Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Fall Gardening 101

The beginning of August may seem too early to talk about fall but if you want to get into fall gardening, now is the time to start. I don't mean start planning, I mean get out there and plant stuff. If you haven't gotten into fall gardening before, you should try it. Harvesting fresh vegetables in October and November is really great.

First, you have to know when your first frost date is. That's when you're most likely to have a first killing frost. Here in south central PA, the date is October 21st. To find your frost date, go to Look on the seed packets to see how many days they need to ripen. Then you can count backward to figure out when you have to plant them. For instance, I just planted peas and they require 65 days to ripen. So I know I have more than enough time.

Second, you have to plant cold hearty vegetables. Many of the veggies you planted last march will work great now. Great selections  for fall include: peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, and beats. These plants will thrive in cooler temperatures.

Third, do what you can to keep the seeds cool during the hot August days. Probably the hardest part of fall gardening is keeping your seedlings well watered. When the seedlings get three to four inches tall, you can thin them out and mulch them to help keep the soil cool and moist.

As a side note, October is the best time to be planting garlic. It won't ripen till the following July, but it is SO GOOD. So, try some garlic.

And that, my friends, is it. If you want to extend your harvest even longer into the winter, you can use row covers to keep the frost off. It's not hard. It's not expensive. You can do it and enjoy delicious vegetables this fall. Have you ever gotten into fall gardening? Please write about it in the comment section below!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

5 Recent Lessons in Gardening

One of the best things about gardening is that there is always more to learn. I'm always making mistakes but I learn from them and get better. Here are some lessons I've learned so far this year.

1. Don't freak out about a few bugs. My green beans had something eating them early on and I thought about spraying them but they did well despite the bugs and I've been impressed with how many beans I've gotten off them. Vegetable plants are rarely perfect, don't sweat the small stuff.

2. Don't mulch your basil. I tend to mulch everything. Mostly because I don't enjoy weeding or watering and mulching reduces the need to do both. However, basil plants prefer dry soil and will turn yellow if they're too wet. Fortunately, I figured that out before my plants were killed.

3. Don't underestimate cute little furry things. Jeeze, those darn rabbits. My daughter thinks they're so cute but they need to stay the heck away from my garden. I figured on the lettuce, but can't they leave my little apple tree alone? Darn things.

4. Speaking of rabbits, don't try using moth balls to get rid of them. I'm cheap and lazy so putting moth balls under my shed to get the rabbits out sounded like a great idea. Yeah, now the shed stinks so bad you can't stay in there for more than a minute or so and the smell waifs out into the yard at times too. Sigh.

5. On the plus side, I've learned that wild currants are delicious. Seriously, everyone should be growing them. Even my two year old couldn't get enough.

So, what have you learned this year in your garden? Feel free to share your thoughts - and your ideas for getting rid of rabbits, in the comments below.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Growing, Harvesting and Preserving Parsley

If you follow my blog, you know I really enjoy herbs. One herb most gardeners consider essential is parsley and it's easy to grow. There's no reason why anyone can't grow their own parsley even if you live in an apartment. It tastes great in soups and with chicken and has other uses and growing your own is much cheaper than buying it fresh at the store every time you want to cook with it.

Now, if you want instant gratification, you can buy plants everywhere from Lowe's to the grocery store. However, I'm cheap so I prefer to buy seeds. I've had no problem growing parsley from seeds, it just takes a little longer for the seeds to sprout. Be patient! Parsley has no unusual needs, just decent soil, water and full sun.

The plants on the bottom left corner are healthy parsley plants grown from seeds. The flowering plant is a second year plant that is just going to seed without much in the way of leaves to harvest. 

One interesting fact about Parsley is that it's a biennial - meaning it lives two years. If you grow it outside, it will come back for a second year. However, when it comes back the second year, it will just set seeds without much of the foliage you want for eating. The only reason to encourage the plant the second year is if you want to harvest the seeds. My approach is to buy a small packet of seeds every spring and plant a few weeks before the final frost date.

To harvest parsley, just pick the leaves you need for the recipe you;re making when you need them. Parsley will stay fresh in the fridge for several days, especially if you put it in water. To dry parsley, just tie them in bunches and hang them upside down in a dry, ventilated, dark place for a few weeks. Easy peasy.

The nice thing about parsley is that it grows great in containers as well, so if all you have is a sunny windowsill, then you can still grow it. Do you grow your own parsley? Feel free to write about it in the comments below!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pennsylvania Pickled Beets and Eggs

One thing you won't ever see on this blog are a bunch of recipes. However, when it comes to traditional ways to use your garden produce, I'm all in. I grew up with pickled beets in Michigan but the egg part I picked up since moving to Pennsylvania. With a little bit of thought I was able to use my great grandmother's pickling recipe and add the hard boiled eggs at the end. Here is how you too can make pickled eggs and beets.

