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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Plea to April

Violas add welcome cheer, Peas sprout in the garden.
New leaves fear frosts,
Spring arrives in Indiana.

Good bye, March.

April, please be kind to my garden.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Letters to Gardening Friends, March 29, 2009

This is the fourth letter in a weekly series of letters that I’m exchanging with Dee from Red Dirt Ramblings in Oklahoma (zone 7a) and Mary Ann, the Idaho Gardener in Idaho (zone 6) to highlight the differences and similarities in how we garden and grow vegetables.

We encourage others to do the same, and this week are pleased that Jodi from Bloomingwriter in Canada and Sylvia in England have started exchanging letters in a series they’ve called
Letters Across the Pond.

Dear Dee and Mary Ann

Greetings from May Dreams Gardens. Today is one of those cold, rainy days that makes it much easier to stand at the window and just look out at the garden rather than go out and try to do anything in it. But as crummy as my weather is, I’ll take it over the weather you’ve been having, Dee. And what are these rumors I hear, Mary Ann, that you've finally had some decent weather and have been out planting?

Out in my garden, all the seeds I sowed on St. Patrick’s Day are starting to germinate and I’m seeing bits of green in the different rows of lettuces and radishes, and the tiniest sprouts of peas breaking through. I promised myself I was going to do better at succession planting this year, so this coming week, once the weather improves, I’m going to sow more seeds for lettuces and radishes.

Then I’ll bring out the row covers and cover everything up to keep out the rabbits and birds and other critters that have the mistaken idea that I plant the garden for them. It’s not for them! The 492 square feet of raised beds in my vegetable garden is for me and anyone I choose to give the extra harvest to. All mine! (Imagine an evil laugh right there.) But there will be extras to share, I’m sure.

I'm starting to get a reputation in both my real life and online for being a 'seedy gardener' who has purchased a lot of seeds this year. I guess I have acquired quite a few packets of seed, 92 in all. People do wonder and ask what I’m going to do with all the produce from the garden, and then they wonder where I’m going to plant it all, and sometimes I do, too.

But then I remind them that I plant small quantities of a lot of varieties, and not all of those seeds are for vegetables, some are for flowers like zinnias, marigolds, sunflowers, and nasturtiums.

My first rows of lettuce and radishes were only two feet long for each variety, and I’ll plant another two feet of each this week. Since I have eight varieties of lettuce, that’s equivalent to two rows, each sixteen feet long. That’s not really that much lettuce, is it?

Inside, the tomatoes are starting to show their first true leaves, and the peppers and eggplant aren’t far behind. I was concerned about the germination of the ‘German Johnson’ tomato, but those seeds finally germinated, too, so all is good inside.

Now I just need to water, fertilize, keep the lights going, and baby them along until mid to late May when they go out into the garden. But I don’t like to baby them too much! They need to be tough little plants when they finally go outside.

I just looked ahead at the weather forecast and this week looks to be “seasonable” in my zone 5 garden, which means high temperatures will be in the upper 50’s and lower 60's and we aren’t likely to see any frost, but we have rain in the forecast for several days. It should be a good week for pulling weeds and continuing overall garden clean up.

I do have a lot of henbit to pull out. Henbit torments me in the spring the way purslane torments me in late June. This spring, especially, it seems to be growing everywhere and has started to bloom. I need to pull it before it sets seed.

I've enclosed a picture of the henbit because it does look kind of pretty, doesn't it? Truly, it's just a flower growing in the wrong place. But my goal for the week is to eradicate it from the garden, one handful at a time.

Here's hoping we all have good weeks in our gardens, with sunny skies and a bit of rain when we need it.

Veggies and flowers to all,

P.S. Would you be interested in the entire list of seeds I’ve purchased for the vegetable garden? I’ve included it below. Where am I going to plant it all?

Beans - ‘Bountiful', ‘Goldrush’, ‘Provider’ (this is one of my favorites!), 'Straight N Narrow’

Beets - ‘Chicago Red Hybrid’

Bok Choy - 'White Stem’

Carrots - ‘Little Finger’ – it’s been several years since I tried to grow carrots

Corn - ‘Honey Select’ and ‘Spring Treat’ - I don't think I have room for both, but I'm going to try to fit both in somehow!

Cucumber - 'Homemade Pickles’ and ‘Spacemaster’

Eggplant - ‘Black Beauty’ (an old favorite), ‘Dusky’, 'Long Purple’, ‘Thai Yellow Egg’

Lettuce - ‘De Morges Braun’, ‘May Queen’, ‘Mereveille Des Quatre Saisons’, ‘Pinetree Mix’, ‘Tom Thumb’, ‘Big Boston’, 'Matina Sweet'

Lettuce Mesclun - 'Gourmet Baby Greens’ – I might also try a pot of these on my patio.

Lima Bean - ‘Baby Fordhook’

Onion - ‘Evergreen Bunching’ – plus I planted out onion sets in the garden.

Parsnip - 'Harris Model’

Peas - ‘Snowbird’ (edible pods) and ‘Green Arrow’

Peppers - ‘Anaheim’, 'Big Bertha’, ‘California Wonder’, ‘Early Jalapeno’, ‘Hungarian Yellow Wax’, ‘Jalapeno M’, ‘Maxibelle’, ‘Poblano’, ‘Sweet Banana’, 'Sweet Mix’

Radish - 'Cherry Belle’, ’French Breakfast’, ‘Salad Rose’, ‘Watermelon’

Spinach - ‘Bloomsdale Long Standing’

Squash - ‘Cocozelle’, ‘Cue Ball’, ‘Eightball’, ‘Horn of Plenty’, ‘Lolita’, ‘One Ball’, ‘Spaghetti’

Turnip - 'Golden Ball'

And the Royal Family of the Garden… the Tomatoes

‘Ace’, ‘Aunt Anna’, ‘Beefsteak’, ‘Black Cherry’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, 'Fireworks’, ‘German Johnson’, 'Gold Nugget’, ‘Illini Star’, 'Kentucky Beefsteak’, ‘Persimmon’, ‘Pink Oxheart’, ‘Red Currant’, ‘San Marzano’, ‘Super Beefsteak’

If you see something missing from my list that you think I should try, let me know. It’s not too late to add a few more varieties, since I’m in this deep already.

P.S.S. I ended up with an extra packet of seeds for Eggplant ‘Long Purple’. Do you know of anyone who could use them? Have them leave me a comment.

P.S.S.S. Dang, I was adjusting a light timer in the sun room and bumped into a little antique plant stand. I knocked it over and the top came off. Better end this letter, finally, and go clean up the mess I just made.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Top of The Reading Stack: Rhapsody in Green

What’s on the top of your reading stack?

I keep a stack of gardening books on my nightstand. Doesn’t every gardener? And on the floor nearby is a basket of seed catalogs and garden magazines. If it isn’t by your bed, maybe your book stack is next to your favorite chair? Regardless of where it is, if you are a gardener, you have one.

I love to dip in and out of these books late in the evening, even at the risk of getting overly excited about some new garden idea or thought and not being able to fall asleep.

On the top of the stack right now is Rhapsody in Green: The Garden Wit and Wisdom of Beverley Nichols edited by Roy C. Dicks sent to me by Timber Press

Beverley Nichols wrote eight books about gardening and gardens, in addition to many other types of books, and we have Roy Dicks to thank for making them accessible to us today. Dicks has selected bits and pieces of the best of Nichols' garden writings and put them all together in Rhapsody in Green, giving those of us who haven’t read any of Nichols' books a good taste of his writings on all things gardening.

Dicks arranged his selections of Nichols' writing by topic, giving us chapters such as ‘A Cultivated Climate’, ‘Secrets of Success’, and ‘In the Beginning'.

