It’s that time of the year again. The end of August is upon us and, after watching the garden grow in agonizing slowness from seeds and seedlings in May, I am looking at our latest harvest on the kitchen table and asking, “What, oh what, were you thinking when you planted six 30’ rows of green beans, a 4’ x 6’ square of broccoli (and about the same amount of cauliflower) and six varieties of cucumbers (two plants each)? Who did you think you were feeding? The Third Infantry Division?!”

The problem is that I grew up in a large family. I’m the oldest of eight children, and all our gardens were big so that my parents could feed a family of ten. I just never learned to garden small.

Now, with my daughter in her own apartment and one son in college for nine months of the year, my husband, my seventeen-year-old son and I just can’t keep up with the garden’s bounty. Frankly, it wouldn’t be possible to eat all this produce fresh even if my husband and son were willing to abandon all meat in favor of a vegetarian diet for the next three months.

The chances of that happening are about the same as the odds of one of us being struck by lightning (576,000 to 1) or a meteor (700,000 to 1)!

So, what’s a chronic “over-planter” to do?

To begin, it helps to know when to pick your produce for the best flavor and ripeness. Check out the web site from Cornell University under my “Favorite Links” for a handout that describes when a wide range of fruits and vegetable are ready to pick, pull or pluck.

However, once you’ve harvested those peas, beans, corn, tomatoes, etc. at peak perfection, then what? We’ve already agreed that eating it all fresh ourselves is not practical, so the obvious answer is preserving part of our excess for winter eating.

Preserving food for later use can be done in several ways. The three most common methods are:

Freezing – If you don’t have a freezer, now may be the time to consider such a purchase. Newer models are energy-efficient and allow you to store small fruits (blueberries, raspberries and strawberries) and vegetables for later use in favorite family dishes.

Remember that, with the exception of fruit, any vegetables you freeze will need to be blanched (immersed briefly in boiling water or steam). According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, blanching “…stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.” The National Center for Home Food Preservation web site (see my “Favorite Links”) is a wealth of information on a number of different food preservation techniques and well worth a visit.

Canning – If you’ve never canned fruits or vegetables before, start by helping an experienced friend, do some research and/or take a class on food preservation. There are several good books out there on the subject. My favorite is Stocking Up III by Rodale Press. It’s a great “how-to” reference on all types of food preservation including canning. To find out about available food preservation classes, contact your local county extension office (Bonner County – 263-8511, Kootenai County – 446-1680). Once you’ve got some canning know-how under your belt, you can make your own salsa, pickles, jams, jellies and pie fillings. The sky’s the limit!

Keep in mind that there are two basic types of canning: hot water bath canning and pressure canning. Hot water bath canning is appropriate for high acid fruits, vegetables and condiments like peaches, tomatoes and salsa. Pressure canning is required for the safe preservation of low acid foods like string beans, meat and tomato sauces that include ingredients like basil, garlic, etc. In addition, cooked jams and jellies and most pickles require a brief dip in a hot water bath canner to seal your jars.

Drying – You can buy a dehydrator, use your oven or take advantage of the heat of Indian summer to dry herbs, fruits and vegetables. When my three little darlings were younger, I made fruit leather in the fall because they loved it, I saved a lot of money over the store-bought kind, and I knew exactly what they were eating (fruit and nothing but the fruit!).

Lacto-fermentation is another tried and true method for preserving food, but it’s one I haven’t tried yet. My friends, Carolyn and Sheila, use this method to make sauerkraut, and Sheila makes lacto-fermented vegetable pickles of all kinds. With all the cauliflower I’m staring at, this may be the year that those little devils end up in a pickle crock! Check out the “Fermentation” section of the National Center for Home Food Preservation web site for more information on this technique.

Of course, you don’t have to preserve all of the harvest for your own use. You can share your excess with our local ABC Food Bank and give the less fortunate in our community a chance to enjoy some fresh produce on the table. For information on how to donate produce to the ABC Food Bank, call the Athol City Clerk at 683-2101.

