Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gardening Therapy

My heart is heavy this week as my little home town is dealing with a tragic flood that has caused extensive damage to the homes of my friends and neighbors, and my school where I also work.  So I have had little time for gardening this past week.  I don't know how long my martagon lilies were blooming (for the first time!) before I snapped these quick pictures on my phone the other day.  

Thankfully it has been good gardening weather and my garden was not in an area that suffered from the ten inches of rain that fell last week.  I am thankful for my family, my home, my health, and for my gardens that bring me peace!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kids in the Garden

Here's my little squash planter, the youngest of my three little garden helpers.

When I started gardening, I didn't set out to teach my kids about where food comes from, the pleasure of hard work and a job well done, and the sweetness of getting to taste the fruits of one's labor.  But in addition to the nutritional benefits of consuming home grown foods, they are learning a lot!  It is a lot easier to get them to try peas fresh in the pod when they had a hand in putting them in the ground.  They even help in the pickling and canning process in the fall. 

I come from a gardening family so I have always known the joys of the first bites of baby reds in early July, the feast of eating garden grown sweet corn all of August, and labor of canning tomatoes.  It shocks and saddens me when I hear stories of children not knowing where carrots come from and that they are a root vegetable that grows in the ground!  Not to sound all "doomsday-ish," but I'd like to think that my children would at least have an idea of how to save seeds and work the ground should our society crumble and they need to be able to supply their own food some day.  And wouldn't we all be a little better off if we were to move more in that direction now, without the whole doomsday scenario playing out, please. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Running on Empty

I work in education, and it seems like the times I am busiest at work are the times that I should be busiest in the garden!

As it turns out, that worked to my advantage this year. After everyone else planted their garden seeds, we had TEN inches of rain in one week and everyone had to reseed. Except for me, ever behind the eight ball in the spring. So while my friends and neighbors were reseeding, I was sowing for the first time.

Here was my planting timeline, for future reference:

May 13: potatoes and onions went in
May 28 : beans, peas, carrots, beets, dill, broccoli and cabbage
June 2: tomatoes, peppers and zucchini
June 7: cucumbers and squash

On the flower front, everything's early this year. Peonies are just about to bloom. Irises of the bearded variety are finishing and siberians are about to bloom. Geum is done but geraniums will soon flower. It's a beautiful time of year!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

It's Rainin' Again

Well I was feeling pretty badly that I hadn't taken advantage of this early spring and planted my garden.  Two weeks ago we tilled the garden, added some composted manure, and planted potatoes and onions.  And that's been about it.  But today, after over 3 inches of rain, I'm thankful I didn't get any seeds in the ground, or I'd probably be replanting!

This weekend we'll put in what should have gone in the ground two weeks ago:  carrots, beets and peas.  We are in zone three, so tomatoes usually go in the ground the first week of June.  It was an early spring, but it hasn't been warm enough to plant heat loving tomatoes and peppers quite yet.  Soon and very soon!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Spring Wildflowers

Note - not a picture from MY garden... but Wild Ginger, nonetheless

I am really beginning to embrace the beauty of my shade garden.  I used to lament the lack of full sun in our yard, but shade plants can be just as interesting, especially when it comes to spring ephemerals.

 e·phem·er·al ( -f m r- l). adj. 1. Lasting for a markedly brief time

A spring ephemeral is just that - one of the delightful first flowers of the season that are short lived in the garden.  In the shade garden, these plants bloom early, generally before the tree canopy above leafs out.   Spring ephemerals in my garden include many wildflowers such as the wild ginger pictured above, Virginia Bluebells, Bishops Cap, Lenten Rose, Trout Lily, Rue Anemone, and Foamflower (though the particular variety I have blooms twice).  These beauties are just starting to bloom, but here are some pictures from prior years.

Tiarella - Foam FLower

False Rue Anemone

Another wild Anemone

Twinleaf or Bishop's Cap

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What a day for a daydream

Wow, was April a rainy one!  Although this was not the most beautiful of May weekends, it was typical for northern MN.  Nevertheless, it was a great weekend to visit newly opened greenhouses, move and divide a few perennials (even in Saturday's light mist), and dream about the May gardens and all the potential they hold!

Here's what's in bloom:
Newly planted pansies (YAY!)
Bleeding Heart
PMJ Rhododendron
Bishop's Cap
Wild Ginger

The hostas have also broken through the ground, and my martagon lilies (their second year) have moved beyond last year's "sleep" and are now "creeping!"  How exciting!  They're about twice as tall as they were at the end of last season, so who knows what they hold in store this year.  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

I Haven't Got Time for the Pain

I wonder how many gardeners are seen in the chiropractor's office every spring.  In the great north woods, I would imagine it is a lot.  After all, we've spent a good six months away from our shovels, rakes and hoes.  Not to mention wheelbarrows.  I'm no couch potato, but winter is not my season.  I hate being cold, and with the exception of sledding with the kiddos, I don't get out much in the winter.  Sure, I get in my cardio time at the gym, but that's just not the same thing.

