Archive for the ‘Seeds’ Category

…and it is still too early to start seeds. This is the Testing Time, when gardeners are short on patience and long on yearning. When the seed catalogs are dog-eared, the seed packets are in-hand, and the garden is still under the snow and ice.

This has been an especially icy winter here in Maine. We have had a series of snows, thaws, and refreezes, so that the driveway, the yard, and most importantly the path to the greenhouse is covered in a thick unyielding layer of ice.

I try not to despair.

Instead, I am thinking about a few new techniques I am going to try this season, and I hope to document them and share them with you here. First, I hope to have 5 varieties of climbing vines that will appear at the end of our driveway: the first thing visitors to our home and Husband’s gallery will see when they arrive.

Grandpa Ott’s morning glories for early in the day, and Moonflowers for late. Cypress’s white blossoms, Cardinal’s red blossoms, and the Black-eyed Susan vine with its yellow blooms should be a colorful display. I plan to under plant with enough basil to stock my freezer with pesto this winter, something I neglected to do last winter and regret at least once a week.

These vines will take all of the saplings and poles I currently have for vining plants. But I also hope to have 4 varieties of pole beans, and so I will need an additional 16 saplings – I’m going to need 36 in total. The beans will include Ideal Market green beans, and Calypso, Charlevoix kidney, and Good Mother Stallard’s dry shelling beans. I’m hoping the beans will discourage the deer that have been walking through my garden this winter.

This is the first year I’ve seen hoof prints in the snow, most annoyingly on paths I shoveled for myself and my dog Gordon. I did NOT shovel for the deer! I try not to be offended.

I’m going to position the bean poles right where the deer are entering the garden from the woods – hoping to disrupt their path so that they make other plans.

The other new technique I am going to try is planting potatoes in trashcans. The cans are layered with soil and the potato eyes. When the plant is 6” tall, I will add more soil, and so on, so that the plant grows up and up, and fills the can with potatoes as it grows. Harvest will consist of tipping the content of the can out and putting the potatoes up for storage. (Note to self: research how to store potatoes)

I selected a russet and a red variety from Johnny’s Selected Seeds here in Maine – and I am trying to be patient until they ship in early April.

While I dream of this:


My garden currently looks like this:


Hopefully my next post will have photos of seeds being started, and photos of my seed packets – the only color in my wintery life right now — and I am clinging to those packets as if my life depended on them. Because sometimes it feels like it does.


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The seedling was a Pierpont, and its parent weighed-in at a whopping 1,196 pounds. And sometime within its first 24 hours in my garden, in the dark of night, a villain stole in, dug in the rich soft dirt, and killed the seedling. Pierpont is gone.


MH the Grower (formerly blogged about as Michael Horst) responded: “It is what it is.” And he gamely went back to the Pinkham Plantation nursery…




…and selected one of the few remaining seedlings left. A Powell, this time. And one whose parent weighed 1,548. A more impressive lineage and perhaps the reward for perseverance.




Another reward for this second attempt was that I was present to document The Planting in complete, possibly excruciating, detail. Let’s start with The Digging of the Hole:




Note the incredibly dark rich organic compost that will be the home of this lucky Powell 1548. (I like naming it that. Alpha + Numeric = the pumpkin version of an R2D2 or a C3PO.)


The hole was dressed with a fertilizer called Bio-Starter, an organic multi-component mix that includes mycorhizzae, a beneficial fungi. Those little white bits? Evidence of the addition of Bio-Starter. Let there be no doubt.


The Hole


Next, one modest tablespoon of Superthrive, mixed with a full gallon of water. Superthrive is a hormone-type plant growth stimulator. Trust that MH the Grower is not interested in cultivating an “Oh, isn’t that a cute little pumpkin!” No, he’s going for a Powell 1548 – an Atlantic Giant. A monster. This is, after all, an entry into the Pumpkinfest Weigh-Off in October, so there’s no messing around. Superthrive it is.




And in it goes, a robust healthy pumpkin seedling with its first set of true leaves, one of which is large and points in the direction that the main stem wants to grow.




And my dog MacKenzie watched from afar, content to be near all of us, happy that she’d found some shade, and not quite certain what all the fuss was about.




MH paid full attention to this leaf and its demonstration of intent. The seedling was planted with the leaf facing the greatest area of open space in the reserved portion of the garden. That vine will have nothing in its way for at least 20 feet. For the purpose of humor, I wish the seedling was facing west, but it isn’t. It’s facing north, and so I must say, “Go north, young seedling! Go north!”


