I’ve been finalizing the spring planting plan for the potager.  It’s a lot easier to move crops around on paper and make good decisions than it is outdoors in the heady rush of spring.  Good planning makes sure that succession crops go in on schedule (with a nod to weather, of course) but in order to do that, good record keeping of not only when crops went in, but when they went out really helps.  For instance, shallots generally come out sometime before mid-July which is a perfect time for parsnip seed and brussel sprout plants to go in (here in Zone 5…it could be different where you live.)  Sometimes it’s a tight squeeze time-wise and the weather doesn’t cooperate.  Then decisions have to be made on the fly, but the more planning that can be completed in the calm of winter the better.  Still, the problem can be that crops don’t come out quickly enough.  New crops need to go in, but there’s no empty space.  Here’s my current thinking to help remedy that situation.

Today’s topic is interplanting.  Long-time readers will know that radish seeds are always mixed with slower germinating crops like carrots and kohlrabi in the Herbal Blessings potager.  They emerge to mark rows quickly and are ready to harvest in only 3 weeks!  This also saves a lot of thinning time, and means not wasting seeds of carrots, etc.  (Plus I have trouble killing baby plants intentionally.)  And it means that radishes never require their own row, which allows for more crops in the potager’s limited space. fava may end Last year I experimented with more interplanting to save space.  Onion sets were planted with fava beans and aspa-broc.  Both worked exceptionally well.  As the favas and aspa-broc plants grew larger, the onions were harvested as scallions, working outward from the ever expanding shade.  When the favas and aspa-broc’s full-size was reached, the remaining onions left in relative sun were left to mature.  Win-win.  And, as a bonus there seemed to be fewer insects on the beds with the onions than on the beds without.

This year, there will be more experiments.  I dislike seeing bare ground around slow-growing plants, so this year all the cabbage and cauliflower will be surrounded by onion plants.  Now there can be plenty of grilled scallions early on, but onions for storing all winter as well without a dedicated onion bed!

Squash plants will get a carrot underplanting.  Doesn’t it bother you to see a big square of empty soil surrounding that one little squash plant?  Of course it’s going to need that entire square eventually, but what about in the meantime?  Lots of good eating can come from that space while one waits.  And what if those tall squash leaves prevent those pesky carrot flies from circulating?  I get excited just thinking about it.

Somewhere last year I read, and made a note stuck in last year’s planting journal that broccoli likes growing with beets.  I love growing beets for pickling and roasting, and finding enough space is always a challenge.  Planting rows of beets amid the broccoli should provide those tiny early beets pulled whole to saute with a bit of butter, slightly larger ones whose greens and roots (scrubbed and quartered but left raw) for salads, and eventually, full-sized beets for roasting and pickling.

Little Gem Lettuce compressed  And, there will be more intentional harvesting.  I love planting small blocks of “Tom Thumb” and “Little Gem” lettuces.  This year instead of a designated bed for lettuce there will be nine adorable plants in a tidy little square (3-3-3) or ten in a perfect triangle (4-3-2-1) in the corners of the potager’s large squares.  I’ll harvest one from the center and stick in a young pepper, eggplant, or tomato plant.  Continue harvesting lettuces as the newcomer grows and viola!  No wasted space!

I’m going to be looking at other combinations and possibly revising some of my planting scheme.  Already the interplanting plan has “freed” up some rows so additional crops can be added!  Whee!  Now I can move a few items from the “Wish” list to the “Order” list!  What interplanting strategies and combinations have worked for you?

NOTE:  As with any intensive planting, interplanting will require excellent soil fertilization and careful attention to watering.

