Tuesday, December 29

Custom Seed Packets

Why not make your own seed packets?

Now that I'm saving seeds that (hopefully) will grow next year, I needed some way to box them up as nice little packets. So I created my own seed packet template. Feel free to use it, just paste or draw a photo of the plant on the back, and fill in the information on the front. Circle the water and sunlight requirements and record the height, depth, spacing, year and variety.

Click on the thumbnail to view full-sized image and print it out or copy it. Photos of the finished product finally here!

Tuesday, November 17

Pumpkin Petit Fours

Why not?

This is a Pumpkin Spice cookie recipe, made into a sheet pan and cut into pumpkin shapes. They've been frosted with a basic powdered-sugar icing (some were given a spice glaze as well).

Wednesday, November 11

Seasonal Gifts?

I have been trying to come up with some new ideas for gifts this year. Things that are consumable or reusable and not just "stuff".

A few years ago, gifts in a jar were all the rage, but it's not incredibly special to just layer the ingredients, right? Why not take this a step further and do some sand art? It isn't difficult if you have a little patience, some small measuring spoons, a bamboo skewer, and a sense of humor.

First, an online video showing how an artist in Petra, Jordan, creates images in sand.

Simple, right?!

My first attempt, making a pine tree from the Mexican Spice mix. I highly recommend you make a lot of practice attempts, perhaps while mixing up enough spices for your own consumption, because it isn't incredibly easy, and you'll need to play around with it. Also, I suggest you don't forget an ingredient (like I did with the corn starch - you can see it piled up on the top). Pick out a design that is simple, and hide the unneeded colors in the middle of the jar for 'filler' - the chili powder and red pepper are stuffed in the middle of this jar since the design didn't have any red in it.

Simple holiday designs could include:
Snowman, Tree, Christmas Tree Ornament, Star, Candle, Candy Cane - if you're ambitious try a scene or a decorated tree? Please let me know how yours turn out if you make these.

Mexican Spice Mix
3/4 cup dried minced onion OR 1/4 cup onion powder
1/4 cup chili powder
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons dried red pepper, crushed
1 Tablespoon oregano
2 Tablespoons dried minced garlic
2 Tablespoons ground cumin

add 2 Tablespoons mix and 1/2 cup water to 1 lb browned, drained, ground beef, heat through until water mostly boils off.

Spaghetti Spice Mix
1/2 Tablespoon celery seed
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
1 Tablespoon dried basil
1 Tablespoon dried minced garlic
1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
2 Tablespoons dried minced onions OR 2 teaspoons onion powder

Add 1 Tablespoon mix per 1 cup spaghetti sauce.

Monday, November 9

Maple-Pecan cookies

A favorite fall cookie here, these are best when made with real maple syrup.

1 1/2 cups butter, soft
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed firm
2 eggs
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 cups flour
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

semi-sweet or dark melting chocolate (optional)

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and syrup until combined. Beat in flour and pecans (you may need to finish by hand, some mixers will bind with the stiff dough).

Chill dough 1-2 hours to ease handling.

Roll into 1/4 inch thick slab and cut out cookies. Bake at 375° F for 10-14 minutes, or until browned on edges. Cool on wire racks.

Dip cooled cookies into melted chocolate, if desired.

I prefer using a small oak leaf cutter and an acorn cutter (dipping the acorn tops in chocolate for a cap). The smaller cookies are addictive, though, since it's so tiny, it must have only a couple calories. Be sure to let them bake until you see bits of brown on the edges. The additional browning adds a wonderful toasty flavor, although they have a good shortbread-like flavor when just barely baked.

Saturday, October 24

Clean up has begun

The last of the carrots are still in the ground, and will be dug up as weather permits over the next couple months. (freezing temps seem to improve carrot flavor, I think) Everything else is long gone.

The tomato bed has been dismantled today, the rotting fruits are in the compost bin, along with vines, some grass clipping mulch, and a good portion of mud that was mixed in. If I leave the tomatoes in the garden, I'll be weeding tomato plants next year (they are tenacious buggers, too) . I should probably dig up the beans also, since a lot of those went to seed and I don't want volunteer beans next year either.

Still haven't found any onions that I planted from seed. I may probe into the bed and see if there's something in there. If there's nothing, I won't feel bad about tilling the bed, but I'd really hate to lose all those onions if they're hiding in the weeds.

Sometime this week, when the weather is good, the whole garden will be hit with round-up and weed-whacked. I'm sure there are a few million weed seeds in there - if I get ambitious, I might try burning the weeds. Or just deal with it like I do every year - pull weeds.

