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Monday, January 31, 2011

The Circular Raised Bed

As you might know if you followed me on Facebook we had a fantastic weather weekend! Which of course meant what? TIME IN THE GARDEN! 

After being cooped up all winter my daughters and I hightailed it to the backyard and spent the day outdoors digging in the dirt. We accomplished many of the chores I mentioned on Friday (wait they weren't chores because I enjoyed doing them!). One of those tasks was a rearrangement of the vegetable garden. I wanted to move four small raised beds out of the center and install a retaining wall stone raised bed. The obvious advantage to stone for raised beds is that it won't rot like my old wooden beds have done. In fact I noticed that the small raised beds I put together last year have some significant rotting along the bottom (see my last picture in this post). They might make it through this year but definitely not another garden season. Because they are wooden they feed the soil as they break down but in the long run they are more expensive to keep replacing than the stone beds.

Here's a closer shot of the circular stone bed. It's about four feet across. The ground slopes downward to the left which made leveling the circle a challenge. It's not set like a retaining wall should be with layers of gravel underneath but it doesn't need to be. It just needs to hold the dirt inside.

Three of the beds that once occupied the area are now in a U shape. Mostly because I thought it looked neat but also because they are easy beds to reach across. These may end up being our greens and beans beds.

The fourth small bed was moved over an existing 4'x6' bed which turned it into a tiered raised bed system. The left side will get more shade which might be conducive to growing greens a little longer into the summer.

You can see how much those boards that were new last year have rotted in one season. It all depends on the moisture. Dry years will help the boards last longer but it's been very wet lately. That's not a bad thing, unless you are an unpressure treated raised bed!

I hope your weekend was as wonderful as ours was!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Growing Shallots from Seed (Seed Sowing Saturday!)

Welcome to the first Seed Sowing Saturday of 2011! Where all of us seed starting fanatics recap our weekly seed starting experiences and share with each other what we're working on, how we're doing it all, and of course the results!

I chose to start my seed sowing this week by starting shallots. We do a great deal of our cooking in the kitchen with yellow onions and I love the red ones grilled but I think by far the best all around cooking onion is the shallot. It doesn't have the overwhelming strong taste like the red onions and has a nicer flavor than the yellow onions. The only problem with shallots is that they are so expensive. So to increase the quality of our cooking without raising the grocery expenses we are going to attempt to grow shallots.

I like to use everyday kitchen trays to hold out seed starting pots. They are cheap and easily available. I filled this one with 16 small round peat pots. In the past I've used all kinds of plastic yogurt containers with holes poked in the bottom but I happened to have some small peat pots in the garage that were handy.

I added a commercial seed starting mix. It's one of the easiest ways to go and is available in organic versions. Many people make their own formulas for seed starting mix but I haven't as of yet (I'm interested in hearing about your soil mix if you have one!) After adding the mix to the pots I watered the tray and allowed the water to soak into the pots and the soil.

In went the shallot seeds! I placed two per pot for a total of 32 shallots. I hope they all germinate but there will probably be some seeds that are no longer viable. Onions have shorter shelf life than many other plants and these seeds have been around a little while.Even if only half of the seeds germinate I'll still have a nice crop of shallots.

In our upstairs closet I have a grow light set up for our seed starting. It's just an old fluorescent shop lamp but it's always done a great job. I like to adjust the height so that it is close to the seeds. Once the seedlings are old enough I'll harden them off to the outdoors and plant them as onion sets in the garden.

 Next week I hope to make my seed purchase for this year's seeds. I usually go with heirlooms so that I can save the seeds but I may try a few hybrid summer squashes to see if any can resist the squash bugs, borers, and the rot issues I had last year. We love our summer squash around here and get cranky when we can't grow it!

What's going on with your Seed Sowing Saturday? Don't forget to leave a link to your post below in the comments!

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Weekend Garden Gameplan

Oh I know, I'm keenly aware of the Superbowl coming up but this post has nothing to do with it. You see Saturday is destined to be a day outdoors - nothing short of the weather forecasters getting it completely wrong can stop that. We all know that never happens...

The temperatures are said to finally be reaching the 50's! I even heard on forecaster mention the words "approaching the 60's."  Needless to say I'm looking forward to spending some quality time outdoors with the rake, the shovel, the wheelbarrow, the shed, the garage, and any other activity that I can find to do in the great outdoors.

