What I Learned From My Garden This Year:

It was a pretty good year in the garden despite the fact that we went on a couple of trips during the growing season. I as usual, learned from my gardening experience and here are some of the things I will do differently next year:

  • Stick to the basics.  This year I planted Japanese Pickling Melons, Okra and Sesame.  I am embarrassed to say that I never even harvested the sesame seeds (who has time to open all those little pods and toast the seeds?)  I let the most of the Okra get too big and tough to eat, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the melon. Next year I will sample unusual items at restaurants or markets and leave garden space to what I know.
  • Grow what we eat.  We love green beans and could almost eat them every day. They freeze well too. We also love peppers and tomatoes.  On the other hand, I am the only one in the house that eats eggplant or squash. Next year I will concentrate on planting green beans, peppers, and tomatoes and treat myself to eggplant, squash and such from the Farmers’ market when the mood strikes.
  • Don’t waste space on cheap stuff. We love cabbage but it takes up lots of space in the garden and the bugs love it too. It is super cheap to buy so why not use the garden space for sweet bell peppers that I can let ripen to red and not have to pay a premium price for them at the store?!
  • More flowers!  I love flowers and would love to be able to snip weekly bouquets for inside. Next year I plan to surround my veggie garden with flowers. They will be inside the bunny proof fence, beautiful to look at and plentiful enough to get lots of bouquets for ourselves, family and friends. The bees will love them too!
  • Grow herbs closer to the house. It just makes sense to not have to go far to snip herbs when cooking. I may grow my herbs in pots on the deck next year.

I spent much of our lovely November doing a bit of yard clean up, bringing in yard art and house plants, and pretty much enjoying the last nice days of fall. Since we were finished harvesting I left the garden gate open so the girls could free range in there. They were pretty happy to get to scratch around and sample yummies in what was previously ‘off limits’ territory.

 
I am throwing kitchen scraps as well as raked leaves directly in the garden to decompose.

 
I decided to use ‘free mulch’ from Mother Nature – aka fallen leaves around trees and shrubs and in the flower beds.  I was hoping for a bit of rain to weigh them down so they wouldn’t blow away and I got it.

 

 Now the work is done and the days are cold and short. I keep warm and happy planning next year’s garden!

What did you do to put your garden to ‘sleep’ and what are you planning for next year?

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New and Improved Asparagus Bed!

After doing more reading I realized the six asparagus crowns I planted would be not much more than an appetizer for our asparagus loving family.  I seriously needed to plant MORE!

But where?

As most good ideas do it came to me in the middle of the night.  (Everyone wakes up at 4 am with gardening on their mind, right?)

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Anyway it came to me.

  THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN! 

Well not IN the butterfly garden.  I could MOVE the butterfly garden.  I could move it to the back of the garden flower bed.  The one I call my ‘formal’ flower bed.

Formal – poo – I want asparagus!

So I went to work moving the plants in my butterfly garden.  Most were big enough to divide so I did that too.  I tried to place them where I thought the color combinations and heights would look best but to tell you the truth in some cases I did not even know what some of them were because some of my garden markers blew over.   (OK, they didn’t so much blow over as got ‘picked’ by a certain little pint sized garden helper).

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It is going to be AWESOME!

 

I am super excited though because the bed is a lot more densely planted which means fewer weeds and it will be a RIOT of flowers




I am also super excited about the NEW AND IMPROVED ASPARAGUS BED.

 We  prepared the trench, added sand for drainage, compost for nutrients, and bone meal for root growth.

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We put in 35 asparagus crowns.  That should keep us in plenty of asparagus for the rest of our lives!  ❤

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If you have an unused part of lawn, like maybe over by your fence, and you buy asparagus to eat each spring, you should probably put in an asparagus bed!

Go on, DO IT!

A few other spring updates:

Peas, lettuce, onions, radishes and carrots are up in the garden.My indoor seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, okra, cabbage and marigolds are getting big.

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I can’t wait to get these outside!

The honeysuckle vine more than doubled in size before I finally got it planted outside and it is doing well.  All fruit trees including the new and old Paw Paws have leaves.

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Leaves on the new PawPaw.

 Best of all – the Wisteria LIVES!

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I ❤ Wisteria!

It’s not gardening but I have to brag – this week my granddaughter Haley qualified for the Olympics in Womens’ Freestyle Wrestling!  She is Rio bound!

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 How are things in your spring garden?

My (Second) Annual January Trip To Buy Seeds!

A few weeks ago I was sitting around wondering if it was too early to get seeds when a Facebook ‘memory’ popped up informing me I did exactly that one year ago.

So why not make it a January tradition?

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I don’t do well in the winter.  Call it SAD, call it cabin fever, call me deranged.  Whatever.  I just get grumpy, sluggish, overly obsessed with the weather and just plain no fun at all.

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  It begins with daylight savings time and doesn’t go away until I can go outside and dig in the dirt.

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Sure,  I put on a happy face throughout the holidays, I find winter projects and try to exercise, get outside, socialize more (even though I don’t really feel like it) and all the other things the ‘experts’ recommend.  I tell myself that all we really have is the here and now and to live in the moment.  But my garden-dreaming self doesn’t listen.

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Ahhhhhhhhh…..I’m sooooooooooooo ready!

 

 It’s insane how happy a seed catalogue or gardening magazine arriving in the mail makes me.

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Oh Yay!

 

I take trips to the Botanical center or garden store just to smell the plants and soil!

I am counting the days ’til spring.

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So no, I don’t think January is too early to buy seeds.

  Not at all.

  It is better than being a kid in a candy store!

  Rows and rows and rows of vegetable and flower seeds and a dream of sunshine, dirty hands, good muscle aches and bone weariness at the end of the day with a great night’s sleep to follow.  For a gardener, starting a garden in spring is one of the best things to happen all year.

