National Spinach Day…and I almost missed it!

“Baker” spinach growing in the shade of climbing peas.

Lost in the grocery search of yesterday, was the fact that it was National Spinach Day! How could I fail to celebrate the one crop that has produced week after week over the entire, gloomy winter. This vitamin and iron-packed green (and green is entirely apt for this dark-leaved vegetable) survived both in the poly-tunnel and totally without protection in the potager. It’s now rapidly growing new leaves, despite fluctuating temperatures and deluges of rain (with 2″ more inches in our forecast for this weekend!)

Spinach is one of the easiest crops to grow, and will provide nutritious food quickly. Thinnings only 1″ tall can be sprinkled over salads or omelets or added to soups. Plant it now, in early spring. I’ve often just sprinkled seeds in a row across a raised bed even when it is too wet to properly work, and then covered the seeds with a layer of potting soil. Before you know it, you’ll have spinach to harvest! It is a heavy feeder, so a side dressing of compost or a drink of manure tea is always appreciated if you want big, luscious leaves. Harvest the larger outer leaves continuously for the most yields.

“Gangbuster” spinach is my favorite for over-wintering.

Succession crops can be seeded here in north central Indiana (Zone 5) through the end of May. I’ve found that later ( late April and May as opposed to March) plantings of spinach appreciate a little shade, so they go on the east side or north side of taller crops. After that, it’s better to wait until the heat of summer has passed, and resume seeding in late August. This year, I’m trying “Summer Perfection,” a variety (also from Renee’s Garden Seeds) that is supposed to stand up to heat a bit better without bolting as my last May planting.

I plant my last crop around the 20th of September for over-wintering. The variety I like best for over-wintering is “Gangbusters” from Renee’s. However, since spinach seed has extremely low storage-ability, ANY spinach seed that I have left come September is put into the ground, and usually most do surprisingly well. If you’ve had issues with low success with spinach in the past, old seed (be sure spinach seed comes from a reliable source, not seed that has sat in the hardware store for a couple of years!) is likely the problem.

Supposedly the smooth-leaved varieties are good for early crops, while the savoy-leaved (wrinkled) ones winter over best so they are used for fall plantings. There are many varieties of both types of spinach available on the market, as well as new varieties developed just for “baby” spinach, where the entire crop is sliced off early in its growth, rather than an outer leaf harvest. All types are good candidates for container growing.

Spinach frittata for our National Spinach Day dinner!

As a kid, we only had canned spinach as part of our school lunches. For some reason, neither my grandmother or mother grew it, so I didn’t find out what a delight it was raw, or just lightly sauteed until I went to college! Since then, I’ve collected lots of recipes that include spinach, especially various salads. It plays well with berries of all kinds, citrus, Asian ingredients, and well as roasted squash and grilled asparagus. Do plant some spinach! In these troubled times it will produce a quick crop that will provide lots of nutrition in a small space. Soon you will be as strong as Popeye (do today’s kids even know who Popeye is?) and a strong body is better able to fight off germs.

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Ventured Out…

So today I ventured out to gather groceries for my 94-yr. old mother, who still lives alone on the farm where I grew up. She no longer drives due to macular degeneration, but she reads as much as her eyes allow, keeps an absolutely weedless garden, grows nearly all her own food and preserves it all. She loves sports, so is finding the lack of basketball, baseball and other sports very sad. She has a lengthy prayer list and is known far and wide as a “prayer warrior.” She still hand writes a letter to me and mails it every Monday, a tradition begun when I left for college. She writes regularly to her three remaining high school classmates, all her grandchildren, and sends birthday, anniversary, sympathy, and get well cards without fail. She keeps up on the local and national news much better than I. Her memory is terrific; she keeps all her books without a calculator.

It took stops at three groceries to get the supplies on her list. There was nothing exotic, just the basics. I really lucked out at one store, as a worker was just unwrapping a pallet of toilet paper, and that was on Mom’s list. She was careful to instruct me to just get what she needs of any item. She is not a hoarder. Having lived through the scarcities of WWII, she has a good idea of what she will need to get by. She’s always been frugal, and now she’s making cut-backs, so that “families with less will find what they need.” I couldn’t find the brand of toothpaste she uses, but she was perfectly satisfied with a substitute, and the same for margarine, bread, and fish oil capsules. “In times like these, we can’t be particular,” she says.

