Thin Bearded Iris Easily in 3 Steps

How to thin an iris clumpYou know it’s time to divide and thin your iris when the clumps are crowded and the blooms are declining in numbers. There are many opinions on the best time of year for tackling this task and this mostly depends on where you live.  As long as there are a good 4 weeks before the first freeze and you are able to provide adequate moisture, the iris will thank you with prolific blooms next spring.  So go ahead and get started.

1. Lift the iris out of the ground.  I prefer to use a garden fork, lift the whole clump, shake of the soil, and transfer the clumps to a wheelbarrow, one variety at a time.

2. Sort and trim. Toss all ‘mothers’ and tiny rhizomes. Keep only healthy looking plants and cut back  foliage and roots.

3. Replant.  If desired or needed, amend the soil for good drainage, then plant and water the iris in well. I recommend planting with the rhizome set into the ground and covered. If you live in a hot and wet climate, you may want to plant them a bit more shallow for better drainage.

Chestnuts – Fresh from the Garden

Fresh Chestnuts
The chestnuts are looking great this year!  They feel solid and I have been picking them them this morning.  Picking chestnuts is a prickly affair, one best wears heavy shoes and gloves. If you are fortunate to have a chestnut tree in your garden, it’s well worth the effort!

chestnuts

 

Once harvested, the nuts are  washed and then soaked in hot water (120-125F) for 30 minutes. Any nuts that float to the top are considered ‘not good’ and are discarded. They are then cooled, dried and stored at 35-40F in cloth bags. They will keep for weeks until ready to roast.




How to roast
chestnuts
chestnunts on baking sheetslitting chestnut
1. preheat the oven to 425F  
2. cut a Y slit into each nut

3. line cookie sheet with foil and spread out the nuts in a single layer
4. fold up the foil, leaving opening on the sides, then add 1/2 cup waterPeeled Chestnuts
5. roast for ~20 minutes
6. take out of oven, peel and enjoy

Roasted nuts can be shelled and frozen for later use.  Shelling is much easier when the nuts are hot. I leave the pan in the oven and get 2-3 nuts out at a time, then pack them in ziplock bags and put in the freezer.

Bite Back at Henbit

Come visit and take a look in our gardens, you’d surely soon guess my favorite color in plants. From light lavender to a deep, nearly black – purple – it’s present in every bed and during every season.

But not every purple flowering plant is a keeper. Henbit – OH NO! I have no idea where it came from but it’s everywhere in our garden. Lamium amplexicaule officially is a member of the mint family, flowers during cool weather and is present throughout the US.

Henbit plant

Henbit – GO AWAY!

Mulching

My favorite method, so I’ll mention it first. Spread newspapers, flattened cardboard boxes and junk mail around the plants and cover with a thick layer of compost or mulch. Instantly, the beds look great and cared for and weeds stay suppressed all season. You may be tempted to go for weed fabric or plastic – resist and use biodegradable paper. It’s better for the environment and there will be no need to wrestle with bits and pieces of material a year or two down the road.
Don’t give weeds a chance to get started!

Hand Weeding

What other activity can you think of that is so destructive and rewarding at the same time?
While not having to hand weed would be the best option at all, no amount of mulching and using groundcovers will eliminate weeds completely. Henbit seems to only need a single ray of sunshine and a speck of dirt to grow into a fine specimen plant!
Try to disturb the ground as little as possible and avoid disbursing weed seeds (don’t shake off the plant) before tossing it. Use a hand weeder or a pair of clippers to cut off at the base. repeat as needed and sooner or later, the roots will be exhausted and incapable of sending up new growth.

Mixing It Up

One of the things I love about Belle’s garden is the way that she has mixed edibles with ornamentals, and perennials with annuals. You will find fruit trees and brugmansia, tomatoes and jade plants, and many other examples of food-producing plants alongside ornamentals in Belle’s beautiful garden.

