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Larkspur- you can grow that


Larkspur and yellow yarrow last July.
Larkspur and yellow yarrow last July.

When I was first building my  garden, my wonderful mother-in-law gave me an envelope of larkspur seeds.  I had the hardest time remembering what they were- I’m not sure why the name didn’t stick with me- those, thingies… bird feet thingies…I would think in my head. I finally have them down, and I have them essentially everywhere. Love them: water efficient, good for pollinators, tall, that pretty blue that flowers don’t usually come in. Pretty cottage garden-y stuff, without needing much water.

They are not perennial, that is, the same plant does not come back year after year, like peonies or rhubarb. Instead, they drop their seeds nearby and plant themselves. I help them along by cutting them back and sprinkling their seeds where I want them.

It is a good thing I am not a super control freak, because often “they drop their seeds nearby” means in the path, or along the edge of the bed, or mixed in with the asparagus.  I have wide beds, with lots of shrubs which were tiny when I first planted them.  Back when my MIL gave me the envelope, the larkspur helped it look like the wide “mixed shrub borders” were something other than wide “expanses of mulch with twigs sticking up.” Now that 8 or 9 years have passed, and the shrubs have grown up, the larkspur can seed itself in the handful of gaps that remain.

To have your own spot of cottage garden-y goodness this summer, don’t wait until someone gives you an envelope of seeds from their yard. Instead, buy a pack, prepare a bed, sprinkle the  seeds and water them in. My self-seeded plants are already up, after having spent the winter on the ground, so it is not too early to plant them.  The first grown will be soft and ferny, and the flowers will grow to be 2-3 feet tall.

You can grow that

Larkspur, yarrow and chamomile blooming way back last summer.

Larkspur, yarrow and chamomile blooming way back last summer.

is an initiative by garden writer C.L. Fornari, to encourage people to get out in the sunshine and grow stuff. You should check it out.

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You can grow that- locally!


All politics is local, they say, and gardening is the same way. I have driven myself crazy for years reading books about organic gardening in Pennsylvania, or Upstate New York, or Maine, or Wales. I have tried to apply my learning to the ground here- dry, clay, and alkaline. I have finally learned to read Western-based garden books, or to temper my fantasies to something that is sustainable with the soil here, and the amount of rainfall here.

Every winter I am inundated with seed and plant catalogs. I read them, and place sticky notes, and highlight the varieties I want to buy. It is similar to the garden book thing- catalogs from Maine, or Oregon, or Pennsylvania won’t necessarily have what I need here- drought tolerant in Massachusetts is different from drought tolerant in Colorado.  Full sun in Michigan is different from full sun here.

This year, rather than placing an order to have seeds shipped to me, I will bike downtown, and go into our local greenhouse, where they order seeds in bulk, and will sell me little envelopes of whatever I want to plant. Well, not “whatever” …last year they didn’t have leeks in bulk, so I got a pre-packaged envelope off the rack, but they have many popular varieties that do well here. They have bareroot strawberries and asparagus and seed potatoes and onion sets. They also have people working there who, if they are not experts, they are informed, about where things are located in the store, and when to plant most things.

Your homework- find a greenhouse or garden center that is local to you. Locally owned businesses will only stay alive as long as we support them, and often the guys in the *cough orange aprons cough* don’t know much about the plants they are selling. You don’t have to bike (and in fact, I might not, but I should) but find a place that is local, and support it.

The lonely pile of seed catalogs this year- I am forsaking you for a local business.

The lonely pile of seed catalogs this year- I am forsaking you for a local business.

C.L. Fornari, amazing garden writer, has founded “You can grow that!” where on the fourth of every month, garden bloggers write posts encouraging anyone to grow anything.  Check her out at http://www.youcangrowthat.com/

Beet Greens- you can grow that!


When C.L. Fornari, the genius garden blogger behind “You Can Grow That” suggested that for the month of February, we pick a plant related to the theme of love, I had to think about it.  I considered the plants I love, or the plants that symbolize romance, and I was kind of stumped.  February is a tough month for planting, around here anyway.  So, I decided to be contrarian, and write about beets.

We heart beet greens! Well, I do. Well, maybe I don't heart them, but I like them.

We heart beet greens! Well, I do. Well, maybe I don’t heart them, but I like them.

I have to confess that we don’t love beets at our house.  When we had a CSA membership, I tried to like them. I roasted them, which is my favorite with most veggies, and I threw them in stir-fry (which made everything weirdly pink) and I marinated them…not popular. I did learn that I liked beet greens, though. A friend insists that beet greens taste just like beets, but I disagree. Or maybe it’s the texture. Anyway, when I saw directions for forcing root crops in a pot, I thought to myself, that’s a good way to get greens without having to actually eat beets.

The directions come from Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest, which is a funky combination of a book- part how-to garden tome, part we-went-to-the-south-of-France-and-drove-around-looking-at-gardens-in-winter travelogue. My kind of book, in other words.

Coleman describes  taking beets, or turnips, or celeriac, putting the roots in damp sand in a sunny window, and eating the greens that sprout.

I decided to start the experiment with beets. I bought a cute bunch, and cut off the leaves that they came with to sautee, then eat in garlic soup (really tasty- follow this link!)

I then filled a 6 inch pot 1/3 of the way with potting soil, then put in the roots, then covered with soil and watered.

BIrd's eye view of 3 beets in a pot, before another layer of soil is added.

Bird’s eye view of 3 beets in a pot, before another layer of soil is added.

The roots won’t get any bigger- storage crops are biennial. During the first summer, they put energy into the root. When they send up leaves again, they use the energy store in the root to prepare for blooming. This means you don’t have to worry about leaving room in the pot for root growth.IMG_0056

We haven’t gotten enough for a big salad, but there should be leaves to add to stir-fry or soup or whatever.  I’m adding some to Quinoa salad tonight.  I hope it doesn’t turn weirdly pink.

