Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring updates

Spring is a VERY busy time for me.  Although it doesn't FEEL like spring with our cool temperatures this week and it doesn't LOOK like spring with the snow we had flying yesterday and the heavy frost on everything this is really spring!  Normally I would have lots of things going on in the greenhouse by now, but since we moved the greenhouse last November, and we didn't get the plastic on it until this past week, I am WAY FAR BEHIND in my work!!  But it might have been a good thing that I'm behind with the temperatures that we have been having!  All things work out for a reason, huh?
Getting the plastic on the greenhouse.
Thank goodness that our nephew Josh and his friends Marty and Chris Fette were available that day to help us hoist up 2 layers of heavy plastic over the greenhouse frame and help get it clamped down.  We couldn't have done it without them.
Shawn and Josh clamping down some of the plastic.
We also had the family working on it again a couple of days later to get things readjusted and pulled a little tighter and buttoned down a little more securely.  Our daughter Grace was a big help as well as our son Jake who stopped by to help with the project.
The inside of the greenhouse.  Larger than we had it before.
The following week was used to move the racks out and get them put into place.  There are still many things to do.  We have to install the large vents and put in a fan.  And Shawn will also have to dig in a water line and electrical.  But for now, I can run a hose from the hydrant by our back door and am happy to at least start to function in the greenhouse.  I had many plants that were left in our old backyard for the winter.  They endured the snow and ice and cold temperatures and are starting to reawaken for the season.
Chives coming back to life.  They are very hardy.
I had many hostas and daylillies in large pots and they are starting to come back up.  I also had chives, garlic chives, mints, and various other herbs leftover from last season that are starting to pop back up.
A French tarragon comes back to life.
A lovage plant is up and running.
I have lots of clean up tasks to do before I am really ready to go into pot production.  I scrub down all of the racks and I wash up all of the trays and pots left from the previous year.  So I was eager to move in my double washtub to begin the process.  I filled it with water, and then let it warm up in the sun before I stick my hands in there to wash up pots!  The weather hasn't been very agreeable about warming up my water thus far.  But if we have any sun at all, things will get pretty warm in the greenhouse in a hurry.  I have managed to wash up a couple hundred pots in the last couple of days.  I have a few more hundred to go.
My double wash tub.  It has washed a lot of pots and trays!
I have seed trays that I started in the back room of my shop and have them on a heat mat.  I have lots of herbs up and a few are ready to transplant.  I hope to move them out to the greenhouse this weekend and begin potting.  Grace also has many flower seeds started and we hope to dig up some plants around the yard for her plant sale at GardenFest in May.  We can begin this week to dig up some hollyhocks and black-eyed susans.  I also have 2 tubs of iris roots to pot up for the Master Gardeners' plant sale.  Someone donated them to me late last summer and I have been storing them in the basement this winter.  Next week is gonna get really busy!!!
We also have a wildflower project in 4-H this year.  So Grace and I traveled over to the woods last week during spring break to see if anything is up yet.  We didn't stay long because it started to rain.  There were several things up, but unless they are blooming, I have a hard time identifying them.  We hope to make a few more trips to the woods in the next few weeks to see what spring ephemerals we might find.  I'll post pictures when we do.
Grace and Tippy on our brief trip to the woods last week.  Tippy LOVES to look for wildflowers!
I have a full schedule booked for the next couple of months.  I did a garden show in February, one a couple of weeks ago, and now I have a show booked each weekend until the middle of May.  I also have a soap class scheduled for the first Sat. in June in Morgantown.  I hope to line up some classes at the shop in the near future.  Let me know if you are interested.
Next week well talk about transplanting seedlings!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Oh, worm poop!

