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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Garden Experiments 2014: A new type of berry plant

By Penny Stine
Friday, April 18, 2014

I read about a European berry bush that’s related to honeysuckle called honeyberry or haksap, depending on who you talk to. Some people call it an edible blue honeysuckle.
The plant is a perennial that’s supposed to start producing berries by its second year. It’s also supposed to do well in alkaline soil and gardeners were urged to plant it in semi-shady spots in hot climates. Not sure exactly what the berries taste like since the description says they remind some people of blackberries, cherries, kiwis or grapes. 

Naturally, I was intrigued. Our soil is alkaline and my entire garden is semi-shady. So I ordered one from Park Seed.

It came in a box. The box was full of white packing peanuts and one dried up, half-dead plant. The instructions said to plant it right away, but that was the afternoon I was planting carrots, so I didn’t get around to it.



I did, however, put the container outside in a spot that’s semi-shady in a bowl of water so the roots could possibly be revived.




I was hoping a couple of days in the semi-shade with water would perk that poor plant back up. When nothing did, I decided I may as well plant it.

Here’s the bed I decided to use. It’s fairly sunny in the winter and early spring, with a large tree directly to the east that shades it in the summer and fall. The tree produces those annoying black bean pods (which you can see all over the bed!) It's also one of the slower ones to get leaves, which means more mid to late spring sunshine. I think that will be good, since sun isn’t too hot right now and the bush flowers and produces berries early - and that’s when sunshine is essential.

Right now, the bed has garlic, kale, columbine, lovage and that stupid flower, love-in-a-mist. I’m pulling out the love-in-a-mist whenever I think about it, while letting everything else live.

For now, at least. I’m thinking the columbine is gonna be a goner soon.

After I ordered my one honeyberry bush from Park, I continued to read and saw that pollination and berry production was enhanced by having two different types of honeyberry bushes.
I was at Valley Grown Nursery for a story and was chatting new plants with the owner and she told me that they were going to get some honeyberry bushes in this year. So rather than order another one from Park seed that comes fully dehydrated, I’ll wait and buy one from Valley Grown.

This is what it looked like after I got it planted.


Better, but it still looks half dead.  


Cool carrot trick - try this if you’re gardening with kids

By Penny Stine
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Growing carrots can be frustrating. The seeds are tiny and they take a long time to germinate. I’ve read that they need to be kept constantly moist in order to germinate, which gets tricky in our dry climate.
I read about this cool trick online and decided to try it. No, I don't have little kids, but I'm impatient and have had lousy germination rates with carrots. It’s kinda cool, so I’ll give a list of supplies you’ll need so you can do it, too:
plastic bags (I used some sealable bags and some produce bags from the grocery store)
thin cardboard squares cut small enough to fit in the plastic bag
paper towels
carrot seeds
Here are step-by-step instructions:

Moisten the paper towel and then spread it out on the cardboard.

Place seeds on the towel. I  guesstimated how big the full-grown carrots would be and tried to leave enough room. I think I probably crowded mine too much, since I ended up with more than 40 seeds on a paper towel. The blog I read said she had 24 carrots per towel.

At first, I didn’t cover the plastic bags,

but then read that the seeds should be in total darkness, so I put another piece of cardboard over the bags. I checked on them every other day or so and if the paper towel felt like it was drying out, I spritzed them with a spray bottle of water.





In a week, most of the seeds had germinated. Some were even showing signs of tiny green leaves. That was cool.




Next, I prepared my planting bed outside. I dug it one day with a hand shovel and then dug it again with a big shovel the next day. I probably should have done it with the big shovel first and then the hand shovel, but I didn't.

When planting carrots, it’s important to make sure you don’t have any rocks, roots or hard clods of dirt that will stunt your carrots’ growth. The soil should be damp, but not soggy.






I smoothed over the soil and simply laid the paper towels on top.Then I covered them with a thin layer of soil.





According to the blog I read, the paper towels will disintegrate and the carrots will grow above and below the two layers.

There was one fully sprouted seed that was on the edge of the paper towel, so I treated it carefully and tried not to disturb it when I planted and watered.
I plan on making sure these get water every day (not hard since the planting area is so tiny and I can do it with my big watering can) until they’re above ground and a little bigger.

 Then I’ll quit with the extra water and let my irrigation take over.

