Sunday, May 3, 2015

May 3 column

Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: As summer nears, think water-wise.

This column is about what we gardeners can do to conserve water in our landscapes.

However, there was a mix-up at the newspaper and the column that was supposed to run was all about next Saturday's (5/9) Garden Expo. If you're not familiar with this event, you owe it to yourself to go! It will be held at the Spokane Community College Lair student union building, 1810 N. Greene St. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Both the event and parking are free.

There will be more than 250 garden-related vendors on hand. What a perfect setting for finding plants and gardening goodies for yourself or a Mother's Day gift! (yes, Mother's Day is on May 10th, folks)

Pat Munts and I will be signing copies of our book at our table inside the Lair building, all day long. Be sure to drop by and say hello! In addition, I'll be teaching a free seminar on growing heirloom vegetables at 11:30 a.m.

To learn more about Garden Expo, visit the website of The Inland Empire Gardeners, who put on this amazing event every year.

See you there!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

April 26 column and insect hotel video

Our new insect hotel.

Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Insect hotels keep good bugs cozy. I have to tell you, I'm glad today is finally here because I've been so excited about presenting this topic to you!

It's about adding an insect hotel to the garden, to attract more pollinators and beneficial insects to it... and that's a very good thing. My husband, Bill, and I recently made one.

As a bonus, I also shot a video showing how our insect hotel went together and the materials we used to fill it with. The two other photos on this blog post are ones I took while at this year's Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle, just to give you some ideas. Aren't they cool?

What's really exciting is that we've already got "guests!" We've been seeing solitary bees coming and going, and perhaps there are other types of insects we can't even see in it. I've been wanting to take a photo of one of the bees for you but they're just so darned fast, it hasn't happened yet! But I'll keep trying...

I hope this column and the video will inspire you to create your own insect hotel and would love to hear about yours. Just drop me a note at

Here are some helpful links:

Friday, April 24, 2015

Book review: "The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener"

by Susan Mulvihill

For the past two winters, I have been experimenting with growing cold-tolerant vegetables. I’ve had mixed, but encouraging, results. In order to have as much success as possible, I’ve been looking for more references on this subject and have found an excellent book.

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour (Storey Publishing, 248 pp., $19.95) provides detailed information on this challenging aspect of gardening.

Jabbour lives in Nova Scotia so I figure if she can grow veggies successfully during the winter, so can I!

In the book, she takes the reader by the hand and shares her gardening schedule for planting and growing all sorts of vegetables, include warm-season crops, throughout the year. But her secret to success with both cold- and warm-season veggies lies in the use of cold frames, hoop tunnels and cloches. She also shares hoop house ideas from her gardening friends.

Jabbour intensively plants her vegetables and emphasizes the importance of improving one’s soil throughout the growing season -- not just at the start of the season, I might add. She points out that when you grow year-round, the soil becomes depleted of nutrients so it’s vital we add organic amendments on a regular basis.

She is a stickler for rotating crops and suggests rotating them based on each crop’s nutritional needs rather than just by plant families. For example, since salad greens need a lot of nitrogen, why not plant them in a bed where peas or beans previously grew? Makes sense to me.

She advocates succession planting to get as much out of the garden as possible. She also does interplanting (i.e., growing lettuce next to tomato plants where the soil would otherwise be bare) and staggered plantings (a mix of varieties within each crop planted so they won’t all mature at once).

One of my favorite sections in the book was “Growing the Right Crops,” in which Jabbour discusses the details of growing specific vegetables. Included are “Niki’s Picks” which are her variety recommendations.

Each vegetable profile includes a planting calendar which shows when to sow seeds indoors, when to start warming the planting bed in preparation for warm-season crops, when to transplant or sow outdoors -- all based on the weeks before the last spring frost or the first fall frost.

If you’re interested in growing vegetables during the colder months, the Year-Round Vegetable Gardener is a terrific resource. Yet, even if you aren’t, it’s a useful reference for producing as many vegetables in your garden during the “normal” growing season as possible.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hoop house update

This shows the hoop house in its new location.
You might recall that my husband Bill and I built a hoop house last October. A hoop house is a plastic-covered greenhouse, which we're primarily using to grow cold-tolerant vegetables through the winter in. Ours is 10 feet wide by 9 feet long and it fits over two of our raised beds.

