Sunday, April 24, 2011

Iris Cristata

I have a new garden favorite: iris cristata. It's also called dwarf crested iris. Until last year, I had never seen or heard of this plant. I stumbled across it at a nursery. It started blooming this week. It's so pretty and delicate. It's about 6 inches tall and the clump has doubled in size since last year. The label for the plant said that it serves as a great ground cover in sun to light shade. It's doing well under my oak tree.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I loathe squirrels. We used to have at least a polite relationship. I have a problem with them digging up my porch plants, despite the fact that I have tens of thousands of acorns all over my yard. Now, however, they have gone too far. They dug up my fancy reblooming iris and flung it in the porch to rot.
The photo above it the shriveled up remains of what they must have dug up over the winter. I replanted it in the front bed. I hope that it's not too far gone. The other iris that I planted at the same time look like this:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Big Harvest

Today, I was cleaning out my shared alley bed and came across a few carrots from last year. They were all still tiny, despite having been in the ground for almost a year. I'm going to have to investigate what kind of soil carrots like. The soil is loose and rich, so I get big tops and small carrots. Maybe the soil has too much nitrogen. Does anyone out there know how I can amend the soil to get bigger carrots?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Planting Shallots

I planted 24 shallot sets this weekend. Many books recommend planting them in the fall, but you can also plant them in the spring for a late summer harvest. They should be planted a inch or two deep and about 6 inches apart. Just make sure that their necks stick out a little bit above the soil line. It's important to keep the shallot rows well weeded. Their shallow roots system doesn't do well with weed competition.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Planting Sugar Snap Peas

I'm so behind in my gardening this spring. I've been traveling a lot for work, so my gardening time has been limited. I am about a month late in getting my peas planted. I don't feel too bad, because a fellow Indianapolis gardener, Minji at thyme2gardennow, posted last week that her peas had just come up. 

I always plant my peas along my picket fence so that the fence can serve as a trellis. I usually just poke a hole in the soil with my finger, but the soil is a little too compacted this year. Instead, I used a 3/4" drill spade that I slipped into an interchangable screwdriver. Making the right sized holes with it was easy.

I popped two peas into each hole since my pea seeds are old. The seeds are three years old, but pea seeds   are viable for 3 years according to the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. After placing the peas in the hole, I added a little shake of inoculant to the hole. The inoculant has bacteria that help the pea seedlings to fix nitrogen. Using inoculant is suppose to give you stronger, more productive pea plants. I planted yesterday so that I wouldn't have to water. It rained last night and is supposed to rain throughout the day today. I often try to plant when I know there will be rain. I want my seeds and plants to get a long, soft, deep soaking.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Favorite Spring Perennial: Jack Frost Brunnera

Jack Frost Brunnera, also called Siberian Bugloss, is one of my favorite spring flowering perennials. This year in my garden, zone 5, it started blooming around April 6, and will likely give me a couple of weeks more of bloom time. I like it because it grows in fairly dry shade without any help from me. The periwinkle blue flowers look lovely when planted beside daffodils. even after the flowers are gone, the heart-shaped, variegated leaves brighten up and add texture to my shade garden.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Favorite Flower Resource

One of my favorite flower resources is Fine Gardening's Plant Guide. This website is one my my go-to sites for digging up information on caring for plants that I already have or exploring which kinds of new plants would work well in my garden.

[note: Starting tomorrow, I will be back from a business trip that I took and I will have some 'real' postings about my garden.]

Monday, April 11, 2011

Excellent Veggie Resource

One of my most useful, free :-) resources is the Indiana Vegetable Planting Calendar from the Purdue Cooperative Extension.  This free resource divides Indiana into four planting zones based on typical last frost and first frost dates. Indianapolis is in their zone C in which the 50% last frost date is April 26 and the 90% last frost date is May 5. The publication also includes date ranges for planting 57 different vegetables and fruits.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

This Year's Tomato Lineup

I have 13 different varieties of tomatoes that I'm planting this year.  I was planning on 14, but one variety didn't germinate.

Sweet Tangerine
Black from Tula
Russo's Sicilian Togetta
Chocolate Stripes
Japanese Trifele
Patano Romanesco
Red Alert
Mr. Stipey
Amish Paste
Early Chatham

Last year, I grew
Sweet Tangerine
Chocolate Stripes
Fred Limbaugh
Bloody Butcher
Henderson's Wins All
Wolford's Wonder
Napa Grape
Italian Heirloom
Japanese Trifele
Black Cherry
Orange Russian
Principe Borghese

I did a little taste and productivity test on all the tomatoes. I want to find the best tasting, most productive tomatoes for my garden. Last year, I tried several varieties and was won over by three different tomatoes:
Sweet Tangerine
Chocolate Stripes
Japanese Trifele

I saved seeds from all of my tomatoes. I kept a package each of Sweet Tangerine, Chocolate Stripes, and Japanese Trifele. I sent the rest of the seeds to Trudi at Wintersown sends out free seeds, including tomato seeds to gardeners. I also asked for some tomato seeds. She allows requesters to choose 10 seed varieties and she tries to give them at least 5 packets of what they want. It's great to trade seeds for the cost of a couple of stamps rather than having to invest in several seed packs at the store for a much great amount of money.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Potting Up Tomato Seedlings

My tomato seedlings have grown all the way up to the grow lights, so it's time to pot them up.

I started by making a soil mixture.  I used to buy potting soil until I realized that it wasn't really necessary. Now I mix some coir (coconut fiber that has great moisture retaining properties), peat moss, finished compost, and some garden soil. I mix it all in a large storage tub.

I often use old plastic pots, but I don't have many this year. Instead, I used 9 ounce cups. The 9 ounce cups are a good size for me because they fit well into the trays that I put the potted up seedlings in. They will last a couple of years, so I can reuse them before eventually recycling them. They need a drainage hole, so I use a cheap soldering iron to melt a hole in the bottoms of the cups.

I had terrific germination. I usually place two seeds in each peat pellet in case one doesn't germinate. This year, almost all pellets had two seedlings and a few had three. There must have been some tomato seeds that stuck together.

I take off the netting on the pellets and tease the seedlings apart, trying to retain as many roots as I can for each seedling.  Then I remove the first set of leaves at the bottom of each stem and bury the seedlings deep in the bottom of the cups. Roots will sprout along the buried stems and create a strong root system for each plant.

Once the tomatoes are potted up, I start hardening them off by placing them outside when the temperature is above 50 degrees. I start with 4 hours and gradually increase the time that they are outside until they are able to stay out all night. On the days and nights that forecast low temperatures near 50 degrees, I bring the plants inside. Temperatures any cooler will delay the seedling growth. I may plant them in early May if warm weather is forecasted or after May 10th which is our frost free date.

Putting the seedlings out early gives me more room under my grow lights to start an early round of cucumbers, melons, and beans. I give them a head start and transplant them out after the frost free date in Indianapolis, May 10.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Tomatoes

Last year, I tried starting my tomatoes in Jiffy Mix. As you can see in the picture at the top, I got tiny scrawny, purple seedlings. They were 2-4 inches tall. The picture on the bottom shows my tomato seedlings this year that I started in peat pellets. They are 8-10 inches tall. Both photos were taken when the seedlings were about 6 weeks old. From now on, I'm going to stick with peat pellets.
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