Nichols Plant Day 2010

Every May, we at Nichols, have our annual Plant Day, the Saturday after Mother’s Day. May 15th is the date for 2010. This is when we bring out unusual plants, run a good sale, and get our gardens spiffed up for company. Shopping is always interesting, we’ll have a huge selection of tomatoes, peppers and other veggies and flowering annuals.

Of course a few herbal or fresh from the garden treats keep your strength up as you watch Jennifer Ewing show how to build a raised bed in only a few minutes. I’ll demonstrate planting in straw bales. An addition this year is a herb spiral garden that is under construction. This is a great way to fit a large collection of herbs into a small space.

I’ll do a short demo on how to sow carrots. We all love those fresh from the garden carrots but they take their time in becoming established. It’s important to keep them moist and I’ll share a few tips with you.
Hope you can join us. Our gardens and retail shop are open Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays.


Straw Bale Gardening update

We experiment with straw bale gardening. I continue to love their convenience and the fact that it’s possible to grow a crop while you improve your soil. Here is some of what I’ve recently learned, some is good some not good.

My peas and bean crops continue to be sensational as long as I use Legume inoculant. The bales don’t have this natural bacteria that fixes nitrogen and keeps the foliage green and plants productive.

Tomatoes and Peppers need steady fertilizing and a planting hole within the bale filled with compost or potting soil to grow a strong productive plant.

Garden greens of all types seem to thrive. I think it takes cabbage family transplants about a week longer to establish than when they are planted in the ground. These plants are often said to prefer a “tight soil” and I think we see an example of that in this case.

Cucumbers have produced moderate results and, again a deeper larger planting hole seems the key to success.

However, beware of finding a possible snake in this Garden of Eden. This is an herbicide sometimes used on wheat, barley, oat and other crops. The substance is Clopyralid, it does not readily break down and passes through an animals gut pretty much intact. The resulting manure will act as an herbicide. Some of the Clopyralid product names are Stinger, Reclaim, and Transline. When purchasing bales ask, if any of these products were used on the field. I think asking questions is your first defense. I live in a farming area and it is possible for me to directly inquire.
The problems with Clopyralid became known when grass clippings and other contaminated plant material went into community composting projects and what was supposed to benefit gardens had a residual herbicide effect. Besides asking about the history I’d suggest sowing some inexpensive sunflower or lettuce seed on the prepared bale before planting. If they germinate, start growing and then show damage it may residual herbicide. Since I recently became aware of these problems I’ve tried to learn as much as possible so I could write and speak about this when discussing straw bale gardening.
If you do find or suspect your bales are contaminated do not add this to your compost. Take photos and plant samples to your local extension office and ask them for a recommendation.
This summer we used our collapsing three year old bales to grow potatoes. We enjoyed a beautiful disease free, clean crop.

Nichols Plant Day 2009

Nichols annual Plant Day is Saturday, May 16, 2009. I will demonstrate straw bale gardening. Our newest demonstration garden is a living example of food gardens from The Bountiful Container-a complete guide to growing veegtabels, herbs, fruits and edible flower in containers. It is still a work in progress but the basics are installed with a couple Adirondack Chairs for relaxing in a home garden-like setting. I will be available to sign and inscribe the Bountiful Container, a 400 page guide to growing food in containers.

Linda Zeidrich will sign her new books, The second edition of Joy of Pickling and The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves 200 New Recipes Showcasing the Fabulous Flavors of Fresh Fruits.

Master Gardener Jennifer Ewing will demonstrate how to easily construct a nearly weed free raised bed and how to use the hoop system to support deer netting, shade cloth and plastic. These beds provide a new easy, efficient approach to raised bed gardening.

We will be offering a discount on all in store purchases. Come join us for a little garden time and light herbal refreshment.

Straw Bale Gardening

Straw bale gardening is easy, fun and  you to improve the soil while you decide what you what to do with a patch of ground. I’ll be planting a few bales at our annual Nichols Garden Nursery “Plant Day” this coming Saturday, May 16th. Varied crops will be growing for months since I plant greens, tomatoes, peas, beans, and peppers. When I plant peas and beans I always use legume inoculant so I don’t need to supplement with fertilizer. “Legume inoculant” allows these plants to utilize atmospheric nitrogen with nitrogen rich root nodules. Sounds complicated but works beautifully and results count.

Welcome our new straw bale blogging partner, fellow garden writer, Patsy Bell Hobson from Cape Giradeau, MO. She’ll also be growing a straw bale garden and I’ve included a link to her blog “Oh Grow Up”. You can follow two experienced gardeners living in very different environments using straw bales. See the  link to her site on the blogroll to the right of this page.


Last week I was in Anchorage, AK and spoke to University of Alaska Master Gardeners on Container and Small Space Food Gardening and  on straw bale gardening. I hope these Master Gardeners  ask questions and report their results. Anchorage was warmer and sunnier than here in Western Oregon. I think the incomparable beauty of Anchorage and the surrounding area shall be forever imprinted in my mind.

After talking with gardeners and growers from this area I realize the need for short season varieties that get off to a fast start. We’ll be looking for these characterics in our summer trials. It’s not only Alaska needing fast maturing varieties but gardeners from Montana to Maine who persevere and grow great gardens. It’s May and we are all eager to once again experience the joy of gardening.

Garden Greens of Many Colors

Green leafy vegetables are packed with nutrients and flavor. Grown for salads or cooking, there’s no easier faster crop for the home gardener. This spring I’ve been stir frying Kale, Swiss Chard, Bok Choy, Purple Broccoli, Raab, and Beet Greens in a little olive oil and minced garlic. I trim my pickings, chop and rinse. The skillet is hot and ready, I add oil and garlic, wait a few seconds, and then add the chopped greens with a little water still clinging, stir and toss until tender and sprinkle with a little salt. This usually takes no more than seven or eight minutes. If my chard stems are broad and beautiful I start cooking these first and then add the remaining greens.

