January is for Planning

What do you do when there is snow on the ground and the actual temperature outside is well below zero? If you’re a gardener, you huddle up with your favorite quilt and a pile of seed catalogs. Oh, and one more thing: last year’s garden journal.

It’s important to look at the past growing season and see what worked, what didn’t, and why not. For instance, my onions weren’t as productive as I had hoped, and our eggplant didn’t do anything at all. I know why: I crammed too many plants in my raised bed. This year, I MUST use restraint and remember that plants need room to grow. The onions and the eggplant were shaded by other plants and didn’t get the sun they needed.


I also had problems with our Indian corn that I’m not sure how I’m going to tackle next year. In the past, raccoons wiped out our sweet corn. Two years ago, I had success and fun growing broom corn. Last year, I thought Indian corn would be fun and safe to grow. I couldn’t believe how the raccoons began destroying it before it even set on ears. The entire crop was destroyed. Of course, I could use an electric fence around a corn patch, but I don’t want to spend the money. I plan to research this winter for some organic liquid deterrents.


Broom Corn Arrangement

I’m making a list of the vegetables we enjoy growing and eating as well as the gorgeous flowers that attract pollinators. Every year, I also like to grow something I’ve never tried before. I haven’t decided yet what it will be this year.


So, don’t let this frigid weather get you down. The dirt may be too frozen to dig in, but we can plan and be ready to plant when it thaws!


Consider Growing Broom Corn This Year

Broom Corn Arrangement

Broom Corn Arrangement

Every year I like to grow at least one plant I’ve never tried to grow before. It isn’t always a success, such as my luffa experiment, but it’s always fun. Last year, I chose broom corn because I knew I would be hosting a gathering in the fall, and I wanted a table decoration that would also serve as a conversation piece. It was a success on all accounts.

 Broom corn is interesting because it’s more like sorghum than corn. Here are the colorful seeds:


broom corn seeds

broom corn seeds


After it pops up and in its early growth stages is the when it looks the most like corn.

Broom Corn Seedling

Broom Corn Seedling

My husband and I were amazed at how tall it grew. Notice how it has no ears.


Broom Corn

Broom Corn

Broom Corn

Broom Corn


As the name suggests, broom corn can be used to make brooms. We cut several stalks to dry in the barn. Our stalks were too curved to make a good broom which was okay by me since I wanted table decorations.

Broom Corn Drying

Broom Corn Drying

I loved the decorations so much and they lasted so long, that I’ll grow more broom corn this summer. Give it a try. You and the birds will love it.


Looking Backward and Forward

ice tree

It’s January, so you know what that means for gardeners: Time to pull out those new seed catalogs and dream of spring! But before I pull out the order forms, I’m taking a look back at last year’s experience.

It began wonderfully and I had high hopes for the best garden ever. The lettuce and broccoli were tasty and productive. However, the rains in May lasted through July. It rained so much that I had to dig potatoes, onions, and carrots much earlier than usual because they were rotting. Our tomatoes became diseased and set very few blossoms. The watermelon, pumpkin, and cushaw plants grew much less than normal and also set very few blossoms. When the rains finally stopped in September, I ended up a great crop of fall lettuce. I think it tasted even better than the spring crop! All in all, it was a tough year for all the gardeners in our area.

I can’t control Mother Nature, but is there lesson to be learned from last year? The first step in answering the question is to look at what I planted, when I planted it, and where I planted it.

The first thing I’m going to do is admit that my back no longer tolerates long sessions of hoeing. I had a difficult time keeping up with the weeds last year and my overzealous hoeing resulted in strained back muscles. I’m giving up my large hill garden that’s full of clay anyway and keeping my smaller, more fertile barn garden. I may try to do more container gardening.

One small garden means I’ll need to be more selective in what I grow and where in the garden I plant it. I will map out the garden this winter and plan my crops.

Tomatoes: I will plant mostly disease resistant varieties and only a few heirloom.

I will (try at least) be patient and not start the tomatoes too early in the season.

My garden teaches me something new every year. Sometimes the lessons are hard and disappointing, but mostly they are fascinating, fun, and tasty. Every spring I believe with all my heart that is will be the best garden ever. And every year, at least one crop does better than it has before. Last year the lettuce was terrific, and at lunch today we had green beans I had frozen from last summer that were delicious. I’d forgotten about the green beans until today.

