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.
Welcome home. That’s the message I got from the garden when we got back from vacation last week. We were only gone five days, but what a change five summer days can make.
When we’d left, the peonies had given up and hardly any other blooms were in action. But a burst of heat and some (more) rainfall have opened up the clematis buds and yielded a riot of delphinium, astilbe, coneflower and malva. The pea plants have gone from mere stubs to vines serious about business. And what had been teensy would-be tomatoes are nice dark green hopefuls.
The watering system we’d rigged up in our absence mostly worked, except one plant that a kind neighbor took pity on, so we didn’t come back to dead plants. We put pots inside the raised beds so they'd get the benefit of the timed water lines, which looks funny, but it's effective.
Really, nothing makes me value the garden more than coming home to it after time away. Except did I mention what the weeds did in five days? Eeek.
What have these prolific rains wrought in your garden? And what’s your strategy for getting your garden through vacation?
The woman on the hunt for hosta looked familiar. It was Betsy, my former neighbor. I hadn't seen her since the Greengirls plant swap two years ago, and before that for at least a decade.
It was great to catch up with her, trade notes -- and point out people who had hosta to swap.
That's what's fun about a plant swap, as opposed to browsing for plants at a garden center or even the farmer's market. There's more personal interaction as swappers make the rounds, check out what's available, then circle back to make a trade.
"Where's Helen?" asked a gardener tempted by the seedling tomatoes she spotted in a swapper's labeled stash.
"Who has horseradish?" another swapper asked. "Anyone seen any?"
Swaps bring out interesting people. I met seasoned green thumbs, like the woman who was turning her urban corner lot into a pollinator garden. I met enthusuastic rookies, like the guy who didn't know what plants he was bringing home and didn't care -- he just wanted to start his first garden.
One woman arrived very late, as the swap was winding down and the Greengirls (the Star Tribune's garden bloggers) were gathering up the leftover plants that hadn't found a home. Many of the orphan plants were a bit bedraggled, but the woman was happy to have them -- she tends a garden at a school with disabled children and needs all the plants she can get, she said.
If you didn't make it down to this year's swap, come join us next year. You'll find great plants and great people -- maybe even a familiar face, like a long-lost neighbor.
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?
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