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Six on Saturday: Jan 19

Winter has arrived again.  It comes.  It goes.  The needed blanket of snow only lasted a couple of days before melting and exposing the plants to unneeded excess moisture and harsh winds…again.  Right now, there’s freezing rain.   It’s going to be minus 10 degrees on Monday, but according to my records, it’s time to start seeding…actually a bit past time for pansies and violas for our area (Zone 5, north central Indiana.)  Uncharacteristically, I just have not been motivated to do it.  However, I know that IF 2019 mimics 2016 with a lovely, very early warm spring I’ll be really, really unhappy if the seeds weren’t planted as scheduled.  IF 2019 resembles last year, there’s no need to rush, but how’s a gardener to know?  Better to have plants ready than not, so here are the six steps toward seeding that work best for me:

seeds in freezer  1) The seeds that need stratifying by freezing were put in a plastic bag in the freezer a week ago so they are ready to sow.  This includes pansies, violas, parsley, and all hardy perennials.  seed trays washed  2) Seeding trays, plant markers and domes have been washed thoroughly and soaked on a 10% bleach solution to kill any lingering diseases or insects.

seed tub  3) Leftover seeds and newly purchased packets have been carefully sorted by planting dates with dividers that indicate the date to plant.  There’s one box for indoor seeding and another one for direct seeding outdoors.  Here’s a close-up of two of the dividers:dividers The dividers tell me the date the seeding should occur (upper right hand corner.)  Seeds that are in the freezer  are marked with an “F” in blue.  Those that require light (L in yellow) to germinate will be seeded together in a flat and not only left uncovered by soil but given a clear plastic dome.  I can’t tell you how many seeds I spoiled before I learned which ones need total darkness and which ones need light to germinate.   Sometimes it’s surprising to know that gomphrena needs total darkness, celery needs light!  “D”  (in red) means not only do the seeds get covered with soil, but the flat will get a solid cover or be put in a black plastic bag until germination occurs.  Those without a letter just get lightly covered with soil and a clear plastic dome.  The peppers should have an “H” indicating they need to go on the heating mat to germinate.  I’ll have to fix that!

potting soil  4) A bag of potting mix has been moved indoors to thaw out and reach room temperature prior to seeding.  seed rack  5)  The light stand has been cleaned and sprayed with a 10% bleach solution.  Bulbs have been checked and replaced.  I made this stand over 30 years ago.  I justify the saggy shelf by using it for taller seedlings!  Warming mats have also been cleaned with a bleach solution and are ready to go to work.

seed journal  6)  The Seeding and Transplanting portion of this year’s garden journal has been set up, sharpened pencils at the ready.

That’s my six items for this Saturday, and actually just doing all the prep work has put me in a seedy mood!  Today is THE DAY!  If you’d like to read the thoughts, actions, and observations of other gardeners around the world, visit The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

