Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Time to Gather Planting Supplies (on the cheap)

Spring is just around the corner!  Okay, maybe the block is long and that corner is a long walk, but it's in sight!

That means it's time to gather planting supplies... on the cheap.  The Dollar Tree has their annual Spring items available now.  Check these out...

* seed starting trays - three pieces, including the divided cells, clear cover and a base tray
* seed starting "soil," a soil-less mix
* incredible blue 10" pot 

Now, I can hear gardeners near and far "pooh-poohing" that seed starting mix from the Dollar Tree!  I can hear it now, "That's junk, you get what you pay for."  But, look at the ingredients before you jump to conclusions and pay 10x the price!

Peat, vermiculite and perlite. These ingredients are just what you want in a seed starter.  No need for fertilizers, since seeds do not need those for germination.  The wetting agent is helpful, so long as the gardener doesn't have a heavy hand watering and the soil doesn't get soggy.

Plus, you want to know a secret about the Dollar Tree seed starting mix?  It's made by Plantation Products, which is the parent company for Ferry-Morse, NK Lawn and Garden, and the well known Jiffy brand!

The bags are smaller, true, but for my seed starting needs a couple of bags are perfect.

My son gave me a seed starting mat for Christmas!  I love the image on the box (see second photo below), just what do they think I'm growing?!  (It's actually legal here in Oregon, but my employer would not be understanding.  Besides which, I am not interested.) 

 The Dollar Tree also have a huge selection of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds (I think they are 2/$1.00), plant labels, gardening gloves... lots and lots of things!  I planted Dollar Tree peas in 2015, and notice I didn't update after mentioning they weren't doing well.  They actually did better than expected for the price!  This year I have leftovers and new Sugar Sprint I bought off eBay.

I love, love, love the blue of that little plastic pot!  It's 10", which is actually large enough for quite a few veggies and annual herbs!  Which ones, you ask?  Any greens, lettuce, small carrots (I will be growing Parisian), chives, basil, lemon thyme, parsley, radishes...  I must go get some more before those wonder blue ones are all gone!  I think they'll look lovely with dwarf sunflowers, one of the many seeds I have on order (more on that later!). 

I made a routine stop at Lowe's, and found, yet again, some of their 50% off broken bags!

* 2 steer manure
* chicken manure
* potting soil (one without fertilizer, my favorite)

I paid full price for mushroom compost. All of these will be dug into one of the 4x8 beds before the upcoming pea planting. 

A few more cheap, as in free really, items I'm collecting are plastic milk jugs and fast food coffee cups (the ones with the domed plastic lids).

These are part of my first "Winter Sowing" attempt.  I have never heard of such a thing until last week!  Where have I been?   I will go into that next time...   

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

WOW! Germination Update

The peas I was testing all sprouted!  Yesterday!  I took these photos last night before bed, but couldn't post until now.  But, they were taken last night!  I never expected even new seeds to germinate that quickly!  Remember, they were only put in the wet paper towels on the 21st, and on the 23rd here they are...

These were Cascadia from Territorial Seed, packed for the 2016 growing season.

So, I won't need to buy new peas.  I already did though, Sugar Sprint, a snap pea variety.  Snap peas were developed by crossing shelling peas and snow peas.  Their pods are round and plump and you eat the entire thing.  Peas will be planted next month. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

My Seeds are OLD! Will They Grow?

A lot of gardeners have old seed packets hanging around way after their "packed for" date.  I know I do.  I try to buy new seeds each Spring, but do I need to?

According to the Oregon State University Extension, no.  For most garden vegetables, not every year.  In most cases, not even every other year.

Keep them dry and cool.  My carport shed is dry, but the temperature fluctuates between cold in the winter and probably sweltering hot in the summer. So, my seeds haven't been properly stored.

I have some pea seeds packed for the 2016 season (packages will give this information right on them, and stores will stop selling them by a certain date).  Not too old, but is the germination rate enough to plant them, or will I need new?

Here's what I did.  All you need are three things, and water.

1- plastic or glass cup
2- paper towels (you could use a coffee filter or even a piece of cloth, just something absorbent)
3- seeds (try at least 10-12)

Fold the paper towel so it fits in the cup without sticking out the top.  Tuck it around the inside of the cup.

Stick the seeds down between the paper towel and side of the cup.  I added another crumpled paper towel to the middle just to hold the ring of towel in place.  Add enough water so the entire paper towel is wet.                                                                                                                                            

 Place in a light spot.  Keep the paper towel pretty moist, not soggy.  Peas are slow to germinate in soil, but here we don't need to see them pop up out of the soil, we will be able to see if they are viable within a week or two.  Stay tuned!