I mean it is really, really good!

Remember my post of last year where I said I might reduce the size of my garden?  It was called “Putting the Yard Back In The Backyard Farm” or some such nonsense.  Well forget it.  I must have temporarily lost my mind.

Here is a link to that silly post in case you missed it:

https://ruthschickens.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/i-am-thinking-of-putting-the-yard-back-into-the-backyard-farm/

Now I am trying to think of how I can expand it even more.  Would we miss it if I took just a bit more of my backyard lawn to put in an asparagus bed?  Could I squeeze in a few more fruit trees?  Perhaps it is time to expand to the front yard?  Where will I put some Rhubarb?  Do I have room for Jerusalem artichokes?

I have marked my calendar with the dates I will plant my onions, lettuce, cucumbers, squash  and carrots (yep, I’m trying them again this year) outside,

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and start my tomatoes, peppers and okra (first time ever growing okra) inside.

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Of course I am doing green beans and cabbage and this year I wont forget to put in a few Brussels sprout plants for fall dinners. (I really missed them last year).  I want tons and tons of sweet peppers this year and some spaghetti squash and zucchini.

I also bought some Morning Glory seeds – wont they look great climbing up the fence?  I wonder if the chickens would leave them alone if I planted them on the fence around their pen?  (What am I thinking, of course they WONT!).

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 I read somewhere that you can plant morning glories in hanging baskets and they will trail downward.  I have to give that a try.

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I also got my Zinnia seeds.  Well ya never know, the store could run out.

Look out bunnies – I am winning the war this year.  You don’t stand a chance!

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I am  excited, happy and hopeful and that’s saying a lot for me in January!

I highly recommend a visit to your local garden store for some seeds.  Get to planning your garden, you wont be sorry!

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Comment and let me know what you plan on growing this year.

 

—-

I Am At It Again!

And you should be too.

I’m helping Monarch caterpillars hatch, grow, and become butterflies.

It is a very rewarding project.

Taking the eggs from the Milkweed plants and protecting them until they are butterflies increases the survival of this amazing species.

You may or may not know:

  • Monarch caterpillars ONLY eat milkweed which is less plentiful now due to herbicide use and loss of our prairie land due to construction and expansion.
  • The last generation of Monarchs to hatch each season do not die in a few weeks like previous generations, but live long enough to migrate to their winter homes – mostly in Mexico.
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The trees are covered with the over-wintering Monarchs. I would love to see this someday!

  • Monarch numbers have decreased from a couple billion to only 50-some million!

You can read more about the remarkable Monarch here:

http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/

Simple things you can do to help Monarchs:

  • PLANT MILKWEED!  If you plant it they will come!  There are several varieties of Milkweed that will survive, multiply and beautiful your garden.  Monarchs will come and lay their eggs on your milkweed plants.
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Milkweed blooming in my garden. The flowers smell amazing!

  • BEWARE to not get your milkweed from your local large garden center or home improvement store because they will most likely be treated with insecticides.  The caterpillars that hatch on this mildewed will DIE. Read about one person this happened to here:

http://michiganradio.org/post/how-help-monarch-butterflies-without-poisoning-them#stream/0

  • Plant nectar flowers for the adult Monarchs.  Nectar flowers are the beautiful flowers you love anyway and the nectar provides nourishment for the adults. It is especially important to plant fall blooming nectar flowers such as asters, so the season’s last generation of  Monarchs will have food for their migration.
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A beautiful Monarch nectaring on a zinnia in my garden,

  • Rescue or ‘adopt’ Monarch eggs or caterpillars and raise them in a protected environment and then release the adult butterflies.

It’s easy!

Here is what I did, you can do it too:

I ‘harvested’ Monarch eggs off my Milkweed plants. If you don’t grow Milkweed in your garden you can find it in fields or along the road in rural or even not so rural areas.  Make sure it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides.

The eggs are small whitish dots on the underside of your Milkweed leaves.

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See the egg – nearly in the center of the photo? A tiny caterpillar is on the edge of the same leaf, below and slightly to the left of the egg.

 I put the eggs, and one teeny tiny caterpillar I found in a opaque Rubbermaid tote.

Some people I know use a clear cup or jar but I wanted mine to have more room.

The small caterpillars will not leave their food source of Milkweed leaves but when they get larger and ready to form a chrysalis they will become more mobile and you will want to fasten a net or screen over your habitat.

My husband ordered me a super-cool habitat off Amazon.  I can’t wait!

Give your Monarch caterpillar(s) a daily (later even more than daily) supply of Milkweed leaves to munch on.

MAKE SURE ANY MILKWEED LEAVES YOU GIVE THEM ARE NOT TREATED WITH CHEMICALS!

(I can’t say it enough)

Put newspaper or paper towels on the bottom of your habitat bercause the caterpillars poop A LOT and you want to keep them clean and healthy.

Your caterpillar(s) will EAT and EAT and GROW and GROW!

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They remind me of the caterpillar in my grandson Carter’s favorite book.

Finally they will slow their movements and form a ‘J’ shape and then soon after form a beautiful chrysalis.  When the chrysalis becomes clear and you can see Monarch orange and black markings through it the butterfly will soon emerge.  It’s wings will be shriveled at first but they will soon unfurl and grow strong.

Now you can release your adult Monarch into your garden and pat yourself on the back because you just did a wonderful and important thing and helped make the world a better place!

 I will share the progress and photos of my caterpillars in future posts.

I hope I have encouraged you to give it a try.  If you are not up to ‘rescuing’ eggs and caterpillars perhaps you will at least consider planting Milkweed and nectar plants in your garden.

I would love you to share what you are doing to help the Monarchs!

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