February 18, 2017 0 comments By: m

Crazy, Lovely Weather

This week has been more like May than February.  I'm trying not to think about what that means for August.

I've had to be in Iowa this week, so last week when there was a nice day, I cleared off all the last of the winter dead from the garden and re-mulched the paths.

Several of the tatsoi plants I had loosely covered were still green and growing.

A little purple lettuce made it through December and January, but a cold, cold snap in February did it in.  

After I pulled up all the okra skeletons and cut back the dead tops of the hardy herbs, I had a virtually blank space, as I hadn't put down any mulch on the paths during this past growing season.  I'd thought I would change up the paths, so I let what was there break down.  In the end, though, I laid the same paths and added an extra circle to the east end.

When I laid out the first garden, my sister and mother helped mulch paths.  I measured them off and had my sister lay wet newspapers down that we mulched over top.  Since I've been able to keep the weeds down rather easily the last couple of years, I didn't mess with the newspaper base.  Instead, I got some Rust-Oleum landscape marking "paint" and sprayed the lines. (Available with the spray paints at any Walmart or box home improvement store.)  Much easier!

I used Scotts red bark mulch this year, which I bought on the year end sale last fall.  It took me four hours and sixteen 2-cubic feet bags to mulch it all.


It's a good thing I find the finished results so pleasing, as the job is one of the more arduous of the entire year.  Next, however, will be putting down a layer of compost, and that's more strenuous and less satisfying.  I think I'll break that up into plots as I plant to make it seem like less of a chore.

I have some seedlings growing that I've had underway for a few weeks, and when I get back home in a couple of days, I'll start some more.  

'Kent Beauty' oregano and 'Holstein' red rhubarb

Let the gardening begin!

January 21, 2017 2 comments By: m

Is It Spring Already?

The weather has been so incredibly mild for quite a while now - in the 40s, 50s and even 60s!  It's supposed to dip down again toward the end of this coming week and act like proper winter.  Every day that's nice, I feel like going out to plant something.  Since it's still too early, I've managed to feed my need by ordering the bulk of my seed for this year's garden.  Most of it I get from Baker Creek Seeds, and since I just did some ordering this morning, I thought I'd share the new (to me) things I'm going to try this year.

Since I did all that work last fall to create a rose garden at the border between my vegetable garden and the wildflower garden, I decided to start planting more flowers, and even begin to rework some of the wildflower space, all of which is becoming overgrown with grasses and weeds.  There's one large patch that has completely gone to grass, which I thought I'd turn into a poppy patch.  I'll plant seed from last year's poppies: 'Lauren's Grape' and 'Hungarian Blue'.  Unfortunately, none of the 'Oriental Scarlet' that I planted last year germinated.  This year, I'm going to add 'Tangerine Gem' and 'Black Peony'.  Fingers crossed for success.

June 6, 2016

Baker Creek says this poppy "does better in cooler regions", so it might not be a great success, but I couldn't resist trying it to mix in with 'Lauren's Grape' and 'Hungarian Blue'. 

There were a few flowers I wanted to try that I couldn't get from Baker Creek, whose floral offering is minimal. I ordered them from The Garden Studio via  Etsy.com. 'Tangerine Gem' poppy is one that I think will make that blue and purple poppy patch sing.

 Another thing I'm going to try is to actually get a French or Spanish type lavender going.  Last year I purchased small plants of what were labeled as Spanish lavender, but they were not.  So this year, I've ordered two types of seeds: French 'Purple Ribbon' and Spanish lavender.  The difference is the French and Spanish types have sweet little rabbit ears. 

Purple Ribbon French lavender - Photo: Etsy

I don't see these types of lavenders often around here, so maybe they don't do well.  We'll find out.

I ordered the following seed specifically for integrating into the wildflower garden (again, from The Garden Studio via Etsy).

You may know verbascum as mullein.  Common mullein is not very ornamental, can grow very large, and is often considered a weed.  