The bad news...
The vintner who picks our elderberries told us there's a poison ivy patch invading the corner of our property. This is an interesting dilemma for me - I have never reacted to poison ivy, and thus never learned what it looks like. So I have spent every available moment in the last week surfing the web for photographs and hiking back there to locate the poison ivy. No luck. Hopefully K will have some time to come back and show me where it is. Thanks for small blessings, if anyone should clear out poison ivy it should be the person who doesn't react to it, right?!

The consensus of my web search says that I should find the point where the plants roots are, cut it off at the root & mark the location this fall. Then, next spring hit the young sprouts with herbicide (round-up) every time it tries to leaf out. I'll be wearing a disposable coverall and gloves to gather up the vines, just because I haven't reacted doesn't mean I'm willing to gamble!


Monday, October 19

Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies

What would you do with some extra baking apples? These cookies have been adapted from a standard oatmeal-raisin recipe, and turned out well. I've added comments on substitutions that I made.

1/2 cup butter (or margarine)
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1_1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
3 cups oats
1 cup apple pieces (or dried apple pieces, with sufficient water to moisten)
1 cup caramel bits

Heat oven to 350 F.
Cream butter, shortening, and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well. Combine flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon - add to wet ingredients and mix well. Stir in oats, apples, and caramel bits.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheet. Bake 12 - 15 minutes or until golden. Allow to set on cookie sheet for 1 minute after removing from oven, then cool on wire rack.

Substitutions I have successfully made:
Applesauce for 1/2 the fat
Hot cider mix for granulated sugar

If you cannot find caramel bits, unwrap caramel squares and freeze, then crush with a mallet.

Wednesday, September 30

Harvest Basket / Garden Hod Project

For several years, I've seen advertisements for the "Original Maine Garden Hod", which is a harvest basket with wooden ends and wire mesh bottom and sides. The ads state that this is a design adapted from clam hods, allowing to rinse the contents of the basket without removing them from the basket itself. In essence, this is a large-scale strainer for garden produce.

Searching various supply houses, the cheapest I could find these baskets is $30 (not including shipping), and many companies are selling them for $50. With all due respect to the sellers, these look like wonderful baskets, but I'm not able to part with $30-$50. Additionally, I know several gardeners who would rejoice in receiving a gift of a harvest basket, but again, my budget does not have room for the price.

I'd like to make my own version of the hod, so I started a little search online and came up with a fellow blogger's instructions. I like her dimensions, but her design doesn't fit my needs very well. For starters, I need to be able to carry it with one hand, so we need to add a handle. I also like the coated wire mesh of the original version, and I'd prefer to have cedar or redwood for the ends, since it's likely to be very wet.

The Farmchick blog has some clever features - using small feet on the bottom to keep the mesh off of other surfaces, 1x2 side rails for strength and attaching the mesh, and a good overall dimension.

Searching for other plans online, I came across a generic tool caddy project at Lowes online. I think the two plans will serve as a good starting point for my new garden hod.

Essentially, I need to take the ends and handle of the Lowes caddy, and round off the bottom corners. Then I'll add side rails, coated hardware cloth, and feet, as instructed by the Farmchick blog.
Rough dimensions I'm using are 5" high x 9" wide x 16" long for the 'basket' part, (the handle will be 8" high overall). Ends will be cut from cedar or redwood lumber, and sanded to round off edges. The mesh will be 5/8" hardware cloth coated with PVC or Vinyl and stapled in place (If you want to get fancy, you could route a nice channel in the end pieces for the wire to fit into.) The handle will be a 1x2, as will the side rails.

I made a mock-up in cardboard, to get a feel for the size... keep in mind the sides will be almost an inch thick and there will be a handle on top (1x2, not the 3/4" round as drawn on the cardboard.)

Since I'm all for "saving the earth" (and, I'm cheap), I'll be searching craigslist, for sale classifieds, and the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore to find scrap cedar, redwood, etc. Photos of the project will follow as I build them...
Update 1/21/2010...
The completed project can be found here.

Seed tapes

Some people swear by seed tapes - biodegradable tape with specific (usually tiny or difficult to handle) seeds embedded at regular intervals to eliminate the need for thinning the sprouts. Commercial seed tapes can be expensive compared to loose seed, and are limited in varieties available - usually the most popular hybrids. Fortunately, seed tapes are easy to make.

Start by cutting strips of paper - we recycle grocery bags, food packaging, and other food-safe scraps. I like to keep the tapes narrow (1/2" to 1" wide), but you can make them any size you wish.

