March 23, 2017 0 comments By: m

Missouri Gardening - Always a Challenge

We made it through that cold spell in pretty good shape.  Sadly, the crepe myrtle I planted last spring didn't survive the winter.  Neither did the larger of my two Pink Enchantment roses.  I don't know why, but my guess is that since the fall and winter were so mild for so long, they never had the time to harden off properly and the locations they were both in - very windy - added to the stress so that when the temperture did drop, they couldn't manage.  I'll have to keep that in mind if we have another spring-like winter and mulch susceptible new shrubs extra deep.  The other roses lived, but the branches all died, so that they're putting out new shoots from very near the ground.

I was talking to our local postmaster this morning about the unexpected week-long freezing temps at night, and the fact that there was surprisingly little damage, and she said, "It's because of the light of the moon."  That's one I hadn't heard before.  I never know how much "old time wisdom" about gardening is rooted in good science and how much is unsupported or coincidental observations handed down through the ages, but it's interesting to hear what the old gardeners pass down.  (The postmaster is not an old gardener; she's a local countryman who gardens at her mother's property.)  What did sustain freeze damage among the herbaceous plants was the daylilies.  Their foliage looks pretty bad, but they'll bloom okay, and they won't suffer any long-term damage.

No way was I expecting that long of a cold spell.  It's normal to get one-night freezes in March - and sometimes even in April - but not a  long spell of contiguous freezing nights.  But then, it's also really bizarre to have a February without long spells of night freezes like we had this year.  Cooler temp crops are often planted some weeks before the expected average last day for a frost, which in this area is April 10, and so I thought nothing of sowing carrots, peas, chinese cabbages, lettuces and other salad greens in the first week of March since last year was so warm early and for a long time, and February this year made me think it might even be moreso.

What surprised me in the garden was the tarragon.  It seems like such a tender plant.  Apparently it's not, as it's one of the plants that stays green all winter, even through the freezing without being covered.  I planted this from a nursery purchase in the spring of 2015, and it was then about the size of that sprig in the lower left hand corner of the picture.  I didn't even realize it would spread. Last year, due to the copious amount of rain, it grew very lanky, and I thought surely that would make it susceptible to a winter freeze, but, nope.  I cut it back, and it just keeps on going.

After three times of trying to keep some light mulch on the newly seeded beds the first of this month and having it blown away by the high winds, and then getting a week of night time freezes, I was feeling nervous about the prospect of having wasted both time and seeds.  Thankfully, in the last few days, I see peas and lettuces coming up, and today, tiny little chinese cabbages, so I'm feeling hopeful that the carrots, celery and shiso will soon follow.  I've been watering those beds since we haven't had any rain to speak of.  Luckily, I have a source of water near the garden and can drag a hose around to all the plots if needed.  The first year, I did have to hand water a good deal - or at least I thought I did - but the second year, I didn't need to do much watering.  Last year, other than watering-in newly seeded plots, the rain was plentiful and I didn't need to water anything.  In fact, the rain was too plentiful, and some things, like my cucumbers and onions drowned.

Yesterday I went to Vintage Hill  Farm nursery in Franklin, Missouri, and wanted (at least) one of everything.  Their greenhouses are full of wonderful things, but for once, I resisted the urge and only bought a few herbs to put in a large pot on the patio.  Their plants looked a lot better than my seed starts, naturally, but mine are coming along.  I've already got a number of seedlings spending day and night outdoors, in a protected spot against the south side of the house.  I worry over them, but I think they'll be okay.  Of course, I'll be going back to Vintage Hill, so the temptation to buy more things than I can take care of is not necessarily past.

One of the plants I purchased is a Salvia called Golden Pineapple Sage.  While it's not something you'd eat, the leaves actually smell like pineapple.  It's supposed to have a fire engine red flower, but the picture doesn't look like it will be something particularly attractive.  I don't usually care for yellow-colored foliage, but I thought it might brighten up a large pot of all green herbs.  (The color on this photo isn't accurate - it's actually quite yellow.)

That's the back of the Salvia tag.  I've never seen that admonition on a plant tag before.  Perhaps because I don't look closely at the backs of the tags, but possibly because that would be a very difficult prohibition to enforce, so why waste the ink.

I also got a Patchouli plant.

I'd never seen one offered before.  Its leaves do indeed smell like patchouli.  I'm sure we won't be eating that.  At least, that is, if my mother doesn't think it's something else.  Last year she put cilantro in a dish calling for parsley.  I think her smeller is broken.  The patchouli plant doesn't look like something else you might eat, though, does it?  I think we're safe, but maybe I shouldn't put it in the herb pot.  I'll have to think about that.