I didn't find any description of the size of  'Shades of Summer', but I'm going to assume it will be a fairly large plant.  If the seed packet (I got their last one) doesn't tell me, I'll put it at the edge of the wildflower garden where, in case it isn't particularly large, I'll still be able to see it.

Also, I've always wanted to have a garden for cut flowers, and I never have.  It takes a lot of work - more, I think, than vegetables - so I'm going to need some luck as I try my hand at dahlias.  Since buying them as tubers (the typical way) is quite expensive, I thought I'd get seed, and if I have any luck growing them and saving tubers over the winter, I'll be happy.  If not, then I won't have incurred a big expense for nothing.  The seed isn't particularly cheap, however, so I'm starting with a mix, and one variety I couldn't pass up.  I got these directly off Amazon, along with a very interesting zinnia.

What have I gotten myself into?  It's what happens when you start gardening.

Back to Baker Creek and vegetables...

After last year's good tomato experience, I decided I would try two that I didn't have such good luck with my first year but were tasty: 'Black Krim' and 'Mr. Stripey'.  I also said I'd always plant 'Golden Jubilee'.  However, I ordered none of them.  Those decisions gave way to desire to try something new (a lifelong itch), and so, the only repeat this year will be 'Missouri Pink Love Apple'.  I ordered two varieties new to me as well:  'Black Beauty' and 'Gold Medal'.  They should make a lovely plate of slices with the red of 'Missouri Pink' and hopefully compare in taste.

Complementing those tomatoes, I've ordered seed for two varieties of basil.  I'll have no shortage of basil this year unless the weather is bad.  I'm expecting volunteers coming out of my ears like I had last year, and in addition to 'Purple Ruffles' (which seed I'm waiting on from an earlier order), this year I'll plant Lime basil (I have some lemon basil seed saved which I hope will be viable) and Cardinal basil.

Something else I ordered this year new to me, not just as a variety, but as a vegetable, is shiso.  I've been happy with the Oriental greens I've grown in the past (particularly tatsoi, which I'm growing again this year), so I thought I'd give it a try, because - and this is important! - it's also pretty.

Pink rice!

I'm going back to 'Jing Orange' okra this year, and I've chosen 'Shiraz Tall Top' as my red beet. I'll plant golden beets again and hope for a better year.  Last year was a bust, and the years before that were okay, but the tops have always been hit pretty hard by a leaf disease.  

A sad bit of news: my 'Shazam!' rose cuttings that looked so promising with the root callus and roots gave up somewhere along the line.  I shall try again in the spring.  The bush is so small, though, that there's not much to work with.  

Fingers crossed for another year of beautiful flowers on the 'Pink Enchantment' roses.

And good luck to YOU this year.

Till next time.

December 9, 2016 0 comments By: m

Brrr Brrr Brrr

Looking out the window these days, I'm not inspired to go out to my garden and check on it.  Since a few days after Thanksgiving, we've been having freezing temps at night, and the last few days, even in the day.

I did take some vegetable waste out to the compost pile a couple of days ago and had a quick look as I passed by.  The tatsoi, arugula, celery and cabbages were still looking good.  Perhaps I should take a look now that we've also had freezing day-time temperatures.  (Looks out the window.) No.  Not today.

What amazed me was that the Black Pearl ornamental pepper I have - in a pot, no less - was also looking good until just a couple of days ago, even though it had gone through several freezing nights and not-all-that-warm days.  I took this picture two days ago.

After the last couple of below freezing days, though, it has finally given up the ghost.  I would, too, if I had to stay outdoors.

I brought a potted lavender into the cellar, where it will have to do the best it can with the amount of light it gets (not much), as well as a potted creeping phlox.  I've got several pots of coleus and some rose cuttings under lights in the cellar taking up what will be valuable space in a couple of months when I want to start garden seeds indoors.  I may be forced to create a cold frame outdoors to transfer them to.  I won't cross that bridge till I come to it, though, because there's no guarantee any potted plants I have in the cellar will be worth saving by spring.

