Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
It's May: The magnolias are blooming, the grass is trending green and there's a chance of snow. It's like a math problem: We all know which one of these isn't like the other.
Enough already with the snow. A joke's a joke, and this spring is shaping up to be a mean one played on gardeners and other Minnesotans itching to enjoy their usual frenzy of pent-up outdoor activities once winter releases its chilly, unflinching grip.
Rationally, we know it has to end soon, that this won't be the year that the glaciers form a convoy line down I-94 from the north, never to recede. But it's tough to think spring will happen when you look out the window on May 2 and can no longer convince yourself that if you squint real hard, that's rain coming down, not snow. I braced myself to wake up to snow accumulation this moring, and was relieved we'd dodged that bullet. (Sorry, south and east-metro gardeners.)
But the 10-day forecast and our instinct tells us we'll get through this, and so will many of our plants. While I cringe when the snow falls on the nearly bursting buds of my rhododendron, I know that it will likely survive the late snow much better than the damage already done to its lower limbs up to the bunny-on-tiptoe level. The ground isn't frozen, so that will help the snow melt faster, as will the above-freezing temperatures. And our perennials and zone-hardy flowering trees have had the spring rug pulled out from under them before. Some of the early risers might have their blooms nipped in the bud, so to speak, but many of summer's perennials have been cautious.
I'm being more cautious too: With the opening of the farmers markets, I would have bought a passel of bedding plants this weekend, but I'll hold off for now on more tender herbs like basil. But I will plant pea seeds and cold weather crops like lettuce.
If we're being honest with ourselves, the late spring is only slowing us down so much in the garden. It's kept us from our rush to rake too early, our urge to plant tomatoes before the ground soil is warm enough. If it stays cold much longer, it could shorten the growing season a tad. If so, you might want to check out tomato varieties that like a shorter growing season store.tomatofest.com/Tomato_Varieties_for_Cooler_Climates_s/47.htm and the University of Minnesota Extension guide to growing veggies: www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/dg1422.html.
Like a sports team coming back from a lockout, we'll rush to get our gardens and ourselves back in top shape. Because hope -- and springs -- spring eternal.
How is the slow spring altering your garden plans? And did you get snow, and if so, what's up (and under it)? I've got ambitious rhubarb, aggressive chives, timid hosta, and one lone, straggly tulip.
Photo credit: Richard Sennott, taken May 1 near the University of Minnesota
Every Spring, I make plans. Some come true, some wait for another year. This year, I've captured a few of my plans in photos. I hope to share some of these with you through this blog. And if some of you are like some of my gardening friends -- you'll keep tabs on me!
The first photo is one of rhubarb just barely peeking out from under last year's leaves. This
This year I promise to try a new gardening technique. For 2013, I've chosen Straw Bale Gardening. We bought the book, and last week purchased 5 bales of straw. Conditioning is started and we'll see how it goes. I'll be conducting a 'tomato test' to compare -- ground vs. bales.
This year I promise to thin my apples. Last year's late frost ruined my tree. I had
And I promise to cut more flowers and bring them into the office. The daffodils I've pictured here will look great in a few weeks. Home grown flowers lighten up any desk.
What about you? Do you have something new you're going to try? Do you want to share more? Add a comment, join the conversation. Spring is here... what do you promise?
This year, I've learned: That fancy-pants small animal barrier I bought isn't rabbit-proof. It did last until late August before the baby bunny chewed an entrance and exit hole on opposite sides of the netting surrounding the raised bed. The upshot: Better barriers are on the drawing board for next year, the trick being to devise something strong enough to ward off sharp rabbit teeth but attractive enough to not detract from the looks of the back yard.
This year, I've relearned: You only need one kale plant to feed two people, even if you freeze lots of it. Actually you only need half a kale plant to feed two people it it's the four-foot monster out back, but they don't come in halves. The upshot: I'll make sure to pass along three of the four-pack at next year's plant sale.
This year, I've learned: Watering systems aren't forever. Rascally rodents have done a number on parts of our labyrinth of soaker hoses. The upshot: A trip to the garden supply store is in order for replacement parts. No idea how to deter the pests from trying again, but I'll ponder that in the off season while I'm devising ways to keep them out of my raised beds.
