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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Awesome alliums

By Penny Stine
Friday, March 20, 2015

When I first started gardening, I didn’t grow either onions or garlic because both are relatively inexpensive at the grocery store, and I didn’t think home grown onions or garlic would taste that different from store bought.

I was intrigued by the Egyptian walking onions, however, so I started them several years ago. I now have hundred (perhaps thousands) of them growing all over my gardens.

I also changed my mind about garlic and have planted both seeds and bulbs in various locations. Although I try to dig them all up in mid-summer when it’s time, it’s easy to miss, so now I have garlic in several locations, too.





Two years ago, I decided to grow leeks just because they are kinda pricey at the store and I wanted to see if I could.Although I pulled most of them late in the fall, I had a few that weren’t very big, so I left them in the ground. They survived and have now started growing again. I don’t know if they would have survived a harsh winter, but because we were so mild, they did just fine.
I imagine that once they start getting regular water in early April, they’ll grow quickly and I’ll have some fresh leeks in May.



The leek seed package had hundreds of seeds, and I’ve saved unused seeds from year-to-year. I should probably freeze them, but I don’t. It doesn’t seem to hurt their germination rate. This tray of seedlings was started in late February. I decided to start hardening them off so I can transplant them in early April.



Because shallots are expensive, I wondered if we could grow them here. A little research revealed that most experts say they’re easier to grow than regular onions, so my friend, Jan, and I bought a packet of shallot seeds and got them started a few weeks ago.
They look just like the leeks.
Interestingly enough, some websites say you can’t grow shallots from seed and you must get them started by planting a bulb. Obviously, the seed will grow (witness the little seedlings in my photo); perhaps the plants started by seed won’t produce as many shallot bulbs.
When I was in the master gardening class, one of the instructors said that you can’t grow garlic from seed and it had to be started with a bulb. I had collected garlic seed from my mom’s garden and grew all kinds of garlic with it, but I noticed that the garlic that sprouted from seed didn’t form those big heads of garlic, just the curly scapes and a single little bulb below ground. Since I love garlic scape, I never bothered digging them up, I just left them there and cultivated them for the tops.  


Honeyberries look promising

By Penny Stine
Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Last year, I got this cool catalog with all these unique fruit trees and berry bushes that had fruits I’d never heard of. While some of them won’t grow in our soil conditions, there was one that sounded promising.
The honeyberry or haskap berry, as it is known in Japan, is supposed to be a berry that grows well in alkaline soil and needs some shade in a hot location. Oh boy, have I got alkaline soil and shade! So I ordered two, which promptly died.

Then I bought two plants from Bookcliff Gardens (I think last year was the first year they got the plants) and planted them.
The bushes survived, but they didn’t look great last summer. By the end of the season, I wasn’t even sure that they were still alive.

But as you can see by the photo, the plant looks quite happy and healthy this spring. 
They’re an early berry, with a crop that comes in before strawberries.

They’re an edible honeysuckle, and this is what the flower looks like.While I was out there taking a photo, I saw a bee buzzing around. Yay bees!
I will post more information regarding the flavor of the berries when they form and ripen later this spring.
I believe the plants get about four to six feet high and produce for decades.
I just hope I like them. If not, I can always put them in my morning breakfast smoothie.  


What’s up, Doc?

By Penny Stine
Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bugs probably wasn’t referring to spinach or carrots when he used to ask that famous question, but since he’s a big-time herbivore, perhaps he should have been.
I took a stroll around my yard to see what was up, what survived the winter and to assess what my early summer harvest will be.
I’m pretty excited about the spinach. I anticipate that it will be big enough to eat sometime in April. Last night, I fertilized it with Alaska fish fertilizer, which I’ve never used before, but wanted to try. I’ve been trying to water this spinach about once a week. It’s not hot enough for the soil to dry out too badly, and if we get snow or rain, then I don’t water. When in doubt, I just dig down into the soil a little and see how dry/moist it feels.
I planted this spinach either at the end of October or the first part of November.