In the chapter 'Who Does Your Garden Grow', I found this quote:

“Every gardener has a strange and romantic tale to tell, if you can worm it out of him – of blue flowers that came up yellow, or of a white lily that sinned in the night and greeted the dawn with crimson cheeks. In the strong heart of every gardener, some wild secret stirs.”

“Wild secrets stir” in every chapter, making Rhapsody in Green a good read, perfect for dipping in and out of, in the waning hours of a day or anytime.

I wonder what gardening books are on other gardeners’ nightstands? My stack varies with the seasons and includes a variety of compilations from several garden writers. For now, though, I think I’ll keep Rhapsody in Green on top. It’s a good addition to my reading world, and has finally introduced me to Beverley Nichols, whose books are now considered classics in garden writing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

History Of Mowing at May Dreams Gardens

I remember the day several years ago when someone at work ask me if I had ever mowed the lawn after Thanksgiving. I said no. They claimed I had. And I said “Let me check my records”.

At that moment, as everyone turned and looked at me, I realized that it was quite possible, in fact very probable, that I’m in the minority in keeping track of when the first mowing and the last mowing of the season take place each year. The past several years I’ve actually kept track of every mowing. And I keep track in my ten year garden journal.

I embrace mowing.

Having kept track, I can provide a brief history of mowing here at May Dreams Gardens, USDA Zone 5b, going back to 2001.

The earliest I’ve ever started mowing? That would be today, March 26th, this year.

The latest I’ve ever started mowing? That would be April 12 back in “aught one” (2001)

The most probable dates for me to start mowing? March 28th (2003, 2004) and March 31st ( 2006, 2007)

And just so you have a complete history, I mowed for the first time on April 6th in 2002, April 9th in 2005, and April 7th in 2008.

I started off my mowing this year with the usual “first mowing” festivities, speeches and ribbon cutting ceremony. The temperature was very comfortable, in the low 60’s, and the skies were clear blue. I wore my best gardening jeans and a nice green t-shirt and my ‘just for gardening’ sunglasses. The mower started easily and purred like a kitten.

Many of the same flowers that were blooming last year when I mowed for the first time on April 7th, were blooming today on March 26th, confirming for me that Spring has arrived a little earlier this year, by maybe two weeks. This is in spite of the first Crocus blooming later this year than it has ever bloomed. Go figure.

Some of the blooms include Narcissus, Hyacinth, Star Magnolia, Vinca minor, Helleborus, Forsythia, Chiondoxia, and Puschkinia libanotica, pictured above.

I’ll admit that I could have waited a few more days, even a week, to mow the lawn for the first time this year, as it really has just started to grow. It’s at that stage where there are clumps of grass growing up tall in some places, but elsewhere the grass hasn’t really started to grow very much at all.

But I mowed anyway, because I wanted to even out the lawn in preparation for A Major Lawn Event taking place tomorrow evening and Saturday.

A Major Lawn Event.

After years of thinking about doing it, getting an estimate for doing it, and thinking about doing it some more, I am finally having the sod removed along the fence in the back and creating a new border for shrubs, perennials and who knows what else.

Consider this the before picture. The sod cutting festivities begin tomorrow after work, weather permitting.

Details to follow on how I removed the sod and what I plan to do with this new planting area

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Embrace List Making in the Garden for a Happier Life

I’ve noticed that some gardeners get a little stressed in the spring. It’s no wonder. When we put down our seed catalogs and head outside, it seems like we accelerate from standing still to 60 mph in one day.

After all, spring flowers are blooming, and some have already come and gone! Seeds have to be sown, seedlings have to be thinned, beds need to be raked out, ‘winter interest’ needs to be cut down, and already it seems too late to prune apple trees and goodness, the compost bins need to be cleared out and what are all those weeds over there, and there is some hosta that needs to be divided and in the next few weeks it would really be a good idea to dig up those daylilies that are underperforming because by the time they are ready to bloom it is too shady where they are and by the way, when is it going to rain and is that a late frost in the weather forecast?

And the paint is flaking off the purple bench and would it be better to buy mulch one pick-up load at a time or just have them dump a big load of it on the driveway? Oh my, the crabapple tree is really leafing out. If had a hard freeze or frost now like we did in Spring ’07 that would be very, very bad.

Yes, gardening can sometimes be stressful considering that for many of us it is an all consuming obsession a hobby that is supposed to provide us with a creative outlet, a bit of exercise, and the joy that comes with creating a beautiful space.

Or something like that. (Insert your reason for gardening here)

But when all around us it seems that everything needs to be done right now, it is easy to get overwhelmed and forget half of what we want to do when we do have a gardening WOO (window of opportunity) to get out into the garden and do something.

So we stand there and pick at a few weeds and maybe prune a bit, but don’t feel like we got much done.

The way to get rid of that overwhelming feeling, or at least contain it, is to embrace list making. Then you can focus on just what you are doing in the garden. Everything else will be safe on the lists, so you don’t have to think about them.

Some lists to consider:

Stuff you need to do in the garden but don’t have time to do when you notice it should be done. (Tip: Don’t spend more time putting something on the list than it would take to just do it.)

Seeds you are sowing and when you need to sow them. (Tip: If your list is long enough, use a program like Excel to list the seeds so you can sort them in the order you are going to sow them).

Plants you’d like to get in the future. (Tip: Keep a notebook near your computer so when you read about a plant you’d like to have, you can Google it for more info, and note potential sources. Then if you are ordering from one of those sources, you can check to see if they have any of the plants you want before you close out your order. You can also keep a list like this online. This is especially helpful when you are reading those Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day posts on the 15th of the month.)

Plants you already have. (Tip: If you tend to specialize in a particular type of plant, like roses, hostas, dahlias, or orchids, keeping a list of what you have can be just as important as a list of what you want. This helps avoid coming home from the garden center with a duplicate of a plant you already have growing in your garden that you forgot about).

Blog post ideas (Tip: Write enough about the blog post idea so you can remember what you thought it was going to be about when you do sit down to write it.)

Non-gardening stuff you need to do. (Tip: When you are “in the gardening zone”, you may think of non-gardening stuff you should do. By putting it on a list, you can get it out of your mind and return to gardening thoughts.)

Gardening gifts you’d like to get. (Tip: Your family would appreciate if you didn’t rush out any buy yourself everything you want for the garden. If you keep a list, then when someone asks what you’d like for your birthday or Christmas, you can roll out the big list and let them choose. With a gift list, you are also more likely to get something you really want, not a duplicate of what you have or some funny sign that says “Hoe, Hoe, Hoe, Happy Gardening”.)

Hoes you’d like to get. (Tip: This is an optional list. Even I don’t really have a list of hoes I’d like to have, though I’m always on the lookout for a new hoe that is different than those I’ve already got in my hoe collection).

Embrace list making in the garden for a happier life!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Migratory Path of Rabbits, Right Through My Garden?

I now believe that my garden may have been built on a long-established migratory path used by generations of rabbits to traverse through this land, which was at one time a field of some kind.

The evidence for this theory lies just to the other side of my little sign that says “enter with a happy heart” where there is a well-worn path under the fence. I’ve tried many times to put mulch here, to build up the dirt on this spot, but it never stays long, as rabbits, and probably other critters, keep using this spot to get into the garden. How ironic my sign now seems. It’s almost as if I am subconsciously welcoming the rabbits to ignore the fence and come on in. “Enter with a happy heart” might as well say “Welcome to May Dreams Gardens and make yourself at home. What would you like to eat?”

But the rabbits are not welcome in my garden. They are a bunch of freeloaders. They watch while I do all the work of sowing, watering, and planting, and then as soon as my back is turned, they do all the eating.

So this weekend, I am going to take matters into my own hands and seal off this opening so that no more rabbits can travel via this migratory route into the garden.