Where am I going to start?
Here's the Weekend Garden Gameplan:

1. The Vegetable Garden
  • Remove four of the small 2x4 beds and replace the old 4'x8' bed with these. 
  • Put in the stone retaining wall circle raised bed for the center of the garden.
  • Lay down cardboard over the still grass covered walkways
  • clean out the old tomato branches and get those beds ready for planting!
2. Birdbath garden
  • lay down mulch over the small expansion I did in the fall. 
3. The yard
  • Plant a maple tree - still have on in a pot in need of a home!
  • bring compost to the compost bin and give it a turn - or two.
  • Prune while I can still see all the branches. Pruning trees while dormant is usually the best time but don't prune spring flowering trees unless you want to remove the blooms - can't figure out why you would want to do that though!
  • Move a magnolia! That little plant I started from seed still needs a home.
4. The Shed
  • water anything that needs watered
  • general cleanup
  • move some boxes away from the windows so that more light can come through.
5.  The garage
  • clean it
  • clean it
  • clean it
  • did I say clean it?

Now I wonder if the odds makers in Vegas have set the line Dave vs The Chores? Doubtful...

Who's your money on? ;)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Vegetable Garden in January

What can I say really? It's January and my vegetable garden is awfully sad. The winter air has been colder than Tennessee cold should be.  If I were by myself I might be brave enough to get outdoors but bringing my almost 7 month old son outdoors during the day really isn't an option. He'll get his fill of gardening for sure but not in 30 degree weather. Needless to say many projects that I would love to have tackled already are going to require some patience.

Take for instance the tomato beds from 2010:

Here's how they appeared last June.

And now here they are in desperate need of cleanup. Quite the change isn't it?

Or one of my small raised beds in desperate need to henbit eradication.

One project I really want to get going is the vegetable garden remodel, maybe I can in February. You can see some of the stone ready to go for the center circle bed. I really can't wait to get out there and start moving dirt!

There isn't much to show in the garden right now. Some garlic, some strawberries, and some cilantro. One of these days I'll get around to building that hoop house to keep year round spinach. Maybe in 2011?

A little cleanup, a little remodeling and a little weeding - I just wish I could get outdoors! 

Please - NO MORE SNOW!

The Lion in My Garden

The Lion stalks through the underbrush. In search of his prey...

He stops to inspect his surroundings, ...

ever aware, ever watchful... 

he quickly and stealthily crosses the open spaces for cover, still on the hunt...

close now to his prey, he stalks again behind the cover of the underbrush...

and fertilizes!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Unusual Start

The other day I had a surprise. While washing dishes at the kitchen sink I looked over at a small yogurt cup on the counter top to see this:

Several small seedlings had appeared from some tomato seeds I was soaking. I'm going to have to admit one of my major failings here to properly tell the story, sometimes...I forget things! In this case I put the seeds in water to soak and try to remove the pulp from around the seeds. I meant to get back to dry off the seeds and store them but apparently time moved faster than my memory. The seeds soaked for about a week then began to germinate in the water! The tomato seedling in the picture stuck to the side of the cup and decided to make it home.

It's a little early to be starting tomato seeds here in TN right now but since I already had a. accidentally good start from a few seeds I potted them up into a soil mix and put them on a window sill. These seeds came from a small yellow tomato that resembles the 'Sungold' variety of tomatoes. I was given a few of them last year and was told that they were grown by Dr. Sams of the University of Tennessee. They were delicious! They also seem to have a very long shelf life if stored on the kitchen counter. I wish I had saved more seed for these tomato but because I didn't I'll be keeping these seedlings going until I can plant them outside.

I can't wait to taste that first ripe tomato - I think I know which variety it will be!

Have you had any happy accidents lately?

Also don't forget that Seed Sowing Saturday starts this Saturday! If it's too early for you to start your seeds just post when you do - ALL are welcome!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Seed Sowing Saturday!

Next week I'll be starting my seed sowing and I wanted to invite all other bloggers to join in to share their experiences. Each Saturday we'll post about what we've done with our seeds, what we've selected, what we've planted, and how it's doing. From sowing to growing it's all fair-game!

What can we talk about?

  • seed selection
  • how you start your seeds 
  • winter sowing
  • equipment you use
  • techniques like stratification and scarification
  • growing and transplanting
We'll keep this meme going until May when most gardeners have finished sowing their crops (we can always add more Saturdays if needed.) Once you have your post ready leave a link in the comments of the current SSS Post here on The Home Garden, just be sure to link back so that others may join in the fun!

I hope you will chime in and share your seed sowing experiences every Saturday with us! If you like starting seeds then this is your meme!

When will you be starting your seeds?

P.S. If you can't get enough seed talk don't forget to join in Mr. Brownthumb's Seedchat on Twitter!

