Search This Blog

Friday, July 31, 2015

Soil - Timing is Everything!

As many of my readers know, I have been preparing to improve the soil in my future garden bed. I had some questions in relation to this, so I asked my friendly, local extension office for help.  I just wanted to share the answer to my query with you all, in case you have had a similar question.

I have an empty garden that I plan to use as a vegetable garden next year.  I got a soil test for it.  I have figured out how much NPK I need to apply.
I plan to improve the soil this fall by adding compost, manure, coffee grounds, peat moss and some sulfur.  (My pH is 7.8, and the soil is sandy – thus the peat moss & sulfur.)
I know that nitrogen dissipates into the atmosphere, so I will be adding that in the spring before I plant, and again in later summer if needed.
My question is about the P&K:  Can I add the bone meal and potash in the Autumn when I plan to add the compost etc., or should I wait until spring?  Will it leach out of the soil with no plants present, or is it better to add in the fall and kind of let it “soak in” to the soil over the winter? Also, just to verify – I was informed that the sulfur takes time to react to the soil, so it is good to add a season ahead of time.  Is that correct?
Thank you so much!  Have a great week!

It's wonderful that you started out with the right information by getting your soil tested.

While it does take time to increase the organic matter and change the pH of your soil, fertilizing is most effective when done prior to planting (or after planting with care taken not to burn the plants). I suggest you wait until spring to add the bone meal and potash when you fertilize with nitrogen. This will give your veggies a good source of nutrients to take up as they get started growing.

Below is a link to an article a great deal of info about nutrients ans Soil pH which I hope you will find helpful.

Hope that helps!

If you too have a question for Michigan State University, please contact them via this link:  MSU EXTENSION

If you are interested in learning more about composting or soil please see my other articles:

Pimp My Soil - Part Deux

Coming this fall: A blog post about exactly what steps I am taking to improve the vegetable garden soil and how I obtained free resources to do so.


Herbs, Berries, New Attempts, Flowers & Failures: A Mid-Season Summary

If you live in Michigan, you know that this summer (2015) has been unusually rainy and cool.  Fortunately, there has been an increase in temperature recently that caused many of the plants to put on a sudden burst of growth.  This was not only great to see, but prompted me to start my mid-season harvest / herb trim.

My mid-season herb & berry harvest


Fennel: The bulb is looking nice on this, I harvested a few of the fronds to dry. They make great seasoning as well as tea. They have a nice anise/licorice flavor.

Hyssop: I will also be drying this for tea. It has a very sweet anise/licorice flavored leaf and flower.

Tarragon: This herb is great for seasoning poultry and eggs. I will be drying it for that purpose.

Catnip: I grow and dry this to give as gifts to my friends with cats.  The kittens love it!

Mint: This is so versatile! I dry it as tea, use it to flavor spaghetti sauce, use it in mojitos. The list goes on and on.

Chamomile: I dry the sweet apple-ish flavored daisies as tea.

Majoram: I dry this to use in my herb mix for Italian seasoning.

Rosemary: I use this fresh with a variety of dishes including pork, bread etc. I also dry some.

Winter Savory: I will be drying this one as well. I use it to flavor meats and stews.

Oregano: I dry this to use in my Italian seasoning mix. This is the herb that makes pizza sauce taste like pizza sauce.  In fact, if I get enough tomatoes, I may make and can/jar pizza sauce.  I will certainly  make and can/jar spaghetti sauce.  Check the blog later for recipes and how-to!

Thyme: I dry this and use it in the Italian spice blend. I also use it to season poultry and fish.

Indigo Rose Tomatoes - PURPLE BLACK!

Gooseberries: FAILURE ALERT! I didn't put netting over these this year, so the birds, squirrels and chipmunks ate most of them. I only got one bowl full.  I will freeze these to use in smoothies and yogurt.  Next year, I will definitely protect the bushes with netting. I would like to get a harvest large enough to make jam!

Onion: I only planted a few of these this year. I grew them from seed.  They seem to have done pretty well. I will be planting more next year when I install the vegetable garden.

The first Tomatoes of the season: I have only had a couple of cherry tomatoes and one Roma ripen so far, but there are many more hanging off the bushes - still green. I can't wait for them to ripen! I only put in 4 tomato plants this year.  I will be planting more next year when I put in the vegetable garden.

My Herb Drying Rack in the Basement

This could not be more simple.  Just find a cool dry place.  Set up a clothes line, clothes rack, or pound some nails into some rafters. If the herbs are long enough, you can lay them across the clothes rack. Otherwise, just tie the herbs together by their stems and dangle them upside down from the clothes line or rafters.  Make sure they are spaced out for good air circulation.  Also, remember to label them. Some of the herbs look very similar once dried.  You can also taste them to figure out what they are if you forget to label.

 Once the herbs are dry, just pick off the leaves and put them in a dry jar.  The herbs should keep for at least a year. But they will lose flavor over time.

Northern Kiwi Vine


1. Northern Kiwis - I have never grown a kiwi vine before.  But this year I bought one from the nursery and planted it so that it can grown over the sea wall near the lake.  It did not put on a whole lot of growth this year, but the leaves do look healthy.  I will need to wait 2-3 years to see full production of fruit.  I do hope it survives the winter! 

2. Cuttings - I have never tried to propagate a plant from cuttings before.  This year, I tried to propagate the rugosa roses, wild roses, raspberries and gooseberries.  I did this by cutting off a bit of new growth and placing the stems in some seeding medium and watering with willow water. (The you tube video where I learned to make willow water is here:

The cuttings were placed into some larger pots.
FAILURE ALERT: The raspberry cuttings and wild rose cuttings did not survive.  I think this is because I left too many leaves on the cutting.

