It’s Time for Some Pickling and Jamming

Fall seems to be rushing in here in Minnesota, which is all the more reason to preserve some of the garden harvest for enjoying over the winter.

This past weekend, I spent some time pickling and jamming, using vegetables from my own garden and a few I bought at the farmers’ market. Here’s the round up with links to all the recipes:

Pickled onions, bread and butter pickles, yellow tomato jam and a stray bottle of pickled red cabbage.

Pickled onions, bread and butter pickles, yellow tomato jam and a stray bottle of pickled red cabbage.

I’ve never pickled onions before, but both my Chicago daughter and our Northern Gardener Kitchen Garden columnist Rhonda Hayes tell me that they are all the rage on tacos, pulled pork and other foods that need a bit of zing. I had good luck this year growing these onions from Seed Savers Exchange. The mixture is super tart, but just right to brighten up a meaty sandwich.

I had half a head of red cabbage left from a salad I made so I decided to pickle that as well using the same method, but adding some raw ginger to the container. Ginger is a great companion to cabbage, adding a little heat to an otherwise bland vegetable.

Of course, I had to make a batch of Grandma Lahr’s Bread and Butter Pickles. Minnesotans like a sweeter pickle and these have just the right sweet-tart blend. I grew up eating these alongside a tuna or meat sandwich — yum!

Finally, I made a batch of this Yellow Tomato Jam, a sweet way to preserve the harvest. To me, this jam is like the first taste of fall because it has some of the spices of fall. If you like your tomatoes sweet, you may want to try this  recipe for a tomato peach pie!

The preserving is just starting here — my raspberries are ripening fast so I’ll be picking, freezing and eating them daily, and I have bunches of herbs to make into pesto and a sauce I call salty herb blend, which is great for putting in soups or on meats.

What are you preserving this fall (oops) summer?

Posted in Canning and Preserving, Herbs, Recipes, Tomatoes | 2 Comments

From Garden Hats to Pot Feet: Stuff I’m Trying

One of the perks of my job is I get to try garden products and plants. I’ll review some of the plants I’m trying this year later, but here’s a run-down on three items that I’m giving a try.

Classic Sun Hat

This is serious sun protection.

This is serious sun protection.

During the Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto in June, we visited Lee Valley Tools, which is a very classy, very practical store full of garden and home repair gear from tools to garden pots. The Lee Valley folks generously gave each blogger a $50 gift card and I used part of mine to buy this classic sun hat. Being a pale gal, I have a tendency to burn if I spend too much time in the yard, and I love the full coverage this hat gives. The 4-inch wide brim covers the back of my neck and the tip of my nose—both burn-prone areas. The cotton fabric should be easy to wash at the end of the season, and the hat is soft enough to crush into a bag or purse when I’m out and about. It has UV protection factor of 50, which means I will look flushed but not crimson at the end of a day in the garden.

PotRisers® pot feet

pot feet

You have to really look to see that this container is being lifted up.

I like to arrange pots on my front stoop, and I’ve got the cement stains to prove it. So, I was interested in trying Potrisers, which hold your containers about a half inch off the cement. The feet are basically a hard rubber/plastic material cut into larger or smaller squares. I used four of the smaller feet to hold up 12-inch pots filled with annuals. You really do not notice the feet, and they are significantly less expensive than some of the rolling or ornamental pot stands you see in garden centers. You do have to remember that the risers are there and when you move your pots, lift up first, but other than that, they are a great solution to the problem of stains on cement. One note: They are not recommended for surfaces made of vinyl or vinyl composite materials.

Drain Smart container disks

Courtesy drainsmart.com

Courtesy drainsmart.com

These disks are designed to replace gravel or other porous materials that gardeners place in the bottoms of their containers.  The disks have hard nylon loops on the bottom and a porous, plastic material on top. The loops hold the disk above the bottom of your container and the porous material allows water to run through, promoting better drainage and reducing the amount of potting soil that leaches out of the pot. I don’t like to fill my pots completely with potting soil (too expensive) so I modified the instructions on how to use the disks. For several years, I’ve used wadded up newspapers because they take up space in the container and can be composted. This year, I put the newspaper in the bottom as always, then added one of the disks on top of it. My containers have looked great this year. I will see how the disks look when I take my containers apart in a couple of months. My guess is they will be fine and can be saved for the next season.

