Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Storing Winter Bulbs--It's Time!!

Hello again,

It is nearly time to store our summer flowering bulbs such as tuberous begonias, dahlias and gladiolas for the winter. Unfortunately these lovely bulbs cannot survive our winters outdoors in the garden.

After a truly hard frost has knocked the life out of the foliage of these bulbs, I dig them carefully out of the ground. You will be amazed at the growth your bulbs have put on over the summer! Cut the foliage away from the bulbs (such foliage makes great compost!) and knock as much soil as possible off the bulbs. Let them sit for a couple of days on your porch or deck until all the soil can be easily rubbed off.

                                                   (Glad corm picture from Plants Unlimited)
Dahlias and glads in particular will have added to the parent bulbs over the summer. By that I mean that the dahlia tubers will have added new tubers and the gladiola corms will have added new corms to the parent corm. Feel free to break off these new additions; they will mean more plants next year! Tuberous begonias will have almost doubled in size. There is really nothing to divide but in a situation where you may have had 4 or 5 begonia tubers in one container for 2010 this means for 2011 in the same container you can probably have 3 begonia tubers and still have the same showy look. This means more containers of beautiful tuberous begonias next year.

Winter storage of these bulbs should have 3 goals:

(1) Treat the bulbs for any mildew or little bugs they might have now. Bulbs are living creatures; mildew can reside on them or tiny bugs called thrips can also call your bulbs home. We recommend a product such as Garden Dust by Bonide. I put some  dust in a plastic bag and place some bulbs in that bag. Close the bag and shake it well; this dust will cover the bulbs and help get rid of mildew and pesky little bugs such as thrips.

(2) Prevent the bulbs from freezing. The bulbs should be stored in a situation where the winter temperatures are cool—between 40 and 50 degrees. I have an unheated crawl space under my house that works well. Most people have heated basements that may well be too warm. I have heard of people digging a hole about 18” deep outside next to their foundation where the temperature hovers just above the freezing mark.(I have not tried this method myself). Some people have cool basement corners and store their bulbs against the cool basement walls.

(3) Prevent the bulbs from dehydrating. I store my bulbs nestled in some loose good quality potting soil or peat moss in the same plastic bags that I shook them with the Garden Dust. Once I have the bulbs snuggled in with the soil or peat moss, I tie up the bag and wish them a good winter’s sleep. A "zip loc" baggie works great as well!

                                                             (Awesome tuberous begonias)
In late February, it will be time to wake the tuberous begonias and pot them in fresh soil. They will have to stay indoors near a sunny window until the danger of hard frost is past in the Spring. “Ditto” for the dahlias except I would plan on starting them in early March. The glads can be started indoors in mid April.

One final note about bulbs! We have a great selection of fall bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocus, alliums, fritillaria and more here at Skillin’s! These Spring flowering bulbs are planted in the fall!

Thanks for reading the Skillin's Garden Log and let us know if you have any questions at skillins@maine.rr.com!


Mike Skillin

Beds To Rest!

This post is written by Kathleen Carr Bailey:

The weather is crisp, sun shining, and the air smells of crisp apples, composting leaves and the hint of frost. Still wanting to be outside, yet not up to hiking? What to do? Ah, if only you could still tend to the garden? But you can!

The best preparation for a healthy, colorful & fulfilling Perennial bed for spring and the summer beyond is a good fall cleaning!

Other than divide/transplant or plant bulbs what to do?

Any perennial whose foliage is turning brown can be cut back; some, such as Dianthus, Campanula, (Bell Flowers) and Shasta Daisy, have green foliage at the base of the plant that should be left to overwinter.

Dos and Don’ts of the fall.


œ Allow for perennials and shrubs to go dormant.
œ Cut back withered/dried foliage and stems
œ Remove all debris (fallen leaves, excess mulch)that can harbor disease & pests
œ Add cut back debris to your compost bin
œ Take soil samples for testing (less expensive during winter months)
œ Pull annuals from bed, compost or till in garden
œ Add a germination retardant to ward off annual weeds
œ Add a top layer of Organic Compost
œ Mark place of newly planted bulbs or disappearing Perennials w/golf tee to ovoid misplacing and/or uprooting
œ Construct wind breaks or sun screens around plants predisposed to winter damage
œ Spray Broad leaf evergreens with anti-transpirant such as Wilt Pruf or other moisture retaining product.
œ Apply a light application of fertilizer to shrubs late fall.
œ Thoroughly clean w/light bleach solution containers for next spring readiness*
œ Add bright colored paint or Duct tape to tool handles for ease of recognition and sight.
œ Order seed & Nursery Catalogues.
œ Plan next year’s beds.


œ Dead head or prune shrubs which will encourage new growth
œ Stop Watering during dry periods
œ Pull stems. Cut at the crown instead.
œ Cut back Cone Flowers, Ornamental Grasses or other perennials that add winter interest or appeal to wildlife.
œ Compost foliage that appear to have a fungus/disease or may be invasive
œ Pull tender perennials that may self sow; snap dragons, pansies, dusty miller.
œ Forget to Lift tender bulbs such as dahlias, tuberous begonias, gladioli, and callas
œ Skimp on weeding
œ Fertilize perennials
œ Forget to put undercover or take inside glazed, ceramic or terra cotta containers or garden décor to prevent damaging due to freezing or breakage. Rusting of metals and glass breakage may also occur,
œ Neglect your tools. Clean, sharpen & oil so they may be ready at the first sign of ‘gardening weather’.

