If you don’t already grow your own food, the gorgeous photos in this book alone will make you want to. But what I enjoyed most about The Heirloom Life Gardener was Jere Gettle’s wise, warm voice, which made this book read like a conversation with a longtime gardener friend who knows way, way more about seeds than I ever will.
Dubbed “the Indiana Jones of Seeds” by New York Times Magazine, Gettle is well known in organic gardening circles for running the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company with his wife Emilee.
Their book, written with Meghan Sutherland, offers a lot of great hands-on advice for growing 50 different heirloom vegetables, as well as tips for disease control and seed saving. (Check out page 203 for great visuals on saving tomato seeds.) But there are also a lot of fascinating stories about things like how plants got their names, how certain vegetables became popular and, of course, how Jere developed his passion for heirloom seeds.Read More»
One of the things I love most about summer is having an herb garden right outside my back door. Oregano, basil, dill, tarragon, sage, lavender, parsley and several kinds of thyme are right there ready to snip and toss into soup, salad or whatever we’re making, anytime. Sadly, having fresh herbs at the ready is just a six-month pleasure here in the Arctic, so in recent years I’ve been trying to grow herbs indoors once the weather starts to turn cold. I say “trying” because, honestly, it has been a bit trying, literally. But I’ve worked out some kinks and I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you now.
By far, the biggest challenge when growing herbs indoors is lighting. I’ve read, and people have told me, that it’s possible to grow some herbs fairly well in a sunny window. I say those people don’t live in Minnesota in the winter — or maybe they try to see the good in spindly plants where I’m more in the “off with their spider-mite-infested heads” camp. There is one exception: chives. Chives do last a long time when grown in a sunny spot, and you can snip off what you need for months as long as you leave at least 2 inches of growth on the plant.Read More»
Everyone talks about spring being the best time to plant trees and that is true, usually. But fall is also a great time for tree planting as long as you don’t choose birch, firs, oaks and most fruit trees. Those do best when they get a spring start for reasons that are not really understood, though some think it has something to do with tree’s root systems. Trees with a large taproot that grows deep into the soil — rather than a network of finer roots closer to the surface — should not be planted in the fall, they say.
I’ll just add that my own completely unscientific research confirms that birch do better when planted in the spring. I have three birch trees, well, two now. The survivors were planted in the spring and the dead one was planted in the fall. It kicked the bucket in less than two years, which is when I Googled to find out what was up and discovered that I probably sentenced the poor thing to an early death by snapping it up at a fall plant sale and putting it in the ground.Read More»
For five years now I’ve fussed over bare-root sprigs and cuttings of Virginia creeper, nursing them into the lush vines that now cover three arbors and a couple of fences at my house. This week, I started ripping all those vines out because, sadly, Japanese beetles just love Virginia creeper. For a while, my husband and I thought we could live with the damage the beetles do —all those green leaves reduced to lacy brown ghosts of their former selves. But when scads of beetles and showers of the dust-like poo they leave behind started raining down from the arbor into our hair every time we shut the back gate, well, goodbye vines.
For those who aren’t familiar with Japanese beetles, they are actually quite fetching little bugs. Dime-sized with shiny purple-green bodies, they almost look like something a wacked-out artificial intelligence researcher would create in a sci-fi film. First spotted in 1968 in Minnesota, as well as on the East Coast, Japanese beetles have since plagued eastern states, primarily, while slowly making their way westward. Larvae, or grubs as they’re usually called, feed on the roots of turf grass and adult beetles feed on a wide variety of ornamental plants.Read More»
As I type this I can almost hear the four-lined plant bugs out in my garden chomping away on many of my perennials — even my wee basil plants that are just trying to get a start for the summer. My basil! I have no qualms about squishing these yellow bugs with the fat, black stripes on their backs or flicking them into a pail of water to drown. But I don’t spray them with chemicals anymore. Sevin, insecticidal soup, homemade soap sprays, I’ve tried all kinds of concoctions to try to get rid of four-lined plant bugs and other pests over the years. None of them worked very well.
I don’t use chemicals on bugs anymore. It’s not that I think all chemicals are bad; I don’t. Though I do think chemicals should be used judiciously. Don’t worry. I’m not going to be all preachy in this column about what you should do when trying to deal with pests in your own garden. I’d just like to share what I’ve learned about pesticides over the last few years so you can make your own, informed choices about pest control whether that be through chemical or natural means.Read More»