Archive for March, 2010

Regular readers of this blog (yes, both of you) will remember that back in late February I found something interesting  on and in a box of Triscuit crackers: an invitation to join the “home farming movement” and some  seed to  get started.

See that post here.

Anyway, I accepted the invite and planted what was represented as several basil seeds  sandwiched between two pieces of paperboard inside the box.

I divided those seeds between two pots, set them in the kitchen window and waited while keeping them watered.

Sure enough, a couple of green shoots popped through the soil-less  mix in one pot after a week or two., while nothing sprouted in the other. Ok, fine.  Anything  you get from a box of crackers  other than crackers is a bonus,  I figured. Two shoots were better than any prize I ever got in from Cracker Jacks.

Except there was something funny about the plants. They didn’t look like basil.

“They look like tomatoes,” Roxie said.

And maybe that’s what they were. Four and a half weeks later, those spindly things are only a couple of inches high  so we’ll have to see.

Meantime, they  share the pot with a couple of other tiny sprouts (probably the basil) whose tops aren’t much bigger than BBs. Click on the pic below and you just might see the  cows on our home farm.

Once again, not complaining. Plus, the Triscuit folks are to be commended for promoting  vegetable gardening in the supermarket aisles.

Since my initial  report, the company launched its home farming website, and we finally learn that the effort is a partnership with the advocacy group Urban Farming.

Headquartered in Detroit, Urban Farming  began in 2005 with three vegetable gardens. Motown has acres and acres of vacant land, as you’ve probably heard, thanks to  generations of  white flight and later outmigration by minorities affluent enough to escape the crime and blight of the inner city.

As for those left behind? Turns out gardening is a great reuse for the vacant lots that are in abundance in Detroit and elsewhere, according to the group’s website:

” In just four and a half growing seasons, Urban Farming has now expanded into thirty cities across the country and abroad with the equivalent of over eight hundred gardens based off of a twenty by twenty foot garden size…

“The Urban Farming vision is global and our mission is to end hunger in our generation by planting food on unused land and space for people in need and empowering suffering communities.”

St. Louis is the only Missouri city with direct ties to the upper-case Urban Farming movement (while no Kansas towns are listed). Bbut lower-case urban farming is catching on here big time  in Kansas City, too.

In an upcoming post, Roxie and I will write more about that and area community gardening endeavors.

And on a recent Ellen Degeneres show, Urban Farming’s founder, Taja Sevelle, discusses the movement and shows Ellen how to plant something or other. (I’m not sure what– I don’t think they ever say.)

Take a look.

Posted by: Mike


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All systems go

At last!

Things are looking up in the spring vegetable garden at last.

A week of warm, dry (but unfortunately windy) weather is predicted. Other chores and family obligations have been seen to. There’s nothing stopping us from a great week of garden spring cleanup and planting.

All the drizzle and cold of last week plus the snowstorm–let’s not forget the snowstorm–have us just slightly late in getting a few things in the ground. But give the soil another day to dry out and I’m confident we’ll catch up.

Here’s a rundown on our plans this week.

Portable cold frame–After checking out the nighttime lows forecast for the week, we decided we’d risk putting some indoor seedlings in the protected frame Mike built. By now the basement seedlings are robust and we’re constantly having to raise their lights. Except for the black tomatoes I bought on a whim last weekend at Family Tree (which are only just breaking the soil surface and too tender to put out), they’ll stay outside until they go in the ground in a couple more weeks. This gives them a chance to get used to the sun, wind and more extreme temperatures than we have in the basement. We’ll close the top of the frame to protect them from harsher winds or rain. And of course, we’ll keep a close eye on the nighttime lows, in case we have to trot them back inside during a freeze.

Herb care–The thyme and marjoram I had inside are barely hanging on after their mishap a few days ago (accidentally sprayed with CLR. See previous post). I still see some green in places. So they went into the frame with my prayers and apologies as well.

Mike removed the leaf mulch from the other perennial herbs today–a chore he’s been itching to do since the beginning of the month. Chives, sage and oregano are already starting new leaves. Tarragon will soon follow. And wouldn’t you know the year I decided to experiment by leaving some lemongrass out all winter would also be one of the harshest we’ve had in years? No sign of anything yet. Good thing I brought half of it inside.

Seeds–Tonight I’ll soak the beet and spinach seeds. Beginning tomorrow, I’ll plant them, plus carrots, radishes and maybe some lettuce, arugula and spring greens, too.

Looks like a great week!

