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Friday, February 29, 2008

Easing Back Into Gardening Activities

Oh, yes! Kick off those snow boots and pull the mittens off your hands. Today was a great day to be living in central Indiana with sunny skies and temperatures in the high 40’s.

As soon as I got home, I rushed out and took some pictures of blooming crocuses in the lawn. Now there are three of them!

While taking this picture, I ended up kneeling on the ground, and realized it was very wet. Ha! I wasn’t wearing my gardening jeans, so I attempted to quickly get up and ended up sitting on the wet ground. How did that happen? Were any of the neighbors watching out their windows or walking by? I meant to do that! Yes, I did. I meant to sit on the wet ground in my clean jeans!

Just goes to show, we northern gardeners are going to need some time to ease back into action. We’ve got to get our kneeling balance back and get our hands dirty again, slowly.

I did take some steps today to ease back into some gardening on this sunny day.

I picked up my mower from the hardware store today. It's all tuned up for spring. I am way ahead of the game on this one, and there will be no mowing debacle like last year. My mower is purring like a kitten and ready to mow.

I cleaned up some of the spent indoor blooms.
I tossed the indoor forced hyacinths unceremoniously into the compost bin and I’m thinking of composting some of the poinsettias as well. We’ll see. I might spare the poinsettias and pot them up in one big pot in the spring, whack them way back, and throw them outside to see what they do.

I unpacked my new compost tumbler and looked at the instructions. I am going to try to put it together tomorrow, as long as the temperatures are still above freezing.

All in all, it wasn’t as bad a winter day as some, so maybe I’ll hold off on the plans to petition to change Leap Day to a better day for gardeners. We’ll see. I’ve got four years to think about it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Leap Day Options

Tomorrow is Leap Day, an extra day added every four years to February.

Who had the brilliant idea to add an extra day to winter every four years?

I understand the need to add an extra day to the year every four years to keep us all lined up with the seasons and all, but does that day have to be in winter?

May I suggest some extra days that would be better for gardeners?

How about April 31st? We could all use an extra day in the spring for gardening, and even though this wouldn’t be before my own area’s frost free date, I could still support this extra day in the spring. We could even make it a “National Day of Gardening” and encourage people who have never gardened before to start a small garden.

How about June 31st? Now this would be an ideal day for gardeners! We would be well into summer, but not into the dog days of summer, so our gardens would still be looking their best. This could be a “National Garden Tour Day”. We would encourage everyone to go out and enjoy all the gardens in their area. Plus, I bet we could get those wedding planners and florists to support adding a day in June, since it is a popular month for weddings.

And if those dates don’t seem quite right, how about September 31st? Autumn is also a beautiful season and a great time for planting trees and shrubs in the garden. This could be a “National Plant a New Tree Day”. Just think how our cities and towns and gardens could be transformed if every family planted and cared for a new tree on this extra day in the fall.

Of course, if none of these days seems quite right, I have one other suggestion.

Repeat any day in May. We could have two May 15th’s, for example. Think how much extra gardening we could do if we had 32 days in May, the best month of the year for gardening.

Which date would you like to have instead of February 29th? Let me know and I'll find out who decides these things and let them know that there are better days to add than a day in winter.

Have a wonderful Leap Day.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Seeking Spring and Comment Notifications

Experienced gardener seeks signs of Spring. Prefers sunny days, warm afternoons, gentle nighttime rains. Enjoys all spring flowers, seed sowing, and just spending time in the garden. Not afraid of mowing the lawn or digging new beds. Please no weeds, slugs or frosty nights! Only serious spring weather need apply!

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Unfortunately, I am not getting email notification for new comments so until I’ve figured out why I am changing my settings so that comments have to be approved. “Management here at May Dreams Gardens regrets any inconvenience this may cause and appreciates your patience and continued support during this time.” Update: I believe the problem was with my email provider. Comment approval has been turned off again! Thanks for your patience!

Avoiding A Spring Freeze

We whine and pine for Winter to be over, and then Spring arrives and we… freeze.

We don’t know what to do first. There is so much to do! Digging, planting, sowing, pruning, mowing! What to do first? You don’t know. You run around in circles, skitter around from one part of the garden to the other.

You might even have a genuine fear of getting started after all those months of thinking about and planning for the perfect garden.

But the quest for perfection isn’t what gardening is all about. We all know that, well all of us except some of those rose growers and other flower show exhibitors.

A garden is going to be full of imperfections, full of life, full of fun.

So let’s just calm down and get started with these five tips on how to be ready in the spring to start gardening just as soon as we have one of those glorious “teaser” days when the sun shines and the high temperature is in the 60’s.

1. Review your garden journal to remember when things really happen. When you realize when plants bloom and sprout and when you first planted and sowed and mowed in past years, you’ll remind yourself that everything in the garden doesn’t happen at once. Spring isn’t a day, it’s a season, and it takes time for the garden to wake up and for you to garden.

2. Write down the major projects you want to accomplish in the garden this year and the first thing you need to get each one started. Then if you are on a roll, write down everything else you need to do for each project, when you think you can do it, what you need to buy, etc. Now you have at least the start of a plan so that you can stop running around in circles wondering what to do first.

3. Straighten up the garage or garden shed, or wherever you keep your gardening tools, hoes, and supplies. Make a list of supplies you keep on hand that you need more of so you can buy those on your next trip to the garden center. Sharpen tools, inspect hoses, etc. so that when you are ready to use them, they are ready to be used. Do this when the weather isn’t good enough to actually garden, if you can.

4. Start slow, give yourself time to get back in shape, back into rhythm. Give yourself time to get each task done. Gardening isn’t enjoyable if you work yourself to exhaustion on that first day, or risk injury by over doing it. Start off with easier projects like planting some containers with violas and pansies as soon as you see some for sale. Then you can work up to digging, heavy pruning, etc.

5. Breathe, relax. We garden for fun, for enjoyment, because we love to garden. It will all get done. If it all seems like too much, reduce the size of your garden, simplify it. Don’t try to keep up with the neighbors. Garden for yourself, plant what you like. You’ll be much happier with the result.

Now I'm personally hoping for a little sunshine and temperatures above freezing this weekend, so I can get started on getting ready for Spring. How about you?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Accolades, Memes and More Twitters

Accolades, Memes, and Twitters, three topics for a cold, winter day.

Accolades

Accolades are always nice to get and I’ve gotten a few these past few weeks that I’d like to acknowledge, thank the givers of, and then pass along to others.

First, Jodi from Bloomingwriter presented me with an “E for Excellent” award. Thank you, Jodi and ‘back atcha”.

Then my very own sister presented me with an “I’m Addicted to Your Blog” award. Thank you, Sherry. I recently hooked her up with a blog and now she’s off and running on her own now.

I will say that picking blogs to pass these awards along to is mighty difficult for me. I use a feed reader (Google’s) to keep track of blogs so I can readily find new posts because I read a lot of blogs.