œ Forget to pour a cup of hot tea, but your feet up and dream about how ready you will be for next spring

Plants & Shrubs
With Special Needs

Shrubs should be left alone now--prune them in late winter or early spring, or right after bloom, depending on when they bloom. Roses also are pruned in spring, although if a Rose has grown an exceptionally long cane or two, you can remove a couple of feet of growth to avoid damage that might occur should they whip around in the winter winds. Hydrangeas and Clematis each have their own specific instructions

œ Hybrids:
o Prune all dead branches
o After frost hill organic compost & soil up to the graft to protect crown.
œ Shrub:
o Prune for the last time mid-late September with the exception of dead branches which may be removed anytime.
o Protect crown as above up to 6-12 inches.
œ Climbers:
o Secure branches susceptible to wind damage.


œ Mulch with Pine Needles or Oak Leaves to keep soil acidic,
œ Protect w/burlap those with exposure to high winds.
œ Add organic fertilizer, made for acid loving plants such as Holly Tone late fall (Thanksgiving)
œ Spray Broad leaf evergreens with anti-transpirant such as Wilt Pruf or other moisture
retaining product. (late fall)


œ Wrap evergreens (particularly if newly planted) with burlap if exposed to prevailing winter
winds or salt spray.
o Very wet snow may cause some evergreens to split (arborvitae) wrap w/rope or burlap if necessary
œ Water deeply once every seven to 10 days if weather is dry

Kathleen Carr Bailey for
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 25, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Forcing Bulbs for Winter Color

Forcing bulbs: There is no quicker way to bring spring indoors during the winter than with a pot of bulbs. Many different bulbs can be forced, including tulips, hardy narcissus, hyacinths, squill, and crocuses. These are all hardy bulbs that need a 15-week prerooting period before they can be brought into active growth. That period of enforced cold convinces them that winter is at hand; when they’re brought to a warm spot, they assume that spring has arrived and they bloom.

To begin the process usually several bulbs are potted together in a 6-inch bulb pan. Hyacinths, which are large-flowered, look handsome planted as singles in regular 4-inch flowerpots. Add a dusting of a good natural fertilizer like Bulb Tone by Espoma to the soil so the bulbs will have additional nutrients. When they’re planted in the pots, the tips of the bulbs should peek just above the soil line, which should itself be about ½ inch below the rim of the pot. Then moisten the soil and the bulbs are ready for winter.

There are several different ways to store winter bulbs; the purpose is simply to keep the bulbs at 40 degrees or so. Also they can’t be allowed to dry out or freeze. A bulkhead, cool cellar, or refrigerator is fine. Also a cold frame or a bulb trench dug outdoors can be used. After 15 weeks, the first of the bulbs can be brought indoors. Plan on bringing in just a pot or two at a time to give you a sequence of flowering plants through most of the late winter and early spring. Put the pots on a bright but cool windowsill until the shoots are about 4” tall. Then move them into bright sunlight until the flower buds start to show color, at which point move them back into bright indirect light. While bulb plants are growing and in flower, they do best with night temperatures in the low 40s at night and the 60s in the day. Keep the soil moist but don’t feed them. Then enjoy an early taste of spring.

When the bulb plant’s leaves begin to turn yellow, reduce the amount of water and give them only enough to keep the leaves from wilting. By the time the leaves have withered entirely, the soil should be dry. The bulbs can be stored in their pots until the fall, or they can be taken from their pots and stored in a cool dry place. Most bulb plants can’t be forced a second time. But if you have an outdoor garden, you can save the bulbs and plant them outside in the fall. They may not blossom extensively the next spring, but they will regain their strength and eventually produce fine outdoor spring flowers.

One final note about hyacinth: We sell “pre-cooled” hyacinth and that enables you to skip that 15 week cooling process. Put your hyacinth in pots or even easier pick up a few hyacinth vases and just place your hyacinth in water and let nature go!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club (http://www.paulparent.com/) sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM. Paul recently sent this article out called "Galanthus aks Snowdrops" (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"After a long winter, the snowdrops are the first spring flowering bulbs to emerge from your garden, and it's a real treat to watch the flowers develop. Snowdrops appear when the weather is still bleak outside during late winter and into early spring. The grass-like foliage begins to emerge as soon as the snow melts from the cold ground and is quickly followed by beautiful flowers.

The short stem that forms holds a single pendulous, white, mildly-scented six-petal flower that develops in the shape of a lantern or street light. As the temperatures warm up, the flower stem grows taller until it reaches 6 to 8 inches tall--and so does the foliage. The flowers break open, revealing three inner short petals in the center of the flower that are green tipped on the end of each petal. The three outer petals are oval, 3/4 inches long and pure white. The bloom is translucent white and the outer petals resemble the wings of a bumblebee.

