Flea Beetles and How To Deal With Them Organically

I noticed that my new potato leaves had little pin holes in them.  The cause is due to flea beetles.  Here is a picture of the pin holes:

Diatomaceous earth is an organic method for killing flea beetles.  I had some on some potatoes I grew in 2008, and they wintered over in the soil and went after my tomato starts in 2009 that I had planted where the potatoes were previously, but this nipped them in the bud right away before they did much damage to the plants.  You can also plant radishes nearby, because they like radishes better than tomatoes.  The beetles go after new growth on the tomatoes and potatoes, so if you get them  covered with the earth right away, the rest of the plant should be fine.  You can get diatomaceous earth at garden centers and some hardware stores.  It is white, and it is best not to breathe this stuff in, and try not to apply it on a windy day or it will blow off the plants.  It’s good to apply it after you have watered when the leaves are a little wet, because it will stick to them better.  However, it does need to be re-applied after rainy weather.  You sprinkle it on the leaves and on the surrounding earth.  It will look like this:

Just thought you might want to know–hope it helps you if you are dealing with this in your plants.

Hilling Up Potatoes–Very Easy To Do!

A quick post on how to hill up potatoes.  When the potato vines reach four inches or a bit more tall, it is time to start hilling.  Before I started, I took about 10 minutes to weed the ground between the rows, and I dug it up.  This will give the potatoes even more space in which to grow.
I like to use this two-in-one tool for weeding and hilling–it works great.

So the next step is to do the actual hilling.  You take your hoe, and drag some dirt up around the stems of the potato vines.  I just learned this from Steve Solomon’s book Gardening When It Counts, and this is where I was messing up before:  Never cover more than a quarter of the new growth.  So, if your vines are up four inches, you would only add one inch of soil around the stems.   Hill up on both side of the plant, so the vine is in the center of the hill.

Your finished hill will look something like this:

You will continue to hill your plants every 5 to 7 days.  Eventually, you will end up with hills that are 18 inches wide and about 10 inches tall.  You will continue to hill up until the vines get so big that they start to fall over, after which you can’t hill anymore.  All this hilling will also keep the area free of weeds.

I hope this helps you in your potato-growing ventures–I am expecting great things from them this year!

Potato Growing Update

Just a quick note to show you the progress of the newly planted seed potatoes.  Here is my original post about planting them.  I planted them on April 25th, and this picture below was taken on May 19th:


There are quite a few weeds in between the potato rows, but not a big deal, because I will weed when I hill up the potatoes–it won’t harm a thing. ( The red flower in the front is Centranthus ruber, or Jupiter’s Beard.)  The plants are at least four inches tall, and that means that I can begin the hilling up process.  More information, and hopefully pictures, of that when it stops pouring rain. 

Leave a comment–did you grow potatoes this year, and how much have they grown so far?

Growing Sugar Snap Peas–Update

I just wanted to give a quick update on how the sugar snap peas are growing in my garden.  I wrote a post about starting pea seeds via the chitting method outlined by Steve Solomon, which you can find here.  They were planted outside on March 27th, and here are some pictures to show you their progress:

This is what they looked like on May 10th.

Look at how much they had grown by May 19th:

They are now, in this picture, about three feet tall.  No flowers yet, but they should start flowering any time now.  As you can see, I use a variety of materials for pea trellis.  The best ones are thin and tall stakes over which I have placed chicken wire.  These give the pea tendrils a lot of places to grab on and climb up.  The other free-form trellis is the “arm” part of a daybed that was being given away.  It has pretty decorative floral accents on the top, and I just liked it.  Peas will grow up this as well, but it would have been better if I had run some chicken wire around the bottom part of it.  You can easily get creative and use what you have for trellis materials!

Leave a comment–are you growing peas this year?  How big are they?

New Page Up At The Hummingbird Diaries

As part of my website, Minerva’s Garden, I have a portion devoted to hummingbirds, entitled The Hummingbird Diaries.  Now that I have upgraded the website, I can finally begin work on that section.  Today’s new addition is a Hummingbird Plant List, which you can find here.  Unlike other lists of this nature, mine is a personalized list of plants that I can vouch for, meaning I know for a fact that they will grow in my garden in Gardening Zone 8 in Southwest Washington, and most of which I have personally seen hummingbirds eating at.  I will continue to add to the list as the summer begins.  I may also try to add photos of the plants as well.


Make A Hanging Basket From Scratch

With annuals on sale, and with seeds and those you have grown yourself or wintered over, now is the perfect time to make your own hanging basket from scratch.  It is much cheaper to make your own–I ended up with four baskets for the price I would have paid for purchasing a single basket, so that worked for me.

I learned how to make baskets from a garden talk given by April Yarder, who has created the gorgeous hanging baskets that decorate downtown Camas.

