Spring Ahead, Snow to a Stop

Before Spring Clean Up - 3/20/15

Before Spring Clean Up – 3/20/15

After Spring Clean Up - 3/23/15

After Spring Clean Up – 3/23/15

“In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” said Alfred Lord Tennyson. But WE all know that spring is when a gardener’s fancy turns to thoughts of planting! Spring is so short and fickle here in the midwest that I have to watch the weather reports and check my schedule carefully in order to use the few available good days as wisely as possible. And as for the snowy and rainy days, I just continue with my indoor seed starting projects.

Springing into Action - 3/16/15

Springing into Action – 3/16/15

Every spring is  challenge, and this spring was a greater challenge than normal because last fall was a failure.  We hardly had any fall at all here at Chez Rea, and the cold winter weather set in before we could do any fall clean up, let alone properly prepare the beds for winter. So I had to devote the first warm days this spring to garden clean up rather than early planting. I started in the backyard flower garden because I was most concerned that I had not cleaned up the peonies last fall. I went back later and sprinkled some Gardens Alive Soap-Shield around where the peonies would be coming up in the hopes of preventing powdery mildew. Perhaps this precaution will be sufficient as my peonies have not been prone to mildew. I remember only one year in the last ten or so that they really had a problem with it.

Herb Bed before Clean Up - 3/20/15

Herb Bed before Clean Up – 3/20/15

Herb Bed after Clean Up - 4/1/15

Herb Bed after Clean Up – 4/1/15

The next step, a few days later, was cleaning up the herb bed in the kitchen garden. This did not take too long. I was glad to see that the garlic I had planted last fall was coming up, and so were the chives and chamomile.

Then I worked on the front yard perennial garden. I got it done before the next snowfall (see pictures at top). One thing I did differently this year was to cut all the Annabelle hydrangeas down. I had tried that pruning technique last year on just the one Annabelle to the right of the front door, and sure enough it had bigger blooms last year. The whole thing flopped after a big rain, however, so this year I plan to put supports around the Annabelles before their branches get too big this time.

Snow Drops - 3/21/15

Snow Drops – 3/21/15

As I was cleaning up the front yard, I discovered snow drops already blooming, and I uncovered them. More things have been popping up since then.

Other Spring Activities

Planting Snow Peas! 4/6/15

Planting Snow Peas! 4/6/15

New Trellises for Beans

New Trellises for Beans

Meanwhile, my husband took some time off work and prepped all the kitchen garden beds for me. He also built new tuteurs for my bean vines. I seeded cool crops in the newly prepped kitchen garden beds, and I spread corn gluten over our lawn and–for the first time ever–the perennial kitchen garden beds: asparagus, strawberries, and raspberries. Another first for me was applying an organic dormant oil spray to my apple trees at green tip stage.

Watering New Transplants

Watering New Transplants

Indoors, I’ve kept working on seed starting: watering the babies, transplanting them into cells and small pots, and planting more seeds. Yesterday I set up the shade greenhouse tent and moved the hardiest seedlings out there to harden off–broccoli, shallots (more recently started because earlier ones kept inside have faded away) alyssum, and violas (the 8 precious viola plants I succeeded in starting this year). I also moved out the small trees started last year and–ta da!–the rosemary. Yes! This year’s rosemary challenge was a SUCCESS–my rosemary is still alive!

Plants in Shade Tent - 4/14/15

Plants in Shade Tent – 4/14/15

Newly Grafted Fruit Trees - 3/27/15

Newly Grafted Fruit Trees – 3/27/15

Spring is also a busy time for going to special gardening events. This year, as usual, I went to Joliet Garden Day, the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, and the Midwest Fruit Explorers grafting workshop. I didn’t actually stay for the workshop this year; I just picked up rootstock and scions and then grafted several Asian pear trees at home. I have also been going to my own garden club‘s meetings and speaking at others–giving my presentation on Organic Kitchen Garden Maintenance. I have honed it down so well since my first time giving a garden talk that my most excellent master gardener friend Donna has been publicizing it, and she got me in to do for the Southern Cook County Master Gardeners and the Orland Park Garden Club.

I have more pictures and information to share about all of these spring activities, but I have to get back into action. There are more seeds to be planted and more little sprouts to be transplanted. Let me know in the comments if you want me to post more about any topic in particular.