Here’s a photo of the open area, the wide wilderness that the Powell 1548 will explore:




Because this was a do-over, the decision was made to protect the seedling from nighttime marauders. I offered my stash of tomato cages, but that proved both ineffective and silly. MH decided that four stakes, a roll of chicken wire, a length of rope, and a recently unearthed brick would do the trick. Here’s the entire sequence:







And the result:




This photo is comforting to MH and myself, and we hope it is deeply disturbing to the assassins of the night, the ones that care not for infant pumpkins and care more for the grubs, worms, and other burrowing creatures they are certain reside deep in the compost. They will not get the chance to try again. The Powell 1548 is caged. For a day or two, at least. That baby’s gonna grow, and FAST.


Stand back, and stay tuned.



“It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you get back up.”


— George A. Custer, Cavalry Commander (1839 – 1876)



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And so it begins, another rollicking edition of the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta, and I am more than just a delighted spectator this year. I made a grand bargain with neighbor and friend Michael Horst: I’m giving him a sunny 20’ section of my garden and he’s giving me permission to blog about this enterprise to my heart’s content. And, whose heart wouldn’t be content to follow the progress of the growing of an Atlantic Giant pumpkin?!


This event involves the entire community. Adults and children volunteer to grow the pumpkins. The pumpkins are grown and then weighed, prize money is awarded, the pumpkins are deployed throughout the town, and artists decorate them with wild abandon and enthusiasm. Some people turn their giant pumpkins into boats fitted with outboard motors and race them in the harbor. (That’s the “Regatta” part of the event.) Businesses and non-profits support the event, sponsor the artists, organize parades, hire street musicians, arrange for giant slingshots to hurl pumpkins great distances, and set up giant cranes to drop pumpkins from great heights. It is a lively time.


Pumpkinfest takes place over Columbus Day weekend, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This past Sunday was “Seedling Sunday”, when 600 Atlantic Giant pumpkin seedlings were given away to Squashbucklers (formerly known as “Volunteer Growers”). The seedlings were distributed at Pinkham’s Plantation, a local nursery, and the Squashbucklers were also given growing instructions and five gallons of compost to give the tiny plants a healthy start.


Sponsors of the event were present, including the Maine Maritime Museum that arrived in this audacious ride:





Other notables included representatives from the sponsoring Farnsworth Art Museum, the Boothbay Railway Village, and local media personalities.


The real draw for the Squashbucklers, though, was the lure of the seedlings and the expert guidance of the Pumpkin Posse, the volunteers who assist in every phase of this 6-month long event.




Here is what greeted Michael as he entered the greenhouse:




The seedlings are donated by the previous year’s growers, who are ferociously proud of their hefty pumpkins and the genetics that produced them. Each seedling is marked with the grower’s name and the weight of the pumpkin from which the seeds were harvested.


Much like a champion racehorse, you can select your seedling by its breeding and its trainer (grower). This seedling was grown by Powell, and came from a monster weighing 1,355 pounds.



My friend selected a “Gabourey” seedling, and a “Pierpont” seedling, which was grown by last year’s winner of both the Pumpkinfest weigh-off AND set a new record for the state of Maine at 1,727.5 pounds. Michael’s “Pierpont” seedling came from a pumpkin that weighed 1,196 pounds. An impressive bloodline, for sure.




He was instructed by an expert about what to watch for in Vine Direction. The orientation of the fruit to the vine is critical. More on that later.




Michael prepared the planting site in my garden. It has been dug, de-rocked, and a half-yard of fluffy, gorgeous black organic compost is now in place. Soon either the Gabourey or the Pierpont seedling will be planted.


Stay tuned! This blog will carry photos and commentary on all aspects of this particular seedling’s moment in the sun.

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Pretty Peas

What’s Up in the Garden?


Well, not the peas. Yet. They’re doing their thing in the dirt under a blanket of chopped leaves and snow. I’ve planted Sutton’s Harbinger, and Green Arrow, both from Seed Saver’s Exchange.


At the ready, two trellises: one made of mullein stalks, and one made of leftover lattice:





The snow melted in two days (thank you, Lamb-y March), and I’m watching patiently for those first seedlings to emerge.


Seeds are planted in my office, and my greenhouse is bracing for the planting of almost 500 seeds.  Photos and text to come!


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It is a world of imagination, where dreams come true. Where you appreciate the past, look forward to tomorrow, and fill your life with color, form, and fantasy.

