Archive for February, 2011

It seems like only two weeks ago that Rox and I were touting our book and giving presentations at Kansas City’s Metro Lawn and Garden Show. And now this weekend, Feb. 25-27, we’ll be veggie gardening evangelists again at the Johnson County Home and Garden Show.

Actually, it was just two weeks ago.  Oof.   But it’ll bes a different crowd and we’re excited to see you. Like last year, we’ll have our booth on the upper floor, just to the north of the escalators. Stop by and say hi. And if you haven’t got one of our books, Mike and Roxie’s Vegetable Paradise, we’ll be happy to sell you one for the discounted show price of $19.95 (sales tax included), and autograph it, too.

New this year is that show producer Pat Riha Productions has put us on the Garden Stage each day to impart our knowledge.  The show title is Bootstrap Gardening: 5 Tips for Growing your Own Food.

Want to start a vegetable garden this year? Our power point program is for you.

Show times are 4 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

Hope to see you there!

Posted by: Mike




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Seed ordering Part II

Yipes, it’s been longer than I’d planned to wait before saying a few words about saving money on seeds. So time to get this out while the ordering is still good.

When we first started gardening, we had more expenses. Tools (mostly from garage sales and sometimes garbage bins), plastic seed trays, pots and cells, a tiller–these are all part of the start-up expense that people must consider if they want to put in a garden. (Our best advice here: Start with a small garden and build gradually.)

But now that we’ve been at this a while, our single biggest yearly expense is the seed order. Usually it’s around $40, which includes live sweet potato plants, which are always the single most expensive item.

Of course the obvious way to save on seeds is to order only standard non-hybrids one year and then save the seeds every year after that.I do this on some of my tomatoes, and also the occasional melon. But we also like hybrids for their resistance to certain wilts and viruses, so we still have to buy from catalogues.

You can save money, but the seed companies do not make it easy. Here are a few ways I look at the order each year to get the most out of my money:

*Line up all the catalogs and go right away to the shipping charge. It’s truly amazing how creative mail (and online) companies can be when it comes to shipping. It’s almost like the shipping of the goods has nothing whatever to do with the actual cost to the company. No matter where you order, the shipping will be a sizeable percentage of the cost.

*Yes, but there’s no shipping when you buy from a local store, you say. Quite right. The only problem is their limited space often makes for a very limited selection. But if you already know what you want, it wouldn’t hurt to go up and check if your store has it. Maybe if enough people do that, local stores will start stocking up their seed shelves–and putting in more to choose from–in January, when a lot of us start planning.

*The catalog with the best shipping option becomes my “preferred” catalog. Any buying decision I make after that point will be biased in favor of keeping everything in the same catalog. Of course, that might change if I find that 90 percent of what I like is in another catalog. At that point, I might consider switching preferred status to the other company. The main point, though, is to avoid more than one shipping charge.

*From there, it also pays to remember that you can’t necessarily compare prices easily. A packet of seeds in one catalog might look like a great deal until you read the fine print, and find that’s because there are way fewer seeds!

*Remember you don’t necessarily have to order ALL of your seeds each year. If you have some leftovers from that packet of broccoli you got last year, they’re still good this year (provided you didn’t heat them up or get them wet or radiate them or something). I’ve kept seed for 2 or 3 years and still got plants. The germination rate does fall off–especially after that second year.

About those sweet potatoes. Yes, it is possible to start your own slips with a store sweet potato and some water or soil. But I don’t because a) I don’t know what variety the store has or whether it grows well here b) you can’t be sure store potatoes are not treated with something to inhibit sprouting and c)it’s just more trouble than I’m willing to go through.

But if you’re interested, here are instructions from the University of Illinois extension service at this link.

Okay, now get going. It’ll be spring before you know it.

Posted by: Roxie

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Roxie and I would like to thank everyone who stopped by our booth at the  Kansas City Metro Lawn and Garden Show this past weekend, and especially those of you who got one of our books. We hope it helps bring you success this coming growing season.

Also, thanks to all who sat through our presentation on the garden stage. For those of you who missed it, you’ll get another chance the weekend of Feb. 25-27, when we’ll be giving a repeat performance each day at the Johnson County Home and Garden Show at the Overland Park Community Center.

In the meantime, here’s my column on gardening that appeared in today’s edition of The Kansas City Star:

Gardening trend could get boost in KC

The Kansas City Star

Barack’s fair game. But Mitt Romney’s swipe last week at Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden was a low blow, don’t you think?

Even red-meat Republicans need their greens. How are they going to balance the budget absent the strength a balanced diet gives you? Besides, Romney and other GOP presidential hopefuls had best be careful about dissing the White House vegetable garden, or risk offending voters.

Growing your own food is as hot a trend these days as pro-democracy demonstrations in the Middle East. And it’s nonpartisan.

