Probably by this date everybody had enough of winter, but since spring is not going to be here for a while, you can enjoy a preview indoors by forcing flowering branches into bloom. Most tree or bush branches that bloom in spring would suit this purpose, some easier than others. Among the easiest to force into bloom – forsythia and pussy willow. Among the most difficult – crab apples. In between there is a whole range, you take your pick: flowering quince, magnolia, cherry and plum, witch hazel, lilac, viburnum, etc. I chose flowering quince and Japanese cherry.
The process is very simple: cut branches with rounded buds (those are flower and not leaf buds) with sharp pruning shears and bring them indoors. Smash the ends of the branches with a hammer, or slit lengthwise with a sharp knife. Place the branches immediately in warm water and put them in a well lit location, but not in direct sunlight.
Change the water every two or three days as needed to keep it clear. The easy ones, like forsythia, will bloom in a week, but for the rest of them expect to wait approximately four weeks.
There are few things that match the joy of watching children take charge of little projects, and gardening projects are no exception. Set aside a little patch of dirt for your kids to plant seeds and watch things grow. Make sure it is reasonably fertile and in full sun, you don’t want to make a starter project so challenging that it generates disillusionment rather than the pride of accomplishment. Stick to annuals. Turn the dirt at a spade’s depth early in the spring, to ensure that most of the seeds will germinate. Prepare little starter flats for annuals, if you would like to start some of the plants indoors. Make sure the little gardeners have child sized gardening utensils: a little watering can, a tiny hoe, gardening gloves, a little rake. For some projects, if the dirt is of good quality, a plastic beach set with a bucket, a watering can, a little rake and a small shovel or spade would suffice.
That being said, unless you are starting seeds indoors (see end of article), wait until the day of last frost has passed. If you don’t know what that day is in your area, check out this guide. Don’t plant outdoors before that date. Frost may not occur as late as that date this year, but if it does, it will be a downer for the little ones.
Make sure the ground is moist and finely minced before starting. Take some time with your child to lay out on paper what will be planted where. Use strings or ribbons to separate the areas. Prepare waterproof markers for the new plantings and mark the flowerbeds properly.
Read the instructions together for seed planting depth and spacing and help out with planting if needed. After the seedlings emerge, teach the child to thin them out, so that the new plants have plenty of room to develop. Make a habit of walking around the garden with your child and make daily observations about plant development, water needs or anything else that might apply. This will reap its own reward later, especially if they are starting veggies, when it is produce picking time.
Here is a list of fail proof plants for a starter garden:
– Zinnias: they germinate reliably, grow very fast and have showy blooms. Since children like to pick flowers, zinnias are a great choice. The more you pick, the more they bloom.
– Snapdragons: not very picky about care, as long as they have enough sunlight. They are a favorite play thing.
– Marigolds, or if you want to make it even more interesting, pot marigolds. They are very pretty and easy to grow.
– Sunflowers are always a child’s favorite, because they are so big and grow three times their height.
– Anything with large seeds will be easy to handle during planting, therefore generate a more reliable outcome. Among these, nasturtiums, morning glory and four o’clocks will be great choices. Most of the larger seeds that are somewhat woody need a 24 hour soaking in warm water to ensure faster germination, but they will sprout anyway.
– Try vegetables that are easy to grow and the kids might enjoy, like cucumbers, squash and beans. Make child sized bean tepees so they can reach all the way to the top. Leave an opening at one end, the little shady shelter will be the ultimate Summer favorite. Consider adding furnishings, it will make a great alternative for a tree house. Don’t worry about the beans, they’ll figure it out.
– Try adding something fragrant of flavorful, like sweet alyssum or basil.
– Create a marker to designate that the area is your child’s garden and let them choose what that might be.
– Think about adding a bird bath.
If you want to start the seeds indoors, place the seed starters in a prominent location with plenty of sunlight and a little watering can nearby. Remember, out of sight, out of mind. You would be surprised what four days of neglect can do to small plants. Starting plants indoors is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the proper thinning of seedlings.
Depending how much you want to enforce teaching responsibility, you might need to give your child reminders about gardening tasks that need done, but remember that this is supposed to be a fun successful project, so if you need to accidentally water it yourself when it doesn’t look too hot, or pull out a couple of weeds every now and then(trust me, that is a chore even grown-ups tend to put off), so be it.