I have to get busy pickling cauliflower this morning, but, before I go, let me offer you a tasty solution to excess basil. Remember how I described my usual habit of killing multiple successions of basil plants providing one of our local greenhouses with her primary profit margin for the year? Well, all those basil plants that usually die on me didn’t this year (heavy sigh). So, I’ll be using this recipe to turn my excess basil into a gourmet treat – pesto! Check out the Fresh Basil Pesto recipe (under “Favorite Links”). I have had excellent results freezing this pesto in half pint jars to give as gifts or to savor over pasta when the winter winds blow.

And that’s the whole point of food preservation, isn’t it? To save a little taste of summer for the cold, dark days of winter ahead.

(Originally published in the June, 2012 edition of the Bayview Bylines, edited by Mandy Skala)

A few months ago I shared with you my approach to planning your garden. I hope you found this useful and that you’re ready to get out there and put plants and seeds in the ground. Some of you have probably already started this process, but those of you who have a cooler microclimate (or a busier schedule) might be – like me! – just getting started.

Cool weather crops like peas, lettuce and spinach can be planted as soon as the soil in your garden can be worked. These crops don’t mind a little frost, and they’ll give you a sense of accomplishment while you’re waiting for conditions to warm up enough for the rest of your planting.

There are vegetables and flowers that you should only plant as plants in our area. These include heat loving crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and tomatillos as well as most annual flowers. You could plant all of these as seed directly in the garden, but, at the end of our relatively short growing season, all you’d have to show for your hard work would be (maybe) a nice looking plant with (if you’re lucky) a lot of green fruit. The annual flowers might even make it to bloom stage, but probably only just in time to be killed by the first frost. That’s why I start many of my own plants indoors (another topic for another time) and patronize local greenhouses and farmers markets.

I’m famous at one local greenhouse for buying and putting my basil plants in the ground too early. I think the owner starts more basil than she normally would just for me! All I have to do is walk through the door, looking shame-faced, and say, “I did it again.” She just smiles and rings up two more four-packs of basil for me.

When moving your transplants into the garden, try to pick a cool, overcast day. You don’t want your poor little plant’s first day in the garden to be one of heat stress and sunburn! If you can’t pick an ideal day, try to plant after supper in the evening or provide some artificial shade with a piece of cardboard. Pick a sturdy piece of cardboard taller than your transplant and bend it into an “L” shape. Then push it into the ground (outside the transplant’s root ball!) on the south and west side of the plant. Leave the cardboard in place for several days while your plant gets used to its new “digs” (Yes, I know punning is the lowest form of humor, but I just couldn’t help myself!).

Of course, many crops go into the garden as seeds. Root crops like carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips are usually direct seeded. Beans, squash, cucumbers, melons and corn can be started indoors, but they don’t usually like to be transplanted. If you want to start these latter crops indoors, you’ll have more success if you start them in peat pots. Peat pots allow you to start seeds indoors and then, without disturbing their roots, plant the whole shebang – pot and all – when the soil is warm enough and all danger of frost is past. They even make peat pots out of dried cow manure – called Cow Pots – which provide an extra shot of fertilizer as your plants go in the ground!

Speaking of “when the soil is warm enough,” most seeds don’t like to germinate until the soil temperatures are 60o F or higher. As a result, it is my considered opinion that every gardener needs a soil thermometer.

This handy little tool usually sells for less than $10 and can spell the difference between success and failure in the garden. If your soil temperature stubbornly refuses to approach the 60o mark, try covering the soil with a sheet of black plastic for a few days. That will usually warm things up considerably. Heck, it may even kill a few germinating weed seeds.

