Just When I Thought the 2014 Planting Season was Finished…

The National Arbor Day Foundation sent ten trees as a result of a donation I made in July. Their ‘song bird’ collection includes two viburnum, a bur oak, a Colorado blue spruce, a gray dogwood, a red oak, a river birch, a crabapple, a tulip tree, a Washington Hawthorn and two purple lilacs. The bare root ‘sticks’ arrived in a freezing mist and drizzle. Thank you NADF!

According to the K-State University Extension, “The best time to plant is before trees break dormancy in spring or as leaves begin to change color in fall. This is when maximum root growth occurs …” So, not mid-December?

I trenched the trees into one of my raised vegetable garden beds and mulched with double chopped hardwood. It’s possible a couple of these sticks will survive through the winter for planting next spring.

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So to the NADF folks in Nebraska City, which is not that far away from here, I would very much like my fall trees in October. Or better yet, please don’t send me any more ‘trees.’ I will still support you.

From Seed to Sauce

Back in July, I wrote about our Tomato Insanity, a bumper crop of tomatoes from just two plants. I gave away sacks of tomatoes, made salad and salsa, and still they kept coming. An article from the University of Nebraska suggested I freeze tomatoes for cooking. And so I did.

This week, with my son and daughter-in-law coming for a post-holiday feed, I decided to make sauce.

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Working with freezer tomatoes has one big positive. I used warm water from the tap to peel them – an amazingly quick and easy process. No boiling water, no scorched finger tips, virtually no mess.

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Here is my recipe for spaghetti sauce:

    One minced yellow onion
    Three minced garlic cloves
    2 TBSP olive oil
    1 TBSP sea salt (or to taste)
    1 TBSP mixed peppercorns
    18-24 frozen tomatoes, diced and mashed
    Water or red wine to just cover
    Fresh basil to taste
    Fresh oregano to taste
    1/4 tsp nutmeg

In a soup pot, cook the onion in olive oil on medium heat until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic for about two minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt and spices, then the water or wine. Cook, stirring frequently and mashing tomatoes until you see a sauce-like consistency. Taste and adjust the salt and spices as needed. Allow the sauce to cool, then run it through the blender.

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A basic but tasty sauce. I made some bison meatballs, some grain-free focaccia bread, and what seem to be called ‘zoodles’ – noodles from zucchini squash.

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I added a salad, real pasta for the less adventurous – although everyone tried a zoodle – and there you have it. A non-traditional, post holiday meal from the garden.

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Thankful for 2014

Happy Thanksgiving to my readers. I’m thankful you took the 2014 journey with me! And I hope you keep reading as the annual gardening cycle restarts for 2015.

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In time for the holidays, we scored this beautiful poinsettia at The Flower Farm in Spring Hill, KS.

Can You Say Gesneriaceae?

Last summer while strolling through the Paola Farmer’s Market, I stopped to look at plants for sale. One booth had an interesting plant with pink, cream, and green variegated leaves set in an old-timey aluminum pot. The plant was gorgeous, the pot horrendous, and when I figured out I was looking at an African violet (Saintpaulia ionantha), I had to buy it. The seller told me that the gorgeous foliage made up for the fact that the plant rarely bloomed.

I brought the plant home, put it in an east-facing window, and it bloomed. Immediately and profusely.

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Encouraged by my handiness with this one African violet, I decided to purchase a couple more. I found one at the grocery store that I liked. It was in bloom when I bought it and is blooming still.

Branching out, I found some online African violet vendors and bought a few more plants – some standard and some semi-miniature. I received plants with three leaves. They’ve all grown new leaves from a plant stand in a west-facing window.

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Next, I learned about self-watering pots, both ceramic and plastic. By using self-watering pots, I never have to touch the leaves with water – great invention (or so I thought)!

Finally, I ventured out to see the Kansas City African Violet Club’s plant show and sale. I came home with a couple more African Violets and a couple flame violets (Episcia).

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Yesterday I attended the last of our Extension Master Gardening classes: three hours on houseplants. What did I learn? Never put plants, especially low-light plants like African Violets, in the window. When watering – and this is true of all houseplants – water to saturation and then let the soil dry to allow the plant to breathe. Although the presenter backed off a bit when asked about drip watering. I imagine my self-watering pots are a lot like drip watering.

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African and flame violets are from the same family of plants, Gesneriaceae. Quite the mouthful! I visited http://www.howjsay.com/index.php?word=gesneriaceae to learn how to pronounce the word.

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I wonder which plants will live and which will bloom. Now that the 2014 growing season is done, this little project will keep me gardening through the fall and early winter. Soon I’ll be thinking about planting veggies from seed again – although didn’t I swear off that process last year?

http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/ho-10.pdf

http://www.ag.auburn.edu/hort/landscape/Aviolet.htm

Cover Cropping

I’ve gardened this season in the five raised beds that Jim and I built last fall. While we both agreed that raised beds would – and did – produce better results than the in-ground garden we tilled ten years ago or more, we wondered what to do with that garden.

Our first goal was to destroy the weeds! In early summer, we inveigled the grand kids into helping us cover the garden with clear plastic, held in place with bricks. Not an easy task since the garden is about 400 square feet. Laying the plastic in a Kansas wind was quite a sight! Between the wind and rain, the plastic was in shreds by mid-August and the garden once again choked by weeds.

My first inclination? Let’s make more raised beds! But in one of our vegetable gardening classes, I learned about cover crops.

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The approach is simple. Plant something in the garden that acts as an organic mulch, controls both weeds and erosion, and adds nutrients to the soil. Farmers have used cover crops as part of crop rotation cycles for decades.

Once I did a bit of research, choosing a cover crop was easy enough. Legumes add nitrogen to the soil, which I need to add according to my soil test. I picked red clover (Trifolium pratense L) and we planted it in late September.

The Kansas Extension article on cover crops said that legumes work best with summer vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, corn, and melons, among others). Since Jim plans to plant melons – watermelons, cantaloupe, and maybe a few honeydew – I’m sure red clover was the right choice.

We’re planning to use a ‘strip tillage’ approach, leaving the clover as living mulch. Maybe we’ll have weed-free paths through the garden. And although we may be creating a different kind of weed problem, we want to see the clover in bloom! A different kind of crop – my master gardener mentor tells me that red clover tea is soothing and the flowers are good in salads.

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Now my only remaining question is whether to plant a ‘trap crop’ of squash to attract the squash bugs and keep them away from the melons!

Interested in cover crops? My research may be of interest:

http://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0302hsted/covercropskansasstate.pdf

http://extension.missouri.edu/p/g4638

The Acid Test

My blueberries are not growing. Surviving not thriving? I’ve used a powdered soil ‘acidifier’ since planting them last fall, but I started to wonder. Was it doing the trick?

Since learning about the need for soil tests, I got out my trusty trowel and dug up soil from that bed. The results? My pH is 7.5 – way on the alkaline side of things. Since I planned to plant hydrangeas on the east side (same bed), I added sulfur pellets to the soil, side-dressing the blueberries.

And while out picking up the sulfur, I found two “pee wee” Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea) that according to the nursery will not require a highly acid soil. We’ll see.

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I love the burgundy color and leathery look to the leaves, although the red is this plant’s fall color. I imagine the new leaves this coming spring will be dark green.

If you wonder how to amend your soil this fall, you may be interested in soil testing. Here are the how’s and why’s from the Kansas State Research and Extension office. Your State Extension Office may offer free soil testing too!