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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Seed Racks Don't Have To Cost A Fortune

Don’t you just love it when you think you got a good deal?

I thought it was a good deal to get two hyacinth blooms out of one bulb. In fact, several of my hyacinth bulbs had more than one bloom this year, the first year any have had multiple blooms, that I can remember.

I also think I got a good deal when I bought my seed racks fifteen or so years ago for about $30 each.


These seed racks are basic plastic shelves, with each shelf holding one and a half flats. I hung the light fixtures with some shower curtain hooks and a short piece of chain, so I can raise and lower them to accommodate flats of seedlings or small plants. These are just standard shop light fixtures sold at most hardware stores.

I replaced the light fixtures last year because those ballasts don’t last forever and bought new light bulbs at the same time. The bulbs are just standard fluorescent lights. I decided to go with those because they were cheaper and the plants will get some natural “full-spectrum” light from the nearby windows.

I use light timers to turn the lights on early in the morning and off late at night so that the seedlings get 18 hours or more of light every day. As I recall, the timers were sold around the holidays for Christmas lights, and I bought them for half price after the holidays were over.

Yes, for someone who looks like she spends with abandon for hoes and seeds and other necessities of gardening, like the new plant stand the hyacinth is on, I can be quite cost-conscious. We’ve all got to be that way these days.

So I’m all set with my seed racks for this year, the same racks I've used since the 1990's. I just need to get some Jiffy pots for my flats, a few bags of seed starting mix and maybe a few more seeds, and I’m ready to go. (Of course I re-use flats from year to year!)

If you would like to know more about my seed racks, check out this latest video from May Dreams Gardens. It’s a “talkie”!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Instant Gratification: Radishes

For instant gratification in the sporosphilia (seed sowing) world, radishes are it.

“Instant” is just three weeks from sowing to harvesting for some radish varieties like ‘Cherry Belle’. That really is fast, just 21 days.

It takes three to four times as long for tomatoes and corn. And even a fast lettuce takes over a month, unless you cheat and harvest the leaves as ‘micro greens’.

But on a level playing field, radishes are fast growers, as close to instant as you can get from sowing a seed to harvesting a crop from it.

I sow seeds for my radishes in the early spring garden, along with peas, lettuce, spinach, and onions. Later, when I sow seeds for squash, I also sow a few radishes around each squash hill because radishes are supposed to ward off squash borers or something like that.

I’m not sure if it works, but I do it anyway because if it doesn’t get too hot too soon, I just have more radishes to harvest and eat. Radishes, by the way, like it cool. As soon as it gets hot, they bolt and send up a big flower stalk, and then the roots are no good for eating.

This year my goal is to plant the radishes in succession through the first weeks of spring so that I don’t have an entire crop ready all at once, but have enough at one time to make a good radish sandwich. I’ll probably eat it Texas-American style, like Annie in Austin, who was inspired by the Dutch-European version that Yolanda Elizabet made.

Here are the varieties of radish that I’m planting:

Cherry Belle’ – Like I mentioned, it is as close to instant gratification as you can get in the world of sowing seeds. The first ones should be ready to harvest in about three weeks. I always plant ‘Cherry Belle’. It's the standard radish, with all other radishes compared to it.

French Breakfast' – This was an impulse buy from a few weeks ago when I saw a big seed display at a hardware store. This one is supposed to take just 23 days to be ready to harvest.

Salad Rose’ – This was an impulse buy from a few weeks ago at the hardware store. This one will take about 35 days from sowing to eating and should be good for spring and fall sowing.

Watermelon' - This was an impulse buy from a few weeks ago at the hardware store. That must have been some seed display, to lure me in and cause me to buy three varieties of radishes. I should have looked more closely at days to harvest on this one because it is 60 days. That is a slow radish, a very slow radish. Around here, this might be one to sow in late summer for a fall harvest. I’ll probably sow it in the spring anyway to see what I get and then decide if I want to sow it in the fall, too.

One packet of radish seeds usually includes 100’s of seeds, so I would guess between all four varieties I have 1,000 – 1,200 or more radish seeds. That’s enough for spring and fall plantings galore, a whole lot of instant gratification.

Is anyone else growing radishes this year?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Queen of the Vegetable Garden: The Tomato

The tomato is the Queen of the Vegetable Garden!

When I plan out my vegetable garden, I always choose my tomato varieties first, decide which raised beds to plant them in, and then plan out the rest of the garden, working around the tomatoes.

When I choose tomato varieties, I look at the pictures and the descriptions and try to pick a nice mix of red, pink, yellow, slicing, cooking, cherry, old favorites, new varieties, and whatever else just looks good to me. This requires a certain amount of concentration and self-restraint, because in the dead of winter, every tomato variety looks good.

But I never ask myself when I’m looking at all the tomato varieties, “will this tomato variety do well in my garden”. It never occurred to me growing up or even later in life that there might be tomato varieties that wouldn’t grow well in my Zone 5 garden.

Sure, we have “good tomato years” and “not so good tomato years”, but I can’t recall, or have blocked it as too unpleasant to even think about, any “bad tomato years”. I live and garden where tomatoes just grow. Even at the state fair last summer, the sign proudly proclaimed that Indiana is second in the United States in growing tomatoes for processing.

But I’ve come to realize that in other parts of the country, tomatoes don’t just grow with such abandon, varieties must be chosen more carefully to withstand heat, short growing seasons, even nematodes. MSS at Zanthan Gardens is one of several gardeners who helped me come to this realization, as she continues to try to find varieties of tomatoes that will grow and produce in the heat of Austin, Texas summers.

She recently listed the tomato varieties she is considering and asked others with experience growing any of them to offer their opinions.

It appears from her list of tomato varieties under consideration that she and I will both be growing ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’. ‘Black Cherry’ is a repeat for me. I grew it last year for the first time and liked it a lot. It tastes more like a big tomato but isn’t as prolific as most cherry tomatoes. ‘Cherokee Purple’, on the other hand, is a new variety for me to grow.