Here's a new experiment that I'm kind of excited about - vermi-compost.  What's that?  It's using earth worms to compost your kitchen waste (with a few exceptions)into "black gold" for your garden.  We'd done this before, fixed up a tub, started it with wet newspapers and a sprinkling of dirt and a pound of red wigglers.  Then we would dump in our kitchen scraps and let the little wigglers have a picnic.  We did this through the winter, keeping the tub in our back room by the garage door.  We added our leftover lettuce, egg shells, uneaten green beans, potato peelings, and even tea bags each week.  When spring arrived and the weather got warmer, we decided it was easier to just make a trip out to the compost pile to dump our scraps.  So Shawn took the vermi-bin out to the compost and dumped it out.  He said he couldn't believe how many more worms were in that bin!!!!  So the red wigglers happily joined the compost pile and munched their way through it and probably made their way into the garden soil.
We all know how beneficial earth worms are for our soil.  They help aerate it by burrowing through the soil, which also allows water to travel through the soil.  "Earthworms dramatically alter soil structure, water movement, nutrient dynamics, and plant growth. They are not essential to all healthy soil systems, but their presence is usually an indicator of a healthy system. Earthworms perform several beneficial functions."  This quote is from the USDA page on soil biology.  Read more at  if you are interested in how worms are useful in our gardens.
As a composter, worms eat and excrete what their bodies don't need - just like we do.  You add your vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, tea bags, fruit peels, etc.  The worms break it down and and as it passes through them, it is broken down and made into compost.  For those of you that regularly keep compost piles, you know that once it's broken down, you can add this to your garden to add nutrients to your soil.
When we were in Illinois last month for a garden show, we met a couple that had a booth there and they were selling worm castings - yes, worm poop!  They sold it by the bag to spread onto the soil and they also sold it in small bags - tea bags!  Worm poop was sealed into tea bags and you can put the tea bags in water and make a compost tea.  This compost tea can be used to water your plants, just like a liquid fertilizer.  You can also put it into a spray bottle and use it as a foliar feed.
Large and small tea bags of worm castings.
The company's name is Roxy's Worms World and you can find them at  They have a lot of information about worms and using worms to compost and using castings as fertilizer.  You can also order worm poop from them.  But if you're in my neighborhood, stop by to see me.  I made a deal with them and brought home lots of their compost tea bags and now have them for sale in my shop.  I'll also take some with me to garden shows, which start this weekend, by the way.
The actual worm castings from a large tea bag.
The small bags will do a quart and the large bags will do a 5-gallon bucket of liquid fertilizer.  The company claims that the compost tea bags will help your plants grow about twice as large in half of the time as regular fertilizer!  That sounds amazing, doesn't it?  But the USDA supports this claim.  Their page on "Earthworm Tea Good for Plants" states that "Vermicompost....not only dramatically increases plant growth and yield, but also suppresses diseases, parasitic nematodes, and arthropod pests.  Vermicompost maintains high levels of microbial activity, which produces such valuable plant compounds as growth hormones, plant growth regulators, and soluble nutrients."  It also goes on to say that "The vermicompost tea increased plant growth and yields dramatically -- by up to 50 percent."  You can read more at
Small tea bag in a quart of water.
So I'm brewing up a quart of worm poop tea and I'm going to use it to water my new seedlings.  I'm a little late getting things started this year, so hopefully the compost tea will help speed up my plants!!!  We also brought home some worms and now have a bin in the basement where we regularlly feed them our scraps.  We can feed them just about anything that I would normally throw out.  Some items they said you should keep off the worms' menu are citrus skins, onion skins, dairy products, meat and fats.  But can include coffee filters, newsprint, paper towel and toilet rolls, corrugated cardboard, clothes dryer fluff and even vacuum cleaner bags.  They do state that these rather dry items should be soaked before adding to the bin.  So at this point, I don't know if we will build up the worms and start to gather our own poop to put into tea bags, or if we'll just use the poo to add to our own garden.  At the very least, it's given us a new topic of conversation, I'm not using the garbage disposal very much, and we're increasing our worm population that we can add to the garden if we don't choose to continue with the vermicomposting.
If you're interested in more information about worm castings as fertilizer, or if you'd like to buy some worm poop, just stop by to see me!!!  Or if you've had any experience with worms and their poop, please leave me a comment!  I've changed the settings and you no longer have to be registered to leave a comment.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Springtime Excitement!

