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Archive for April, 2009

Celebrity Tomato seedling

Celebrity tomato seedling

While I have started vegetables and flowers indoors from seeds in the past, my results have been spotty at best.  Damping off, drying up, keeling over for no apparent reason — that’s the story of seed starting for me. This year, I changed several aspects of my approach and have been pleased — OK, bursting with pride — with the results.

I’ve got about half a card table-ful of stout little seedlings of  tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, sunflowers, peppers, and the special salvia for attracting hummingbirds that I heard about at the Rice County Horticulture Day in March. What worked this time that hadn’t before? Two things: Putting the plants where I can watch them closely and adding air circulation.

img_4779Recently, I moved my office to the lower level of our home. It’s near a west-facing sliding glass door, so I set up  the card table and simple shoplight right next to the desk. With the plants right there, I’m much more likely to notice that this tray or that one needs more water, more likely to rotate them so the seedlings get more or less even light, and more likely to notice that they need to be potted on. Because I can see them — and even smell them — I’m less likely to neglect them. The one trick with this location was how to hang the light. Since it’s a finished room, I did not want to drill holes in the ceiling and hang the lights. Instead, I commandeered a hanging rack from the laundry room and hung the light chains from hangars on the rack. It’s a bit odd looking — and yes, family members have asked a) when all the seed junk will be out of this room, which doubles as a TV room; and b) when the hanging rack will be available again for clothes. But all in all, it’s a great set up.

The second improvement was the addition of a fan. I learned this from an article by Don Engebretson. A small fan set on low provides just enough air circulation to prevent damping off and other fungal diseases. With the fan, the shoplight, the window for extra natural light, and my extra attention, the seedlings are thriving.

The next challenge: Getting them safely into the garden. I’ll be reading up on hardening off seedlings over the next few weeks.

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img_4765With the temps staying pretty cool — frost on the front yard this morning! — the only place you’ll find apple blossoms is indoors, such as these that I forced. A couple of weeks ago, I trimmed some stray branches off our Haralson apple tree. They had nice buds, so rather than composting them or tossing them, I put them in water and set them on the kitchen table.  The buds began blooming yesterday. Forcing branches is so easy, and it makes it seem as if spring is a little further along than it is.

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current_coverThe May/June issue of Northern Gardener is on the newsstands now, and it’s been getting great reviews. The cover photograph, taken by Ken Friberg, is a spring-fever inducing shot of a ‘Julia Rose’ peony, one of an unusual group of tree and Itoh peonies profiled in writer Margaret Haapoja’s aricle on “Particular Peonies.” Other stories include an explanation of how to garden nearly weedllessly, the ABCs of formal design and a piece on summer bulbs for beginners. If you are not an MSHS member or a subscriber, you can pick up a copy at many nurseries and magazine racks.

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A Few More Blooms

img_4762img_4748The recent rain and warmer temperatures have prompted a lot of growth of bulb foliage and a few more blooms. I really like the color of these ‘Grand Maitre’ crocus in the front garden. I only planted 20 last fall, but will add a few more this year to increase the impact. In the front door bed, these apricot colored tulips have opened. Several others, including some like the two types of tulips I forced, are also just about ready to bloom.

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In honor of Earth Day, the Northfield News ran several articles on its Green Living page by members of the city Environmental Quality Commission. I’m not on the commission but am a member of a group advising the EQC on tree issues and was happy to contribute a piece on placing trees to save energy.

As I was researching the story, it struck me that there are a couple of trees in my yard I’d like to move just a hair — but it’s too late for that!  One of the goals of the EQC is to encourage city residents to build the tree canopy — that layer of mature trees that shades streets and yards, reduces pollution, and just generally makes a community a more pleasant place to live.  While fall is a great time to plant trees, spring is fine, too, as long as you water new trees as recommended.

Not all of the Green Living articles are online, so pick up a copy of today’s paper, if you would like to read more about water conservation, the benefits of awnings, and ways to make your yard more environmentally friendly.

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Ready to Pop

Lilac in bud

Lilac in bud

A walk around the yard today made it clear that trees and shrubs are ready to pop. We just need a little rain — and I’m hopeful we may get it tonight and Sunday — for all the buds to open into leaves. The two weeks or so in spring when Minnesota suddenly greens up are among my favorite weeks of the year. It feels like we have waited very long for them this year — though I know that historically leaf pop (not a scientific term) often doesn’t occur until about the 10th of May.

If we do not get much rain, however, gardeners may want to follow the advice from the folks at Knecht’s to put a hose on any new beds or trees. Things looked very dry so I watered several of my flower beds and my newer trees earlier in the week.

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Another Bulb in Bloom

img_4727These sweet little Iris reticulata are the second bulb to bloom in my yard this year. They surprised me a couple of days ago because — as has happened before — I forgot I planted them. Like the squill that are also blooming, the plants are small (the iris flowers are disproportionately large) and you have to be standing close to them to notice them at all. For the photo, I was crouched way down on the sidewalk. The crocus I planted last fall have foliage but no blooms yet, though my neighbor who has an impressive bulb display every year has both crocus and diminutive daffodils in bloom. Whatever their size, the blooms are most welcome this time of year. Now, if we could just get some rain…..

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