Archive for April, 2011

April 11, 2011

Veggies – get sowing!

Maybe it’s because we’ve had such a long winter this year, or so much snow, whatever it is, I’m so anxious to get out and start gardening.

For those of you who are with me on this and anxious to get your hands dirty there are some things we can do… even in Minnesota!

For my veggie gardening friends, April 15th is typically a good time to plant cool season plants such as: Beets, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Endive, Horseradish, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Onions, Parsley, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Rhubarb, Spinach and Turnips.

Cool season plants actually prefer the cool weather and don’t care for hot weather at all and they’ll let you know it.  Peas won’t perform and Radishes and Spinach (among others) will bolt.  In other words, they sense they are going to die and try to complete their life cycle by producing seeds.

Ideally you want to get cool season crops in the ground between April 15th and May 1st (in Minnesota), much later and you might not get anything.  If you have a garden calendar, write “Plant cool season crops” next to these dates for future reference. If you live in a warmer climate, plant earlier, if you live in a colder climate you’ll plant later.  Check with your local Extension office for info specific to your area.

(Don’t fret if you miss this date though, many of these can be planted in late summer for a fall harvest as well.)

So, get out and sow!


April 8, 2011

Plant it and they will come!

About 1:00am yesterday, I awoke to the sound of our dog barking her “protective bark” at the bedroom window.   This continued about every hour through the night until shortly before my alarm went off.

Turns out a couple of the neighbors were sitting on the roof outside the bedroom window and wouldn’t leave no matter how much the dog barked at them.  (Since we live near a nature center, our neighbors happen to be raccoons.)  Ah yes, spring.  The raccoons are back… with all of their friends close behind.

Even though I haven’t planted the garden yet this year, it reminded me that when you have a garden, you will have critters.  How you choose to deal with them is up to you.  I pick my battles.

Every year I plant a veggie garden.  My veggie garden has a gate and fencing around it. These are the plants I really don’t want critters touching.

I also have grape vines, apple and pear trees, blueberry shrubs, hardy kiwi vines, red raspberries, golden raspberries and blackberries.  None of these have fencing or gates.  They do get winter protection from rabbits and mice to prevent killing them, but during the growing season the produce is up for grabs, human and animal alike. Why? A few reasons. First, they are all essentially perennials, (not literally) they’ll keep coming back and producing more and more fruit as they age (in other words less work, more reward).  Second, over time there will be plenty to go around for everyone.  Third, these serve as a deterrent from my veggie garden.

I could build a fortress around everything, but in my mind, sharing with wild life is a part of gardening.  Plus, it’s far more stressful to try to keep them out than to just plan on sharing at least part of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t offer everything up to the critter buffet.  I will try to deter them, I just don’t expect them to leave completely.

As far as deterrents go, I’ve found Fox Urine Powder to be pretty effective for rabbits.  Just sprinkle it around the plants (not on them like many other sprays, etc.).  It only needs to be re-applied periodically or after a heavy rainfall.  Note – only rabbits can smell this, not humans.

The key to sharing with critters is not to get too attached to your plants!  Attachment is a guarantee that something will go awry.  A couple of years ago, we planted a couple of pear trees.  Last year, to my surprise, they budded, bloomed and even produced fruit – a LOT of fruit for such young trees.  Literally at least 100 little pears.  The branches were so full they were nearly touching the ground.  They still had to mature, but I could practically taste them.  I was already making desserts, salads, you name it, in my head.  Days later we had some wind and as always, squirrels.  Well, long story short, by the time they were ripe… we had 3 pears.

So, don’t be surprised when the critters come back from their winter vacation and want to dine on your newly planted garden. Just remember, whether you noticed them or not, they were here before us or our garden.  It’s our choice to plant the garden in a space that they inhabit.   Just have a plan in place as to how you are going to handle them.  Don’t hurt them and don’t drive yourself crazy.  Unless you’re the Pied Piper, they’re always going to be around.  Its our job to figure out how to live in harmony with them.