Planting seeds is as easy as digging a hole and dropping in a seed. The hole should be no deeper than twice the thickness of the seed so carrots are planted much more shallowly than beans or corn. Also, remember to read the spacing requirements on the seed packet and plant accordingly. You may wish to over seed a bit to make up for less-than-100% germination, but then you’ll need to remember to thin the young plants later. If you don’t think you’re ruthless enough to rip perfectly healthy young plants out of the ground just because they’re too close to another plant, you’re probably better off spacing your seeds exactly and filling in blank spots later with another seeding. This approach will give you a succession planting without emotional trauma!

It doesn’t matter if you plant a half acre or just a few pots on the deck, get out there and put some seeds in the ground. Spring has sprung, and it’s time to get busy!

(Originally published in the December, 2011 edition of the Bayview Bylines, edited by Mandy Skala)

Many gardeners won’t admit it, but we look forward to the colder temperatures and darkening days of late fall and early winter. We have spent the spring, summer and early fall laboring mightily in the vegetable garden and the perennial borders, and, frankly, we could use a break! After a week or two, though, the horticultural virus that infects us resurges, and we relapse into gardening mania.

But, at this time of year, what’s a gardener to do? Turn to houseplants, of course!

My Aunt Opal was a gardener extraordinaire. She was born and raised in Murdo, South Dakota where temperatures ranged from extremes of 100+ in July to -30 in January. Technically, she gardened in Zone 4, but with a 40 mph wind in January, there wasn’t a lot to pick between Murdo and the Arctic Circle. This didn’t stop or even slow down Opal. Not only did she raise prize winning gladiolas (which she tenderly dug up in the fall and carefully stored over the winter) and a vegetable garden that fed the whole family, but she also was the most consummate indoor gardener I’ve ever known. Fussy – begonias, gloxinias, African violets, cacti and succulents – or easy – spider plants, polka dot plant, etc. – you name it, she grew it and grew it well.

My own collection of houseplants was acquired more by accident than intention. I believe that I’ve only actually purchased one plant – a Thanksgiving cactus from Lowes last year. The rest of my indoor garden was given to me by friends and family. While I have a number of Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera), I also have orchid cacti (Epiphyllum oxypetalum), African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha), aloe vera and one lone monstera (Monstera deliciosa). Like Opal’s, my indoor garden contains both prima donnas and peasants, but they all have three simple requirements that must be met if I want them to thrive.

Let me stop a moment to emphasize how important it is to know your plant! Never assume that an unfamiliar plant can be treated like all the others in your house. Look the plant up online or in a good gardening book and make note of its special needs. You might also want to be sure you know what plant it is! I was once given a plant by a dear lady who told me it was “some kind of Christmas cactus.” She warned me not to expect much of it since it had never bloomed for her. I kept that plant for at least five years because the lady had passed away and keeping the plant was like keeping a little piece of her, but I was on the verge of throwing it out (along with a similar plant that I’d acquired along the way) when, lo and behold, one spring day it bloomed! And I realized, at last, that my mystery plant wasn’t a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) at all but, rather, an orchid cactus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum).

Water – More houseplants have been killed by drowning than by dehydration. In fact, most plants will recover more quickly from occasional under watering than from continual over watering. So, how do you know when your plants need water? Use your eyes and your fingers. Look at the soil in the pot around the plant. If it looks dry, poke your finger into the soil up to the first joint of our index finger. If the soil feels as dry as it looks – water your plant. For those of you with plants like African violets, don’t let them sit in a pool of water! Put pebbles in the pot tray to lift the bottom of the pot above the surface of any run off. This keeps the plant’s roots from rotting in the excess water and provides some additional humidity around the plant.

Light – No plant can thrive without light of some kind (unless you’re growing mushrooms in the closet!), but different plants have different light requirements. For example, spider plants can live on artificial light alone, African violets need indirect light, and Christmas cacti can take a stronger southern exposure (at least here in the frozen north). Many houseplants will do better with some supplemental lighting. Even a table lamp with a full spectrum compact fluorescent would work, but, remember, plants need rest, too! 24/7 light is a no-no!