This leaves the question of what to do about the rabbits who are already in the garden, who presumably won’t be able to get out of the garden once I seal that opening. Or at least they won’t be able to leave by that migratory path. Am I obligated to continue to feed and house them as long as they are here?

Perhaps, but it will be under my terms and conditions, the primary one being “no eating in the vegetable garden or in any flower beds”. Or more specifically, “eat as much lawn as you want, but leave everything else alone”.

To ensure there is no eating especially in the vegetable garden, I will again use a variety of methods.

For early spring vegetable crops, I’ll cover the entire raised bed with a row cover. This is a white woven cloth available in most garden centers or mail order sources.

For my tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants, I’ll sprinkle cayenne pepper on them until they are large enough to withstand a few nibbles from a bunny.

For the green beans, I’ll once again employ the method of building a fortress around each row using plastic spoons or forks, or maybe even sporks, or foons.

Why is it that I use different methods for different crops?

Let’s move on because I don’t know why I use different methods like this. I know there are other methods I could try.

Someone once suggested planting clover nearby, because clover is a favorite food of rabbits. They would presumably eat the clover instead of what’s planted in the garden. But I’d be afraid they would just consider the clover one food crop of many, the “many” being in the vegetable garden, and they would eat all of it.

Others have suggested using one of those awful smelling sprays on the garden to keep the rabbits away. I’d be afraid that the neighbors might get a whiff of it if the wind was blowing in their direction and call the authorities, who might come and do a yard by yard search and discover that it was me.

Others have suggested that I secure the entire perimeter of the garden because my yard is fenced in. I attempted that one year by securing strips of hardware cloth along the bottom of the fence. I don’t want to get into the details, but this ‘secured perimeter’ was quickly breached by the rabbits. Such is the lure of my garden to the rabbits that even this didn’t stop them.

So it seems I have no options other than to try to co-exist with the rabbits, to come up with my rules that they may refuse to learn and understand, and then to go beyond that to make it very obvious what should and should not be eaten.

I’m good with that. I can live this way, but the rabbits need to meet me halfway, learn my ways, and learn what not to eat.

It seems so little to ask…

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Letters to Gardening Friends, March 22, 2009

This is the third letter in a weekly series of letters that I’m exchanging with Dee from Red Dirt Ramblings in Oklahoma (zone 7a) and Mary Ann, the Idaho Gardener in Idaho (zone 6). It's about 750 miles or so to drive from my garden to Dee's, and about 1,470 miles to get from Dee's Garden to Mary Ann's. Then it would be another 1,820 miles to drive from Mary Ann's garden back to mine. But fortunately, with the Internet our gardens seem much closer than that!

Dear Dee and Mary Ann,

Greetings from May Dreams Gardens. As I sit here writing this letter, I can look out into the backyard and see just the slightest bit of green on the tips of a lilac shrub and hear birds calling to each other as they flit from the feeders to the trees to some nearby Viburnums.

I love spring in the garden!

This past week, I sowed the early spring crop seeds in the vegetable garden right on schedule on Tuesday, St. Patrick’s Day. It was a beautiful evening and we had a high temperature somewhere in the low 70’s, so conditions were ideal for sowing seeds. Then Wednesday evening we had some good soaking rain showers, a little over half an inch. I don’t think my seeds have ever had such a perfect week to be sown.

Because of my raised beds, all I had to do to prepare for planting was rake the beds smooth and pull a few clumps of henbit. I sowed seeds for peas, lettuce, spinach, radishes, bok choy, swiss chard, turnips and sweet peas. I also planted out some onion sets.

Somehow, I ended up with eight varieties of lettuce this year. I have two French varieties, ‘Mereveille Des Quatre Saisons’ and ‘De Morges Braun’ and two mixes, ‘Pinetree Mix’ and ‘Gourmet Baby Greens’. Plus I bought two of my favorites, ‘Tom Thumb’ and ‘Big Boston’. Then I had to get ‘May Queen’ just for its name. I thought that was it, but then I got a back-ordered packet of lettuce seeds for ‘Matina Sweet’ in the mail a few days go.

When I was growing up, my Dad planted mostly bibb lettuce and black-seeded simpson. I wonder what he would think of all my fancy lettuce varieties now? Or for that matter, the raised beds, because he always had a traditional garden. But I know he'd be proud of my hoe collection! Did you know one of the first hoes I ever bought was a Father's Day gift for my Dad?

Anyway, enough about the lettuce and my hoes.

I always have to cover my raised beds with white cloth to keep the rabbits from eating my lettuce and peas before I can harvest any for myself. But, I'm not going to cover the raised beds until I see the actual seedlings, which should be any day now.

Yes, I know I’m taking a chance that the seeds will sprout when I’m busy and the rabbits and birds will find them first before I can get out there to cover them. But in the back of my mind, I still think of all the wildlife in my garden as my friends and fellow helpers. I imagine the birds are circling around above me, in somewhat Disney-esque fashion, whistling happy little tunes just for me as I hoe and rake. And the rabbits are hopping ahead of me just out of my sight, ready to run back and alert me if they should see any slithering snakes or venomous spiders ready to cross my path.

But I know that’s far from the truth. Early yesterday I saw a red-headed woodpecker pecking away at my honey locust tree. I’ve enclosed a picture of it that I took through the window.

I often hear woodpeckers off in the distance, but rarely see them in my yard. I don’t think this woodpecker was doing that “drumming” they do to attract a mate or mark their territory, nor do I think it was trying to create a hole big enough for a nest. If he or she was, well, more power to them, but they’ve got a long way to go. The woodpecker left a small hole so I think it was just trying to get to some insect just under the bark. Now I need to go out and inspect the tree more closely, just in case it is harboring some borers or something like that.

Then I’ll likely be online or looking through some of my books to see if I can find out more about either the woodpeckers or any borer holes I find. That’s what makes gardening so fun and interesting, and sometimes challenging. No matter how much you know or think you know about gardening and plants, you are bound to see something in the garden that you don’t know anything about, and it sends you back to the books (or the Internet) to learn even more.

Speaking of learning, I’ve been reading up on worm composting and am all set to order some red wigglers tonight. I’ll have the worms’ food and bedding ready before they get here so they can hopefully forget the travails of traveling, settle in to their new home quickly and get right to work on turning my kitchen scraps and junk mail into good compost for my garden.

I’ve also got some good compost buried in my compost bins, so this week I’m going to work on turning the piles so I can get to that good stuff and spread it around on the raised beds in the vegetable garden and some of the perennials. And toward the end of the week, I’m going to sow more lettuce and radish seeds, because this is the year I promise to do better with succession planting in the garden. “Hold me to it”!

Flowers and veggies to all,
Carol, May Dreams Gardens

P.S. Most of the tomato and eggplant seeds have sprouted in the sunroom so I’ve thinned them back to one plant per cell by cutting off the extra seedlings. The peppers are just getting reading to sprout; they generally do take a few days longer. Germination seems to be good for all varieties, except the tomato ‘German Johnson’. That’s one of my favorites, so I’ll be watching closely and may have to re-sow those. How are your tomato seedlings coming along?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Do Not Plant Palms Trees Outside In Indiana

After several years of skipping it, I decided to go to the Indiana Flower and Patio Show now in progress out at the fairgrounds for the Indiana State Fair.

Typical of most indoor garden shows, there were several landscapes set up down the main aisle, presumably to give homeowners ideas of what they can do in their Indiana yards and to showcase area landscaping firms.

One of the displays featured palm trees.

I would like to state for the record that palm trees are not hardy in Indiana.

I can think of no one who would actually plant them in an Indiana garden. I have no earthly idea what the point of this particular display garden was, who it was intended to inspire, or why it included palm trees.

