Join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge is a nationwide effort to encouraging people to  preserve and create gardens and landscapes that benefit pollinators like bees, butterflies, birds, and bats. Run by the National Pollinator Garden Network, the challenge encourages gardeners to “bee counted” and maps pollinator gardens across America.

screenshot of a map that shows the locations of many gardens, centered on the United States
Pollinator garden locations for the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.

According to the website, pollinator gardens should:

  • use plants that provide nectar and pollen sources
  • provide a water source
  • be situated in sunny areas with wind breaks
  • create large “pollinator targets” of native or non-invasive plants
  • establish continuous bloom throughout the growing season
  • eliminate or minimize the impact of pesticides

What does it take to join?

Pollinator gardens are registered through the Pollinator Partnership website.  It takes just a few minutes to enter an email address, garden name and description, and location.

There are other pollinator programs that can be used to certify your garden habitat, such as those for the MonarchWatch’s Certified Monarch Waystations and the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat program.

I registered by prairie garden. I also plan to look into each of these programs in the future, so stay tuned for future posts!

My Gardening Goals for 2018: End of Summer Update

Way back in March, I wrote up my gardening goals for 2018. Now it’s six months later, and I’m long overdue for an update on how the season has shaped up.

1. Grow More of Our Own Food

Even though I put the most time and effort into my vegetable garden compared to my other gardens, there are a lot of years where I feel like I’m not necessarily getting a lot out of it. I weed and weed, and yet I don’t always get a good harvest. This year I decided to double-down and grow more food.

I certainly grew more food this year than ever before. I got off to a good start last fall with a large planting of garlic. My attempts to plant lettuce in February were successful too, and it was awesome to have fresh greens in May. I changed my planting approach this year and used the square foot gardening method where seeds are planted on a grid rather than in rows. This worked out great, and I grew (and froze) a ton of green beans this year. Overall, I upped my game and grew more of these plants this year: garlic, green beans, peas, and kale. I also grew a good amount of onions, potatoes, tomatoes (which actually ripened in August with our warm weather this year!), and parsley.

Garden panorama, August 2018.

I had hoped to do more succession planting of plants like lettuce, spinach, carrots, and beets, but the spring got away on me and I never got my second or third plantings in; next year, I should plant 3-4 times as many carrots and beets all at once, and lettuce whenever I can. My peppers never amounted to anything, and I have no idea why. I ran out of room to grow squash and melons. I did a little bit of mushroom inoculation with some friends, but still have an entire bag of spawn in my fridge.

Early lettuce in May.

2. Improve My Garden Soils

I finally gathered up soil samples for my garden and sent them into a lab. The test results were helpful, but I’ll admit that I haven’t done a lot to work on my soils. I added a bit of wood ash and compost to me vegetable garden while planting, but not a lot more. I would love to have more compost, but I never seem to make as much as I need.

Soil samples!

One thing that is kind of funny is that the reason that my gardening efforts didn’t go as smoothly this year as I would have liked is because I ended up spending the summer at our cottage. My primary vegetable garden was 15 minutes away; this distance meant that I couldn’t weed for 20 minutes in the evening, and the weeds were absolutely out of control this year. The silver lining? When I finally did get around to weeding that overgrown mess, it resulted in a lot of green material. I’m hoping I”ll have a lot more compost next year, thanks to all those weeds!

3. Expand My Perennial Gardens

My prairie garden in situated in front of our septic mound, forming a nice border that helps keep the ugly mound out of view (or at least less obvious). For a bunch of years, I’ve been trying to smother out the grass on a portion of the septic mound figuring that I would eventually convert the grass to… something prairie-like. I thought I was going to have to grow a special mix of plants selected for use on top of septics. But then I was able to ask Neil Diboll of Prairie Nursery my question at a gardening event this spring, and he said that any herbaceous plants are fine—it’s the trees and woody plants that can damage a septic.

The straw-covered area was prepped for expanding my prairie garden.

With that knowledge, I took the seeds that I collected from my prairie garden last fall and spread them over one-third of the septic mound that was bare soil and prepared. I had to weed it twice this summer, but it was relatively easy since the weeds were much taller than the seedlings I was trying to tend. I just had to pull out the tall stuff, and let everything underneath continue to grow. On the other side of the prairie bed, I used cardboard and mulch to smother out a strip of grass. That area is now ready to transplant into.

