Questions? Write Me at

Questions? Write me at fullcirclegardener @ cableone . net.

In the mail...

I started getting seed catalogs in the mail last week.  I haven't had a chance to sit down and look at them but come January I'll spend many hours dreaming about my garden as I thumb through them if history hold true again this year!  ;)  How about you?  Have you gotten your first seed catalogs in the mail?  When do you typically start getting the gardening bug?

Flowering for Christmas?

I rescued this cactus in a clearance section after Christmas over 5 years ago and it has flowered for me every year, but I'm never sure when that will be.  It has flowered anytime from Thanksgiving to Easter for me!  I'll take flowers in my house over the long winter at any point, so I'm happy whenever it chooses to flower.  It looks like I'll get flowers for Christmas this year.  :D

If you would like more information about the "Christmas Cactus" check out my Plant of the Week post from a couple of weeks ago.  Do you have a Christmas Cactus? Is it going to flower for Christmas this year?

Happy Holiday Gardening! :)

Plant of the Week: Poinsettia

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) photo credit
If there is one houseplant that has become identified with Christmas, it is the poinsettia.  A native of Mexico's Pacific coast where it grows as a shrub or small tree, it has been associated with Christmas since the 1500s.  Poinsettia was introduced to the US by Joel Poinsett (namesake) in 1825 and Dec 12 was designated as National Poinsettia Day by Congress several years ago.  Over 85% of potted plants sold over the holiday season in the US are poinsettia according to the University of Illinois Extension.

Traditional poinsettia are bright red in color but white and pink are common as well, and many new varieties are appearing each year.  The color in a poinsettia is not from the flowers, but instead from modified leaves called bracts.  The small flowers are yellow and located in the center of a cluster of bracts.  The colored bracts are stimulated by day length & require 14 hours of complete darkness (including electric light) for about 6 weeks to form, making it very hard to get the plants to re-flower at home, but it can be done with a little effort.  One source suggested putting your plant in a dark closet each night and bringing it back out to a bright window each day during the color setting period.

Poinsettia plants are very cold sensitive, so be sure to enclose them in a plastic bag if they need to be transported outside.  In your home, place potted plants so they will receive full sun and are away from cold drafts.  They prefer temps of about 70F during the day & 55-65F at night according to the NDSU Cass County extension.

As a member of the Euphorbia family, the poinsettia has a milky sap that may cause irritation to those with sensitive skin, but it should be noted that it is not deadly if consumed as some would believe.  According to the University of Illinois Extension, "A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50 pound child who ate 500 bracts might have a slight tummy ache."

I hope you celebrated National Poinsettia Day this week by bringing into your home. :)

Happy Holiday Gardening! :)

Plant of the Week: Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera sp.)
Commonly called a 'Christmas' or Holiday' cactus, this succulent plant is native to the tropical rainforest and not a desert like most cacti.  Like the Amaryllis, the Christmas cactus mostly makes it's home in the rain forest treetops in Brazil, and obtains its nutrients and water in crevices filled with decaying vegetation.

When we bring this tropical plant into our homes we must remember that it is a cacti.  It should be planted in a well drained pot that is about half the height of the plant and filled with soil that is rich with organic matter.  Though a cactus and fairly drought tolerant, the Christmas cactus prefers to maintain even moisture.  Water when the soil is dry to the touch, and do not keep the soil continually saturated or the roots and stem may rot.  Add a liquid houseplant fertilizer to the water every two or three weeks during growing periods to meet it's nutrient needs.  This cactus typically grows it the shade of dense trees in it's native setting and prefers to not find itself sitting in direct sunlight so choose a location that has an abundance of indirect light to set it.

Keep in mind if you purchase a holiday cactus that it has been grown in specific conditions to facilitate a specific flowering time and it may not flower at the same time in the conditions surrounding it in your home.  It will take a full year to determine it's likely flower time in your home, but experience has taught me that conditions change in my home some years and it may flower at 'odd' times (like Easter!).  Darkness is the key to flowering for this plant.  It requires at least 12 hours of complete darkness for more than a week to stimulate flower bud setting.  This is easier to provide in our northern latitudes, but can be emulated by covering the plant or moving it into a closet if necessary.  For more details on stimulating flowers check out this article on the National Gardening Associations website.