The other gardens all seemed to be trying to showcase stone work. If you could build it with stone, or pre-cast concrete forms, someone had built it for the show.

On either side of the main aisle, there were two more aisles where various vendors were set up to sell all kinds of gardening stuff and some stuff that was quasi-related to gardening, like cookware.

But no one was selling hoes.

What should a gardener do if she can’t find a good hoe at the flower show?

She should stop at the worm composter booth and buy a worm ranch!

More about this later...

The flower show continues this weekend. If you are a member of the American Horticultural Society and show your membership card at the ticket sales window, you can get a complimentary pass to get in for free. Otherwise, it costs $12 to get in, but there are $3 off coupons all over the place, so no one should pay more than $9 to get in.

If you go, don't forget to check out those palm trees and worm composters.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring Rites In and Out of the Garden: Picking a Vegetable Champion

Welcome, Spring! Welcome to the vernal equinox, the very beginning of spring, which is at 7:44 AM EDT on March 20th.

Welcome, too, the Rites of Spring in and out of my garden.

I performed an important rite of Spring in the garden on March 17th, when I planted peas and all the other early spring vegetables in the raised bed vegetable garden. Then last night, I performed another rite by potting up violas and pansies to decorate my front porch and a front window box.

More rites will follow in quick succession… setting up all the patio furniture, hauling out all the garden decorations, and watching as new blooms pop up every day, like these miniature daffodils.
These rites are comforting in their sameness. They remind us that the garden continues, as it always has, oblivious to what happens in the world outside the garden gates.

One of the other rites of spring outside of the garden, at least in the United States, is the men’s and women’s NCAA college basketball tournaments which started yesterday.

Millions of people, who rarely pay attention to college basketball most of the year, will complete a rite of spring by filling out the tournament brackets to see if they can score the most points by picking which of the 64 teams will win in the first round, which 32 remaining teams will make it to the ‘sweet sixteen’, then the ‘elite eight’ and finally the ‘final four’ and eventual champion.

All day yesterday, people asked me if I had completed my picks.

I hadn’t and I didn’t. I rarely fill out the brackets. But if I had done so, I would have picked my alma mater, Purdue University, to go all the way to the championship, both the men and the women. I always do.

But I was asked so often about my picks that I was feeling a little left out of all this “March Madness”, this special rite of spring.

So I decided to practice my own kind of picking, not for basketball, but for the vegetable garden.

By using the same method people use to pick basketball winners, I picked which vegetable of the 67 different varieties of various vegetables I’m growing in my garden will be my favorite, the champion of my garden.

How did I do that, you wonder?

First, I tossed out three vegetables that I’m not that excited about, to get the number down to 64. Sorry, but Bok Choy, lima beans (I don’t know why I’m growing them, I don’t even like lima beans) and ‘Snowbird’ peas did not make it to the ‘big dance’ of this vegetable tournament.

Then I sorted the remaining list of 64 vegetables by variety name and lopped off the bottom 32. I then sorted this list by the fourth letter in the variety name, and lopped off the bottom 16.

This gave me a lovely list for the ‘sweet sixteen’, which in the basketball world is how many teams will make it out of this weekend’s tournament games to advance to the next round.

With me so far?

Then I sorted my list of 16 remaining vegetables by the variety name and deleted the bottom eight, leaving me with eight left in the contest. In the basketball world, this group is called the elite eight.

One more sort by the last letter of the variety name, or something like that, and I eliminated four more vegetables to give me the “final four” contenders in my vegetable garden contest.

Then I used an online random number generator to give me the number “2”, making the second vegetable on my remaining list of four the winner of the May Dreams Gardens Vegetable-Equivalent to the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

And the winner was a variety of summer squash called ‘One Ball’.

But who wants summer squash to win? If I were picking basketball teams, I’d force my selections to make Purdue the overall winner, whether they have a legitimate chance or not, and I think they do! So I’m going to do the same with my vegetables and force my selections to make the tomato variety ‘Aunt Anna' the winner.

I think the tomato variety ‘Aunt Anna’ has a legitimate chance of being the best vegetable to come out of my garden this summer, don’t you?

We’ll know the winner of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in early April. But we’ll have to be a bit more patient to find out the winner of the best vegetable contest, as I won’t know for sure which one it will be until later this summer.

Did you follow all that? Did you fill out your brackets for the basketball tournament? Did you pick my Purdue Boilermakers? Or some other team?

If you do this champion picking for your vegetable garden, by my method or any other method, I’d love to hear what your pick is. What vegetable variety do you think will be the best vegetable in your garden this season?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

History of the Era of Procrastination at May Dreams Gardens

Yesterday, as planned, I sowed seeds in the garden for two kinds of peas, four kinds of radishes, seven varieties of lettuce, three colors of onions, one kind each of turnips, spinach, bok choy and Swiss chard, and three varieties of sweet peas. That’s twenty packets of seeds and one bag of onion sets.

When it was all done, I watered the newly planted areas with my new Haws watering can, then took a picture of Day One in the vegetable garden.

Once inside, I wrote down all I had done in my ten year garden journal and looked back over the entries for the previous years back to 2001.

Last year, I planted the early spring crops on March 16th, and in 2007, I planted on March 17th.

Then I looked for the entry for 2006. I went forward through all of March, and then went back to earlier in March. No entry. Had I forgotten to write down this important rite of spring? Then I started looking past March into April and finally found the entry.

In 2006, I did not plant my early spring vegetables until April 9th.

And in 2005, I didn’t do that much better, waiting until April 3rd to plant.

Apparently in the early and mid 2000’s, there was an Era of Procrastination here at May Dreams Gardens.

I remember it now, how I waited too late to plant, which didn’t give the early spring crops enough cool days to really produce. I was constantly disappointed during this era, in myself and in the plants.

Then in 2007, I found a message written on a 20 year old packet of peas, and realized that the problem wasn’t the plants, it was me.

I was clearly suffering from Gardener’s Acquired Procrastination (GAP). I was letting excuses like cold and rain, too busy at work, and ‘just not ready’ keep me from planting early enough.

No more! I’ve learned my lesson. They’ll be no more gaps in my garden harvest created by GAP. Everything will be planted on time.

I remind myself that…

Spring days come but once a year. When there are good spring days, I need to take advantage of them and get out there and plant. Yesterday was sunny and in the low 70's, the perfect day to sow seeds.

A lot can be done in small amounts of time. Even if I have just 30 minutes, I try to prune a shrub or two, pull some weeds, or sow some seeds. It took me just an hour or so last night to sow all those seeds.

Preparation is important. Properly made and cared for raised beds can be planted early in the spring with very little preparation. Yesterday I just raked the beds smooth, pulled a few bits of henbit, and I was ready to plant.

Planning ahead helps. Is there ever enough time on a sunny day to do everything we want to do in the garden? I try to plan ahead on what I want to do, to be ready when the time comes. Then I don't have to do a lot of thinking about what I'm going to do while the sun is shining. I can just garden. The evening before I sowed seeds for this year's spring crops, I made up all the plant labels and pulled out the seed packets I needed and put that all in a basket, ready to take out to the garden the next evening.

It’s been three years since the end of the Era of Procrastination. It’s too soon to know what to call this current era, but it feels very positive. Before I know it, I’ll be making a fresh radish sandwich, eating fresh lettuce from the garden, and sampling the first ripe peas.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

May All Your Comments Multiply As Blooms In Your Garden

Two days after bloom day, and I have new blooms to share that were only hinted at when I posted what was blooming in my garden on the 15th for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.

The first is a newly opened bloom on the Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata.

This magnolia bloomed magnificently last year, but really didn’t start blooming until early April, and peaked on April 9th. So far only two blooms opened today, but many more are threatening to open. This could be one of those years when the Magnolia blooms get zapped by a frost or freeze. I hope not, but it is a definite possibility this early in the year.