 

Bottle Tree- you can grow that


IMG_0022In the bleak midwinter,

frosty wind made moan

The earth stood hard as iron

Water like a stone…-Christina Rosetti

Nothing like being an English major- these words came to mind when I started thinking of what to write for a “You Can Grow That” post- what can you grow this time of year? yes, the houseplants, the Christmas cactus, the amaryllis and the paperwhites. But outside? Sigh.

I could flip through my seed catalogs, place post-it notes, sketch diagrams of my new bed in the front of the house where the junipers used to be, but I am mostly just sitting and looking out the windows, these days.  And the view from my desk is a happy little bottle tree.

I got the idea from a craptastic garden we visited in Idaho- I guess you could say a bottle tree seed was planted there.

It used to be an unhappy cherry tree, that died. Alas. (another benefit to being an English major, I get to use words like alas, and nobody is surprised)  I trimmed it back to stubs, and placed blue wine bottles on it.

It won’t last forever- the roots are decomposing underground, and at some point it will tip over. That’s fine. Until then, I have something to catch my eye when I look out my window this winter. And an excuse to buy blue bottles of wine.

Organic Apples- you can grow that


I have a list of the “dirty dozen” on a post-it note over my desk- the fruits and vegetables that you should eat organically grown versions of, if you can get them, because of pesticide residues. Number 1 on the list, and in our hearts, is apples.
Celery, spinach, and bell peppers are on the list, but nobody around here eats enough of those to make a difference. Apples, though…we eat a lot of.
We have a giant old tree that produces sour apples, not our favorites, and about 7 years ago I planted a Golden Delicious tree. After falling down, but not being entirely uprooted, in an early fall storm last fall, it has produced prolifically this year. Prolifically enough that I thinned once in June, then again in July, taking off unripe fruit that I was worried would break off the branches.
Backyard Orchard (link) has helped figure out what to take off and what to leave, how to prune, and when.
Now the organic part… I didn’t do anything. Last year I stapled paper lunch bags to fruit I could reach, and that was effective, but this year, I was talking to a colleague, who said that since she had put up bird feeders, her apples were much cleaner. A few got wormy, but the birds came for appetizers, and stayed for dinner.
I didn’t put up feeders- the squirrels tend to get to those anyway, but I have a lot of plants that feed birds, like coneflowers, We have been building up the garden for about 12 years, making habitat for pollinators, and birds and snakes and us. Several years of building soil and habitat has made it so this summer, we didn’t have to do much- the apples kind of took care of themselves. After a summer of doing nothing, my apples look great. They are small, which tells me I need to thin more aggressively next year, and probably water more. However, they are bug-free, and pesticide free.
I am a few days late in posting this for the “You can grow that” meme, created by C.L. Fornari, a garden writer who wanted to get other writers involved in writing encouraging posts, letting people know that it isn’t that hard. It strikes me funny that Miracle Gro has a marketing plan called “you can gro that” that kind of tramples over the top of C.L. Fornari’s meme, which I have been participating in since March. I am not sure what the future holds for the meme http://wholelifegardening.com/blog/. But you should know, you can grow (yes, with a w) apples.

Strawberries- you can grow that


One of my peak experiences in gardening was not in my own garden, and in fact, I didn’t do any of the cultivation. Friends of mine in college lived in a house with a strawberry bed, next to a flagstone path. One beautiful June, I would go to their house, sit in the sun on those red sandstone pavers, and eat perfect, ripe strawberries.

Of course, I had to have strawberries and a flagstone path at our house, when we finally bought one.

just a few more days…just a few more days…

I actually have planted strawberries in many locations- before I got married, and moved every year or so, after I got married, and …moved every year or so. It may seem ridiculous- planting a fruit that takes several years before it produces in house and apartments that I knew I would be moving out of. Maybe it is ridiculous, but it seemed like a good investment in karma.

Strawberries do produce sparingly the first year, but after that, they spread and produce more. They reproduce by sending out stolons, or runners, with baby plants on the end.  I let the “daughter plants” take root and grow, so I always have some plants that are 3 or 4 years old, and about to peter out, some 2 year old plants that produce well, and some baby plants that are getting established. Most gardening books recommend cutting off the stolons the first year so you get more fruit.

New vocabulary word for the day- stolon.

A few years ago, I was at my sister-in-law’s house, and she was transplanting strawberry plants out from under a huge pine tree. Apparently, the birds that stole her berries perched on the tree, and ummm…seeds grew…in perfect packets of fertilizer. Yeah, you know what I mean, bird poo. They didn’t get enough sun under the tree to produce very well, but it made a perfect nursery for baby plants.

Strawberries are heavy feeders, so I give them compost, and mulch them pretty heavily, except where they have grown into the gaps in the path, where I can’t get mulch to go.

I plan to transplant these guys out of the gaps in the path, and may try them in containers.

Here in zone 5, the front range of Colorado, they ripen in early to mid June, this is later than you can get them in the grocery store, but oh so much tastier. And organic. And with a very small carbon footprint. Here’s where I get preachy and link you to a story about strawberries from California.

If you order plants in winter, you can get a bundle of 25 for around 25 dollars. They go a foot apart, so that is a lot of space to devote to  strawberries, but you can tuck them around other things- for example, there is a giant rosebush in the same bed with my strawberries, as well as iris and a mock orange. They are also available this time of year in nurseries. In fact, at the grocery this weekend, they had hanging baskets of them in the doorway.

I have had slug issues in the past, but this year has been so dry, I don’t expect them. I’ll put out saucers of cheap beer just in case.

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