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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Garden Bloggers Book Club January Meeting

Welcome to the 3rd meeting of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club. Today we are sharing our thoughts on Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis. And as is becoming our custom, we also came up with a way for those who didn’t read the book to participate by writing a post about anything related to the soil or compost.

So today’s club meeting is all about soil and compost and the creatures that live within it. I think for dessert we should have one of those dirt cakes, don’t you?

But since this is the Internet, I can’t personally serve you food and drinks, so grab your favorite drink and snack and give yourself some time to go through this post. As usual with the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club meeting posts, there are all kinds of links to explore.

Let’s dig in!

First you can go to Jeff Lowenfel’s web site to get some more information about who he is. I could not find information on Wayne Lewis on the Internet, but on the back flap of the cover, he is described as a lifelong Alaskan gardener who has worked with Jeff on various projects over the past 20 years, including the national Plant a Row for the Hungry program, which Jeff started in Alaska. Check the media guide for the book for more information on Jeff.

And I found Jeff’s lecture notes for gardening with the soil food web, which might be a helpful refresher if you read the book or a glimpse of what the book is all about if you didn’t read it. Once you get to his lecture notes, there are many more links to various web sites with information about the soil food web and composting. But don’t get too lost in those links, because you want to have time to read all the posts from the book club members.

And here are those links!

Kathy has two posts. Her original review and a follow up to clarify some of her thoughts.

Tyler joined us for the first time with this post from his Chicago garden.

Colleen will be teaming with microbes as well with her review.

Old Roses also read the book and provided a review.

Bill did not have a chance to read the book, but wrote about another book related to compost and soil.

Jenn also did not have a chance to get the book, but wrote about two soil-related books she has in her library.

Annie didn’t think she would have time to read and write about the book, but did include a lot of compost info in another post on her blog.

Phillip, a real soil scientist, is also a first time participant in the book club, and wrote about the book, which he had just received.

I also wrote about the book and previously wrote a story about finding something in my compost which is an old post that might be interesting to those who have just recently been reading my blog.

El stayed up late last night to post her review; she just got the book last Thursday!

Tracy provided a nice rundown of what she learned from the book, a good synopsis for those who haven’t yet read the book.

And I was sort of expecting a review from Genie, but haven’t seen it yet, so I’ll include her pre-post about reading the book. *Update* Genie's post is now live on her blog

The other interesting thing about choosing this book is that this is the first time we’ve heard from the author of the book we selected, either via comment or email to some. (I know it helps to choose a book by someone who is still living!) I assume he’ll find and read this post, too. At least I hope he does because we’ve given him great insight into what “regular gardeners” like and don’t like about this book.

Thank you to all who participated, some for the third time, others for the first time! I hope you enjoyed all the reviews and comments from the book club members. Remember that any and all are welcome to participate, so if you were intending to post something on your blog, but just didn’t get around to it, please post anytime, let me know about your post via a comment or the email address on the sidebar, and I’ll add you to this post.

Note Feb. 12th... Gloria has now posted her review of the book.

GBBC - Post coming later this evening!

If you haven't posted yet for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club for January, you have a few more hours. I will not publish the official post with links to all the reviews until late tonight. So, get that post published on your blog, and send me a comment to let me know it is there!

(And since you are already here, why not look at the post from Sunday with the hyacinths and add a comment with your guess as to when the first hyacinth will bloom and what color it will be? "Bloom" is defined as when I can see at least one floret, with color!)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Stop and Look at the Crocuses

This has been one of those weekends where it seemed there was too much to do and not enough time to do it all. I've been rushing around, it seems, since getting home from work rather late, too late, on Friday.

But, I wasn't too rushed to miss seeing the first crocus bud of the season. See - right there below.

Not quite as showy as some of those camellias that have been showing up on garden blogs, but for us northern gardeners, the first crocus is a milestone of sorts. It is a reminder that winter will actually end some day. I checked my garden records, and this is about the same week, more or less, when I see the first crocus every year. So even though expected, it is still a good day when I see the first crocus blooms.

And below is a close-up, because I knew you all would be excited with me. Spring is coming! Spring is coming!
I was also at Sam's Club today and do you know what they have for sale? Summer bulbs... elephant ears, caladiums, glads, dahlias. I went by the display and first thought, "too early" and walked on by. Then a force that I can not explain made me go back by it. I looked at the bags of elephant ears bulbs. 10 for $12.67. They were kind of on the small side, but then again, 10 for $12.67. So I got them. I'm not sure where I will plant 10 elephant ears, even on the small side, but I'll figure that out. A few of them might even end up in a niece or nephew's Easter basket.

So I thought I was in the clear, ready to go with my bag of elephant ear bulbs. Then I found myself by that display again! This time I looked at a bag of caladiums. 60 for $12.67. I was thinking back to when I paid $2.49, even $3.49, for one caladium already started. These were just 21 cents each. I rationalized that even if only half of them sprouted, that was still a pretty good deal. Never mind that I don't know where I will put up to 60 caladiums. Never mind that it is January and the temperature is in the teens. I got the caladiums, too.

Both bags are now hanging up in the garage, which stays fairly warm. Later this spring I'll pot them up and see how they do.

Green Thumb Sunday - Hyacinths Week 4

We are seeing some real progress now. I figured out what was going on with the bulb on the lower left in the opaque green vase. Apparently "someone" didn't put in quite enough water and so the bulb didn't realize it was time to start growing. That situation has been corrected, and now it is starting to grow roots. If you get close enough, you can actually start to smell hyscinths, though no blooms are really visible.

Anyone care to guess when the 1st bloom will actually show, and what color it will be? The color choices are pink and blue.

I'm going to guess Sunday, February 4th and it will be a blue flower, in honor of the Indianapolis Colts playing in the Super Bowl that day. Go Colts!

Green Thumb Sunday

Friday, January 26, 2007

Roto-Tiller For Sale, Teaming With Microbes

I just finished reading Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis.

As you can see from the picture, I tried the experiment on page 36 to see what my garden soil consisted of. I didn’t have a tablespoon of water softener to add, but since I used soft water, I figured that would be okay. My soil seemed to settle into two layers and on top was some organic matter, then fairly clear water, and then some floaters (more organic matter) up by the lid (trying to get out?). I used soil from my raised bed vegetable gardens, where I’ve added lots of compost over the years. I think I would see much different layering if I dug up where the lawn is, since that soil has not been amended.

And as I read about what else you can do to find out what your soil food web is really made of (Chapter 13), I made a mental note that this should be science fair project for my nephew who is 11 years old. I think he’ll be ready for that in a year or so, and I’ll get a free analysis of my soil if I help him.

After reading the book, I’ve decided I am doing some things that are pro-soil food web, but I do have some practices to change. Can I make those changes?

One of the practices the authors say to discontinue is roto-tilling. Fortunately, I actually did stop roto-tilling in my vegetable garden about 7 years ago, when I converted to raised beds. Every spring, as I plant each bed I turn over the soil in just that bed and rake it smooth. Now, apparently I should just lightly hoe up the bed and then plant. Hey, that’s less work, and that’s always a good thing. And I still get to use a hoe!

I did take a “soil science” class in college, but learned quite a bit more reading Teaming With Microbes. I don’t know if it is the passage of time making me forget what I had learned before, or the advancement of soil science providing more to learn, but I kept thinking “why didn’t they teach us this in soil science class”? I’m not saying they didn’t, I’m saying I don’t remember it if they did. I think they must have taught us “classic soil science”.