Disclaimer: I received these products free of charge for review purposes, but am under no obligation to write about them and have no financial relationship with these companies.

 

 

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Top Three Garden Stars

The Northfield Garden Tour of 2015 is finished, and I really enjoyed having so many visitors to my yard. It’s interesting to see what people ask about when they are on a tour–and I had three items that lots of folks were especially interested in.

campfire

What’s this pretty orange annual?

Probably the most asked about bloom in the garden were these Campfire™ Fireburst bidens, which are an annual that I am testing for plant wholesaler Proven Winners as part of its garden writers trial plant program. Campfire is one of the most productive, bright annuals that I’ve ever tried and I think it is indeed a winner. The shades of yellow and orange brightened up the small herb bed that I have at the front of my house. I’m growing them in pots, but you could certainly grow them in the front of a bed as well. These are not on the market yet, but will be in nurseries and garden centers in 2016.

baptisia in bungee cordsIs this a shrub?

bee on baptisiaNot really. I have several Twilite Prairieblues baptisia around my front yard, which are perennials that act like shrubs. I love baptisia (also called false indigo) because it is a prairie plant that the bees love. It blooms in June with purple flowers on spikes. There are white and even yellow baptisias, but I like the purple/blue ones. After blooming, the plant forms seed pods, which eventually turn black. I leave mine standing all winter, and sometimes shake the seedpods, which make a rattling noise. In spring, I cut the plants back. This can get to be a big plant (more than 4 feet high and almost that wide), so they may require some tying up or pruning back. I use half-hoops and bungee cords (one of the most under-rated garden tools around) to keep mine upright and looking pretty.

cherriesCan you eat these?

Yes, you can! They are sour cherries. My cherry tree was full of ripe berries and quite a few garden visitors sampled the fruit. I really like my little Bali cherry tree, which is a handsome, short tree in the front yard. After the tour, I went out and picked a couple of gallons of additional cherries. The rest are pretty ripe or hard to reach, so I left them for the birds to enjoy.

Now that the tour is over, it’s time to relax and enjoy the garden.

 

Posted in Events, Northfield | Tagged | 2 Comments

Tour Ready?

Well, it’s a bit more than 12 hours until the start of the Northfield Garden Club Tour and I think I might be ready. This year’s tour is gardens that are near city property and mine was chosen because of the wild area near our backyard.

We’ve been doing a lot of cleaning up, sprucing up and planting up to get ready for the tour, and I think the yard looks pretty good. Here are some of the things I hope tour goers will enjoy:

Toronto lily peeking out from baptisia

Toronto lily peeking out from baptisia

Addie Branch Smith daylily is in bloom

Addie Branch Smith daylily is in bloom

Herb garden near front door

Herb garden near front door

 

Cherry tree is full! Free samples!

Cherry tree is full! Free samples!

Cute plant tags made by my daughter!

Cute plant tags made by my daughter!

Posted in Events, Northfield | 3 Comments

Peony Time!

The peony season is short and sweet, but the folks at the Micheal and Judi Denny Peony Garden at the Oshawa Valley Botanical Garden in Oshawa, Ontario, have managed to extend the peony season to seven weeks by carefully choosing varieties that bloom early and late.

This was listed as an unknown variety. It sure is pretty, though.

This was listed as an unknown variety. It sure is pretty, though.

I had a chance to visit this lovely park and garden as part of the Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto last week. The botanical garden was busy with weddings the day we visited, and the peonies were in glorious bloom.

Micheal Denny, who died in 2013, was an economics professor at the University of Toronto and a devoted peony lover. The garden named in his honor includes more than 300 varieties of peony and is one of Canada’s largest collections of contemporary peonies. This weekend (June 13-14), the garden is part of the city of Oshawa’s annual Peony Festival.