From the Greek language, Galanthus means "milk flower," and according to Christian legend, the snowdrop first bloomed to coincide with the Feast of Purification, held on February 2, known as Candlemas Day. To celebrate the arrival of spring, snowdrops must be planted in the fall, and they will do best in full sun or partial shade. The bulb will grow best in a soil that does not dry out during the heat of summer so if your soils are sandy, plant them in partial shade or under tall deciduous trees that have had lower branches removed to allow the sunlight in.

Plant the bulbs in groups of 2 or 3, in a hole 3 to 4 inches deep and wide. If your soil is good, the bulbs will produce seeds that will mature and increase the size of the clump, so add a handful of compost to the hole when you plant. I also add Soil Moist granules to help hold water near the bulb. The bulbs will do great in heavy soil as long as there is no standing water on them and prefer soils that are neutral, so add limestone on the areas you plant for better growth and more flowers.

Snowdrops are small bulbs and inexpensive to purchase when compared to tulips or daffodils. These bulbs are also not eaten by rodents, rabbits or deer and make a great plant to naturalize areas on your property where wildflowers grow. Once established, the area will thicken with flowers quickly. As long as you do not mow the foliage down before it has turned yellow, the plant will spread quickly.

The foliage needs time to ripen and uses the sun's energy to make food for the bulb for next year. If you plant in a grassy area, do not use a broadleaf weed killer or the bulbs will also die off. Plant bulbs in groundcover beds such as English ivy, pachysandra or vinca for wonderful early spring color before these plants make the new foliage in the spring. If you plant on the side of a hill, set them up on the top of the hill and watch the plants spread down the hill each year as the plant produces seed--almost like a stream of water running down the hill.

Fertilize in the spring when the flowers fade and again in the fall with Bulb-Tone by Espoma and never use bone meal as a fertilizer or it will encourage animals to dig in your planting beds. The bulbs are hardy from Maine to Northern Florida, as long as there is a cold spell during the winter season.

You will like these bulbs better than crocus, because of the time of the year they flower, the hardiness of the bulb, and the fact that the bulbs are not eaten by animals; plus they are inexpensive, so you can purchase more bulbs for your money and get more flowers. Plant some snowdrops this fall and in the spring you will know why I love this bulb so much. Enjoy!"

Monday, October 18, 2010

Keeping Carved Pumpkins Perky

From the folks at Botanical Interest Seeds:

Carved pumpkins look the best one to two days after carving and rarely look good after seven days. So, if you want your carved pumpkins to stay fresh until Halloween night, don't carve them until at least October 22nd.

Before carving, wash your hands well with warm soap and water or a disinfecting hand sanitizer, and make sure your carving tools are clean to avoid transferring bacteria to the pumpkin. You may also want to wipe the outside of the pumpkin down with bleach before making the first cut.

Once carved, you can keep your pumpkin perky for up to a week by wiping the inside and cut areas with bleach, spraying with a household cleaning spray that includes bleach, or spraying with one of the pumpkin sprays available in craft or party stores. Then, give those areas a thin coating of petroleum jelly like Vaseline. (Some people use vegetable oil, but it's more flammable---a consideration when using candles.)

Carved pumpkins rot the fastest in warm weather. Keep them out of direct sunlight and move them into a garage, cool basement, or a refrigerator when temperatures exceed 70 degrees. If your climate is humid or it is rainy, you should dry off and refrigerate your carved pumpkins at night. Freezing temperatures also speed decay, so move them to a protected location when temperatures outside are below freezing.

If a pumpkin starts to shrivel or gets a little mold prematurely, you can soak it for a couple of hours in a bucket of water to revive it. (Add 2 teaspoons of bleach for every gallon of water for disinfecting.)

If you are lighting up a pumpkin for more than one night, use a battery-operated candle or small flashlight inside instead of a candle (always safer anyway!). This will prevent soot and heat damage that could shorten the pumpkin's lifespan.

Check out a great variety of vegetable and flower seeds by Botanical Interests--many of them organic--here at Skillin's!

October Garden Talks 2010

The purpose of this post is to relay a few "quick hit" garden tips to you through the month of October. Some of these tips will be garden tasks I am doing myself, some of these tips will be quick pieces of advice we are giving to customers, some will be quick links to good gardening advice we encounter on the internet.

                                                     (photo found at http://www.dannylipford.com/)

Check back to this post often as we will update it often as we roll through October 2010!

Here are our September Garden Talks 2010 .

October 18--Sorry folks meant to do some posting over the last couple of days but work duties have kept me from the keyboard! Let's review--Skillin's Country received about 3.5" of rain on Friday. Hopefully not too many lost power. This rain has really soaked our gardens and lawn areas and that is a good thing!

It will be VERY COLD tonight in all parts of Skillin's Country. I still have some container plantings I want to keep going so I am going to haul the frost blanket out. I will also spray some plants later tonight with water and then again early tomorrow AM. This may hold off (or in the case of the morning showering blow off) those nasty frost particles!

I talked with many customers yesterday about planting bulbs. We still have a great selection of bulbs here. One KEY is to plant those bulbs DEEP--usually 2 or 3 inches deeper than normal directions. Try going about 4 times as deep as the bulb is wide.