One of the most physically challenging parts of gardening, in my opinion, is preparing new planting grounds.  I started removing river rock from a bed around my house yesterday.  If someone has any special trick for removing river rock, I'd love to hear it!  My method consists of raking it into a pile and shoveling with a spade into our old, HEAVY, wheelbarrow.  Oh sure, I could move smaller loads... but I feel invincible when I'm moving that heavy load by myself... like a gardening superhero!  Until the next day.

Now the bed is half emptied of rock, but my back is all done.  And now is prime time to divide and move perennials, which was my plan for filling the bed.  Maybe next weekend... when I plan to do it all over again!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Almost as good...

These stuffed tomatoes were delicious... not as good as they are when the tomatoes are grown fresh from our garden, but a surprisingly sufficient substitute.  I tossed together some bread crumbs, olive oil, diced red pepper, garlic, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and some fresh basil and parsley from the pots in my bay window.  MMMM... good stuff!

Just imagine how wonderful they will taste this summer!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Finally working on the foundation garden!

For three years, I've been meaning to replace the foundation planting on the north side of the house.  Five years ago, we moved to my husband's childhood home, and when my mother-in-law hired someone to do some landscaping work, her instructions were that it needed to be no-maintenance.  So we have these evergreen something or other that I've been wanting to replace with a nice foundation garden.  You can see my original posting about this project (from April 2011!) at this link.

Here's where my husband becomes my hero!  As we were raking the abundant leaves from our yard yesterday, he commented about how frustrating it is to rake around these things.  I told him I've been wanting to take those out for years... so that's just what he did!

Now I HAVE to get something else planted here!  I'll have to re-read everyone's advice about what to plant in this zone 3, dry, shady spot!  Suggestions?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I have never seen swans on our lake, until two days ago.  They've been back several times since.  What a treat seeing them!  Of course, I had to look up some information about these beautiful migratory birds.  One of the most interesting facts I learned is that swans mate for life, unless one meets an untimely death, in which case the survivor will generally find another mate. 

I'm finding waterfowl rather romantic these days.  Whenever I see them in the spring, they are usually in a male and female pair.  Sometimes, I get the treat of seeing another male appear and get chased away by the male of the pair, in a "keep your wings away from my gal" kind of a way.  Interestingly, the female often looks bored or disinterested, if there is such a thing among ducks. 

But back to the swans... unfortunately, I'm not sure if these are Trumpeter or Tundra swans.  My picture just wasn't close enough to get a good image of them.  Any thoughts, birders out there?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

More Hostas... are we surprised?

What a beautiful day!  Almost 70 degrees... as if it were some cosmic April fool's joke. 

So what did I do with this beautiful day?  Why played in the gardens, of course.  After donning my garden shoes (I know, nasty, right?), I thought that maybe it's time to trade them in for something more durable, maybe even waterproof.  But then again, there is comfort in the familiar.  And why would I want to spend money on new garden shoes when I can spend it on new garden PLANTS!

So after cleaning all the debris and leaves from the perennial beds, I hopped on to the Bluestones Perennials website and put a few more must have hostas in my cart.  Here's what I chose:


Devil's Advocate


Blue Ivory

They were on sale... my common defense.  How many hostas can a girl have?  Turns out, not enough.

On a side note, here's what's peeking up from the earth these days:

Bleeding Heart
Cherry Bells
Virginia Bluebells
Sedum - several varieties
Bee Balm (MMMM... how I missed that smell all winter!)
Perennial Bachelor Button
Daylilies - several varieties
Bishop's Cap
Obedient Plant
Chives (and I made potato salad today JUST so I could have something to add chives to!)
Jacob's Ladder
Perennial mums

There was probably more, but this is the best my memory serves me at almost midnight after a very, very busy day.  This full body exhaustion is just more proof that the 2012 garden season is off to a wonderful, early start!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tomato Plants - Lessons Learned (yes, already!)

Well, my tomato plants are doing well in their cozy lighted area of the basement!

Here's what I've already learned.

1.  72 tomato plants -- what was I thinking?!  Thankfully, I have a gardening friend who has agreed to swap some out with me as he planted some Jelly Bean, Black Krim, and Purple Prudence, none of which I've tried but all of which I am eager to taste!

2.  Transplant, transplant, transplant.  According to my colleague and tomato grower extraordinaire, I should have already transplanted these as soon as they started growing their first pair of actual leaves.  Which means I'm behind in the game already.  I don't have anything to plant 72 plants into, for one thing!  And apparently I'll probably have to transplant them again before planting because it is only March in Minnesota, after all. 

3.  This is so much fun!  I enjoy taking a peek at them every day to see how they're doing.  You can almost see them growing right before your eyes!

