Winter Garden Experiment #2: Cold Hardy Veggies

In addition to the pansies I started last week, I wanted to get a flat of cold tolerant, hardy veg started to see just how early I could get them going. The growing process will be the same as for the pansies: start them in the garage, when they are up stick them under lights until they are large enough to be transplanted into containers and popped in a cold frame, and then when the weather isn’t quite so abysmal, pull them out to fend for themselves.

I sowed the following in half toilet paper tubes filled with seed starting mix:

  • Ruby Streaks mustard
  • Red Giant mustard
  • Scarlet kale
  • While Russian kale
  • Blue Scotch kale
  • Space spinach
  • Olympia spinach
  • Rapini broccoli raab
  • Kohlibri kohlrabi (two rows)
  • Claytonia
  • Bright Lights Swiss chard
  • Mache

I’m looking forward to see how these guys do, and am hoping with the cooler temps slowing germination that I won’t have to keep the flat under lights for long and can stick them in a cold frame sooner rather than later.

And in case you are wondering what’s going on in that red tub in the background…

Mache! I sowed these little guys back in mid-October and brought them into the garage in November to sit in the east facing window. They seemed to pick up a little when I added a bit of extra light with some compact fluorescent bulbs. Lord willing, they’ll make a nice early spring salad.

Wishing everyone a very blessed and joyful weekend!

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Growing Your Garden Library on the Cheap

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I suppose it’s appropriate to be writing this post now, with the snow coming and going and the temps below freezing. So much has been said and written about gardeners retreating to books and seed catalogs during the winter that I can hardly add to the subject myself. But with the prices of books these days, and a need to be thrifty, I thought I might share some tips on how to expand your garden library without torching the bank and massacring your wallet.

Get free public domain garden ebooks online. If you live in the United States, both the Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg have an absolute wealth of free, public domain ebooks to download. I recommend downloading books in PDF format from Internet Archive. If you are living outside of the United States, check your country’s copyright laws before downloading. You can find some real gems on these websites if you do a little searching, and with the current trend of using organic practices, a good bit of gardening information from the 19th century is useful today. I hope to feature some of my favorite free ebook finds in future blog posts.

*Note: Just be sure to check the rights statements on Internet Archive to make sure what you are downloading is in the public domain. I believe everything on Project Gutenberg is in the public domain for the U.S.

Read seed catalogs. This is something that I wish I did more myself, as many companies send you catalogs for free (the ones that aren’t usually don’t cost a great deal) and many, as has been stated by better gardeners than myself, have a great deal of information in them. It’s also nice to hang on to some of them for posterity, so future generations can have the benefit of a record of what we grew.

Treasure hunt at thrift stores. You never know what you’ll be able to find! I’ve personally found copies of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening (an older edition, but still good), Seeds by Sam Bittman, Rodale’s Flower Garden Problem Solver, and others for $1 or less. The nice thing about thrift stores is you can oftentimes find books that are good but no longer in print… and cheap!

The Dollar Store. I’ve been very surprised to find that my dollar store sometimes has garden books in their small, ever changing book section, and I’ve picked up a few there, though I have to admit some of them ended up being more of an impulse buy and I’m not sure how useful they will prove to be. But hey, they were $1.

Prowl the used bookstore. Whether a chain or a local hole in the wall, used bookstores are also a great place to look for reduced priced books. A couple of years ago I was praying for cheaper copies of McGee & Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container and Barbara Pleasant’s The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual. I had borrowed both from the library and Mr. Awesome and I were trying to save money. Right around that time we were out of town visiting family and wandered into a Half Price Books store and found both books practically new for about half the list price. Thank You Jesus!

Buy used copies online. Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble have marketplaces where you can purchase used copies of books from other sellers. Though it can be a bit risky (your definition of GOOD may not be the same as the seller’s) if you don’t mind books in not-quite-pristine condition and pay attention to seller ratings, you can sometimes find some really good deals. Case in point: During my rose fanatic stage, I borrowed a copy of Peter Beales’ Passion for Roses from the local library and fell in love with it. The book cost $45 new, and I am pretty sure is out of print. Using this method I bought a very nice ex-library copy online for $7, and most of that was the shipping cost.

Borrow before you buy. It can sure feel like a real kick in the gut when you purchase a brand new book at full price only to discover it isn’t what you thought it would be and will now serve as a dust collector on your bookshelf or a doorstop. The best way to avoid this dilemma is to borrow the book from a friend or library and give it a good read over. If after reading it through once and you still feel you have to have it or that it will be a valuable addition to your garden library, you can make your purchase without fear. Example: Before I read them I was hot to get both Four-Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman. Not wanting to spend the money at the time, I checked both books out from our library. After reading them, it was clear that I did not, in fact, need both books, as The Winter Harvest Handbook seemed geared more towards market gardeners, but I did purchase Four-Season Harvest and it is proving very useful in my gardening situation.

