Friday, March 30, 2012

Paper Towel Roll "Peat" Pots

 By: Jessica S. Herwick

                                                                               This is a great trick that gardeners have been passing down for generations.  Don’t buy tons of peat pots, or biodegradable seed pots that claim you can bury them in the garden when transplanting.
Repurposing your empty paper towel rolls (or toilet paper rolls) to make seed starting pots is a quick and easy task that requires nothing more than a pair of scissors, a little water, and some fine motor skills.  An added bonus - just like the big name biodegradable seed pots, this seed starting method is one-stop-planting.  You start the seed in your homemade paper pot, and when the time comes to transplant the seedlings, you can plant                
                                                                                    the whole thing directly in the ground.  Try it out!

How To Make the Paper Pot ~
If using paper towel rolls, start by cutting them in half.
Toilet paper rolls are the perfect size already.
Make four 1/2 inch cuts to create 4 flaps at the bottom of the roll.
Make sure the flaps reach each other across the bottom.  You might have to make
the cuts longer than 1/2 inch to create a secure bottom for your paper towel pot.

Make four additional cuts, 1/4 inch long, one in the center of each flap.
Fold the opposing flaps into each other and secure in the center using the 1/4" slits.

Complete the bottom of your pot by folding the remaining flaps into each other and
securing them in place using the 1/4" slits.
Run the newly formed paper pot under the faucet to dampen the flaps at the
bottom. While the cardboard is still wet, sit the bottoms on a flat surface and use
a spoon to push the inside flaps down.  As the cardboard dries, the wet paper
will stick to itself and create a sturdy bottom for your paper pot. Allow to
air dry for 12 hours, or until all dampness has gone from the paper.

How To Start Your Seeds ~
Use a spoon to fill your paper pot with your preferred seed starting medium.  Check
the instructions on your seed packets for sowing depth if you're not sure how
much medium to put into the pot. Do not over pack the soil! It should be fluffy with
lots of room for the roots and stalk of the plants to do their thing!

Add your seed (one to a pot is best) and push down into the medium.  Note your seed
pack for depth!  Cover with a small sprinkling of medium and push down gently.
Do not over pack!  It should be fluffy with lots of room for the roots
and stalk of the plants to do their thing as they germinate.

Wet the medium so the water slightly dampens the cardboard of the paper pot.
Note that some water will drain from the bottom of the pot upon watering!
Note also that the paper pots are less sturdy from the bottom when they are wet.  I
recommend using a small plastic or terra cotta container (or clean yogurt cup!) to
prop and support the pots when planting.

Transfer planted pots into freezer bags with zip tops and label.
Seal top to create a warm, moise environment for your seed to germinate.
Note that three paper pots fit well into a sandwich bag.
Set above the fridge or in a quiet, sunny corner to germinate your seeds.
Open bag when seedlings emerge.
Hint: If writing directly on the plastic bag to label, do this before you
fill the bags.  It makes things much easier, and is the one step I often forget!

This Method Is Especially Effective With ~

* Pole Beans
* Bush Beans
* Any variety of Pea
* Tomato
* Cucumbers 
    (Transplanting is super easy - make your mound, dig a central space for the cylinder pots, and insert!)

For more information and ideas for repurposing your recycled goods to benefit your garden ~

Friday, March 23, 2012

Second Saturday Lasagna Gardening Presentation

The most recent Second Saturday was a presentation on Lasagna Gardening. The two Master Gardeners Cynthia Bailey and Andrea Lewandowski put together a great presentation describing the techniques and the reasons for gardening this way. It is a type of gardening that requires no digging and relies on layers of materials to benefit the garden.  As Cynthia expressed, it is easy on the back and cheap. This is a great method for all gardeners interested in organic gardening and making gardening a lifelong easier job.

As I was reading about Lasagna Gardening I came across an article in motherearthnews about Ruth Stout. Who is she? One of the first persons to advocate "No Dig" gardening. Ruth wrote a book in the 60's with the title "Gardening without work" For the aging, the Busy and the Indolent. Her bio is fascinating and shows the best practices for gardening are always alive and well in the gardening circles. Enjoy.