Posted in Herbs & Edible Flowers, Ornamentals, Seed Starting and Plant Propagation, Tips and Tools, Vegetables | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

ON SALE THIS WEEK: 16″ Self-Watering Pots–Good for Vegetables!

LP1656Exotica

 

If you want to grow vegetables in containers, these 16″ pots on sale for $7.88 at Menards are a great deal. They’re nice and big and self-watering, too. Just keep in mind that “self-watering” does not mean you don’t have to water them–it means you won’t have to water them as often. Also note that consistent even watering would help to prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes.

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FREE TODAY ONLY–Square Foot Gardening book

FREE Today Only 2/18/15

FREE Today Only 2/18/15

HEADS UP! This beginner book about Square Foot Gardening is FREE TODAY ONLY here: Square Foot Gardening by Jennifer Cane.

You can download it to your smart phone or computer with one of Amazon’s free reading apps.

Missed it?

Don’t worry if you missed your chance to get this book for free. You can get lots of free (and better!) information about the Square Foot Gardening method just by googling “Square Foot Gardening.” Try it!

 

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How Very Pinteresting!

Screenshot of my current Pinterest page - 2/12/15

Screenshot of my current Pinterest page – 2/12/15

I like to use Pinterest as my internet filing system. Whenever I find a web page with information or an idea that I’d like to file away for future reference, I pin it to one of the boards on  my Pinterest page. It’s no surprise, I’m sure, that most of my boards are related to gardening.

For those of you who are “pinterested,” here is a list of my current gardening related boards:

If you’re on Pinterest, too, you are welcome to follow me or any of my gardening boards. And if you’re not but would like to know more about it, check out Wikipedia’s explanation or Pinterest’s own nifty video explanation.

Posted in Containers, Fruit, Herbs & Edible Flowers, Houseplants, Ornamentals, Seed Starting and Plant Propagation, Tips and Tools, Vegetables | Leave a comment

The Case of the Absented Scented Geranium

Lemon Rose Geranium Pound Cake on the cutting board - 9/1/12

Lemon Rose Geranium Pound Cake on the cutting board – 9/1/12

Scented geraniums–I knew when I first heard of them that I wanted some. Back then the closest place I could find that had them was Shady Hill Gardens in Batavia, Illinois. (They have since shut down that location.) I made the trek out there with a friend and came back with several deliciously scented plants. They smelled good enough to eat, and they were good enough to eat. If grown organically, their flowers are edible–I just LOVE edible flowers! However, they don’t actually bloom much, so it is more often their leaves that are used in cooking and decorating various dishes.

My favorite one, the one that smelled and tasted the best, is the lemon rose geranium. Fortunately for me, that turned out to be the hardiest. I would bring it in every winter, and it would grow out into big scraggly plant. Then I would take several cuttings from it and start a bunch of nice new little lemon rose geraniums. I often gave my extra lemon rose geraniums to friends and shared my favorite recipe for using them, too. (Don’t worry–I’ll include it for you at the end of this post.)

I did not have as much success with propagating the other scented geraniums I got, and they eventually died. Whenever I see scented geraniums among the herbs at Ted’s and other nurseries, I have to scratch and sniff their leaves to see if any are good enough to buy and bring home. I’ve never found one that smelled and tasted as good as the lemon rose.

Citronella Scented Geranium Cuttings - 4/10/12

Citronella Scented Geranium Cuttings – 4/10/12

I did, however, find one that was as hardy: the citronella. Several years ago a non-gardener friend gave me hers at the end of the summer because she had no intention of overwintering it. I found it to be very easy, like my lemon rose geranium, to keep alive and to propagate by cuttings. I began giving those away to friends, too, whenever I had extras.

I have been happy with growing, propagating, and sharing just these two kinds of scented geraniums for the last several years. Last year, however, I failed to label them when I brought them inside for the winter. Later when I was taking cuttings, I tried to figure out which plant was which by smelling the plants and comparing the shapes of their leaves. I thought that I had half a dozen cuttings each of both types of geranium. I continued to think that until later in the summer after the cuttings had grown into fuller sized plants. It became clear to me that they were all the same variety–citronella. My favorite, the lemon rose geranium, was gone! Lost. Absent.