Happy Houseplant Gardening! :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for so many things.  God again this year, granted me with an abundant harvest even though the beginning was questionable.  Not only that, but where my garden fell short, He placed family and friends around me who had abundance to share, so my cupboards and freezers are full of garden produce that will feed my family for another year.
Thankful my husband helps me!
Thankful I get to share gardening with my kids through home schooling!

Thankful I can preserve summer's bounty for this winter!

Thankful for fresh bounty in early season!
Thankful for fresh bounty in late season!

Thankful for friends who share abundance!

Thankful for unexpected bountiful harvest!

Thankful for a full freezer!

Thankful for surprise harvests!

Thankful to use the garden to encourage my kids' faith
From a gardener's perspective, I had a blessed year and have much to be thankful for!  How about you?  What are you thankful for this year?

Happy Thanksgiving! :D

Plant of the Week: Amaryllis

Amaryllis (Amaryllis belladonna) (photo credit)
Amaryllis kits start showing up on store shelves about this time of year.  These colorful early winter favorites are native to the tropical forests of Central & South America.  They have found their niche in the leaf filled crevices in the trees where they get their nutrients from decaying leaves and water from the abundant rainfall.

Amaryllis have developed a need to grow semi- root bound so plant them in a container that is only 1/2 - 1 inch larger than the bulb with 1/2 - 2/3 of the bulb above the soil line.  The soil should be high in organic content (remember they grow natively in leaf filled crevices) which holds moisture well.  Water your newly potted bulb well and place it in a warm, sunny location.  Soon leaves and a flowering stalk will sprout.  The bulb will produce from 1 - 3 flowers per stalk.  A large plant can produce several stalks, but not always.

It will take 6 - 12 weeks for the plants to reach full flower.  To keep the flowers fresh, move the plant out of the direct sunlight and to a cooler location.  Also clip the stamen (pollen producing organs) before the flowers are able to fertilize themselves.  After the flowers have faded, remove the withering flower stalk with a sharp knife or scissors, but not the leaves.  During the remainder of the season, the plant will require consistent watering, frequent fertilizer and lots of sunlight so that it can store enough energy in the bulb for flowering again the next year.

About nine months after your bulb started its growing season, stop watering it and allow it to go into a drought induced dormancy for the next three or so months.  Start watering again 6-12 weeks before you desire it to flower.  If it does not flower a second year, it was not able to store up enough energy the previous year.  You then have to decide if you wish to try and give it the some exta tender loving care or scrap it and buy a new one.

Happy Indoor Gardening! :)

There is a Season... for Everything

I am so thankful that not only are there four seasons in each year, but life has seasons as well.  Some seasons keep us busier than others but like the seasons of nature, the seasons in our life do not last indefinitely either.  Most of us are now entering into the 'holiday season' in which most of our lives take on an extra hurried pace as we try to catch up with family and friends we wish we'd spent more time with during the year. This season will last us until the end of this year and then a new season of resolutions and dreams begins.
Fortunately for us gardeners, we are in a season of rest and reprieve from most of the demands of the garden as we enter this busy holiday season.  The flower beds, the raspberry patch and the veggie garden have all been cleaned up and tucked in for the winter, the tools and supplies were gathered and stored away earlier this fall, and the canning equipment has been placed in the back closet again until next fall (or later this winter when things quiet down and I can pull some frozen tomatoes out of the freezer! ;P). 

In the spirit of seasons, I am going to be here less for the next month and a half.  I will continue to post a Plant of the Week each week, but I won't maintain any other posting schedule.  I do plan to post a few recipes and tidbits during this time, so don't despair.  January will be here quickly and I'll be aching to put my fingers back in the soil & dreaming of my summer garden! ;)  I am not about to abandon ship, just taking some time to breath deeply of the cold air outside, spend lots of time with family and friends, AND rest a little while my plants and garden rest.

Sign up to have posts emailed directly to you on the right side of your screen and/or "Like" The Full Circle Gardener on Facebook to keep connected with what is happening here during this season.  Enjoy your garden's season of rest as well and together we'll start itching to dig again in January.