Starting Seeds with Repurposed Recycling

By:  Jessica S. Herwick

With March in full swing, and April just around the corner, the time has come to prepare for this year’s garden!  Hooray!  This means starting the seeds you have spent the last few months collecting, drying, researching, and/or purchasing… if you haven’t done so already.  This also means that you will begin to see all sorts of fancy seed starting kits in your local nurseries and hardware stores.  Many big-name companies sell a variety of pricey, pre-packaged seed starting materials that claim to get the best results from your seed packages, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to spend that money!  

Budget the cash you would set aside for starter kits and buy more seeds. Instead, repurpose your recycling!  Discarded toilet paper and paper towel rolls, egg cartons, newspaper, yogurt cups, milk cartons, soda bottles and even your old newspapers can be used as fabulous seed starting containers!  You will be amazed with how many containers you throw away every week that simulate the very same properties as big-name growing kits on the market.  I encourage everyone out there to tilt your heads slightly to the left, and examine your recycling in a different way.  Look at the containers you already have available and think creatively about how to use them.  Included below are a few "how-to" ideas to get you started. Each week, a new set of instructions will be posted below to provide you with a new method you can experiment with every week throughout April. A new link will appear below on the days marked in blue. Note the dates, and stay tuned! 

March 30 ---- Paper Towel Rolls  One Step Planting!  
Great for starting beans, peas, nasturtiums and potatoes (from quartered starters).
LINK -> Paper Towel Roll "Peat" Pots - HOW TO

April 6  ------  Seed Tape   One Step Planting!
Most effective when used to prepare carrots, leafy lettuces, spinach, radishes and onions.  Many annual flower seeds are tiny and work well using seed tape as well.  The tiny seeds of most herbs also thrive when planted using this method.  
April 13 ----- Gallon Milk Containers and Soda Bottles 
I prefer using these for tomatoes, since the tops can be laid back onto the container to create a greenhouse effect.

If you are concerned about cleaning your plastics, see Why Sanitize for quick tips on how to soak and sanitize plastic properly.  Click on the link below.

April 13 ---- Egg Cartons
Perfect for starting herbs.  This is the only way I plant my herbs.  Lettuce also likes to germinate in egg cartons, from my experience.   You do have to thin the seedlings when using this method, but the number of plants it produces make it well worth the effort.

April 20 ---- Newspaper   One Step Planting!
Great for potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and other squash/melons.  You can fold the edges high and fill with a low soil line to support the vines as the plant grows.  Another benefit to the newspaper method is the easy transplanting.  If you dampen the newspaper, and loosely rip the bottom, you can plant the whole thing in the garden.  No need to remove from the starter pot!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Herbed Infused Shortbread Recipe for The Creative Nine to Fivers

by Jessica S. Herwick

I know that for many of us, there’s just never enough time in a day, or in a week for that matter.  If I could, I would spend most of my waking hours tending to my herb garden and playing in the kitchen.  Of course, like most of you out there, I seldom find the time for these sorts of things, but I try. I’ve been known to use most any special occasion as an excuse to clear an afternoon and bake something out of the ordinary.  My motto: Try to make time.  And when I can’t, I make these cookies. You can make them in thirty-minute phases, prepare the dough days in advance and then refrigerate until you’re ready bake.  You can use a whole slew of herbs, fresh or dried, in various combinations and it’s quite easy to dress them for practically any event - office party, family reunion, pot-luck or book club. 

Convinced? Follow the basic recipe below, using simple ingredients, referring to the Variation Recommendations at the bottom of the recipe for a list of herbs you can infuse, and other tricks, to make distinctly different cookies every time you bake.  I prefer to use fresh herbs from my garden or local co-op.  If you are unfamiliar with using herbs in baking recipes, I recommend trying Rosemary, Thyme or Lavender for your first batch. If you don’t have the luxury of an herb garden, most of the recommended herbs (fresh or dried) can be found prepackaged for your convenience at your local grocery store. Guaranteed to impress and leave your friends, relatives, or co-workers wondering what you put in those fabulous cookies … and where you found the time to bake such gourmet treats!

