Still Winter

Winter storm Titan threatens to blow in over the next few days, bringing sleet, ice, and more snow. Next week, the temperatures forecasted range from -5 to 38. Clearly, my plan to put kale and romaine out in cold frames on March 1 needs to change!

My ten plants have responded well to being babied with chamomile tea and fish emulsion. If they don’t go outside pretty soon, I’ll be transplanting them into bigger pots.


At least I have plants to transplant. As for my third try at broccoli seed starting, nothing has germinated. I know the seeds are viable. I am misting with chamomile. The trays are not under direct light. I have a Plan B, though. I have about 30 seeds rolled in wet paper towels, in a baggie, in a warm place. I’ll check them tomorrow to see if these have germinated. If yes, they will go into pots!

My second experiment – to overwinter a begonia – is also succeeding as a result of using some of the techniques I learned in seed starting class. I found the begonia in an end of season sale at one of the big box stores. It cost less than 30 cents and was in pretty bad shape. I planted it in my front flower bed and it perked right up. Last October, I transplanted it into a pot and brought it inside.

Pretty soon, it looked about the way it did when I bought it. At death’s door. I found it had mites and used some of my trusty, indoor plant bug spray. Even that didn’t perk it up. But when I started watering it with chamomile tea – bingo! The plant is now twice its October size and has lovely pink blooms.


Well, we’re hunkering down for winter. The long range forecast is showing temps in the 50’s for the second week of March. I hope it will be so…


They’re Alive!


I now have five kale and five romaine plants still living, waiting for the magic date of March 1 to go into the cold frame during the day. They have started to look like kale and romaine. I’ve transplanted them again into 3 inch pots and once they settled into their new homes, fed them some fish emulsion. They look happy.

But the broccoli and bunching onions – not so much. I’ve had two sets of each do exactly nothing. Since I followed the seed starting recipe to the letter, I was disappointed. Of course, I’m only working with about half the alphabet…

“Did you put the broccoli under a light?” asked my new friend and seed-starting expert, Patti. Uh, yes I did. Come to find out, broccoli goes under the light only after germination. Another letter to add to the alphabet!

“Did you test for viability?” asked my long-time friend and mentor, Lenora Larson. Uh no. And then a light bulb went off over my head.

Back in February at the county extension office gardening class, the instructor spent what I thought was an inordinate amount of time talking about wrapping a few seeds up in paper towel and baggies. She even passed around samples of what happens when you leave the seeds for a couple of days and then come back. At the time, I had no idea what she was doing. New gardener here!
But now having thrown away at least $7.50 worth of perfectly good – to my mind – seeds, I understood. Test for viability, or in other words, are those seeds alive? Since I didn’t trust my memory, I went looking online for the process.

Everyone in the world must use this process to test for seed viability. Take some wet but-not-dripping paper towel, throw a few seeds on it but don’t let them touch each other, put another wet paper towel on top, roll, and put the rolls in marked baggies.


Put the baggies in a warm place for a couple of days and voila! The seeds will germinate or not, and you will know about the viability of the contents of that seed packet. And so I did.
Now, two days later, I have my answer for broccoli. They’re alive!


Bunching onions? The best I can say is that the seeds swelled up, so I returned them to the baggie and will wait another day.

To be continued …

What’s Your Gardening Personality?


I met Lenora Larson about 15 years ago in a parking lot before a healthcare presentation. I worked for the organization sponsoring the event and Lenora was representing a vendor. Without knowing anything about each other, we immediately “clicked” and exchanged business cards. And as these things go, that was the end of that.

But fate had something different in store for us. About a year later, the CEO of my company wandered down to my office and asked if I knew a “Lenora Larson.” A month or so later, Lenora was ensconced as Business Development Director, where she stayed for 13 years.

Owner of Longlips Farm (it used to be a goat farm) Lenora has spent the last three decades creating a series of gardens, with certification from the North American Butterfly Association and Monarch Watch. Her 27 acre property includes pasture, lake, swamp, and hardwood forest.

Lenora is my personal gardening mentor and my example of how to garden in Kansas. She’s a favorite speaker throughout Kansas and Missouri, known for her humor and enthusiasm. Today, I attended one of her talks – and one of my favorites – Your Gardening Personality.

Lenora starts with the premise of all personality tests: if you improve your self-knowledge, you will do (fill in the blank) better. During the ninety minute presentation, gardeners are asked to discover WHY and HOW they garden. By the end of the discussion and exercises – yes, Lenora uses tests – a gardener is ready to create their gardening Point of View.