The Last Lemon Rose Geranium - 1/9/15

The Last Lemon Rose Geranium – 1/9/15

Alas!  I had never seen this variety for sale anywhere else since my long ago journey to Batavia. What could I do? Well, I began asking among my friends to find who still was growing lemon rose geranium from a plant I had given them. My friend April came to the rescue! She had one, she said, still in the little pot I had planted it in. I got the plant from her right before Thanksgiving. And then came Thanksgiving, of course, and then Christmas and Christmas and Christmas (we do a lot of Christmas at Chez Rea), and then New Years Day. Finally, last week–the day after I’d begun seed starting, in fact–I started a few cuttings from it.

Propagating from Stem Cuttings

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Here are the materials.

Above are the materials. This is how I do it:

  1. First, label each pot with the name of the plant that will be started in it. NOTE: It’s important to know the name of the plant the cuttings are coming from–especially if it is very similar to other plants you are propagating.
  2. Fill small pots with clean potting mix, pack it down, and make a hole for inserting the cutting stem.
  3. Cut stem pieces that have several leaves at the top and 2-3 inches of stem below that. Snip off any leaves on each stem portion. Cut off or cut in half any leaves at the top which are too big. (Remember these plants are not beginning with a root system sufficient for absorbing enough nutrients for all those leaves.)
  4. Dip each stem in water and then dip it in rooting hormone that has been taken out of its container. Do not dip it into the original container of powder because you want to keep the remainder of the powder clean. (The picture above shows the empty container of the rooting hormone I’ve used in the past. I’m using a different rooting powder now because it was the one available at the store for which I had a 20%-off garden center coupon.)
  5. Place the powdered stem in the pre made hole and pack the soil mix around it.

Let the cutting absorb water from the bottom of the pots.

6.  Put the pots in a shallow container of water to water the cuttings from the bottom.

 

Cover the cutting with clear plastic domes.

8.  Remove the pots from the water to a tray or saucer and cover them with a clear dome or loose plastic bag. I like to use rotisserie chicken containers and the nice big boxes that come from buying 1 lb. portions of organic lettuce. For taller cuttings, I put two of the boxes together with tape at the ends.

Place in bright light.

 

I put two lettuce boxes together for taller cuttings.

 

 

 

_9. Place in bright light but not direct sun. The clear plastic cover helps to keep moisture in and protects the cuttings as their roots are developing. Once they have some roots, take their covers off.

Lemon Rose Geranium Pound Cake

This is my favorite recipe for using the lemon rose geranium leaves. I have had it for over ten years. I believe it was published in a Better Homes & Gardens magazine as “Lemon Geranium Poundcake,” and I realized immediately that I could use my lemon rose geranium. I was thrilled and have made this recipe many times since. For larger parties, I double the recipe and make it in a bundt pan.

August 2012 008

A slice of lemon rose geranium pound cake topped with a lemon rose geranium leaf and an edible flower, Bachelor’s Button

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 20 whole fresh lemon rose geranium leaves [The original recipe called for lemon, rose, or ginger geranium leaves.]
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon peel, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon geranium leaves, optional
  • Lavendar gelato, fruit ice cream or sorbet, or fresh berries, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Let butter and eggs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Generously butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan; line the bottom with whole geranium leaves. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
  2. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Beat in lemon juice. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating 1 minute after each egg. Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed until combined. Stir in lemon peel and snipped geranium leaves.
  3. Carefully pour batter atop leaves in pan. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool cake on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on rack.
  4. Serve with lavender gelato, or any fruit-based ice cream, sorbet, or fresh summer berries and whipped cream. Makes 12 to 14 servings.
Posted in Herbs & Edible Flowers, Recipes, Seed Starting and Plant Propagation | 2 Comments

I SHALL grow SHALLOTS

Now that the shallots have come up, I uncovered the seed tray and put it in the light.

Now that the shallots have come up, I uncovered the seed tray and put it in the light.

Look what came up yesterday! It’s the shallots I planted on the same day I started pansies (as recorded in my last post).

Seed trays parked by the heat vent - 1/9/15

Seed trays parked by the heat vent – 1/9/15

Instead of putting the onion and shallot seeds on a heat mat, I just parked them in front of one of our heat vents.  I decided to do that after consulting the chart of days to appearance of seedlings at various soil temperatures (on second page here) which said onion seeds sprout 5 days after sowing if the soil is at 68 degrees, 4 days at 75 or 86 degrees.  It looks like my shallot seeds hit that pretty close: they came up  5-1/2 days after planting.

Jan 2014 011

The pansy seedlings let stay covered too long last year – 1/22/14

These

I brought this container of pang seed trays inside on 1/14/15.