In the class, we did learn about clay, silt, and sand and how to rub soil between our thumb and index finger to try to determine soil texture.

We also saw where the prairie meets the timberland. They took us on a field trip to look at soil. Yes, that seems odd and my friends laughed back then about someone taking such a class, so you can laugh now, it is okay. I’m a gardener, I can take it. I don’t know exactly where we went, but it wasn’t too far from Lafayette, Indiana. We got off the bus and the professor had us turn to the east and look at the tree line, then turn around and look west to see nothing but grasses all the way to the horizon. Then he proudly proclaimed that we were standing right where the timberland gave way to the prairie.

We also learned to remember “See Hopkins cafĂ© might good” to remember that the elements needed for plant growth are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, potassium, iodine, nitrogen, sulfur, calcium, iron, and magnesium (CHOPKINSCaFeMg). I don’t know if that is THE list of THE only elements required for plant growth, but it was what they had us remember.

The biggest difference between my long-ago soil science class and this book? In the class, I think they primarily taught us about soil structure, but not so much about what lives in the soil. And what lives in the soil makes a difference. So I am happy to have expanded my knowledge of the soil food web and will recommend this book to any gardener who wants to better understand the soil in the garden, and probably more importantly, understand what LIVES in that soil and how to care for it.

If you have also written a post about the book, or compost or soil in general, please comment with a link so I can be sure to add you to the club post, which will likely go out Wednesday, January 31. So far, I have 8 posts, but will take as many as want to participate. No limits in the blogosphere, plenty of room for all!)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Green Fields and Leaves and Blossoms of Gold

It is pleasant to think, just under the snow,
That stretches so bleak and blank and cold,
Are beauty and warmth that we cannot know,
Green fields and leaves and blossoms of gold.

-Fay Hampstead, American poet (1847-1934)

Here is the snow all bleak and blank and cold.

Green Fields from last summer


Blossoms of Gold (False Sunflower)

We've experienced 35 days of winter so far and have 54 more days until the official start of spring. Winter seemed to start later this year, with our first real snowfall on Sunday.

Today, by the way, marks the 29th anniversary of the "Blizzard of '78", as we old-timers call it, a blizzard that set records which, thankfully, have not been broken. And where was I? I was at Purdue University. A freshman. (I'll let you decide if you want to do a calculation of my age with that little tid bit of information.) We had a lot of snow. A lot of snow. For the 1st time in the history of the university, classes were canceled... for two and a half days.

One of the big bonuses of the blizzard was a chance to go to a basketball game for free. Purdue vs. Minnesota. The Minnesota team was already in town, stuck, so they decided to go ahead with the game, and somehow got the word out that they would let students in for free if they just came to the game. So several of us bundled up and trudged through the waist high snow to the arena. (Okay, it wasn't waist high snow, but we did trudge a bit). I don't remember who won the game, but I know I loved going to that game and I quickly regretted that I had not purchased a season ticket.

But I purchased season tickets the next three years. You know who I saw play during those years? Magic Johnson, with his Michigan State team. We beat them in the LOUDEST basketball game I've ever attended. Larry Bird from Indiana State came for a game, too. I can't remember who won that game. Of course we did not know at the time that we should pay close attention because they would be Hall of Fame basketball players. We did know they were good and there was a buzz about them.

I'm thankful I've never seen snow like that since then. I'm also thankful that we did get some snow this year, finally. It just seems right, like it is really winter. And when it is really winter, we are much more appreciative of spring.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What Makes a Gardener - The Answers!

Why does it seem to take some courage, a little “gumption”, to stand up amongst the crowd and say “I’m a gardener”? Even if you feel as though you were born to garden and be a gardener, admitting it to others seems difficult.


I think it is because once someone says “I am a gardener”, others, especially those who don’t regularly garden, suddenly have expectations that everything the gardener plants grows. And we know it doesn’t. Expectations that the self-proclaimed gardener’s gardens will be perfect, ready for the cover of “name that glossy gardening magazine”, and we know they won’t be. Expectations that the gardener will know about all plants and how to grow them. And we know they won’t.

But they’ll still be a gardener! They’ll be like all of us gardeners. In love with gardening and plants, willing to try to grow a plant, accepting and understanding that no garden is perfect, and eager to find out about any plants we don’t know anything about!

We have several bloggers who responded to an earlier post about What Makes A Gardener with their own blog post to proclaim “Yes, I am a gardener”.

I salute them all with this round up post with links to their answers.

Leslie at Growing a Garden In Davis

Colleen at In the Garden Online

Old Roses at A Gardening Year

Salix Tree at Windy Willow

Girl Gone Gardening

Gardenmomma at Down My Garden Path

Tyler at My Chicago Garden

Sissy at Got Serenity

Me at May Dreams Gardens

Genie The Inadvertent Gardener

And Stuart for providing instructions on how to become a gardener.

Thanks all!

(If you posted in response to “What Makes A Gardener” and I missed you, please let me know and I’ll add you to the list.)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What Would You Pay?

What price would you pay for admission?

I read in the local paper today that some tickets to the Super Bowl will go for as high as $7,000. One Colts season ticket holder, lucky enough to win a lottery drawing of all season ticket holders, paid a face value of $1,220 for two tickets. He still has to get to Miami, get a hotel room, buy food, rent a car, and of course, buy the t-shirt. That’s a lot of seed and plant money!

So what price would you pay to attend a “horticultural symposium”? Symposium sounds pretty high-brow, doesn’t it? There is such an event coming to my city. The overall topic is “Harmonious Planting Design” and featured speakers include Craig Bergmann, C. Colston Burrell, Kathy Tracey and Keith Wiley. Price of admission? $119. Lunch included!

I went to this event last year, and actually wrote one of my earliest blog posts about it. Gosh, after reading it, I sure sound like I enjoyed the day. And I did! But now I am wonder if it is worth going again.

Has anyone heard any of these people speak before? Would they be worth the price of admission? Or should I save my money and buy more seeds and plants this spring? I have just a few days to decide.


I am pleased to announce the winners of the name that plant contest!

The 1st plant was a Penta or Star Flower. Sissy was the 1st to comment with the correct identification and several others confirmed it.

The 2nd plant was Plumbago. Pam was the 1st to comment with this information and several others confirmed it. Plus, this was the name I couldn't think of that as soon as I read her comment, I remembered.

The 3rd plant was Coleus. I might have fooled a few into thinking it was some kind of exotic flower growing in my sunroom but not Kathy!

Sissy and Pam win my gratitude. Thank you!

Kathy will be the first post listed when I post the February “club meeting” for the Gardener Bloggers’ Book Club next week. I sure hope she plans to post something!

Thanks to all for your comments and helpful information.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Name that Plant, Win a Prize

I need help. Those are three powerful words, aren't they? Everyone wants to be helpful, to feel needed, to feel like they can contribute.

You can help me out, and I'll give you a prize. Just name these plants.

Here is Plant #1. The picture was sent to me from someone who is wintering in Florida, so I assume this is a plant that flowers in the winter there. If you name this one, your prize will be my gratitude. It's not much but, it is easy to send over the Internet.

Below is Mystery Plant #2, sent by the same person, so it is also flowering in the winter in Florida. This one is on the tip of my brain, but I'm too tired to think. The prize for this one is also my gratitude.
But if you correctly identify both plants, I'll wrote a blog post about what a smart gardener you are, with a link and everything.

