New Things To Come At Minerva’s Garden!

Hi everyone!  It’s been really busy here, but very soon I will be having Minerva’s Garden make the switch from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, which will make the site better.  Stay tuned for (hopefully) some blog beauty!

Now, what in the world is up with the weather?  (Can you say climate change–why yes, yes, I can.)  We haven’t had much cold weather, one day of snow in January.  (You know it’s warm here when the agapanthus hasn’t died back at all, and it isn’t even covered with plastic or anything–that’s a zone 9 plant!)  All of my fruit trees are breaking dormancy already, as are all the roses.  NONE of my bulbs are blooming yet, and normally by this time of year I have snowdrops, crocus and winter aconite in bloom, not to mention sarcococa shrub flowers.  The winter jasmine is loving the warm weather, as is the Chinese witch hazel, and they are blooming away.  All I am seeing is some bulb greenery coming up.

My greens under plastic were in fabulous shape and we were eating off them a fair amount until the snow.  I haven’t had a chance to even go out to look under the plastic in a while, but that will be a project for one of these upcoming sunny days, perhaps tomorrow or Saturday.  Hopefully all is well, and I suspect it will be, because the snow didn’t crush the hoops or plastic coverings. 

My baby lettuces, radicchio and basil are growing away under lights.  I may just keep them around, and if this weather keeps up, plant them out under the plastic (of course, not the basil–it’s way too cold for them to be outside, even covered.)

What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods?  Do you have any early bulbs in bloom yet?  Let me know down in the comments!

Happy Winter Solstice!

It’s the shortest day of the year, but I am happy in the knowledge that every day from here on out will bring more and more sunshine!

I hope you enjoy the winter solstice and celebrate it in a festive fashion!

I have a confession–

Lettuce, radicchio and basil starts under lights, Winter Solstice 2011

I have baby-sized basil, lettuce and radicchio growing under lights in the basement.  This gardening stuff is like an addiction, is it not?  Ever the gardening optimist am I.  I’ve already re-potted it up into four inch pots, and from there they’ll go into one-gallon-size pots.  We’ll see what comes of it–hopefully some useable comestables in the bleak winter months.

I’ve already got my eye on early spring as well . . .

Pelargonium hanging out under lights, Winter Solstice 2011

Pink and green will figure prominently after the Winter holidays around the house.  They will spend the winter and spring indoors under lights and in good natural light throughout the house, and then come May they will go back to their rightful spot in my hanging baskets and containers out in the garden.  These are the Energizer Bunny of flowers–they bloom all year long if you water and fertilize them.

If you like, leave a comment.

Seasonal Cookbooks

It has been so rainy and I’ve been working on other things, thus I have curtailed garden activities for a while.  (Although I do have more seeds to start–I may have to gird my loins and get on with it even in the rain.)  But at this time of year, I am looking for seasonal recipes.  It annoys me to pick up a February-issue magazine and look through the recipes to find that they use all kinds of summer-grown ingredients.  Instead, I have been trying to find some new recipes and cookbooks that feature season-friendly recipes.  I have to say that I’ve been eating a lot of coleslaw, and would like to find something else that would be tasty and not break the bank.

Here is a list of some cookbooks that I have found that offer winter-friendly recipes:

Bartley, Jennifer.  The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook.  Portland:  Timber Press, 2010.  This is a fun book–it includes garden design plans, seasonal checklists, fresh recipes, plant profiles and growing tips, as well as flowers for the table, all based on a seasonal approach.

Chesman, Andrea.  Recipes From The Root Cellar:  270 Fresh Ways To Enjoy Winter Vegetables.  North Adama, MA:  Storey, 2010.  Another cool cookbook that offers ways to cook vegetables that you will often not find in stores except in the winter, such as salsify, and with a focus on root vegetables, greens and brassicas.  There are a lot of easy to make recipes that don’t call for a lot of ingredients, which is appealing.  Chesman has written a couple of other cookbooks that I look forward to reading, including Serving Up The Harvest and The Vegetarian Grill.

Dahl, Sophie.  Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights:  Recipes For Every Season, Mood and Appetite.  New York:  William Morrow, 2009.  The recipes in this book focus on four-season cooking and using fresh ingredients. 

