It has recently come to my attention that working with potting mix comes with some health risks that no one has ever told us about. Because the soil is typically stored in a plastic bag — often in the sun — it provides the perfect breeding ground (warm and moist) for bacteria and fungi. Normally, this wouldn't cause a problem, but when that bacteria is legionella bacteria, it can lead to legionnaire's disease, a potentially fatal form of pneumonia.
Reports of deaths from legionella bacteria are primarily from Australia and Japan, but are not unknown in the United States, explains a 2000 CDC report.
A July 2017 report by the CDC also lists commercial bags of compost as a possible source of the legionella bacteria. Some commercial potting mixes (and compost) tested in the US have tested positive to legionella bacteria, the CDC further explains.
While the risk appears to be higher in Australia where 73 percent of the soil samples tested contained legionella, gardeners in the U.S. should be aware of the risks associated with opening and using bags of potting soil or compost.
How do you get Legionnaire's disease?
It is believed that inhalation of the bacteria is the primary means of infection, but the CDC has not ruled out contact with the skin.
Who is at the greatest risk?
People with respiratory disorders, such as COPD, those with compromised immune systems and the elderly are at the highest risk, but that doesn't mean it can't infect younger and healthier gardeners, too.
How do you prevent contamination?
Observe the following recommendations to reduce the risk of exposure to the legionella bacteria.
I'm certainly not recommending that you avoid potting soils and compost completely, but never hurts to be cautious, especially if you are at a high risk due to health and/or age.
A couple of years ago my daughter gave me an AeroGarden for my birthday. My plants grew like a charm. First, I grew peppers and then I grew tomatoes and I even grew herbs.
Then . . . I moved.
When I set the AeroGarden up again it just didn't grow very well. I thought I had damaged it during the move. I changed the water and scrubbed out the basin. I replaced the air stone. I checked that the pump was working. The lights looked fine, but my plants still weren't growing as they should.
I planted new seeds in new pods.
My seeds didn't germinate well and when they did, the plant growth was stunted. Many of the leaves developed brown margins.
I was puzzled, until I visited the AeroGarden site.
According to the site, my well water might be the culprit. Apparently hard water can prevent germination and cause both stunted growth and browning leaves.
Once again, I emptied the basin and scrubbed it clean. This time I filled it with filtered water. Within days my seeds germinated and showed signs of vigorous new growth.
I am growing petunias and lemon basil in it now. I can't say for sure how long ago I planted the petunias as I forgot to reset the 'days planted' counter. I know that I planted them after Christmas. That means they can't have been growing longer than 40 days or so.
I am so excited to have solved the problem and to have petunias blooming inside as the snow falls outside!
If you are having issues with your AeroGarden, or similar hydroponics unit, try using filtered water instead of your well water. It solved my problems. I hope it solves yours too.
Nearly everyone knows that houseplants grow slowly during the winter and don't require fertilizer, but what you might not know is how to tell when it is time to begin a regular routine of feeding your hungry plants.
Most sources recommend withholding fertilizer from September or October to March, but that's only a rule of thumb. You need to resume feeding your houseplants as soon as you see signs of new growth bursting forth, typically in early spring.
My houseplants have already given me the nod that it is time for fresh nutrients. My anthurirum (above), commonly referred to as a flamingo flower, is producing new leaves and beginning to flourish. At first, I attributed it to moving it to a new window where it received more light, but I don't think that is the only reason.
My mandevilla vine dropped most of its leaves earlier this winter, but has suddenly decided it is time to resume growth.
I gave them both a weakened solution of Miracle Grow this morning and expect to see a burst of new growth over the next few weeks.
I'll admit it is a little early in the year to see new growth appearing on houseplants, but sometimes they have a mind of their own. Being ready to give them what they need is the least we plant owners can do.
Personally, I am hoping it is a sign of an early spring.
Last year when we bought a new home I inherited several gorgeous peony bushes. They produced beautiful showy blooms in shades of pink and white.
I had used heavy-duty tomato cages for supports but the plants grew so big that as soon as it rained the weight of the blooms caused the branches to bend over the edges of the wire cages damaging them.