This year I've relearned: The names of some of my plants. I've had a bad habit of planting something obscure and then obscuring (or losing) the ID tag. This year I went back through my receipts and mapped out where the unknown plants were, consolidating my records so I can refer to them again. The upshot: A little bit of inside organization can help you outside.
This year I've relearned: Standard tomato cages just don't bear up under the weight. At some point, I inevitably come home to find an avalanche has occurred and prop up the works with something less than esthetically pleasing. The upshot: I've been googling rebar tomato cages. It's time for industrial strength reinforcement.
Sometimes I do internalize the garden lessons from the previous season. This year I managed to follow through on a lesson from last year: Just because a tomato volunteers some place doesn't mean you have to let it grow there.
What has your garden taught you?
Seven heads of cabbage, two Swiss chard plants, four kale plants, and one big bowl of cucumbers are still out there awaiting attention. When it's forecast to be 32 degrees or less overnight, that's when I find myself scurrying around first trying to harvest it all, and then trying to cram it all into 14.7 cubic feet of refrigerator space until I can get it processed into soups and such to go into the freezer. (I won't even contemplate the freezer math.)
One of my resolutions at the end of last year was to trying to avoid the annual last-minute scramble, so I've been trying to make inroads on the kale and chard so I don't have to pick all of it at the same time I'm trying to pick the stubbornly green tomatoes and bring in all the herb pots. But with the recent fall weather and shored-up fencing, the kale has taken off faster than I can seem to pick it or find room in the refrigerator around all the broccoli I'm still trying to finish off. The four vats of soup I made last weekend didn't seem to make much of a dent in the cruciferous bounty. And there's only so much that can go into kale chips.
Luckily, kale can survive cold temps fairly well and some people think it tastes sweeter after a touch of frost. I've sometimes resorted to leaving a bunch of the kale to take its chances once the refrigerator is packed to the gills. It's nice to have something left to harvest after the freezing frenzy has died down.
I did harvest an enormous bowl of basil last weekend based on the cool forecast. Forty minutes of destemming the plants yielded 3 pints of pesto, and one less chore to face on the night before a real frost.
So the final math question: How many days will I have before the frost finally overcomes the urban heat bubble in my back yard?
This weekend, for the first time ever, I harvested sweet potatoes. In Minnesota, of all places!
They were my big garden experiment this year. Last winter, I ordered “Georgia Jet” slips — the little sprouts that you plant — from a company in Tennessee. When they arrived late in May, they were looked pathetic, but I planted them in my raised bed with high hopes.
The bed had been covered in black plastic to keep the soil warm, but the cover didn’t deter the chipmunks from digging up the precious, fragile plants that were growing through slits in the plastic. Soon my struggling little shoots were surrounded by rocks and pot shards in an attempt to keep them safe from the critters.
This is what they looked like in June:
And then they took off, and this is what they looked like early in August:
I was excited when they began flowering early this month. The quarter-sized flowers were lavender with a darker throat, just like the flowers on my ornamental sweet potato vine. Some Master Gardeners told me flowering meant that it was time to harvest, while others said to wait until the vines begin to yellow. That started a couple of weeks ago.
When it turned cooler this weekend, I had to check on my crop. I tore the black plastic back from a corner of the raised bed and scraped some of the dirt away. To my surprise, the base of my once-fragile plant was as thick as finger. The potatoes were right below the surface of the soil, pointing down.
When I grasped the base of the vine and pulled, they came up cleanly like a fat bunch of carrots.A couple of the sweet potatoes from this plant are about six inches long, while the others are smaller. I’m going to leave the other plants in the bed as long as I can before I pull them.
Now my sweet potatoes have to sit and cure for awhile to bring out the sweetness in the tuber. Growing these was really fun, and I think I’m going to try them again next year. A Master Gardener who has grown sweet potatoes for years swears by the variety “Vardamon,” so I may try those next year.
What new thing did you try this year? Did it work out?
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