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.

I Can’t Get Started With You–Growing Vegetables in the Pacific Northwest, August 2011 Edition

A little mid-summer update for the vegetables I’ve been growing.  As anyone living in the Pacific Northwest knows, this summer has been just as cold as last summer, and the result is that all the warm-season vegetables are very late to ripen this year, as they were last year.  I hope this is not a trend, but it may be (thanks, global climate change–I was hoping we’d turn into Napa Valley here . . .)  Anyway, as I mentioned in this earlier post on Guerilla Gardening, I’m growing a lot of my heat-lovers under hoops and plastic this year.  It helps to raise the night-time temperatures a little bit, which is what the problem is.  Cold nights are not good, because the vegetables mature and ripen at night, so you want higher night-time temperatures for crops to ripen earlier.  This we have not had here at all, and thus the plastic.

Here are the tomatoes:

These are tomato plants in cages under plastic taken earlier in June.  Here they are now:

Those babies have really taken off, and barely fit under plastic anymore.  A veritable jungle of tomato vines . . . but

Green ‘Costoluto Genovese’ tomatoes, and  . . .

yet more green tomatoes–I’ve got green tomatoes as far as the eye can see, and no red and ripe ones yet.  Soon, hopefully.

On to the pumpkin and squash:

The first baby ‘Rouge Vif d’Entemps’ pumpkin, also known as Cinderella pumpkin.  They start out this pretty shade of yellow and deepen to orange as they mature.  They are wonderful for eating, but most of the time I use them for decorating in the autumn months. 

And now a grouping of vegetables:

At the bottom are ‘Mesa Queen’ acorn squash flowers, and above are fava beans, corn and the last of the peas.  (I can’t believe I still have peas–normally they are done in by mid-July here.)   I am just barely seeing some tassels forming on the corn, but the peas have been going strong since July.

I think the fava beans are quite interesting plants to look at.  Here are the flowers from earlier this season:

Other vegetable plants in the garden:

These are ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush beans (curious name, because they are decidedly purple to me).  I’ve grown these for three years and they always produce a good crop, even under these cold growing conditions.  They are just at the picking and eating stage.

I’m also growing:

‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans.  I love the flowers and the beans on this pretty hummingbird plant.  Here’s more of a close-up:

Runner bean flowers, with some picasette garden art thrown in the rear of the photo.

Cucumbers have been problematic both this and last year.  Just like last year, I had to restart seeds three times before they would germinate–it was just too darn wet and cold for them earlier.  And it’s still realy cold for them, because they like it to be 60 degrees at night for them to ripen, and not once has it been that warm here.  Nevertheless, they grow on apace under plastic:

Here are the cukes tucked into bed for the night, and . . .

Here they are uncovered.  It needs to be 60 degrees at night for them to ripen, and thus my problem.  However, I am optimistically growing ‘Green Slam’, an early (ha) ripening slicing cuke, along with a new hybrid called ‘Rocky’, and some ‘Harmonie’ pickling cukes.  The ‘Harmonie’ cukes are the largest so far, but only a couple of inches long, and there are lots of flowers still on the vines.  We may have some cukes come September, who knows.

Some crops thrive in cooler weather:

These are beets that I use for beet greens in salads and for sauteeing.  The green leaves are ‘Chioggia’ beets, and the red leaves are ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets.  Both grow quite well here.

One success story is in the fruit department.  In my area and at my house, the berries have been tremendous this season.  We u-picked strawberries–39 pounds–which I made into freezer preserves and individually quick froze, and blueberries–35 pounds–that I preserved in the same manner.  Raspberries did not do so well at the u-pick farm that I went to, so I only ended up with a little cranberry-raspberry freezer preserves, but my own raspberries were very prolific.  I think there was so much rain earlier that it mooshed (that’s scientific of me) the roots of a lot of the raspberry plants here, so they just died, but mine came through unscathed.  Right now the June-bearing raspberries are finishing up, in August(!), and the bees are busy at work polinating the buds and flowers on the fall-bearing raspberries.  I have these beauties ripe and ready to eat now:

They are blackberries and marionberries in various stages of ripeness.  I wrote an earlier post showing and telling about how I trellis, prune and fertilize my berries, and they responded well to this treatment.  I grow a ‘Lochness’ blackberry, which is a thornless variety.  I have to say I’ve changed my tune a lot about the blackberries and marionberries.  They needed a few years to settle in and put down roots, but once they did, youza, have they been producing.