I can’t tell you how many first-time gardeners my wife and I spoke with last weekend at the lawn and garden show while promoting our how-to book on vegetable gardening. And so enthusiastic. With growing concerns about food safety and many of us looking for ways to control costs in a tough economy, expect lots more activity this year than last on the home- and community-gardening front hereabouts.

“This is like the classic, teachable moment,” said Katherine Kelly, executive director of the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture.

Her group and other gardening evangelists are overwhelmed with inquiries this winter from people who want to start growing their own food.

“And this year, there are at least five new farmers’ markets starting up that I know of.” Bringing the number up to 37 in the area, she said.

One development that could further boost the gardening and urban farming trend locally is a plan approved last week by the Kansas City Council. The resolution makes it easier for nonprofit community organizations to rehab empty houses for resale and turn empty lots into community gardens.

“We’ve literally got thousands of these vacant properties in Kansas City,” Councilman John Sharp, lead co-sponsor, told me.

To be exact, the Land Trust of Jackson County had 3,449 abandoned properties as of this week, according to Commissioner Mike Hunter. Some have been in the inventory for decades. One reason for that has been the provision requiring purchasers to pay at least two-thirds of the assessed value. Sharp’s resolution waives that, allowing nonprofit groups to get properties for little or nothing. That way, houses could be fixed up, resold and returned to the tax rolls.

Similarly, a community garden is a vast improvement over a weed-choked vacant lot that costs the city to mow.

“It really is a win-win deal,” Sharp told the city housing committee this month.

It’s also a done deal, thanks to the Jackson County Legislature approving the city’s plan at Monday’s meeting.

Now, if only the weather would cooperate so some of us can start planting.

Come on, spring.

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-7708 or send e-mail to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

Posted by: Mike

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The thaw is on this weekend, so a lot of us have spring and the gardening season in our sights. In a little more than a month, I’ll be getting the soil ready so Roxie can plant peas and potatoes.

What to do while you’re waiting? Why not join us at the Metropolitan Lawn and Garden Show. We’re giving talks on the Garden Stage each day at Kansas City’s venerable American Royal Center.

Our program is “Bootstrap Gardening: Five Tips on Growing Your Own Food.”

Our Friday program drew a nice crowd, and we’re doing repeat performances at 1 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Or stop by our booth near the stage anytime during show hours. The show is open until 9 tonight (Friday, Feb. 11) Doors open both Saturday and Sunday  at 10 and close at 9 on Saturday and 6 on Sunday.

We’ll even sell you one of our books, and you won’t even have to twist our arms. The reduced garden show price is just $19.95, tax included.

See you at the garden show!


Posted by: Mike

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Order up

The 2011 garden seed order is already filled out. After a big year of experimentation with different colors, this will be a return to basics.

Partly that’s because I’ve allowed our store of canned tomatoes to dwindle, so I could use the space usually reserved for Romas on fun and exotic new kinds of other vegetables. This year, though, it’s back to business.

Some of the things we tried last season are definitely keepers. We’ll be planting chard again, because it’s so much more reliable as a green than spinach. Don’t get me wrong. We love spinach. But we’ve had bad luck with it the past couple of seasons, owing to dicey weather and my bad timing at planting it.

Chard, on the other hand, is much less fussy, has a longer availability and will even continue to yield in the fall, once the leaf-eating bugs have gone away. Chard will stand in for spinach in many things (except maybe salad). You just have to cook it a little longer.

Another thing we’ll need to replenish is our store of green beans. Two bad years in a row have reduced us to buying grocery store frozen beans–never a happy thought for this avowed food snob.

I know I said last time that Blue Lake beans failed completely, but I’m giving them another chance for the following reasons:

*They’ve performed beautifully for us in a quarter century of gardening.

*Last year we were absent during the peak of the bean harvest season. We have no such plans for an extended out-of-town trip this season.

*Last year we had a freakish spurt of weird weather mid summer. It probably won’t happen again this year (she said, as the largest winter storm to hit the Midwest since the ’60s roared outside her window.)

So yes, Blue Lake is on my list. I’m also keeping the Alibi cucumbers, Amazing cauliflower (a late bearing  yet long holding variety) and Centennial sweet potato (why change what works?).

As I look at my order, I’m struck by how often I keep coming back to the varieties that have worked so well for us over the years. Here’s what else is on the list:

Nantes carrots

Black Beauty eggplant

Jalapeno M

Celebrity tomato (hybrid)

Salsa pepper (hot)

Coronado broccoli. Actually this is the exception. I’ve never planted Coronado before. But I’m giving it a chance this year because it claims to hold well after harvesting. One of my biggest gripes with broccoli is that it tends to go yellow in your refrigerator while it’s waiting to be frozen or eaten. We’ll see if Coronado is better than any of the other various kinds I’ve planted over the years.

All that’s left is to write the check. I’ll have a few tips about how to save money on seeds next time.

Posted by: Roxie

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