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.
For me, the rock star of deck and patio plants is the tropical hibiscus.
The mini-shrub’s huge trumpet-shaped flowers explode in colors like blood red, fiery orange and delicious peach. Sometimes I see tiny hummingbirds flitting around the blooms. It’s no surprise that the hibiscus is the national flower of Hawaii and Jamaica.
But since we live in Minnesota, these beauties have to be brought inside for the winter if you want them to survive until spring. And I found out that you have to be patient to make it worth the trouble.
In October, when it’s time to empty the outdoor planters, the tropical hibiscus is too lovely to send to the city disposal site with other garden debris. So I lug the super heavy pot to the basement to chill out for the winter in a special spot by a window. The cold and darkness hinders bud growth, but I water it every week, dreaming about all the bodacious blooms it will produce come summer.
In May, I keep track of the night time temperatures. It’s only safe to place tender plants outdoors when temperatures stay above 50 degrees. So usually by Memorial Day, I lug the hibiscus pot up from the basement to a special spot in the sun on the deck.
It looks pretty pathetic - the foliage is sparse and scraggly - but there’s promising new growth.
I give the plant a little TLC and fertilizer. Then I wait, every day inspecting for buds.
The last two summers, the slow-as-a snail hibiscus didn’t produce buds until almost August. It really takes a tropical plant, which likely would choose to live in Hawaii over Minnesota, a long time to get in the groove.
This summer, I've seen lush hibiscus bursting with flowers at the garden centers. Ther're very tempting - and I bet they’re on sale.
Do you have good luck overwintering tropical plants? What are your favorites?
The growing season is winding down, but trendwatchers are already looking ahead to how we'll be gardening next year.
So what crops, methods and looks will be hot in 2014? Here are a dozen top trends from the Garden Media Group, presented by trendspotter Suzi McCoy at the recent Garden Writers Association Symposium in Quebec City:
1. Ground up. Food scraps are the new recyclables, according to McCoy. About 25 percent of Americans are currently composting and building their soil from scratch, and more will jump on the compost bandwagon, inspired by new user-friendly compost products.
2. Super Foods Super Models. The veggie-growing renaissance that emerged a few years back is still robust, with more gardeners branching beyond the basics to grow hard-to-find specialty veggies, fruits and herbs.
3. Drink Your Yard. Homegrown goes liquid, with more gardeners growing hops for homebrew, grapes for wine, ingredients for craft cocktails and "green smoothies." Homemade pickles and kimchi also will be big. "Fermentation gardens are the new chickens," according to Rebecca Reed of Southern Living.
4. Dress Up Your Yard. Outdoor living enthusiasts are in the mood to accessorize, using artsy pots, chandeliers and other "garden jewelry" to add flair to their landscapes.
5. Bee-nificials. Pollinators are in peril, and consumers are primed to help, planting pollen-rich natives, moving away from monocultures and adding habitat, both natural vegetation and bee-friendly innovations such as "bee hotels."
6. Cultur-vating. Locavores are taking local to the next level, embracing plants that are local to their region but mixing them with plants from other cultures.
7. Simple Elegance. Gardens are taking a cue from fashion with color-blocking and other simple-yet-high-impact color schemes, including classic black and white.
8. Frack'd Up. Neat clean lines are passe. The trendiest gardens will feature fractional shapes such as triangles, circles and squares. Umbels -- a flower shape featuring spiky stems topped by round clusters of blooms -- will be especially popular.
9. Young Men Get Down and Dirty. Who spends the most money in the garden? Right now, it's young guys, ages 18 to 34, who shell out $100 more than average during the growing season. They're growing food for grilling, hops for homebrew and peppers for homemade salsa.
10. Think Gardens. As more people get the message that plants help us de-stress and work smarter, look for more outdoor garden meetings, indoor gardens at work and even desktop gardens.
11. Fingertip Gardening. Gardening goes digital. Instead of asking friends and neighbors for growing advice, we're now turning to the Internet and mobile apps.
12. Tree-mendous Reversal. Between development and pests, we're losing 4 million urban trees a year -- and we're increasingly aware of what that's costing us -- environmentally, economically and emotionally. Thus, we're going to be planting a lot of trees, trying to restore our arboreal balance.
That's what's in. Here's what's out, according to McCoy. "Fairy gardens are over," she said. (Although I'm not sure Minnesota gardeners are ready to let go of them, judging from the many fairy gardens entered in this year's Beatuiful Gardens contest.)
So now it's your turn to weigh in, fellow gardeners. Which of these trends resonate for you? Which ones will you be embracing? Or ignoring?
Last year, my pickles were a failure! Two things went wrong. One, I didn’t use fresh dill. I used dried dill weed that had
been sitting in my cupboard for a few years. Second, I tried brining the cucumbers. They were flavorless chewy blobs.