However, after we built it, I suddenly thought, "well, it doesn't have to just be for winter veggies. Why not use it for growing some heat-loving veggies in the summer, too?"

Last winter, I grew kale, arugula, tatsoi, mizuna, lettuce and corn salad (mache) in it. But my plan quickly became to keep the hoop house in its original location (next to our small greenhouse) and when the winter veggies were done producing, I would plant the two beds with 'Jetstar' tomatoes, and three varieties of melons and cucumbers each.

Late this summer, we would move the hoop house to cover two different raised beds in a different area of our vegetable garden and begin the cycle of growing winter veggies in it once again.

At the time, it seemed like a great idea but recently, reality set in and I realized we would need to move it... NOW! I had remembered that if I had gone with the original plan, when it came time to move the hoop house to the new location, we would have to raise it about 5 feet high to get it over the supports for the tomatoes, melons and cucumbers. Yikes!

Sorry to be rambling on about this but I wanted to give you some background.

So today, we decided to move the hoop house and I was stunned by how easy it was! Bill had done a good job of keeping it fairly lightweight (yet sturdy) during the construction phase last fall.

Just a short distance to move it! (winter bed in foreground)
And boy, am I glad he did. All he had to do was remove the rebar attachments to each side of the base (for wind protection) and then set one end onto a rolling cart. Then he raised the opposite end and had me slowly steer the cart to the new location. It wasn't heavy or awkward at all!

Fortunately, I'd done a good job of selecting two beds that were a straight shot from the original location, just two rows away (photo to right). We accomplished the move in about 3 minutes! Bill has since reattached the rebar rods (which are pounded into the soil) to the frame and now it's all set.

I am so excited about this. Two days ago, I had prepared the two new beds by adding in a lot of compost and some organic fertilizer so they're ready to go. My plan is to plant the tomatoes, melons and cucumbers into the hoop house beds in about 10 to 14 days. I'll let you know how they do.

We'll keep the hoop house in its new location until next spring since we'll be able to grow winter veggies in it this fall. Then it will find itself covering two different beds, since I'm careful about rotating my crops.

This is a link to the video I made on the construction of the hoop house last October, in case you'd like to see how it went together.

Here are links to my blog posts on the hoop house and how my winter vegetable-growing experiments have gone:
Stay tuned!

April 19 column

Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Taking it easy. It's actually a feature story about Master Gardener Karen Whitehead, who has done a wonderful job keeping her landscape as low-maintenance as possible.

She was given good advice from a friend to not overdo with her garden plan when she and her husband Jake moved to Greenacres nine years ago. They live on a 5-acre lot, which would certainly be easy to get carried away with!

As I visited with Karen recently, I realized how important that advice is for all of us because we need to take into account that as we age, we might not be able to keep up with our landscape.

I hope you will enjoy reading about Karen and her garden!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cool garden center sights

I recently spent a week in Southern California, where it did not snow like it did here! On the contrary, we had sunny days in the 70s and 80s. (sorry)

While there, I went to the wonderful Armstrong Garden Center in Torrance and saw a lot of very cool stuff. You've already seen the gorgeous peony that I posted yesterday on my Facebook page, but here are other photos of plants and garden decor I thought you might enjoy seeing: (remember that you can view a larger image of any of these photos by clicking on them)

Gorgeous plants!

Coleus 'Electric Lime'

Beautiful Foxgloves

Fun garden art

I love these succulents!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Product review: Plant Nanny Watering Stakes

When you go out of town, do you fret over how your houseplants will fare while you're gone? I sure do (much to my husband's dismay!) but now I have a product that has put my mind at ease.

It's called the Plant Nanny Watering Stake and it works great. There are two types:

1) One has a large terracotta stake that you poke into the potting soil and then take a recycled wine bottle, fill it with water and place it upside-down into the terracotta stake.

2) The other also features a terracotta stake but includes a PVC adapter that fits onto soda or water bottles.

What a great way to water your plants using recycled glass or plastic bottles!