Deeper planting of bulbs is better for several reasons: 1) to better insulate bulbs from roller coaster soil temps. The deeper the bulb the more even the temperatures are.  Bulbs like it cool. 2) A deeper depth makes it more difficult for above ground rodents to tamper with the bulbs 3) A good depth also makes it easier to plant annual plantings "on top" of the bulbs in the Spring.

October 14--Here is a recent email question we received from customer Donna:

From customer Donna: Is fall the best time to prune lilacs? My bush isn't producing very well.

Answer: Lilacs can be pruned in the fall but it is not the best time to prune them. By now the lilacs have set much of the growth that will produce flowers for next year. SO, by pruning now you would probably not have any flowering this coming Spring.

The BEST time to prune lilacs is in early to mid June right after their normal flowering time of late May.

One suggestion would be to give your lilacs a good feeding of Plant Tone by Espoma right now and some handfuls of a good calcium based lime like Mira Cal by Jonathan Green. Both products will work slowly to improve the soil around the lilacs and this should help the lilacs produce better. I usually recommend two feedings of Plant Tone and one of Mira Cal yearly.

Also, we had a very dry summer—we have had some good rains lately but make sure your lilacs get a good deep watering weekly between now and when the ground freezes.

Finally, lilacs thrive in the sun. Are they in an area where it is shady? Perhaps that is the issue as well.

October 13--Gardening friend Margaret from http://www.awaytogarden.com/ checks in with some great garden tips quite often. Her web site is worth a visit. This garden tip from her "October Chores" caught my eye: "AS VEGETABLE PLANTS (and annual flowers) fade, pull them to get a start on garden cleanup. Before composting the remains, cut them up a bit with a pruning shears or shred, to speed decomposition. I sometimes just run piles of dry things over with the mower (nothing too woody or you’ll wreck your blade, of course)."

October 13--Here is a recent email question we received from customer Nancy. I thought I would pass the discussion along:

From customer Nancy: I have a question about soil. I have gardened for years and have always had great luck with vegetables. This summer, for some reason, I used Miracle Gro organic potting soil for tomatoes on my deck and Miracle Gro garden soil mixed with the soil in my garden for vegetables in the yard. Now, this was great for my flowers - I have never had so many healthy blossoms - but the plants didn't set much fruit at all. The only thing that grew well was beans. Was I missing some key element for the plants to set fruit?

Answer: For container plantings we recommend the all organic Bar Harbor Blend potting soil by Coast of Maine Organics (we sell this Maine based product right here at Skillin’s—good pricing!). This is a very well composted soil. We then recommend weekly or every other weekly liquid feedings with all natural Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer by Neptune’s Harvest. Yum Yum! This gives your veggie plants a good balance of nutrients with a great shot of calcium that is great for vegetable fruit.

October 12--Gardening friend Margaret from http://www.awaytogarden.com/ checks in with some great garden tips quite often. Her web site is worth a visit. This garden tip from her "October Chores" caught my eye: BE EXTRA-VIGILANT cleaning up under fruit trees, as fallen fruit and foliage allowed to overwinter invites added troubles next season. So will mummies (shriveled fruit hanging on the trees). Best to pick and remove (though I confess to leaving mine hanging for the birds, who adore it).

October 10--We survived the frost of last night pretty well along the coast but I have an idea deeper in Skillin's Country the cold was very likely more severe.

We received a couple of email gardening questions at skillins@maine.rr.com and I thought I would pass the discussion along. Feel free to email us your gardening questions!

From customer Marty: "You recommended composting perennial beds this fall. Have lots of daffodil bulbs in them. Do I need to put on bulb fertilizer too or will the compost do for all especially when the bulbs are mixed in so much with the later plantings?"

Answer: I would put some scatter some Bulb Tone by Espoma all natural fertilizer (or its cousin Plant Tone) on top of the soil before I laid down the compost.

This fertilizer will be available in the Spring to help give those daffs a nice PUSH in the Spring.

From customer Lori: "I bought a passionflower vine this summer, and I'm wondering if it will winter over okay, or if I should try to bring it in? If I can leave it outside, is there anything I can do to protect it?"

Answer: I would definitely bring the plant indoors this winter. It will not overwinter out of doors.

When you bring it in, give it as much light as possible. It may well need a good haircut sometime over the winter to set it up for as nice shape as possible this coming Spring.

October 7--Well that rain we received overnight was great. About 1.5" of rain fell in Skillin's Country and our plants will use it well!

October 6--As the weather turns cooler and cooler in Skillin's Country we are at a point where it is good to cut back almost to the ground any perennials whose foliage has become unsightly. The seedheads and dried foliage of some perennials add interest during the winter months, while others just look messy. As the weather continues to cool more and more perennial foliage will turn less and less attractive so keep those pruners sharp and ready! This weekend looks to be a good time to get out in the garden for tasks like this. The eminent garden writer KCB posted a terrific article on putting garden Beds to Rest. Check it out!

