Monday, September 21, 2009

Confessions of a Composting Newbie Pt. II

What do I do in the winter? Do I continue adding kitchen scraps to the pile, which will eventually freeze into a block of half-decomposed ice-muck? I don't want to throw a season's worth of scraps in the garbage. What's a composter in a cold climate to do?

I'm not sure how to handle the cold weather, but I have learned a few important lessons about composting this year:

1. One pile isn't enough. I need a second so that I can let one pile decompose fully and still have a place to dispose of kitchen scraps and spent plants.

2. Brown matter must be kept on hand at all times. My pile has struggled with a lack of leaves and an overabundance of "green matter." This fall I will save leaves that can be added continuously to the compost pile(s).

3. It takes a while. Even if we had experienced normal temperatures this summer, instead of the cool and rainy perma-spring that masqueraded as summer, the process of composting takes longer than I expected. As a generally impatient person, this is my fault for thinking unrealistically.

4. It saves an incredible amount of garbage. I pride myself on not producing a lot of garbage. Even with our house's diaper waste, we recycle prodigiously and do pretty well at reusing things too. I think it could be a lot worse. But I have been amazed at how composing food waste has cut down on our garbage even more dramatically. Now I feel like I can't go back to making as much trash as before, so what can I do with all my food waste in the winter?

PS--For all of you going to Raleigh this week for GWA, have a great time and a safe trip, and be sure to post on all the sights and sounds!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Back for Bloom Day

It's already the 15th! Can you believe it? Time again for a peek over the fence, so to speak, to see what's blooming in gardens across the country. Here, I came home from a business trip to find the garden in its final act with some pleasantly surprising performances.

The chamomile is flowering reliably...

...and after some desperately needed deadheading, my salvia nemorosa 'Plumosa' is re-blooming a little, albeit not as robustly as earlier this summer.

Just behind the salvia, the Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) has almost completely morphed from flowers to puffy seeds.

It amazes me that, with so many thousands of seeds per flower head, these don't pop up prolifically throughout the garden from reseeding. Although, after experiencing their poor germination and survival rates firsthand last winter, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. But they add a great fuzzy textural interest now that most things are done flowering.

I have to move all the way to the end of the front bed to find more blooms. First, there is the smooth blue asters (Symphyotrichum laevis), which have only put on a sorry display this year.

My one healthy plant made a valiant effort, but these plants should be about two or three feet taller than this, and instead of these weak blooms they should be bursting with buds. Here is the best display I found:

On the bright side, I did get to see these blue flowers in tandem with the yellow coreopsis (C. tripteris), but only for a brief couple days.

In contrast, my 'Velvet Queen' sunflowers are continuing to surprise and delight. They're all blooming and all in different shades!

There's bright yellow, dark burnt orange, and a couple hues in between.

None of them come anywhere close to the advertised color on the seed packet, but I'm not complaining anymore.

They're slowly listing under the weight of their own flower heads, acting like stumbling drunks. But they're providing a great burst of height and color to finish off the season.

In one of the back borders, this toad lily, courtesy of Mr. McGregor's Daughter, is producing delicate purplish blooms that unfortunately look a little washed out here because of the afternoon sun. This plant didn't miss a beat during the transplanting process, and it's full of buds yet to bloom.

Lastly, the plant with the most flowers right now is my bell pepper plant. In a frustrating twist of fate, this plant, which has produced about 4 peppers all summer, is now exploding with would-be peppers, and frost is about a month away.

Even if we get a late frost, there won't be enough time for these fruits to reach maturity. It's a kick in the pants, but it's motivating me to start my peppers earlier next year!

Speaking of a kick in the pants, I discovered that some devious rodent, most likely either a squirrel or chipmunk, dug up about a third of the trout lily (Erythronium dens-canis) bulbs I planted this past weekend. What's aggravating is not just the loss of the flowers next spring but also the fact that those bulbs aren't cheap! Oh well, it's just a reminder that I'm not the one actually in control around here!

For more Bloom Day posts, see Carol at May Dreams Garden, who graciously hosts this meme!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Seedlings of 2009

Now that we are undeniably entering fall, I paused to reflect on the seedlings I grew this year and how they fared since their growing season began, way back in mid-January. First, the herbs...

I grow a number of perennial herbs (that I did not start from seed), including oregano, lemon balm, and chives, and I decided to add Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) to the list of perennials. The seeds sprouted easily and showed vigorous foliage growth all year, but it's the flowers I want for tea, and I'm now finally getting enough blooms to harvest some every couple of days. I'm hoping against hope that we have a milder winter this year than last year because Roman chamomile is only nominally hardy in zone 5.

(Chamomile with lemon balm and Italian oregano nearby. German chamomile [Matricaria recutita] is an annual while Roman chamomile is a perennial.)

Annual herbs are a staple as well; this year it was basil (Ocimum basilicum) and cilantro (Coriandum sativum). The basil took a long time to get going, but these three sturdy little plants are producing more than enough for my purposes. There should be plenty to dry for the winter. Despite the slow start, they're producing more than the anemic plant I purchased last year that was twice as tall as these guys but had little foliar growth, so I will definitely be growing these from seed again!

(Small but robust basil)

The cilantro became a surprise ornamental when it bolted and started to flower uncontrollably. The plants put their energy into flowering and seed production and their foliage basically disappeared, with the result being no cilantro leaves for my cooking.

