Archive for November, 2009

It’s easy to spend a lot of money on holiday decorations for inside and outside of your home — but it can also be done on the cheap, and my goal this holiday season is to come up with a few nice decorations that don’t cost much money.

Here’s the ultimate cheap holiday pot: It cost nothing. A couple of weeks ago, I trimmed back some decidedly overgrown red-twig dogwood bushes. While many of the branches went to the county brush pile, I picked some of the longest, straightest, and brightest for use in outdoor holiday decorations. For this simple pot, I took a good-sized bunch of branches and set them in a strawberry pot that otherwise would spend the winter in the garage. Ta-da! A decorative holiday pot.


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One More Chance

In this mixed up fall — August in September, November in October, October in November — you never know when the last day for gardening will occur. Here I was all set (perhaps even a bit eager) to call it quits, and along comes a pleasant weekend, so the jobs I was ready to not do, got done. The last of the pots were emptied and cleaned, the trimmed dogwood branches were taken to the Rice County compost pile (Northfield’s closed Nov. 15),  and I watered all my new plantings one last time.

I even  found an inventive way to get the hose wound up and put away. The hoses we have tend to get twisted, so I undid all the crimps and twists and laid the hose on the driveway (which is slightly angled) to drain. Then, standing in the garage so not too many neighbors would see, I put the hose at my waist and started turning around. Other than having to stop once because I was getting dizzy, the method worked wonderfully — the hose was carefully wound around my middile, it slid off in a neat circle, and it was easy to stow.

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Seeds for Survival?

This morning’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune brings news of the latest must-have item for survivalists. For $149, you can buy a canister filled with enough heirloom seeds to plant an acre of vegetables, enough to feed a small group of people for a year.

Several authors of a decidedly non-survivalist bent (if you want to use a crude red/blue, liberal/conservative yardstick) have written books on how to grow your own and the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of doing that. My favorites are This Organic Life, by Joan Dye Gussow, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. Both books tell the story of how a family began to live off its own land — in Gussow’s case, a standard suburban lot. Last spring, Northern Gardener profiled a couple from Prior Lake, Mn., who fed themselves and three teen-age sons very well from a large vegetable garden. Obviously, you can grow much of the food a family needs on an acre or less.

What this survivalist seed offer seems to ignore, though, is that to “grow your own” you need a good deal more than seeds: You need knowledge, and lots of it. Most of the folks I’ve known over the years who are very self-sufficient grew up on farms, or they devoted considerable study to horticulture and animal husbandry as they gradually moved to a grow-you-own approach. To successfully garden on a largish scale (particularly post-apocalypse), you need to know when and how to plant seeds, how to sharpen and repair tools, how to make your own compost and build your soil, how to build fences to keep critters out of the garden, and, if you are an omnivore, how to keep and butcher chickens or other animals among many other things. Most importantly, you have to know how to process enough food to get you through the winter .

So, to any survivalists out there, I say, by all means, put down your guns and plant a garden — though you may be able to get a better deal on seeds than $149. Buy some canning equipment, too, and a dehydrator. Go to the library or a book dealer and pick up a couple of basic manuals on going it alone, such as the 1940s classic The “Have More” Plan or the more recent, The Backyard Homesteader. Enjoy yourselves, learn some skills, and you may find that whether the world ends or not, working in your garden has given you a healthier, happier life — and that’s a lot better than just surviving.

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I’m continually amazed at what plants will do to survive. Recently, while thinning out some overgrown red-twig dogwood, I came across this branch. The canes of red twig dogwood are fairly soft when they form and the bush grows essentially as a thicket, with branches on top of each other and sometimes criss-crossing each other, or as in this case, just making a nice U-turn to go around each other. We should all be so flexible.

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current_coverI have been so busy lately with work, closing up the garden, teaching a class at Carleton College and what not that I have neglected some of my blogging duties.  And, there are two important bits of news that I want to get out. First, the November/December issue of Northern Gardener is on the newsstands now. The issue has a beautiful blue-toned cover and includes a wonderful article on doing holiday decorations with a garden theme. Julie Scouten, who writes the And Sow Forth essay each issue, is a master decorator and she has several fun ideas for using garden implements and plant materials in home decor that can last all winter.  (Julie’s son, Eric Scouten, is the photographer who took the cover shot.) In addition to the decorating article, we have a list of great gift ideas for gardeners, a profile by Terry Yockey of a magnificent small-space garden in Red Wing, and Northfielder Leif Knecht’s recommendations for dwarf conifers. One of his recommendations, the ‘Tannebaum’ mugo pine, is in my new front-yard garden.

The second big item of news is that Northern Gardener recently won a bronze award for general excellence in the special interest publication category at the Minnesota Magazine and Publications Association awards dinner. We were especially pleased to be recognized in this category because it looks at the magazine as a whole, which is how our readers look at it as well. Thanks to the judges for the honor, and as always, thanks to the folks who read the magazine issue after issue.

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Looks good in hat

me in hat

Lose the hat, lady

Let’s face it: Not everyone looks good in a cap. The young lady at right, for instance, has always looked good in hats. Her mother, at left, not so much. (And, why is she kissing a dog?) I think about caps while cleaning up the garden in fall, and today was a perfect day for garden clean-up in Minnesota: warm temperatures, sun, no wind and the ominous threat that this will not last lingering in the air.

So here is the Cap Theory of Garden Clean-Up: Any perennials that would look good in a cap of snow should be left standing. Plants like sedum, Joe Pye weed, yarrow, coneflower, and some rudbeckia provide the perfect landing pads for snowflakes, making them a bright spot in the otherwise monotonous tones of winter. Other plants that might be left standing are those with interesting color and texture, such as grasses or Husker Red penstemon, which as bright red stems. Cut down any plants that look flat or soggy after freezing, such as hosta (yuck — nothing is more unsightly than a hosta after a freeze) and daylilies. Today I also cleaned up a lot of Clara Curtis daisies, some Mexican hat, and a scraggly looking Walker’s Low nepeta. Because they may carry powdery mildew, the phlox also got cut back.


Coneflower, looking good in snow cap.

You don’t have to cut plants back in the fall  at all — and many years, I have just not gotten around to it. But with beautiful weather, it’s fun to walk around the yard, shears and pruners in hand, deciding what would look good wearing snow this winter.

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