Here are a few of the gorgeous peonies on display there:

Age of Victory peony just about to open

Age of Victory peony just about to open

Lovebirds poeny in bud

Lovebirds poeny in bud

A bee checks out Pink Vanguard peony.

A bee checks out Pink Vanguard peony.

Scarlett O'Hara peony and friends

Scarlett O’Hara peony and friends

 

These bow-tie clad dogs served as attendants at their owner's wedding, one of many at the gardens the day we visited.

These bow-tie clad dogs served as attendants at their owner’s wedding, one of many at the gardens the day we visited.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Garden in Spring

While mowing the yard the other night, the vibrant green of the lawn and all the plants in the garden beds seemed to radiate growth. We’ve gotten about 2 inches of rain over the last week or so, and the plants have responded with enthusiastic growth.

Borage has dainty blossoms on a monster plant.

Borage has dainty blossoms on a monster plant.

The borage I planted next to my vegetable garden last year shot up about a foot overnight, going from a pleasant, if nondescript, mound of green to a monster herb in full bloom. I’m glad it’s happy in its place.

Tree peony blooms are brief but beautiful.

Tree peony blooms are brief but beautiful.

Nearby, the Jacob’s ladder has been covered with purple-blue blooms for almost three weeks now. Its variegated foliage perfectly compliments the Garden Glow spireas in front of it. The tree peony nearby finished its flush of bloom shortly after the rain this week. That is the nature of peonies, a splash of rain and they melt. But before that happened more than 20 big, fluffy deep pink/red blooms with yellow centers covered the plant. The bees were very happy.

A little out of control, but great food for hummingbirds and bees.

A little out of control, but great food for hummingbirds and bees.

Up front, the weigelas have more blooms than I’ve seen before, pink trumpets covering the plants. The chives, as always, bloom prettily this time of year and I will be needing to thin them shortly. For now, I let them run wild. Hummingbirds have been visiting them the past few days. One of them buzzed my head the other night — I think I was between the bird and its meal.

My new bigroot geraniums are living up to their reputation of being super hardy. The bright pink flowers were a surprise for me — I bought them mostly as a foliage groundcover.

Finally, the baptisia, which for reasons I can’t figure out are more contained than usual, are just beginning to open up. This is another favorite plant of the bumblebees.

Spring has definitely sprung in my garden. How about yours?

 

Posted in Bees, Perennials, Seasons | 3 Comments

Creating a Monarch-Friendly Garden

Last weekend, I had a chance to speak at the Duluth Garden and Flower Society (MSHS District 8) Spring Luncheon in Duluth. The luncheon attracted about 80 enthusiastic gardeners from Duluth, the North Shore and the Iron Range. It was a fun event and I was honored to be asked to talk about MSHS, Northern Gardener and gardening trends.

DSC02279

Monarchs seem to like annuals, such as zinnias, but native plants are best for them.

One of the host groups was the local chapter of Wild Ones, a national group that promotes environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity. Wild Ones does a lot to educate and encourage the public about planting nature-friendly landscapes, including Monarch Way Stations. Wild Ones will even certify a garden space as a way station, if you provide what monarchs (and other pollinators) need. Whether you get your garden certified or not, it’s a good idea to learn about what it takes to attract pollinators. I decided to do a little inventory of how my own garden stacks up.

IMG_8278

If you want Monarchs, plant milkweed. It’s what those caterpillars need.

Larval plants: Monarch caterpillars require milkweed to grow into butterflies. It is their only food source. Wild Ones recommends having two types of milkweed in your landscape. I have lots (and lots!) of common milkweed on and near my property, but I think that is the only type. I’ll be looking this spring for either seeds or plants for swamp milkweed or prairie milkweed, both of which would do well in different parts of my landscape.

 

Joe Pye weed is one of the summer plants Monarchs use for nectar.

Joe Pye weed is one of the summer plants Monarchs use for nectar.

