Sunday, August 23, 2015

August 23 column

'Enchanted Eve' Coreopsis (Tickseed)
Here's a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Perennial supporters. If you're an avid, local gardener, this is probably one you've been waiting for!

It's about next Saturday's fall plant sale, which is put on by the Friends of Manito. It will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., just east of Manito Park's Gaiser Conservatory, 4 W. 21st Ave., Spokane.

This year, there are two big changes: all customers get in at 8 a.m. but TFM members now get a 10 percent discount on their plant purchases. How cool is that? If you're not a member, not to worry: you can join up to, and including, plant sale day and still get your discount.

For me, being a TFM member is a no-brainer. That's because the proceeds raised from sales like these go right back into Manito Park. This is a great way to support your community because Manito is everyone's park... it's not just for those who live on the south side of town!

There will be almost 20,000 plants available at the sale. Wow. In addition, the 2016 Manito Park calendar will be for sale as well as cards with scenes from this beautiful park. As usual, Plant Sale Manager, Janis Saiki, has taken the photographs and they're just lovely!

The Friends of Manito are also celebrating their 25th anniversary. Those who come to the plant sale will get complementary "anniversary cookies" and water. In Sept., there will be a dedication once the new rose garden gazebo has been completed; this $60,000 project was funded solely by TFM as a gift to the park.

The final event is scheduled for Oct. 17, beginning with the 10 a.m. General Membership Meeting, which will be held in the Museum of Arts and Culture (MAC) auditorium. First Vice President and Charter Member, Steven Nokes, will give a presentation. Afterwards, there will be a free, catered lunch. However, seating is limited to 50 people, so if you are interested in attending, you must RSVP by Sept. 30; to do this, either email or call (509) 456-8038.

Here are some photos I took of plants that will be available at the fall plant sale. Please note that for some of them, there aren't large quantities available, so be sure to get there early for the best selection!

One of the many beautiful daylilies.

Dedicated TFM volunteers work with the plant sale plants.

Gorgeous Buddleia (butterfly bush)!

Zauschneria (California Fuchsia Orange Carpet)

Hibiscus syricus (Rose of Sharon) 'Azurri Blue Satin'

Echinacea (coneflower)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Garden Travels: Schonbrunn Palace

The Palmhouse at Schonbrunn Palace
 I've been meaning to tell you about my visit to Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace gardens, which my husband and I wandered through in June. What an amazing place!
This gives you a feel for the scale of the gardens!

Looking toward the back side of the Palace.

Front of Schonbrunn Palace.
Schonbrunn Palace was the summer home of the Habsburgs, who ruled Austria for several centuries. We did take a tour of some of the opulently-decorated rooms in the palace, but as a garden aficionado, I particularly enjoyed strolling through the immense gardens there.

As you can see by some of these photos, they are spread out and are definitely on a more grand scale than the gardens you and I are tending!

While standing on the steps behind the palace, I could take in views of the allees of clipped hedges, fountains, formal gardens and so on.

It was interesting to discover that, because most of the grounds are open to the public, local residents took their exercise there. We continually saw folks jogging or doing Nordic-walking (with trekking poles). Wouldn't it be amazing to do your exercises in a place like that?!

My favorite area of the gardens at Schonbrunn was the Palmhouse. Talk about a gorgeous structure! There are three main areas inside that housed plants from the Mediterranean, the tropics and colder regions. I tried to last as long as I could while in the "warm room" but the heat and humidity shortened my stay.

Here's another photo from the Palmhouse. Remember that you can click on any of the photos to view a larger image.

Palmhouse interior.

As we strolled through the many allees, we discovered how the staff was keeping the huge hedges clipped so neatly (see photo to right). Here's the equipment they use so they can reach all levels of the hedges. Shouldn't every gardener have something like this for their pruning chores?

While admission to most of the grounds is free, they do charge a fee to enter the Palmhouse, Orangerie and Desert House. When you first arrive at Schonbrunn, be sure to study the various ticketing options as there are package deals; it all depends on how many things you want to see while you're there.

What a delightful visit we had. If you're ever in Vienna, the gardens at Schonbrunn are definitely worth exploring.

Aug. 16 column

Ryan Herring gives a compost tea demonstration at NW Seed & Pet.

Here's a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Compost tea seems worthy of a toast.

This one is about the benefits of using compost tea and compost extract. And let me tell you, it was hard to say everything I needed to say in 600 words! Thank heavens for this blog because I can give you additional information without any worry regarding my word count.

On Aug. 8th, I went to a compost tea demonstration given by Master Composter and WSU/Spokane County Master Gardener Ryan Herring at Northwest Seed & Pet. The talk was very informative and gave me a lot of ideas.