Happy Gardening and Resting! :)

Plant of the Week: Corn

Corn (Zea mays)

As I continue to think about Thanksgiving and the plants that play a part in the holiday, Indian corn decoration in my home caught my eye.  Indian corn is one of my favorite fall/Thanksgiving decorations. I love the wide variation in color and the novelty of it. 

Corn is an Americas native that has become a world wide food staple for humans and animals.  There are four broad categories that corn can be divided into; field corn, sweet corn, popcorn and ornamental corn.  Today's typical Indian corn is purely ornamental in nature, but the corn that the early explorers were introduced to by Native Americans was more like today's field corn or popcorn.  Popcorn is one of the oldest forms of corn.  Thanksgiving lore suggests that popcorn was a part of the first Thanksgiving, but while corn was present, my reading leaves a strong question as to the presence of popcorn at the first Thanksgiving celebration. Sweet corn is the newest addition to the corn family as it wasn't introduced until the 1700's

All corn have the same basic needs no matter the type of corn you are growing.  Plant corn in full sun after the soil has warmed to over 55F.  As the plant grows, mound soil around the base of each plant every few weeks until it tassels to increase the stability of the tall plants.  In a home garden, it is also wise to block plant rather than row plant corn so that the plants support and protect each other. 

Corn is known to be a hungry plant so maximize your production by feeding it with 10-10-10 fertilizer or well composted, dry manure a couple of times during the season.  It is optimal to side dress (fertilize) corn when it is knee high and again as it begins to tassel.  To side dress, sprinkle fertilizer to the root zone about 4 inches away from the base of each plant.  Any time you fertilize, be sure that it is watered so that the nutrients reaches the roots. 

Watering is also critical.  Corn looses a lot of water to transpiration (evaporation through the leaves) and to fruit production.  Keep plants evenly and thoroughly watered, especially during the fruit production phase to maximize your harvest. 

Consider co-planting corn in your backyard garden with early season plants like peas that are done by the time it gets tall.  This maximizes your space and the peas have a symbiotic relation with a nitrogen fixing bacteria that will feed the corn as well.

Happy Gardening! :)

Freezing Tomatoes for Later

Lots of frozen tomatoes!
About three weeks ago I harvested the last of the tomatoes in my garden.  Most of them were not yet fully ripe so I brought them into my basement to ripen.  All but about one dozen cherry and another dozen full size tomatoes have fully ripened over the last three weeks. (Yeah! :D)

 Tomatoes from my final fall harvest three weeks ago. (above: then, below: today)

I wanted to be able to process all of the tomatoes at one time so I cleared a shelf in my upright freezer and have been collecting them there as they have ripened (photo above left- mine plus a few pounds I was given by a friend).  I now have an entire shelf of whole, as they would be right out of the garden tomatoes in my freezer.

This summer I discovered freezing the tomatoes like this works great for tomatoes that are intended to be cooked or processed.  Out of despiration, I popped a couple dozen tomatoes that were on the verge of spoiling into the freezer before we left on a trip.  I pulled them out later this fall to make into spaghetti sauce and found that as I washed them the skin peeled right off!  I was ecstatic!  It took a lot less effort and energy, and was a lot less mess than blanching them to get the skins off!  I did have to let them defrost some before I could cut out the stem, but but it didn't take long before I could carve them out.

You do need to know that veggies, like tomatoes, with a high water content will loose their crispness and become soft and mushy when they are defrosted, but if they are intended to process into a sauce that isn't a problem. I look forward to turning my tomatoes into sauces later this winter when the harvest and holiday season are over...

Happy Garden Preserving! :)

Plant of the Week: Sweet Potato

Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatasPhoto Credit
As Thanksgiving draws near, I have begun to think about holiday meal favorites and for my family, sweet potatoes are must haves with the Thanksgiving turkey dinner.  Now, I don't know about you, but for years I have been confused about the difference between sweet potatoes and yams.  I thought this would be a great time to investigate sweet potatoes a little deeper and help clear the confusion surrounding this sweet Thanksgiving favorite.

So, do you know?  Are sweet potatoes and yams the same thing?  The answer is no... and yes.  Ah, more confusion!