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Dallying with Dahlias

Now that the plan for the vegetable portion of the potager is fairly well in hand, it’s time to focus again on the flowers.  A bit of thought was given to flowers way back in early October, when it was time to place an order with GEO in order to get a hefty discount.  For curious folk that may have missed it, catch up here, “First Seed Order.”  At that time, I was concentrating mainly on the snapdragons, violas and marigolds for the potager edgings and interior border, a few perennials to add to existing gardens, and beefing up the Cutting Garden.  I still have a terrible time actually cutting flowers from my gardens, preferring to view the bounty of blooms in the borders. (To read more about that visit “I Just Can’t Cut It”)  I thought having a designated area just for cutting, hidden behind the west potager fence would “cure” that hesitancy.  It didn’t.  I really enjoy seeing such a colorful border on that slope, and still only cut a bouquet when expecting guests.  Now I’m thinking that if there are just SO MANY flowers back there, maybe I’ll be more inclined to cut.  Plus, I’d already decided that more dahlias were needed for the potager’s interior borders as well as the Cutting Garden.  (Dahlias are an edible flower, so they can properly be placed inside the potager fence.)  So, here are the dahlias that will be contributing to the abundance this season…all shades of orange and apricot, of course.  (If you are worried about monochromatics, fear not for there are white, blue, purple and yellow flowers to mix with the various orange shades!) For the sake of variety in a bouquet, on the off-chance that some are actually cut, there are a variety of flower sizes and shapes, and all were described as good for cutting. dahlia crighton 1) “Crichton Honey”  is a luscious apricot with 4″ diameter ball-shaped blooms.  Some growers report that it is not as prolific as other dahlias, but with such gorgeous flowers, I’m willing to give it a space. I’m fascinated with the geometric forms of the ball dahlias.  How can they be so perfect?   dahlia amber  2) “Amber Queen” looks very similar to the previous dahlia, but its tidy blooms are only 2″ across.  Smaller flowers are essential to any bouquet, and these look adorable.  The plants are 4′ tall and very bushy, providing dozens of blooms throughout the season.  dahlia ez  3) This cute collarette type dahlia is “EZ Duzzit” a soft apricot with yellow tones.  Most of the photos I’ve found are less yellow than this one, but this one really shows the flower’s form.  Height of the “bushy” plant is 4′.  A favorite of bees, too.dahlia gab 4) This multi-toned beauty is “Gabrielle Marie.”  With 5″ blooms that are apricot with a hint of lavender undertones and petals shading to soft-yellow toward their bottom, it should be a stunner.  Also 4′ tall with strong stems.     dahlia giggles 5)  I do love the collarette forms, and this little “Giggles” looks like it will be so much fun.  Various shades of orange in 3 1/2″ flowers on 3′ bushy plants.  dahlia ginger sanp  6)  This is “Ginger Snap” a rich gold blending to caramel.  3 1/2″ “water lily” type flowers on a very branching 3 1/2′ tall plant.  Supposedly very prolific and described as a florist’s dream!  dahlia gitty  7)  “Gitty Up” doesn’t even look like a dahlia!  It reminds me of the new puffy coneflowers that are all the rage.  A circle of deep orange petals surround a pincushion of deep rust.  Plants are 3′ tall.   dahlia jaden   8)  “Jaden Charles” is a big 7″ bloom of soft gold shading to caramel.  The cactus-type flower will offer quite a change from the other ball forms, if they aren’t so huge as to be overpowering in a bouquet.  4′ plants.  dahlia maarn  9)  “Maarn” grows on 3 1/2′ plants that are reportedly very branching, with 4″ flowers of pure orange.   This one was selected just in case #1 does turn out to have very few flowers.       dahlia peanut brittle 10) “Peanut Brittle” is the final choice, described as a strong grower with dark stems.  The 5″ flowers are caramel orange with a bit of lavender shading as well.  It should look great with the verbena bonariensis that’s already in the Cutting Garden.

I’m very excited to see how each of these new dahlias performs, and if they are truly colors that blend with my palette.  This year’s selections are coming from Swan Island Dahlias, only because I like to support as many companies as I can.  Last year three dahlia varieties from Brent & Becky’s Bulbs were grown, and tubers of “Sylvia” (fantastic!) and “Karma Corona” will be replanted this season.  (The third, “Tour de Monde” was just too red to be included again.  I’ll take pots of it to our garden club plant sale.)  Mixed with the perennial flowers that are already in the Cutting Garden, along with the tall annual asters, gomphrena, zinnias, and sunflowers that will be added, there should be enough flowers to satisfy both the beauty of the slope as well as an occasional bouquet!

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When a gardener buys….

a chair  chair  it’s likely to have a horticultural theme!  With some surprise, I realized that in all my long, long life I’ve never actually purchased a chair for myself.  Early in my home making years, furniture was usually hand-offs.  Then it was thrift stores or used furniture purchases.  It doesn’t make sense to buy new furniture with young children and pets.  I’ve bought a couple of sofas over the decades, and dining room furniture twice, but never a chair just for me…a chair with arm rests at just the right height for holding a book comfortably, a seat the correct height so my feet rest easily on the floor.  Decadence!  It even reclines!  The fabric is covered with wildflowers, horticultural script, plant book titles, ferns, dragonflies and botanical drawings.  I could spend an afternoon just reading my chair!  The only drawback?  With its light colored fabric, I’ll have to put on clean jeans when I come in from the garden.  But right now, with snow covering the ground and single digit temperatures on the way, I’ll just be staying indoors, feeling like a queen on her new throne!  Suggestions for good reading would be appreciated!