Here is the additional information I learned from Ryan:

Close-up of Ryan's aerator set-up.
1. In my column, I described the supplies needed for a simple system but didn't have room to discuss Ryan's set-up for the aerator. He uses a large pump and attaches it, via plastic tubing, to PVC pipes. "My air-lift system pulls water through the 1" PVC pipes and provides two times the air because it is both pulling the water up through the pipe and the water breaks the surface tension in the bucket because the pipe is a couple of inches above the surface of the water." (see photo to right)

Also, you can get as fancy as you want if money is no object because there are also commercially-produced compost tea systems available. I primarily focused on a simple system.

2. "Compost needs to be well-broken-down and have a lot of biology in it." (so be sure to use good-quality compost!) He mentioned how you can buy compost that has been produced in this area, but that it's better to make your own because then you know what's in it.

3. Ryan explained how some plants do better with different types of teas. Most Brassicas (crops like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower) prefer tea with a lot of bacteria in it. Most other veggies and grasses do better with tea that has a moderate amount of bacterial activity in it. Other plants (such as berries, deciduous and coniferous trees) prefer tea with a lot of fungal activity in it.

To create a more bacterial compost tea, you would add a microbe "food" like fish emulsion or worm castings. To create one that is more fungal, add in ground oatmeal, powdered malt or soybean meal. Ryan told me that fungus likes a dark area to grow in so once he's added the microbe food and catalyst to the compost, he moves it to his basement for 4 days. He mentioned how you'll see white fuzzy growth in the compost, which is the fungal activity so don't freak out!

Ryan also pointed out that Eastern Washington soil tends to be higher in bacteria than fungi, so he feels our goal should be to make compost tea with more fungal growth.

Last but not least, there are some businesses that sell packaged compost tea but it's important to know when it was made since, as Ryan put it, "it has a very short shelf life when it's been sealed in a container."

Monday, August 10, 2015

Harvesting onions

See how the stems have fallen over?

Do you find it tricky knowing when and how to harvest onions?

What I like about onions is that they essentially tell us when they're through growing. Once you see that the stems have fallen over, it's time to turn off the water to the bed they're growing in, if possible.

At this point, you should pull them up and either leave them sitting on top of the soil surface to dry out, or take them to a sheltered location. The latter is particularly important if rain is in the forecast because you don't want them to get wet.

The goal, of course, is to let the onions dry out as much as possible so they will store for a long time. At harvesting time, you can clip off all but 3/4" of the stems.

(In my case, there were still some onions in the beds where the stems hadn't yet fallen over. I left them in place and moved the drip irrigation line away from them so they wouldn't get wet.)

Once the onions you've pulled up are completely dry, you can move them to a cool, dry location that has good ventilation.

So how long do onions keep in storage? That varies widely, depending on the variety you grow.

If you planted sweet onions, such as 'Walla Walla Sweets', they'll only keep for about a month. This means you should use them up first before starting to eat the longer-keeping varieties.

Here's the first batch of onions heading to a place to dry out.
This year, I grew 3 varieties of onions: 'Yellow Sweet Spanish', 'Sterling' and 'Copra'. Despite its name, 'Yellow Sweet Spanish' will keep for about 4 months. 'Sterling' has the potential to last 6 months in storage and 'Copra' is very impressive with an expected shelf life of 10 to 12 months! Wow. (and that's why I grew 'Copra', I might add!)

To get a feel for how long your onion varieties should last in storage, check out the guides on Dixondale Farms' website. That's where I get my onion starts each spring. If you click on a variety name, the information page will list the storage potential.

I should also mention that if you live in a northern state like I do, you should select long-day onion varieties. That's because they will develop best with our long daylight hours.

Dixondale Farms also sells onions for other parts of the country, so be sure to view their planting map to select the correct type of onion (short day, intermediate day or long day) before choosing a variety to grow.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

August 9 column

This is what an apple "footie" looks like.
Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Traps, sprays help keep fruit free of pests. It's about a topic that is near and dear to my heart: growing tree fruits organically.

Since the most challenging tree fruits to grow are cherries, apples and pears, those are the ones I focused on. I also pointed out how my husband, Bill, and I have been fine-tuning our methods over the years. Each year, we learn a little more and have a little more success!

I hope you'll enjoy reading today's column.

I also promised in my column that I'd include links to previous posts about organic orchard practices, so here they are:

Fruits - Apple Barriers
Fruits - Organic Apple Report
It's Apple Harvest Time!
Cherries and Birds
Insect Alert: Spotted Wing Drosophila
Keeping the Birds Out of the Cherries

And here are two columns I wrote about Cole's Organic Orchard up on Green Bluff, which explains the methods orchardist Steve Cole uses:
1. Organic orchard (4/11/10)
2. Organic methods help trees thrive (9/12/08)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

August 2 column

Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Enjoying the harvest means knowing the signs. This one is a guide to knowing when to harvest veggies.

While that might sound easy, it can be confusing to beginning and seasoned gardeners alike. In my column, I wrote about some of the most commonly grown vegetables. I hope you'll find it interesting.