And below is a bonus plant to identify. This is mystery plant #3. It is flowering in my sunroom right now, and believe it or not, I previously posted a picture of the plant in December. If you are the first to correctly identify this one, then I'll make sure you are the first to "speak" (be listed) when I post the Garden Bloggers' Book Club post next week. (I actually do know what this one is.)

Void where prohibited. I will award as many gratitude prizes as there are correct answers. Correct answers on the 1st two plants must be confirmed by at least one other gardener. Blog post award will go to the 1st person who correctly identifies both plants. And obviously, there can only be one winner for prize #3.
Commence play!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Serenity in the Garden, Excitement in the City

We woke up this morning to see that we had finally gotten our first significant snowfall of the winter. This is a picture of the raised bed vegetable garden, taken from about the same spot I took pictures from this summer. It was one of those wet, heavy snows that will probably be mostly gone in a few days, if temperatures go above freezing. This is actually normal weather for January, so we aren't alarmed or worried about it. We just shovel our drives, throw some extra bird seed out for the birds, and keep dreaming about spring.

I'll have to remember this picture next summer when we have those really hot days that make the garden (and the gardener) wilt by noon. I'm sure it will at least mentally cool me down.

I'll also remember that today is the day that the Indianapolis Colts won the AFC Championship. They, and the entire city, are heading to the Super Bowl! Go Colts!

Green Thumb Sunday - Hyacinths Week 3

I'm starting to see some buds already. On several of these, the flower buds are starting to show, especially in that clear green vase in the center. All the bulbs came from the same bag and so had the same cold treatment.

Without really planning it that way, I will have a succession of bloom, assuming that 'slow' bulb in the opague green vase on the lower left grows some more. Sometimes you get a stubborn bulb that doesn't want to be forced to bloom!

Green Thumb Sunday

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Here Come the Seeds

Aren't those pretty seed packets? The mailman delivered two orders of seeds to my house so far this week. These are the seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds. I placed this seed order last Saturday evening while I was watching the Colts vs. Ravens football game. I can't "just watch" games like that. I have to be doing something else at the same time.

And there in the upper right hand corner are some perennial seeds from Hardy Plants. I've got a lot to say about those (all good!) so I'll have to do a follow up post, probably during the Colts vs. Patriots game tomorrow. (See above... these games that are "win or go home" are nerve wracking, so I have to do something else while I watch.)

I am used to getting plain brown seed envelopes when I get seeds by mail order, so these pretty seed packets were a nice surprise. Plus, the company likes me! They gave me a coupon to get money off my next order. Can you imagine? As though I need an incentive to order more seeds? Those pictured above are just the vegetable seeds. I haven't even started working on the flower seed orders, except for those few perennial seeds.

The other task I can do during the big game tomorrow is create my 2007 seed tracking spreadsheet. Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening has posted some instructions for people new to spreadsheets if you also want to do this. I've done this for the past 9 years or so, and it does help me keep track of all the seeds each year.

Is it a sign of an obsessive compulsive disorder to list all your seeds in a spreadsheet? Absolutely not! If I was OCD, do you think I would have just piled up all those seed packets for a picture like the one above? No, I would have placed them in nice neat rows like this:

Go Colts!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Book Club January Newsletter

Next “Meeting” – January 30th (or so):

How quickly time seems to fly! Already, we are on our third book for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club, Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis. I’ve finished part 1 about the soil food web and am now reading part 2 about applying all this information to improve the soil in my own garden. I’m planning to make a list as I read of ideas to try.

I’ll be looking for all your posts about the book by January 29th or so and will publish the official book club meeting post by the end of the month.

And for those who didn’t get the book, you can still participate in the book club by reading something about soil or compost and posting about that. And if you don’t know what to read, how about this excerpt about compost from The Allotment Keeper's Handbook by Jane Perrone?

Just remember to leave me a comment with a link back to your blog when you have posted, so I can find you to include you when I post with all the links.

February Selection:

We go in a completely different direction for the February book selection with Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White & Elizabeth Lawrence--A Friendship in Letters edited by Emily Herring Wilson. This is a collection of letters exchanged between these two writers who you may recognize as the authors of many garden related books. Imagine, they wrote letters back and forth to each other for nearly 10 years before they met in person!

March Selection:

Drumroll please… the March Selection is… not decided yet. Stay tuned, I’m narrowing down the options and plan to decide in the next week or so. In the meantime, please feel free to comment if you have a suggestion about what the March book should be.

January’s motto: Once you learn about soil, it will never be dirt again.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Where The Grow Lights Are

Does everyone have suspicions about what they are really selling at indoor gardening stores?

A while back, I posted that I spotted an indoor gardening store when I made a brief stop at an office supply store on my way home from work one evening. I didn’t have time to go check it out then, but did stop by a week or so before the holidays.

It was a quiet Saturday afternoon and there was one other customer there when I went in. Was it my imagination, or did the other customer avoid eye contact with me? What was he hiding?

Just inside the store, on each side of the door, were large troughs for growing plants using hydroponics. One contained several tomato plants all tied up and glowing under large grow lights. The other contained cantaloupe vines in a similar set up, tied up to a large trellis type structure made of PVC pipe.

Opposite the sales counter were shelves of various organic fertilizer solutions and other supplies for hydroponics. And then further back was a hallway, and I could see that there were a couple of rooms back there, the doorways glowing with bright indoor grow lights.

Once the other customer left, the one employee, who turned out to be the owner, asked if she could help me. “Just looking”, I said. Well, there would be no “just looking” in her store! She proceeded to explain that they are all organic, and have mostly hydroponic supplies, but they don’t emphasize that because a lot of people don’t understand hyroponics. She chatted about how she even uses the hydroponic method outside in the summer time to grow vegetables. She doesn’t like to grow vegetables in the bare soil because you couldn’t really be sure what chemicals or bacteria were present, and she was once a real estate agent in Love Canal, New York and part of the relocation of residents from that area and she decided she would never go back there and she told me all of that in one long sentence as though she had told the story many times before.

Then I found myself being led down through the short hallway in the back the store, as she showed me what was growing in the other rooms. More tomatoes, some herbs, some more cantaloupes, I think. On the other side of the hallway, I could see there was a room that was propably an office. Nothing illegal, that I could see. Geez, we are all so suspicious! A few strong grow lights and our imaginations run wild!

I got to wondering later if she took all new customers through the entire store like that to show them that nothing illegal was being grown there. Or maybe she thought I looked like a federal agent checking it all out, and soon I’d be asking for customer records?

The one item she had on display that somewhat interested me was one of those Aero Gardens. She said she was the last store in the country to have any in stock and the parent company had asked her if they could put her store on their website as a source for these. But she said she didn’t want to do that because then she wouldn’t have any to sell to her customers. That seemed odd to me. I thought the goal of retail was to sell? I was the only customer in there for a full 15 minutes at least on a Saturday. Who was she saving them for?

So she showed me how they worked, and what you can grow. I did some quick math in my head… $149 for the basic unit, which does come with one grow kit. You could choose lettuce or herbs or cherry tomatoes. Replacement grow kits are around $20. I’m not sure how much lettuce I’d get, but it seemed like each lettuce leaf was going to be quite expensive. (I am interested to know if anyone has one of these and if they actually use it and get good lettuce from it.)

Overall, she was very enthusiastic about indoor gardening and about using hydroponics the organice way, even outside. I left with a brochure, a free magazine, a couple of catalogs and a form to fill out to register my license plate with the DEA. (Kidding, I did not see anyone lurking around copying down license plate numbers. This store is in the middle of a large outdoor mall with a bunch of stores, how would they know who was there to go to THAT store?)