I hope this post was helpful to any other snow-trapped gardeners out there wanting to add to their garden book collection without spending too much of the spring seed budget. Happy reading and God bless!

And… if you liked this post, please Pin it!

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Winter Garden Experiment #1: Pansies!

It is becoming a reoccurring theme during the months of December, January, and February for me to try some sort of growing experiment because I’m bored, miss gardening, and want to see if it works. Some are far shots, some have failed, but if I’ve wasted resources in the process at least I’ve learned something as well. This year, however, I believe I may have put together a system that just might work, and if it does it should get the spring garden off to a nice, early start. I’m also becoming more and more interested in having more flowers in the garden and starting them from seed, hence my first winter experiment for 2018:

Pansies!

Back in December I was at a local garden center with some Christmas gift money burning a hole in my pocket. So of course, when I saw they still had a couple stands of seed packets left over from the spring rush I had to take a look. $40 later I cheerfully drove away thrilled with my new selections, one of them being the Swiss Giant pansy blend from Botanical Interests. I’ve never grown pansies before, from seed or otherwise, so this is a new adventure for me. With their frost hardy constitution, I thought it would be fun to see just how early I could get these beauties started.

The first step was to follow the directions on the packet and and cold stratify the seeds. I decided to do this in a damp paper towel, inside a plastic zip bag, inside a brown paper bag (to provide them the necessary darkness they need to germinate), and stick them in the refrigerator.

I left the seeds in the fridge for about five days.

I really like using the damp paper towel method for larger seeds that I want to pre-sprout, but since the pansy seeds are so small, I think next time I do this I will just sow them in seed starting mix and stick them in the fridge that way, as it was a pain trying to get the damp seeds off of the towel and into the seed starting mix. Praise God for toothpicks.

After sowing the stratified seeds into my favorite seed starting mix, I stuck the containers in a box to keep them in the dark and set them out in the garage. Once the sprouts emerge they will be grown under a light strip in the garage where it stays cool but not frigid. Once they are big enough and the weather is more accommodating, the transplants will be stuck in a cold frame and eventually into their final containers.

I’m excited to see how this particular winter “experiment” turns out. Lord willing, I’ll have some lovely blooms to enjoy this spring!

Deck Farming 2017: Wins and Fails

I consider 2017 my best year of container gardening (or as I sometimes call it, Deck Farming) to date. Not, mind you, because I produced an epic amount of veg (I certainly didn’t) but because of how much I learned, and how well I feel it set me up for this year’s gardening escapades. And so, without further ado, here are some of my wins and fails for the 2017 growing season:

WIN: 2017 was the first year I attempted starting tomatoes from seed indoors under a shop light, and I am pleased to say that the Glacier and Super Bush seedlings that came from it were hale and hearty!

FAIL: To harden off my precious tomato seedlings I let them spend some time outdoors getting used to the sun and wind. One evening as I stepped out to collect my dear little darlings, I discovered to my horror that a rude groundhog had eaten my poor little plants down to stubs! I’m sure you can imagine my rage and despair. However, it was early enough in the season that I was able to replace them with transplants from a local nursery, praise God.

WIN: I finally got around to growing the Rattlesnake pole and Scarlet Runner beans I’d ordered the year before. The Rattlesnake beans had a great flavor.

FAIL: I overcrowded them terribly, probably didn’t give the Scarlet Runners a deep enough container, and due to being sick a good part of late spring and early summer did not water them nearly enough. The Scarlet Runners never gave me beans, but I did get to finally have a look at their flowers.

WIN: I managed to successfully produce a few peppers and eggplants from nursery transplants.

FAIL: Mr. Awesome doesn’t like peppers or eggplant, and I didn’t get around to eating them much either. They were a waste of valuable space and growing medium.

WIN: I grew some lovely baby lettuce

FAIL: Didn’t grow enough lettuce. My new, long term gardening goal is to produce enough leafy greens all year long that we do not need to buy any at the store.

FAIL: Our poor plants were beset with cabbage worms again this year, and I wasn’t well enough, or diligent enough, to get outdoors and pick them off. Think I’m going to just have to get some BT this year seeing as they have been eating my seedlings away.

ALSO FAIL: I grew no less than three different types of basil last year and I think I may have used them once in cooking. Same goes for the other herbs.

WIN: I grew some lovely varieties of marigolds from seed that I was very happy with, specifically Bambino and Naughty Marietta:

I’m finding I much prefer marigold varieties with single flowers over the double. Something about them seems so joyful, and they aren’t what you typically see offered in flats at garden centers.