If you don't have any seeds to test, this is still a fun project to do with children!  It works especially well, and quickly, with bean seeds.  Learn the parts of a seed!  When the seed is soft enough to split in half, open it and take a look.  The two large parts are cotyledons (some plants, such as corn, only have one cotyledon).  They are the stored food for the baby plant.  Until a plant has its own "true leaves" it needs this food.  You will be able to see the embryo, the baby plant, with teeny forming leaves!   These are called "seed leaves."  Let other seeds continue to grow and sprout, growing up above the rim of the cut and forming true leaves.  You can gently transplant it into the garden, or a container at this point. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Little Garden Clean-up and Companion Planting Eye-opener

Today was mostly sunny and warm (in the sun on my back deck) and I was able to get a little done in the yard.

Since I am moving the 4 x 8 cedar bed, I measured out its new location.  It won't be quite even with the 4 x 8 against the fence, due to the pluot tree. 

It's the bed to the left of "Beautiful Boo."  The new site is where you can barely see the boards on the ground forming a backwards L between the pool planter and cinder block bed. 

The dead Sungold and Blue Chocolate cherry tomato were finally discarded.  I discovered a couple of onions that missed the harvest.  There are still so many Sungolds on the ground, surely some will come up, sparing me having to purchase any! 

The onions...  well, they partially explain why the beans did nothing last year.  I am learning about companion planting, planting crops that "get along."  I never thought one way or another about whether my corn liked my beans, or my tomatoes got along with chard!  But, it turns out they care!  Beans do not enjoy associating with onions, chives or peppers. Guess what was in this bed with the beans?
Onions!  A lone chive.  A bell pepper.  This also is the reason the pepper didn't do well!

So, now I know, and I am making plans to do better this year.  I made a chart of what are friends and enemies.  I have a printed copy for notes and further planning of which beds will be best. 

There is a lot more to it, but here are some of the most common garden vegetables and their friends or enemies:

Tomatoes - love basil, beans, chives, cucumbers, nasturtiums, garlic, lettuce, peppers, marigolds
                - hate broccoli, cauliflower, corn, dill
Peppers - love basil, carrots, cucumbers, oregano, parsley, peas, squash, Swiss chard, tomatoes
              - hate beans, broccoli, cauliflower
Cucumbers - love beans, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, dill, lettuce, peas, peppers, tomatoes
Beans - love carrots, corn, cucumbers, peas, strawberries, Swiss chard, tomatoes
           - hate chives, garlic, leeks, onion
Squash/Pumpkins - love corn, lettuce, melon, peas, peppers
                              - hate broccoli, cauliflower
Carrots - love beans, lettuce, peas, pepper, onion, parsley, chives, leeks, sage, rosemary
             - hate dill, strawberries, tomatoes (which stunt the growth of their roots)
Corn - love beans, cucumbers, melon, peas, squash, sunflowers
         - tomatoes
The most famous companion planting is the "Three Sisters," corn, squash and pole beans.  The beans climb the corn, and bring nitrogen to the soil from the air, and the squash shades the soil. 

Changing the subject, the Christmas tree is re-purposed as a bean pole.  Just cut off the branches and it's ready to go.

The old lath on the half-fence separating the back yard and the very back yard (where the vegetable garden and shed are located) finally gave up.  I completely removed it today, in preparation of using some green welded wire in its place.

The last bit of garden prep today had to do with more seed ordering.  I do not need more, but I just can't say "no" when I can find them online for so cheap!  More on that when they all get here.  Some are from Switzerland, others from Belgium!  Vegetables.  Herbs.  Perennial and annual flowers.  They have become my obsession.  I think I am done now.  Really.  Truly.  Honest!  

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Free "Raised Beds"

In my neighborhood it's not unusual for people to haul their unwanted furniture to the edge of the sidewalk and put up a "free" sign.

My son took a walk the other evening and came home with the news there was a free furniture jumble around the corner.

So, around I went with the truck, getting a "new" easy chair that needs cleaning (if the before-unsmelled cigarette odor doesn't leave it's out of here!), and some "raised beds!"

The "raised beds" are drawers from an old maple dresser.  The dresser was missing the top drawer, so I am not feeling the least bit guilty over what I did to the piece! It also stinks of old cigarette, which doesn't make me hopeful I'll be able to save the chair.  Older furniture was made of solid wood (even the drawer bottoms and back), no glue, no nails (tongue and groove) and from what I have seen in photos, make for nice little planting beds.


I got two "beds."

I broke the dresser part down to the two sides, which will be used between beds as walkway parts.

Keep your eye out for discarded items you can use in the garden!  Free is good!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Nature Notebook for Adults!

