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Archive for February, 2009

I was in Menards the other day buying some gear to start seeds indoors when the helpful guy in the light department told me they were out of the kind of light I was looking for and it would not be in stock for another week.  It seems more folks are starting vegetables from seed, he noted. Now we have hard evidence of that observation. The National Gardening Association yesterday unveiled its survey on gardening intentions for 2009, and it’s no surprise that more folks are planning vegetable gardens for this summer. Here are the relevant stats:

  • 43 million U.S. households say they plan to grow vegetables and fruits in 2009, compared to 36 million in 2008. That’s a 19 percent increase in a single year.
  • Of those households that already do some food gardening, 11 percent said they plan to increase the amount and variety of things they grow. In addition, 10 percent said they will spend more time on their food gardens.
  • These increases are on top of a 10 percent increase in food gardening between 2007 and 2008.

Why are more people growing fruits and veggies? The desire to save money in a struggling economy is a big reason (54 percent), but the quality and safety of home-grown food are just as important, the survey found. (The top reason — 58 percent — said it tastes better.) I also think that in difficult times people like to do something to control their own fate. Growing your own healthy, delicious food is the ultimate act of independence. At the same time, gardening leads to a greater connection to the land you live on and the people around you. Let’s grow!

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Note the vole track behind the dog.

Well, there I was, feeling all zen about having a mole in my backyard, recognizing the great things about moles and feeling very accepting of critters in general. Then, I went outside yesterday to set out some winter sowing containers and what should I discover in the melting snow but the distinctive tracks of not moles, but voles. You can see the tracks in the photo right behind my dog Lily’s backside and running across the yard. Looks like Lily is on the scent, though she is way too old and slow to catch anything. What we need are a few more hawks around here.

Unlike moles, which generally are solitary creatures and not that harmful to plantings, voles can wreck havoc with trees and shrubs. They also reproduce wildly, with female voles ready to start making babies at three weeks of age. Yikes! I’m not sure what will be my plan of action in the spring. Apparently vole populations tend to hit a peak every four years and it looks like we’re in that peak.

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I love photographing succulents because of the textures and the lines. Here are a couple of shots of Jim Laupan’s succulents on display at the Minnesota Home and Patio Show, which ended yesterday. The light in the hall was not great, but Jim’s plants are fascinating no matter what the lighting.

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Great texture!

One of Jim's containers

One of Jim's containers

This is the whole plant from the close-up above.

This is the whole plant from the close-up above.

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The Minnesota Home and Patio Show at the St. Paul River Centre this weekend has a passel of great programs for gardeners, as well as a chance to talk with many landscapers from the Twin Cities. One of the trendier topics on the Northern Gardener stage is Jim Laupan’s program scheduled for tomorrow afternoon on “Succulents in the Landscape.” Jim is a designer with Plantique Garden Center in Minneapolis and has won multiple awards at the Minnesota State Fair for his succulent displays.

Several of his fascinating plantings are on display at the MSHS booth at the show. Jim’s displays are so perfectly shaped that they are almost like bonsai. Succulents are a wide-ranging group of water-retaining plants. Cactus, of course, are succulents, but the variety of succulents goes far beyond cactus. They come in an amazing variety of shapes, textures and colors and have become increasingly popular for container plantings. Another great thing about succulents: They don’t need much water.

If you are interested in succulents, stop by the Home Show Sunday at 12:30 p.m. and hear Jim’s talk.

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The Last of the Pesto

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Pesto baggies ready for the freezer.

Tonight I sauted some chicken breasts and served them with a little pasta bathed in the last of the pesto I froze last summer. It’s a bittersweet moment: I’m out of my homemade pesto, but that also means we’re getting closer to spring.

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Garden books tend to come out at two times of the year: when the season is over in fall and just as it begins in early spring.  So, my poor mail carrier has been delivering lots of big packages with books in them recently. I don’t review everything I get, but here are four books worth considering for your collection.

Tauton Press Image

Tauton Press Image

Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love, by Julie Moir Messervy, (Tauton Press, $30). I mentioned this book earlier in a post on naming your garden. In it, Messervy, a designer and co-author of Susan Susanka’s Outside the Not-So-Big House, describes a process home owners should go through as they decide how to landscape their property. Like many garden design books, it’s full of fabulous photos of no doubt fabulously expensive gardens. Unlike most garden design books, Messervy deals with the kinds of problems average gardeners have, such as how to make a home welcoming when the garage is the first thing visitors see. (As the owner of a snout house, this is a pet issue of mine with garden design books. Note to authors and landscapers: People have garages. Please help us deal with them.) If you are starting with a blank canvass or planning a major garden renovation, this book is a great place to start.

Rodale Press Image

Rodale Press Image

Noting the surge in interest in organics and sustainable landscaping, Rodale has revised and reissued its Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, (Rodale Press, $24.95). Checking in at just over 700 pages, this encyclopedia covers everything from animal pests to xeriscaping with an organic approach. Most entries are short plant descriptions, but the encyclopedia offers much more depth on topics such as fertilizer, garden design and greenhouse gardening. Rodale has been writing about organics for 50 years–these are the folks who publish Organic Gardening magazine–so the information is solid.

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Lesslawn.com Image

From titans of the garden publishing world to a lone writer with a passion: Recently, Evelyn J. Hadden sent me a copy of her book, Shrink Your Lawn: Design Ideas for Any Landscape, (Less Lawn Press, $28.99). A Plymouth, MN, gardener and frequent speaker at local gardening events, Hadden offers practical and beautiful ways to reduce the amount of grass on your property. Her argument is that lawns, while a classic element of American landscaping, are costly and unsuitable for many environments and climates. And, there are many parts of your lawn you never go to except to mow–so why not plant something else there? Many of the examples Hadden shows in the book are from the Twin Cities, making her suggestions especially relevant to readers in the Upper Midwest. The book is just under 100 pages long, but for those dedicated to getting rid of at least some of their lawn, it’s well worth reading.

This last book is not new, but you may be able to find it at your local used book shop or library. If you do, grab it, because it is one of the most delightful garden books I’ve read in a long time. Mrs. Greenthumbs: How I Turned a Boring Yard into a Glorious Garden and How You Can, Too, (Three Rivers Press, prices vary) is a march through the gardening year with a hilarious, opinionated guide: Cassandra Danz. I was sorry to read elsewhere that Danz died in 2002, but she left behind a wonderful book full of stories and advice. She’ll tell you how to prune a tree or shrub, how to avoid double digging, and which seven perennials you must have in your garden. Like a good friend, she’ll tell you the garden truths you do not want to hear (In my case, that you really need to have a fence or other form of enclosure to have a truly comfortable garden), and she’ll keep you laughing all the way through. Find it, read it.

Since winter is not giving up its frigid grip just yet, grab a book and settle in for a few more weeks.

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One of my winter sowing containers.

I can’t remember an article in Northern Gardener that has gotten the response we’ve had to Michelle Mero Riedel’s article about winter sowing, which appeared in the January/February issue. Winter sowing involves using milk jugs and pop bottles as mini-greenhouses to start perennials from seed in the winter. I tried the method last year and was impressed enough with the results to give it a go again this year.

Belinda Jensen, the KARE meteorologist and garden reporter, saw the article and did a feature on winter sowing on the Saturday morning news program. You can check the video of the piece out at the KARE Web site. Michelle taught one class on winter sowing earlier this month, which sold out in a flash, so she will be offering another class at the Minnesota State Horticultural Society offices Tuesday Monday, Feb. 23. To sign up for the class, call 651-643-3601.

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