This is the last day of February 2017. It is cold and rainy day, with thunder somewhere far away. But there is hope and there is a promise of spring, of renewal and of warmth. There is anticipation of colorful flowers and the dream of multitude of butterflies and the awakening songs of birds and it all is happening around us… Can you hear it? Do you fell it? Let us make this spring unforgettable!
I wanted to share with you one of my favorite holidays, which is March 8th also known as the international women’s day. I grew up in Belarus, where this holiday was a big deal. It is a celebration of spring, a hybrid of western holidays like mother’s day, valentine’s day. By that time of the year there were more sunny days and warm, the snow was melting, the birds were busily singing their praises to the coming spring. There was always anticipation and happiness associated with the coming of March 8th.
I loved this spring holiday from early childhood. The boys from school would give us small gifts and flowers, it was so awkward for them, but they were so cute and tried so hard to make us feel good. My mom always was excited to see what dad would give her. We exchanged gifts and cards of friendship with the closes girlfriends. I loved getting cards and I was so happy to see smiles or gratitude as my beloved friends would read the cards I gave them. On those cards were pictures and drawings of bright colored spring flowers, I have almost all of those card to this day! There was always sun, love and excitement on March 8th!
Friends, I know that each one of us has amazing women in our lives… Let us make this spring unforgettable for them! Let us remember one of those sweet friends we have not seen for years, let us make all women in our lives feel loved, beautiful and respected! Let us send cards to them, give them small gifts, call them, e-mail or ask them to a dinner or share a cut of hot beverage and a cake.
Let us make this spring special for someone! Happy March 8th to you all…wishing you warm and sunny spring, colorful dreams of flowers, many butterflies and birds in your gardens and cherished and beloved people in you life…health and happiness…
Straw Hat Girl
Yes it is January. It is cold and the cloud cover is thick and permanent, it is a permacloud!
All this dreadful weather is no reason to despair (or at least that is what I am telling myself). The glossy, colorful seed catalogs are neatly staked on my book shelve next to my desk. Yes, you know exactly what I am talking about! Actually it is no more than a month before it is time to start your peppers and eggplants (in zone 6). I need to get going on the planning my 2017 garden.
Where to start? Garden planning software and garden outlines are abundant on the internet. I have not used this garden planner but it looks cute and has useful features, for example, it suggests to you when to plant your plants. I am more of an analog person and I like to draw, so my previous garden plans were always neatly drawn on paper (and of course they are in color, because who does not like colorful pencils?). But what happens to this plans when I go to plant in the garden? I plant as I “see” it in the actual garden and not on the peace of paper. Because on the same spot where my neatly drawn plan said to plant a tomato, I see a gray-green leaves of a volunteer catnip plant, and my kitty could use more catnip, right? So I can’t plant the tomato there or can I? Do I move the catnip? But it looks good in here and it is already big and I may damage it’s tender roots…and the frustration begins to add up. So my garden plan always ends up being a total waste of time and energy or a very big frustration and stress. Done! I had enough! I am not doing to agonize about garden plan this year, I garden for fun, don’t I? Also this year I am eliminating or minimizing the areas of my life that cause me stress, and there is no way gardening should be on that list. No way!
In 2017 I am trying the following:
- Write down the list of plants that I want to grow, taking into account how well they will grow (I promised my other half that I will stop trying to grow eggplants in our garden, because they do not do well at all). 2017 ascent is on pollinators – I will be planting a lot of flowers (mostly natives, but not all, because how can I have a summer without the colorful display of zinnias?)
- Check my seed inventory, most likely I already have the seeds, if not, purchase them from local sources first (farmers market, ask friends) or wait for the local seed exchange. I am hoping to not be purchasing many seeds from other sources (who am I kidding, I will get some new zinnia colors from Backer Creek Heirloom Seeds and I saw some cool native flower mixes from Seed Savers Exchange)
- Group the seeds by the dates when they need to be planted in the garden. Some seeds can be sown as soon as the soil can be worked. Other tender plants like a warm soil and need to be planted much later in the season, well after the last frost date. If you are not sure when that is for your area, check the USDA hardiness zones, that is a very good thing to know about your garden. Find your hardiness zone here USDA hardiness zones
- A hard decision needs to be made soon. Am I going to start some seeds indoors? To grow or not to grow, that is the question! I may do rare onions and some flowers to get an earlier start on the harvest and the beauty. It will be very minimal this year, because every single year the plants that were seeded directly in the garden (or seeded themselves the previous year) outperform the once that were started indoors. Finally I am learning the lesson this year and will seed most things directly. The only problem is that it is so wet in the garden in the spring and I do not want to compact the soil by walking on it.
