Monday, February 19, 2024

Quick Tip 11-start a new gardening related hobby

Two compartment, tumbling compost bin

Monday, February 19, 2024

Winter can be a downer time of year for those of us that love to garden, but it doesn't have to be!  There are many "gardener" things you can do during the cold months of the year.  I'm going to share an idea each week for the rest of the winter on gardening activities that help satisfy the itch and prepare us better for the upcoming spring season.  Here we go with Winter Quick Tip 11-start a new gardening related hobby. 


If you enjoy the outdoors, you can collect natural materials to make "fauna" arrangements.  They make beautiful additions to tables in the home.  I also saw on a recent "Home Town" episode where the artist collected natural materials, added glass pieces to make a beautiful wind chime.  You could use metal chimes, too.  I thought that was a very creative way to integrate natural materials into a useful object.  

Or as spring flowers bud and flower, try your hand at flower arrangements.  Another possibility is building terrariums.  Moss is easy to see and collect this time of year.  For indoor terrariums, moss found in the woods is probably best suited for the conditions indoors.  Just be sure to take just strips, leaving most of the colony behind so they can regenerate themselves.

Or maybe you have thought about taking up whittling.  Whittling is when you use a knife to create a bird or turtle from a piece of wood.  You could go exploring for pieces of wood around your home or on a hike.

Another "hobby" you can start is composting or vermicomposting.  Outdoor composting can be slow to break down this time of year, but you can go ahead and get your compost pile all set up for the warmer temperatures.  I compost in a two compartment tumbling bin and compost all year round.  With a tumbling bin, I recycle all our kitchen scraps, indoor plant leaves, and shredded paper.  If you are a composter that primarily uses kitchen scraps, you will need to be sure to add "browns" like dried leaves or shredded paper with each addition of kitchen scraps to keep the compost in balance.  Since you turn the bin, you are mixing up the materials and speeding up the process to get "black gold" sooner.  For more on composting:

Fall composting tips 

Composting is possible in small spaces or even indoors

Troubleshooting your compost pile

  Vermicomposting is using worms to breakdown organic material into worm castings which are super for enriching you garden soil.  For vermicomposting, you can do this indoors or in your garage.  Outdoors the worms will freeze and die.  You add kitchen scraps and shredded paper to your worms in a bin.  The worms eating the kitchen scraps, creating worm castings.  I have not tried vermicomposting yet.  There are lots of info on line on how to do vermicomposting.

There are many hobbies that you can explore in the gardening off-season.  Better hurry, though, as spring is almost here!  

Sunday, February 18, 2024

What's happening in the mid-February garden

Daffodils in bloom
Sunday, February 18, 2024

Spring in our garden is accelerating as above normal temperatures abound.  Daffodils, forsythias, and Bradford pear are in in bud.  Now is a great time to start sowing seeds outdoors for the spring edible garden.  

When forsythias bloom, it is time to apply corn gluten for weed suppression in the garden and yard.  Corn gluten keeps seeds from sprouting and provides nitrogen.  It will also keep grass seed or garden seed from sprouting so use only where you don't want seeds to come up.

In the edible garden, shallots, onions, garlic, rhubarb, chickweed, tarragon and chives are all popping up in the garden bed.  Overwintering celery, sorrel, chard, arugula, cress, strawberries, and sprouting broccoli are growing again.  The garden is giving greens for fresh picked salads.  

Cool season crop transplants are not at the local nurseries and big box stores yet.  Likely be a few more weeks before they come in.  Now is a great time to get the garden beds ready for March transplants by doing a soil test, adding compost and mulching your beds.   
Overwintering cabbage and broccoli
I have planted parsley, Dragon's tail radish, snow peas and spinach seeds. All love the cool weather so now is a great time to get these seeds planted outdoors.  In a week or so, I'll start sowing lettuce seeds about every 3 weeks to keep salads going all summer.

Here is the list of edibles I have planted so far outdoors, all in pots:  
Snow peas-Avalanche (30" vine), Oregon Sugar Pod II (28" vine), Purple Snow Pea (24" vine)
Spinach-Giant Winter and Galilee.  Galilee is supposed to be very heat tolerant.
Radish-Dragon's Tail (grown for seed pods not the root)
Herbs-Curly and Flat Leaf Parsley

I will start the summer lovers indoors by next week end; 8 weeks before our average last frost.  I can move them into my pop up greenhouse before the last frost date to get them hardened off and move up the harvest date.

There are more seeds to start outdoors when the temperatures are warmer like beans, squash, cucumber, and melons.  I'll start them indoors about a month before the last frost date in peat pots.  They can also be directly sown in the garden after the last and when the soil is warm.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Time to sow peas outdoors!