I planted this Swiss chard last summer, but it was in the bed with my ground cherry bushes, which grew quickly when it got hot and overshadowed the chard, which stayed tiny all summer. I left it there when I pulled everything else out in the fall and didn’t even cover it during the coldest part of winter. I’ve watered it pretty faithfully if we don’t get moisture. I might be picking chard in another two weeks.


This is the elephant garlic I planted in October or November.


I’ve never grown it before, so I have no idea how tall it will get. Research tells me that’s it’s a closer relative to leeks than to regular garlic. I love both leeks and garlic, so I’m happy.








These little green dots are the lettuce seedlings that I scattered in my front flower bed, which gets fabulous sunshine all the time.I planted lettuce in pots in mid-February, when we had the week or two of really mild weather and had seed left over, so I scattered it in this bed, which is where I had such great peppers and ground cherries last summer. I figure both peppers and ground cherries are heat lovers, so I’ll do a double crop here.


The seeds I planted in pots aren’t doing a thing, but it’s because the sun hasn’t climbed high enough in the sky yet to actually hit any of my planters. This is what a north-facing deck looks like all winter long. As you can see, the sun is almost high enough to hit the planters on the edge of the deck. 


I uncovered my carrot bed long enough to take a photo and was pleased to see so many carrots had overwintered nicely. I have no idea if they would have survived had our winter been more similar to the two previous ones, but it wasn’t, and they look lovely.
I’ve also got a few beets that have overwintered and appear to be doing fine. It’s kind of rewarding to think I’ll have to many things to pick while I’m busy planting everywhere else.


My quest for the best in fertilizers led me to Glade Park

By Penny Stine
Monday, March 9, 2015

I am determined not to do something stupid this year that will render my garden unproductive, and I’m trying to make up for putting a bad soil amendment on it last year, so my search for something that would really help the soil led me to Alpaca Gold, up on Glade Park.
I remembered reading about the men who started the company in The Daily Sentinel back in November in this story, so I gave them a call when my gardening buddy (and our husbands, who did the heavy lifting) had time to go pick up poop.
I just hope our veggies are as cute as the alpacas.
Rather than simply dump it in our truck, Rusty Brouse with Alpaca Gold put it in these convenient large, heavy duty bags. They each weighed a little more than 40 pounds. I think he said we had about 500 pounds of alpaca poop, which we split between the two of us.
It will be much easier to spread a little bit at a time, since it’s in large bags, rather than one big pile that we’d have to shovel.
I’m going to use fish emulsion fertilizer in some areas and the alpaca poop in others. Hopefully, I’ll either write it down or remember where I used what, so I can compare during and after the growing season.

If my veggies are as cute as the alpacas, I’ll have the best-looking garden ever.  


Heating mats work for seedlings

By Penny Stine
Friday, March 6, 2015

A few years ago, I got to interview Joe Cocker because he wanted to talk about tomatoes. He was a lovely person and he had read some of my old Stine’s Lines columns, where I had written about the frustrations of starting seeds. He gave me a seedling heat mat, which I treasure because how many people can say they have gardening supplies given by Joe Cocker? The man definitely knew his way around a tomato plant.

When we started seeds a few weeks ago, we filled one of our bio-dome (as Park Seed calls their seed-starting planter) with only peppers and put that planter on the heat mat. You can see by the photo that most of the seeds have germinated and some plants have their first two little leaves.

Because we’re growing a variety of sweet and hot peppers, we had more seeds than would fit in this one bio-dome, so we put pepper seeds in domes that had other types of seeds in them. In addition to peppers, we also started broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and kohlrabi. Unlike peppers, they don’t really need to be started indoors, we just like to do it because it means we’re planting seedlings in early April in the garden as soon as we have water. We also started several types of basil because basil is an extremely slow grower at first.

As you can see by this pic, whatever cole crop is planted in this dome (which is not sitting on a heat mat) has germinated and is doing nicely (it’s the tall stuff on the left). Even the basil is up (it’s the little stuff on the right). That leaves the rows in the middle with nothing germinating. Those are pepper seeds that didn’t fit in the dome on the heat mat.

The moral of this story for me is: buy another heat mat and make sure that all of my heat-loving plants are in the same planter.  

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