Posts Tagged ‘Winter Gardening’

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park with Momma Jane

My mom’s out here for a 9-day visit, and Momma Jane is the original CPL (Crazy Plant Lady) in this family. She’s had a gorgeous cacti and succulent garden for as long as I can remember, and she’s got a way with everything from orchids to ferns. After giving my indoor plants a spa day on Wednesday morning, we thought we’d spend today’s “balmy” 18-degree snow showers inside the greenhouses at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids. This was David’s and my first time there, and we look forward to seeing the outdoor sculptures, plants and trees in other seasons.

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Between Christmas trees decorated in styles from all around the world, Rodin exhibit, the Desert Room, Carnivorous Plant Room, a miniature city made from nuts, bark, leaves and mushrooms, the train, and the 5-story high Tropical Room, we plant lovers were in our element. I thought I’d share some of our favorite photos below. If they’re of me, or they look particularly artistic, David took the photos. He’s really a master at capturing just the right angles and interesting framing. πŸ™‚

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The above photos and the next one are in the entryway, filled with amaryllis, evergreens and natural light displays. Continue reading

Winter Greens and my PDC

Just two quick updates here:

  1. Yes, the gardens continue to produce in mid-January. We’ve had such weird weather here, ranging from minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit a couple weeks ago to 56(!) degrees last night. Between row covers and snow, the kale, miner’s lettuce, chard, and mustard are all still providing us with the tastiest of very fresh greens. I snuck out between rainstorms yesterday afternoon to harvest these yums for dinner and smoothies. I wouldn’t eat the chard raw, since it’s a little mushy, especially the stems, but when cooked, this frostbitten chard tastes unbelievably rich and chewy. One of our favorites!

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      2. It’s official: I completed my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) and am now qualified to offer permaculture consultations, help individuals and communities design permaculture setups, and also teach permaculture related workshops. In order to teach the full PDC, I would need more training and an apprenticeship, because that course covers a massive amount of material; however, I’m qualified and open to teaching smaller, more focused workshops for people who want to learn about permaculture before committing to the time and money associated with learning the full spectrum of permanent agriculture and permanent culture.

December Blooms

It’s 3 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but blooming bright and cozy inside Faery Hof:

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Cultivating Beauty: Fall Garden Photos

Today, my friend Jerry of the Large Truck helped me gather concrete blocks to line our landlord’s garage (a barrier between mulch and siding), straw bales for winterizing beds, rebar for protecting trees with chicken wire, and potting soil for winter sowing herbs. The guy at the concrete pickup commented, “Well, surely, your garden must be just about done, isn’t it? All packed up?” Um, not exactly. I told him I grow all fall and winter, and things were still quite lush, thank you very much. πŸ™‚

As integrated beings who are part of Nature, we can hold, embody and honor all the contrasts, both the flowering abundance and the rotting into compost, which brings forth fertility and life. As one season fades into another, we need not mourn or fear what comes. Death is part of life, and if you keep sowing seeds, then life keeps popping up throughout the year. Today’s misty Northern California weather surrounds the flowers like a soft blanket of autumn beauty. From my heart to yours, enjoy!

Greetings from the front yard

Greetings from the front yard

The central front bed with reblooming snapdragons, mums, zinnias, sea kale and other bee and butterfly havens

The central front bed with reblooming snapdragons, mums, zinnias, sea kale and other bee and butterfly havens

asters, hyssop, lavender, iris, black eyed Susans and more up front

asters, hyssop, lavender, iris, black eyed Susans and more up front

perennial hollyhocks that will bloom each year, along side the newly placed concrete to protect the landlord's garage

perennial hollyhocks that will bloom each year, along side the newly placed concrete to protect the landlord’s garage

alley side grapes, raspberries, with poke poking out in the background

alley side grapes, raspberries, with poke poking out in the background

new alley-side garden bed with concrete liners

new alley-side garden bed with concrete liners

back yard beds

back yard beds

glorious sedum, marigolds, nasturtium and black eyed Susan's with a peek of rose

glorious sedum, marigolds, nasturtium and black eyed Susan’s with a peek of rose

apple tree and friends -- aronia berry, jostaberry, marigolds, strawberries and more

apple tree and friends — aronia berry, jostaberry, marigolds, strawberries and more

cherry tree and friends -- in the spring we'll see flowering chives and daffodils

cherry tree and friends — in the spring we’ll see flowering chives and daffodils

first ripe lemon

first ripe lemon

first ripe fairy tale pumpkin

first ripe fairy tale pumpkin

cosmos and compost --with brassicas

cosmos and compost –with brassicas

nearly finished tomato beds with lavender, daikon radish, marigolds, tomatillos and parsley filling in the blanks

nearly finished tomato beds with lavender, daikon radish, marigolds, tomatillos and parsley filling in the blanks

straw bales ready for putting this bed to bed

straw bales ready for putting this bed to bed

back yard beauty

back yard beauty

Winter Gardening Ideas

Here’s John Kohler, whose garden I have visited and tasted (amazingly yummy inspiration to grow your own food!), giving a tour of his Northern California winter garden. If you live in a cooler climate than Sonoma County, then now would be the time to start growing some of the things he mentions. This video just reminded me to get some miner’s lettuce seeds to plant under trees. $6 /pound or free and reseeding as “weeds”? Um, yum! I’ll take the miner’s lettuce. πŸ™‚ You can also mimic a warmer climate by getting floating row covers and cold frames.