In my own garden, I try to emulate Belle’s permaculture-esque approach. One trellis supports sweet autumn clematis, another provides a structure for a grape vine. Each spring, I sprinkle zinnia seeds betwixt and between the perennials in my garden. Rosemary and sage grow next to coneflowers and rose bushes. I even have a small patch of asparagus, which offers beauty (those fern-like fronds are gorgeous), delicious salad additions, and the sturdiness of a perennial.

There are so many reasons to garden, and we each have our own set of wishes and desires when we bring together soil, seeds, roots, water, and sunshine. My grandparents had a bit of an on-going battle regarding gardening for food or for pleasure. My grandmother loved flowers and throughout my life she planted all sorts of things. My grandfather, though, somehow thought growing flowers was wasteful. He preferred to see any gardening efforts go toward growing vegetables.

Asparagus, Penstemon, and Lilies growing in a tangle.

Asparagus, Penstemon, and Lilies growing in a tangle.

Happily, there is a middle ground, and Belle demonstrates it wonderfully. Pathways that twist and turn amongst the flowers, fruit trees, berry bushes, and vegetables offer surprises no matter which way you look. My favorite time to visit Belle is during her spring driveway sale. At that time, there is an area behind her house that is filled with purple iris and columbine. It is breathtaking — even though she doesn’t have any edibles mixed in that particular area!

Winter look of Belle's mixed garden with columbine and iris

Winter look of Belle’s mixed garden with columbine and iris

 

 

 

Snow, Ice, and Strawberry Dreaming

Some people love winter. They say things like, “Snow! Sweaters! Hot chocolate!” and smile. I’m not one of those people. I don’t own the proper clothing — it seems crazy to buy expensive boots that I might need for one week out of an entire year. No. I’m a thin-blooded southerner who handles heat far better than cold!

For me, the absolute worst part of winter is February. The majority of this week in Chattanooga the temperature is unlikely to rise above freezing. At my house there is a thin blanket of snow on the ground. The few, sad flower stalks leftover from last year in my garden are coated in ice. The little pond is frozen over.

icy garden

What is a gardener to do?

Plan, of course. And dream. I’m using part of this week to draw a map of the berry patch my family will build this summer. We have blueberry bushes, wild raspberries and blackberries to tame, and we are ordering strawberry plants. We will have a much larger garden this year than usual so there is quite a lot of planning to do. This forced “thinking time” is probably a good idea!

Eventually, we hope to be able to offer a “U-Pick” berry option, so we are trying to think about the future as well as the upcoming season. With all of that in mind, I’m going to plant the strawberries in gutters. I will set three foot tall posts every ten feet or so, drill holes in the gutters for drainage, and attach them to the posts.

Then, I will fill the gutters with soil and strawberry plants. The benefits of this system are that weed control will be much easier, no bending to pick berries will be required, and it will be easy to snip the runners.

There are drawbacks, as well. Watering will be an absolute requirement. There are several irrigation systems that could work, and I will be investigating them this summer. One intriguing design I’ve looked at included a second set of gutters running beneath the one with the plants in it. The bottom gutter would be filled with water with some sort of mechanism that would allow the roots to wick up water.

Strawberries themselves are a promise of spring. Already, we are getting some pretty good Californian strawberries in the grocery stores. That alone is enough to give me hope that the ice, snow, and freezing temperatures will soon be gone!

Here are some places you can learn more about growing strawberries in gutters, if you are interested:

http://www.hometalk.com/3481953/planting-strawberries-in-old-gutters

http://www.harryhelmet.com/strawberry-gutters-forever/

http://www.organicauthority.com/organic-gardening/grow-a-gutter-garden.html

 

Growing Daylilies from Seeds

Are the pods ripe? If it’s been about 7-8 weeks since fertilization and the pods are beginning to turn brown or open up at the tips, the seeds are ready to be harvested.

Collect the seeds and soak them in warm water overnight. The next day, put them in a zip-lock type bag and place the bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.  Daylily seeds require a minimum of 4 weeks cold stratification before they will sprout.  Important: Label your bag prominently so your harvest won’t accidentally end up on your dinner plate.

daylily seeds

daylily seeds

When you are ready to plant the seeds, remove the bag from cold storage.  Check first.  Have the seeds already started to sprout?  If yes, you can go ahead and plant them.  if no, add some water to the bag and leave out in a dark and warm location. For the next week, check daily to see if seeds are starting to germinate.  If there are no white feet popping out, put the bag back into the crisper for a week as the cold period needs to be extended a bit more.