I've also got my two seed starting trays in the cellar full with a second round of plantings and a first round of seedlings under lights.  The first round of Zinnias have a lot of dead tissue on the cotyledons and first set of true leaves.  The same problem is on the chinese cabbages I started indoors.  I haven't had this happen before, so I don't know what the problem is.  The Zinnias seem to be coming out of it, but the cabbages are not growing at all.

Damaged Zinnia seedlings

I thought it might be a problem with the potting mix.  I'm going to have to be sure to have enough seed starter mix (which is finer than regular potting soil and typically doesn't contain actual soil) to be able to get seeds started in the winter.  I bought what WalMart had in February, which was MiracleGro seed starting soil, so I figured it would be fine  - in both senses.  When I opened it, I was surprised to see that it looked like regular potting soil - much coarser than I expected.   If the mix was the problem, it didn't affect the Black Dahlia seeds I planted.  They took off and grew quickly.   The mixed Dahlia seeds I planted at the same time (that I got from the same seller as the Black Dahlias) haven't even come up.

Black Dahlia seedlings

It could also have been the seeds themselves, so I'll compare the Chinese cabbages that are coming up in the garden and a second indoor seeding of Zinnias and mixed Dahlias that are just coming up in a different brand of seed starter soil that's now available in the store.  The  Lisianthus and Jersey Wakefield cabbage seedlings I planted in that same mix are doing fine.

Jersey Wakefield cabbage seedlings

I seeded my intended poppy bed out in the wildflower garden  early - on the sixth of February when it was still Spring - and was beginning to despair of them coming up since there have been volunteers in the vegetable garden where I previously had some poppies since the 17th, but I was excited to see a couple of days ago tons of tiny little sprouts coming up where I planted them.  I thought I'd done a pretty good job of scattering them, but after whatever wind and little rain there was, they seem to be mostly clumped together in rivulet lines, so I'll still have to thin them.  But, hooray! They're up!

Last year I planted some Dianthus that came along as a free pack with some other seed I'd ordered, and the foiliage was lush, but they never flowered.  They made it through the winter, but they have a somewhat different look.  I'd cut them back except for a few stems that weren't damaged by the cold, so I'm going to be interested to see if the plants revert to all looking like those few elongated stems from last season, or even if they flower this year.  If they don't, they'll have to become compost.

One of the larger two Victoria rhubarb plants did sustain some freeze damage, but I cut it back quite a bit and I don't expect it to have any trouble coming out of it.  The other one that I covered is growing great. They're both flowering, and those heads will have to come off.  At least, that's what the literature says, and I always do it.  The idea is that the plant will put its energy into producing seed once the flowers emerge and stop putting it into the stems.

My little seedling rhubarbs are not doing much.  I hope they decide to grow faster when the weather turns warmer, but I'm concerned there's something I don't know about growing rhubarb from seed, because last summer I tried planting some seed, and they never got any bigger than these I started this winter are now.  I looked at a video about growing them from seed, and the guy growing them said they'll stop making much progress if they are outgrowing the pot, but mine still have plenty of soil room.  I won't give up yet, but I do feel discouraged, since these seedlings are varieties that are supposed to have very red stems (Holstein and Cherry Red), and that's what I'm looking for.

Top row: Kent Beauty ornamental oregano, Tutti Fruitti lupine; Middle 2 rows: rhubarb; Bottom row: Jersey Wakefield cabbage

Here's looking toward a new vegetable growing season and hopefully, some summer cut flowers, too.

Happy gardening.

One way to save Hyacinths from freezing temperatures!
March 10, 2017 0 comments By: m

I Wanted to Believe

After the last quick cold snap, I had hopes that was the end of what was a very mild winter.  It turns out, February was the end of spring!  March is coming in like the lion they say it does, and this one is out for blood.  The first week was warm, but so very windy, and brought a fierce storm.  I've experienced some drastic drops in temperature both in Missouri and Texas, but I think yesterday's may have been the record for me.  In a matter of twelve hours, the temperature dropped from a balmy 70 degrees down to a freezing 30.  Now, look what this coming week has in store:

Last year, I planted a little magnolia, and I was watching this spring for a promising show of lovely magenta blossoms.  I figured I was going to have to cover it during the upcoming freezing nights, but it would be worth it.  Yesterday morning when I checked on it, eleven flower buds had been nipped off by deer.  There are now only four at the bottom.  I guess that would have required dropping one's head too low for comfort.  Grrrrrrrrrrr.  I know they nip off hyacinths, lilies and early roses, but I never even thought about them eating those magnolia buds.  Next spring, Deer B Gone is going on as soon as the buds swell.  I guess I don't have to cover it now.

There will still be hyacinths, peonies, bleeding hearts, roses and rhubarb to cover if the temperature doesn't come up.  I want to believe again, though.  Anyone know a sun dance?