I highly recommend that anyone who reads more than a few blogs set up a feed reader. It will make your blog reading not necessarily effortless, but at least a whole lot easier. You’ll find you don’t have to keep going to your favorite blogs to figure out “have they posted again, how about now, when are the posting again?” You just go to your feed reader and the new posts are listed right there for you to review.

I also use Blotanical’s “current list” feature to find new blogs that aren’t on my feed reader, when I have time. It’s always fun to find a new garden blog that you really like and can identify with.

Meme’s

My sister also tagged me for a meme today to show you all my refrigerator and the magnets on it. My refrigerator! I looked at it and thought, “Hmmm, will people think better of me or worse of me if they see the magnets on my refrigerator?” Let’s just say that I have a lot of magnets with a gardening theme on my refrigerator, several Indiana Pacer schedule magnets going back about nine years, and pictures of family and friends and leave it at that, shall we?

Or would you all like to compare “gardening themed” refrigerator magnets like we shared “gardening themed” Christmas ornaments a few months ago?

More Twitters

If you thought that reading my twitters on my sidebar was like watching a plant that appears to being doing nothing, well it turns out you can set up your plant to twitter, too. A co-worker sent me a link to this site, Botanicalls, with instructions on how to set up a plant so that it can post a “twitter” when it needs water. It seems just a tiny bit complicated to me, but if you decide to try it, let me know so I can “follow” your plant, like I’m following their pothos plant.

Now consider yourself tagged as "E for Excellent" and “I’m Addicted to Your Blog” if you see yourself on my sidebar lists of blogs. Plus I'm tagging Mary of Mary’s View.

And if you aren’t listed on my sidebar and would like to be, just let me know, I’m happy to add you!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Tomato Growing Lessons

Are you a staker or a cager?

I’m a staker because my Dad was a staker, so I assume his brothers and sister are stakers, too, and that perhaps my grandparents were stakers, but I don’t know for sure.

We had a neighbor who was a cager, but otherwise seemed to have a pretty good garden.

I’m of course referring to the two methods of growing tomatoes. Some of us do it properly by staking the tomato plants; others just throw some kind of cage around the plant and hope for the best I suppose. Not that there is anything really wrong with caging your tomato plants, but…

I was just raised to stake tomato plants.

Some of the other lessons my Dad taught me about tomatoes:

- Plant them deep in the spring. You should remove all but the top two or three sets of leaves and bury your tomato plant nice and deep. Roots will grow along the buried stem, giving you a sturdier plant in the long run.

- Enrich the soil around them with your best compost. The tomato is the king of the garden and deserves the best soil in the garden and the best spot in the garden. The tomatoes will be the biggest plants, so plant the rest of the garden around them. When I plan out my own vegetable garden, I figure out where to plant the tomatoes first and then everything else sort of falls into place.

- Start early if you want to harvest tomatoes earlier than anyone else. You have to start your seedlings early, pot them up a few times in progressively bigger pots, and then be willing to take the tomato plants out on warm days and back in on cool days and cold nights until it is finally time to plant them out in the garden. My Dad always did this which is why I think he always seemed to harvest his first tomato in June, and I don’t harvest a tomato until mid to late July. At least I know WHAT to do to get an earlier tomato, even if I don’t do it.

- Provide really sturdy stakes for support, expecting the tomato plants to get really big. My Dad used metal fence posts, sunk nearly two feet down into the ground with cross bars between them, to support his tomato plants, and believe me, his tomatoes needed that strong of a structure. His tomato plants, in my mind, grew nearly eight feet tall. In the picture above, they are at least six feet tall.

- Remove the suckers from the tomato plants. This keeps them from getting all bushy and expending energy on side shoots instead of blooms. Suckering is simply the removal of the side shoots as they form in the axils between the leaves and the main stem. It’s fairly easy to do, and if you keep up with it, you’ll have nice tall tomato plants with lots of good tomatoes and a green thumb and finger. If you don’t keep up with it, well, you might as well have just caged them.

And there you have it, five tomato growing lessons from my Dad who, if he were still alive, would have turned 80 years old today.

Now, in honor of my Dad, please grow your tomatoes properly, by staking them.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Watch Your Step and More


Watch your step! There are crocuses in the lawn and two of them made their first appearance earlier today.

They look like little flames, one white, one yellow, ready to once again lead the way for all the other blooms to follow in my garden. This little parade of blooms will soon expand to hellebores, daffodils, irises, tulips and more. I can hardly wait.

More Steps Toward Spring...

Swiss Chard. The commenters have commented and I have read. I’m moving Swiss Chard from the list of what I don’t grow in the garden to the list of what I do grow. I bought some seeds for it at the grocery store earlier today, after several of you commented that it would be easy to grow and you’d provide recipes and tips on how to use this vegetable. I’m holding you all to it!

Tomatoes. After reviewing my admittedly pathetic list of tomato varieties for this year, I decided that I had to redeem myself with better varieties. After all, I would not want anyone to think that I was not an adventurous gardener and person, willing to try new varieties, to branch out in new directions, to expand my horizons.

My new varieties of tomatoes to grow this year include:

German Red Strawberry
Riesentraube
Granny Cantrell German Red
Woodle Orange
Black Cherry
Yellow Mortgage Lifter
German Johnson

These are all from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, so check out their website to read the descriptions or come back for my reviews of these new varieties later this summer.

Did you notice that I seem to have a tendency toward “German” varieties of tomatoes? I guess that’s my heritage coming through, guiding me toward tomatoes that my paternal ancestors might have grown in their gardens. I’m still growing the other varieties I bought, so now I have to look at my garden plan to figure out how to fit these in. I’m sure I’ll manage somehow, but I may end up with some extra tomatoes to give away. Anyone wanting tomatoes had better be willing to also take some zucchini!

What's Not Growing In Your Vegetable Garden?

If you were to visit my vegetable garden this summer, there are some vegetables you wouldn’t find because I don’t grow them. You might not notice at first that these vegetables aren’t there because my garden will look fully planted. But later you might think about it and realize I don’t grow some commonly grown vegetables.

So since it isn’t always easy to determine what’s missing when you see something like a vegetable garden, I’ll provide you with a list of what I don’t grow in my garden.

Broccoli – I like broccoli, but don’t grow it because no matter what I do, I always end up with little green worms in the broccoli heads. These are the larvae stage of the imported cabbage looper, a pretty little white butterfly that I often see flitting about in my garden in the early summer. Go away, little butterfly, there’s no broccoli at May Dreams Gardens for you to lay your eggs on, eggs that hatch into little green worms.

Oh, yes, I know that an occasional green worm in the broccoli won’t hurt me. Some say it’s just some extra protein and many people knowingly eat insects. I quote, “Entomophagy (the eating of insects) has yet to become a day-to-day activity for most people in the United States and Europe in spite of the superior nutritional content of edible insects compared to other animals.” (source)

I expect that sometime in my lifetime, we’ll be eating insects regularly, but I’m not ready for that right now. I don’t actually have a fear of eating insects, which I assume would be called entomophagyphobia, I just prefer not to have them mixed in with my broccoli.

