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Sunday, August 21, 2016

How to Tie Hard-Neck Garlic for Decorative Hanging

Welcome!  This article is all about how to plait (or tie) hard-neck garlic together for decorative hanging.  This keeps the garlic neat and dry so that it can be stored through the winter.

Step 1: Grow garlic.

If you found this post, chances are that you already know how to grow your own garlic. But in case I am making a false assumption, here is a link to a GREAT web page that explains how to grow garlic in northern climates:  Michigan Garlic Farm: How To Grow Garlic.  This is the page that I used to learn how to grow garlic. It is excellent.

I grew a few varieties of garlic in the garden this year including: elephant garlic (actually a form of leek), 'Music', 'Northern Jewel', 'Purple Italian' and 'German Mountain'.  They all grew well.  

Step 2: Harvesting.
Step 2:  Harvest garlic.

It is time to harvest garlic when most of the leaves have turned brown.  In Michigan, this is generally some time in July.  Harvest garlic by gently lifting it out of the ground with a spading fork or shovel.  Place the fork several inches from the base of the plant, dig down as far as you can, and gently lift up.  The garlic should pop up with the soil.  Try not to chop through the garlic with your shovel.  Also, do not pull it out by the stem without digging first, as this could damage the garlic.  It will not store as well if it is damaged.

Step 3: Curing the garlic.
Step 3:  Allow the garlic to cure.

Do NOT clean the garlic with water. Do NOT trim the leaves or the roots off yet. Gently remove the largest clumps of dirt from the cloves, but otherwise allow them to remain "dirty." Hang the garlic together with string in groups of 3-5, in a well ventilated area until the stems dry out completely.  You will know it is finished curing when the stems and leaves have turned 100% brown.  This generally takes anywhere from 2-4 weeks. This step is important because it allows the outer peel around the bulb to dry out and to protect the inner clove. It prevents the clove from rotting.

Step 4
Step 4: Clean up the garlic.

Do NOT clean the garlic with water.  Trim the stems so that about 6 inches (12 cm) of stem remain above the bulb.  Cut the roots short with a scissors, but do not cut into the bulb itself.  Dust off the outer coating of dirt gently with your fingers.  If you wish, you can remove the top-most layer of peel around the bulb, but do not remove all of the peel.  The more of the outer skin you leave on, the more protected the inner cloves will be.

Steps 7 & 8
Step 5: Arrange 6-12 bulbs according to size: largest to smallest.

Step 6: Cut a length of string about 3-4 ft long (1m).

Step 7: Tie a slip knot near the end of the string, and tighten it around the stem of the largest garlic clove. If you don't know how to tie a slip knot, watch this: Slip Knot Video.

Step 8:  Tie a second slip knot about 1 inch (2-3 cm) above the first knot.  Keeping the loop lose, pull it over the end of the stem of the 1st garlic clove.

Step 9: Looping in the 2nd garlic.

Step 9: Tightening string.
Step 9: Place the stem of a 2nd garlic clove (the 2nd largest in size) through the lose loop in the string.  Tighten the slip knot of the 2nd loop, and double knot it to hold it in place.

Steps 10 & 11: Loop around all the stems & tighten.

 Step 10: Make another slip knot about 1 inch (2cm) above the 2nd knot.  Place the loop around the stems of the 2 pieces of garlic in the bunch.

Step 11: Place the stem of the third garlic clove through the loop, next to the stems of the other two connected pieces of garlic.  Tighten the loop and double knot it to hold it in place.

Step 12: Stagger the positions of the garlic cloves in relation to each other.

Step 12: Continue adding garlic cloves in this same way until the are all used up.  Stagger the cloves as you add them so that each newly added clove is on the opposite side of the one previously added to the group. 

Step 12: Continue looping & knotting.

 Step 13:  When you have finished adding all of your garlic bulbs to the bunch, double knot the final knot.  Then, trim the garlic stems so that they are all even at the ends.

Steps 13 & 14: Cut the garlic stems so they are even.  Make a loop to hang the chain from.

Step 14:  Tie a loop at the end of the string from which to hang the garlic chain.

Step: 15:  Hang the garlic in a cool dry place where you will be able to enjoy looking at it, and will remember to use it for cooking. 

