Saturday, December 20, 2014

Brand new: The TomTato grafted tomato/potato combo!

I just received the following press release from the nice folks at Territorial Seed. They will be offering their new grafted tomato/potato plant aptly-named 'Ketchup 'n' Fries' for the 2015 gardening season. How's that for cool?!

Territorial Seed is located in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and has a wonderful catalog, which you can request by going to this link. Here's what they had to say about 'Ketchup 'n; Fries' in the press release:

The product of over a decade of research, ‘Ketchup ‘n’ Fries’™ TomTato® advances the grafted tomato/potato plant from mere novelty to a reliable producer of dual crops from a single plant – especially good news for those seeking to maximize production from precious garden real estate. Territorial Seed Company’s spring 2015 catalog marks the first time such a plant has been offered commercially in the US. The first garden catalog to offer grafted tomato plants in 2011, Territorial continues to further the all-natural, age-old process of grafting in its application and availability to the home gardener.

European researchers spent over a decade developing this combination, which debuted exclusively in the UK last year. Now, Territorial in partnership with SuperNaturals Grafted Vegetables, the folks who brought us the Mighty ‘Mato line, is bringing this horticultural innovation stateside much to the delight of urban and container gardeners, those with space limitations, or simply the gardener on the cutting edge. Territorial will ship these plants with their other transplant offerings, with a choice of three shipping dates beginning in the last half of April and running into late May or as long as inventory lasts. Demand for ‘Ketchup ‘n’ Fries’™ is expected to be high, as witnessed with its UK launch, so gardeners are advised to pre-order for the best availability. Plants are hardened off prior to shipping and arrive ready for transplant.

Extensive trials and careful selection of both the tomato scion and potato rootstock cultivars were required to achieve properly staggered maturity. This enables the plant to focus its energy first on yielding hundreds of sweet, tangy, and early glistening red cherry tomatoes, before maturing up to 4 ½ pounds of fine, thin-skinned, all-purpose white potatoes in the late season.

Patio gardeners can grow a ‘Ketchup ‘n’ Fries’™ plant in as small as a 10 gallon container, though
allowing more space can increase its vigor, boosting potato yields especially. The breeding work
and grafting techniques applied here are traditional, non-GMO methods of propagation. Grafting involves attaching a scion variety (top part of the plant), selected for its desired flowering, fruiting, or growth characteristics, to the plant tissue of a different variety of rootstock. This pairing can control vigor, lend disease resistance, and in this case, yield a completely secondary crop. Grafting has been used for thousands of years and is widespread in the production of orchard fruit, roses (yielding the ever-popular standard rose), and a host of other ornamental and food crop applications. Grafting across species lines is far from unheardof; for example, dwarf pear trees are commonly grafted onto quince rootstock. In the case of a ‘Ketchup ‘n’ Fries’™, the closely related tomato and potato can be successfully grafted because they are both in the Solanum genus, within the nightshade family Solanaceae.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Announcement: "The Northwest Gardener's Handbook"

I have some exciting news for you: my dear friend and colleague Pat Munts and I have written a book! It is called The Northwest Gardener's Handbook and will be in bookstores as of Jan. 15, 2015.

It will be published by Cool Springs Press and covers all of Washington and Oregon, southern British Columbia and a bit of northern California.

But don't let that or the title put you off! As a longtime gardener in Eastern Wash., I know what it's like to read Pacific Northwest garden books that focus on weather conditions we don't deal with and list plants that we can't grow.

In my humble opinion, The Northwest Gardener's Handbook does a great job of addressing our LOCAL gardening conditions and challenges. And even better, 89% of the plants profiled in the book will grow in zone 5 or below!

Here's what you'll find in the book:

  • Pat wrote an introductory chapter on the physical features and weather conditions that affect gardeners in each of the regions covered. She also wrote chapters on the plant hardiness zones, sustainable landscaping, and shared a wide variety of "gardening know-how" -- tips and tricks for being a successful gardener. This also includes information on fire-wise landscaping, 
  • Then the plant chapters begin: annuals, bulbs, edibles (including veggies, herbs, tree fruits and berries), groundcovers, lawns & ornamental grasses, perennials, roses, shrubs, trees and vines.
  • Within each of those plant chapters, I wrote detailed plant profiles which include hardiness information, plant height and width, flower colors, what makes them special, how to care for the plants and information on problems that can arise. There are just under 300 of those plant profiles! (and yes, that was an incredible amount of work)
  • After those chapters, there is information on planting and caring for trees, how to grow a vegetable garden, a list of internet resources, suggested gardening references, and a glossary of relevant gardening terms.
One of the things I'm really excited about, and proud of, is that there are nearly 100 of my photos in the book. I just love photographing gardens so I'm hoping my enthusiasm comes through in the photos you'll see on the pages.

