A few weeks ago I wrote about Spouse's foray back into brewing beer. We're finally able to sample the fruits of his labor. The first beer he brewed - Phat Tyre from Northern Brewer - is absolutely delicious. Here's to homebrew!
Okay, so the century is young and we haven't had much snow all winter. But last night through this morning we got about 12" of snow at our house. Until this weekend, the Twin Cities had only received 15" for the entire winter, so the snow is welcome. Hopefully it will help alleviate the drought condition we're currently in.
Dexter - who loves snow - couldn't wait to get outside to He grudgingly sat for a picture at the door, then another next to the driveway snowdrift, and then he was off like the wind.
Carol over at May Dreams Gardens is at it again. She has invited gardeners to post about what's blooming in their gardens on the 15th of every month.
The inspiration for Bloom Day was a quote from Elizabeth Lawrence: “We can have flowers nearly every month of the year.”Now, that may be true in North Carolina where Lawrence lived all her life, but in Minnesota, unless you have houseplants, having something blooming every month is but a dream. And since I am not a houseplant person, I don't have anything blooming - anywhere.
But, there is still beauty in the winter landscape. My submission for the first Bloom Day are these basswood seeds with their "helicopters." They look a little like a sort-of bellflower, don't you think? Okay, maybe I'm reaching, but it's February in Minnesota!
When Carol at May Dreams Gardens selected Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters by Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence as February's Garden Blogger's Book Club selection, I was quite pleased. I had purchased the book back in November and hadn't been inspired to start reading it. This was the perfect catalyst.
Little did I know that once I started reading Two Gardeners that I would barely be able to put it down. I ended up finishing the book in three days. What a delightful book!
Elizabeth Lawrence and Katharine White first "met" when Lawrence wrote to White to praise White's article, "A Romp in the Catalogs," published in The New Yorker in 1958. This began a correspondence that lasted until Katharine's death in 1977.
Over the almost 20 years that they wrote to one another, they only met once, in 1967. Their's was a friendship of distance, and of words. They were drawn together because of a common interest in gardening and writing, but as their correspondence deepened, they became friends and confidants.
Because they both write about gardening, the reader assumes that there will be a lot of horticultural descriptions and advice throughout the letters. And while there is much talk of gardens and plants - both women describe what's in bloom, specific flowers
and the weather - gardening is not the only glue that holds these women's friendship together.
To me, in many ways, this was not so much a book about gardening but a book about being an author. Both women spent their lives in the publishing world - Katharine as an editor and writer for The New Yorker and Elizabeth as a book author and columnist for magazines and newspapers - and their overriding concern with publishing and books shines through their letters. From the first letter from Elizabeth to Katharine suggesting different catalogs that Katharine could review in her next article, to the last letter from Katharine to Elizabeth making final arrangements for their letters to be archived, these two women were writers first.
Throughout their correspondence, Katharine asks for advice on books, catalogs and horticulture, and uses the information she learns from Elizabeth in her articles. Likewise, Elizabeth bounces ideas off Katharine and asks for advice in dealing with publishers. During the years, they trade books that they think the other would like.
This all seems as if the correspondence was dry and professional, but it was anything but that. Each woman continually encourages and praises the other, listens to her friend's description of household ills and personal problems, and chats about friends and family. At one point,
when Katharine is very ill, Elizabeth sends her cuttings of various
flowers and plants from her garden.
Another overriding concern to both women is health. Katharine White had a lot of health problems through the course of the book and according to the editor she and her husband E. B. White were very concerned about their health. Elizabeth Lawrence cares for her sick mother at home through about 10 years of letters and discusses her situation often. Additionally, as both women age (Katharine was 84 when she died in 1977, and Elizabeth was about 10 years younger), both their own physical condition and that of those around them begins to deteriorate.
As a reader of these letters, I felt that I began to know these two women. I admired their devotion to family, sympathized with their pains and illnesses, and enjoyed watching their friendship take root and flower over the years.
Here it is, the last of my 2006 vegetable reviews: cucumbers, squash and watermelons, aka the cucurbits. Last year was a strange growing year for these crops. The cucumbers did great, but were not the variety I ordered. I'm not sure what they were, but they weren't slicing cucumbers. For the first year in a long time, the zucchini didn't suffer from downy mildew, but I didn't get one squash until the day before the first snow! The watermelons were planted on a complete whim and were not taken care of at all, but I ended up with three small fruits in the end.
Cucumbers: As noted, I don't know what variety these were. I had ordered Straight Eight from Vesey's, which I've grown for years, but the cucumbers I ended up with were not Straight Eight. I believe these were a pickling variety, but it didn't seem like a very good one (they weren't a nice shape at a small size). I used them for salads and pickled some, but the taste was bland and the fruits very seedy. In 2007 I'm thinking of trying Diva from Johnny's.
