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Fresh Herbs All Year Long

Herbs have many uses in our kitchens and homes—from fresh marinara sauces to homemade taco nights… almost every recipe is enhanced when fresh herbs are used. To enjoy them for months to come, the best time to harvest them is in mid-August before they flower but you can do this any time during the year. Follow our guide below to learn how!

Drying Herbs

#1 – Harvest

Collect a small handful of stems from your herb garden (no more than a half-inch in diameter). Make sure each stem is healthy. Remove any stems with diseased leaves or insect damage. 

#2 – Wrap

Wrap a rubber band around each bundle, make sure it is secure. The band tends to contract as they dry. 

#3 – Hang

Find a spot out of direct sunlight to hang your herbs to dry. Make sure this spot is warm, dark, and has good ventilation and low humidity (to keep mold from growing).

#4 – Spread (Optional)

There are some herbs that dry best when they are spread on a screen such as bay leaves and chives.

#5 – Wait

When your herbs feel crisp and easily crumble, they are ready to go! This process can take a couple of weeks so be patient.

Now you can enjoy the herbs you have grown all throughout the year. For the best results, we recommend using all dried herbs within one year of harvesting. You can write the date on the container to make it easy to remember. Then, make sure to store them in a dry place, away from sunlight, and throw them away if you see any signs of mold.

For the herb garden you plant or are planning to plant this spring, work in harmony with nature. Working with nature simplifies things and it comes down to understanding the importance of beneficial microbial activity in the soil, on the plant, and the huge benefits that come from this thriving microbial life.

Our all-natural prebiotic formulations work to significantly increase these beneficial microbes… up to 5000%! Containing various biomolecules that not only feed the microbes, increasing their performance, but also serving to regulate various functions in the plant for improved health. We’re adding life, all while supporting what nature has already provided. 

The healthier the plant and soil, the fewer worries you will have about pests and disease. Take a look at our products and start planning your herb garden now with AgriGro® in mind.




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SOURCES:
Ciesinski, T. (2016, Sep). Saving SUMMER HERBS. Vegetarian Times, , 26-26,29.
HEIKENFELD, R. (2017). Coriander/Cilantro Herb and Spice All in One. Countryside & Small Stock Journal, 101(3), 24.

Winter Pruning: A Guide for Your Garden

While the winter chill is still in the air, it is time to prepare for your spring garden. A top priority on your list should be to prune your shrubs and trees before new growth and buds come to life. This is important to do in late winter or early spring because trees and shrubs are in a state of dormancy. Dormancy protects the plants from cold temperatures and helps the plant focus energy on new spring growth. So when you start the pruning process, your trees and shrubs will actually be encouraged to grow.

What is Pruning?

Pruning is simply the cutting back of old, dead, diseased, or unwanted limbs or branches of a tree or shrub. This process allows you to shape your plants before new growth happens. If there is a hole in a shrub or hedge you would like to fill, you can actually prune the area surrounding the hole to encourage new growth in that bare spot.

Tree Pruning

When pruning your trees in late winter focus on removing branches that have been damaged by harsh winter winds, ice, or heavy snows. These weak, damaged branches are more likely to break apart or tear off the tree if not removed. This could cause lasting damage to your tree. So go ahead and just remove them.

To prune your trees correctly, cut close to the trunk but not right against it – leave a few inches. Then, carefully remove the damaged branch. Make a small undercut and then slice down from above to meet the first cut. This method will ensure the bark does not tear. 

Wondering what trees need to be pruned? Here are a few to note…

  • Evergreens (spruce, fir)
  • Oak
  • Sweetgum
  • Maple
  • Katsura 
  • Hornbeam
  • Dogwoods

Pro Tip: If your trees are young, they need to be pruned earlier. This will help them grow more branches from the base of the tree.

Shrub Pruning

Pruning shrubs and hedges also help them develop and grow. The goal is to thin out old wood and remove branches so new ones can grow in. First, you want to start with branches near the ground, these can cause damage to nearby concrete walkways, be a tripping hazard, or even interfere with your house. Start there and get rid of those! Then, you can work your way up towards the top.

Make sure to never cut your shrubs or hedges in a horizontal line. This will lead to a thinning of the plants. You want to make cuts here and there, cutting some branches back hard and leaving healthy ones to grow and flourish.

Pro Tip: If your shrubs flower or bloom, you will want to wait to prune those until spring or summer.

How to Prune

  1. Gather clean, sharp tools
  2. Make precise cuts… all cuts should go back to a bud, branch, or the main trunk.
  3. Paint all cuts over 1″ to 2″ in diameter with a protective paint
  4. Disinfect tools after each cut on diseased plant… an alcohol-based disinfectant will work.