You will need a few supplies.  I try to reuse from year to year as much as possible, to save money on this project:

  • hanging basket
  • burlap (You can buy this at a hardware store)
  • scissors for cutting burlap and plastic
  • clear plastic for baskets that will hang in the sun; black plastic for shade baskets
  • annuals (some I bought, some wintered over in my garden, and some I started from seed inside earlier this year)
  • seeds (trailing nasturtiums, whatever else you like)
  • potting soil
  • gardening gloves to protect your hands

1.  Cut burlap and plastic to fit your basket, making sure that the burlap and plastic will really go down into all the corners of the basket.  Then line the basket with the burlap first, and tie the corners of the burlap to the top metal ring of the basket.  My burlap is pretty old and I should replace it, but I didn’t have time to do so this time around, and frankly when the plants fill in it doesn’t show at all, so I was not too worried about it.

2.  Then line the basket with clear plastic.  You will want to fold the corners under, so that they do not show when the basket is filled with soil.  The plastic is used to help the basket retain water–do not poke any holes in the plastic.  You will not waterlog or rot the roots in this type of growing situation.  Most baskets dry out too quickly, so this is the reason for the plastic.

3.  Add potting soil to the basket.  I reuse my potting soil from year to year.  I do not waste money on fancy potting soils, because it simply makes no difference in how well the plants grow.  After the first 5 to 10 times that you water the basket or it gets rained on, any nutrients from that soil will have been washed out.  After that, the plants in the basket are completely dependent on you to provide them with fertilizer for their food.  This is one reason why baskets are high maintenance.  But it’s worth it, because they are beautiful!

The soil should be formed so that it creates a well in the center, and a very firm rim around the upper lip.  The rim helps to keep the water inside the basket from running out when you water it.  I use my hands and grab handfuls of soil from the center of the basket and then squash it up at the rim with both hands, moving the basket to the side to form more of the rim, until I have worked my way all around the basket.  Keep adding soil as needed.  The rim needs to be really firm, or you will have problems watering the basket for the whole rest of the growing season, so do not skimp on this part.

4.  Add the plants.

There are three types of plants that you will use, and this terminology comes from Fine Gardening magazine–thrillers, fillers and spillers.  Thrillers are the tallest plants that will be featured in the center of the basket.  Fillers fill in the spaces in the middle of the basket around the thriller, and spillers are trailing plants that will fill in the lower parts of the hanging basket.  You basically alternate fillers and spillers around the rim of the basket, and they are planted horizontally, with the rootballs touching each other in the well that is in the center of the basket.  Don’t be afraid to plant them tight–remember, you are feeding the plants fertilizer, so this is a whole different thing than proper spacing if you are growing them in a garden bed.  Leave a little room in the center for the thriller’s root ball, and the thriller will be planted last in a normal vertical position.  After the plants are in place, fill in with more potting soil any little holes that remain in the basket.  Make sure all the rootballs are thoroughly covered with potting soil.

The plants that I used for this basket include fillers of  purple petunias, orange and red marigolds (purple and orange are opposite each other on the color wheel, so they help to make each other’s colors really pop in the basket) and feverfew that was growing out in the garden, plus a pelargonium, common name geranium, that features yellow and red leaves and the flower, when it blooms, is violet as the thriller.   Spillers are Golden Creeping Jenny, which winters over in my garden and is a ground cover that also trails out of containers nicely, and ‘Cambridge Blue’ lobelia that I started myself from seed–a gorgeous light sky blue flower.  All of these work fine for a basket that will live in a full-sun spot.  This is the fun in growing hanging baskets–you can play around with the flower choices endlessly to get different looks, so pick your favorite plants!

5.  Finally, add some seeds to the basket.  April recommends that you place two nasturtium seeds at the base of each rootball of the fillers and spillers that you plant in the basket.  I play around with the depth of the seed placement, because I find that they need to be planted a little more shallowly so they germinate.  Anyway, add some nasturtium seeds, which will also help to fill out the basket nicely when they germinate and finally flower.

6.  Hang your basket up where it will live, and then carefully water it until water starts to drip out.  Each time you water, make sure to give it enough water so that it starts to drip out of the basket.

That’s all there is to it.  To maintain the basket, water every day that it does not significantly rain, and once the plants reach the stage where they are overhanging the rim of the basket, fertilize with Miracle Grow once a week throughout the growing season.  Deadhead the flowers to keep them flowering.  The petunias will need deadheading mostly in this arrangement.

I have pictures to add to this, but Comcast and WordPress are conspiring against me this morning, so I will come back later and see if I can get them to upload.  (Update:  Actually, it was Firefox conspiring against me this time.  I am discovering that you don’t have to be smart to troubleshoot computer issues, just have to think like a computer.)

