Words Matter

A couple years ago, I had great luck planting sugar snap peas. Only problem? The plants were so heavy with fruit that the stakes I used collapsed.

Heartened by that single success, I found, bought, and erected a pea tunnel, hoping to provide last year’s crop with greater support. Sadly, rabbits found their way into my pea bed last year. They ate the shoots emerging from the ground, and despite multiple plantings, no sugar snap peas.

Armed with products to deter rabbits and other critters, along with the addition of rabbit fencing to the bottom of my chain link fence, I bought some sugar snap pea seeds. The warm winter, with no cold weather in sight, encouraged me to think about planting in late February.

I ordered ‘early’ seeds. Here’s the blurb from the catalog.

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So imagine my surprise when I received the seeds in the mail and read the back label.

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Got that? Do not use for food, feed, or oil purposes.

Seriously? Why am I planting them? I reached for my phone to call the company and spoke with a very polite young man who listened to my story and then went ‘to check.’ Guess it struck him as odd, too.

Turns out, you’re not supposed to eat the SEEDS. They are treated with a fungicide called Thriam 42-S. I’ve provided the link to some EPA information, if you care to go to the trouble of looking it up.

Problem is, ‘don’t eat the seeds’ is not what the back of the seed packet implies. Something I hastened to point out to the seed catalog customer service guy. What the packet should have said was: Do not use the SEEDS for food, feed, or oil purposes.

Makes a difference, right?

Words matter. I might have written this Blog using some ‘alternative facts’ about this particular seed. The company sure left me an opening.

Words matter. Wish someone would tell that to our government. Wish someone would explain that to the media. But maybe they already know that. Maybe the goal is to tell so many lies that the truth is no longer discernable.

If that’s the case, look out!

We may all end up feasting on poison.

Perfection

This year’s fall gardening catalogs began arriving at the end of July. How can a person not be tempted by the lush fields of daffodils, tulips, and lilies? Check out this photo, taken with my camera of a catalog offering.

Love this.  How many plants did it take between the slates to achieve the look?

Love this. How many plants did it take between the slates to achieve the look?

I think catalogs should provide disclaimers. Here are four:

Image appears larger than it will be in real life.

That humungous grape hyacinth? It’s only about six inches tall. At best. Will that climbing rose reach the top of the trellis? Uh – that’s a firm maybe!

It takes at least three years to achieve the lushness of the catalog photo.

Master gardeners know that in year one, a plant sleeps. In year two, it creeps. And finally, if you haven’t torn it out before now, in year three, it leaps. Ideally.

I have a gorgeous clematis (Rebecca) that never bloomed for the first five years. Now, it’s a wild and crazy bloomer. But getting there required more patience than I normally have. I needed blinders so as not to see that plant for 1,825 days, including winters.

You can’t afford the number of plants in the catalog depiction.

Well, maybe someone can. I can’t. Check the price. Instead of the massive field of glorious yellow daffodils bobbing in a gentle spring breeze, the winds of reality hit hard. Five bulbs, $14.95.

Speaking of fields of daffodils, I once bought one hundred bulbs of crocus, thinking that in late February or early March I’d have a swath of blue and yellow beautifulness under my still bare deciduous shrubs. The reality? Only about half of those bulbs germinated. Instead of being this gorgeous field of flowers, it just looked sad.

How many bulbs did it take to create this look?

How many bulbs did it take to create this look?

Flowers in your garden are never perfect.

Catalogs show flowers ironically untouched by nature. I’ve never seen a brown or yellow iris leaf in a catalog. Peonies are never flat on the ground after a rain. No dogs made a hole in that yew bush for a cool place to sleep. And where are the photos of spent daylilies or chrysanthemums in need of deadheading?

Now I’m not naïve! Perfect photos sell flowers. But last year, my cynical-self resolved to not buy from catalogs. In fact, I threw the catalogs away without so much as leafing through them.

This year, I need plants that I can only get in catalogs. I aim to keep expectations low. I’ve resolved to not look at the new plants with a jaundiced eye until 2019 or 2020. I’m living a new mantra.

Perfection takes time.

Pick Up Sticks

As a youngster growing up in New Jersey, I got to weed trees and pick up branches off the ground. I have no fond memories of picking up sticks. A hard-on-the-back, boring task, it ranked as one of my least favorite jobs.

