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.
What will you be doing on Saturday?
I'll be getting rid of the mountains of buckthorn branches now piled in my back yard and driveway. They've been there since last week when I grabbed a chainsaw and attacked them with a vengeance. Sometimes they fought back, poking me with their thorns until I had bloody scratches up and down my arms. It was a grueling battle, but ultimately very satisfying.
And this time, they're not coming back -- not if I can help it. This time I went medieval, dousing the freshly cut stumps with Roundup. I hate using chemicals in my landscape but buckthorn is such a relentless bully that I made an exception.
I've been pulling out little buckthorns and cutting down big buckthorns for as long as I've been living in my current house (in northern Eden Prairie). But the big ones always come roaring back, bigger and badder than ever.
What's the urgency with getting rid of buckthorn? In natural areas, the invasive shrub is so fast-growing and aggressive that it chokes out native plants that support songbirds and other wildlife. In home landscapes, it does the same thing, plus it's scraggly and ugly, quickly shooting to twice the size of everything around it.
Fall is an ideal time to battle this monster, when its leaves are still green, making it easy to identify. If you don't have time to tackle all your buckthorn, concentrate on the female plants, the ones with the blackish-purple berries. They're the ones that will produce armies of new buckthorn for you to battle. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has some good information about buckthorn eradication on its website: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialplants/woody/buckthorn/control.html
As for getting rid of buckthorn branches, most waste haulers will pick them up as yard waste if they're cut and bundled. I've got so many that I'd be sawing and bundling until Christmas. Instead, I'm going to haul it to the Mulch Store (www.mulchstoremn.com), which has four Minnesota Department of Agriculture-certified sites for disposal of tree branches and other yard waste.
Is your yard plagued with buckthorn? Or is something else on your "most hated" list?
OK, so there are only two, but it's still technically blueberries, plural. This might not seem like much of a feat, but since this is the first year we've had them, the sight of actual blueberries growing in my yard was pretty thrilling.
Somehow the idea of "Wouldn't it be cool if we grew our own blueberries?" took hold last fall, and took root this spring. I had been looking at them in catalogs, and when I saw a bunch of bushes for sale at the farmers market I decided, yes, it would be cool.
I managed to restrain my enthusiasm long enough to read the tags to make sure the bushes I bought covered cross-pollination needs, and to amend the soil acidity before I planted and mulched them. But then I got distracted and didn't pay attention to the part where they advise removing flower buds the first year so the plants devote their energy to developing roots and foliage, and that's how we ended up with a few berries.
So, blueberry veterans, how much of a setback did I deal my bushes? The plants have really taken off in terms of height and fullness, so it doesn't seem like they're suffering. I looked at some sites that offer advice for blueberry growers and got mixed feedback. My favorite bit was where they listed the best time to plant blueberries: Ten years ago, as the plants take several years to become fully productive. I've only planted two; am I going to wish I had planted more to get a usable amount of berries?
While pies and jam are a long way off, short term, I'm just happy with the looks of the bushes. They're a big improvement over the straggly, sprawling evergreen bushes that someone had planted in a spot they were way too large for, no matter how much we trimmed them back. The evergreens put up a fight digging them out (I don't usually resort to a Sawzall as a gardening implement) but we finally got our payback from those two gray-blue berries. Mixing them with market raspberries over homemade ice cream sweetened the reward.
Anyone else making new forays into raising fruit? Before this, the closest I've come is the raspberry canes that spread from the neighbors, and a very unfortunate squirrel-strawberry patch interface.
Last year, to my great surprise, I found that I had a mulberry bush growing. I was watching a chipmunk climb up a tree all the way out to the end branches. It was comical, he almost fell -- so I wanted to check out why he was performing such antics. Then I researched and found I had a mulberry. This year, I was prepared to get the berries before the animals.
So we grabbed an old shower curtain and stapled it to two cedar posts (the 6' kind you use for tomato staking). We both climbed to the back area of my garden. My husband held the 'catch net' and I shook tree and pulled off the purple mulberries.