Mix a little flour and water to make a basic flour paste and dab the paste every so often along the tape. Set a ruler on your work surface for easy reference. Use the seed package "thin to xxx" measurement for the spacing of the seeds.

Place a seed on every spot of paste - if you keep the flour dots the same size as the seeds, you can save time by dusting the tape with seed and shaking off the excess for the next tape. Lightly press the seeds into the paste to ensure adhesion.

Allow the paste to dry, label, roll and store the seed tapes as you would other seed. At planting time, dig a furrow in the soil, unroll the tape (cutting to length if it is longer than your row) and cover with soil at the desired depth. Water well. The paper will rot away over time, and the seeds will sprout at the correct spacing.

What seeds are the best candidates for seed tapes?
  • row crops
  • small seeds
  • expensive seeds or those in limited quantity
  • direct-sow crops
How else can you use this technique?
  • Pre-set border plantings
  • Intersperse two types of lettuce or carrots for the same row to facilitate succession planting
  • Save time planting in spring - make tapes in the winter, then unroll, bury, and grow
  • Create a pattern or design of plants on a larger scale using the entire grocery bag or newspapers (avoid newsprint for food crops)
  • 'Plant-able' tags and cards for gifts or party favors
  • Paper flower bouquets that will grow
  • Container planting disks for herb collections
  • Garden gifts for children with colorful paper cutouts of vegetables to identify the seed
  • Allow persons with limited dexterity to plant seeds that are otherwise unmanageably small
I'll post more photos of the alternate projects as I get them done.

Monday, September 28

Saving Tomato Seeds

Tomato seeds from open-pollinated varieties can be saved from year to year. Pick some of the best fruit from the most productive vines, scoop out the seeds and slime from the cavities and put it into a jar. Let the jar sit outside for a few days until there is a layer of mold growing on top (it will stink!), then rinse the seeds off in a sieve, picking out all the mold and scum that is mixed in. Finally, let the seeds dry (use something non-porus, or you'll never get the seeds separated from the surface).

I use canning jars, and let the mold grow with a little scrap of paper towel tied over the top to keep bugs out of the jar.

When the seeds are drying, I mix in a couple drops of food color so I can identify one variety vs another next spring. The photo shows blue-dyed seeds from Oxheart tomatoes. After they air-dry, I'll put some silica gel into the container and let them dry out for a week that way (this will reduce the moisture content to ~5%-8% and prevent mold growth over time). Then, transfer the dry seeds to a sealed container without the silica gel, as I don't want them to dry out too much). The seeds should last many years, some sources say up to 10 years.

Filberts - in spite of the wildlife

In spite of the critters who beat me to the nuts, I managed to harvest a handful of filberts (Hazelnuts, if you prefer). Not many, but the bushes are filling in nicely and we should have a thick hedge in a few years. (I couldn't find my nut cracker immediately, so I brought out the next best thing)

The crop would probably have been better harvested a week ago or even two weeks ago, but I had completely forgotten about them until mowing the lawn when I spied a few ripe nuts on the grass near the shrubs.

Hazelnuts are a favorite of lots of animals - deer will eat both the young branches and the nuts. Squirrels and ground squirrels will devour the nuts. I've seen some bluejays in the bushes, perhaps they like the nuts as well? The plant is native to this area, which helps with the low maintenance and hardiness. They'll grow to be about 10 feet tall, and fill in as wide as we let them (new suckers show up every year, even through landscape fabric).

We have two plantings of American hazelnut - one large group back in the thicket towards the far corner of the property (planted the DNR seedlings a couple years ago, many survived) and another group of three along the side of the property, eventually screening us from the neighbors. The hope is that the large planting will attract most of the critters and the small planting will be saved for the humans.

Saturday, September 26

The finished cakes

By popular request.... the finished cakes.

Someone had commented that the purple carrot cake looked like dirt, so I frosted it as a little 'grassy knoll' with chocolate flowers and bug birthday candles. As you can see, the orange batter displaced the purple, creating a center core of orange - weird, but tasty!

And, of course, the Lego minifig - I think the colors came out pretty accurate, actually. I can see this guy being dressed up for many occasions throughout the year.

Yes, this is all cream cheese icing, the glossy effect was achieved by dipping a butter knife in warm water and smoothing out the frosting.

Friday, September 25

What happens when you bake purple carrots?

The pressing question on everyone's mind tonight is whether purple carrots revert to orange when cooked. purple beans turn green, so the color change is a valid hypothesis.