Early, mid and late food sources: Of the six early necatar plant shrubs Wild Ones recommends, I have one (serviceberry) in my yard, but there is pussy willow in the ponds near here. Of the eight recommended early forbs, I’ve got three (lupine, beardtongue and phlox). Not bad on early plants, but it could be better. Of the 36 shrubs, vines and perennials recommended for Monarchs for midsummer, my landscape has nine—again, not bad, could be better. Of the 10 plants recommended for late summer, I have three (goldenrod, aster and ironweed). Here’s the list of plants, in case you would like to see how favorable your landscape is for Monarchs.

Other landscape features to include for Monarchs include:

  • No pesticide use
  • Grasses (I have lots of those)
  • One or more water source, such as a birdbath or a puddling spot
  • Let things go a bit in the fall. Do not be quick to clean up flower stalks, grasses or leaves that may provide overwintering sites for beneficial insects.

How welcoming is your landscape for Monarchs and other pollinators?

Posted in Bees, Meadow Project, Native Plants, Pollinator Gardening | 1 Comment

A Beautiful Year for Spring Bulbs

Maybe it’s because it has not warmed up too fast, or we had moisture at the right times (though parts of Minnesota are technically in a drought), 2015 has been a good year for bulbs in my garden.

crocus

Mixed crocus

Over the past couple of years, I’ve planted more bulbs in the fall for spring bloom, including lots of crocus*, Siberian squill in the yard and garden beds, new big daffodils*, more tulips and cute, little Chiondoxa (glory of the snow). For later bloom, I have two kinds of allium as well. So far, the early spring bulbs are blooing except the tulips, which will be colorful until mid-May or beyond.

First tulips in bloom.

First tulips in bloom.

Bulbs brighten up the early spring landscape and are a great addition to northern gardens. Since we often aren’t sure when spring will occur in Minnesota or how long it will last, bulbs guarantee a bit of color before that explosion of spring flowering trees and early perennials that occurs in May.

glory of the snow

Glory of the Snow

They are easy to plant and take care of, too. In early October, I dig a big hole to place large groups of bulbs. The larger groups have more impact in the landscape and placing them in one hole is easier than digging individual holes for each bulb. I give them a little fertilizer, but otherwise just leave them alone and wait for spring. I’ve been fortunate that the many critters we have around our house have not gone after my bulbs. My neighbors have had that happen and switched to mostly daffodils, which for some reason the little monsters don’t like.

How are your bulbs looking this year?

I’m pretty sure these were test plants sent to me at no charge from Longfield Gardens. (I lost the paperwork between October and now.) The bulbs are fantastic.

Posted in Bulbs | 2 Comments

Best Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors

Over the years, I’ve had lots of successes and lots of failures with indoor seed starting. While seed-starting time is in February or March in many parts of the country, early April is actually a really good time to start seeds indoors in Minnesota, especially if you are planning to grow warm season crops such as tomatoes.

So, here are my top six tips for starting seeds indoors successfully.

seedlingNo. 1 — Put them where you will see them. Many gardeners have to put their seed-starting set up in the basement. They end up forgetting to check them and before you know it, the seeds are dried up or overgrown. Put them in a prominent place so you are inclined to coddle them.

No. 2 — Let the breezes blow. Outdoors, your little seedlings will experience wind (where I live, it’s gale-force a lot of the time), so get them used to it with a fan set up near your seed starting area. Keep the fan on low to get the seedlings used to wind. This will also help reduce fungal diseases.

Tomato seeds planted and labeled.

Tomato seeds planted and labeled.

No. 3 — Label, label, label. You think you will not forget which of the six varieties of tomato seeds you started are in which pots — but you will. My latest trick is to use a label maker to create labels on the seed starting trays. This is much neater than writing it out on a popsicle stick and less likely to fall off or get washed away. When the plants move to the hardening off stage, the label maker will be employed again.