The second bloom is the first daffodil. This is a happy bloom to see, and there will be many more in the days ahead. And even if we get some frost or snow or sleet, these daffodils will make it through in pretty good shape. This particular daffodil has no name that I know of, so I'm calling it 'Sunny Side Up' because it looks like a fried egg, sunny side up.

And finally there is Chionodoxia, Glory of the Snow, that is suddenly just there.
I hope these blooms don’t take their name literally. After the nice days we’ve had so far this week, nothing would be glorious about more snow. Nothing.

What is glorious is the overwhelming and growing response to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day!

I’d like to thank everyone who joined in for bloom day this month. Wow, almost 150 bloggers left a link on Mr. Linky! Wow. In the past, I tried to visit each blog and leave a comment, but with that many, well, that’s a lot to visit.

But I hate to see a bloom day post without a comment, so can everyone help out? If you posted for bloom day, will you be so kind as to go back to the Mr. Linky widget and find the two blogs listed before you and the two blogs listed after you, and go visit them and check out their blooms, then leave a comment to let them know you were there. If you are one of the first on the list or last on the list, just pick a couple of blogs you don’t recognize and go for a visit.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for doing this and for making Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day such a success and a lot of fun, too.

“May all your comments multiply as blooms in your garden.” (A sentiment only a garden blogger would understand.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Letters to Gardening Friends, March 16, 2009

After I posted my first letter to Dee and Mary Ann last week, and they posted their letters to me as well, Chookie, from the other side of the world in Australia, left a comment that what we are doing is writing an epistolary, a story told through letters. I didn't know it was called that, I just enjoyed reading books of letter exchanges.

If you like these types of posts, why not try it yourself? Reach out to one or two other garden bloggers who you would like to exchange letter posts with to tell the story of your gardens this season and start posting your letters to one another. If you do decide to do it, leave a comment on Dee's post to let us know.

Dear Dee and Mary Ann,

Greetings from May Dreams Gardens. I can’t believe how quickly a week goes by around here! The weather was much colder last week than I would have liked so I only worked in the garden one evening. And then all I did was empty out the compost tumbler and fill it up again.

I hope I added enough green material to the tumbler. All I had was the forced hyacinths from inside and a bunch of henbit that's growing all over the place. It’s hard to find green plant material here in my Zone 5 garden in early spring.

Yesterday, I officially started my summer vegetable garden by sowing seeds for all my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants inside. I ended up with 14 tomato varieties, but a flat and a half has 15 rows of five cells each in it, so I decided to get another tomato variety to finish off that half flat.

I hesitate to tell you two this, especially Mary Ann, but I sowed the tomato varieties in alphabetical order, so one of my criteria for the extra variety was that it be alphabetically after ‘San Marzano’. I’m kidding about that, a little bit. But I did decide on ‘Super Beefsteak’ for the 15th variety, so my alphabetical orderliness has been preserved, and you will never know for sure if I was kidding or not.

And at least now I’ll be able to compare ‘Beefsteak’, ‘Kentucky Beefsteak’ and ‘Super Beefsteak’ to see if they are much different from each other.

I also went to the Indiana Flower & Patio Show yesterday which is where I bought the tomato seeds, along with a few other packets of seeds, including three more varieties of peppers and another variety of eggplant. Dee, one of the pepper varieties is ‘Poblano’, which you recommended I grow, so you are responsible for that extra packet. I also bought seeds for a couple of other squash varieties and some Bok Choy.

But guess what my big purchase was at the show! A worm composter! Yes, I’m going to be a worm rancher very soon, as soon as I finish reading all the instructions and get some red worms. I’ll probably keep the worm composter in my garage for awhile, but I’ve been assured that the worms like it nice and dark and will stay in the composter. They don’t want to come out into the light to see me as much as I don’t necessarily want to see them all the time. Anyway, it should be fun to see kitchen scraps and paper turn into nutrient rich worm castings that I can then use in my garden. If it goes well, I might have to change my garden’s name to May Dreams Gardens and Worm Ranch.

Anyway, because I went to the Flower & Patio show, I didn’t get a lick of anything done in my garden, even though it was a beautiful day. But I’ll be making up for that tomorrow. It looks like the soil will be warm enough and the weather will be nice enough (sunny with a high of 74 F!) for me to carry on the St. Patrick's Day family tradition of planting peas, onion sets, lettuce, spinach, radishes and whatever else I bought seeds for that should be planted well before the last frost. Then it will feel like the gardening season has really started around here!

That reminds me, I need to soak the sweet pea seeds overnight before I plant them tomorrow. I’ve got three varieties to plant: ‘Black Knight’, ‘Fairytale Blend’, and ‘High Scent’. Some years, I start the sweet peas inside and then transplant them out to the garden later. But I did that last year and they seemed to just sulk for weeks after I transplanted them, so this year I’m going to go back to direct sowing them. I’m off to soak them now…

Flowers (and veggies) to all,


P.S. Did one of you ask about my seed labels? I included a picture of one to show how I make them. I type the labels up in a Word table, print them, cut them out, and then use those sticky laminating sheets to cover them. Then I just tape the labels to a short wooden stick, like those wooden ice cream sticks they sell in craft stores. They usually last for a season out in the garden.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - March 2009

Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for March 2009.

Much of my garden here in central Indiana, USDA hardiness zone 5, is still dormant, but everywhere I look I see little sprouts, fattening buds, and early spring blooms. The warm weather last weekend really helped to kick things off a bit, before the cold came back and slowed things down a bit.

These daffodils by the garden gate and my little entry stone with the reminder to "enter with a happy heart" will be some of the first to bloom. I don't know the variety, so I'll just give them a common name once I see them.

Nearby, a few hyacinths are showing their buds.I planted the hyacinths in a straight row. And I'm admitting it. I know they would look better in a grouping but they are so stiff and formal, I couldn't help myself from indulging in a little bit of SLOP in the garden. They should be in some kind of formation!

Elsewhere in the garden, some forsythia are nearly ready to bloom.This is a dwarf forsythia sold as 'Gold Tide'. It's always a bright spot in the garden whenever it blooms.

I also have a few flower buds that look like this.I'll admit I had to think if this has a name other than Forgettia springeri. It does, and I think it is some kind of squill, Scilla sp. but don't quote me. Oh, wait it could also be a Glory of the Snow, Chionodoxia sardensis. Yes, I think it is a Glory of the Snow because here's a picture of a squill flower amongst the crocuses.
At least I think it is a squill. It's that tiny little blue flower in the center there.

But it's not all buds in the garden. The crocus are still blooming in spite of the brief return of winter all last week.

Like me, they seem happiest on a warm, spring day but will tolerate cold weather, too.

Years ago, I planted crocuses in the lawn.
That was fun to do with an electric drill.

Now I enjoy seeing the crocuses scattered here and there in the lawn in the spring before the grass gets too tall. Speaking of lawn, look at that lawn! It's greening up nicely. Before you know it, it will be time to mow again. Around here, the day of the first lawn mowning is almost as festive as pea planting day. You all know that pea planting day is this Tuesday, St. Patrick's Day, right?

And that's pretty much what's blooming here in May Dreams Gardens in mid-March. There's a nice bit of bloom, because I planted a lot of crocuses, but there are also a lot of buds of blooms to come.

We welcome everyone to join us for Garden Bloggers' Blom Day whether this is your first time or your 26th 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 below, 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, March 12, 2009

When A Gardener Interprets Song Lyrics

You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when your sittin’ at the table.
They’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done.”

Many people think these lyrics, from “The Gambler” by Don Schlitz and performed by Kenny Rogers, are about, well, playing poker. But we gardeners know better. We know this is a hidden message for all gardeners about managing plants in your garden and about buying plants.