I also have apples:

This is the ‘Spitzenberg’ apple tree, which is part of my espaliered belgian fence in our backyard.  This heirloom is the first the ripen, but they don’t ripen until probably October this year.  I will give more updates as they mature.  Behind it is a ginormous butterfly bush, which the hummingbirds, swallowtail and monarch butterflies have been enjoying for several weeks.

I also have grapes (!) this year, once I got brave and took the pruners to this vine:

This is our ‘Einset’ grape, which is a red seedless table grape.  Obviously, it’s not ripe because the grapes are still green, but I’m thinking end of September or beginning of October these should be ready.  They grow on the open-air roof of a pergola where we dine during the warmer summer months (I’m still waiting for those months.)

Lettuce and salad greens have also been very successful this year as well.

This is mizuna on the top, which is an Asian mustard green that is not as invasive as the regular mustard greens, and Tatsoi–Bok Choy with the round dark green leaves at the bottom.  Both go into our salad bowls, as does the ‘Ruby Red’ Swiss chard with the red stems growing next to them.

My best lettuce to date has been the very earliest starts that I put in the ground in chilly March of this year.  However, here is a little bed that I planted in June.  This contains ‘Two Star’ leaf lettuce in the back with the frillier leaves, and ‘Concept’ lettuce, with more rounded leaves, in the front.  Both of these have consistently produced good lettuce all season.  I will put up a results list of my favorite lettuce and salad greens seeds based on how they grew in my garden later in the year.  I’ll leave you with this garden picture:

(PS–I dug my first new potatoes of the season, called ‘Dark Red Norland’ and they were great.  Had a lot less trouble with flea beatles this year, because I think the cold weather diminished their numbers.  I forgot to take a picture of the harvest, so intent was I on cooking and eating those red round tasties.)  How are your vegetables faring this interesting growing season?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  And don’t forget to visit the garden party.

Guerilla Gardening on the Summer Solstice

Here is something to think about:

“Do what you can, with what you have, right where you are.” 

Theodore Roosevelt

That statement has always spoken to me, to not make excuses but to make an effort to move in the direction I want to go, in whatever aspect and capacity of life to which I wish to apply it. 

There was a film director that I met one time, and she made her mark in films way back when she was getting started by loading up her van with her camera and limited equipment, a skeleton crew and a very few actors, and heading off down the road.  When she saw a likely spot, they all got out and proceeded to shoot some scenes for a film, right where they were at.  She ended up with some good films.  She eventually was asked to direct a well-know television series as a guest director, and they wanted her to do her “guerilla directing” thing with the big show, but she couldn’t be spontaneous when it took 4 semi-truck loads of equipment to shoot one little scene for that big show.

But I digress.  Roosevelt’s statement also applies to gardening.

After spending a spring wishing and hoping for warm weather and that the rain would cease to fall in excessive amounts, I think I am finally past it.  I can wish and hope all I want, but the fact is it appears that this growing season is going to be quite similar to last year’s growing season, which was short and cold. 

This is a not a bad combination for my flowers, which are doing great and growing well.  It could spell disaster, however, for my vegetable garden. 

But, what I have going into this, and to my advantage, is the knowledge of the growing season last year.  This will help me to get into what I have been calling “guerilla gardening” mode, to help me get some kind of a reasonable vegetable crop from my garden this year.  Here are some tips that I am using with my vegetables this year, and I hope that they might help you as well in your gardening pursuits.

Get-real gardening.