              HAVE FUN AND ENJOY!!  :)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Garden to Table Recipe: Tangy New Potatoes with Fresh Garden Herbs

Parsley, Dill & New Potatoes
Have you ever had new potatoes straight from your garden?  If not, you are missing out!  They are sweet tasting and flavorful. (Especially compared to the grocery store potatoes!)  Here is a simple recipe that makes the most of their flavor, and uses herbs that are in season this time of year.  (It is also great for summer potlucks!):


                                              You will need:

1lb new potatoes (or fingerling potatoes from the
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3-4 tablespoons of chive vinegar - to taste (chive flowers + white wine vinegar - see recipe below)
1-2 teaspoons salt - to taste


1 day (or more) ahead of time make the chive vinegar:  
  • Boil a glass jar or other glass container for about 10 minutes to sterilize it and to warm the glass. This is important to avoid having the glass break in the following steps.
  • Cut a handful of chive flowers from the plant and stuff as many as you can into a jar or other glass container.
  • Bring enough white wine vinegar to fill your jar to a boil over medium heat.  
  • Pour the boiling vinegar over the chives in the jar.
  • Cover the jar and allow to sit overnight at room temperature.  Refrigerate to store for 2-3 months.
Cut the new potatoes so that they are all roughly the same size - about 1" diameter.  You may be able to leave some of them whole.

Place the potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water.  Bring the potatoes and water to a boil over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.

Drain the potatoes and allow to cool.

Toss the potatoes gently with the dill, parsley, vinegar and salt.

Serve and enjoy at room temperature.

What the ingredients look like growing in the garden:




And the star of the dish: the potato! :)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Pot for a Shady Spot

My entry way was lacking a certain something this spring.  So I decided to jazz it up by putting a planter there.

The trouble was, I couldn't find a pot that was tall, inexpensive, light weight and in a color that matched the house.  While shopping, and looking at the displays of pots, I noticed that the stores often display the pots by stacking one on top of the other.  This gave me the idea to do the same on my porch.  Instead of using one pot, I used two, stacking one on top of the other to give me the height I desired.

Instead of buying a heavy ceramic planter, I purchased a plastic one. This was much cheaper, should stand up to cold weather better, and is much easier to lift.  Plastic also comes in a greater variety of colors than ceramic.  So, I was able to find one with shades that match my front door at a local big box store.  The pot shown has a diameter of about 2 feet (0.6 of a meter).

The pots did not come with drainage holes. So I perforated the bottom of the pot by hammering an ice pick through the bottom of the pot in about 12 different places.  (Do not try this with a ceramic or terra cotta pot, it will crack.)

For potting mix, I combined 1/3 sphagnum peat, 1/3 topsoil, 1/3 perlite and about 1/3 cup organic tomato fertilizer.  Alternately, a good pre-bagged mix made especially for potted plants could be used.   Do NOT use plain top soil. It will pack down, will not allow enough drainage for the plants, and will shorten the life of the plant substantially.

The garden shows always tell you to fill a pot with a plants for "thrilling, filling, and spilling." In other words, an eye-catching plant that sticks upward, plants that fill in the space between, and plants that spill over the side of the pot.

Because this pot is in full shade I planted it with hearty shade-loving plants, in accordance with the advice above, as follows:

  • "Thrilling": Hosta - I divided some hostas in my garden bed this spring, so I used one in the pot. I am not certain what kind of hosta it is because they were planted by the previous owner of my home.  I suspect that it might be 'Patriot.'  The hosta is the largest and most upright plant in the pot.  Later in the year, it should send up spikes of white flowers and become even taller.
  • "Filling":  Japanese Forest Grass - This was also from a division of a plant already in my garden.  The forest grass adds a nice bright yellow color to lighten the shade, and helps to fill space in the pot.
  • "Filling":  Begoinas - I got 4 red-leaved, pink-flowered begonias for $2 at the local big box store.  I only used 2 in this pot and put the others elsewhere in my garden. The leaves echo the color of the pot and help to fill the space.
  • "Spilling" - Lobelia - I started these from seed, under grow lights, indoors, in the early spring.  These make small vines that will eventually spill over the side of the pot. The flowers are an electric blue that contrasts well with the red. The foliage has a purplish/red tinge to it (difficult to see in these photos) that goes well with the begonias. It is also green enough to go with the hosta.  Thus the leaves of the lobelia form a kind-of color bridge between the hosta and the begonias.
All of the plants chosen grow well in shade.