After the wind blew away my cypress needle mulch twice, I started to wonder if maybe I had left any grass clippings under the ex-cattle shed that I hadn't bagged and brought up to the house, so I went to check it out, and indeed I had.  Plenty.  But the clippings are curly and tangled, so they didn't spread well.  I put them out on my seeded beds anyway.  (Update:  I just checked.  The grass is gone, too.  I give.  It can stay bare.)

I'm getting anxious about my flower seedlings in the cellar.  After an initial fine showing by the black dahlias and ornamental oregano, nobody else seems to want to come up.  Not even the mixed dahlias I got from the same seller as the black dahlias.  If they're going to do anything, they need to hurry up, as I need room to get my herbs started, and then I'm going to need space for tomatoes and peppers.  I'm telling myself this will only be an issue this year, as most of the flowers I'm trying to grow are perennials, and my idea with the dahlias is that I'll bring the tubers from this year's plants in for the winter and not plant any more seed.  I sometimes have ideas that don't pan out.  And then I have to do something else.  

So....not much gardening going on this week, but here's a marvelous gardening video that my Wisconsin sister pointed out to me.  It's the best I've ever seen.  Enjoy, and do that sun dance.

March 6, 2017 0 comments By: m

Against the Wind

It's been impossible to find a day lately where the wind speed is below 15 or 20 mph, so I've been keeping up with early gardening chores in a wind tunnel.  (They're not really chores if you like to do them, though, are they?)

I potted up my rhubarb and 'Kent Beauty' oregano seedlings into 4" pots, and so far I haven't lost any.  I've had to tuck them into a corner by the cellar door to keep them from the bluster.  Still in the cellar under lights are Zinnia, Spanish Lavender, Lisianthus, black Dahlia and cabbage seedlings, and still to germinate are plugs of Lupine, Verbascum, Delphinium and Gerbera Daisy.  Lots of flowers this year.  Something new.  As soon as I get some room on the heat mat, I'll start some herbs.

As always happens, I couldn't resist a peony I saw recently, and so I planted 'Sorbet' with my other peonies on the west side of the house.  Here's the label picture that hooked me:

When I took the black plastic off my rose bed, I was delighted to find that, other than three small green sprouts which were easily plucked, it was completely clear.  I did put a lot of work into creating it last fall, double digging and all, but there were some tenacious wildflowers and some kind of mint growing there, so I wasn't at all sure I wouldn't have to pull out the herbicide to get control.   

I had planted the 'Pink Enchantment' rose in the middle of the plot last fall, and my fingers are crossed that it survived.  I think it did, but I won't be sure until some buds open.  I pruned all my rose bushes into neat and tidy forms, and 'Julia Child' had already leafed out near the ground where windblown leaves had built up around it.  The third and only remaining 'Shazam!' from two years ago also had broken bud at the ground.  I moved it to the rose garden plot, creating a nice bed of humus and composted manure worked into the soil for it to grow in.  Its roots were looking water-logged when I dug it, so perhaps its original place was a poor site and may be why the other two didn't make it.  Fingers crossed.  It's a beauty.

My original plan for the rose garden includes herbs as well as roses, and it may end up changing a bit, but I've got my eyes out for some rose varieties that I'd like to plant.  I may have to order small bare root specimens online, but since I'm not in a rush to finish the plot, maybe I'll come up with these or something similar over the next two or three years:  'Earth Angel' (is that not fabulous?), 'Dark Desire', 'Good as Gold' (if that picture is close to the real color - wow!), 'Neptune' (or some variety that is more silver than lilac), and 'Rio Samba' to replace 'Shazam!' if it doesn't make it.  They are all supposed to be disease resistant, which is a must for me now (unless something spectacular comes along and I just HAVE to have it).  'Julia Child' and 'Shazam!' are prone to black spot, making them troublesome, but 'Pink Enchantment' had none.  Perfection.

'Pink Enchantment' October 2016

So, until further plantings of this year's herbs, my 2017 rose bed as currently planted is laid out like this:

The four empty circles are for future rose bushes.  I moved the orange thyme and rosemary from my vegetable garden.  The thyme stayed green (purplish due to cold) all winter, and I'm hoping the rosemary is still alive.  The Dianthus was in the same bed that 'Shazam!' was in, and again, I'm hoping they're alive and just still dormant.  They actually did ok in that bed, which is an old forsythia and trumpet vine bed that was raging out of control when I moved back here.  I got it cleared of all but five forsythias which I'm trying to rejuvenate, but they don't yet look very happy and are only sparsely blooming.  It could be a bad site now that needs to be totally cleared and new soil and compost worked into it, but that's not going to happen.  Not for some years anyway.  So, if the Dianthus survived the winter, they should be happy to get a new, fertile bed where they'll get extra attention.