Voila! Repeat this process throughout your garden and then your trees and shrubs will be ready for springtime. When you’re done pruning, go ahead and mist Ultra® onto your freshly groomed plants. Ultra® is our organic prebiotic which helps maximize growth and production in the soil, seed, roots, and plant foliage.  This will lead to strong, healthy buds and new growth when the spring arrives.


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SOURCES:
Cole, Trevor. “Spring Crop: Unsure about what to Prune Back Now?” Canadian Gardening, vol. 15, no. 2, 04, 2004, pp. 62-65.
Donald Wyman. “PRUNING ORNAMENTAL SHRUBS AND TREES.” Arnoldia. 23.8 (1963): 107–110. Print.
Old Farmer’s Almanac. “Winter Pruning Guide for Trees and Shrubs.” Old Farmer’s Almanac.

It’s Time to Start a Cold Frame

Your garden doesn’t have to suffer during the cold winter months after all the hard work you’ve put into it all spring and summer. Even outside of the prime growing season, a cold frame garden offers a way for you to keep your garden producing without investing in a full-sized greenhouse. Cold frames are a great option during the winter months.

What is a Cold Frame?

A cold frame is a box supporting a transparent top that admits sunlight and typically lifts to provide access to the garden inside. The bottom gives access to garden soil providing the ability for crops to root and dig deeper. To ensure the best location for your cold frame, choose an area that receives both direct sunlight and a well-drained location. You might want to choose a location close to the house so you’re not walking too far in the cold, winter months.

Food for thought… on sunny days, when the temperature rises above 50-degrees Fahrenheit, be sure to vent your cold frame to prevent the excess heat from wilting your plants.

Building a Cold Frame

There are many different DIY ways to make cold frames. From recycled material to things you have laying around the house – if you are looking to build a cold frame, you can do it and have your garden growing in the winter months. Here are three DIY cold frame ideas:

  • Windows: You can find old windows lying around thrift stores or being sold at yard sales! 
  • Straw bales: This is a quick, easy and low-cost way to make a cold frame. It doesn’t require building skills.
  • PVC pipe: Some gardeners prefer to be more creative with a fancier cold frame. Plus, PVC pipes provide a quick clean up at the end of the season.

Best Plants to Grow

To set you up for success, we’ve created a list of plants best to grow in a cold frame. For the best germination, identify your area’s average first frost date. To do this, first, find the days to maturity by looking at the seed packet. Once you do this, count backward to find your planting date.

  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Green onions
  • Kale
  • Leaf lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnips

Don’t Forget to Add Life

When gro-ing in your cold frame, you want to make sure to give your plants the nutrients they crave. With Bountiful Harvest® your soil and plants will thrive with health, vigor and vitality that you simply can’t get from fertilizers alone. 

Bountiful Harvest® is the same field-proven, university tested formula that commercial growers have been using from AgriGro® for years, re-packaged for easy use by the home gardener. It is a 100% natural, environmentally safe prebiotic that contains macro and micro-nutrients, vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and complex carbohydrates that benefit both the soil and plants production and health.

To use, apply it directly to the soil, seed, roots and plant foliage to maximize growth and production. Then, watch your cold frame garden come to life!


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SOURCES:
Miller, Elizabeth; Miller, Crow.Countryside and Small Stock Journal;
The Art of Winter Gardening. Waterloo Vol. 83, Iss. 2, (Mar/Apr 1999): 59.

Growing a Winter Garden

Winter has arrived! Depending on where you live, snow more than likely blankets the ground and each time you venture outdoors you’re met with chilly temperatures. But did you know it is possible to garden during the winter months? Sure, there are a few more challenges but it is achievable. Many greens and some other vegetables actually prefer cooler weather to grow.

Winter Garden Greens:
Cauliflower
Kale
Broccoli
Turnips
Cabbage
Brussels sprouts
Collards
Bok cho

Underground Vegetables:
Carrots
Beets
Radishes
Turnips
Onions
Parsnips
Leeks
Potatoes

The Key to Winter Gardening

To achieve the best results with your winter garden you want 90-percent grown by the first frost. Then it can go into cold storage, and you can harvest it as needed throughout the winter. To figure out when to plant or transplant, grab your calendar, start with that type’s maturity date and add 10 days to allow for the shorter fall days. Next, count back from the date of the first expected frost. Whatever date you land on, that is the day your plants should be planted in the garden. 

Pro Tip: When the first frosts come, protect your garden with a thin sheet or row cover.

Adjust for the Temperatures

Depending on the winter weather, temperatures can be brutal from December to March. As the temperatures get colder and winter becomes harsher, you will want to modify your garden to protect it from the cold. 

#1 – Replace light-colored mulch with dark-colored mulch. This will help trap more heat inside the soil.

#2 – Use heat-absorbing compost.

