Potato Tower

The end of an odd winter..Spring is here.
The morning air is crisp, the sun is warm, and baby plants are stirring. And with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees or so, it’s time to put out the potatoes here in Tennessee.
You may be familiar with our last potato tower experience, or maybe not.  It was nothing to write home about.  For one thing, I used grocery store potatoes. That’s a big No-No but I had to find out for myself.  Grocery store potatoes are treated with anti-sprouting agents and as you can guess, i ended up with a big pile of – Nothing.
This year, I am using certified seed potatoes and my towers is made with a combination of compost and straw.

Here’s whPotato Towerat you’ll need:
~ cardboard
~ a cage. I used a stretch of fencing joined in the round
~ straw
~ a bucket-full of compost
~ seed potatoes

potato tower step 1

Start by setting up the cage on top on the cardboard,  this will go a long way in keeping the weeds out of the potato tower. Next, add a thick layer of straw to the bottom of the cage, top the straw with your 2/3 of your compost.
Potato Tower step 3
Push the seed potatoes into the compost and cover with Potato Tower step 4the remaining compost.  Top with another layer of straw.
Once the potatoes sprout out, keep adding straw to the tower, keeping about 4 inches of greenery exposed at all times.  Stop adding when the plants set blooms.

So far it’s looking good, don’t you agree?

The Sides of March

Welcome spring! I hope you are here to stay.

As the temperatures are rising and the sun is smiling on the plants, it’s time to take stock and see which plants have survived this arctic winter. I think the part that was toughest on our plants were the really low temperatures in absence of snow (insulation) cover.  The hellebore in pots, for example, had a distinct dislike for that environment and are still sulking.  The potted heuchera, on the other hand, have started to leaf out.  It’s time to repot and trim, ruthlessly.
If your heuchera are in the ground, be sure to give them a good look over If they have heaved or have grown stalky, either replant them deeper or mulch well around their base.

Remove the ratty foliage and give your heuchera some breathing room – they will reward your efforts in no time with lots of nice, fresh, lush foliage.


Top row of potted Heuchera plants has been ‘de-rattified’.


It’s Just Chives Talking

First, I must make an admission: I don’t have cats. I have birds and dogs and fish, so adding a cat to the mix would be…chaotic. Or, perhaps I should say, even more chaotic. Even though I don’t have cats myself, several friends do so I know about the difficulties cat owners face when trying to start seeds indoors.

cat smelling a pot of seedlings

Sparky checking out the seedlings

There are several ways to deter your cat from digging around in your seed trays, or eating your plants after they sprout. One of the most obvious is to enclose your seed trays or planting medium. There are miniature greenhouse-type seed trays available for purchase — the kind with a domed lid that snaps on and off. You can also recycle things like plastic cake trays and other disposable food containers that come with a clear plastic lid.

The problem with the domed lid approach is that, eventually, your seedlings will need to be uncovered — at just the time the tiny plants will look like a most tender salad to your cat! What do you do then?

Many people use old aquariums. You can put the aquarium in a sunny spot and put a screen over the top. Your plants will get the light they need, air circulation, and the screen is easy to remove when you need to add water.

Reading various forum threads, I came across one creative cat owner who uses a baker’s rack and a mattress bag to start her seeds. When a mattress is delivered, it comes wrapped in a big, clear, plastic bag. Put the seeds on trays on the baker’s rack in front of a window, put the mattress bag over the whole rack, then use binder clips to pull the bag taut and secure it.  A small fan can be rotated from shelf to shelf and turned on for a couple of hours each day to provide necessary air circulation.

Other creative enclosure methods include using cages — such rabbit or small bird cages, building shelves, using chicken wire, or putting your seed trays in a room with a door and closing the kitties out (although this could well lead to pitiful meowing for a few days).

If an enclosure simply will not work in your situation, you might try deterring your feline with scent. Citrus peelings are supposed to be off-putting for cats, though you will need to change them often so the smell will always be strong. There is also a commercially available spray called Ssscat Spray.

Another tactic is to make the seed starting set-up unattractive to cats. For instance, cats don’t like to walk on anything that feels unstable, so putting marbles, rocks, or seashells in areas where the cat would have to walk may convince them to back off. Usually, this is a good way to keep cats out of larger, well-established houseplants.

The retail product Scat Mat serves the same basic purpose, emitting a harmless, low-power pulse when touched. Some people use bamboo skewers or toothpicks to create a barrier. Simply push a toothpick in next to each seed so that it sticks up out of the soil like a spike. Cats don’t like to walk on spikes!

One word of caution: some people suggest using pepper or pepper spray to keep cats away. However, if the pepper gets on a paw, then the cat licks the paw and rubs its eye…well, you can imagine how pepper in your eye would feel. Stick with a squirt of air or water, please 🙂


Growing Grapes: A Beginners Perspective

Guest column written by Dava Stewart

For several years, I looked at grape vines in seed catalogs. I read about raising them, and

seedless red grapes

Seedless grapes, variety Mars

felt my skills might not be up to the task. Then, four years ago, my dad brought me a plastic bag with a bare vine in it. I have no idea how long it was in the bag before he brought it, but it took me a few days to get around to planting it. My hopes were not high.

