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.

Straw Bale Gardening through the Summer

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska under Vegetables Updated: September 25, 2013 - 8:46 AM

It started as a spark when reading the article about Straw Bale Gardening (SBG)in the Home and Garden section this Spring.  The spark started to smolder when my friends working on the Cargill Giving Garden attended a seminar on SBG.  Then flames ignited when I met a fellow customer in a garden center who complained that she could not grow tomatoes at her north shore cabin.  Scene set.  I was going to try a SBG at my cabin garden this summer.

Then I read the book.  Without daily contact, I couldn’t follow all the directions.  Conditioning the bales (breaking them down so you can grow in them) would take longer.  Because we turn off the water before we leave the cabin, irrigation was out of the question.  And  I got started late, so I couldn’t use the hoop which would really help up north.  Out of the shoot I'm breaking three rules.

Conditioning went OK.  (I blogged earlier about the bear who loves blood meal).  Planting day arrived.   The local hardware store ran out of top soil.  The garden center was 45 minutes away; I didn’t want to waste a perfectly good Memorial Day weekend, so I used compost (rule break number 4).  The tomatoes went in.  Two hybrid Roma plants started purchased at the Isle Farmer’s Market.  I put one in the ground and one in a raised bed.

After a couple of weeks, it looked like Raised bed 1, SBG 0.  Weeds were terrible and mushrooms were sprouting everywhere.  It was a wet Spring so I did not need to worry about water.  
Summer came, the tomatoes grew, then I messed up again.  Although I bleached my cages, and my trowels, I forgot to wash my gloves (at the cabin we have no washing machine).  Blight came to both tomato plants.

I’m going to cut this story short by saying that I got equal amounts of tomatoes from each of the plants.  Both a skimpy.  The squash and pumpkins did GREAT!   I compare my “up north” experiment to the tomatoes grown with irrigation, daily tending, and proper care at the Cargill Giving Garden (see picture) and I have concluded that I need to wait until I retire to try the straw bale thing again!

 

And this being our last post for the season, please feel free to comment about your year’s disaster, your year’s accomplishments and maybe your favorite photo or blog item for the year. 

May the Winter bring you many seed catalogs, many happy dreams of flowers blooms and promise of a wonderful Spring.

Harvest envy

Posted by: Kim Palmer under Annuals, Vegetables, Weather Updated: September 24, 2013 - 10:48 AM

I've seen some truly amazing edible gardens in the last month.  

One was a formal vegetable garden in St. Paul, one of this year's Beautiful Gardens winners, that's as productive as it is beautiful. Gardener Eileen Troxel especially loves growing heirloom tomatoes for her favorite recipe, a delicious-looking tomato tart that she serves to guests at her outdoor dinner parties. (You can see and read about her garden in Variety Home + Garden on Oct. 23).

Then there's the "Edible Estate" in Woodbury, where an artist and crew tore up the front lawn Memorial Day weekend and replaced it with more than 100 different edible crops. I made my final visit of the season recently, and was blown away by how much it's producing. Even after sharing with most of their neighborhood, the Schoenherr family has more food than they know what to do with. They're making pestos and salsas, canning sauces and figuring out new recipes for eggplant and Brussels sprouts. They're even growing artichokes! (Their landscape will be featured in Home + Garden on Oct. 2.)

Seeing all this bounty in other people's gardens makes me painfully aware of how little my pitiful garden actually produces. Mother Nature didn't do me any favors this year, pelting my garden with golf-ball-size hail in August, which pretty much wiped out my tomatoes. That wasn't my fault.

But the sad beets definitely are my fault. I'm not sure what I did wrong this year -- maybe I didn't thin them aggressively enough -- but my yield will be very small, and the beets themselves are only about the size of quarters. I may get one salad out of the whole crop.

I harvested some decent lettuce early in the season, and my basil and mint production have been fantastic. (Although, as one garden author noted to me earlier this year, "If you can't grow mint, you truly are a terrible gardener.") 

