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.

Now is the time to water

Posted by: Mary Jane Smetanka under Weather Updated: August 26, 2013 - 10:41 AM


Brown leaves are dropping from the linden trees that line the boulevard on my way to work, and they’re not dropping because fall is approaching. They’re dropping because it’s been so dry.
Now is the time to water trees, grass and gardens. With trees it’s especially critical, because the damage from drought can be delayed but long-lasting. Often trees don’t show any sign of distress, so the unobservant homeowner may not even know that trees are thirsty. Then a year or two later when people see bare branches at the top of trees, they wonder what’s wrong.
In my garden, I know it’s time to water when the leaves on water-sensitive plants like hydrangea and Joe Pye weed go limp. In a week like this I will give those plants a drink every couple of days, and I water the entire garden every four or five days.
Anything in a raised bed or pot probably needs to be watered at least once a day when temperatures are in the 90s. And if you have a lawn, don’t forget your grass. A lawn needs about an inch of water each week to last through a hot dry period like we’re having now.
So please water!

Raised bed expectations

Posted by: Martha Buns under Soil prep, Vegetables, Weekend chores Updated: August 22, 2013 - 12:02 PM


Have you joined the raised bed craze? Lots of people have this year, if my extended neighborhood is anything to go by. And one significant change: Many more of them are popping up in front yards to take advantage of sunnier spots.


On daily walks I chart the progress of several of them. There's a two-tier model using the square-foot gardening technique that seems to be doing well. A twine trellis holds up some tomatoes on the far end, and greens, beets and other smaller veggies seem to be contained nicely. In another front-yard expansion of three large raised beds, some cantaloupe have escaped, further taking over the former lawn.

My next-door neighbors are among those joining the club, deciding to give up trying to grow grass in a difficult spot and putting in a few raised beds surrounded by stepping stones and herbs in pots. They'll gain a spot for microgreens just steps from their kitchen and cut their mowing chores. It's been fun trading notes, and it made me remember how much work it was to put in ours to begin with.

Here's a few tips I was able to share that worked for us, and some lessons learned:

A thick layer of newsprint at the bottom of the raised beds worked better than weed cloth at keeping grass from trying to grow back through.

Put temporary rebar stakes around the outside to keep the beds from moving out of position when you fill them. Dirt is heavy, and there's no shifting them once they're full.

Free fill dirt on Craigslist is often worth about that. Much of it has been dug away from foundation areas and is rocky and filled with concrete shards. You'll get your new garden off to a better start if you spring for some slightly better dirt. I put in a bag of potting soil in each bed, along with lots of dirt and a hearty dressing of compost. You'll need way more dirt than you'd expect.

The level of dirt will drop each season, so you'll need to add more compost/dirt. Luckily, my raised beds are right by the composter, so they get first dibs.

They can be thirsty. We've got ours on a timed watering line to keep the soil from drying out.

They're rabbit magnets. The second phase for every raised bed construction I see is barriers to protect the goodies.

Garden trends have a slightly longer shelf life than most pop culture trends, but I'll be curious to see how long this one lasts. If you're considering putting in raised beds, here are a few links to get you started:

What's your experience been with raised beds? Did they meet your expectations? Would you do it again? For us it's been great -- except sometimes I think four aren't nearly enough....

Garden abundance.

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska under Preserving, Vegetables Updated: August 21, 2013 - 9:58 AM

Last year, my pickles were a failure!  Two things went wrong.  One, I didn’t use fresh dill.  I used dried dill weed that had

been sitting in my cupboard for a few years.  Second, I tried brining the cucumbers.  They were flavorless chewy blobs.


But, just like any garden, a new year springs optimism.  Check out these pickles. 

Fresh dill, fresh pickles (no brining), and a ton of garlic in each jar.  I can’t wait.  Maybe the cukes were a little big, but my hubby did a great job of cutting them down to size.  I had extra beans so I tried pickling a few of those as well.  Purple beans give the brine a color I didn't like, but I can look through that if they taste good.

Besides cucumbers coming out of my ears, I found a couple of zucchini

logs hiding.   I found a recipe for Zucchini Salsa and am trying that out.  First taste was a little sweet (the recipe called for a cup of brown sugar). But I’m sure after a 15 minute water bath the cumin and peppers will mellow that out.


What are your plans for garden abundance?

Goldenrod, friend to the garden and gardener

Posted by: Mary Jane Smetanka under Perennials Updated: August 19, 2013 - 11:30 AM


With the garden creeping into fall, one of my favorite late-summer plants is in full bloom. It’s goldenrod, and it’s good not only for brilliant color but because of the amazing array of beneficial insects it attracts to the garden.
Let’s get one misconception out of the way right away: goldenrod does NOT cause hayfever. Ragwort does; it’s a totally different plant.
I love goldenrod — the Latin name on plant labels is Solidago — for the bright yellow sprays of flowers it bears in August. It provides a great color complement to purple coneflower or Joe Pye weed. It’s carefree and drought resistant. While the native goldenrods that you see in ditches along rural roads can be aggressive in a garden, mine do just a bit of self-seeding. If you have more plants than you need, the volunteers are easy to pull in the spring.
I like to stand near goldenrod at dusk and watch clouds of tiny wasps and bugs swarm over the flowers. I've read that goldenrod is a lure for up to 75 kinds of beneficial insects that attack bad garden bugs. One garden blogger said that if she could only plant one perennial to attract good bugs, it would be goldenrod. It’s also a great plant for bees and butterflies.
I bought my goldenrod as a hybrid called “Fireworks” but after seeing the real thing at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum I know I have something else. Here’s a video from the University of Minnesota about “Fireworks:”

There are lots of other cool hybrids out there, including “Crown of Rays” and “Peter Pan.” There are tall goldenrods and short ones, plants with balls of flowers and plants with sprays of flowers.
Here’s a web page about goldenrod and the insects it attracts:

And here’s a fact sheet from the Chicago Botanic Garden that lists a bunch of varieties of goldenrod for the garden:

What’s your experience with goldenrod? Do you have a favorite native plant in your garden?

Success with succession planting

Posted by: Martha Buns under Vegetables Updated: August 15, 2013 - 11:17 AM


It's nice when a plan works. This year I decided to try to make fuller use of my raised beds by trying to time the market, so to speak.


This spring some lettuce and arugula had volunteered in one of the beds, and I took it as a sign what to plant where. In the midst of the wandering greens, I planted rows of peas. In between the rows of peas I planted broccoli, and in the middle I planted pole beans.

So far it's working out well. When the cool weather lettuce crop was past it, the peas were in full production mode. The peas are now well on their way out; most of the plants are drying up with just a few pods left to harvest. That's made way for the broccoli, which is now standing tall and flourishing amid the remains. And rising above it all are the purple pole beans just now coming into harvest season.

Overall I think that combination worked -- although it has sometimes looked a little messy as one season phases into another -- and I'll probably try it again next year. I think there may be room for a late season crop of greens in the space that will be vacated by the peas.

 If you want to try growing vegetables on the installment plan, here are a few links to get you started, including a chart on timetables for planting a second crop: One word of warning: planting in waves means never running out of garden produce, which means you may find yourself spending as much time in your kitchen as your garden.

So, do you do the garden crop wave? If so, what crop combos have worked for you? What's your favorite second-season crop?



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