pioneer garden

Birds attacking your windows?

No, it's not an Alfred Hitchcock nightmare, it's springtime, and the birds are keeping busy.  

You may notice birds attacking your windows in these next few weeks.  They have not lost their little bird brains, although it may seem that way to you.  The male birds are seeing their own reflection, and attacking what they think is another bird in their territory.

What can you do?  We have window decals in the shape of hawks that may help scare them away.  Or "scare tape", which flutters in the wind and helps block their reflection.  Anything you can put on or in front of your window that will block their reflection (but they won't get their feet caught in) will usually work--bridal veil fabric, bedsheets, bamboo stakes.

Luckily, the nesting season only lasts for a few weeks and the birds should be back to normal.

Heirloom Vegetables

They seem to be all the rage with foodies these days, but what exactly is an heirloom vegetable?

There are several schools of thought on the precise definition, but basically an heirloom veggie is one that was grown a long time ago, and has not been modified to use in modern, large scale agriculture.

Take these pictures of tomatoes.  You can see the different colors and shapes, which are generally not sold in supermarkets today.  Why?

Most stores want perfect, round, red tomatoes to meet consumer demand.  The tomatoes need to be able to ripen in a truck that will often sit for weeks or months at a time.  They are grown in huge fields in monocultural (only one type) plots.  Because of this, tomatoes (and other vegetables) have been hybridized and chosen for specific characteristics such as productivity, resistance to pesticides, and the ability to put up with mechanical pickers.

Notice, they are not necessarily grown for taste.

And this is why people grow heirlooms.  The shapes and colors are strange, they might not last for weeks and weeks in your fridge, but you can not beat the taste of an heirloom veggie straight out of your garden.  Purple carrots, pink tomatoes, blue pumpkins–you wouldn’t believe the huge variety that are now available that are dedicated to bringing back taste to people’s gardens.

You often need to grow heirloom varieties from seed–which is part of their charm.  Just think about growing a pepper that has been lovingly passed down through generations.  There are many sources for heirloom vegetable seeds–and sometimes the best source is talking to gardeners you know! 

Pioneer has many heirloom seed varieties at the store--why don't you start your own heirloom garden?

BLT with "Green Zebra" heirloom tomato and Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard.

BLT with "Green Zebra" heirloom tomato and Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard.

How to Grow Potatoes

There is nothing quite like the feeling of pulling potatoes out of the ground.  If your kids are even remotely interested in gardening, they will LOVE to harvest the spuds in the late summer.  We've got some tips to help you grow the perfect potatoes--and plenty of tubers to choose from in the store right now.

1.  Plant the potato tubers as early as possible, around March 15 is ideal.  Mid-season and late varieties such as Red Pontiac and White Kennebec can be planted up to July 4th with some success.  You can cut potatoes into pieces, each piece should have no more than three eyes.

2.  Plant potatoes in full sun, in loose, loamy soil.  Fertilize before planting, using 1/4 cup 5-10-5, 10-10-10 or similar general fertilizer for every foot of your potato row.  Mix fertilizer into the soil thoroughly, cut pieces should not come in contact with the fertilizer.

3.  Plant each potato tuber or piece 3" deep, 12" apart, in rows spaced 2' apart.

4.  After the plants emerge, gradually build up a mound of loose soil around the plants to a height of about 4 to 6 inches.   This is referred to as "hilling up" the potatoes.  Apply mulch over this mound to a depth of 6 inches, using dry (brown) grass clippings, straw, or compost.  This encourages tuber production, prevents sunburned potatoes and keeps the soil cool.

5.  Water regularly during dry spells and cultivate the soil to keep weeds down.  

6.  You can harvest "new" potatoes (very small, immature potatoes) about two weeks after the plants begin to flower (mid-July).  Harvest the rest of the potatoes when the plants die and turn brown, in August or September.  Dig carefully to avoid damaging the tubers.  Let the potatoes dry outside for a few hours, then bring inside and store in a cool place.


Potato flowers are pretty, too!

Potato flowers are pretty, too!

Planting Grass Seed

It's that time of year....many can't wait for it, and dream of the smell of a fresh cut lawn.  Your grass is greening up and it's almost time to get that lawnmower out of storage.

But if your lawn is looking less than stellar, it may be the year to plant new seed.  We have many varieties of seed at Pioneer, and can help you determine how much you need, and what type to buy.

Here are some helpful hints to get you started.