Here is the complete list of my tomato selections for this year, the 2009 Royal Family of my vegetable garden:

Ace’ – This is a bush, or determinate type tomato. I always buy indeterminate varieties and stake my tomatoes, but decided I would branch out this summer and try a determinate variety and cage it. (80 days)

Aunt Anna’ – I don’t have an aunt named Anna but this just looked like a nice red tomato and one that could grow to “massive size”. It might be useful if there is a biggest tomato contest this summer.

Beefsteak’ – Doesn’t everyone grow this variety? (85 days)

Black Cherry’ – see above

Cherokee Purple’ – Why not grow this one, and show everyone that I don't always grow the same varieties every year, that I'm not such a creature of habit as some might think. Plus, I’ve never grown a dark tomato like this one, so it is about time I did! (80 days)

Fireworks’ – I must do better with earlier ripening tomatoes. It was embarrassing how late in the summer it was before I harvested my first tomato last year. I think maybe this will be an earlier ripening tomato, maybe even ripening by early July. (70 days)

German Johnson’ – I grew this variety two (or three?) years ago for the first time. It’s a pink tomato, very flavorful, and I don’t share them with anyone. I eat them all myself. Last year, this is the variety that gave me the World’s Ugliest Tomato, but it still one of the best tomatoes I know of.

Gold Nugget’ – I grow cherry tomatoes like these so that I have snacks I can eat right in the garden.

Illini Star’ – It occurred to me while reading through all the tomato choices that there might be some that are better suited to the Midwest. Illinois, for those who don’t have a map handy, is the next state west of Indiana, and is a lot like Indiana, except they usually get rain a few hours before we do, so this tomato ought to grow well in my garden, right? (65 – 70 days)

Kentucky Beefsteak’ – This is an orange tomato, and might be a lot like ‘Beefsteak’. I’ll compare the two and let you know.

Pink Oxheart’ – It just sounded good. And it is heart shaped.

Red Currant’ – This is the tiniest tomato you’ll ever grow, as I found out two summers ago when I had a “tiniest tomato” contest and Chigiy beat me fair and square with this variety. Never again, though, because I grow it now, too. These are also very cute in salads.

San Marzano’ – I’ve heard that this variety is one of the best for making sauces and pastes and canning. I’ve never canned before, but you just never know, I might try it this summer because my grandmother was a big-time canner. Or I might not. I’m mostly growing it to keep my options open.

Those are the lucky 13 tomato varieties that will be growing in my garden this summer, but it will soon be 14. MSS had such a good review of ‘Persimmon’, that I’m adding it to my list and ordering a packet of seeds for them as soon as I have my "oops I forgot to order" list ready to go.

Who else is growing tomatoes in their vegetable garden this year?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Managing More than 50 Seed Packets

Early responses to the Garden Bloggers Seed Survey indicate that darn near every gardener sows a few seeds. In fact, just one respondent out of 21 so far doesn’t sow seeds. The reason given is because they buy the seeds and then forget about them, so they buy plants.

Yes, I agree, plants are bigger and easier to see than packets of seeds and aren’t usually tossed in a drawer and forgotten. But I know some gardeners who buy plants, set them behind some shrubs or off to one side, and then promptly forget about them and never get around to planting them.

Not me, of course, but I’ve heard of gardeners who have done that. Did you know it's cheaper to forget to sow a packet of seeds than to forget to plant an actual plant?

Another observation from the early returns on the survey (which you can still participate in, if you would like to do so) is that no one seems to have more than 50 packets of seeds… except me.

I would guess one reason is because seeing that many seed packets and knowing you are going to sow all those seeds, might be a bit overwhelming to some gardeners. But with a little bit of time spent organizing your seed sowing, anyone can manage this many seeds.

Here’s what I do to organize my seeds.

List all of the seed varieties on a spreadsheet. I usually note type, such as annual, perennial, vegetable; name; variety; whether to sow indoors or outdoors; and approximate date I’ll sow the seeds. I have spreadsheets going back to 1999, I think. It makes for a nice history of my garden.

Figure out how much room you have inside to sow seeds. I have two shelf units for my seed starting, with three shelves each and each shelf will hold a flat and a half. Each half flat has enough room for 25 pots. I usually use the Jiffy pots that come in strips. So I can grow 225 plants per shelf unit, or a total of 450 plants. Once I know that, I look at the seeds I want to sow inside and figure out how many of each variety I’ll grow in those pots.

By the way, some years, I sow seeds for that many plants, but many years, I don’t. I grow less.

Make up good plant labels for the seedlings, especially those you will sow inside. Trust me, it is hard to tell one tomato variety from another when you are just looking at the tomato plant. In fact, it's impossible. For my plant labels, I sometimes copy the seed name and varieties from the spreadsheet into a document, fix the spacing a bit, then print the page of names, cut them out into label size pieces, and use inexpensive clear laminate to cover the labels, which I then tape to a wooden ice cream spoon, the kind you can buy at craft stores. Got that?

But sometimes, I just write a number on the plant label/small wooden ice cream spoon and cross reference it to a number on my printed seed list. It just depends on the year and how much time and energy I want to put into the labels.

Stick to your seed sowing schedule. When it is time to sow seeds inside, do it! When it is time to sow seeds outside, do it! Then take care of your seedlings.

Share extra seeds with other gardeners. I’ll admit I’ve not done very well at sharing my extra seeds but this year I hope to find a few budding gardeners who would like to try to grow some plants from seeds, and give them some of my extras. I’ll also end up with a few extra tomato and pepper plants, so I’ll give those away, too, if I can find any takers.

This evening, I've been looking over all my seed packets, seeing what I have, getting ready to make up my spreadsheet.

I found the Impatien seeds that I thought I hadn't purchased, a lovely variety called ‘Midnight Blend’ from Botanical Interests. The packet is beautifully illustrated, of course.

I also thought I had purchased a bunch of nasturtium seeds because I liked how they looked last summer in the vegetable garden. But I only have three packets, ‘Alaska Mix’, ‘Jewel Mix’, and ‘Black Velvet’. I think I need a few more varieties of naturtiums.