I did actually have some seedlings under lights as well.  I had five or six small pots of rhubarb and about eight small pots of Black Pearl seedlings.  I say "had" because now I only have three of the rhubarb seedlings.  In a matter of two days, somebody ate all the other seedlings off to the soil line.   There wasn't a speck of evidence that anything had been there at all.  I covered the last three rhubarb babies with inverted plastic cups, and so far, so good.

I don't know who did it.  I suppose it could have been crickets, as I see them from time to time, but I don't see signs of them eating on anything other than those seedlings.  Perhaps it was a mouse?  I haven't seen any other signs of mice, either, but they usually do come in when it gets cold.

Wondering if mice eat plants, I Googled, and I'm sorry I did.

I did not want to know that.

The seedling loss is not a disaster as I have more seeds of both the pepper and the rhubarb, but until I know what's eating them and figure out how to stop it, it doesn't seem smart to plant more. This is going to be much more important in a couple of months.  So, I'm procrastinating.  (And secretly hoping whatever it is will go away.)

The rhubarb I'm trying to get going are two red varieties,  'Cherry Red' and 'Holstein'.  I had to find a seed source for them (Downright Natural) because I can't find anyone around here offering any plants other than 'Victoria'. The small plants I got from a nursery a couple of years ago were 'Victoria', which at the time I thought was a red variety.  I was wrong.  However, at the end of November, I picked the last of this year's rhubarb, and the stems were actually a light red, with apple green insides.  Quite pretty.

Perhaps it's the cooler weather that turns them red.  A couple of websites I read said the red color is a product of higher soil pH.  I'm having a hard time believing that is entirely the issue when my plants were green all year long and then turned red in late November after having nothing done to change the soil pH.  (I remove old stems whose leaves are turning yellow, so it's not them contributing to anything.)  At any rate, here's a picture of my final harvest:

Compare that to earlier harvests.  (Sorry, no pictures other than this pie.  The red in there is cranberries.) The green inside of the stems isn't even the same color.  It's more of a celery green than apple green.

I won't be able to harvest any of the red this year, because you need to wait at least a couple of years so the seedlings will get well established and put their energy into the root system to create a healthy plant.  My mother has some red rhubarb plants that are at least four years old (we don't know where she got them), but since she has been harvesting them too early and too often, the stems never get bigger around than my little finger, and often not much longer.  I harvested enough stems from my two three-year-old 'Victoria' plants this year to make enough for ten or eleven pies (4-5 cups per pie), with the stems being at least as big around as my thumb, and many of them over a foot long.  The red varieties may not have the same vigorous growth as 'Victoria' - I don't know - but I don't think there should be that much difference.  I dug up two of her red ones in the spring this year and replanted them with mine.  I didn't harvest from them, so we'll see what happens.

A couple of days ago, I received this year's Baker Creek Seeds catalog. They offer a free one if you're interested, and it's a nice big (150 pages) color catalog chock full of information and sometimes even recipes.

I went through the catalog to pick out things I want for next year, including this vegetable I had never heard of: Celtuce.

I'll have to learn how to use it.  Or maybe just give it to Liz, the wonderful chef at Catalpa in Arrow Rock.  She's a magician with food.

I have a feeling I'm going to end up with more things than I have room for.  I usually do.

'Til it warms up,
Happy Holidays!
November 18, 2016 0 comments By: m

The Party's Over

Old Man Winter is blowing in.  A drastic drop in temperature from this morning's 60 degrees is expected to come down to freezing some time tonight.  I went out at daybreak this morning to harvest everything left that was harvestable.  The cucumber plant had some heavy cold damage and hadn't been producing anything of any size, but  I picked off whatever fruits were big enough to stick in a pickling jar, and I think I'll throw in the baby carrots I pulled up.