This year I have a new plan for supporting my peony plants. This is called a Hildene Star used a Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home in Manchester, Vermont. The formal garden boasts over 1,000 peony blooms and its caretakers strive to keep the garden looking as natural as possible.
These simple supports blend into the foliage and allow the blooms to shine. I'm thinking that if this plan works for them it will surely work for me. Here's what you need to know.
1. Begin with five garden stakes, preferably bamboo. Place them equidistant around the cluster of peony plants when the plants have produced the first buds.
2. Connect the stakes with natural jute or garden twine to form a star. Wrap jute at each stake so that the jute is taut.
3. Wrap the jute around the circumference of the stakes wrapping the jute around each stake as you go to form a circle.
Because the Hildene Star provides sections for individual branches it provides more support than a traditional peony cage or tomato cage that only provides support around the perimeter.
If you are a gardener you probably started dreaming of this summer's garden months ago. I know I start dreaming of the next year's garden before the frost arrives in the fall. One of the projects I want to accomplish this year is making trellises with cattle panels.The video above has inspired me. It shows you how easy it really is to create a beautiful trellis for veggies —but I don't intend to limit mine to the vegetable garden.
I have visions of one of the these trellises covered with climbing flowers with hummingbird and bird feeders suspended from the top of the arch. I see a bird and butterfly oasis that will provide hours of enjoyment and enhance the beauty of the landscape. I may even add a birdbath to the scene.
Whether you are looking to add a decorative touch to your landscape or just want to give vertical growing a try, this video will put you on the path to making an inexpensive and functional trellis.
Six Benefits of Vertical Gardening
1. Vertical gardening saves space. If you are gardening in a small space it makes sense to grow vining plants vertically. This allows you to grow more plants in the same space.
2. Vertical gardening produces healthier plants. Growing plants vertically allows for better air circulation which helps to prevent diseases, like powdery mildew. Plants dry off quicker after a rain, which is good news during wet, rainy weather. It also eliminates issues with ground-dwelling insects that can lead to disease.
3. Vertical gardening increases production. Not only will many plants produce more fruit when trellised, you will grow more fruit per foot when you allow crops to grow vertically. That means you will get more veggies in less space if you grow them vertically.
4. Vertical gardens are easier to harvest. When you grow your veggies on a tall trellis such as the cattle panel arch you don't need to stoop and bend (or search through the vines) to harvest the fruit.
5. Vertical gardening produces well-shaped and clean fruits. Because your veggies are not laying on the ground, you eliminate yellow spots and soil on the veggies. They also grow more uniform as they hang downward from the trellis. Veggies like cucumbers grow straight and beautiful.
6. Vertical gardens are attractive and add beauty to your garden and landscape.
Today's photo is a yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), a medium-sized woodpecker found in Maine. These birds feed by drilling holes in the tree and drinking the sap. They can be found in Maine during the summer, but migrate south to the southern US, Mexico and Central America in the winter.
Yellow-bellied suckers sometimes visit suet feeders, but are most often seen in wooded areas. This male was seen on a chokecherry tree near my bird feeders.
According to All About Birds at Cornell Lab, the drilled holes made by the Yellow-bellied sapsucker are called sapwells. Sapwells also provide sap for the Ruby Throated Hummingbird.
If you see this bird in your backyard, or you observe rows of tiny holes in a tree, be on the lookout of hummingbirds who may stop for a sip of tasty sap.
Chickadees are a common sight in Maine, especially in the winter. While the black capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is the most common chickadee in Maine, you may see Carolina chickadees, Boreal chickadees or even hybrids as the result of crossbreeding. These little birds flock to bird feeders gobbling up sunflower seeds while singing their cheery song of chick a dee dee dee. Interestingly, they were named by English settlers who first called them a chickadeedee. The name was later shortened to chickadee.
Chickadees are said to symbolize courage, curiosity and bravery, but that is not what they conjure up for me. Chickadees always remind me of my mother and her love for the natural world. These tiny birds were always her favorite as they flocked around her whenever she stepped out with fresh food.
Seeing or hearing chickadees brings a smile to my face as I know my mother's spirit cannot be far away.