Soil – Soils should be suited to the individual needs of the plant. Good all purpose potting soil will do for most plants, but some houseplants like orchids and cacti have special requirements. Some useful additions to typical potting soil include compost or worm castings for nutrients, sharp sand or Perlite for drainage and sphagnum or peat moss for water retention. Be careful when feeding houseplants. The temptation is just as great to over feed as to over water and can be just as deadly. Most plants, unless they are very heavy feeders, don’t need to be fed more than once a month.

Temperature – A final requirement we don’t usually pay much attention to is temperature. The temperature of the average American home (68-72 degrees) can be too warm for many house plants. Flowering plants, especially, need a drop in night time temperatures of 5-8 degrees to continue opening buds. So, if you’re having trouble with a plant that won’t bloom for you no matter what you do, try lowering your thermostat at night. You might get more flowers, and you’ll certainly get a lower home heating bill!

I don’t have the instinctual gift for gardening my Aunt Opal had. All I know I’ve gained through reading, hard work and, sadly, a lot of dead plants along the way. Still, I am not discouraged. Success, especially with houseplants, may not come easy for me, but, when it does, it is very sweet. I hope Aunt Opal would be proud.

(Originally published in the April, 2012 edition of the Bayview Bylines, edited by Mandy Skala)

As I look out my window at the fat, fluffy snowflakes piling up (Yes, it’s time to shovel off the deck again!), I find it hard to believe that spring has sprung and that a new planting season will soon be upon us. It is the end of March, however, so now is a good time to take stock and get ready for a successful garden.

In my last post, I talked about organizing your seed and plant purchases which is one of the most enjoyable parts of gardening (unless you count eating warm, ripe strawberries straight out of the garden!). Today, I want to talk about something all our plants depend on but which we generally take for granted: the soil beneath our feet. Notice I said “soil” not “dirt.” “Dirt” is something my dogs and kids drag into the house that has to be swept or vacuumed up. “Soil” is the rich, complex structure which supports plants and, as a result, all life on the planet.

We often think of soil fertility in terms of nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and the other nutrients need for plant growth, but fertility is a bit more complex than that. Soil fertility really has four components:

* Structure
* Organic Matter
* pH
* Nutrients

Soil structure is determined by the proportion of sand, silt and clay in your soil. Good garden loam is usually made up of roughly equal parts of these three soil types. You can determine the structure of your garden soil with a simple squeeze test. Get a handful of soil from your garden and moisten it with a spray bottle. It should be moist enough to hold together in a ball but not soaking wet. Give the ball of soil a hearty squeeze, then open your hand.

If the ball of soil holds its shape, poke it with your finger. If it crumbles, you have the classic garden loam we all dream of! If, when poked, the ball stubbornly refuses to crumble and holds its shape, your soil is heavy on the clay side. If, when you open your hand, your ball of soil immediately falls apart, you have sandy soil. These last two types of soil can be improved and corrected by applying organic matter like compost to the soil. Compost will “lighten” clay soils and improve the water holding capacity of sandy soils.

Mentioning compost as a means of improving soil structure brings us to the next component of soil fertility – organic matter. According to the Soil Ecology and Management website of Michigan State University, soil organic matter is defined as, “already decayed plant materials after they are no longer identifiable as the original plant and have been biologically degraded to a humus material or soil organic matter. “ Organic matter is important in soil fertility because it:

* is a source of plant nutrients (for example, nitrogren),
* improves soil structure (see previous paragraph),
* holds water and dissolved nutrients next to the plant roots for better absorption, and
* helps control erosion.

Organic matter can be increased in the soil by adding compost or well-rotted animal manure or by growing and plowing under green manure crops like vetch or clover.

The third factor in determining your garden soil fertility is pH. Has anyone else ever wondered what those two little letters really mean? Well, they stand for
“p”otential “H”ydrogen. My husband, the PhD in chemistry, would tell you that
pH describes a substance’s ability to attract hydrogen ions. This is very nice, I’m sure, but doesn’t help me a lot unless I get that question in Trivial Pursuit.

