Best Workshop Yet

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Good morning fellow visitors!

I’m feeling cheerful this morning because the sun has risen and it will be a sunny day – all day today – which I absolutely love because I have seedlings started in my greenhouse and they will burst out with happy growth from the warming of the sun today.

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I have to say, my Seed Starting sessions, which are a new offering this year, have been one of my best workshops yet.

I held a few small group sessions on seed starting where we went over all you need to know to get started on sowing seeds of your tomatoes and pepper plants, and a few other types of plants. And everyone sowed their own trays.

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It was a great session for beginners or those who have attempted sowing seeds, but had some failures and wanted to learn why, etc. Or those who wanted to just enjoy the process of sowing and growing their own vegetable plants.

We gathered in my greenhouse and went over many aspects of starting seeds. And then we got our hands dirty!

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The best part, I think for the attendees, is I offered to oversee their 32 cell seedling trays from germination to now, and for a few more weeks. This really excited the newbies. And, to be honest, I think excited me more.

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I’ve been having so much fun inspecting their seedling trays, watching the germination process, watering them, moving them to brighter sun from heat mats, and handling all aspects of plant growth during these initial (and crucial) stages of seed starting.

The germination process is exciting to anyone, if you love plants, gardening, or botany. I don’t care if you are 5 years old or 50, the moment you see that little green bit expanding from the top of the soil of a seed germinating is inspiring (and sometimes surprising, especially when they germinate quickly).

The soil will sometimes will be pushed up by the shoot’s upward growth, and it is amazing to think that an itty-bitty seed could be so powerful. I should look up what kind of power that takes for a seed to crack open, push down it roots and up its shoots to emerge from the soil – Is it similar to the strength of ants? One has to wonder.

This weekend, I am holding part two of this workshop – a “Monitoring Session” where I will go over many aspects of seedling growth, next steps, and finally the process of moving your starter plants into gardens or container gardens at the right time.

But there is still time to sow more seeds. In fact, now is a good time to consider starting basil and cucumber seeds. Who doesn’t love both? So, if you are interested in scheduling a private seed starting session, feel free to ask me.

Looking forward to seeing my groups on Saturday…

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
Broad Brook, CT

Upcoming and Current Activities at Cathy T’s:

May’s Succulent Hanging Basket Workshops
Private Terrariums Sessions at People’s Homes
Custom Made Easter Hostess Gifts
Succulents in Stock for Sale
Bert’s Birdhouse with Reclaimed Wood
Private Seed Starting Sessions

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And the Sowing Begins…

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Good Friday Morning Everyone,

I’ve been a busy beaver in the greenhouse lately. I’ve potted up some of my Canna Lily rhizomes (about 30 to be exact) and Elephant Ear corms (bulb-like structures) in starter pots and have sown some seeds to get growing. Some started germinating this week.

And another activity has been cleaning and rearranging the growing spaces in my greenhouse so I can fit the planned attendees for my upcoming Seed Starting Sessions in two weeks.

I decided to add a new date – a weeknight at 3 pm on Tuesday, March 26th, for those who can’t make Saturday’s session. All the details are on WorkshopsCT.com.

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These seed starting sessions are small groups and it is the first year I’m offering this as a hands-on learning workshop. Each attendee will learn everything I know to date about growing from seeds. There are so many little things to be aware of. You would think it is just as easy as plopping a seed into soil but there are at least 5 important things you need to know to succeed. We will go over these at the workshops and you will plant your own tray of 32 seeds!

I also enjoy very much picking out unique varieties to grow. There is something amazing about the odd shape of an heirloom tomato and the interesting shapes of crinkly hot peppers, in addition to the plethora of amazing flavors of both.  These are the goals of the types of plants we will sow at my seed starting sessions. The focus being on warm season vegetable, specifically tomato and pepper plants.

It is important, if you are new to sowing seeds on your own, to start with a limited palate of choices – narrow down your plant types and practice growing them. It is very easy to get carried away and next thing you know, you have more starter plants than you know what to do with! Although giving some away to family and friends is truly rewarding.

In my seed starting sessions, I plan to go over how to plan your sowing dates on the calendar and why it is important, to review why I select the types of seeds I do – and how you should go about selecting your own seeds. We will discuss what the various terms mean and why they are important (e.g., open pollinated, hybrids, and heirlooms ). And of course, we will go over soil types, how to water, and potential mistakes people make when sowing seeds. Then the best part is they will germinate in my greenhouse or you may take your tray home to oversee. When ready to be planted outdoors, you will be ready with a nice variety of plants you grew yourself.