Orgone and Indoor Plants

My initial order of orgone pucks impressed me so much that I very soon after ordered twelve more, which we’ve since scattered around the house and property. I have two outside plants in terra cotta pots that I bring inside every winter. Between the heating vent near the southern exposure window and the way pretty terra cotta pots wick moisture away from the soil, the over-wintering of these plants always stresses them out. Normally by this time of year, they look pretty straggly, and with the frequent negative temperatures, we’ve needed to run our heat more often than other years. As an experiment, I decided to put orgone pucks in each of the terra cotta pots to see what happened.

I’ve seen some incredible garden photos comparing identical plots with and without orgone, so I thought I’d give it a try inside before buying orgone pucks for all over my ever expanding garden. Here are the results after about 1 month, bearing in mind that usually my plants in terra cotta pots look worse, not better the longer they’ve spent indoors:

Geranium before orgone

Geranium before orgone

Lemon balm before orgone

Lemon balm before orgone

Geranium and lemon balm after about one month of orgone pucks

Geranium and lemon balm after about one month of orgone pucks

I tried to take the geranium photo from the same angle as the earlier photo, but I couldn’t fit most of it in the frame. Also, the largest flush of growth has occurred towards the window. Even with the less green original angle from behind, though, you can see the plant looks much healthier:

Geranium after from behind. Growth has been to the front and sides, but I'm sharing this angle for full disclosure.

Geranium after from behind. Growth has been to the front and sides, but I’m sharing this angle for full disclosure.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed is a lessened need for watering. Lemon balm is a particularly finicky plant, and I have another cutting from this plant in a pot on the window sill, which I’m embarrassed to share here. Actually, the plant is embarrassed for me to photograph her when she looks so brittle and frazzled with the winter. Even though that one gets more light, the leaf tips have browned, because it’s just so difficult to keep the moisture at the right level — even in a non-terra cotta pot!

In previous years, my geranium has also shown signs of stress, with yellow, dried out leaves and even a virus last year. Since adding the orgone, I sometimes forget about these plants for over a week between waterings. They just always look so happy that until I hear an “Ahem, do you know how dry we are?” I don’t even remember to do anything to them. In the past, any drought stress has caused serious drooping and browning.

Based on the quick results with these plants, I put an orgone puck in our refrigerator to see what happened there. One reason I decided to grow a winter garden this year was because we found it very difficult to find fresh greens last year in January and February. David and I had gotten spoiled living in cities with access to Whole Foods, which pays a premium to purchase the first run-through of the freshest organic produce available. Stores in Goshen just don’t have that buying power, so we would often buy a bunch of kale (for $4.99!) or dandelion greens ($5.99!) only to have them wilt and rot within a couple days. Our farmers market offered amazing spinach, but only in limited quantities for early purchasers. Our garden grew well through early December and was still alive even after minus twelve degrees; however, at this point, I’d need to dig it out from multiple feet of snow. After months of subzero temps, our outside kale looks pretty frost bitten, and I’ve not ventured into the cold frame for about a month.

Anyway, I put an orgone puck in our fridge, and now our greens stay fresh for over a week. Apparently, our other food does, too. Yesterday, I needed to clean out some leftovers from, um, at least a couple weeks ago. I meant to clean it out last week, but kept putting it off because I get really grossed out by rotten food smells. Well, yesterday I finally took the plunge and opened the container only to find everything looking and smelling just as fresh as whenever we made it! We weren’t crazy enough to try eating it, but still, I found that impressive. I also like that the orgone puck charges our food the whole time it spends in the refrigerator. In the event that food comes from somewhere I’d rather not have my food from, I figure, the non-stop orgone “treatment” will make it fresher, healthier and cleaner than before. I’ve actually noticed some kale that had a couple questionable leaf tips become greener the longer I waited to use it. Almost crazy making … but quite exciting when I really think about it!

Sooooo, yesterday, I ordered a bunch more pucks. David’s mom wants some for their house, and based on these plant experiments, our garden deserves far more than the two I’ve already placed out there. I have no financial incentive to write about orgone. I just like to share when I find something that truly lives up to or beyond its hype. Cheers!