I was surprised at how well the stores were stocked and the variety they offered. The entire deli counters were sold out at one, no flour, toilet paper, wipes, or paper towels at two, no stick margarine at any, no potatoes at one, and lots of frozen and canned goods were missing at all three, but there was a little chicken, ground beef and plenty of pork. Indiana is big pork raising country, so that was no surprise. I also found tissues, which I hadn’t found at the first 2 stores, bacon, and eggs.

I took 10 bags of composted manure and put them on her raised beds. Her eyes lit up when I pulled out onion sets (that took two additional stops to find), pea seeds, lima bean seeds, and carrot seeds. She has everything else she’ll need to grow a bountiful vegetable garden. All of her flower gardens around the house are perennials, but she does grow a long row of zinnias along the vegetable garden to attract butterflies and other pollinators. She had spent yesterday picking up sticks in her lawn, and as soon as I left, she was going to remove the few weeds that have sprouted in her raised beds before the rain comes.

We spent a lot of time over lunch talking about the differences between times in WWII and now. Having lived all her life in rural locations, and being somewhat of a tom-boy who loved the outdoors much more than the indoors, her view is that this confinement must be harder for most Americans than life was back then. “Of course, we were SO worried about our boys in the war, but our life at home wasn’t that different. We worked hard, had our families to support us emotionally, and all our community worked together for the war effort. So we didn’t have leather, butter, sugar and a few other things that were rationed, we had enough. We still went to church, the children went to school, the farmers planted their crops and harvested, with everyone helping where needed. Cities weren’t so big, families weren’t so far apart.”

She spent the next half hour ensuring that I understood what she wants for her funeral (a small, family only service in the mausoleum, a dark gray metal casket and dressed in her gray suit with the butterfly pin) and as I left remarked, “You know, I probably won’t use all those pea seeds this year, so there should be enough for me to plant next year!”

And that, my gentle readers, is the positive attitude of a true gardener.

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Today was Moving Day!

Finally, the forecast was good (above freezing for the next 10 days, mostly cloudy and lots of rainy days) and the ground is solid enough to allow me to move flats from the basement to the greenhouse! It’s a brief window of opportunity before more rain arrives, so I made the most of it. It began as a foggy day, because warm air is flowing over the cold ground but that’s fine. In fact, allowed the plants to adjust a bit to new surroundings. So pansies, violas, onions, cipollini, cabbages, lettuce, snapdragons, blue salvia, broccoli, cauliflower, and perennials were all transferred, making room so more peppers, tomatoes, coleus and marigolds can be transplanted into individual pots and the next round of seeding can take place. 1268 plants are now in the greenhouse! They are smaller than usual, since I delayed seeding due to traveling in January and February, but they will catch up quickly now that they are out of the basement.

After lunch, with plenty of time and some stamina left, twelve bags of composted cow manure (purchased before the shut-down) was moved from the back of the truck to the potager. Beds of growing garlic got a side dressing of lime and a layer of the composted manure.

Overwintered spinach.

Next the existing rows of spinach got a side dressing. After months of growing they needed a feeding so that hopefully they’ll produce lots more nice green leaves before bolting.

Strawberry bed 2e

Only one of the five strawberry beds got a top dressing of compost. It was 4 o’clock, and I was out of steam, so I put the tools away and called it a day.

In the basement, the light stand was refilled and the main bench is now totally empty, which will allow the next round of seeding (tomorrow as it rains!) This round of seeding will consist of early veggies sown into 4-packs to be planted into the potager: lettuces, spinach, beets, chard and a few perennial flower seeds that just arrived.

One last job: the earliest pansies are now in the big container by the front door, ready to greet visitors, although with the shut-down there won’t be any! I’ll enjoy them, as well as the hundreds of crocus and dwarf iris in the Front Garden. There were all kinds of bees busily working in the crocus blooms. Nearby there are several daffodils ready to open, and over 60 winter aconite blooms, but so far I haven’t seen any bees on those. Spring is definitely here. There were lots of birds singing, and as evening approached the spring peepers along the creek were singing.

It was just so great to be out in the sunshine, working in the soil. There’s lots more to do. The leaves need to come out of the Deck Garden, the Addition Garden has not had a spring cleaning, and more beds in the potager need compost. But there’s no rush. I intend to savor every moment.

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Just a bit of sunshine…

We are SO close to having daffodils!