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The Ornamental Vegetable Garden

If I were limited to one book on creating a beautiful potager I’d pick this one, “The Ornamental Vegetable Garden” by Diana Anthony.  There’s a dozen or more on that topic in my shelves, but this is the book I grab for quick reference, for inspiration, or for checking the recipe for an organic pest spray.

ov cover  Anthony states at the end of the introduction, which is a brief history of the potager concept, “The vegetable garden of today is an exciting place where art and practicality have married; their offspring – a fabulous range of ‘designer veg’ which are easy to grow, visually pleasing, and exceptionally good to eat!”  That’s a great summary, but I would add that in these days of shrinking habitat, potagers (which traditionally contain not only vegetables, but herbs, flowers, and fruits) are also vital because they provide a “Green Bridge”  and safe haven for many of our most valuable pollinators.

This book contains a wealth of valuable information.  The author assures us that anyone can create a beautiful kitchen garden, and provides clever ideas for dealing with slopes, irregular spaces, long narrow sites or very small spaces using traditional designs or innovative concepts.   ov designs Guidelines for design, laying out and constructing formal or informal potagers are given in detail.  Pathways, fencing, trellises and other vertical structures are not only discussed, but installation steps and suggestions are given through text, drawings, and photographs.  ov path  Photographer Gil Hanly captures the essence of a variety of potager styles and concepts in dozens of beautiful, inspiring photographs. ov formal Turn the pages and one is sure to find a style or idea that appeals.  Study them closely to understand the subtle variations in color and texture, or the materials used that could enhance one’s own garden.  ov colorful

Instructions for creating nearly everything a potager might need, from paths to plant supports; taking cuttings for inexpensive, quick-growing hedges; scarecrow making, coldframe and cloche construction, to pruning patterns for fruit and nut trees are included.  ov small garden  The chapter on planting emphasizes color, texture and contrasts for visual impact without reducing productivity.  The tips on general garden management, succession cropping, and interplanting are thought provoking.  Detailed information on possible vegetables to include in the ornamental vegetable garden (from asparagus pea to zucchini) is delightful, containing not only vital cultural advice and varietal suggestions but often interesting historical bits, harvesting tips and companion plants.  The book was first published in 1997, so obviously there are many newer varieties that can be considered for today’s gardens, and the availability of seeds has skyrocketed, but sometimes the old heirlooms are still desirable.  If not, a quick search will provide a source for those purple carrots or red celery, or the desirable compact varieties best suited to an ornamental kitchen garden today.  There is an entire chapter devoted to the herbs and flowers traditionally included in the potager, and another covering tiny spaces and container gardening.  The photos will make you want to start digging!  ov reference  Detailed, quick reference charts like the sample above indicate the colors available for each type of vegetable (foliage, stems, flower and fruit colors are designated) plus the plants’ general height, spread, and cultural needs (sun, water, supports, etc.)  The flower chart categories show if the plant is “edible,” “bee/butterfly attractor,” “pest repellent or attractor,” “predator attractor,” or is a useful “green manure” crop.  There are also charts for fruit and nut trees, and another for Oriental vegetables.

The final chapter is an extensive look at organic methods and management.  After all, the main purpose of the vegetable garden is to provide healthy, safe food.  Crop rotation, biologicals, beneficials, green manures, companion planting, composting, mulches and various organic sprays to combat insects, slugs, pests and diseases are provided. ov recipe

The information provided in this book is timeless.  Although the author is British, she has gardened around the world and created potagers on several continents.  If you are interested in making your vegetable garden not only productive but beautiful, obtain a copy of this book.  It is one I treasure, and I’m confident you will feel the same.

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Carrots, please!