For the experiment, four Purple Rain carrots were shredded & added to 1/3 of the carrot cake batter (I was too lazy to pick enough for two full batches & needed a 'control' cake of orange carrots, anyways. The batter was divided prior to adding carrots, so as to eliminate cross-contamination.

One cake was made using the control batter (Lego Minifig, for fans of the building blocks). he purple batter was poured into a pyrex casserole, since the muffin pan was still in the dishwasher.

Remaining orange batter was layered onto the purple in the pyrex, creating a two-toned effect in the cake. The trimmed piece from the bottom of the round pyrex cake illustrates both orange and purple batter - the purple carrots leeched color into the surrounding batter and the end result is a muddy, deep blue color that looks rather awful in the photo.

The two-tone cake - this is the cutoff from the 'top' to level the cake. I hate to say it, but the purple carrots make it look moldy. After I finish the frosting tomorrow, I'll post a photo of a slice of the cake. Haven't decided upon a color for the frosting.

The Lego minifig turned out quite nicely - I'm getting to be a fan of these silicone cake molds, now that I've learned how to use them a little better & don't get the batter stuck in them as often. This guy will be frosted tomorrow and brought to a friend's party, because you can never have enough Lego, right?!

Tuesday, September 22

Pepper abuse

Interesting note I found in the margins of Keeping the Harvest (p 143):
Give pepper plants a warm soil (they'll only sit and shiver in temperatures under 55F), a lot of moisture, a good compost base, and a mulch only when the soil is well warmed, but go light on the lime - and hold the nitrogen. Peppers thrive when they are crowded and placed in your poorest soil.

If this is true, then the neglect of this year is precisely why I have a good crop of peppers. I'll have to remember this in the future, and plant twice as many pepper plants in the same space.


Wednesday, September 16

Mid - September ... time to start saving seeds again

This past March, I purchased 15 pelleted "Explorer Blue" Petunia seeds from Johnny's for $3.95. I started 15 seeds (even had a few bonus seeds in the packet), and with minimal effort, had 5 plants sprout. A germination rate of 30% are remarkably good for me, considering how poorly I treat my seedlings, letting them dry out half the time, and that Petunias are 'new-to-me' plants.
Now, the blooms are still going strong, but the older blooms have begun to fade and dry up. It is time to collect the swollen seed pods, harvest the seeds, and store them for next spring. The seed pods are teardrop-shaped buds that are left after the flowers fade and the petals fall off. Once the pods are dry, pinch them off. Some, like the pod on the right, below, will begin to crack open and release the seeds (the tiny black specks, below). At this point, the seeds should be ripe and ready to harvest.

'Explorer Blue' is a hybrid petunia, so the seeds may or may not germinate, and may or may not be blue, but it's worth the effort. I'll run a germination test on some of the seeds over the next few weeks to see if they're sterile (some hybrids do not produce viable seeds), and if something sprouts, we'll try it out next season. If not, no big loss. Mesh wedding favor bags from a craft store are perfect for saving seeds - they have drawstring closures that hold snugly around stems, a fine mesh that keeps even the tiniest of seeds contained, and synthetic material that won't soak and retain moisture, preventing rot. The bags are inexpensive (less than $1 each for 3"x4" size), and come in many colors if you wish to color code your seed collections.

If you want to be lazy, tie a large bag around a stem and just wait for the whole stem to ripen fully, then break it off and collect the seeds - remember any flowers that need insects to pollinate won't be accessible once the bag is tied shut. If you don't like the look of a bag tied around your flowers while you still have summer visitors in the garden, just collect several seed pods by hand, dropping them into the bag, or shaking the stems over the open bag to collect seeds that fall out.

Seeds collected today:
  • Explorer Blue Petunia
  • Bachelor Buttons
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Blackeyed Susan

Sunday, August 30


I guess "everbearing" is the correct term. Just picked six strawberries from my rock-wall plants (not the Lipstick hybrid that was pulled and killed off, but the regular 'wild' strawberries) They're tiny, like all 'wild' strawberries are, but tasty. Yesterday's dreary weather must have kept the chipmunks from stealing these.


Saturday, August 29

Peaches - part 2

The remaining 22 edible peaches were harvested this week, providing enough fruit for freezer jam (18 peaches = 4 cups peeled/pitted/crushed fruit). Another two dozen bug-ridden fruits should have been picked sooner, but I'll learn better next time and they won't end up in the compost bin.

The plan next year is to take off work a day or two in August / September and actually can the peaches properly (jam, pie filling, fruit). This will depend upon the harvest, but I have great hopes for the little tree.