My youngest two children were mostly home schooled.  We went on lots of nature walks, and made lots of nature journals and notebooks, some in conjunction with classes in such places as The Gardens at Heather Farm and Tilden Nature Area in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Tilden is an awesome place, and one of the less than a handful I miss since moving to Oregon. 

The notebooks were so much fun for my children, and I wished I could make one too!  Well, now I can! For Christmas my daughter gave me Grow Curious: Creative Activities to Cultivate Joy, Wonder and Discovery in Your Garden, by the wonderful gardener and blogger (and author of my favorite gardening book Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces) Gayla Trail! 

It's page after page of activities, garden quotes, inspiration, and more. 

ooooo... I can hardly wait for a scavenger hunt! 

It "starts" with Spring, since the growing season/gardening year begins then, but I started with an activity under Winter.   It has to do with seed catalogs, and I had so much fun I not only did it twice, with two different catalogs, I furthered the activity by cutting out pictures of my chosen vegetables, herbs and flowers and glued them into my "working notebook."  This is a notebook for the "dirty work" activities, my notes, photos, drawings and general musings on the garden.   A collage, from old magazines, for me to do!  

Between the time spent last night going over the catalog, and today cutting and pasting the pictures, I have spent a very enjoyable few hours!  One of the things I got from this activity is knowledge of vegetable varieties I knew nothing about.  When I look through seed catalogs I skip the pages of things I don't grow, which really is most of the catalog!  This activity forced me (oh, not "forced" really!) to look at each page.  I read seed descriptions aloud to my family, laughing at some of the silly seed names, and wondering who really spends eight years in India hunting down seeds to a single variety of squash?  Apparently "Seed Explorers" do.  I never knew...  The only page I completely crossed out and refused to clip was okra.  Nope, don't do okra, even as a fantasy activity.  Just can't bring myself to even consider okra.  I despise mushrooms, but at least they look interesting and you can do spoor print activities with them (my children did)!  Okra has no redeeming qualities.

Get yourself a copy of this book and start having fun in your garden!  Even if you depend on your harvests for food, you can still have a fun time growing!  

(I have no connection with the author of the book, just got it as a gift and highly recommend it.)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Some Rock Garden Chores

A day off + a day without rain = garden chores! 

Of the many chores, the front yard needed tidying up most of all.

The iris had never been cut back in August! It was a mess!  A real mess... made more so by the fact the neighbor's cats have been using the area as a litter box.  Yes, the iris.  Maybe because it is above the wet soil.  Grrrr... I also found cat poop in my lovely pea gravel walkway!  It used to be just the soil, which was bad enough, what with the little soil piles of buried "surprises."  Now, don't get me wrong, I like cats, I have two.  My only problem with cats is really with their irresponsible owners.  I doubt these two cats even have a litter box.  Mine are indoor only cats and don't bother anyone. They are a bit too lazy to bother doing much! 

Velvet - cats always look fatter on their backs!

Benny - aka Benny Butthead, Monkeyman, Bensonmum.  He was alarmed I'd gotten up from our "time together"

So, the iris... So much soggy old leaves.  It was good to get them off the rhizomes, which could rot in the wetness.  They look so much better, even if there are still quite a few dead leaves.

 These are definitely next on the list of "iris to divide." 

I "weeded" the rock garden.  I like the Hula Hoe; I'm not sure I have name brand, but it works well on damp earth.  That penstemon on the left should have died back by now.  This is the first winter it's been in the ground, in pots it always completely died back.  I cut back forming bloom stalks too.  The lavender in the middle is Ellegance Snow, and it's doing better than the ones in both the herb garden and Butterfly Garden. 

The Gaura (Indian Feather or Wand flower) flower fronds were brown, so I cut them back to close to ground level.  They too died back all the way last winter.  Maybe our weather has been milder than usual.  Well... definitely milder than last year at this time when were were under snow! 

It felt really nice to get out into the garden again.  It feels really nice to be getting more days off, and working part-time again too!  (I have a confession... I've been ordering more seeds...)

Monday, January 8, 2018


Remembering last January, not fondly, and looking at some of the photos from that month, I decided it would be a good idea to try to protect some of my pants.

Three photos as reminders of what happened last year:

The area to the left of the pinwheel is the herb garden proper. 

 Under this pile of snow is a Tuscan Blue rosemary and Golden oregano! 
 These are the herb planters on the backyard deck. 

It might not be necessary (in Zone 7), but I put a blanket of bark mulch (of course it's a half-off broken bag from Lowe's!) around some of my favorite plants.   I've used straw in the past, but what I have is already moldy, and best used now for laying on the bare beds or tossing in the compost heap. 