Flowering pea plants
Saturday, February 17, 2024

Peas are great for spring gardens.  Not only do they taste great, but they add nitrogen to the soil and are easy to "put away" for winter eating.  Late winter/early spring is the time to start peas as soon as the soil can be worked.  My grandmother would be out planting peas in her garden when the soil was still icy!  I don't plant that early; I planted my pea seeds last week when the soil was nice and warm, for peas that is.  

My favorite pea variety to grow are snow peas because it produces the most for the space and its pods are sweet and crunchy.  I grow the vining type that stays relatively short, around 2'.  I like growing mine in pots so having a shorter vine keeps the pot tidy.  Of course, I also add petunias or nasturtiums to the pot for color.  All parts of the pea plant are edible-leaves, shoots and flowers.  I add them all to salads.  The pods are great for stir fry too.   

Peas love at least 6 hours of sun, well drained soil, and a side dressing of fertilizer or compost when planted.  Don't get carried away with fertilizer during the growing season or you will have all greenery and no pods.  Be sure to not water the foliage; stick with watering at the ground to avoid fusarium wilt.

Peas are part of the legumes which include fava beans, shell beans (like the popular red, kidney, Great Northern beans), snap peas, snow peas, green beans, lima beans, peanuts, lentils, and soybeans.  Peas have been cultivated for thousands of years all around the world, originating in the Mediterranean and the Near East.  Legumes have some of the highest protein in the plant world.  When combined with grains, you can get a complete protein like you do from meat or eggs.  
Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

For maximizing your harvest in a small space, I would go for snow and snap peas since you eat the entire pod.  Even the tips and flowers of the pea plant is edible and a great add to salads.  I plant them in pots every year.
Pea leaves, shoots and flowers are all edible
When you plant legumes, be sure to use a rhizobial bacteria inoculant.  This will really boost your harvest.  You just moisten the seed and coat with the rhizobial powder and plant.  Nitrogen accumulates on the roots of the legume.  Greens are great to interplant with peas as the greens can the nitrogen to develop their leaves.  Once added to the soil, the bacteria will stay year after year. 

The seeds germinate in temps between 40-75 degrees F.  Just scratch a small hole about 1.5” deep to drop the seed in and cover.  Have patience, seeds germinate anywhere from 7-25 days, depending on the soil temperature.  Plant every 2 weeks until midspring for continuous harvest.  Peas stop producing pods when temperatures exceed 70 degrees F.  Providing shade can extend the season.  
Newly sprouted pea vines
Harvest sugar snow peas just as the seeds begin to form in the pods to have the sweetest peas while the pod is still relatively flat.  Harvest snap peas after the peas inside have reached full size.  Even with shelling peas, pick as soon as the seeds have rounded out.  Continuous harvesting keeps them producing.  You can keep adding what you harvest to a freezer bag to have the sweetest and freshest for winter eating.

Peas can be grown in pots as well as directly in the ground.  Growing in pots allow you to move your peas to a cooler area as spring heats up.

Most varieties are vining so be sure to give them a trellis or stake to wrap themselves around.  You can easily grow vining in pots if you use a support and get varieties that the seed packet vine length isn't over a foot longer than the trellis for the pot.
There are bush varieties out there if you prefer to bypass a trellis or support.  Look for varieties that say "compact", "good for small spaces", "good for containers", etc., if growing in small spaces.  Burpee seed packets also have small clay pot with a checkmark in it for those that are good to grow in pots.  I grow the short vine variety and let them drape over the side of the pot with my pepper plants and eggplants; I like the look.  When the peas are done when the warm summer temperatures roll in, the heat lovers are just getting started.  

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Quick Tip 10-focus on indoor houseplant care


Thursday, February 15, 2024

Winter can be a downer time of year for those of us that love to garden, but it doesn't have to be!  There are many "gardener" things you can do during the cold months of the year.  I'm going to share an idea each week for the rest of the winter on gardening activities that help satisfy the itch and prepare us better for the upcoming spring season.  Here we go with Winter Quick Tip 10-focus on indoor houseplant care. 


You don't have to wait for winter to be over before you can start sowing seeds outdoors.  

Winter can be a time of seeing if you can optimize the health and growth of your indoor green friends.  You can research the best time and frequency of watering, pruning, repotting, dividing.

I hadn't pruned my pothos in years when I did last winter.  I cut back each of the stems and then cut those into 12" or so lengths and placed them in water.  Be sure to put the stem that is closest to the dirt in the water; there is an "up" and "down" to the starts.  Once they were growing roots, I put them in quart pots.  Surprisingly, it took 6 months for them to start growing leaves!  If it's your first time in pruning and getting starts from the pruned material, it's a good idea to research how to prune, when to prune and how to get starts from the pruning as well as when to expect new growth.

