Questions? Write Me at

Questions? Write me at fullcirclegardener @ cableone . net.

HSV Garden Challenge: Final Linkup

In March!
6/29/11 Update:  I just got notice that final link up is tomorrow (6/30/11).  Also found out that a July 28, 2011 'harvest' linkup has been added because so many of us have late gardens this year.  Looking forward to seeing how everyone else is doing.  :)

Today is the final link up for the HSV Garden Challenge.  It has been fun to be intentional about involving the kids in the garden and watch the kids soak in all they see, do, hear and taste.  Speaking of taste, we ate our first garden produce this week, lettuce, and my oldest was thrilled that we had grown our own food and were finally getting to eat it. :)

Our studies over the last month were mostly focused on life cycles as we watched Painted Lady caterpillars transform into butterflies.  We also learned that sometimes sickness ends in death when our first butterfly was unable to fully emerge from the chrysalis and its wings never opened up.  The remaining 4 butterflies emerged safely and we released them on a warm day about a week later.  We were all amazed at how quickly they took off and disappeared from sight!

Zinnia today!
Zinnias planted outside in May.
We continue to watch our Zinnias.  Just this week we noticed that one has formed a flower bud and we will have a flower soon.  That is going to be an exciting day too. :) The kids are impatient for some kind of change in their flowers.  I hope we will get to observe lots of insects pollinating their flowers and later collect the seeds for them to start again next year.

We finished up our My Father's World studies with the letters Q and Y last week, but look forward to continuing our informal garden studies over the summer.  My oldest and I would like to research what we can plant next year to attract butterflies to our yard.  It will be a fun project to do together. :D

Do you have plans to continue your garden education this summer?  I'd love to hear about it.

Happy Gardening (and Learning)! :)

Plant of the Week: Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)  
(Thanks to Jenelle at Frugal Family Feasts for the photo!)

To continue my recent herb theme, this weeks' plant of the week is basil.  It is a herb that you will want to have around if you do any Italian cooking at all. What would spaghetti sauce be with out basil in it?!?  And don't forget one of my personal favorites, basil pesto! 

Basil joins the ranks of oregano, marjorum, mint and other kitchen herbs in the mint family.  It comes in a variety of colors and 'flavors', but the most common is Sweet Basil.  It has a very strong flavor when fresh, but looses  flavor when it is dried.  You may want to consider freezing it to keep more of the flavor if you are wanting to preserve some for later use.

Basil is a heat loving plant and does not do well in the cold.  Either start it indoors early in the spring or direct seed it in the soil after all chance of frost has past, and be sure to harvest it before the temps start dropping below about 40 at night.  Plant basil in full sun, but keep it well watered.  Even though it is a warm season plant, it wants to keep its toes moist so mulch and water it regularly during dry periods.  

Harvest the leaves just as the flowers begin to form for the best flavor.  Pinch off the ends and remove all flowers to extend its optimal harvest season.  According to the National Gardening Association, you can cut it back so that there only remains two growing points and get a second but smaller harvest.

Our cool, wet spring and early summer has been hard on my basil this year. (I'm sure the tossing in my greenhouse On Memorial Day didn't help either!)  I covered them with a plastic jug cloche yesterday and then it turned hot and I had to remove them.  Hopefully they'll perk up with this warmer weather. 

Did you plant basil this spring?  Have you tried any of the less common varieties?  What did you think?

Happy Herb Gardening! :)

Capturing Rainwater for Drier Days

Rain barrels capture and store water for later use.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been thinking about my garden's water needs.  I have shared some watering basics and mulching basics here at The Full Circle Gardener, and tips for water conservation in my guest post for Tip Junkie.  Now I am turning my attention to capturing rain water for use later.  What could be better than storing free water to use later when it is less abundant!?! :)

Right now North Dakota is not experiencing a shortage of rainfall and it is hard to imagine needing to supplementary water my garden.  While regionally we are dealing with an over abundance of rain, other areas of the country are in the midst of droughts.  Finding a way to capture and store this scarce commodity during a drought has more urgency, but in either case, it is valuable and a worthy garden endeavor!