“You got to know when to hold ‘em” refers to knowing which plants are keepers in the garden. These are the plants you love. They make you happy to have them growing and flowering in your garden. You can’t wait to see them flower the first time. You may not love everything about them, but you love enough about them that you would miss them if they were no longer in your garden. Crocuses come to mind.

“Know when to fold ‘em” refers to knowing when it is time to remove a plant from your garden. Maybe it is underperforming, just not living up to your expectations. Maybe it just sits there doing nothing but being green. Now being green isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but maybe it was supposed to flower and never did. Be brave, get rid of those under performers. You know which ones they are, and find some new plants to take their place.

“Know when to walk away” is about shopping for plants. When you see plants in a garden center that are poorly cared for, under stress, pot bound or just flat out over priced, you should keep on walking right past them and go to someplace that cares about the plants they are selling and is offering them for a fair price. You want value for your money, not plants you have to nurse back to health, that might turn out to be under performers for a long time.

“Know when to run” is about going out shopping for plants and finding some that you know are invasive in a bad way. Oh, they might have pretty blooms on them, but you know deep down that they are trouble. They will lead to nothing but heartache, and backache and knee pain, as you spend hours on your knees, bent over your flower beds trying to contain it. Run away as fast as you can.

“You never count your money when your sittin’ at the table” is about looking through plant and seed catalogs. Sure, mark up all you want, even fill out the order blank if you want to. If you are going to dream, dream big! It’s fun, it’s exciting! Lush blooms, new varieties, dozens of different peonies, hostas, daylilies, and roses all call for you to want them, to list them on your order form. Go ahead and do that. Make a big list, no harm done if you don’t actually buy all of them.

“They’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done” is about facing the reality that you can’t afford everything in the catalog or the garden center. Once you add up the total, you’ll have to mark some of the plants off the list, put some back at the garden center. It’s not easy to do, but you can do it. You can console yourself that you didn’t really know where you were going to plant them, anyway. And that’s probably the truth of it.

And that’s what I think these lyrics mean…

“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away and know when to run
You never count your money when your sittin’ at the table
They’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Temperature Obsession

My weather station is showing 32.8 F outside right now (9:55 pm, March 11) but at 4:24 pm yesterday, it was 74.2 F.

My soil temperature a few days ago was 48 F, but earlier this evening it appeared to be down to 45 F. I suppose that is because of the rain last night and the lower temperatures today.

I’d like the soil temperature to be closer to 50 F before I plant peas and other early spring crops on March 17th.

I tried out my new compost thermometer this evening and found that my compost pile temperature was about the same as the air temperature, around 40 F at the time. This means it probably isn’t big enough to stay hot in the winter time. I knew that. The compost thermometer doesn’t lie.

I suspect it is also cold in the compost bin because I didn’t have enough green material to add last fall.

By the way, the temperature in the compost tumbler was a little higher, but not much. I didn’t expect it to be very hot because the compost in it was pretty much “done”.

How did I end up with a weather station, a soil thermometer and now a compost thermometer? And would this be a good time to admit that every day for the last eight plus years I’ve written down the high and low temperatures for the city in my garden journal, as reported in the local paper?

And in the morning, when I’m recording the temperatures for the previous day, I look over the historical temperatures to see if it is colder or warmer than previous years.

I might be slightly obsessed with temperatures, especially this time of year, but I’m not alone with checking temperatures of everything like this. I think most gardeners pay more attention to temperatures because temperatures can make or break our gardens at some point.

Depending on the temperature, we’ve got stuff to do!

If it is a nice temperature, not too hot, not too cold, we have to be out in the garden, gardening. We feel compelled to not waste a good temperature day by staying inside. The flowers don’t waste a good temperature day either, as shown by the red maple flower buds above, prompted to start opening presumably by the warm temperatures over the weekend, and these crocus blooms from Sunday.

You knew I’d work in a crocus picture, somehow, right? In fact, these crocus blooms reacted to the warmer temperatures by opening, too. They are a little sneak preview of what's going to be blooming in my garden for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day on the 15th.

If it’s going to freeze, and it isn’t a good time for a freeze, we are out covering up the plants to protect them. By the way, the reason we cover is so that when the heat absorbed by the earth during the day radiates up at night, it will be trapped under the cover, providing enough warmth to keep the plant from freezing. I sometimes see people wrap up the tops of small trees, like they were lollipops. That is not going to keep them from freezing.

If the soil is warm enough, 45 – 50 F, we can plant peas. If it gets up to 60 F, we can sow grass seed, at least here in Zone 5.

If the compost isn’t heating up, we try to add more green material or water or something to get the bacteria to make the compost.

And if it is going to be hot outside, we try to stay in the shade, following it around the garden as we weed and water.

We can’t control these temperatures. We can only measure them and react to them. And as gardeners we do a LOT of measuring of them… at least this gardener does.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Chipper Review: Part 2, Chipping

Short version of the review: I like this chipper quite a bit and now that I have it, if I didn’t have it, I’d miss it.

Long version of the review: This Saturday, it was a beautiful day in central Indiana, with a high temperature of 76 F, so I wasted no time in putting my newly assembled chipper to work.

The same company who sent me a compost tumbler to review last year, sent me this electric wood chipper a few weeks ago to try out in my garden.

So with the chipper in tow, I headed out to the backyard to put it to work, to see what it would do for spring clean up.

At our first stop, I cut down the “winter interest”, a variety of perennials I left standing last fall, mostly tall Sedum and Shasta daisies.

The pile started out like this…

And ended up like this.
That’s everything all chipped up in one bin. When I previewed this picture with a few other gardeners, the most often made comment was that there are still some big pieces. More on that later.

Next I tackled the grapevine…

Which ended up like this.
And so I continued around the yard.

This evening I went back out and did some more chipping, mostly perennials, and finished up the clean up in the back yard.

How do I like this chipper?

I like it quite a bit and now that I have it, if I didn’t have it, I’d miss it.

I love the portability of it. It was easy for me to pull around the yard to where I cut back the perennials and then chip them right there. With my other chipper shredder, I generally set it up back in the garden with a tarp cloth beneath it and then I hauled all the trimmings back to it. Both chippers, by the way, are electric so you can only go as far as your extension cord will let you.

I love the plastic bin that all the chippings fall into. With my other chipper shredder, I’d end up with a pile of stuff on the ground that I had to either scoop up and dump in the compost bin, or gather up in the tarp and carry to the bin that way. With this one, I just carry the plastic bin back to the compost bin. It’s large enough to hold quite a bit, but not big enough to be too heavy. It makes clean up nice and neat.

I love the relative quiet of it. For something that has a motor and is chipping, it doesn’t make all that much noise. I still wore ear protection, but then I usually do when running something that is consistently loud. Here’s a video to show it in action, with sound.

Disclaimer, I wouldn’t normally feed a branch quite that long into the chipper because it could whip around and hit you in the face if you aren’t careful. I also wore eye protection but never noticed any chips flying out.

Now, about the size of those chippings...

The directions are pretty clear that some larger pieces might not be completely cut up on a first pass, especially for softer material like I was chipping up. You can adjust the size of the opening to be smaller, which helps, and I also found that if I fed several dried stems through at once, I was less likely to end up with large pieces.

If you check out the electric wood chipper website, you’ll see a picture of someone chipping up much larger branches than I’ve attempted so far. I did chip up some redbud tree branches and they came out in nice little pieces.

Those branches were probably about half an inch at the base. I personally don’t think I’d try to chip anything bigger than an inch in diameter and I think that’s probably going to take some time to chip, but I haven’t had a branch that big to try yet, so I still need to test that out.