But, just like any garden, a new year springs optimism. Check out these pickles.
Fresh dill, fresh pickles (no brining), and a ton of garlic in each jar. I can’t wait. Maybe the cukes were a little big, but my hubby did a great job of cutting them down to size. I had extra beans so I tried pickling a few of those as well. Purple beans give the brine a color I didn't like, but I can look through that if they taste good.
Besides cucumbers coming out of my ears, I found a couple of zucchini
logs hiding. I found a recipe for Zucchini Salsa and am trying that out. First taste was a little sweet (the recipe called for a cup of brown sugar). But I’m sure after a 15 minute water bath the cumin and peppers will mellow that out.
What are your plans for garden abundance?
Canning has always turned out to be a steamy three-ring circus, with the hot plate often coming into play when I run out of burners to heat up the canning kettle, the lids and equipment, and whatever I was canning. It's made me a reluctant canner, but every year I run out of freezer space for sauces and soups, so this year I broke down and bought an induction burner. It's not one of the fancy-pants high-end models, some of which cost as much as the new stove I'd rather have, but 1,800 watts seems to do the job. It cuts the initial boil time significantly, and even more welcome, it brings the water back up to a boil nearly immediately after you put in the jars, all with far less heat pumped into the kitchen.
Induction burners are supposed to work with pans that have a flat, magnetic bottom. My canning kettle doesn't qualify as entirely flat, but it seems to work. Induction burners won't work well with pans that are only slightly magnetic, and while an induction interface disk can let you use nonmagnetic pans, it may not produce the same rapid boil times as induction-ready pans. One other note of warning for those considering an induction burner for canning use: Be sure to check out the weight limits. A gallon of water weighs more than 8 pounds, and depending on the diameter of your kettle, you may well need at least two and a half gallons of water to cover pint canning jars, plus the weight of the kettle and the loaded jars.
Now I have no more excuses not to can all those tomatoes that -- finally! -- started to turn ripe in apron-filling bunches. I just wish my mother, who relentlessly canned through hot Augusts, could have had such technology available to her.
What garden produce is cooking in your canning kettle? Or are you a freezer filler? Either way, there's a taste of summer in your future when you crack open the preserved goodness in January.
The subject line of an e-mail from my niece was "Help!" It contained no message, just the picture of the mound of kohlrabi on her counter, at right. I asked if that was self-inflicted or perpetrated by a CSA. She assured me it was one of the perils of CSA membership, and that the mound had been much bigger when it first arrived but she was getting tired of making salads with it. I sent along some additional suggestions (cut into cubes tossed with a vinaigrette and grilled in foil packets, for instance) and was glad I'd opted to let the farmers market folks raise the kohlrabi this year.
But it's not just CSAs that sometimes deliver too much of a good thing. CSAs are just macrocosms of our own smaller gardens, where everything turns ripe at once and demands attention right now to be at peak flavor and texture, so it's no wonder the bounty sometimes ends up a little lopsided to a particular veggie.
After wondering when my purple pole beans were going to produce, suddenly there they were, hiding at eye level where only a person intent on the weeds around them wouldn't notice them. And then there were lots of them, handfuls every day, leading to green bean and tomato salad (yum: www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Green-Bean-Yellow-Bean-and-Cherry-Tomato-Salad-103487), green beans Provencal style (to use more of the cute little yellow tomatoes weighing down the vines), and green beans with bacon and shallots. Because sometimes, as my niece said about the kohlrabi, making a healthy thing less healthy can yield very tasty results.
But of course, it's not just the beans to keep up with. There's the forest of kale, thicket of Swiss chard and, most demanding of all this year, the bumper crop of broccoli. Since it needs to be picked before it flowers, there's a narrow harvest window before it's too ripe, and this particular bunch has been rebudding prodigiously. So far this week the broccoli has shown up in pasta, risotto, as a side, and before the week is out, the rest of it is going to be made into a soup and frozen to eat later, when I'm slightly less tired of eating broccoli every day. And unlike tomatoes or zucchini, which you can put out at work and people will eventually wander off with them, I'm somehow thinking that might be less likely to happen with broccoli.....unless maybe I cut it up into florets and put out dip next to it....Hmmm.
Eventually, when the cucumbers threaten to overwhelm the counter, I'll break out the canner and make pickles. And remind myself to plant fewer next year. And to plant no more than two broccoli plants out of the four-pack and trade the rest at the plant swap.
But if you're really feeling overwhelmed with vegetable bounty this year, there's no need to let any of it go to compost. Any amount of fresh produce is a welcome sight at food shelves. Check out the Hunger-Free Minnesota site for links on where you can donate food at a site near you: www.hungerfreemn.org/seeking-good-gardeners
What's your strategy for managing peak produce season? And what would you do if faced with that mound of kohlrabi?
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