It seems like hydroponic gardening could get very expensive very quickly.

Oh, and I asked how long she had been there. She’s been there two years. Two years! I’ve got to start paying more attention. How could I have not noticed a gardening store nearby for two years?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Plant Ideas

If you would plant for days, plant flowers.
If you would plant for years, plant trees,
If you would plant for eternity, plant ideas.

What ideas have changed the gardening world forever? What’s the next big idea that will change the gardening world for eternity?

If you think about how we garden today, is it really all that much different from how our grandparents gardened, or how their parents gardened?

A hoe is still a hoe, and you need a good shovel, and something to prune with. We have countless new varieties of plants, but yet many of us seek out heirloom varieties to grow what our grandparents grew. For many, gardening has not changed that much from generation to generation.

(Okay, some would contend that I am the last person who should write that a hoe is still a hoe, since I’ve managed to acquire quite a few different hoes. But, essentially, all hoes have a similar design, and you use them in the same way. That’s what I mean by “a hoe is still a hoe”. I still think it is perfectly acceptable to own more than one hoe!)

So what ideas have changed gardening? In no particular order, here are some ideas I would put on the list.

The science of genetics. Where would we be if Gregor Mendel had not developed the theories of heredity, the science of genetics?

Felco pruners. I think most of us who own a pair of Felco pruners would agree that whoever came up with the idea and design for these was an absolute genius.

Purple Wave petunias. I know today many gardeners don’t plant Wave petunias because they are too common. But I remember when these hit the garden centers. They changed the petunia market forever.

Pesticides. This may not be a popular idea amongst some gardeners, but the idea that we can develop chemicals to kill off weeds, insects, and diseases has certainly had an impact on gardening.

Organic Gardening. This is the opposite idea from the chemicals, that without chemicals, using other methods, we can create a healthier environment overall for our gardens to grow in and still not lose the whole thing to weeds, insects or diseases.

Genetic Engineering. Will this change how we garden? Will gardeners seek out genetically modified plants? Is that a good use of this type of technology? Who will plant a blue rose, created by manipulating a plant's genetic material?

What ideas would you add to the list? What is the next big idea for gardening?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I'm A Gardener, Too

“While I was only a remote and distracted onlooker of the accomplished work of gardens, I considered gardeners to be beings of a peculiarly poetic and gentle mind, who cultivate perfumes of flowers listening to the birds singing. Now, when I look at the affair more closely, I find that a real gardener is not a man who cultivates flowers, he is a man who cultivates the soil. He is a creature who digs himself into the earth, and leaves the sight of what is on it to us gaping good-for-nothings. He lives buried in the ground. He builds monument in a heap of compost. If he came into the Garden of Eden he would sniff excitedly and say “Good Lord, what humus!”

from The Gardener’s Year by Karel Capek, pg. 23

Do you get excited by “good soil”? I’ll admit that I have compost bins and find the harvest of “black gold” from those bins in the fall nearly as fun as harvesting the first tomato. Not quite as fun, just nearly, because you can’t eat the compost. And when I open a fresh bag of seed starting mix, I like the smell of the peat and take a few minutes to savor it before I start sowing seeds.

I am a gardener by Mr. Capek’s definition.

By other definitions? Here are some of my answers to the questions I posed the other day on What makes a Gardener.

Do you consider yourself a gardener? How did you decide you were a gardener?

I never made it a deliberate choice or felt like I had to make a decision to become a gardener. I actually can’t remember not being a gardener. I started planting at a young age, when my Dad dug up some flower beds and gave me and my brother and sisters some plants to plant. My younger sister, a lovely, wonderful person, can’t even remember this happening! I swear he did this and gave us plants to plant on our own. My sister likes nice flowers and all, but wouldn’t call herself a gardener. She likes me to do her planting for her, and I am happy to do so, because planting is fun for me and she doesn't really like to mess around with soil.

When is the first time you referred to yourself as a gardener? Where and how did you learn to be a gardener?

I can’t remember not being referred to as a gardener. At work, they introduce me as “the gardener” to new employees before they tell them what it is I actually do there (which is not gardening-related).

I first learned how to garden from watching my Dad garden, and then later continued learning by observing many other gardeners. I read a lot about gardening. And, I was formerly educated in Horticulture at Purdue University.

Pause…I’ve been “tagged” several times by other bloggers to post ‘5 things no one knows about you’ or ‘5 weird things about yourself’. Since I haven't done that, I’m counting this post as responding to both because I am revealing more about myself versus my gardens than normal.

By the way, though I have been formerly educated in Horticulture, I have never worked professionally in that field, other than some summer jobs I had in college. And, um, it's been a few, okay several, okay many years since I got that degree in Horticulture.

Has anyone ever introduced you to someone else as a gardener?

All the time.

When someone tells you they are a gardener, what image of them does it bring to mind? What do you expect of them?

I expect that they understand soil and seeds, to know a tulip is planted in the fall, and to not call shrubs ‘bushes’. I look for them to have a few calluses on their hands from digging and hoeing. I can generally also tell if someone occasionally works in their yard and mows the grass or if they are a "real" gardener by how our conversation about gardening goes.

Can a gardener live where there is no place to plant anything, and still remain a gardener?

They most definitely can, though they won’t be very happy for very long. A flower pot with a soil-less mix just won’t be enough.

What about horticulturists? Are they a subset of “gardeners” or a whole different group?

I think it is a subset of gardeners, who maybe took some extra courses and just really are in the whole thing for the growing of plants.

So, I am a gardener, are you?

In a few days, as I find or get comments from others who answer these questions in their own blog post, I'll round up the links to all of them and provide a post with all those links as I did for the seedy answers.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Can You Be A Gardener and Not Sow Seeds?

It started as a few questions on seeds and seed sowing, a few thoughts put out as a blog post as I prepared to end the holiday celebrations and return to work. It evolved into several longer than normal comments and many more posts from fellow seed-sowing, garden-blogging gardeners from all around.

It showed that many gardeners enjoy sowing seeds! Yeah! It is not a dying aspect of gardening, in a society that wants, and expects, instant results. Many of us are willing to sow seeds and wait, to start literally from the ground up when it comes to growing the plants we want.

But I suspect that there are many gardeners who are still not quite sure of themselves when it comes to seeds. For those gardeners, whoever and wherever you are, I’ve tried to pull together a list of all the gardeners who commented on their seed sowing habits. I would guess that any of these gardeners would be flattered by any requests to provide more information or answer questions on their particular methods of seeding sowing.

Here is the list, everyone I could find, in alphabetical order by whatever name I know them by. If I missed your post on seed sowing, please comment and I’ll add you to the list.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose
Anthony of Compost Bin
Carol (me ) on Buying Seeds, on Sowing Seeds, and on Seedy Tools
Christa at Calendula & Concrete
Colleen in the Garden Online

Cyndi at Riverrim
El at Fast Grow the Weeds
Girl Gone Gardening
Jenn at Garden Djinn
Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening
Kim at A Study In Contrasts
M Sinclair Stevens at Zanthan Gardens
Molly at Life on Tiger Mountain
Old Roses at A Gardening Year
Patrick at Bifurcated Carrots
pmo3ws at Blog from Illinois
Sissy at Got Serenity
The Contrary Goddess
Tracy at Outside

So, if you “don’t do seeds”, read about how these gardeners “do seeds” and decide today to join this seedy crowd!