October 1--Good gardening friend Hammon Buck of Plants Unlimited in Rockport ME recently sent out a great gardening email. One piece of advice focused on using Winter Rye as a cover crop and I liked what Hammon wrote. If you do rototill your garden in the Spring, we recommend winter rye as a winter cover crop or what the "old timers" like me call "green manure". Here is what Hammon wrote:

"Cover crops are grown to protect and/or enrich the soil rather than for short term economic gain. When turned into the soil, a cover crop is called a green manure, so the terms are reasonably interchangeable. Cover crops are an important part of a crop rotation plan to maintain soil health and reduce insect, weed, and disease pressure.

Cover crops protect the soil from wind and water erosion, and they can help alleviate compaction. With the exception of legumes, which fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, cover crops don’t actually create nutrients, but they can conserve nutrients which may otherwise be lost through leaching. Some deep rooted crops can obtain nutrients from below the root zone of most vegetables. When these cover crops are turned under, the nutrients will be released to the upper zone of soil. Fast-growing cover crops are well-suited to suppressing weeds, by “smothering” them and starving them for light. Use high seeding rates if cover crops are grown for weed suppression.

Winter Rye is a common winter cover crop, sown after cash crops are harvested in the fall. It is very hardy, adapted to a wide range of conditions, and seed is inexpensive. The latest-sown cover crop, it produces a lot of biomass in the spring. This adds organic matter to the soil but may be difficult to incorporate prior to crop planting. Sow 60-120 lb/acre if drilled, 90-160 lb/acre if broadcast, from late summer to mid-October in most areas. Incorporate rye in early spring before it gets too rank for your equipment to handle."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Storing Vegetables and How to Use a Root Cellar

Denise at http://www.gardenrake.com/ recently posted a quick and easy to read post about "How to Use a Root Cellar".

She writes about what conditions a root cellar brings and gives some good general advice about storing vegetables.

Some key points:

"Remember that the driest, warmest air is near the ceiling; more-humid air is lower as well as farthest from the door. So crops that need a dry environment will do better up higher and crops that do well in a more humid air will do better near the floor."

"Vegetables piled together generate heat, which can lead to spoilage. Put on shelves close to the floor and rotate."

Denise includes many more tips and she is a good clear writer. For anyone storing vegetables this is a good quick read. Click HERE for the entire post!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 11. 2010

Harvesting and Storing Pumpkins

From the folks at Botanical Interest Seeds:

Checking for Ripeness

How do you know if your pumpkins are ripe and ready to pick? Mature pumpkins will be fully colored. Thump them to see if they have a hollow sound inside. Try denting the rind with a fingernail – a mature pumpkin may dent, but it won't puncture easily. The foliage is starting to turn yellow and decline. The stems are hard or starting to crack or turn brown.

Immature Pumpkins

It's best to leave pumpkins on the vine as long as possible to ensure that they are fully mature. (If frost threatens, go ahead and pick any green ones (leaving a 4" stem) and bring them to a protected location. If they are far enough along, you may still be able to ripen them enough for carving. Follow disinfecting and curing instructions below, and expose green areas to sunlight.)

Beware of Frost

Many pumpkin farmers leave their pumpkins in the field to let them cure naturally and to open their fields for "you pick" pumpkin patch sales. Mature pumpkins can withstand a light frost that kills the foliage and leaves the fruit intact. However, extended exposure to frost or hard frost can damage the pumpkins, leaving them vulnerable to fungal or bacterial problems that can result in rapid decomposition. Ideally, pumpkins should be harvested when the foliage has begun to turn yellow and dry out and before the first light frost (28-33 degrees).


To harvest, cut pumpkins from the vine with a knife, leaving a stem that is at least 2" long. (Shorter stems offer a route for air and pathogens to get inside and promote decay.) Handle your pumpkins carefully to avoid bruising or scratching it, and do not carry them by the stem.


Pumpkins will last longer when sprayed or dipped in 1 part bleach to 10 parts water to disinfect them. Cure them on a sunny windowsill or on a porch at 75-80 degrees for 1-2 weeks before eating, carving, or storing. The curing period helps to harden the rind and fully ripen them. Bring them in at night if frost threatens.


If you have extra pumpkins that you will not be carving or cooking within a few weeks, you can store them for later use. Mature pumpkins will store for 2-3 months if kept in a cool (ideally 50-60 degrees), dry location with good ventilation that is not in direct sunlight.

Check out a great variety of vegetable and flower seeds by Botanical Interests--many of them organic--here at Skillin's!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

From the folks at Botanical Interest Seeds:

Whether you carve your pumpkin for a Halloween Jack O'Lantern or plan to us it for baking, be sure to save the seeds for roasting. Pumpkin seeds are rich in Vitamins B, E, and fiber. Homemade baked pumpkin seeds taste better and are healthier for you than the ones you buy in the store, because they are fresher and have less salt.

As you scoop out the flesh from your pumpkin, remove as much pulp as you can from the seeds. Rinse the seeds and spread out to dry on a clean dish towel. Spread seeds out evenly on a cookie sheet. Spritz them with a little olive oil and give them just a sprinkle of salt. (Additional seasonings can be added like garlic powder, chili powder, seasoned salt, or Parmesan cheese.) Bake at 350 degrees in the oven for 10-20 minutes, or until they just start to turn light brown. Remove and cool. Store in an airtight container.