Late August Harvest

Peppers. I've never had good luck with bell peppers, at most getting two or three anemic specimens off any plant, never more than 4 inches long or even approaching a poor farmer's market pepper. So what is going on this year? My plants are having a wonderfully productive year. This afternoon in the gloomy 60-degree, overcast, misty weather, ten bell peppers were harvested, and another 7 or 8 'sweet banana' peppers. The bell peppers rival supermarket, and are "Big Bertha" and another cultivar I forget, I think "California Wonder", since I recall best success with those in the past.

So what is different this year?
  • Cooler than normal summer temperatures
  • Hardly watered the garden at all - relied mostly upon rain
  • Fertilized with an organic dilution twice (June and July)
  • Let the weeds overrun the bell peppers until July, when I cleared them all out & mulched in with grass clippings.
None of this neglect should explain the better harvest. Perhaps the new fertilizer combined with my typical topdressing of compost had greater benefits than expected.
You can see part of the rest of today's harvest in the photo - a handful of beans, I'm starting to let some dry for seed storage next year. The carrots (orange and purple) are very good, (Navarino, Purple Rain, and Hercules). The tomatoes are Roma and Salad tomatoes (Oxheart, San Marzano), with a few Jelly Bean cherry tomatoes thrown in there. The plants are very thick with foliage, and I'll need to prune some leaves to make harvest easier - or just give up and let the fruit rot.

I expect to be extremely busy within the next two weeks, conveniently coinciding with the tomatoes finally ripening - not a single beefsteak (Early Girl or Ace 55) has ripened to edible yet. Perhaps I'll have a 'pick your own tomato' party for neighbors and friends. The quantity of green fruit is ridiculus, and I had been hoping it would ripen sooner allowing me to process sauce and can it for the winter. Backup plans might include just peeling and freezing whole tomatoes for processing later this year.

Wednesday, August 12


Summer all wrapped up inside a nice fuzzy package. These are the juiciest peaches I've had in ages, sweet and tangy. Picked about a dozen off the tree this week and ate several already, trying to keep them away from the pests (yeah, one had a few bug bites, but we cut that part off). They're more "peachy" than store-bought fruit, but not quite as big (I suppose if I fertilized the tree & watered regularly they might grow bigger).

I fear next year I'll have so many I need to can/freeze the peaches, but there are plenty of peach-pie and cobbler recipes to keep me occupied. I may try some sort of peach salsa, and maybe a marinade for chicken or pork. Anyone have a favorite recipe they'd like to share?


Wednesday, August 5

Updates from 8-5-09

Sylvesta butterhead lettuce - it really is as yummy as it looks.

The beans, well some of them. On the left are Jacob's Cattle Heirloom. On the right are Fortex.

The pepper plants, you can see some sweet 'banana' style peppers on the plant in front on the left. I'm not really all that optimistic about the peppers this year.

Tomatoes - Nearest are cherry, then paste/salad, and finally beefsteak. Closeups of the fruit were blurry, so they're not posted. Nothing is ripe yet.

The weed patch, with zinnias and, yes, here are a few sunflowers that survived the frost!

Mint on the rock wall, I thought the contrast made a nice composition.

Three hazelnut (filbert) bushes. They even have nuts this year, though not many. The bushes are filling out well, considering they started out as twigs in 8" pots. Each plant is about 4-5 feet in diameter, and 4 feet tall.

Something has been making dinners out of my apples this week... they're not really ripe yet, so I'm baffled by the lack of fruit suddenly. Perhaps a deer with a taste for sour?

My weird Black-Eyed Susans. These have always been green-ish petals, haven't a clue as to why, but I'll assume some weird recessive gene or a disease of some sort. I think they look pretty neat, so I keep them around.

Some wildflowers, grass, and a hosta... nothing very exciting, but a nice enough photo.

This is/was/may still be a lilac. "I'm not dead yet!"

Peaches! Lots and lots of peaches - at least three dozen still on the tree. The setting sun makes the blush on the fruit that much more appealing, but these fellas are still rock-hard. I'll be checking them every day or every other day at the latest - I have no desire to let them go to the wildlife.

Tuesday, August 4

Ok, I admit it...

Those photos below are from a few weeks ago. I owe everyone new photos.

The beans are teeming with pods & will be picked some this week for consumption - anyone have good green bean recipes? (mushy beans shall not be served in this house!)

Tomatoes have begun to lighten - no ripe ones yet, though :-(

A few peppers are visible on the plants, not many.