No. 4 — Water gently and sparingly. More seedlings have been killed by drowning than by drying out. Water regularly, not too much, and if at all possible, from the bottom. My current set up includes really great trays I got when I ordered prairie plants from Prairie Moon Nursery. Each cell is 5 inches deep and the cell tray stands in another tray. I just pour the water into the lower tray and the plants drink it up from below. This encourages the roots to go deeper. When seed-starting season is over, I wash the trays thoroughly and give them a dip in a 10 percent bleach solution to kill any bacteria.

No. 5 — Don’t spend too much. If you only are growing a few tomatoes, it may not be worth your time and money to start from seeds. Just buy a few plants at a local farmers’ market or a garden club plant sale. You don’t need a fancy grow system either — a basic shop light, a couple of flourescent bulbs and a way to suspend the shop light above your seed trays, trays of some kind and seed starting mix — that’s all you need. Do buy or make your own seed starting mix rather than using old potting soil or garden soil.

No. 6 — Pot them up. Depending on the size of the cells you use to start your seeds, you may have to move them to larger pots as the plants get bigger. This is particularly true in my experience with those little pellets that expand when you add water. I’ve got some seedlings that were planted about two weeks ago that are going to need to go into a bigger pot very soon. Save small yogurt cups or the pots that purchased plants came in, add some potting soil and very gently move the seedlings into a bigger pot. Pot them up gradually. A tiny seedling might go to a 2-by-2-inch pot or a 3-by-3, even if it eventually will fill a large container.

For more information on seed starting:

Posted in Seed starting, Tomatoes | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sneak Peak at Spring Garden Trends

Citrus green, bright pink and clean white make for a pretty spring table.

Citrus green, bright pink and clean white make for a pretty spring table.

Yesterday I attended an event for bloggers at Bachman’s Spring Idea House in Minneapolis and got a sneak peak at what will be in stores this spring. It was great fun to meet several fashion, lifestyle and photography bloggers, as well as seeing the colors and ideas for home and garden decor in action.

In a word: think “fresh.” Also, “pink.”

Karen Bachman Thull led us through the house, a 1920s beauty that was built by Arthur Bachman Sr., a son of one of Bachman’s founders.  Three times a year, Bachman’s re-designs the rooms in the house — furniture, paint, the whole she-bang — and opens the house to the public. This year, the house is open every day until April 19. It’s $5 to tour the house and, if you are someone who enjoys decor or is just hungry for spring, it’s well-worth a visit.

Lots of the decor was done in a fresh, bright combination of citrus green, bright pink and white. The combination works great in containers, in table decorations and in the furniture in the airy sunroom and living room of the house. Karen noted that this combination is dynamite as long as you do not add another color. If you put in a blue, a purple, an orange — it falls apart. The look goes from fresh to garish in a minute. I have a pair of bright green containers and plan to try this combination in them this summer.

This self-watering planter holds herbs in pots.

This self-watering planter holds herbs in pots.

Another garden trend worth noting is the improved vertical gardening trend. I’ve been a bit cool on most vertical gardening systems because they require so much watering — some of them are basically gutters mounted on a frame. Bachman’s is selling a couple of self-watering systems now. A sweet window box containing herbs was on display in the idea house kitchen and a massive, multi-part living wall of foliage was in the yoga room upstairs. The wall you see in the photo below contains six of the wall garden systems. Fully loaded with plants and water, each system weighs about 60 pounds. The way the systems work is that each plant is in a pot. A wicking device inside the system pulls water from the troughs to the plants.

This dramatic wall of foliage includes six self-watering systems and a whole lot of plants!

This dramatic wall of foliage includes six self-watering systems and a whole lot of plants!

Karen told me that the kitchen system would only need to be refilled about once a month. If you want to try vertical gardening, self watering is the way to go.

The house also features several forced branches of spring blooms. I think more northern gardeners should try forcing branches in the spring — it’s a great way to bring color into the house. Other garden trends noted in the house are increased interest in terrariums and air plants.

I also really loved this arrangement of snow boots outside the house. Everything is a container this spring!

These boots were made for planting.

These boots were made for planting.

 

Posted in Decorating, Garden Design, Garden Trends | Tagged , , | 2 Comments