The easiest way to capture rainwater is in a barrel located at the bottom of a downspout on your home.  Rain barrels can be large or small, elaborate or simple, purchased or homemade.  The key is that they hold water.  Water that can be accessed and used to hydrate flowers and veggies later when the soil is dry.

Here are a few important points to keep in mind.

1.  Select your site carefully.
-choose a flat stable surface; you don't want it to tip over
-if possible choose a shady location to reduce solar heating (you don't want to cook your plants with hot water!)
-can you mask it from view or does that matter?

2.  Select your barrel(s) and any features you want.
-are you going to purchase or make your own?
-how big of a barrel do you want?
-how many barrels do you want?
-is a water valve important to you or will you dip out water?
-a screen or cover of some sort is a MUST HAVE for child safety!

3.  Safety always comes first!!!  (I cannot stress this enough!!)
-Your barrel must be stable so that it will not tip over and injure someone.  One gallon of water weights over 8 lbs.  When you multiply that by say, 50 gallons.... you get over 400 lbs.  Not something you want on top of your child or yourself.
-It takes very little water for a child to drown & they seem to be drawn to water, so be sure that you can keep them out! 

I have two homemade water barrels set under the water spout on the north east side of our home.  They are somewhat hidden from view and shaded by my lilac bush.  My barrels are simple and are not pretty, but they still accomplish my goal of storing water for use later in my containers, beds and even in my compost bin.  I have frequently thought about adding more barrels in other locations, but that is a project for another summer.  (Is there ever an end of dream projects?)

Next week I will share with you how we made our rain barrels and the upgrades that I hope to do this summer.

Happy Gardening! :)

Other Post in this Series:
Garden Watering Basics
Mulching Basics
Capturing Rainwater for Drier Days
Thinking Through Making Your Own Rain Barrel

Sick Tomatoes: Lesson Learned

Devastated Red Oxheart Tomato
On Monday I posted that I have some very sick tomatoes and I was in contact with some plant experts to try and figure out what is wrong with them.

I first contacted the National Gardening Association with pictures and questions.  They suggested the possibility of Tobacco Mosaic Virus but also recommended that I contact my local county extension.  I took their advice and emailed my pictures and questions to my local extension agent.  He thought that it looked like herbicide damage, but forwarded my email to the NDSU Plant Pathology Diagnostics Lab.  I spent 2 days in communication with the Plant Lab and ended up taking some of my plants to the Lab at NDSU.  They confirmed that my tomatoes are displaying classic signs of herbicide damage.

The question then turned to where in the world would that herbicide have come from.  The first suggestion was my mulch.  I was able to rule that out because I had observed the disfiguration of the tomato leaves before I put down the mulch a couple of weeks ago (besides the fact that I am very careful to keep treated grass clippings out of my garden!).

The focus then turned to the composted manure that I had used to amend my garden this spring.  I have gotten manure from the same source in the past and had asked myself the same garden safe compost questions that I would for any compost I had not made myself, but I contacted my source again and verified that they had not knowingly fed the animals herbicide treated food.

This left me stumped until I realized that certified weed-free hay is often required for traveling competitive animals, which some of these horses are.  It is very likely that they had eaten treated hay on occasion at the very least.  According to the Plant Lab, water soluble herbicides will pass through animals and remain potent for years after. So now I have an answer.  Most likely, my garden is contaminated by a water soluble herbicide that was introduced via manure I had used to amend the soil this spring.  :'(

Unfortunately, they were unable to tell me how long the herbicide will affect my garden, or if/when any produce from the garden will be table safe.  One individual from the lab had experienced similar damage in his garden last year and said that the plants did not exhibit negative effects this year, and that his family ate out of the garden even though it had been contaminated.  I will have to make that decision for my family sooner or later, but for now I have pulled up the four worst affected tomatoes only.  I am going to leave and observe the rest my plants until my husband & I have decided what to do.

This has been a not so pleasant garden adventure but a valuable lesson learned.  I do want to take this time to say we have great resources available to us, no matter where we live, through the National Gardening Association and local county extension!  Do not be afraid to contact either of them if you have questions or concerns.  They will at least be able to direct you to someone who can help you.

