Let's Get Dirty

A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.

Send stories and pictures of your horticultural adventures to letsgetdirty@gjsentinel.com.

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By Penny Stine
Friday, June 24, 2016

See? I told you the carrots coming up all over my garden are short and fat. They're also pretty tasty. 


Plants gone to seed? Thank you very much

By Penny Stine
Thursday, June 23, 2016

Most gardening experts would probably tell you not to do this, but it works for me, since I’m time-challenged and also a somewhat lazy gardener. I routinely allow plants to go to seed in my garden, knowing and hoping full well that they plant seeds for next year’s garden so I don’t have to.
I quit buying tomatillo seeds at least eight years ago, since I always had volunteers that came up and did quite well. Same for kale.
Last year, my lettuce and carrots both went to seed. The photo on the left is this year’s lettuce (none of which I planted, but all of which I enjoyed for several months, from March through early June), which is going to seed. Sadly, lettuce that’s going to seed produces a flower that looks like a dandelion.


Carrots, however, are quite pretty. They look kind of like yarrow, only they’re much taller, with bigger flowers. One carrot produces several flowers on top, and each flower seems to contain hundreds of seeds, so if you let a couple of carrots go to seed, you have a lot of carrots the following year.

In the CSU master gardening class, I learned that you weren’t supposed to let carrots go to seed because almost all carrots are hybrids, which means that whatever carrots come up the following year won’t necessarily be the ones you planted the year before. I don’t care.
When I deliberately plant carrots, i.e., buy seeds or seed tape, carefully prepare the soil, plant at the correct depth, water meticulously and hover over constantly to see if they germinate, I have marginal success. Last year, I let several carrots go to seed, and I have the best carrots ever coming up all over my garden. They’re not real long, but they’re fat and tasty.
I’ve been putting carrots in my breakfast smoothie almost daily for two months, and I haven’t purchased any carrots at the store. We’ve also had them in salads, as snacks and as a side veggie. Not bad for something that didn’t cost me a dime and I didn’t have to plant.
This year, I’ve also got pineapple tomatillos coming up from the ones that fell to the ground in my flower bed that I didn’t clean up.
Sometimes it’s good to know what the experts recommend, and sometimes, it’s better to know what actually works in your garden.  


Fill your olla if you want it to work

By Penny Stine
Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I bought an olla at Bookcliff Gardens more than a year ago. An olla is a large, unglazed ceramic pot with a long neck. You bury the pot and leave the neck sticking above the ground. See it behind and to the right of the happy, healthy tomato plant? Because it's unglazed, water seeps out of the pot, supplying moisture to the roots of the nearby plants. 
I forgot to fill it throughout the growing season last year, since this particular bed is in the middle of my back yard & I just assumed the lawn sprinklers were supplying it with enough water, which turned it into a not very attractive piece of garden art.
Because I had spinach (and broccoli and garlic) planted back there earlier this spring and I wanted to make sure they got water before the irrigation water was in the ditch, I developed a better habit of filling the olla once a week. The spinach in that bed was happy and delicious.
I planted two tomato plants in the bed. The one  next to the olla (which I have remembered to fill once a week in spite of the sprinklers) is thriving. 
This plant is merely surviving. I didn’t notice how badly it was struggling until one day a few weeks ago when I looked at it lurking behind the spinach and saw that it was almost dead. I’ve started giving it extra water and it looks like it might eventually recover. I've also removed the spinach, since it had all bolted and gone to seed. 
The tomato plants were the same size when I planted them, so my only conclusion is that the olla really works.

If you’ve got a small planting space that’s not convenient for sprinklers or a hose (or you suspect is not getting enough water with the sprinklers), then I recommend planting an olla. This bed is about 8 X 8 feet, however, and one olla wasn’t enough, since the almost-died tomato plant is in the same bed, only a little farther away.  


This works!

By Penny Stine
Monday, June 13, 2016

I don’t know about your garden, but grass is always a problem in mine. Weeds, especially bindweed, add to the problem. I’ve spent hours after work on weekdays as well as the majority of the daytime on various Saturdays or Sundays pulling weeds and grass in my garden, and I still have weeds and grass all over my garden.

So I was searching for a grass-killer when I was at Lowe’s on Saturday, and found this herbicidal soap. Even though the instructions said not to use it if there was rain in the forecast, and there was a 20 percent chance of rain on Saturday, I was too curious, so I sprayed some grass and weeds. I only sprayed in one area, however, just in case the rain came and washed it away. 


The directions say that sprayed plant material will start to look different in 20 minutes, and that was true. I took these other two photos a day after I sprayed. All the yellow grass and weeds were green and vibrant the day before. It’s pretty easy to see where I didn’t spray, since anything I sprayed is yellow and dead-looking, while all the other weeds and grass are healthy and green.
The directions also said to be careful not to hit garden plants that you want to keep, and after seeing the way this works, I can understand why. With the spray bottle, it was fairly easy to aim it directly at the weeds & grass.


One bottle wasn’t enough for my whole garden, which is why I bought three bottles. I think I’ll probably have to buy at least three more, because I’m pretty sure that I didn’t actually kill the weed, I just damaged the part that’s above ground. It will take another spray when it starts to grow again before it actually dies, I’m guessing. I don’t care. If it works, I will be ecstatic, especially since it’s getting to be the busy summer season, and I won’t want to devote entire weekends to weeding!


South American oca in my garden

By Penny Stine
Friday, June 10, 2016

If you’ve read this blog at all, you’ll know that I love to grow the weird and wonderful. If I find something that I’ve never heard of before and have never seen, I’m game, especially if it can thrive in shade.
Oca is a perennial plant from South America that can be grown as an annual in colder climates. It’s a tuber that you leave in the ground until November, which I fought would be cool to have something to harvest just in time for Thanksgiving! I learned about it from my Territorial Seed catalog out of Oregon. Territorial only shipped live plants, so I bought some earlier this year, even though they were ridiculously expensive. 

I was impressed with the shipping. The plants all looked good when they got to me. I’ve ordered a live plant from another seed company on the other side of the country and it was dead on arrival.

Oca is hugely popular in New Zealand, too, where it’s known as New Zealand yam. (No, it doesn’t grow there naturally, it’s been imported, and no, it’s not related to yams at all.)

It is, however, related to a weed commonly called wood sorrel, which gave me high hopes that it would do well, since weeds themselves always do well in my garden.

Territorial sent directions with the plants, and the directions said the plants like cooler, wet climates, but will grow elsewhere if they’re in a spot that’s semi-shady. I don’t have a cool or wet climate in my yard, but I’ve got lots of semi-shade in my garden, so I’m willing to try.






I got the box on Saturday, let the plants sit out on the back deck in part-sun, part-shade until Tuesday night, when I found six spaces for them in my various gardens. From what I’ve read, the oca tubers come in a variety of colors. Territorial sent me three different ones, with different colored plastic labels, which I stuck in the ground so I’d know which were which.



I took the photos of the plants in the ground on Thursday night, after they’d been in the ground and after we’d had a ridiculously hot day. The heat didn’t make them croak, so I’m feeling hopeful.  

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