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.
Any victory I can snatch from the rabbits and squirrels is cause for celebration in my book, and last night we celebrated by cooking our first purple beans of the season.
The pole beans were part of this year's experiment with vertical growing, trying to tap the second story of a small garden. I blogged earlier this year about how the beans were outstripping their supports and I was wondering how to support "Jack and the Beanstalk." www.startribune.com/lifestyle/homegarden/blogs/125142529.html That was the day I came home to find out the problem was moot, because all the bean plants had been neatly lopped off at rabbit height. Disappointed, but undaunted, I replanted, knowing I was racing the clock to get any sort of crop. But about the time that the new seeds sprouted, I had to go out of town suddenly and the quick makeshift barrier I put around the base apparently wasn't sturdy enough to prevent Return of the Rabbits, so I came home to find more lopped off beans. This time I was definitely daunted, but decided to give it one more try on principle, and very thoroughly encircled the beans with wire mesh firmly anchored to the ground. By this point, the beans were surrounded by towering tomato plants, which competed for light, but also gave the beans one more thing to grow on, and grow they have. The only trick is finding the beans amid all the little golden tomatoes.
The other part of my vertical gardening experiment was less troublesome. A sturdy new trellis actually stood up to the prolific lemon cucumber vines, as well as the surprise volunteer vine, which turned out to be an acorn squash.
The best vertical garden I saw this year was at a friend's house. She'd planted purple pole beans at the four corners of an arbor and they were daintily dangling, wisteria-like, across the top. Imitation being the best form of flattery, I might have to steal that idea for next year. Or I wonder how they'd take to a trellis along the back of a border? Those purple blooms are decorative enough for the perennial bed.
Ha, ha, rabbits.Guess you'll have to stick to the pricey hosta and lilies instead.
What have been your victories over voracious varmints? And does vertical gardening take serious infrastructure or what? I've got enough tall plant spikes to arm a squadron.
If I had my druthers....
1/ I’d have these fantastic State Fair horses galloping across my front yard.
2/ These enormous spiders — I think it’s an orb spider? — would not build their giant webs where I walk smack into them, and the spider would not take refuge on my shoulder.
3/ Potato vines would have these lovely little blossoms all summer long.
4/ We could eat unsprayed apples without worrying about consuming some unwanted wormy protein.
5/ Tomato season would not climax in picking 50 cherry tomatoes at a time but would extend gently into October, November and December.... and maybe forever.
How about you? If you had your druthers, what would you ask for in the garden?
One of the pleasures of gardening is watching the creatures it attracts. No, I'm not talking about Japanese beetles, who are making their presence all too known this year.
I'm talking about the non-destructive visitors who dine without damaging, or just come to hang out.
It amazes me how even the tiniest scrap of garden can attract birds and bees. There's not much critical mass, nectar wise, in the patio pots on my deck. But if I stop and watch, the odds are good I'll see a bee or two, buzzing from one flower to another.
I'm always glad to see them sipping at my blossoms, because I've read so much about habitat loss, colony collapse and the critical decline in pollinators. Obviously, I'm not going to save the world with my few container gardens, but it makes me happy to provide even a morsel of habitat. And I'm sure it doesn't hurt my tomatoes to have pollinators noshing a few pots over. (The Minnesota DNR has some good information about pollinators on its website, www.dnr.state.mn.us/volunteer/julaug09/pollinators.html).
One visitor this week surprised me. I was watering the two pots flanking my front door when I saw an odd lump on one leaf. I looked closer. It was a small frog or toad, barely visible because he was the same chartreuse color as the wasabi coleus he'd chosen for his rest stop.
Amphibians are not a rare sight in my neighborhood, but I'd never before seen one hanging out in a small, tall container garden. I was careful not to splash and startle him as I went about my watering, but he just sat there, as still as a stone.
What critters have visited you this summer -- both the welcome ones and the not-so-welcome ones? And what do you do to attract the visitors you want?
The chipmunks won.
Last night, I returned the fence around my vegetable garden. The straw that broke the camel's back was when I returned home on Sunday only to find a half-ripe, half-eaten tomato! Last week, I complained how I didn't have any ripe tomatoes; this week, I have a couple -- but the darned chipmunk ruined my elation and beat me to the first bite!
But I'm not going to let it get me down. I'm the one with the opposable thumbs; I'm the one who likes going out to my garden to decide what's for dinner. So I need to look at green mesh instead of lovely plants.
Knowing that the animals enjoy tender shoots, I'm definitely putting a fence around my newly planted seedlings. It's August, and it's time to make a second planting for fall harvest. I pull my beans and some beets to make room for these cool weather vegetables.
The following table is for vegetables that you can plant right now and still harvest them before the snow
Vegetable Days to Maturity
Swiss Chard 40-60
Leaf lettuce 40-60
I found a recipe for turnip greens that I absolutely enjoy, and it's very easy: Blanch the greens in boiling water, fry a couple slices of bacon, saute' onions in the bacon grease, add blanched greens and cook, covered for 15 minutes. Very delicious!
That's why I fence my garden. That's why chipmunks are not welcome in my yard. The pure pleasure of eating truly locally; you can't get much closer than your back yard!
I took a long walk the other night. It was twilight, that magical time when the summer sky darkens to deepest blue -- and the mosquitos start to zing.
At a wooded area near the path leading into a wetland, I saw a tiny pulse of light. It was a firefly! I stopped to peer into the woods and saw another. Then another. They twinkled against the trees, putting on an enchanted lightshow that kept me so transfixed that I just stood there, watching, oblivious to the mosquitos feasting on my flesh.
I've always loved fireflies. Who doesn't? I can still remember moments from childhood, playing night games in the neighborhood, as fireflies winked in dusky back yards and the moms started calling us indoors for the night.
Then we moved to southern California, when I was 8. There were no fireflies but there was Disneyland. Next to the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride there was a restaurant, the Blue Bayou, that evoked a Louisiana swamp at twilight. Thanks to Disney magic, its atmosphere included the sound of crickets and the flicker of fake fireflies. I always begged for our family to eat there when we visited the Magic Kingdom.
I don't see a lot of fireflies in my neck of suburbia these days. Stumbling across that cluster of them the other night made me wonder why I don't see them more often. Apparently I'm not the only one. Fireflies appear to be declining.
Some think herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers might be killing the lightning bugs. There's also speculation that development and the proliferation of artificial light is shrinking habitat and interfering with mating. Fireflies find their mates by flashing, and they must be able to see the flash and return it.
Scientists are concerned to the point that they're asking a network of back-yard volunteers to track the bugs' range and numbers. Firefly Watch, a project of the Boston Museum of Science, debuted in 2008. If you want to post your own observations, visit www.mos.org/fireflywatch
Have you seen any fireflies this summer? Where did you spot them? And are you seeing them less often than you used to?
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