Happy Gardening! :}

Plant of the Week: Mint

Chocolate Mint (Mentha sp.)
In honor of the 1st day of summer (yesterday), the plant of the week this week is mint.  Why mint?  Well, who could turn down a refreshing glass of mint ice tea on a hot summer day?  :D

The mint family, Lamiaceae, is abundant in our kitchen as oregano, marjorum, basil and others fall into the family with the 'mints' (spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, apple mint, etc).  This is a relatively distinct and recognizable family of plants because they have square stems; a characteristic that is not overly common in plants.  I am often reaching out and rolling plant stems between my fingers if I think they may belong to the mint family and smelling for that infamous 'mint' smell on my fingers. ;)  Mint flowers appear in mid to late summer and are some shade of purple, ranging from almost white to a dark lavender. 

Mint prefers cool, moist locations but will survive almost anywhere.  It should be planted with forethought and planning because it spreads easily and is often considered a weed in gardens.  Mint put out runners above or below ground and many species will also root from the stem wherever they touch the ground.  I planted my chocolate mint in a large pot with the bottom cut out.  I then buried the pot in the ground.  The pot keeps the mint contained so that I can enjoy it's culinary delights without cursing its weediness!  Every couple of years I lift the plant out and do some major thinning before I replant it. 

Mint leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season for kitchen use or all cut back at one time for preserving.  Leaves can be dried, frozen or steeped in hot water and processed into jelly or syrup.  "Green" jelly is a kid favorite in my house & I enjoy mint syrup over crushed ice as a hot evening treat.  I also have a refreshing fresh fruit and mint salad that we enjoy during the summer berry season.  Do you have any favorite uses for fresh mint?  I'd love to hear about it.

Happy Herb Gardening! :)

Trim Lilacs Now

My lilac finished flowering just over a week ago.  How about yours?  Have you done any necessary trimming yet?

Now is the time to trim lilacs bushes.  Lilacs will set the flower buds for next years flowers during this season.  Now that lilacs are done flowering for this year, it is time to do any trimming and shaping that you want to do so that you preserve next year's flowers.  For austetic reasons you can also trim off the spent flowers & seeds from this year's flowers.
lilac's spent flowers & seeds

We inherited a lilac bush when we bought our house.  It is planted right against the house.  Although I love the flowers and smell of lilac in the spring, it is a big bush and I would have preferred a smaller one so close to the house.  I try to keep it pretty short, but last year I didn't get it cut back & so it was quite tall this spring.  This weekend I spent some time trying to trim it back to a size I'm happier with, but in the process it took a pretty drastic cut back.

Typically it is recommended that you do not remove more than 1/3 of a plant when trimming.  This year I cut the lilac back by about 1/2, but I am not worried about it because I know that lilacs are a very resilient bush that can be almost impossible to kill.  It is a little ragged looking, but I didn't want to take off any more leaf area this year.  In a couple of weeks, after it has filled in a little again, it will look better.

Happy Gardening! :)

Sick Tomatoes

I have some very sick tomatoes (possibly peppers & other things as well).  I have contacted someone with the National Gardening Association & the local extension office.  So far someone suggested possibly Tobacco Mosaic Virus!!!!  The very thought of this sends chills up my back.  What ever it is I may have to tear out all the plants from my garden to try and eliminate a disease.  I'm hoping for an answer sooner than later and praying it is not something that will have a negative effect for years to come! :(

Hope your gardening is happier than mine today. :(

Update:  My local extension agent sent my pictures and information on to the NDSU plant diagnostics lab and is wondering about herbicide damage.  Will continue to keep updated.

Mulching Basics

In my post on Watering Basics, I shared that I mulch both my veggie garden and flower beds.  I do this to slow down evaporation from the soil which reduces the frequency I need to water my garden, and to keep the weeds at bay.

Mulch is anything that you use to cover the soil.  It can be organic (meaning will biodegrade) or non-organic in nature.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but keep in mind that you do not want to put anything near your food plants that will possibly contaminate them with unwanted chemicals.  Just use your good sense and you'll do fine. :)

Layer your mulch 2-3 inches thick for both water preservation and weed prevention.  About 3 inches of mulch will prevent light from feeding any weed seedlings and those that do make it through are stressed and easy to pull up.  Be sure to keep the mulch back out 3-4 inches from the stem of your plants.  This will help keep out any critters that decide to make the mulch their home and allow for good air circulation around the plant so it is less likely have any disease issues during wet periods.