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In addition, we will go over how to store seed and what mixes to use and why. And then of course, review what causes things to fail. If you have tried to grow seeds and had issues, this is a place to learn more, and these sessions are for beginners. Practice makes perfect in the seed sowing world. It is not always full proof but know what and how to sow really increases your chances of success.

Dates of the Sessions

The dates are March 23rd, Saturday (2 sessions available, 10 am or 1 pm) and March 26th, Tuesday (1 session available at 3 pm). In April, we have a monitoring session and you will be required to pick up your trays in late April or sooner if you wish. Registration and payment required in advance. See WorkshopsCT.com for details and links.

What interests you in growing your
own plants from seed?

  • I want a variety (more choices) and know that buying transplants won’t offer special unique types of plants available by seed sources.
  • I want to feel reassured it is grown organically and is free of GMO issues.
  • I want to save some money (buying transplants is more expensive and I can get many plants from seed sowing instead).
  • Because I know the seedling will be monitored in the greenhouse and I don’t have the space at home.
  • I have a hobby greenhouse or wish to get one, and want to learn what may be needed.
  • Because I attempted growing them before and failed, and I’m not sure why.
  • Because growing from seeds is satisfying and the rewards of fresh food are great.
  • Other:

Maybe you want to grow plants from seeds because you want to teach the value of fresh food to your children or future generations. Perhaps you are a new homeowner and want to start a small garden. There are countless reasons why.

Or perhaps you are a plant addict like me, and you just can’t stop yourself from having more plants in your surroundings. Just the act of sowing seeds is therapeutic and takes you away from the technology induced anxiety of social media.

Whatever the reason, I hope you sign up soon.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.om
Location is Broad Brook (East Windsor), Connecticut
Planting Zone: 6a

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What are Container Gardens?

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Container gardening is the art of growing plants in pots. When you search the word container gardens or container gardening on the web, you may notice some people define it as growing vegetables in pots, but container gardening is not limited to just vegetables. That is for sure. You may use container gardening for so many situations and types of plants. The options are endless and with the right combination, stunning.

With the appropriate potting soil media, feeding and plant care, container gardens provide instant gratification and focal points. They operate like “functional art” in the right scenarios, bring life and amazing colors to an area, and add movement. For businesses, they are useful as well as welcoming. For homeowners, they create an oasis in your outdoor and indoor surroundings.

I have always preferred growing plants in containers designed to be focal points instead of gardening in the ground. For years, I’ve recommended installing big pots for when you want a big statement. Big pots capture your attention, create a focal point worth noticing, elevate the arrangement of your showy healthy plants, and ultimately reduce the compaction problems of small pots – so movement of water in the soil is enhanced.

However, in today’s world, many people have limited spaces, and small pots or medium sized pots fit the bill. They are easy to care for, add a sense of space and nature to your surroundings, and let’s face it – are fun to assemble in various design formats. From vintage patio pots to hanging baskets, all of these are defined as container gardens in Cathy T’s container gardening world.

Big pots provide good anchorage for your large plants so it won’t topple over in the wind. Also, they hold more inches of water, won’t drain out as fast which helps in reducing watering routines. Big pots helps the plants to grow larger and showier, leading to more bang for the buck. They are great in summer for vegetables like peppers and tomato plants that may grow to 6 feet tall, and big pots are super for large, showy, big leaved tropical plants, such as elephants ears and banana plant. Want to wow your friends and family? A huge pot with showy big plants will stop people in their tracks.

Small pots are wonderful to create a floral like design to enjoy. They are also excellent for displaying a single succulent on your windowsill. Small succulents are great collectibles! Plus they are easy care, drought-tolerant, and resilient. They easily reproduce via cuttings and propagation steps. Let’s face it, smaller pots with adorable plants, such as succulents and cacti, are irresistible.

Sometimes, two or three medium sized pots work well in business or store front scenarios to direct traffic or redirect a walking path. Two large pots gracing a main entrance helps your visitors know where to go if you have two entrances at your business location. Positioned appropriately, containers or pots may assist with parking, blocking sore spots and drawing the eye to key signs. They also say welcome to your customers and visitors – and changed up for the season make your place more alive and in tune with the seasons and holidays.

Homeowners may want to include a big pot in their outdoor setting along with various smaller to medium sized pots, either way, container gardens provide a plethora of design options. Another wonderful benefit of adding container gardens to your home is helping out our pollinators. Bees, birds, and hummingbirds enjoy visiting the plants and it brings life to your world while they visit and bop around your flowers. And small pots on patio tables are rewarding visually. I can not imagine any space outdoors in summer without lots of plants, or a plant or two. Hanging baskets are wonderful as well as they add height and many are adored today with macrame and beads. It is just wonderful!