The prairie garden in summer. Hopefully next year the area on top of the mound will be flowering too.

4. Tend Trees and Shrubs at the Cottage Property

This is a major work in progress. One big item is that we submitted the management plan for our property and it’s now in the American Tree Farm System. I had planned to do more work this year to remove invasive plants, but realized that our barberry problem is much bigger than I thought; rather than hand-pull, I need to research herbicide options.

I gathered up silver maple seedlings this spring and attempted to plant some. That was slightly successful, but I had even better success when a June storm led to a few days of flooding in my onion patch, and a bunch of silver maple germinated as weeds. I’ve allowed some of those seedlings to grow over the summer and will try to transplant them this fall. I took some cuttings of other plants, but did not get the plants to root before they gathered mold (who knew that was possible?). I fenced our five apple trees to prevent further deer damage. I transplanted three grape plants from my vegetable garden to the property, but the deer found them before I could get some fencing up. I also tucked some free conifer seedlings into a few places, but need to protect them from deer before winter.

As I said 6 months ago, there’s a ton to do and I’m just figuring out where to start.

These tires were the start of my mini-tree nursery. I’m hoping that they’ll work like big, temporary pots.

5. Create Demonstration Gardens for My Master Gardener Project

Last year I worked with a few friends to start rehabilitating some neglected garden beds at the Marsin Nature Retreat as part of our work for the Extension Master Gardener volunteer program. This spring, I worked with a new staff member at the Keweenaw Land Trust, and we got the garden planted. Another big garden project for me was helping to organize a Native Plants Symposium that was held in mid-March. It was a huge success, with nearly 70 people in attendance and a bunch of great speakers. I had a lot of fun and hope we do it again next year.

6. Teach Others How to Garden

It took me a long time (really much longer than it should have) to realize that I love to talk to other people about gardening. In particular, I love getting other people excited about gardening, and I decided that I wanted to spend more time helping others to garden. I created an online course, A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening in Cold Climates, to cover some basic material. And I launched a six-week garden challenge in the spring.

Setting up a new flower bed at the cottage.

Unfortunately, a lot of my efforts in this arena stalled for the summer. Right in the midst of the online challenge, my computer died (making key files inaccessible for over month) and we relocated to our cottage, which did not have internet access at the time. As you can imagine, the abrupt loss of computer and internet access really stymied any work I was doing related to online courses, challenges, and blogging—and partially explains my lack of posting for much of the summer.

But, as I get resettled into a new routine (and get to know my new computer), I am getting excited to get back into writing and teaching about gardening. I already have a few posts up my sleeve, so be sure to check back in to hear about my gardening goals for this fall.

How was your garden this summer? I’d love to hear about it!

Join the Ultimate Veggie Gardener Challenge!

The weather has finally warmed up and we’ve catapulted from blustery cold and a blizzard a to warm (almost hot!)and sunny during the past week. The snow is melting quickly, and it will only be a few more days before my garden will be visible for the first time in months.

I’m excited for gardening, especially since I set so many gardening-related goals that I want to make progress on. I’ve been having fun encouraging others to garden through the online course and in other ways, and I want to keep that going. So I’m setting up an online challenge to help people (like you, dear reader!) get started on their veggie gardens this spring.

About the Ultimate Gardening Challenge

So what is this thing? This challenge will help you through the steps of setting up and planting your vegetable garden. It consists of two parts:

  • Weekly emails coaching you though the basics of site assessment, garden planning, planting, soil improvement, and more.
  • Access to a Facebook group to ask questions and share your successes with others in the challenge.

Sign up now! The challenge starts on April 30 and runs through June 10. You’ll receive an email every week describing that week’s theme and activities for starting your garden off right.

Who should take the challenge?

The challenge is open to designed to get new gardeners started on their way to vegetable success. It’s designed with beginning gardeners in mind, although more experienced gardeners are welcome to participate. The challenge program is designed for those living in relatively cold climates where experienced gardeners tend to plant tomatoes at the end of May or early June (see blue areas on the map).