I wonder what other seeds I have that I don’t remember ordering or what seeds I thought I ordered, but didn't? I’ll bet the garden fairies know. In fact, they might be responsible for a fair number of these seeds. I'm curious now. I better get on with making up that spreadsheet to answer the question, “just what seeds do I have”?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Seed Buying Secrets

What would you call the love of buying and sowing seeds?

I would call it sporosphilia, using the Greek word “sporos” for seed and “philia” for love. Conversely, I would call the fear of seeds, sporosphobia. (which should not to be confused with kipourikosphobia, the fear of gardening.)

I love sowing seeds, so I guess that makes me part of that subclass of gardeners that could be referred to as sporosphiliacs.

To date, I have purchased 69 packets of seeds. That’s one more packet than last year when I purchased 68 packets, and a lot more than the year before when I stopped at 52. Add the six packets of seeds that Botanical Interests graciously sent me to review, and I’m up to 75 packets of seeds.

Like many gardeners, I get a lot of seed catalogs in the winter time, beginning in late October and continuing through to today when I got another catalog in the mail from a seed company, although I think this new catalog is mostly for plants.

Would you like to know a secret about me and these seed catalogs?

I don’t read most of them.

There are just a couple that I opened up and looked through, including the beautiful, and much blogged/tweeted about Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog that was too full of Big Beautiful Vegetable pictures to ignore. I also looked through the Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog because I usually buy a lot of seeds from them. They have fewer seeds per packet, but it’s as many seeds as I usually need, and the price per packet is less.

Would you like to know another secret about how I decided what seeds to buy this year?

I bought from memory, from a sense of knowing what I needed.

You would think that I would mark, highlight, and circle all kinds of “must haves” in all the catalogs, list them all, decide that I can’t buy 200 packets of seeds, whittle the list down some more, then sleep on it, check the list again, compare prices, get a new seed catalog in the mail, so start the process all over again, or something like that.

I did none of that. After reading through the few catalogs that I thought had something to offer, I simply went to their websites, and ordered seeds.

I ordered based on what I knew I needed after years of ordering seeds. I was quite methodical about it, mentally going through all the vegetables and flowers I grow from seed and ordering the ones I knew I needed. I was “in the zone”, so to speak.

Tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, peas, early spring vegetables, flowers, flowers, flowers, corn… one by one I just ordered up what I thought I needed. Then a few days later I went to the store and saw a big display of seeds and bought some more seeds.

Now that I have all the seeds I ordered and purchased, I’ve gone through them and decided I did a pretty good job picking out my seeds for 2009. In the next few days, I’ll list them out on a spreadsheet to double check that I have all that I need and get myself organized to make sure I start the seeds inside that need to be started inside. I want no seed to be left behind!

Even before I list all the seeds that I have, I know that I don’t have all the seeds that I want. I want to grow impatiens from seed, and I didn’t get any seeds for them. I would also like to grow Swiss chard again and actually harvest some of it to eat and not treat it as an ornamental. I forgot to buy those seeds. And I’m sure I’ll read on someone’s blog about something wonderful that they are growing from seed, and I’ll want to grow that, too.

Would you like to know one more secret about seed buying?

I think buying and sowing seeds is addictive.

It’s almost magical, somewhat mesmerizing, perhaps even a bit miraculous, to sow tiny seeds, some as tiny as little specks that you can hardly see, and then a few weeks later have a flat of tiny seedlings, which then grow into beautiful flowering and fruiting plants.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chicken Foot Orchid

Who’s in charge of common names for plants? No one? Good, then we can do as we please with common names.

I thereby and hereby give this orchid the common name of Chicken Foot Orchid because its bloom looks like what I think a chicken’s foot looks like.

However, I’m not quite sure, because I don’t have any chickens and my close encounters with chickens have mostly been at the state fair. At the fair, when I go in to the poultry and rabbit barn, it is so noisy between all the chickens cackling and crowing and the rabbits… check that, rabbits don’t make any noise. They are stealthy little beasts. Anyway, it is so noisy in there and the air is so thick with chicken feathers and rabbit fur that I don’t stay long enough to actually check out the feet of the chickens.

But these blooms still remind me of what I think a chicken’s foot looks like.

If you want to be botanically proper, you can call this orchid Stenosarcos ‘Vanguard’, a hybrid variegated leaf orchid resulting from the cross Sarcoglottis speciosus X Stenorrhynchos speciosum. (A cross between two different plant genera, not two different species of the same genus.)

Chickens are becoming more popular these days, just like vegetable gardening. I guess a lot of people want to have a few chickens in their backyards, presumably for the eggs and not for a Sunday dinner of fried chicken.

I won’t have any chickens in my yard anytime soon, it isn’t allowed in the HOA covenants. However, I think you can have them in the city because I often drive by a place where they have some chickens. They let them roam around in good weather. It’s funny that those chickens are right out by the road, but they never seem to be in the road, or even tempted to cross the road. Why don’t the chickens cross the road?

My grandfather was in the chicken and egg business, I think. I’m not sure in what capacity, but I think he sold eggs. And I have a vague recollection that he might have sold chicks, too.

Anyway, if my grandpa were alive today, I wonder what he would think of my Chicken Foot Orchid, which sits atop a plant stand made, I think, by my great-grandfather. And what would he think of me, all citified and not knowing hardly anything about chickens or what their feet look like?

Does anyone with chickens think these blooms look like chicken feet?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Time to Take Care of Them

My garden is full of them, and I’ll bet yours is, too. Generally, only you can see them in your garden until you tell others about them. Then they see them and nod in agreement realizing that they have them in their garden, too.

We should talk about them, because as Spring gets closer, there might be an opportunity to tend to them, and maybe even remove a few of them from the garden to make room for others because we always have them.

Some of mine have been in my garden for years. Others just arrived in the last few years or showed up over the winter.

You won’t find a lot of books about taking care of them. You know deep down inside how to do it. You just need to do it.

“Them” are our “good intentions”, and I’ve got a lot of them, enough to give them names!