This is it! My plan is to have fun and dream and envision my garden this year. For some reason, even thinking about the words “garden plan” gives me stress and anxiety. I garden for fun, so fun I will have!
What are your garden planning techniques? What worked and what made you frustrated about the planning process? What do you do with your volunteers?
The silver snowflakes are covering the garden. It is night and all is dark, except the orange street light. The snow glimmers as it moves with the wind, it is a sight unlike anything else… it is snowing. My thoughts wonder, it is so quiet around me and very cold. All is still, all is dressed in a shinny blanket of snow.
I think about my plants under this cover of wonder, cover of silver and diamonds. This heavy snowfall comes at a great time, before the bitter cold. I think of the milkweeds for monarch butterflies, the gladiolus for the colorful display in the summer, the sorrel for my delicious sorrel soup, I think of all the creatures big and small who will enjoy the beauty and the bounty. The plants will survive the cold under this magnificent blanket of fluffy snow. The snow warms my soul and I fall asleep, to dream of bright orange monarch butterflies as they fly and the colors and the aromas of the late summer in the meadow…
Herbs add so much flavor to our everyday life. They are full of beneficial plant compounds and most of them are very beautiful plants as well. Purchasing fresh herbs can be very expansive. Also frustrating (at least it is frustrating for me, because they don’t last long…don’t get me started on cilantro and how you get a huge bunch and only need a little and the rest makes it into the compost pile).
However when you grow your own you get this:
- No cost herbs (yes you need to invest initially, but you will be harvesting pennies on the dollar)
- Freshest herbs to harvest when you need (no waste and better taste)
- Beautiful plants in your garden or your windowsill (most herbs are such pretty plants that they belong in your flower bed)
At this point I hope you want to get growing! Put your straw hat on and let’s do it. I made a little fun diagram to show the visual of what is important to remember. It will work if you want to grow your herbs indoors in container or outside in the garden (if you are growing in the garden – that is your container!). Yes! It is that simple!
- Plant: grow herds that you and your loved once enjoy using
- Sun: choose the sunniest location (be it a window or a spot in the garden)
- Soil: always use the best soil available (I love using Happy Frog or ProMix), the soil needs to be light and not compact easily
- Containers are very important (ignore this part if you are growing in the garden). Size and drainage are two things you need to remember. Don’t put a large plant in a small containers and remember that roots need to breath, so never plant plants in containers without drainage holes (large once!) or they will drown and rot and die!
- Water: Do not, I repeat do not over water your plants, learn how the soil looks different when it is wet and when it is dry. It is better to underwater than to over water
- Harvest: it is very important to harvest your herbs often and properly (always cut with sharp scissors and harvest just below the fresh growth), if you don’t do this your plant will still be alive but you can damage it by pulling and if you harvest below the growth you plant will be nice and bushy
I personally never fertilize my plants, but sometimes I give them left over herbal tea that I did not finish (it needs to be room temperature before you give it to the plants) same can go for coffee (but most coffee addicts I know never leave any behind). Do not overdo it, especially in containers, remember what you put in that container will stay there – very easy to overdo it, you can be a little more liberal if you grow in the garden.
Have fun, start small and enjoy!
While you are enjoying the bounty of summer, it is time to plant fall garden! This is your second chance to enjoy the bounty of spring. Cooler temperature and short days are perfect for some crops and there will be less mosquitoes while you work!
Some plants prefer cooler temperatures, but die with hard freeze, while others will thrive in cold and will greet frost with improved flavor (carrots, beets, kale and collards). First week of October is average first frost for Athens Ohio (it varies every year). To find the first frost date for your area, check farmers almanac.
What can you grow in your fall garden?
- Greens: lettuce, kale, collared, Swiss chard, spinach, arugula, Asian greens, mustard, endive
- Herbs: parsley, dill, cilantro
- Root vegetables: carrots, radishes, beets
- Peas and beans: snow peas, sweet peas, some short season beans
- Fast maturing crops: summer squash, green onions
- Garlic: plant garlic bulbils (seeds that come out of the scapes) in late summer. Garlic cloves should be planted in late November, beginning of October
- Transplants: broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage, Brussels sprouts
Now turn off your computer, put your straw hat on and go plant some fall garden goodness!
The way corn was grown centuries in America. The idea is to combine corn, pole beans (different from bush beans) and any squash (pumpkin, zucchini, summer squash, and patty pan squash).