Do you have any extra plants laying around?  Extra seeds?    Too many of a perennial that needs division?  Consider potting them up!  A pot like this could just as easily be filled with sun loving plants, and then placed in a sunny location.

Pots can be used to decorate entryways, hide unsightly objects in the yard and fill blank spaces in the garden beds.  Be creative!  The possibilities are legion!

Happy gardening! :) 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Vegetable Garden 2016 - Layout & Varieties Used

It's June in Michigan.  Things are finally starting to really grow. Including my vegetable garden, which is now completely planted.

Vegetable garden early June 2016 - view from the East looking towards the West

I have a relatively small garden in a relatively small (typical) lake lot (long and narrow).  My vegetable garden is approximately 18' x 20' in size and is located in the sunniest portion of my back yard (the North side of the house, facing the lake.)   Because the plot is small, I do not plant in traditional rows.  Instead I divided the area into 4 sections that I can access by narrow paths. I planted each of these areas with a variety of vegetables.  Some are grown in blocks like a patchwork.  Others, like the tomatoes and peppers, are interspersed as single plants here and there.  I have planted this way to make the most of my space.  I have also planted a few things, such as squash, in the bed near the lake where there is more room for them, and in containers on my driveway where there is more sun and warmth.

 Here is the basic layout of my garden (not to scale):

 If you want to see what each row looks like individually in a photograph, please scroll to the bottom of this blog entry.

I have grown a variety of vegetables in the garden.  Everything was grown from seed except for the parsley.  I started many of the vegetables indoors (in the windows with supplemental light from grow lights)  between February and March.  Other plants were seeded directly into the garden between mid-March and June.  Those planted in March were protected by cloches. The garlic was planted in late October 2015.

Here is a list of what I planted in the main vegetable bed & when:
Garlic Scapes
  • Dwarf Mulberry - planted fall 2014
  • Paw Paw sapling - planted spring 2015 
  • Garlic: 'Elephant', 'Music', 'German Mountain', 'Northern Jewel' and 'Purple Italian' - planted outside October 2015
  • Scallions - planted outside October 2015
  • Chives - planted outside early September 2015
  • Wild Leeks - planted outside September 2015 (still have not germinated, but the packet instructions said to wait 2 seasons before giving up on them.)
  • Leeks: 'American Flag' - started indoors January 2016, planted out late March 2016 (under cover)
  • Onions: 'Golden Grande', 'Sweet Spanish', 'Red Burgundy' - started indoors January 2016, planted out early April  2016 (under cover)
  • Peppers: Anaheim, Scotch, Cayenne, Jalapeno, 'California Bell' - started indoors February
    2016, planted out late May 2016
  • Tomatoes: 'Great White', 'Beefsteak,' 'Boxcar Willie', 'Ace 55', 'Yellow Plum', and 'Roma' - started indoors February 2016 (a bit too early- should have started early-mid March), planted out late May 2016.
  • Basil: cinnamon, sweet, lemon - started indoors March 2016, planted out late May 2016
  • Victoria rhubarb - started from seed indoors February 2016, planted out early May 2016
  • Eggplant: 'Black Beauty,' 'Pumpkin-on-a-Stick', and a variety pack by Burpee - started indoors March 2016, planted out late May 2016
  • Chinese & Leaf Celery - started indoors February 2016, planted out April 2016
  •  Celeric: 'Giant Prague' - started indoors February 2016, planted out March 2016 (under cover)
  • Broccoli: 'Waltham 29' - started indoors March 2016, planted out April 2016
  • Cauliflower: 'Early Snowball' - started indoors March 2016, planted out April 2016 
  • Cabbage: 'Crisp Cool Hybrid', 'Taipai Red', 'Red Acre' - started indoors March 2016, planted out April 2016
    Radish Flowers
  • Carrots: 'Kaleidoscope Mix,' and 'Danvers 126' - planted outside late March 2016 (under cover)
  • Rutabaga - planted outside late March 2016 (under cover)
  • Radish 'Early Scarlet Globe'- planted outside late March 2016 (under cover)
  • Turnip Rooted Parsley - planted outside late March 2016 (under cover)
  • Calendula - planted outside late March 2016 (under cover)
  • Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' - planted outside late March 2016 (under cover)
  • Peas - planted outside late March 2016 
  • Nasturtiums - planted outside early April 2016
  • Crimson Clover - planted outside early April 2016
  • Cucumber: 'Lemon' - started indoors late April 2016, planted out late May 2016
  • Watermelon: 'Crimson Sweet' and 'Sugar Baby' - started indoors late April 2016, planted out late May 2016.  I am keeping this in the vented cold frame all summer. 
  • Beans: 'Blue Lake' - planted outside early May 2016
  • Potato: 'Russet' - planted outside early May 2016
  •  Okra 'Burgundy'- started indoors May 2016, planted out late May 2016
  • Dill - planted outside mid-May 2016
  • Florence Fennel - planted outside mid-May 2016
  • Lettuce: 'Great Lakes' and 'Giant Cesar' - planted outside late May 2016
  • Luffa - planted outside late May 2016 
  • Zucchini 'Black Beauty' - planted outside early June 2016