This year I grew Heinz Processor tomatoes for the first time and was very surprised with the results. These tomatoes were amazing producers and proved to be a great processing tomato. Here’s a breakdown of my thoughts about Heinz processor tomatoes.
Production: These prolific producers started producing fairly early and kept going until the threat of frost in the fall. One tomato plant produced an amazing 71 tomatoes with many small tomatoes still forming on the vine. Most of the plants produced 40 or 50 tomatoes.
Fruit Size and Shape: These tomatoes proved to be uniform globe-shaped with most of the tomatoes falling within the medium (3-inch) range. They were similar in appearance to Early Girl tomatoes.
Flavor: These tomatoes were not as flavorful as a beefsteak tomato and might not be your favorite for slicing on burgers or tossing in salads, but they were fantastic for canning salsa, diced tomatoes and other sauces.
Overall Pros: Heinz processor tomatoes were hands down the most prolific producer I have ever grown. These meaty tomatoes processed well and retained a good flavor when canned.
Overall Cons: Although their flavor was better than supermarket tomato varieties, they did not have a robust tomatoey flavor expected from homegrown tomatoes. I liked them in salads but prefer a juicier slice of tomato for burgers and sandwiches. If you only grow tomatoes for eating fresh, this tomato probably shouldn’t be your first choice but they are a great choice for canning.
Heinz processor tomato plants were massive. I grew mine in 48-inch wire tomato cages, but that still wasn’t enough to support them. I added fiberglass stakes to stabilize the wire cages, but that still didn’t do the trick as the entire plants toppled by mid-August, bending both the cage and the fiberglass stakes. If you choose to grow Heinz processor tomatoes, make sure you have heavy supports in place when you transplant the seedlings.
I will definitely grow Heinz processor tomatoes again next year, but there are a couple of things I will do differently.
Most spring bulbs need to be chilled before you can force them to bloom inside during the winter, but both amaryllis and paperwhites will bloom without chilling the bulbs. They can often be purchased in stores in a kit with either a pot and peat moss or a glass container with decorative rocks or stones.
Growing the kit is easy. Simply place the bulbs (with the pointed end facing upward) in the growing medium, water to moisten the soil and place them in a sunny location. If you are growing them in a decorative container or vase with stones or glass nuggets, put the stones in the bottom of the container and nestle the bulbs into the stones. Add water until it barely touches the bottom of the bulb. Keep the water level below the bulbs. Bulbs that sit in water will rot.
I typically grow my paperwhites in a tall vase and set them in the bottom on the stones. The stems of the paperwhite plants will grow inside the vase holding the blooms above the top of the vase. This provides support for the stems and prevents them from flopping over if they get too tall.
Some bulbs require chilling
Other spring bulbs, like dwarf iris, tulips and larger daffodils can be forced into bloom in the winter, too, but they require chilling first.
If you have a location such as a basement or garage that remains between 40 and 50 degrees, you are in luck. Otherwise you may need to chill your bulbs in the refrigerator — but that can get tricky, too. If you chill your bulbs in the fridge, do not keep fruit in the fridge. Ripening fruit gives off ethylene gas which will interfere with blooming.
Chilling them outside is pots in another option, but make sure the bulbs do not freeze. Placing them in pots and covering them with leaves or hay or keeping them in an unheated greenhouse until you are ready to force the bulbs will also work.
The length of time for chilling bulbs varies, but 14 to 16 weeks appears to be the average for most bulbs.
If your Christmas cactus is beginning to bloom long before the Christmas season arrives there is probably a good reason for that. While it may look like a Christmas cactus to you, it may actually be a Thanksgiving cactus.
Both belong to the genus Schlumbergera but there are several species of Schlumbergera that are very similar in appearance. Each blooms at a different time giving rise to the common names of Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii). A Christmas cactus blooms in December, while a Thanksgiving cactus blooms in late October and November.
Both plants produce showy blooms that range in color from white and yellow to shades of pink, purple and red with a lot of variation in between. These holiday plants brighten dark winter days long after the flowers outside have faded.
There are two simple ways to tell if you have a Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus.
For more nature photography, check out my photography site.