When I have an unexpected break in the flow of my weird days, it doesn’t take much to get me to think about gardening. Or future projects. Or chores undone as the weather threatens this or that. Or to check out the plethora of garden bloggers and You Tubers that I follow, looking for those golden nuggets of wisdom. Then I match it all against my training as a Master Gardener and all of this leads to a very long To Do List, perhaps with a wacky experiment here and there. While my heart will always belong to the landscaping of flowers, bushes, and trees, my latest focus has become a quest to GROW MORE FOOD!
Growing More Food in the Secret Garden
This simple space that was once created as a dog pen has graciously become our Secret Garden. Indeed it holds many “tricks and treats” that have come into the light over the 2022 growing season here in USDA Growing Zone 5b/6a. Here’s a list for inquiring minds that want to know with more details to follow if you comment or send me a message below.
Companion planting helps!
Tepee trellising maximizes space.
Grow bags work!
Cover crops improved soil fertility of this in-ground bed along the house.
Sunset runner beans are pretty in bloom and can be eaten fresh or dried for later. (Pictured here drying on a tepee in the far right back corner and draping the gate. Two tepee trellises.)
Tulle fabric works well as an insect cloth.
Saddle grow bags from Smart Pots beautify the fence.
Composting rocks! (Middle left with makeshift pallet gate)
Having a holding area (left foreground) is valuable for transitioning/nursing plants.
A cold frame is a game-changer for extending the growing season, starting seeds in the spring.
Placing the cold frame along the southern wall of the house added even more warmth when needed.
A Univent affixed to the lid of the cold frame regulated internal temps really well.
Make growing spaces beautiful simply by adding mulch and annuals to enhance enjoyment, utility, and even increase pollinators.
Adding native plants nearby significantly increases pollination and production of edibles.
Use all vertical elements for growing more food! (There are cucumbers outside the fencing in the distance.)
Rings of “chicken wire” at ground level (cucumbers and others) are my go-to for protecting exposed plants from rascally rabbits. A multitude of sprays, hair, cayene pepper, etc. just haven’t worked for long enough even when methods are rotated.
Aromatic herbs help deter pests as well. (Rosemary grew between the large French marigolds and calendula.)
Overall I can say that re-purposing both garden spaces and supplies fun! Did you catch the pool noodle that elevates the drape of the green tulle fabric? Now let’s add the next chapter in the Secret Garden this fall where the in-ground bed transitioned for the colder weather.
The open ground is now covered in over a foot of leaves and will soon house sections from our GreenStalk vertical garden. (Sections are disassembled and the leaves will provide insulation to overwinter Seascape strawberries.) The cold frame along the wall has a “blanket” of bubble wrap affixed with black office clips to the poly carbonate panel in the lid to add additional insulation without blocking all of the light. I can easily access the grow bags by removing the plastic clamps purchased from a hardware store. I find that it’s important to check the soil every day or so for watering needs, uncovering the front side of the grow bags on warmer days as the soil can heat up quickly! It’s not unusual for temps to reach 80 degrees under cover when outdoor temps are in the 60s.
The plants include:
Strawberries and perennial herbs of oregano and pineapple sage overwintering in their grow bags.
Newly planted leafy greens of Red Russian kale, pad choi, spinach, arugula and romaine lettuce sprouting from seed also in their grow bags.
Carrots, radishes, and Mizuna mustard growing inside the cold frame.
Flowering calendula and French marigolds that will remain until they succumb to the cold.
I’m not sure how many of these will reach maturity but chances are good that most of them will make it through much of the winter here. If a crop looks like it is struggling then I will harvest them as microgreens! Last year I grew leafy greens in what I deemed a “Bubble Garden” made from halves of 5-gallon water jugs. (You can see the Daikon Radish cover crop next to it in the photo below.) While most plants inside the Bubbles didn’t put on huge growth over the winter and some became somewhat bitter, virtually all of them were still alive in the spring. That is, if they were not already eaten!
The Secret Garden has come quite a ways since the days of the BG . . . Could there be a green house in my future? That would fulfill the namesake of Hope Beyond, for sure. Tee hee. :JJ
When gardening and the activities of an Extension Master Gardener ends up creating more stress than joy, we have a problem. Such has been my experience of late. Then increased health issues created a bit of a medical crisis. What to do now? After 9 years of battling a serious, chronic illness there just didn’t seem to be anything left to try. Then the Lord spoke into my heart and I’ve embarked on some important changes in my life. Tonight I am encouraged! Here’s what I decided to do.