Cabbage – It is not so much the worms in the cabbage that bug me, though I usually ended up with some worm damage when I grew cabbage, it is that cabbage is a bigger plant than most people realize. It has all those big outer leaves that are usually cut off and composted when you harvest the actual cabbage head, so it takes a lot more room to grow. Plus, I don’t think the taste of homegrown cabbage is much different than store bought cabbage, so why use up good garden space growing it?

Potatoes – This is another crop from the nightshade or Solanaceae family so if I grew it, I would have to figure out how to rotate its location each year so that it doesn’t grow where tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant grew the year before. Plus, like cabbage, I don’t think homegrown potatoes taste much different than good store bought potatoes.

I realize there are a lot of other kinds of potatoes besides the “Idaho’s” or “Russets” that are found in the grocery store that other gardeners might try to convince me to grow. Indeed, I might be tempted to grow some of those ‘gourmet’ potatoes. But then I run into a space problem again.

So I’ll continue to buy my potatoes. But I will scrub them nearly bald before I’ll eat the skins. Back in the day, when I was in college, we went on a field trip to a potato farm and observed the whole process from harvesting to final bagging to learn how a potato goes from the ground to the grocery store shelf. Yes, the potatoes were washed three different times, and then air dried and all that. But I would still wash, scrub, any potato before I eat the skin. (Don’t you wish you had taken some classes like that in college where you got to go “out in the field” to places like potato farms?)

Kohlrabi – Another member of the Crucifereae family, like cabbage and broccoli, so I assumed I would have worm problems, but I will admit that I’ve never actually grown these in my garden. My Dad grew them and ate them, but now that I am remembering, I don’t think I ever even tasted kohlrabi. I might have to rethink this one and grow it in my garden at least once.

Swiss Chard – No excuse here except I’ve never grown it and I’m not sure how to fix it to eat if I did. I looked it up and it is supposed to be a very healthy food to eat, packed with vitamins and fiber and all that. I could be talked into planting swiss chard if someone with experience growing it gave me a few tips.

Pumpkins and other winter squashes – This is purely a space issue for me. Pumpkins and other kinds of squashes are big plants, many with vines that go everywhere. So if I were to grow them, I’d have to try to grow them vertically, which is a problem if the pumpkin or other squash is of any size. Plus I’m not one to store all kinds of winter squashes in a root cellar and cook them up all winter. I’m not sure I even like winter squash, except for spaghetti squash, and I am finding room for that in my garden.

Lima beans – I don’t like them. Not raw, not cooked, not at all.

Artichokes and Okra – I do like these vegetables, but my growing season isn’t long enough to get a decent harvest from either one.

Rhubarb – This is a perennial vegetable plant and though I admire it as a plant and like to see it in other people’s gardens, I’ve never made room for it in mine. Why? I don’t bake much and that’s what you do with rhubarb, cut the stems and use them for pies. Plus, there are all those warnings about how poisonous the leaves are due to the amount of oxalic acid they contain. Wait, would the leaves be toxic to rabbits? If the answer is yes, and the rabbits would eat them, that would be a reason to grow rhubarb.

Asparagus – Another perennial vegetable. People go on and on about how delicious their asparagus tastes when they harvest those tender shoots in the spring. You can even buy special asparagus knives for cutting them for harvest, and another kind of asparagus knife for peeling off the “tough outer layer at the bottom of the asparagus stalks”. Now, usually I’ll grow something special like this, especially if there is some kind of ritual or special tools involved, but I just don’t like asparagus. So it’s another vegetable you won’t find in my garden.

What ISN’T growing in your vegetable garden this year?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Diary of the First Crocus

February 4th, the first shoots of the first crocus appear in the garden.


February 6th, a tiny little bloom makes an appearance. Rejoice, Spring is coming!


February 9th, the sun is shining and we all turn our faces to the sun.


February 12th, Winter reminds us that it is still February.


Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, February 15th, and the little crocus adds two more buds.

February 17th, a day nice enough to go outside and do some gardening.


February 20th, the little crocus is still there, but has experienced a little "wintry mix".


Today, February 23rd, a whole lot of wintry mix in the last few days, but this crocus continues, somehow. Here it is at 10:00 AM.


And here it is around 4:00 PM.

Gardeners living in these 'snow zones' learn to be like the little crocus. Bloom when the sun is shining and hang on for dear life through the wintry mix and snow and cold because we know Spring is coming, eventually!

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Vegetable Garden MUST Include Tomatoes

I wrote in an earlier post, “Does any day offer greater joy in the garden than that first day you go outside after the winter and plant the early spring vegetables?”

No one challenged me on that, but the answer is clearly, “Yes, there is another day that offers greater joy.”

That’s the day you harvest your first tomato of the season.

That’s a day of great joy in the garden for any gardener, and one that often involves a ritual of some kind.

Some gardeners will eat the first tomato right there in the garden, like an apple, while it is still warm from the sun. Others will take it inside and share it with their family, carefully slicing it so that everyone gets a taste.

Or maybe some gardeners will secretly eat the first ripe tomato and then offer the second one to their family as the first one, just so they can eat the whole first tomato by themselves. Totally justified, in my book, if that gardener did all the work.

Ritual or not, there ought to at least be a little ceremony, a pause in the day to reflect on it, when you harvest your first tomato.

This year, I’m growing the following tomato varieties:

'Beefmaster' (A good sized slicing tomato, should have slices big enough to cover a slice of toast for a good BLT.)

'Early Girl Improved' (I’m hoping this will give me a good shot at harvesting a tomato before July 19, my earliest recorded date to harvest a tomato).

'Mortgage Lifter' (If there is an online contest for the biggest tomato, I want to tip the scales in my favor to win it. Watch for a contest hosted here in mid-August or whenever I think I have a really big tomato that will win, even without my thumb on the scale.)

'Red Currant' (No way is Chigiy beating me if we have another contest for smallest tomato!)

'Sun Sugar' (I must have a cherry type tomato to snack on while I’m working in the garden).

'Better Boy' (Not sure why I got this one, seems kind of boring now, plus it takes 82 days to ripen for harvest!)

Wait, is that it? That’s all I’ve got? That’s not enough! I need more varieties than that! What was I thinking? What a boring list of tomatoes!

I’m going back to the seed catalogs to find just a few more varieties. There is still time, as I won’t start the tomatoes inside until early March, or about eight weeks before I plant them out in the garden, which will be in mid-May.

And I've got more to write about tomatoes... staking and caging, how deep to plant tomatoes, and why no vegetable garden should be without them. But I'll have post about all that another day. Right now, I must find some better tomato varieties to plant.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Herbs, Too

One of my favorite kinds of gardens that I don’t have is an herb garden.

In my mind, an herb garden is a mysterious and magical place where garden fairies hide in the day and then come out to dance and party through the night.

In my imaginary herb garden, the paths between the garden beds are lined with old worn bricks and guide you toward the center of the garden where there is a sundial marking the sunny hours. The garden is filled with all kinds of mysterious plants, at the peak of perfection and ready to be harvested.

I imagine there are some simple benches placed here and there where I can sit in the sun, which is never too hot, and watch the bees lazily buzz from herb flower to herb flower.