Disneyland?   Nope. This magic kingdom is the annual Fedco Tree Sale in Clinton, Maine. If you’re a gardener, this event makes Disneyland pale. Yes, it is that good. Here is how I spent my day in Disneyland – I mean, in the Fedco warehouse:

It started with my placing an order for perennials in the last dark months of 2014. I ordered two roses, 6 yarrow, 3 echinacea, 10 liatris, 6 hollyhocks, 3 lavenders, and 6 butterfly weed. This was a separate order from the seed order I’d placed with Fedco a few weeks earlier. The seeds came to my local food co-op, as they offered their members the opportunity to place a group order and so receive a discount. The idea that a $1.50 packet of seeds required a further discount was almost laughable – but I have learned that Maine and its businesses often surprise me in the nicest way. So I accepted the additional discount with this group order and sent up yet another silent “thank you” to Fedco.

This perennial order was not part of the group order. I could have had the plants shipped to me, but I knew I wouldn’t be ready to put them in the ground for the April delivery. I opted to drive 70 minutes to Clinton to pick them up at the warehouse. What a happy choice that turned out to be!

The day before our planned trip, I received a call from a woman in the warehouse. She wanted to remind me that my order was ready for pick-up, and that I could only come that Friday or Saturday. I said I was counting the minutes until Friday morning, and she laughed. The morning of the pick-up, my GPS wrestled with me, and told me that despite the address on my order pick-up form, the warehouse was NOT in Waterville. Husband suspected it was in Clinton. I called the warehouse to ask if that was true. It was. I told the woman on the phone that I would be there at 10:58. (GPS is nothing if not precise) She laughed. It seems that everyone that works for Fedco is happy.

I had a pleasant drive with Husband on that sunny cool Friday morning in May. As we exited the highway, I saw the blue warehouse, with the huge “SALE” sign out front. We were waved into the parking lot by this gentleman. Sorry kids, but he was much more appealing to me than Mickey. He works for Fedco, and so naturally he was happy:


We pulled into the parking lot…


…,and entered Disneyland for Gardeners. The air was cold in the warehouse and it smelled like wood and green leaves. The first sight was of wheelbarrows filled with damp sawdust, customers waiting patiently holding bare-root fruit trees, and workers wrapping those trees in the sawdust and clear plastic. (And note the milk jug “scoops” in the sawdust — Fedco uses milk jugs creatively. Read on to learn more.) The reason for the long line of customers: the fruit trees were offered at 2 for the price of 1.


Now THIS is a shopping aisle that speaks to me:


There were several areas for shopping. The first was the open warehouse with trees, roses, and shrubs. There was an interior room with small tables and small boxes filled with treasure. One table held tea, garlic, oils, and smudge sticks — hyssop and sage wound with bright string.


Even the signage in this room was true Fedco: The illustration was happy! Who needs Minnie Mouse? I had this gal:


I found medicinal herbs that I’d only read about and have never seen, such as black cohosh, and plants that frequently appear in literature, such as Solomon’s Seal:


Asclepias incarnata? You are indeed the personification of milkweed:


An outside area had more perennials, and yet another use for milk jugs:


Despite having already placed an order for roses and perennials, Husband encouraged me to go into their greenhouse, and I emerged with 4 hot pepper plants for him, and three varieties of thyme for me.

Back into the warehouse, we found grape vines, and Husband immediately made plans for the stand of Nuisance Sumacs (I have just made that an official variety) in our yard. I think he dreams of being a vintner.


I picked up my order, feeling like I’d taken every ride at Disneyland without waiting in any long lines, feeling like I’d emerged from a gift shop with something way better than a Tinker Bell necklace, and feeling once again that I much preferred the company of Mainers to that of really really big stuffed animals. I was happy.

On the way out, we saw this beautiful wreath on the wall. Made of plant labels and a plastic wrap bow, it was the sign pointing me to my own personal World of Tomorrow – a bountiful garden filled with blooms, pollinators, and charmed visitors. I’m working on making it the Happiest Place on Earth. Thank you (again!), Fedco.



“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”

–Plaque above the bridge as you enter the Main Street of Disneyland

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Thank you, Robert Lewis Stevenson.

I embarked on a grand experiment of testing the viability of 9 varieties of highly coveted seeds by using the damp-paper-towel method, and failed. Utterly. While I suspect the fault lies both with the seeds as well as my ham-handed efforts, it was a sobering event. Nothing like abject failure to make that mirror you look in every morning crystal clear. (Although Mr. Stevenson’s remarks have tempered my humiliation with a weency bit of pride for having at least made the attempt.)

