Sunday, October 17, 2010

Questions and frost preparations

One of you asked why the compost and soil are baked. I found out emphatically when I brought in a nasturtium plant, leaving it in the garden soil in which it had grown, and put the pot in the tray from which I bottom water my greenhouse plants. Soon I saw little things swimming around in the water, about a quarter inch long and very thin. Next thing we knew our kitchen was infested with mosquitoes! So you don't want to use unbaked garden soil any more than you must because don't want mosquitoes in your house either.

Another of you asked how to prevent troubles from bringing in garden soil. Obviously, I don't have definitive answers for this, but I will never put a pot from the garden in water again for the first month after it is in my house. I brought an impatiens plant in yesterday and put it NEXT to the tray. I should have watered it more than I did, and I'm not sure it will survive, but perhaps I can do better next time.

Frost wisdom: Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants survive after their plants turn black, I discovered last year. I picked them AFTER frost killed their plants and they tasted fine, fresh or frozen (no difference there!). Basil and Malabar spinach, of course, are completely lost as soon as the first light frost hits them, because we eat the most vulnerable parts of the plant. So given a choice, pick your spinach and basil aggressively when the FIRST frost warning is given. Please email me before you go to pick so I can tell others and then pick too. Picking by flashlight is possible, although not ideal.

You can read my potting recipe in the "basic skills" section of this blog. I have not bought any potting soil this year or last, and things seem to grow fine. Last year's tomato blight was blamed by many on some infected potting soil that was widely used for tomato seedlings, mass raised and shipped to many garden center outlets nationwide. Since both sand and vermiculite are sterile, I had no trouble. It's MUCH cheaper than commercial mix, of course. I've used commercial seedlings mixes before for starting spring seeds, but I tried using my own for about half this past spring with no obvious failures.

I greatly enjoy having flowers to stare at and give away all winter long. I don't feel evangelistic about this as I do about home vegetable gardening and abstaining from power machinery, but flowers bring me innocent pleasure, as they have for many people over human history (and probably before). Innocent pleasures are not something to be taken lightly in this troubled world.

Happy potting!


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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Preparing for frost, open garden Dec. 4

Today is the day that the Rutgers Extension Service says we should take in our "tropical plants." I have brought in my aloe and my great-grandmother's Christmas cactus. I think I'll leave the others out a bit longer.

However, I'm picking and freezing my basil (as pesto) and my Malabar spinach as fast as time allows. Last year and the year before we had a frost that killed them in October, and the full moon is only about a week away.

I now have FIVE freebees on my front steps: basil and parsley seedlings, potatoes, and columbine and bee balm plants. I'm ashamed I haven't offered columbine before. It turns out to be easy to transplant. It is abundant in my yard right now, so take all you want. It spreads, but it is MUCH easier to dig out than dandelions, and not nearly as invasive as euphorbia (the anti-woodchuck plant). I have composted lots before, but that's a waste of a plant that William Shakespeare obviously liked so much in early spring.

Be sure to bring a plastic bag to pick up columbine or bee balm, and plan to replant it soon after you get home. I'm a bit more cautious about recommending bee balm. It is fine in the shade; take a look at it to the right of the steps, where it's been for years. However, it went wild in the sun next to my curb, and is NOT easy to dig out.

While you are there, you have my permission to wander in my FRONT yard as long as you walk only on the sidewalks and the green grass. To the left of the steps are the day lilies. Behind them is the laurel. A lilac bush is at the left corner of the house, where I planted it not THAT long ago. Above the bee balm is Andromeda, which has little white flowers early in the spring. You can see the azalea in the foreground behind the flowers. In front of the holly tree is the astilbe; you can still see the fern-like "flowers" which were pink and red much of the season and I still think are nice. In front of that are my two primrose plants, descended from my great-grandfather's (not the one married to the aforementioned great-grandmother). The asters are just beginning to bloom on the house side of the row of chrysanthemums.

Florence and Jose will join me in an Open Garden tour on Saturday, December 4, from 9:30 to 11:00 AM. That's long enough to be out at that time of year! If you want to open your vegetable garden to the public at that time, let me know ASAP.


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Friday, October 15, 2010

What Flowers Do I Raise?

One of you wrote in response to Monday's email, "Please make a list of all the flowers that you have in your property. Please also say if they are perennial or annuals."

My first reaction was to think that after the bulbs I have, through the season, columbine, zinnias, and chrysanthemums, but when I went through my mind and the yard listing them, I discovered that I had about three dozen blooming plants in my yard this year, not counting the varieties of each.

