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 Fruit and berries

Start building the hives!

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: April 29, 2014 - 8:57 AM

I am a beekeeper.  And even though this is a gardening blog, I hope you don’t mind if I talk about my bees a little bit.  They are fascinating and they play a pretty big role in the circle of life of gardens.

Like gardeners, beekeepers enter Spring very optimistic.  We picked up our bees from Nature’s Nectar on a beautiful sunny morning a week ago.  Put two boxes filled with about 7,000 bees each in the back of our SUV and headed north.   It was windy on Monday, but dry.  Late afternoon, we suited up, sprayed the bees down with a little sugar water and shook them into their new homes.  We have two boxes, two live queens, a bunch of sugar water – everything is peachy.

The next morning, the bees were out and about checking out the neighborhood.  The apiary is in a good location, basswood trees, dogwood bushes and plenty of water within a mile.  Nothing blooming at the time, but they have sugar water (carbohydrates) and substitute pollen (protein), so they have what it takes to start working on growing the hives.  (Little did the bees know that it would be SNOWING this morning!)

Not everyone can keep bees.  It freaks out many of my friends when I tell them that in August, we have about 30,000 bees less than 20 feet from our deck at the cabin.   Really, they are more help than harm.  

Over 35% of human food relies on pollinators.  Aspen, birch and many of trees of the woods could not survive without pollinators.  The seeds the birds eat are all pollinated.  There are over 300 species of bees in Minnesota – over 18 of bumblebees alone.  

Unfortunately, pollinators are dying.   

The reasons are numerous, and as a Hennepin County Master Gardener, I’m waiting for the “official word” from the University of Minnesota before I start shouting.  For now, I’m spending a couple hundred bucks on bees.  Giving them time and sugar and hoping that they help my little corner of the world.  Maybe if I’m lucky we’ll get some honey to enjoy.  

If your neighbor asked you if they could keep bees in their back yard (or deck or roof) – and city laws were not a factor – would you give them permission?  

Taking the pulse on impulse purchases

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: September 6, 2013 - 11:14 AM


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.


Ambergate Gardens to close

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 6, 2013 - 11:49 AM


Ambergate Gardens ( is ending its run.


For 28 years, the plant-only nursery in Chaska has been a destination for gardeners seeking unusual hardy perennials.

But owners Mike and Jean Heger have decided it's time to retire from retail. They announced the news "with mixed emotions" in a recent letter to customers, saying they were "ready to have some free time during the growing season."

"It's bad for our customers, good for us," said Mike in a phone interview. "We're not going to retire from horticulture, but we're ready to put a little different spin on it." He hopes to do more teaching, speaking and writing. "If I can find a publisher, maybe I'll write another book." (His "Growing Perennials in Cold Climates" was published in 1998 and updated in 2011.) 

"We want to keep the Ambergate name, but as more of a consulting business."

The Hegers have signed a purchase agreement with Mattamy Homes to sell their 42-acre site, which is slated to  become a housing development. "We bought this piece of property with this in mind," he said.

That leaves the Hegers with a whole lot of plants to sell before Oct. 13, when they expect to close  Ambergate's doors for good. To that end, Ambergate is holding its "one and only sale" with 25 percent off all stock. "We'll start liquidating next week (on Sept. 10) and sell til it's gone," he said. (Customers who received the Hegers' letter can bring it in for an additional 10 percent off.) "We want our active long-term customers to get the greatest discount."

The inventory includes about 30,000 plants representing 1,000-plus varieties, propagated on site. "We have natives, exotics, sun to shade plants and traditional perennials," he said.

That includes many unusual, hard-to-find perennial species. "There are  a lot of really good perennials that don't get into the mainstream," he said, such as Lemon Queen, a sunflower with prolific blooms in a "rich, clear lemon yellow," and unusual natives like wild quinine.

"We do some things nobody else does," he said. "There's definitely going to be a void here. Hopefully, someone else will step in."



Next year's garden trends

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 3, 2013 - 12:24 PM


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?  



Chicken-in-the-woods, a delicious find!

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: August 14, 2013 - 8:17 AM


Last weekend my husband and I were enjoying a Twin Cities park when lo and behold we came across a chicken-in-the-woods mushroom a short distance from the path.  After a couple of arm pumps and “woo hoos”, I took out my jack knife and carefully removed two of the three mushrooms. 


In this particular park it is legal to remove mushrooms.   I knew this going in, thus the jack knife in my pocket and plan to carry any mushroom bounty out in my straw hat.

The bright yellow and distinctive shape is hard to get wrong.  A close relative, hen-in-the-woods, is easy to identify as well.  Bill Marchel did a great article last week on this hen-in-the-woods.

I’ve found “the chicken” before and know it’s delicious flavor (hence the arm pumps).  They have the taste and texture of moist, herby chicken.  The two we harvested were over a pound and the earthy aroma in the car ride home made me salivate. 

Shortly after getting home, I brushed off any remaining dirt from the mushrooms, cut them up and placed 2/3 of the stash on a cookie sheet for freezing.  The remaining portion was cooked in a little butter, olive oil, and a smidge of garlic powder.  We added this to some whole wheat orzo and a little cream for a delicious side dish. 


I’m hoping we get a bit more rain so more mushrooms come popping out of the ground and into the pan!  Any foray friends who have finds to share?


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