#3 – On nights where the temperature falls into the twenties or below, place plastic on top of your garden and then add an old comforter on top to protect your harvest from the winter elements. But remember to factor in humidity, depending on where you live – humidity could be helpful.

As soon as the morning sun rises, be sure to pull off those blankets and let your garden breathe.

Next Steps…

While it may be too late to grow all the greens and underground vegetables this winter, keep these tips in mind for next year. The process and planning truly begins in the summer and fall. 

Don’t forget your AgriGro products! AgriGro Home provides plant nutrition products that support amazing plant growth and soil health to grow beyond what nature can do on its own. Bountiful Harvest®, Super-Cal®, and Ultra® make a powerful team. Plus, they are all-natural, performance-proven, university tested, and safe to use around children and pets.


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SOURCES:
Miller, Elizabeth; Miller, Crow.Countryside and Small Stock Journal;
The Art of Winter Gardening. Waterloo Vol. 83, Iss. 2, (Mar/Apr 1999): 59.

Fall Leaf Removal

In many places around the country, autumn trees are extremely beautiful with brightly colored leaves consisting of reds, oranges, yellows and greens. The cooler weather of fall is so relaxing following the hot summers in the U.S., but what follows can be a chore. The autumn leaves will soon fall off the trees and we must decide what to do with them.

With that said, it is important to note that leaves hold a lot of nutrients that can be returned to the soil through decaying leaf organic matter. It releases Nitrogen, Magnesium, Potassium, and other nutrients back into the soil for plants to use. It also releases into the atmosphere carbon dioxide it absorbed earlier in the year and converted to carbon compounds. In fact, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, decaying organic carbon from natural sources contributes to more than 90 percent of the carbon dioxide released into the earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Fallen leaves contribute to this effect and are reabsorbed and used again by most all plant life, including newly sprouted leaves each spring. (check out why Organic Matter Matters here

However, if you are a sports field manager or homeowner and have worked hard to maintain a beautiful lawn, then leaving the leaves on the grass is not an option. The leaves can eventually smother the grass leaving even more problems to correct come spring.

So what are your options? Assuming you are going to do the work yourself, you are looking at two primary choices. If you have a lot of large shade trees, then removing the leaves from the grass is the best option. If you have a few scattered, smaller trees, then mulching them in place may be the best choice. But if you decide to remove them you are faced with other choices that depend on your abilities and cost factors. Not everyone can afford the expensive professional equipment used on prestigious country clubs. Even city golf courses and most homeowners can struggle to get the work done on a smaller budget. Here are a few helpful examples.

 Cardboard Method that Replaces Raking

If you have a small area to maintain and are in decent shape, you can rake them. A shortcut to raking is using a thick flattened cardboard box or a piece of lightweight paneling or something similar. With the cardboard at a 40 degree angle in front of you, walk and push the leaves to a primary location. On a flat surface you can remove 6 ft of leaves in one sweep. I have seen huge lawns cleaned up using this method in less than an hour. Once the leaves are piled up they can be bagged or burned in place if your laws allow it.

dailymotion.com

 Lawn Vacuums

Lawn Vacuums are the name given to the various, pull behind, leaf vacuum systems. These are large storage boxes that hold leaves that are sucked up through a large diameter vacuum tube attached to the mower discharge vent. There are smaller homeowner systems up to larger commercial systems. Each one has a motor attached to the storage box that pulls the leaves from the discharge vent on the mower into the box. One of the better lawn vacuums on the market is the Cyclone Rake. The storage box holds up to 415 gallons of shredded leaves and comes with motors as large as 10 hp.

The lawn vacuum draws the leaves though a 6″ – 10″ tube, depending on the model. At the end of the tube is a blade that creates the vacuum and shreds the leaves even more. So be sure to walk the property and remove all the limbs and sticks that could get stuck in the vacuum tube or you will spend valuable time cleaning out the tube. When the storage box is full it can be easily dumped onto a trailer or somewhere on your property used for disposal.

The better systems work great and can remove leaves from a shaded lot the size of two or three acres in just a few hours. It is a time saver and far less strain on your body.

(Top 10 Best Leaf Vacuums in 2020 – atopdaily.com)

 Mulching Leaves

Leaves can also be mulched and left on the grass. The keys are to mulch when the leaves are dry and to keep the leaves under the mower as long as possible. If your mower allows you to close the discharge vent, this doesn’t allow the side discharge of leaves. The result is that they are mulched repeatedly until they filter out under the mower.

Can you have too many leaves to mulch? I do believe so. While it is possible to mulch huge amounts of leaves, you can end up with several inches of shredded leaves sitting on the grass and the effect can be about the same as having left the leaves untouched.