Pat and I will be giving talks and doing book signings at various gardening events both in the Spokane area, and in Seattle and Portland. Be sure to keep an eye on this blog's calendar so you can come say hello. I've already started penciling in some dates.

I hope you will share in our excitement and enthusiasm for this, our first book. Yes, it was a great deal of work and books take quite a while to produce, but Pat and I are very pleased with the finished product. We hope you will be, too.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Overwintering geraniums: 2-month update

Two months ago, I shot a video on how to overwinter geraniums. I'd never done it before but really wanted to try saving my plants for a change. So I did some research and then took you through the steps on how to do it.

As a quick recap, I dug up the plants before we had a frost in October and removed the soil, flower heads and flower buds. Then I placed a single red geranium upside-down in a paper sack and put eight pink geraniums into a box, and have been storing them in my basement. I wanted to try both the paper sack method and the box method, in case you're wondering why I'm doing both. I'm interested to see if there's a difference in how the plants do.

Well, it's time for an update! To be honest, I was nervous about looking in the sack and the box because it just seemed too simple for it to work. I needn't have worried, though.

As you can see in the photos, the plants look great. Sure, the leaves have turned brown but that was to be expected and in about February, I'll be removing them from the plants anyway. The stems still look vibrant and there was no mold to be found anywhere. I was even surprised to see some pale leaf shoots had sprouted (see photo below). Wow.

So if you are also overwintering your geraniums and you're a novice like myself, check on your plants to see how they're doing. If you see mold, clip those areas off the plant. If there's a lot of mold on a single plant, it might be a good idea to toss it.

And if you're like me in that you get busy and easily forget things, be sure to mark your calendar so you check on the geraniums every 30 days. I'd love to hear how your plants are coming along. Either comment on this post or drop me an email at

Stay tuned for another update in about a month...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fabulous houseplants: Kangaroo Paw Fern

I have to admit I've killed a fern or two, mostly notably Boston ferns. Our house is just too dry for them and I seem to have difficulty getting the hang of providing them with the correct amount of water.

I almost gave up on growing ferns altogether. That is, until one day when I was wandering around a home center's nursery and stumbled across a Kangaroo Paw fern (Microsorum diversifolium).

The rich green color and unusually-shaped leaves caught my eye. I decided to take one home and give it a shot, although my unhappy memories of previous fern-growing attempts still lingered in the back of my mind.

It turns out I needn't have worried. This is by far my favorite houseplant and the easiest one I've ever grown. 

I started out with a small plant and as you can see by the above photo, it's done beautifully. I've had to repot it twice and it looks like I just might have to repot it again in the spring. Why, you can barely see the antique plant stand (which is about 3 feet tall) that it's sitting in!

Take a look at the beautiful, shiny foliage on the plants in this close-up. 

As you might guess, Kangaroo Paw ferns are native to Australia and New Zealand. Plants tend to be around a foot in height and 2 to 3 feet in diameter.

I water mine once a week and that seems to keep it really happy. I don't get the foliage wet, though; it's best to just water at the soil surface. You can fertilize the ferns each spring although I think they'd grow just as well without any extra food.

My fern is growing in a south-facing room but the plant is located about 10 feet from the window so it stays out of direct sunlight. They prefer rooms that aren't well-heated either, so I wouldn't place them near woodstoves, fireplaces, radiators or right on top of furnace vents.

But other than that, Kangaroo Paw ferns are about as easy a houseplant to grow as you could hope for. They are definitely worth finding and bringing home!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Book review: "The Winter Harvest Handbook"

If you've been following this blog, you know that I've been very excited about growing vegetables -- primarily salad greens -- through the winter months. I experimented with it last year, with enough success to want to try it again this winter.

I've found an excellent resource in Eliot Coleman's The Winter Harvest Handbook (Chelsea Green Publishing, 248 pp., $29.95). This author has done a wonderful job of answering questions I didn't even know I had yet!

Coleman first wrote the book, "Four Season Harvest," in 1992. In it, he describes how he and his wife, Barbara Damrosch (a first-rate author and gardener in her own right) visited France in the middle of winter and saw many gardens being used to grow vegetables at that time. It made for fascinating reading.

After working my way through that book, I read The Winter Harvest Handbook which contains a wealth of information based on Coleman's and Damrosch's experience since then.

In his introduction, Coleman writes, "Our farm in Maine is both traditional and nontraditional. We are traditional during the 'growing season' -- the summer months -- when we produce fresh vegetables for sale. But we also produce fresh vegetables for sale during the winter months -- the 'back side of the calendar,' so to speak. We achieve that winter harvest by growing cold-hardy salad and root crops in simple unheated greenhouses."

