertilizer.  Step back and watch them grow!
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This post may contain Amazon affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases without costing you anything extra.



Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Choosing the Right Bird Feeder



Walking out on my back deck at 7 a.m. and hearing the happy chirping of the birds I have drawn into my yard makes the perfect start to my day.


Every yard may have a few feathery visitors, but creating a bird haven takes a bit more work and time.  


Choosing the right bird feeder to draw in the birds you want in your yard is a good first step.  


Here's a list of the six most common types of bird feeders and their advantages and disadvantages.

You can click on the photos for more information about each of them.


The Tray or Platform Feeder




Trays attract the widest variety of seed-eating feeder birds, including pigeons, starlings, and House Sparrows, but also grosbeaks and native sparrows. 


Tray feeders offer no protection against rain and snow and some have no drainage.  Bird droppings can quickly soil the seed in tray feeders.


The best tray feeders have a screen rather than solid bottom to promote complete drainage.  At the very least, tray feeders should have several drainage holes. 


Even with drainage, though, the bottom should be removable for frequent cleaning. It is a good idea to only offer enough seed in tray feeders for birds to finish every day or two, and shake out the bottom every time you add new seeds.


A disadvantage is that tray feeders are an open invitation to squirrels and chipmunks unless they are constructed with an effective squirrel baffle on the pole or suspension chain.


In addition to squirrels, deer, raccoons and other critters, tray feeders placed near the ground are most likely to attract ground-feeding birds such as juncos, doves, jays, blackbirds, and sparrows.


Tray feeders can be mounted on deck railings, posts, or stumps, or can be suspended. Some models have a roof to provide at least some protection from the weather.






Hopper or House Feeders



Hopper feeders are attractive to finches, jays, cardinals, buntings, grosbeaks, sparrows, chickadees, and titmice, however, frequent visitors are squirrels so, some sort of squirrel baffle is important.


There is no protection against rain, so, again, if the seed gets wet,  fungus and bacteria can thrive.   Some house feeders, though, do have a little more protection from the rain.






And although these hopper feeders hold enough seed to last for several days, that becomes dangerous for the birds if the seed is allowed to get wet.



Tube Feeders




Hollow tubed feeders can keep seeds fairly clean.  Depending on the size of the perches under the feeding ports, these feeders can attract small birds such as sparrows, grosbeaks, chickadees, titmice, and finches while excluding larger species such as grackles and jays. 


Styles with perches above the feeding ports are designed for seed-eating birds that can feed hanging upside down.  These birds include goldfinches and chickadees.


Some tube feeders have a cage around the tube making it more difficult for the squirrels to raid the seed.






You can also buy brackets that will allow some open space making it more difficult for squirrels.






Tube feeders that accommodate a dozen or more birds are best used during times when many birds are using them. When only a handful of birds are using them, a smaller model is best so the seed is used up frequently.



Tip:  When adding new seed to tube feeders, always empty the old seed out first.




Window Feeders






Window feeders are small, plastic feeders affixed to window glass with suction cups.  They are very easy to clean, but the seed should be replaced daily as the seed risks becoming soiled.  


Window feeders are popular since they give adults and children alike the opportunity to observe birds up close.  


The window feeders attract titmice, finches, chickadees, and some sparrows. 





Nyjer Feeders (Thistle Feeders)





The above feeder is basically a tube feeder with very small feeding ports.





The second type of thistle feeder pictured above are the fine-mesh socks that the birds cling to as they feed.  Squirrels aren't particularly attracted to Nyjer seed, so there usually isn't a squirrel problem with them.


Nyher Seed



Both types of nyher feeders are appropriate when you have enough finches to consume the contents in a few days.


These feeders are popular with American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, and Common Redpolls. 


Suet Feeders





Suet feeders attract a variety of woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, jays, and starlings. 


Some Suet cages open only at the bottom which forces birds to hang upside down while feeding.  This design will usually exclude starlings, which have trouble perching that way.





There are suet feeders with a surrounding cage, as pictured above, which may be a safer way of offering suet.





Suet cakes come in a variety of flavors.  They are also available in a "no "melt variety.



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What a joy it is to wake up to a symphony of chirping and singing birds.  I hope this article was helpful to you in deciding which feeder to buy to bring them to your yard!








This post may contain Amazon affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases without costing you anything extra.



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