(P.S. --- All winter squash seeds can also be roasted in this manner.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Frost Tolerance of Vegetables

From the folks at Botanical Interests:

In early fall, it pays to keep an eye on nighttime temperatures, so you aren't caught off guard and can get the last of your crops harvested in time. Here's a simple list of common vegetables and their frost tolerance.

Light Frost – Temperatures 28-33 degrees F.

Hard Frost - Temperatures below 28 degrees F.

May be damaged by light frost: Beans, Cucumbers, Eggplants, Muskmelon, New Zealand Spinach, Okra, Peppers, Pumpkins, Summer Squash, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, Watermelon

Can withstand light frost: Artichokes, Beets, Calendula, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chinese Cabbage, Endive, Lettuce, Pansies, Parsnips, Peas, Snapdragons, Sweet Peas, Sweet Alyssum, Swiss Chard

Can withstand hard frost: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Onions, Parsley, Peas, Radishes, Spinach, Turnips

Plants can be protected from a few light frosts with row covers or blankets.

Mulched beets, carrots, leeks, radishes, and parsnips can be harvested later in fall before the ground freezes. Frost makes leafy greens and root vegetables sweeter, so it's worth leaving some of your kale and carrots in the ground until your ready to use them.

Early fall is a great time to sow salad crops in a cold frame for harvest in late fall and early winter. Bok choy, lettuce, mesclun, kale, mustard, and spinach are a few good varieties to try.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tomato Harvest & Preservation Tips

Hello again,

Frost is fast coming to Skillin's Country but I thought we would still post these Tomato Harvest & Preservation Tips by our friends at Botanical Interests. We sell Botanical seeds here at Skillin's and we highly recommend you check out their seed racks at Skillin's as well as their website, http://www.botanicalinterests.com/.

Here is their article:

Tomato Harvest & Preservation Tips

"By September, you've been enjoying luscious homegrown tomatoes for weeks, but tomato season is winding down. If you haven't already had frost in you're area, it may be coming soon. So, it's time to start thinking about how you will harvest and store the last of your crop. (If you live in a mild southern or coastal climate and are planting tomatoes in fall for a winter harvest, save these tips for harvest time in winter.)

Conserve Plant Energy

If you are within a few weeks of the first frost, clip off all remaining blossoms. (Blossoms can abort naturally when temperatures are below 55 degrees.) You can also cut the roots on two sides of the plant with a shovel. This will force the plants to channel all energy into ripening the existing fruits.

Frost Protection

To protect your tomato plants through the first few light frosts (temperatures 28-33 degrees F), you can cover them at night with a blanket or piece of thick plastic that drapes all the way to the ground. It's worth the effort if you have a lot of fruit that is already turning color that you want to be fully vine-ripened, and you know that you still have some warm weather ahead. However, if your weather stays cool from this point on, tomatoes that are too immature may not ripen. If hard frost (below 28 degrees) is predicted, fruit must be brought indoors or it will be damaged.

Short-term Storage

If frost is imminent, the easiest way to quickly save your tomatoes is to pull up the entire plants and hang them upside down in a cool, well-ventilated area like a garage or basement. The fruits will continue to ripen over the next few weeks. (Check the plants daily for ripe fruit. Overripe fruit may fall on the floor.)You can also pick individual full-sized green fruits and store them wrapped in newspaper or in paper bags in a cool, dry area, stacked no more than two deep. (55 to 68 degrees is ideal for storage.) Contrary to popular lore, tomatoes do not ripen faster on a windowsill. They'll ripen the fastest in a warm, dark area. Avoid storing tomatoes in the refrigerator. It's too cold and will adversely affect the flavor.


Whole cherry tomatoes or slices of large tomatoes can be dried down in six to eight hours in a dehydrator machine or the oven at 150 degrees. In Italy, sun-dried tomatoes are made by hanging plants outside to dry in the sun on hot tile roofs. You can try drying outdoors too if your outdoor temperatures are at least 85 degrees F. Lay a single layer on a cookie sheet, and protect them from bugs with a layer of cheesecloth. It will take two or three days to dry slices down (longer for whole cherry tomatoes), and they should be brought in during the night. Fully dried tomatoes will be dry, but pliable. Store in airtight jars.


Dip whole tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain, let them cool in a bowl of ice water, then slip skins off. Freeze (whole or chopped) in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to one year.


Tomatoes are typically canned with the water bath method, using sterilized Mason jars. For safety, follow directions that came with your canning equipment. Choose 'paste tomatoes' for canning, because they are meatier and make the best sauce. They include San Marzano, Speckled Roman, and Ace.


During the last weeks of tomato harvest, consider sharing your excess harvest with friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Unlike the notorious giant zucchini, fresh tomatoes make wonderful gifts, especially when delivered in attractive fall baskets! They'll be so impressed with the flavor of your homegrown tomatoes, they might even be inspired to plant a few themselves next season."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Growing Herbs in Containers

Cathy Brewer is an experienced gardener who just loves herbs ( and in fact, all types of gardening). She recently wrote the following article about Growing Herbs in Containers. This article and more herb gardening information can be found right HERE at http://www.ezinearticles.com/. I have made some comments in italics.