It’s time to plant, what to do?
Plop seeds into pots filled with potting mix and place in a warm and sunny location.  How deep to plant?  Some sources recommend covering with about an inch of potting mix, others suggest they will do fine gently pushed on top of the mix as long as they are kept moist.  I either bury them or cover the pot loosely with piece of plastic kitchen wrap because I tend to forget to mist them as frequently as they like.
Watch for green leaves and once the plants are about 5-6 inches tall they can be planted out in your garden. Soon, you’ll have completely new daylily varieties – that may or may not look anything like their parents – growing in your garden.

Saving the Heat

Have you enjoyed a plentiful pepper harvest this year? Are you wondering what in the world to do with all your peppers? Recently a Green Thumbs Galore customer mentioned that he and his wife uses ice cube trays to freeze peppers. Over the winter they use more cubes for hotter dishes. We thought it was a brilliant idea!

One lesson that I learned the hard way is that it is best to wear gloves when you’re working with peppers. Some people say that rubbing lime juice on your hands will protect them, but Belle has had no luck with this method and I’m not willing to take any chances. It’s also a very good idea to not touch your face. I was making salsa with fresh, hot peppers one time and ate a tomato. I inadvertently touched my lip and it burned for hours!

If you’d like to try the freezer method, chop your peppers finely, put them in the trays, then top the trays off with water. After they are frozen solid, remove the cubes and put them in freezer bags. You can then just add the cubes to soups, chilis, casseroles, or whatever you want throughout the winter.

Peppers can also be frozen whole or sliced in half. Wash them and make sure they are completely dry. If you are slicing them, you can either remove the seeds or not — the best thing to do is whatever you would do if you were using the peppers fresh. You’ll want to freeze them individually before putting them in a bag in order to prevent them sticking together in the bag. Spread them out on a cookie sheet and stick them in the freezer for a couple of hours, then put them in freezer bags, date them, and pop them back in the freezer.

Another way to make your pepper harvest last all year is to make pepper sauce. Pepper sauce is so simple and so versatile you’ll wonder why you haven’t made it every year. All you need is a glass bottle with a cork or a cap, vinegar, peppers, and whatever spices you like. We usually use garlic cloves and black peppercorns. Heat the vinegar but not to boiling. Stuff your peppers, crushed garlic, and about a teaspoon or so of black peppercorns in your jar. Fill the jar with hot vinegar. The mixture doesn’t have to be refrigerated, and if the vinegar runs low, just add more. Pepper sauce is excellent with greens, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, and cornbread.

If you prefer hot sauce, the ingredients are nearly the same. The difference is, you cook the mixture until the peppers are soft, then you puree it and pour it into your jars or bottles. Add ingredients or spices as you like. The beauty of working with peppers is that they are so flexible. You can make your sauce hotter — pureeing the peppers makes the hot sauce HOT — or not, you can add onion, or salt, or even a little sugar. It’s nearly impossible to ruin hot sauce or pepper sauce.

What is your favorite way to preserve your pepper harvest? Jalapenos

Jalapenos

 

 

Late Summer in the Garden: Sadness with a Tinge of Relief

With a mixture of regret and anticipation, we sat on the porch watching the leaves of the poplar trees blowing across the field, and noticing the poison ivy vines were bright red. Late summer has arrived in Tennessee, and for those of us who have spent the summer in

The black walnut trees lose their leaves early. These are already yellowing.

The black walnut trees lose their leaves early. These are already yellowing.

the garden fall brings about the prospect of less work, but also fewer dinners featuring amazing fresh vegetables. Of course, the heat will continue through September and there will be plenty of fall chores to do before we are plunged into the dreary months of winter.