Basic Herb Infused Shortbread Recipe (produces 24 cookies)

8 oz (2 sticks) butter
5 tbs. fresh herb of choice or 3 tbs. dry herb
(Photo examples feature Rosemary)
½ cup sugar
2 cups flour

** small food processor or scissors
    needed to chop fresh herbs. **

Preparations (butter and herb infused sugar)

·      Begin by softening your butter. Remove it from the fridge and place in a space at room temperature to soften (about 15 minutes). 

·      Prepare the Infused Sugar – using the sugar and herbs called for in the ingredients.

PREPARE DRIED HERB INFUSED SUGAR by crushing dried leaves of herb and discarding stems or seeds (if your dried herbs are pre-packaged, they may already be crushed and de-seeded).  Combine the ½ cup sugar with the 3 Tbs. of the dried, crushed leaves (if pre-packaged herbs are crushed to a powder-like consistency, add 2 Tbs. or the herb taste will be very strong).

PREPARE FRESH HERB INFUSED SUGAR by rinsing and drying your herb sprigs.  Remove the leaves for use (set stems and seeds aside for other projects).  When leaves are completely dry, measure out 5 Tbs. of lightly packed herb leaves and combine with the ½ cup sugar in a food processor.  Blend until leaves are fully chopped to a fine consistency and sticking lightly to the sugar (the fresh herbs release oils that will cause subtle moisture as they break down).

To Make the Dough
·      Combine 8 oz. butter and ½ cup infused sugar. Mix to a smooth consistency with no large lumps.
     *Hint: Use a large fork or a wooden spoon to push the butter into the sugar until it forms.  Don’t be afraid to use your hands.  They are warm and will help to melt the butter, making it easier to combine with the sugar. 
·      Add 2 cups of flour and mix until the dough becomes lumpy (Photo A) then smooth and consistent (Photo B).  Use fork, wooden spoon or hands.  I find the most success using a spoon to start and then finish using my hands.
                                           Photo A
Photo B


·   Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a solid, rectangular block  (roughly 12”x9”x1/4”) with no cracks.
Photo C
     *Hint: Use wax paper to easily shape the dough.  Roll dough into a long snake and lay on wax paper.  Fold wax paper around dough and push the edges against the table, shaping the dough inside the wax paper into a rectangle and smoothing out the cracks. (See Photo C)
      ·  Wrap rectangle completely in wax paper and tape edges closed.
Photo D

·      Refrigerate for 1 hour to 36 hours.  If refrigerating for more than a few hours before baking, wrap the wax papered dough in plastic wrap or store in a sealable sandwich bag (to retain moisture).
·      Remove dough from refrigerator just before you are going to cut and bake.  The colder it is, the easier to slice, but don’t let the dough dry out!

To Bake
·      Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Oil your cookie sheets.
·      Remove dough from refrigerator and unwrap.
·   Place on a cutting board and slice rectangular pieces about ¼ to ½ inch thick. (See Photo E)
·      Place cookies on cookie sheet about ¾ inch apart.  Cookies will not change shape much in the oven. (See Photo F)
Photo F
Photo E
·      Bake at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the tops of the cookie begin to turn a
sandy color.  This happens quickly. Cookies must be removed or they will burn shortly after
the color begins to change, so keep your eye on the cookies during the last five minutes of bake
·      Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool for about 5 minutes before removing from
sheet.  BEWARE! Cookies will be soft until they cool.
·      Use a spatula to remove the cookies from the baking sheet and
allow to completely cool on a plate or cooling rack.  Store in an airtight bag or container.

Variation Recommendations
Herbs to try in this recipe:
Rosemary, Lavender, Thyme, Sage, Peppermint.

Try the following herb combinations for a slightly different taste –
Rosemary and Thyme or Lemon Thyme
Lavender and Lemon Balm
Sage and Bee Balm (Bergamot)

Combine/Chop 3 Tbs. Anise seeds in food processor with the ½ cup sugar in place of infused herb sugar.

Combine/Chop ½ cup of ground pecans and 3 Tbs. of cinnamon with the ½ cup sugar in a food processor instead of infused herb sugar. 