I'm always encouraged when I see signs of spring.....especially this year after a particularly long and harsh winter.  The robins have been here for awhile now, and I find them to be an early sign of spring.  The red-winged blackbirds have been back for a couple of weeks now, which makes me know that better weather will be here soon.  But the sure-fire signs of spring are what I find coming up in the garden.  And here's what I've found this week:
Flat-leaf parsley
Salad burnet
My flat-leaf parsley and salad burnet actually survived the winter.  I do believe that I could have gotten fresh green leaves off of them all winter, if I could have chiseled away the 3 inches of ice that covered them in mid- February.  Once the ice melted, there they were, looking green and beautiful!  I planted them late in the summer last year when we were in our drought period.  I'm surprised that they survived at all.
Chives poking up.

 The chives pictured were actually planted in a pot on my porch.  Chives are usually early risers, I usually see them popping up in early February.  This year they seemed a little late.  I did not see them pop up until the very end of February when we had a couple of warm, sunshiney days.
St. John's Wort
My St. John's Wort that I planed early last summer looks like it is going strong.  It actually looks as if it was probably green all winter as well.  It's at the southwest corner of the front porch and I would think that it would be subject to a lot of cold wind through the winter.  So I'm quite happy that it is doing so well.  I hope to harvest the blooms this summer and make some St. John's Wort oil.  (I'll post that later this year!)
Little garlic plants coming up.
And I'm happy to report that our patches of garlic that we planted last October (see earlier post) is up and doing well. 
I LOVE this time of year!!!  It's so exciting to watch our 'babies' emerging from their long winter's sleep.  I am eager to get going on lots of things. And another pleasant surprise that greeted me today........a wonderful Eastern Bluebird perching on a branch outside of my window.  I had never seen one in my yard before!  Life is good!

Seeds, part 3

One of the most interesting seed companies I have found is The Thyme Garden Herb Seed Company.  I stumbled upon this company last year while I was searching for herb companies that might supply catalogs for our Herb Society spring symposium.  I 'googled' herb companies and this was one of the websites that came up in my search.  After viewing their company through their website, I sent them an email requesting catalogs for our event.  They were nice enough to send me a boxful of catalogs that I could put out at our event and I was very excited to offer new possibilities to my 'herbie' friends.
It proved to be an exciting connection!  After viewing their catalog, I found many new and exciting herbs to choose from......some I'd never seen seeds for and some I'd never heard of before!!!  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me tell you a little about the company.

The cover of Thyme Garden catalog.
The Thyme Garden Herb Seed Company is off to their 22nd season.  The company was founded by Rolfe and Janet (I couldn't find a last name anywhere, I think Habig).  They have 2 daughters, Emily and Bethany which are now both grown.  Rolfe started as a carpenter from Ohio, then also owned a restaurant, and then began selling seeds, most of which they raise themselves on their farm that is hidden in "the magical coast range mountains of Oregon."
Their place sounds idyllic with many features to see.  Along with their many gardens, they also have a secret reflecting pond hidden in their forest of tall firs and old growth maples, they have a conservatory filled with an aromatic collection of exotic plants, they have a country restaurant which is surrounded by herb gardens, and the 2 streams that run through their farm where you can watch the salmon run.  I hope to plan a trip out there one day. 
Their catalog is chocked full of many, many varieties of herbs as well as some peppers, everlasting flowers , hops, and mushroom plugs.  They also carry some dried medicinal and culinary herbs , some herb and spice blends, and herbal teas.  They are stictly to-the-point when it comes to the catalog.  There are not a lot of showy pictures, but I find lots of information about the plants, how to grow them, and what to use them for and also some history and lore about the plant.

The Basil pages of the catalog.