Webb, Robyn.  Flavorful Seasons Cookbook:  Great-Tasting Recipes For Winte,r Spring, Summer and Fall.  Alexandria, VA:  American Diabetes Association, 1996.  For those looking for some healthy options in winter recipes, this is a good place to start.  Each recipe lists preparation time, as well as a complete nutritional analysis. 

Weir, Joanne.  Winter:  Recipes Inspired By Nature’s Bounty.  San Francisco:  Weldon Owen, Inc., 1997.  This volume is part of the Williams Sonoma Seasonal Celebration line of cookbooks, and the photographs of each recipe are just gorgeous.  It offers tips for selecting winter ingredients, has pictures and detailed descriptions of winter vegetables, herbs, fruits, as well as winter ingredient preparation techniques.

I hope to preserve more food for next winter this gardening season.  I always do some, but I want to try to do more in this regard.

What are you cooking now in the winter?  Leave a comment, and also check out the Tuesday Garden Party.

 

Reblooming Amarylis and Autumn Decorations

In Southwest Washington, for the most part, we are settling in to a rainy and fairly warm weather pattern.  With the exception of lettuce and a few other salad and cooking greens that are growing under plastic and hoops, the vegetable garden is done for the winter, at least outdoors anyway.  I have tomatoes that I picked earlier in the season that are still ripening inside nicely, so we do get to still have some wonderful fresh tomatoes on salads and sandwiches on occasion.  I am still working on cleaning up garden beds, weeding and getting them covered with plastic, but no real rush, so that can happen the next time we have a break in the rain.

I continue to feed the birds.  They are enjoying the black oil sunflower seed and hummingbird nectar, along with nectar from a few surprisingly hardy plants that are still blooming, such as the viburnum, borage, verbena bonariensis, glossy abelia and the start of the ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary.  The coleus are also still blooming (!), and the hummers feed away on their columns of tiny flowers, as they do from nasturtium flowers that are growing in containers and hanging baskets.  Some of the verbena bonariensis has also gone to seed, and the little birds attach themselves to the flowers to eat seeds.

I grew Rouge Vif d’Entemps pumpkins, also known as Cinderella pumpkins again this year.  The results are adorning the front steps to the house.  I’ve paired them with containers in blue with yellow grasses and sedums.  Because they are living under a covered stoop area that is warmer than just being out in the garden, this tends to keep the containers alive all year, so there is a little something fresh outdoors that is fun to look at.

Here is a little indoor flower arrangement I did for Halloween.

I also potted up paperwhites on November 7th in a large clay pot, watered the soil, and then put the pot in the dark garage.  It will stay there until December, when green shoots will appear, and then I will bring it into the house and eventually it will bloom.  If they are started by Nov. 7th, they will usually be in bloom by Christmas and Solstice.  If you plant them now, they will still bloom after the holidays, giving you something wonderful to look forward to after the holidays are done.

 

                                                                                                        Paperwhites in bloom from last year.

I started, at the beginning of November, to start watering and feeding my amarylis bulbs, which are inside in bright sun-facing windows in the house.  Here is a little recap for you from last year on how to get the amarylis bulbs you buy now and have bloom this winter, rebloom next year:

Growing amaryllis indoors is a great way to have luxurious, large flowers indoors during the drab winter months.  It’s actually fairly easy to get them to rebloom year after year.  Here are the steps if you are starting out now with a new bulb, which typically go on sale at hardware and department stores as well as gardening centers sometime in the month of November.

1.  Plant the bulb.  The bulbs like snug containers, and the pointy top 1/3 of the bulb needs to be above the soil level in the pot.  The little plastic pots that come with the bulb that you purchase have no drain holes, so you will not need a saucer beneath them, but you also have to water carefully so you do not waterlog the bulbs.  Water so it’s moist but not soggy, and place the pot in a sunny window.