To Dress the Cookies
Try dipping your herb infused cookies in chocolate:
Buy Bakers Chocolate already prepared to melt down at the grocery store and follow directions on package, or combine one bag (16oz.) of dark chocolate chips with 1 Tbs. Olive Oil and heat slowly in a pot on the stove, stirring frequently.  When chocolate is completely melted, remove from heat.  Dip one end of the cookie into the chocolate, or paint one side of the cookie with melted chocolate and lay on wax paper to dry.   
* Especially delicious with peppermint infused cookies!

If using fresh herbs, set aside a few whole sprigs or whole leaves and press into the cookie before baking, or press fresh leaves into chocolate if you are dipping your cookies.  You can do the same with flowers, if your herb is in bloom.

Sprinkle colored sugar onto the cookies before baking. 

Cookie dough can be rolled flat and cut using any shape cookie cutter!  If making cookies to be cut into shapes, I recommend doubling the recipe, since cookie cutters make slightly larger cookies than the standard, small, rectangular shortbread cookie shape.

If you’ve used this recipe, or have a cool variation, share it with us by commenting on this blog!  
Additional ideas welcome!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Second Saturday Grapefruit Yogurt Cake

By Eileen Kull

Hello all home bakers,
       Copied below is the recipe for the cake served at this month's Second Saturday Gardening Series. There were a lot of requests for the recipe, so here it is. Only the cake I made did not have the glaze. Enjoy!

Grapefruit Yogurt Cake

Adapted loosely from Ina Garten, (copied from the smitten kitchen website)

1 1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (230 grams) plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup (200 grams) plus 1 tablespoon (13 grams) sugar
3 extra-large eggs
1 tablespoon grated grapefruit zest (approximately one large grapefruit)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable oil
1/3 cup (80 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

For the glaze:
1 cup (120 grams) confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

Preheat the oven to 350�F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, grapefruit zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup grapefruit juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.
When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the grapefruit-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and grapefruit juice and pour over the cake.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Begonia Genus

By Kimberly Labno 

Rex Cultorum

Begonia is a huge diverse genus with over a thousand 
different species. The genus is represented by various groups including:  Semperflorens, Rex-cultorum, Rhizomatous, Tuberous (Multiflora and Pendula), Cane-stemmed, Winter-flowering, and Shrub-like.

Caring for your begonia is simple. Keep the soil moist not wet, bright light not direct sun, pinch the flowers and as far as fertilizing begonias is concerned, the general rule is to go lightly. 
In terms of caring for the plant when winter arrives, it boils down to whether one has a fibrous root, a tuber, or a rhizome. If you live in a cold area, you may want to grow semperflorens (wax begonias) in     pots so you can bring them in when it gets cold. 

Rhizomatous Mix
Many times Rex-cultorum is grown as an annual bedding plant. Watering “on demand” (or when the soil is dry to the touch) is a great way to keep Rex begonias happy. Avoid soggy conditions, but do not allow plants to wilt. Give Rex begonias a diluted dose of organic, soluble food every four to six weeks during the growing season. Begonias do not grow or use fertilizer efficiently below 58°F.
Rex begonias make excellent houseplants and can easily be overwintered indoors. To supply plants with adequate humidity, place containers on a tray of gravel, where runoff water may collect, evaporate, and raise the air-moisture level. Avoid placing plants near drafts.

Begonia tubers cannot remain in the soil over the winter in very cold climates. Wait until after a killing frost, and then dig up the tubers. Shake off any excess soil and let them dry in a warm spot for several days. Cut off any bad spots and then carefully pull the roots, stems and leaves off the tuber. Wrap each tuber in a brown paper bag or wrapper and put them in a cool, dry place for the winter.