Map of Average Last Spring Freeze Dates (via NOAA)

It’s Easy

All you need is an interest in gardening and access to a bit of soil and a trowel. Some additional tools will be handy, but you do not need any special equipment, gardening experience, or a large garden to be join the challenge. Container, patio, and small gardens are also welcome!

Okay, yeah, so this feels kinda like a big commercial, but I hope you’ll consider signing up—it’s free and will be a whole lot of fun. 🙂

My Gardening Goals for 2018

There may be 2 feet of snow on the ground, but the 2018 gardening season is here! I finally ordered my seeds this week and I also planted my raised bed hoop house with greens and am hoping for an early harvest of greens like I was able to get last year. This is an exciting time of year, and I have so many ideas in mind for this coming gardening season. Writing down my major goals for this year will help me stay focused!

1. Grow More of Our Own Food

I didn’t do my annual garden review last year, but 2017 turned out to be a good garden year even though the entire summer was extremely cool and wet. One major breakthrough was that I started a second garden (approximately 20×30 feet) at our cottage; I grew potatoes and squash in this new space, which freed up my fenced-in vegetable garden for the plants that need more tending or regular picking—the lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, and everything else.

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My new, second garden at the cottage. This one is for veggies that don’t need much tending.

This year, I want to grow a lot more of our own food. I don’t typically put a lot of food up in the summer or fall, but I feel like my gardening and eating habits are becoming more aligned (i.e., I’m finally eating my vegetables!!) that it’s seems realistic that I will be able to grow more of what we will actually eat.

Specific things I need to do:

  • Increase the amount of garlic (I planted a ridiculous amount last fall), onions, and potatoes that I plant, as well as try planting some leeks and squash. These will all go in the cottage garden (which will probably need to be expanded) where they won’t need a lot of tending.
  • Focus the primary home garden space on the things that we eat most and on some things that can be frozen. I anticipate allocating more room to beans, kale, carrots, and beets.
  • Use the square foot gardening method to better allocate space in my garden and to plant seeds more efficiently. Also plan for succession planting.
  • The vegetable garden fence will need some major repairs…
  • Purchase floating row cover fabric and get more hoops for season extension. Also consider whether it would be helpful to build a very small greenhouse.
  • Coordinate with a friend to “borrow” some space in their root cellar.
  • Do the research and then implement a fertilization schedule on the fruit trees and shrubs.
  • Inoculate logs with mushroom spawn so that I can grow my own mushrooms.

2. Improve My Garden Soils

A friend told be recently that her biggest question at a newbie gardener was learning about her garden soils. “All the books say it’s so important,” she said. It’s so true—a garden is only as good as its soil.

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More work needed.

And yet, I’ve been the biggest slacker when it comes to improving the soils in my garden. It’s been holding be back for a few years, and I really have a lot of work to start addressing all the issues that I have with my soils: the acidity and lack of organic matter and everything else.

Specific things I need to do:

  • Get a soil test. I even have a soil sample from my vegetable garden in a container in my basement—I just need to mail it in. I need to do a soil test on my cottage garden bed and on the perennial beds too.
  • Start adding amendments early. I’m sure more lime will be needed to raise the pH, and I might need to add nutrients. It would have been good to do this last fall, so I’ll have to add amendments early in the season so that they can start to be worked in before planting.
  • Up my compost game. My non-food compost pile needs to be moved to a better location so that I can be turned more regularly with the tractor. And I need to add a lot more to it too, which might mean growing more of some plants (like comfrey) that produce a lot of material that can be composted.
  • Get a plastic barrel for a compost tumbler. This will be especially handy for collecting compost next winter.
  • Continue to play around with green manures and cover crops, particularly this fall.

3. Expand My Perennial Gardens

This is lower priority that my vegetable gardening, but there are a few places where I would like to expand my perennial beds and strategically kill my lawn in areas that are harder to mow. I am hoping to expand my prairie garden to get rid of  a small strip of grass and to cover the septic mound. I also want to expand the foundation plantings on the east side a bit to make mowing a bit easier, but I’m not willing to devote much time or energy to that.

Compass-plant
The compass plants in my garden are going bonkers, and it looks amazing!