My good friend, Al Modena, of Italian parentage,  owns an old family wholesale seed company in San Francisco. He asked me how I cook my Swiss Chard and I gave him this preparation. He enthusiastically nodded his head, saying “that’s right, but you need to add just a little anchovy instead of salt and it makes all the difference”! It’s as good as he says.

When I return from my Anchorage talks on Container & Small Space Food Gardening and Straw Bale Gardening we’ll cook up a few different greens with photos. Now is the time to start sowing seeds of all these “greens of many colors”. My family business, Nichols Garden Nursery is having a month long sale on many of these seeds. Often it is best to sow a row and come back in three weeks and plant again. It’s a little early to talk about fall planting but most of what we’re eating is from late summer and fall plantings of last year.

Garden Talks

Keane and I are leaving for Central Oregon today where I will give talks on Successful Food Gardening in Central Oregon and a demonstration talk on Edible Container Gardening. Of course I’ll be signing copies of McGee & Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container. A few more talks are coming up, May 9th I’ll speak in Anchorage at a Master Gardening conference on “Growing Food in Containers & Small Spaces” and “Straw Bale Gardening”. June 27th I’ll be at The New York Botanical Garden for their kickoff event on a program series on edible gardening. I will present a demonstration and talk on growing “Food Plants, Herbs & Edible Flowers in Containers”. This speaking season then winds up with a talk at the annual Oregon State Master Gardener mini college on “Successful Food Gardening in Container & Small Spaces”, Thursday, August 7th.

Our annual Nichols Garden Nursery Plant Day is Saturday May 16th 2009. We always have an annual sale, light refreshment and demonstrations. This year I’ll be demonstrating straw bale planting and we are working on a new garden in the style of a home garden planted all in containers with a couple Adirondack chairs for visitors to sit, relax and enjoy the surroundings. As this comes along I’ll post photos.

It’s been a busy year and I’m so impressed with this renaissance in food gardening. There has been much interest in vegetables and cooking but now people seem to be taking it to their own homes whether it is the backyard or front yard they are planting gardens. A healthy well grown plant is always a thing of beauty whether it be a gorgeous muticolored ruffled lettuce or the latest petticoated heauchera. Gardening keeps us in contact with nature and that part of ourselves that grows a little more as we nurture our gardens, our loved ones, and ourselves.

Tomatoes-Blossom-end Rot in Straw Bales

Most tomato gardeners have seen or experienced blossom-end rot on tomatoes. It appears at the base of the tomato…the portion that is fastest growing and forms an unattractive black decayed appearance. Also a fruit so affected generally ceases to grow or grows slowly.The following information applies to all tomato gardeners, whether growing in ground, containers, or straw bales.

Generally, it is the oblong Roma or paste tomatoes that are most often affected. I have never seen blossom end rot on a cherry tomato plant and I think it is because the fruits growth cycle is faster.

First it is a physiological problem not a disease. A lack of soil calcium or a defect in the  plant’s utilization and uptake of calcium is considered the cause. A few controllable conditions lead to this.

A simple lack of calcium is a factor which can be remedied by adding lime, gypsum, bone meal or in small gardens even ground up eggshells to the soil before planting.

An excess of ammonium nitrate can be a problem…straight substantial amounts of chemical nitrogen which some old articles on straw bale gardening recommend. Don’t use it. An excess or imbalance of potassium or magnesium. All these minerals and nutrients are needed by tomatoes, just no one in excess so use a balanced fertilizer along with compost. Consider also applying foliar sprays of liquid seaweed , Maxicrop is a good product.

The third and perhaps most significant cause is fluctuations in watering. Plants which dry out are not absorbing nutrients or water. This is followed by a heavy watering. Cycle through this a few times and it sets the stage for blossom end rot. If your climate is somewhat humid this moisture problem may be compounded. Drip or trickle irrigation either with emitters or leaky pipe will maintain even and optimal moisture. With straw bales and containers I like to give plants a thorough soaking from time to time.

The more oblong Roam or San Marzano tomatoes are most susceptible to blossom end rot. If your plants are producing defective fruits consider picking everyone that looks as though it will have this condition. The fruits will likely have a very poor taste and by picking plants nearly clean new fruits will set.

Straw Bale Gardening Question

Today, a customer writes: “I’m interested in creating straw bale gardens this year.  Many web sites instruct one to use ammonium nitrate to prepare the bale but
yours does not.  Does your method prepare the bale for planting
tomatoes and eggplant or just mainly salad greens?  I prefer not to
use ammonium nitrate but at the same time want to prepare the bales
properly for tomatoes.”……see my reply below

I’ve seen the recommendations for ammonium nitrate but have never liked the idea or tried it. Place the bale where it will remain and really soak it down and keep it wet for a week to ten days. The bale will heat up and then cool down in this period when it becomes ready for planting. If you are planting eggplant, peppers or tomatoes place a scoop of compost and fertilizer in the planting hole. Cover with a little potting soil to prevent any burning of the roots.
The greens will grow in compost or potting soil on the surface and then send their roots down. Peas and Beans need legume inoculant for best performance. I’ve never tried to plant carrots or parsnips but the third years the bales break down sufficiently to produce  a nice crop of potatoes.
Jeff Lowenfels, author of Teeming With Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web tells me that using an application of compost tea at planting time will produce stronger plants and more nutrients will be released from the straw. I shall be using compost tea this year. Also, I will be fertilizing a little more frequently than in past years.