I was gifted last fall with 9 baggies of seeds, collected by Generous Friend from her garden. I was delighted, and when I looked at the varieties, I was ecstatic. Some folks covet designer brand clothing, gourmet cookware, gems, or cars. Not me. I saw the package labeled “Salmon Coneflower” and was elated. How much did I want those plants? A lot more than a car, and that’s the truth.

I was a bit concerned when Generous Friend confessed she had collected the seeds when they were wet. My understanding is that is a no-no – the moisture encourages mold – but I was still game. The seeds waited in the bottom drawer of my refrigerator all winter, and I recently took them out, followed instructions found on the Internet for the paper-towel method of testing their viability, and began the attempt. Here is what happened:

I collected my materials. The seeds, baggies, a cookie sheet on which to rest the seed-laden baggies, bleach, a shot glass (for measuring, promise) water, sieve, and a bowl:


Oh. And a diet coke:


The idea is simple: Place some seeds between sheets of dampened paper towels, put the damp towel in a baggie, and watch for 10-14 days. At the end of that time, count how many seeds have sprouted. If you are testing 10 and 8 seeds germinate, then 80% of your seeds are viable. If only 2 germinate, and you still really want to use those seeds, you’d better plan to plant a LOT of seeds to make sure you get enough plants.

Do you really need to see the process of changing dry paper towels to damp ones? No, I’m certain you don’t. However, I took the photos, so here they are:

First, I soaked 9 sheets of paper towel and draped them over a rack in the sink:


As needed, I wrung out each towel and brought it over to my worktable to place my seeds:



The next step was a cautionary one: dip the seeds in a mild water-bleach solution to kill any mold on them. I quickly replaced my large-mesh sieve with a more delicate one. I was in danger of losing the bitty seeds to the bottom of the bleach bowl:


The seeds I was most eager the germinate, the salmon-colored coneflowers, were of course in the bag showing the most humidity:


I was undeterred. I shredded the seed head on a dry paper towel, and prepared to count out the 25 seeds I’d decided to germinate for each variety.



Then I arranged the seeds on the damp paper towel, in neat rows. Easier to count and keep track of that way, I reasoned:


Here is a damp paper towel, loaded with 25 seeds ready for the bag. Note that I put the seeds on one half of the towel, so I could fold the other half over the seeds:


I folded the towel and slid it into a baggie. Each baggie was labeled, and as instructed, I left a small gap in the seal so that the seeds had some ventilation:




And then I placed the cookie sheet in a warm place, covered it so that the seeds were kept in the dark, and checked the seeds every day so that I wasn’t kept in the dark. After 14 days, I had a very puny result: 1 rudbeckia seed germinated and 1 bee balm seed germinated.  How good is your eyesight?  I promise you, there is a seed germinating in each of the photos below.



Am I discouraged? A bit. Am I defeated? Nope. Am I still grateful to Generous Friend? You bet! My plan now is to plant my garden, and leave some clear welcoming soil for the remaining seeds. I will plant them, and give them a shot. Who knows?

Perhaps these seeds were the DIY variety, the ones not eager to accept a helping hand, the ones that wanted to launch on their own. Maybe Generous Neighbor had given me 9 baggies of Teenagers. You never know.

Mr. Stevenson declares that I should evaluate myself by the seeds I plant and not by the harvest I reaped. By that measure, I did well. I’ll take that assessment, thank you.


“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

― Robert Louis Stevenson, author (1850-1894)

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Planning the Garden

We have moved and things are different. Our mortgage is gone. Our taxes are halved. And my garden has doubled.

I left behind a 40’ x 50’ garden in New York, and now I have a 100’ x 180’ garden in Maine. I had better plan this carefully.

Here is a photo of the sketch Husband did of the area I will be working on this year. The scale: 1” = 10’.


The rectangular shapes are stone walls, and the poofy swirls are trees.

From left to right, starting in the back: that smaller rectangular area has woods to the back and our neighbor’s field to the left (northeast). My plan is for this smaller area to have sunflowers, herbs, a seat for quiet contemplation, lots of fragrance, and lots of butterflies.

The larger area to the right will be the flower garden, with the wooded area at the far-right becoming the shade garden.

The area in the left foreground will have the orchard (we have apple, peach, and pear trees coming on April 30th!), and that circular area is the base of a silo. I’m thinking of a rose-covered arbor across the back half of that curve.