“One of these days” is my good intention that one of these days I’ll actually dig out the grass along the side of fence in the backyard to make a nice big planting area. I’ve thought about it, blogged about it, even gotten an estimate to see if someone would do it for me. Well “one of these days” just might be taken care of this spring. One of these days, you might read a blog post about it actually happening.

“I ought to” is my good intention that someday I ought to plant some blueberries and raspberries. I think I’ll have more success with raspberries than blueberries, and I’ve got a good spot for them. I did try blueberries once, planting some tiny little plants, then side dressing them with sulfur and coffee grounds to increase the acidity of the soil. Then in the winter, the rabbits proceeded to eat quite a bit of them, so I had to put wire cages around them. They never were vigorous enough to recover, and sadly, they died. I ought to give blueberries another try. (After all, plant in three’s can also mean “try three times” before you give up on a plant.)

“I keep meaning to” is my good intention to do more with roses. There are so many good roses to plant these days, roses that don’t need all that molly coddling like the hybrid teas my Dad messed with back in the day. In fact, Dee from Red Dirt Ramblings sent me a list of roses she thought would do well in my USDA Zone 5 garden. I keep meaning to look at that list and see if I can find some of those roses either locally or through mail order.

“This year” might be the biggest intention of all in my garden. This year I’ve got a lot of plans swirling around in my head. One of these days I ought to put those ideas on paper. I keep meaning to.

Yes, there’s no time like now to take care of the good intentions I have for my garden this year. One of these days is here, I ought to, I keep meaning to, I will!

(Yes, you can also have them in other aspects of your life, at home, at work... they are everywhere and can be overwhelming if you dwell on them too much. Just take care of a few of them now, and you'll be surprised at how good you get at taking care of them, wherever and whatever they are!)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What Every New Gardener Needs

There are going to be a lot of new gardeners this spring, eager to grow a few vegetables and hopefully some flowers. These new gardeners might be trying to save money by growing a bit of food or they may just be hoping to lift their spirits by having some fresh flowers to enjoy. I read it online, it must be true!

To help out these new gardeners, this old, as in experienced, gardener would like to reveal to them the main thing they need to be successful in their garden.

So, new gardeners, gather 'round and let me tell you what’ll need as you head out to plant your first garden.

Of course, you’ll need a place to plant, preferably with some sun, some plants and maybe some seeds, and a source of water. You can pick up any basic gardening book and figure that much out. Though, if you had to get a gardening book to figure that much out, maybe you should just ask your neighbor to plant a little extra in their garden for you and just offer to help them for awhile?

You’ll also see a lot of dazzling gardening tools in the stores, and you might think you need all of those to garden. You don’t. You can get by with a good trowel, if you are going to just plant in containers. Or, if you are going to actually garden in the ground, you should invest in a trio of tools… one shovel, one rake, and of course, one hoe, plus the trowel.

Eventually, you’ll also want a pair of pruners and while you are getting those, pick up a good pair of work gloves to wear. But skip the specialty gardening clothes. You don’t need specialty gardening clothes. Your old clothes will do just fine. Oh, and wear a hat in the sun and put on some sunscreen, too.

Once you have these basics, there is one other thing you should have to be successful at gardening. Fortunately everyone can get it, and it’s free. And you’ll be surprised at how it will improve your gardening when you have it.

If you are thinking compost at this point, well, it is true that compost helps you be successful with gardening by enriching the soil, and everyone can compost for free. But that’s not it.

What every new gardener needs, that old, as in experienced, gardeners have is…

Confidence.

Yes, just watch an old, as in experienced, gardener and you’ll find that they move confidently about the garden. They are deliberate, not tentative. They plant, rake, prune, and sow seeds as though they know what they are doing, even if they don’t. They make mistakes, too, but they learn from them and plant on.

Old, as in experienced, gardeners know that often plants grow in spite of the neglect of the gardener, and sometimes plants die in spite of the great care of the gardener. But that doesn’t stop the old, as in experienced, gardeners from learning, trying, and figuring out what works for them in their gardens.

They have confidence that there will be some failures, some lessons to be learned along the way, and every day will bring new challenges.

They also have confidence that there will be successes, new knowledge gained, and any day in the garden, they can find something new... a newly opened flower, a vegetable ripe for harvesting, or perhaps just the quiet satisfaction of being surrounded by their own garden.

Confidence, that’s what every new gardener needs, says this, old, as in experienced, gardener.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

APB for Missing Crocuses

This is an APB (All Points Bulletin) for Missing Crocuses.

The crocuses have not been seen since last spring and are now past due in the garden.

Generally just a few inches tall, they were last seen along the front walk, in the nearby lawn, and around the trees approximately one year ago. Colors of blooms include dark purple, light purple, white, and yellow.

Evidence that they are due to return, in the form of a few small leaves poking up through the mulch, has been sighted, recorded, photographed, and inspected.

Should you see any crocus blooms, please approach slowly and with caution in case any brave bees are buzzing around them, as can happen in the spring. Also be aware of gardeners in the nearby vicinity who may pounce on them with cameras and garden journals, should any show up.

Repeat, this is an APB for missing crocuses. All patrols please be on alert. Pictures to help identify the missing crocuses include:

Most recent sprouts (from a week ago):

An actual crocus blooming a year ago on February 9, 2008.

If we don’t see crocuses soon, we may have to broaden our search for Spring in general.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - February 2009

Welcome to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens!

Though the first half of February has teased us with some sunny, mild, nearly spring like days, it is still winter here, so the floral action is almost all inside in my USDA Zone 5 garden.

One of the stars right now is my row up of hyacinths ‘on vase’, just starting to bloom.

Because of their strong floral scent, you notice them as soon as you enter the house.
Unlike those soldierly rows of hyacinths we often see bedded out in the garden, these hyacinths all seem to be doing their own thing, both in height and in bloom time. I think I’ll have hyacinths blooming for quite some time.