I have another bed where I had planted strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus and lavender in spring 2015. There was some extra space in that bed so in early June, I direct sowed one mound each of:
  • Winter Squash: Butternut & Spaghetti
  • Summer Squash: 'Elite Hybrid' Zucchini, 'Black Beauty' Zucchini, Cocozelle, and Yellow squash
I also planted in pots in my driveway because it is a sunny and warm area that gives me a bit of extra growing space.  Here is what I planted in pots:

  • Potatoes: 'Red Northland,' 'Purple Majesty', 'Yukon Gold' and 'Russet' - started early May in half-whiskey barrels & protected by covering with an old window until late May
  • Jersusalem Artichokes - started early May in a half-whiskey barrel and protected by covering with an old window until late May
  • Nasturtiums - 'Empress of India' - started in early May in the same barrel as the Jerusalem Artichokes.
  • Tomato: 'Small Red Cherry', & 'Ace 55' (See main bed list above for seed starting & plant out dates)
  • Peppers: Anaheim, Scotch & Jalapeno (See main bed list above for seed starting & plant out dates)
  • Eggplant: 'Black Beauty', 'Pumpkin-on-a-Stick', and Burpee Variety Pack (See main bed listabove for seed starting & plant out dates)
  • Lettuce: 'Giant Caesar' & 'Buttercrunch' - started outside early June
  • Herbs: Fenugreek & Parsley - started outside early June; Lemon Basil & Sweet Basil (See main bed list above for seed starting & plant out dates)
Other garden edibles:
I started an herb garden last spring.  For more about that, click this link: Herb Garden.
I planted 2 'urban' columnar apples last summer, 2 pears in fall 2014, 1 gooseberry in fall 2014, 4 dwarf blueberry bushes last fall 2015,  2 paw paws spring 2015, 1 Saskatoon this spring and 3 elderberries this spring.  These are scattered throughout the garden.  I use them as landscape plants.  I hope to get fruit from them soon.  They are still fairly young.  So far, only the gooseberries have produced. However, it does look like I have fruit set on the apples, at least one of the pears, and on the blueberry bushes.  I just hope that I can get to the fruit before the squirrels, chipmunks and birds! (I may need to net the bushes.)

Hopefully, the vegetables will all grow in well.  I will post pictures of the garden's progress on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook throughout the season.

Find me on Facebook by liking: MI Lake Home Garden
On Twitter: @AlhramAndrea
On Instagram: MiLakeHomeGarden 

I will blog about my harvest sometime in the fall, I think. :)

Happy Gardening, dear reader!  Have a great summer!

Pictures of the Vegetable garden rows 1-4 as corresponding with the drawing at the start of this post:

Row 1 - View looking from the South looking North

Row 2 - View from the East looking West

Row 3: View from the East looking West
Row 4: View from the East looking West

Sunday, June 5, 2016

April & May 2016 - It's all a blur!

If you follow my blog, you may be wondering where I've been for the past month and a half.  Well, I was insanely busy.

I work 40 hours a week (or more) like most of you.  (I do not blog for a living... I make $0 from this blog.)  I traveled over Memorial Day weekend to see a friend in NC, and I've been gardening my brains out!

I put in my vegetable garden.  I planted some pots and half-whiskey-barrels of vegetables. I planted a shade pot for the porch.  I fixed up the shade garden on the east side of my house and around the north side of the deck.  I also helped plant tomatoes for the St. Joseph hospital community garden, weeded at the Brighton Garden Club Victory Garden plot and helped the Brighton Garden Club at the plant sale.  In short: I was too busy to blog!