How will I tackle this enormous area? Here are my first thoughts:

Step 1. Don’t plan to do too much this first year.
Because we are starting two new businesses, which includes Husband’s art gallery and studio, and a rental apartment above the studio, and because we are having the outside of the house painted in the spring, I cannot plant everything I would like this first year.

I will not be planning or planting anything that is next to the house. I’m going to let the painters come and go as they will, trample anything they want, and I will not be biting my fist in an attempt to stop screaming. I will let this area go entirely.

I have planned 11 flowerbeds out in the back field, and I will be happy if I get 4 of those beds up and running this year.

Step 2: Know the enemy — earth.
What is under that lovely dark, formerly-a-horse-farm soil that I have out back? Is it rich dark loam, enriched over the years by those long-gone horses? Or is it one or two inches of dirt sitting on top of rock ledge? We have lots of granite rearing up that we can see, and that I’m already planning to use as flooring or backdrop for seating in the garden.

But the rest of that vast expanse….will I be able to dig beds there, or will I be begging Husband to supervise the construction of 11 raised beds?

Husband prefers I dig into the ground rather than go to the expense of building raised beds. So as soon as the ground thaws (April?) we will be out there with a metal spike and a mallet, and will tap our way across the field, trying to determine how deep the soil is. We will be graphing the underground lay of the land.

Step 3: Put my thoughts on paper.
Done. I filled several pages in my notebook with lists of the plants I wanted, with the goal of having something blooming all season long. Here’s a look at one corner of one page:


Step 4: Shuffle the cards, and stack the “beds”.
After I write, I need to see. I wrote the name of each plant on an index card, and borrowed Husband’s colored pencils to mark the color of the bloom. Here are the pencils he so graciously loaned me:


I mixed and shuffled and reshuffled these cards for days and days. I wanted the tallest of the plants at the top of the stack, with the spring-bulbs at the bottom. Once I was happy with the 11 stacks of cards, I taped them together so that I could then move the “beds” around and arrange them.


And here’s a closer look at a few of the “beds” I have planned:




I am planning to scatter shade-loving woodland plants under the trees at the southeast corner of the garden. While I have these gathered into a “bed” stack, I’m going to plant them individually. Here’s what I’ve chosen:


Step 5: Know the enemy – roots
I want a bed of mints, which means I need to plan ahead to thwart the invasive roots of these plants. I figured I would gang them up in one area, and install some kind of gulag around them. I’m planning to have monarda didyma to welcome the hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, and flank it with lemon balm, and mint. While I wanted peppermint and spearmint specifically, I now know that mint plants do not produce true from seed, and so my seed packet is labeled, humbly, “Common Mint.” If I want specific mints, I will have to buy plants. I may do that.


Step 6: Think tall.
I ordered some shrubs, trees, and plants from FedCo, a cooperative seed and garden supply company in Waterville, Maine. My neighbors rave about them. My garden heroes (Barbara Damrosch, for one) recommend them. FedCo offers the plants and shrubs and trees that I want, and their catalog is jammed with wonderful advice. And their prices are astounding. I had to exercise enormous restraint when filling out my order form. I got all of my taller plants from them.


Step 7: Know the enemy – Odocoileus virginianus and Meteagris gallopava silvestris.
These super villains have secret identities: white-tailed deer and Eastern wild turkeys. They have free run of the place when my dogs are inside.

I need to keep the deer out of my garden at night, and the turkeys out of the garden during the day. I have considered and rejected installing an electric fence. I am concerned, of course, with the safety of our garden’s guests, but truthfully, the most likely casualty of an electric fence ZAP would be me. I tend to look down when I am in the garden, and I’m certain I would walk directly into that fence daily.

The plan, for now, is to buy yards and yards and yards of deer netting, and fasten it to the trees on 3 sides of the garden. If that isn’t effective, I will add a 4th stretch of netting across the house-side of the garden, and will add another chore to the daily list: walking the “4th wall” across the garden and fastening it at the end of each day. I will be, I guess, tucking my garden in for the night.

And so there you have it, my Plan to-date. What’s next? My favorite task of the year: Making soil cubes and planting seeds. That will happen in mid-March, and I am counting the days.

This last plan solves T.S. Eliot’s dark observation of the despair and frustration gardeners feel each April: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”

My plan is to thwart cruel April by tending my seedlings inside. When May comes, I will have my memories of gardens past, and my desire answered by the seedlings. I will be ready.

Stay tuned.

