Posted in Seasonal Sunday

The reliable messengers of spring

It’s that time of year when we dream of new life. Tulips breaking the ground, their faces to the sun. Seeds bursting open with tender roots and delicate shoots. Tiny blades of grass finding their way through last year’s thatch.

Ah, the lawn.

That bane of man’s existence. That symbol of status or flag of defeat.

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This picture undoubtedly elicits one of two reactions in you:

  1. “Look at the pretty little purple flowers!”
  2. “Sweet Mother of God!  That’s Creeping Charlie!”

If you are in the first group, bless your little heart.  Although pervasive, they are pretty.

If you are in the second group, I’m guessing you’re stocking up on herbicides as we speak. I’ve stopped buying herbicides and fertilizers. I buy compost and grass seed.  I rarely water.  I’m gradually planting the yard with flowers and shrubs that need little care, and adding raised gardens. Fresh vegetables eaten right out of the garden?  Now there’s a symbol of status for you. Ideally, I’d like to have just enough grass to sink my toes into while I sip a glass of wine.

As for Creeping Charlie and dandelions, those reliable messengers of spring, they’ll feed the bees until everything else catches up.

Posted in Great Outdoors

Misadventures in Straw-Bale Gardening

Have you heard of straw bale gardening?  Are you considering giving it a try?  This has been my great agricultural experiment of the summer!  I will definitely try it again next year even though it hasn’t been all I had hoped.  It all started with a couple of pictures I ran across on the the internet.

They looked something like this:

My curiosity was piqued.  Then at the 2012 Great Minnesota Get-Together, otherwise known as the State Fair, I notice that Joel Karsten was scheduled for a demonstration.  Joel is the author of Straw Bale Gardens.  Positioned just inside the shelter of the agricultural building, his talk included an interesting Power Point and a mini-bale visual aid.  I was hooked.  Within weeks I was shopping for bales.  09.2012.8.pGetting your straw bales in the fall, I am told, gives you the best chance of finding what you need.  Having no previous desire to purchase a bale of straw left me with no sense of where to start.  So I threw a couple blankets in the back of my car, found the nearest garden supply, and procured as many as would fit it my Dodge Neon (four).  They were low-grade bales, but they seemed better than none, which is how many I was afraid of ending up with.

One month later, at an upscale gardening center, I bought a couple of the quality bales for which I had been hoping. This time I lined the back of my car with plastic, making cleanup much easier!

The six bales of straw were covered from the elements and stored for the planting while we waited for spring.

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And waited . . .

poor little seedlings

The seedlings were patient while we waited some more.

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Yet, back in August, Joel had assured the audience that we could start conditioning the straw bales for planting weeks before the gardeners were considering nestling their seeds into the earth.  So I positioned the hay bales and started the conditioning process.

For ten days the bales receive a rigid schedule of fertilizer and water.  On the twelfth day the straw bales should be ready to plant.

Except on the sixth day, I realized I was not using water soluble fertilizer.  There was no turning back, so I let the bales rest for a couple days, found the correct fertilizer and started over on day one.  Again.

05.2013.5 - strawAnd on the twelfth day I planted.  The weather was cooperative and rained . . . and rained . . . and rained!

DSCN1259On May 20th, the telltale mushrooms appeared in one of the quality straw bales I had purchased from the upscale gardening center.  Mushrooms indicate the material is breaking down and becoming rich growing matter.

By June 11th, tomatoes growing in this area were the strongest plants in my little experimental garden.  In other areas, mushrooms and mold spores were occasionally showing up, yet this first area continued to show more plant growth.  Something went right in this straw bale, but what?

Everything else in the garden looked weak.  The transplants all looked yellow and weak.  The seeds were slow to germinate.  I watered with a fertilizer thinking the plants were just “hungry.”  Not much helped.

Click images to enlarge.

Then one day I went to work and left the soaker hose running.  It ran for eight hours straight.  Joel’s statement, “You really can’t overwater straw bale gardens” kept running through my head.  Indeed, nothing had been sitting in puddles of water, as they would have in a traditional garden.

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Two days later my pole bean put out a runner twice it’s height.  I wondered if the plants had just been thirsty.

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Today the marigolds that I bought on clearance and were near dead when I got them home, have perked up and are blooming; good evidence that the bales will support life!

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I decided to run dirt over the top of the two weakest bales, the preferred method for planting seeds.  I will be planting a late summer crop of leaf lettuces in one, and kale in the other.  I left the peppers alone, still wanting to see if the leaves will green up by the end of the growing season.

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Between the odd weather we’ve had this year, and this being my first straw bale garden ever, I really have nothing to compare.  There will at least be a few tomatoes, provided mother nature lets them ripen.

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The advantages of this type of garden are clear.  There were almost no weeds other than the few straw seeds that germinated.  I have had no pests . . . including dogs.  In addition, the gardens are raised and easy on my back, which isn’t getting any younger!

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
–Thomas A. Edison 

In other words, there is always next year . . .

Peace . . .  or in this case . . .

Peas . . .

Posted in Great Outdoors

Don’t Judge a Flower by Its Dirt

dscn0371There was something familiar about contemplating my weed to grass ratio last week. I sat on the front step and let my mind wander. It drifted all the way back, to a year in the late ‘60s. My best friend and I were young girls playing down at the ditch.

Anyone from my old neighborhood knows what I mean by the ditch. It was a stretch of land outlined by the street on one side, the railroad tracks on the other.  It was our playground, wilderness, bicycle course, sledding hill, place of all dares real and imagined. It was our turf.

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One lazy spring day, the kind that makes you think summer is here to stay, I sat with my playmate watching the clouds.  We contemplated the kind of reasoning that 9 year-olds will. Our attention was drawn to the petals dancing in the breeze. We knew what our moms grew were flowers. We also knew if either of our moms had seen any of these in the yard, they would be deemed weeds and promptly uprooted.

And so our analysis began. Who exactly determined a blossom was a flower or a weed? We both agreed the blooms around us were just as delicate, vibrant and fragrant as any daffodil at home. Children of our age understood well the injustice of social divisions. How sad for the weeds that they cannot be showcased in a garden. How sad for the flowers in the garden that they cannot mingle with the grasses in the field.

dscn0390We embarked, that day, on the creation of our first garden. Right there in our wilderness we churned the earth with borrowed tools. We plotted, envisioned, transplanted and dreamed our weed garden into existence. We irrigated with water hauled in pails from home almost a block away. As I remember, the plants responded to the care we gave. We were proud and diligent until childhood distractions lured us away.

Maybe we were just children of the ’60s. Or maybe some lifelong morals were instilled out under the sun that summer.  All I know is that I still believe in the childhood convictions we committed to so many years ago.

  • Don’t judge a flower by its dirt.
  • Living things, given a little water and fresh air, flourish.
  • Mingle with the grasses.
  • Dandelions are pretty too.
  • If you are a weed in a flower garden, get a good deep root and just keep popping up.
  • Summer is never here to stay.

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Photos were taken at Como Park, St. Paul, Minnesota