Let go of a volunteer role as Editor of a monthly gardening newsletter. Within 2 days of the decision, a flare up of shingles on my face started coming down. Sure, I took some medications but I could only tolerate a couple of doses until it triggered convulsive episodes. I took a break, knowing that a new treatment protocol was on the horizon. The reduction in the stress that I experienced was quite a surprise. As an Extension Master Gardener, I loved volunteering in this way for the past 3 1/2 years and went through a grieving process letting it go. Gratefully I even got to write several articles along the way, two of which you can view here and here.
Daily home ozone therapy. Here’s a simple description of what this entails. After much preparation and study along with professional IV ozone therapies 2 years ago, I drank my first dose of ozonated water this evening. So far, so good (although it tastes really strange!).
Begin the process of finding an online Bible study or women’s fellowship within the Calvary Chapel churches. Sadly my own congregation was unable to help me unless perhaps I started a new ministry. Me and two Christian women bloggers did just that for 2 1/2 years awhile back but this time I’m just not up to getting something going! Gratefully I have found some possibilities.
Focus on our home gardening activities where possible for the foreseeable future. There’s plenty to do here, especially if we add a second tall raised bed yet this growing season. Lord willing, it will happen and some juicy tomatoes will follow!
Sleep more even if it means napping at odd times during the day or cancelling appointments.
Continue in our diet the recent additions of sprouted seeds and microgreens. These have provided a concentrated source of nutrition that has actually improved some of my lab markers. This is so awesome for a gal who hasn’t made much progress in years.
Do more blogging, more journaling, more Bible study, more connecting with Christian gal friends.
Take more walks as I am able, especially with my beloved Steve.
Lord willing there will be fruit from this new direction. It’s been a long, difficult, and complicated journey that isn’t over yet. I might as well keep trying eh? JJ
11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Recently I had the opportunity to teach a class on the basics of gardening. It was fun and worth all of the planning and gardening projects needed to get ready to host this and two additional classes at our home. What a whirlwind! So now it’s time to share the basic information to help others grow more food, ornamentals, trees, and bushes. We live in zone 5b/6a where the soil is more clay and alkaline so some tips may need adjustment to your growing zone, soil conditions. In the USA, I direct you to your local extension office for more information; find the best information when you search online by using “.ext” and “.edu” after your search words. In Allen County of Indiana, contact the Master Garden Hotline at Purdue Extension at 260-481-6826, extension 2. Happy growing! JJ
Gardening from the Ground Up: Tips and Tricks
Julie xxxxx, Extension Master Gardener
The Gardening from the Ground Up class is for the person newer to gardening or who ends up with more brown than green by the end of the season!
Generally use the largest containers (with drain holes) or grow bags you can afford
Hand trowel and hand rake; optional: hoe for weeding, pitch fork and rake for mulching large areas
Cart or 2-wheeled wheelbarrow to transport supplies for larger gardens
What are your favorites?
Call 811 to have your utility lines marked before you dig and as you are planning your garden areas.
Planters: Rocks, empty plastic bottles with caps on, or pot shards in bottom for drainage. Pre-moisten potting soil mix (with vermiculite or soil moisture crystals). No garden soil or compost as it will make the soil too compacted, hard for roots to grow!
Raised beds: Black topsoil and peat mixture (can be mixed with vermiculite or coconut coir in place of peat). Mix top layer with balanced fertilizer and top with compost if desired. Need drainage so no regular garden soil. Search “soil calculator” online for how much to use. Delivery of cubic yards of your soil mix is generally more cost-effective than bagged products.
Plots: Consider testing your soil before beginning or buying anything. We largely have very alkaline soil here that needs much help (compost, sulfur, aluminum sulfate, peat, and gypsum all help lower ph) before planting in the ground! 2 cups of soil tested at Ag Plus or Purdue Extension, $25/20. Suggest 3-in-1 or similar soil mix that contains compost. Kill or remove all grass & weeds before planting. Use only composted never fresh manure; no dog or cat waste. Raw kitchen scraps can leach nitrogen from soil when planted in garden beds before composted.
Consider starting a compost pile of your own: 2/3 brown material (leaves, sticks, shredded brown paper bags) and 1/3 chopped raw veggie, fruit, eggshell scraps without seeds. Turn at least weekly, crumbly not wet, and protect from critters with fencing. No fireplace ash or lime if soil is alkaline. Ideal is 6-7 for most vegetables, flowers, fruit (except blue and blackberries), bushes, and trees. Always check first!
Balanced slow-release fertilizer for initial plantings. Optional: Biotone for new plantings. Balanced/lower first number for edibles and flowers in N-P-K ratings (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium); higher middle number for tomatoes & asparagus.