Important Information that can affect your decision on mulching: Leaves are completely broken down by soil microorganisms. The bacteria responsible for most of the work are most active in summer. If you have enough soil moisture in summer, the microbes are going at it full speed. Early spring and fall they are slow or are slowing down considerably. In winter, in most of the U.S., they are either inactive or close to it. This is why leaves that fall in Autumn are still there in the spring. They decompose rapidly as the weather warms.

Therefore, in the fall and winter, an inch or so of shredded leaves is fine on the grass that is mowed higher than a couple inches. It can help insulate the soil as well. Having several inches of shredded leaves can suffocate the grass by keeping moisture and air from reaching the roots.

bioadvanced.com

 Hand-Held Leaf Blowers

If you have just a few small trees or even a single shade tree, you can use your hand-held leaf blower to blow the leaves into a pile. You can put a tarp in the back of a pickup truck and load the leaves onto the tarp. If your city has a dump station, simply pull the tarp and all the leaves come with it.

 How to Make Compost in 14 – 18 Days

This method was developed by the University of California at Berkeley and has been modified over the years. Composting leaves is a great way to reuse your leaves on your lawn and garden. It adds valuable nutrients and organic matter needed for beneficial microbes and earthworms, etc. The 18 day method is a “Hot Compost” method as compared to the cold compost methods used by most people that can take up to 12 months. Using the hot compost method kills any damaging bacteria and weed seeds as well. The compost will be much finer with smaller particles and ready to use.

Here we go: The basic facts. You simply cannot make a pile of leaves and expect it to compost quickly. You need to have a good C:N (Carbon to Nitrogen) ratio. Don’t let this confuse you. It is really easy.

  1. Determining the C:N Ratio of materials: Leaves have a moderately high carbon and low nitrogen ratio. The higher the carbon to lower nitrogen material breaks down slowly. Fallen trees, branches, etc have the highest C:N ratio and can take years to break down naturally with a 500:1 to 1200:1 C:N ratio. As for leaves, depending on the  leaf type, it can be as high as 80:1 C:N ratio and as low as 40:1. This means it can break down more slowly. You will need to add material with a low Carbon to Nitrogen (C:N) ratio to speed the process. Freshly cut grass, some garden plants, vegetables, fish, animal manure, etc will break down fast and speed the process. I put freshly cut grass in a large plastic bag during summer years ago and in a couple hours it was so hot that you couldn’t touch it. I have included a website below that shows the C:N ratio of many different materials. (learn more about Organic Nitrogen in Soil here)
  1. How to Mix the Different C:N Ratio Materials: The ratio of high and low C:N should be a 1:2 ratio. This is shown as a 1 + 2 = 3. An example is one part manure added to two parts leaves. First lay down a layer of leaves less than a foot thick. Remove large sticks.

Next add 1 part mown grass, garden plants or vegetables, or manure. Blood meal fertilizer has an extremely low C:N ratio at 3:1 and can heat up quickly. Cover with another 2 parts of leaves. Repeat this until you have a 3 to 4 ft tall by 3 to 4 ft wide stack of leaves to grass/manure mixture. There needs to be sufficient amounts of Nitrogen for it to heat up and work.

It is possible to have too much nitrogen. If this happens add newspaper or sawdust internally within the pile to slow it down.

  1. Next,  after building the pile as described, water down the entire stack until thoroughly wet and water is flowing from the bottom of the pile. You can put extra compost activator (Turf Formula® is an excellent choice) in the middle section to start the process more quickly. This can be crab waste if you live near the gulf, fish, or even store bought activator.
  1. Leave the pile for 4 days. Then turn the compost pile using a pitch fork. If you are expecting storms to come through you may need to cover the pile with a tarp to keep it from getting flooded again.
  1. Turn again after four days. If moisture is still good, leave it alone. If not spray a little more moisture. It shouldn’t be wet, just damp. You can squeeze some of the compost to see if any moisture is on your hands.
  1. Check the internal temperature. It should reach 150 degrees. When this happens, start turning every two days until the 18 days are over. The compost should be cooled, no harmful bacteria or weeds seeds.

The compost should be dark, smell earthy, and be well broken down. It can be used on your gardens, lawn, or wherever you need compost. With a little experimentation you can have the perfect blend that composts rapidly.

There are numerous articles that can be found online. Here are two sources I used:

 

One last thought to consider – AgriGro®’s products provide a big help in this area by boosting the native microbial life to improve breakdown of insoluble nutrients. Products like Turf Formula® work to provide an immediate shockwave to your compost allowing the natural microbiome to unlock higher nutrient availability to your spring turf. 

Russ James
AgriGro Turf Specialist

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Sources:
Lawn Care Academy, Russ James, Photosynthesis of Turf Grasses
Fundamentals of Turfgrass Maintenance, Photosynthetic Pathways Page 11, Dr. Nick Christians