Let's Get Dirty
A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.
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By Penny Stine
Friday, July 22, 2011
Becoming a potager gardener rather than a straight vegetable gardener has been a good decision. Although I love finding food in my garden, the flowers are delightful. Now that summer is in full stride, the annuals are strutting their stuff.
I planted zinnias for the first time last year in a few select places, then collected seeds at the end of the season because they were so easy to grow and so bright and colorful in the garden. I've planted them everywhere in my gardens this year, including this box where my peppers aren't yet producing.
Zinnias and marigolds make a good combination in these beds, where I've also got tomatoes, tomatillos, melons, pumpkin, peppers, basil, Thai basil and perilla. This seems to be a good flower combo for keeping bugs away from plants, too.
This is an annual called love-in-a-mist. The colors look faded thanks to the bright sunshine in the pic, but they're a brilliant blue and white. Quite pretty. They were thank you gift from one of the seed companies. I believe the packet said they're known to re-seed themselves, so I'm hoping they'll come back next year.
Most of the perennials in my garden have already bloomed, but this delphinium is just starting to show some color.
Below, those are not flowerpots with tomatoes. They are tomato pots with a few flowers thrown in for good looks. I still don't have any tomatoes, peppers or cucumbers. At least I can enjoy the flowers.
By Penny Stine
Thursday, July 21, 2011
I’m fairly certain Janis Joplin was not singing about tomatoes in her famous song, but the lyrics fit, especially when she wails about breaking another little piece of her heart. I started my tomatoes all from seed. I’ve got a relationship with these babies that’s lasted almost six months, and then, outta nowhere, one of my Virginia sweets started developing leaves that are curling, turning yellow and have spots!
Knowing how much Carol Clark has suffered this summer (oh, the agony of tomato plants with a fatal, mysterious virus that has no cure), and knowing how full my calender was for the next week, with no time to take a leaf sample to either the extension office or Bookcliff Gardens. I ripped out the infected plant in hopes of stopping whatever caused those leaves to turn spotted and stunted the plant’s growth.
I’m telling you, the song lyrics still fit perfectly:
“And each time I tell myself that I, well I think I've had enough,
But I'm gonna show you, baby, that a woman can be tough.”
Before I took this photo, I had already ripped off the worst section of leaves to show it to people who had lost tomato plants to both curly leaf virus and one of the blights. The leaf I brought in had big, nasty black spots.
It was tough ripping out the tomato plant, but I’d rather lose one plant now that a dozen plants later. But if you hear me singing the blues like Janis, you’ll know why.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
An old landscape designer turned salesman works at one of the car dealerships I frequent for my job. He likes experimenting and growing things at the dealership where he sells cars. His fellow salespeople like to make fun of him because he massages his plants, gently combing his fingers through the plants stems and up through the leaves. He does this everyday and tells the guys that the plants like this attention and will grow better with the added love.
Well, turns out he is right. Stanford University molecular biologists say five plant genes are activated when pants are touched. These genes strengthen the plant and help them to be sturdier and stockier than plants who are never touched.
So... I have been going out to the garden every day and I make sure to touch every plant. With all the troubles my garden has had this year it can't hurt to share a little love.
By Penny Stine
Monday, July 18, 2011
Last year, I grew an ornamental variety of amaranth because the seeds were ridiculously cheap from Park Seeds and the description of the plant sounded intriguing. I had no idea what it looked like, wasn't familiar with the flower, and was pleasantly surprised when these grew in my garden.
At the end of the season last year, I began researching amaranth and discovered that not only is it cool-looking it’s also edible. The seeds of certain varieties (the non-ornamental ones) can be eaten like a grain, kind of like quinoa. The tender, young leaves are also edible and can be used raw or cooked. The nutrition content is off the charts.
I collected seeds at the end of last season and planted it in a couple places in my garden. I'm pretty sure this is the maroon ornamental variety that I planted way too close to the tomato.
It also planted itself in the area where I threw all my compost last November. I purchased a second type of amaranth that was supposed to have a bright orange flower and produce better seeds for cooking, which I also planted in random places throughout the garden. I think the amaranth in this photo is a combination of the maroon ornamental variety and the orange giant grain variety, but I'm not sure.
Since my spinach went to seed a month ago, my Swiss chard isn’t producing much and I’m roasting all the kale leaves I can pick, I decided to try the amaranth leaves while they were still small.
I don’t know if I’d like a salad with nothing but amaranth leaves, but they’ve been a great (and colorful) addition to other mixed greens. Likewise, I’ve added chopped amaranth leaves in rice, egg and pasta dishes where I’d normally put spinach. It’s actually pretty good.
Amaranth is related to pigweed, so if you plant it, pay attention to where you put it so you don’t accidentally pull it, thinking it’s a weed.
By Penny Stine
Friday, July 15, 2011
Anyone who grows mint in a flowerbed knows that pretty soon you have a mint bed with a few flowers in it. This year, I’ve taken to adding mint to salads, stir-fry and some pastas in an effort to use some of it. Of course, some goes into mojitos, too.
I brought some spare mint to work to give away to whoever would take it and Lynn Lickers made a brilliant, simple and delightful drink out of it. Lynn steeped the fresh mint leaves in boiling water for a bit (I don’t remember how long), added a bit of agave nectar, then iced it down and drank it. She said it was delish.
I wanted to try it but didn’t have any agave nectar (seriously, Lynn, whaddya do with agave nectar? Distill your own tequila???) so I just poured a little glomp of honey in when I poured the boiling water over the mint leaves. A glomp is less than a glug, but larger than a couple squeezes. I let it steep for a couple of hours. I probably used at least five long sprigs of mint.
It too, is delish and incredibly refreshing. It’s my new fave summertime drink. I’m hoping that maybe by replacing the regular ice tea I drink in the summer with mint nectar (tea, water, whatever) that perhaps my insomnia will abate. So far, no such luck, but you never know.