Slow-release types generally applied 2x per growing season; liquid fertilizer every 1-2 weeks. Always check instructions on product labels. Fertilize hanging baskets weekly and re-pot into larger container when they are drying out too fast or “root-bound.”
Fertilize bushes and trees at “drip line.”
Note which plants are acid-loving and add sulfur to soil amendments; gypsum adds calcium often needed for tomatoes. Compost is virtually always helpful in building your soil but you still need to add fertilizer periodically. Side-dress veggie and fruit rows with fertilizer.
Plants: Right plant, right place
Sun exposure: 6+ hours of sun is considered “full sun” but watch changes over the daytime.
Seed-starting: dedicate some time to research heat mats, grow lights, seed-starting soil mix, pre-soaking select seeds, hardening-off and transplanting for best success. See guide in Files of WRCA Gardening Group on Facebook for when to sow seeds and planting timetable.
Direct-sow: Some plants do better direct-sown into the ground/don’t like roots disturbed such as radishes, corn, lettuce, cucumbers. Follow package directions especially for soil-temp and spacing guidelines. Don’t be afraid to thin your plants such as carrots, radishes, and lettuce! Planting tomatoes and peppers too early stunts their growth!
Plant starts: Local nurseries tend to have plants without pesticides such as neonicotinoids that can kill bees. Mix balanced fertilizer into soil (and optional Biotone in plant hole) at proper depth & spacing. Pre-moisten soil of pots before planting. Do finger test to know when to water each week. Consider inter-planting herbs and flowers in edible gardens for pollination and pest control.
All gardens can benefit from adding native plants. They attract pollinators and may deter pests, help cultivate, filter, and hold the soil in place; and generally are hardier, requiring less water once established. Rain gardens specifically help manage and filter water runoff as well. See Riverview Nursery and Arbor Farms locally plus the references in Files of WRCA Gardening Group on Facebook for some ideas.
Except for some bushes, trees, and cool season veggies, put most plants into the ground after our 6a last frost date of May 1st. Select plants hardy to Zone 5 or below and watch the weather before-and-after planting! Planting trees, re-seeding and treating lawns, and dividing plants early in the fall is often better than the spring; mulch plants heavily.
General Landscape Design Tips
Don’t go too big when just starting your first garden! How much time can you devote a minimum of 3x per week to water, weed, make adjustments (e.g. staking plants, turning containers) FOR FIVE MONTHS? What is your budget for everything you need for success?
Water: Plant within the length of your hose or irrigation line attached to a water source. Chemicals won’t solve fungal problems that stem from overhead watering; water at the root zone, soil level and in the morning as much as possible. Consistency of watering is key to success. Consider adding a simple irrigation system on a timer.
Start small and increase with experience, resources, and success. You will likely need to move or replace plants, make tweaks each year.
Landscape perennials and annuals look nice in odd numbers, staggered plantings, swaths of color.
Fall tip: plant spring bulbs in the Fall and before October. O.k. to put more than one bulb in each hole; fertilize with bulb booster at fall planting time and after bloom in the spring.
Water in the morning at ground level, avoiding plant leaves. Consider an irrigation system later on for consistency and to help avoid wetting plant leaves.
Right plant, right location (e.g. 6+ hours of sun for edibles). Ensure proper water drainage plus spacing of plants for air circulation. Consider native plants to increase pollinators for edibles; these take a couple of years to mature. Don’t plant in the ground anywhere near walnut trees.
Organics: Apply when needed: Dipel dust on leaves or neem oil spray, both according to package directions. Bad infestations might benefit from Spinosad or Captain Jack’s Bug Juice.
Rabbits: Liquid Fence on leaves of all tender plants as soon as they emerge and afterwards per package directions. Minimum 3 foot tall fencing around edibles and plants they keep munching! Make a ring out of poultry wire to place around favorite plants, edibles.
Japanese Beetles: Make a plan with your neighbors! Apply GrubEx or similar product to lawn in May and apply Neem oil EARLY (as directed on label) when they emerge, to leaves of plants they attacked last year. Pick off Japanese beetles in morning into bucket of soapy water and discard. Organics include BeetleJus and Captain Jack’s Bug Juice. Use Sevin dust according to package instructions only for bad infestation and continue knocking them off. No JB traps! Reference: JB fact sheet in WRCA Gardening Group Files or E-45-W at the Purdue Education Store.