Friday, January 21, 2011

5 Things to Consider Before Planting

Recently I ordered plants (which I'll cover in another post) and while choosing the plants I used a few criteria to guide my selections.  I wouldn't rule out purchasing plants just because they might miss one or two of these characteristics but I do know that when all five can be found in the same plant I've got a winner!

Soil Conditions
The soil conditions in my garden range from pretty good to downright awful. The front yard is severely lacking in organic matter and consists mostly of clay and limestone gravel from the construction of our house (hello builders bring back the soil please!) When I dig I hit little rocks from the gravel and kick up tons of water-retaining-clay. In the back yard I have better quality soil and the plants thrive there with little help. When I select a plant I either have to find one that does well in clay soil or I'll have to plant it in the backyard gardens.

Drought Tolerance
Our rainfall in the south is consistently inconsistent. The spring brings loads of moisture (last May we even had floods) while our summers can be severely dry. Plants need to be able to tolerate the drought conditions yet handle the wet springs. This is also another reason why soil conditions are important. A soil filled with good organic material will retain water during the dry periods.

Wildlife Benefit
Pollinators and wildlife can benefit when I pick plants with nourishing flowers or produce some sort of edible berry or seed. Hollies, pyracantha, and beautyberry all produce fruits that the birds can feast on to help them through the winter while coneflowers and other perennials produce seeds that the birds love!

If the plant catalog says "self-sows" I'm always cautious. Many self-sowers are easy to control but other can be problems. In general if it's on our state list of invasive plants I try to avoid adding it to my landscape. That doesn't mean it can't be controlled but it does mean it will require some work!

Overall Aesthetic Quality
In many cases this is what gets you to look at the plant to begin with, it just looks good! I try to fit it into a location with companion plant that will complement each other. Contrasting foliage with flowers, creating backdrops for berries (like Winterberry - Ilex verticillata), and long flowering periods are all factors to consider. Foliage, flowers, cand colors all factor in to providing and excellent accent in the garden!

How do you make decisions on what plants to buy?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Vegetable Garden Layout - Parterre Style!

The other day I posted about the next evolution of my garden on its way to becoming a more formalized vegetable garden. Today I'll show you the layout of what I hope the vegetable garden will eventually become. There are some distinct advantages to the layout changes that I am planning on making that I'll share with you below the diagram of the vegetable garden layout.

First a Short Description of the Vegetable Garden:
I want to divide the garden into 4 main sections that curve around a center circle bed. Each bed will be lined with retaining wall blocks (most likely cast concrete) to define the beds and keep the soil inside. The central path and circle path in the middle will be approximately 4 feet wide. The pathways to the left and right will end with a couple of large pots filled with herbs as an edible exhibit. The corner beds will be 12 feet long on the outside edges and about 6 feet long along the straight edges of the pathway. Stepping stones will be placed inside each garden bed to allow easy access to the areas hard to reach from the pathway.

Vegetable Garden Layout in Parterre Style

The Advantages of this Layout:
  • It divides the garden into four main beds which is ideal for organizational purposes when you are considering crop rotation. 
  • The 4 ft. wide pathways give easy access to wheel barrows and equipment and make maneuvering around the garden a piece of cake. 
  • The stone edged beds won't rot like my wooden beds have. They can also be stacked higher to make deeper raised beds. My plan is to begin with one layer and add more height over time as needed.
  • Stone borders will also heat up faster and retain heat over the night hours which may improve the length of the growing season some. In the summer the stones will be shielded by the foliage and won't absorb as much heat.

The Implementation of My Scheme (Scheme sounds a bit more dramatic than "plan" doesn't it?):
Rome wasn't built in a day neither will this garden be. Over time I can add the stone borders for the raised beds. The first step will be to make the circle bed in the middle and mulch the remaining grass area.  That stone is already resting in the vegetable garden waiting for the gardener to get with it! Fortunately (for the garden but not our budget) we just had to replace our refrigerator and I saved the box for use as a weed blocker in the vegetable garden. I'll lay the cardboard down and mulch over the top which should be all I need to get rid of the grass. The cardboard will last through this season and maybe some of 2012 before it completely disintegrates into the soil. I may sneak some newspapers underneath it for good measure and to recycle the newspaper - we sure have enough of it stored in the garage!

Step 1 - The Circular Raised Bed is now put together!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Overwintering Coleus

'Henna' Coleus
When the outside temperatures began to drop in the fall I knew there were a few tender plants that I wanted to preserve for next year like my coleus. I brought 2 varieties of coleus indoors in the hopes of planting them again in the Spring of 2011 and both are doing good! I put the pot near a sunny southern window and one of them is thriving while the other is just getting by - but that's good enough to get it through the winter.