But, that spring, it turned green and started growing like crazy. I had a gate from an old chain link fence and stuck it in the garden for the grape vine to climb. That first year, it covered the gate, and seemed happy and healthy.

The next spring came along, and the grape vine continued to thrive. After a little more reading, I did some careful pruning. I went out and checked every couple of weeks to see if there were any flowers or evidence of impending grapes.There never was. I read some more. My dad expressed the opinion that the galvanized fencing on the old gate was bad, and that’s why there were no grapes. Belle has since explained to me that grape vines have to be 2-3 years old before they begin producing.

Third year: I took the vine off the gate and planned to move it to a different location (it was a year of moving the entire garden). The key word in that last sentence is “planned.” The move never happened. As summer ended, I found three fat, sweet grapes on the vine! It was sprawling everywhere, tangled with grass and weeds, and in a completely messy area of old garden. There may have been more than three grapes, and I just couldn’t find them for all the mess.

This spring the story of my grape vine will continue. Maybe moving it (finally!) won’t mean three more grape-less years. But if that’s the case, so be it. Watching for grapes is almost as much fun as eating them!


Is a Bigger Iris a Better Iris?

Size and  of iris rhizomes and length/quantity roots has nothing to do with ability of the plant to bloom, it’s more a function of different varieties and time of year and overall growing conditions. East coast and mountain grown rhizomes are generally smaller overall then west coast rhizomes. Oh Lord. look at my dirty nails. I seem to sport gardeners manicure near every day that I am out in the garden!!!   I hate wearing gloves.

Iris rhizomeThis picture shows a rhizome of blooming size in early spring.  Note, it’s only about the size of my thumb (I have smallish hands). How do you know it’s blooming size?  There’s 2 ways to tell.  One is to count the fan leaves, include leaf scars when counting. Most varieties will need 7-13 leaves for bloom.  The other indicator of maturity is the presence of baby shoots or nubs near the top.
So to answer the question “Is bigger better” I have to offer a strong “no”.

Do-it-Yourself Felted Flowers

I love flowers, in the garden and as decorations on some my knitted projects.  I always get lots of looks, comments, and questions when I wear my flower cowl. I admit, it’s rather unusualFlower Cowl with randomly felted flowers sprouting between the stitches.
So here’s how they are done.  You’ll need:
1. large size crochet hook
2. 100% wool yarn (not superwash) in colors you like
3. a bowl, hot water and a little soap
4. another bowl with ice cubes

Crochet loose circles. Use one color yarn for the flower center, another for the petals. Mix and match stitches as you like when you go around in circles to create a flat flower, about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter.  Take some loose threads and weave them through the flowers.  You will end up with something looking similar like this:

Now comes the fun part!  Put a squirt of dish detergent into the first bowl and add hot water from the tap.  Immerse the flowers and stir them around.  OMG – they are expanding.  Don’t worry.   Get your second bowl ready with ice cubes and a little cold water.  Pick up a flower and roll it in your palm, hard, into a little ball, toss it back into the hot water.  Repeat with all your flowers until they have shrunk and felted to the size you like.  Toss into the ice water and swirl around.  They are a bit big still? Repeat the hot water, rolling in your hands, followed by a dip in the ice water treatment.  Don’t worry, you won’t hurt them.  Roll them hard!  Once you’re happy with the flowers, set them out to dry.

Felted Flowers

Attaching the felted flower

You may like to sew them on as a finish, however, I like to knit
them in as I go.  I use a crochet hook to pull a loop of the working yarn through the back and then knit that loop loosely together with the next stitch on my needle.

Dreaming of Spring

Guest column written by Dava Stewart
In Chattanooga, around the end of February and beginning of March, we usually start having random days of perfect weather. The definition of perfect, in this case, is a temperature  between 68 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit, a sky that is a shade of blue that ice and waterfallmakes you want to sing, gentle breezes that tickle instead of cut…

On such days, I want to clean up my flower beds, rake all the leaves away, and start moving and planting. But it’s a bad idea. Our average last frost day is April 15, which means there are going to be several frosts and often even a hard freeze or two between the last week of February and when it’s really safe to plant any tender perennials or annuals.

During March, we also see daffodils budding (and sometimes even blooming!), azaleas and cherry trees bursting with color, and a whole host of perennials coming up. Right now, I have some daylilies, iris, and succulents coming up. None of them will bloom until at least late May, but they are already growing.

Some years, the frosts through March are mild enough that the early flowers are unaffected. Other years, they get absolutely zapped. It’s sad to see a whole patch of daffodils with blooms drooping to the ground, as if they’ve been beaten down, or an azalea with brown edges on all the blooms. But then again, that is what life does to all of us, right? We live through the hard times and bear the scars.

Anyway, there is no other time of year that affects my gardener’s heart quite the same way early spring does. I’m full of hope, trepidation, optimism, fear, and excitement.