Though I long for such an herb garden, I’ve never planted one and I’m not likely to.

Instead I tuck a few herbs in the vegetable garden, sometimes.

Around the dwarf apple tree in the center bed in my raised bed vegetable garden, I planted thyme and sage. You can see them near the right center in the picture above. The leafy plants at the bottom of the picture are peppers and to the right are tomatoes.

The reason I only think to 'sometimes' plant herbs is that I don’t generally remember to use the herbs for anything, like cooking. But I’m determined to do better, especially in February when I am ordering seeds and it is snowing outside.

So this year’s garden will include

- ‘Italian Large Leaf’ Basil (I like pesto, I should make some.)
- ‘Fernleaf’ Dill (Maybe I’ll pickle some cucumbers after all?)
- Cilantro (Should I be so lucky as to have enough tomatoes for salsa.)

What herbs do you always plant in your vegetable garden? Or do you want to make me turn into a green-eyed gardener by telling me that you have an herb garden like my imaginary herb garden?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Decorate the Vegetable Garden With Some Flowers

Make sure to decorate your vegetable garden with some flowers.

I like to include some flowers in my vegetable garden to add some color and interest at about the time that some of the vegetables in the garden are starting to look a bit tired and the garden itself has some bare spots where I've removed "spent" crops.

Most years, I direct sow zinnias and marigolds in a few of the smaller beds. These are both easy flowers to grow from seed and provide a lot of bloom in a short time. Plus the zinnias have the added benefit of being excellent cut flowers.

Another good flower for the vegetable garden is old-fashioned sweet peas.

For fragrance, is there any flower, other than a rose, that smells as good as an annual sweet pea? Sweet peas do take a little more “attention” when you sow the seeds, and some support to grow on. I’m not ambitious enough every year to grow sweet peas, but I have decided I am going to plant some this year.

I’ll have to refresh my memory on the best way to start the sweet peas from seed, but I think I’ll start them inside a few weeks before I want to plant them in the garden, which will be before we are frost-free. I’ll probably use some small peat pots so I don’t disturb the roots when I plant them in the garden. I might also soak the seeds over night before I sow them because the seeds have a hard seed coat. I’m using words and phrases like “I think”, “might” and “probably” because, like I said, I need to refresh my memory on these seeds.

Other flowers that I’ve planted in the vegetable garden include:

Gladiolas – These are also good flowers for cutting, and since the plants aren’t all that attractive and the flower stems generally need support, rowing these up in a garden bed is a good way to grow them. Some people call these “funeral flowers” because they are frequently used in flower arrangements for funerals, but that hasn’t kept me from growing them.

Nasturtiums – It has been awhile since I’ve grown nasturtiums, but I’ve read about some varieties on the Gardening Gone Wild blog that have me wanting to plant these again this year. These flowers have the added benefit of being edible.

Sunflowers – Who can have a vegetable garden without a row of sunflowers reaching up to the sky? Well, some years, I can, but most years I find a little spot for a few tall sunflowers. This year I am planting ‘Monet’s Palette Mixture’. I just ordered the seeds this past Sunday when I placed my second seed order.

What flowers do you grow in your vegetable garden? Maybe I’ll want to grow some of the same in mine!

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After writing this post, I started thinking more about flowers in the vegetable garden and I'm all "jazzed up" to add more flowers this year. I think I'll tuck some in every bed and let them spill over the sides. That ought to be very pretty or look like a big mess. We'll see.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Garden of Miscellany

Tonight I’m posting a “garden of miscellany”, some gardening related thoughts that aren’t quite enough for a full blog post and are too much for a twitter.

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Does anyone else think this orchid bloom looks like a chicken’s foot? I posted about this for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, but didn’t include a picture, just a link, so I think a lot of people didn’t see what I was talking about. Often flowers and plants look like something else from a distance, or even up close. I can’t think of any good examples right off, but I know once I post this, I’ll think of some.

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I am on top of it this year as far as getting my lawn mower into the shop and tuned up for spring. Last year, I took it in too late and then I was desperate to get it back because the grass really, really needed to be cut. This year, I took it in last week. Last week! It should be ready by next week, and I’ll be ready to mow as soon as winter moves on out of here and the grass starts to grow again. Fresh air, exercise, that’s what mowing the grass is really all about!

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I’m never sure if anyone notices my “twitters” on the sidebar. I’m microblogging to provide brief updates, usually at the beginning and end of the day or if something happens on the weekend during the day. I try not to twitter too much about the weather, but as a gardener, I think I pay more attention to the weather than others do. Once spring arrives and I’m gardening outside again, more of the twitters will be about what I am doing in the garden. Who else is microblogging?

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I've been posting about the different vegetables I grow in my garden. So far I’ve posted about green beans, early spring vegetables, zucchini, corn, peppers, and eggplant. I’m still planning to post about flowers in the vegetable garden, a few minor crops, and of course, tomatoes. I’m flattered to have gotten a few emails and comments with more questions about planting vegetables in raised beds; I’ll try to answer those questions in upcoming posts. I'm always excited to find "kindred spirits" who like to grow vegetables in addition to flowers!

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Orchids, lawn mowing, microblogging, and vegetable gardens. That's enough "garden of miscellany” for one post. Have a good one.

Monday, February 18, 2008

President's Day: Our Thoughts Turn To Gardens

I’ve never aspired to be the President of the United States, nor even to be the president of the garden club that I once belonged to.

But many presidents have aspired to be gardeners and farmers, to tend the land, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who were both gentleman farmers and gardeners after serving as president. And we are fortunate that today we can visit their restored gardens, Mount Vernon and Monticello.

Several years ago, on my way through Virginia, a friend and I stopped for the night in Charlottesville and I realized the next morning that we were just two miles from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home and gardens.

Gardens? I could not pass up the opportunity to see them. Though it was 102 degrees in the shade that July day, up the hill we went to see Monticello. The house was nice, but the gardens were better and had it not been 102 degrees in the shade, I could have spent much longer admiring them.

I was particularly impressed by the vegetable garden, pictured above, all 1,000 linear feet of it, covering nearly two acres. Who wouldn’t be? My own little garden seems so humble in comparison, like a pebble on a beach compared to a majestic mountain.

I was struck by not just the size of the vegetable garden, but the beauty of it. The rows of vegetables form a pattern across the terraced land, nearly as far as you can see. It’s a wonderful tapestry of vegetables of all shapes, sizes, and colors.

I don’t understand gardeners who shun vegetable gardens as common or ugly or not befitting their “landscape” or who look down on those of us who do eat what we grow.

To me, a well laid out vegetable garden is as pretty a garden as one could ever hope to have.

"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, no culture comparable to that of the garden ... But though an old man, I am but a young gardener." - Thomas Jefferson, Garden Book, 1811

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Eggplant, One of My Favorite Vegetables


Other than tomatoes, one of my favorite vegetables is eggplant.

That’s right, eggplant. Solanum melongena. Aubergine.