The green bean vines that have been so productive all summer are beginning to yellow, as is the second planting of crookneck squash; the spaghetti squash has done all it can and the onions have been pulled. We have jars of green beans, tomatoes, and kohlrabi chow chow put away and we are waiting for the corn to ripen so it can be stored as well. This is the time of year when we begin to make end-of-summer relishes, soup mixes, chow chow, salsa, and try to use up the last

The coneflowers have gone to seed -- which makes the birds happy!

The coneflowers have gone to seed — which makes the birds happy!

bits of produce however we can.

At this time of the year, the garden begins to look tired, but there’s beauty in the drooping vines and yellowing leaves.  Right now in our garden the corn is tall and flowering and the bees are almost symphonic. The contrast between the plants that are almost finished and those that are coming into their fullness is nice.

There are just a few times of year when you can feel the seasons changing. Late summer is filled with a strange mixture of emotions. There’s pride, and often enough regret for the garden projects that didn’t go well. There’s some relief, mixed with sadness, in knowing that the heat and light of summer will soon be passed.

Do you find yourself longing for cooler temperatures by the end of summer, or do you wish it could go on forever?

Perfection Is For Supermodels & Magazines

Looking at perfect garden photos in magazines or online can have the same effect on my self esteem as looking at photos of models. They both bring unfavorable comparisons to mind. Even looking at my neighbors’ gardens can send me into a gardening depression. Nevermind the fact that photoshop and/or professionals were involved in creating the  gardens in the photos (and the supermodel photos), or that my neighbors are mostly retired and have more time to spend gardening than I do. None of that matters when I am afflicted with garden envy.

Green Thumbs Galore, and especially Renaissance Corner, give us a place to be unvarnished. In that spirit, I’m going to show you images that wouldn’t ordinarily make the cut. The images that are just a little embarrassing. The ones where you can tell how much fun outside the garden this summer has been.

Deep breath. Here goes:

weedy garden 1

 

weedy garden2

weedy garden3

Whew. That wasn’t so bad.

There are bright spots of lovely blooms in each of those photos, and just like I choose to focus on my sparkling eyes rather than my wrinkles surrounding them when I look in the mirror, I choose to see the flowers, not the weeds.

Your garden, in all probability, is not ready to be photographed for a magazine spread. And that’s okay, because, really, how often are average gardens the subject of magazine articles? The most important thing about your garden is that it brings you joy. No matter how badly the morning glory is choking the hosta, or how ugly the coneflower seed heads may be, the gold finches are happy, the cardinals keep visiting, and I smile every time I step outside.

Sharing your own uncut, unvarnished photos can be quite liberating. Please feel free to post yours in the comments, or share a link to your own blog, or share them on our Facebook page. It will make us all feel better!

 

Planning a Winter Vegetable Garden

There’s nothing quite like putting those first few seeds in the ground in the spring time. But, there is something to be said for sowing in late summer, too. I look at our giant garden right now — and even though there is a blister on my thumb from snapping beans — feel sad that there will be months when I won’t be able to walk out and get a tomato or a squash for dinner. This year, we are going to have a fall/winter garden so the fresh food can go on!

The most important part of planning a winter garden is counting days. For plants like beets, which do well when it’s chilly but can’t take frost, you look at the days to maturity and the average first frost date for your area. For example, I want to grow some Chioggia Beets this fall. It takes 52 days for them to reach maturity. The average first frost date for Chattanooga is October 15. Today is August 18, so I better get the seed in the ground…immediately!

Other plants, such as spinach and kale are frost tolerant, so the counting of days is less important. We will mix together turnip green, mustard, spinach, and kale seed and broadcast them for a mixed greens patch that will provide beans right up through December or so. That’s the plan, anyway.

Lettuce matures quickly and doesn't mind cool temps, making it an excellent fall garden option.

Lettuce matures quickly and doesn’t mind cool temps, making it an excellent fall garden option.

There are plenty of vegetables for a fall/winter garden: onions, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, greens, and many root crops. It’s not exactly the same as a bounty of tomatoes and corn, but even a little bit of time in the garden and fresh produce on the table does a body good! Do you regularly grow fall and winter vegetables?