In the sunroom Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ has started to bloom.
I was encouraged by Elizabeth at Gardening While Intoxicated to purchase these bulbs from Brent & Becky’s Bulbs. They take a little longer to bloom than the paper whites sold in stores around the holidays but are well worth the wait. They also have a subtle scent, in sharp contrast to that overpowering, “what is that smell” scent of other paper whites.

Other blooms in the sunroom include:

Ludicia discolor - Jewel Orchid
Stenosarcos 'Vanguard' - Hybrid variegated leaf orchid,
Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’
Euphorbia milii, Crown of Thorns
Oxalis regnellii triangularis
and more Hyacinths

It’s nice to go in there and enjoy the plants.
If you squint just right while sitting at the table, you can almost imagine being outside in a warm garden.

Elsewhere inside, the Amaryllis, Hippeastrum ‘Blossom Peacock’ (pictured) sent up a second bloom stalk, as did Hippeastrum ‘Green Goddess’ (not pictured).

I also bought these bulbs from Brent & Becky’s Bulbs after reading about some of the Amaryllis that Cindy at My Corner of Katy had purchased.

The third Amaryllis that I purchased at a big box store had just one bloom stalk topped with a quartet of muddy red blooms. While I know it is easy to pick up amaryllis bulbs at the big box stores, and I often do, I encourage those interested in something different to check out specialty bulb growers.

Outside, a lone snowdrop (Galanthus sp.) presented itself on Thursday and is still blooming valiantly, even though it is alone and it is cold out there.

I hope, I know, it will soon be joined by Crocuses, Irises, Daffodils, and more Snowdrops.

And I’ll be outside with it more in the coming weeks, too, as winter loses its icy grip and spring takes hold in my garden, a place I like to call May Dreams Gardens.

*****

This February starts the third year of Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, a tradition of posting on our blogs about what’s blooming in our gardens on the 15th of each month. For those who have kept up with this tradition from the beginning, you now have two years of bloom day posts to go back to and compare your blooms from one year to the next.

All are welcome to post for bloom day, whether this is your first time or your 25th time, whether you have a garden blog or some other kind of blog.

It’s easy to join in. Just post on your own blog about what's blooming in your garden right now, outdoors or indoors. You can include pictures, lists, common names, botanical names, whatever you’d like to do to showcase your blooms.

Then leave a comment and put your name and a link back to your bloom day post in the Mr. Linky widget, 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

Friday, February 13, 2009

In Consideration of Gardening Superstitions

Greetings to all members of the Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Old-Time Gardening Wisdom, Lore, and Superstition (SPPOTGWLS or “the Society”)!

As noted in our Society bylaws, written and adopted by me, the self-appointed president, we are required to have a special meeting on all Fridays that fall on the 13th of the month to discuss gardening related superstitions and decide if they have merit or not, merit being in the mind of the believer.

From previous discussions about superstitions, we decided it’s not really bad luck to carry a hoe into your house, so we will dismiss that one as not having merit.

But most of us aren’t taking any chances when it comes to thanking others for passalong plants. We are just not going to say thanks!

Fortunately, most gardeners understand this tradition and aren’t offended by this seeming lack of gratefulness. Most of us will usually stop someone from thanking us for a plant, anyway, just in case. There is just no sense in taking chances on this one.

Speaking of not taking chances, I recently found some information regarding the day you find the first flower of spring and how what day you find it on can be used as an omen.

“Monday means good fortune,
Tuesday means greatest attempts will be successful,
Wednesday means marriage,
Thursday means warning of small profits,
Friday means wealth,
Saturday means misfortune,
Sunday means excellent luck for weeks.”
Does this have merit or not?

I say no! How can finding a first bloom on any day of the week cause misfortune or warning of small profits? I propose we modify this as follows:

Monday means good fortune,
Tuesday means greatest attempts will be successful,
Wednesday means happiness,
Thursday means good fortune, success, happiness, wealth, prosperity in and out of the garden, and excellent luck,
Friday means wealth,
Saturday means prosperity in the garden,
Sunday means excellent luck for weeks.

Do I have a motion to change this? A second? All in favor? Opposed same sign? Let the record show that the motion was approved.

Let the record also show that the snowdrop (Galanthus sp.) pictured above is the first bloom I found this spring, and I found it on Thursday. I’m very excited by what finding this first bloom of spring means for me, now that we fixed that little superstition/omen.

Speaking of blooms, apparently it is bad luck to pick foxglove blooms, primarily because it offends the garden fairies, as in ‘makes them mad’. You definitely don’t want to make garden fairies mad, as that can result in them doing all kinds of things in the garden, and I’m not talking about good things.

They can do bad things like lead the rabbits to the lettuce patch and then watch as they eat your salad. They can move plants around in the garden and then watch your puzzled expression as you look at where you thought you planted something and then look over to where it really is. In fact, if you are very quiet when you do that, you might actually here a garden fairy faintly laughing.

This one clearly has merit! Don’t risk it. Just leave the foxglove alone!

Members of the Society, I now turn the meeting over to you. Does anyone else have any flowery superstitions to share with the group?

Remember, it is bad luck to not share, to withhold information from other members. Don’t risk it!

Humbly submitted by:

Carol
Current President, SPPOTGWLS
May Dreams Gardens, where the first snowdrop bloomed on Thursday, February 12

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Planting a Lilac for Lincoln's Birthday Bicentennial

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, and I’m commemorating this event in a special way.

Last spring I purchased a new lilac, Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’, after receiving an email about it from my aunt. This spring, if it survives my rather haphazard* care of it, I’ll find a nice spot to plant it out in my garden.

When I see this lilac, I’ll think about how Lincoln grew up in southern Indiana, coming here in 1816 when he was seven, and leaving in 1830 when he was 21. In between, many people, including my own great-great-great-grandfather, David Turnham, crossed his path and helped him in many ways.

Turnham helped Lincoln by loaning him his copy of The Revised Statues of Indiana, which was the first law book Lincoln read. Our family is proud of this connection to Lincoln. We are fortunate to know it happened and be able to commemorate it.

And that’s what I’ll be doing when I plant this lilac. I’ll be commemorating the idea that anyone can have a positive impact on another person. Anyone can do something that shapes the future in ways un-imagined. They can do so with a kind word, an exchange of ideas, or even the loaning of a book.