Specific things I need to do:

  • Look up which prairie plants that are okay to plant on septic mounds, and then determine which I can get from my own garden (transplants or seeds) and what I might need to buy.
  • Do more research on sheet composting (lasagna gardening), and then use that method to smother grass in the areas where I want to expand my garden. Ideally, I’d do this early in the garden season, so that the areas are ready to plant in late summer or fall when I might have more time.
  • Consider whether I should be growing more herbs in the front garden bed so that they are convenient, and if so, determine which perennials should me moved to the new areas.

4. Tend Trees and Shrubs at the Cottage Property

There’s so much I want to do at the cottage, and I think this year will mostly be determining where to start. We want to remove some existing trees (before emerald ash borer does it for us) and plant a wider variety of tree and shrub species that will diversify the forest and enhance habitat for wildlife.

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I want to take cuttings from the viburnum bushes at my house and grow more for the cottage property.

Specific things I need to do:

  • Complete the management plan for our property and get it submitted to the American Tree Farm System.
  • Cut and poison the stumps of the box elder trees that I cut down last winter, and prepare the area for planting the oak trees we have in mind. Then get the trees, plant them, and protect them from hungry deer and beavers.
  • Do research on how to propagate shrubs using rooted cuttings. Gather wood at the right time from shrubs like elderberry, ninebark, and red-osier dogwood and start experimenting. Plant bundles of willow at the Point and protect them (last year the beavers stole the cuttings I planted!).
  • Determine where trees need to be thinned and make lots of firewood.
  • Make a wish list of plants that I want on the property (e.g., elderberry, silver maple, basswood) and go on scouting trips to find places where I can gather seeds or cuttings of those plants. Look for silver maple seedlings along sand bars on the river.
  • Continue work to remove invasive honeysuckle and barberry.
  • Improve fencing in the orchard. This probably involves making a large number of tree cages that can be moved around the property as needed over time.
  • Identify the mystery plant I found last fall!

5. Create Demonstration Gardens for My Master Gardener Project

Last year I worked with a few friends to start rehabilitating some neglected garden beds at the Marsin Nature Retreat as part of our work for the Extension Master Gardener volunteer program. We made good progress, hosting 3 workshops and getting a large garden ready for planting. The work this year will be to plant this garden area and then decide which derelict beds are next.

Marsin-before
Before pic: The foundation gardens have been neglected and need a big makeover. We’re halfway there…

Specific things I need to do:

  • Work with my gardening co-conspirators and others to create a wish list of our desired plants for the area. Then host a “plant drive” to get donations for what we want.
  • Plant the area that’s been prepared with the plants that we receive and establish nursery beds to hold extra plants that can be propagated for future use.

6. Teach Others How to Garden

Do you ever have it happen where you don’t realize something about yourself? For years I knew that I liked gardening, and it seemed pretty normal because lots of people I know have gardens and grow a bit of food. It has only been in the past year or two that I realized that I love gardening, and that I spend way more time on it than most people. This became most apparent to me when I realized that I love talking to people about gardening, and that I often find myself answering gardening questions for my friends.

One of my friends bought a house last year and she wants to have her first garden this year—she knows almost nothing about gardening and is truly starting from scratch. And I have a handful other friends who are looking for advice on how to improve their veggies gardens this summer. And, for me, it’s all really exciting.

To start answering all these questions, I made an online course, A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening in Cold Climates, using the awesome online education platform Udemy. The course is designed to help people with no experience (and living in places that have a true winter season) create their first gardens. I posted the course as soon as I had the minimum materials, but there are a lot of improvements that could be made.

udemy
I made this online course for beginning gardeners. Check it out and/or tell your newbie gardener friends. 
  • Continue improving the course by adding new material and making the existing lectures better. And publicize it too.
  • Do a few garden visits this year to help my friends get their gardens going. I think I can be especially helpful with soil testing and helping people figure out what soil amendments they need since I did that in the demonstration garden last year and will be doing it in my gardens this fall.
  • Post more information on this website, or on other gardening sites, to address common questions and stumbling blocks.

Wow! That’s a lot of things to do! I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to do most of it, even though it is a major list. And I’m excited for all of it. Happy gardening!

Where can I buy gardening seeds?

Someone recently asked me where they should go to get garden seeds. Fortunately, there is no shortage of places where you can buy high-quality garden seed—in fact, it is more likely that you will have trouble deciding among the many options that are out there!