One more question, can you be a gardener, truly, if you don’t sow seeds?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday - Hyacinths After 8 Days

Hyacinth bulbs being forced into bloom indoors after 8 days. I now have shoots and roots! Click here to see how they looked last week.

Green Thumb Sunday

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Disappearing Plants

Every gardener has them, or should I say, doesn’t have them any more. Those plants purchased with great excitement and eager anticipation, the “must have” plants that once enticed and entranced the gardener at the garden center, that now no longer grow in their garden.

How does that happen? The gardener, seduced by some interesting variegated foliage or an intriguing bloom or a cleverly written description on the tag, loses all willpower, silences that little inner voice that tries to say, “I’m not sure there is a good place for that in your garden” and buys a plant that may not be quite suitable for his or her garden. That’s how it happens.

The other day, buried beneath some old seed packets, I found some plant tags for a few plants that don’t grow in my garden any longer. These were plants that I once could not resist, that I had to have, and now I barely remember them. They have disappeared from my garden

There’s a tag for Sagina subulata, Irish Moss. I love little tiny plants with tiny little leaves and thought this one would be perfect along the edge of a raised garden bed edged with stones. Guess what? Further research on a few websites indicates this one may not have been hardy in Zone 5. I ask, then, why a garden center in Zone 5 would have it for sale?

Then there was Arabis ferdinandi-coburgi ‘Variegata’, Rock-Cress. Another ground cover type plant. I love variegated leaves. Did I mention I love tiny leaves, too? Anyone could see why I would not be able to not buy this. But now I have just a tag, and if I didn’t have the tag, I probably wouldn’t even remember that I once planted it.

Leopard Plant, where art thou? At least I think I know where I planted Ligularia tussilaginea ‘Aureomaculata’. I had a “constantly moist spot”, I thought, that was “shaded from the hot afternoon sun”, I thought, so how to explain that this plant no longer grows in my garden? I think the tag misrepresented the hardiness of the plant, based on what information I am now finding online.

I also have a tag for Scutellaria alpina ‘Romana’. I don’t think I even saw this one bloom and I have no idea where I might have planted it. The common name is Skullcap, and the tag said it was a “quick-spreading and clump-forming plant”. Had I lost my mind? Why would I buy something that was “quick-spreading”? That’s just another way to say invasive, or “you will be sorry you planted this one when you are weeding it out all over the place”. It’s a member of the mint family! I’m kind of glad -- no make that very glad -- that this one didn’t make it. But what does that say about me as a gardener that it didn’t grow? That I was darn lucky on this one!

And the last plant I care to confess that I only own a tag for? Campanula cochlearifolia ‘Bavarian White’. I think I bought this one because the tag said “also know as "Fairies’ Thimbles". I’m all about growing plants to attract the garden fairies (or faeries from England). The tag said the best features were “splendid flower color, easily grown”. Well, how would I explain the disappearance of this plant? The only thing I can think of is that the fairies picked off all the blooms and the plant died as a result.

I know I’m not the only gardener with a few disappearing plants. What has disappeared from your garden?

Public Service Announcement

Unfortunately, I must briefly interrupt my happy musings and questions about gardening to provide a brief public service announcement...

I use Google Alerts to keep up with new websites, news sites, and blogs (which they recently added) with key words on things I am interested in, like gardens, gardening, May Dreams Gardens, stuff like that. The Google Alerts arrive once a day in my email. Two days ago I got a Google Alert with a link to a blog with a new post about "gardening symposium". (I set up an alert for that phrase long ago because I want to find out if there is ever a gardening related lecture, conference, symposium, etc. coming to my area...)

I looked at the alert, which shows a few sentences that contain the key words, and thought, hmmm... this sounds familiar, very familiar. So, I checked out the blog and saw that it was made up entirely of all kinds of my blog posts, with the side bar full of links that would take you to a bunch of spam type web sites. Yes, it was a spam blog, or splog. Spammers don't just send email any more!

The site had a link where you could "flag" it for moderation. I did that, and for the reason I wrote "copyrighted material - stolen content". I didn't even list my site's url. A few hours later I checked the link and now it just displays a message that the blog has been archived or suspended. So, I've taken care of that one. Are there more?

By the way, it was not a Blogger blog, it was a type of blog I had not heard of. Their main page lists recently updated blogs and the few I checked are all of this type, so I think the site, though it looks legitimate, is set up just to generate a bunch of spam blogs.

So, be alert. Use something like Google Alerts or at least periodically do some key word searches that generally lead to your blog. If you find your content and it is not your site, figure out how to report them and stop them!

It's like a neighborhood watch. It will take all the good people and then some to keep the bad people from ruining it all for the rest of us!

And, now, I must get back to happy thoughts about gardening and seed sowing and pruning.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Can I Write a Post Without a Question?

We are entering that time of winter when the major winter holidays, for which we actually want snow and cold and icicles and all, are past, and now we just have winter going on. And though this year winter has been warmer than usual, we are starting to have below freezing temperatures, which reminds us that we do have awhile to go until spring.

And during these days when there is not a lot one can do in the garden, at least in the Midwest, there is still plenty to think about related to the garden. Here are some things I’ve been thinking about. I promise no questions, just thoughts!

I’ve come to realize that not everyone thinks about how they would prune a particular tree or shrub when they see it in the winter without leaves (or even in the summer with leaves). I randomly surveyed a few people about this and their responses were along the lines of “huh?” I think they just see sticks. I see shape and form and branching and think about how I would prune the shrub or tree this way or that way when I see it.

In the wintertime, I don’t have that much opportunity to talk to other gardeners at length. I have to resort to asking non-gardeners about gardening topics, like pruning, only to find out they don't think about gardening or plants as much as I do.

I once belonged to a garden club, but I would guess it has been 8 or so years since I last attended. Stuff like “work” got in the way. It was nice, a room full of people, all wanting to talk about gardening and plants! For awhile they invited me to their Christmas party, even though I had not attended a single meeting all year long. But I politely declined because it was always at a new member’s house, and I’m not the kind of person who would go to someone’s house that I don’t know, and hope that at least one person that I remembered from the club was there.

That’s what’s nice about the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club. You can always ‘attend’ because it takes place right here on this blog, a safe place, as it were. There are places that aren’t all that safe on the Internet, you know that don’t you? (Oops, sorry that was a question, and I promised no questions!)

Speaking of the book club, I hope that everyone is enjoying reading Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web or if you couldn’t get the book, that you are reading something about soil and compost. I’ll be looking for related posts toward the end of the month, with a goal of publishing them in a book club blog post on or about January 30th. When you’ve posted about the book or soil or compost, just comment on my blog with a link to let me know so I can include you. Remember our motto for the month, “Once you learn about soil, it will never be dirt again”.

The February book selection, for those who missed the announcement, is Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White & Elizabeth Lawrence--A Friendship in Letters.

I’m still taking suggestions for the March book. If you’ve got any ideas, please comment. I’ve got comments from way back with suggestions, but I’m guessing people may have new ideas and new books to suggest, so I’m starting with a clean slate and am open to any and all suggestions. What gardening book is on your night stand right now? (Oops again, another question… you don’t have to answer it, I just thought it might help you think of a book to suggest.)

One type of book that we won’t be selecting for the book club is one related to growing a certain illegal plant. (Hey, I’m not naming it as I don’t want an online search for it to lead anyone here!) I’m always amazed at how much shelf space the local chain bookstore (Borders) devotes to this particular plant’s cultivation. But I suppose if one were to buy such a book, it is better to buy it in person with cash than through a traceable online purchase, or even with a credit card in a store. There is a risk of being seen in the store, but I suspect the buyer is already a risk taker and that being seen buying a book is the least of his (or her) worries. I actually did see someone select such a book and buy it a few months ago.