Since there are so many varieties, learning proper begonia care is often a matter of learning from experience. As with any plant, inspect for insects before bringing it indoors. Also, be mindful of maintaining proper humidity because indoor humidity is much drier than out of doors.  For more details on begonias of all types and their care, the following sites are wonderful resources.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Seed Starting/Frost Dates for Philadelphia

By Lois Fischer

The times, they are a’changing…. particularly when it comes to the frost date in Philadelphia. With the recent changes in our climate zone number, the average frost-free date has been pushed back from May 15 to April 20 or so. Spring frost date is the average date of the last frost. The operative word here is average. As we all know, the weather can confound even the meteorologists.  So I wouldn’t be in a rush to set out my tender basil, tomato, eggplant and pepper plants. In fact, I don’t start planting tomatoes until the second week in May. One unexpected cold night can turn those lovely green leaves to black, wasting all of your time and energy spent raising those little beauties from seed. At the nursery where I work, I advise folks not to rush the planting of cold sensitive vegetables. Waiting an extra week to two will not dramatically change your harvest time and may save a trip to the garden center for replacement plants. However, if you just cannot wait to put those babies in the soil, I have two bits of advice. Keep your eye on the daily weather forecast for the nighttime temperatures and have floating row covers ready in case the thermometer drops into the upper 30’s to low 40’s. Vegetables that are cold tolerant – lettuces, peas, arugula, spinach, kale, broccoli, collards, mustard greens and the like – can be planted in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. “As soon as the soil can be worked”… what does that mean? During most winters, Philadelphia will receive a fair amount of rainfall or snowfall, making the soil wet and heavy. The soil needs to dry out so it can be easily turned. Seeds and seedlings planted in soggy, cold soil will rot. So, ignore the old adage of planting peas on St. Patrick’s Day unless it has been a dry and warm winter. Waiting an extra week for the soil to dry out and warm up a bit will mean better seed germination and happier seedlings. 

Seed Starting Chart from

Source URL:

Why Sanitize? Spring Cleaning Your Containers.

By Jessica S Herwick
Re-using your pots from last year can be a big money saver, and it reduces waste, which is always a plus. Even so, thrifty gardeners should beware!  You could be recycling all sorts of problematic pathogens, damaging mineral/salt deposits or even last year’s weeds in an effort to reduce your carbon footprint. 

The difficult to prevent white and gray rings that develop around your containers are mineral and salt deposits that accumulate over time. These are unattractive to some gardeners but can actually dehydrate a plant if the roots sit against areas with extreme collections of these deposits.  Spores and bacteria that cause mold, fungus and even root rot can stick to your containers, but hide from the naked eye.  This makes it impossible to detect which pots are harboring trouble for your new plants. So, even if it looks clean, it may not be.  Many of these pathogens will remain undetected until your seedlings are growing strong and then - BAM! - Out of nowhere, problematic and often fatal plant illnesses begin to crop up unexpectedly.

To diminish the risk of transferring mold, viruses and harmful bacteria from one seedling to the next, plan to sanitize your recycled pots, flats and gardening tools as you plan for this year’s garden.  Try the following methods for easy, affordable sanitization of your pots, flats and gardening equipment or see the links to read more about sanitization methods.  While you’re at it, consider pasteurizing your old potting soil instead of purchasing new bags this season.


You Will Need:  
Chlorine Bleach
(Also known as household bleach. Use only unscented.)
Liquid Measurement Device
(You can use most anything: measuring cups to reused gallon milk jugs. It just depends on the amount of solution you need to mix.)
Rubber Gloves or Kitchen Gloves

STRENGTH OF SOLUTION:  You want to mix a bleach and water solution that is strong enough to kill the harmful debris and break down remains from last year’s plants that might stick to the edges of the pots.  At the same time, if the bleach solution is too strong, it will be difficult to rinse from the pots – especially clay, terra cotta or other containers made of similarly porous material.  You do not want the bleach to come into direct contact with the new plants that you’ll eventually place into reused containers, so measure carefully, and the rest of the process will be a piece of cake.

SOLUTION RATIO:  The rule of thumb ratio, and the recommendation from the Penn State Extension Office is a 1:9 solution, meaning 1/10 unscented, chlorine bleach to 9/10 water.  The amount of solution you will need to mix will depend on the size and shape of the containers or equipment you are sanitizing.  You need enough space to completely submerge your containers (or all pieces of metal for gardening tools) in a pool of the bleach solution. Test out a large sink, bucket or basin to ensure your materials will fit well; Base your ratio on the amount of liquid your basin will hold. Estimating is okay, but try to stay as close to the real math as possible.

