Dear Asparagus


I don’t know why I can’t quit you.I keep trying to grow you, trying to make a home for you that you can keep coming back to, year after year. And I keep coming back, broken-hearted.
I try to tell myself that you aren’t worth it, my kids don’t like you, you’re difficult, you make my pee smell funny. But inside, I know it’s just a lie- I want you, I miss you. I find myself worried when you aren’t home, I find myself looking in the ditch, knowing that if I found you, I would bring you home and clean you up, cook you, and eat you. Maybe pickle you, if there was enough…

I just love you, and I can’t face paying 3.99 a pound for you at the grocery, and you aren’t even at the farmers market. At least not when I’ve been there. Are you avoiding me? It doesn’t matter- I forgive you. I’ll keep trying to make this relationship work. I’ll dig a trench near reliable water, but also in complete sun, I know how much you love the sunshine, I’ll plant out your little roots, and watch for your little shoots to poke out from the soft compost.  I just love you too much to give up on you.

Signed:

Carrying a Torch

 

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Hens and Chicks- you can grow that!


IMG_0556My wonderful mother in law introduced me to Hens and Chicks-official name is semper vivem, which means live forever, and they do live forever. It is a succulent plant, with fleshy leaves that grow in a low rosette. The only thing that will kill these things is too much water- I love them for their ground covering ability. I can plug them into mulch and they will spread- each little rosette will grow offsets all around it. That is how it got its common name, someone saw the big plant as a mother hen, with baby chicks underneath. You can break off every offset baby plant, stick the stem into the ground, and it will take root and grow. I have covered a lot of ground with hens and chicks.
I struggle with hanging baskets. I love the way they look, but I never remember to water them. Enter the Hens and Chicks! A week ago, I pried up a clump of them, and plopped them into a coir lined basket I had planted last year (with something that died, because I had forgotten to water it…) The offsets will dangle over the side, and the big green rosettes are just at eye level on my patio.
If you do not have an obliging mother-in-law, (and, believe me, I am not in any way suggesting that you choose a spouse based on the gardening abilities and generosity of his or her mom, but, think about it, how else should you decide? Kindness? Attractiveness? Sense of humor? Bah!) then by all means buy some sempervivems at your local garden center and let them spread. They don’t take much foot traffic, but they look great on the edges of things, near paths, or in the corner of a bed, by a gate, where the sprinkler doesn’t reach.
Hens and Chicks! You can grow that! Viva sempervivem!

So, when am I going to get homegrown vanilla?


The vine is halfway up the two-foot tall trellis- I keep bending it to the side so it will wrap around the trellis, but vines want to grow upward.

The vine is halfway up the two-foot tall trellis- I keep bending it to the side so it will wrap around the trellis, but vines want to grow upward.

I bought thread at the craft store the other day, and the checker herself was shocked at how much it cost. She said something about it being cheaper to just buy a shirt than to make one. Never mind that I wasn’t making a shirt- you would think working at a craft store would accustom you to the idea that people do crazy things for hobbies.
A great example of this is my vanilla orchid.
I have had it for several years,  it is slowly creeping along the trellis I built for it, causing me to panic when it tipped over in the wind and most of the chunky orchid mix spilled out of the pot. I water it with buckets dipped out of the goldfish pond- weak organic fertilizer. The trellis is supposed to act as a humidifier, as well as a support. I baby it.
I moved it inside before it got cold. Vanilla is native to Mexico, warmer and moister by far than my back yard. It could never survive the winter here. The boy’s room has a south window, so all my tropical plants make his room into the jungle room in the winter.
The vanilla isn’t likely to bloom until it gets to ceiling height, and it is about 1 foot tall now.  No matter how big it gets, it won’t survive the winter outside. Once it blooms, I will have to pollinate the blossoms by hand, with a small paintbrush, then wait for the seedpods to develop, then ferment and dry them. Then make cupcakes.
Maybe someday, we’ll get a greenhouse. Just think how expensive that would make the vanilla pods- amortizing the cost of glass and construction into each little pod…
But for now,  I have a happy little vine in a very portable pot, which goes outside in summer, and inside in the winter, and gives me something to look forward to.

