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.
In my world, certain foods connote certain feelings or memories.
The glee of seeing the first fruits of my labor never gets old. Is it wrong to get excited over a couple of grape tomatoes and bell peppers? Perhaps. But when gardening isn't second-nature, so to speak, even the small victories are worth celebrating. Now, after a confusing start to the gardening season, the herbs are being incorporated into meals (although my basil is really pale this year), tomatoes of all varieties are waiting to turn, zucchini plants are ready to take over the world and the Brussels sprouts are starting their ascent. The weeds are also doing very nicely, thank you very much. Aside from the birds always beating me to the strawberries, it's shaping up to be a good year. The key will be to hold my enthusiasm throughout the growing season. I can't be the only one who sometimes feels like quitting by the time mid-August rolls around. By then I've had plenty tastes of summer -- more BLTs than a person should ever eat, sweet corn for every other meal, cucumbers garnishing anything I can think of and zucchini, well, everything.
But come fall, the tastes of summer give way to the tastes of fall: squash, apples, pumpkins ... and the cycle continues, with little bursts of excitement with each growing milestone.
The more I think about it, gardening is like seasonal parenting -- you start out with a seed or a young plant, give it food, water and a lot of attention, and finally it blossoms. And although it seems like a lot of work, the end result makes it all worthwhile.
Are you an emotional gardener? What tastes like summer to you?
Another way I enjoy using herbs is with infused vinegars. I’ve used basil, rosemary, tarragon, and even garlic chives for my vinegars. They ad punch to homemade dressings and make wonderful gifts.
· Cut your herbs in the morning, rinse them clean, DRY THROUROUGHLY
· Stuff as many herbs as you can in a clean, dry canning jar
· Fill to the rim with white vinegar
· Give it a shake every day for a couple of weeks
· Strain off the vinegar and put in decorative bottles (or leave in the canning jar for home use)
Herbs are fast and easy to grow. And it seems the more you cut them back, the better they look and grow. So I try to only plant one herb plant and harvest from June to October.
I want to try creating my own salt substitute recipe. The store-purchased labels have dried citrus. Does anyone know of recipes without that? Or should I just try to peel the zest off and orange and put in my dehydrator?
Welcome home. That’s the message I got from the garden when we got back from vacation last week. We were only gone five days, but what a change five summer days can make.
When we’d left, the peonies had given up and hardly any other blooms were in action. But a burst of heat and some (more) rainfall have opened up the clematis buds and yielded a riot of delphinium, astilbe, coneflower and malva. The pea plants have gone from mere stubs to vines serious about business. And what had been teensy would-be tomatoes are nice dark green hopefuls.
The watering system we’d rigged up in our absence mostly worked, except one plant that a kind neighbor took pity on, so we didn’t come back to dead plants. We put pots inside the raised beds so they'd get the benefit of the timed water lines, which looks funny, but it's effective.
Really, nothing makes me value the garden more than coming home to it after time away. Except did I mention what the weeds did in five days? Eeek.
What have these prolific rains wrought in your garden? And what’s your strategy for getting your garden through vacation?
The woman on the hunt for hosta looked familiar. It was Betsy, my former neighbor. I hadn't seen her since the Greengirls plant swap two years ago, and before that for at least a decade.
It was great to catch up with her, trade notes -- and point out people who had hosta to swap.
That's what's fun about a plant swap, as opposed to browsing for plants at a garden center or even the farmer's market. There's more personal interaction as swappers make the rounds, check out what's available, then circle back to make a trade.
"Where's Helen?" asked a gardener tempted by the seedling tomatoes she spotted in a swapper's labeled stash.
"Who has horseradish?" another swapper asked. "Anyone seen any?"
Swaps bring out interesting people. I met seasoned green thumbs, like the woman who was turning her urban corner lot into a pollinator garden. I met enthusuastic rookies, like the guy who didn't know what plants he was bringing home and didn't care -- he just wanted to start his first garden.
One woman arrived very late, as the swap was winding down and the Greengirls (the Star Tribune's garden bloggers) were gathering up the leftover plants that hadn't found a home. Many of the orphan plants were a bit bedraggled, but the woman was happy to have them -- she tends a garden at a school with disabled children and needs all the plants she can get, she said.
If you didn't make it down to this year's swap, come join us next year. You'll find great plants and great people -- maybe even a familiar face, like a long-lost neighbor.
Unlike my colleagues, I put the green in Greengirls -- and not as in green thumb, either. So I considered last year's growing season an outstanding success when I was able to have enough tomatoes to feed my family a steady supply of BLTs and tomato sauce, and was able to outpace the birds and retrieve at least a handful of strawberries.
But the first trip to the garden this year was a painful reminder of my novice mistakes, starting with the fact that I never got around to cleaning out the garden in the first place. (Once the busy school year starts, it all goes down hill.) Here are some of the lessons I learned. If you have any other suggestions on how to make this year's garden even more successful, I'm all ears:
Use thicker garden gloves. I'm not sure what variety of weed is so thornfully painful, but it invaded by strawberry patch. And my wimpy garden gloves were no match. After my fingers started to tingle, it was time for a trip to the garden center. (And that's never a bad thing.)
Good dirt is everything. I splurged and bought better dirt, not just the stuff that was dirt cheap. Now that I have a decent foundation, I can learn how to effectively manage the quality of the soil. At least eventually.
Don't overdo it. I didn't have much faith in my gardening ability, so I overcompensated by cramming as much as I could into the garden. I ignored directions on spacing, which I've done for years with flowers. But one too many tomato plants proved to be nearly fatal to my entire bed. It's quality over quantity.
Start small. I began with four 4- by 16-foot garden. I desperately wanted to expand this year, but ran out of time. That turned out to be a good thing. I'll take what I've learned and take better care of my plot, then look to expand next year. There's so much to grow!
I'll never outsmart wildlife. Pa, my go-to guy for just about everything, really tried to rabbit-proof my garden. It worked for the most part, but they've figured out a way to get back in this year. (They enjoyed a salad made from tomato plants.) What I didn't see coming: aerial assaults. Not sure how to combat the birds' love for strawberries, or my fear of birds for that matter.
Clean up after yourself. I left my sunflowers in over the winter, thinking I was doing a good thing and providing food for birds. (See? I can be nice.) I had no excuse for the rest of the garden.
I'd love to hear any other suggestions, or gardening lessons you've learned along the way. Although I never envision having a huge garden like my dad used to -- I don't even remember buying vegetables in the store -- I would eventually like to have enough to preserve my summer bounty through the winter.
Plant swap: Don't forget our annual Green Girls free plant swap is coming up Saturday, May 31, from 10 to noon in the park area across the street from the Star Tribune building at 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis.
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