Podcast: Ready to Plant Peas?

Tune in for Debra’s pea planting tips and recipes. https://anchor.fm/teresa40/episodes/Favorite-Edible-Peas-e1blk7

Bite-Size Veggies Pack Big Flavor

img_1656.jpgBy Teresa Woodard

Giant pumpkins, watermelons and tomatoes may win blue ribbons at the county fair, but some gardeners prize smaller, bite-sized veggies for their big flavor. They’re easy to grow in smaller gardens (even containers), ideal for snacking and may not even make it to the kitchen once harvested in the garden. Here are five bite-sized veggies to try this season.

Cherry tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes are easy to grow and produce an abundance of tomatoes for snacks, salads and roasting.Sungold’ is an exceptional orange cherry tomato variety and a favorite in a recent poll among tomato growers.  Other standouts are three All-American Selections award winners. They include Midnight Snack, a black-purple variety with healthy antioxidants; ‘Candyland Red,’ a dark red, sweet flavored variety, and ‘Patio Choice Yellow,’ a new compact variety developed specifically for small spaces and container gardens.

Cucamelons: These oh-so-cute veggies were the darlings of last summer’s Instagram garden posts.  Also known as Mexican Sour Gherkin, mouse melon or “Sandita” (little watermelon in Spanish), cucamelons taste like cucumbers with a touch of lemon. They’re grown much like cucumber vines and can be planted in containers or as an edible ornamental vine along a trellis in cottage gardens.

Ground Cherries: These marble-sized, golden fruits taste like pineapple with hints of cherry tomato and vanilla. Their sweet flavor earns them nicknames like “strawberry tomato” and “Cossack pineapple.” Enjoy them in salads, jam, pie, cobbler, sauces or dried like raisins. The fruits drop from the plants when they are ripe, hence the name ground cherry. The only challenge can be getting the seeds to start. For best results, sow indoors in April, cover seed trays and keep the trays warm until the seeds germinate. The top of a refrigerator works well. Transplant the seedlings in the garden after the threat of frost has passed.

‘Cherry Belle’ Radishes: These round, smooth scarlet radishes are ¾ inches in size and have a crisp, white flesh. They grow easily from seed when planted in cool spring weather and are ready to harvest in just 23 days. They are an All-American Selections award winner and beloved for their mild flavor.

‘Sweetie Pie’ Peppers: This 2017 All-American Selections award-winning miniature bell pepper is easy to grow and produces an abundance of peppers even in hot and humid conditions. The attractive plant is well-adapted for containers and small gardens. Fruits can be harvested 60 to 70 days from transplanting either in green or red. These small peppers are 2.5 inches by 3 inches in size and are thick-walled, sweet and flavorful. These peppers can be eaten fresh, grilled, stir-fried or stuffed.

 

 

The Many Faces of April

 

By Michael Leach

When it comes to coping with a variety of weather, Midwesterners take second place to no one on the planet. Sometimes it seems we get almost everything in a few hours.

Because April in my part of the Heartland is mercurial at best, it was with tepid hopes I put the recycled-plastic Adironack chairs on the patio the day before Easter. The forsythia blossoms hadn’t even fully opened. While forsythia blooms don’t guarantee three snows of folklore, more cold weather is certain.

And Easter, no matter its placement on the calendar, rarely matches the pastel scene depicted in ads and greeting cards. While growing up, we never marched in the Easter parade, but were always in uniform if called upon to do so. Despite arctic cold, Mother refused to allow my sister and I  to wear winter coats. “They’ll hide your new Easter clothes,” she scolded. How dare we prefer drab, dark coats to a fashion statement. Our numb little fingers gathered the colored eggs hidden around the back yard.

Softball was usually as chilly a proposition as egg hunts. Even early May can bring frosts, freezes and January-like wind chills. Outfield duty meant possible frostbite.

So putting the chairs out practically guaranteed the always crazy April weather would make them mere garden decorations for awhile, not a spot for comforting rest from chores or  savoring the beauty of spring flowers on balmy days.

The variety of meteorological offerings that followed, however, was awe inspiring. Monday after Easter, several inches of snow transformed the garden into a Christmas card scene. (Sure hope the white Christmas fans have had their fill of the four-letter “s” word, I growled.) Tuesday brought a quick warm up, rounds of flooding rains, hail, violent winds, and a small tornado touching down at evening rush hour just three miles from home. Fortunately there were no injuries, though this twister damaged buildings and toppled power lines. On Wednesday morning snow flurries were blowing again. At least the snow didn’t stick to pavements. The only atmospheric condition that failed to materialize was pleasant, as in shirtsleeve weather.