Yes, I know that January is not particularly a gardener’s dream, but it is a special and exciting opportunity for renewal. Every year green thumbs afflicted by cabin fever search hopefully through plant and seed nursery catalogs to find the next beautiful flower or high-yield veggie to add to their garden.
Whether their patch of dirt is farm sized or just a few clay pots and in a little sunny spot on a balcony, everyone who ever caught the gardening bug is always looking for the next plant to enjoy, harvest, or, let’s face it, show off.
If you are into seed saving, it is time to bring in that seed box of yours and review the contents. Yes, they will all sprout and grow into beautiful plants.
For those who want to add a little diversity to the garden, try new plants or enhance their seed saver collection for the future, there is nothing like heirloom and non-hybridized seeds.
Most of the plants these seeds come from have been thriving in your area for decades, even centuries. They are beautifully reminiscent of grandparents’ gardens, very flavorful if they are vegetables, not prone to disease and most importantly, will come true from seed year after year.
I’m sure everybody has their favorites when it comes to picking a nursery to buy seeds from, but I will share mine:
Monticello Catalog of Plants and Seeds – every plant I started from their seeds was beyond expectation, they come out beautiful, vigorous, and will thrive anywhere. They have heirloom and non-hybridized seeds. Case in point – Scarlet Runner Beans and Calendula.
Heirloom Seeds – They have a wonderful variety of certified organic vegetable seeds. At this time, if you buy a Victory Garden they will donate $10 to the Red Cross. Please check out the details on their site.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – They offer only open pollinated seeds.
Spring Hill Nurseries – I have been buying plants and seeds from them for a long time, and I was very happy with them. See their “Wonder of Staffa” blue asters, for instance.
Click here to visit BloomingBulb.com – Another grower from whom I bought plants for years, very reliable. They specialize in bulbs, I think probably two thirds of the bulbs in my garden came from their nursery.
Just in time for the holidays, a recipe for wonderfully fragrant and very festive looking candied lemon peel. Great for decorating, if there is any of it left by the end of the day.
Disclaimer – if it looks like candy and tastes like candy it’s because it has the same amount of sugar and calories as candy. That being said…
Candied Lemon Peel:
– 4 lemons with thick skin
– 2 cups of sugar
Wash the lemons thoroughly and peel them with a sharp paring knife or a vegetable peeler. Slice the peels into 1/4 inch slices or leave them in their natural shapes. If you like fancier forms, roll the 1/4″ peels into little pinwheels and secure them with toothpicks before cooking.
Add the lemon peels and enough cold water to cover them to a pot and bring to a boil. Strain and repeat the process. Strain again and add back to the pot with the sugar and 4 cups of water. The peels should boil in the syrup until they are tender and translucent, about 30 minutes.
Strain the candied peels, toss them with granulated sugar until completely coated and spread on aluminum foil for 3 hours to cool and dry. Store in airtight containers. It will last in the refrigerator for up to four weeks.
Yes, this is a spruced up picture of mold. In order to save your favorite tomato seeds for next year, you need to remove the gelatinous coating that keeps them from germinating inside the tomato fruit.
In nature, the tomato will eventually fall to the ground and for lack of a better word, rot. While it is turning to mush on the ground, the pulp and juices ferment and break down the gel around the seeds, allowing them to germinate.
Since we normally pick the tomatoes from the vine before this happens, we need to mimic the process to obtain the fertile seeds ready for germination.