 

 

Seeing the shallots sprout reminded me to bring the trays of pansy seeds inside from the garage. Now I need to be vigilant about checking daily under the black plastic covering them. I need to move them into the light as soon as they sprout, or they’ll become too leggy as they did last year.

I haven’t seen anything in the onion seed tray yet, but those seeds are older and may not come up at all. It doesn’t matter–onions are easier to grow from onion sets anyway. I’m just giving it a try because someone gave me those seeds.

 

 

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Let the 2015 Gardening Season Begin!

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It is just one week into January and we are experiencing extreme cold here, but that didn’t stop me from starting my garden today.  Actually, I’m a little late to the game. I should have started pansies in December.  (So much for my husband’s oft repeated remark that there are just two seasons on my calendar, gardening and Christmas! The truth is that gardening season never stops at Chez Rea.)

First Day of Seed Starting - 1/8/15

First Day of Seed Starting – 1/8/15

The need to start pansy seeds in December is just one of the things that makes growing pansies from seed very tricky. The other tricks involved are that pansy seeds need darkness to germinate and, according to my trusty Seeds book, “Putting seed containers in the refrigerator 4-5 days after sowing may help germination.”  I have looked in several other seed starting books, by the way, and not seen that particular bit of advice. It goes to show, I believe, that this book, though relatively unknown, is a very useful and trusty resource. It has served me well over the dozen or so years since I first got interested in seed starting.

Why do I start pansies from seed if it is so tricky? It’s not for the challenge, I assure you. It is because I want to use them as edible flowers–I just love edible flowers!  However, one of the rules for using edible flowers is that they must be grown organically to avoid any pesticide residue. All those beautiful pansies available at the garden centers in early spring are not grown organically, so I have to grow my own. Thus I face the yearly challenge of trying to get this seed starting project done in the midst of all our Christmas celebrating activity–and there is a LOT of Christmas celebrating activity going on at Chez Rea! (There’s a reason my husband says I have only two seasons.)

Pansy Hanging Baskets - 7/4/14

Edible Pansy Hanging Baskets – 7/4/14

It is such a challenge, in fact, that I gave up a few years ago and decided I would pay a little more and buy organic pansy seedlings. The trouble is, alas, that I have not been able to find organic pansy seedlings in my area.  So I tried planting pansy seeds again last year, but in a half-hearted sort of way. Instead of making room in the downstairs fridge for several cell-packs, I planted a few small trays, put them in a plastic bin covered with black plastic, and just stuck them in the garage. I did not think this experiment would be successful because we had a particularly cold winter; the garage temperature was freezing, not just refrigerator cool. Also, I left the seeds out there for a couple weeks rather than just 4-5 days. Then I brought the bin inside and put it on the floor in my kitchen. I was so convinced that nothing was going to come of them that I was rather lax in looking under the black plastic and checking on them. When I discovered that the seeds in one of the trays had germinated, the sprouts were so leggy that I almost could not transplant them into cells. I did succeed with some, however; enough of those survived and grew that in the spring I planted them into two hanging baskets. By May I was harvesting edible pansies and putting them in ice cubes and special salads!

IMG_3624 IMG_3610

I was all set to repeat that method this year, but December flew by.  Although Christmas season is not officially over for me, today I finally got to my first seed starting project of the year. I planted four little trays with pansies and violas. Once again, I put them out in the garage. Since I’m already late in starting them, I’m determined not to leave them out there for more than five days, so I wrote a reminder on top of the bin. I’m anxious to do a good job now because I just agreed to do a talk on edible flowers at the Homer Library on June 8. It would be nice to have some pansies, violas and other edible flowers by then!

Pansy Trays inside Bin in Garage - 1/8/15

Pansy Trays inside Bin in Garage – 1/8/15

Starting Pansies - 1/8/15

Feeling inspired by my productivity, I looked ahead into the January section of my seed collection and found some allium family seeds to plant. I planted one tray of bunching onions and one tray of Eschalion Zebrune, apparently a type of shallot. If I had had any leek seeds, I would have planted those, too. I’m just keeping those two trays in my kitchen for now because I know onion seeds are not as finicky about light and heat conditions. If I have time later this week, however, I’ll try putting them on a heat mat because I just checked and found that the optimum soil temperature for germination of onion seeds is 75 degrees. The sooner they germinate, the sooner they’ll grow and be ready to harvest!

Posted in Herbs & Edible Flowers, Seed Starting and Plant Propagation | Tagged , , | 3 Comments