There’s something especially depressing about the mixed metaphor of snow-crusted patio furniture. The surreal extends to the daffodils and other flowers, who do imitations of the yoga pose Downward Dog. (Perhaps I need counseling.

Little wonder that St. Louis native and Nobel Prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot penned, “April is the cruelest month …” Such a thought probably arose after enduring a Midwest winter that never wanted to end and an April that was anything but springlike. He eventually moved to temperate England. (But even the Mother Country had cruel snow storms and deadly chills this winter.

Another poet of our region came through the winters and uncertainties of April seeing a brighter side. Jesse Stuart, Kentucky poet laureate, lived in a lovely hollow near the small town of Greenup on the Ohio River.

His poem “Hold April” speaks of the winsome side of this split-personality month.

He tells us to hold on to April because it’s another year

 “ … before she comes again 

To bring us wind as clean as polished glass

And apple blossoms in soft, silver rain. …

When wild birds sing up flights of windy stair

And bees love alder blossoms by the stream. …

Month of eternal beauty and delight.”

 Spring’s delight will return — as always. Hold that hope.

April Foolery

Bird’s nest fern earned its common name for a reason. April Fools!

Heartland Gardening Book Release

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We are excited to announce our upcoming book release, Heartland Gardening: Celebrating the Seasons. We’ll launch the book on Sunday, March 18 at 2 p.m. at our talk at Inniswood Metro Gardens in Westerville, Ohio.

Our new book celebrates gardening in the Midwest with a collection of our best blog posts. We’ve assembled gardening lessons and reflective essays and woven them together with beautiful images and illustrations. The book leads readers through the region’s heralded seasons, offering tips for favorite plants, recipes for beloved edibles, plant design ideas and advice for top garden destinations. It’s a great tribute to Midwest gardening and an excellent gift for gardening friends.

To register for the “Gardening in the Heartland” event, visit Inniswood.

Inniswood Garden Talk

Inniswood garden talk

Join us on Sunday, March 18, 2 – 4 p.m. at Inniswood Metro Gardens in Westerville. We’re delighted to share the stage in three talks on spring container gardening, what’s hot and not, and healthy gardening strategies.

We will also be giving away a $125 gift card to Kurtz Bros Mulch and Soils and announcing our Heartland Gardening book release.  We hope you will join us for this fun gardening event!

Tickets are $15/IGS members and $20/non-members.  Call 614-895-6216 to register. Inniswood Metro Gardens, 940 S. Hempstead Rd. Westerville, OH 43081.

March Madness

Early Spring Tasks

By Debra Knapke

 Blustery winds, snow, wintercress setting bud, temperature changes that make you feel like you are on a rollercoaster … it’s March, and the time I look out into my garden and create a to-do list. I save the major clean-up of my garden for March. Stems and seedheads of perennials offer winter interest while providing protection to herbaceous crowns and food for wildlife. They also may be insect nurseries.

My list for this year:

1. weed-weed-weed:  bitter wintercress is beginning to bloom and must be removed. If you catch it before it buds, you can leave it in the garden, roots side up. Look for the early rosettes of garlic mustard. Separate the roots from the crown and you can leave this to compost in-place, too. Chickweed, which is an edible spring green, is bursting out, too. Dandelions are beginning to show. The plants in the garden will end up in salad. I don’t concern myself with the ones in the lawn.

1a. Remove invasive plants that you have planted or have shown up – uninvited – in your garden

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Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) — remove it in its rosette stage before it blooms.

 

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Even after being frosted several times, bitter wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris) keeps on blooming!

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This cute perennial is a thug in disguise. Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) will spread by seed and root tubers in a very short time.

2. Cut down the stems from the herbaceous perennials. I only cut them down to 6-8”as native bees may use them for their bee nurseries. The blue mason bee is already flying and searching for tubes to lay her eggs in. Watch for eggs and egg cases and leave those stems standing.

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Stems of fennel stay in the garden for now.

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Notice how the usually solid pith is drilled. There might be a resident inside.

3. Cut down last year’s grasses. Chop the leaves into 8-12” pieces and leave them in piles. In my garden I lay them in the “wild” area in the back for birds to use for nestbuilding. The leaves that are not used will breakdown and add to the nutrition in the soil.

4. Make sure that leaves left in the garden are not covering emerging crowns. Most plants will grow up through leaves, but snow may pack the leaves, especially oak leaves. This will trap moisture around the crown and cause crown rot.

