“Right Plant, Right Place”

Back when Jim and I first starting dating, he lived in a little house with a big yard. No garden. His next-door-neighbor, though, had an amazing concept in gardening. He had plants littered around his yard, no perceivable rhyme or reason. That neighbor also spent his weekends moving plants from one spot to another – and another, and another. When I first heard the phrase “right plant, right place” I immediately thought of that neighbor.

So now I’m searching for the right place for blueberries. Last October, I bemoaned the fact that following The Acid Test, it became clear to me that my blueberries had no chance of thriving. Blueberries like a pH of 4.5 to 5. My soil, per Extension testing, was 7.5. No way was I ever going to be able to add enough sulfur to acidify my soil for blueberries.

But in looking at seed catalogs this year, I ran across a dwarf blueberry called Top Hat that can grow in containers. And I have two whiskey barrels where I’ve somewhat successfully planted annuals.

I ordered two Top Hats immediately. Then I started to worry.

These two whiskey halves are crying out for something permanent!

These two whiskey halves are crying out for something permanent!

The whiskey barrels had originally been filled with half potting soil, half rocks. Did the soil need to be sterilized? Did the rocks need to be removed? Would the barrels freeze in winter and kill my plants?

How does potting soil turn into clay?

How does potting soil turn into clay?

University of Wisconsin Extension to the rescue! Their article on growing blueberries in containers answered these questions and more.

I should be able to grow dwarf blueberries such as the already-ordered Top Hats in barrels, in a soil-less growing medium consisting of one part sphagnum peat moss and one part shredded pine bark. It looks like I’ll need to start smaller than those whiskey barrels, and use five gallon containers instead. As the plants grow, I’ll re-pot them in increasingly larger pots until they are big enough for the barrels.

And yes, I will also need to watch that they don’t freeze in the winter. A good layer of mulch on the top of the pot and some type of insulating cover for the pot itself looks like it will work. If the winter is extremely cold, I wonder if I can bring them inside.

RightPlace-04-IMG_2637

Meanwhile, I removed the soil from one of the whiskey barrels and hand-picked the rocks to throw on my rock pile. That was a lot of work!

But I can almost taste those blueberries…

RightPlace-05-IMG_2639

“Right Plant, Right Place” is a book written by Nicola Ferguson. I’ve included the link to Amazon.

Lights, Camera, Action… Spring!

After spending January pouring through seed catalogs and making my choices, I arrived at a decision. Yes, I will start seeds inside this winter, last year’s debacle notwithstanding! My problem? I didn’t want to end up in the garage on a single shelf, in a too-cold space, and insufficient light.

To the rescue – gardening and hydroponic supply companies. But good grief, the cost to set up even a small growing station in my basement! I needed to find an inexpensive solution for both shelving and lighting.

seeds-01-IMG_2624

This is the result. For less than half the cost of the least expensive ‘catalog’ option, I have a solution that seems to work. Never mind the pain involved in selecting lights. I spent a long weekend reading articles about LED vs. florescent lights, foot-candles, and lumens.

I read a lot of frankly conflicting information. The article I found most helpful came from the Alaska Extension. Simply put, the article suggested that using florescent lights worked as well as anything and cost less than specialized plant lights. For those who want more information, an in-depth article is available from the University of Missouri Extension.

seeds-02-IMG_2625

Once we set up our shelving and lights – available from a local big box store – I had a minor meltdown over trays. I’m starting seeds in my basement with the proviso that there be no mess, which made waterproof trays essential. I finally found some locally but again, costing more than I wanted to spend. Amazon to the rescue! Ten trays for a couple of dollars each. Nice!

seeds-03-IMG_2627

I mixed up a batch of chamomile tea for watering and put some lettuce seeds in soil rather than seed starter. I have a theory – as yet untested – that since I direct sow in the ground, in soil, I don’t need the added step of seed starter. Makes sense? And it seems to be working. Here’s the start of my early salad.

seeds-04-IMG_2626

I’m waiting for more seed packets to arrive by mail. And I feel like no matter what the calendar says, spring has begun.

Garden Planning 101: All About Peas

Consistent with the garden resolutions for 2015, I started my research for spring planting. First on my list? Peas and sugar snap peas.

The mailman gave my research efforts a running start, delivering 10 seed catalogs, not including duplicates. Three extension master gardener friends topped off my list with three additional, making a total of 13. Seems like a propitious number for spring 2015.

Seeds-101-IMG_2619

Some of the seed catalogs offer tons of information about when and how to plant and harvest vegetables, along with disease and potential pest information. Peas, I learned, thrive in cool weather. Seeds will germinate when the soil temperature is 45 Fahrenheit and the plants will survive a mild frost.

Peas do seem susceptible to a number of different diseases. These include fusarium wilt and root-rot disease but, according to the University of Illinois Extension, good drainage helps avoid these problems. Since I’m planting in raised beds, I don’t anticipate drainage problems.

Seeds-102-IMG_2623

On the other hand, there’s the danger of the dreaded powdery mildew. The advice is to plant mildew-resistant hybrids. But here’s the rub. In one catalog, I found a table depicting the tastiness of the vegetable compared with disease resistance. It turns out that the tastiest vegetables are the least resistant to disease.

There’s a moral in that fact. I haven’t figured out just what it is yet…

Seeds-103-IMG_2617

The seed catalogs recommended using an inoculant for pea seeds. I looked for Extension information and found this at the Iowa University Extension:

“Through a symbiotic relationship with a soil bacterium (Rhizobium), peas are able to “fix” atmospheric nitrogen in nodules on their roots…Peas will grow and produce a crop without inoculation. However, inoculation with a nitrogen-fixing bacterium may be beneficial if peas have not been grown in the garden in the past.”

Since I’ve never grown them before, I’ll be buying inoculant for my seeds!

Seeds-104-IMG_2622

I wondered, since peas are a cool weather vegetable, if I could plant them twice, once in early spring and once again in the fall. But the Kansas State Extension warns:

“Kansas gardeners report little success in growing fall peas. Peas require cool temperatures for germination and do not seem to adapt to the warmer temperatures of the summer planting period. You may want to try peas–particularly snow peas–in a mid-to late August planting, but don’t expect complete success.”

Hmm… Guess I’ll just plant more lettuce in the late summer.

Planning a garden in the Midwest? The Kansas State Extension Office offers The Kansas Garden Guide with lots of advice on how to get started!