Winter Gardening, Cold Frames and a Greenhouse

We’ve had a few days of warmer weather in Goshen, so I pulled back the plastic from our cold frame to give the babies some sunshine and rain.

cold frame greens

The above photo was taken after harvesting this whole messa greens:

messa greens

It’s so great to have fresh, homegrown greens (and a turnip) in December! I’ve found that homegrown greens don’t refrigerate the same as store bought ones, so I’ve experimented and found a method that preserves them really well. I tear up the greens and de-stem them, then fill bowls and top with plates. This method works far better than any produce bags, drawers, paper towels or other experiments I’ve tried. The greens will store unwilted for many days this way:

greens storage

The cold frame has definitely made a difference compared to the open air plants of the same variety. Most of my uncovered chard — both rhubarb red and Lucullus — has turned to mush outside the cold frame. Inside, the rhubarb red still struggles a bit, but the Lucullus looks great. The Lucullus growing under an old shower curtain in one of the InstaBeds continues to grow, but very, very slowly, alongside some soon to be harvested leeks:

shower curtain instabed

Unlike chard, kale loves the cold. You can see four different varieties growing here:

various kales

So far, Winterbor seems the hardiest, even compared to Siberian and Red Russian varieties:

winterbor

This winter gardening bug is really beginning to catch on in Elkhart County. This afternooon, four of us carpooled from Goshen to Elkhart to attend a cold frame workshop hosted by Elkhart Local Food Alliance (ELFA). I was the last stop for the pickup so that everyone could see what we have going on here first. Then we got to see our friends’ homemade greenhouse in progress, made from a repurposed garage frame, discarded windows and aluminum siding. The only thing they’ve had to purchase is the plastic for the roof:

greenhouse

Note all the wood mulch in the background. I never thought I’d say this, but someone actually has more wood mulch happening than we do here! It did my heart good since I am still slogging my way through Mount Mulchmore. As I told my gardening buddy Kimber: emphasis on the MORE! Sheesh, that’s a lot of wood and leaves. The ELFA folks visited some of the gardens/farms in Detroit this August, where they grow right on top of concrete. All it takes is massive amounts of organic material layered on top, hence all the leaves, compost and mulch everywhere.

We looked at a homemade lean-to style cold frame on the south side of the house, and then built a simple, untreated wooden cold frame topped by an old window:

cold frame workshop

This one rests on wooden blocks attached at the corners, so it’s a fairly low cold frame that would be supported on bricks to discourage quick rotting of the wood. Taller crops couldn’t grown here, but spinach would do well:

finished cold frame with vent

It was wonderful to see nearly two dozen people interested in growing their own winter greens and extending the growing seasons on either side of summer. On the way home, I realized that I could use my crates filled with soil as cold frame walls around my rosemary and then cover it with the small window I took home from the workshop. Moving those crates will be tomorrow’s project before our balmy weather turns bitterly cold:

rosemary

Row covers will also go inside the hoop cold frame to add further protection from temperatures below 20 degrees. David cut some of my 6 foot long bamboo pole into 2 foot sections, which will support the row covers so that they don’t weigh down the greens.

I also had a welcome epiphany on the way home! I have been wracking my brain for how to fit a lean-to cold frame on the side of our house between the summer’s morning glory trellises and the outside wall. It’s a pretty skinny space, and I just couldn’t figure out how to make it work. On the way home I realized that our landlord’s garage/workshop behind our house also has an unbroken southern exposure, but with open access. He already gave me free reign to plant whatever I want there, and I had wanted to grow hops on huge sunflowers. Well! If I mulch it out now with leaves covered with the rest of the wood mulch, I can let that rot down all winter. In the spring, I can lean several windows against the garage and put a couple straw bales on either end to seal it off.

That will make a toasty little cold frame to give sunflowers and hops or scarlet runner beans an earlier start, and then in the fall, once those have died back, I can plant some additional winter greens. My black raised beds don’t lend themselves too well to cold frames, and this summer, everything was already growing and lush with no room to plant winter crops. This new space might just work.

Adventures in Mad Scientist Gardening … the experiments continue. I’ve been talking with the folks at The Garden Tower Project in Bloomington, too. Looks like I may buy one of those complete units so that I have a living sample to show people in Goshen who don’t believe they can garden on very little land. One way or another, I’m determined to reach anyone with the teeniest interest in fresh, local food — through an edible front yard, vertical gardening, raised beds, kooky cold frames, and yes, a complete vermicomposting, 50-plant growing tower that would fit on a small patio. Yep, exciting times in the Land of Goshen … at least for me …

Cheers!

Horizontal Kale and Other Gardening Fun

That title is not an exaggeration! Check out my Winterbor Kale:

horizontal kale

Although my other two Winterbor’s continue upright, this one decided to tip all the way over on his side and shimmy himself clear of the second and bottom InstaBed tiers. Quite the creative wind support! You can see he’s made friends with the French Sorrel, which made a surprising recovery once the giant cherry tomato plant stopped hogging all the light.