It’s not too early to begin thinking about spring. Two below zero is our forecasted low temperature tonight. Bring out the blankets and the seed catalogs!

Bee in Asian Lily

Putting Our Plants Behind Bars

enclosed flower garden

Deer, turkey, skunks, raccoons, opossums, ground hogs, snakes, owls, and occasionally, a neighbor’s cows can be seen loitering in our front yard. While watching wildlife (cows excluded) from our living room is thrilling, it can also be exasperating when they decide to eat and destroy our beloved plants, shrubs, and trees. Deer are the primary perpetrators.

buck eating pears

The deer love to grab a mouthful of lilies, or knockout rosebuds, or burning bush branches as they stroll between our clover fields. In the fall, they use our fruit trees to rub the velvet from their antlers. We’ve lost count of the number of trees and bushes they have destroyed. I’ve been known to dash outside at dawn in my robe screaming like a banshee and waving a broom to scare them out of the yard. Unfortunately, there is more fascination than fear in their eyes. What’s an Elmer Fudd to do???

We tried using spray repellents but they are costly, washed off with the rain and dew, and the deer seemed to get used to the smell before the end of the summer. This year we decided to put bars around the flower gardens. My husband bought sections of wrought iron fencing and made an enclosure. So far, it has kept our flowers safe and sound. Since our deer are not hungry, they don’t work at trying to get at the flowers. Of course, the fence doesn’t keep rabbits or cats out, but they haven’t been as destructive as the deer.

burning bush cage

burning bush cage#2





Our burning bushes and knockout roses also have suffered greatly from the deer and their pruning. My husband built cages to cover and protect them. We’re hoping the bushes will soon out-grow the cages, and he’ll have to make some adjustments.

Baby Buck

Sharing a home with wildlife certainly has its challenges, but it’s worth it.




Time to Plan and Plant

crocus 2013

The northbound geese are incessantly honking overhead, the bluebirds are inspecting how well I cleaned their house this past winter, and the crocus are bursting in bloom. No matter what the calendar says, spring has already sprung at our place. For me, it means I can buy seed packets without sales clerks muttering, “Little early, ain’t it?”

Over the years, I’ve learned planning in the spring is almost as essential as planting when it comes to getting the most satisfaction from my garden. Obviously, growing veggies we enjoy eating is a priority, but so is sharing. Of course, some vegetables are more fun to share than others. Most people love to take those extra tomatoes off your hands, but when you bring in a bucket of zucchini those same people run to the hills.

What are your plans for your garden? Are you going to make relish out of those zucchini? If so, be sure to plant plenty of onions and peppers. Same goes for your salsa and pickles. Will you try to grow all of your ingredients including the herbs?

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when planning your garden:

Do you have any summer picnics or barbecues scheduled? Perhaps you’d like to serve something fresh from the garden, such as sweet corn, watermelon, tomatoes, or cantaloupe. We normally have family get-togethers in June and in September. New potatoes, onions, broccoli, carrots, and lettuce usually are ready for the early summer meeting. In early September, tomatoes, peppers, onions, zucchini, and watermelon are big hits.

Would you like fresh flowers on the table this summer? I’m planning a cut-flower garden that I will use to provide a weekly bouquet for our church altar as well as brighten our kitchen table. Easy-to-grow flowers such as daisies, zinnias,zinna 2012 and bachelor buttons are great not only for bouquets, but also to bring bees in to pollinate. The zucchini are especially appreciative of these bee-magnets.

Don’t forget autumn with Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays. Would you like to decorate your home with Indian corn and gourds? Don’t forget pumpkins for jack o lanterns and pie. How about sweet potatoes? At our September family gathering, it’s fun for everyone to go out to the garden and pick their pumpkins and gourds.

What about Christmas? It’s not too early to think about Christmas gifts. It may sound strange, but a quart of canned tomatoes makes a great gift. It’s a taste of summer during the cold winter. Creative, “crafty” gardeners can use gourds to make birdhouses or paint for use as Christmas ornaments. Luffas can be grown to use as a natural sponge. All gourds require a long growing season, so you’ll need to start them as soon as your growing zone allows.

These are but a few ideas I try to keep in mind when planting. I hope you, too, feel the excitement and hope of a new gardening season. Gardeners are truly blessed to watch miracles unfold before our eyes.

Happy Spring and Happy Gardening!

Carrots 1