To a gardener, pH tells us whether a soil is more acid or more alkaline. We care about this because some plants – blueberries, evergreens, azaleas, etc. – won’t flourish unless the soil they’re grown in is very acidic (less than 5.0). On the other hand, crops like asparagus and lilacs require a more alkaline soil to do their best. For most garden purposes, though, the ideal pH is right in the middle between 6.5 and 7.5 or neutral.

The final category of garden fertility – nutrients – is what most people think of when they talk about “fertility.” The three major nutrients that all plants require are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The percent of these three elements are displayed in N-P-K order on every bag of fertilizer you buy.

Plants require other nutrients in smaller amounts. Micronutrients like sulfur, calcium boron, magnesium, etc. are also provided by many complete fertilizers, but you have to read the fine print on the label to find out what and how much.

If you have never done so or haven’t done so in the past 3-5 years, this spring it may be time for a soil fertility test. These tests are very useful in determining existing soil nutrient levels in your garden as well as identifying plant nutrients that may be deficient. This helps you spend your fertilizer dollars wisely and also guards against over fertilizing that can be toxic to your plants as well as contribut to ground and storm water pollution.

To take a good soil sample, you’ll need to collect soil from 10-12 different locations in your garden. Using a spade or trowel, collect the samples in a random or zig-zig pattern over your entire sample area. Make sure each sample is 6-8 inches deep (as deep as the topsoil in which your plants will grow). Discard any plant material, thatch or stones and mix your samples together in a plastic (not metal!) bucket. Dry your sample thoroughly and put 1-2 cups of your mixed sample in a properly labeled soil sample bag. These soil sample bags can be obtained from your local Extension Office for sending to the state testing laboratory. In Idaho, that’s the Analytical Laboratory Service (ALS) at the University of Idaho. The ALS charges $35.00 for a Standard Fertility Test (N-P-K and pH) and $47.00 for an Extended Fertility Test (N-P-K, pH, organic matter and boron). Private labs offering soil test services can be found on the web. Let the buyer beware, however! Avoid soil test services that sell their own soil amendments. You may not get an accurate and unbiased evaluation from someone who is trying to sell you something!

When you receive your soil test report back from the lab, you can take it to the Extension Office for help with interpreting results and fertilizer recommendations. It’s up to you whether you use organic or inorganic fertilizer. Just remember: inorganic fertilizers feed only the plant while organic fertilizers feed the soil.

Well, I could talk “soil” all day, but, now that it’s stopped snowing, I have to go shovel off the deck. Happy first week of spring everyone!

(Originally published in the March, 2012 edition of the Bayview Bylines newsletter, edited by Mandy Skala)

One of my favorite sayings is, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.” I think I first read this bit of wisdom in a book about career planning, but planning is not a skill that is limited to our work life or our closets. If we don’t have a plan when we plant, the chances are pretty good that our gardens are going to end up somewhere other than where we were headed.

My garden planning each spring is a relatively simple four step process. I hope you find something helpful in the description of these steps as you start your garden planning this year.

Step 1 – Take stock. What do you already have?

It is so easy to let the flood of seed and nursery catalogs we receive at this time of year to lure us into buying things we don’t need. Before you take out a second mortgage to place that seed order, inventory your existing seed and plant stocks. Then, when you know what you do have, you can decide what you need or want to fill in the gaps.

When looking over your seed stocks, make sure that your seeds are still viable. Testing your seed is easy and only takes 10 seeds per packet.

• Place 10 seeds on half of a damp but not soppy white paper towel, then fold the other half over the seeds.

• Place the towel in an unsealed plastic bag and set it in a warm spot (approximately 75 degrees F; 24 C).

• Check the towel daily to ensure that it stays damp – do not allow it to dry out.