Annuals I raise from bought seeds: impatiens, zinnias, nasturtiums Self-seeding annuals: alyssum, columbine (or is it a biennial?)
Perennials: chrysanthemums, asters, monarda, swan's neck, black-eyed susans, echinacca, yarrow, Jerusalem artichoke, milkweed, day lilies (yellow and orange), Dutch iris, yellow and purple Siberian iris, winter sedum, astilbe, primrose, winter rose, rose, lily of the valley.
Bulbs: snow-drops, miniature crocus, flower-record crocus, hyacinths, daffodils, tulips (many varieties of each of the last two)
Shrubs: lilac, Andromeda, azalea, holly tree that Bob McLean planted in 1987, an offspring of one of his Groundcover: periwinkle (aka myrtle, vinca)
Weeds: violets, dandelion, some white flower in bloom now (October).

Shakespeare wrote repeatedly about "sweet columbine in spring." After I became a gardener, I realized he lived just before bulbs from the Middle East came to Europe, so he lived his winters flower-deprived. I raised some columbine from seed over two decades ago, and they reseed prolifically. I realize I should put some of the on my front steps for those who want to start them. I have more than I need and have been
throwing extras into the compost heap. The original package had many colors, but the survivors are mostly in the pink-purple range. Very pretty in early spring!

I raise zinnias from seed each year. I always have State Farm zinnias growing up my garden fence, and this year I have a variety of other types in the front yard.

In the mid-80's I raised chrysanthemums from seed, and they do well along the neighbor's driveway, providing color all fall. In recent years I've been supplementing them with asters. I used to have another variety that bloomed later, but recently I've contented myself with autumn sedum and paperwhites (also called "indoor narcissus") in very late fall. I bought one autumn sedum plant years ago, and I have separated it each spring and distributed it widely in my yard and elsewhere.

A Dutch immigrant neighbor gave me Dutch iris plants that grace my front yard and next to the garage. They have purple flowers, smaller than the usual Siberian irises. I should probably promulgate her generosity next spring; remind me if you want some in early spring. I have purple and yellow irises in the back, which I am known to give away in mid-summer, the right time for sharing them.

I planted minarda (also called "bee balm"), raised from seed also in the mid/late 80's, in the front of my north-facing house, where it has done well. When I started my front yard garden last year, I put some between the sidewalk and street, where it has gone crazy. I need to pull some out. It has a light purple bloom in late spring and/or early summer.

I started alyssum from seed about the same time, and it would like to take over the entire yard. I gave away some last spring, and would be glad to do more next year. It has many tiny white flowers, now invading the sidewalk and my garden in the back.

A former student gave me lily of the valley, which does well under the tree next to the street. I could share some of that next spring too.

I raise impatiens and nasturtiums from seed each year. The nasturtiums have mostly disappeared both this year and last, I assume eaten by those pesky woodchucks. I dug some of each last fall and they did well over the winter inside - very pretty in my greenhouse window. One nasturtium started this fall and I brought it in. More about that in a later email about potting soil.

In January I must content myself with VERY dark (dead) autumn sedum to supplement the holly and indoor bulbs. In late February or March snow-drops and then miniature crocuses scattered in the "lawn" appear. Winter rose and real crocuses appear in March. April brings hyacinths and daffodils, first tete-a-tete and then the full-sized ones. Late April and May have lots of tulips, by then joined by columbine.

The front yard had azalea, laurel and Andromeda when we moved in, and I use them still in bouquets. Do they count as flowers? It's not legal to pick laurel in public places, but I would think I could from my front yard.

Do ferns count? There were many here when I moved in, and I use them abundantly in bouquets. There were just a few at first, but I've separated them and moved them around and now have more than I need. Others took some from this past spring and I plan to be even more generous next spring if I can get takers.

Long ago I planted astilbe, which has fern-like red and pink flowers (?) that make lovely bouquets with ferns in spring.

I planted milkweed to attract Monarch butterflies, which they do, but they are also pretty when they bloom, which isn't for long. The butterflies are still pretty in October this year, which is late for them.

I was given swan's neck and black-eyed-susan for my curb garden and they are nice in late spring and early summer. I was given echinacca seeds, but they aren't very prolific where I planted them.

Day-lilies and Jerusalem artichokes have flowers that don't last when picked, but look festive in the yard, the former in mid-summer and the latter in fall.

Myrtle was here when I moved in at the back of the yard, and their small purple flowers and nice below the daffodils that have naturalized after I planted them following their performance inside. It is quite a riot of color each spring.

The day my nephew was adopted, having made the trip from Korea at age four months, I planted a rose bush. It still blooms this year of his joyous wedding.