And remember awhile back when I posted about seeing a local Harvest Moon hydroponics store on my way home and wondering how it got there without me noticing? (Oops, sorry that was a question, but it is rhetorical, doesn’t need to be answered, so it doesn’t count.) A couple of people commented that a common perception is that most of the people who purchase supplies from stores like that are probably growing illegal plants and if I went in there I would probably end up on some secret video tape and my car license plate would be copied down by DEA agents. Well, I finally went in there one day a few weeks ago, and it was quite a visit. I learned enough there for a full blog post, which I will post soon. Yes, quite a visit…

I think that is enough random garden thoughts for this evening. I’ll post about my hydroponics store visit soon.

(By the way, I’ve been reading that this is “de-lurk” week in the blogosphere, when bloggers are encouraging those who read their blog but don’t comment (lurking around), to comment, even just once. So if you feel so inclined and don't usually comment, how about a comment, even if it is just to say “Hi” or “Happy Gardening”? (Shoot, I did it again, I ended with a question.))

(One more note... I'm declaring today the one year anniversary for this blog. I had six posts in 2004 and two in 2005, but I've decided those don't count. January 11, 2006 was my first post of 2006, and the beginning of posting on a regular basis, so this shall be the anniversary date!)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

We Always Knew Weeds Had The Upper Hand

Just saw an interesting article on What may be obvious to most gardeners has been proven. Plants with shorter life cycles, like annuals, adapt more quickly to climatic changes.

Does this mean to keep up with global warming and El Nino years and droughts and other weather extremes that seem more prevalent, we'll end up growing just annuals, so we have something to grow?

I know a gardener who was fairly proud of the fact that she didn't plant any annuals. Too much bother and wasted money, she said. Then I ran into her a few years later, and she said that she was expecting her annuals to be delivered to her house in a few days, and they would be all white flowers, as that was her color theme that year. (Hmmm, color theme? I'll have to think about that concept...)

Yes, she had purchased so many annuals that the nursery or wherever she bought them agreed to also deliver them. What a change in attitude! I guess she is just one step ahead of the "non-annual planting gardeners" when it comes to dealing with changing climates.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What Makes a Gardener?

What is it that makes someone a gardener?

I was talking to someone who was planning to retire in a few years. She proudly announced, “My husband is buying me a greenhouse for my retirement!” My response, “I didn’t know you liked to garden.” Her answer, “Oh, I don’t really garden, but my husband thinks I might like to when I retire.”

I had a sinking feeling her greenhouse would be an empty greenhouse.

How many people buy all the tools or toys for a new hobby or activity that they’ve never tried before and then find out they weren’t really all that interested in it after all? If someone had never played golf or shown any prior interest in it, would anyone recommend they go out and buy some golf clubs and a cart to see if they like it? If someone thought they might like to garden, should they go out and buy a greenhouse to see if they like working with plants? Hardly!

I assume that anyone who buys a greenhouse already has a passion for plants and growing things and has previously acted upon that passion in other ways. They are compelled to garden, even without a greenhouse. Would someone suddenly develop that desire to garden after buying a greenhouse, if they’ve never gardened before?

So, what makes a gardener?

Do you consider yourself a gardener? How did you decide you were a gardener?

When is the first time you referred to yourself as a gardener? Where and how did you learn to be a gardener?

Has anyone ever introduced you to someone else as a gardener?

When someone tells you they are a gardener, what image of them does it bring to mind? What do you expect of them?

Can a gardener live where there is no place to plant anything, and still remain a gardener?

What about horticulturists? Are they a subset of “gardeners” or a whole different group?

I'm thinking about why some people are gardeners and other aren't, and how buying a greenhouse won't suddenly make someone a gardener.

(Note, the person I talked to came back later and said she wasn't going to get a greenhouse after all because she realized she was not a gardener. So all the gardeners reading this can relax. There is not an empty greenhouse out there someplace, waiting for you to rescue it, take it to your house and load it up with plants. By the way, does every gardener just naturally want a greenhouse?)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Year of the Pea

Peas. Little green jewels of the early summer garden. Fresh shelled peas. They bear no resemblance to canned or frozen peas. They are like an entirely differently vegetable. I don’t particularly care for frozen or canned peas. I can accept them in vegetable soup or maybe a casserole, but I wouldn’t just eat a forkful of them.

Fresh peas are different, they actually taste pretty good. But you generally can’t walk into a grocery store and find fresh peas, still in the pod, ready to be shelled. You may find some pea pods for a stir fry, but you rarely find fresh peas. If you want fresh peas, you really have to grow your own.

Each year, I try to grow peas. I plant a row of peas. The vines grow. But most years I am disappointed with my harvest. I just can’t seem to grow peas.

I’m certain I go through all the right steps in planting my peas. How hard can it be? They are fairly large seeds, as seeds go. I plant them with onions, radishes, several varieties of lettuce and spinach. They all grow just fine. But invariably, at the point in time when I would expect to harvest peas, I find half filled pods or short little pods with just 3 or 4 peas in them.

I remember when I was a kid, sitting on the back patio on Memorial Day weekend, shelling peas my Dad grew in his garden. Pods and pods of them. Pods full of peas that were, well, the size of peas. How did he grow them? And why can’t I grow them?

I found an old seed packet from some peas that were a disappointment in 2004, just one year of many years of poor pea production. I won’t name the variety or seed company, as I don’t think the variety or the seed company was the problem. On the back of the packet, they wrote:

“Noted for its reliable production even under hot and dry conditions where other peas fail! Perfect for late season plantings where heat may be a problem, or for when spring temperatures suddenly turn hot. Produces a short vine that does not need trellising…”

The description was so enticing; no wonder I bought this variety. They practically guaranteed success, making these peas look easy, like a beginner’s crop. So how could I fail?

My records indicate I planted them on March 28th. According to the same records, I harvested some edible pea pods on May 28th. But I’m sure even that harvest was measured only by the handfuls. I show nothing in my records about harvesting peas, good old-fashioned shelling peas. So I have to assume that 2004 was no different than any other year, going back to 1987, my first year to have my own vegetable garden. I apparently did not harvest any peas in 2004, or harvested so few it was not even worth writing down the event.

By the way, I did note in my records that on June 19, 2004, I purchased two new hoes, the putter hoe and the plow hoe, probably as a consolation prize for failing at pea growing, again. (Or for some other good reason, no doubt.)

So, what is the secret for growing peas? Where in all my gardening books is the answer? Who can tell me how to grow peas? Where is the answer?

The answer may be someplace I wasn’t expecting it to be. I may have found the answer the other day. I have a box of old seed packets in the garage that were my Dad’s from the last year he bought seeds, 1987. And there on a packet of peas he wrote:

“Planted Mar 6 with onions”

That’s the answer! And it has been hidden in a box in my garage for 20 years.

I’ve been planting my peas too late. Too late! I’ve never planted peas that early, that has to be it!

So this year, I’ve made a date with my garden for March 6, a Tuesday, to plant peas. Rain, snow, or sleet on that day will not matter. I’ll plant peas on March 6. Maybe I’ll even plant the lettuce and spinach on that day, too. And to really ensure success with peas, I’m going to plant the variety 'Green Arrow' because that is the variety of peas listed on the packet my Dad purchased 20 years ago. And I’ll plant them with onions.