  • Grow warm-season plants under plastic.  Let’s face the facts, shall we?  Where I live in SW Washington state, it has not reliably hit 50 degrees air temperature at night yet, on June 21st.  On and off, but not consistently.  It needs to be at least 50 degrees, and preferably 55 degrees overnight, before tomatoes will ripen–their ability to ripen, mature and turn red is based much more on the nighttime temperatures than the daytime.  What this means is that I am looking for ways to increase the nighttime temperature around my tomatoes.  I have planted my tomatoes, and placed tomato cages over them, then I put clear plastic over the top and sides of the cages, holding down the edges with rocks.   This plastic will raise the nighttime temperature by 3-4 degrees, which will help bump it up to at least 50 degrees, if not a bit more.  This will help your tomatoes ripen a lot faster than if they were uncovered.  Last year, I asked most of the farmers who had ripe tomatoes at the farmers’ market how they got their tomatoes to ripen, and nearly all of them, with farms located in this area, said that they had to cover them with plastic to get them to ripen, so that is what the professionals are doing.   Rain and any kind of water falling on the fruits is also another big enemy of a perfectly ripe tomato.  You want to keep rainfall off the tomato fruits as much as possible, or they rot very quickly and have lots of blemishes.  Plastic is very good for this purpose as well.  I also pretty much gave up growing the tomatoes that are late-season varieties–only one ‘Brandywine’ plant this year, for example, and more of the quicker cherry tomatoes.
  • It gets worse if you want to try to grow cucumbers, eggplant and peppers, or any of the melons.  These plants need 60 degree temperatures at night in order to mature.  For these, put hoop houses over your planting beds.    If you use PVC plastic pipe, found at a hardware store, and push it into the ground over your plants, it will form a half-circle, or a hoop.  On these hoops you can place clear plastic and hold it down with rocks at the corners, and clothes pins on top of the hoops.  The idea is that you don’t want the plastic to touch the plants.  Water condenses under the plastic, which helps to keep things moist under there.  Unfortunately, this will be high maintenance, because eventually July will roll around, and we will get some days that will be in the 80s and 90s.  On those hot days, you will need to open the plastic in the morning, make sure everything has enough water so they don’t dry out, and then cover them at night.  You will have to decide how much you love cukes, peppers and eggplant, and how much time you have to spend babying these plants, because they will take more work than some of the other things that are easier to grow.  Nearly every local grower at the farmers’ market last year who had ripe peppers for sale had to cover them with plastic to get them to turn red.  Just sayin’.   And every variety of eggplant, pepper and cuke that I grow are suited to short growing seasons, because those that need a long growing season will never ripen before we start getting colder autumn weather.  This is pretty hard with cukes, because I want to get as much growth as possible under plastic, to increase the temperature to improve growth, but eventually they get too big, and you have to put a trellis up for them to grow upon, so eventually (I wait until the last possible minute), you will not be able to cover the cukes any longer.  Then they have to be big enough to hopefully swim and not sink on their own with whatever the weather hands out.  The eggplant and peppers stay covered throughout the entire growing season until they die in the fall.  I have never had good luck with melons, so I wish you well if you want to give it a go–just be sure to plant short-season melons, and you might fare better than I.
  • To give them a headstart, I also cover my corn bed, as well as the pumpkin and squash bed, to warm it up for them to get a good start.  After the plants get too big, I end up uncovering them, but not until partway through July.

    'Ruby Red' Swiss Chard is a winner

  • So, what can you grow that will not be a pain in the neck for the gardener?  Here are some plants that I had good luck with last year, even though it was a very cold summer:  Lettuce, arugula, beets and beet greens, tatsoi, mustard greens, swiss chard, green beans, both bush and runner bean types, sugar snap peas.  It also appears that we are going to have a bumper crop of blackberries, raspberries and marionberries this year as well, without much work on my part.  (The bees have been very busy, on the other hand,  polinating all those flowers for me.)  If you want a garden that you don’t have to cover with plastic, you might want to focus on these crops that will grow just fine in cooler temperatures.  And that is totally an okay thing to do–why fight nature?  It is a fight very difficult to win, so why not go with what gets handed out and make it easy on yourself?  I have no problems with that.  It is just that I love, absolutely live for, home-grown tomatoes, and so I am willing to take the extra steps in order to get some of our own.  (I am also someone who monkeys around with fussy delphinium plants that need to be protected from slug attacks and need to have each bloom stem individually staked–you love what you love, what can I say.)  Another option is to purchase those warm-weather crops from farmers that are coming over from sunny and dry Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon to the farmers’ markets to sell their wares, and then you grow what is easier to grow in your garden–this works very well, too. 