Let's look at the 'no' answer first.  Botanically, sweet potatoes come from the same family as morning glories (Convolvulaceae) and originated in the tropics of Central/South America while yams belong to the monocot (grasses are the best example of monocots) family of Dioscoreaceae and originated in Africa.  Our sweet potato (yam) is a soft fruit that is yellow/orange in color and very small compared to the firm fruit of the African yam that averages 5 - 11 lbs but can weigh as much as 55lb!

Obviously they are very different both as plants and fruit, so why is there a 'yes' answer to my question?  In order to distinguish a distinct variety of sweet potato that is grown in the southern US, the common name yam was given to it and that name has stuck.  Reality is, with very infrequent exception (at least in my area) all fruit labeled 'yams' are  really sweet potatoes.  The USDA now requires all yam (sweet potatoes) to be labeled with both names to eliminate confusion... so if you are confused check store labeling.

Sweet potatoes are planted from vine slips (or cuttings) and not from seed.  They do not tolerate frost or cold soils so should be planted only after all chance of frost has past.  Plant the slips in full sun and well drained soil 12-18 inches apart.  Keep them well watered for best production, but the roots will develop rot which will destroy both the root and the 'fruit' if they sit in saturated soil. 

Recent short season varieties (90 day maturity) have expanded their range to include us northern gardeners, but keeping the soil temperature high enough to get a productive harvest (about 75F) can still be a challenge.  Northern gardeners may want to consider planting in mounds or raised beds to raise soil temperatures and protect plants in a tunnel or cloche during the cool start and end of the growing season. 

Vines will remain green until the plant is killed by frost, but harvest the tubers before frost to protect the tuber. Let harvested potatoes dry a couple of hours in the shade before storing.  Dirt can be gently brushed off the tuber but do not wash until you are ready to use them.

I hope I have cleared some of the confusion surrounding sweet potatoes and yams, and also given you a new plant to think about trying during our next gardening season! :)

Happy Gardening! :)

Garden Weed Control: My Soil Solarization Experiment

I had some major weed issues this last garden season!
This last spring I incorporated two trailer loads of horse manure into my garden to add organic matter and nutrients to the soil.  While I love what it did for the texture of my predominantly clay soil, there were two pitfalls to my efforts.  First, the manure had residual water soluble herbicides, most likely from treated hay, that my source and I didn't realize were present.  (I highly recommend you read the full story here before making a decision for or against using manure in your garden.)  Second, and this I anticipated, the manure brought in an abundance of weed seeds that grew with great delight (as you can see in the picture above) until I got a handle on them.

There are several ways to eliminate weeds.  I used two of them this summer by mulching and physically pulling the weeds, and another was inadvertently added to my garden with the manure, herbicide.  While herbicides have their place, in general, their use is not preferential in a home garden since it can harm your plants and can collect in the produce we then eat.  A forth method of weed control is called soil solarization.  This method uses the energy of the sun to super heat the soil and cook any weeds and seeds present.  It is this method that I am experimenting with this fall and coming spring.

The literature I read recommends using clear plastic to cover the weed infested area during the hottest part of the season for 4-8 weeks.  I decided to take this concept and see if I could adapt and gain from it before spring planting next season, so over the weekend I took a few minutes to cover my garden with 4ml black plastic.  I am hoping to utilize the heat absorbing properties of black to trap the indirect solar rays we have yet this fall and again after snow melt in the spring to get the soil warm enough to significantly reduce my weed problem next season.  As my husband pointed out, this will inhibit any water penetration from snow melt, so it is not something I will want to do on an annual basis, but worth a try for this year.  I'll let you know how it goes...

I found this University of California site on Soil Solarization for Gardens and Landscaping to be very complete and helpful as I researched what I wanted to do.  Check it out if you are looking for more detailed and complete information on soil solarization. 

Happy Gardening! :)

Preserving Garden Produce: Pumpkins

My pumpkins grew on my tomato cage and had to be supported this year.
Pumpkin carving is a Halloween must for the young people in my family, but I was able to convince them to not carve our ripe pumpkins so that we could make them into pumpkin pies.  ;)  We decorated our ripe pumpkins with stickers and water color paint, set them out for Halloween evening and then brought them back in so they wouldn't get damaged or frozen.