It is the Year of the Pea!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday - Hyacinth in Vases

Hyacinth bulbs being forced into bloom indoors. I set these up Saturday morning.

Green Thumb Sunday

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Seedy Tools

With any hobby, over time you acquire some tools that help make the tasks more enjoyable. A painter needs brushes, a knitter needs needles, and a seed sower needs a good set of seed sowing spoons. Do you have any seed spoons? I got these from Lee Valley Tool Supply. If you look closely, you will see little indentations of different sizes on the tips. These are good to use when you are sowing tiny speck-like seeds. The kind of seeds that when you put them in the palm of your hand you immediately start to worry that if you sneeze, they'll all be blown away, so you think you really might sneeze. With these spoons, you can pick up just one or two of the tiniest seeds at a time from the packet and plant them more precisely.

And once precisely planted, you need some shelves to put the seed flats on.

These are the plant shelves I described the other day. What I forgot to explain is that the lights are hung with chains so you can raise and lower them as needed. I start out with the lights nearly on top of the clear dome lid of the flats, and then gradually raise them up as the seedlings grow. By the time May arrives, the tomatoes and peppers are touching the lights, even with the fixtures raised as high as they will go.

You can tell that I've had these shelves for a few years, try 15 or so, because the shelves are a bit grungy. Really, you would think I might have some pride and not reveal something that is all dirty like this. But I think if you can find these plastic shelves and inexpensive light fixtures, it makes for a good alternative to those expensive plant shelf units sold in catalogs, so I'm swallowing my pride and showing you what they look like. Plus, by the way, these shelves are easy to take apart, so if you don't have room to keep them up all year, you can take them down and store them away. I used to do that for several years until I had a sunroom where I could leave them up all of the time.

And how do you keep from getting soil all over the place when you are filling seed flats?
It helps to have a "tidy tray". I also got this from Lee Valley. As you can see, I need to clean it out and give it a good scrubbing before I use it for seed starting mix. After all, there might be some "damping off" fungus lurking around in it, just waiting to jump into a newly planted flat of seeds. That would not be good! While I'm at it, I promise to scrub those shelves, too.

And laying in the tidy tray? Bonus tool! That's a scoop. But you all knew that.

I did spend some time browsing through seed catalogs this afternoon, so I'm making some progress on choosing which seeds to buy this year. So far, I have decided who I am not ordering from and which seemingly un-related seed companies are all the same place with different names, because they all have the same address in Wisconsin! I feel a bit deceived!

I also stopped in at the local Menards earlier today to look at seeds, but they don't have any seeds out yet. What are they waiting for? It is not as if all those snow shovels and snow blowers are going to sell this season!

Friday, January 05, 2007

On Sowing Seeds

A packet of seeds is a packet of possibilities. From a tiny radish seed, you can harvest a delicious radish in as few as 21 days. With one seed the size of a fingernail, you can grow an 8 foot tall plant with big, bright sunflowers in a season. And from that little flat seed the size of a large crumb, you can get the essence of summer itself, the home grown tomato.

Don’t you just love it when you get all your seeds for the season? You spread the packets out on the kitchen table and look them over, thinking either how wonderful the garden will be this year or “my goodness, how will I ever time find to sow all these seeds”?

I think most gardeners who buy more than just a few packets of seeds soon realize that they will need a plan to manage all their seeds.

My first step in my seed sowing plan is to enter data about my seeds into a spreadsheet. I record the type of seed (vegetable, annual, perennial), name, variety, flower color, if I am sowing it inside or outside, and when I plan to sow the seed. In the past, I’ve added information like brand and price, but quickly dropped price because, well, sometimes it is better not to know the total cost of something. If I am sowing the seeds inside, I also include how many plants I want to end up with so that I don’t exceed my indoor seed growing capacity.

Yes, I keep my seed lists from each year, as I find it helpful to refer back to them to remember what I planted. I also have a drawer full of old seed packets, pictured above, and have several other boxes and baskets stuffed with seeds packets from the last 9 years, so if I had to I could go through those and sort them by year to see what I’ve planted. I also have another stash or two of old seed packets in the garage that I like to look at occasionally (more on that in a future post)

Believe it or not, I limit the number of seeds I start indoors to what will fit on my two plant shelf units. I have 6 full flats and 6 half flats. I looked at lighted plant shelf units in various gardening catalogs but was a bit horrified at the prices. My shelf units? They are the all-plastic 3 shelf units readily available at any discount store. I have two of them that I bought 15 – 16 years ago. I think they are nearly indestructible. I added my own lights which are regular, generic shop lights from the hardware store, each is 4’ long. I drilled holes in the sides of each shelf, and hung the lights using wire shower curtain hangers and ‘S’ hooks. I did splurge a bit and got broad spectrum fluorescent light tubes for plants. But, I think the most expense components of my set up were the extension cords and power strips for the light fixtures, and the timers that turn them on and off automatically.

Once I have my seeds, my seed list, seed flats (with clear plastic domes), seed starting mix and Jiffy strips, I am ready to go! I “just” follow the schedule I laid out, sow my seeds and grow from there. “Ha ha”, laugh all you seed sowers, “if only!”

I will admit that seeds sown indoors need more attention than houseplants. You should not let them dry out, you have to give them enough light to keep them from getting all leggy on you and you can’t just decide one fine spring day to set them outside and move on. You have to ‘harden them off’ by gradually acclimating them to the outdoors. This involves taking them outside a little bit at a time, first in the shade, then gradually letting them get more sun, always watching to make sure it doesn’t suddenly get too cold for them or that they don’t dry out on a windy day or get sunburned with too much sun.

Are there any hazards of seed sowing? Yes, if you use old soil or don’t clean your plastic flats from year to year, or don’t uncover germinated seeds promptly, you can end up with “damping off”, which causes the young seedlings to keel over and die! It is a fungal infection. And even if you think everything is clean, you can still have problems with “damping off”, especially if you don’t uncover seeds once they’ve germinated.

Covering the seeds to keep the soil moist is another thing I have to plan for when I sow seeds in flats. I group the seeds by how quickly I expect them to germinate so that a flat of seeds all germinates at nearly the same time or within a few days of each other and then I can safely remove the clear dome lid without having some seeds dry out or other seedlings be at greater risk of “damping off”.

Other hazards of sowing seeds? Well, if you have read through all the various posts about seed sowing that are sprouting up amongst the garden bloggers (pause… I’ve been trying to work in the word “sprouting” through this whole post, how did I do?), you should realize that seed sowing is habit forming. But a good habit to have!

I hope revealing about all the planning I do, the possibility of "damping off", and the care that seedlings need hasn't dissuaded someone from trying seeds. It really isn't that complicated or time consuming. Really, it isn't. Just start with a few seeds in some smaller flats in a bright window, and see how it goes. It might become your next gardening obsession, if it isn't already.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

On Buying Seeds

The first seed catalog usually lands in my mailbox in November, and a few more trickle in through December. Then right after Christmas, in that week before New Year’s Day, another little rush of seed catalogs replaces the annual Christmas cards and letters. That's how it all starts, my annual seed buying odyssey.

I stack the catalogs up on a side table and then one evening (which will be soon), I’ll sit down and go through all of them. Some I read quickly, knowing I probably won’t order anything from them; others I review more carefully, knowing they will get an order from me in a few weeks. I always like to read all their introductions and see what they are featuring and what is new, even if I’m not buying from them.