The thriving coleus is 'Henna' which has some really nice foliage. The underside of the leaves is a deep red color while the top side of each leaf right now is a shade of green When it receives more sunlight during the growing season the top side of each leaf gains a more reddish coloration.

'Alabama Sunset' Coleus
The other coleus I'm overwintering is 'Alabama Sunset'. 'Alabama Sunset' has some similar coloring to Henna in the red but the green is much more of a lime green and mixes with the red on both sides of the leaves with a mottled variegation. I saved two cuttings of this coleus and planted them in the same pot for space conservation reasons. When the last frost date gets close I'll make cuttings of the 'Alabama Sunset' and plant them outdoors.

The 'Henna' coleus will probably remain in its pot so that it can be easily moved around in the future. Coleus is a tender perennial and will stay alive as long as it isn't killed by the frosts! From what I've seen of 'Henna', it makes an excellent houseplant!

What plants did you overwinter this year?

Monday, January 17, 2011

'Right' and 'Wrong' in the Garden

When I started putting together our first garden areas in our blank slate of a yard I always second guessed myself. Every planting was met with the oncoming thought "is this going to work like I want it to?" or "does this look right?" Ideas flow freely from my mind all the time and I always try to imagine what they will turn out like when everything is finished but there have always been those nagging thoughts. After several years of gardening I still have those thoughts that eat away at my confidence each time I do something new in the garden. Sometimes I'll stare at a plant that I just bought and place it in 4-5 different locations before settling on a final spot for the plant. I can't tell you how many times I've wondered what my neighbors think of my garden. I'm always my own worst critic.

But I've learned a little something over the years. It doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter. There isn't anything in the garden that can't be changed or fixed to fit another idea or plan. Any "mistake" can be rectified. Every plant planted in the wrong location can be moved or replaced at any time! I can't tell you how many plants I've moved over the years. I moved a willow tree three times, a maple at least twice and many perennials have migrated to different locations. I guess that's another reason why I like to propagate the plants - so I can just plant a new one where I want it!

My vegetable garden is another example. I've changed it's design every year. It started off as an "L" shape then moved to more standard potager feel and hopefully will become something even better as it changes. Maybe change isn't the right word but rather "evolves." A garden evolves and grows - constantly.

I'm finding that as I garden more the idea of something being "right" or "wrong" in the garden just isn't true. "Right" and "wrong" are matters of personal taste and what looks right to one person might be just plain wrong to another. It's up to the gardener. If you happen to be a new gardener who has had similar thoughts don't worry so much. Whether it's wrong or right, it's all up to you, the gardener!

Aphids on Ornamental Peppers!

Insect pests (like aphids) are always frustrating to find on your plants. I've dealt with aphids many times before but I still never like to find them again. Inevitably I do. Aphids are one of the most common insect pests in every garden. If you garden you will eventually find them on one of your plants. I've had them on plants like spirea, hostas, asclepias (butterfly weed), and now my ornamental peppers!

The solution is simple and non-toxic which is great if you have children or pets around. Soapy water! We have a spray bottle that we keep in the kitchen for cleaning up with a little bit of dish soap and a lotta bit of water. I just take the bottle and spray my plant away making sure to cover each leaf thoroughly top and underside. But the aphids will come back! In a few days the aphids will return (not the same ones - the offspring) and I spray again. Aphids have this crazy characteristic of producing live young without mating which means the eggs are already about to hatch inside the stem mother so their return is pretty much assured.

Also this spring when you start to see ants mysteriously exploring your plants check closely because they may be stealthily transporting aphids to your plants!

If you don't have a spray bottle you can take a soapy solution on a paper towel and wipe out those aphids. This may in fact be more effective since you would be removing the dead bodies of the aphids and the baby aphids would not be able to return to that plant.

Have you checked your houseplants lately?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Vegetable Garden Layout with Raised Beds for 2011

Another year comes and guess what - I make more changes to my vegetable garden! I haven't done anything yet but below you'll see what I intend to change from last year's vegetable garden design. This is step one in altering my garden into what will eventually become an awesome parterre layout. I can envision it now - brick lined paving stone paths, elegant raised beds, integrated companion plantings with flowers spilling over the edges of the stone lined raised beds. Can you see it?