2.  Continue to water and fertilize with a complete organic fertilizer every two weeks after planting.  Eventually leaves will sprout from the bulb, and a thick stem will emerge, from which the flower head will grow.  With a smaller bulb, this may or may not happen the first year, but should as the bulb matures.  I have read that for every five leaves on the bulb, you will get one flower stalk.  My younger bulbs have bloomed with as few as three leaves.  My bulbs are not mature enough to have more than five leaves at this point, but we will see if this is true as time goes on.

3.  After the bulbs have bloomed, hopefully around or just after the winter holidays,  continue to water and fertilize every other week all winter, and through the spring and summer.  In the summer, if you wish, you may move the pots outdoors in a protected spot like a porch  in July when it warms up, but they also do well hanging out indoors in front of a sunny window.

4.  In the beginning of September, stop fertilizing the pots, and cut way back on watering.  You want them to dry out a bit, but not die from lack of water.  Very little is needed.  Foliage may wither and die at this point, and that is fine–simply use a scissors and cut off any unsightly browned foliage as it occurs.  If the pots were outside for the summer, in the beginning of  September bring them back inside to their sunny window.    Keep the pots barely moist and no fertilizer for the months of September and October.

5.  Starting in the beginning of November, resume watering and fertilizing every other week, and keep them in a sunny window.  This will help to wake up the bulbs, and they should start eventually to send out new foliage and flower stems.

Another note:  The flower stems can get very tall, and so I like to keep very slender stakes, even a thin skewer or chopstick can work, and slide them into the pot and use twine or even ribbon to tie the stem to the stake, so that it doesn’t break.  I had a cat knock one over, and the stem was hanging over.  I  used scotch tape to wrap around the stem and stake to get the damaged stem back up into an upright position, and it actually bloomed, but your mileage may vary.

That’s all there is to it–as you can see, a very easy process.  You can place plain pots together in decorative baskets found very inexpensively at thrift stores, and cover the top with Spanish moss to hide the pots, making a lovely holiday decoration for your home.

‘Appleblossom’ amarylis about to bloom last year.

‘Appleblossom’ in bloom.

Stop by the Oregon Cottage Garden Party for more fun gardening posts!


Planting Fall and Winter Veggi Beds

Now is a great time to plant seeds and starts of your favorite fall and winter-bearing vegetables. Actually, I have been planting since mid-July for this purpose. Some examples of seeds that work for when the temperatures drop would be snow peas  and broccoli(they need to be planted mid-July, however), all sorts of salad greens that can take some cold such as arugula, corn salad or mache, red and green mustard greens, and things like kale. Kale turned out to be especially tough last winter–what I planted in the fall had over a foot of snow dumped on top of it, and after it melted it all came back to life.  Also, I find that I have a lot less trouble with cabbage moths devouring my brassicas in the fall and winter times. Of course, as normal, you will keep your seed beds watered, by rain or by hand if it’s dry, until germination occurs, and then continue with regular watering until fall and winter rains take over that chore for you.

A couple of tricks I use to help extend the food growing season for cold-tolerant plants for year-round eating:

1–use thin pvc pipe to create hoops over your salad greens beds that you start now. You can cover them when the weather gets cold, which around here probably won’t be until the end of October. At the point where you are getting freezing temperatures, just keep them covered all the time, day and night, with clear visqueen plastic which can be held down easily with bricks or rocks. Rain water seeps in under the plastic and condenses on the plastic during warmer daytime temperatures, so no need to take plastic off during the day at this colder time of year.  It’s basically a mini, unheated greenhouse anywhere you need it.  The pipe and plastic can be reused for several years.

2–You can take a little chance and start some salad green seeds quite late in the season–late September or even first week of October. They will, if the weather cooperates, grow to about 2 inches tall before cold weather shuts their growth down. Just keep them covered with the plastic, and around February, when the temperatures start to warm a bit, they will take off, and you will have wonderful salad greens by the end of Feb. or so.

3–Start now, and plant a bed of salad greens.  You can continue planting a new bed every two or three weeks until temperatures get too cold for germination, and that way you will spread your usable harvest out throughout the fall and winter months because it will stagger their maturity dates.

Check out Territorial Seed Company for their wonderful catelogue of seeds that are appropriate for planting for fall and winter crops. Amazing the amount of stuff that will survive a winter, at least a somewhat normal winter, here!