Coyote Mint
Dittany of Crete Oregano
Lavenders usually look a little ragged in the winter anyway, but mulch might help, especially the hybrids with French lavender in their background, as they are more susceptible to cold temperatures.  I lost a gorgeous French lavender last winter.  (I need to make a chart to remind me which lavender is planted in what pot!  I got confused adding captions.)  I also spread some around the White Grosso Lavender in the front yard.  The Hidcote and Munsteads in the front are big enough to withstand the cold, and even got through last year's snow fine. 

Platinum Blonde

Mini Blue

Goodwin Creek Grey

Ellegance Snow
Dwarf Garden Sage
Creeping Winter Savory - not sure it is surviving

Prostrate Rosemary (both pots) and Golden Oregano started from cuttings
There's a layer of mulch on some of the dormant Butterfly Garden plants too.

Blackeyed Susan

Anise Hyssop

Pineapple Sage

Saturday, January 6, 2018


Thinking of Spring, and what seeds I'll need spurred me to do a "seed check," inventory, on what I already have.  After all, seeds don't expire the date on the packet!

I found this mess in the carport shed.

I'm good for February plantings.

Peas: I found two unopened packages (for the 2016 season) of Oregon Sugar Pod II peas, and a 1/2 package of Cascadia peas from last year. I love Cascadia! 
Lettuce:  Unopened package of Salad Bowl mix lettuce packaged for 2016.

I also have, and this is a much longer list than I expected, as I forgot how many seeds I have left from last year, and exactly what I had ordered last fall!

These are the leftovers from 2016 and 2017-
Beans: 1/2 package each of Jade (2017) and Jade II (2016).  I am not sure what the difference between the two are.  I will be needing to buy more beans.
Pumpkins: 1/2 package of Small Sugar from 2017.  More than enough for this year.  I wasn't going to grow pumpkins this year, but I'll do it since I have the seeds.
Cilantro:  1/2 package from 2016.  I remember now!  Something kept eating the seedlings and I gave up.  Time to try again.
Sunflowers:  1/2 package of Mammoth from 2017.

These are the new purchases of edibles-
Garlic Chives
White Eggplant - I hate the taste of eggplant, but the plants are too beautiful to forgo in a pretty container! 
Sweet Italian Basil - I am a poor basil gardener, so many seeds will give me some extra chances for  success!

Then, there are these leftovers and new purchase seeds of herbs, flowers for the butterfly garden, the front yard rock garden, for annual containers, for just about anything because I found cheap seeds that looked interesting.

White Yarrow - Butterfly Garden
Rocky Mountain Penstemon - Rock Garden
Purple Coneflower - Butterfly Garden
Bachelor Buttons - these are such pretty annuals in the Butterfly Garden
Creeping Thyme (1,000 seeds!) - I really want a lot of plants for the rock garden.

Snow in Summer - an evergreen ground cover for the rock garden
Lemony Catnip - I'm really looking forward to this new herb! 
Hens and Chicks
Succulent Mix
Ice Plant
Mealy Cup Sage (also known as plain blue salvia)
Wild Bergamot (beebalm) - Butterfly Garden
Mexican Red Sunflower - Butterfly Garden
Korean Mint (giant blue hyssop) - Butterfly Garden (okay, I may need a second Butterfly Garden at the rate I'm adding more plants!)
Anise Hyssop - I expect self seeded plants from the one in the Butterfly Garden.
Rock Cress - It will be nice if I get lots of these for the front yard Rock Garden.
Snapdragons - free gift with purchase of who knows what
Russell Lupine hybrid - Butterfly Garden
Butterfly Weed -Butterfly Garden of course!
Giant Globemaster Allium - because it looks fun!
Mexican Butterfly Weed - Butterfly Garden
Milkweed fluffs - the ones I was given last year, that I didn't stratify, so didn't plant.  They started the entire Butterfly Garden project and weren't even included!

...and my own saved seeds (of which many are spilled on the shed floor)
Grape Hyacinth
Onion Chives 

As I stated, seeds don't really need to be purchased new each season.  The germination rate is a little lower than new seeds, but last year's, or the year before that even, will be fine.  After all, you get hundreds and hundreds of tiny carrot and lettuce seeds, so a small percentage fewer won't matter.

Oh, boy... what was I thinking?  Starting tomorrow I will be working part-time again, so will have more time for the garden, but still, this is a lot of seeds!  The worst part?  I keep looking online for new varieties!

I forgot to mention my new tomato seeds I ordered online last night!  They are from heritageseedmarket.com
Two were on sale for just .50, while the other was just $1.55, and the postage for all three was more reasonable than I've seen before!    

Ditmarsher - a small pink cherry tomato to grow in a pot or hanging basket
Golden Jubilee - I'm hoping it will be as good as Yellow Brandywine. 
Hoskins-Barger - No particular reason. 

Sigh... I know I say seed starting isn't for me, but I am so easily tempted.