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


Green-Striped Cushaws

green striped cushaw

Ever hear of a green-striped cushaw, aka Tennessee Sweet Potato Squash? It can be used as a fun decoration or eaten as a tasty “pumpkin” pie. I first grew it about twenty-five years ago when we lived south of Kansas City, well over one hundred miles south of our present home. I’d forgotten about them until last winter when I noticed them in a seed catalog and decided I need to try them again.

I started one green-striped cushaw seed last May in a grow/light box and transplanted it to our clay-filled hill garden. The plant spreads like a pumpkin—all over the place, and it’s normally prolific. However, this summer has not been a normal growing season. The excessive rains made it the worst gardening season I’ve ever experienced. The cushaw kept setting on fruits but they would quickly rot. Finally, two fruits persevered and matured. The picture above shows one of them.

sliced cushaw

 Cushaws are great for autumn decorations, but they’re also great for pies. I processed this cushaw just as I would process a fresh pumpkin. I removed the stem, scooped out the seeds, and cut it up in large slices.

                                                                                             cushaw in pans

I placed the slices on baking sheets, drizzled them with olive oil, and set them in the oven for about 40 minutes at 450 degrees. After the slices had cooled, I peeled off the skins, put the meat or pulp in a food processor, and pureed them. I put 2 cups of puree in each freezer bag.

                                                                           cushaw puree

I think any pumpkin pie recipe would work great for cushaw, but here’s a recipe from American Food Roots for Sorghum-Sweetened Cushaw Pie that I plan to try during the holidays this year. Oh my, it’s not even Halloween and I’m already planning for the holidays!


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.




Give a Green Gift This Spring


Spring is a great time to say thanks and recognize a few special people in our lives like teachers, neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Since it’s spring, how about giving a gift that’s green? Not cash, I mean a living plant. It doesn’t have to be a huge bouquet of roses or even a flower. Last week, I attended a luncheon with friends and our hostess gave each of us a gift of herbs to take home. My pot contained cilantro and oregano. Others had combinations of mint, sweet basil, rosemary, thyme, dill, and sage. Some of us will plant them in our gardens and others will keep them on our window sills. All of us will smile and think of our hostess as we enjoy their fresh flavor in our favorite dishes this summer.

 Oregano &Cilantro

A “green” gift doesn’t need to cost much. Most of us don’t have plants available yet from our own gardens to give away this time of year, but the garden centers at many stores are now open and have four-packs of herb or flower seedlings ready to plant or pot. Fancy containers for them are not necessary either. Look around your pantry or basement. Got an old cup, tea tin, or Mason jar? Fill it with potting soil and tie a pretty ribbon on it. If giving an herb, a label with its name is helpful since they don’t tend to be as readily identifiable to hard-core gardeners as flowers. Recipes are also fun to receive with an herb gift.

 pot possibilities

It’s been a long, ol’winter. Reach out to a special person in your life and put a little “green” in it. The smile on your friend’s face will be worth it.


Happy Earth Day!              skunk 2013                   



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


grow light box

Snow and subzero temperatures always give me a bad case of spring fever. It was during one of those January daydreams of tomato plants that I decided I needed a better system for starting my seeds. In the past, I’ve started seeds in our bedroom window, and although they would come up just fine, the seedlings soon became spindly. I needed a different system but I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money. So with a little research, some supplies we had at home, a couple of purchases, and technical assistance from my husband, I have a grow-light box.


hole in grow box


I lined a 14 gallon plastic tub with aluminum foil (using duct tape to affix it) and then cut a hole in the lid big enough to insert an 8.5” clamp light. Getting the correct light bulb is essential. It should be 100 watts, 1600 lumens, and 5000 K (which is about the brightness of daylight).

basil seedling

Although it’s way too early to start tomato seeds, I wanted to try out the box. I started a couple of basil seeds which should do well later in my window as mature plants. I also added to the box a couple of hyacinth bulbs that I’m forcing. I didn’t do anything special; just left the grow-light on for about 14 hours a day. As you can see, the plants are doing great!

hyacinth in grow box

If you’re interested in making your own grow-light box, please check out an excellent YouTube video by The Rusted Garden, “How to Build a Cheap Grow-Light Box for Seed Starting.”  It’s such a fun project to do when the snow is blowing outside.

snow barrel 2/2/15

What Do I Do With This Beautiful Orchid?



The exotic beauty of orchids intimidated me into thinking they’d be difficult to grow and maintain. But as I wrote in my last post, I found a deal that I couldn’t refuse on some beautiful blooming orchids. Now that the holiday season is over, I wondering how I’m going to care these beauties. I did some research about orchid care and will share a few basic tips and helpful websites that I have found.

First, find out what kind of orchid you have. There are many, many varieties out there, but the most popular orchids found in the garden section of the hardware stores are the phalaenopsis, also called a moth orchid, the dendrobium, also called a cane orchid, or the cattleya. The two blooming orchids I purchased during the holidays are phalaenopsis. However, last year I bought a tiny cattleya in the “needs lots of love immediately” houseplant section of Lowe’s. It hasn’t bloomed since I got it. Evidently it needed a whole lotta love! If a name tag wasn’t with your orchid, here is a great website that has pictures to help you identify it. http://aboutorchids.com/identify/index.html




One of the most important tips I learned is to leave your orchid alone until it has finished blooming. By leave it alone, I mean don’t repot it, don’t fertilize it, and don’t overwater it. When it comes to water, less is more. Water it once a week, but make sure the pot drains properly. Don’t let the orchid stand in water. Don’t get water on the leaves. If you do, wipe the water off them. I know, that’s lots of “don’ts.” I’ll try to be more positive.

Do keep the orchid in a sunny room, but not in direct sunlight.

Do keep it away from drafts and vents.

After your orchid has bloomed, check its container. If it’s not in a pot with holes, re-pot it in one. Also, it’s helpful if your pot is a clear plastic so the roots of the orchid are visible. Orchids with green roots are healthy. Those with gray roots need more water, and those with dark roots are over-watered. If you re-pot, be sure to use a medium specific for orchids. Orchids like their roots in bark rather than dirt.

orchid roots

Orchids usually need fertilizer to re-bloom. Like watering, it should be used sparingly. Use fertilizer when the orchid is in its growing season which is after it has bloomed. I plan to use an orchid fertilizer rather than creating my own because I don’t have any experience with orchids. I’m going to play it safe.

I hope this information helps all of you who have these beautiful flowers. For more detailed information about their care please check out the American Orchid Society  https://www.aos.org/ .  May your orchids brighten your winter!

moth orchid