SUCCESS: The gooseberries and rugosa rose cuttings did survive!  I have potted them on. They seem to have very good roots on them.  I am hoping that I can sell the rugosas in an upcoming garden club sale in a year or two. I want to grow the gooseberry in a shady place in my yard. I plan to start more cuttings in the future.
 3. Ginger - I tried starting to grow a ginger root over the winter in a sunny location.  This FAILED.  I was surprised, because I had grown one successfully this way when I lived in Washington D.C.  However, after some thought, maybe it wasn't so surprising.  The windows in D.C. were much warmer.  I had thought that I killed the poor root and placed it in the compost bin.  Lo-and-behold, it sprouted in the compost bin!  Lucky day!  I re-potted the ginger and now it is growing happily on my back deck in the warm, July weather.  I hope that it produces good growth so that I can bring it indoors in the fall - and that it will survive the winter.


Many of my June blooms are still going strong: daisies, black-eyed-susan, day lilies etc.  But there are some new flowers getting started now.  (I love how gardens change through the season, don't you?)  Here they are:


More phlox

Day Lilies Glowing in the Sunset

And the peppers are starting to produce!

 White veronica, liriatris, day lilies and a rose.

That's all for now!

Check back later in the season for:

Spaghetti sause canning with a pressure canner.

Pimp my soil 3: Veggie garden mix and pH adjustment

Late summer flowers

And possibly more!


Thursday, July 9, 2015

About 3 of My Favorite "Ditch Flowers"

As I was walking the dog, I realized that some of my favorite flowers are found in ditches. There is such a great variety of wildflowers: different colors, different shapes, different sizes... and all as them tough as, well, weeds.

People often pass these flowers by without a second glance.  But I think they are worth taking the time to admire, and even to consider transplanting into a garden.

Here is some information on 3 of my favorite ditch flowers.  In the future, I hope to have more posts on various wildflowers and other wild plants.

CHICORY (Cichorium intybus)

Why I love it:  It's so very BLUE!  It is also airy, tough and useful.  Next year, I hope to create a blue border in my yard.  When I do, I am going to try to transplant one of these from the ditch to my yard. I am also going to try to collect seed from some of the plants near my home to try starting them that way as well.  Wish me luck!

Description: Herbaceous perennial. Blue stalkless flowers 1.5 inches (3.8cm) in size.  On tall stalks to 4ft. (1.2m) in height. Has a fleshy, white taproot.  The leaves are spiky, and kind of look like dandelion leaves.  Blooms early summer.

Where found:  Roadsides, and open fields. 
Grows in full sun and poor soil.  The plant is native to Europe, but has become naturalized throughout the United States and Australia as well.

Uses:  The roots can be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute or filler.  You can make chicory "coffee" by steeping 1.5tsp ground roasted chicory in a cup of boiled water.  The leaves can be boiled and eaten if you gather them early.  Older leaves can turn very bitter.  It can also be used as forage for livestock.

For more information/works cited: or The Peterson Field Guide: Edible Wild Plants Eastern/Central North America

Queen Anne's Lace / Bishop's Lace/ Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) 

Why I love it: These flowers really do look like lace. They attract beneficial insects, and are useful.  I also love the story that goes with it:  Once upon a time, Queen Ann (England 1665-1714)  was sewing some lace and pricked her finger.  Her blood spilled onto the lace.  It is said that the purple flower in the center of the lacy umbel of Daucus carota resembles the queen's sewing accident.

Description:   Herbaceous biennial. White, lacy, flat (umbel) flower clusters, often with a single dark purple flower in the center. Hairy stem. Stiff, 3-forked bracts.  The leaves are feathery and resemble carrot leaves. The tap root is white and smells like carrot. 2-3 ft (60-90cm) in height. Blooms early summer until fall.

WARNING! This plant looks a lot like poison hemlock/ fools parsley!  Please be 100% certain that you have the correct plant before attempting to use or eat this plant! The main difference between hemlock and Queen Anne's lace is that hemlock stems are hairless, whereas Queen Anne's lace has hairy stems.

Where found: Roadsides and open fields throughout North America, zones 3-9.  It is indigenous to Eurasia and Northeastern Africa. It can also be found in Australia.

Uses: Cook the roots and eat them as carrots.   SEE WARNING ABOVE.

For more information/works cited:, The Peterson Field Guide: Edible Wild Plants Eastern/Central North America,

Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus)

Why I love it:  The tiny daisies are so cute!! It is also a native plant that bees adore. Ancient folklore states that these plants are good for repelling fleas, however its usefulness in this regard is debatable (or unlikely).
Description: Herbaceous annual or biennial in the aster family. The flowers are 1/2 inch (1-2cm) across and look like daisies. The entire plant is 1-3 feet tall (0.5-1m) The stems are grooved and hairy towards the base, and branch towards the top. The leaves are thin and oblong in shape. Some of the larger leaves have coarse teeth. They bloom in late spring to early summer for 1-2 months.

Where found: Roadsides and open field throughout North America (all zones).  It prefers full sun and good moisture and can tolerate any type of soil.

Uses: Food for sheep, groundhogs, and rabbits.  Bees, wasps, butterflies and beetles love their pollen.

For more information/works cited:,,

 I hope that on your next walk, bike ride or drive down the road, you take the time to admire these often over-looked treasures in our landscape, and that you love them as much as I (and the bees) do!