• Gradually, the seeds in the paper towel will germinate. When germination stops, count the number of seeds that have sprouted. If 5 of the 10 seeds sprout, you have a 50% germination rate. If 8 of the 10 seeds sprout, you have an 80% germination rate and so on. So, if you have a 50% germination rate and you want to raise 25 plants, you’ll have to plant 50 seeds.

• If no seeds sprout, it’s time to place an order with your favorite seed company!


Step 2 – How much to buy?

If you decide that you do need to buy seeds or plants, how much do you buy? Well, partly it depends on whether you’re planting food crops or ornamentals. If you’re planting food crops, you need to determine how many plants or feet of row you’ll need to feed each person in your family. One of the more useful charts I’ve found to help you with this task is published by the Arizona Master Gardeners program and can be found at the following website:

http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/mg/vegetable/guide.html

Here’s an example of what that chart looks like for asparagus and snap beans:

Once you’ve decided how much of a food crop to grow, you can determine how many seeds or plants to buy to fulfill that need.

If you’ve decided you need to buy ornamentals for a flower bed or shrub border, you really need to determine how much space the mature plants will have to fill and then purchase plants or seeds accordingly. As an example, let’s say you want to fill an area along the front of a border that is 12” wide by 48” long with Crystal Palace Lobelia. This low-growing, azure beauty has a trailing habit (it’s only 6” tall) and spreads about 12”. So, to fill your 12” x 48” space, you’d need to buy four plants.

Step 3 – Make a list (and check it twice)!

When you’ve decided what you’re going to plant and whether or not you need to take out that second mortgage, make a list of what plants and seeds you’re going to plant and buy and where you want to buy them. Years ago I developed a spreadsheet to help me with this step, and I still use it every spring to build my seed starting schedule and a master list of what is going into the garden each year. Here’s an example of my entry for beans from a couple of years ago to demonstrate the kinds of information I find helpful:

I’m not saying my spreadsheet is the be all and end all of seed starting organization, but it might be a place to start if you think this step would be useful to you.

Step 4 – Prepare a garden plan.

It’s always easier to plan on paper before you make mistakes on the ground! Use graph paper to lay out the dimensions of your garden and to plan your plantings. Your plan should identify all of the crops you’re growing and how many of each will be planted. It can also be used to make note of dates of planting, spacing between rows and projected harvest dates. This might seem like a lot of detail, but there’s no such thing as too much information especially when you’re trying to remember in June what you were thinking in March!

If you’d like to use an online tool to building your garden plan, a new online service called Vegetable Garden Planner is being offered by several of the major seed companies (Territorial House, R.H. Shumway, Jungs, etc.) to help you. You can also access this tool directly by going to:

http://gardenplanner.territorialseed.com/

You can use the Garden Planner free for 30 days and, if you find it useful, pay a yearly subscription fee of $25.00. Gardener’s Supply offers a free online garden planning tool at:

http://www.gardeners.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-Gardeners-Site/default/Link-Page?id=kgp_pp

Whether you use graph paper and pencil or an online tool, I hope you’ll take the time to do some planning this spring. While some folks may think that getting organized takes all the fun out of what is the ultimate creative activity, I think most gardeners would have better gardens and be happier gardeners if they kept in mind the admonition of my old Army drill instructor (expletives deleted!): “Why is there always time to go back and fix it when you did it wrong the first time, but there’s never time to just do it right the first time?!”

(Originally published in the July, 2012 edition of the Bayview Bylines Newsletter, edited by Mandy Skala)

You’ve planted seeds and waited through sun and rain (lots of rain!) for their little heads to poke up out of your flower border or vegetable garden. Finally your patience is rewarded, but your delight quickly turns to dismay when you realize that your little green visitors aren’t lettuce or marigolds but, rather, weeds!