If you’re bitten by the gardening bug, you may end up with a mailbox full of beautiful catalogs and have a hard time figuring out which company is the best for you. The good news is that there isn’t a single answer– it’s more important that you pick something that you will plant, so that you can start gardening and learn what works for you.

When it comes to gardening in colder climates, the major factor is to focus on varieties of plants that can successfully grow within the amount of growing season that you have. When you can, look for seed companies that are specific to your region because they will be tuned into the conditions closer to where you live.

When you are comparing different varieties of the same plant, favor species that have a smaller number of days to maturity. Even a difference of 5-10 days can have a tremendous influence on the success of your garden.

Buying Seeds from the Store

For many people, the simplest thing will be to buy seeds from a local store, whether it’s a big box store or a local garden or “feed and seed” store. This is a great option, it and is certainly more convenient that wading through piles of catalogs. Seeds sold at stores are often going to be from larger companies, which means that the selection may not be tailored to a specific climate. If you are purchasing seeds packets from a display at a store:

  • Pay special attention to the number of days to maturity to ensure that the plant variety can be grown in a shorter climate.
  • Look for words in the description that suggest that the seeds are better for cold climates, such as: short-season, early-maturing, or northern gardens.
  • Avoid the cheap seeds. Some stores carry cheap “generic” seeds that are $1 or less per packet. Seeds do not need to cost an arm and a leg, but do avoid any that seem suspiciously cheap because the quality is likely to be poor.
  • Double check that the seeds have been packaged for the current year. This is typically stamped on the back of the package, and ensures that you’re are getting the best quality.

Can I reuse old seed?

Yes. If you have seeds leftover from last year and they were stored in a dry place, you may be able to use them this coming season. Seeds can be stored for years and years if they are kept in the right conditions—generally in a dry and dark location that is kept at a consistent (and preferably cool) temperature. Exposure to moisture, heat, and light cause seeds to germinate prematurely or loose their viability. Personally, I’ve even had reasonable success with vegetable seeds that have been stored in less-than-ideal conditions when I accidentally left them in the damp, unheated garage over winter.

Over time, however, the quality of the seed does degrade, and the germination success (the percentage of seeds that successfully transform themselves into teensy seedlings) does decrease over time. If you aren’t sure about the quality of your seed, it is pretty easy to do a germination test and find out before you plant them.

Where I Buy Seeds for My Gardens

Some people go bananas about seed catalogs, sifting through a dozen or more catalogs to see what’s new and exciting. I am not one of those people. I only have a few seed catalogs that I look at each year, generally focusing on companies from the Midwest. Here are the primary places that I go to for purchasing seeds and plants:

  • Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah, IA): This company specializes in heirloom and heritage seed varieties that were passed on by generations of gardeners and farmers before the industrialization of agriculture reduced the variety of crops that are commonly grown. Vegetables, herbs, and some flowers. Also seed potatoes.
  • Jung Seed (Randolph, WI): This family-owned company is very close to where I grew up and has an immense variety of plants for all types of gardeners. Vegetables and flower seed, seed potatoes and garlic, live plants (flowers, fruits, trees, etc.)
  • Prairie Nursery (Westfield, WI): Another company from near where I grew up, specializing in perennial native plants for the Midwest.
  • Dixondale Farms (Carrizo Springs, TX): A few years ago, I switched from buying seed sets to buying seed starts—baby onions that are ready to plant into the ground in early spring. My onions have never been better, and this company has onions suitable for regions across the entire US.
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A few of my favorite catalogs!

Other Companies

As I said earlier, the options for seeds are pretty much endless. I’ve highlighted a few companies here that are recommended by other northern gardeners, but I don’t have personal experience with these companies. Ask gardeners near you or seek out a local gardening group to get suggestions for what works best for where you live.

  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Maine): An employee-owned company recommended by many gardeners I know for vegetables, although I haven’t tried this company yet.
  • Territorial Seed Company (Oregon): A family-owned company with a variety of vegetable seeds and perennial flowers and plants that has also been recommended to me by a few people.
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Missouri): Notable for rare and heirloom vegetable seeds, and fun pictures in the catalog.
  • Denali Seed (Alaska) : Noted by several bloggers for seeds in Alaska and other cool/cold-climate locations.
  • Prairie Garden Seeds (Saskatchewan): A great variety of vegetables and grains for cold climate regions in Canada and beyond.
  • Garden’s North: Noted by several websites for selling seeds worldwide.