However, I do plan to tell you all about these things in more detail later.  I will blog about them on rainy days (like today) and sometimes in the evening after work.  I will publish my next post about my vegetable garden tomorrow. It will have more substance to it than this one.   Until then... here's my garden journal showing (roughly) what went on:

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Preserving Herbs By Freezing

Greetings cooking & gardening community!

This is just a quick post about how to preserve herbs by freezing them.

In this case, I am preserving fresh cilantro.  Why?  Because cilantro is a cool-weather crop.  By the time my tomatoes ripen in the summer, the cilantro will have bolted and/or died off in the heat.  If I want to make salsa later, I need to preserve the cilantro now!

This is easy to do:

1. Harvest, rinse and drain the herbs thoroughly.
Fresh, over-wintered cilantro from the garden.

2. Roll out a long strip of paper towel.

3. Lay the herbs flat in line with the short end of the paper towel.

4. When you have filled a width of 1-3 inches (2-6cm) of space at the end of the towel with herbs, roll the herbs in the paper towel until they are covered.

5. Then, lay down another line of herbs and roll these in the paper towel again.  Continue until you have rolled all the herbs in the paper towel.

6. Wrap the rolled paper towel in plastic wrap.

7. Wrap the herb/paper towel/plastic roll in aluminum foil.

8.  Label and date the aluminum foil wrap and place in your freezer.

This should last 6months to a year.

"But what about blanching!?" you may ask.  Personally, I don't bother.  The herbs seem to stay fairly green despite being frozen.  Also, I generally use the herbs as a component of a recipe.  I don't recommend using frozen herbs as a garnish.  They will be wilted and won't look good. 

Extra Notes:
  • If you want shredded/crushed herbs to use in your recipe: Remove the herbs from the wrap while they are still frozen and then crush them in your hand.  The herbs should shatter fairly easily.
  • If you want the herbs to appear whole in your recipe: Allow the roll to thaw before you remove the herbs.  They should maintain their shape and color fairly well.  However, they will not be as crisp as fresh, unfrozen herbs. 

I hope this helps someone out there!  Happy gardening, cooking and preserving! 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Cloches - Spring Gardening Goes Under Cover

Spring weather in Michigan is variable (to say the least).  One day it is a typical spring day:partly sunny, 55-60F (13-15C), and perhaps raining lightly.  The next it's cloudy, 32F (0C) and snowing (like today).

4/2/2016 Brighton, MI - Does that look like spring to you?  Me neither.

Because of the variable weather, it is smart to plant your early spring crops under some kind of protection.  Your choices include: A hoophouse/greenhouse, a cold frame, a low tunnel, floating row cover or a cloche.

In this post I discuss a good way to make a very sturdy, long lasting, and fairly economical cloche.  These stand up to UV rays, are light, easy to move, easy to set up and can last for many, many seasons.  They are also inexpensive.  One 4ft. x 1ft. (1.4m x 0.3m) cloche costs about $15 (in 2016) in materials, or $45 for a set of 3. They take less than a half hour to make once the materials have been purchased. (All price estimates from the year 2016 in Michigan.)

But first, I must give credit where credit is due: to European gardeners.  I have been watching a lot of YouTube lately and have seen cloches like the ones I am blogging about in the background of the British TV show "Gardener's World," on the YouTube channel "Lavender and Leeks", and in the periphery of various allotment gardens on the YouTube "Horticultural Channel."  I have NEVER seen these discussed on an American gardening program or blog of any sort.   We seem to be attached to low tunnels made from PVC and plastic sheeting for some reason.  Now maybe I have missed something... but just in case these wonderful devices have been over-looked in our culture, I want to share how to make them with "all y'all."

12 x 2.17ft (3.7m x 0.7m) Polycarbonate Panel
Things you will need:
  • Pieces of clear polycarbonate roofing panel (these come in 8ft. (2.4m) and 12ft. (3.7m) x 2.17ft (0.7m) lengths)
  • Roll of 10 gauge steel wire
  • Several 2 to 3 ft. (1m) sticks (tree limbs, bamboo or rebar)
  • Either a tin snips, trauma shears (strong scissors), or jigsaw
  • Either a strong wire cutter or a bolt cutter
  • Gloves
  • Seeds or seedlings to plant 
 1.) First, buy a clear polycarbonate roofing panel from your local big box store.  These range in length from 8ft. (2.4m) to 12ft. (3.7m) pieces and in price from around $22 to $36 each (in 2016).   Not all stores carry these, so it is a good idea to call ahead before driving to the store.  These panels are typically used as roofing for sun rooms or sheds.  They are durable, weatherproof, UV light resistant and last a long time.  They are also flexible, light, easy to move, and easy to cut to size.

