Mar 9th, 2013
Recently my fifteen year old refrigerator gave up the ghost and we finally spent the bucks to get some new kitchen appliances. Unfortunately, I stored my old seed packets and harvested seed in the produce drawer of the aforementioned ancient refrigerator and during the change from one frig to the next the seeds spent quite a bit of time in an overly heated room and then in the below freezing garage.
I am now in the process of getting my milk jugs ready to winter sow my hardy annuals and if my mistreated seeds aren’t viable it will be many weeks before I know for sure that they aren’t going to sprout. By that time I will be totally out of luck because many of the varieties of plants I winter sow outside just aren’t available in the garden centers.
Checking the viability of my seeds by pre-germinating
I decided yesterday to do some strategic pre-germinating just as I do when I start seeds indoors. I chose several different kinds of vegetable and flower seeds to pre-sprout and if most of them didn’t do anything I would know that I needed to order all new seeds for this season.
On a side note: I never throw away the seeds left in a packet and have had success using seeds dated as long as five years ago. When you keep them in the dry, consistently cool–but not freezing–refrigerator you can store them for far longer than if you just put them away on your potting room shelf.
The lettuce seeds sprouted in less than a day.
Yesterday, I put a damp folded paper towel on each of five saucers that were on top of a waterproof heated grow mat made especially for starting seeds. I put the seeds on top of the paper towels and then used bookmark Post-its to label which seeds were where. I carefully added water to each saucer and then covered the seeds and paper towels with clear mugs and cups to hold the moisture. [Don't use solid cups to cover your seeds, because many seeds need light to germinate.]
This morning I was relieved to find that the lettuce and kohlrabi seeds had already sprouted, which makes me very optimistic that the rest of the seeds will be fine as well.
Another note: If you have never ordered seeds from Renee’s Garden, you might try them this season. Renee offers many varieties of heirloom and organic seeds and I have never been disappointed.
Feb 6th, 2013
I have been a little neglectful about adding more pics to my garden photos page so I have sorted through the last two seasons and picked the six pictures that I liked the best. Let’s face it though, this time of year any garden photos look good! Enjoy Seasons Fourteen and Fifteen and here’s to an early spring.
The Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden
Oct 7th, 2012
One of my favorite annual herbs is leaf or cutting celery (Apium graveolens ‘Amsterdam’). It is difficult to grow real celery here in Minnesota and buying celery in the grocery store is extremely expensive all year long with the exception of those few weeks during the holidays when it is on special. The capper for me is that store-bought celery is also #2 on the “Dirty Dozen” list for vegetables with pesticide residue.
The dark green, glossy foliage of cutting celery somewhat resembles flat-leaved parsley, but when added to soups and stews it tastes just like the real thing. I have always dried it just like my other culinary herbs, but this season I decided to try freezing my harvest in ice cube trays. When my children were babies I always made their baby food myself and froze it in ice cube trays so I thought, “Why not try it with herbs?”
Add the chopped herbs to an ice cube tray half full of water
I washed the bundles of cutting celery leaves and stems and then chopped them up just as I would when making soup. I filled the ice cube trays halfway full of water and then put about a tablespoon or so of chopped leaves into each compartment. When all the compartments were filled with cutting celery leaves the ice cube trays went into the refrigerator.
Later that day when they were frozen solid, I went back and topped each compartment off with more water so that the water level was even with the top of the ice cube tray. There was some foliage sticking up out of the water, but since it is all going to be frozen until I use them anyway–not a big deal.
The next day I just dumped the ice cube trays out onto my cutting board and then put all the cubes into a heavy freezer bag marked with the date and what was in the bag. Couldn’t have been easier and I can’t wait to throw a few cubes of cutting celery into a steaming pot of chicken noodle soup when the weather turns chilly.
Knock the herb cubes out of the ice cube tray and store them in heavy freezer bags
I have more more information on cutting celery and other herbs in my herb article.
Jul 22nd, 2012
An article I wrote about straw bale gardening appears in the latest July/Aug 2012 Northern Gardener magazine. My friend Karen found a new way to container garden using straw bales as the growing medium. That’s right, no potting soil just bales of straw.
Karen wasn’t thrilled with the messiness of the straw bale method so she went one step further and bought galvanized aluminum horse watering troughs at a local farm store to hold the bales. She painted the troughs beautiful shades of pale yellow and green and when she was finished had containers that were stylish enough to fit into any landscape.
Karen painting the horse trough
My article explains how to primer and paint the troughs and also how to prepare the straw bales to plant. I could tell you how right here, but you wouldn’t be inclined to buy the Northern Gardener magazine then, would you?
Northern Gardener magazine is available in many MN bookstores and garden centers, but I recommend buying a year’s subscription–at least!–on NorthernGardener.org. You don’t have to be a member of the MN State Horticultural Society to subscribe, but there are a lot of membership perks when you belong including getting the magazine and if you are already a member of a garden club or are a Master Gardener your membership may be reduced.
So join the MSHS or buy a subscription to our really terrific northern-specific magazine. You will be glad you did!
Pumpkins growing in the straw bale trough garden.
May 20th, 2012
I’m sitting here watching the hummingbirds come and go on the feeder that is hanging just outside my living room window and thinking about how much easier it is now. I didn’t hang a hummingbird feeder for many years because I had read just enough to know that you need to keep your feeders very clean and change the nectar often if the birds don’t finish it—especially in hot weather. If you don’t, you may be doing the hummingbirds more harm than good.
I like the hummingbirds, but boiling the water/sugar nectar mix and then taking up frig space to store the leftover nectar just didn’t work for me. Let alone the nightmare of trying to clean those plastic hummingbird feeders on a regular basis!
Then I wrote an article for the July/Aug. 2011 Northern Gardener magazine about Donald Mitchell who is a hummingbird expert and feeds so many hummingbirds in his Minnesota backyard that he fills four large feeders in the morning and then has to go home at lunch to refill them.
Donald Mitchell's Hummingbird Feeders
Donald asked me why I boil the water before I add the sugar. “To sterilize it”, of course. So Terry, when a hummingbird sticks its beak into the feeder doesn’t that immediately contaminate the nectar? Okay, he had me there!
Now I don’t even heat up the water before I add the sugar [use a 4 to 1 water to sugar mixture] and I only make enough to last a few days so it doesn’t get a chance to spoil in the feeder or in my refrigerator. I just stir the sugar and water together and then let it sit for a while and then stir it again right before I put it into the feeder.
I also found a glass hummingbird feeder that has separate chambers that come apart and can go right in the dishwasher. Couldn’t be easier and I can enjoy the hummingbirds up close and know that I am now helping not hurting them.
My glass "perfume bottle" hummingbird feeder
Oh, one more thing that Donald taught me is to keep your feeders up until very late fall. Most of us have heard that encourages hummingbirds to stay at the feeders and not migrate to warmer climes. Not so, according to Donald. There are often late hummingbird migrators passing through that could really use the energy provided by your feeder so Donald leaves his up until he can’t keep the nectar from freezing.
Here is my long list of plants that will attract hummingbirds to your gardens.