Yesterday I decided it was time to get them cooked and preserved.  Some friends and I had recently been discussing what was the best way to preserve pumpkin.  We all agreed that the easiest way to preserve pumpkin was to freeze, but what if there wasn't enough freezer space?  I had old literature (1970's era) that said it could be water bath canned and I couldn't find any information on pressure canning, so I made a quick call to the local extension office.  I found out that water bath canning is NOT recommended (in fact she told me to throw away my old canning book!) but pumpkin, a low acid vegetable, can be pressure canned.

I have plenty of freezer space so I chose to cook & freeze my pumpkins.  I started by removing the stickers and washing off the paint. You probably won't need to do that ;), but the rest of the process is fairly standard.  Happy pumpkin preserving.

Freezing Pumpkin

1.  Wash, poke with a knife for ventilation, adjust oven racks and bake at 350F for 1-2 hours (depending on size).  It is done when a knife penetrates the rind and flesh easily.

2.  Remove from oven and let cool until they can be handled.  Cut in half and scoop out the seeds.

3.  Cover with foil and bake longer if the flesh does not easily scoop away from the rind.  (I removed my first batch from the oven too early and had to cook them 20 min longer.)

4.  Scoop out the flesh with a spoon.  Label and freeze in containers or freezer bags after it is completely cool.

I have frozen winter squash (including pumpkin) just as they came out of the rind or pureed.  This time I chose to puree the pumpkin before I froze it.  To puree, place 2-4 cups of flesh in a blender.  Cover and start at a low speed and increase as the flesh is pureed.  Carefully push the flesh down toward the blade if it gets stuck.  Be VERY careful not to come in contact with the blades!  Add a small amount of water if necessary to bring it to a constancy that will self feed (creates a whirlpool effect in the center as it draws down). 

Happy Garden Preserving! :)

Plant of the Week: Potato

White Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Potatoes are a staple in the average American's diet.  While I would guess nationally that potatoes are most often consumed as french fries, locally we eat mashed and baked potatoes that are best the way our mom's and grandma's made them... with lots of butter and cream. ;)

Potatoes are native to the Americas (both north & south) and were introduced to Europe by the Spanish Conquistadors.  It took Europeans awhile to accept this new food as it came from the nightshade family (Solanaceae), a family known to be poisonous, even deadly, if consumed.  Eventually the safety of the potato tuber (NOT the fruit, a berry) was proven and the potato became a staple to the European diet, especially the peasants.  This abundant and inexpensive food allowed families to grow and set the stage for the potato famine of the mid 1800's that hit Ireland especially hard.

Potatoes are typically planted from a 'seed potato' and not a traditional seed.  A seed potato is a portion of a tuber with 'eyes' or buds that sprout and produce the plant. (Who hasn't had a potato or two sprout in their fridge or cupboard?!?!)  Before planting, cut tubers into sections with 2-3 eyes on each section.  Plant them in a sunny location about 6 inches deep and 3 feet apart in well drained soil.  Plants will emerge two to three weeks later.  Hill soil around the plant after the first leaves emerge and again a couple of weeks later.  Hilling the soil will keep the tubers from being exposed to the sun as they grow.  Potato tubers and roots are susceptible to rot so water slow and deep only when needed.

Harvest potatoes after the plant has died but before fall frost.  Potatoes skins get tough and cannot be rubbed off when they are ready to be harvested.  After digging them up, let them dry for a couple of days before moving them into a cool, dry location.  For long term storage, keep them below 45F but above 39F.

Happy Gardening! :)

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! 

Have you craved Jack-o-lanterns this year?  We carved two last week from two of the pumpkins that grew in my garden this year.  My plants produced 1 ripe pumpkin & 2 unripe pumpkins.  I was able to convince my kids to carve just the green pumpkins and keep the orange one for pie making. ;)  We also got 6 mini boo (white) & 6 jack-be-little pumpkins (orange) that they had fun painting.

Our pumpkin carving is pretty basic but I love to read the book the Pumpkin Patch Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs as we carve our pumpkin.  It describes the process of planting, growing and carving a pumpkin in a way that beautifully illustrates how God transforms people when they trust their lives to him.

 I'd love to know if you have any pumpkin carving traditions in your family.  Do you carve a traditional face, sculpt or etch your jack-o-lanterns?

Happy Halloween Garden Friends! :)