2.) Next buy a roll of thick, flexible wire.  10 gauge steel wire works well. A roll of 50ft. (15.24m) of galvanized steel wire costs around $10.

- If you want to cover a garden area of the same length as the piece of polycarbonate that you bought, skip the next 3 steps.

Measure & cut the polycarbonate panels to size.
3.) Measure the width of your garden and/or the length of garden space that you wish to cover.  Then, measure the same distance along your polycarbonate panel, and draw a cut line with a marker.  My beds alternate between 4ft and 3ft in width. So, I marked out 3 and 4ft distances along the polycarbonate panel.  If you bought a 12ft. (3.7m) panel, you should be able to get 3 panels of 4ft. (1.2m) lengths out of it OR 4 panels of 3ft (0.91m) length.

4.)  Measure and mark out 1ft. x 1ft. (0.3m x 0.3m) squares on the panel. These will later be used as end pieces for your polycarb cloches.  

Bolt cutters work well to cut 10 gauge wire.
5.) Cut along your measured lines.  To do this you can use either a very strong pair of scissors (such as medical trauma shears), a tin snips or a jigsaw.  You can buy tin snips or a jigsaw at any hardware store.  Medical trauma shears can be purchased at a medical or EMS/Police equipment store.  You could find either or both on as well. The plastic is a bit tough to cut with the snips or scissors. If you have weak hands or arthritis I recommend either using the jigsaw or recruiting someone with strong hands to help you out.

NOTE: If you don't own a pick-up truck or van, steps 3-5 could be done in the parking lot of the store where you bought the polycarbonate panels.  That way you can fit them into your car.

6.)  Measure out 3.5 (1m)to 4ft. (1.2m) pieces of 10 gauge wire.

Be smarter than I was: Wear gloves.
7.) Cut the pieces of wire to size with either a bolt cutter or very sturdy wire cutter. I recommend wearing gloves while doing this for safety.  The wire ends are sharp and can cut you.  So be smarter than I was... (see picture, right).   Bolt cutters and wire cutters can be purchased at any hardware.  The bolt cutter is a lot easier to use for this purpose than the wire cutter.

8.) Carry your wire and polycarbonate pieces out to the garden.

Pin the pastic in place with wire arches.
9.) Plant your seeds or seedlings.

10.) Flex the polycarbonate over the top of the seeds or seedlings.  Pin them in place with 2 arches of the 4ft (1.2m) pieces of wire. 1 arch of wire should be placed at each end of the length of the polycarbonate panel. Be sure to sink the wire firmly into the soil on either side of the arched plastic so that it holds in place securely.

Pin the end piece in place with sticks.
11.) Place a 1ft x 1ft (0.3m x 0.3m) piece of polycarbonate plastic on each end of the polycarbonate cloche.  Pin these in place with 2 approximately 3ft. (1m) long sticks, pieces of bamboo or rebar.

So far, these cloches have stayed in place despite 60mph (96.5kph) winds, and have protected the soil against 3 inches (7.6cm) of snow in my garden. 

 We will see how my protected cold weather seeds turn out in a later post.

Until then,  happy gardening! :) 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

February - March 2016 Garden Journal

Hi all!  This is just a mini post - and no pictures this time... sorry.

Basically it's a list of what I did this February - March 2016 by date, what I tracked in my garden journal.  This is to give folks an idea of what can be done in the garden this time of year, as well as to keep track of things for myself.  So here it goes:

Note: All sowing and germination done indoors under grow lights and in windows unless otherwise noted for February-March 2016. 