A welcome change this for this morning’s walkabout…no rain! Instead we have a beautiful, although crispy 30 degree F, sunny morning. Determined to make the most of it, I took my daily walk to look for changes in the garden and just to get some fresh air. The Front Garden is filled with dwarf iris of the prettiest blue, and the daffodils are just breaking bud. Lots of perennials have pushed through the mulch now, and I even spotted a bit of new growth on one of last year’s fall-planted mums. That’s rare, and now that I’ve seen one, I’ll be watching the others for signs of life. (Yes, I’m greedy when it comes to plants!)

More in the Front Garden.

Happily, the golden heucheras and gold-foliaged shrubs planted last fall have also returned. As mentioned in prior posts, there is to be a gradual switch to more perennials and shrubs, so fewer annuals are required each year as I age. Some of the daffodil clumps are overly thick and will need to be divided. If it weren’t so muddy I’d do it now, since cloudy days and more rain is in our forecast, but it’s just too muddy. Instead, I’ll stick a bamboo skewer in the center of those clumps that need digging and later on when the foliage has died down, I’ll dig and divide and replant. Right now is a great time to study the spring garden, and determine where more of those divided daffodils can go, so I’m taking photos and sketching maps to make that job easier.

New winter aconites.

Last winter, I was envious of other gardeners’ early, early posts (like February in Indianapolis!) of winter aconite blooms. Such a cheerful yellow! Needless to say, I needed some, so last fall 25 were planted under my beloved elder, right by the driveway so I’d see them early on. These finally began blooming on March 8, but today they look even better, despite being pounded by rain, and there are 49 flowers from the 25 bulbs planted. I wonder if they will bloom earlier in their second year? Regardless, I’m happy with them and hope they fill in the entire area.

“Cream Beauty” crocus have taken a beating.

Poor, poor crocus! They have been so brave, and very durable considering the pounding they’ve taken from rain, sleet, and wind. They began blooming March 3, but have spent most of their days closed tightly to protect their stamen and pollen. So far there’s only been 4 days with sunshine, but only two of those were above 50 degrees, enabling the bees to be out working. Today, they are beginning to look a bit bedraggled, but I love the fact that they are so early, and can be seen clearly against the dark mulch. Even from the living room, I can easily see them beside the potager’s gate.

White lilac buds!

I always find it interesting that the white lilac on the north side of the Lady Cottage (in the North Island) is the first to show swelling buds. It’s sister in the South Island is not even showing an interest in activity! Perhaps the north one gets a little protection from the cold winds, and the fact that there is so little sunshine on a daily basis at this point makes little difference in a more shaded location. Nearby, at the base of the Cottage the primulas are greening up.

Look closely and spot the tiny buds in the center!

I love, love, love primulas, and am determined to find more spots for them and to increase the types in my gardens. Like all of you, I’m hoping this “staycation” ends soon so there can be some serious plant shopping. Yes, one can do it “on-line” but it’s just not the same experience, is it?

No changes in the potager since yesterday’s post, except the top layer of soil in the beds is frozen, as is the water in the birdbath. Since we have a 90% chance of snow this afternoon (Oh, joy!) that’s probably a good thing. I think this afternoon will be a good time to re-string the wind chimes, which have fallen apart and have been laying in the basement since fall clean-up. I’d hoped to begin moving plants to the greenhouse, but between the mud and the forecast there’s reason for delay. However, I think I will go out and harvest some of those daffodils that are nearly open. Better to have them indoors to enjoy in the coming days than buried in snow!

Hope you are finding signs of life in your gardens, and well as a bit of serenity. Please stay safe and healthy. I value each one of you!

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Things are changing in the potager!


Feeling so blessed that I can retreat to the potager and gardens to find sanctuary, even though it requires boots and umbrella! The rains continue, as well as the depressing news, but the sweet birds are not letting that disrupt their songs, and the earth is warming up a bit so that plants are emerging to search for sunlight. There’s not much of that to be found, but regardless the plants are hopeful, and seemingly confident that there are better days to come. It was exciting to discover the rhubarb had pushed through the ground overnight. I’d just checked yesterday when I ventured out to see if the snow peas have emerged (they haven’t.) I’m trying to be more observant of small blessings, like the tinting in the rhubarb’s green leaves and the contrasting deep red stems. Isn’t it beautiful?

Hollyhocks survived…at least so far!

Nearby, there were several hollyhocks that have survived the winter. Often they rot with our excessive rains, or are eaten by possums, who love their fleshy roots. These were planted last spring from expensive seed and were supposed to be yellow, but long-time readers will recall the first to bloom was actually pink with a maroon eye. Ugh! I’m hoping that at least some of them will be yellow! But, I’m finding with all that’s going on in the world, I’m just happy to see flowers of ANY color! And have you ever really looked at the texture of a hollyhock leaf? Nubbly and veined with frilly edges, and such a pretty shade of green!