Leave a comment if you like–what plants are in your hanging baskets this year?  Do you make your own baskets or purchase them?  I’d love to hear from you!

The New Website Is Up And Running!

Well, that didn’t take long–the revamped, new and improved Minerva’s Garden website is up and running.  You can simply go to a search engine and type in “Minerva’s Garden” to reach it, or here is a direct link!

Happy days!

Let’s Just Say That I Like Gardening Much Better Than Building And Uploading Websites

After much ado, I think that you will see the restructured Minerva’s Garden website within 48 hours, and maybe sooner than that.  Until that time, you might get an error message when you try to visit the page, but don’t worry, you should be able to see the new website very shortly!   I will announce it on the blog here when all is up and running well.

In the meantime, here is another pretty combination from the garden:

The brown plant in the center is Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing,’ a beautiful perennial that has umbrels of white flowers on long stems above the crown of the plant in bloom now.  Behind it is a great old garden rose called ‘Rose de Rescht’.  An excellent choice for smaller gardens, it truly stays between three and four feet tall, and has lovely dark rose-colored flowers.  Keep it deadheaded and fertilized, and it will bloom all summer.  In front of these plants are forget me nots, daylilies not yet in bloom, iris that just finished blooming, and a random feverfew bottom center, and Lamb’s Ears on the left side.

A Current Pretty Flowering Combination

I wanted to share a photo I took yesterday with you:

I like how the colors play off each other in this vignette.  There is a shrimp-colored Oriental Poppy in the middle left of the photo, a light lavender-colored clematis named ‘Blue Ravine,’ and a dark purple clematis called ‘Haku Oakan’ beneath it.  The bright chartreuse ground cover on the left middle and bottom of the picture is Golden Creeping Jenny.  The thin-leafed, round perennial at the bottom of the photo not yet in bloom is a tradescantia, commonly known as spiderwort,  of unknown variety, but it has lovely lavender flowers when it does bloom soon.  The taller shrub behind the clematis vines is a hybrid tea rose ‘Camelot,’ which has lovely apricot-colored flowers when it blooms.  I would like to replace it with an old garden rose called ‘Mutabilis,’ which offers more disease-resistant foliage and interesting subtleties in coloration not found with the hybrid tea rose.  The silvery-leaves is the foliage of Lamb’s Ears, and there is a metal garden chair that I painted turquoise blue in the back.

I have noticed that it can be hard to blend flowers in orange colors in with other plants, but light orange, or apricot or shrimp-colored flowers look gorgeous when offset by lavender and purple.  Remember your middle school art classes and learning about complementary and contrasting colors on the color wheel–orange is nearly opposite violet on the color wheel, and the contrast in warm and cool tones is what helps to set off all of these flowers well.  The turquoise in the chair also helps, because blue is the true color tone exactly opposite orange on the color wheel.  It is difficult to find turquoise flowers, so I use turquoise on garden items that can be painted, such as chairs and containers.

Here is a close-up of ‘Blue Ravine’:

. . . and a close-up of ‘Haku Oakan’:

Another way to add more dimension, depth and interest in your plant color combinations is to use flowers in the same color, but in light and dark tones.  So the light lavender and dark purple in the above pairing work for this reason as well.

Yellow and yellow-green are opposite purple on the color wheel, which is why the chartreuse leaves of the ground cover help to set off the purple and lavender shades of the clematis flowers.  I use silver rather than a lot of white in the garden, because I have found that it is a little easier to blend color-wise.  The cool silver tones help to tone down what for some might be too much contrast in the warm and cool tones.  Plus the Lamb’s Ears has pretty pink flowers later on in the season that attract bees and hummingbirds, and I need polinators in my garden, so it’s a great plant for this purpose as well.

Please leave a comment and share some of your pretty plant color combinations from your garden!

Excellent Plant Sales!

I have started a lot of plants myself from seed, so I didn’t need to buy much, but I did find a few delectable items at both the Camas Plant sale as well as the Master Gardeners’ Plant sales today.  Nice selection of clematis at Camas, and I picked up a ‘Kardinal Wyszinski’ (pronounced “war-SHIN-ski”), which is a lovely dark burgundy color and will go well with my light pink ‘Jacques Cartier’ old garden rose.

At the Master Gardeners’ sale, they had wonderful pelargonium starts with striped leaves and violet flowers for a dollar apiece–these are quite a bit more expensive at garden centers, so I loaded up on those.  I also picked up a hardy fuschia and another yellow-leaved fuschia that is not hardy, so I’ll bring it in over the winter, but will look fantastic in a container.

Both sales are still going on today until 4 pm, and the Master Gardeners sale will also be tomorrow from 10-3.  Lots of parking, and you can bring a cart to help you shop.

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