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I am starting to say good-bye. My garden is part of my very essence. We came to this home five years ago: a lovely house, and an untended yard. Husband built me a 50 X 40′ garden on a south-facing slope. It was perfectly positioned, with rich, black soil. We planted, tended, harvested, and breathed. Here is how this garden fed me, body and soul for the last 5 years.

2009: The grass is removed, the borders are defined, and the deer fencing is up.

2009: The grass is removed, the borders are defined, and the deer fencing is up.

The trellises are in place, the paths are lined with newspaper to suppress weeds and covered in straw to please the eye.

The trellises are in place, the paths are lined with newspaper to suppress weeds and covered in straw to please the eye.

After one year, I’d settled in, and 2010 was the most spectacular year in the garden. I had enough time on the weekends and during the week to tend to the garden. I planted, experimented, harvested, stored, shared, and reveled.

2010: Lush!

2010: Lush!

Here are a few of my favorite crops:

Good Mother Stallard beans are an heirloom variety of dry shelling bean.  I love working in the hot summer garden to have something delicious to eat in the frozen winter.

Good Mother Stallard beans are an heirloom variety of a dry shelling bean. I love working in the hot summer garden to have something delicious to eat in the frozen winter.

Good Mother Stallard beans, shelled.  A feast for the eyes, too!

Good Mother Stallard beans, shelled. A feast for the eyes, too!

Broccoli, dicicco, the Italian variety.  I preferred this variety and the Lacinato variety of kale, as both were sweeter and lighter in presentation than their American counterparts.

Broccoli, the Italian variety. I preferred this variety and the Lacinato variety of kale, as both were sweeter and lighter in presentation than their American counterparts.

I chose flowers, herbs, and vegetables for many reasons. One of the most delightful was to attract pollinators:

The buddelia bushes attract everything with wings.  It is living art.

The buddelia bushes attract everything with wings. It is living art.

Bumblebee on Marigold.  I'm also happy to report that in the last 5 years, I've seen the population of honeybees increase significantly.

Bumblebee on Marigold. I’m also happy to report that in the last 5 years, I’ve seen the population of honeybees increase significantly.

I experimented with different techniques in planting, staking, and harvesting. My favorite exploration was with the Florida Weave: a method of staking tomato plants that supports their branches at regular intervals by weaving string between posts.

The first row of string supports the new plant.

The first row of string supports the new plant.

I did battle with pests. Let’s start with the insect variety. I learned that products that show the initials OMRI on the label are environmentally safe to use. I used Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew to rescue my brassicas from the ravages of moth larvae:

BEFORE:  Ravaged kale.

BEFORE: Ravaged kale.

AFTER:  The recovery was dramatic.

AFTER: The recovery was dramatic.

I did epic battle with chipmunks. The little varmints discovered my delicious, young bean plants one year, and completely wiped me out.

The growing vines were cleanly nipped, and the plants never recovered that year.  NO GREEN BEANS. Disaster.

The growing vines were cleanly nipped, and the plants never recovered that year. NO GREEN BEANS. Disaster.

I spent the summer trapping and releasing (miles away) 37 chipmunks.  MacKenzie was interested in this process.

I spent the summer trapping and releasing (miles away) 37 chipmunks. MacKenzie was interested in this process.

I discovered and used fabulous tools. My favorites:

Compost Turner:  Insert deeply into compost, turn, and lift.  The compost is fluffed and aerated.  I admit it, only a Garden Geek would find this thrilling.

Compost Turner: Insert deeply into compost, turn, and lift. The compost is fluffed and aerated. I admit, only a Garden Geek would find this thrilling.

The broadfork.  It aerates the soil without disturbing the tilth.  Place, step down, rock back, remove.  Again, thrilling.

The broadfork. It aerates the soil without disturbing the tilth. Place, step down, rock back, remove. Again, thrilling!

I made cloches out of milk jugs to get a jump-start on the growing season. I cut off the bottom of the jugs, cut a hole in the handle, pressed a stake through the handle into the earth, and made a mini-greenhouse around delicate seedlings. My neighbor asked if I was growing a crop of heavy cream. 🙂

Pea plants are sprouting under those jugs.

Pea plants are sprouting under those jugs.

I took great delight in starting seeds indoors and Husband made me gorgeous wooden seed trays. Like everything he puts his mind to, the results were both functional and beautiful:

3 out of 8 trays: Pre-polyurethane.

3 out of 8 trays: Pre-polyurethane.

The trays in place, by my office window.

The trays in place, by my office window.