I usually grow three or four plants of eggplant in my vegetable garden and enjoy one or two summer meals with fried eggplant, tomato slices, fresh green beans, and my own homegrown sweet corn. It’s a happy day here at May Dreams Gardens when I can harvest all four of these vegetables on the same day and eat them together for one meal.

Those three or four eggplant plants will generally produce way more eggplant than I can eat, so I try to give the rest of the eggplant away. I say “try” because most people don’t want the eggplant. I don’t think they know how to fix it or they don’t like the taste of it.

I do like the taste of eggplant, so I should figure out other ways to fix it, other than frying it. One of my co-workers keeps mentioning a few recipes for baked dishes that include eggplant as a main ingredient, so maybe I’ll get those from her in exchange for some eggplant.

This year I’m growing only one variety, called ‘Dusky’. I chose ‘Dusky’ over ‘Black Beauty’, which is what I usually plant, because it is supposed to be ready to harvest in 63 days versus 83 days for ‘Black Beauty’, and be prolific. I’m not so concerned with how many eggplant I get, as long as I get a few, but to harvest earlier seems like a good thing.

I suspect no matter what variety I grow it will get attacked by little black flea beetles right after I plant it in the garden, leaving the leaves full of little holes and spots. I do nothing to control these beetles because I still end up with a few eggplant in spite of them, and my goal is just to get a few anyway.

I did read somewhere that good crop rotation helps control flea beetles. Good crop rotation helps control a lot of diseases and insect infestations in the garden, and I try to practice that whenever I can.

By “good crop rotation”, this source, which I can no longer find, said not to plant the eggplant in the same place where eggplant has been grown for the last four years.

My gardening records are good, but not that good, so who knows where all I’ve planted eggplant in my raised beds these past few years? I can only remember where I planted them last year. I won’t plant these eggplant in that raised bed or any other bed where I grew tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes. Along with eggplant, they are all members of the Solanaceae family of plants, and thus are likely to be susceptible to the same diseases and insects.

I just remembered that last year the rabbits ate off my newly planted eggplant seedlings, just like they bit off some pepper plants, so I had to replace my eggplant seedlings with a few store bought plants. That’s a bad memory that I did my best to suppress, but writing this post brought it to mind again.

That’s not going to happen this year! I’m on to those rabbits! I'm going to liberally sprinkle cayenne pepper on and around the eggplant, along with the peppers, to keep the bunnies away until the plants get big enough to fend for themselves. Maybe the cayenne pepper will also keep the flea beetles from doing their damage? Time will tell.

I just know that if I am going to the trouble of sowing seeds indoors ahead of time to get a variety of eggplant that I might be able to harvest nearly three weeks earlier than normal, I don’t want to risk having a rabbit indiscriminately bite the plants off and leave them laying on the ground like last year.

Trying new things each year, like cayenne pepper on eggplant to keep the rabbits away, is part of the fun of gardening. Even after over two decades of having my own vegetable garden, every year I always find some new variety to try, a new challenge to overcome, or a new trick to try to keep the rabbits and insects away so I can enjoy the harvest.

Who else will be enjoying a harvest of eggplants from their garden this summer? Do you have any eggplant recipes to share?

Sunny, 40 F Degrees, Let's Go Out and Garden!

Yesterday was sunny and relatively warm with temperatures hovering around 40 F degrees, so I decided to spend an hour or so outside in the garden, puttering around and doing some light pruning.

With some trepidation I slipped on a pair of my ‘gardening jeans’, jeans that I had promoted from everyday wear to gardening wear. I was concerned that between the effects of GRTH (Gardener’s Reduced Time with Horticulture) and the gravitational forces in my closet drawing the threads closer together, that the jeans might not fit.

But they fit!

So I grabbed my pruners and holster and headed out to see what I could do in an hour or so in the garden.

I decided to trim back the grape vines.

I hadn’t pruned these vines since a few years ago when they were knocked back by a late frost, so they were a bit out of control. I did pause for a moment to think “how should these vines be pruned and is this the right time to prune them?”

Then I just started pruning. My first order of business was to cut them back away from a little Korean Spice Viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) next to the arbor, and then I cut anything that looked like it might be dead. In the process I did confirm that one of the grape vines, a variety called ‘Himrod’ which is supposed to be good for just eating, was dead, so I cut that all out.

Then I stood back and wondered how to prune the rest of the 'Concord' grape vine. I thought about going inside to look up how to prune the grapes, but decided to just go for it. I happily pruned it back and left some main stems.

Time ran out before I could deal with the pile of brush I created, so I left that for later. Some other nice day, I’ll get out my chipper shredder and chop it all up for mulch.

Later in the evening, I did some online research on how to prune grapes, to see if I had really done a hack job on the grapes or if I’d done alright.

Here’s what I found in a Purdue extension brochure on Growing Grapes in Indiana:

"An average mature grapevine will have 200 to 300 buds capable of producing fruit. If all buds were retained the result would be a large crop that would not ripen properly, reduced vine vigor, and poor cane maturation. To avoid this situation researchers have developed a method of pruning to balance the fruit productivity and vegetative growth which will give maximum yields without reducing vine vigor or wood maturity. This procedure is called “balanced pruning”. The number of buds retained is balanced to match the vigor of the vine. The term used to describe vine vigor is “vine size”, which is determined as the weight of one-year-old cane prunings

To balance prune a grapevine, estimate the vine size, then prune the vine, leaving enough extra buds to provide a margin of error, usually 70 to 100 buds total. Next, weigh the one-year-old cane prunings with a small spring scale. Then use the pruning formula to determine the number of buds to retain per vine (See Table 2). For ‘Concord’ vines the pruning formula is 30+10. This means that a vine that produces three pounds of cane prunings would require 30 buds for the first pound of prunings plus ten buds for each additional pound for a total of 50 buds. After determining the appropriate number of buds to retain, prune the extra buds off, taking care to space the fruiting buds evenly along the trellis."


Now, admittedly, these instructions are for commercial growers, but still, does it have to be that complicated?

I think my hack job will be good enough.
We’ll see in a few months if I inadvertently removed all the fruiting buds. I sure hope not, because I want to make some more grape jam in August.

Oh, and while I was out puttering around in the garden, I ran across my tiny little patch of crocuses, also enjoying the sunny day.
I knew you would not want to miss seeing them, too! They are simple and uncomplicated and remind us of why we garden.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I'm Hungry for Real Cucumbers

Don’t even ask me if you can have some of my homegrown cucumbers.

If you’ve read about my summer squash and peppers, you might get the impression that I garden just so that I can give away the produce. I do give away a lot of my harvest, but no one gets any cucumbers until I have had my fill of them, and it takes me awhile to get tired of cucumbers, especially homegrown cucumbers.

I know some people who say they can’t eat cucumbers because it causes them some sort of “gastric distress” or excessive burping. That’s caused by a compound called cucurbitacin. If you are one of those people, life is too short to not enjoy eating homegrown cucumbers, so you should look for so-called “burpless” varieties of cucumbers which contain less of this compound. Then if you occasionally belch after eating them, just say “excuse me” and continue to enjoy your cucumbers.