Feb. 1-7: No gardening done
Feb. 8: Germinated: rhubarb & white sweet peas (previously started in Jan.)
Feb. 9: Germinated: evening scented stock (previously started in Jan.)
Feb. 10: Germinated: bluebird forget-me-not (previously started in Jan.)
Feb. 11: Brighton Garden Club talk by Jonee Debruhl of Stone Coop Farm, Brighton, MI., pinched pepper tops, put comfrey seed in the freezer.
Feb. 12: No gardening done.
Feb. 13: Germinated: blue pimpernel, lobelia, Chinese forget-me-not (previously started in Jan.).  Sowed: colored sweet peas.  Stored Jerusalem Artichoke in soil in garage.  Potted comfrey root.
Feb. 14: Germinated: cosmos.
Feb. 15: No gardening done.
Feb. 16: Germinated: celery/celeric. Sowed: Comfrey seed (this never did germinate!)
Feb. 17: Sowed: Comfrey seed after soaking (this never did germinate!)
Feb. 18: No gardening done.
Feb. 19: Purchased at Meijers: seed potato - stored in basement, fig - potted and put in south facing window.
Feb. 20: Re-potted: Heliotrope and alpine strawberries.
Feb. 21: Sowed: Sage, lemon balm, lime balm, parsley, catnip.
Feb. 22: No gardening done.
Feb. 23: Sowed: alpine strawberries, leaf celery, echinops.  Of re-potted previous alpine strawberries 4 out of 6 died.
Feb. 24-27: No gardening done.
Feb. 28: Germinated: echinops.

MARCH 2016

March 1: No gardening done.
March 2: Germinated: lemon balm, brassicas, catnip & sage.
March 3: Germinated: betony, migonette strawberry.
March 4: Germinated: celery.
March 5: Sowed: basil caraway, eggplant, pepper & tomato.
March 6-7: No gardening done.
March 8: Germinated: broccoli, red acre cabbage.
March 9: Germinated: basil, cherry tomato, boxcar willie tomato, roma tomato, yellow plum tomato, beefsteak tomato.  Sowed: anise, summer savory, costmary (never germinated), coconut geranium.
March 10: Brighton Garden Club talk by Susan Bete "Magical Moons and Seasonal Circles."  Sowed: chard, celeriac, dill, fennel.  Germinated: cauliflower, kale, Taipai red cabbage.
March 11: No gardening done.
March 12: Leaf clean-up in 1/2 of garden beds outdoors.
March 13-18: No gardening done aside from starting to harden off: brassicas, onions/leeks, chicory and sweet peas.
March 19: Freezing temperatures - accidentally froze 50% of brassicas that I was hardening off. Onions survived as did chicory (started in fall) and sweet peas. Re-seeded brassicas in evening. Spring Vegetable bed prep done (forking, fertilizing and raking).  Planted potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes in half-whiskey-barrels outdoors and covered with plastic and old storm window for protection. Noticed crocuses are all blooming, one pulmonaria bloomed.  Other bulbs and perennials sprouting. Some weeds already invading (creeping Charlie!)
March 20: Spring Equinox / First Day of Spring. Re-potted: Blue pimpernel, sage, celeriac, Chinese celery, tomatoes.
March 21-25: No gardening done.  2 heliotrope died.
March 26: Germinated: brassicas that were re-seeded after frost kill.  Planted outdoors under polycarbonate cloches:  carrots, rutabaga, arugula, parsley root, celeric leeks, beets, radish, peas, & calendula.  Seeded outdoors without cover: crimson clover & red clover.
March 27: Easter.  No gardening done. Got a pink hyacinth as a gift!
March 28: Repotted: blue pimpernel, basil, lime balm.  Thunder storm!
March 29: Garden bed clean up.
March 30: Planting outdoors (seed only): Forget-me-not, lobelia, blue pimpernel, borage, columbine, larkspur, and flax.

My next post will be about how I made the polycarbonate cloches. So stay tuned!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Pimp My Soil - Season 2

It's March here in Zone 5b,  Michigan.  The days are gradually getting longer.  The Spring Solstice is almost upon us.  The weather is slowly warming, but we are still about 2 months away from our last average frost date (May 16).

Even so, I am thinking about my vegetable garden.  I plan to plant some frost-hardy crops in early April... but more about that in a later post.

My poor soil is looking darker already after amending it last fall!
Right now, I am preparing the bed where the vegetables will be planted.  That means, amending the soil as well as laying out the plots.

Last fall, I had my soil tested through MSU extension.   The results of that test can be seen in my blog post from last fall: "Pimp My Soil Part Deux." To make a long story short, my soil was very low in both phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), had a very alkaline pH of 7.8, and is very sandy, so does not hold nutrients very well.