In the case with homeowners, container gardens serve as your decor, like a pillow or end table would enhance a space indoors. More and more people are expanding their living environment to include outdoor spaces. And even more are creating oasis of plants inside their homes with houseplants to enhance indoor living – especially because so many of us are glued to our iPhones and social media viewing, we need to break away and enjoy a living plant which also helps to clean our air indoors. Plants are living things and if you care for them, they will reward you in so many ways.

Container gardening is also great for those with physical limitations – no bending, weeding, digging. For kitchen container gardening, you have unlimited access to various herbs right from your door step. Incorporating vegetable plants in your home designs not only provides a healthy snack, it adds color and a place for bees, our treasured pollinators, to collect nectar for their survival. Today, we see a lot of desk top herb growing type of container systems, some furnished with lights. The new trends are interesting and just amazing – and useful. More and more people would rather have some plant life in their home and also appreciate nature and want to participate in helping our earth – plants are the key to this. Be a plant care taker, and you are part of the bigger picture – okay, a little deep – but true!

Many plants you may start right on your windowsill, especially in spring with seeds to start plants which will be later placed outdoors as soon as the spring frost passed in well, yes, containers! Grow bags used for vegetables outdoors are another example of container gardening. And in winter, seeds for micro-greens may be grown in small containers suited to your kitchen.

And let’s not forget “raised beds” which sometimes only require an 8″ depth to be successful as a mini garden where you don’t need to weed as often as you would in the ground, and you control the soil you put in it, etc. Raised beds at a higher level are great for people in wheelchairs, or people who have back issues. All of these examples are container gardening. If I could, my entire yard would be filled with raised beds. Easy to reach in and out of and easy to keep critters away if you enclose it with fencing. They are not only functional but pretty visually.

Some may argue container gardening is not sustainable, and I absolutely disagree – because when you use containers in the correct way, which sometimes involves reusing plants which are overwintered (tropical plants), you are not wasting plants. Also, containers reduce the use of heavy fertilizers or herbicides, in my opinion, because I find less insect issues with plants in fresh soil and clean pots, and don’t fertilize often when it is done right.

Container Gardening is a wonderful alternative to in-ground gardening, and doesn’t require high impact conditions which may negatively affect the environment like other options may. Soil in raised beds are enhanced once a year with some fresh compost as needed, where as soil in the ground requires a alteration at times which is difficult to achieve when working against the natural landscape components (clay, sand, etc.). You don’t need a tractor when you do container gardening either. In container gardens, it is relatively simple. I’m not knocking gardening, but to me, containers are just faster, simpler and just as rewarding.

Container gardening, to me at least, includes by definition, any plant that is put into a vessel of any type. Hanging baskets, vintage pots, terrarium bowls, patio pots, grow bags, wood raised bed frames, hypertufa’s, moss, and more. You name it. Yes, you may have to water container gardens more often than gardens in the grounds, but again – this forces you out of the iPhone addiction rut, and into the scents, sounds (bees and hummingbirds). It forces you to look up, down, all around and slow down and breath, smell the air, feel the flower petals, and enjoy outdoors, rather than having your head in a down position staring at a phone. Believe me, I know – I’m addicted to that darn phone too – we have been “conned” somewhat into staring at them – I say, prepare some container gardens this summer to help you break that habit.

Years ago, when I wanted to pick a name for my blog site, all I could think of was “container gardening” – nothing else was coming to mind, so I spontaneously called it “Container Crazy CT.” And, if you know me personally, you know it fits. I have done so many crazy things with plants – some of those on the nutty side, and others which led to amazing pieces of garden art with beautiful plants, if you will. I kind of wished though that I had named it, Container Garden Crazy CT – but that is too long of a name anyways. However, it has worked over the years and I guess I will keep it.

Happy Container Gardening!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

When I play white noise in the house, what is my cat thinking?

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I suffer from tinnitus.

If you don’t know what that is, you are lucky.

It is an annoying and constant hissing and ringing sound in my ears (well, apparently in my head, per the experts).

It is a sound or (sounds) that could make anyone go mad. But you have to learn to cope.

So, every once in a while, to combat the tinnitus noise when I’m trying to concentrate on my office work, I will play white noise on the speakers in my house.

The sounds of rushing waterfalls, babbling brooks, or ocean waves splashing on a beach helps to deter the awful noises of tinnitus in my head. It is a distraction, basically.