Do you have any tips on harvesting veggies? I'd love to share them with other readers. Just comment on this post or drop me a note at Thank you!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Garden Party

This time of year, the Associated Garden Clubs of Spokane ordinarily host a tour of several beautiful gardens in the Spokane area. What with the nasty heat spell and drought we've been having, they decided to hold a Garden Party instead and YOU are invited!

It will take place at 601 W. Bradford Ct. on Sunday, Aug. 2nd from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. In this beautiful garden setting, there will be refreshments and the opportunity to visit with fellow gardeners.

Deb Garrett's wonderful garden is located on the upper South Hill near Comstock Park. It features sculptures by local artist David Govedare and plantings designed to create a serene, tranquil place.

The primary purpose of the Garden Party is a membership drive for the Associated Garden Clubs of Spokane. Those who bring new members will be eligible to win door prizes. This is an opportunity to learn more about this local club with a rich history.

There will also be two presentations given: one on Japanese Ikebana floral arranging at 11 a.m. and the other on straw bale gardening at 1 p.m. The latter talk will be given by none other than Randy Palmer, whom I profiled in last Sunday's edition of The Spokesman-Review. He is an amazing gardener!

Gardening experts will be on hand to answer your questions as well. This enjoyable event is free and open to the public.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

July 26 column

How would you like a gazebo like this?
Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Backyard oasis. It is about my featured local gardener for July, Randy Palmer.

Randy and his wife live on a city lot in northwest Spokane. His garden is amazing! I took a lot of photos while I visited his garden, just to give you a sense of how nice it is and also provide some inspiration. Enjoy!

(remember that you can click on any photo to view a larger image)

Entrance to his backyard.

Entrance to Randy's "secret garden."
Randy's "secret garden," behind his garage.

Five raised beds for growing veggies.
Straw bale garden for tomatoes.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

July 19 column

This shows the hoop house we were building last fall.
Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Never too early to start planning for fall.

Even though it has been incredibly hot lately, the focus of my column is on getting your fall and winter garden under way.

You'll probably recall that I've been experimenting with growing veggies during the colder months of the year for the past two winters. I had bit of luck with it the first winter, and more success this past winter. And you know how that works: a little bit of success makes a gardener want to try, try again!

The above photo shows the early phases of constructing a hoop house last fall, to cover two raised beds that had already been planted with cold-hardy vegetables. You can watch a video of the project to see how we built it.

In today's column, I talk about how it's time to start your seeds indoors so they'll be off to a good start before the cold weather hits -- that way, they'll have good growth so you can start harvesting your greens. I also list the most cold-tolerant vegetable crops and varieties to grow for maximum success.

Corn salad (a.k.a. Mache)
 I'm going to start my kale and minutina seeds tomorrow. The other plants I'm going to grow (claytonia, 'Bordeaux' spinach and 'Vit' mache) do best when sowed directly but I need to wait a bit as they don't tolerate temperatures in the 80s and 90s!

Two good mail-order sources for fall and winter garden seeds are Johnny's Selected Seeds and Territorial Seed.

I'd love to hear if you're going to give this a try this fall and winter, and how things went. Just drop me a note at

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Variety comparison: A tale of two beans

I'm growing two varieties of bush beans this summer. I usually just grow pole beans but decided to make a little extra room in my garden for thems because bush beans tend to be quite prolific.

One variety is French beans 'Gourmet Green Baby Filet Type' from Ed Hume Seeds (see above right). I grew it last year and couldn't believe how many beans it produced! They are narrow and small but very tasty.

The other variety is 'Purple Teepee Bean' from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (above left). I was attracted to this variety because the description indicated the beans would be held above the foliage, making it easy to harvest. I thought that sounded great because we all know what a pain it is to harvest bush beans! That's because the plants usually fall over from the weight of the beans and you have to dig through the foliage in order to see where the beans are.

So I planted both and started harvesting them a week ago. Here is a comparison of the two, in case you'd find it helpful:

Gourmet Green Baby Filet Type _
  • Seed color: White
  • Bean length: About 4"
  • Ease of harvesting: Fair. It's difficult to see the beans.
  • Taste: Very good, tender pods.
  • Comments: Very prolific. Freezing quality is good (but not excellent).
  • Would I grow them again? Definitely. The taste and productivity make them worth a spot in the garden. I think they are better for steaming and eating right away, rather than being topnotch for freezing.

Purple Teepee Bean _
  • Seed color: Brown
  • Bean length: About 5"
  • Ease of harvesting: Fair. Most of the beans I've picked so far have been hanging down under the foliage near the main stem, so it's hard to see them. To make matters worse, the plant stems are deep purple -- same as the beans -- so it's hard to see a dark purple bean against a dark purple stem!
  • Taste: Very good, tender pods. Haven't eaten any I've frozen yet so can't comment on freezing quality.
  • Comments: Purple pods change to green during cooking process. Pretty pink flowers, prolific. 
  • Would I grow them again? Only until I finish off the seed packet!