Lantha Watermelon: I planted these on a whim, and then promptly ignored them. I have a bed that I'm never quite sure what to do with because it doesn't seem to get enough sun, so I put the Lantha Watermelons on one end. All I did was throw a handful of compost in each planting hole and watered the bed when everything else got watered. Rabbits got to about 3-4 before I harvested any myself (I didn't fence this bed), and I managed to harvest three in September. The vines were short - about 3' long - and each had 2-3 fruit. I think I'll try more in 2007 and take better care of them.
Black Beauty Zucchini: I had exactly one zucchini, harvested on October 11. The plants flowered all summer, but something prevented fruiting. There were bees in and around the plants, so I don't think it was a pollination problem. In any case, I'm probably one of the only gardeners around who had no extra zucchini to sneak onto their neighbor's porch. I'll plant more this year, and will try my hand at pimp by pollinating with a Q-Tip.
Raised beds I didn't need fencing for the cucumbers and zucchinis - I haven't had a problem with rabbits (yet). However, some of the watermelons were eaten, probably by rabbits.
Fertilization Compost only.
Insect Pests None (fingers crossed).
Other Pests Rabbits gnawing on the watermelon.
Diseases No - not even powdery mildew on the zucchini and cucumbers.
2006 was a weird year for cucurbits. In 2007, I'll order new cucumber seeds, pollinate the zucchini myself, and try the watermelons again.
After 10 days of waking up to temperatures far below zero, it's finally ended. When I took the dog for his walk this morning, it was a balmy 13, and it's now about 24 degrees. All I can say is, Finally. Us Minnesotans make a big deal of "dealing" with the weather, but I can say for sure that temps from -10 to -20 at 7:30 am for 10 days in a row really gets old after awhile. The good news (or maybe the cosmic joke) is that we really appreciate weather in the teens and twenties after a bad cold snap.
As cold as it's been, though, nature is moving inexorably toward spring. The cardinals are usually first with their spring calls. I've been hearing them for the past week. Pileated woodpeckers have started drumming on snags in the woods around our house. Crows have started splitting up. The group that hangs around our neighborhood haven't been roosting together over the last few evenings. Someone at work even saw a robin, although I bet that poor bird was pretty upset being here when the temperatures were barely getting above 5 degrees.
Last night we got to see Nephew for the first time since Christmas. He's two months old now and solid as a rock. Here he is with doting Grandma (aka, my mother-in-law).
The site is very much in its infancy, but I can see that it has a lot of potential. I believe that the folks at Cornell are using the information for research purposes, but the things they're interested in (what varieties grow best in what location/climate) are the same things that us gardeners are interested in.
There are some things on the site that need improvement, and some mistakes in some of the varieties, but the people working on the site are ready and willing to help. When I e-mailed with a few name corrections and a suggestion on making it more user-friendly, I received a very nice reply back from them.
When I posted on the book Teaming with Microbes, I mentioned that I might use corn gluten meal (CGM) on my lawn this spring to control dandelions. Paula from Illinois was nice enough to comment about her own experience with CGM. Paula said, "I spread it all over my lawn in the spring, when they tell you it is
most effective. I had dahlia-sized dandelions by the end of June,
exuberantly yellow, enormous gourmet dandelion leaves and two foot
Paula has been vindicated. In this month's "Yard & Garden Line News" from the University of Minnesota's Extension Service, there is an article about field tests being done on CGM in western Minnesota, and it concludes that CGM doesn't work for pre-emergent dandelion control.
The purpose of the test was to evaluate CGM's benefits as a natural fertilizer and for weed control. The study took place from 2002-2005, and tested various applications of CGM with different variables (number of applications, time of year, mowing height, etc.). All test plots were sodded, and were located next to a field with a heavy population of dandelions.
The basic results of the study were that CGM worked pretty well at keeping lawns green, especially with supplemental water as necessary. However, "Regardless of corn gluten meal treatment or different mowing heights, there was
unacceptable dandelion control, at least for home lawn situations, over the four
years of this study."
This issue of "Yard & Garden Line News" has not yet been archived, so I don't have a static URL to which to link for further information. To find the entire article in February, 2007, go here and scroll down to the article. To find the entire article after February, 2007 (or whenever it is archived - they still haven't started a link for 2007) go to the archives and find the February, 2007 issue.
To subscribe to the monthly "Yard & Garden Line News," go here,
which should bring up the most current issue. Go to the bottom of the
newsletter and enter your information. This is a great resource for
anyone gardening in Minnesota, or in any cold-climate area (zone 4/5 or
2006 was not a good year for tomatoes in my garden. I had very high hopes going into the season: I had started my own seed for the first time; I had room for 14 plants; and, I was trying a new self-watering container. Unfortunately, because a mid-season heatwave delayed flower set for two weeks in July, and because a rain killed off the container plants in August, I didn't get the harvest I was hoping for. Here's the recap.