EPIC, EPIC FAIL: The last time I was blogging I mentioned that Mr. Awesome bought me several lovely own root roses for my 30th birthday and stated that I would be bringing them indoors that winter to protect them. Well, I didn’t, and I lost EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. Talk about a hard lesson learned!

WIN: Last September I was moseying around a local greenhouse which the few times I’ve been there has had some truly impressive rose bushes for sale. Being later in the season, their remaining stock was 50% off, so for less than $15 I brought home a lovely grafted Burgundy Iceberg rose, which bloomed its heart out until I finally brought it into the garage to (Lord willing) safely hibernate until spring.

WIN: After watering a particular houseplant and having it overflow onto our lovely antique Victorian secretary, I banished all of our houseplants outdoors to, frankly, thrive or die. They had been looking quite forlorn anyway, and I wasn’t terribly worried if they didn’t make it. I told myself if they did well I would worry about what to do with them when the weather turned cold again.

Well, the field trip outside did the majority of them a great deal of good. They grew, got plenty of water, sunshine, and humidity, and I didn’t have to fear for our furniture or worry much about them for a couple of months. I fully intend for this to become a routine in our household. Another big bonus to taking them outdoors was my Christmas cacti were given the conditions they needed to flower, and put on quite a show:

WIN: I read Eliot Coleman’s books, The Four-Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook. Living in Michigan in zone 6a where we are beset with cold weather six months of the year, the concept of winter growing is extremely attractive to me. I also made my first cold frame and put it to use, but that’s probably a good subject for another blog post.

Those are some of the main highlights of the 2017 growing season. My main goal for 2018 is to grow enough produce that it makes a significant impact on our diet (and bank account). I’m especially excited to put to practice what I’ve learned about season extending and winter growing, and hope to have more cold frames together by spring to start seedlings in.

God bless!

Rose: Ballerina

It was quite a revelation when I discovered that some roses only have five petals per bloom. Having had the image of a red hybrid tea imprinted on my mind from childhood to be what qualified as a rose, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that a simplified version existed, which most likely lead to my initial reaction of, what’s the point of a rose that doesn’t look like a rose?

But my perception quickly changed, partly due to the lovely photos in Peter Beales’ book Passion for Roses, and also that I had read somewhere that single roses did better in part-shade conditions. Of course, variety is always nice, so when I made my list of “must haves” before making the order from High Country Roses, a couple of singles made it to the list, one of them being Ballerina.

She didn’t disappoint me.

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Ballerina is a repeat blooming hybrid musk that I anticipate will keep me in lovely blossoms all through the growing season and should stay a relatively manageable size. If I remember correctly, she had a light scent in the mornings which disappeared by afternoon. Her open, single flowers offer a nice opportunity for pollinators.

The main problem I had with her was caterpillars making Swiss cheese out of her leaves as they did with all of my roses. With all of the rain we’ve had during this summer and fall most of the roses ended up with mildew on at least a couple of leaves, and Ballerina may have as well. Still, I expect her to be an easy going rose that shouldn’t give me much trouble in years to come.

 

 

Rose: Bill Reid

Of the roses I received this year, Bill Reid was one that really bloomed its heart out for me, and I praise God for that because this rose carries special sentiment for me.

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Bill Reid in front, not long after planting

This spring  I was scrolling through the High Country Roses online catalog (something, I must confess, that occupied a good bit of my time early in the year…), when to my great surprise, I came across a rose that carried the same name as one of my grandmother’s brothers. Confused, I tried to mentally page through what little I knew of the man (now passed on), and could not come up with any connection he would have had to roses. I called my mother and we laughed over such a strange coincidence which was only deepened by the fact that my grandmother’s favorite color of rose is yellow, as was her mother’s.

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The rose, of course, has no connection to my great-uncle, and neither did the artist whom this rose is named after. Still, my grandmother thought enough of it to ask to see the rose, and when I showed her the picture in the HCR catalog, she very kindly offered to get me one for my birthday.

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Bill Reid is part of the Canadian Artists series; a compact, repeat flowering floribunda that can handle temperatures down to zone 3. My young plant doesn’t appear to be very thorny, but that may change as it matures. It has a very light (citrus?) sent which isn’t all that impressive but what it doesn’t do for the nose Bill Reid does for the eyes.

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I have more pictures of Bill Reid than any of the other roses that bloomed this season, as I wanted my grandmother to see how lovely the rose she gave me turned out. She was delighted, and I am thankful to have a rose that will always remind me of her.

 

 

 

Introducing the Roses

I went rose crazy this spring.