Before I place any orders, I stop in at a bricks and mortar store that I know will have their seed displays up in early January, AND have them on sale. Back in the day before they lost their way and went out of business, Frank’s Nursery & Crafts would have seeds for 50% off for at least a week or more in January. Burpee, Ferry & Morse, and Thompson & Morgan seeds, to name a few, all 50% off! I always went alone so that no one would get antsy and want to leave before I was ready. It was like walking through a seed catalog. I strolled up and down the aisle multiple times looking at all the seed packets, comparing between brands to see who had the most seeds for the best price and dreaming about how wonderful it would all be in my garden that spring.

When Frank’s closed, I thought I would have to pay “full retail” again, or end up ordering all my seeds. But last year, Menards had seeds out in early January – Burpee Seeds - and marked them down 33%. (Good enough! I’m planning to head over there this Saturday to see if the seeds are in!)

Once I finish shopping at the “bricks and mortar” stores, I turn to the seed catalogs to fill in the gaps.

I try to order from one seed catalog to save on shipping, although I’ll admit that shipping is generally not a big percentage of my overall yearly seed expense. For the past several years, that one catalog has been Park Seed Co. They won me over a few years ago because they had seeds for Viola mandshurica ‘Fuji Dawn’, a variegated leaf woodland violet. I had read about these violets in a British gardening magazine and decided that I had to have them, even if it meant ordering the seeds from a British seed company and personally paying for the actual ship that would bring them across the ocean to me. But lo and behold, my Internet search led me to Park Seed. They had them! So, I ordered two packets, and have tried to order something from them every year since.

Ironically, when I just now searched the Park Seed web site for these seeds, they seem to no longer have them. So I included a link above to Summer Hill Seeds, the 1st site that came up in my search.

Yes, I know that some of you are reading this and thinking that Park Seed and other ‘mainline’ seed companies have the “same ol’ same ol’” and there are better varieties and more exciting varieties in other catalog. And now that I realize Park Seed doesn't have the variegated violets that I need to get again because the originals have died out, well, maybe I need to expand my horizons a bit, at least in buying seeds, and look more closely at some other catalogs. Feel free to comment with recommendations.

One more thing about buying seeds… I was surprised that several who commented or posted about their own seed buying habits were not aware that there are some places where you can buy seeds in bulk. Generally, if you go to an old-time hardware store or to a “feed & seed” type store, or even some garden centers, you will find at least vegetable seeds available by the ounce. The first place I saw seeds sold this way was at my uncle’s feed store in a small town in southern Indiana. And I know of a garden center near where I work that still carries bulk seeds. Varieties are sometimes limited, and quite traditional, even heirloom, and the seeds are generally for vegetables planted in long rows like corn, beans, peas, carrots, etc. These same stores also usually have onion sets and seed potatoes 'by the pound'. Try to find such a place, as it is probably an independent retailer and they would appreciate your business!

Next post… what I do with seeds once I buy them.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Once You Learn About Soil, It WIll Never Be Dirt Again

Don’t you just love the first whiff of fresh peat moss when you open a brand new bag of seed starting mix? It’s the middle of winter, the air in the house is stale with the odors of whatever you cooked for dinner, but that is all forgotten when you open a new bag of seed starting mix and smell that smell you’ve been missing, but didn’t know you were missing. It’s like opening up a fresh can of ground coffee. You pause just for a minute to savor it before getting down to the business of sowing seeds.

I know from the comments on my post yesterday about seeds that I am not the only one who loves to sow seeds. So I assume I’m not the only one who likes the smell of good soil. I’m not! (Am I the only one? I was recently tagged to write 6 weird things about myself, and I haven’t done that (yet). Maybe my confession about liking the smell of fresh peat moss is weird thing number one?)

Anyway, good soil is what the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club is all about in January. Our official book is Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis.

But as noted when this book was introduced, if it isn’t your cup of compost tea or you can’t get the book, find another good book on soil or compost and read it. Just learn something new about the soil we are all dependent on for our gardening success and write and tell us about it on your blog. And you have all month to do so! All month. Or nearly so. I will post the round up post around January 28th. Just let me know via a comment to my blog that you have posted about soil or about the official book selection, so I can get your link to include. Our motto for the month: “Once you learn about soil, it will never be dirt again”.

I do realize that reading a book about soil isn’t for everyone, so I am curious to know what others think of the book. I’ve started to read it, and it is bringing back some memories of some of the things I learned about soil in college. (What? You didn’t learn about soil in college? What kind of school did you go to?)

By the way, Jeff Lowenfels has commented to let us know that there is an error in the 1st printing of Teaming with Microbes. I quote:

“There is a major mistake on page 41 where the definition of pH is incorrect. The proper definition is if you have lots of hydrogen ions, you have a low pH or acid...and fewer, higher pH and basic. Sorry about that. Big goof-up. Now corrected! Let me know if you have questions!”

Yes, the author has found us, given us some useful information, and offered to answer questions we have. A first for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club! So if as you read you have a question, we’ll figure out how to contact the author to ask or do it telepathically over the Internet to see if he’ll comment. (He probably has Google Alerts turned on to find references to his book, would be my guess on how he found out about our book club in the 1st place.)

(Yes, I am aware that this is the first real live author we’ve picked and therefore the 1st who could comment, because technically Jamaica Kincaid was the editor of the last book, and Henry Mitchell passed away several years ago, as we all know. But, it’s still a noteworthy first around here.)

Soil and seeds, the beginnings of the garden, for the beginning of the year. That’s what I’m thinking about these days.

In the next few days, by the way, I’ll post my own answers to the questions about seeds that I asked yesterday. Feel free to post your seed answers on your blog, to reveal more about yourself as a gardener.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Seed Buying - Method or Madness?

What kind of a seed buyer are you?

Do you carefully read all of the seed catalogs sent to you and then browse the Internet to compare and contrast all the options, then decide which seeds to buy?

Do you buy seeds from 'bricks and mortar' stores and get whatever appeals to you as you are browsing?

Do you buy vegetable seeds in bulk where they scoop them out of seed bins, weigh them and put them in hand-marked envelopes?

Do you buy seeds for just vegetables, or just annual flowers? Do you buy seeds for perennial flowers?

Do you know what stratification and scarification are? Have you done either or both with seeds?

Do you order seeds from more than one seed company to save on shipping or buy from whoever has the seeds you want, even if it means paying nearly the same for shipping as you do for the actual seeds?

Do you buy more seeds than you could ever sow in one season?

Do you only buy seeds to direct sow into the garden or do you end up with flats of seedlings in any window of the house with decent light?

Do you save your own seeds from year to year and exchange them with other seed savers?

Do you even buy seeds?

Do you have a fear of seeds? Some gardeners don't try seeds, why not?

Do you understand seeds? I once bought seeds at a Walmart in January (Burpee Seeds) and the cashier asked me, "Do these really work? Yes, they do. "Isn't it too cold to plant them now?" Well, yes, if you are planning to plant them outside. I don't think this cashier grew up around anyone who gardened.

Do you list all your seeds on a spreadsheet, so you can sort the list by when you should sow them so you have a master seed plan of sorts?

Do you keep all the old seeds and seed packets from year to year, scattered about in various drawers, boxes, and baskets?

Do you determine germination percentage for old seed?

I suspect the answers to the above would tell us a lot about what type of gardener someone was.
I've got seeds on my mind, now that the holidays are past. I'll be posting more on seeds in the coming weeks as I journey through seed catalogs, look for seeds to show up in the store, and decide which ones I will buy this year. And, I'll answer these questions and more about my own seedy... um make that seed... habits.