Early tomatoes


We can all agree that home grown tomatoes are what make life worth living, right. (Oh be quiet- you like them in salsa and stuff, though, right? okay, then.) So, we can probably all agree that we want those tomatoes as early as possible, right?
Around here (zone 5, Northern front range of Colorado) the traditional date for safely planting out things that won’t survive frost is Mother’s day- mid May. There is no guarantee it won’t freeze after that date, but that is the average annual last frost date. This year we had a snowy April, and an actual cancel-school- snow day on May first.
That meant that the ground was cold- it was very wet, which is a good thing, but the soil was cold. I made the decision to delay tomato-planting until it warmed up a bit.
Tomatoes need warm air temperature as well as warm soil temperature- it isn’t just a matter of “not freezing” they actually need to be warm. (Interestingly, tomatoes are kind of the Goldilocks of plants, when it gets too hot, over 90, they stop blooming)
I checked the soil temp with my trusty meat thermometer, and it was 43 degrees. I had some walls of water in the garage. For those of you who don’t know, a Wall of Water is a plastic cylinder made of connected tubes which can be filled with water.  It creates a mini greenhouse, and the water absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night. They are supposed to be self supporting. I set them up, (and then reset them up- they kept falling over- I don’t know if the cat kept messing with them or what the deal is, but that is why I don’t ordinarily use them- any one have any tips?)

Look how slouchy that one on the right is- if that falls over on the chocolate cherry plant I am going to be so ticked off.

Look how slouchy that one on the right is- if that falls over on the chocolate cherry plant I am going to be so ticked off.

Anyway, I set them up, then took the soil temperature again. It was 63 degrees after just a couple of days.
Now, variety choices. In the past I have gotten “Early Girl” because the fruits are, you know, early. 60 days to maturity, which means mid July, roughly. One year I was swayed by some garden porn, and bought Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, which has a great name, and an heirloom provenence, and is supposed to be heart-meltingly delicious, which didn’t ripen until late September, so I didn’t get to eat any. Mid- September is our average last frost date, so we have about 4 months to get as many tomatoes as we can.
This year I went to the garden center, and mixed in with all the Early Girls was a variety I hadn’t heard of before- 4th of July. I checked the label- 55 days. Which means first harvest on the…let me do the math..umm, 30 days hath September…carry the 1- the 4th of July.

The other variety I picked today was Chocolate Cherry. I have grown this before, and it is so delicious.  It ripens to a dark, deep red, very sweet. It is a bit slower to ripen, but very prolific.

So, I put them in the ground, carefully lifting the waterfilled tubes away from the planting spots, digging in some compost, plugging the tomato plants in deeply, then carefully replacing the waterfilled tubes back over the plants. I acknowledge that it might have been easier to dump out the water and refill, but I just couldn’t see doing it. It seems wasteful.

That was a couple of weeks ago, and the 4th of July has blossoms on it. I haven’t seen any pollinators go inside- which doesn’t mean there aren’t any, but I have been busy. Does anyone have tips about that? The walls of water seem to be kind of a pain in the neck, but I am hoping they are worth it.

Citrus- you can grow that


The leaves are falling, must be time to cover the tomatoes and bring in the houseplants.

Freeze predicted tonight-the radio people keep saying “temperatures in the 30’s” which seems unfairly vague. It is  time to move my pots of citrus inside for the zone 5 fall and winter. and much of spring, if we are honest.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, now 12, I bought a lemon, a lime and an “orange” tree for about 10 bucks, for all 3 from a catalog- don’t remember which one. I thought I was getting a huge bargain- when they arrived, they were twigs.
The biggest was the lemon, which had a trunk as big around as a pencil, and about 4 leaves. The other two were like q-tips. So I planted them and waited.
I didn’t just wait- I had a baby, and watched the baby grow, and taught middle school, and then had another baby and watched that baby grow, and when that baby was walking, the orange tree bloomed.
Heavenly smell, tiny bb sized fruit, that grew to marble sized, then…what’s smaller than a ping pong ball? A big marble? Yeah, big marble-sized. They ripened to orange, but remained small and sour.
Since then, the lemon has produced actual real sized lemons, but not very many, and the lime has produced actual real sized limes, but, again, not very many.
Why bother, then?
They are pretty plants. I have other house plants that don’t do much of anything other than purify the air. When these bloom, they smell amazing, even on the patio. In the Boy’s room, which has the best light, they fill the air with fragrance when they bloom in the winter. The novelty is another reason- one year I brought them to school for the winter, when I had a classroom with windows, and students would bring their friends in and dare them to eat the oranges.
Order them, or if you have a good local nursery with citrus, buy there. Once they are big, they take a big pot- mine are about 12 years old now, and are in 14 inch pots. I use a dolly to move them outside in the spring and back inside in October.
When they come in, spray with the hose attachment of the kitchen sink, under the leaves especially to get rid of any hitchhikers. Looking at this, I realize it might make more sense to spray them outside, instead of in the kitchen, especially if by “hitchhikers” I mean “tiny bugs.”  Which I do.
Citrus like bright indirect light, and humidity. Much like myself. Not too much humidity, though. Dry air can make them drop leaves. It hasn’t been cold enough for the heat to come on very much yet, so there isn’t too much difference in humidity bringing them inside. The Boy’s room has a fish tank which evaporates enough that the plants do okay.
You don’t have to buy a plant, if you are in it to experiment. A neighbor of my mom’s planted a grapefruit seed, or her toddler did, probably close to 50 years ago. It grew big enough that they couldn’t fit it in their house, so they donated it to the public library, where it brushed the ceiling in the children’s section when I was a kid. Don’t know if it is still there.