So at this point, between the lights, the peat pods, the seeds, the peat pots and potting soil that I still need to purchase, it's been a bit of an investment.  And worth every penny to be able to extend our short growing season.

So... tomato experts... what lessons have I yet to learn when it comes to starting tomato plants from seed?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring has Sprung

I spent this past weekend in Rochester, MN, located about 150 miles or so south of Moose Country, and was feeling insanely jealous of the green grass, budding trees, and blooming bulbs.  When driving through the countryside, my daughter said "Mom, it smells like a garden down here!"  And she was right.  Rochester seems to be about three weeks ahead of us every year when it comes to spring's arrival, and I imagine winter arrives just a few weeks later as well.  But when we did return on Sunday, I was delighted to see "ice out" (the official term for an ice free lake) on our lake... on March 25... unheard of!

If you live on a lake, you know the incredible mental health boost you feel almost immediately when you see open water again after the long winter.  Already our old friends the bald eagle, the blue heron, the lonely loon, and the river otter were back to visit yesterday.  We've missed you.

Of course the mental health boost brings about a surge in energy as well which was spent removing mulch from the perennial beds and sowing some lettuce seeds.  Being that we are in Northern Minnesota, the mulch is lying closely to the newly exposed beds in case temperatures decide to take a nose dive... I'm no silly slouch, it happens often around here!

Now I finally feel like I can relate to the other gardeners around the country who are enjoying the season.  Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First Ducks of the Season

This morning, we saw our first duck visitors along the newly open shoreline.  I wasn't able to get the camera poised for a picture before they flew off, but I was able to see that they were common Wood Ducks, two male, two female.  I'm looking forward to seeing more open water, and more winged visitors, in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I've got worms... they're multiplying!

Yes, that's right!  I've got worms.  I entered into the world of vermicomposting this winter!  You can see that I have it set up right alongside of all of our recycling, which seems very appropriate.

We've been doing this for a couple of months now.  I really appreciate that I can compost pasta and bread products in limited amounts using the worms, as these are things I wouldn't put in my compost pile.  I'm also not as likely to bring stuff out to the compost in the cold Minnesota winter, so worm composting helps us keep food waste out of landfills and will hopefully give my garden a boost this summer.

A close up of the little guys in action

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The babies are growing!

We have baby tomato plants!  Right now I just have them sitting in the bay window sill, which faces south.  I need to get a new timer for my grow lights so I can set them up to get more direct sunlight and prevent them from getting too spindly.

Yay for tomatoes!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Toe-May-Toe, Toe-Mah-Toe

Yesterday, I started tomato plants.  I have never started tomatoes from seed before, but it was one of my "gardening resolutions" for the new year, and a way for me to get a start on the season during the long Minnesota winter.  I planted Early Girl, Better Boy, and Roma plants.  I'm a little concerned that it may still be too early to start these, but I'm operating under the advice of a co-worker/gardener extraordinaire. We'll see what happens.

On the weather front, winter FINALLY arrived in Minnesota this last week.  It's been a very dry, warm winter.  It's nice to finally see a decent amount of snow, and more tolerable knowing that it won't be around for long as 40+ degree weather is supposed to return this week, just in time for spring break!

The March issue of Better Homes & Gardens arrived this week and again I am reminded of our shorter season here in the north.  The issue is featuring spring paint colors, spring ephemerals, spring annuals for container planting... and my zone envy is raging yet again!  Ah well, spring should arrive eventually in the great northwoods.  In the meantime, I should enjoy the last (hopefully!) hurrah of an uneventful winter and go play in the snow.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Last of the Red Potatoes

These are some pretty sorry looking potatoes!  It's the last of the 30 pounds we harvested at the end of the season from four pounds of seed potatoes (after several meals of baby reds throughout the summer).  They did get a little scabby this year, so I'll be moving the potatoes to a different area in the garden this spring.

In addition to these red potatoes, we planted Norkotah russet potatoes (looks like one of which snuck into this box) and Kennebec white potatoes.  We harvested about fifty pounds of each, also from roughly 4 pounds of seed.  From what I've been able to find online, that sounds like a good harvest.  It seems to be just about the right amount for my family of five to get us through the winter.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Spring Frost Free Dates

What do the following towns have in common?
New Meadows, ID
Colorado Springs, CO
New Meadows, ID
Grayling, MI
Great Falls, MT
Berlin, NH

They all have a later spring frost free date than my little slice of Minnesota heaven, according to

Usually it's just plain silly to start thinking about frost free dates in January in Minnesota, but with yesterday's high over 50 and today over 40, it's just feels like spring!  I went to the Johnny's Select Seeds website to take a look at their planting guide to see when I can start my tomato growing project.  Turns out, I have a couple of months to wait (April 11, to be exact), so I may just plant some herbs just to get my fingers in the dirt and celebrate our "spring."