It Kind of Worked!

Last October I re-cut the edge of the circular lawn and planted a ring of daffodils around it. All winter I waited with bated breath (that you could actually see on days where it was forty degrees or less) to see if my efforts payed off.

It payed off! Sort of.

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At first the ones on the left half came up and although they were a mixed bag, they were primarily the solid yellow ones. Eventually a few other varieties opened and some the rest of the way around the circle bloomed. It looks a little rough while I wait for the squill in the lawn to die back so I can mow. Also, the birdfeeders are much less obtrusive when viewed from ground level but I still think I should pare them back to just a couple.

All-in-all I’m happy with the results and crossing my fingers that next year the blooms will be a bit more synchronized.

I’ve Bean Busy

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything, but I really have been busy. Spring has hit and with it all the to-dos that have to be done. Add to that a nice trip to the Oregon coast…

Oregon Coast

…and I’ve had plenty to write about but not as much time (or energy!) to do it.

Yesterday and today I’ve been planting beans in the garden. Someone remarked they thought I was a little early but I’ve always planted now or even earlier and never had a problem with the beans not growing.

Ireland Creek Annie

One of the plantings I did was a “rescue” of some Ireland Creek Annie beans I grew a few years ago. Or, I should say, I tried to grow. It was a terrible year for Mexican bean beetles and I ended up with literally only a couple dozen beans from my entire crop of this variety and the others didn’t fare much better. Today I planted them all out in the hope of increasing my supply. I’m pretty confident that if the beetles don’t get them this year I’ll have plenty again.

Cherokee Trail of Tears

You see, I speak from experience. Above is the pile of beans I grew from a single seed of Cherokee Trail of Tears that we obtained. (Sorry it’s so blurry. I haven’t gotten any better at photography during my hiatus.) I’ve planted a few dozen of these this year on poles and expect a good amount from this heirloom pole variety. We had some for dinner last night and they were pretty good.

Beans

A few months ago I finally got around to trying something I’ve wanted to do for some time. I made and canned some baked beans. I did two small batches at the same time, Great Northern (left) and Jacob’s Cattle (right.)

Sorghum

For the sauce I used sorghum syrup instead of molasses. I’ve made baked beans with molasses before and just didn’t care for the flavor. The sorghum ended up tasting much better.

Bacon

Throw in some bacon with the beans, add the sauce and bake. Both batches ended up needing much less time than anticipated to cook. I’ve found this is the case with home-grown beans. Must be because they are so fresh.

Canner

Here’s the pressure canner I got through Craigslist. I only had to replace the gasket and it was as good as new.

Jars of Beans

Voila! Baked beans. I thought the sauce was a bit watery when they went in the oven and then into the jars but after canning it thickened up to a nice creaminess. We go through quite a few cans of baked beans in a year. But I’m thinking now between my mad gardening skills and a functioning pressure canner we won’t be buying cases at Costco, much as we love beans!

 

Enlightenment of a Sort

As I write this the wind is howling and freezing rain is pelting the windowsills. Still, there has been enough decent weather recently that I’ve officially emerged from the “do nothing” months of winter and started tackling the larger projects I’ve been contemplating for months. So far this year I’ve managed to arrange a contractor to fix the front sidewalk, get married, make a dent in some of the junk purging, and start picking out the materials for a kitchen update. I’m anxious to get gardening now that I’ve got some forward momentum.

With a few dozen pots of plants to observe growing away under one of my new fluorescent fixtures something has occurred to me.

Under the Lights

I noticed the plants at the edges of the tray were leaning in toward the bulbs more than I’ve seen in past years. You can kind of see it in that pot of tomatoes to the right of the orangeish label. (Ignore the horribly leggy cilantro in the back, there. I started it on the windowsill and didn’t get it under lights soon enough.) It occurred to me that my previous light fixtures were quite a bit wider and the bulbs were spaced farther apart than in these new ones.