In addition to this horizontal action, we’ve got some new long rows ready to rot down in preparation for additional trellis action next Summer. I’ve added two more of these rows, and I have three more trellises to use. If I get everything else done, I might even figure out the next location for the final of our six “combo panel” trellises:

vertical gardening prep

The rosemary and asparagus have settled into Fall’s chill, with the rosemary reminding me daily that I need to dig her up and repot for the Winter:

rosemary and asparagus

We’ve still got the cold frame “Guarden Bed,” which David’s going to help me windproof a bit more, along with a protective tarp “skirt” around the edges. You can see I also added concrete blocks to the back as a northerly windbreak. Those blocks will eventually stand beneath our rain barrels, but I like the alternate seasonal uses for them:

Guarden Cold frame

Despite some wind issues, the Guarden continues to produce amazing goodies. I pulled a nice, big turnip today, along with “a whole messa greens.” Outside, you can’t even tell I removed anything from the lush bed. Our bellies will know, though. Dinner in twenty!

turnip and messa greens

Fall Garden Update: First Frost

Well, it finally happened last night: the first frost of the season! David and I spent this weekend preparing, and I harvested a few final things yesterday afternoon. Here’s a photo journey:

Guarden install

We began installing the cold frame portion of “The Guarden.” Above, you can see the PVC pipes bent into the brackets, in preparation for holding up the plastic tunnel. As when we first put together the raised bed, it would have helped to have read all the directions right away. It turns out that David not only needed to undo and redo his over-eager, non-linear girlfriend’s attempt to build the raised bed herself, but we would have been better off installing at least the PVC pipe before adding soil, despite the heat. We wouldn’t have needed to put on the plastic, but the soil now blocks easy access to add some extra bracketing that would create a tighter seal. Oh, well, live and learn. Plus, soil sinks, so perhaps we’ll have an opportunity next Spring. For now, we’ll have a cold frame that’s not quite as tightly sealed as the original design.

cold frame assembly with David's shadow

Above, you can see it with the plastic covering, and below, a peak through the zippered side vents. It’s very important to vent your cold frame on sunny days! Inside temperatures can scorch cold hardy crops, especially under glass. Think of how hot a sunny porch or sun room can get in winter, and then intensify that by the smaller space and soil activity.

looking through the vents

You can also lift the sides for Fall and Winter harvesting:

cold frame lifting

I just checked on the babies outside, and I noticed an unexpected thing. The plants in the uncovered beds all looked great, whereas the ones under the cold frame were covered in frost. I will need to experiment to see how much of that happened due to added moisture within the cold frame and how much due to the fact that the uncovered beds have already had at least an extra hour of full sun exposure, while the little cold frame that could(?) sits in only partial sun right now due to the lowered sun angle. It might also have something to do with the heat retained by the black beds, as opposed to the white bed that keeps the soil cooler. David’s dad offered to paint the white one to match the others, but we thought that would require too much maintenance. I may reconsider if it makes a huge difference in productivity, though. Live, observe and learn.

I did not seal up the vents all the way, either, so I will try that this time. I needed to leave before dark yesterday for the Inner Transitions book group and thus left the vents not too open and not too closed. It may have resulted in a frost-friendly moisture situation. Since all the plants in there are cold hardy, I think they’ll be fine. Kale actually tastes better after a frost! Still, it was only 30 degrees last night, so I hope I can count on a little better performance in the dead of winter. I might have to break out my row covers sooner than expected! [UPDATE 2: With the vents closed last night, I had zero frost on my cold frame covered plants this morning.]

After David and I finished installing the cold frame, what to my wandering eyes should appear? A hidden (even from the squirrels and rabbits!) Moon & Stars Watermelon, ripe for the picking. It was tiny, grown in a crate, and totally delicious. It tasted like watermelon bubble gum — very sweet and unlike other watermelons I’ve tried. It was the first and only watermelon we got this season before any critters drained them of their juice. Definitely worth the wait! Who harvests watermelon in late October?! In Northern Indiana???

watermelon

The harvest continued, with (non-cold hardy and hopefully, please, please, please perennial if mulched) tree collards and unripe tomatoes:

tree collards and tomatoes

I gathered even more yesterday:

More Tomatoes

We’ve got mint drying for tea and smoothies…

mint

… and lots of lemongrass!

lemongrass

I made another weekend bouquet…

this weekend's bouquet

… and a zinnia and pineapple sage bouquet along with edible nasturtiums and calendula flowers:

yesterday's harvest

I expected to find frozen nasturtiums, zinnias and a dead sage today, but everything’s still bright and joyful. What a bizarre, wonderful world out there! Good thing the flowers inspire me, because I’ve got a boatload of bulbs to hide from squirrels plant.

Cheers!