Some other features I didn’t get to test…

What happens when it jams up. It is supposed to go into a reverse mode automatically if it jams up, but I never jammed it up, so I didn’t get to test this feature. I did at one point have some stringy stuff spinning around on the cutting wheel, but after feeding through a few dry sticks, it cleared itself. I do think it is less likely to jam up than my other chipper-shredder and that auto-reverse feature will be nice.

What happens with green plant material. It’s early spring here at May Dreams Gardens, so everything I have to chip is dried up or leafless. As soon as I have some branches with leaves, I’m going to run them through and see what happens. And this fall, I might even send a few corn and sunflower stalks through it and see how they come out.

In the meantime, I have some Spirea shrubs that I like to cut down to the ground every few years, and this is the year for it. Last time I did it, I ended up putting the trimmings in the trash. Not this year. This year, I’ll bring along my new chipper and chip as I go, right into the bin and then it will all go into the compost tumbler.

(The Crocus blooms have nothing to do with this post, I just thought they were pretty.)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Letters to Gardening Friends, March 8, 2009

I’ve always loved books with exchanges of letters, like Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence--A Friendship in Letters and 84, Charing Cross Road, an exchange of letters between the writer Helene Hanff and a British bookseller, Frank Doel. When I found out that Dee from Red Dirt Ramblings and Mary Ann from Idaho Gardener shared a similar interest, we decided to exchange letters about our different vegetable gardens, 1,000’s of miles apart, across three different hardiness zones. We hope you enjoy these letters as we occasionally post them on our blogs, starting today.

Dear Dee and Mary Ann,

Greetings from my garden. Today is a bit overcast and we might get some rain. But yesterday we had the most delightful day in central Indiana. It was overcast, sometimes sunny, slightly breezy, with a high temperature of 76 F. It was as if Someone decided that we were due a beautiful spring day on a Saturday for all the hardship of winter we've just endured, and then flipped a switch to make it so.

I spent most of the afternoon pruning the grapevine back and cutting down all that “winter interest”. Did I tell you I got a new chipper to review? I had a chance to put it through its paces with all those trimmings… more on that later.

Here in my Zone 5 garden, now that the Spring switch has been flipped, there’s a lot to do. I need to inventory all my seed starting supplies later today and then go get what I need to start the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and all that inside. I try to do that by the 15th of March each year, give or take a few days depending on when the weekends are. Mostly I need Jiffy pots and seed starting mix. I'll reuse the trays I’ve been using for as long as they last.

I’m also on the watch for pansies and violas to show up for sale. There’s a place not too far from me where a young gardener has her own nursery and greenhouse and I like to buy from her as often as I can. She won’t be the cheapest place, but she grows everything with love and care, or buys from other independent growers like her, so they’ll be some of the best. I think I’ll call her later this week and see if she has some ready and then have her hold back a few mixed color flats for me. I might be planting them by next weekend!

I love pansies and violas and had a weak moment while putting in my “oops I forgot to order these” vegetable seed order last week and bought some seeds for some heirloom pansies. It’s far too late to start these here for spring. I knew that when I ordered the seeds, but I could not be stopped. I think I’ll hold them back and try to grow them for fall.

Fall? Let’s not talk about that while it is still very early spring!

There is a billboard near my route home telling people to make sure to have a designated driver for St. Patrick’s Day. Whenever I see it I think, “What? St. Patrick’s Day is a drinking holiday? I thought it was a pea planting holiday?” Well, at least for me it will be a pea planting holiday along with a lettuce, spinach, and onion planting holiday, as long as the soil temperature is above 45 F. If we have more days like yesterday, I'm sure it will be.

Which reminds me, I also need to get some onion sets this week. So much to do now with Spring’s arrival! I can hardly see or think straight when I think about all I need to do, all I want to do, in my garden this year. I have to remind myself to slow down and admire the Crocuses and Irises now blooming.

I hope you all are enjoying the weather in your Zone 7a (Dee) and Zone 6 (Mary Ann) gardens. I’m sure you are further along with your Spring flowers and have your peas already planted, or maybe not? I hope to hear soon, it gives me an idea of what I have to look forward to.

Flowers to all,
Carol, May Dreams Gardens

P.S. I’ve enclosed a picture of Iris danfordiae which started blooming in my garden on the 6th. It’s hardy from Zone 5 – 9, are either of you growing it?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Chipper Review: Part 1, Assembly

This spring I’m beginning chapter 3 in my novelette, “Chipper Shredders I Have Known”.

Chapter 1, yet to be fully written, is about my first chipper shredder, a gas powered beast that was loud and heavy.

Chapter 2, which has appeared on my blog in the past is, about a lovely electric chipper shredder that I bought a few years ago. It was very liberating and very fun to use, and still is.

Now I’m beginning Chapter 3 with another electric wood chipper sent to me to review by the people who also sent me a compost tumbler to review last year. I love that compost tumbler, and as good as it works, even it would take a long time to compost sticks and large chunks of plant debris.

As gardeners, we all know this, and so presumably, at some time or other we covet, want, need, must have, some kind of chipper shredder.

So far, it’s gone pretty well with this new chipper. It arrived a few weeks ago, and I drug it in to the front hallway where it sat for a week or so in its box. No rush, it was still cold and wintry outside. (Yes, gardening tools and equipment, as long as they are clean and present no danger to anyone, are allowed inside my house.)

Last Sunday I sensed the weather was changing, since I’d seen the first crocus bloom the day before. It was time to put the chipper together.

I cut open the box, right there in the front hallway, and found another box, which I also cut away from the chipper. Doing that was easier than trying to lift the chipper out of the box.

Assembly was fairly straight forward. I removed the plastic hubcaps from the wheels and attached the wheels to the frame, along with two little plastic feet. The nice part was they provided two wrenches that were the right size for the bolts.

Next, I set the business part of the chipper, the motor part, upside down on the floor, set the frame on top of it and attached it with four screens. Then I turned the chipper right side up, put the collection bin back in place, raised the handled, and easily rolled it out to the front porch for a nice picture.

Done! It took me 31 minutes to put it together, and that included opening up the boxes, putting it together, and cutting up the boxes to put in the recycle bin

Now it’s a warm spring day, the Crocus and Iris are blooming, the buds are swelling, and the birds are chirping from every tree, hopefully finding good places for nest building.

Soon I’ll be going out to prune the grapevines, cut back some perennials, and gather up whatever I can find to chip and then… chapter 3b… I’ll start chipping. I’m kind of excited, as I usually am, when I have a new gardening tool to try out.

I’ll let you know how it goes in a few days.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Busy With Laziness No More

It was all so sudden after weeks of taking so long.

I went from finding the first crocus buds last Saturday to having Crocus blooms pop up and actually open up all over the place today.

It seemed almost frantic in the garden on this first day when temperatures topped out at almost 70 F.

The Crocus blooms must know how late they are in arriving compared to previous years, and are now making up for lost time.

There are so many to see; over there, over here, underfoot, all over the place. I darted around with my camera trying to take pictures of each one, as though I’d never seen a Crocus bloom before.

But what stopped me in my tracks, what made my gardener's heart quicken, was the first bright blue blooms of Iris reticulata ‘Clairette’
I didn’t expect these so soon. Last year, the first spring after I planted them, these Iris bloomed around March 15th.

So why are the Crocus blooms so late and the Iris blooms so early? We may never know. Each bloom knows its own cues and does as it pleases for itself. It blooms not for me, but for its own purposes. I’m incidental to this miracle of bloom after a long, cold winter.

But these blooms are the only cue I needed to feel like suddenly it’s Spring or at least Spring-like. It’s time to put my gardening jeans back on, clip on my Felco pruner holster, and head out into the garden to garden outside once again.