    'Purple Queen' bush beans and sunflowers in containers

  • In addition to colder weather, you might also have a lot of shade on your property due to large trees.  Vegetables need sun, so one solution is to go in for large container gardening.  You can grow all sorts of vegetables successfully in large containers.  I’ve grown tomatoes, peppers , eggplant, corn, sunflowers, lettuce, beans, peas and cukes in big containers.  The plants will not produce as much as they would if growing in the ground, but you can place the containers anywhere you have a sun spot, so you will likely have much more success in growing vegetables in this manner.  You will discover that the garden hose and fertilizer are your friends if you take this route, which is high maintenance.

    Corn and salad greens in containers

“Do what you can, with what you have, right where you are.”   If you want to vegetable garden this year, then don’t let the weather stop you.  Just know what you’re in for, so you can decide how you want to spend your time and energy.  And garden smart, like a guerilla gardener would, and you’ll have some success. 

Do enjoy the first day of summer, the Summer Solstice, today, and visit the Garden Party.


Preparing and Planting a Spring Lettuce Bed

Lovely weather–finally!–on Friday and Saturday here, and so I got outside and got busy by preparing and planting a lettuce bed.  I had lettuce starts as well as a few baby Walla Walla Sweet onion starts that I had grown indoors under lights from seed, and I had been hardening them off for about three weeks (didn’t need to do it for that long, but it was so cold and rainy I never could get them planted until now.)  Anyway, here is the process I use, which originates with Steve Solomon’s method in his book, Gardening When It Counts.

The first step is weed removal.  Last year in this spot I had tomatoes planted, so the dirt was pretty friable from the tomato’s extensive roots loosening it up for me, so it didn’t take too long to weed it.

These are the tools I used for this project:  shovel, metal rake, and a two-in-one tool that is great for breaking up the soil, hoeing in between rows of plants, and weeding.  Plus I used a measuring tape and a small hand shovel.

Next I applied fertilizer.  This is complete organic fertilizer that I mix myself–Solomon’s recipe is 4 parts seed meal, 1 part dolomite lime, 1 part bone meal, and 1/2 part kelp meal.  This bed is about four feet wide by six feet long, and because lettuce needs highly fertile soil to grow well, I put 1 and 3/4 quarts of fertilizer on the bed.

Next I placed a 1/4 inch-thick layer of homemade compost on top of the fertilizer.  This compost is wonderful–full of worms to take all this wonderful stuff down into the soil.  I wish I had five-times the amount of this stuff, but can only produce so much with my available resources.

I use the shovel to dig the fertilizer and compost in.  (That’s a parsley that wants to grow there in the front, so okay with me.)

After digging, the bed is lumpy and not level, so I use the metal rake to break up large clumps and get the bed level and as smooth as I can.

Now it’s smooth and ready for planting lettuce and onion starts.  It’s still a little too lumpy if I was wanting to plant seeds, however, so a little trick I like to use is to put seed-starting mix just in the rows where you’ll plant the seed, and that way they have no trouble germinating and coming up through that light and airy mix, and by the time they get big enough they can reach down into the regular soil to expand their roots.

The lettuce and onion starts.  I am planting ‘Two Star’ looseleaf lettuce, ‘Bullet’ green romaine, ‘Red Iceburg’ crisphead, and ‘New Red Fire’ looseleaf lettuces, plus a few ‘Walla Walla Sweet’ onions and a very few ‘Pacific Pearl’ scallion/bunching onions to finish up a little bit of seed I had leftover from last year.  The lettuce starts are in a 6-pack, and the onion starts in a 4-inch container.  I started the seeds indoors back at the end of February.