As recently reported in my “December in Review” one of the potager’s crops that needs planning improvement is carrots.  I recall that there were gaps in production and at times there weren’t enough to meet needs, but a quick check of the harvest journal makes it apparent that there were even larger gaps than I remember.  In addition,  it reminds me that there was too long a wait for the first carrot (Danvers Half Long)…not until July 2nd!  And, after frost there weren’t any carrots left to store for winter.  If that all sounds like an absolute failure, it wasn’t because there were tasty, beautiful, delicious carrots harvested.  Actually there are 11 3/4 pounds recorded in the harvest journal…just not enough to meet demand and not spaced properly.  (I must confess that many, many young carrots were harvested, brushed off and eaten in the garden as a mid-afternoon snack that were not recorded.  Justified as “thinning.”)  And, a second confession:  there was no succession plan for carrots devised for 2018.  Sad, but true!  Unlike the careful plan for beans, peas, melons, etc.  the carrots were just planted where indicated on the initial spring planting map, and then sprinkled haphazardly in small spaces later as other crops came out.  The only planned seedling after that first one was the “New Kuroda” storage carrots, a double row  intended for storage, but which ended up getting dug for holiday meals and parties.  This year it will be different!

The first step in fixing the production problem is to study when the carrot planting began.  This is when the garden journal earns its keep!  In 2018, “Little Finger,” “Red Core Chantenay,” and “Danvers Half Long” were all planted on April 11.  That’s about as early as I can plant carrots and expect them to germinate and grow without being killed by hard freeze.  With maturity dates of 62, 72, and 75 days respectively, there should have been a continual harvest for several weeks. However, trouble began when “Little Finger” failed to appear.  It should have been the first variety to harvest, but unfortunately I planted leftover seed, and the germination was horrible.  Well, “nonexistent” describes it more accurately.  And the initial plantings of all three varieties were too small.

Despite a note stuck in my planting journal to succession plant a few carrots every two weeks, that didn’t happen, partly because we had a really wet, cold spring; partly because there just was no empty space, but mostly because I just hadn’t planned well!  The second planting wasn’t until July 6 (“Red Core Chantaney” again) and the storage variety “New Kuroda” on July 12.  There was a late planting of “Royal Chantenay” on August 13, which was too late to produce a good crop, although a few small ones were harvested for our tree decorating party.  The final try was a free seed packet of “Tonda di Parigi” which is a little “ball” carrot planted on August 15…possibly too late if it had germinated, which it didn’t….

It’s pretty apparent how to improve on last year’s production.  #1  I really can’t plant much earlier than April 11th, but I can select an earlier variety.  For the 2019 season, I’m planting “Amsterdam,” reported to mature in 55 days and produces a blunt ended 6-7″ long “Nantes” type carrot, sweet, coreless, with short tops.  I prefer short, easy to dig carrots in my 8″ deep raised beds, so this one seems perfect.  Carrot Am  Apparently this variety has been available in Britain and Australia for some time, but it’s new to me.  Some list it as a good “forcing” variety.  I hope that doesn’t mean it needs greenhouse conditions to mature quickly!  Indiana springs are always a mish-mash of summer and winter conditions.  I’m also toying with the idea of starting a few carrots in a gutter in the greenhouse, which will be slid into their place in a bed once the weather settles, or possibly under a poly tunnel earlier, or seeded in a polytunnel directly.  Oh!  The possibilities!

#2  No gamble with old seed for that important first planting!

#3 Just to hedge my bet, in case the “Amsterdam” aren’t up to snuff, there will be a planting of “Nantes” (66 days) as well.  I’m not worried about too many carrots, since I begin pulling them while small for snacking.  The gardener’s reward!

#4 There will be more space designated specifically for carrots rather than just putting them here as there as pak choi, lettuces, and other early crops come out.  There will be fewer beans and less garlic this year and some of that space will go to carrots.

#5  Succession plantings will be made at least every three weeks, and no space wasted on those little ball types like “Parisian,” “Adelaide,” or even “Little Fingers.”  I need more carrot per inch than they produce, even if they are cute!

#6 Designate enough space for a big planting of “Scarlet Nantes” (65 days) so there will be at least one canner of pint jars for winter use in soups and marinated carrots.