I thought of a thousand things to do at once…

Trim back the grape vine.
Cut back the perennials, left in the fall in the name of ‘winter interest’.
Chip and shred all the trimmings to make new mulch.
Sow seeds inside.
Sow early spring vegetables outside.
Harvest compost from the tumbler.
Refill the tumbler.
Spread new mulch on the garden paths.
Cut back the old Helleborus foliage.
Clean up the strawberry patch.
Enjoy the spring blooms.
Photograph the spring blooms.
Buy pansies the minute the garden centers have them for sale.
Pot up the pansies and put on the front porch.
Go to the Indiana Flower and Patio show.
Buy raspberry plants for new raspberry bed.
Look for winter damage and make a list of what to do in the garden.
Get out the patio furniture.
Bring out all the garden “doo-dads” stored away for winter.
Give away sod where a new flower/shrub border will go.
Enjoy the flowers.

In nearly an instant, I’ve gone from enjoying being busy with laziness, which is what we northern gardeners really do in the winter time, to being busy with activity, real activity, in a real garden. I must focus and take it one task at a time.

I'll have to remind myself that it took several months to reach my heightened state of being busy with laziness, and it will take me awhile to get back to being busy with gardening, in a productive way.

Gads, I’ll start out darting from one task to another like the proverbial bumblebee amongst the flowers, but then I’ll get the hang of it again, and become a bit more ant-like.

Eventually, I’ll settle in on a hybrid approach, sometimes being as busy as a bee and other times being as focused as an ant, either way being busy with gardening once again. Maybe by mid-summer, there will be a chance to steal an afternoon to be busy with laziness. In the meantime, between now and then, there’s a lot to do.

I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ways to Make a Garden Bigger Than It Really Is

There comes a time for every gardener when the numbers just don’t seem to add up the way they should.

I’ve been reviewing the list of vegetables I’m planning to grow in my vegetable garden, all 492 square feet of it, and am not sure that if you figure out about how much space each crop needs that it will come out to 492 square feet or less.

In fact, I’m pretty sure it will come out to be more than that. So, I’m going to have to do some ciphering, figuring, planning, and squashing to get it all to fit.

Speaking of squashing, I was surprised to find out that I had purchased five varieties of summer squash to plant. So far, I have plans to sow seeds for:

‘Cocozelle’: It’s an heirloom variety!

‘Lolita’: They described this one as ‘very refined’. I’m all about refinement.

‘Cue Ball’: I first grew these round balls of squash two summers ago. They are the first to produce and are very prolific.

‘Eight Ball’: This is a dark green round squash, a good companion for 'Cue Ball' which is light green.

‘Horn of Plenty’: I have to have a yellow squash, to go with the green squash.

I bought all of these from Pinetree Garden Seeds. They included the best size for picking in the descriptions and not a one of these is best at any size which is close to “big”. Remember that, everyone, pick the squash when it is small and it will taste better. Those big clubs of zucchini are signs of a gardener not paying attention. Shameful!

Now, if each hill of squash takes about three sq. ft, and I plant just one hill of each variety, that’s only 15 sq. ft in squash plants. But, I like to plant two hills of each, just in case, so that’s 30 sq. ft., which would be one of the 4’ x 8’ raised beds. But I’ve never tried to get ten hills of squash in one bed. I think the most was eight hills and that was a little crowded, so six hills in one bed is better. So now I’m thinking it will take one and a half 4’ x 8’ raised beds just for the squash.

And I haven’t even figured out the space for the corn, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, and peppers and the early spring crops, and the flowers, including giant sunflowers. And did I mention that in my 492 sq. ft, there’s one 4’ x 8’ bed that is all strawberries, and one 4’ x 4’ bed that I thought should have a small apple tree in the center of it, so that takes out 48 sq. ft. right off the bat.

You can see how the numbers aren’t adding up like they should. Some special planting tricks will be needed to make my garden act bigger than it is:

- Plant close to the edges of the raised beds. Let some of the plants hang out over the sides. My raised beds are only about six inches deep, so I figure roots that hit the side will just grow down and find more good soil to branch out into, under the paths. Yes, that soil might be a bit more compacted, but in my garden, it isn’t that compacted right next to the beds. It may also make walking around the garden a bit of a challenge, and you may have to leave the wheelbarrow off to the side, but for more vegetables, try it.

- Use the corners of the beds. I sometimes plant something that grows more upright in the corners of a bed of squash, like peppers or eggplant.

- Plant vegetables in the flower beds and borders. In other words, designate more space for vegetables. Some gardeners plant their vegetables in amongst the flowers not because they ran out of room in the vegetable garden, but just because that’s what they do. Vegetables are plants, too. Peppers would provide a nice green backdrop. Carrots with their fern-like foliage would look good around the flowers, too.

- Interplant some of the vegetables. Most gardeners have heard of the Three Sisters garden, where corn, pole beans, and squash are interplanted. It’s a little tricky to time the beans so that the corn is tall enough for them to climb up when they are ready to climb, but it can be done.

- Plant vertically if you can, it uses up less ground space. Okay, now I realize that it might have been better to buy seeds for vining cucumbers so I could grow them up instead of out like bush cucumbers. But I already have the bush cucumber seeds, ‘Homemade Pickles’ and ‘Spacemaster’.

Hey, do you know what this means? It means that I have room for some vertical crops. I could grow gourds, spaghetti squash, maybe even a vining cucumber variety or two in that vertical space, which will now seem neglected if I don’t.

I knew I needed more seeds!

Does anyone else have any tips for making a vegetable gardener bigger than it really is?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

How Big Is Your Vegetable Garden

How big is your vegetable garden?

As we all compare notes on seed purchases, tomato varieties, and radish choices, I wonder what size gardens others are planting.

My own vegetable garden is set up as raised beds. There are…

Eight 4’ x 8’ beds, which gives me 256 sq. ft. of planting area, plus…
Three 4’ x 4’ beds, which gives me another 48 sq. ft., plus…
Three 2’ x 8’ beds, which provides another 48 sq. ft., plus…
Two 2’ x 4’ beds, which adds another 16 sq. ft. plus
One 4’ x 6’ bed, which provides another 24 sq. ft.

This gives me a total of 492 sq. ft. of raised bed gardens to plant in.

I should memorize that number because I’m often asked “how big is your garden”.

It actually takes up well over 492 sq. ft. of my yard because there are generously wide paths between the beds, wide enough to move around with a wheelbarrow. There is also an area where there are three side by side compost bins, which are about 9’ across all together, and a couple of other open areas, one of which is behind a large shrub, making it the perfect spot for hiding the compost tumbler from general viewing from the rest of the yard. Oh, and there’s a giant rock that I had to work around.

Once I set up the raised beds, year to year maintenance has been minimal. I usually bring in a few cubic yards of mulch for the paths and make sure the raised bed frames are more or less level and squared up at the beginning of the gardening season.

Last year, I skipped mulching the paths… must have gone to Texas that weekend or something, and soon found out that skipping that mulching was a big mistake. There were weeds coming up all over the place. Yes, I did line the paths with some landscape fabric when I first mulched them, but the mulch has slowly decomposed over the years and now it appears to be an excellent growing medium for weeds.

I’ll fix that this year with… more mulch.

I also need to replace a few of the raised bed frames. I used 1 x 6 cedar boards, but even those don’t last forever. I’ve looked into replacing them with manufactured boards, which should theoretically last forever, but after figuring out how many feet of board I would need and pricing that out, I decided not to do that for now. I’m hoping to get one more year out of what I have, and then look into replacing some of the boards next year.

The big decision to be made in the next few weeks is which bed to plant the early spring crops in, because you know that around here, we like to plant those peas around St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, and that’s just TWO WEEKS from now!

How big is your vegetable garden?