I often wonder, “What is my cat thinking?” when I start playing the various water sounds which broadcasts from speakers throughout my house.

My cat, Mini, is looking a little depressed right now. She is bored to tears because she just hates the cold weather and hasn’t had much play time outdoors lately.

In fact, when she begs me for fresh air, she comes back from the outdoors screaming at me (meowwww!!!), as if this cold and boring weather is all my fault.

I just tell her, “I know. I know. It is NOT nice out. But it will get better.”

Before we know it, the signs of winter will fade away, but we also all know, it will be a while still. In fact, I’m sure we are in for some snow storms soon.

The only good thing about January (at least in my book, as of this moment) is that it is the best time to plan ahead for the season, which is what I was doing all morning – creating schedules of my workshop dates and outlining workshop details – while tinnitus danced in my head.

The proposed schedule is on my workshops site, http://www.WORKSHOPSCT.com, under the DATES tab. You may pop by there if you want to start penciling in the dates, which I surely hope you will.

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Removing Succulents from Pumpkins – FB Live on January 18, 2019

First up will be a Facebook Live (for registered attendees of my workshops) and then follows with Seed Starting sessions in March and April, followed by my Container Gardening Workshops in May. Then, of course, the fall and winter workshops arrive, etc.

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Seed Starting Workshops on March 23 and April 13, 2019

Just thinking about them reminds me how busy I will be when they start up, so I guess instead of dreading the blah times of January when it is cold and dreary, I should probably embrace them as I work in my home office listening to white noise while I finalize the pre-plans for all to come ahead this season. There is still much to do.

Whether Mini, my cat, will embrace January as well, (or the white noise she is forced to listen to), I will never know. I guess she has to tolerate it, just like I have to tolerate tinnitus.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
Broad Brook, CT

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Want tomatoes like this in 2019? Check out my Seed Starting sessions – Seats will be limited!

Seeds are Available Today!

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Hi everyone,

Pop on over to www.WORKSHOPSCT.com to see my latest post on the seeds I have available today.

If interested, fill out the contact form there. Remember, mid-March is when we start “some” seeds to prepare for the upcoming spring (if it will EVER get here).

I’ve been dabbling in seeds more these days, did a bunch of research the past couple months, and have a nice stock of new unique seeds available. I hope you will be interested.

In the meantime, stay warm – I hear we may have yet another nor’easter next week, really? Ugh.

But what is nice during these cold spills is that I have some nice salad mix growing right now – from seed, and I even pushed the limits and have some basil and oregano started from seeds as well, along with beats and radishes. All I need is some SUN.

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Also, I’m attending the Boston Flower Show this weekend – it is kind of a date weekend with the hubby. I always discover something new at the show – and we also enjoy the local restaurants (motivation even more because it will be a cold weekend in Boston this year, some years it has been more spring-like).

The info gained at the show will be shared on my Instagram feed.

More to follow!

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com
Planting Zone 6a
Broad Brook, CT
A container gardener with a passion for art, plants, and now, seeds!

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Seeds and Such

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It is mid-February, we are expecting temperatures in the 50’s tomorrow and Friday, and I heard of potential snowfall on Sunday.

Yes, that is Connecticut (or New England) weather for ya! There will be days where it feels like spring is coming, and days where we are reminded winter is still here.

I just saw my first live and crawling woolly bear caterpillar yesterday on the driveway – a sign, I hope that we are all getting ready to receive spring while we wait out winter.

While we contemplate the approaching spring, now in February is a good time to “get organized and started” with planning out what you want to grow from seed (if you plan to do seeds this year).

Last year, I was behind with my tomato seedlings, yet, I still had a very nice harvest of cherry tomatoes, but I remember thinking that I needed to plan ahead for year 2018.

Believe or not, we are at the “13 weeks mark” before our last (spring) frost date – if you use the May 10th date as an estimate (which I am) of when we can expect our last spring frost here in Broad Brook, CT.

Some charts of our average frost dates in the northeast may indicate an earlier “last frost” date – towards the end of April, but I like to play it safe and go with a May date, and work back from there. It is also based on my own records and playing around with seeds which I grow in my hobby greenhouse from time to time.

Various micro-climates, your own gardening experience, where you eventually put your seedlings (for me many are put in container gardens outdoors and indoors), and how much you wish to risk it – all play into what, when, and how you start your own seeds and seedlings.

TRIAL AND ERROR

Trial and error is one way to experiment with seeds. After all, if you place a seed in soil – there is a great chance it will sprout for you. It can be fun to experiment that way, but we don’t want to waste our time or seeds for that matter either.