Right now, I have pothos and spider plant babies rooting in water.  I'll put them in pots in the next few days as they have nice roots established.

I need to divide and repot my aloe plant.  It has tons of babies growing all over itself.  I will research the best way to do that so I have the best starts. 

This year, I have been trying to fertilize better.  I started fertilizing again when the days started to get longer and growth starts back up.  For my houseplants, I am using fish fertilizer every other time I water and alternating with Superthrive, a vitamin and kelp solution.

I've been removing the dead leaves and stems on a regular basis so they stay looking healthy.

I tried a couple of indoor edibles, a pretty variegated pepper plant and Tumbling Tom tomatoes.  My Jigsaw pepper plant got an infestation of whitefly when I sat it outside in the fall that I missed.  When I brought it indoors, the infestation spread to my tomato plants before I realized I had an issue.  I sprayed with neem oil a few times but that didn't seem to eliminate the issue.  Last week, I sprinkled the plants with diatomaceous earth powder and that seems to have done the trick.  If I put the plants outdoors, I'll be sure to wash off the de as it kills all insects and I don't want to injure the pollinators!

Indoor and outdoor gardening is always an adventure and learning experience.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

How much to grow in your edible garden

Sunday, February 11, 2024

If you have decided you want to start your first edible garden, it can be a black box on what to plant and how much of it to plant.  There are a few ways to figure out how much to plant.  One way is to look on line for what folks recommend.  Another way is to track what you are eating and scale it up.  A third way is to plant a small garden and scale up next year based on what you like and how much you eat of each type of vegetable.     

Here is just one article with a chart for how much to plant per person.  Chart for how many to plant  I know for many of the recommendations, we would not eat all of what is recommended for most varieties.  If you love to eat that particular vegetable, plant what the chart says.  If you are just getting started, I would only plant what you love to eat.  It's a way to narrow down the list.  The first year is a learning year so being able to focus on a few types is helpful to not become overwhelmed.

For the second way of deciding what to plant, you can keep track of how much of each type of vegetable you are eating over at least two weeks.  This will tell you what you really are eating as well as how much you eat.  Then, multiply that amount you ate over the 2 weeks by 26 to get an idea of how much you would eat over a year.  Then you can look up how much a person typically gets from a plant to see how many of each you will need.  How many to plant

If you just want to get started with a basic garden, here is what I plant every year for two adults:
Herbs (1 each)-chives, rosemary, sage, oregano, and parsley
3 basil plants for making pesto and using fresh
4 tomato plants for fresh eating, freezing and canning-1 cherry, 2 slicers, and one paste
3 pepper plants in pots-1 sweet pepper for fresh eating, 1 hot pepper for salsa and hot sauce, and 1 for chili powder
1 zucchini type squash (I grow Trombetta, but it has a long vine, because it is resistant to powdery mildew and squash bugs.  Plus, it can also be used as a winter squash)
1 bush or vining cucumber for fresh eating and making pickles
2 eggplants in pots for grilling
6 snap pole beans on one trellis
Lettuce in pots (6 is plenty to get started)

I think this is a good place to start.  Pick the herbs/vegetables you love to eat the most and just plant them this season.  The biggest mistake those starting out make is to start too big.  

Here is an overview of when to plant different crops based on the season they grow well in.  You can garden year round in small space

WWII victory garden poster

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Skip the salad aisle-perpetual salad from one packet of seeds

Variety of lettuces and greens
Saturday, February 10, 2024

From just one packet of seeds, you can have salads forever and year round.  I just love being able to step right outside the back door and snip a salad for dinner.  Lettuce is so easy to grow, you can't pass up the fun and convenience of always having a fresh salad right out your door.

I use self watering pots called Earthboxes, but any container or patch of dirt works.  Buy a packet of seeds that has whatever type of lettuce you like.  I like the variety packs.  Three of my favorite lettuces for re-seeding are Romaine, Oakleaf and Red Sails.  I look for variety seed packets that have these in them.  Another great seed packet are those that share they are four season types. 