Chamomile seedlings are taking over!

Despite my careful attempts to harvest the chamomile, apparently I did a poor job because there are hundreds (maybe thousands!) of chamomile seedlings appearing all along the north section of the potager’s west interior border. Chamomile is SUCH a good self-seeder! They are crowding out the overwintered spinach in the bed above, and you may have noticed them being pushed aside by the burly rhubarb in the first photo, and they are carpeting the entire path. I had intended to pot some of them for the annual herb symposium next month, but of course that has now been cancelled. So, I suppose it’s the compost bin for them, but I estimate it will take two days of concentrated work to get all the excess plants removed. At least it will be a fragrant task, as even though they are small they already have that distinctive chamomile scent.

The strawberry plants have changed from brown to green very quickly!

Back on March 8, when I planted peas, etc. it was dry enough that the brown strawberry leaves were crispy, so using my hands, I crumbled the brown leaves to tiny bits and dropped them on the soil as mulch. My reward is a bed that looks much tidier, and is quickly filling with green leaves. These were just planted early last autumn with runners that were attempting to root in the path around a more established strawberry bed. At the time, there was still a productive “Sun Sugar” tomato at the top end of the bed, thus the empty space, but that will fill in quickly. When the rain stops, I’ll sprinkle a bit of compost around the plants for nourishment as they begin to bloom.

Colorful, fuzzy baby leaves!

The fuzzy purple leaves of anise hyssop “Golden Jubilee” just beg to be touched, and require sniffing of resulting fragrant fingers. Isn’t it a miracle how those little purple leaves push through, and later become gorgeous golden foliage? And at every stage the luscious scent prevails. The chives are growing taller. There is green showing on the winter savory and mint plants, the daylilies are pushing through the soil, and the nigella are growing their feathery leaves (those will need thinning, too!) The caraway thyme is looking great, however the other thymes are still asleep (or worse!) No signs of dill or cilantro volunteers, but I bet it won’t be long.

This weekend the greenhouse will get a cleaning in preparation for moving the first flats (violas, pansies, perennials, and onions) from the basement, hopefully on Monday after this current cold front has passed. The temperatures look good for next week, but daily rain is in the forecast…again. Sure glad I ordered those waterproof shoes! As soon as the rain stops, the Plantskydd deer repellent will be sprayed on the berry bushes behind the potager. There were five deer having brunch three days ago, so an order was placed on-line and the box arrived yesterday. Plantskydd is the only repellent that has proved effective for me, and with the tulips emerging spraying NOW is critical if there is any hope for blooms!

Meanwhile, there are several indoor tasks that need to be done before good weather allows for “real” gardening. More about those later. I hope you are able to get out to discover what lovely miracles are happening in your gardens, large or small. May you all stay safe and healthy. And keep planting!

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Looks can be deceiving!

These thread-like cipollini seedlings are only a bit over 2″ tall!

These are mind-boggling days, where change comes by the hour and uncertainty overwhelms the normal. There is panic, stupidity, fear, and some wonderful acts of kindness. Our daily routine is totally disrupted, our sense of isolation grows. Our worry for family and friends, close and far permeates our thoughts. Amid all this, Mother Nature continues at her own pace. The wrinkly brown, silky white, or shiny black seeds planted weeks or days ago do their magical transformation to bits of green and then steadily grow upward. What a calming sight!

With all that’s been going on, I’d delayed some of the transplanting, but yesterday was “catch-up” day. I began with the alliums, knowing that a) they can be one of the earliest crops moved to the cool greenhouse b) we are out of onions, so green onions from the potager asap will be welcome and c) they grow roots at an amazing rate and transplanting them sooner is always better than later! The first alliums seeded were the cipollini shown above. We love them grilled, because their high sugar content renders them lovely and delicious. Marinated, they are a staple on antipasto trays all winter. The variety we like best is “Bianca di Maggio,” but “Gold Coin” are nice as well.

I told you alliums grow roots quickly, but did I mention LONG!

Naturally, my delay in transplanting was unwise, because the alliums grow roots VERY quickly, resulting in tangles and breakage unless one is very patient separating them. In the above photo, this little cipollini plant is 2″ tall, but has a root 13″ long! Needless to say, it will fill the 2″x2″ compartment quickly, but fortunately they will be one of the first crops to be transplanted into the potager beds and be able to stretch out soon. Having seen the cipollini, the transplanting continued through all the rest of the onions, so they are now all in their own little compartments.