Or do what I do and peel the outer skin off your cucumbers and then eat them.

Whatever you have to do to be able to eat cucumbers is worth it because homegrown cucumbers are so much different and better tasting than anything you might buy at a grocery store. Those waxed up uniform looking, watery, grocery store cucumbers are okay in very small quantities, but I repeat, they are not the same as home grown cucumbers.

This year, as in past years, I’m going to grow a smaller pickling type cucumber but I don’t plan to make pickles. I’ll just eat them for snacks. I've chosen a new variety called 'Homemade Pickles' to try.

I’ll also grow a ‘regular size’ cucumber, the variety ‘Bush Crop’, for slicing onto salads.

Both of these are ‘bush’ or short vine cucumbers, which are smaller plants, growing more like zucchini squash, so they are easier to grow in smaller gardens. There are also vining cucumbers, often referred to as long vines, which are good to grow if you happen to have a sturdy fence for them to grow on.

Just writing this post, I’ve made myself crave a good homegrown cucumber. Dang! I told myself I was going to be strong these last few weeks of winter. Store bought just won’t do. I need some fresh produce. I need a gardening fix. Hurry up, spring and summer! I’m hungry for real cucumbers!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - February 2008

Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens.

Here in USDA Zone 5, the weather has been seasonable for February, which means some snow, some cold, some wintry mix, and did I mention the cold? If we are to have blooms, they'll be mostly indoors.

Indeed, the hyacinths I've been forcing in vases in my breakfast area window are all in various states of bloom. The scent is amazing, heavy and sweet, but uplifting.

As you can see from the picture, there is still some snow outside, especially outside this window which faces north. I'm sure those hyacinth are happy to be on the inside looking out.

Other flowers inside include:

Hybrid variegated leaf orchid, (Sarcoglottis speciosus x Stenorrhynchos speciosum). I think it looks a bit like a chicken's foot. Go look at the link to the picture and let me know if you agree. I'm growing it mostly for the variegated foliage, and once I get my act together, I plan to move it to my big terrarium.

Jewel orchid (Ludisia discolor). I featured this orchid in my January GBBD post, so I won't show it again. This is an easy orchid to grow, with sprays of smaller blooms, so if you want to dip your toe into the waters of orchid growing, you might try it. But be careful! You could end up falling in love with orchids and soon be planning to build an extra room onto your house so you have a place to grow all your orchids.

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera sp.). I'm getting a few new blooms here and there on my Christmas Cactus. Every time I see them I wonder if I've left out some Christmas decoration someplace in the house. Don't you hate when you think you've put away all your Christmas decorations and then you find some knick knack or doo-dad that got left out?

I also have some red poinsettias still blooming and a few tiny pink blooms on a Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii). Thanks, Kim, for reminding me to include them.

Now, let's go outside.

Drumroll, please.

In February, which last year was a complete white out for bloom day, I have crocuses in bloom.


At this point, if you've read this far, you are probably groaning, "Not THAT crocus again! How many posts about that crocus is she going to do? I've seen enough of it".

But have you? Because look, there are now three buds! The two smaller buds showed up today, even after being buried for a day or so in some 'wintry' mix'. So it isn't a crocus, it is now three crocuses in bloom (or bud, don't get technical on me).

And that's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day this fine February day at May Dreams Gardens.

What's blooming in your garden? Join us for bloom day by posting on your own blog about what's blooming in your garden right now, outdoors or indoors. You can post pictures, lists, common names, botanical names, whatever you’d like to do to showcase your blooms today. Then leave a comment here, so we know where to find your blog and can visit to see and read about your bloom day blooms.

“We can have flowers nearly every month of the year.” ~ Elizabeth Lawrence

Thursday, February 14, 2008

You Might Be A Gardening Geek: Valentine's Day Edition

You might be a gardening geek on Valentine’s Day if…

Your co-workers call you over to their desks to help identify the flowers and plants they got on Valentine’s Day. Bonus points if you know what those flowers and plants are.

You wonder if the flowers you got for Valentine’s Day count as blooms for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day on the 15th. Bonus points if you count them for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.

You start to worry because it is already Valentine’s Day and you haven’t purchased all your seeds yet. Bonus points if you have purchased all your seeds.

You specify “no candy, please” because you are worried you are showing symptoms of GRTH and it will keep you from being the gardener you want to be in the spring. Subtract points if you hold to that.

When your Valentine suggests shopping for a gift at a jewelry store, you steer them toward the local garden center instead. Bonus points if you got a Valentine’s Day gift from a garden center. Triple bonus points if the staff at your local garden center was able to tell your Valentine what you wanted.

The only red thing you want for Valentine’s Day is a pair of red-handled Felco pruners. Bonus points if you also hint that you want the matching holster.

In other words, when Cupid shot an arrow at you, were you standing just a little bit too close to some plants?

Happy Valentine’s Day from the gardener at May Dreams Gardens

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Early Spring Vegetables

Does any day offer greater joy in the garden than that first day you go outside after the winter and plant the early spring vegetables?

The ground will still be cool to the touch and a jacket may be required, but if you are lucky and plan it right, the sun will be shining enough to warm your back as you kneel down and sow peas, lettuce, beets, spinach, radishes and other early spring vegetables.

There are few finer days in the garden.

Because I have raised beds, I can generally choose any sunny spring day to sow my early season crops. I don’t have to worry about whether or not the ground is dry enough to till or spade under. I just pull any weeds that may be growing, generally henbit or chickweed, rake through the bed to create a nice loose, seedbed, and then sow my seeds.

This year, my early crops will include:

Pinetree Radish Mix
Pinetree Lettuce Mix
‘Red Velvet’ Lettuce
‘Bloomsdale Long Standing’ Spinach
‘Green Arrow’ Peas (a triumph of 2007, can I repeat the magic?)

I’m going to try to hold back on my exuberance that first day, which will be right around St. Patrick’s Day, and sow half as much as I would normally. Then I'll come back each week and sow some more of each crop so I can extend my harvest.

I’m also going to plant some turnips, which is a new crop for me, some beets, and of course, onion sets. Does anyone know of a good variety of turnips to grow in the spring? I’d like to try to get some good turnip greens and some young turnips to slice and eat raw.

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Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day

Does anyone really need a reminder that February 15th is Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day? I confused a few people last month by indicating we had come full circle in January which some took to mean we had reached the first anniversary of bloom day. But what I meant was that we had completed a full year from February through January.

Now we start again and it is truly the one year anniversary. If you haven’t joined in the past, now is a good time to start, and if you’ve been joining all along, I hope you’ll continue.

Looking back at my inaugural post last year, I had nothing in bloom outdoors. This year, if the weather cooperates, I could have something blooming outdoors, plus I have a few indoor blooms I’ve been holding back posting about so they could be part of bloom day

It’s easy to participate. Just post on your own blog about what is blooming in your garden on the 15th of the month, outdoors or indoors. It can be pictures, lists, common names, botanical names whatever you’d like to post. No rules on that. Then just come here to my bloom day post and leave a comment to let us know you’ve posted so we can find you.