Another fabulous tool is the soil-block press. This particular one makes four 2″ square cubes at a time. These cubes allow the seedlings to grow without becoming root bound.

The first soil cubes go into the tray.  Ready for planting!

The first soil cubes go into the tray. Ready for planting!

I had bountiful harvests. We ate like kings, I had more than enough to share, and I tried my hand at canning. An enormous amount of work up-front, but we reaped the rewards all winter long. Another benefit of canning: you do not fear power outtages and losing an entire harvest in the defrosted freezer. Here are a few photos of the bounty:

A basket of beans next to a heavily laden zinnia.

A basket of beans next to a heavily laden zinnia.

Harvested green, because frost threatened that night.  These were wrapped in newspaper to ripen, and made into sauce.

Harvested green, because frost threatened that night. These were wrapped in newspaper to ripen, and made into sauce.

Too many tomatoes to can immediately?  I froze them, and canned at my leisure.  They resembled bags filled with croquet balls!

Too many tomatoes to can immediately? I froze them, and canned at my leisure. They resembled bags filled with croquet balls!

Garlic, hanging to dry.

Garlic, hanging to dry.

Jar after jar of pickles.  Dill and sweet!

Jar after jar of pickles. Dill and sweet!

Jalapeno peppers, the Dulce (sweet/mild) variety.  I froze many and canned even more.

Jalapeno peppers, the Dulce (sweet/mild) variety. I froze many and canned even more.

I took the overflow into my office on a regular basis. Here is one morning’s offering:

This was in 2010, so to my 2012-13 office-mates, please forgive!  I was growing flowers almost exclusively during my time with you.

This was in 2010, so to my 2012-13 office-mates, please forgive! I was growing flowers almost exclusively during my time with you.

I experimented with craft projects from my gardens. Two of my favorites:

Ristra peppers became...

Ristra peppers became…

...a curtain of sorts.  I harvested enough to make curtains for both windows.  They dried, and were a cheery decoration that looked especially nice during the holidays!

…a curtain of sorts. I harvested enough to make curtains for both windows. They dried, and were a cheery decoration that looked especially nice during the holidays!

And then there were the decorative gourds that became bird houses:

I dried them until you could hear the seeds rattling inside.

I dried them until you could hear the seeds rattling inside.

I used a dremel to grind a hole, tapped out the innards, brushed them with polyurethane and hung them to dry.

I used a dremel to grind a hole, tapped out the innards, brushed them with polyurethane and hung them to dry.

And yes, we had birds move in!

I had the Summer of the Snakes. 2011 was the year when Black Rat snakes made frequent appearances, getting tangled in deer netting, and tangling our heart strings. Husband and I rescued 4 and had to bury two. It was emotional, more than a little unnerving, and ultimately gratifying to see the survivors slide away. MacKenzie was a little too interested in these events, and was banished inside the house.

Going back to where he belongs.

Going back to where he belongs.

Banished MacKenzie, broken-hearted at being removed from all the fun.

Banished MacKenzie, broken-hearted at being removed from all the fun.

Of course, the most wonderful part of having a garden is sharing it. No one shared it more regularly, and with so much enthusiasm as my dogs. Gordon, Puppy Extreme, sometimes was a little too enthusiastic, and had to be banished, for the safety of the seedlings:

On the wrong side of the fence.

On the wrong side of the fence.

And sweet MacKenzie just wanted to be near me. As long as a bed wasn’t planted, I had no objection to her using it as, well, a bed.

MacKenzie warms the soil, prior to planting.

MacKenzie warms the soil, prior to planting.

All of these topics have been discussed in past posts. You can find more info and more photos by searching for key words/phrases.

My beautiful garden. I am leaving you! I hear the new owners are thrilled with what they saw when they came to see the house, and I hope they feel about this small patch of soil as I do:

It is a place of beauty, food, scent, and solace. I hope to carry what I have learned and felt to my new garden, one gardening zone north, and a whole new Life away.

“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”

–Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) British horticulturist, garden designer, writer

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I am gardening by the thermometer and tradition this year, rather than by the calendar. My Good Neighbor always told me that St. Patrick’s Day was the traditional day to plant peas, but for the past three years, I worried that the ground was too cold, the weather too damp, and the Fates just not conducive to planting so early. So I waited for the calendar to turn at least one more page.

Not this year. It has been so warm that I almost wonder if I am planting my peas too late! I planted them on St. Patrick’s Day this year, pleasing both Neighbor and my common sense.