At the beginning of the book, there is a drawing of their farm which I have to admit to being envious of. There is the cool greenhouse, seed-starting greenhouse, cold frames, hoops, movable greenhouses, orchard, herb garden, farm stand and more. Obviously way more extensive than most gardeners could hope for.

But what I really like about this book is how Coleman and Damrosch have resolved to grow their winter veggies with low-tech systems that don't rely on the use of electricity. Moreover, they share in the book what they've learned over the years to help their readers be as successful as possible.

In it, you'll learn the huge importance of sunlight -- something that is vital for crops growing when the days are short and the sun is low in the sky. You'll also learn about cool and cold greenhouses, planting schedules, soil preparation, which crops are the most cold-tolerant, and how to deal with weeds, pests, insects and diseases organically. I like that.

Here are some interesting things I learned while reading The Winter Harvest Handbook:

1. Condensation on the inside of a hoop house or low tunnel (hoops covered with plastic or row cover) is to be expected. Coleman reports the moisture helps reflect back the soil's warmth so it's not something to be concerned about.

2. Using heavier row covers isn't advised because they block 50 percent or more of the sunlight. And as mentioned above, your crops need every bit of sunshine they can get. Coleman conducted some experiments with the heavier row covers and found they helped minimally with soil temperatures at night.

3. It's important to keep row covers (or plastic) pinned to hoops so they don't rest on the vegetable plants. The condensation can freeze the covers to the plants' leaves and cause damage.

4. Some of the hardiest vegetables for winter gardening include 'Tadorna' leeks, 'Napoli' carrots, mache (a.k.a. "corn salad"), claytonia (miner's lettuce), baby-leaf mesclun mixes (salad greens), and 'Walla Walla Sweet' and 'Olympic' onions which are planted in late August and covered in November.

The book has lists of vegetable varieties that Coleman and Damrosch grow during the summer and winter growing seasons, which are based on their experiences and experimentation.

The author recommends the following businesses for locating cold-tolerant seeds and other growing supplies: Johnny's Selected Seeds, Territorial Seed, Fedco Seeds, Wood Prairie Farm and Graines Baumaux (this is a French company but you can select English at the top of the page so you understand what it says).

If you are intrigued by the notion of growing some winter vegetables, I heartily recommend this book. I figure if Coleman and Damrosch can grow crops successfully during their cold Maine winters, we should be able, too! The Winter Harvest Handbook is an excellent guide to this topic.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Growing lingonberries

Many years ago, my husband Bill and I planted a birch tree in our side yard. We soon were looking for a groundcover to grow underneath it and came across some lingonberry plants at a local nursery.

Lingonberries?! We'd never seen them before so excitedly read the tag and learned they would grow in partly shady locations. That sounded perfect to us so we purchased several and popped them into the ground under the tree.

Each year, the lingonberry plants spread out a bit, although were never invasive, but we were disappointed that they didn't bloom and set fruit. Our dreams of lingonberry jellies and syrups were dashed.

We still liked the plants, though, because they're evergreen, meaning they retain their leaves year-round. And they did a nice job of filling in the area beneath the birch tree.

Several years ago, we started noticing that branches were dying on the tree. Yup, you guessed it: the dreaded bronze birch borer was wreaking havoc underneath the bark and slowly killing off the tree. So frustrating!

The tree eventually died and we cut it down. We've been meaning to replace it with another more hardy tree but just haven't gotten around to it.

However, we noticed something interesting last summer: the lingonberry plants started blooming and soon there were tiny red berries all over them! Bill and I immediately realized they'd been needing more light than the dappled sunlight they were getting under the tree. Aha!

As you know, I've been mentioning lingonberries in recent videos and figured you were probably curious about how to grow them.

Lingonberries are related to blueberries and cranberries, and grow in colder northern climates. The one location that immediately comes to my mind is the Scandinavian countries because they use lingonberries in their cooking.

I've long since lost the tags from the plants we bought but I believe they are European lingonberries. The plants can grow from 2 to 16 inches tall, although ours average about 8 inches.

As you might guess, lingonberries prefer an acidic soil just as blueberries do. While researching the plants, I've discovered they grow best in full sun (so much for the original information we were given) and soil containing plenty of organic matter.

If you'd like to learn more about growing lingonberries, here's a useful bulletin from Cornell University.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to make a confession to you. I was so incredibly busy this summer and fall, guess what I forgot to harvest until it was too late?! That would've been our first lingonberry harvest ever. We have been so used to not getting any berries, I never thought to check back on them. Oh well -- there's always next year, right?

Monday, December 1, 2014

GreenPrints subscription sure to please

Are you familiar with the publication, GreenPrints? Also known as "The Weeder's Digest," it has been around for 25 years now and editor Pat Stone is celebrating the publication of the 100th issue.