Sometimes I will put a seed in a starter pot just to see what happens – like I did recently with seeds from a slice of jackfruit, which I tasted for the first time in my life last week. I, did, however, look up the seed online, and didn’t see any special preparation requirements for this type of seed (such as scarification), so I plopped the big seeds in pots with soil mix, watered it and will watch and see (an experiment).

By the way, the fruit of jackfruit was very yummy. I found a big slice of it at Whole Foods and when I told the woman at the register that I was getting it just to see how it tastes, she replied with, “Well, then – it is on the house. I’m not charging you for it.”

Experimenting and playing with seeds is fun but they must be cared for or you will result with unhealthy, stretching, or badly rooted plants.

The more I started to think about seeds and reviewed my various reference books on growing from seeds, the more information piled into my head. So you have to start somewhere, and I think one of the best places to do so is …

FIGURING OUT WHAT YOU LIKE TO EAT

I think probably the best place to start is figuring out what you like to eat. Decide what you want to grow and where. For me, I love herbs like basil, mint, thyme, parsley. I enjoy fresh lettuces, kale, spinach, etc. I love cherry tomatoes and all kinds of peppers. Oops-there goes that long list again. Maybe narrow it down if you are a beginner.

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In my case, I plant vegetables in containers around the house and in the house. Some are started with seeds and others are seedlings I grew in advance. Thus, the timing. Looking at the “days to germination, days to maturity, days to harvest, days to transplant, etc.” on the seed packets come to play as well. That is probably step two in my book, get familiar with the seed packet.

Last year, I obtained seeds from a company I really like called Hudson Valley Seed Co. and sold them at a pop up shop last year, and I gave some as gifts to my attendees at my last workshop of the 2017 season at Holiday time.

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I hope you (if you are an attendee reading this) kept the packet in a safe place since December. And, if you did – NOW IS THE TIME to get familiar with the instructions and timings noted on the seed packet and look at your calendar if you want to sow the seeds in time for the gardening season. And note my next Facebook Live on your calendar too – see below on that.

FEBRUARY IS TIME TO PLAN AND WAIT

February is the time to look up your last frost date, mark it on the calendar, and starting counting back the number of weeks for the seed packet you have on hand.

Also, note — if you start seeds too early (getting anxious–as we all do this time of year), beware, this can lead to problems if you keep the plant (seedling) in a starter pot too long – it may get root bound, stretch for light, etc.

And remember, the more stressed a plant gets, the more likely they can get a problem. Consider the plant type before you begin, as some like cooler temps and others require warmer temps and soil. A good example is tomatoes. I always wait til Memorial Day to plant them outdoors. You don’t want to start them this early in the season.

Although I think much can be accomplished whether you do things exactly or not – it is a good idea to think it over before you begin. Next is where, if you are new, should you get your seed packets?

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Seed Starter Kits I sold at a Pop-up Shop last Season

WHERE TO GET SEEDS

Another good thing to consider, now we are at the mid-February point, is where would you grow your seeds? Do you have the right type of windows at home with light and warmth, do you have a hobby greenhouse, etc. Do you need to get grow lights, a heating mat, or other supplies? Before you begin, consider all of these things before you buy your seed packets.

Many nurseries and stores are offering seeds now. I even saw a seed rack display at Rite Aid last week. And don’t forget garden shows, which Hartford’s starts up next week on Thursday, February 22nd (CT Flower and Garden Show) – there will be seeds there. Every year, Hudson Valley offers them – check them out. I find their seeds are reliable, well packaged, and great instructions both inside the seed envelope and outside. It is a good time to get supplies from them too – or you can go to your favorite online seed sources.

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Did you happen to save any seeds from your own plants last year? I did, and will be reviewing those to get started too. There is such a nice reward when you grow plants from seeds you collected the year prior. And it saves you a bit of money.

Another item you may want to pick up when you get your seed packets is a small pocket size calendar for your records to track all, count back the weeks required, etc. The small sized calendars are handy cause you can easily file them and refer to them the following season.

You should start to organize your supplies, think about what you need for materials, such as seed starting mix, potting mix, peat pots, seed trays, watering can, etc. during this month. And since we are having warmer temps this week, why not wash some containers. I like using hanging baskets to direct sow seeds (for lettuces) and smaller window boxes (for herbs).

I will be doing some materials preparation myself this week because I want to start some seeds in hanging baskets and pots to show at my next Facebook Live session, which is scheduled on Wednesday, March 21st.