"Even the beginner gardener can grow a few herbs in containers. It's a very cost effective way to start your own Home Herb Garden. It is also very rewarding to see and use your own home-grown produce knowing that it is healthy and free from pesticides.

Growing your herbs in containers not only looks great but is very practical, as your herbs will be handy for you to use but also will create an interesting display in your courtyard or patio area. (One interest I had in posting this article is that herbs can also be grown very well in containers indoors in Skillin's Country in the winter time. Lots of sunlight needed!)

Where space is at a premium in cities there is usually no more than a terrace, balcony or a small yard, so container gardening is ideal as it is the only way to grow a few fresh herbs and other plants. Growing Herbs in Pots provides a way of softening the landscape and bringing the garden to your door, capturing the richness of the passing seasons.

The type of container you use will vary with different materials, shapes and textures, from plastic pots and terracotta to any container you have. All that your container requires is drainage holes and a good soil blend. (We recommend using all natural Bar Harbor Blend potting mix by Coast of Maine--it is terrific!) Half barrels are a good size to group a variety of herbs. Ugly containers can be hidden amongst foliage or tucked behind more glamorous pots. Using containers of the same color and style can look effective with different herbs planted in each.

Container size is important as they must be big enough to hold enough potting mix for the plants to root securely and to supply enough moisture and nutrients to maintain growth, with holes for drainage. It is no use planting a bay tree in a 6 inch pot as it needs more soil to grow well as it will grow into a big tree.

(Want to learn more about Growing Herbs in Containers? Click HERE for the entire article at http://www.ezinearticles.com/). Also check out

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Trees Painted Up for Fall!

Terry Skillin stops by the Skillin's Garden Log with a colorful post about such a colorful time of year. Terry explains why we see the colors in the trees!

It seems that I have just planted my spring crop of peas and now its fall? I remember old men telling me how fast time goes by. Of course I was in my late teens and early twenties; I knew it all and that was how old men talked. Well I now know precious little and the people I thought were old men were younger then than I am now. I am not really sure what has been happened to me but I do have a handle on the color of the trees.

During the growing season most leaves are made green by a chemical called chlorophyll. Plants use this chlorophyll in photosynthesis which leads to the production of glucose then they use the glucose for energy. Of course it is not quite that simple (a lot more goes on). Plants produce oxygen, they filter out toxic material in the air and it all works well until the season changes. Chlorophyll is produced with the help of the sun and warmer temperatures and as the days become shorter and the temperature --especially night temperature-- begins to drop, the production of chlorophyll slows down.

So where are the tree’s new colors coming from? I used to tell my brother that small woodland critters did it and they were going to get to him too. I always wanted to “put the water colors to him” while he slept, but figured the only thing that would remain red was my backside when Dad got home. Somehow Mom always forgot to tell him any of my misadventures when he got home but I knew the threat was real. So, anyway, the yellow and oranges are there in the leaves all season long but they remain covered up until the green chlorophyll starts to break down. Probably our favorite yellow oranges are from the Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum that change yellows to burnt oranges with some red. Yellow and oranges are also found in several ashes Fraxinus americana and pennsylvamica that are found from Nova Scotia to Texas, Paper Birch Betula papyrifera found although North America.

                                                                       (Sugar Maple!)
The red leaves, well they take a little more chemistry for their big show. Remember when I said that chlorophyll help to produce glucose; well it’s that leftover glucose that turns red in the leaves at the end of the growing season. When we are seeing reds we are seeing plants like Red Maple Acer rubrum. Red maples have many cultivars that have very strong red fall color like Red Sunset and Autumn Blaze. American Hornbeam Carpinus caroliniana will show off several colors yellow, orange, red and reddish purple according to Dr. Michael Dirr. Pin Oak Quercus palustris is maybe the best oak for fall color as it turns bronze to red.

There are hundreds even thousands of other shrubs and trees that grace our colorful fall landscape with these colors and with many variations. I think it’s this color, the fresh air and fall smells that makes fall my favorite time of year. Now if I hurry I’ll get my peas in by April 15th!

Terry Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
October 3, 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Gardening Tips for October

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club (http://www.paulparent.com/) sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM. Paul recently sent this article out called "Gardening Tips for October"  (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"It is time to put on your favorite gardening blue jeans, work shirt and head back out to the garden after the long hot summer. Fall gardening is more relaxing than springtime in your garden, because you are not in a rush to get everything done for a deadline. After all, if the work is not all done you can do it in the spring of next year, so let us get going.

Grab your wheelbarrow and fill it with pruners, loppers, a shovel, a rake, a cup of coffee, your portable radio and then you're ready to clean the garden and put it to bed for the season. Fall is the best time to start a compost pile because of all the garden waste you acquired during the growing season. All the fertilizer and animal manure you applied to the garden this year has made wonderful plant material to be composted. Apply to the garden in the spring as rich compost to help those new plants grow better. It is now time for fall garden cleaning and winter preparation.

Start in the perennial garden, cut back most all of your perennial flowers to the ground and rake the garden clean. Cleaning the garden now removes any diseased foliage that will contain spores to cause disease problem again next spring or foliage damaged by insects, as it may also contain insect eggs for next year. This cleaning helps to eliminate potential problems for next year before they get a chance to start. Your garden will be clean so you can get started sooner.