Light from Above

From above I can see they don’t even provide full coverage for the width of one flat when they’re low over it. I have another hanging parallel to this one and I was planning on placing flats perpendicular to them to get four under each pair of fixtures. Not sure what to do at this point. I wish I’d thought of that when I bought them. For now I’m just going to rotate the rows of pots within the tray. This is going to be a pain when the plants get larger and go into larger pots.

Indigo Apple and Amish Paste

In better news, the tomato plants are growing well enough that they may be getting potted up by next weekend. Here’s a fun comparison. On the left is ‘Indigo Apple’ and on the right is good old ‘Amish Paste.’ Indigo Apple has been bred to have high levels of anthocyanins and even the leaves are dark with a purplish tinge. The reviews of their performance and flavor are mixed but I thought they’d be something interesting to try this year.

Spinach

The official opening day of the community gardens was yesterday but I was up there a little over a week ago to check on things. Under the leaf mulch the overwintered spinach was looking excellent if a little muddy. I covered it up again because I knew this temporary return to wintry weather was coming.

Artsly Garlic

This week I visited again and found garlic poking up through the mulch. My favorite spring bulb! I couldn’t see what I was doing and the photo turned out blurry so I ran an artsy Photoshop filter on it. Edgy, huh? OK, I’m not an artist or a photographer but, hey, I was excited.

Seed Starting for the Poorly Prepared

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since I shared any of my fascinating goings-on here. Believe me, I haven’t been just sitting around–much, at least. March is the month when I seem to emerge from the winter inertia along with the plants and critters outdoors.

American Flag Leek

Seed starting actually commenced weeks ago with the onions, shallots and leeks. Here are the American Flag leeks waving their seed coats up toward the shop lights. Today they got their first haircut.

In the time since the leeks and their ilk were sown I started a few other things as well. Then last weekend I got started on my favorites, the tomatoes and peppers. In the past my system was to sow a couple of seeds together in a tall, 2” pot. I have tons of these around from back when I grew Paphiopedilum orchids. If both of the seeds germinated I would just snip off the weaker one. If neither germinated I’d have wasted the space that barren pot was taking. This year I decided to sow multiple seeds in 4” pots and since they shouldn’t be in there too long and need a lot of root room, I cut the pots shorter for easy access. Or, at least I started doing that after I realized what a pain it is to get to seedlings in a pot as tall as they are. (See left-hand pot of leeks above.)

Early Jalapeno

Anyway, after potting up a few kinds of peppers as seen above, I realized I didn’t have nearly enough pots. Either I hid them very well from myself or I purged a little too aggressively last fall. As I was contemplating driving out to the garden center yet again, I was hit with a brainstorm…

Paper Pot

Paper pots! I quickly rolled and folded up a bunch and I was back in business.

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See how meticulously I placed the seeds in the potting mix? I also labeled the tags with the number planted in each pot.

Paper Pots in Use

Once the plants have reached the size where they can be transplanted I’ll move them up to individual 4” pots. Those will be plastic pots because they will be more durable for moving around under the lights and transporting out to the garden when they are ready. I’ll have plenty of time to get out to the garden center before then. I’d better start making a list.

In Which It Takes Me a Moment

Over at 2 Boys 1 Homestead, a blog I’ve recently started following, Ben mentioned a few days ago that he is considering growing a patch of lentils. I’ve wanted to try growing my own for a while so they have come and gone from the forefront of my attention over the years. This mention so soon after my call for nominations of fun new crops to grow in 2015 got me thinking about them again. I like lentils. There are a handful of recipes I turn to again and again when we’re having a Bollywood night that call for lentils. My main concern, apart from the question of whether they’ll even grow and mature here, is that their yield per given unit of area might be on the low side. Still, I moved them to the front of the line for trying this season. Then I thought where am I ever going to find seeds for them? Better start googling.

If you laughed at that last bit you’re faster than I am.

Sprouted Lentils

I have a bag of lentil seeds, a.k.a. lentils in the pantry! The only thing left was to test them to see if they will germinate. They did. They were also delicious. I’d forgotten how good lentil sprouts are.