CONVERTING: One gallon equals 16 cups; One tenth of that is 378.541178 milliliters, or 1.6 cups. For a gallon container you would mix 1½ cups bleach with 14½ cups water to total 16 cups of liquid solution – or one gallon. Simple math can help you determine the proper ratio, or you can try an online conversion site and let them do the math for you! The conversion sites I have found to be the easiest and most helpful are listed below.

Hint #1:   Mix the bleach solution in a standard five-gallon bucket, then transfer the solution into spray bottles, or back into empty bleach containers for later use.  The fresher the solution, the stronger it will be.  Solution will keep well over time, but looses its strength the longer it sits.  If you cannot smell the bleach/chlorine in the water when you take a small sniff – if it doesn’t sting your nose at all - then the solution is no longer potent.  Use this method to test old bottles of solution before using to ensure success.
Hint #2:  Recycle your clear plastic, gallon milk jugs for easy measuring and storing!  Set a few aside before you put your weekly recycling out on the curb.  I mark off the line where 1½ cups of bleach sit on the outside of the milk jug with a sharpie.  Then, when it’s time to mix, I fill the bleach to my pre-marked line (using a funnel) and fill the rest of the jug with lukewarm water.  If I’m filling a five- gallon bucket, I do this 5 times, pouring the mixture in one gallon at a time.  This also helps to mix everything up, eliminating the need to stir the solution.

ALTERNATIVE METHOD: If you are absolutely against using chlorine bleach, you might want to try using heat to sanitize in place of the bleach solution. After using dish soap and warm water solution to scrub debris from your pots or garden tools, submerge and soak in boiling water  (180 degrees Fahrenheit at all times) for 30 to 60 minutes. The longer you maintain the temperature and continue the soak, the more pathogens you are killing off. Upon removing items from the hot water soak: Wash gently with mild soapy water (using dish soap again).  Rinse until the water runs clear, and set in direct sun to dry for 12 hours. May Not Be As Effective As Bleach Solution!!!

To Sanitize Plastic and Terra Cotta Pots and Planting Containers

You Will Need:
Chlorine Bleach (unscented)
Measuring Cup or Gallon Milk Jug (See above Hint #2)
Warm Water
Large Bucket, Basin or Kitchen Sink (for soaking)
Unscented Dish Soap
Scrub Brush or Old Tooth Brush
Steel Wool (for tough to remove mineral/salt deposits)
Rubber Gloves

·      Soak pots and planting containers in warm, soapy water to loosen fragments of matter.  Use a scrub brush to scour the pots clean, scrubbing off any debris as well as those nasty mineral/salt deposits. 
·      Use Steel Wool for difficult to remove stains and rinse with warm water until all the soap runs off.
·      Make a bleach solution: 1 part bleach to 9 parts water (see above for more info.)
·      Completely submerge pots and planting containers in solution and soak for 10 to 15 minutes. 
·      Upon removing the containers, rinse with warm water. 
·      Scrub lightly with soapy water (using unscented dish soap) and rinse well until soap runs off and water runs clear. Inspect for remaining residue and repeat procedure if necessary. 
·      Lay containers out to dry for 24 hours before using.  If possible, dry pots in direct sunlight.  Exposure to the sun can also help to kill off certain bacteria. 

NOTE:  If stains or heavy residue still remain after the sanitation process, it is not recommended to re-use the pot. Discard any materials when sanitization is unsuccessful. Some plastic pots can be recycled.  If you’ve stored containers or flats from your local nursery, you can often return them.  When I cannot sanitize a terra cotta pot, I break it into pieces and bury them in the backyard, away from the garden and ornamental shrubs.