This is only a small amount of what’s available. The Cold Climate Gardening website has a more extensive list of companies providing seeds, plants, and materials for gardening in cold climates.

Don’t Overthink Things

Don’t get bogged down with the many options that are available. Pick one or a few companies (or just go to the store), select a few plants to grow, and start gardening! You’ll do great!

What about you? Where do you get your garden seeds?

Gardener Profile: Getting to Know Me and My Garden

I was on a Facebook page for a gardening group, and someone initiated one of those “get to know you” types of posts. This doesn’t answer every question, but it does provide you with a good introduction to me and my garden.

Nick Name?
Mrs. GreenJeans

What does your nick name stand for?
I’m not entirely sure, but years ago a neighbor (he’s quite the character) started calling me that because I was always working in my little garden plot.

Age?
Thirtysomething

Where do you live or used to live?
In the woods. In the western Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, for the past 15 years or so. I grew up in Wisconsin, about 5 hours south of where I live now.

Zone?
The plant hardiness zone is about 4b/5a here because our winter minimum temperatures are moderated by Lake Superior. However, our growing season is short and more like areas that are 3b/4a.

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My garden in early spring.

Do you work or where did you work before?
My background is in forestry, and my professional work is related to compiling and communicating scientific information related to forests. It’s really awesome.

Other hobbies besides gardening?
The bigger ones are: biking, triathlons, playing outside, writing.

How long have you been gardening?
When I was about 15, I was inspired by my summer job at a farm market and dug up a patch of sod in my parent’s yard to make a garden. I can’t remember if I stuck with long enough to plant anything, but I certainly didn’t grow anything. I started gardening for real when I was 22, and I’ve been gardening at our current home for the past 10 seasons.

Where is your garden located and what is its size?
I have a bunch of gardens, and a lot of plants. We have about 3 acres in the country, and I have a few different garden areas:

  • My vegetable garden (about 30 ft x 40 ft), which is where I spend most my energy.
  • Perennial fruits are near there. There are grapes growing on the north fence of the vegetable garden, and blueberries planted on the other side
  • A wildflower garden containing prairie plants that are native to the area in Wisconsin where I grew up.
  • Foundation plantings around the house, consisting almost entirely of plants I got for free.
  • The woods, which we use for making maple syrup and which I’d like to garden.

We also have another property with a small vegetable garden for things that take up space and don’t need much tending (e.g., potatoes) and a bunch of woods and wetlands.

Courses in Horticulture?
I took plant taxonomy and some other classes in college and got a minor in plant science. In 2017, I completed the Master Gardener coursework.

What are your specialties in gardening?
I’m really good at moving the same soil around to different places because I change my mind on how I want things arranged. I bet that some of my raised beds have moved 3-4 times. Also, I don’t have a rototiller, so I do all my soil prep and weeding with hand tools and elbow grease.

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Grapes!

Favorite Flower?
Monarda (bergamot, bee balm). I love the smell.

Favorite Tree/Shrub?
Elm. I love the shape and all the textures.

What has been the best-performing plant/plants in your gardens?
Probably potatoes. Because I’m not that skilled of a gardener, but I’m good at moving soil around.

Most challenging plant?
I can never grow cabbages or cruciferous veggies (except kale) in my garden. Something eats them.

Favorite gardening quote?
Maybe that proverb “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Favorite gardening magazines?
Not right now, but I’m taking suggestions.

Favorite garden website?
Not in particular. I feel like I’m always searching Google for something really weird.

Do you belong to any garden societies or clubs?
Not yet.

Do you have a gardening webpage?
Right here!

Favorite garden books?
I was gifted a copy of The Vegetable Gardeners Bible when first started gardening, and it’s always been a great reference. For native plants, the catalog from Prairie Nursery contains as much information as a book and is fun to look at.

Favorite tool(s)?
A digging fork and a stirrup hoe. Add in a shovel, a five-gallon bucket, and a good pair of gloves and I could do just about anything.

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I could seriously write a love letter to my stirrup hoe.