Since I put two seeds into each 6-pack cell, and the seed is new and fresh, I had good germination and got two plants per cell, mostly.  So I carefully separate the baby plants, making sure both lettuce starts have their root systems intact as much as I can.  This is ‘Two Star’ looseleaf.

I use the rake handle to press into the soil to make straight lines indicating the rows where I will plant the lettuce and onion starts.  These rows are about 12 inches apart.

Then I plant the starts using a small hand shovel.  I planted them about 9-10 inches apart on the row, so I got four plants on a four-foot long row.  The onions I planted 2 inches apart, because I can thin them at the green onion stage to use for cooking, so it’s okay to plant them closer.

The finished lettuce and onion bed.  After this, I carefully watered them in, and sprinkled Sluggo around the plants, because these babies are like ambrosia to slugs.

Because our weather patterns are imitating Siberia for as long as possible this cold and rainy spring, and it may go down below 40 degrees at night–the lowest night temperature at which lettuce will grow–I went ahead and covered the whole bed with pvc plastic hoops and clear plastic held down with rocks at the edges. 

That’s it.  Did you have fun in the sun in your garden this past weekend?  Do tell in the comments.  And visit the Garden Party.


Indoor Seedlings

I have gobs of seeds that I have started inside, and they have been germinating.  I have no fancy equipment, but everything seems to be working so that they are growing, which is good.  Here are some pictures:

This is a closeup of several vegetable starts.  I’ve got some ‘Bullet’ romaine lettuce that is growing very well in the back in a six-pack, and in front of that a couple of ‘Gardener’s Delight’ cherry tomatoes that I am planning on planting out early under plastic, because I am starved for ripe garden tomatoes (!)  In front of that are some ‘Walla Walla Sweet’ onion starts.  I use an egg carton to get a little air circulating under my seed potatoes.  These are early ones–‘Dark Red Norland’ potatoes.

Here is part of the flotilla of baby tomatoes that I started from seed!  This year I am growing these varieties:

  • ‘Gardener’s Delight’–because we had such a bad growing year here last year, I wanted to give these a try again to confirm my findings, but these cherry tomatoes, which for me have been a little larger than ‘Super Sweet 100’ cherry tomatoes, are supposed to not split as easily as the Super Sweets, so we shall see.
  • ‘Costoluto Genovese’–I plant this tomato every year.  Very reliable here, and produces quite a bit of fruit.  Very tasty as well.
  • ‘Super Marzano Hybrid’–I have in years past gotten ‘San Marzano’ seed, and have been very pleased with them, so am trying the Super hybrid to see if it’s any better.  These are a Roma-like tomato excellent for drying, but are also delicious sliced and eaten in salads.
  • ‘Brandywine’–These produce gorgeous and huge tomatoes late in the season, but lately we’ve had cold weather late in the season, so I am only doing a few of these this year.  However, I look forward to them–very good flavor.
  • ‘Cherokee Purple’–I am trying a few of these to see how they do in my garden.  Jamie at An Oregon Cottage blog recommended them and said she’s had good luck with them, so I thought I’d give them a try as well.

I also am growing several different types of flowers from seed this year.  Above are some lavender multibloom geramiums.  (Now, in actuality, these are really called pelargonium, and there is a different plant known as a hardy geranium, and they’re not the same.  However, this is how it was labeled from the seed seller.)  I bought 11 seeds for just under three dollars, so they are a little expensive.  However, I got 10 to germinate, and when you consider that even on sale pelargonium plants are at least one dollar apiece, I think I came out way ahead on that deal.  These seeds are not for the faint of heart at seed starting, however:  tiny little things–don’t want to be planting in the wind or blow your nose at the wrong moment!  I used a tiny little baby spoon to get out one seed at a time, and then I placed it in the center of each container.  That works pretty well for small seeds–petunias are another type that I started from seed, and they are expensive and very small as well.  I don’t normally grow a huge amount of flowers from seed, but I just went a little nuts this year and decided to go for it, so I could do my hanging baskets and containers in hopefully very beautiful ways this season!

