Pretty Things at NWFGS

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I’m the sort of person who enjoys movie previews that don’t give away the whole plot. Because, you know, if I’m gonna go see a movie I’d like to be just a little surprised. With that in mind, here are just a few pictures from my trip to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show yesterday. Because you’re probably gonna want to see for yourself.

I found the garden above on the sky bridge, and thought, yes…I want all of this. I like to see small gardens that utilize all of the space, horizontal, vertical and everything in between. From the strand of drying herbs (because clearly this is a working garden) to the writing space to the one of a kind pottery, this design really speaks to me as an urban gardener.

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SedumsI couldn’t get enough of West Seattle Nursery’s bold mix of succulents and cacti, the textures are incredible. And of course, the ever-colorful lewisia. Now I can’t wait for my own to bloom.

KittyCaseThere was also a sweet cat garden created by dynamic duo Judith Jones and Vanca Lumsden. High sweeping structures surround the garden, perfect for cat play. I liked the smaller details as well, like this miniature Edwardian case.

RaisedBedAnd of course, because I am a vegetable gardener, always… I was ‘digging’ the  raised beds in the garden by Cascadia Edible Landscapes.

SkunkCabbageAnd then there was this amazing, fantastical and wondrous garden…….

What can I say? They had me at skunk cabbage. I grew up on the Olympic Peninsula and native plants are kind of my jam. I wanted to crawl inside and stay here for the rest of the show.

The Washington Park Arboretum garden featured deer ferns, licorice ferns, Indian plums just peaking into bloom, worlds of moss and a massive nurse log among other things. It evokes the Hoh Rainforest, which inspired their design, and leaves you with a craving for a trip to the native plant section at your local nursery.

Well, at least it did that for my friend and I. We’ve already planned a nursery outing for next week. And with that, this plant-a-holic is off to dig out a spot for an Indian plum, and some other natives. Happy Weekend Folks!

(Wanna check out the show? It runs for three more days. Get more info here)

 

 

Hello Garden: Weeding and Winterizing

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This one picture is pretty indicative of where our garden is at right now. With a busy September, that involved some harvesting but very little weeding, our little patch was definitely ready for some TLC.

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One of my main tasks was to weed the rows between beds which had been taken over by dock, buttercup and other familiar “enthusiastic” volunteers. I also wanted to put down some cover crop and a little straw mulch, to keep the rains at bay and help create good soil tilth for next spring.

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As you can see, I definitely had my work cut out for me. I pulled out the last of our beets and carrots, as well as a little garlic. One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years, is that I’m definitely not a winter gardener. Or at least not at this point in my life. Maybe, if I was gardening at home or I got an office job and really, really missed being outside, that might change. But for now, I am happy to put my garden to bed come winter and save the rainy garden days for my clients’ yards.

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Here’s a couple shots of the cover crop seeds I planted. This year I’m trying a mixture with peas and rye among other things. I’m excited to see how it affects the soil nutrition next spring. And of course, am leaving a “control” space of my garden cover crop free. That area I plan to just mulch. It will be interesting to compare soil profiles next spring, I hope to do a mail-in soil test with one of our local labs then.

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Here’s the finished work. You can see a few leeks, and our pruned back raspberries in the background but not a whole lot else. Ahhh, it feels good. Now for the other half of the garden….

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Ah well, next week! With any luck, this gardener will have things wrapped up before December….

Grow Love: The Pepper King with Dave Ledoux

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A little while back I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Ledoux, a garden blogger out of southwestern Ontario. Dave is a heck of a nice guy and a phenomenal gardener. He and his wife grow an abundant garden rich with edibles, flowers and herbs every year. He writes about his passion for growing on his blog “Back to My Garden” and even hosts a top-rated podcast that features many of his fellow garden bloggers.

We chatted via e-mail, and I learned a lot about peppers, the importance of soil amendment and how jiu jitsu makes for better gardeners. You can read more about Dave and his garden adventures below!

What zone or climate do you garden in?

I’m on the shores of Lake Erie in southwestern Ontario, midway between Detroit and Toronto.  They say its zone 5b, but here’s what I do know.  We get the last frost in early May, and first frost in early October. There is a constant breeze off the big lake, making it important to harden the seedlings in the spring.  July is crazy hot, and we often get warm Octobers.  And snow.  Lots of snow.

Does it have any special advantages?

There are a lot of old farming communities in my area.  The local Farmer’s Markets are quite exceptional.  There are numerous roadside stands with great produce and flowers and even some herbs.  Most of the old tobacco farms have gone to ginseng, garlic, and vegetables, so its quite a productive area.

