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.
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.
A friend recently purchased a new house. As he showed me photos of his back yard, we discussed the copious amounts of fresh vegetables he would be able to grow. I was envious of his space! I have a small city lot. I double plant in spaces, use my fence as a trellis for cucumbers and cram as much in as we can eat. As it happened, another friend chimed in about his plans for peppers, tomatoes and potatoes.
“Wait a minute, POTATOES, your lot is smaller than mine!” I blurted, “How can you grow potatoes?”
Then he showed me these photos of his Potato Bin. Fantastic! I had heard of using tires to grow potatoes, but something about having my food so close to rubber makes me squeamish.
To build his bin, he re-used 4x4 pieces of lumber from a deck reconstruction job; and he went to the Bargain Area of the lumber yard for the sides -- using cedar planking that was miss-cut, was a little bent, or had too many knots. He picked up several bags of manure to eventually fill the bin, and seed potatoes. They spent less than $25.
According to the plans, he should get about 100 pounds of potatoes from his bin. Not a bad investment. It proves to me again that you can grow food anywhere!
So who is going to bring some lumber to the Plant Swap on Saturday? How about potato starters? That would certainly trade for some large leaf hostas.
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?
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