The way it works is that the water slowly drips, as needed, into the potting soil where the roots are, rather than on the surface where it can evaporate.

We recently were out of town for a week and I was worried about how my Flowering Maple (Abutilon) would do because the potting soil dries out so quickly. Even if I had really drenched the potting soil before we left, I'm certain the plant would have been shriveled up by the time we returned.

Then I remembered the Plant Nanny watering stake sample I received during last year's Garden Writers Association's Symposium. My problem was solved! I used an empty soda bottle with the PVC adapter and it worked perfectly. The photo to the left was taken when we got back from our trip and, as you can see, the Flowering Maple is NOT shriveled up. It actually looks quite happy as a matter of fact, and only used a quarter of the water in the bottle.

It was definitely a more efficient way to water the plant. Think of how useful this would be if you live in an area where there are water-use restrictions, although we should all be looking for ways to conserve water whether we're experiencing a drought or not, right?

I was going to say you can learn more about them and order your own Plant Nanny by going to, but I see their website is currently under construction. However, you can contact them at (603) 727-9788 and I do see that they can be ordered through, and

The Plant Nanny folks have a Facebook page which is located at

Sunday, April 12, 2015

April 12 column

Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Working smart keeps body happy. It is about the things we can do to make gardening easier and more comfortable for our bodies. I'm talking about stretching beforehand, not doing repetitive motions for long periods of time and so on. After all, gardening should be enjoyable, right?

In the column, I mention how useful kneeler/benches are (see top photo). When the handles are pointing up, it's used as a kneeler and if you flip it around so the handles point down, it becomes a bench. While I don't use the bench feature on mine nearly as much as I do the kneeler function, it does come in handy for tasks that take a while. For me, that includes chores like deadheading prolific bloomers like Shasta daisies or picking blueberries.

For me, the most important features of these kneelers are the handles that you use to slowly lower yourself down onto the kneeler or push yourself back up. I don't know about you, but it's the constant getting up and down that wears me out during a day of gardening, and really makes my hips ache.

However, I've recently learned about a new type of kneeler (right) and wanted to tell you about it. Please refer to my review of it on this blog. I think you'll find it very interesting!

Product review: GardenEase Kneeler

I just wrote a column about ways to make gardening more comfortable for you, especially if you have physical limitations. If you are like me and do a lot of gardening, it's important to stretch beforehand, not carry too much and avoid doing repetitive motions that will strain muscles.

In the column, I mention how useful kneeler/benches are. When the handles are pointing up, they're used as a kneeler and if you flip it around so the handles point down, they become a bench. While I don't use the bench feature on mine nearly as much as I do the kneeler function, it does come in handy for tasks that take a while. For me, that includes chores like deadheading prolific bloomers like Shasta daisies or picking blueberries.

For me, the most important features of these kneelers are the handles that you use to slowly lower yourself down onto the kneeler or push yourself back up. I don't know about you, but it's the constant getting up and down that wears me out during a day of gardening, and really makes my hips ache and thighs sore.

However, I've recently learned about a new type of kneeler and wanted to share this information with you. Gardener's Supply sells the "GardenEase" kneeler (top photo) and it has two features that gardeners should find really helpful:

1) The kneeler pad is contoured for the shape of our knees, and is quite soft, so if you have cranky knees, this just might be the ticket for you! I've noticed that almost all kneelers have flat -- and usually hard -- surfaces which can really make one's knees sore after a while. The GardenEase kneeler pad is WAY nicer! As a matter of fact, I just cleaned up my strawberry bed while using the kneeler and let me tell you, my knees were in heaven! And I don't even have knee problems but they sure appreciated it. (I see that you can also just purchase the kneeler pad rather than the whole kneeler, by the way.)

2) You've probably noticed the circular handles by now, right? Well, those are ergonomically-designed to make it easier on your wrists because you can keep your wrists straight while getting up or lowering yourself down. With regular kneelers, you have to bend your wrists backwards to grasp the handles and push up. I don't have cranky wrists, but can only imagine how much that must hurt those who do! In the photo to the right, you can see the position I put my wrists in for getting up and down. Very nice! However, I should also mention that the circular handles allow you to put your wrists in whatever position is most comfortable for you. That's a nice feature.