All in all, not a banner year in the garden for moi, but I'm already resolved to do better next year. What are you eating out of your garden these days? And what are you going to do different next year? 

Naked ladies in the garden

Posted by: Mary Jane Smetanka under Flowers Updated: September 23, 2013 - 2:37 PM

When I moved into my house almost 30 years ago, my next-door neighbor was a charming lady in her 90s. She had lived in the old house almost her whole life, and she was a gardener.
There was a massive tomato garden on one side of the house, a charming bed of ancient peonies on the other, and a bed of sweet-smelling yellow daylilies that bloomed early in May. 
Best of all were the pink flowers that suddenly sprouted in her lawn in the middle of August. They seemingly came from nowhere, two-foot high bare stems with pink blooms that looked a bit like dainty amaryllis.
When I asked her what they were, she laughed and blushed.
“My mother always called them ‘naked ladies,’” she said.
Gladys died a few years after that. Five sets of residents have lived in the house next door since then. The daylilies died out. Someone moved the peonies and didn’t bother to water them but they lived until later residents repeatedly cut them down with a lawn mower. I should have rescued those abused plants in the night.
Not long after Gladys died, the mysterious naked ladies disappeared too. Perhaps they lost heart after their loving caretaker was gone.
Later I found out that those pink blooms were Lycoris squamigera, a bulb that throws up green leaves in the spring, dies back and then explodes with bloom in August and September. They’re also called magic lily or resurrection lily.
I was poking around in the bins of bulbs at a garden center last week and there they were — Gladys’ naked lady bulbs, ready for planting. I have never seen them for sale here before.
I bought three. They’re listed for zone 5, a warmer place than the Twin Cities, but I’m willing to risk it. I buried them a bit deeper than the directions called for, watered well as the package called for and marked the spot with a stake.
I’ll mulch that spot well with leaves and see what happens next spring.  Gladys lives on in my memories, but I would like a little bit of her in my yard, too.
Here’s a site with some more information on this lycoris. Are you planting bulbs this fall?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lycoris_squamigera

In the beer garden

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: September 19, 2013 - 1:48 PM

This year we're trying a twist on the trend of incorporating herbs into drinks. Instead of herbal syrups or muddles in mixed drinks, we opted to grow herbs with an eye to possible beer-brewing components.

We've had an abudance of likely suspects: thai basil, rosemary and thyme (both lemon and lime varieties). But the first one in the brew pot was the pineapple sage, which is threatening to take over one of the raised beds. It's currently in a saison bubbling away in the basement. This is our first foray into adding herb leaves. If it turns out, we'll be in the market for names. How about a nice Hawaiian Punch?

The other addition to our planned beer garden was hops. Unfortunately, the rabbits took a liking to the plants this spring. They've bounced back since we surrounded the bottom few feet with chicken wire, but we're not likely to get any hop harvest.

What herbs have you tried in drinks, either the beer, mixed drink or tea variety? My next plan to use up some of that gigantic pineapple sage plant is a simple syrup to incorporate in iced tea. .

I'm now a Pruning Advocate.

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska under Trees, Weather Updated: September 18, 2013 - 9:18 AM

After this week, I’m a firm believer in pruning your apple tree!  For YEARS I did not pick off those small quarter sized potential apples.  They were too cute – they held so much potential – I always think I’m going to have the biggest crop of apples EVER.

Then, last year happened.  Remember the early Spring and late frost?  The frost killed off all but three of my apples.  But, they were the prettiest, cleanest, non-wormy apples I’ve ever grown in the 15 years I’ve had the apple tree. All the tree’s defenses went into making those fruit the best fruit ever.

So I finally practiced what I preached and pruned my apple tree.  When they were about the size of a nickel, I plucked off the apples so there was only one every six inches.  Oh it was difficult.  I poured a bucketful of baby apples into my compost pile.  Ouch.

Now, as I looked at my apple tree this drizzly morning I’m happy that I pruned the tree.  And, as I bit into my

yummy Haralson for breakfast, I wasn’t worried about looking for half a worm.

Are you now a believer?  Will you prune your apple tree next year?

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