"With the help of my wonderful wife, Becky, I started a magazine that focused on the human, not the how-to, side of gardening: GreenPrints, a magazine that shared the humor, the inspiration, and the heart of gardening with wonderful stories and beautiful art. A "Weeder's Digest" of gardeners' true personal experiences," Stone told me in a recent email.

And isn't that what gardening is all about? It's central to our relationship with the Earth, our endeavors to nurture the soil in order to grow food to eat and surround ourselves with beauty. It's all about our cherished memories, say, of learning how to garden from a grandma or grandpa, and of the trial and error process involved in producing the garden of our dreams.

I was given a sneak peek at the 25th anniversary issue of GreenPrints and it's really a gem. Two of my favorite stories within are an essay by Mark Twain ("How I Edited An Agricultural Paper") and Rachel Lancashire's "Ducks in my Garden" -- a hilarious and heartwarming tale of a flock of ducks she humorously refers to as "the spawn of Godzilla."

GreenPrints is only available through subscription, so you won't be able to find it in stores. They are currently running a holiday offer, in which you get five issues for the price of four, along with a "Weeder's Reader" compilation of the best stories from previous issues. The cost is $19.97.

Wouldn't this make a fun gift for the gardeners on your holiday shopping list? Or perhaps you can drop subtle (or not so subtle) hints that you'd like a subscription? 

For more information, and to subscribe to GreenPrints, visit their website.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Tomato Chooser App

Here's something fun that's come across my desk: the Tomato Chooser App from Mother Earth News. And as you'd guess, it's available in the Apple App store.

If you are really into growing tomatoes and are always on the search for just the right variety, this just might be what you're looking for.

Here's what it will do, according to a press release from Ogden Publications:
  • search 333 varieties by size, color, disease resistances, yield, cold and heat tolerance, open-pollinated vs. hybrid, days to maturity, and growth habit.
  • find the best varieties for canning, making paste and sauce, drying, and winter storage.
  • combat tomato diseases common to their location by finding varieties that show resistance (and learn the symptoms for six common diseases). 
  • see a summary of all the key characteristics of each variety — and narrow their search by which varieties have been rated as having exceptional flavor according to tomato experts.
  • mark varieties as favorites, to reference later.
  • read expert growing guides from Mother Earth News.
  • peruse quotes from tomato experts about many of the varieties profiled.
The app costs $1.99 and will work on iPhones, iPads and iPods.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Book review - "Backyard Farming's Canning & Preserving"

Here's a great little book that would make an inexpensive yet much-appreciated gift for the gardeners and cooks on your list. (or perhaps you would like to ask Santa for own copy?)

It's "Backyard Farming's Canning & Preserving" (Hatherleigh Press, 130 pp., $5.95) by Kim Pezza. The cover states it contains "expert advice made easy" for putting up jams, jellies, sauces, pickles and more, and I would agree.

Pezza starts out with a discussion on water bath canning (for jams, jellies, high-acid fruits, juices, pickles and relishes) and pressure cooker canning (for low-acid foods including vegetables, meats and poultry).

She covers adjustments one must make to processing times, based on the altitude where you live. For example, my husband and I live at nearly 3,000 feet of altitude so must add five minutes to the time it takes to process a batch of jam in a water bath canner.

She also talks about canning jars and useful tools for processing foods safely.

At that point, the book is divided into two sections: one on hot water bath canning and the other on pressure cooker canning.

The section on water bath canning includes a wealth of recipes for making and preserving jams, jellies, preserves, fruits, pickled foods, juices, as well as sauces and salsas. What I like is that each recipe takes you through the steps to safely put up whatever it is that you're making so you don't have to flip back to the book's introductory chapter to look up those steps.

In the pressure cooker canning section, Pezza takes the reader through the process for canning vegetables, sauces, soups and stews. There are plenty of recipes for each category.

At the back of the book, there is a resource list for canning product information, a helpline and information on contacting the United States Dept. of Agriculture.

As you can tell, it's a useful book but very reasonably priced. Pezza stresses the importance of putting up your produce safely and that's truly the key to successful canning and preserving.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Poinsettias at the Plant Farm

I went on one of the poinsettia tours at the Plant Farm nursery on Friday and boy, did I see a lot of absolutely gorgeous poinsettias! Thousands of them, in fact.

The Plant Farm is located at 14208 E. 4th Ave. in Spokane Valley. They have several enormous greenhouses that are filled with beautifully grown plants and an attractive gift shop with plants and decorative items. They are open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Here is a sampling of what I saw:


'Christmas Day'

'Christmas Feelings Pink'

'Ice Crystal'


'Red Glitter'