But I've enjoyed the lacy white umbels all summer, and now I have coriander seed, which is not what I expected to harvest but still is nice nonetheless. (By the way, any recipes using coriander seed are welcome!) Now, onto the perennials...

After doting upon and hovering over my one little Eupatorium seedling, I foolishly planted Baby Joe in the shade of my goldenrod. Of course, this past spring when the goldenrod was barely leafing out, I didn't realize this would be the case but here we are. I am just glad that Baby Joe seems to be surviving whatever bugs are chewing on him (likely those typical thugs, Japanese beetles), and hopefully he'll grow tall enough next year to get out of the goldenrod's shadow.

Here are some thriving Canadian columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) seedlings. They were easily collected last summer from the seed pods; I cold stratified them for about three months, then scarified them gently with sandpaper, then cold/moist stratified them for another month. The germination rate was fabulous! It sounds like a lot of work but really it wasn't. They sat in my fridge most of the time, and it was only a total of about 10 minutes of actual activity to stratify/scarify them. Don't hesitate to try this at home!

(Don't be scared to scarify!)

This is both a perennial and an herb: anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).

I figured it would be foliage-only this year because of its slow growth, but in the last couple weeks it's surprised me with lovely, albeit miniature, purple flower spikes. In a few weeks, when frost is imminent, I'll harvest the leaves and dry them for tea.

I know I said onto the perennials, but we've finished with those so we're back to some annuals at the other side of the garden: 'Velvet Queen' sunflowers.

I feel very conflicted about these. On one hand, I'm delighted they finally started blooming, although only one is currently flowering and the others are about to explode. Also, they've reached robust heights despite the rainy, gloomy summer. On the other hand, the seed packet clearly showed deep coral blooms, and these are a rusty yellow. (I'm bummed I lost the packet because I'd like to show it here for comparison.)

(Not what I expected)

That's gardening for you! The disappointment of a mistaken color is tempered by the success of getting tall vibrant flowers. Plus this color sort of complements the coreopsis and smooth blue asters blooming nearby, so perhaps it's for the best. I'll have to decide that once they all finally show their faces!

And last but of course not least, there's my coleus.

It's still going strong--the foliage, the flowers, all of it! In fact, it's so vigorous that it was shading the spearmint to death. So I took the spearmint out of the pot and I'm trying to nurse it back to health with partial sun, instead of the constant shade from the coleus going buckwild.

And that concludes my seedling review! Overall I'm really pleased with how everything turned out, particularly in the challenging conditions we've faced this year. Seedlings need consistent, full sun to help them grow, and that has been in short supply around here. I used no grow lights when I started these seeds, which makes it all the more amazing that this many seedlings survived! I am looking forward to starting more flowers, herbs, and vegetables next year when winter's doldrums are at their peak, but that's another post for another day! Did you grow seedlings this year? How did it go?

PS--I will be out of town this week and likely will not have another post until Bloom Day. I will try to visit blogs, however, and I will be back gardening and blogging about it as soon as I can!

Friday, September 4, 2009

I meme, therefore I am

It's been years since I played tag, but Carol at May Dreams Garden got me for this meme detailing seven things about oneself. So here it is!

1. I have been a garden writer for about 3 years (although I have been a professional writer for longer and have done/still do other writing besides garden writing). Most of my work has been published in Chicagoland Gardening and Northwest Quarterly, another regional magazine.

2. On a related note, I love Midwestern native plants because I think I identify with them, being Midwestern and all. I have lived elsewhere and I admit my home isn't perfect, but I can't deny who I am or where I'm from, so why deny my garden the plants it evolved to host? They may not be super-showy, highly cultivated, hothouse flowers, but like everything else in this region they're resilient and resourceful, can take a joke, and are beautiful in their own way.

3. I am an unrepentant grammar nerd. The world needs us, trust me.

4. I speak/read/write Italian proficiently (not fluently, I admit).

5. Despite my name, I do not currently grow roses. But I have in the past and I will again in the future; in fact I'm plotting it right now. I truly believe my name heightened my awareness of plants and gardening, so I sort of feel that I owe the classic flowers of my namesake something. I realize they're not Midwestern natives, but as you can see in my profile I do NOT discriminate against non-natives.

6. I have an obsession with the state of Vermont. I spent three weeks there when I was 11 and it was like a dreamworld of lush greenery. It was a very formative experience between me and the natural world. I have been back since, and if I ever run away and become a hermit, it will likely be there. As I mentioned above, my home isn't perfect, but I'm pretty sure Vermont is.

7. When I like things I adore them and have difficulties choosing favorites. So I rarely have one "favorite" type of thing but most likely 3 or 4. Examples include books, songs, and, of course, plants. But I won't reveal all my favorites of all sorts of things here--that can be another post!

As a good sport I'm now tagging Mr. McGregor's Daughter, Cindy at My Corner of Katy, Diane at the Garden of Live Flowers, Diana at Sharing Nature's Garden, and Frances at Fairegarden. OK, that's not the specified 7, but it's Friday afternoon; it's the best I can do. If any of you would like to play along, just post 7 things about yourself and tag (up to) 7 others if you like! Have a wonderful weekend!

(Gratuitous shot of great blue lobelia [L. siphilitica]. I can't get enough of this plant. Its color is gorgeous, its habit spiky yet elegant, and it survives flooding from the gutter overhead like a champ.)

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