All Shades of Green—-A Plant Perspective

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Garden Fence

I like this garden I drove by on Bainbridge Island.  It has horizontal space, typical two dimensional boxes, but also adds in a vertical space, providing an opportunity for plants that might trail and spread to instead travel up and out (peas, tomatoes, pumpkins).  It also gives support and an area to tie down tall unstable plants (flowering perennials, floppy shrubs).  And with gates that could be shut, it keeps out unwanted animals (deer and dogs).  I think it’s a very useful and attractive design and hope that I can see it during the productive summer months.

Garden Fence

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Cold Frame

Trying to squeeze a few more fresh salads out of the season?  A simple cold frame can help.  Often made from recycled materials, they can protect tender plants from heavy rains and frosty nights.  I took this picture at the Seattle Flower and Garden show this year (no, that’s not my yard!).

Cold Frame

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Grow a Fall Veggie Garden

Keep the fresh vegetables on the table this October with a late summer planting of cool season crops.  Now is the time to get the last of those seeds in the ground and extend your food production over the next few months.  With our warm temperatures this month, seeds will germinate quickly.  The optimum temperature for seeds to sprout is usually between 65 and 75 degrees F.  How often do we get those numbers in the spring when we sow our first crops?  Rarely.  So, take advantage of this seed sprouting weather and sow some cool weather crops.  But which plants to grow?  To have success, try plants grown for their leafy greens rather than big juicy fruits.  Cool season veggies include leaf lettuce, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, mustard greens and brussel sprouts.

Two numbers are important in fall gardening; the average date of the first frost and the number of days to maturity for each crop.  For the Seattle area the average first frost date is November 11th.  This sounds right, remember our freezing week in November 2010 that killed off many a bud and leaf?  It was a quick change from warmer temperatures and many plants didn’t have time to harden off and prepare for the cold.  That’s a one way ticket to the compost pile for some species.  So if seeds are planted now, at the end of August, they need to mature in just over 60 days.

Here is a look at some of my seed packets from this year.  Bunching onions or green onions are 75 days to maturity.  Too long it seems, but the instructions say these will overwinter for a spring harvest, or young onions can be snipped and used like chives.  Remember to add one to two weeks to the maturity date to factor in the slower growth of plants during the cool, shorter days of autumn.  Leaf lettuce seems to be a good bet for fall planting, since it grows best in cool weather.  My Red Leaf Lettuce matures in 50 days and the Romaine takes 65 days, but lettuce is still delicious and tender if harvested early.  Swiss Chard takes 55 days to maturity my Ed Hume packet instructs, but this year my chard seemed to take forever (I planted it in May and still haven’t picked it).  Carrots take 75 days, so it is probably too late now, but if planted by mid-July, they can be harvested in the fall, or even survive the winter for a spring harvest.  Peas are 68 days to maturity and spinach takes 46 days.  If you like that spicy crunch of a fresh radish you’re in luck, they can mature in only 30 days!   It seems that a salad garden is the order of the day for fall gardening.  As autumn turns towards winter, cold frames and cloches can protect plants and extend the harvest even longer.  Don’t pack away the shovels just yet, we still have months of fun yet to dig in the dirt!



Cherry Tomatoes

When I planted my diminutive tomato friends, they fit so well in their own little corner of the garden.  Now they have reached unimaginable proportions.  Going up and over into the tidy beds of lettuce and invading the corner carrot patch.   But, since they are the heart of the garden, they can run where they want and have their way with the gardener (me).  Who can resist a sun ripened tomato?

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Blueberries….What’s the Difference?

Capture the flavor

It begins in early spring when a wide variety of Blueberry plants arrive at the local nurseries.  They are small, mostly one gallon, and appear reluctant.  Holding on to that dormant state with only the fat buds as a promise of the harvest ahead.  It ends in mid-summer with those once shy shrubs now  producing handfuls of sweet blue berries.  The branches are heavy with the abundance of fruit and no one can resist a taste as they walk by.  The question always is, what’s the difference?  Why so many varieties and how can I choose?   Here are some tips on those differences with hopes to find the varieties that suit individual needs and bring success in each garden.

The berries offered at our local nurseries are suited for our climate and zone.  The differences therefore are in the fruit size, flavor and season and in the bush size, shape and fall color.  The season is usually July and August.  Following are several common varieties available in  2011.  All varieties are self-pollinating, but will produce better crops if more than one variety is planted.  (Information from the Fall Creek Blueberry Source Book)

Bluecrop:  Mid-season, large berry with a classic sweet flavor, shrub 4-6 feet, upright and open, red fall color.

Bluejay:  Early-mid season, medium berry, delicately sweet flavor, shrub 6-7 feet, upright, orange-red fall color.

Chandler:  Mid-late season, giant berry, full robust flavor, shrub 5-7 feet, slightly spreading, wine-orange fall color.

Duke:  Early season, large berry, savory sweet flavor, shrub 4-6 feet stocky upright, orange-yellow fall color.