There will be no great ceremony when I plant this lilac, no speeches or proclamations. It will just be me, out in the garden, planting a shrub, and thinking about who I might loan a book to, perhaps a good book about gardening.

Do you plant trees or shrubs to commemorate historic events like this, or events within your family?

*****

If you want to commemorate this Lincoln bicentennial event, but you don’t have room in your garden for Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’, which is a large shrub, perhaps you have room for a ‘Mister Lincoln’ rose?

In your vegetable garden, you could plant Lincoln leeks or Lincoln peas.

If you have a lot of space, you could plant Lincoln’s Tomb White Oak, an offspring of the actual white oak that grows near Lincoln’s tomb in Illinois.

Or you could just embed a Lincoln penny, heads up, in a stepping stone.

*****

We think of planting lilacs for Lincoln because of Walt Whitman's poem, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd.

*****

*Haphazard care: In this case, I left the lilac in a pot all summer, a pot that it might have overgrown. In the fall, I put it up by the house and hoped for the best. I checked it over the weekend and it is still alive so I’ll plant it out this spring.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Watch Your Step: Early Signs of Spring

Ladies and gentleman, you are currently looking at the first tiny leaves of what is likely to be the first blooming crocus in my 2009 spring garden.

However, it is not in the spot where the first crocus normally blooms. In that spot, there is nothing, not even an early snow drop. Zip, zilch, nothing.

I guess that kind of blows my theory about using a microclimate to get crocuses to bloom a few days earlier than normal.

Or does it? Time will tell, it could be a crocus will shoot up in the microclimate location, overtake this one and flaunt a bloom before this one “realizes” what’s going on. It’s a race, a competition, and neither bloom knows it. If this was Vegas, we could wager on it.

But this isn’t Vegas. It’s Zone 5 in Indiana, where it has warmed up these past few days for a kind of ‘faux spring’, which has melted all the snow and whetted our appetite for “real spring”.

It is a time for daily walks around the garden, weather permitting, to look for early, early signs of spring.

Here’s an early sign of spring.
That’s the very tip of a daffodil leaf making an appearance. Perhaps it is an ‘advance scout’ for all the other daffodils, sent up to check out the situation to see if it safe for the others to sprout.

It’s safe. I swear it is.

Many gardeners worry about these early blooming bulbs, that they’ll sprout now during these first warm days and then “Pow!”, cold weather will return and try to knock them down.

But the cold weather won’t succeed with a complete knock out. I’ve never seen it happen that the spring flowering bulbs didn’t succeed and bloom, regardless of how cold it got after they sprouted those first leaves. (Okay, I’ll admit spring 2007 was bad, but that was really unusual).

In this fight between winter and spring bulbs, put your money on the bulbs, especially the crocus and snow drops (Galanthus sp.). They’ll bloom regardless. And soon.

So let’s watch our step out there, be happy and not worry that we see some green, and welcome these earliest signs of spring.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Channeling Amelia Bedelia to Rotate Crops

Is it obvious to people who don’t garden what it means to rotate crops? I can just imagine someone trying to figure out what to do to rotate, as in turn, their tomato plants, firmly rooted in the ground.

At least I can imagine what Amelia Bedelia would try to do.

Does anyone else remember Amelia Bedelia, the main character in a series of children’s books written by Peggy Parish until 1988, and then by her nephew Herman Parish?

Amelia had a certain knack for taking instructions and following them quite literally in a way that was never imagined by those instructing her.

When asked to ‘draw the drapes’, Amelia got out some paper and a pencil to draw a picture of the drapes. According to Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, Amelia also dressed the raw chickens in clothes, changed the towels by cutting them into different sizes, and put the lights out by unscrewing the light bulbs and hanging them outside on the clothes line.

What would Amelia do in a garden?

If we instructed her to get a new rose for a watering can, she would likely call a rosarian like Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings and ask her for advice on which rose a watering can would most like to have.

If we asked her to turn the compost pile, I can only imagine the effort she would put forth to get it turned 90 degrees to face another direction.

And if we asked her to rotate the crops, she might get out a shovel, dig up the plants, rotate them half way, and then replant them.

The reason I was thinking about crop rotation in the first place was because Earth Girl left a comment on my post about embracing vegetable gardens asking how I would rotate crops in a 4’ x 8’ raised bed.

My short answer is that I wouldn’t. Instead, I would add a second raised bed the next year, even a third bed, and then rotate crops between the beds each year. That’s “rotate” as in one year plant squash in a bed, then next year tomatoes, the next year beans, and so on.

We generally rotate crops for two main reasons, to control soil-borne plant diseases and some insects and to ensure we don’t completely deplete the soil of nutrients by planting the same crops in the same place every year.

In rotating crops, you should take into a account what plant family the crop is in, and try not to plant those from the same family in the same spot each year. You should also try to follow heavy feeding crops, like corn, with legumes, like beans, which actually add nitrogen back to the soil.

But if you only have time or space for one small raised bed, don’t despair that you can’t fully rotate your crops. Just remember to add compost if you have some, clear out crop debris at the end of each year, and fertilize through the growing season.

Speaking of raised beds, can you imagine if we asked Amelia Bedelia to build a raised bed in the garden? She’d probably haul out a headboard, a footboard, and a mattress, and raise it up on cinder blocks out in the middle of the lawn.

And how would Amelia embrace bugs, or soil, or plants for a happier life, let alone an entire vegetable garden?

I don’t want to even think what she might come back with if we asked her to go get a hoe.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Dinner Was Held At The Home Of...

Remember when small town newspapers reported on everything that went on, including who might have gotten together to eat and play cards, who had out of town visitors, and who had just recently returned from a vacation?

Those sometimes fascinating and generally mundane items might take up two or three columns of the ‘society page’, depending on how big the town was and how much space the editor had to fill.

I suspect, too, that most of that information was already known by the neighbors before it made it into the paper, since not much goes on in a small town without every one knowing about it.