So, my message to any new gardeners is, do not let the small size of the onion seedling fool you. Transplant them early to avoid damaging their roots, or if you have space, seed them directly into individual pots, realizing that if you start them in very tiny cells or egg shell halves) they will require up-potting early on. Keep a close watch on their root systems and move them to larger pots as needed.

I am grateful each hour that my potager is right outside my door, as some of the allotmenteers in Europe can not even leave their homes to tend their plots or harvest their asparagus, despite the need for fresh food and exercise. My daughter in Germany reports that the asparagus and rhubarb farmers there are worried because their normal work force cannot come to harvest. I’m hoping since the schools are closed, maybe some of the local high school and college students can come help, (keeping over 10′ apart as they work, of course!) This world-wide crisis will bring new challenges to authorities, companies, and every individual on a daily basis. Keep calm, garden as much as you can, cherish your families, and find some joy (however small) in each day…a bird’s song, a blossom, sunrise, well-written book, a new recipe, music, a telephone call with a friend, a cup of tea…blessings are everywhere, but we often over-look them. Now is the time to pay attention to all…and not just allium roots!

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The hellebores are budding despite all the chaos in the world.

“Adapting!” All around the world, people will find they must be adapting, and quickly, to many kinds of changes. The virus outbreak that began creeping, but is now sweeping around the globe will force us to adapt, even here in the rural areas of central Indiana.

Due to my husband’s prompting, my still-full pantry shelves and freezer, I had decided to convert some of the potager’s raised beds into flowers or green manure crops this season. I even ordered more flower seeds than usual. The potager’s beds were mapped out with more attention to balancing color and texture with the additional flowers. However, now with all the closures and coming restrictions of all sorts as well as all the unknowns in the immediate future, I’ve decided to make some changes. To adapt.

The first planting of early peas is IN!

Instead of more flowers, the potager will be pushed to produce even more food. We may not need it ourselves, but our neighbors might, or the food pantry, or the local churches that serve free meals. With travel restrictions, possible store and restaurants closing, or shortages, someone may be happy for fresh, organic veggies. The first early crops were sown earlier this week: “Strike peas” shown above, radishes, Chinese cabbage, pak choi, and lettuces. With lower temperatures and possible snow this weekend, other things will have to wait.

The second crop of peas went in as well.

“Green Arrow” are my favorite peas, but they take a little longer and require a fence to climb. Planting them at the same time as the early “Strike” peas will give a second crop coming on as the “Strike” finish. More succession plantings of Green Arrow will go in weekly.

The garlic rows are growing!

I’m not sure how it happened, but I neglected to plant some of the rows of garlic that I’d mapped out last fall. Interrupted by the rain, I suppose, and just forgot to go back to finish. At first I thought I’d plant a few rows now, since I have plenty of garlic left, even though the bulbs would probably be smaller than fall-planted garlic. However, now I’ve decided to simply plant cloves where there is a blank spot in the existing rows. (The squirrels always dig out a few while I’m away, and occasionally a clove doesn’t sprout, making a gap.) The space formerly designated for garlic will be more productive in other crops. While I had time, I decided to clean up the potager’s interior borders.

The messy potager interior border.

Of course, there will still be flowers in the potager. An initial clean-up had been done in all my borders and beds earlier last autumn, before I started traveling, and a bit more as bulbs were planted later, but some stalks were left purposely for hibernating insects and egg cases. Now that the spring bulbs are pushing through, it was time for a thorough clean-up. However the stalks didn’t go on the compost pile, partly because the compost is coming out of the bin and onto beds, but mostly because stacking the stalks against brush along the woods will still allow any beneficial hibernating insects and eggs to emerge undamaged.

Not all worms are welcome!

Amazingly, this lively cabbage worm was heading across a bed to the last remaining kale plant! I don’t think I’ve found a cabbage worm this early in the year before. I moved him to the woods as well, and if he survives the cold snap and possible snow, he will be a lucky worm.

All tidy so the dwarf iris can take the stage.

Here’s the NE section of the potager interior border pictured earlier. It is closest to the Lady Cottage and the seating area, so it will be filled with flowers, but the other five sections will have lots of vegetables added to the existing perennials rather than annual flowers, and there may be some veggies going into the existing flower beds beyond the potager and around the house.

This is my first decision to adapt. I’m sure there will be many, many more to come. What “adapting” are you planning, or already doing?

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