They sport 33 varieties of basil alone!!!!  I ordered some last year and was very impressed to find varieties of basil like 'Baja' and 'Amethyst'  They have 5 varieties of dill including one called 'Indian' which is somewhat more bitter and grown extensively in Japan and India. I am blown away by the vast variety of herbs that they sell!  They even have seeds for what we view as common weeds -- chickweed, plantain, nettles.  Most of us try to get RID of these plants.  Who would want to actually buy seeds for these plants!  But these plants are actually great plants for eating and healing.  I'm just lucky enough that I have them in abundance and don't need to buy seeds.
Catalog page about hops.
They had an interesting segment in the catalog about hops.  It included history, cultivation, and uses for the plant.  They raise several varieties of hops and sell the rhizomes.  I hope I get around to finding a place to plant hops in my garden so I can order some this year.
A couple of other interesting things in their catalog was a thyme blooming schedule, a chart of plants for a moon garden and some yummy-sounding recipes at the back of the book.  They also have a cookbook and a cooking blog that you can follow.
Salmon cakes recipe.
Creamy Dill Cucumber recipe.
I have found their prices to be very reasonable and their service is great.  Check them out!  They are located at 20546 Alsea Hwy., Alsea, Oregon 97324.
You can reach The Thyme Garden at 541-487-8671 or visit their website at  Also check out their blog at
Next time, I have a couple of other companies that I want to highlight just to make you aware of what's out there, and then we'll start to focus on more springtime activities like preparing the garden and starting seeds.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

More seeds.....

I am so sorry that I have neglected to post in the past couple of weeks.  I've been out of town with a garden show, and have had too many irons in the fire otherwise.  So I'll try to get back on track about seed companies this week because I have so many other topics to cover with spring being near!!!  Hooray!!!!
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is an amazing company.  Jere Gettle started in 1998 with his first heirloom seed catalog and it has now grown to offer 1,300 varieties of vegetables, flowers and herbs.  They operate out of Mansfield, Missouri.  They have the largest collection of heirloom varieties in the United States, with many of those coming from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties.  They focus on preserving our agricultural and culinary heritage.
They host festivals to bring gardeners and homesteaders and natural food enthusiasts together to exchange thoughts, seeds, and much more.  I hope to go to one of their festivals someday.
Jere and his wife Emilee have branched out into other projects and publish The Heirloom Gardener magazine and have also expanded to a location in Sonoma County, California. Their most recent project is undertaking the restoration and preservation of the Wethersfield, Connecticut landmark, Comstock, Ferre & Company - the oldest continuously operating seed company in New England.

Cover of the Baker Creek catalog.

I love this company because of the large variety of vegetables that they offer - many I have never heard of or seen before!  They specialize in finding old and almost lost varieties of vegetables and producing them until they have enough product base to harvest and market the seeds.  They have tomatoes in a huge variety of colors, shapes and sizes - and I'm an absolute nut for weird tomato varieties!

One of the many tomato pages.
They have 19 or 20 pages of tomatoes with large, beautiful pictures of them!  It is sheer joy to leaf through the pages.

What a wonderful picture of some of the varieties of squash that they carry.

A few of their radish varieties.
 And not only do they carry a large and unusual array of heirloom vegetables seeds, but the pictures in their catalog are pure artistry!  The pictures are LARGE, not just tiny little pictures that you have to squint to see.  But large, beautiful, colorful pictures that display those veggies as if you would display jewels in a showroom. 
A large display of melons with Jere and his wife Emilee's lovely daughter Sasha.

Another beautiful display of melons.

Various vegetables displayed on large green leaves.

I have often thought of cutting out the pictures and framing them for my kitchen.  Here are a few more of their lovely pictures out of their catalog this year.

I love the picture with the butterfly on the flower.

I LOVE  the picture of the flower made with tomatoes!
Sasha in a bright bed of blooms.
You can contact Baker Creek seeds at 2278 Baker Creek Road, Mansfield, MO 65704.  Phone number is 417-924-8917 and you can view their catalog online at  Find them as well on facebook and twitter.
Well, we're starting to see more sunshine in our days and the red-winged black birds have come back.  It's certain that spring isn't far away!!  We have lots of work ahead of us to make this year's garden a success.