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!

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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!

Not Even Gonna Use the “R” Word

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You know, the “R” word.

Those things people make around New Years and seldom keep.

I’m not making any of those. Nope. No thank you. I can’t even be trusted to do something I planned to do ten minutes ago, let alone keep a —> insert “R” word here<— for the rest of 2018. There are however, a few things I would like to do this year, so I thought I might share them:

1. I want to be a better witness for Jesus. I prayed about this a lot in 2017 and it is something I believe God is working with me on. I want to be more comfortable talking with others about Him, letting them know what an enormous difference He has made in my life, and that He would be more than happy to do the same for them.

 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 KJV

2. I want to bring my container gardening skills to a new level. Please pardon the tired cliche, but I don’t know how else to say it. Gardening has become a great passion of mine, and although we live in a condo and only have a deck, balcony, and porch on which to grow things, I am becoming more and more convinced that if used wisely, that space can, Lord willing, bring us a significant harvest, not to mention a great deal of joy.

3. I Want to keep our home in better shape. With all of my health and physical problems during 2017, I often didn’t have the energy or the strength to do basic housework, and when I did I was so moody I just didn’t care. I want to get back into my stride. This obviously also applies to the bird room.

4. I want to exercise more and lose about 20 pounds. I mean, who doesn’t?

5. I want to read more. It is a sad fact that the tablet has rather taken over the place of the printed page in my life, and I find myself sometimes having difficulty sitting still and “just” reading. Technology is great sometimes, but one has to wonder if the over-stimulation of a digital screen isn’t more of a curse than a blessing.

6. I want to be more diligent in making and switching out the birds’ toys. This is something I have been failing in terribly. I want to make sure both birds are stimulated, happy, and interested. DIY toys are cheap and often the most fun for them, I just need to take the time to make them and refill the ones they have.

How about you? Any.. eh hem… goals?

A New Year. Maybe Blog Again?

By this time I’ve become good and tired of writing those “I’ve fallen off the blogging wagon, but here I am to try again!” posts. There’s just been too many of them over the years and I have little doubt there will be more. So I am going to just skip it, as I don’t believe there is a blogger existing who can not relate to the fact that life happens and when things get busy the blog is oftentimes the first thing to get chucked. That said, I hope anyone reading this had a truly blessed Christmas and is excited for the prospects of 2018. May God give you all much peace and joy in the year to come!

I have to admit, I am thankful 2017 is over. It was a rough year for Mr. Awesome and I, though also full of many blessings. There were times when we didn’t know if Mr. Awesome would have a job in a week, or even a couple of days. I struggled with illness and medication issues for most of the year, not to mention three protruding disks in my neck. These things combined brought about a lot of worry over finances, and our one and only vehicle gave us some rather expensive problems. But, praise God, good things happened too.

We welcomed a new sister-in-law into our family. Our newest niece celebrated her first birthday in style. The garden was a bigger success this year than any other, and our two birds are doing well.

Yes, two birds. We lost poor little Arthur a couple of weeks after he became ill. Willow and Robin continue to do well, though Robin has good days and bad days with his heart condition. We thank Jesus for whatever time we get with him.

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Bathrooms are still her favorite places

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“Daddy” rigged him up a new play gym that gets him even closer to The Budgie In the Mirror

And with that, I’d like to once again wish you all a very bright, Happy New Year, which, Lord willing, will be filled with plenty of consistent blogging.

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.

 

 

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.