It’s been cold and incessantly rainy here, so I am waiting for it to warm up so I can get back outside more.  What is happening in your garden–let me know in the comments!

Visit An Oregon Cottage Blog as well.

Early Gardening Activities For February

I got my vegetable and flower seeds ordered and bought last week.  I normally do this in person, but circumstances this year did not allow for that, so I ordered almost all online.  I ordered from Territorial Seed, Johnny’s, and I am trying Pinetree based on their great prices as well as Jami’s word of recommendation at An Oregon Cottage.  They have a glorious selection of coleus seed, and I went a little crazy with that, but I should have some really gorgeous hanging baskets and containers this year, because I could get seeds that had been sorted into individual colors rather than mixes–I cannot wait!  I will be starting flower seeds around Valentine’s Day, so they’ll be ready to transplant in the middle of May.  I was actually a little late apparently getting my order in at Johnny’s, because they had already run out or had backorders for a couple of the seeds I wanted, but I was able to get my second choices, so it all worked out.  They are really expensive for their shipping costs, but they are also the only place I know to get ‘Nadia’ eggplant seed (a must-have for me because it grows well here, or rather, as well as any eggplant grows here), and they were cheaper in certain instances than Territorial.  I had to figure out the seed cost on a per seed basis (I was seeing double by the end of that mathematical experience), and sometimes Johnny’s was cheaper and sometimes Territorial.  (If you buy a lot of seed, the cost adds up very quickly.  All those packets look so innocent, and you think,”Well, it’s only a couple of dollars.” but it ends up being a lot of money if you are not careful.)  It’s best to get all your seed in the spring, because seed is not always available later in the season, so it always seems expensive to me, but when you consider how much food and flowers it will produce, it’s actually much cheaper than other options, like buying transplants from a nursery.

I got a few little jobs accomplished yesterday out in the garden.  First, I started a little bit of onion, lettuce and spinach seed inside under grow lights to get a few transplants to go outside under plastic in March.  Today I started sprouting my early ‘Dark Red Norland’ seed potatoes inside under lights, as those will be planted out later around the first weekend in April, depending on the weather.  You can read how to do it here.

Next, I moved on to the flower beds.  Slugs are always around, and so I took Sluggo and put it around all my emerging bulb foliage, the hostas, tradscantia and hellebores.  (That’ll fix ’em .)  I then picked the dead leaves off of my ‘Asao’ and ‘Louise Rowe’ clematis vines.  The weather has been fairly warm here, and many of the clematis and roses are starting to break dormancy, so there was a lot of new growth on both.  (The fruit trees and hydrangeas are also beginning to break dormancy as well.)  Now they look a lot neater.  I tied them back into position, so they are all ready to go.

I then noticed the curb strip was looking a little worse for wear, so I went down and cut down dead foliage, and raked up leaves that had caught around the plant crowns.  I used those leaves to mulch nearby flower beds, so that worked out well.

After that, I picked a little mustard greens, arugula and swiss chard that had wintered over under plastic in the garden!  Made greens and feta with penne pasta for dinner with some of it. 

I have yellow crocus and winter aconite blooming–so pretty.  My snowdrops have been blooming for a couple of weeks now, and the winter jasmine is in gorgeous display.  ‘Arnold Promise’ Chinese witch hazel is blooming, but it had a lot of the flower buds blasted by freezing temperatures early this winter, so not so many flowers this time around.  The ‘Texas Scarlet’ flowering quince is about to bloom.  There are even one or two blooms on the forsythia, very early.  And the viburnum continue to bloom off and on–they got their buds frozen late last year, so fewer blooms there, but more appear as the weather warms.  The ‘ Tuscan Blue’ rosemary has also been blooming for a couple of weeks, but much more now as the weather warms.  The rosemary is situated right in front of our dining room windows, and the hummingbirds are often out there eating from the rosemary flowers!

Hope your garden is doing well–leave me a comment and let me know what you are doing in yours.

Please visit An Oregon Cottage for The 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!