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.
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.
The giant metal rooster at the entrance is a sure sign that buying plants at the Minneapolis Farmers Market on Lyndale is a whole different experience than at Twin Cities garden centers.
The sprawling Farmers Market is a festival-like amalgam of smells, people watching, food and of course, tables and tables of plants and produce. I went there last Saturday and found a riot of hanging flower baskets and flats of mass appeal annuals --- geraniums, coleus, impatiens and begonias.
It also felt like a Costco on a weekend with samples of salsa, cheese and sausage - making it easy to get sidetracked from my mission of checking out the perennial assortment. If you’re looking for more unusual or not as common varieties - you should hit the garden centers. But the Farmers Market has plenty of the tried-and-true daylilies, hosta, peonies, garden phlox, Asiatic llilies, bleeding heart, coneflowers and other northern garden faves.
This time of year, a lot of the produce, like tomatoes, are shipped in. But fresh asparagus, green onions, and some lettuces are in season and ready to put in your salads. Vendors also sell eggs, meats, cheeses, jams and jellies.
Need some campy garden art to decorate the beds? Head to the far end of the Farmers Market Annex, where there’s a sea of metal sculptures and a lots of ceramic planters -- some shaped like fish.
Prices for plants seemed comparable or even less than at the garden centers. My best bargain was a $15 tomato plant in a staked pot that was the perfect size for a small deck. It was full of flowers and the Brooks Farm growers said the plant would produce tomatoes by mid-July.
The Lyndale Farmers Market, nestled next to the freeway, is a break-your-routine alternative to the garden centers - and where you can munch on a brat and down fresh squeezed lemonade while you peruse the flats. It’s open from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily - with Saturdays and Sundays offering the most vendors and selection. (www.mplsfarmersmarket.com).
And the best place to meet friends is in front of the “big chicken” - that’s what everyone calls it.
Do you like Twin Cities Farmers Markets and which one is your favorite?
Would a blue tomato taste as luscious as a red one?
Will you want to bite into corn with kernels that look like a string of Technicolor beads?
Nurseries and seed companies are introducing colorful incredible edibles for home gardeners who want the next best thing since a sliced tomato. Sara Woodruff of NPR included these two colorful crops in her top picks in a Salt article (http://n.pr/ROCUfX). They would definitely turn heads at the local farmers markets.
Glass Gem Corn: A corn breeder in Oklahoma, Carl Barnes, crossed different vibrant colored Native American corns and ended up with the aptly named Glass Gem Corn. It’s best popped for popcorn or ground for polenta or corn bread. Since it was introduced on Facebook in 2012, Native Seeds/SEARCH, a nonprofit seed conservation group in Arizona, has sold more than 10,000 seed packets.
Indigo tomatoes: The ink blue veggie was bred by Jim Myers, from the Oregon State University’s horticulture department. They might even be better for you than red tomatoes because of a higher antioxidant potential and are purportedly very flavorful. Varieties available are Indigo Rose, which takes an eternal 90 days to ripen. The Indigo Pear Drops and Cherry Drops are a quicker 70-day maturity.
To me, after a lifetime of munching green beans, red tomatoes and yellow corn, these new veggies look like they came from an animated Disney movie, not a garden bed.
What do you think about designer veggies? Do you want to grow them to impress your gardening buddies?
Photo credits: Greg Schoen/Native Seeds and Oregon State University
Oh, Minnesota. You definitely keep things interesting, from a gardener's perspective. Especially in spring.
Just two years ago, it was so hot and balmy in early April that experts had to caution us to resist the temptation to put hot-weather crops like tomatoes into the ground prematurely.
This week, we're looking at a weather forecast with a couple of dips down into the 30s. It'll feel "more like October than May," as meteorologist Paul Douglas noted.
So where does that leave us, in terms of spring planting? The old rule of thumb used to be to wait until Memorial Day. But in recent years, Mother's Day has become sort of the unofficial kick-off to the gardening season.
This year, the old model is probably the safest model, at least for certain plants.
Cold-hardy plants can handle a nippy spring. Cool-weather veggie crops like broccoli and cabbage thrive on it. But it's definitely too soon to plant tomatoes and peppers. If you've already bought those plants or grown them from seed, keep them inside a while longer. It's best to wait until the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees before putting them in the ground.
Tropicals and houseplants that you want to bring outside for the season also should stay indoors a while longer -- until there's nothing lower than 50 in the forecast.
What have you planted so far? And what are you still sheltering indoors?
I might start out with the best-laid plans, but somewhere meandering around the garden centers and farmers markets each spring, a few surprises not on the list seem to make it into my garden flat, and I find myself back home, wondering exactly where I thought I was going to put that.
Sometimes it's a plant I bought for the name as much as anything. Like the Sun Sugar tomatoes, tiny orange tomatoes that have lived up to their name this year.
Other times it's a seeming bargain that tempts me: the woman at the farmers market this spring who was eager to make me a deal on a flat of her delphiniums. Since there were no pictures, I was curious to see how the plants billed as "mixed" would turn out. I was rewarded with a dozen double blooms of white and pale blue at about the price of one of my fancier hybrids. They had shorter bloom times, and we'll see what the reseed rate turns out like next year. At any rate, they filled in some gaps at a nice price.
I've never grown watermelons before, figuring that given my limited space, they were best left to the farmers market. But I yielded to the impulse to buy one billed as producing smaller melons. Unfortunately, the tag I carefully put in the soil next to it I now realize only had the price on it, not the variety name, so I'm left to other methods to determine when it's time for harvest. I plan to cut into one this weekend and see whether my $3.95 was worth it. Certainly it's been a prolific bloomer, and there are at least a few melons to show for it.
My favorite impulse purchase this year was a rose, at the pricier end of my whimsies. I was in the market for something to shade out the roots of a troubled clematis, and came home with a Blanc Double De Coubert shrub rose. It was so long between when I planted it and when it bloomed that I'd forgotten part of its billed attraction was its strong fragrance until I finally stopped to smell the roses, literally. Well worth the $16 I paid for it, and the clematis behind it is happier too.
What gems have fallen into your garden cart this year? It's always fun to step off the planned path and experiment. And if it doesn't work out, there's always next year in the garden.
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