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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I give up

By Penny Stine
Thursday, April 30, 2015

Every year, I vow that I won’t be suckered into attempting to grow lettuce, regardless of the descriptions on the seed packets or catalogs or the tips that someone shares with me. In the 14 or so years that I’ve been gardening in the Grand Valley, I’ve been able to grow lettuce that tasted good once.
Once! That’s it. I’ve tried lots of different varieties, I’ve tried different areas in my garden; I’ve tried growing it in the fall and this year, I’m trying to grow it in pots on the deck after Julie Norman had great success growing lettuce in a container last year.
I took a taste of one of the red leaves. At first, it seemed OK. Not great, but OK. Then the bitterness began to grow. It soon overwhelmed me in a rushing tide of nastiness. Bleeaachhh!
Next, I tried this pot. There are a couple radishes in here, along with some green leaf and red leaf lettuce. I tried the green first. It was OK. Not great, but not disgustingly bitter, either. I tried the red and found it to be just as terrible from this container as it was from the other.
I used to think the lettuce I grew in my garden was bitter because of the summertime heat, but it’s not summer and it hasn’t been hot. I have been faithfully watering these little pots of lettuce, and I freshened up the soil with new soil and fertilizer.
I think it’s time to give up on lettuce.
I feel like I should go out to my containers full of lettuce and start singing, “Say something I’m giving up on you. I’m sorry I couldn’t grow you… Anytime, I would have grown you…”
Obviously, me and lettuce just weren’t meant to be.

Does anyone else have trouble trying to grow lettuce here?


Elephant, hard neck and soft neck

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I wanted to post these pics to show the difference between the elephant garlic, which is what these plants are and other types of garlic, which are pictured below. This is my first year to grow elephant garlic, but I read that you’re supposed to let it flower, and it gets a big, purple flower that’s quite pretty.

The garlic bulbs are supposed to be as big as a fist, and are also supposed to be milder and sweeter than regular garlic. Elephant garlic is more closely related to leeks than to regular garlic. I've got a few growing in another corner of my garden, too. 




I’m growing both hard neck and soft neck varieties of regular garlic, and I can’t remember whether the garlic in this pic is hard neck or soft neck. Personally, I can’t taste the difference in the bulb, but since only hard neck varieties form scapes, I’ll know which is which based on which ones have the curly, pig’s tail growth on top.
Then I’ll promptly forget by the time I dig the garlic a month or so later.
I should remember, however, because the soft neck garlic varieties are more pliant and easier to braid for storage. They also last longer.
Elephant garlic doesn’t store for long at all and most recipes that I’ve seen say to grill it.  


Who wants to join the movement?

By Penny Stine
Monday, April 27, 2015

As the gardening blogger here at The Daily Sentinel, I get all sorts of helpful information sent to me from gardening companies and co-workers. I got this news flash from Richie Ashcraft, who wanted to make sure I knew about World Naked Gardening Day (WNGD, as proponents call it), which is coming up this Saturday. 

It seems there is a great enjoyment in the clothing optional community to garden au naturel, and they want to extend the invitation to those who prefer to garden in more than gloves and Crocs to join in the fun and ditch their clothing for all their gardening chores this Saturday. 

A little research revealed there's an entire website devoted to WNGD, and while I normally like to include photos in every post, this is a G-rated blog, so I didn't post any of the pics from the WNGD website. Although the website encourages everyone to get naked and get gardening, alone or with friends, I think I'll have to decline. Although, if you're so inclined, it is the 10th annual WNGD, so if you're the type to celebrate special anniversaries, this would be a year to start your own tradition of naked gardening. 

Unless of course, you have an extensive collection of cactus and succulents in your garden.


Well worth the price of the seed

By Penny Stine
Thursday, April 23, 2015

This is my last blue dwarf kale plant. As you can see, it decided to flower and go to seed. I can't remember when I first planted it there - probably five or more years ago. This is a fairly shady area, so the leaves never got big, but the kale plants produced small, tasty leaves all summer long. The plants always looked like they were dead in the winter, but in the early spring, I'd cut away the dead stuff and they would start growing again. I've picked quite a bit of kale off this plant this spring, but now that it's going to seed, I know it will be done soon. 

Oh well, I think I've got more kale sprouting elsewhere from beira tronchuda variety I planted a few weeks ago, and I can always go to Bookcliff Gardens for more of the blue dwarf seed. If you like kale, it's got to be one of the most cost effective things to grow in a garden. Plants produce all season and often survive from year to year like this one did. Plus, they look pretty. Well, they look pretty before they get all leggy and go to seed. 


Get local gardening advice

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I saw this headline on Yahoo earlier today about 10 veggies and herbs that are so easy to grow they practically grow themselves, so of course, I had to click and read the story. While I agree with some of the list (mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, chives), I didn't agree with some of the others. According to the story, cilantro, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes and summer squash also belong on the list. As someone who has been gardening for while here in the Grand Valley, I disagree with those last five on the list, although as you can see from the photo, I've got both lettuce and radishes growing happily in this pot on my patio right now. 

We have a unique micro-climate here in the Grand Valley. We can get ridiculoulsy cold in the winter and we also get ridiculously hot in the summer. The hot is much more reliable every year than the cold, since some winters, like this last one, are downright mild. We're also incredibly dry here, which means we have to irrigate. Both the dryness and various irrigation practices can also cause problems.

In my experience, lettuce, radishes and cilantro are not such a slam dunk due to our excessive summertime heat. This year, I'm hoping that I can control heat for both lettuce and radishes by having them in pots. Usually, I grow lettuce that it so bitter no one wants to eat it and cilantro that bolts as soon as it gets its first few leaves.

As everyone who tries to grow tomatoes in the Grand Valley knows, sometimes they're not so easy, either. If the wrong bugs get to them, you could get curly leaf virus. If you don't mulch or water properly, you may develop blossom end rot. Will they grow here? Absolutely! But you may have to make more of an effort than you would elsewhere.

While zucchini and other summer squash has a reputation for being ridiculously easy to grow, here in the Grand Valley, squash bugs are a real problem. They're hard to control and they'll take out entire plants. They kill both summer and winter squash. I'm excited to grow lemon squash this year, since on reviews of the seed, many growers say it's resistant to squash bugs.  

When you're looking for gardening advice, go to a local source, someone who knows all about our alkaline, clay soil and our June temperatures that have been known to hit 90 or 95. In addition to giving tips to grow those summertime classics, they'll probably be able to steer you to some other veggies that may be difficult to grow elsewhere, but which are a slam dunk for the Grand Valley. 

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