Greenhouse Supplies

Make pots lightweight with Packing Pearls

Packing Pearls make pots lightweight and save soil costsFour Seasons Container Gardens – a Portland, Oregon-based container design firm – specializing in design and installation of container gardens shares not only the same passion and admiration I have for container gardens, but also the same headaches. What to fill really large pots with to make them lightweight, movable and easy to replant in the future?

Good Ol’ American Ingenuity

Joanna Guzzetta, principal at Four Seasons Container Gardens investigated all the old so called “remedies” – packing peanuts, broken clay shards, empty plastic bottles, nursery pots, and coffee filters – with little success.

Broken shards, rocks and soil and other fillers clog and only cover the drainage hole and could be hard to lower into larger containers, plus a large quantity is required. Cardboard disintegrates over time. All of the conventional options do not provide plants an optimal drainage environment. And for customers requesting fruiting and vegetable container gardens, Four Seasons Containers could not guarantee what chemicals might be leached into the soil when these materials started breaking down.

Did you know packing peanuts are flammable? Local Metro recycling locations will not recycle packing peanuts. Peanuts are not environmentally friendly and roots tangle themselves throughout. This renders saving the plants and repurposing them almost impossible.

A Pearl of an Idea
Frustrated with not being able to find a prepackaged, environmentally friendly, lightweight and easy to use product, Guzzetta also desired something that would give the pot stability and support and fit all shapes and sizes of containers. Guzzetta created Packing Pearls to fill a need for her company. After a year of testing and proven results, Four Seasons Container Gardens, decided to share their creation with container gardeners nationwide.

Packing Pearls was formally introduced to the gardening public in February 2009 at the NW Seattle Flower & Garden Show and the Yard, Garden & Patio Show in Portland, OR. The reception by attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Multiple show attendees commented: “Where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for something like this!”

Stringing it All Together

Packing Pearls fits the bill. The light-weight polystyrene spheres balls that are made from 35% recycled materials which can be reused over again. The large balls when placed in the container create air spaces providing better air circulation to the roots resulting in strong, healthy plants.

Manufactured in the USA, Packing Pearls is helping the local economy as well. They reduce the amount of soil needed to fill the pot saving time, money and back breaking labor.

Pre-packaged kits come with pearls, a drain shield and fabric pot liner. Packing Pearls comes in kits or you can purchase parts individually.
Kits are available in two sizes small and large on The Greenhouse Catalog website.

Snappy Installation
Pouring the Packing Pearls into the potPacking Pearls in the planting containerPacking Pearls liner is placed over the packing pearlsStep 1
The drain shield should be positioned over the drainage hole which allows for excess water to be released and keeps soil in.

•Make sure the pot hole is clean and dry
•Remove paper tape from bottom of shield exposing the sticky tape
•Place drain shield down over hole and press lightly

Step 2
•Add layers of lightweight pearls to fill 1/3 the pot depth.
•Note: When planting annuals, you can increase the depth to 1/2 the height of the pot.

Step 3
The liner allows water to flow through to the bottom of the pot as well as provides a resting spot for the root zone.

•After placing pearls in pot, cover with the durable fabric liner.
•The easy to cut pot liner should be 2″-3″ wider than the pot width to cover all the pearls and container sides.
•Place the brown side up and black side down.

The finished pot!Step 4
Add soil, fertilizer and plants.

I mixed a variegated New Zealand flax Phormium cookianum ‘Tricolor’ from Xera Plants (thriller), Sizzling Pink Fringe Flower Loropetalum chinense ‘Sizzling Pink’ from Monrovia (filler) and Proven Winners ILLUSION™ Midnight Lace Ipomoea batatas (spiller).

Step 5
Step back and enjoy the results!

The entire procedure to fill and plant a tall pot 3’ x 1’ took a total of fifteen minutes to complete.

Have you had any experience using Packing Pearls? I would love to hear your experience and comments!
Photos taken by Dawn Hummel.

Greenhouse Supplies

Harvesting Cool Weather Crops Before Hot Summer Days

Late March Planting = June and July Harvesting

I am not a sophisticated vegetable gardener. My growing expertise focuses on perennials, shrubs and trees. Vegetable and fruit gardening needs to be simple for me to enjoy. If you want to be successful in growing your own crops, I recommend starting off with radishes, swiss chard, and snap peas.  The seeds are large, easy to handle and have a high success rate.  I find it fun to get the family involved and a great way to encourage future generations to get bit by the gardening bug…


General Planting Tips for Cool Weather Veggies 

startswood-template• Look for seeds that are “open pollinated” or marked “organic”.