The March Facebook live will show some of the basic seed starting I’ve done (and I haven’t really done tons with seeds because almost all the time I get plants from growers for my workshops), but I will show what I know, and will focus on seed starting inside the home too.

Many seeds may be grown directly in decorative pots and kept in the home if you have the right spot. Each plant has different needs, but you may be surprised at what you can grow inside in a cool room in your home or on a partially sun lit table in a warmer spot.

As I keep reading and researching more about seeds, I feel like the list grows on what to know, but then I think also, it is a seed, just plant it.

I think the bottom line to my message here today is “plan it.” Because if you don’t, you will either be behind or too early.

OTHER SIDE HIGHLIGHTS – WEBINARS

Aside from focusing on seeds in February, I’ve been taking the time to attend plant related webinars. Today, I’m signing into one on Perennial Plantings and it will be held with a Trial Manager (meaning they trial plants as growers). They will be going over cultural requirements, water management, and fertility. I’m sure I’ll learn something new.

I’ve also attended a few other webinars, by calling in and watching the presentations, on new products out by Scotts and one webinar was focused on Neptune Harvest (which is an organic fertilizer) and plant food (which I use in my micro-green’s growing (from seed). I plan to share what I learned with my attendees at FB Lives and this year’s workshops.

I received a review of soil mixes of which some are new coming out in 2018 at another webinar this month. I take notes and plan to share the information at my first spring garden talk on April 23rd at the East Hartford Garden Club. We know there are so many soil choices out there so everything learned is something to share with you.

Keeping up with plant knowledge can be tricky as a solo-entrepreneur but I wanted my followers and attendees to know I work on it by attending these webinars now and by researching, reading, and experimenting. It’s an investment for me and you.

PAST FB LIVES

If you tuned into my last two Facebook live sessions – thank you. This idea just kind of organically started in my mind – I thought why not share now in the middle of winter some topics each month. It is a great way to keep in touch with you all too.

The first session was on how to remove the succulents from the pumpkins we decorated last October in 2017, and the 2nd was on how to make a Moss Mardi Gras mask, which to me, is so much fun. I hope you felt inspired by it and you can see all the photos on my Instagram feed.

2018 WORKSHOPS

Because I am not offering my May Container Gardening workshops this season – I wanted to give something free to my attendees to soften the blow of this news – cause I know many of you enjoy it so much – which is part of the reason why I started the FB Lives. Hopefully you are enjoying them and find them useful.

However, don’t worry, more workshops will be planned in May of 2019, and some are already scheduled for the fall and holiday workshops of 2018. The latest schedule is on the WORKSHOPS tab in my website, www.WORKSHOPSCT.com. I’m sure I will keep adding to it as we get closer to spring.

Well, guess that is all for today.

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Valentine’s Box Filled with Succulents – Created by me!

Happy Valentine’s Day – Hope you receive something sweet from whomever you share this day with.

Cathy Testa
WORKSHOPSCT.com
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Offering Workshops, Plant Gifts, and Container Gardens

 

 

 

Coco Coir – A New Potting Media

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Some people may say coco coir (made from the husks of coconuts) is relatively new on the scene while others may state it has been here for a while – but one thing is for sure – it is an alternative for potting up your plants or starting seeds, and it is growing in popularity.

When I spotted some coir blocks being showcased at the CT Flower and Garden Show last weekend by FibreDust LLC, I was sure to step up and hear what the young gentleman was saying about it.

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As he continued to talk about coir and how to use it to my friend, I noticed another person walked up and was observing. My senses told me, this person is the owner of this product, so I walked up immediately and shook his hand to introduce myself.

There was probably an air of excitement in my voice because I want to learn more about coir. It is being added to potting mixes (as an alternative to peat moss). You may also use coir in its straight form, sold in compressed blocks which are soaked in water to expand for use as a potting media. Once expanded, it looks almost exactly like peat (as shown above in the photo taken at the garden show).

During my garden presentations on container gardening, I highlight some of the new options for potting mixes on the scene, and there are many to choose from – it can feel overwhelming at times, but it is all good news because many new potting mixes are geared towards sustainability and incorporating organic materials, and coco coir is one of them.

As I discussed the benefits of coir with the distributor of the coir product, Sam Ahilan, President of FibreDust LLC, decided to invite me to see how they process their coir product at his facility in Cromwell, Connecticut. And of course, I responded immediately with a yes to his generous invite.

Facility Tour

This is what I saw yesterday at their facility located in Cromwell:

Coir Tour_0001

Shredded coir bundled up for distribution to customers were first on the tour list. There were many ready to go sitting on pallets awaiting the skid loader. These are processed via a large production machine, shown below, where coco blocks are shredded and water is added.