Just think of this as a science experiment dedicated to the fermentation process. It kind of smells, but it is not too bad.
|Choose your favorite healthy tomatoes, the open pollinated variety (the other ones won’t come true from seed). Label the jars the pulp is going in with the type of tomato and the date.||Slice the tomatoes across the equator. It makes it easier to scoop up the pulp.||Scoop up the pulp inside the…||…corresponding labeled jar.|
|Cover the seeds and pulp with half a cup of water.||Cover the jar with a clean coffee filter and place in a warm place to ferment. It doesn’t smell good, so don’t place it somewhere where the smell would bother you.||After a few days (3 or more) the mixture will ferment and start developing mold at the surface. This means the gel that coats the seeds has broken down and they can be cleaned up and dried.||Thoroughly remove all mold, fermented pulp and sterile seeds by adding water to the jar and pouring out everything that floats on top. After a few rinses, the water will run clear and the healthy and fertile seeds will sink to the bottom. Strain them, pour them on a paper towel and pat them dry, then spread them out to dry on a paper plate, marked with the type of tomato and the date. After they dry, place them in labeled paper bags for spring.|
Don’t forget to plant your spring bulbs before the dirt freezes. Use only healthy bulbs that are not soft or showing signs of mold, and make sure to work plenty of bone meal or bulb fertilizer into the soil, to give your plants a good start for next season.
A few comments about planting bulbs:
– they don’t like wet feet, a well draining soil will help them thrive; if you have heavy clay soil, loosen it up a little by adding sand.
– do not plant them too shallow (follow the instructions on the packet but a good rule of thumb is to plant twice deeper than the height of the bulb), and use group plantings for better color effect.
– if you have a small garden consider planting several overlapping layers of bulbs of different sizes and blooming times.
If you live somewhere between zone 4 and zone 6, this would be the time you walk around your garden and acknowledge the fact that the bounty of green tomatoes still hanging from the vines will probably not have time to ripen before the first frost. Grab a bag and gather them all, they make wonderful pickles for the winter months.
Here is a quick recipe for pickled green tomatoes, the time it takes to prepare it is roughly how long it takes for the water to boil.
Pickled Green Tomatoes
You will need clean glass containers (you can be creative about what constitutes a proper pickle jar, please see picture). The only comment is to use sturdier containers because you will have to pour hot liquid in them.
However many green tomatoes, bell peppers and hot peppers you found in the garden: arrange artfully to fill the jars.
Carrots for decorating – slice lengthwise into 1/4″ thick slices and cut them into interesting shapes.
Drop in the jars bay leaves, mixed peppercorns, mustard seed, dried dill, and garlic cloves. If you happen to have a sour cherry tree in your yard (which would be great because they are self pollinating and bear lots of fruit), cut a few tiny branches with leaves and use them to keep the tomatoes from popping up (sour cherry tree leaves prevent pickles from becoming mushy).
In a large pot bring two gallons of water, one pound of salt, and a pint of vinegar to a boil. Wrap the pickle jar in a thick wet towel and place it on top of two or three flatware handles. (the wet towel and the metal will help conduct the heat of the boiling liquid so that the glass doesn’t break). Pour the hot water, salt and vinegar mix over the pickles until they are fully covered. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean towel and cover with card stock rounds and cellophane. Keep in a warm place until the liquid turns clear (the fermenting process should take 4 to 6 weeks), and then store in a cool location to keep over winter.
If you are interested in home food preservation, please take a look at this website:
Besides information about how to pickle, dry, can or cure basically anything, you will find out the basics of food preserving, the hows and whys, and a lot of other interesting and useful advice.
I’m going to take the opportunity that this late bloom of Bishop’s Castle provided to present an old world recipe for Rose Petal Sherbet. This delicacy is highly praised by people who dwell around the Mediterranean, since it is a traditional middle-eastern treat that shares its popularity with the Turkish delights and the almond halva. A spoonful of sherbet in a glass of ice water is the way to serve it to guests, especially in summer, when it provides well needed refreshment. If you want to make it special, make sure that the presentation (a silver spoon and a crystal glass) matches the sophistication of the confection, but it would work without it too, because it is delicious. All rose preserves, including this sherbet, should be made of very fragrant Centifolia roses such as this one or Gertrude Jekyll.
Rose Petal Sherbet:
1/2 lb of rose petals
2/3 gallon of water
2 lbs of sugar
the juice of one lemon
Put the rose petals in a salad spinner and spin them a few times to remove the pollen that might be attached to them. Boil them with the water until the mixture reduces to about a half. Set aside and let it cool down. Strain through a thick clean cheese cloth or a coffee filter.