Three varieties this year, to mature early, mid- and late:

The early variety is from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and is “Premium.” The vines grow up to 30″ and may be grown with or without support. This year I plan to try using brush to support the vines, again with Neighbor’s advice to guide me.

The mid-season variety is “Sienna,” also from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and I’m told that the vines are relatively short but set heavily for a high yield potential. I am hoping this encouraging description comes true!

The late variety is “Green Arrow,” from the Seed Saver’s Exchange. Besides the later maturation, these peas are smaller than Premium and Sienna, and bear 1-3 more peas per pod. All attractive qualities.

As I did last year, to thwart the marauding chipmunks, I planted my peas and then covered them with recycled milk jugs. These homely-but-effective cloches provide a bit of warmth and a lot of camouflage for the emerging plants. Once the peas are a few inches high, I will remove the cloches, and replace the jugs’ anchoring sticks with brush or some other form of support.

Here is the start of my 2012 Pea Garden:

It was astounding both to Husband and myself that I still don’t have enough milk jugs. I have about 15 seeds planted, but not covered. They are marked with small rocks, to cover as soon as we drink our way through gallons of milk. I am setting out a box of Carnation Instant Breakfast on the kitchen counter as a subtle hint for family members.

Once the peas are established and the jugs are removed, I will only be a few weeks away from putting the jugs back into service to cover my bush green beans and shelling beans.

Ending this post with a few Fun Facts About Peas (because you can never have too many Fun Facts):

-The United Kingdom is the largest producer of peas that are used for freezing, in Europe.

-One serving of freshly frozen peas has more vitamin C than two large apples.

-In 1533, Catherine de Medici supposedly took Italian peas, known as “piselli novelli,” to France when she married Henry II.

-In the 19th and 20th centuries, the thick London fogs were called “pea-soupers” because of their incredible thickness (density) and their slightly green color.

– Clarence Birdseye froze the first peas in the 1920’s.

-Janet Harris holds the world record for eating peas. In 1984, 7175 peas were consumed one by one in 60 minutes using chopsticks.

Source: http://www.bioweb.uwlax.edu, a collaborative website produced by faculty members of the University of Wisconsin.


“Field pea (Pisum sativum, L.) was among the first crops cultivated by man. Some say the word “pea” came from Sanskrit; however, most concur that the Latin pisum, resembling the older Greek pisos or pison, is the true origin of the word. The Anglo-Saxon word became pise or pisu, and later in English, “pease”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, by 1600 the last two letters were dropped because people believed the word was plural, forming the singular “pea” that we know today.”

— Best Cooking Pulses, Inc.

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Beautiful Trays

They could just as easily have been discarded cookie sheets.

Instead, when I confessed to Husband that I am both greedy and cheap, and so wanted EIGHT trays for my soil cubes (that I use to plant seeds), and I didn’t want to pay for cookie sheets, he said, “Hmm, hmm, hmm.”

Translation: He’s about to make something for me.

He disappeared into the workshop, and later that day, presented me with a beautiful tray:

And then I learned the best news of all. There were 8 beautiful trays:

“Now you just have to polyurethane-the-heck out of them,” he said. (Except he didn’t say “heck.”) The polyurethane is to waterproof the trays; necessary, as I will be loading them up with moist blocks of potting mix: a blend of compost, sand, soil, and amendments. I was delighted. I would indeed treat them like heck.

Enter the tools:

In this photo: MinWax, polyurethane supreme; a screwdriver to open the lid, a brush for the poly, and a hammer to tap the lid back down.

And so I started:

The tack cloth removed the dust created from assembly. It's pink!

Then I applied the first of 4 coats of polyurethane:

I love how the polyurethane darkens the color of the wood and brings out the grain.

It took several days. Husband and I took turns applying the coats, flipping the trays over, until all were completely sealed against the damp.

Then came the day to bring them back into the house, and place them on the seed rack by my office window. Look how pretty:

And two more views:

And so, the garden of 2012 began weeks earlier than I expected. I thought my Starting Pistol would fire on March 20th, when I mixed the potting soil, set the formed cubes on rusty cookie sheets, and planted my peppers and thyme seeds. Instead, I had the great fun of helping to finish the beautiful trays for the soil cubes 4 weeks earlier. I was reminded of the quote that appears in “Words From Others,” appreciating once again Mr. Wright’s crystal clear reality. I was very willing to start my walking early, and look what I found at the end of the journey!

Almost a shame to fill these trays with dirt. (Except that this dirt is going to be GORgeous!)


Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.

— Steven Wright, American comedian, actor (1955- )

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