It’s been a warm winter by Minnesota standards, meaning it took until just this week to dip down into the single digits and, finally, below zero. As it usually does, those Arctic temps sent me straight to a couple of local garden centers where I could walk around indoors and be around plants and smell dirt. You don’t realize how much you miss the smell of dirt until you live in a place where it’s so cold there are no smells for months and months—okay, sure, the dog poo that I have to pick up still smells. And there is a nice smoke smell coming from neighbors’ chimneys sometimes. But that’s about it.
I hadn’t planned on buying anything. I really just wanted to be warm, see some green stuff and talk to the parrot, Baby, at one of my favorite gardening haunts. But two big tables of little, teeny succulents caught my eye at one place where I stopped. So I picked out a few, along with a bright yellow pot and a bag of soil specifically for cacti and succulents, and brought everything home to plant.
I don’t have an indoor planting spot at the moment since the basement’s a big mess, so I just worked on the island in our kitchen, which is probably kind of gross. But we have a dog and three cats living with us. It’s not that clean here anyway.
Once I was done planting, my husband Mike worked the same kind of magic he does in our yard by adding small pieces of driftwood and some rocks. The result looks kind of like a terrarium without a top. Situated on a little table, when the sun hits it just right, our little pot of succulents feels like a tropical oasis offering us relief from the bitter, white cold.
Of all the seed and plant catalogs that pile up on my desk this time each year, Klehm’s Song Sparrow is my favorite with Baker Creek coming in a close second. The gorgeous, color photography is what hooks me in both cases.
Though I admit that the fact that I can get actual plants rather than just seeds makes Klehm’s close to my heart, too. Some years, I just don’t feel like firing up the seed-starting setup in the basement. I want that spring miracle of small boxes showing up at the door filled with seedlings smelling of wet peat and dirt.
When I was just starting out as a gardener, I didn’t think much about the difference between catalogs. While most have actual photos and detailed plant information, others use illustrations at least some of the time. Catalogs in the latter group are not always to be tossed in the recycling bin straight away, but I learned after some painful planting mishaps that some were not to be trusted.Read More»
Last weekend I saw my first brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys). It was dead and tacked down to a white cushion inside of a small glass and wood box, but it was real. And it was ugly.
The bug was part of a Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) display on invasive insects at DaVinci Fest, a science and art fair for 4th – 12th graders my husband, Mike, and I went to last weekend to promote my new gardening book. Ordinarily, we’d steer clear of kid-centric events, but our friend Paula invited us and with boxes of books taking up space in our basement, we figured we’d buck up and go.
“There will be lots of adults there who are interested in gardening,” Paula told us, sweetening the pot by saying she would set us up with a table next to an avid bee keeper. It’s always interesting to talk to people who keep bees and A.J. Moses of Oakdale, Minnesota, was no exception. Check out this recent interview with him in the OakdalePatch.
As it turned out, Mark, the nice MDA entomologist with the stink bug, was on our other side. “These aren’t a big problem yet, but they’re here now and they may be,” he explained, holding up the bug display box so he could point out the differences between Minnesota’s native stink bugs and this new invader.
If you think all those brown, kind of flat, triangular-shaped stink bugs look the same, think again. Brown marmorated stink bugs have white markings on their abdomens and light-colored bands on their otherwise dark antennae.
Like Japanese beetles, emerald ash borer and other invasive pests that have found their way into the U.S. and, eventually, Minnesota in recent years, the brown marmorated stink bug is likely to cause problems for a wide variety of plants once they become widespread. They particularly enjoy feeding on fruit trees, some vegetables and soybeans. Oh, and true to their name, they sink to high heaven if you disturb them enough to release their stench.
Having just spent last summer battling our first all-out infestation by Japanese beetles, I’m less than thrilled to learn that these stink bugs (which are native to Asia) were spotted in our county in November for the first time. I guess we’re gonna need a whole lot more buckets of soapy water and some nose plugs (Japanese beetles don’t smell so hot either).
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»