Coir Tour_0006

Here it is nice and fluffy for bundling up in the bales above. Sam was kind enough to have the machine turned on by his crew to show me how this is done in their production facility. I have to say, being a container gardening lover, it was difficult to not reach my hand in to feel the coir – it is very light, fluffy, airy, and soft – and it looks very similar to peat.

Coir Tour_0002

Sam is working with a local grower of tomatoes to grow tomatoes in his coir cubes. Here they are lining up their cubes and getting them set for irrigation and planting soon. Fortunately, for me, the sun was shining so it was a moment of “ah” in a greenhouse. Nutrients are added to the coir later in the process as the plants grow. The grower told me he has people taste the tomatoes along side of homegrown tomatoes in the garden, and many can not distinguish the difference. I wanted to tell him, I would have to do a taste test with my father’s home grown tomatoes, but I believed him. Why not? They are being grown in the warm sun of a greenhouse with correct temperatures and in a growing medium which has the similar qualities of peat.

In another larger warehouse space are miles of coconut fibre based products – from mats for landscaping or basket lining purposes to cubes for potted plants. Coir is used in many fashions, and not sold just in blocks or cubes. There are small round disks available to start seeds, which if you are into seed growing, I’m sure you have seen before.

Coir Tour_0004

I asked Sam to hold a sample of a coarse form of the coconut husks which may be used as to increase pore space per Sam. I took many more photos, but I plan to share those at my garden talks and workshops this summer, so I’m saving some for my attendees. This is just a sneak peek!

More About Coir

As I noted above, coir is becoming popular because it can be used as a substitute or alternative for all peat moss based soils, reducing the use of valuable wetlands where sphagnum peat moss is usually harvested and used as a base in many potting mixes. Peat moss is more porous than coco coir and has been used for centuries in the gardening industry for its stability and consistency for growing plants.

However, I wish to note that I don’t think using peat moss is totally all bad and why I feel this way is discussed during my garden presentations – I believe the key is finding a balance, trying out new products which are more sustainable, and testing how they work for your gardening needs to see the results for yourself.

Coir also has attributes such as a good water to air ratio, which is needed in container gardens and patio pots especially because oxygen is required in the root zone for plants to grow. Healthy roots are a result of a balance of water and air, another topic highlighted in my garden presentations.

And speaking of water, coir holds water well, which may be good for reducing watering routines in patio pots – but as I mentioned, I prefer to test it out because it drains and dries out slower too. I will see how coco coir works for me with my container gardens, and share my findings with you along the way. This is one of my goals this year in particular.

Per my readings about the coir products on the scene, the pH is usually neutral, but because the source of the product varies, it should be checked, at least for high production scenarios. Also, nutrients must be added to this product as your plants advance in growing. Unlike some potting mixes for container gardening which often have a pre-charged slow fertilizer added to the soilless mix for you.

One really cool thing about using coir, is they are taking a waste product from the production of other coconut based products, such as doormats and brushes, and reusing it in a new way. It is always a good thing and a bonus when we accomplish the goal of renewing a resource. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.

And because coir is compressed to reduce shipping costs, and is easily restored to a fluffy consistency, it saves on shipping expenses, thus reducing more waste. Additionally, it stores well for a long time and all it takes is some water to expand it into a huge portion for use in your pots – if not as a straight growing mix, but maybe as a filler, again something I’m testing out this year. It is great for starting seeds too.

One thing I also like about the coco blocks used as a potting soil (called Sponge Ease) is how easily they are to carry, store, and use. They come in 7 x 7″ blocks (small enough to fit in a purse!), but expand to an amount substantial enough to fill a small to medium sized pot (10 quarts) by putting the block in a bag and filling it with 3 quarts of water. Plus they are packaged with biodegradable labeling, again reducing waste like the big plastic bags which are used for soilless mixes.

You will most likely see these coco coir products in garden supply magazines, some nurseries, even perhaps your grocery store – and of course, for sale at my workshops on container gardening and patio pots, where I will demo the whole process and how to use this potting soil. If you would like to purchase some, feel free to contact me (email is below).

Oh, and by the way, coco coir is used with hydroponics growing systems (growing plants in liquid – sometimes with some soil media and sometimes without) – which is another whole subject I’m exploring – Why? Because hydroponics is a hot topic today too, but it is a bit complicated or requires some solid knowledge of the how to’s.

Bottom line – It was a real treat to see the coco coir production process, various growing coco coir products, and meet the President of FibreDust LLC. I appreciate Sam giving me the tour yesterday, and will share more all with you this spring and summer. Stay tuned.