Well, if my garden was in a place with a small town newspaper, the following might appear on the society page this week because I’ve accepted the invitation of VP at Veg Plotting to host a dinner party with whomever I’d like to invite.

“Recently a dinner was held at the home of Carol, May Dreams Gardens, with several out of town guests including Elizabeth Lawrence, Charles Dudley Warner, James Underwood Crockett, W. Atlee Burpee, and Brother Cadfael of Shrewsbury Abbey.”

But such a small item wouldn’t even begin to tell the story of this dinner party!

Elizabeth Lawrence was the first to arrive and I was happy about that because I wanted her to tour the garden before dinner without being interrupted by what was sure to be some loud, boisterous discussions and arguments amongst the other guests. In particular, I wanted her input on the design of my garden and her help in identifying a few plants.

While I had the chance, I also asked her how she managed to keep up her correspondence with so many other gardeners from all areas of the country and all walks of life. And in private, I gushed a bit over her writings and thanked her profusely for her quote that was a big inspiration for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.

Shortly thereafter, Charles Dudley Warner arrived and we proceeded to commiserate on ‘pusley’ and how hoeing this particular weed is the last thing you want to do. We agreed it must be pulled and destroyed!

I also showed him my hoe collection, and he lamented that in this day an age, hoeing is not as popular as it once was. He surmised that a bit more time in a garden with a hoe would be good for everyone. In fact, his exact words were, “One gets strength out of the ground as often as one really touches it with a hoe.”

We would have discussed this in more detail, but just then James Underwood Crockett arrived. You all remember him from the original Victory Garden shows on PBS, don’t you? He spent quite a bit of time in my vegetable garden and gave me some tips on what I could do to make it so much better than it has been.

He also reminded me that I have many volumes of the Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening that he wrote and though these books are over thirty years old, they still contain a lot of good information.

We were interrupted a few times by Charles stating emphatically that most of the problems of the garden and society in general could be solved by everyone spending more time hoeing and tending a garden. We all agreed!

I was delighted at the positive response that everyone had to my fourth guest, W. Atlee Burpee. After he arrived, we all talked about seeds for quite some time and determined that sometimes the old varieties of flowers and vegetables are best but we shouldn’t just ignore some of the new hybrids, because they are good, too.

My final guest, Brother Cadfael was just a little bit late in arriving, having stopped along the way to check on a few clues that might help him solve his latest murder mystery, which ironically involved a rabbit in the garden.

I invited Brother Cadfael, an herbalist of the highest order and greatest reputation, because I’ve always wanted to learn more about herbs and how to use them, and I wanted his input on where to put an herb garden and what to plant in it.

After a fine dinner, Brother Cadfael entertained us all with stories from his life before he joined the brothers at the abbey, along with fascinating, but slightly gruesome, details of some of the recent murder mysteries he had solved.

All too soon, the hour grew late and all my guests had to leave. After they left, I closed the door softly behind them, resolving to have more dinner parties like this one.

I hope they had as good a time as I did and learned as much as I did.

I encourage everyone to have such dinners now and again, and especially today. Be sure and let VP know if you do!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Origin of the Word Hoe As It Refers To...

***Important Hoe Information***

Alert reader and friend Mary Ann, the Idaho Gardener, recently sent me some extremely helpful information on the origin of the use of the word “hoe” in reference to women.

I know many people, both gardeners and non-gardeners, have a certain image of women in mind when I discuss hoes, but I have always claimed ignorance that the word “hoe” could refer to anything other than a garden tool used for digging, scratching, and well, “hoeing” in the dirt.

But not any more! Now I have a brand new image for hoes.

Mary Ann’s book club is reading the book The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gorden-Reed and came across this quote:

“...In other words, black women who were out of slavery were treated like white men instead of like white women. As the years passed, the connection between black women and hard physical labor became so firmly entrenched in the minds of white masters that the women "were as one with their farming tools and called, simply, hoes."

The quote is footnoted and credited to the book Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia by Kathleen M. Brown.

I’m glad that’s all cleared up and am grateful that Mary Ann sent this to me! Thanks, Mary Ann!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Secret of Early Blooming Crocuses

Ladies and gentleman, we are gathered around the spot where an actual crocus once bloomed on January 27th back in 2002 and again in 2007.

And because a flower once bloomed that early on this spot not once, but twice, it is the focal point for my annual crocus watch, which this year began on the anniversary of that early bloom.

The day after I first started looking for a crocus bloom, we got a foot of snow, so I suspended daily checks for signs of a bloom and told the news media to go home. (I made up that part about the news media. They weren’t really here, but they should have been. After all, outdoor blooms in January in Indiana are rare.)

Over the weekend, it warmed up to the low 40’s, melting about half the snow, so the watch was temporarily back on, until I realized that half of a foot of snow still means that there are six inches of snow left to melt.

Then the temperatures dropped again and we got a “weatherman’s one to two inches of snow” Tuesday morning which turned out to be closer to four inches of snow for us regular people.

Currently it is 1° F degree outside, but the same weatherman who predicted the last snowfall now tells us that the temperatures are supposed to go back up over the next several days, peaking at 50° F by Saturday. Believing this, because I always believe the weatherman, I remain hopeful that once again, a crocus will bloom on this spot in the near future.

Maybe it will bloom in time for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day on February 15th when many of us will start our third year of sharing blooms on the 15th of the month? That first year, my garden was covered with a blanket of snow. Last year, my garden was bare on the 15th and I had crocuses blooming.

That gives me a 50 – 50 chance of having a crocus bloom on Bloom Day!

Truth be told, because the truth is important on a blog, I think my chances of having a crocus blooming by the 15th are 100% because there were actually some crocuses blooming before February 15th in 2007. It just so happened that when bloom day came around, they were buried under the snow. My garden journal tells me so!

That gives me a 50 – 50 chance of having snow on Bloom Day.

But there is a 100% chance of my actually starting a third year of bloom day posts. We welcome everyone to join in whether it is your first bloom day or your 25th bloom day!