A cousin gave me two primrose plants descended from those of our great-grandfather. They are doing fine in front of the holly bush, but when I tried to put pieces of them next to the curb, they didn't thrive and have apparently recently died. She tells me this is very unusual, so I may try again.

Writing this has been a revealing venture. I have thought of myself as a vegetable gardener and a "gardening evangelist," meaning vegetable gardening. Now I realize I have a shadow life, one that doesn't take nearly as much of my time and that I hadn't quite acknowledged before, but might also be of interest to others. That is a curious realization because for the past decade I have regularly given away two bouquets a week along with having one on my table. It appears that flowers are more important to me than I knew. Thank you for giving me this self-knowledge!


Freebees: I should give away minarda (which thrives in shade) and columbine now. I'm not going to pot them up, so bring a plastic bag to take them away. You can take them directly from here and put them in your own ground. I'll put them on the steps, each in a tray with columbine on the left in alphabetical order. Both spread.
When you take any freebees, please do not disturb the family unnecessarily. Too much of that could soon make it impossible to continue giving away hundreds of plants a year from my front steps.

Next spring I realize I must have a freebee morning, where folks can come thin (i.e. dig) out my perennial plants. My wrists have been better in the past couple years since I've been recruiting volunteer help for this. Don't let me forget, and if you have something you especially want mentioned above, it might be useful to shoot me an email late next March.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Winter Flowers

I enjoy local flowers from my own property all winter if you are willing to consider holly berries flowers for a couple of weeks. Actually, even then I'm also harvesting winter sedum, which is very pretty now, turning from pink to purple, and can provide a nice foil for the holly. I usually harvest paperwhites indoors from about Thanksgiving to Christmas.

My bulbs for winter arrived this week, and I'll be busy potting them up now. This year's are from Fedco, by far the least expensive, but you might still get them from Dutch Gardens or locally. I like crocuses in mid-January, then tete-a-tete daffodils, then big daffodils and then tulips. By then the daffodils from previous years that I put out in the myrtle at the back of my yard are in full bloom, and I can get flowers from outside.

The "winter rose" that I bought three years ago was beautiful last year and this in March through April, and I have enjoyed outside flowers for many years from spring through the holidays. Chrysanthemums last through the first few frosts.

When she was a teen-ager, my daughter asked, "If Americans had as many flowers growing in front yards and public places as they do in other countries, do you think we would be more peaceful?" It's a question that has intrigued me for decades, and provides one justification for putting so much time into flowers. The main one, of course, is that they make me happy.


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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Winter preparations

In mid-September one of you wrote that she harvests basil all winter from her windowsill. About the same time a friend visited from Manhattan. Her 29th floor balcony garden has no bugs or birds, but tremendous wind. So she raises much of her crop in a barrel that shields it from the wind. She told me that her parsley survives until February!!! Then a super cold kills it.

Fred and I have been enjoying lettuce all winter long recently raised in my greenhouse window, but some tastes of basil and parsley sound appealing. So I found some old seeds, and sowed them profusely in the greenhouse window. In a few days I had more basil than I could imagine and in the past couple of days the parsley is following suit. I was uneasy that the parsley might have been told old to germinate, but here it is!

In earlier years our winter salad green was kale, but it's having a hard time recently. There is a hole where two kale plants were put out. I don't know why, but one day last week Fred heard a loud scream, "EEEK!" as I went out the back door. "What's the matter?!" the poor man called from the kitchen. "A woodchuck!" It left quickly, of course, and is the only one I've seen for months. I do have some kale on the opposite side of the garden from the "door," almost surrounded by basil and tomato plants, but looks like again I will have to count on lettuce for my primary winter salad green.

The Hakurei turnips have germinated where I sowed them after taking out the unsatisfying tomato plant. Would anyone be interested in trying these? I have no idea whether they will transplant, or even whether I will get a yield before the cold takes them, but my daughter assures me that the greens are worth eating even if I don't get the radish-like roots in time. I'll put them on the steps if anyone asks me to, but only then.

My youngest outdoor lettuce is almost an inch high, so it's almost time to sow the next crop. I've done this before and have harvested lettuce outside in December. One can never tell from year to year, of course.

No collards volunteered this year, which is very unusual. So I started some from seed. Some of it is doing well, but some it is being attacked by a pest MUCH smaller than a woodchuck or rabbit. I have two plants in my greenhouse window that need a new home, and I'm trying to decide whether to put them in a larger pot or plant them outside.

By mistake I put one collards plant in the corner of my cold frame. After I realized what I had done, I decided to leave it there and see if I can grow some in my other frame for collards all winter. That would be fun.

I'm doing lots of experimenting this year. It's been years that I've raised all our veggies except potatoes and onions year round, but there is clearly MUCH more to learn!


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