A few days ago I pulled up the lima bean plants and canned or froze the remaining hot peppers and celery.  When I pull up my plants in the fall, they usually come right out.  That serves as all the "tilling" I do.  The roots of the beans and tomatoes this year were amazingly long, so they ripped up a good bit of the surrounding top soil.

"Tilled" soil.

It's looking bare out there now.

Today's harvest that will need some processing was a basket full of green tomatoes, red and green peppers, carrots and baby cucumbers.

But, I also got some things that are edible now: lettuces and volunteer onions.  And pretty little nasturtium flowers.

I found this little gem hiding under the trellis that's supporting my Black Prince volunteer tomato plant.  All the other nasturtiums are solid red-orange.  I left the tomato plant on the trellis and piled up some of the material from the other tomatoes I cut down to see if I can protect it long enough to get some seed on the chance it might produce more of this coloration.

And, speaking of tomatoes, I dismantled the tomato cages today.  That may be my least favorite winter prep chore.  Come to think of it, I don't much like putting them up, either.

I put one of the tomato cages over the remaining two Napa cabbages still growing and piled some of the tomato plant cuttings (pullings, actually) around it in hopes of getting a little more growth out of them.  I also covered the lettuces and tatsoi with lima bean cuttings.  Maybe they'll last a little longer.  If the wind doesn't blow the cuttings away.  We'll see.

Caging the cabbage.

I cut the okra to about a foot tall several weeks back, but I'll leave it in the ground until spring.  It'll be easier to pull once it's dead and the roots have rotted through the winter.  It still had some leaves and a few pretty flowers, along with some gnarly pods.

I also dug up one of the tatsoi plants and potted it.  I've crowded it and some other potted plants around my Julia Child rose bush, caged them all and put plastic over them.  That will protect them for the next few days when the night temperatures get down to freezing.  They'll eventually have to be moved when the day temperatures are also too low, and I don't yet have a plan for what will become of them then. I'm pretty good at procrastination.

Tatsoi in a pot.

I hated to think of what some of the last flowers will look like tomorrow, so I picked some to make a little bouquet and brought them in.

Marigolds, Lavender,  Basil, Okra flowers, and Celery springs

The cypress tree babies that I didn't want to bring in because they're too tall for my cellar set-up, are in pots and need some winter protection.  I dug holes in my compost pile going all the way to the ground level and placed them pots and all in the holes.  Then I put some leaf mulch in the holes and stacked rhubarb cuttings around them.  I hope that will be sufficient to keep them alive this winter.

I'm so excited about my attempts to root some rose cuttings.  Two of the Pink Enchantment cuttings rooted immediately and started growing!  The leaves never even lost their color.

Four out of eleven cuttings rooted, and one has grown some callus, so I'm hoping it will take off shortly.  Callus is undifferentiated cell growth that often forms on plant wounds.  In the case of my cuttings, some of the callus eventually differentiates into roots.  Big time plant culture operations take a few cells from a plant they want to reproduce and grow clones from them in the lab.  Here's a picture of tissue culture showing differentiating callus.  They'll eventually get an entire plant from that little mess.

In my picture below it's a bit hard to see, but at the bottom of the topmost cutting there's some callus growing, and in the next cutting, there's some callus with roots coming out.  The other stem cuttings didn't make it.  But I'm extra excited because one of the two that did is Shazam!   I only have one small Shazam! rose left out of three I bought last year.  Two died over winter, and the third one is limping.  I don't know if I could buy any more, so I'm excited that I might be able to propagate at least one more this way.

Fingers crossed it thrives.

Bundle up, Mid-Missourians.  We may even have to turn the heat on tonight.

The last of summer.

November 11, 2016 0 comments By: m

Late, Late Fall Garden

Well, here it is November 11, and we still haven't had a freeze, so our gardens are still growing.

According to the University of Missouri Climate Center, our normal median freeze date (when there's a 50% chance that a freeze will have occurred) for this area of Missouri is October 20.  And even the very southernmost area of the state has a median freeze date of November 4.