Posted by: Roxie

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Ok, ok. Nobody likes a late March snowstorm. It’s hateful,  it’s soul-crushing, it’s bad for business. We’re all glad to see it go. Duly noted.

But in a way, the weekend snow made a great point on why this has actually been a good winter.

We moved here from Iowa back in the ’80s and we feel like we’ve seen it all here, winter-wise. Ice storms, tornadoes in January, forsythia in full bloom in February. There have been a couple of snowy winters, sure. But on average,  winters where people could comfortably walk around in shorts in December have been more normal than not.

When you get a string of 60-degree winter days, there are always a lot of people who exclaim about how “great” it is.

But in fact, it is not “great” to have prolonged warm weather in the dormant season. All those trees and flowers that start to bud out are only compromised later, when the inevitable late freeze comes. And when you’ve gone two or three years in a row without smelling lilacs–well, that’s just sad.

Which is why this year was one of the best winters ever. Yes, we got sick of paying that heating bill, but the low temperatures kept buds asleep and the snow kept moisture in the ground. So when the north wind came roaring in Friday afternoon with its 6-8 inches of snow, there wasn’t much vulnerable to damage. Chances are the cold discouraged most of us from prematurely removing the layers of mulch we’d put on the herbs and strawberries, and they slept happily until the snow melted yesterday.

Cold also plays another role that’s helpful to us gardeners. It cuts down on pests.

Ok, I know it’s sad to think about the little furry animals dying (less sad about the bugs). But squirrel lovers, think about it this way: When the cold weather culls the weak and sick from the gene pool, at least you can take comfort in the fact that the squirrel stealing your tomatoes and apples is in robust good health and strong of character.

This week should be back to normal early spring, the weather service tells us. Temps in the 50s, a shower or two. Looks like this time spring will stick.

But in the Midwest, you never know.

Posted by: Roxie

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Yesterday, a day of tilling and planting.

Today, a somewhat different story:

Our newly planted garden from the window...because I'm not going out there!

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Snow’s coming tomorrow — curse you National Weather Service/Gary Lezak/Mike Thompson/ Brian Busby/Katie Horner-et al — but we got the spring garden in today.

Yep, as if by a miracle.

Fabulous weather Friday– for most of the day, anyway. We’d been waiting for the tree guys to take down a couple of dead pines next to the garden  before planting.  Big , tall suckers they are, and once we’ve planted veggies, there’s no way to get at the trees until after harvest.

But despite months of notice, the tree guys never came (until today, when it was too late and we told them no thanks).  So with snow in the forecast, we decided to get early spring planting in while we could.

Everything depended upon me (Mike here) getting his rear in gear. So I fired up the tiller and had at it in 50-degree weather with the promise of 60s in the afternoon. (Little did I know it would turn chilly by 3.)

And while you wouldn’t think it would be a joy to guide a rototiller with a swath of maybe a foot through 1,600 square feet of winter-hardened dirt, you’d be wrong. Once again, I was reminded what a joyful exercise it is.

I  had got my Ipod going as the old Sears tiller churned up the dirt that I’d fertilized  last fall with a fine mix of my own garden compost and composted horse manure.

But what I enjoyed most was my ratty garden shoes  sinking into the freshly turned black dirt as I walked behind the tiller. This soil, which  we’ve tended for 12 seasons, was always rich. But it now  resembles dark, freshly ground coffee.  Sumatran, or Ethiopian blends, I’d like to think. But as much as I’d like to brew a pot of that garden soil, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

Your view Starbucks?

Afterwards, I reinstalled the rabbit fence that I took down last fall — but only after making many repairs. Wood rot and rough handling (mine) added to the several hours it took to put the thing up.

Meanwhile, Roxie planted potatoes, chard, onions, shallots, three kinds of peas and asparagus crowns — the latter finding homes in the newly refurbished raised bed I installed yesterday.

All of our asparagus died in the last couple of  years due to some kind of rot. So earlier this week, I scooped out some of the old soil, added a layer of sand for drainage, and dumped in 16 cubic feet of fresh topsoil.

We’ll see what happens with the asparagus and everything else.

Meanwhile, go ahead and let it snow. Our garden is underway.




Pay us a visit at Family Tree Nursery this weekend. We’ll be at the 85th and Farley location in Overland Park Saturday and Sunday.

And if you’re garden group needs a program, Roxie and I are happy to oblkge. Contact us at mikeroxy@hotmail.com.