• Radishes, chard and peas are considered ‘cool’ weather crops. They can be grown through summer months in succession or you can rotate your crops after harvesting has occurred. I am now planting carrots in place of the radishes. The peas are still producing in mid-July. The chard can be harvested almost year-round.

• Make sure to add compost to give them a rich home to develop strong root systems.

• Build the soil up in rows and into little mounds with compost.

• Take a 6″ wide piece of wood with notches carved into it at every 12″ to use as a template for sowing seeds. Placing the wood sideways twice will calculate 1’ space you need between rows so you can walk through them easily for harvesting and weeding later.

• Water daily to establish seedlings and then whenever the temperature rises over 80 degrees. Check the water saturation level by driving a dry #2 pencil into the soil and see how far it comes out wet. This trick will let you know how far your watering has penetrated into the soil.

• Mark rows with recycled plastic forks to hold seed packets.


Radish flowers Weeding, Pests and Diseases

radish-flowers• It’s important to keep weeds down so veggie starts can grow as fast as possible. Hand weeding is recommended on all produce.

• Slugs seem particularly fond of young radishes and will nibble on the “fruit” exposed about the soil line. Putting a clean tuna fish can filled with cheap beer will keep the slugs occupied.

• I find it strange that I scrutinize produce at the local grocery store or farmer’s market, but have no problem accepting defects in my own produce. I do not spray for pests or diseases’, so keeping an eye on developing plants is critical. Using a floating row cover may be desirable if you notice heavy pest damage early on.

• Water early in the morning to keep fungal diseases to a minimum.



Radishes Raphanus sativus

French Breakfast Radishes“Petit Dejeuner”French variety that can either grow long or round. They have distinctive white bands at the bottom followed by deep red to the leafy green tops. Rainbow Radishes‘Easter Egg II’ These little beauties come in a variety of colors ranging from white, shades of pink, cherry red, deep burgundy, and violet. Exactly round they all have brilliant white centers no matter the outside coloring. 
radish-dej radish-easter


Planting February – May    (spring harvest), August – October (fall harvest)
Did You Know?  Radishes will be spicier in hot weather as opposed to being harvested in cooler temperatures.
Thinning  Thinning is really hard as I want everything to grow and succeed in my garden. But if you do not thin, your radishes will be thin and weak.After 3 weeks, take every 2-3 seedling out and leave on with 1” space between each.
Bolting If radishes are not thinned properly, they will be weak, skinny and small.
Flowers I let a few go to flower to see what the flowers looked like. The flower heads are simple 4 petal flowers either in pink or white. Seed pods grow along the length of the extended stem. While still fleshy, you can eat these as well. Pods have the typical radish bite flavor, but are similar to miniature pea pods.
Harvesting Tops of the radishes should peek from the ground. This variety is the size of marbles when mature. Can harvest in succession.
Uses Radishes are great eaten whole, used on sandwiches or sliced in salads. They can be used in bunches to create a wreath to hang on the door for a unique decoration.
Storage Tips To keep fresh, store fruit in a cold bath of water in refrigerator for up to three weeks.


Swiss Chard Beta vulgaris

Rainbow Chard‘Bright Lights’Stalks come in a vivid range of yellow, pink, red, yellow and orange.  Large, dark green ribbed leaves. Container Chard‘Easter Egg II’ Brilliant gold stems hold deep green and ribbed leaves. This particular variety is great either in the ground or in containers for small, urban gardens.  
chard-rainbow chard-gold1


Planting February – September  Chard does well in containers and in the ground. Hard seed kernels are easy for little fingers to handle.
Did You Know?  Chard heirloom varieties harkens from New Zealand.
Thinning  Thinning to 8” apart to allow for ample growth. Bolting One main stem will shoot up a flower spike. To keep chard leaves tender, remove any flowering stem. Flowers Will spring up from a flowering stem. Cut the flower stalk off and use it in an arrangement.
Harvesting Chard can be a perennial in the right conditions. If the winter is mild, it may grow back again the next spring.Continually harvesting will produce shorter, sweeter leaves and stems.
Uses Chard is great in salads or steamed like spinach. It can be used in soups or lasagna.
Storage Tips To extend life, cut stems and store in a glass of water with stems submerged.