Rose bed dug and covered last fall

Rose bed planted and watered yesterday

I had kept the creeping phlox and lavender in pots under lights in the cellar all winter.  They actually look good despite that and are braving the strong winds.  The pot of phlox has been blooming for two or three weeks now.

Yesterday, because I needed to get rid of  a load of dogwood leaves and cypress needles that were covering my hosta garden, I used them to mulch the rose bed.  I'm going to have to make sure I get them off earlier next year, as they were so thick the bleeding hearts that are also in that bed were unable to break through and are now white and spindly.  Hopefully the sun will start shining and they'll green up and get sturdy.

When I put the leaf mulch down, the wind was blowing so hard that I had to work in small patches and water it down as I laid it.  Being the eighth hour of gardening/landscaping (I'm too old for that!), I was too tired to put on a light top layer of bark mulch, but the leaves held on overnight and are currently managing to resist today's gale.  If they do manage to stick, I'll just leave that extra mulching for a less windy day or whenever the leaf mulch breaks down,  whichever comes first.

Rose bed, planted, watered and mulched

That lush lavender plant is actually three smaller plants I bought at the end of the season last year and crammed into one larger pot. (And I do mean crammed - there wasn't any room to speak of to add soil.) The label said it was Spanish lavender, but when it finally bloomed, it was obvious that it was an English variety (no little rabbit ears on top).  I was disappointed, but it was so healthy that I put it in the cellar to see if it would overwinter under lights.  It did beauifully, and when I took it out of the pot to plant it yesterday, it was pretty much a solid mat of roots and no soil, which is no doubt how it was when it went to the cellar. I hacked a slice into the root ball on four sides and stuck it into a hole amended well with humus and manure.  So far, so good. 

I finally got all the remaining weedlings out of my vegetable garden plots this morning, and I managed to crumble up cypress needles to lightly mulch the plots I planted yesterday.  It was trickier even than mulching the rose garden, trying to get the mulch down and sprayed before it blew away since there were no heavy leaves tangled in the needles, and as I crushed them, they got even flittier.  It's a lighter layer than I'd like, but hopefull it will be enough to hold a little more moisture.  The ground had already cracked from my planting and watering yesterday.  

The last two years, I had a supply of dried grass clippings from the fall to use as mulch over seed beds, but I didn't have any this year.  I don't have enough cypress needles for the entire garden, so hopefully the grass will have grown enough to mow down clippings for future plantings.

Freshly composted carrot (l) and pea (r) plots
The green planting at the top of the pea plot is 
perennial Egyptian walking onions

In the ground now are peas ('Improved Maestro' which is supposed to not need a trellis), 'Rocky Top Mix' lettuce, Red Veined Sorrel (a dock), Chinese White Celery from seeds I saved last year (there are four or five of these plants that overwintered with some minor injury under light mulch), and three carrot varieties: 'Cosmic Purple' (a free gift from my Baker Creek Seeds order), 'Koral' and 'Kyoto Red'.  I haven't tried any of those varieties before, so hopefully at least one will be good!

The rhubarb is up and growing by leaps and bounds.  I had to cover the large ones a few nights ago when it got below freezing for several hours.  The leaves stayed bunched together from the shape of the basket I put over them, and it hasn't been warm enough since for them to relax.  I had to cover them last year as well.  They come up very early, and are then susceptible to freezing.  They would probably pull out of it even if I didn't cover them, and maybe next year, I'll do that, but I hate to see something this far along sustain freeze damage.

I found this fat chrysalis as big as my thumb in the compost pile when I was laying the fresh layers on my garden plots:

No doubt a tomato hornworm.  It was wriggling when I picked it up, which surprised me. I didn't know they pupated in the soil.  If I had thought about it, I would have wondered where they were during winter.  He went in the burn barrel.  Sorry, dude.  (Actually, dude is probably a lady.)

Planted and watered: peas (top) and carrots (bottom)

It's just so satisfying.

I hope you're enjoying your early spring, wherever you are.  Happy gardening!

UPDATE March 7:

No good deed goes unpunished.  

Last night, after creating this post, we enjoyed a tornado watch, along with the entire state of Missouri (and others).  Afterward, the rain gauge read 1/4", but there may have been lots that it didn't catch, considering the winds (gusts up to 50 mph, so said the weather lady) were making it rain sideways.  

I was happily surprised this morning to find that almost all of the dogwood leaf/cypress needle mulch I put on the rose bed was still there.  But the newly seeded vegetable plots were bare again.  There was no wind at all this morning, so I put down some more needle mulch on those plots.  It's now blowing again at 20 mph.  Sigh.  The forecast looks like day after tomorrow might be a better time to try again.  Hopefully the seed layer of ground won't have dried up or blown away by then.

Gardening is fun!
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.  And it begins my fourth vegetable gardening year.  The beginning is always exciting.

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 '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 considered a weed around here.  

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!