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: 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.

2016 Growing Season: What I Learned

Last year the gardening bug bit me in the worst way, and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. Living in a condo, Mr. Awesome and I don’t have property of our own to plant on, but what we do have is roughly 516 square feet of porch, deck, and balcony space. You can grow just about anything in a container provided it’s large enough.

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Winter-sown seeds germinating

I had just enough success during the growing season of 2015 to get me wholeheartedly curious and moderately obsessed with gardening. Thanks to a slew of mouth-watering seed catalogs and a number of library books, I was determined to plan 2016 down to the minutest detail and have an epic year. But once the leaves began changing their colors and fluttering to the ground and the days cooled down, the realizations that I had not fulfilled half my plans for this growing season, that I would have to wait another six months to try again, and that what I could do this time of year I probably shouldn’t be spending money on, threw me into a full fledged pity party.

Ungrateful much?

Saturday morning I sat in bed with my journal. As I sipped my cup of coffee, I thought about all that had gone on this past spring and summer, and I realized that, far from having wasted the year, a good deal had been accomplished and I had plenty to thank Jesus for:

  • God answered my prayers about our light situation. Our condo is in a fairly wooded area and our deck is shrouded by several large walnut trees. This caused me considerable worries as most of the things I’ve been dying to grow do best in full sun. After praying for some help in the matter (“Lord, would you please just get rid of that tree… and that tree?”), I decided to go ahead and experiment, and praise God, the tomatoes ripened and roses bloomed in places I had some serious doubts about. I now have a better idea of what will grow where.
  • I end this season with fourteen rose bushes and three ferns I didn’t have last season. The ferns came from a kind neighbor and the rose bushes were mostly birthday presents from Mr. Awesome and my grandmother. I became fairly rose obsessed early this year and prayed that Jesus would let me have three roses by the end of the year, which He more than answered.  A subject, no doubt, for another post…
  • This past winter I discovered I could compost in plastic totes in our garage with few issues.
  • I made my first seed order by mail, the result being I purchased entirely too many varieties. But now I have a large mason jar full of seeds, most of which should be viable next year.
  • I gave winter sowing a try and had a good bit of success with it, though I think I will  make some changes to my method if I try it again.
  • I grew enough tomato plants from seed that I had more than enough seedlings to give away to family and friends.
  • I discovered Dave’s Garden and the Garden Watchdog, which have proven to be very valuable resources when choosing mail order seed and plant companies to order from.
  • I improved the soil in our containers by adding our homemade compost as well as Dairy Doo.
  • I attended a garden expo at a local nursery and took in several seminars. It was a joy to be in such a contagious gardening atmosphere.
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The Bill Reid rose

So, I didn’t grow all forty-some varieties of seed I purchased, and many of the ones I tried to grow didn’t make it, but some things did. Two of the sixteen rose bushes I bought expired, and the others had mildew and cabbage worm problems, but some gave us beautiful blooms. I didn’t entirely cover our deck with  pots and raised beds as I had fantasized, but through the kindness of others I received many plants that should last for years.

As six months of winter race towards us, I thank the Lord for all He has given me this growing season and for all He’s taught me.  And I still have much to look forward to. While the earth rests and snow piles up outside, I can armchair garden, sating myself with gardening books and seed catalogs. I can continue to learn, dream, and plan; praying that 2017 will be my best gardening season yet.

Weekend Project: DIY Plant Stand

A little over a year ago I decided I needed houseplants.

All of the houseplants.

Over the next several months I dumped a couple hundred dollars into living greenery and dispersed it about the condo with glee, Mr. Awesome no doubt thinking I’d gone a bit mad.

Long story short, some of the plants lived, some met early deaths, but I did manage to keep a few favorites alive through the winter with the help of a good deal of praying and the two humidifiers we were constantly filling. When spring gets here, I thought to myself, I can unplug the humidifiers, do a bit of fertilizing, and the plants will take off. I spent many spare moments fantasizing of the verdant jungle Mr. Awesome and I would be living in come summer.

Boy, was I wrong.

I over watered, over or under fertilized, moved them to locations they didn’t appreciate, chilled them with air conditioning, and generally neglected them throughout what should have been their season of glory. The result being now most of them look down right awful.

Not really being in the position to throw down another $65 on another fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) if the one I have fizzles out, I decided it might be a good idea to see if I couldn’t take some cuttings to make my own baby fiddle leaf figs. But where would I put them once I did?

Also, I was praying for a project on Saturday to keep me from brooding over Arthur’s situation and life in general. Thank You, Lord, for some inspiration.

The previous owners of our condo left an old, wooden ladder behind which I had painted a while ago and used as a place to hang throws and an old quilt my grandmother gave me. Seeing as ladders are all the rage in blogs and Pinterest boards, it wasn’t hard to know  what to do with it. Said previous owners also left behind some sturdy glass shelves, God bless them.

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I dug out just about all of the vases we had, filled them, and made my fiddle leaf fig cuttings. The plant in the silver pot is a young Monstera deliciosa I started a while ago.

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Mr. Awesome said he liked the way the shelves looked (win!). I agree with him, though it will need some tweaking to level the shelves. I’m also not a huge fan of where it is located, but if I want the cuttings to send out roots they will need plenty of light, so their location near a pair of south facing sliders is where they will stay for the time being.

 

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If all of these cuttings take off, I’m going to have to adopt out baby fiddle leaf figs.

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Now would perhaps be a good point to mention the potential dangers houseplants can pose to parrots. There are currently no plants in our bird room, and we make sure the birds aren’t munching on the plants outside of their room. From what I can see Monstera deliciosa is toxic to parrots, and Ficus lyrata most likely is as well. If you have parrots (or other pets) and houseplants, be sure to research whether or not they are dangerous for your birds. It would probably be wise to check a few different sources while you are at it, just to be sure. If in doubt, keep the two apart. Below I’ve listed some links of places to research whether or not a particular plant is bird safe. Also, please note, just because a plant is not toxic to dogs, cats, or other animals does not necessarily mean it will not hurt your bird:

The ASPCA’s list

Parrot Products Picture Library’s list

Bird Channel’s list

peteducation.com (Doctors Foster and Smith)’s list