The national weather service at NOAA forecasts a low of 34°F for tonight and tomorrow night, and then it climbs back up into the low 40s the rest of the week.  

Here's Weather Underground's forecast for next week:

Fantastic weather.  We may still be harvesting on Thanksgiving!

Neither of those two sources has a longer range forecast, but Accuweather is willing to forecast a drastic drop on the Wednesday before and Thanksgiving day to 24° and 31° respectively.  Spoilsports!  At any rate, the fabulous freaky weather will be coming to an end soon, and we are all - well, I know I am - enjoying the heck out of it while it lasts, even if it means we have to water our outdoor potted plants once in a while.

Late last month, I went up to Des Moines for three days to help my daughter-in-law with some landscaping, and as I wouldn't have anyone reliable to water my potted plants, I devised a quick automatic watering system for those I was worried about.  I got the idea from a YouTube video.

It's the same principle that those lovely blown glass bulbs use.  I poked holes in the lids of cheap bottled water containers.   I filled them with water and buried their heads in the pot soil.  I don't know what might have become of the plants if I hadn't done this, but they all looked fine when I returned, so it was worth the little effort it took to do it.

The garden doesn't look any different than it did a month ago. Still serene and green.

I'm still harvesting tomatoes and peppers, and the fall cucumbers ('Marketmore' - my favorite for any time of the year) are producing beautifully.  If I had gotten on the ball and planted them sooner, I'm sure I could have had a season-long harvest after that wet spring failure.  (Don't mention my onions.)

I've been grilling up the peppers over a smokey log fire, and boy are they delicious peeled and stir-fried with some chicken in a little oil and vinegar or cut up in a macaroni salad.  Or just all by themselves.

If I happen to lose a ripe tomato to the ground, somebody in the night finds it just as tasty as I do.  This one, however, has left me puzzled.

Bird pecks maybe?

I'm still harvesting enough to eat and a few to freeze.

The compost pile is providing a great home for some volunteer onions and borage.

The back door cilantro is beautiful, and the tatsoi in the lettuce garden is gorgeous.  Both are delicious, as well, of course.

I decided to have an early trial of planting seeds from the ornamental Black Pearl pepper plant and am very encouraged as it seems it's as easy to collect and germinate seeds as any of the other peppers I've worked with.  I planted seeds from one of the ripe fruits on October 29, but forgot to check on them after the first couple of days.  When I finally did look at them yesterday, they were well up, and I'm guessing they'd germinated within a week of planting.  Their little dark cotyledons are barely distinguishable from the soil without good lighting.

I'm encouraged that I - and several of my friends and family - will have as many of these pretty annuals as we can use next year.

The weather has been sunny and mild but still cool enough that the heat-loving plants are simply holding steady, so I went ahead and brought the rhubarb seedlings, who haven't done a darned thing since they sprouted, inside to be overwintered in the cellar seed chamber I created last summer.  It seems like a hassle, but it actually gives me some year-round "gardening" on dreary winter days.

I've also got some rose cuttings that I'm trying to root.  I've never had much luck before, but I'm still trying.

A friend and neighbor invited me to her place to pick up pecans recently.  I cracked them today with the super nutcracker she loaned me.  How's that for a great neighbor?  Thank you, Monna!

Here's the device (note my safety glasses - believe me, you do not want to operate this thing without them):

It's so easy and quick!  It's an ingenious thing.  With only a slight bit of pulling pressure on the handle, serious cracking pressure is exerted on the nuts along their length, which cracks them open without mangling them.  The special bolts into which you place the uncracked nut are concave so they hold the nut in the precise angle needed to perform this little miracle. 

Here's a picture of my set-up for the operation:

In the end, I have a gallon and a half of beautifully cracked pecans.

Mmmmmm.  Pecan pie for Thanksgiving - my family's favorite.  And mouth-watering Jack Daniels sugared pecans for Christmas.  

Til next time.