And last, but not least, I found a few sunflowers tucked in amongst the weeds, so some have survived. Perhaps I'll try to weed out a patch of that side of the garden and take a photo - the zinnias and sunflowers make a nice pairing, but there are far too many weeds to justify much effort.

Monday, August 3

Some of you may know I'm busy....

The rest of you can guess that I am. (long story that I won't publish)

Anyhow, the garden is still intact, mostly.

Lettuces are looking (and tasting) yummy. Here is the Romaine (Winter Density) that was planted. The Butterhead (Sylvesta) has mostly been consumed, and the only remaining specimens don't look all that good (slugs got to them). The Butterhead was great & I will definitely be planting it again.

The beans are growing, nearly ready to pick the first of them, but a bit small still. We should have tons of beans, which will be good for August - I need to look up green bean recipes that don't cook them into oblivion. These are Fortex pole beans, as you can see, they are climbing their trellis nicely.

Peaches are growing exceptionally well, considering all the trouble I had earlier this year with some leaf-curl type disease, and then a nest of tent caterpillars that required pruning of an entire branch :-( There were probably over a hundred fruits on the tree early in the season, but at least a few dozen have survived. I can't wait to try these, they're nearly full-size peaches like you'd buy in a store, and all that has been done to the tree is spray with an organic orchard treatment every few weeks to keep the disease down. That said, next year the spray gets applied earlier, perhaps prior to blooming, to keep the plant healthier.

The petunias and rhubarb (just for you RFM, photos of the rhubarb!) are surviving in their trial area by the electric meter. Rhubarb will live there permanently, petunias are there for an experiment - next year I'll plant them elsewhere, where they'll be showier and provide a bit of color to the rest of the landscaping. I was more concerned with how they'd take from seed - pretty well, it turns out. Over the next few weeks, I'll be putting little mesh bags (from a bridal supply aisle at the craft store) over spent bulbs, hoping to collect seeds from the petunias for starting next year. The petunias will be replaced by some light purple irises, and perhaps some daffodils. (Irises are freebies from a gardener who is digging up a bunch - Thank you, N!)

The Explorer Blue petunias are every bit as easy to grow as promised - this is a variant similar to the popular Wave series, but I can buy the seeds much cheaper than I can purchase the sprouted petunia plants. Since the seeds require light to germinate, and are extremely tiny, I guess the nurserys can charge a few dollars per plant. Not my taste to spend that much, and if the seed harvest goes well, I won't need to purchase anything besides peat pots next year.

Failures this year - Big Smile dwarf sunflower. They may have sprouted, but the late (JUNE!) frost probably killed all of them, more's the pity. I was looking forward to a dwarf sunflower bed. I haven't seen a single one in the bed that has now become weed-infested, with a few hardy Sunbow zinnias that survived the frost.

Monday, June 8

June...oops I missed a month!

It's been a while. The garden has kept me busy. 9 tomato plants are in the ground, one has been saved for an experiment in hanging tomatoes (don't ask why, I'm not sure myself). The peas have sprouted, lettuce and spinach have true leaves, and there are rumors of carrots in the garden, next to the onions. The beans are doing very well also.

Half the garden has been seeded with dwarf sunflowers and zinnias, in hopes of a decent floral show for the summer.

The peach tree and apple trees have set fruit already, and miraculously survived the late frost we had last week. Petunias are a bit frost-bitten, but should make it. Tomatoes and flower sprouts were covered in a rush of panic the night before.

Rhubarb already has a zillion holes in the leaves from some slug or something - but you can't really kill rhubarb, can you? I'm starting to wonder what I'll do with the 5.5 plants worth of rhubarb that we won't use - it's not like we'll live on rhubarb for a year.

I don't think the food pantry really cares much about rhubarb, either, but I'm sure I can find some volunteer to take some of it.


Wednesday, April 29


We've been having a lot of rain lately, so much that I was starting to look for a clear day to take another rain-garden site photo. But it cleared up today and the standing water is gone, so I planted rhubarb.

The plants were an Easter gift from family - thanks! I have three put in the ring around the electrical box, which will be accompanied by the five petunias that are actually growing. The remaining four plants went along the side of the house, north side, unfortunately, but we'll see if they do poorly there and relocate if necessary.

Can't wait for next year's rhubarb pies!

Saturday, April 11

Planning a rain garden

The lawn has a low spot, near the garage, where water collects every year. The garage in the distance does not currently have gutters, but, in the future, downspouts could be routed to feed runoff to this area, providing sufficient water for a rain garden. This would also avoid the problem of getting the lawn tractor stuck in boggy soil when trying to mow the area.