Corn grows tall and requires nitrogen, pole beans will climb up the corn and they will provide nitrogen in the soil. Squash has large leaves which will protect the soil from water loss and weeds, as well as animals who would like to eat the sweet corn. You thought you are the only one who likes it?
Grow corn first, plant seeds after soil is warm and no frost is expected anymore. When corn grows to be couple inches, plant beans close to it (couple beans per each corn) and plant squash as a border (any squash or pumpkin will work). Plant couple flowers around: zinnia, marigold, petunias.
Above is a simple diagram of how your three sister garden may look. You can make it larger or smaller depending on your space and family needs.
Why should you start plants from seeds? I am glad you asked! Let me list some of the reasons why you should consider doing so, (this is in no way a comprehensive list):
- Varieties! There are many more exiting and delicious or plain weird varieties available as seeds compare to transplants. Also you can make sure you get heirloom (vintage) varieties and not GMO.
- You get what you expect. I have gotten plants from the nurseries that were not what was promised. I got pepper as promised, but the variety was not even close.
- You save money (you know I am all about saving those greens). It takes you couple of dollars to get from 25 to 500 seeds (depending on the plant). It will take about the same amount or more to purchase a plant or two. Please talk to your friends and your community and try to find seed exchange or swap in your area. If you can’t find anything like that – organize seed exchange yourself (more on that later).
- It is so much fun to watch plants growing from seeds, while it is still cold and dead outside (this is one of the things that keeps me from going crazy around mid February from the lack of sunshine and garden therapy, because I am one of those solar powered people, you know!)
You can see a picture of my peppers and broccoli happily growing in their newspaper pots (learn how to make them here).
It is great to make your own pots. They are biodegradable, free to make (you most likely already have all the materials you need) and your plants will not have transplant shock. All you need to do is plant the pot into the ground and let the worms eat it up. Well, lets get started! You need the following:
- scissors to cut the newspaper
- any 15oz can (or any other size, depending on how big you want your pot to be)
- very shallow dish to put the pots on (I use the Styrofoam trays you get when you buy veg at the store)
You can read below or watch a video
Cut the newspaper into strips about as tall as the can, with a couple of extra inches at one end for the bottom. Start rolling one page of the newspaper.
Roll the newspaper around the can a couple of times, do not do it too tight, because you will have to remove the can and it would be difficult if you rolled it too tight.
Fold in the overhanging ends, creating four folds as shown below.
Your pot is basically ready, invert the can and press hard to secure the bottom.
Gently remove the can by holding the bottom of the pot and pulling the can from the top.
Here you have a biodegradable, free and fun to make pot for your plants! Just do not forget to place a plastic shallow container underneath your pot to catch the excess liquid when you water your plants.
Here are my pepper plants happily enjoying their environmentally friendly temporary houses (you can learn how to start your peppers from seeds here). In the left lower corner of the picture, you can see smaller pots housing collards. Aren’t they cute little plants?
Try this fun way of making pots and let me know what plants found homes in them.
The method below describes a very good way to start tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. This is a tried and true method; been doing this for years and it gives the best results.
1. Sow seeds close to each other in a shallow container (about 2 inches deep). Add soil to just cover the seeds. Keep moist and warm.
2. When seeds germinate, place in a warm sunny location, keep moist but do not over water.
3. After the first true leaves appear, choose the best plants and gently transplant into individual containers (learn how to make biodegradable newspaper pots). Place the plants as deep into the soil as the first leaves – the stem will grow roots.
4. Transplant into the garden when soil is warm and there is no more frost expected. For peppers and eggplants, dig a hole large enough to hold the container. Cover the hole and a little bit of the stem with soil (the paper pot will biodegrade quickly). For tomatoes try the best method for growing tomatoes.
Let me share with you the best method to grow the greatest and largest tomatoes you have ever grown. My family has been using this method for years and it has not failed! I made a little diagram for you to look at (you know, one picture is worth many words! please find it below on the right with description on the left). This method gives your plants extra roots and extra roots = better plants and more tomatoes! Do not forget to grow companion plants with tomatoes. Plants love friends too!!! I love to grow basil, calendula and zinnias next to my tomatoes.
1. Get your transplants ready.
2. Discard all bottom leaves, leaving only two or three leaves on the top (put those unwanted leaves in compost).
3. Dig a trench in the ground and gently lay down your tomato plant.
4. Bury the plants stem, leaving those couple leaves out.
5. Walk away for a couple of weeks (I do not know about you, but I have to see my plants every day). You can stake them at this point or wait longer.
At this point, tomatoes may take a couple of weeks to get going, but after that they will take off! Let me know if you have any questions or need more instructions. And as always – put your straw hat on and go play in some dirt!