Take care,


April 6, 2011

Lookin’ sharp!

It was a beautiful day today.  Sunny and hovering around 50.  Since we still had some snow on April 1 and my son was on spring break, I didn’t get around to cutting back my perennial grasses until today.

My 6-year-old son helped me cut the grasses back.  (I did the holding and he did the cutting.)  The first one was a little rough to say the least.  We were using the hedge trimmer, which is a little tough for him to maneuver but he made it work.  Then it dawned on me… I didn’t treat them too well last fall.  They were in desperate need of some sharpening!

A while back, while visiting my favorite garden center, Willowglen Nursery in Decorah, IA, I learned the ease and importance of having sharp garden tools.  It seemed obvious at first, until I realized I should check (but not necessarily sharpen them) each time I use them.  The thing is, I was thinking about things with blades: my pruning shears, my hedge trimmers, clippers, etc.  What never crossed my mind until then – sharpen your spades and shovels too!  This sounded crazy to me at first, until I realized that I’ve always struggled. So when I got home from my annual garden tour, I ran and bought a set of flat files and started sharpening.  I had my spade so sharp it glistened – and cut through the ground “like butta”.  It was amazing.

So, if you don’t already have files, add them to your list.  Then grab all of your garden tools and give them the once over.  Clean them up with a chore boy or steel wool.  Then give them some love and the attention of a file to remove chips, dents, rust, etc.  and make them look and feel as sharp as a knife.  Trust me, it will make the labor intensive parts of gardening less labor and far less intense…. just ask my son!




April 4, 2011

Mark your calendars!

If you have done a little gardening or a lot, you quickly realize that a garden journal and calendar become two of your best buddies.   If you’re like me, you think you’ll remember when you did things, but when the time comes to recall that info, you, well, you just can’t.

Calendars come in handy for a number of reasons.  For planning, for planting and for reminders.  If you have a perennial garden, live in Zone 4 (like we do in the Twin Cities) and grow ornamental grasses, mark “cut back grasses” on April 1.   If, like this year, there is still snow on the ground on April 1, wait until it’s gone, but ideally by April 15th or as soon as the snow is gone.  Then grab your gloves (dry grasses are like razor blades), some twine to tie the grasses up and out-of-the-way, and your hedge trimmer. Cut off approximately 2/3 of the previous year’s growth, or around 6 – 8″,  but if you see green shoots, don’t cut them off, cut up higher or you’ll end up giving your grasses a crew cut.

Back to veggies… I realized that I may have jumped ahead on the to-do list a little bit, or made assumptions about planning and planting gardens, so I’m going back to the list – and the calendar.  Grab a pen, and again, if you’re in Zone 4, mark “average last frost date” on May 15th.  This is basically the earliest you can safely plant your veggie garden without a significant risk of having everything wiped out by frost.  I typically try to plant around Memorial Day weekend.  By this time the soil will be warming up and plants will begin growing well.  There really isn’t much benefit to planting heat loving plants prior to this because they won’t “do” much and some even say it stunts them.  Plant too much later and you’ll end up losing valuable growing season time and risk having your plants not producing fruit before we get frost again in the fall.

Okay…. back to planning.  Grab the calendar, figure out a window of time that you want to plant (ideally between March 15th and Memorial Day).  Now, count backwards (in weeks) to today.  That will tell you how much time you have before your garden needs to be planted.  So, the next step is to check the back of your seed packets and see how far in advance they suggest “sowing seeds indoors”.  If you need more weeks to grow them than you just counted on the calendar it’s decision time.  Next check the days to maturity.  Count that out on the calendar from your estimated planting date and pray it’s before September 15th (our average 1st frost date in the Twin Cities – another one for the calendar).  If you’re cutting it really close, I would recommend buying seedlings from your local nursery right before you intend to plant.  They will typically have already been started and close to maturity when you purchase them.

If you plan on “direct sowing” into your garden – again make sure to check the “days to maturity”to make sure you have enough time between planting and maturity to enjoy your harvest!