Garden Centers/Seed Suppliers

Garden Deals, History, and Future Sustainability

There aren’t many families that spend generation after generation on the same piece of property, even in the land of steady habits. But in the midst of the hustle and bustle that dots much of Connecticut, not too far from the banks of the Connecticut River and the unique East Haddam Swing Bridge, lives a family that personifies steady habits. This weekend, July 7 and 8, the Ballek family celebrates 350 years of life on the same piece of property, now well known as Ballek’s Garden Center.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Ballek’s traditionally holds its Plant and Garden Tag Sale the weekend after our nation celebrates Independence Day, and this year is no different. For those looking to fill their gardens with greenery and interest, Ballek’s tag sale offers great deals. Local gardeners, including yours truly, often fill their cars and trucks with shrubs, trees, perennials, and annuals.

This weekend there will be more than great bargains to celebrate. The Ballek’s will have displays on compost and compost teas, native plants, rain barrels and water conservation, and herbs for health. They will hold tours of their huge array of solar panels that produce electricity and hot water for the nursery and farm, and provide visitors with information about solar power. The celebration also includes a book sale, local food producers, music and activities for children, and information on open space conservation.

Ballek’s Garden Center is built around the farm structures remaining from previous dairy farming. Their red barn stores a vast array of garden pots, tools and supplies. Their silo is surrounded by containers of perennials, vegetables and annuals. Their greenhouses are filled with everyday and unusual plants. They know and grow organic, and the family matriarch, Anita, is a living, breathing horticultural encyclopedia. Have a plant question? Ask a Ballek.

The Plant and Garden Tag Sale runs from 9 am to 5 pm on July 7, and 9 am to 4 pm on July 8. At 5:30 pm on Saturday, July 7, the Ballek family, already historically steeped in land stewardship, will hold dedication ceremony when they will renew their commitment to protecting land for future generations, and will ask others to pledge the same.

Come to Ballek’s Garden Center in East Haddam to share a Connecticut family’s history with the land.

They know how to garden thoughtfully.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

Reuse, Recycle Plastic Nursery Pots

I’m just one of hundreds of Connecticut gardeners with stacks of emptied plastic nursery pots growing in and around the garage and garden shed. Disposing of these pots in an environmentally responsible manner does not involve simply throwing nursery pots and trays into your town’s recycling stream. Many nursery pots are of black plastic, often made from previously recycled plastic, and are not accepted in municipal recycling programs. But these pots don’t have to end up in the trash. Read my article, Reusing & Recycling Plastic Pots in the May/June 2012 issue of Connecticut Gardener for information on how to reuse and recycle plastic nursery pots and trays.

Connecticut Gardener magazine is a wonderful resource for people gardening in Connecticut and adjoining areas. It’s full of practical articles written by real-life, get-your-hands-dirty Connecticut gardeners and each issue has an extensive list of gardening events in our region. As a public service, publishers Anne and Will Rowlands kindly posted Reusing & Recycling Plastic Pots on the Connecticut Gardener website. Subscribe to gain the knowledge and gardening insight provided by all the other articles published by Connecticut Gardener.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When it comes time to recycle my stacks of nursery pots and trays I have two options: Ballek’s Garden Center has a plastic pot collection bin (they wash and reuse what they can and also donate collected pots to garden clubs and groups) while Staehly Farms accepts any and all empty plastic pots, tags, and trays (they recycled over 400 pounds of these last year). Before returning any used pots I shake them free of excess soil. Places willing to take back used nursery pots are doing enough … they should not have to, and may not accept pots full of packed soil or covered with caked on soil.

Any pots I don’t send for recycling I reuse. Some get washed and saved for seed starting and transplants, some become storage bins for plant tags, gloves, or wood for the outside fire pit, others become scoops for bagged potting soil. There’s an endless number of ways these used pots can be reused. Otherwise, recycling is the way to go.

Does your favorite garden center reuse and/or recycle nursery pots? They only way to find out is to ask.