Simmer three cups of this clarified liquid with the sugar on low heat until it all the sugar melts and then turn up the heat. Try the sherbet periodically to see if it achieved the needed consistency. The way to do this is to drop a few droplets in a glass of cold water; if they don’t lose their shape and can be picked up with your fingers the sherbet has boiled enough. Remove the pot from the heat when trying the sherbet. As with any sugar confections, the mixture can very quickly thicken beyond the required consistency and become tough and unmanageable. While it’s still boiling, set aside two teaspoons of syrup and mix them with the lemon juice.
Set the pot aside, cover it with a wet cheesecloth and let it cool down just enough that it can be handled. Hold the pot down on a towel so that it doesn’t move and start stirring very quickly with a wooden spoon until it changes its color and starts looking like pink meringue. When it starts changing color add the lemon juice and syrup mix little by little and knead with your hands until it becomes a fondant paste of uniform consistency. The lemon juice should enhance the color to a beautiful rose pink. Put the sherbet inside clean dry glass jars and press down to eliminate air bubbles.
The picture is showing a clump of daisies, but the method will work with most perennials. Fall blooming perennials should be divided in spring, and spring blooming in the fall.
Choose a cool cloudy day, humid if possible, to divide your plants. This will put the least stress on them.
|Lift the clump by digging under it with a long spade. Some plants will be hard to lift if they have been established in the location.||You can lift the whole clump, or cut through it with the spade and lift a portion of it. Break out the clump into smaller pieces by pulling it apart with your hands or with a pitch fork if it’s too hard.|
|Select a good location for the new planting, place the plants in the hole and water.||Cover the roots with dirt and you are done.|
There are no rules about how many plants you can get out of a clump, use your best judgment. Typically, if it looks like there are enough roots and enough leaves, the process should work.
Also, if you have some spring perennials that you would like to relocate, mid fall is the best time to do it.
Rose propagation is a really simple process, however the success rate is by no means 100%, so make sure to take lots of cuttings from your favorite roses; you can always move your new plants in spring if the location is not perfect. Also keep in mind that many nursery roses are patented and their asexual reproduction even for personal use is illegal. Those roses usually come with tags asserting the patent. If you are not sure, check your rose name online to see if it is listed as “under patent”. Patents usually expire after 20 years, so most of the old world roses are patent free. People swear by different methods of propagating roses from cuttings: the little plastic baggies, the cut-up soda pop bottle, the misting. I tried all methods and only found success with this one, so I’m going to recommend it. You might be wondering why the glass jar will work and the plastic bottle won’t? The answer is “I don’t know”.
Cut a healthy stem, still green but stiff at a 45 degree angle. If the cut is far from the next growth bud, cut the remainder of the stem back about a quarter inch above an outward facing bud. If you don’t the rose will do the job for you and kill the useless piece of stem.
The stem you choose should have at least one branch with 5 leaflets, this detail is important. The stem shouldn’t be longer than 6 inches. Remove any leaves and some people advise all thorns from the bottom part that will be stuck in the ground. Make sure the stem is healthy and free of any pest or damage.
“Bruise” the end that will be in the ground; this will encourage the plant to produce more hormones for rooting. You can bruise it by cutting it lengthwise or smashing it.
If you have rooting hormone, I strongly recommend it: you need to give the young plant all the help you can. Dip the stem in rooting hormone. If you don’t, it will work without it too.
Stick the stem firmly in the ground, it should not be easy to pull out. If the soil is really dry, water it. There is usually enough rain later in the fall to provide sufficient moisture for it. It is best to plant it during or after a rainy, cloudy day, because these conditions put the least stress on the new plant.
Cover the plant with a glass jar. Push the jar into the ground so that it forms a tight seal at the bottom. The jar must remain undisturbed from fall (this is the best time to take rose cuttings) until the next spring. Don’t lift the jar to see how the rose is doing. Remove the jar in spring after all danger of frost is gone.
Different roses take different times to sprout roots, don’t be impatient. You can’t tell whether a rose took just by looking at it. Some will stay green for the longest time and not take root, some will wither immediately but turn into beautiful healthy little rose bushes in spring. The only sure sign that the stem has roots is if you see new growth at the root level, but that is unlikely to happen during the cold season. Again I have to emphasize the fact that the jar needs to stay undisturbed.