When were you bit by the gardening bug?

My first memory of having a job was around age 4 or 5.  We had a half acre vegetable garden in sandy soil.  My job was to walk the rows of potatoes with a jar, picking the potato bugs by hand.  I grew up picking raspberries, tons and tons of raspberries!  But I didn’t really get into gardening as an adult until well into my forties.  I always tried to help my wife for the past 17 years as she gardened but it was always her thing, not my thing.  It wasn’t until I first grew my own hot pepper that I caught the passion. Funny how 1.3 million Scoville units can have that effect.

 Are you Hans Solo in the garden or an Ewok? …(Pardon the Star Wars reference, but I AM that age, so it couldn’t be helped;)

My wife is the General, I’m at best a Lieutenant.  I take her direction.  I’m at that phase where I still have emotional attachments to stuff I plant, and I’m sure I would kill half of it with too much fertilizer if she wasn’t guiding me.

What’s your favorite season in the garden?

In late June you really get the feeling like “wow, look at this green stuff!  All those little seedlings from April turned into THIS!  TREMENDOUS!”

 How much planning/design do you do in your garden? What’s your process?

In the “offseason” it’s like my wife is planning a NASA space mission.  Graph paper.  Everywhere!  We have a dozen raised beds for the vegetables, and when you factor in crop and bed rotation it gets complicated.  She keeps excellent records.  Then you add in a dozen beds for flowers, herbs and exotics and WOW!

 Where do you draw garden inspiration from?

I’m a HUGE fan of the EATING!  Cooking and canning drives the plan, along with sitting on the couch by the fire going through online seed catalogs.  We go page by page through Baker Creek and we get carried away.  Last summer we grew 23 varieties of heirloom tomatoes!  This coming season I think we’re up to a half dozen new types of peppers.  Its endless, and fun as heck!

Most of our seeds comes from online companies like Baker Creek, Harvest Heritage, West Coast Seeds and Incredible Seeds. We are part of the Seeds of Diversity program.  There are shows where gardeners trade seeds.  It feels a little bit like being a Star Trek fan at Comicon.  Lots of enthusiasm and fun people!

We did a lot of seed saving this year.  Part of the fun was eating all these varieties of tomatoes, then deciding which ones to save.  Same for the peppers.  Just a whole lot trickier.  HINT: wear gloves. Ghost peppers are no joke.

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 What do you really LOVE to grow?

I have become transformed as a pepper head.  It started with a chile variety called a “Red Rocket” and became a dangerous obsession from there.  My little Naga Viper in a pot has become like a pet.  I move it around in the yard, and recently brought him indoors under the grow lights.  We made an extreme hot sauce this autumn, I call it “Zeus”.  You add it by the thimblefull to salsa or meat, and its FYHA!  Next season I’m stepping up in weight class with the Trinidad Scorpion.

How much cooking do you do from your garden?

Eating and canning are a huge part of us finding joy in the garden.  We roast our own sunflowers seeds in October (if the blue jays don’t eat them all first!). Carrots, multi-color dragon carrots, sliced and wrapped in tinfoil with butter on the bbq for 30 minutes.  3 kinds of beets.  Eggplants, sliced thin brushed with oil on the bbq.

I get nearly a pint of fresh raspberries every 2-3 days from my patch. Malabar spinach, watercress, Bronze Arrowhead lettuce, lots of salads all summer.  Radishes the minute the ground warms up.  23 types of tomatoes, peppers, and a alarming amount of green beans!  Next season sqash, melons, and a couple of new surprises.

That all sounds delicious! Have you ventured into canning?

YES – Over 100 jars for the 2 of us this season!  This is where having a General and a Lieutenant that work well together comes in handy.  I am a whiz at peeling apples, slicing onions, chopping garlic and peppers while my wife runs the big picture.  We made salsa, pickled beets, pickled beans, pickled peppers, peach hot sauce, Zeus hot sauce, pickled carrots, homemade chutney, and about 40 pounds of apple crisp.

To any of the men that read this…my big takeaway has been my attitude towards food.  When you grow it and then can it, you have invested a lot of physical energy into it.  I find I value it way more, am conscious of it and enjoy it.  The repetitive actions to produce it have almost a meditative effect.  I really understand the health benefits that gardening provides.

Which plants have been hard to grow? Any garden “fails”?