I took my first steps in alleviating this problem last fall by double-digging the bed, taking out some thick roots from a couple bushes that I had removed, adding horse manure, home-made compost, peat, and coffee grounds to the soil.  I also added some rock dust to boost the mineral content of the soil.  Then, I covered the bed over with a combination of oak leaves and arbor-vitae leaves from my yard as mulch.  For more details see my previous post: "Vegetable Garden Soil - From Scratch!"

From this point on, the beds will be no-dig.  That mean,  each year, I will be adding organic material to the top of the soil, and using my garden fork to gently loosen the soil in the to 4 to 6 inches, but I will not be turning it over or tilling it. By doing this, the soil structure should improve with time, earth worms will congregate in the beds and the over-all soil quality should improve. As a bonus, by not tilling, I will be doing my (very small) bit to prevent additional, unnecessary, carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere where it could contribute to global warming.  To learn more about the philosophy behind no-dig gardening, and the relationship between tilling and global warming, check out these links: "No Dig Abundance - Charles Dowding (YouTube)," and "No Dig Gardening - Deep Green Permaculture," and "Energy Agriculture: Carbon Farming - Iowa State Extension."

Corn gluten meal = N, Bone Meal = P, Potash = K
Now that spring is approaching, it is time to add organic Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (NPK) to the soil.  For my 500 square foot garden, per the recommendations from my soil test, I added 4lbs of bone meal (Phosphorus), 2lbs of potash (potassium) and 3lbs of corn gluten meal (nitrogen). 

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Do NOT add nutrients to your garden in the amounts that I did! GET YOUR SOIL TESTED FIRST!  The soil test will tell you how much you need to add - or maybe you are lucky and won't need to add any at all!

I plan to add organic NPK supplements to my soil both this season and next.  In 2018, I will get my soil tested again.  If the NPK and pH are at acceptable levels by that time, I will cease to add any more bone meal, potash or corn gluten meal, but will continue to add compost, coffee grounds, manure, leaf mold, and leaf mulch. Theoretically, the free, local resources should be enough to sustain the nutrient levels in my soil and help to build the organic content of the soil to a point where my soil will no longer leach nutrients.  By adding peat, sulfur powder and leaf mulch, the pH level of the soil should come down to acceptable levels gradually as well. Ideally, I would like the pH to be between 6-7.  For now, the soil nutrients were so poor that I believe that they need the extra boost from the bone meal, potash and corn gluten meal.  So, I am applying them temporarily.

I also laid out my vegetable beds.  Because I wanted to have my garden lay-out aesthetically in keeping with my other flower and herb beds, I used an organically shaped bed that flows along the west side of the back yard and connects to the "blue border" bed (more on the blue border in a later post - stay tuned!).  I edged the bed with stones.  Some of these I bought cheaply from a local guy on Craigslist, others were kindly gifted to me by my neighbor who had left-overs after having a patio put in.  Within the curved, stone-edged bed, I laid out 4 smaller beds for growing vegetables, with mulched aisles between them.

The beds are about 4.5ft wide so that I can reach across them from the aisle to reach my vegetables and to weed.  The aisles are maybe a foot wide, just big enough for me to easily walk down them.  I separated the beds from the aisles with branches from bushes and trees that I had pruned last fall.

Warming the soil with plastic.
Today, I raked the winter mulch off of the beds, and onto the paths in between.  I then "forked" the beds to loosen the soil.  This is not the same as tilling. I did not turn the soil over, but simply inserted the garden fork into the soil and gave a gentle lift to the soil to allow air in and to loosen the soil.  Then, I sprinkled the organic fertilizer onto the beds along with some free coffee grounds from Starbucks, and 2 bags of cow manure from the local big-box store. I then raked the beds smooth.  While doing this, I was pleased to spot about 8 healthy-looking earth worms.  I hope they enjoy the beds and make permanent homes there!  They are such a help to the vegetables!

The last thing I did was to cover one of the beds with left-over plastic from one of my mini-winter hoop houses.  I did this in order to warm the soil so that I can plant my early spring seeds 2 weeks from now.

The results of my labors are shown below:

The veggie beds are ready for planting!

I am quite proud of how the beds look.  But I REALLY can't wait until I can plant in it!

If you want to read my other blog posts on soil improvement please check out the links below:

Pimp My Soil
Pimp My Soil Part Deux
Vegetable Garden Soil - From Scratch
MI Free Compost
Critter of the Month: Eisenia fetida (Redworms) & DIY Vermicomposting 
Soil - Timing is Everything
Make Compost Tea

Happy Gardening! :)