Yum! Look at this bowlful.
Now what? I found an article for triple berry crunch and happened to have frozen blueberries so made a double berry crunch. It was delicious warm with a little ice cream.
We only harvested about a third of the berries. Does anyone else have ideas what to do with the rest?
This year, I've developed a new gardening ritual. When I water the containers on my deck, I always tear off a few leaves and eat them. Sometimes lettuce, sometimes chard, sometimes herbs. Occasionally, if I'm in the mood for something peppery, I'll nibble a few nasturtium leaves.
I can't help myself. They always taste so amazingly fresh and flavorful, plucked right off the plant. It's the ultimate appetizer!
Not all my containers have edible plants in them. But I'm mixing edibles and ornamentals more and more. I love the way rainbow chard sets off red and yellow flowers. Leaf lettuce makes a gorgeous border around purple and lavender flowers. And orange mint spreads beautifully, filling bare spots around other plants.
I know I'm not alone. Edible landscaping is a gtowing garden trend, one we featured in Home & Garden last May (http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/homegarden/93421844.html)
Mixing edibles with ornamentals feels fresh and new, after years of relegating them to separate plots and pots. But edible landscape pioneer and author Rosalind Creasy has been advocating this approach for decades. You can find great tips on her website (www.rosalindcreasy.com/edible-landscaping-basics/).
How about you? Are you growing more edibles these days? And are you mixing them in with plants that you grow only for their looks? What combinations do you like?
When the Honeycrisp apple was introduced by the University of Minnesota, I had to get a tree. As usual, enthusiasm overruled reason, and when I planted the tree I didn’t even think about how to prevent wormy apples.
A few years passed, and the tree finally bore the long-awaited fruit: knobby little pocked apples crawling with apple maggot.
I knew about apple pests — apple maggot is probably the worst here — but I didn’t want to spray the tree with chemicals. To get perfect apples, you have to spray several times during the summer and in rainy years like this one, you have to reapply the chemicals, too.
In my tight urban yard, the idea of using chemicals was unappealing, especially with my neighbor’s side door a few feet away. I started investigating other options, and found out that in Japan, they bag apples to prevent pests. They literally put bags around apples when the fruit is small and let the apples mature all sealed off from bugs and the elements.
I ordered some Japanese apple bags on the internet. Each tissue bag was double-layered, with a soft gray bag hidden inside a bright red one. Both bags were supposed to be slipped over the apples and secured with a wire twist.
It was easier said than done. The bags flew off during storms, ripped and just fell off. I had a grand total of one good apple left at harvest, and hungered for more.
Then I participated in an informal U of M trial on bagging apples in plastic sandwich bags, and I’ve been doing that ever since.
I bag my apples when they’re the size of a big grape. Timing is critical, since apple maggots usually show up around the first of July. Since apples grow in clusters, I thin the branch so that two or three of the biggest and cleanest apples remain. Using regular sandwich-size Baggies, I slip the bag over the fruit and press the seal shut from either side of the fruit, stapling the bag on both sides for good measure. It’s best of cut the bottom corners of the bags to release water and moisture.
And that’s all there is to it.
While the work sounds picky, it’s worth it. I can bag 80 to 100 apples in a couple of hours. I thought the fruit would cook or spoil in the bag, but they don’t. Some of my Honeycrisp get russetting in the bag — raised rust-colored lines on the fruit skin — but that’s only a cosmetic problem. A few apples drop during the summer and sometimes earwigs and lady beetles get into the bags when the fruit is nearly ripe and eat around the stem. But I get about 95 percent very good tennis-ball sized fruit, and none of it is wormy.
Last year I gave some of my apples to friends, who could not believe how good a Honeycrisp fresh off the tree tastes. They’re amazing.
You can read about bagging apples here: www.extension.umn.edu/yardandgarden/YGLNews/YGLN-Feb0102.html
And you can read all about growing apples in Minnesota here: www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/M1235.html
Here's what those branches looked like once the fruit had been thinned and two apples were bagged.
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