I look forward to seeing what’s blooming in your garden because this is what my one flower blooming outside looks like today.
Yes, that's my little crocus, buried in some "wintry mix".

Monday, February 11, 2008

Top Ten Reasons You Would Love to Garden in Indianapolis

Welcome to Indianapolis, Indiana, the capital of Indiana, located in the midwestern part of the United States, the heartland, the crossroads of America. My home, where I live and garden in a tiny place I call May Dreams Gardens.

Did you know that David Letterman is from Indianapolis? He is! And so with apologies to Dave, I’m offering my Top Ten Reasons You Would Love to Garden in Indianapolis.

10. Good Soil. Generally soil is a brown silt loam or a maybe a clay silt loam. Most gardeners end up with pretty good dirt for planting by adding a bit of compost and other organic material.


9. 150 Frost Free Days. Our last frost of the spring is generally around May 10th or Mother’s Day and our first frost of the fall is around October 10th, giving us 150 days to grow our vegetable gardens and annual flowers.

8. USDA Zone 5 Hardiness. Some people in Zone 4 think that the really good plants for the garden are hardy in Zone 5 and warmer. There is a lot we can grow here.

7. Good Rainfall. Our average annual rainfall is close to 40 inches so we can often get by without a lot of extra watering during the growing season.

6. Autumn. We have great fall color on our deciduous trees and shrubs in the fall. Many gardeners and other people just wanting to see good fall foliage colors go south of here to a place called Brown County to see some of the best fall color around and enjoy strolling among quaint shops.

5. Winter Break. We get a nice long rest from gardening in the winter time, which makes us appreciate our growing season that much more.

4. Good Garden Centers. Our city has some good garden centers and a few little out of the way places to buy plants. Not all of them offer beautiful display gardens like the Avon Gardens on the west side, but you generally don’t have to go too far to buy a decent plant.

3. Good Public Gardens. We have some nice strolling gardens to take your mind off your own weed patch or to give you ideas on what to plant in your own garden. These include White River Gardens, the historic gardens on the grounds of the Indianapolis Art Museum, Garfield Park and Conservatory, and just up the highway in West Lafayette is Purdue University and the Horticulture Gardens.

2. A Great Mid-Sized City. We aren’t the biggest city around but we have an NFL team, the Indianapolis Colts, an NBA team, the Indiana Pacers, and a place called “the track” where they run a race on Memorial Day Weekend called the Indy 500. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

And the number one reason You Would Love to Garden in Indianapolis....

1. Lilacs and Peonies. Our winters get cold enough so that in the spring we can enjoy the heavenly scent of lilacs in bloom and be amazed by the beauty of our state flower, the peony.

Lilacs in bloom...
Peonies in bloom....


Thank you, Jodi from Bloomingwriter for suggesting that we post about "Where in the Gardening World Are You" and showcase our little spot in the world of gardening.

All year I dream of the days in May when the sun is warm, the skies are blue, the grass is green, and my Indiana garden is all new again.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Peppers


In spite of evidence to the contrary from this picture, I did not have a good “pepper” year in 2007.

It started out quite well, with several varieties of peppers that I started from seed. For bell peppers I had “Orange Sun Sweet’, ‘Red Beauty Sweet’ and ‘Big Bertha’. I have to have ‘Big Bertha’ no matter what. She’s like the matriarch of my vegetable garden; I can just imagine what type of woman this bell pepper might have been named for, if indeed there was a Bertha behind this bell. My other sweet pepper was the ‘Yellow Banana’.

For the hot peppers, I planted ‘Anaheim Chili’, ‘Jalapeno Chili’, and ‘Hungarian Yellow Wax’.

All was going quite well with my seedlings and toward the later part of May, I planted the peppers out in the garden, all in one bed, lined up side by side in straight rows, evenly spaced. It was pepper perfection, a precise parade formation of peppers.

Then one day I went out to the garden to discover that a rabbit or some rabbits had bitten off six or more of the pepper plants. Queue up the horror music! And they left the uneaten stems lying in the garden! My raised bed of pepper perfection was a mess.

To try to restore order, I had to buy some more pepper plants and because it was getting late in the season, I bought them at a nearby big box store. I know I looked suspicious at that store, furtively looking around as I picked out some pepper plants, hoping that no one I knew would see me because it was kind of embarrassing, buying pepper plants like that. I am an experienced gardener. I know about rabbits. I should not have left those pepper plants like that, unprotected with no defense, easy pickings for the rabbit-vermin.

Long story, longer, I planted the replacement peppers and then sprinkled cayenne pepper on all the plants. This seemed to keep the rabbits away until the plants grew enough that they could withstand some rabbit nibbling on the side branches.

But the order in the pepper bed could not really be stored. I didn’t put labels in quite the way I should have to know which plant was which and as some of the peppers matured, I didn’t know which varieties they were, so I didn’t feel quite right giving them away. Plus, with the ‘near draught’, the overall crop was just so-so.

Many of the peppers ended up in the compost bin after the first frost. I know. You don’t need to scold me. I felt bad about that. I know that when you grow food like that, you should either eat it or give it away.

But this year is a new year, a fresh start, and I’m very hopeful again about growing some good peppers. I will sprinkle cayenne pepper on them right from the beginning (I get the big containers of it from the local wholesale club store) and I won’t be trying to grow them all lined up in one bed. I’m going to spread them around the garden.

The varieties I’ve chosen, all from Pinetree Garden Seeds, include:

‘New Ace’ sweet pepper
‘Early Jalapeno’ hot pepper
‘Anaheim’ hot pepper
‘Serrano’ hot pepper
‘Sweet Banana’ sweet pepper

And of course ‘Big Bertha’ bell peppers.

There are dozens of good varieties of peppers available, so I wonder if my list is too short, and maybe there are some really good peppers I should be trying? I probably have room for a few more varieties.

(Did I mention that I myself don’t eat peppers that much? I don’t mind them chopped up and cooked into food for flavor, but to eat one raw or even grilled, I don’t really like them. But I still like to grow them and give them away.)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Corn, Squash, and Beans - The Three Sisters of the Garden


My vegetable garden is made up of raised beds. There are eight beds that are 4’ x 8’, three beds that are 4’ x 4’, three beds that are 2’ x 8’, two small beds that are 2’ x 4’ and one bed that is 2’ x 6’. This gives me 392 square feet to plant in.

Subtract from that 32 square feet that I planted with strawberries, and 16 square feet for the center bed where I planted a dwarf apple tree and I end up with 344 square feet of raised bed planting area for the rest of the vegetables.

Normally, I plant each bed with one type of vegetable. A bed of tomatoes, one of beans, one of peppers, another with squash.

The only bed that is mixed is the one I plant in the early spring with peas, lettuce, spinach, onions and radishes and the last bed I plant where all the “leftovers” end up.

But that is going to change.

I have decided that it might be a little bit more interesting overall to plant a variety of vegetables in each bed.