If you are sowing lettuce for the summer, you can get variety seed packets that have heat tolerant varieties and will say so on the front.  These types will last longer when the temps get high.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

To prepare the soil, I always add compost or worm castings and a balanced organic fertilizer that I mix into the soil.  What you want from lettuce is green growth.  This is what nitrogen promotes.  So, after planting, fertilizing on-going with an organic fertilizer like fish emulsion that is high in nitrogen is the way to go with greens.  I like fish emulsion because I can just add it to the watering pot.  I use fish emulsion about every 2-3 weeks after the plants are mature.  I keep the fertilizer off the leaves and wash the leaves thoroughly before eating.  You can make your own fertilizer.  Make your own fertilizer, it's all natural and inexpensive

To plant your seeds, simply make sure the soil is moist, scatter sow the seeds onto the moist soil and pat down or place a very thin layer of soil on top of the seeds.  Sow seeds every 3 weeks to keep you and your family in fresh lettuce and/or greens.  I'd sow between 15-20 seeds each time.  One seed packet should give you all the seed you need for the season.
Seeds sprouting
To harvest, just snip leaves off from the bottom and outside of the plant, allowing the center to continue to produce leaves.  They will produce new leaves continuously until they “bolt.”

When it turns warm, your lettuce will “bolt”, sending up a stalk that will flower.  The trick here is to not cut it off or pull out the lettuce plant just yet.  Let it flower and produce seeds.  The leaves are still edible, but some become bitter tasting after they have bolted.  Just try them and see if you still like the taste.  Red Sails is about the sweetest tasting, bolted lettuce I have found.
Lettuce sending up flower stalk, "bolting"
You can tell when the flower has turned to seeds because it will become a little white puff ball, similar but on a smaller scale than dandelions.  As the puff balls start to open, pluck it off and place in a paper bag so they can fully dry.  Your other option is to just wait until most of them are starting to open, cut off the whole stalk and put into a paper bag to dry.  You’ll lose some seeds, but a single lettuce plant produces a ton of seeds.
Lettuce seed heads
I let them dry and then pull out the seeds and put into a plastic ziplock bag that I label with the variety and date harvested.  You can also add notes to the seed bag of what you liked about it and growing habits.  I store all my seeds in the refrigerator crisper.  They keep for years that way.

When summer comes, lettuce seeds don’t germinate well above 70 F.  You can start your seedlings indoors or find a shady, cool spot outdoors to start them.  There are other options for salad greens that can handle the summer heat Growing summer salads  Growing fabulous lettuce and greens

You can start re-sowing your home grown seeds as soon as you are done with the original packet you purchased.  Always save the seeds from the plants that did the best.  Use oldest seeds first as germination rates diminish with the age of the seed.  I keep my seeds in the fridge to prolong their viability.  I have seeds that are years old and still sprout. 

Now, if seed starting is intimidating, you can always buy a pot of lettuce with different kinds in it from your local nursery, hardware store or big box store.  They start getting in plants next month in my area.  When they bolt, you can save their seeds to keep your lettuce harvest going. 

For more on seed saving, Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Quick Tip 9-start winter sowing

A cloche cover for warmth

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Winter can be a downer time of year for those of us that love to garden, but it doesn't have to be!  There are many "gardener" things you can do during the cold months of the year.  I'm going to share an idea each week for the rest of the winter on gardening activities that help satisfy the itch and prepare us better for the upcoming spring season.  Here we go with Winter Quick Tip 9-start winter sowing. 


You don't have to wait for winter to be over before you can start sowing seeds outdoors.  Winter hardy greens and vegetables can be sown outdoors and will sprout when the conditions are right for them.  You can also start early spring greens and veggies under cover, and you don't have to go buy something to do it.

Cold hardy crops like spinach, peas, snow peas, mache, and fava beans can be sown outdoors without protection and will sprout as soon as the soil is warm enough.  They germinate in soil temperatures in the 40's.

You can start things like lettuce, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower under cover right now outside.  If you don't have row covers, cloches or a portable greenhouse, you can use plastic milk jugs to cover your seeds.  Just cut out the bottom and place over your seeds or seedling.  You can vent when it gets up into the 50's by removing the lid.  Put the lid back on when out of the sun to keep the warmth in overnight.

This week end I planted my snow peas (Avalanche, Oregon Sugar Pod, and Little Purple), parsley (Giant Italian and Curled), spinach (Spiros F1, Giant Winter, Galilee, Giant Oriental, and Perpetual), Blood Veined sorrel, Red Sails lettuce, cultivated dandelions (Pink and French), and Dragon's Tail radish.  I planted them all in pots that have portable and removable greenhouse covers.  The covers have to be off when it is sunny and in the 50's or it gets too hot for these cool temperature lovers.  I'll cover when it's getting down in to the 20's.

When the seeds have sprouted, have their first set of real leaves and the temperatures begin to warm with lows only getting into the upper 20's, they will be ready to brave the elements on their own.  It's best to remove the cover when there is going to be a stretch of days that are warm and cloudy..

These techniques will get your fresh spring produce even quicker than starting seeds indoors.