Brood X Cicadas: In the Midwest in 2021, plan to wrap the trunk and cover the canopy of (1/4” or smaller mesh) young bushes and trees if you are within 50 yards of 17+ year old trees,maybe further! They might be everywhere or might not be bad at all. We shall see! Consider waiting to plant new stock until after they depart if it’s not too hot- or-wait until the fall. Reference: Cicada fact sheet in WRCA Gardening Group Files or E-47-W at the Purdue Education Store.
Pick off tomato hornworms and plant tomatoes in a different location next year. Remove lower leaves and stake plants (especially indeterminate varieties) so no branches touch the ground.
Remember with chemicals: less is more! Read package labels and wear protection when using. Spray diluted, unscented mild dishwashing detergent to leaves to deter bugs. Treat in morning, shady days. Call the Master Gardener Hotline to help diagnose and treat problems (see page 5).
Keep soil covered with mulch such as leaves, wood chips (no dyed chips in beds with edibles), strips of cardboard, or straw. Groundcover plants help ornamental beds.
Walk around your yard and do a little tidying/weeding every day. If you keep pulling weeds, the roots of most weeds and even invasives like Canadian thistle will eventually lose energy from the starch stored in its roots and will stop sending up new leaves. Kill sod and weeds by covering with cardboard or black plastic or digging it out. This takes time. Minimize tiling when possible.
Homemade Weed Control
Ricky’s Gardening Tips and Tricks
From: Ricky’s Gardening Tips and Tricks and Home Horticulture, April 2020
Ricky D. Kemery, Allen County Extension Educator Retired
Keep in mind that this method only burns-down plants; it doesn’t travel within the plant like systemic herbicides such as glyphosate (Round- Up). Since many folks don’t want to use Round-Up because of health concerns, this can be an alternative control for common weeds.
People still need to be careful, wearing gloves, eye protection, long sleeves and pants when spraying. This will also damage desirable plants, so use pieces of cardboard to prevent spray drift.
Plants will grow back usually so several applications may be necessary. One can also use this without Epsom salts, as the salts might damage soil if used repeatedly.
1. Mix a gallon of five-percent household white vinegar with a cup of Epsom salt and stir until the salt is completely dissolved.
2. Next, add a tablespoonful of Dawn dish soap to act as a surfactant. Surfactants help solutions adhere better to their targets upon contact. Again, stir the mixture for nice blend.
3. Transfer the solution into an empty plastic spray bottle. Then proceed to spray all weed plants (as needed).
Little did I know when Bethany wrote her colorful article on Garden Art in the June issue of Across the Fence (publication of the Master Gardeners of Allen County, Indiana, of which I am Editor) that I would soon receive an unexpected gift of my own!
About 5 years ago I decided to send a letter to the owner of my childhood home. There was a unique piece of garden art in the backyard placed there over a dozen years ago by my now deceased Mom. Is it still there? If it is and you find that you no longer want it, would you kindly let me know? I didn’t hear anything and never drove by the house during that time to see if it was still there, visible from the street. Life went on until I got a surprise phone call on Friday, June 5, 2020.
I found your letter in the back of a bathroom cabinet when I was remodeling a few months ago. I have the metal piece sitting outside against the house in the backyard if you want it. I figured it would be meaningful to someone. Give me a call if you do . . .
I was in shock! Holy cow! Mark J had removed the garden gate from the garden “hill” on the side of the house, concrete and all, and had it neatly secured with pavers against the red bricks of the old house. I talked to my husband (always up for a driving adventure), thought about it overnight. And then I got really excited! I called Mark on Saturday and said YES! We’ll come get it!
My childhood home is in Warren, Michigan. I had moved away in 1983 after college to the Chicagoland area then again north of Fort Wayne in 2007. Favorite plants made the journey here as well. But I never would have expected that this prized possession of the original garden master in my life would come home too. I called my brother right away and had some fun reminiscing about our garden projects with our mother over the years. I sent him photos of the garden gate on Saturday when Mark forwarded them to me. Plans were coming together to drive up to Michigan on Sunday to pick up our new found treasure and have a quick visit with my brother and his family as well.
The visit never happened. Or at least not yet. Twenty-six minutes before Mike would have received the photos that I sent by text, he went into a medical crisis that would end his life. He never saw the photos. We did not drive to Michigan that weekend. I never saw my brother alive again . . .
The meaningfulness of this experience and simple piece of garden art is now greater than ever before. Mike made his gateway to heaven the very day after our Mom’s garden gate came back into our lives. When this time of mourning has passed, my beloved and I will make our way to Michigan for a Memorial Service and retrieval of a memorable artifact from my personal heritage. It’s a little thing in the scheme of life yet I’ll bet that I’m not the only one out there with meaningful touch points in his or her garden beds that reflect your own stories as well.
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