Conveniently, one of my garden magazines (Garden Gate)came recently with an article on planting rain gardens. Given the amount of stone we have freely available, a dry streambed lined with pond liner and rocks would be quite easy from the corner of the garage, as discussed in the article. It would look a lot more natural in this case than burying drain tile, since the bed floods completely and the area to the downspout would be pretty soggy as well.

The article in the magazine lists several plants that are suitable for rain gardens, but a bit of internet searching turned up this site with an excel spreadsheet of hundreds of species to choose from. There are also many other sites that will sort by zone, foliage, etc.

The plan for this site, which may not be implemented until next year, is to dig a level pit about 8 inches deep, with a berm on the near side to contain the water (sloping gradually back into the lawn such that the lawn tractor can handle it). Then filling the garden with native Wisconsin grasses and flowers, taking care not to put in anything too invasive. The border of the garden will be something that can handle occasional lawnmower hits, probably a low clumping grass. A dry streambed will carry water from the garage downspout (when it is installed), and a bridge of some sort will allow for foot traffic across to the garden from the garage. Tractor traffic will have to go around. A wide space will be left to surround the garden, to accomodate the tractor.

Of course, the WI DNR has a very helpful page on rain gardens, and a list of native plants suitable for wetlands:
Scientific Name Common Name Height Color Blooming Specialties
Zizia aurea divided golden Alexander 1-2 ft yellow May-Jun Butterflies
Solidago riddellii Riddell's goldenrod 1-3 ft yellow Aug-Oct Butterflies, Birds - Forbs
Iris shrevei wild iris 1-3 ft purple/yellow May-Jul Birds - Forbs, Hummingbirds
Chelone glabra turtlehead 1-3 ft white Jul-Sep Butterflies
Lobelia siphilitica great blue lobelia 1-4 ft blue Apr-Sep Butterflies
Verbena hastata blue vervain 2-4 ft purple Jul-Oct Butterflies
Lobelia cardinalis cardinal flower 2-4 ft scarlet Jul-Sep Butterflies, Hummingbirds
Helenium autumnale sneezeweed 2-4 ft yellow Aug-Oct Birds - Forbs
Spiraea alba meadowsweet 2-5 ft white Jun-Sep Butterflies
Eupatorium maculatum spotted Joe Pye 2-6 ft pink Jul-Sep Butterflies
Asclepias incarnata red milkweed 2-8 ft magenta Jul-Aug Butterflies
Vernonia fasciculata ironweed 3-5 ft royal purple Jul-Sep Butterflies
Cassia hebecarpa wild senna 3-6 ft yellow Jul-Aug Birds - Forbs
Epilobium angustifolium fireweed 3-7 ft pink/red Jun-Sep Birds - Forbs, Hummingbirds

Friday, April 10

Insight and comments needed...

Going through my notes for future garden plans today, I've noticed that I no longer have a suitable landscape design program. (I had been using Broderbund's Landscape Designer Deluxe from many years ago) What should I do now? Being the geek I am, I've started investigating a few things:
  • Microsoft Visio
  • CAD software (Autodesk, Pro/Engineer, etc)
  • Custom Landscape designer packages - typically those sold in retail stores and don't seem to be easily imported/exported to other projects.
Does anyone out there use software? What kind? I imagine there has to be some sort of 'professional' package for landscape CAD, but I've never seen it. If you are using Visio or other CAD stuff, do you have custom stencils or can you purchase stencils / parts associated with common vegetables? (this may become a project for next winter, but I can see myself creating Visio stencils of proper dimensions for every plant in my property).

I want something robust enough that I can get upgrades in the future, import or export images if not the raw design files (CAD would be best for this, I know), and have some sort of storage for plant footprints so they don't need to be created for every individual project.

What do you have? What do you like or dislike?


Thursday, April 9

9 April - Sprouting Petunias

The seed packets say 6-10 days for germination. If we don't count day 1 (they were planted pretty late at night), today is day 7 under not-perfect conditions. I have two of the 15 sprouted with first leaves visible. The plan was to risk no-grow seeds and only plant one per pot, so I'll keep a close eye on the rest the next few days.

Once they have three true leaves, I'll start adding diluted fertilizer to the trays. Hopefully, they'll be ready to plant out sometime in late May or early June.

Wednesday, April 1

1 April - starting petunias

Johnny's package came in the mail today (just like Christmas!). So I've gotten started on my petunia seeds.