Posted by: Mike

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Despite being Irish (ancestors on both sides sailed from Belfast and Galway)I’ve never done that much about St. Patrick’s Day. Yeah, I’ll get out some Guinness and cook up a little corned beef and Colcannon out of respect. Maybe I’ll remember to put on a green sweater. All in all, though, I’m a pretty bad Irishman.

St. Patrick’s–for me–is a very different sort of celebration.

It is the first day of planting. Outside. In the dirt. It means spring really has arrived.

Garlic from November. It lives!

It’s been a long winter, but things look a lot more encouraging now than they did even a week ago. The snow is gone, the buds of the trees are beginning to swell. And now we can breathe a sigh of relief that the garlic Mike planted late last November didn’t succumb to the prolonged low temperatures. I can sight down the row, even from the porch window. Whew.

It’s always my goal to put out seed potatoes and peas as near to St. Pat’s as possible, then follow them in short order with some onion sets and shallots. Those plants can take a little cold weather but don’t much care for heat.

So I’m raring to go. We’ve been waiting a while on a tree company to take down the pine that was killed by nematodes last summer. But with or without them, that garden’s going in. The weather looks good the rest of this week. But what’s this? Snow on the weekend? Eh! Will it ever end?

Well, no matter what, I intend to be out there with the hoe and markers before sundown Friday. Guess I’d better get up to the garden store for the seed potatoes and onion sets.

Speaking of garden stores…Come on out to Family Tree’s big open house event this weekend. We’ll be selling our book and signing copies–snow or no snow.

Posted by: Roxie

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I’m very lucky, really, that there isn’t a watchdog group that keeps track of houseplant abuse. If there were, I’d surely be spending some time at the station today, a “person of interest” in the case of John Thyme and Joe Marjoram.

Because you see, all is not as it appears on the surface at our home. The outside vegetable garden may look healthy and prolific during the growing season. But inside the house lies a darker story:

I kill houseplants.

"Help us!"

Yes. I’m one of those people who can grow things–but only outside. Once in the house, there seems to be a four-month lifespan limit.

Boston ferns, baby toes, spider plants, airplane plants, Job’s tears (no really. They were real tears). I’ve killed them all. Last year I came perilously close to killing the umbrella plant that’s held on for a decade. It’s life was saved by the timely arrival of spring, when I put it on the porch.

So, eventually, I gave up on the idea of houseplants.

Except for the perennial herbs that I don’t want to subject to the cold. Those get potted up and carried inside. Along about March, I find myself pep talking them. C’mon just a little while longer. Just two or three more weeks until the cold frame is up…

Which brings us to today’s events. The thyme and marjoram were doing well in their new sunny spot. But when I checked in on them Sunday, I noticed what looked like a little bug damage. So I went into the hall cabinet and gave them a few squirts out of the yellow insecticidal soap sprayer I’ve used for years.

Then this morning, I checked back in. Hmmm…They seem to be quite a bit worse. There’s quite a bit of leaf loss in the middle. Must’ve been more of a problem than I thought.

Back I went for the yellow bottle. I worked on the sprayer a little in the sink first, remembering that it was a little foamy before. Then I hit the plants again.

But why did they look so much worse? This was a pretty benign bug soap. I’d used it for years. But, well, maybe I should just recheck the label and make sure I should use it on herbs.

Let’s see…”FOR USE ON: Plastic? Ceramic tile? Glass??…Toilet bowls?!”

Oh &*#$%@!!! I’ve been spraying my plants with CLR!

Suddenly it all came back to me. The yellow bottle was an old brand I used to buy.  The NEW insecticidal soap bottle is green.

I hustled the plants into the bathroom and got them into the shower, stat! My husband, alarmed by the prolonged and loud string of cursing, rushed up the stairs, preparing himself for the worst.

I rinsed and rinsed, then left them in the tub to drain. I’ve been back to check on them, but can hardly bear their accusing stares.

A look at the label on the bathroom calcium and lime cleaner was somewhat reassuring. From it I learned CLR contains no alcohol, phosphates, ammonia or bleach and is biodegradable. So that’s good.

But what are the ingredients? They weren’t listed on the label (must have been on some separate sheet of paper that I threw away). But a quick check on The Google shows them to be…acid, acid, acid, acid and acid, mostly. A veritable bouquet of acids. And some water.

Then I found a website under the name Jellmar (makers of CLR) with an FAQ. It claims CLR is safe for grass, shrubs, plants and flowerbeds and “all types of flora.”

So there’s hope. But I’m guessing it can’t be good to spray your plants directly with all that acid.

Oh well.  At least it will have killed the bugs.

Posted by: Roxie

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