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.
This ugly pile of what’s-its is the result of five minutes of weeding one of my perennial gardens. This year, I could weed almost every day and not catch up. It is the year of the weeds.
Lately the state Master Gardener email list has featured photos of mystery weeds that have popped up everywhere, and sympathetic responses from gardeners who say they’re never fought so many weeds in their gardens.
This year I’ve seen lots of familiar invaders, including lamb’s quarters, Virginia copperleaf, oxalis and deadly nightshade. At least they are relatively easy to pull up in wet soil. But I have some horrible and aggressive newcomers, too. Sow’s thistle seems to be everywhere. I found many feet of wild cucumber climbing a big ornamental grass just a week after I’d weeded that garden. Bindweed, too, has invaded, and I seem to be untangling it all over the place.
Where did this stuff come from?
Some of the Master Gardeners wondered if the heavy rains we had through June helped waken long-dormant weed seeds that were just waiting for the right conditions to sprout. Maybe winds or birds deposited the seeds from other locations. I have several volunteer milkweed plants in the gardens, and I have left them as a welcome addition to the perennial mix.
Ironically my primary adversary of recent years, creeping bellflower, seems to have slowed its invasion at this stage of the year but the other weeds have taken over. I guess the only thing to do is to keep patrolling the garden for five or ten minutes a day, and try to get these guys out before they all set seed and begin a new advance nex year.
Here’s a visual guide that will help you identify some the most common weeds in Minnesota.
How are you fighting this year’s invasion? Seen anything unusual in the garden?
I went looking in my yard for some fodder for a red, white and blue bouquet. I've got a sea of blue to pick from, but I came up short on the red front. The berries in my neighbor's yard were the only patch of red to catch my eye.
My weeds are knee high by the Fourth of July. Luckily I have a day off to liberate my garden. If the weeds aren't enough incentive, I've got a stack of mulch bags taunting me, piling on the guilt.
But once I'm done, there's a lawn chair and a tall glass of lemonade with my name on it.
Have a great day, whether you're weeding or kicking back and enjoying your garden.
I’m conducting an experiment this year. I’m growing two Roma tomato plants -- one in ground, one in a straw bale.
They were planted on Memorial Day in Central Minnesota. As you can see, the plants were both the same size on planting day. And, now three weeks later, they both have one set of flowers. So when you compare the plants -- no difference so far. But, compare the weed growth – yikes.
I think it’s obvious that I got grass straw bales and not oat straw bales. Weeds are everywhere! And, since I planted onion sets on the sides of the bale, I couldn’t wipe with vinegar as suggested to kill the grass. So then I had to spend at least 20 minutes pulling out the weeds.
And I must say, the smell of the rotting bales isn’t great to be around.
The in-ground tomato had one thistle and that’s it.
I’m lucky to have nice soil, so the bales weren’t necessary, just a fun gardening experiment. But so far, the ground is winning.
Have you tried straw bales? What’s been your experience?
This spring I noticed an attractive little stranger in the garden. The leaves looked kind of cool, so I let it grow.
Last week, the now-tall stranger bloomed. The emerging lavender flowers had the delicious spicy smell of stocks, which I had tried to grow a couple of times without much luck. Could this be some weird seedling from those plants?
When I got on the Internet, I realized I had something totally different: Hesperis matronalis, better known as dame’s rocket. As my plant grew taller — this morning it was a sturdy four feet tall — the tight ball of fragrant flowers grew spiky and loose, and I recognized my dame’s rocket as the same plant I see growing in ditches and in glades along West River Parkway along the Mississippi River.
Dame’s rocket is in the same plant family as garlic mustard, one of the most noxious weeds in the Twin Cities area. My beautiful visitor is banned or listed as a noxious weed in Colorado, Connecticut and Massachusetts, and in Michigan people who remove garlic mustard from the landscape are encouraged to take its cousin, too.
Here’s some more information about dame’s rocket: http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/pubs/midatlantic/hema.htm. While it resembles wild phlox, it can be identified by its four-petalled flowers.
After I took this picture, I reluctantly pulled the plant up. It is very shallow-rooted, but dame’s rocket prolifically spreads through seeds, and I didn’t want my plant to populate my perennial garden.
I will be curious to see if dame’s rocket is eventually added to Minnesota’s list of noxious weeds.
Have you found visitors in your garden that turned out to be thugs instead of friends? This weekend another master gardener told me she lets dame’s rocket grow in her boulevard garden where it thrives in a hostile space. One gardener’s enemy is another gardener’s friend! Here’s a nice column on that issue: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/12/garden/12qna.html.
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