Fourth of July (Burpee): Planted one plant in the raised bed. This was the first tomato harvested. Very small (2" diameter) but pretty good for such an early tomato. About an average yielder with short vines. Good for such an early yielder, but will probably not plant again - I'll keep looking.
Moskvich (Johnny's): Planted two in the raised bed. An early variety, not as small as Fourth of July. Not particularly high yielding. Not bad, not great. Will keep looking for a better early tomato.
Tomande (Burpee): Planted two in the raised bed. This was meant to be my maincrop tomato. Yields were average. The tomatoes were very, very good - an heirloom taste. I would plant these again.
Brandy Boy (Burpee): One planted in the ground, one planted in a self-watering container. The plant in the container grew really fast, set fruit early, but had a terrible problem with blossom end rot. This was the only plant in the garden with BER. The plant in the ground did not set much fruit, and fruited about 2 weeks later than the one in the container. This tomato had the best flavor of anything else I planted, but I felt I had really inconsistent results. I'll keep searching for that full-flavored, end-of-the-season, perfect tomato.
Green Zebra (Johnny's): Planted one in a container. Just as these were about to be ripe, we had a big thunderstorm while I was out of town. The tomatoes in the containers all died from over watering. I lamented this here. I will be planting Green Zebra again - I really want to try it.
Principe Borghese (purchased from Seed Savers in 2006 but no longer available there. Available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds for 2007): This is a variety meant for drying. I had one plant in a self-watering container. Before the rain disaster, I was able to harvest lots of tomatoes for drying. I've been using them this winter, and they are divine. I'll grow one or two in 2007.
Yellow Pear Cherry (Burpee): Two were planted in the raised bed. As usual, they were great. However, yields were down this year. I think a 2-week heatwave in July stopped flower set, so we had a lull in the harvest in mid- to late-August. Will plant again, always - my favorite cherry.
Sweet Baby Girl Cherry (Burpee): Planted one in a self-watering container, and it died with the others when it got too much water. This was destined to be my new red cherry tomato - sweet taste, high yields, early fruit - until I learned from Fedco that Monsanto had purchased Seminis, who was the developer and grower of Sweet Baby Girl seeds. Because Fedco will not support genetically modified crops, and so will not buy from Monsanto, they will not sell this seed anymore. (Read about Fedco's position here.) And, because I also do not agree with GMO seed, I will also not (knowingly) buy from Monsanto. So, I'm looking for a substitute for 2007.
Raised bed with window screen fence Tomatoes planted in the raised beds flowered and fruited about 2 weeks later than those planted in the containers.
Self-Watering Containers I think this is a good idea, but it needs some tweaking. The plants were ready much earlier, and the most I had to water was every 3-4 days. However, there is a fatal flaw. The containers I bought - from Gardener's Supply - have a covered tube through which you pour water. I think they had changed this from the year before where there was just a hole in the side of the container. The covered tube eliminated mosquitoes (nowhere to get in to lay eggs) but does not allow any excess water to flow out of the container. Instead, any excess water pushes up the soil and plants so that they are essentially floating in a bog. As I discovered, tomatoes (and peppers) left in a bog for 18 hours will die. So, what I think I need to do is to drill a small drainage hole right at the top of the water line. I will put up with mosquitoes to ensure the tomatoes survive.
Support I've been thinking about new support systems for this year. I've posted about different ideas here and here. I'll keep working on this.
Next Year There will be three repeats in 2007: Yellow Pear (I've grown these every year except one), Green Zebra and Principe Borghese. Everything else will be new for 2007.
Fertilization I just added compost in the spring. I actually bought organic tomato fertilizer last year and forgot to use it, so I'll use it this year. I'll also look into myccorhizal fungi, a trick learned from Teaming with Microbes.
Insect Pests None (fingers crossed).
Other Pests No rabbits this year because I had the fences up at planting time.
2006 was pretty much a bust. We had some tomatoes, but not the abundance that I had hoped for. I'll try the self-watering containers again to see if I can perfect the system. I'll also be trying a bunch of new varieties this year in the elusive search for the perfect tomato.
Another cold day. According to the National Weather Service, the high today was -5, with a low of -13.
I wish we had more snow. Although the garden looks covered, we only have about 3-4" on the ground. This is not enough to protect the plants in cold weather like this. In fact, we've only had 10" of snow all season, which is about 30" below normal. I hope the garlic survives. I put a 6" layer of straw mulch over it in December, but it's just so darn cold.
I tried to take a picture of the hoarfrost on the windows in the porch, but I just couldn't capture the effect of the sun through the icy designs. It's pretty, though, and will only last until the temperatures get back above zero.