Peas Pisum sativum

Edible Pod Bush Peas  ‘Sugar Sprint’peas

• A stringless pea variety that is great to grow on bamboo trellises, or iron teepees covered in netting to give the vines something to scramble up on.

• Make sure to train the vines when small to grow upward.

• Large seeds can be pushed directly in soil with a #2 pencil. Mark 1.5″ up the pencil to make sure they are consistently sown to the same depth.

Planting  February – May (spring harvest), July – August (fall harvest) Soak seeds in water for at least one hour prior to planting. Grows to 24” – 30” tall.
Did You Know? Peas are nitrogen fixing so not only do they provide food, they supply nutrients for the soil as well.
Thinning Thinning to 2” apart to allow for ample growth.
Flowers  Simple, pure white pea flowers will cover the vines and be replaced with pea pods.
Harvesting Grab a bowl and pluck plump pea pods off the vines.
Uses Sugar snap peas can be eaten right off the vine and may not make it to the dinner table.They are great in stir fry, salads, dips or served steamed with butter.
Storage Tips Place in Ziploc bag in refrigerator or freezer to use later.


Learn More

For Pacific Northwest seed choices; visit the following seed companies online:

• Renee’s Garden

• Territorial Seeds

• Ed Hume Seeds

• Seeds of Change

Great books to research include:

• The Edible Garden, Sunset Books

• Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, Steve Solomon

Help Your Neighbor

Are your beds overflowing with fruits and veggies? Do the neighbors close the blinds and won’t answer the door when you come knocking with zucchini in a basket? Don’t waste that produce!


logo_par_1Plant a Row for the Hungry is a non-profit cause led by Garden Writers of America. Since 1995, over 14 million pounds of produce providing over 50 million meals have been donated by American gardeners.

Please consider planting one extra row of food to donate to those who need it most. Check with your local food bank or better yet, independent garden center that move local produce to people in need.

Feedback: Have you had any experience with growing cool weather crops in your garden or greenhouse? I would love to hear your experience and comments!
Garden and pea photos taken by Dawn Hummel. Radish and chard photos provided by Renee’s Garden.
Greenhouse Supplies

Garden Art & Festival Time

planted-trugHigh Tailing It to Fun
Who said the economy is hurting? Friday morning vendors reported a line of people waiting for the event to open.

sorticultureWe arrived at 11:30am and the place was already packed!  One of the things I love about summertime in the Pacific Northwest is the plethora of garden tours and festivals we have to choose from. Instead of going to the same events over and over, I try to attend a few each year I haven’t been to before.

One such event is Sorticulture which was recommended by a few garden friends in Seattle. The festival is held each year in Legion Memorial Park located in Everett, Washington from June 12 – 14, 2009. The 4-acre park had the unexpected delight of housing the Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens to explore as well.

fishsticksSorticulture featured hand crafted garden art, outdoor display gardens, kids’ activities, food vendors, wine garden, and live music. There were Washington and Oregon garden personalities on hand for garden focused presentations.

Washington-based specialty nurseries offered reasonably priced plants to take home. Lush and tropical Honey Bush (Melianthus major) for $9.00 in a gallon pot was a steal!

water_jugSorticulture has the same feeling as the Salem’s Art Festival held at Bush Pasture Park July 17-19, 2009 only on a slightly smaller scale and with more of a plant focus.

Parking was easy if you arrived early. If not, the city of Everett provided free parking and bus service from Everett Community College. The event was free to the public and on a bright, sunny clear day in June there was nothing finer.

One of the inspiring display gardens was created by Planscapes landscape designer Pam Roy.
Housed in a round metal animal watering trough, Pam created a self-contained garden island. She carefully place two bubbling rocks and filled the space ornamental grass, Acanthus mollis, Irish moss, and glass artwork topped off with crushed gravel and rocks. It was a perfect example of how even in a small space – a miniature, peaceful garden space can be designed.

I am not opposed to driving to find treasures that may escape us locally. To make it a worthwhile day trip from Portland, I stopped by Ravenna Gardens and Smith & Hawken at University Village on the drive up. Dana, my Seattle plant buddy and I strolled through the vendor booths at a comfortable pace and finished in about two hours. Arms bursting with books, plants and garden art we had a successful garden fair.  On the way home, we rounded the day out with a stop to Molbak’s located in Woodinville, Washington.

Please consider adding Sorticulture to your garden event must do list for June 2010!

Photos taken by Dawn Hummel, June 2009.