The big failures have been the most educational.  One of our beds has been killing our zucchini plants for 3 straight seasons.  This year 4 plants, no fruit, only male flowers.  We bought the soil testing kit and our levels were dismal!  This AH-HA moment got us into serious amending.  Our arsenal includes sulfur pellets, bone meal, egg shells, mushroom compost and Annie Haven’s Manure Tea.

 How do you prep your garden for the winter? Do you grow anything in the winter?

YUUUP!  We converted an old pool table in the basement to a winter garden.  We have some fluorescent grow lights on a timer, and my Naga Viper is there, along with a Jalapeno and soon a salad garden experiment.

Our municipality has a brown garden waste bag program, so the garden gets ripped up and bagged when we put it to bed.  Canadian Thanksgiving is the second week of October, and its a good marker on the calendar.

This season I moved 2 yards of mushroom compost wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow from my driveway to the backyard and aggressively amended all the beds and containers.  Our new fig tree is moved from the container garden to the heated garage, the strawberries get covered, coriander seeds get picked, its a very unique time of the year in the garden.

I find myself conscious now of seasons and the calendar, it’s fascinating.

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 What brought you to garden blogging?

I started my first web site in 1995.  Back then we called the internet “The Information Super Highway”.  I’ve taught blogging as a profession for many years, both as a coach and as an advisor.  Garden blogging is unique in that we get to document and share such an interesting passion with others who are enthusiastic about it as well.

Flower fanatics are very different in their approach and interest than vegetable or herb fans.  Gardening is such a diverse and enormous world that there is never a dull moment with a ton of personality and opinions.  The message and mission is extremely important – GROW SOMETHING!

And how did you get into podcasting? What do you enjoy most about it?

I LOVE podcasting!   I get to entertain, educate and inspire gardeners during their rush hour commutes.  Why listen to a boring radio when you can get tips from gardening royalty like Shawna Coronado, Joe Lamp’l, Annie Haven and British gardening rockstars like Michael Perry and Andy McIndoe?  Erin, you did a brilliant interview on the podcast!  Every single episode I learn something, and I hope the listeners do as well.

What do you do when you’re NOT gardening?

My wife and I are members of our local opera guild, and we love going to the opera.  She is actively involved in her pottery guild, and loves smooshing her hands in the clay.  I am still participating in combat sports, and go to jiu jitsu 3 days a week.

It’s like human chess.  There is a certain satisfaction with tapping out a kid 40 pounds heavier and 20 years younger.  The meditative effects of working with clay, gardening and jiu jitsu are all related.  When a 190 pounds athlete is kneeling on my chest squeezing my head, I am not thinking about bills, world events or politics.  The mind is blank, the inner critic is quieted, and stress is reduced.

What has gardening brought to your life?

We live in fast paced times.  Gardening helps people to reconnect with a primal part of ourselves.  The therapeutic benefits of gardening are undisputed.  For the next generation it is even more important to get that awareness of where food actually comes from.  It was a startling moment when I realized I had been eating my wife’s produce and canning for 15 years without thinking about how much work she put into it.

When I started to participate and contribute I started to VALUE the entire process.

Crystal ball time: What do you see in your “garden future”?

For me, the fascinating aspect of creating new gardeners is the progression.  In my case it started with 1 pepper plant of my own, and a great teacher in my wife.  Gardeners are like golfers.  No one wakes up one day with the goal of spending a thousand dollars on sticks to dress funny and hit a ball around a field.  Every passionate golfer was introduced to the sport by an experienced golfer.  Every passionate gardener was first “encouraged” by a mentor in the garden.  I hope I can encourage an entire new generation of gardeners.  I feel the podcast can bring the passionate gardener closer to the novice, connect them, inspire them and then set them off on their own path.

Wouldn’t it be cool to touch a million brand new gardeners in the next decade?  And all because we all blog about our gardens, share our pictures on social media, encourage people to plant milkweed and pollinator gardens, and share the message.  The best is yet to come!

Well said Dave!

If you want to hear more from Dave, check out his blog www.backtomygarden.com or connect with him via Twitter.

On Tomatoes and Garden “Fails” – A Podcast

Welcome Autumn!

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It’s time for harvesting tomatoes and canning and all that good autumn fun. I don’t know about you but despite the recent heat wave all I can think about lately is blackberry pie, spiced cider and warm sweaters.

As a fun way to kick off the season, I’m very excited to share the FIRST podcast I’ve ever been part of. Recently, I was interviewed by Dave of Back to My Garden. If you haven’t read this outstanding garden blog yet, be sure to check it out. It’s one of my favorites. Gardeners from all walks of life can relate to Dave’s fun and passionate take on gardening.