What has been your best garden purchased or project?
I buy vegetable starts for things like tomatoes and peppers. I suppose it’s more fashionable to save your seeds and grow your own, but I have no interest in growing plants indoors. Buying starter plants saves me time, and I think is cost-effective since I’m not buying supplies or running grow lights.

Any projects in the works or planned?
Where do I start? Let’s save that for a future post…

If you had an unlimited budget, what would you do with your garden?
I’d make all of our property into a giant food forest.

If you could invent a plant, what would it look like?
A tree that grew chocolate, year-round, in my backyard.

Describe an experience with a garden pest that had you ready to throw in the trowel?
Anytime I tried to grow cabbages, ever.

What advice do you have for the novice gardener?
Follow your curiosity. Just do what’s fun. Nobody was ever born with a green thumb.

What is your motivation for gardening?
I garden for so many reasons that it’s hard to say. Perhaps it’s that gardening does so many things at once. If I’m gardening, I’m spending time outside and relieving stress and moving my body and learning stuff and growing healthy food and making habitats for critters and making the world happier.

Garden Experiment 2: Wine Cap Mushroom Cultivation

Perhaps buoyed by the unexpected success of my previous garden experiment, I’ve started another. This time, I’m trying to cultivate the wine cap (aka Stropharia) mushrooms in my garden. The wine caps are about the simplest of any to grow, which seems like a good fit for me since I’ve only had mixed success with growing shitakes in the past.

There are a handful of sites providing instructions on how to grow wine caps (links provided below), all of which were so short that I felt they were leaving out important information. But they weren’t leaving information out—it’s just that simple. I got my spawn from Field and Forest Products, a company out of northern Wisconsin.

Mushroom spawn, via the internet and mail.

The mushroom grows well in part sun to light shade, so I picked an area in prairie garden underneath a red maple tree. This area is full sun this time of year (i.e., before the leaves come out) but then is lightly shaded during the summer. Possibly because of the shade, few plants seem to creep into this area and it stays pretty clean with only mulch and minimal weeding. It’s also not far out the back door of our house, which makes it a good place to grow edibles.

Clean garden area on the edge of our yard.

I raked up the mulch, moving it just slightly to try to smother out some grass on our septic lawn. (I try to kill the lawn whenever I can.) Then I covered the area with about 1 inch of straw. Based on the instructions, it would have been better if I would have used hardwood sawdust or fine wood chips for the base, or if I would have soaked the straw for a few days first. But between spending time at the cottage and work travel, my time to work on this is limited and I decided to go for it anyway just using dry straw.

Spreading straw, a base layer about 1-inch deep.

Since I didn’t pre-soak my straw, I gave it a good spray with the hose to get some moisture close to the soil. I crumbled up the sawdust spawn and spread that over the straw, and then covered that with the remaining straw so that it was a few inches deep. Then I set up a sprinkler and gave the whole area a good long soak.

New mushroom bed, ready to go.

I kept the sprinkler in place so that I can water the area again if we don’t get rain for a while. But otherwise, I just have to wait and see what happens. Stay tuned!

Instructions

Here are instructions on “planting” wine cap spawn from:

Garden Experiment 1 Update: Raised Bed Hoop House

We had a big thaw back in February, and I put all my cabin fever energy into build a raised garden bed that was, conveniently, taller than the piles of snow around it.

I planted it, watered it, and rolled the plastic up like a snug burrito. When things warmed up in early April, I opened it up and was excited to see that the seeds had germinated. I watered everything and wrapped it back up.

Spinach seedlings, early April

A few weeks later I opened things up and there were more plants, but they were still tiny. I figured everything was stunted by the alternating temperatures if winter cold and daytime high, made worse by my negligence in watering. I wrapped everything up again, and figured it would be a loss.

Raised bed, largely neglected.

I planted onions a week ago and needed to waster them because it’s been a warm, sunny, dry, wonderful week. After that, I figured I open up the bed and see what had happened. I expected dry soil and stunted plants. But instead it was lovely:

Raised bed, almost 3 months after planting

Things were exactly as I’d originally hoped, and better than I ever would have actually expected for starting a garden in February.

This experiment was a success!

I cut some greens, watered everything, and wrapped that burrito back up again.