Now for those of you reading this blog for some actual gardening information that you can use in your own garden, here’s my secret to getting crocuses to bloom as early in January in some years.

The secret is…

Plant them in a micro-climate.

The early blooming of a crocus in this particular spot is probably because the radiant heat that comes off the bricks of the porch a foot away helps to warm this spot up earlier than other more exposed areas of the landscape. Thus, the crocus “thinks” it is later and warmer than it really is and blooms earlier than crocuses elsewhere in the garden.

I didn’t think about the microclimate when I planted the crocus corms in this spot, but once I realized what was going on, I took full credit for this careful placement.

I take credit for everything good that happens in my garden…

… and blame the rabbits for everything else!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Embrace Vegetable Gardens For A Happier Life

I’m one of those kinds of gardeners, the kind who think that if you have a sunny spot with decent soil, you should grow some vegetables.

In every place I’ve gardened, the first order of gardening business has always been to determine where the vegetable garden will be. Then I figure out what to do in the rest of the space.

I won’t apologize for it, debate it, or shy way from it. I enjoy growing vegetables.

In fact, I think every person, whether they consider themselves a gardener or not, ought to find a little sunny spot and grow different kinds of vegetables like tomatoes, beans, squash, peppers, or whatever vegetable they like to eat that will grow in their climate.

I simply proclaim…

Embrace vegetable gardens for a happier life.


We gardeners who grow vegetables need to be ready to help others embrace this higher form of gardening because if polls and speculators are correct, it’s becoming more popular every year.

With that in mind, here are my top six tips for the first time vegetable gardener.

Start small. In a space as small as eight feet by four feet, you can grow a few tomato plants, some peppers, a row or two of beans and a hill of squash. That’s a good start, especially in a zone 5 garden here in the Midwestern United States.

Plant in raised beds. It is much easier to start and tend a raised bed garden than it is to till up a big space. You can build a simple frame out of any untreated lumber, place it on a fairly flat space, layer the ground with newspapers, dump in some top soil, and plant. While this is best done in the fall to give the grass time to die and decompose, it can also be done in the spring. I use 1 x 6 boards for the frames for my raised beds.

Start with plants and “big seeds’. Buy a few tomato and pepper plants for your first garden and the ‘big seeds” like beans and squash that can all be planted in the garden at the same time, once the danger of frost has passed.

Mulch around the plants. To keep weeds down, add a layer of mulch around the plants. This is optional and can be any cheap mulch, but if you don’t do this, be prepared to embrace weeding, because weeds will grow in your new garden.

Fertilize and water. The fast growing vegetable plants will do better with regular applications of a good organic fertilizer, which can be purchased at a local garden center. And if it doesn’t rain for a week or so, water the plants well, giving them a good, long drink, not just a sprinkle.

Harvest and enjoy. Even with a small a garden, you will be amazed at how many vegetables you will harvest and how good they will taste!

Then after you’ve embraced vegetable gardens with a small gardening plot, you can expand your garden and start the season sooner and end it later, adding more types and varieties of vegetables.

If you are now ready to embrace vegetable gardens, you might also check out a few books including some of the classics like Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew and Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch.

Embrace vegetable gardens for a happier life!

(Yes, growing vegetables is that easy, most of the time. But every once in a while you might encounter some insects that want your vegetables as much as you do, and maybe a rabbit might get in your garden and eat through a row of beans. But don’t get too worried about these possible pests, until you see which ones will be a problem in your garden. Then you can deal with them, one pest at a time.)

Monday, February 02, 2009

Happy Groundhog Day at May Dreams Gardens

It seems we gardeners share more than a passing interest in the meteorologists’ holiday, Groundhog Day. We all want spring to arrive sooner rather than later, and if we can predict when it will arrive, so much the better.

Under normal circumstances, the weathermen use sophisticated equipment to gather all kinds of data about barometric pressures, temperatures, wind directions, rainfall, and who knows what to try to accurately predict the weather.

Their accuracy seems to vary, of course, and rarely do their forecasts and actual weather outcomes please everyone, or anyone.

But we really want the weathermen to be right when it comes to predicting when spring will arrive. They want to be right, too, I assume, and so dispense with all the fancy stuff and instead use a large groundhog, a type of rodent known as a marmot, to help with that prediction.

We all learned in school how this works. If the groundhog sees its shadow on February 2nd, it presumably will get scared and go back into hiding for six weeks, until spring. If it doesn’t see its shadow, it will stay out and that means an early spring.

As I noted last year on Groundhog Day, here in my zone 5 garden, a groundhog in Pennsylvania seeing its shadow while surrounded by legions of weatherman dressed in tuxes and top hats seems to be a poor predictor of when spring will arrive.

I can suggest other animals that are much better predictors of when spring will arrive in my garden.

If the winter warren dwellers, also known as rabbits, come out from hiding and eat the emerging henbit that seems to sprout all over the garden at the first sign of warmth, I
predict spring will arrive around mid-March, at which time I’ll plant peas.

If the birds eat all the seed out of the feeder in just a few days time, it means that spring will arrive around mid-March, at which time I’ll plant peas.

If a dead rodent of some kind, possibly a vole, maybe a mole, shows up at the top of the drive after I’ve just used a snow blower to remove a foot of snow from it, it means the rodent unfortunately didn’t make it until spring. That’s a shame because it only had about six more weeks to wait until spring arrives in mid-March, at which time I’ll plant peas.

As you can see, I am pretty confident that spring will arrive in my garden in mid-March, at which time I'll plant peas.

And I feel certain that before then, I’ll see rabbits eating henbit and have to fill the bird feeders every few days to feed the birds. I also did, indeed, find a dead rodent of some kind on my driveway after clearing off the snow the other day.

For those interested, my apologies for not posting a picture of the dead rodent. I do have a picture of it, but I also have a long standing policy of not posting pictures of dead rodents on my blog. But, yes, if enough people request the picture, I can ignore that policy and add it at a later time.

And now let me just say…

Happy Groundhog Day to all. May every day bring you the happiness of an early spring day in your garden, at which time you'll plant peas.