Back to My Garden

You can find this podcast on Dave’s site or on itunes. I had a lot of fun chatting with Dave about our garden triumphs and tragedies as well as how we got bit by the gardening bug. Hope you enjoy it!

Grow Love: Organic ‘Like a Boss’

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Hello friends!

And welcome to the first edition of my new feature, ‘GrowLove’. Basically an excuse for me to pick the brains of my favorite gardeners. First up, is my dad Randy.

My dad is the kind of gardener who shows up at family campouts with a cooler full of giant heads of cauliflower, enormous carrots and lush collard greens. His ability to grow healthy and beautiful plants is definitely one that any gardener might envy. He once espaliered an apple tree and a rose bush together on the side of our garage. It was one of the most gorgeous feats of pruning I’ve ever seen.

He’s been a big inspiration and influence on me as a gardener. So when I saw Gayla Trail’s latest ‘Grow Write Guild’ post, I knew he would be someone I’d have to interview. Luckily, I was home over the weekend, so I got to take a few pictures of his current vegetable garden.

Below is a rough transcript of our recent phone conversation, complete with tips for novice composters!

Hey Dad. How’s it growing? (tee-hee)

Hi Erin. I’m actually out in my garden right now. My beans are starting to do good so I’m babying those.

How are you babying them?
Leveling the soil, fertilizing with a solid organic fertilizer, watering and cultivating. I’m careful with that, you know the more you disturb the soil the more you’re disconnecting the mycorrhizae.

Why are you leveling the soil?
That makes it so that the water distributes evenly.

Okay, so what does your garden say about you?
It says I enjoy eating out of the garden. I like helping the environment, cutting down on transportation costs. Keeping things natural and organic. Simplifying. “Simplify, simplify” remember?

What early experiences led to you becoming a gardener?
Well, my dad forced me to weed the flower beds when I was a kid. Also, you know it was part of the hippie days to grow your own food. I was a little bit good at it and I liked it.

Why is it important to you to garden organically? [I had to ask him this question, because I know that gardening organically has always been one of his guiding principles over the years, and he always has such high-performing gardens.]
Because you cut back on using the oil based fertilizer and pesticides that have been linked to some diseases. They’ve only been around for a hundred years. I think of a garden as living with nature, which those synthetic things aren’t. So what’s the point of that? And nature’s so complicated…why slow it down?

What people have been your big gardening influences?
Probably Gene’s dad, a guy I worked with at the lumberyard. I made a delivery to his dad in Orting. His garden was amazing. It went alongside the house all the way from the alley to the street. He had about three fifty-foot rows of kohlrabi. I’d never even heard of a kohlrabi before. And I was like this is awesome.

And then every once in a while, I see an 80 year old with a huge garden, like they really know their stuff and it’s nice to see it in person, not just in a magazine.

I agree, older gardeners are definitely a great source of inspiration.

What got me going recently was taking a biology class and reestablishing my respect for the complexity of biological things.

Like at night, it’s pretty scary with the nightcrawlers.

How so?

Well they stick out their hole, half their body out, just flopped on the ground. When they see you, they slip back in their holes really fast.

That’s so cool! Why are you out in your garden at night?

Catching slugs. I checked for slugs and snails pretty often for the first two months of my garden, twice a day. I threw them across the creek, by the time I got them thinned out, I started using safe slug bait. Not the nasty stuff. But I still keep my eye out for them so I don’t have to kill them. I’ve also got lots of toads. They pop up in the weirdest places. There was one in my fire pit this morning.

Has being a father changed the way you garden?
Well you just try to plant things that your kids can eat right out of the garden. You guys used to go out and pick things when you were teensy kids.

Most of your vegetable gardens incorporate flowers, why?
At first it was because of companion planting, and I like edible flowers too. I like flowers in general. It’s nice if you’re working on the garden so much to have some flowers to look at. And it attracts bees and butterflies.

Any tips for novice composters? [My dad’s been composting for as long as I can remember, and always produces large amounts of beautiful black and rich compost that he uses generously on the garden. I think this might be one of the secrets to his giant vegetables.]

You know you can order a free pamphlet on composting from the government.  I like ‘Compost’ by H.H. Koep. [This may be out of publication but here’s a useful how-to guide that I found online] There’s different ways to make compost, you don’t want to have too much dirt. About 20% at most. I like to use lots of weeds, use those whenever possible, grass clippings are good. When you bring out your kitchen waste, mix it in good. It’s important to turn it. I move my compost and keep it watered all summer. Manure’s good, maybe 10% or so.