Bloom Day- Patience


Three years ago (or was it four?), my wonderful Mother-in-law gave me an envelope of seeds from her yellow columbine, which was spilling over the sides of the flowerbed (the flowers, not the envelope). I scratched them into the soil next to my brass headboard, near the dark red lilies, and stella d’oro daylilies…and this week for bloom day….they are about to bloom. Still waiting.

The waiting is the hardest part.

Oh sure, they have pretty ruffly leaves, and a bright green color, but none of us got into this for the foliage! Give us flowers!

Also about to bloom, roses and peonies.

Planted before we moved in- unknown variety.

As big as a dinner plate when it opens…did I say dinner plate? I meant coffee cup. Which is still pretty darn big. For a flower.

Actually in bloom, we have Honeysuckle Blanche Sandman, well-loved by pollinators and in continual bloom from May through August.

Bearded iris is still blooming.

Clover is  in the paths and lawn. Clover fixes nitrogen, and the flowers attract bees and butterflies, so I have it even though it doesn’t make my heart pound.

And, of course, we have strawberries. Blossoms now mean fruit in June- all mine! Mine, I tell you!

In June, I’ll eat strawberries…

Bearded Iris- you can grow that


I just love bearded iris.

Thanks to C.L. Fornari’s meme  last month, by pure luck I had a ton of new visitors to my dusty little corner of the blogoverse. If you’ve come back, thank you, and welcome. I say it was by pure luck because the links are listed on J.L.’s site in alphabetical order by plant name, and my plant was chives. Now for this month…aconite, anyone? Asparagus? AAronroot? I just made up that last one, there’s no such thing as aaronroot. As far as I know.
I decided to go back to the true spirit of the meme, which is that newbie gardeners sometimes get scared off by complicated instructions, or recommendations from one side to be all organic, and the other side to use blue chemicals on a regular basis. What people need is a slam dunk- something so easy you have to give away extras. In my garden, bearded irises are a slam dunk. And toward the end of June, I will probably be giving away extras, if anyone local is interested.
I use Iris a lot as a kind of placeholder- when my Korean lilac was 6 inches tall, surrounding it with iris made it look like a real garden bed, instead of a twig surrounded by mulch. Now that the lilac is about 4 feet tall, and covered with flowers, the iris anchor it, and are ready to be divided and given away.
Making friends with a gardener who is dividing iris is maybe the best way to get them, unless he’s a stalker, which you won’t know until he keeps showing up at your door with bags of rhizomes…
Once you get your bag with plants, sort them out. The best roots are big and fat. There should be at least one fan of leaves per chunk. I trim the leaves to about 6 or 8 inches from the rhizome, and plant it with the dangly roots in the soil, but the knobby rhizome just on the surface. If it goes underground, it rots. In fact, iris is nice and drought tolerant, not really caring whether it gets much water. Cutting the leaves back allow it to establish itself without drying out, but there are still green leaves to feed it while it makes itself at home.
My wonderful MIL is the source of this information, and the source of all my iris as well. She has told me to transplant before July 4th. I don’t know if that is specific to zone 5, or the front range of Colorado, your mileage may vary in other parts of the world.
What if you can’t bring yourself to make friends with a gardener? They sell bearded iris- McClure and Zimmerman has some in their Spring catalog for $11.95 if you buy 3. That seems expensive…but as I’ve said, I’ve never bought Iris. They also claim that a coral-pink variety named “Beverly Sills” is among the most popular. Hmmmm…I don’t know.
Buying them would be the way to get unusual colors- most of mine are light purple, with a couple of plants that are dark purple, and one that is bronze-flowered, which blooms a week or so after the others.
Trust me, you can grow that.