Fifteen 3" peat pots with potting mix (sprayed down on top with a mister) and soaking in water from the bottom are ready to go on my shelf. I purchased pelleted petunia seeds, since the tiny seeds are so difficult to handle - the pelleted ones are not much better, but at least I can see them when pelleted. The starting instructions I'm using are a combination of what Johnny's provides with the seeds, and what I found online at the University of Minnesota Extension.

The tray has been put under the lights, and plastic wrap is covering it to keep the seeds moist. (petunias need light to germinate). I'm a glutton for punishment, so I put one seed per pot, we'll see how well they do gambling on germination rates, but Johnny's has had very good seeds every time I order from there, so I expect nearly 100%.


Tuesday, March 31

Sprouts! Already!

I have sprouts - some of the tomato seeds are working overtime, I guess. Or, perhaps, (more likely) there are weeds in my potting mix. The leaves aren't unfurled enough to determine whether it's a tomato or not, but I'll guess not.

Since keeping sterile implements and not mixing soil with potting mix isn't my strength, I'll bet it's a weed.


Edit: April 1 - nope, definitely tomatoes, I have four sprouted today!

Monday, March 30

ok. I give up trying to make the text look right on that last post.

Everyone will just have to squint or copy-paste into a text editor or something.


Seeds ordered (Finally!)

Garden seeds have been ordered. I went with Johnny's Seeds again this year, since I've always had good germination from their products, even years later. A few prime choices were either sold out already, or had seed crop failures (Kinko carrots, I was really looking forward to trying greenhouse carrots, too bad)

I have ordered a bunch of dwarf sunflowers and zinnias for half the garden that will be non-vegetable this year, perhaps some sunflowers in the front as well, and the Petunia seeds are hopefully going to be started early enough for filling in around the electrical box in front - I hope the "Explorer Blue" mixed with the "Stella D'Oro" Daylilys work well together. If not, I'll have a clashing garden.

This is my first attempt at starting petunias, but I hear they're not that much trouble if cared for properly. Plus, the cost of a single "Wave Petunia" at retail is about $4 around here, so the $3.95 for 15 seeds gives me 14 to mess up with before I lose money!

Sylvesta (Lactuca sativa) - Butterhead
Days to Maturity or Bloom: 52
Winter Density (Lactuca sativa) - Bibb/Romaine
Days to Maturity or Bloom: 28 baby, 54 full size

Snow Sweet (Pisum sativum) - Snow Peas/Snap Peas
Days to Maturity or Bloom: 60

Navarino (Daucus carota var. sativus) - Early
Days to Maturity or Bloom: 57
Purple Rain (Daucus carota var. sativus) - Purple
Days to Maturity or Bloom: 73
Hercules (Daucus carota var. sativus) - Storage
Days to Maturity or Bloom: 65

Fortex (Phaseolus vulgaris) - Pole Bean
Days to Maturity or Bloom: 60

Remington (Spinacia oleracea) - Semi-Savoyed
Days to Maturity or Bloom: 38

Big Smile (Helianthus annuus) - Dwarf Sunflower 12-24"
Days to Maturity or Bloom: 50-60

Explorer Blue (Petunia X hybrida) - Similar to Blue Wave®.
Days to Maturity or Bloom: 60-70

Sunbow Mix (Zinnia elegans) - 24-30"
Days to Maturity or Bloom: 90

Sunday, March 29

Starting seeds for 2009

After a nice blanket of snow fell last night, I need some dirt to make me feel like spring.

Started 3" peat pots with generic potting mix (actually I think it's a combination of several brands of potting mix that were dumped into the same bucket, whatever works)

What's growing?
  • Strawberry - 3 started, I need about 9 more to cover the retaining wall that was stripped of "Lipstick" last fall
  • Tomatoes - 9 started, Early Girl, Ace 55, Roma, San Marzano, Oxheart, and Jelly Bean
  • Bell peppers - 6 started, Cali Wonder, something else unlabeled
  • Cayenne - 3 started
  • Basil - 3 started
  • Impatiens - 6 started
For now, that's it, I need more strawberries, but I'll start those later. I still need to order some more seeds this year - I'm out of carrots, lettuce, peas, beans, spinach, and I need lots of sunflowers. The plan, with other big events impeding my August and September, is to have half the garden covered in dwarf sunflowers (maybe with pumpkins growing under them). If I get ambitious, I'll put in some zinnias as well.

Eagerly awaiting the snowdrops and daffodils, but it will be a week or more before this snow (and that from the next two storms) melts.