Fall Clean Up & Prep

This is no time to quit on your garden. Even if you’ve removed the dead or dying plants there’s work to do prepping your soil for next year’s garden.

Rather than pulling up the plants I use a weed whip to cut the stems about 1-2 inches above the ground. The remaining stems absorb water and act as a wick that delivers moisture deep into the soil, while the roots slowly degrade as organic matter. This is more important in clay soils which tend to saturate at the surface and cause run off.

Breaking the surface of the soil will also improve aeration. If you’re using a tiller just walk it across the field in two directions so the tines cut about 1 inch down. I use a hoe to produce the same result. This also prepares the garden for a fall planting of green manure, preferably a short legume like white clover that naturally increases nitrogen and helps smother weed and grass seedlings in the spring. Continue reading

Primocane Blackberries Evolve

Three years ago I planted three Prime-Jim blackberry bushes in my garden, and my reason for selecting this variety is that it produces two crops every year, the first in June and the second in late September and into October. The picture below was taken on October 10, 2013.


At the time, the vendor I choose did not carry the Prime-Ark 45 which is much sweeter berry, but I hesitate to recommend it because the University of Arkansas has now developed a new variety called Prime-Ark Freedom.



While plants are currently unavailable, seven propagators are licensed to grow Prime-Ark Freedom so look for them in 2014. Here you will find a complete list of all propagators of Arkansas varieties including Prime-Ark 45, Prime-Jim, and Prime-Jan.

Information on growing blackberries is availble as a PDF file from Missouri State nursery in Mountain Grove. Good Luck and Good Gardening!

Growing Elderberries

The elderberry is a shrub that produces a small round berry that is loaded with antioxidants. It’s very tart and you probably won’t like the taste without sweetening, but it makes good jelly as well as a red wine that is dry and fruity with a bit of musk. At least that’s how mine comes out.

My bushes are now three years old and about 10 foot high. In the fall I’ll be cutting them down and doing a bit of thinning. Elderberries tend to be more productive if the woody stems are removed, Commercial growers often brush hog the plants every third year to maximize the yield. If this your goal then you’ll want to plant three successive rows so you’ll have one full crop every year. I’ll be cutting mine down to three foot and removing the oldest stems in the fall.


I’m growing mine along the road where a natural drain helps keep the soil moist. Every year I mulch the drain and around the bushes with leaves to keep down the weeds and preserve soil moisture. Elderberries have a relatively shallow root system that will send up shoots, and  last year began filling the space between the original plantings.

Continue reading

Primocane Blackberries

Three years ago when I was establishing my garden I planted two berry producing plants, and one of those was the Prime Jim variety of blackberries. Developed at the University of Arkansas, Prime Jim is one of three primocane varieties commercially available.


All but three varieties of blackberries are floricanes, meaning that they flower and fruit once a year on the second year canes. In other words the canes grow for one year without producing flowers or fruit, and then the second year they do.

Primocanes produce flowing and fruit on both first year and second year canes. Second year canes flower in the spring and fruit during the summer. First year canes flower in the summer and fruit in the fall. So at this time, when I’m harvesting berries from last year’s canes, I’m beginning to see flowers on this year’s new growth.

blackberry blossoms

If you really like blackberries and have space to grow them, here’s a few tips to maximize their growth and production. First, they are better grown on a slope because their bed must drain off any excess water. If you’re dealing with a heavy clay soil then you should consider adding sand and leaf mulch to build up the bed while making sure that it drains.

Second, any plant that produces fruit will require higher amounts of phosphorus and potassium than green plants that use more nitrogen. Because phosphorus is relatively stable and doesn’t leach out, it’s important that you mix phosphorus into the bed and throughout the root zone. My preference is super phosphate which is simply rock phosphate treated with phosphoric acid, but you can use rock phosphate or bone meal to supplement the bed, you’ll just have to use more of it.

Blackberries like acid soils and mulching with leaves maintains the acidity. I flag the second year canes and prune them out in the fall because they die back anyway, and end up clogging the patch. This is a good practice even if you’re growing a floricane variety.

You can get additional information on all varieties of blackberries produced by the University of Arkansas here. They also have links to vendors where you can purchase their varieties. Personally I really like having a patch of blackberries close to home, and you might enjoy that too.

DIY Seed Tape

If you’re like me you probably wished at one time or another than there was a better way to plant small seeds. Seed tape solves that problem, but not everything I want to grow is available. It’s also downright expensive compared to the cost of bulk seed.

So I got a tip from another gardener and I’m going to share it with you. All you need is some newspaper and flour. Every month I get a news update from our local coop, seedTapeand like most papers they use a soy based ink so it’s safe for the garden. But you could use paper towels, or any porous paper you have available.

Next I mix flour and water into a batter about the same consistency as you would for pancakes. then I place a dollop on the paper with enough spacing for the plants and then drop a seed into the batter. In this case I’m planting radishes, but it works well for lettuce, and other garden favorites. Of course instead of covering the whole page you can slice it into strips and create a row if you like.

In the garden I prepare a spot about the size of the page, and then plant the page and seeds and cover it all up. Once the paper is wet it offers little or no barrier to the roots and this eliminates the need to pull plants that are too close together. I use a potting mix just below the planting and then use it to cover over so I don’t introduce weeds.


So there you have it. Do it yourself seed tape. Good Gardening!