When cleaning, if you come across any weeds that have many seeds on them toss them out with the trash, do not put them in the compost pile. A good example is crabgrass, as each plant can contain up to 500 seeds that most compost piles do not kill and those seeds will germinate in your garden next year in the new compost you made. This sorting of plants will help you weed less next spring and summer. (any technique that reduces weeding later is a great idea!)

As soon as the annual flowers die back, remove them also and clean the garden of all plant material. This is a great time to add compost, animal manure, limestone, and garden gypsum. If you live near the seashore, collect fresh seaweed and blend it into the soil to help condition the soil for next year. If you have the time, edge the flowerbed now and it will be one less job to do next spring.

Plant some early spring-flowering bulbs when the flowerbeds are cleaned in the fall, as these will help to motivate you to get back in the garden next year when those spring flowers arrive. Always plant flower bulbs in groups, so you can plant your annuals on time in the spring by planting around them. Never plant bulbs in rows or the wind will knock them over like dominoes and it will be difficult to plant around them.

If you have blue hydrangeas or a rose garden in your yard, remove all the faded flowers from the plant to prevent heavy wet snow from collecting on them and breaking branches. Clean around the plant all faded foliage and tie up branches to resemble a "Hershey's Kiss."

When the ground freezes, build a mound 12 inches high and 12 inches wide around the base of the plant with soil or bark mulch, as this will help protect the plant during the winter cold. Pine needles, straw or salt marsh hay can also be used for winter protection of the plant, but you must wait until the ground freezes or mice will build a home in this soft material and eat the bark from the stems of the plant, killing it. If you live north and west of Cape Cod use Wilt -Pruf or Wilt Stop on the branches to prevent winter wind damage. Always remember: "NEVER" prune these plants in the fall, only in the spring as the new growth begins.

Label all non-hardy bulbs now, before the frost arrives, with a string tag that will identify them for later. You want plant name, color and height that the plant grew to, so you can store them with identification on them for next year. Always use a permanent marker or pencil but never ink--it will fade. I always store such bulbs as dahlias, begonias, cannas, callas and caladium in banana boxes from the produce department at the local supermarket. Ask them to save them for you, as they are thick and strong.

Store the bulbs in your basement on the floor where they will not freeze--never in an unheated garage or tool shed or they will freeze and die. I always shake a bit of rose and flower garden dust on them to help keep possible insect or disease off them during the winter and cover the boxes with a couple sheets of newspaper, never plastic, to keep moisture in the bulbs. Glads can be stored in a old pair of nylons in the legs and hung from the rafters in the basement; also use garden dust on these to prevent possible insect damage.

You may want to wash birdbaths or fountains and put them away for the winter, as they will fill with water, freeze and break. Clay or ceramic planters should also be cleaned of dead plants at this time and moved inside for winter protection. Soil does not have to be removed from containers as this soil can be used again next spring if conditioned with compost or animal manure.

I always bring in garden statuary, garden signs, and patio decorations to keep them safe from ice and snow. If you are not going to use your sprinkler or garden hose, it is time to drain them of water, coil them up and tie them together so if you want to wash the car during the winter, the hose will not be frozen and filled with ice.

When the vegetable garden is cleaned this fall, it is a great idea to plant winter rye in it. Winter rye will grow until the ground freezes and again during the early spring when the frost comes out of the ground. The roots can grow one mile long on each plant during this time and when the garden is tilled in the spring, these roots become a great source of organic matter. Growing this winter grass is like growing your own peat moss to help condition the soil in your garden. In April, cut the grass down first and then till the grass and roots into the soil. Winter rye seed is available at your local garden center or nursery; five pounds will cover about 200 to 300 square feet of garden. (We sell winter rye right here at Skillin's!)

If you are going to decorate your house with pumpkins this fall, be sure to rub a bit of Vicks on them to keep the chipmunks and squirrels from eating them. Indian corn is loved by blue jays and they will clean the colorful kernels of corn of the cob quickly if you do not spray them with shellac or hair spray to help make the kernels stick together.

If you're decorating with bales of hay, be sure not to use it as a mulch on your gardens as hay is native grasses and weeds cut from the farmers field--and those weed seeds will quickly cover your garden. Use old hay to prevent erosion on slopes, or spread it where nothing has ever grown before and watch the weeds fill in those impossible areas. If you are decorating with bittersweet, be sure to toss the decoration in the trash when finished or the seeds will germinate where you dispose of them and become a major weed problem for you. When you decorate with corn stalks, save them and cut them up to use to protect your roses in the shape of a teepee around the plants or chop them smaller and toss them into the compost pile.

Fall is a great gardening season ,so take advantage of the cool temperatures and clean your gardens, fertilize the lawn to help make it strong for the arrival of winter, put the patio furniture away and start the snow blower-- you may need it sooner than you think. Be prepared this year.

One last thing...rake a big pile of leaves for the kids to play in just like your dad did for you. This year jump in it with the kids or by yourself, look at the sky and smell the fragrance of fall and your dad will be right there with you in the pile of leaves again. Enjoy!"

Paul Parent can be found at the Paul Parent Garden Club!