Carrot  #7 Move the planting date for the “New Kuroda” up a week, and keep them watered better when they first emerge.  Last year I planted them, then left for Italy!  I’m surprised they did as well as they did, and I’m definitely happy with their texture, flavor, and keeping qualities.  They take a long time to mature (110 days) but will keep growing in cooler weather.  I’ve got the last two or three in the refrigerator just to see how long they’ll keep.  The photo was last year’s double row.  This year, I’m planning on eight rows minimum!

Now that I know the space needed, and the dates for planting, I can work out a succession schedule.  Tentatively, it looks like this:

April 10:  “Amsterdam” 55 days, and “Nantes” (66 days)….. May 1:  “Red Core Chantaney” (72 days) …..May 22:  “Nantes”  the big planting for canning…..June 15:  “Amsterdam” again, assuming germination was good on the first seeding and things look well with them, to go where the “Strike” peas will have been harvested; the peas will have improved the soil by fixing nitrogen…..July 5  “New Kuroda,” the big planting for storing for winter plus a generous planting of “Nantes” for fresh use until the ground freezes.  These will go where beans come out, again a crop that fix nitrogen for the carrots to use…..Aug 1:  a final planting of “Amsterdam,” assuming we’ve like them, just to see if they mature in time and how they grow as the days get shorter and cooler.

That’s the carrot plan for 2019…but you know what is said about “the best laid plans…..”



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Six on Saturday: January 5

snowman  It’s the bleak mid-winter, although surprisingly the grass is still green and temperatures reached 50 degrees F yesterday!  Not frigid, but still pretty bleak in terms of plant material.  However, there are still things to see in the gardens.  1) Beautiful sunshine on this frosty morn, and since there was no biting wind it was a good opportunity to say “Farewell” to the potager’s snowmen and store them away until next December.  2) It was also a reminder, as I looked at untrimmed perennials, that there are still some items on the job list.  I like to leave as many seeds for the birds as possible, thus only the front garden is tidied and trimmed in autumn, the one visitors pass to the front door.  The others are left like this  deck garden jan but as you can see, all the seed heads are gone from these blue salvias, rudbeckia, and gaillardia so trimming needs to be done.  The spring bulbs will need a tidy space to show off all their glory.  3) There may be fewer bulbs blooming than planned.  The neighbor’s pot-bellied pig made a midnight foray into the Deck Garden and had a bountiful meal of my tulip bulbs and probably some crocus for dessert as well.  I smoothed out the deeper ruts and holes but these telltale pig prints remain as evidence!  Plus there was an eye witness, as the pig’s knocking over the metal furniture on the deck alerted my husband, who bravely chased the pig away.  (We’ve been warned that Cletus bites!)pig damage  4) It was a lovely, crisp morning to meander around the potager.  The frost on the spinach is a lovely sight, and the miracle is that unlike lettuce, the spinach will not turn mushy once it warms up.spinach with frost  5) Frosted Salad Burnet is also pretty.  This one came up in a path but I allowed it to stay because for some reason it was the sole survivor.  I harvested its seed earlier and will start more next spring for the potager’s interior border.  Salad burnet has such pretty leaves and a light cucumber flavor for salads and salad dressings.  They also make pretty garnish for canapes and potato salad.  salad burnet with frost  6) The oregano also has a coat of frost.  It’s a large, growing patch but the jar of dried oregano in the herbal pantry is nearly empty already, so it will be allowed to expand a bit more.oregano with frost  This is a good time to check the herbal pantry to see how supplies are faring.  Add more basil plants next year?  Definitely more parsley.  Should have frozen more chives because the ones in the garden turned to mush right after Thanksgiving.  Next year I should protect a clump of chives for late holiday harvests.  The sage plant drowned during that long spell of rain and will need to be replaced.  Amazingly, the sorrel seems to have completely disappeared as well!  Right now, while the plants and beds are free of a snow blanket, is a good time to evaluate so required seeds can be added to existing orders.

That’s six for this Saturday, and January is underway!  To see what’s happening in other gardens visit The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

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