Here is a part of Lenora’s POV:

“Long Lips Farm illustrates that the goals of beauty and wildlife habitat are not mutually exclusive. The two acre certified butterfly garden exemplifies the English Estate landscape style with flowing curves and masses of plant materials… Superimposed on the design are the specific plants that butterfly caterpillars need to survive… Despite rigid planning, self-sowing “thugs” are welcome and create an overall spontaneous effect dubbed “Controlled Chaos.” The needs of humans, insects and birds are met in harmonious beauty.”

Personality-mixed border 9-09-rev

As I start my own gardening adventure, I plan to intersperse my beginner efforts – and wish me beginner luck – with photos and stories about established gardens and the personalities of their gardeners.

Why Can’t I Grow Coneflowers?


While my surviving kale and romaine seedlings continue to grow and I wait for something to germinate from my clumping onion seeds, I’ve been having fun with flower catalogs. I’ve been returning again and again to one in particular, the Prairie Moon Nursery. Why? They offer several types of coneflowers and two I’m especially interested in growing – Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida – both prairie natives. The price for plants is reasonable and for seeds even more reasonable.

What stops me? I haven’t been able to get a coneflower to survive. Ever.

Now I’m not talking hybrids. A number of catalogs offer these amazing looking coneflower hybrids in colors ranging from white to green to red to spicy orange. And yes, I’d love to have them in my garden. But even these “hardy natives” have never worked for me.

Some research gave me a checklist for planting, one that I can easily check off.

Plant in loamy soil in the sun. Check. I had them in a raised bed with amended soil in full sun.

They don’t like wet feet. Got it! The raised bed again, plus I tend to underwater rather than over-water. If it rains during the week, I won’t water at all. The last two or three years, with quasi-drought in eastern Kansas, I’ll water once a week.

The rest of the advice focused on deadheading (never had any flowers), preventing excessive self-seeding (please…not my problem), and how to propagate by dividing clumps (you can’t propagate a dead plant).

A post from the North Dakota State Extension Office recommended planting coneflowers in the fall instead of the spring so that the plants get needed cold stratification. Okay. Been there, done that. The plant did not overwinter.

So that left the disease and pest list, which included powdery mildew, gray mold, vine weevils, and leaf miners. One of the photos for this list looked familiar and turned out to be aster yellows, which according to the Missouri Botanical Gardens affects some 300 plants.

Cone flowers -astyl7

Uh oh. I’ve had no luck with several of the plants on their list, including and especially asters, which do great year one and are dead year two. We know we have some kind of problem that keeps our grass turning brown by certain times through the summer, and we’ve failed to grow carrots, one of the vulnerable vegetables.

So what to do? Aster yellows is “…a viral-like disease caused by a phytoplasma…Insects that suck the sap of plants, especially the aster leafhopper, vector the disease.” The Botanical Gardens suggests using mesh fabric to keep leafhoppers away from plants. Hmmm… Sort of defeats the purpose of flowers to put mesh fabric over them, right? A more interesting suggestion was to put strips of aluminum foil between rows (of veggies, I imagine) because the reflected sunlight “confuses” the leafhoppers.

Oh dear. Well, I’ve been studying photos of leafhoppers – all of which seem to be copyrighted – so that I can recognize them if I find them. Meanwhile I need to answer the question – should I order coneflowers or wait another year?

Here Comes the Sun!


Today is February 2. With two major storms predicted for next week, I already feel as though winter has lasted long enough. But the groundhog saw its shadow, which means we have another six weeks of winter minimum.

But February 2 also marks festivals of lights: Imbolc in the pagan traditions and Candelaria or Candlemas for Christians. Both focus on purification rites and getting thing cleaned up for the coming spring.

In the garden, I’m waiting for the ice and snow to melt so that I can clean up the detritus of winter. My pin oaks have lost their leaves in the winter winds and I’m considering how best to compost this bounty.


I’m also struggling with my seedlings. I have seven romaine plants and five kale that survived damping-off. Each plant is now in its own little pot. We’ll see how they do.


And bottom line? The angle of the sun has reached a point where you will perceive more minutes of light each and every day. By the end of February we’ll have about 11 hours and 14 minutes of daylight – onward to the spring equinox and 12 full hours of sun.

Some of the books I’ve read say that I can plant lettuce outside in a cold frame by March 1. That’s only 26 days away.

Come on, sun!