It’s ironic it took me this long to think of lentils given that during my recent seed testing bout I tried everything I could think of from the spice cupboard including anise, cardamom and mustard but I never made it over to the pantry where the legumes live. Now that I know I’ve got some viable lentil seeds and that they’re a variety I like I’m closer to allocating a small area of the garden to giving them a go.

Shooting Toward Spring

A few weeks ago I started testing dozens of packets of seeds and was pleasantly surprised at the results. Most had high rates of germination including the ones most near and dear to me, the tomatoes. Another survivor, which came as no surprise, was the snap peas. Once the testing was over, I just couldn’t bring myself to discard the sprouted seeds so I potted them up. They’re a nice little bit of early gardening and when they’re a little larger I’ll enjoy adding their tender shoots to a salad.

Pea Shoots

Expo Exposé

Around the beginning of February people around here, especially the gardeners, are starting to feel restless and in need of a pick-me-up. Fortunately, Wisconsin Public Television holds a big garden expo every year. I used to hate expo time when I was at my old job. What should have been something to look forward to was dampened by having to design and sometimes staff a display using the depressingly middlebrow materials our company pushed. We were lucky to have some decent plants to spruce (literally!) it up. Now that I’m free of  that task I can just go and enjoy the event for what it is.

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The expo consists of an exhibition hall with scores of display booths, seminars and workshops. I’ve been skipping the last two things but should probably try to attend one or two of those sometime. Instead I just go for the vendors and information booths. And, of course, there are always plenty of forced blooms to remind us spring is coming.

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There are always great booths with Master Gardeners and people from Extension to talk with and answer questions. I hope this sort of service can continue but right now we’ve got a state government that is openly hostile to this part of the University’s mission.

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I had a great talk with one of the reps about basil and tomato pathogens and picked up some literature. These programs are an awesome thing and if you haven’t checked into your state or county Extension already you should. You’ll be amazed how much information they share and the services they provide.

There were plenty of what I now think of as “on topic” vendors there.

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Landscape design, restoration and management companies

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Publishers of garden books (and other topics)

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Plant vendors! I’m going to see about getting some more martagon lilies from this place. They didn’t have any with them but had oodles of Asiatic and oriental ones. The vendor I’ve gotten many of my Trillium from was also there but they didn’t have anything I didn’t already have. Too bad, because the plants I’ve gotten from them before have performed wonderfully.

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Garden art. I had to keep reminding myself that this stuff does look less tacky when there are one or two pieces in a garden. Displays crowded with them were a bit much.

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Outdoor furniture

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Power equipment! Vroom vroom!! We’re going to have to get something versatile if/when we finally move to the country.

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What I was really most hoping to see in the way of vendors was greenhouse companies. There was this one represented at a hydroponic store’s booth but nobody from the actual company was there as far as I could tell. I did get some literature, though. I’d like to have a greenhouse or conservatory some day. I gather from the blogs I read that gardeners in other countries tend to have home greenhouses more than we do around here. I wonder if it’s just more part of the tradition.

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I thought this little conservatory sample was kind of cute.

There were also plenty of booths that inspired me to think of the “on topic/off topic” concept…

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…like jewelry…

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… and paintings. Sure some of them have gardenesque themes, but I’m not a big fan of art fairs.

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There were also a number of “As Seen on TV!” type products like this broom. Really? I don’t consider having seen something on television that great of a marketing point. I just walk on by but couldn’t resist pointing out that I don’t feel these contribute much to the expo except perhaps to keep the booths full.

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Let’s end on a positive note. All the area botanical gardens, garden clubs, plant societies, arboretums, etc. were there. I even found one place that we’ve never been to that would make a nice day trip this spring.

In the end I walked out with one packet of leek seeds and some brochures and such. Still, I felt it was a decent way to spend a little time and get some inspiration for the upcoming season. Is there a garden show or expo or similar event in your area? I’d enjoy hearing what different ones are like.

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