Elliott:  Very late season, medium-large berry, zesty flavor, shrub 4-6 feet, upright, red-orange fall color.

Jersey:  Late season, medium berry, lush sweet flavor, shrub 6-8 feet upright, orange flame fall color.

Legacy:  Late season, medium-large berry, uniquely robust flavor, shrub 4-6 feet open spreading, crimson fall color.

Reka:  Early season, medium-large berry, excellent rich flavor, shrub 4-6 feet upright vigorous, red-burgundy fall color.

Rubel:  Mid-late season, small berry, subtle sweet flavor, shrub 4-6 feet upright, fire red fall color.

Toro:  Mid-season, large berry, mildly sweet flavor, shrub 4-6 feet stocky upright, crimson-red-yellow fall color.

Sunshine Blue:  Mid-late season, medium berry, rich sweet flavor, shrub 3 feet upright compact, blue/green-burgundy fall color (semi-evergreen).

Chippewa:  Mid-season, medium-large berry, smoothly sweet flavor, shrub 3-4 feet compact upright, red fall color.

Burgundy:  Mid-season, small berry, classic wild flavor, shrub 1-2 feet spreading ground cover, burgundy fall color.

Top Hat:  Mid-season, small berry, wild flavor, shrub 1-2 feet globe shaped, yellow-orange fall color.

One Gallon Blueberries

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Growing Blueberries

Duke, Toro, Reka, Sunshine Blue, Chippewa, Bluecrop, Chandler and Legacy.  If you recognize these names you might be salivating at the thought of all the delicious varieties of blueberry plants that grow here in the Northwest.  Now is a good time to shop for plants because with ripening berries you can sample the fruit from different varieties to discover your favorite.  These taste tests can reveal subtle differences in flavors, ranging from mild to sweet to tart.  Plants also produce fruit at different times, early, mid-season and late.  It’s good to buy at least two different varieties to help with pollination and fruit production.  If the berries will be used all at once, for preserving or freezing, try varieties that bear at the same time.  But if you want fresh berries for as long as possible,  try planting early, mid and late fruiting varieties together in the garden to extend the harvest.  Plant in loose, well-drained soil, free of weeds and with an adequate supply of moisture for successful growth and feed with an acidic fertilizer.  Blueberry plants range in size from only 12 inches tall (Burgundy Wild Lowbush) to 3-4  feet which are great in containers (Sunshine Blue) to six feet tall (Reka) so there is something that can fit in every garden.  I have four blueberry plants, all growing well in containers.

Blueberry Plant

This is my favorite Blueberry Muffin recipe (I like the cinnamon!)

2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter or vegetable oil
1 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix wet ingredients first. Add dry ingredients and mix until just moistened, then gently fold in blueberries. Bake in muffin pan for 16 to 20 minutes. Makes 10 large muffins.  From Make-A-Mix cookbook by Eliason, Harward and Westover, 1995)

This site:  http://southernfood.about.com/od/blueberryrecipes/Blueberry_Recipes.htm has lots of other delicious ways to prepare this amazing little fruit. I’m looking forward to the blueberry pizza.

Sunshine Blue in Container

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Rhubarb Spray for Garden Pests

I like it when we use plants to help plants.  I am quite positive that all of our problems can be solved with plants.  Hungry?  Eat a plant.  Sick?  Medicinal plants.  Feeling blue?  Smell a rose.  Need fresh air?  Plant a tree.  The list goes on and on….but, here is an ingenious recipe from the book Great Garden Formulas by Benjamin and Martin editors.  Apparently it works for fungal diseases as well as pests like aphids and June bugs.  Rhubarb leaves are toxic, containing poisonous substances like oxalic acid.  Remember, it’s the stalk that’s edible.  I can’t wait to try it, here is the recipe:

1/2 cup rhubarb leaves (about 6) cut up
3 quarts water
Pot (for boiling)
Pump spray bottle

1. Cut or tear leaves into small pieces.
2. Place leaves in water and bring to a boil.
3. Steep the leaves for at least an hour, better overnight.
4. Strain the solution through cheesecloth or sieve and pour into a spray bottle.
5. Use at the first sign of disease or pest.


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St. Patrick’s Day Plants

Oxalis is a also known as wood sorrel or false shamrock.  Many varieties are occur around the United States, some weedy, others sold in nurseries as a shade annual/perennial.  When we lived in central California the kids picked it by the handfuls and enjoyed munching on it.  We knew it as ‘sourgrass’ and it is an edible, used by humans around the world for centuries.  It looks pretty in a shade garden, or in a container.  Plants are available in green or red leaf, producing a white flower.


There is a tradition to plant potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day, but according to Steve Solomon who wrote Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades (an excellent book)  March 17th is too early.  He advises putting a few in for good luck, but planting the main crop between May 15th and June 1st.   He says “sowing later than this will greatly reduce the yield; sowing earlier, even if frosts don’t get them, will tend to make the vines dry out too soon, making it harder to store your crop over winter.”



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