My compost piles are usually about seven feet wide, and six feet tall. It reduces down to about 5 feet tall. Make it as long as you want. I usually turn it in over the fall. Mainly I use stuff out of my goat pen, or from gardening customers. You might have to go out of your way to get good materials, if you’re working on your garden a lot, you may not have a lot of weeds. But it’s worth it.

Awesome. Dad thanks so much for talking with me today!

Thank you Erin. Good luck with your garden!

 

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Hello Garden: Sprouts Aplenty

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This year, between fun garden classes, travel and new projects, I planted my early season crops in mid-spring. I’m looking at it as an interesting experiment to see how potatoes and peas like being planted quite late. For the last several years I’ve been planting my peas later than the average ‘President’s Day’ planting, but this year they were planted even later, as in late April. So we’ll see what happens. Next year, maybe I’ll try planting them early in a cold frame and see how that goes.

Either way I’m excited to be out in the garden this spring. My fellow community gardeners’ patches are all looking very beautiful. A row of gleaming green spinach here, another of burgundy-crinkled radicchio there. Next time I’m at the garden I’ll try to take some pictures of the other patches. My immediate neighbor, who is retired, has a penchant for creating garden art out of found objects. His latest creation is a bamboo and driftwood wind chime, lovely!

My favorite ‘found’ object in my garden right now is a vintage folding chair in bold stripes of blue and yellow that my father gave me. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to sand down and spray paint the metal, I kind of like it in all its shabby glory. But an update might be a good thing.

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Right now things are just starting to peek out of the ground.  So many succulent green sprouts ready to grow into tasty vegetables. I love this time of year. And as you can see, so do the slugs!

Happy Thursday Folks. What are you growing in your garden this year? Send me pictures if you can! I’d really love to see them.

Seed Lust: So many Vegetables, so little time!

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I’m pretty sure I have way too many seeds to plant our little patch. There’s the seeds from last year, there’s the seeds from my work and then there are the seeds I still plan to buy.

In hopes of maximizing the space,  I plan to go more vertical.  I’ve procured some ‘Trombetta di Albenga’ seed, an Italian heirloom summer squash. I’ve heard that they kind of taste like artichokes. Artichokes? I am so wayyyy into that. Also, the vines are vigorous and will clamber across a trellis willingly. Perfect for a tiny p-patch.

I also can’t wait to see what happens with the ‘Watermelon’ radish seed. It’s a Chinese heirloom that produces up to four inch wide roots with pink crunchy flesh. Hello salad! We love beets and carrots, so there will of course be many, many plantings of those. Walla Walla sweet onions are a staple with us. We’ve also got some garlic already in the ground. We’ll definitely grow some radicchio, and Russian kale.

Because we live on a busy street, one of the things I’m looking forward to the most this year is just spending time in the garden. It’s located in Happy Valley, and surrounded by fields and pretty woodland. Last summer I would catch the bus with my garden tote and go work in the garden and sometimes just kick back and enjoy the serenity. I even…gasp!…often turned off my phone. It was great to unplug, and I hope to continue this healthful habit in 2014.

Are you planting a vegetable garden this year? Here’s some great tips for garden planning from Red Dirt Rambling, a fantastic garden blog out of Oklahoma.

Two things I would definitely agree on are… 1- Plant vegetables you like. If you’re going to go to all that work, don’t plant something you don’t particularly enjoy. Hate carrots? Don’t plant ’em! Love beets? Plant lots!

2- Don’t forget flowers. My dad always planted flowers in his epic (and when I say epic, I mean epic, his gardens were ridiculously awesome and productive) vegetable gardens.

They add a lot of color and texture and attract beneficial insects…not to mention one lovely side affect….happiness. Who can’t feeling happy looking at this?

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Lastly, I want to say, maybe think about your critters while planning your garden. Do you have dogs, chickens, cats or guinea pigs? You’ll definitely want to make sure to protect your baby vegetables from pecking chickens or exuberant puppies, but there are also ways to share your garden with your furry or feathered friends, which can be a lot of fun.

Our cat loves to chase bugs and watch us garden. Occasionally she sits down on the odd lettuce seedling, but we’ve learned to protect tender plants from her lounging tendencies. And she is so happy in the garden! (See below)

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How about you? Do you share your garden with any critters? What are your plans this year? Are you growing anything you’ve never grown before? What are you most excited for this spring?

 

~This post was inspired by the ‘Grow Write Guild’ prompt #19. Like to write about gardening? Find out more here.~

 

 

 

 

 

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