Planting Grass Seed on Bare Soil

1.  Loosen the soil to a depth of 2-3 inches.  The ideal seedbed will have soil particles ranging from pea to walnut size.  This will give the seeds a place to lodge.  DO NOT make a powdery seedbed, which will be prone to becoming hard and caked after heavy rains.

2.  Rake and level off the area with a heavy garden rake.  Avoid low spots that collect water and high spots that would be scalped by mowing.  Remove all sticks, stones, pebbles and debris.  

3.  Fertilize soil with a 10-10-10 or 9-17-9 fertilizer, or a seed starter food.  Apply fertilizer with a spreader for even coverage, use a shaker can or carefully sprinkle by hand over smaller areas.

4.  Plant seed using a spreader for larger areas.  Scatter seed by hand over smaller spots.  Try to achieve a distribution pattern where seeds are just beginning to touch each other.

5.  Blend seed into the soil by dragging a flexible metal leaf rake across the seedbed.  

6.  Roll the area lightly to firm the seed into the soil.  Drag a leaf rake lightly across the rolled area to prevent any crust from forming when the area is watered.  Mulch the area (especially if it's in a sunny or windy spot) with straw or peat moss to shade seed and slow water evaporation.  Apply straw until half the soil is still visible.  Cover over seedbed lightly or completely if using peat moss.

7.  Water once or twice a day to keep the top inch of soil damp.  Water frequently and lightly for the first 2 to 3 weeks, just to keep the upper bit of soil moist.  As the fine green blades begin to appear, water less often but more deeply to encourage roots to grow deep into the soil.  Continue watering occasionally for 2 months to ensure grass plants get a good roothold.


Planting Grass Seed on a Thin Lawn

1.  For best results rake lawn thoroughly so seeds get in good contact with the soil.  (Seeds can not sprout if they're on top of leaves, dead grass, etc.).  Use a dethatching rake or power rake on large areas.  Use a spike or core aerator to promote better growth.  

2.  Follow steps 3 (fertilize), 4 (plant) and 7 (water) as discussed above.  Use mulch on very thin areas.  


Other Helpful Hints

1.  Keep off newly-seeded areas until they are well established (about 2 months).  

2.  Weed killers should not be applied to newly seeded lawns for at least 6 weeks, or until the grass has grown enough to need mowing twice.  Conversely, you must wait at least 4 weeks before you can plant grass seed on an area where weed killers have been applied.  

3.  Remember that crabgrass preventers applied in spring will prevent grass seed from germinating for 8-10 weeks.  Check the product label for complete information.  Products are available that prevent crabgrass germination without interfering with lawn grass seed germination.

4.  Lawn spray services use chemicals that can kill or damage grass seed and young seedlings.  Be sure to notify your service (before they spray) when you plant grass seed.

5.  Weeds sometimes show up in newly-seeded areas.  You can keep these under control by mowing the area occasionally; most weeds can not tolerate regular mowing.  For those weeds that grow close to the ground, dig them out by hand or use a spot weed killer applied directly to each weed.  NOTE: The grass seed we sell at Pioneer is as weed-free as is available.   When weeds show up in your newly-seeded lawn, it is usually due to weed seeds blowing in or being transported in with the soil you may have used for filling in.

6.  Germination times vary between different seeds.  Most permanent grass seeds (Kentucky Bluegrass, Creeping Red Fescue, etc.) take 21-30 days to germinate, depending on the weather.  Rye grasses germinate in 7-10 days.  Ryes are best used as "nurse grasses", they will help hold the soil and protect the slower-starting permanent seeds.  The new "permanent ryes" are long lived, but are still best used in a mix with bluegrasses or fescues.

7.  Very shady areas will not usually support a thick lawn.  About 3-4 hours of sunlight are necessary to grow grasses successfully.  Try pruning trees and shrubs to let in more light and air circulation.  And be sure to use a seed that is best suited for use in shady areas, like fescues.  Or, consider a shady ground cover--you won't have to mow it!

8.  Maple trees (especially soft maples, elms, magnolias, spruce and pine trees) have root systems which come up very close to the surface of the soil.  These roots compete with the grass for water and nutrients.  You will probably have to overseed these areas every year to keep them looking good.  Providing water and extra fertilizer at regular intervals will help keep these stressed areas alive.


Visit us to learn more about keeping your lawn looking it's best.


A green lawn helps frame your flower beds.

A green lawn helps frame your flower beds.