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.

Posts about Vegetables

Snatching victory from the jaws of squirrels

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: July 22, 2014 - 8:59 PM

I've gotten very tired of coming home to see what had been tomatoes on the cusp of ripeness hanging from the vines in shards. For the most part the squirrels don't even bother to make off with their prize, just claw at it to the point that it's no longer a candidate for the table.

I'd made a few efforts this weekend to try to ward them off, knowing that the riper the tomatoes got, the more vulnerable to marauders they become. But a ring of netting didn't deter the varmints, so I'm going to have to take sterner measures.

In the meantime, until I get to a store for more defense supplies, I've started taking the precaution of picking them far sooner than I would ordinarily prefer, just so we get some tomatoes this year, even if they're counter-ripened.

Do squirrels attack your tomatoes? And what measures have you had success and failure with when it comes to protecting your bounty?

First pick of the garden

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten Updated: July 11, 2014 - 11:34 AM

In my world, certain foods connote certain feelings or memories.

When things are spinning out of control, a grilled cheese feels like a warm hug. Missing Grandma? Apple pie. And who doesn't turn to chocolate in a time of need? But this week, I finally got a taste of summer: The first two grape tomatoes were ripe for the picking.

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?


 

Take Thyme to Grow Herbs

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: July 9, 2014 - 8:31 AM

My herb garden is located right by my deck and back door.  When the grill is hot and the chicken is ready to be placed on the grills, I bend down and cut off a few branches of tarragon.  On the grill the herbs go with the chicken placed on top. Yum.  I do the same thing with thyme and fish.  It lends just a hint of herb flavoring.

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?

Getting your garden through vacation

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: July 1, 2014 - 6:57 AM

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?

Scenes from the swap

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 2, 2014 - 12:18 PM

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.

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