Garden thoughtfully …

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

Seedy ideas for Connecticut edible gardens

Choosing which variety of tomato or other edible to grow from seed can be overwhelming, particularly for gardeners new to seed starting. If, after following my earlier recommendations, your head is  still spinning here’s some of my favorite edible varieties.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Tomatoes: I grow standard, paste and cherry varieties. My absolute favorite for flavor and color is one I tried for the first time last season, the heirloom Cherokee Purple. The vines were prolific, produced solid, heavy, meaty fruit of a wonderful purplish red color and the sweetest ever flavor. Until Cherokee Purple took the top  spot on my favorite tomato list, Pruden’s Purple, also an heirloom with large fruit and a sweet taste, was number one.  I will continue to grow both of these full-size tomatoes plus the yellow heirloom, Manyel (smaller fruit, later maturity). These varieties are available from many seed suppliers, mine came from Pinetree Garden Seeds.

For paste tomatoes I like Roma (Pinetree Garden Seeds) and Milano Plum (Kitchen Garden Seeds). For cherry tomatoes I choose Sweet Million – it lives up to its name. Last season I grew an additional tomato, Super Bush, from Renee’s Garden bred specifically for container growth. It produced late, two- to three-inch sized fruit, but lacked the intense, sweet flavor I expect from homegrown tomatoes. Try it if you have limited space for a tomato that remains about three feet tall, but don’t expect the flavor of an heirloom.

Note: I grew standard, plum and cherry tomatoes in large pots filled with rich compost-based potting soil. All did remarkably well and produced lots of fruit with monthly fertilizer applications of liquid fish emulsion to the soil and as a foliar spray.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Peppers: Most of my peppers are the hot variety, Early Jalapeno, Hot Hungarian Wax, Italian Pepperoncini (all from Pinetree Garden Seeds). Last year I tried a mild habanero chili pepper from Renee’s Garden called Orange & Red Suave. It did not germinate as well as some of my other hot pepper varieties and the cool, wet spring set it back a bit, but the plant was s a lovely addition to a perennial bed and it eventually produced attractive orange fruit. Habanero peppers are normally very hot. I’d rate these as milder than normal but still packing serious heat, not for the faint of tongue.

For sweet peppers I’ve had good luck with Sweet Banana (Pinetree Garden Seeds) and Romeo Bell (Kitchen Garden Seeds).

Eggplant: I often transplant eggplant seedlings directly into perennial beds. The plants alone add structural interest, as to the fruit.  My favorites for full size fruit include Ichiban and Lavender Touch (both from Pinetree Garden Seeds). Last season I tried the container-sized variety, Little Prince (Renee’s Garden). The container-grown plants produced abundant and adorable single-serving, tasty fruit under less than ideal conditions – lots and lots of rain – so Little Prince gets another shot this year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALettuce: I’ve grown multiple varieties over the years – Green Ice, Red Deer’s Tongue, Oakleaf, Red Fire, Buttercrunch, Winter Density, Rouge d’Hiver Romaine, Rouge Grenobloise Batavian, Tom Thumb, and I’m sure there’s more. Of all, my absolute favorite is Merveille de Quatre Saisons, a French heirloom available from many suppliers (mine came from Kitchen Garden Seeds and Renee’s Garden). The other lettuce types are all good and perform well, I’m just enamored by the looks and taste of Merveille. Beyond this beautiful looking and tasty bibb lettuce, I am also quite impressed with the adorable small crispy heads of Tom Thumb.

Beans: My favorite bush beans are Sequoia and Purple Queen – both grow delicious purple pods that turn green when cooked (Kitchen Garden Seeds) – and Pencil Pod, a yellow Heirloom (Pinetree Garden Seeds).

Peas: I’ve struggled to get a good supply of snow peas from each spring sowing. The voles love the tender plants as much as I love the tender pods and, so far, attempts to grow a bumper snow pea crop in pots have not been highly successful. Still, I would not want to go a year without trying. You simply cannot match the sweetness and tenderness of freshly picked snow peas so, even if my yield is small, I’ll always plant edible podded peas. My current favorites are Snowflake Pea Pods, a self supporting upright bush-type growing about two feet tall, and Golden India Edible Pea Pod, with six foot tall vines of flat pods (both from Kitchen Garden Seeds). In a previous garden with more space and fewer voles I had great success with sugar snap peas. These should be on every new gardener’s planting list. They are prolific producers that bring early success.

This is not a comprehensive list of the edibles I grow. It’s just a good place to start. Here are links to the seed suppliers mentioned above: Pinetree Garden Seeds, Renee’s Garden, Kitchen Garden Seeds.

Garden thoughtfully … and please share the vegetable varieties growing well in your Connecticut garden.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry
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