I’m starting first with the bed where I plant the corn. This year I am again planting the variety ‘Bon Appetit’, which I grew last year with good results. Then I’m going to add to this bed some spaghetti squash and some pole beans, to make it a true Three Sisters garden. I was going to do this last year, but decided not to at the last minute. That desire for order in the garden was just too strong.

But I will fight that this year and mix it up.

The Native Americans called the inter-planting of corn, beans and squash the “Three Sisters” because of how these plants help one another. The corn provides support for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, and the squash vines shade the ground which prevents weeds and helps retain moisture in dry years.

For pole beans, I think I’ll try ‘Blue Lake Wonder’ because that’s what Frances at Faire Garden recommends.

For the spaghetti squash, I might try ‘Hi Beta Gold’. Does anyone have any other recommendations? Who is out there trying to breed the perfect spaghetti squash, anyway?

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You can see from the picture above, taken earlier today, that this was a beautiful sunny day in central Indiana. I should have spent time outside weeding my paths, as you can see. Ugh. I didn't. I wanted to, but I am still in winter mode. I need to start switching to spring mode!

But as soon as I did that, we'd probably get a bunch of snow dumped on us. Patience is a virtue in the second half of winter!

Even The Crocus is Happier When It Is Sunny

Even the crocus, the first flower of spring and the only flower blooming outside in my garden today, is happier in the sun. It's currently 44 F, but feels like 33 F because it is windy.

But the sun is shining, and a flower is blooming, so I'll take this kind of day any day in February.

After all, last year at this time, we had snow on the ground, a lot of snow on the ground.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Put In Your Requests Now For Some of My Zucchini

Nearly every day last summer from July 1 until almost Labor Day, I picked at least one or more zucchini squash. I had piles of them on the kitchen table and took bags of them into work.

"Would you like some zucchini?" was my morning greeting to my co-workers. Not "good morning", not "How are you today". It was all about getting people to take some zucchini. It got to the point where people would see me coming with my bags of zucchini and walk away from me, fast.

So I made a mental note that this year I should maybe not plant eight hills of squash.

But you know how it is with mental notes. They are soon conveniently forgotten. At least I forgot that I had planned to plant less zucchini when I ordered my seeds a few weeks ago.

For the 2008 garden, I'm going to plant 'Cue Ball' again. I grew these round zucchini last year for the first time, and loved them. They grow quickly and as noted in the seed catalog, you can harvest a squash or two or six almost daily. I don't know how the plant produces fruit that fast, but it does.

I'll also plant the 'traditional' shaped zucchini; 'Ambassador' for green, and 'Gold Rush' for yellow. These should start producing about two weeks after I harvest the first 'Cue Ball' zucchini.

And because 'Cue Ball' was so good last year, I decided to also try 'Eight Ball', another round squash.

Lest you think I'm out of control with squash, please know that I did decide not to plant 'Gold Bar' again. It was a good squash but I had to drop one of the varieties to make room for 'Eight Ball'.

So doing the math... last year I planted four varieties, I'm dropping one this year, then adding a new one, so that means I'm cutting back to... four varieties. I'll plant two hills of each variety, so that makes eight hills of squash which means...

Put in your requests now for some of my zucchini, I should have plenty of it this summer.

Though I'm pretty much set with my zucchini varieties for this summer, if you have another variety you'd like to recommend, let me know. I can always adjust my plan and plant one or two more hills of zucchini, and then blame whoever convinces me to try another variety for any excess I have.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Haricot Vert

I found a packet of Haricot Vert seeds in my recently delivered seed order.

I looked at that packet and had no idea what those seeds were for. I was convinced the seed company had made a mistake or that the garden fairies had indeed tricked me into ordering some seeds for them.

Honestly I thought 'what are these seeds for?' And then I remembered that 'vert' is French for green and deduced that 'haricot' must be French for beans. Oh, green beans! Yes, French green beans.

Then I remembered. I had decided to try a new variety of green beans and went to the "international seed" section of the Pinetree Garden Seeds website and found this French variety called 'Maxibel'. I had momentarily forgotten about ordering them (my first senior moment?) and had no idea they would be labeled Haricot Vert instead of green beans.

Now that I know what they are, I think they sound very good and very continental. They'll add a little sophistication to my Hoosier vegetable garden. Maybe I'll go all out and plant some courgettes to make it a really fancy garden, I mean 'potager'?

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I'm also planting my tried and true variety of green beans, 'Provider'. I love these beans. If it's a good year and I can keep the rabbits and Mexican bean beetles away from my garden, I'm in for a treat. And this year, I will plant green beans every two weeks so that I don't end up with all my green beans ready to eat at once.

Are there any other green bean varieties I should try?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Spring's First Bloom

Spring has brought her first bloom to my garden. A tiny crocus, purple and fresh, it is in stark contrast to the brown, wintry leaves around it. It’s a brave little flower, undaunted by the rainy, cold, miserable day and unafraid of the weather that lies ahead. It’s Spring’s first attempt to bid farewell to Winter.

Move along, Winter, Spring wants to take center stage in the garden!

But Winter will not leave readily or quickly just because Spring wants to arrive. Winter shows its might and throws down sleet and snow and ice in Spring’s path. And if Spring tries to arrive too quickly, Winter will blow its fierce cold winds and frost the buds that Spring has coaxed into opening.

It’s a battle that takes place every year in the garden, this transition from Winter to Spring.

It seems easy, somehow, to transition from Spring to Summer, Summer to Fall, even Fall to Winter. But Winter to Spring? It takes bravery and patience. It is never easy.

But in time, Spring will win this battle. Her first crocus is merely a beginning. Soon she will vanquish the Winter and celebrate her victory with more crocuses and daffodils and tulips under canopies of magnolia, forysythia and lilac blooms.

And I, the gardener, can merely sit and watch. I can’t make Winter move on any faster. I can only cheer Spring on, delighting in each new bloom she brings with her to my garden.

So let the battle begin. May Dreams Gardens, and the gardener, are ready.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Keep Your Seeds in a Cool, Dry Place

There is a whole ritual that most of us gardeners follow when we acquire seeds. You know the routine.

First, we get the seed catalogs. We look through them, read the descriptions, and dream of a garden at least ten times bigger than what we have.

Next, we make lists of the seeds we want to get.

Then we cut back the lists when we realize that we really shouldn't spend that much on seeds. For that kind of money, we could buy something like a new car or at least pay for a trip to Austin.

Finally we make our real selections and go online and order up our seeds.

I ordered my first batch of seeds a few weeks ago and they arrived last week.

Until I actually start sowing the seeds, I'll keep them in a cool, dry place.

And what's more cool than a new garden trug?

That's my new Sussex garden trug ordered from Walt Nicke's Garden Talk pictured above. It is one of two gifts that I bestowed upon myself for my recent birthday. It's handmade, and the craftsman even signed the bottom of it.
It's beautifully crafted and fits my criteria of a gift I'll have forever, to commemorate entering "my late forties".

Right now it holds my seeds, and has been put in a cool, dry place. But before I know it, it will hold my garden harvest. Tomatoes, beans, squash, peppers, corn and more. I can hardly wait.