One definition of a weed is simply a plant that is growing where it isn’t wanted. For example, my vegetable garden is fairly heavily infested with both Johnny-Jump-Ups and borage, but I love both plants enough to just weed out the ones that are growing where I don’t want them and let the rest bloom and go to seed. Quack grass, however, is a ruthless pest that I won’t tolerate anywhere near my garden, and I will go to any lengths to destroy it (short of a tactical nuclear air strike). Other weeds like annual bluegrass or lambs quarters are a nuisance, but they pull
up easily, and, if I get most of them before they bloom and go to seed, they aren’t too invasive.

Most of us don’t want to spend every weekend weeding in the garden. After all, it’s summer and we’ve got places to go and fun to have! On the other hand, a garden that is overtaken by weeds is an eyesore and not the joy we had hoped for when we turned over the soil and put seeds in the ground. So, what’s a gardener to do? Here are a few tips that may help you with what may seem like a never ending task:

o Pull up weeds before they go to seed and self-spread around the garden.

o Try to get the whole weed including the root.

o Weed after you’ve watered the garden or after it rains. Plants pull out of
damp soil a lot easier than if the ground is dry and hard.

o For tap rooted weeds like dandelions pull straight up with a little pressure on
either side of the stem using a tool with small V-shaped end. This little tool
is a gem! If you have a lot of dandelions look for a long handled version of
this tool that will help save your back.

Dandelion Weeder

o For weeds with shallow invasive root systems, try scraping below the
surface of the soil to drag out as much of the root system as possible.
I love my scuffle hoe for this purpose and recommend one to everyone!

Stirrup Hoe

Stirrup Hoe

o For weeds growing between cracks in pavement, decks, or under your grill,
try pouring boiling water over them to kill them. You may have to do this
several times, but I have found that, with persistence, this works.

o Use a scuffle hoe or 3-pronged cultivator at least once a week between rows
in the vegetable bed to remove young weeds as they spring up.

o Mulch between and around plants to help prevent weed seeds from
germinating. It’s also a good idea to mulch heavily under garden
furniture such as picnic tables in order to avoid weeds that might
entice bees. What to mulch with is a matter of what’s available
as well as what’s affordable. This year I am using a mulch of
chopped straw that local feed stores are selling as animal bedding.
A plastic wrapped bale (which doesn’t shed straw all over the back
of the car!) cost me $6.00 for a 3 cubic foot package that expands
to 10 cubic feet.

o RELAX! A few weeds aren’t a disaster. As your flowers and vegetables grow,
they’ll often shade out or at least cover up weeds so they won’t be so
obvious, and what you don’t see won’t bother you nearly as much.

I’d love to go on for another couple of pages, but, as it’s finally stopped raining, I hear my garden calling me. Chances are there are a few weeds that need pulling!

Welcome to Waterfowl Farm! I suppose it was inevitable that I would eventually succumb to the blogosphere though I fought the impulse long and hard! My purpose in finally starting a blog was to provide a source of practical, useful information, encouragement and, occasionally, a few laughs for me and my gardening friends. I’m also hoping this blog will widen my circle of gardening buddies and that you’ll join in with comments and questions as the spirit moves you.

One thing I’ll try very hard not to do is pontificate. As gardeners we are all prone to the sin of making broad, sweeping generalizations (“That will never grow here!”) based on very limited data (our own backyards). If asked, I can only tell you what works for me in my garden in the panhandle of Idaho (Zone 5), but that same advice may not work for you. Heck, it doesn’t even work for my neighbor who lives one mile down the road from me and is sitting (poor woman!) in a Zone 3 micro-climate!

Gardeners also tend to allow ourselves to be bullied and browbeaten by all the gardening “experts” out there whether it’s the USDA, the local university extension office or the president of the gardening club. By all means, read and learn all you can and respect the experience of others, but don’t be afraid to take a chance and swim upstream. Not all experiments succeed but, boy, the bragging rights for the ones that do are worth all the failures!

Thanks for stopping in; I look forward to getting to know you all better.

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