I see from the literature on the GardenEase kneeler that because it rests on the ground (rather than being elevated a few inches like most kneelers), it reduces the chance of straining your back. As one who suffers from a bad back, I'm all over that! It will support up to 350 lbs., too.

I will be testing a GardenEase kneeler this season and am looking forward to being much more comfortable while pursuing my favorite pastime! You can find more information on it here.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Book review: "The Tao of Vegetable Gardening"

The Tao of Vegetable Gardening
by Carol Deppe
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015, 265 pp., $24.95
by Susan Mulvihill

I admit it: the title of this book initially put me off. I don’t have anything against Taoism or other philosophies and religions, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around what The Tao of Vegetable Gardening must be about. Perhaps I should have read the book’s subtitle more closely -- “Cultivating Tomatoes, Greens, Peas, Beans, Squash, Joy, and Serenity” -- before passing judgment.

When I finally sat down to read it, I discovered this is a thoughtful, at times quite funny, information-packed gardening book that has taught me a great deal.

In the first six chapters, the author begins by briefly relating a teaching or fable from Taoism, and then weaves her own garden tales around them.

For example, in the “Balance” chapter, she discusses growing the right-size garden, dedicating one’s limited time to the most important and/or rewarding tasks, and finding the right approach to soil and tilling (adding enough organic amendments, not doing too much tilling, using the right amount of water and fertilizer). She advocates soil-testing rather than just adding nutrients to the soil.

When it comes to dealing with pests, she suggests a gardener be realistic about the efforts one has to make in order to get a harvest.

In the “Non-Doing” chapter, Deppe points out how we should be efficient at what we do, rather than doing something just because it’s how we’ve always done something -- even if it isn’t necessary.

One chapter section is entitled, “Twenty-four Good Places Not to Plant a Tree,” which is a great lesson on properly locating a tree. That’s something all gardeners should have! She also covers “Seven Reasons Not to Chop Down a Tree” and “Thirty-seven Reasons for not Planting Various Vegetables” (my favorite is “I don’t like the taste... And I don’t care how well it overwinters. Part of the reason it overwinters so well is nothing else likes to eat it either.”)

From chapter seven on, Deppe packs so much information that all gardeners should know, it makes a reader really slow down to try to absorb everything.

For example, she has a 38-page chapter on important information a gardener should know about growing tomatoes. She explains the difference between hybrids versus open-pollinated varieties, and the importance of avoiding hybrids since they don’t breed true from saved seeds.

An alarming development Deppe discusses is how late blight has become so prevalent in the eastern and southern regions of the U.S. It is a huge risk to heirloom tomatoes, reproduces both sexually and asexually, and spreads by water, wind, tools and clothing.

While late blight doesn’t currently survive in temperature regions like ours, she suggests several strategies gardeners and farmers should employ. These include growing your own tomato plants or purchasing them from a local nursery that has grown them, avoiding purchasing plants from the big-box stores (which may have purchased their plants from areas of the country where late blight is a problem), and avoid overhead watering to keep the tomato leaves dry.

There were a couple of issues Deppe brought up that I felt could easily be addressed through the use of drip irrigation and plastic mulches but it’s possible her farming set-up makes those methods prohibitive.

The tomato chapter also includes a list of late-blight-resistant hybrid varieties as well as other disease resistance, and lists heirloom and open-pollinated varieties with disease resistance. She has her own seed company, Fertile Valley Seeds, and has put her knowledge from a career in molecular genetics to use in order to produce heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable seeds.

She shares her impressive experience on other gardening topics such as weeding, growing squash, producing abundant crops of greens, and cultivating peas and beans.

Two topics Deppe devotes a lot of space to are seed-saving and how to “dehybridize” hybrid varieties so we can save those seeds for future crops and generations. I’ve learned quite a lot from that chapter.

She is outspoken on several issues, such as grafted tomatoes and the limitations of hybrid varieties, but to be honest, her views are sensible and realistic.

Carol Deppe has also written two other garden books you may be interested in: The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliancein Uncertain Times and Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener’sand Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving. Both are published by Chelsea Green Publishing.