First off, this blog is about gardening and right now is a great time to be harvesting beets in central PA. My family has always used Detroit Dark Red Beets but I'm sure you could substitute the beets of your choice. Pick enough beets to fill a regular sized stock pot, scrub them down and cut off the root tips and greens (please don't throw your greens away, they are delicious!).

Second, boil the beets till the skins are loose, about an hour. Strain the beets and let them cool before removing their skins.

Third, cut the beets to uniform size before returning them to the pot. Don't get too fussy about it.

Fourth, add 2 1/2 cups sugar, 1 cup apple cider vinegar and 3 cups of water and mix it all up. Boil for another hour or until the beets are the consistency you want.

Fifth, hard boil 12 eggs and peel off the shells.

Finally, take a 2 quart jar and take turns adding beets and eggs then poor the pickling juice over it all.

Refrigerate for at least 24 hour and enjoy!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Garden Spotlight: Kimberly

As a gardener, I LOVE seeing other people's gardens. My friend Kim's garden is no exception. She is so artistic and creative and it really shows in her yard. I love how she lets plants grow a little wild and informal. Here are some highlights.

I am such a sucker for arbors and this one ins no
The perennials blooming around it are just perfect. 
My daughter just loved playing in Kim's Garden.
I'm not a big fan of lots of  non-plant decor but Kim's
over sized mushrooms are lots of fun. 

Kim has lots of shade so this variety of hosta plants are a great call.
Hostas are a great low-maintenance plant for shade. 

Ah, the lady herself. Probably my favorite part of her garden is her hand
made waddle fence around her herb garden. Waddle fences are historical and
very attractive. Someday I'll get around to building one myself. 

Not to be outdone, the front yard gets more sun and consequently,
is a great home for lavender. If you have a sunny dry spot, do yourself a favor
and plant some lavender. 
Who's garden do you enjoy visiting? What do you admire most about other's gardens? Feel free to post in the comments below.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Love Gardening? Host a Party!

The only thing better than spending time enjoying a hobby you love is sharing that hobby with others. If you love gardening like I do, then why not host a garden party? Perhaps the first thing you think of are ladies in fancy dresses and hats (nothing wrong with that!) but you can have any garden themed party that suits your style. I recently hosted a garden party at my home and here are a few easy take aways from my event. Party planning is not my specialty so if I can do it, so can you!

1. Your gardens don't have to look perfect to host a garden party. We just moved here in July so my garden talk was all about beginnings and how to get started without breaking the bank. Ain't no shame in keeping it real.

2. Keep in mind how much space you have and tailor your list accordingly. We had 15 ladies (sorry guys, that's just how it went) and it felt like a good number for my first time doing it.

3. You have to have food of some kind. Plan out a realistic menu. We had a seasonal garden to table theme which I contributed to with spinach and onion quiche and my friends brought delicious lavender bread, strawberry and spinach salad, and rhubarb upside down cake. Which is another great idea - make your party more like a pot luck.

4. Create an idea sharing platform so the party can be educational as well. I decided to give a "garden talk" covering a wide variety of garden subjects that my friends were interested in. It was informal and open to comments and questions. You might decide to have topics for group discussion or just have everyone share their gardening projects for the year.

5. Have a back up plan in case it rains. The weather was incredibly threatening during my party but thankfully, it stayed clear. However, if I had to, we could have moved the party inside to our finished basement. Garden parties are much better outside but if it rains, you'll need have a back up plan.

Have you ever hosted a garden party? What was it like? Feel free to write about it below!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Make The Most Of Your Grass Clippings

If you've been following this blog, then you know I love a bargain and there isn't any better bargain than free and readily available. If you have  a lawn, then you have an abundance of grass clippings. For heavens sake, don't just throw them away - you can put them to good use around the garden.

First, be sure to leave some on the lawn as decomposing grass clippings will put nutrients back in the soil which will keep your lawn looking better. At least once a month, don't bag your clippings but let them lie on the lawn. Maybe it's not as manicured that way but your lawn will be healthier for it.

Second, put them in your compost bin. What? You don't have a compost bin? You need to have a compost bin. American's in general throw away tons of food every year and then we gardeners go and buy bagged compost to put on our gardens. It just doesn't make any sense. If you have your own compost bin, it will cut way down on your garbage and will provide free compost for your gardens. Just be sure to keep out any animal by-products so your compost pile won't stink.

Third, use it as mulch in your vegetable gardens. Mulch like straw and wood chips is too heavy to use around fragile seedlings but grass clippings are a great way to retain moisture in the soil, keep weeds down and provide nutrients to the new plants. Win-win-win.

Finally, if you're getting into lasagna gardening, and you should at least consider it, grass clippings make a great free layer of bio mass to include. It's really a no brainer.

What do you do with your grass clippings? I've heard they also make a great feed for chickens and rabbits. Feel free to post your ideas in the comments below.