Cathy Testa
http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

 

 

5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Get Ready for Spring!

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#1 Go to the Flower and Garden Show this week in Hartford, CT

Go to the flower and garden show in Hartford, CT being held this week starting Thursday, Feb. 20th. Just walking into the building will get your senses thinking about spring and less about snow as you see, hear, smell, and experience the plants and plant offerings by the many exhibitors.  I plan to go – probably on Friday.  Got the day off?  Want to join me, just email me at containercathy@gmail.com.  There is parking adjacent to the convention center.  After parking, find your way through the parking garage to the main entrance and take the escalators up to the show floor. Don’t forget to visit the seminar speakers on the floor above the show floor too.  Food and wine is available at the show each year, and check in with your local nurseries before you go for tickets – they often offer discounted tickets by a couple bucks.  If you can’t make it during a week day, no worries – it runs through the weekend, and the weather is looking warmer by Friday.

#2 Visit Cathy T’s new Pinboards on Succulents and Tropicals

Why?  Because in May, Cathy T is offering a fun class on how to make container gardens with succulents, and will be having a Tropical Talk too.  To get inspired about this first annual BIG CONTAINER GARDEN PARTY to be held on Broad Brook, CT, visit her new pinboards right now, note the date on your calendar, and register today.  These pinboards will get you at least thinking about upcoming fun of creating beautiful containers for your outdoor spaces in the spring and summer. The possibilities are endless in the style and ways you can mix up plants for the season.

To learn more details about this class, see the pages listed under Cathy T’s Classes or under Container Gardens on the menu of this blog.  Share the information too with any local friends interested.

#3 Scout Containers for the Upcoming Season

Now could be a very good time indeed to think about containers or patio pots for not, only Cathy T’s BIG CONTAINER GARDEN PARTY (class) in May, but in general for your container gardening coming up in a matter of a month of so!  We may have snow right now, but it will begin to melt as soon as temps warm up – so why not rummage your own stock of goodies, or start looking for unique containers at the flower show this weekend?? – and of course, the tag sales that kick off in the spring. It is when you least expect it that you find a vintage item, a repurposed pot, or something sitting in your garage or basement right now that can be a container in spring and summer – old fancy shoes or pumps – heck, before tossing them, think – could this be a great container for succulents at Cathy T’s class?  I think yes!

#4 Think about Attending Other Garden Related Conferences

Did you know there is a great ELA conference next week in downtown Springfield, MA for plant enthusiasts and ground huggers?  Well, I say ground huggers in a very loving way – the focus at this conference is usually on natural horticultural practices and sustainability.  Is there any other kind?!!   The speakers at this conference are highly educated and the attendees inspiring for many are hort people in the business, but this doesn’t mean an avid gardener expanding their knowledge base and horizons can not attend too. If interested, visit their website for all the details. There is parking near the conference location, and places in downtown to eat if you want to adventure beyond the cafe onsite at this conference.  Do something different, and give this conference a try, or don’t forget other flower shows going on, such as the Rhode Island show (held same time as Hartford’s) or Boston show in March or UCONN’s Garden Conference in Storrs, CT.  You will be amazed how inspiring it can feel to attend a conference you haven’t tried before – you may not know what’s out there – but if you go – it surely makes you more ready for spring!  And many are in locations where you can adventure into the city and enjoy other places of interest if you make a weekend out of it, or stay overnight.

#5 Start some Seeds indoors, or Force some Pretty Bulbs:

Herb Seeds (Photo by Cathy Testa)

Herb Seeds (Photo by Cathy Testa)

It may feel too early to start seeds, but heck if you pot up a few herb seeds in your home or grow an Amaryllis bulb, like I did recently inside the home – you start to feel inspired for the growing days of spring ahead when you see the bulb’s flowers open, or see the seeds popping up in the soil.  So go to your local supply shop, get some seed starting potting mix and a couple packets of seeds, put them in some pots, place by a sunny window sill, and watch it grow.

Photo by Cathy Testa, Panical Hydrangea Covered in Snow

Photo by Cathy Testa, Hydrangea Covered in Snow

Or if that doesn’t suit your fancy, get bundled up, walk your property and take some photos of plants in the snow covered with icicles, fluffy snow, and enjoy the shadows against the snow cast by branches.  This cheers me up and hopefully will do so for you.  By the way, if any of your shrubs are toppling over due to the weight of sticky snow, it is a good idea to gently shake the excess snow off the branches so they don’t break or bend too harshly.

Happy Monday Everyone,

Cathy Testa