Thursday, May 21, 2015

Vegetable garden update #1

Since folks have been asking me how my veggie garden is coming along, I've decided it's time for an update.

First of all, the garden is 100% planted now which is always an awesome feeling each year! We've been blessed with quite mild weather over the past month so I planted many warm-season crops a bit earlier than usual.

Here are a few specifics on how things are doing:

As you can see above, the peas are doing great! You’ll recall I planted them quite a bit earlier than usual this spring, yet kept them covered with some floating row cover to protect them from frosts. The effort was worth it because the vines are looking really robust. I’m growing ‘Green Arrow’ on the right side of the trellis and ‘Golden Sweet’ on the left. Look at the purple flower on the ‘Golden Sweet’ (to right)! That is really unusual but it doesn’t stop there: the pods will be golden in color. Stay tuned on that...

The potatoes are also growing well (left). This year, I’m growing ‘German Butterball’ and ‘Viking Purple’. I grew the latter last year and really enjoyed their purple skins and tasty white flesh.

Here are some of the ‘Italian Snap’ pole beans to the right. As you can see, they’re just starting to climb the trellis. Very exciting!

Next up is a bed covered with red plastic mulch (to keep the soil warm) and planted with ‘Arava’ melons and ‘Parisian Gherkin’ cucumbers. The cukes are unusual in that the plants only grow about a foot tall, so they won’t require supports. I thought it’d be interesting to try them.

The artichoke plants are coming along nicely. No, these aren’t the ones I was overwintering as I made an unfortunate mistake with them. Yes, I make plenty of mistakes! They were overwintering pretty well underneath layers of floating row cover and clear plastic... that is, until we had some unseasonably warm weather and the plants got cooked under that plastic! Whoops. An important lesson to learn. So these artichokes (‘Green Globe’ and ‘Imperial Star’) are ones I’d started from seeds a couple of months ago. I had 2 spare seedlings so decided to plant them in my perennial bed out front at my husband’s urging. That will be fun!

This is the zucchini bed. Three of them are ‘Romanesco’ bush-type zucchinis and the back four are ‘Trombetta di Albenga’ which is a climbing summer squash with long, narrow fruits. It’s always fun to try something new. That's why you can see part of a trellis on the back of the bed.

Last but not least is a photo of the ‘Jetstar’ slicing tomatoes in my little hoop house. They are coming along nicely. This is a bit of an experiment for me to see if they’ll produce earlier due to being in a warmer environment. Bill plans to build a second door for the hoop house to provide the plants with more cross-ventilation when it gets a lot warmer... and also for another way for bees to get in. Tomatoes are self-fruitful but you’ll certainly get more productivity with help from pollinating insects.

 OK, that's the update for now! I'll keep you posted on how everything is doing from time to time.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

May 17 column

Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Contain tomatoes, not excitement. This one is about growing tomatoes in containers.

I had the pleasure of consulting with Spokane County Master Gardener, Marilyn Lloyd, as she's been growing them -- along with other types of veggies -- in containers for about a dozen years. She had a lot of helpful tips to share.

The photo to the right is of the 'Indigo Blue' tomato she grew in a pot a couple of seasons ago. She definitely has a green thumb.

Many of us are blessed with garden spaces that will accommodate sun-loving tomato plants, but I wanted to be sure to include folks who don't have space or perhaps not enough sunlight. Fortunately, growing tomatoes in pots is a perfect option! You can even move them around a bit to follow the sun.

Now we can all dream of harvesting those mindbogglingly fabulous, fresh tomatoes!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hoop house update - warm-season crops

You'll recall that my husband, Bill, and I built a small hoop house last Oct. for the purpose of growing veggies through the winter months.

Well, there's no point in not using it year-round, right? My plan has been to grow warm-season crops in it during the main growing season to see if they will grow more vigorously and be more productive.

A week ago, I planted it. There are 5 'Jetstar' tomatoes growing in one of the two raised beds (photo to left), and 6 cucumbers ('Platinum' and 'Straight Eight') and 6 melons ('Arava' and 'El Gordo') growing in the other bed (see photo below).

So far, they're doing really well. I've been concerned that the hoop house might actually be too warm for them but they haven't wilted or looked stressed in any way. Bill plans to install a second door in the hoop house so we'll get more cross ventilation, along with making it easier for pollinators to get inside.

The tricky part was putting in some trellises for the tomatoes and cucumbers to grow on! As usual, I'm growing the tomatoes along a 4' x 8' sheet of concrete-reinforcing wire that has been stabilized with some sticks of metal conduit; that combination has always worked really well for me. The cucumbers have been given an angled section of leftover cattle panel, also stabilized with conduit.

I'll keep you posted on how they're doing. If you'd like to watch the video of the construction of our hoop house, you can view it on my YouTube page.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

May 7 column

Here is a link to my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review: Gardeners' party.

It's all about Saturday's (May 9) garden event of the year, Garden Expo. This column was intended to run last Sunday but there was a mix-up at the paper, so they're running it today to make sure you know about the event in time to mark your calendar!

Garden Expo is a free event that features over 250 garden-related vendors selling everything from plants and bulbs to garden furniture, services and garden art. It will be held in and around Spokane Community College's Lair student union building at 1810 N. Greene St. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There are free seminars and demonstrations held throughout the day. I'll be presenting one of the seminars on "Growing Heirloom Vegetables" and will have free heirloom seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds to give away!

My friend and co-author Pat Munts and I will be signing copies of our book all day as well, inside the Lair building. It'd be great if you could stop by and say hello.

Don't miss this awesome event -- you'll have a grand time!

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!