I’ll take a pic when they start to sprout above ground. Hopefully, that will be in a few days.  

As you can see, there are spots where the paper towel shows through. I was trying not to pile too much soil on top of the paper towels. 


Frosty herbs

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, April 15, 2014

With another forecast calling for a freeze last night, I decided to bring in my seedlings one more night. Some of them would have probably been OK, since broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts can take a little cold, but I brought them in anyway.
I also covered and lit the peach tree again.

I forgot, however, to bring in this rosemary plant. It grew all last summer and I brought it in the house last fall, where it was quite happy.

Earlier this spring, I put it out too early one morning before work and it partially froze, which is why it looks half-dead.

The living half of the plant doesn’t look like it sustained any damage from being out all night last night (unlike most people, who just don’t look so good after an all-nighter), which was a pleasant discovery this morning when I realized I forgot to bring it in.

Rosemary is a tender perennial, which means it lives year round in some climates. I’ve never had any survive outside here and I usually manage to kill the ones I bring inside, too. So I’m quite happy that this one hasn’t dropped dead yet.

This planter had some arugula that’s gone crazy from my indoor winter experiment, along with dried out pea plants and one almost-dead basil plant. The basil looks frozen, since I forgot to bring it in last night, too. I’m not too worried, however, since I have about 10 basil seedlings ready to be planted as soon as the threat of a frost is over for the season. Unlike rosemary, which grows so slowly that you don’t get much until the end of the season, basil is a fairly fast grower.  


Spring frost survival

By Penny Stine
Monday, April 14, 2014

I thought about planting some of the seedlings that I’ve been babying over the weekend, but when I saw how cold it was supposed to get last night (NOAA said 25 degrees), I decided to bring all the babies in last night rather than stick ‘em in the ground.
I also decided to try to preserve my peach blossoms.




First, I found my husband’s shop light and an extension cord, which I hung from a branch.

Then I rounded up a large tablecloth that lives in my linen closet for occasions like this. It certainly doesn’t live in my linen closet because I use it on the table, since I don’t even know where it came from…

I draped the tree so it resembled Caspar, the Friendly Ghost and plugged in the light before I went to bed last night.



I was feeling so proud of my efforts until I got up this morning and took a peek at the tree. Although the light was still shining, the tablecloth was on the ground. I don’t know whether the wind blew it off or I was just a bad draper. Either way, it wasn’t doing my peach blossoms much good from its position on the ground.

Only time will tell if it froze hard enough in my back yard to kill the blossoms. I’m just hoping a few survived.  I'm also feeling more hopeful than last year when I covered the blooming tree and woke up to three inches of snow all over the still-draped tree.  


Plant asparagus! Trust me, you’ll be glad you did

By Penny Stine
Friday, April 11, 2014

If you’ve got an edge along a sidewalk, in a flower bed or a garden bed, consider planting a row of asparagus. You can usually find the roots at local nurseries (I know Bookcliff Gardens sells asparagus in the spring, and I’m guessing Mount Garfield and Grand Valley Nursery do, too) or you can order from online seed catalogs, too.

This is a photo I took of my asparagus on March 31, which is pretty cool, too - asparagus is a spring crop, so you have something to pick early. Asparagus is a perennial, which means that it will come back year after year. 

When you buy them, you’ll get a bundle of roots. Most places that you buy from also have planting directions. Follow the directions for best results.
Because I’ve planted it in random places in my garden, I tend to forget where it is. (Not a good idea) When I planted more last year, I planted it all in two smaller areas in hopes that I wouldn’t forget, nor would I dig up the roots accidentally when planting something else.
The problem with growing asparagus is that you rarely get a bunch at one time and you're not supposed to harvest in the first year. Even after the first or second year, you rarely get enough at one time to cook and eat all by themselves as part of a meal. I usually grill or roast them with other vegetables. Or just eat them straight from the garden. 
It also tends to grow quickly. It will go from being just a little too small to “Oh my gosh, look at the size of that asparagus!” almost overnight.
This one is almost too big, but I picked it last night and ate it raw. It was sooooo good. Fresh picked asparagus is nothing like what you buy at the grocery store.
If you let them get too big, they do get that woody texture, but this one, in spite of its size (it was about 18 inches tall) was crisp and extremely juicy, believe it or not. Really, really good. The bottom inch and a half was starting to get a little pithy, but it was delicious.  

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