Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Onion Sets

As with most vegetables, you can start onions from seed in the garden. But many onions have relatively long growing seasons and onion seeds don't germinate quickly, so it's often better to start the crop another way. You can set out transplants, or you can plant "sets" which are simply half-grown onions.

 Where Sets Come From
Many sets are grown from seed on big farms near Chicago. The onion seeds are planted very thickly. Super-crowding of the plants makes the competition for water and fertilizer fairly stiff, so the plants never get very big and the resulting bulbs are quite small.

The small onions are harvested in the late summer or fall and dried for a month or more to rid them of moisture that could cause rot. Then the sets are stored until gardeners need them the following spring.

It's said that Chicago got its name from onions. Indians, who once lived nearby, called the place "Shikako" which means "Skunk Place" after the strong smell of wild garlic, onions, and leeks that once flourished there.

 Buying Sets
The first onion sets of the year appear at garden centers when there's still snow on the ground, like now!  Our onion sets are out and ready to go as soon as you are able to get into the ground.  

Using sets is probably the most popular, convenient, and dependable way to get onions started. They're very easy to plant, and you can harvest your first eating onions sooner than if you started from seeds.

Stores usually sell only a few varieties of sets, such as long-keeping white and yellow varieties and a red type or two. You can also grow sets yourself during one season for use the next year.

Sets are sold by the pound or by the scoop; each set is one onion. When you buy onion sets, watch the size. Sets that are smaller than 1/2 inch in diameter take longer to grow, but they'll still produce. Sets larger than 3/4 inch in diameter are very apt to "bolt" or grow seed pods in a hurry after you plant them. If you let them grow seed pods (a pod looks like a miniature version of the domes on the towers of the Kremlin in Moscow), the plants put energy into the seeds and not into the bulb. The bulbs will be small, tough and won't keep, so pick the pods or seed stalks off as soon as you see them.

The most dependable sets are the size of marbles -- 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter -- and are quite firm.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

All About Seeds

Ashcombe has a diverse selection of seeds!

Even though it is freezing outside, It is time start your seeds indoors!  
With all these seed choices, sometimes the terminology can create confusion.  Here are some short descriptons of some of the common terms used today.  

Hybrid (F-1):  
An “F-1” or first generation hybrid occurs when a breeder selects two pure lines (plants that produce identical offspring when self-pollinated) and cross-pollinates them to produce a seed that combines desirable characteristics or “traits” from both parents.  Common traits breeders work to increase in hybrids might include, for example, disease resistance, uniformity, earliness, high nutrition or color.  Seeds can be saved and planted from F-1 hybrids, however, plants grown from that seed may lack the desirable characteristics of the parents, which were crossed specifically to incorporate them.

Open Pollinated (a.k.a. OP):  
Open-pollinated varieties are seeds that result from pollination by insects, wind, self-pollination or other forms of pollination.  If you save seeds from open-
pollinated varieties and grow them in following years, they will be like the parent plant from which the seeds were harvested.

Heirlooms can be generally defined as Open-Pollinated varieties that have been around for at least 50 years or so.

GMO (Genetically Modified Organism):  
The USDA defines a GMO as an organism produced through any type of genetic modification, whether by high tech modern genetic engineering, OR long time traditional plant breeding methods.  GMO is a broader term that includes GE but 
unfortunately the terms have been interchanged so much that GMO 
has essentially been redefined as GE
GE (Genetically Engineered):  
The terms GE and GMO are frequently used interchangeably in the 
media, but it is modern Genetic Engineering that is the subject of much discussion.  Genetic Engineering describes the high-tech methods used in recent decades to incorporate genes directly into an organism.  The only way scientists can transfer genes between organisms that are not sexually 
compatible is to use recombinant DNA techniques.  The plants that result do not occur in nature; they are “genetically engineered” by human intervention and manipulation.  Examples of GE crops currently grown by agribusiness include corn modified with a naturally occuring soil bacterium for protection from corn borer damage (Bt-corn), and herbicide-resistant (“Roundup Ready”) soybeans, corn, cotton, canola and alfalfa.  All of these are larger acreage, 
commercial crops.  At the present time, home gardeners will NOT encounter any packets of GE seeds sold through home garden seed catalogs or garden center seed racks.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Boston ferns on our greenhouse tables.

Nothing gives the feeling of green lushness indoors like a collection of well grown, healthy ferns.  Although there are many different ferns, and many of them are not even related, quite a few can be grown indoors if you pay some attention to their specific needs.  Here are a few basic recommendations:

Location:  Most ferns prefer bright diffused light.  A draft-less north window is an ideal location for many ferns, as is a curtain-filtered window facing east.  It's a good idea to turn your fern plants occasionally.

Soil:  Many ferns have specific soil preferences, but almost all will grow well in a peat-based well-drained soilless mix.  Our Ashcombe potting soil is recommended for most of the popular fern varieties.  Ferns need a soil that remains moist, but also drains well so that the plant's roots are not stagnant.

Watering:  If your house temperatures remain above 60°F, then ferns need to be kept moist.  Depending on the humidity level of your home you may have to water your plants every couple of days, or perhaps only once a week.  It's best to watch the plants and check them daily when you first purchase them to see how long it takes for them to dry very slightly.  Some varieties like Maidenhair and Tree Ferns are not forgiving of dry soil.

Feeding:   Since ferns do not flower, keeping them lush and green is the main concern.  A high nitrogen fertilizer will keep plants green and growing.  If ferns are going through a rest period when they are not actively growing, do not fertilize until new growth resumes.  All purpose house plant fertilizer is fine.

Indoor Temperatures:  Normal room temperatures of 65-70°F are fine for most ferns.  If temperatures drop consistently below that in your home, your plants may go into a rest period.  Be sure not to over water when plants are resting.

Humidity:  Humidity levels are very important for certain fern groups.  To increase humidity in a dry home, try growing your ferns on a pebble tray.  Get a large plastic saucer, fill it 3/4-1" deep with fine gravel.  Keep water in the saucer at all times, but keep the level BELOW the surface of the stones.  Set your fern plant on the stones.  The evaporating water will keep the air around the fern humid.  A few pieces of charcoal will keep the water from growing stagnant.  Keep ferns away from heat vents and mist frequently to avoid leaf drop.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015



Primrose are available in our greenhouses now!  

The primrose, with it's bright cheery flowers are irrisistable as the first harbingers of spring.  Available in almost every color of the rainbow, they make a great gift or addition to your windowsill.

Fairy Primrose (malecoides) and obconica are other types of primrose.  These are larger varieties with unusual flower configurations.  These primrose enjoy the same growing conditions as regular primrose, but usually do not winter over outdoors.

This species may be planted outdoors in a shady spot when frosty weather is gone.  An excellent plant to combine with spring-flowering bulbs. 

Be careful to avoid over watering.  This is the main problem with primula care.  The soil should remain evenly moist but not wet.  They should be fertilized weekly with low analysis fertilizer such as 10-10-10.

A critical environmental factor, the plants should be kept as cool as possible indoors, and planted in a shady spot outdoors.

Aphids are the most common insect pests on Primula.  They are easily controlled by an insecticide.  A systemic type is the most effective when aphids are on the underside of the leaves.

Red Spider Mites - This plant is very susceptible to attacks of red spiders.  A regular check on the underside of the leaves is necessary.

Leaf Spot - (Ramularia)  This disease occurs especially at low temperatures and high relative humidity.  Yellow spots will appear on the leaves, and then the edges of the spots will turn brown.  Avoid watering the leaves and water in the morning.