To Sanitize Garden Tools
You Will Need:            
Chlorine Bleach (unscented)
            Measuring Cup or Gallon Milk Jug (See Above - Hint #2)
            Warm Water
            Large Bucket, Basin or Kitchen Sink (for soaking)
            Unscented Dish Soap
            Steel Wool or Wire Bristled Brush (for rust build up)
            Rubber Gloves

·      Soak tools in warm, soapy water to loosen fragments of matter.  Use steel wool or a wire bristled brush to scour the tool, scrubbing off any debris or rust spots.
·      Make a bleach solution: 1 part bleach to 9 parts water (see above for more info.)
·      Completely submerge tools in solution and soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
Hint:  If the tool is cumbersome or oddly shaped, and you cannot soak it, try filling a spray bottle with the fresh bleach solution.  Spray the entire tool to the point of saturation (until solution is dripping from the tool).  Allow to stand for 20 to 30 minutes before moving onto the next step.
·      Upon removing the tools, rinse with warm water. 
·      Scrub with soapy water (using unscented dish soap) and rinse well until soap runs off and water runs clear. Inspect for remaining residue and repeat procedure if necessary.  Ensure all the bleach has been rinsed off (bleach is corrosive and will cause rust if left on the metal of your tools).
·      Lay tools out to dry for 24 hours. If possible, dry in direct sunlight. Exposure to the sun can also help to kill off certain bacteria, and will help your tools dry completely – small areas around hinges or other joints will collect water, and if not dried properly, or if bleach remains, both conditions will cause rust to form on your tools. 

NOTE: When you are finished drying your tools, oil them before putting away.  Use machine oil or penetrating oil.  Dip a dry cloth into the oil and rub onto all metal areas of the tool.  Rub as if you are applying stain or oiling a pan for baking.  Use a dry cloth or go over the oiled areas to remove excess.  

To Pasteurize Potting Soil for Re-Use
You Will Need:
An Oven or An Outdoor Grill
High Heat Thermometer
Old cookie sheets

·      Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. 
·      Spread several inches of dry soil across the cookie sheet.  Do not overload the pan, but utilize the space.
·      Place cookie sheet full of soil into oven. 
Hint:  Heating soil inside an insulated oven can leave an odor for several days after the process is complete.  To help prevent smell, heat oven to 200 degrees instead of 180 and leave the oven door slightly ajar during the heating process then place a box of baking soda into the oven once cooled, or try open broiling fresh lemons in a pan of water to kill the stench.
·      Use your thermometer to take readings of the center of the soil every few minutes.  When the soil temperature reaches to 212 degrees Fahrenheit or above, most soil borne organisms cannot survive and the soil is considered sterile for all standard potting purposes. 
·      Remove soil from oven and place out to cool, keeping soil on cookie sheet. 
Hint:  Pasteurizing potting soil will kill all organisms – good and bad.  Before re-using sterilized potting soil, combine organic matter, compost, or slow release fertilizer according to directions in order to rejuvenate you’re potting mix and replace necessary minerals and helpful organisms.  Note that fertilizer can create higher amounts of salt deposits.  Bone meal, blood meal and compost are less likely to contain harmful salts.

Outdoor Grilling Method:  An outdoor grill works as well as an oven, and will prevent the strange, earthy smell that cooking soil produces from contaminating your house for 48 hours. Purchase or re-use large aluminum roasting pans, fill with old soil, cover and place on the grill until temperatures reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir once to encourage the soil to heat evenly. Remove, cool, and mix in your organic matter to rejuvenate the soil.

Boiling Water Method: Boiling water can also kill off most of the harmful organisms lurking in your old soil.  Try poking holes in the bottom of a large storage container, paint bucket, or other plastic container.  Fill 2/3rds of the way with your old soil.  Boil enough water to pour continuously over the entire mass of soil.  Pour the boiling water into the container until the soil becomes muddy. Be sure to place your container in a location where the boiling water can safely drain out through the holes at the bottom of your container.  A few large stones along the bottom of your container will help with drainage if the soil is very fine and clogs the holes.  Place in the sun, covered with black plastic (a cut up garbage bag will do).  When it is dry, mix in a little organic matter and use.   

To read more about sanitization and pasteurization methods, check out the extension links and websites below:

The National Garden Association has a website full of helpful hints and information according to region.  Check them out at