Bloom Day- Welcome Back Topside, Persephone!


I love these flowers! Even if they weren't the first thing blooming, only thing blooming, right now, I would still love them.

Technically, as both my children are fond of pointing out, it isn’t spring until the equinox, but it sure feels like Spring. Like Hades has lost his grip on his lovely wife, and she has moved back in with Mom.

Only two things blooming in my zone 5 yard right now, Iris Reticulata, also known as dwarf iris, and crocus. I looked for squill, which I have mixed in the with lawn, but didn’t find any, so either it didn’t survive, or it will bloom later.

I wonder why the yellow crocus seem to bloom earlier than the purple?

Inside, we have blooms on the lemon tree, or it might be lime…I lost the tags, and I know I have one of each the same age, but can’t remember which is which. I’ll pollinate it with a watercolor brush, and hopefully when it bears fruit, I’ll remember to put a label on it.

Lemon or lime?

CSI- Meyer Lemon


Now, that's what I call a dead parrot.

A corollary to the idea that I should be knitting (and skiing) at the top ten percent of my ability, is that if I am not killing plants, I am not challenging myself as a gardener. Well, I killed my Meyer lemon tree, so I guess that counts.
It isn’t terribly mysterious why, though. Not enough water.
Interesting fact, more houseplants are killed by overwatering than underwatering.

Not in my house, you say, well maybe. Usually, overzealous plant owners water too much, which waterlogs the roots. Roots need oxygen, and when they can’t get it, the plant dies.
Not in this case, however. The Boy’s room has windows facing south and west, and he is generous enough to let me keep my plants in there- in the winter he lives in the jungle room, essentially. I usually go in there every few weeks with a jug of water and splash everything. Most of the plants are in fairly large ceramic pots, but the Meyer lemon is…was in an 8 inch diameter clay pot. The splash of water every couple of weeks was not enough to keep the soil moist.
When I discovered the wilty leaves, I overcompensated by thoroughly soaking it in the kitchen sink. It died anyway.
Cue the sad music.
I’ll get another Meyer lemon- try to keep it going. I can’t decide whether I should buy a larger size than what I started with (I paid roughly $10 for a tiny plant in a 2.5 inch pot) so I can just pretend I didn’t lose a year’s growth…what do you think?

You do have a compost pile, right?


I have a little raised veggie bed right outside my back door- it is only 2×3 feet, but super convenient. Last summer, I would go out, pull up a green onion or two for a salad and go right back in.  Next year, I plan to put in tomatoes, which are a heavy feeder- they like a lot of moisture, and a lot of nutrients. I put tomatoes in a different place every year, so disease organisms don’t build up.
Solution- make this veggie bed the winter home of the compost bin, then spread it out in spring.

Luke, I am your father...

I’ve written before about our bin(link to own post)- a Darth Vader head- very ugly, but pretty effective for boiling down organic waste into compost. I move it every few months, spread out the finished compost where it is, and put whatever is not broken down back in the bin in its new location. The partially broken-down stuff is seeded with the compost organisms that will help break down new material.
Because I want the soil to be super rich, the first layer of stuff I put in the bin was comfrey leaves. Comfrey is an amazing plant- it has deep roots that take minerals out of the subsoil and concentrate them in the leaves. When the leaves break down, in compost or mulch, the minerals are deposited in the topsoil. The plants can be whacked back several times a summer and keep coming back on just natural rainfall.

I  add kitchen stuff as it fills up the cup on the edge of the sink, and layers of leaves, too. Kitchen waste is usually high in nitrogen, and can be smelly if there isn’t high carbon material added at the same time. Compost breaks down all winter, although it is slower when the weather is colder.

In about March, I’ll lift the bin off and hopscotch it to another location. I’ll take off  what hasn’t broken down, and spread out the finished compost- moving some to other beds that need it, but saving a lot for the bed. My tomatoes will have a deep bed of good soil to feed on.

You don’t need a Darth Vader head, or any kind of container- compost will break down anywhere. I like my bin, but I recognize it isn’t  necessary.

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