So imagine my dismay when I saw, after a couple weeks of 20-40 MPH winds here in Kansas, that our yard was littered with sticks. The job is even more hard-on-the-back than I remembered, and it continues to be my least favorite thing to do in the garden. Honestly, I’d rather weed.

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I have only myself to blame. I wanted trees. I planted trees. And they have grown large enough to lose branches. Although, to be honest, some of these sticks were pruned, not picked up.

And while we were outside today in this wonderful 50 plus degree weather (it’s February in Kansas, folks), I decided to water. We have had neither rain nor snow for several weeks. It’s time.

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I just wrote an article for The Republic’s spring home special section on planting trees, which I think is coming out sometime in March or April. Here’s the bit on watering. “For the first year, trees need about 10 gallons of water every week. This takes some juggling with the weather. If it hasn’t rain or hasn’t rained enough, we use five gallon buckets with a hole punched in the bottom. This guarantees that every tree gets the right amount of water. The gradual flow – it takes about 20 minutes for the bucket to empty – aids absorption. After the first growing season, water every 10 to 14 days as needed.”

The interesting bit is that watering in winter, as long as the daytime temperature is above freezing, won’t hurt the tree even if the nighttime temperature drops below 32 degrees.

Once watering was done, it was back to picking up sticks again. Although here’s a conundrum. This branch is stuck way high up in the tree.

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Here’s a shot of the tree to give you a sense of just how high it is.

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I keep waiting for the wind to knock it out, but I think it’s tangled in the other branches. Darn. I need a bucket truck to get it down.

Middle of February – two hours of yard work – and I’m exhausted. Better start getting in shape for the spring season.

Excuses, excuses…

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I haven’t posted a Blog since March 22 – the longest time between Blogs since I started! And I have excuses aplenty.

I’m interviewing the gardeners selected for the 2015 Miami County Garden Tour, writing descriptions and photographing their gardens. Takes time and leaves me with a major case of garden envy.

I’ve been planting in my own garden. Raspberries, blackberries, and sugar snap peas. Horseradish, red onions, and radishes.

I’m checking the asparagus every morning for harvest. Luscious and lovely spring asparagus, photo to follow someday soon.

It’s rained so I can’t take photos. It hasn’t rained, so I have to water. My Internet went out for several days.

Excuses…

Hopefully, I’m catching up and back on track. Meanwhile, I thought you’d like to see the results of the radical crab apple tree and/or bush pruning that we did in February. The darn thing has shape. It has blossoms for the first time ever. It’s almost beautiful.

Hope you’re enjoying spring as much as I am.

Seedling Update

What a busy ten days! I’ve been running from project to project and it seems a bit overwhelming, especially with spring just around the corner. I have so much to write about and no time.

Possible treats in mind for future Blogs:

My first time at the African Violet Club left me with a lot of information to digest. And of course, I want to pass it on to you!

The news about eggs and cholesterol, combined with some new research with coffee left me wondering whether to start a new category about “Food.” Is that a topic that will interest readers? Let me know.

But for now, the quick and dirty update on my seedlings.

Amazingly, my green leaf lettuce plants have green lettuce leaves!!

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These are miniature green cabbage seedlings that I’ve just now taken out of pods. They look a bit leggy so I’ve turned on the fan to give them that Kansas wind effect.

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What about black leaf lettuce? This is a variety – maybe new – called Blackhawk MT0. I hope it grows!

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Seedlings for me seem to do best in peat pots filled with potting soil that includes a wetting agent, bottom watered with chamomile tea and every third watering, a bit of fish emulsion. So far so good!

The week after next, I’m sowing spinach seeds outdoors and hoping for some fresh veggies in early May!

Oh Babies!

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Seven pots planted with green leaf lettuce. Seven pots with green babies. Batting 1,000! I don’t think it gets better than this…

Now if only they don’t damp off.

Watering from the bottom. Check Using chamomile tea. Check. Under florescent lights 14 hours a day. Check. Warm enough and cool enough – sort of like Baby Bear’s Porridge. Check.

I’m hopeful that my seedlings will grow to maturity. So hopeful that I started eight pots of mesclun greens in seed starting mix. We’ll see which does better, potting soil or the mixture. Stay tuned!

“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.

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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…

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