5. If you mulched in the fall, fluff it. Mulch can flatten and cause an impermeable surface that blocks water and air movement into the soil. If you are thinking of mulching in March, chase that thought right out of your mind. That is a mid to late April task when the soil has warmed. In cool-spring years, I have delayed adding mulch until early May.

6. Edging the garden beds; especially good for the times when you should not be stepping on saturated soil and compacting it. February and the first week of March have been very rainy this year. In the low areas of my garden, edging and weeding  the perimeter of the bed is the only task I will be doing for the next week or so.

7. Check trees and shrubs for broken or dead limbs and remove them. Prune suckers and crossing branches. This is better done in the fall, but if you didn’t get to it, do it now. An exception to this is any maple species. I prune live wood on maples in the late summer to mid-fall to avoid causing sap flow from the wound.

8. Look for plants that are heaving out of the ground and press them back into the soil. A side note: the deer have been very active in my garden and while tiptoeing through several areas, they have uprooted plants and bulbs. Look for this type of animal damage and fix it.

9. Sit back, breathe, and enjoy the early bulbs and perennials that are emerging, but don’t be surprised if Mother Nature snows on your parade.

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Jewel Box Blooms

crocus2

Teeny, tiny flowers are potent symbols

By Michael Leach

Small packages can contain fabulous wealth. Consider the simple cube. Hardly bigger than two plump thumbs, it opens to reveal a glittering diamond and emerald ring that sits like an imperial crown upon a velvet pad.

So it is with some of the smallest bulbs in my garden, snowdrops and snow crocus. Their tiny flowers generate excitement on a scale far beyond their size not to mention an early meal for pollinators. Those teeny, tiny blooms are powerful signs of better things ahead.
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These diminutive flowers are especially potent this winter, which arrived early with a nastier attitude than usual. It’s taken itself far too seriously in my opinion. Fortunately a thaw in late February turned into a few days of late-May weather, prompting those precious little flowers to pop open.

The mild weather also pushed the two big silver maples in the back yard to get into the act. Their flowers are even smaller thanthe bulbs’ but their masses of swelling buds create a pastel yellow aura around one tree and burgundy the other. Unfortunately their beauty appears too far over head to appreciate the flowers. 

Because wee blooms are lost in a vast scene, legions of them are needed for a visual statement in a expansive landscape, such as mine. Those trees produce their own show. Bulbs require my effort.

crocusMy token blossoms always inspire visions of lavender and yellow swaths of snow crocus, white drifts of snowdrops and golden rivers of countless daffodils for next spring. 

What will probably happen is a repeat of the disappointment of many past springs. The reality of bulb planting season is fatigue, hard soil and sprawling plants that I tangle with while digging holes. The garden season always seems to require too many weedings, waterings and plantings. Near exhaustion, not enthusiasm results. Instead of the thousands or even hundreds to bring alive these visions of spring glory, only a few bags of various bulbs are purchased and planted.

galanthusKnowing such fantasies are unlikely to take root, a practical thought comes to mind. A few dozen tiny bulbs would suffice to greatly enliven the portion of the perennial border nearest the sunporch windows. Why not order from one of those clever bulb companies? Their catalogs, spiced with early bird specials, arrive during the heyday of spring bulb season. Instead of a token few, I could buy enough to create a modest statement. Because the bulbs will bepaid for months ahead, my frugal nature will insist that there be no waste of money. This will generate sufficient energy to dig the required holes.

Perhaps this is the year. But for now, I must go out and gaze at the wee wonders who seem to whisper, “Winter’s done for.”

 

 

 

Holiday Greetings

img_0489.jpgCheck out our latest podcast as Michael Leach shares “Real or Fake?,” a humorous essay on the recurring Christmas tree debate.

Sharon Meadows Constructed Wetland

Working with Mother Nature and the Community to Solve a Problem

By Debra Knapke

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. There has been a lot going on this past spring, summer and fall, and blogging, unfortunately, became a lower priority.

One project that was all-consuming in the spring was the transformation of a waterlogged park into a constructed wetland. In less than three months an amazing team of people created a place that would normally need a year or more of planning.

In the first season, volunteers have seen many different species of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies. We had frogs and toads in the wetland, and frog eggs in one of the shallow pools. The upland plants were visited by a myriad of bees, beetles, wasps and more. The bluebird boxes were full and the resident bats and tree swifts ate any visiting mosquitoes. Next year, one goal is to inventory the animals that use the wetland for food and /or shelter.

I invite you to take  a moment, 5 minutes and 34 seconds to be precise, to experience the making of a wetland.

Garden Topics

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