When I first became interested in gardening I thought I would be focusing mostly on edibles, as the whole homesteading/self-sufficiency thing is very appealing to myself and Mr. Awesome, who comes from an agrarian family. But then catalogs and library books happened, and suddenly I was entranced by the idea of having a rose garden, albeit a potted one. I prayed that I would be able to get three rose bushes by the end of the 2016 growing season. I ended the year with fourteen, praise God! Most of the roses were an early 30th birthday present from Mr. Awesome and my grandmother.

The majority of the roses came mail order via High Country Roses out in Colorado. I really can’t recommend them enough if you are looking for young, own root roses. Their selection is great, shipping costs are reasonable, and the customer service is very good. One wet April morning, I received one of each of the following:

  • Cardinal de Richelieu
  • The Fairy
  • Gruss An Aachen
  • Buff Beauty
  • Marchesa Boccella
  • Ballerina
  • Zephirine Drouhin
  • Mountain Mignonette
  • Distant Drums
  • Madame Pierre Oger
  • Bill Reid
  • Awakening
  • Honorine de Brabant
  • Reine des Violettes
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Rose order before being taken out of the box. The bloom you see above is the Gruss An Aachen. Though the petals were not at their peak, it smelled wonderful.

Before their arrival, I made sure I had all I needed for my new charges. I had found enough good sized pots to house them in in the recycling bin of a local nursery, which cost me nothing (if you have a nearby nursery or home improvement store that lets you raid their recycle bin, this is a great way to get plastic containers for free). I had also picked up a bag or two of Dairy Doo and some cedar mulch.

The instructions High Country Roses sent along with their order recommended hardening the little plants off before planting them out. Since they were going into pots and I could stick them under our balcony until they were more comfortable with their surroundings, I called HCR and asked if that would be an adequate hardening off period. The gentleman said it would be fine, so I geared up to plant.

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The Fairy, planted and ready to grow.

All of the HCR roses got the same treatment. I made a mix of some soil I had left over from the year before, peat moss, homemade compost, Dairy Doo, and a bit of Espoma’s Rose-tone. After planting them in their containers, I surrounded them with a thin layer of Dairy Doo, mulched them with the cedar, and gave them a drink.

The two climbers, Awakening and Zephirine Drouhin, got the largest containers (at least 20 in. and probably close to 20 gallons of space) as well as a couple of homemade trellises I DIYed.

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Awakening with the bamboo trellis I made by tying poles together with fishing line. May not hold up for long, but at least it’s light weight.

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Zephirine Drouhin with the much heavier trellis I made by screwing together 1 1/2 x 3/4 in. untreated pine lumber. Much heavier but more professional looking.

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Buff Beauty

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Honorine de Brabant up on our balcony.

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I believe the rose in front is Bill Reid. I think that’s The Fairy behind it.

Overall, everything went in just fine. In hindsight I think I should have been a bit more conservative with the amount of compost I put in with them, and perhaps left off the Espoma as Buff Beauty and Reine des Violettes ended up quite leggy. I also regret a couple of my container choices. A few simply did not drain well and with the unusually wet summer we had, it was a bit of a shuffle to keep the roses from drowning.

A few weeks later I was looking through the discount section at a local nursery and saw that they had a few David Austin roses there with mildew ravaging their leaves. Despite the mildew and the fact that they were grafted, I couldn’t resist the price tag of $10 each and brought home a Harlow Carr and a Wollerton Old Hall. I tried to keep them away from the other roses to keep the mildew from spreading and treat them as best I could. Eventually I just defoliated them both. Harlow Carr Survived by Wollerton Old Hall did not. That week  Zephirine Drouhin showed up with mildew. I don’t know if it was a coincidence or if I had infected her by bringing in the new comers, but if I had to do it over again I think I would have left the discounted roses where they were. Still, Harlow Carr gave me some very lovely blooms this season, even if it is a bit of a thorny monster.

Poor Distant Drums had a bit of a struggle. It ended up on our balcony where I think it simply got too hot and eventually expired. A big bummer considering the lovely coffee fading to lavender color of its blooms.

It is amazing how quickly roses grow though, and I was very happy that Awakening, The Fairy, Gruss an Aachen, Marchesa Boccella, Ballerina, Mountain Mignonette, Distant Drums, Bill Reid and Harlow Carr all bloomed at least once.

I’m very thankful to have the roses around, and am excited to see how they do next season (assuming I don’t kill any more of them before then). I look forward to them becoming big, mature plants. Most if not all of them will be overwintering in our garage (a perk of growing them in pots). Most should safely grow in our zone, but I see no reason to take the chance. We had a mild winter last year, but the two years before that were quite brutal.

Eventually I plan to re-pot them into larger, more stately containers, but for now they should have plenty of room to stretch their legs, at least until spring arrives.