For now the changes will be small. According to the 2010 Vegetable Garden Layout I had four raised beds flanking either side of the central path. For 2011 I'll be moving those out and replacing the worn out raised bed in the lower right corner with the four smaller beds to make one large bed. In the center of the garden will be a circular garden bed. Nearby I plan to use some rather large pots I rescued from the dump to create herb planters. I'm planning on spray painting the outsides with a metallic paint to dress them up a bit then plant various herbs or flowers in the large pots.

The center circle bed will be made from stone blocks I already have on hand. The brown/tan coloring on the other beds represents the wood that will eventually need replaced.

I'll release the next phase/layout of the parterre transformation in a future post so stick around! 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies (A Review)

OK I'll have to admit when I was sent Sustainable Landscaping For Dummies for a review I had some mixed thoughts with the title. I'm a fan of sustainability, I think it's of the utmost importance as we remodel our landscapes and improve our homes, but something about the dummy part of the title got me. I mean, I don't consider myself a dummy so why would this book apply to me? But of course it's just a title and the book itself proves that this isn't for dummies. You see, a dummy wouldn't care or even see the importance of sustaining our lakes and streams from water runoff, or wouldn't understand the importance of minimizing the chemicals we use in our gardens, or care about re-using old materials for new uses to keep treasures from ending up in landfills. This book for dummies by Owen Dell is definitely one smart book.

Owen infuses a bit of humor in this collection of sustainable gardening and landscaping tips that keeps you interested. In the world of "How to" books that can be mercilessly boring this one isn't. From the basics of sustainability to water management Owen Dell covers all the bases. He talks about composting, mulching, edibles in the landscape, and lawn alternatives which are gaining favor by the minute. There's a whole lot of information in this one book.

I suspect that if every homeowner in America practiced two or three more of the sustainable ideas in this book than they were doing before we would see a substantial difference in the quality of our environment. If you want to learn more about sustainable landscaping you could go visit Owen's website or just go buy his book!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Taking Flight

When stuck indoors on a cold winter day while layers of snow blanket the ground there isn't much else to do other than watch the birds!

Well maybe there is something else to do but chores are not as much fun!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Covered in ...


Yep the southern Blizzard of 2011 got us pretty good this time. We have somewhere around 4-5 inches of snow on the ground. Here are a few pictures of our winter wonderland!

Snow on the Arbor

Snow on the Blue Garden Shed

Snow on the butterfly bush

Snow on the eastern cedar

Snow on a hemlock

Snow on a Leyland cypress

Snow on an oak leaf hydrangea

Snow on the vegetable garden

It looks like we'll be living with the snow for another day or two. This has been a strange winter so far! It may be time to buy a real sled...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Sitting Garden in Summer

A few years ago I drew a rough drawing of a garden area for my in-laws.  They had just built their new house and were excited to fill the landscaping in with something they would enjoy. What I came up with was a sitting garden. Essentially an area where they could go outside and relax while watching the garden or just enjoying the outdoors. I put two elements into the plan that I think are necessary in every garden: an observation point (in this case a spot to sit) and a pathway. I think when you have those elements in mind you can build the garden around it. In the beginning what they had as an aggregate sidewalk that stretched form the driveway to their front steps which subdivided this are from the rest of the yard and made for a perfect region for a garden.

The site had a couple major issues. The first issue was the soil itself. The ground (as it is in many areas of Tennessee) was all clay and limestone and caused the second issue drainage. The clay held the water in the area and the sidewalk created a dam that prevented the rainwater runoff from the house to escape. Eventually they had to remove an area of the sidewalk and install a drainage pipe underneath which helped out immensely. The only thing that can be done with clay soil is amend. Over the last few years mulch has been added which eventually breaks down and improves the soil. Things are much better now but still mostly clay and limestone!

As of this past June here's how the sitting garden looks.

A river pebble walkway with stepping stones leads you to the sitting area. As you walk the pathway two yuccas flank the sitting area entry. The walkway is bordered with natural stone from the area.

The white metal bench stands out underneath two crape myrtle trees. The crape myrtles were planted to provide fast growing shade for the sitting area. The holly to the left and foundation plantings along the house were part of the general landscaping the builder put together. 

A 'Jane' Magnolia brightens up the area in the spring. Daylilies do the job in summer. The perennial area in front hasn't quite filled in yet but will over time. Once the drainage issues were solved it made the area much better for planting.

The dwarf boxwood hedge has come a long way from its initial installation. Inside the hedge is lavender, daylilies, Shasta daisies, and coreopsis.

Here's a quick view of the front garden area from the stairs.

When I designed the area I made a general plan and offered some planting suggestions but other things have been added and replaced over the years. The garden changes to suit its owners, just as it should!