When you have a good layer of mulch in your garden be sure to check the soil under the mulch before you decide whether or not to water.  It can be easy to over water and under water because you can't see how moist the soil is or is not.

lawn clippings

Organic Mulch 
The beauty of an organic mulch is that as it breaks down it adds valuable nutrients and bulk to the soil.  The downfall is that as it breaks down it requires some input of nitrogen and it will take it from the soil (and therefore your plants) if it needs to.  You can compensate for this by mixing nitrogen rich options like compost with heavy nitrogen users like wood chips.  Fine material like lawn clippings and leaves should be placed with care as they can compress with time and become almost impermeable to water if over 2-3 inches thick.

lawn clippings (NOT treated w/weed killer)
wood chips
shredded leaves


Non-Organic Mulch
Many of these are a great option for non-food producing areas like flower beds or around trees because they do not decay and need replacing on a regular basis.  Frequently some of these (plastic or landscaping fabric) are used under a more cosmetically appealing option (rocks or wood chips) to hold back weeds because of their durability.

carpet remnants
shredded rubber

As I continue to think about watering, I look forward to sharing with you the value of having a rainwater collection system in your watering arsenal and how simple it can be.

Happy Gardening and Watering! :)

Other Post in this Series:
Garden Watering Basics
Mulching Basics
Capturing Rainwater for Drier Days
Thinking Through Making Your Own Rain Barrel

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father Day Dad!  
This seed didn't fall far from the tree! :D

I caught my love of plants from my Dad.  He would quiz us from the car what the passing trees were, he took us to visit the arboritum at the International Peace Gardens, he shared his amazement of the 'monster' sized trees, he has planted dozens of apple trees only to plant another when we moved and we helped him plant litteraly miles of trees.  Dad could sit for an hour and just 'watch the garden grow', enjoying the peace and quiet.  Dad is still a wealth of gardening/plant information that I reference often and a reminder that any answer can be found in a good reference book!

Happy Father's Day to all the gardening Dad's who have shared their wisdom!  Did your Dad pass on the love of gardening too?

Happy Gardening (and Fathers Day)! :)

Mailbox Fun! The Gurney's Grab Bag has Arrived! (June 2011)

Gurney's 'Garden Grab Bag' - June 2011

A few weeks ago I posted that Gurney's Seed and Nursery Co. was offering $200 worth of end of the season product for $19.99 + shipping until June 6, 2011.  I decided to take the chance and see what they would randomly pull out of the greenhouse and send me.

Today 2 large boxes with a total of 18 plants arrived. 

Here is what I got (list in order of photos above):

4 Chokecherry (Prunus virgniana) - fruit 'bush'/tree
4 Dancing Dolphin Vine (Columnea)  - houseplant
2 Rocky Mountian 'Wichita Blue' Juniper (Juniperus scopularum)- evergreen
3 Arapaho Blackberry (Rubus) - fruit bush
3 Rainbow Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) - ornamental bush
2 Japanese Fiber Banana or Hardy Banana (Musa basjoo) - fruit? tree

As I went through my plants and started looking up what I'd gotten, I quickly found a problem.  Several of the plants are not zone appropriate.  I am in zone 4 and the blackberry and butterfly bush list zone 5 as their coldest zones.  The banana tree was an enigma to me.  I was unable to locate it on the Gurney's website, but when I called Gurney's I was assured that it can survive winters down to -20F!?!

Yep.  I did call Gurney's customer service about my order.  I had paid for all of the plants and obviously at least 6 of them were not likely to survive a typical ND winter.  The gentleman I talked to was very courteous and quickly offered to give me a refund for those 6 plants.  He looked up the bananas and told me to give them a try as they are suppose to be cold hardy (up to -20F according to him).  If they don't survive the winter, Gurney's will refund me in the spring.

I asked if I should mail the plants back & he said no.  He thought that the plants would be dead by the time they arrived back.  I guess this gives me the opportunity to see if I can find a place sheltered enough in my yard to raise some blackberries.  I'm hoping that I can also find a sheltered location for one butterfly bush as well.  I'll let you know what happens next spring what survived the winter.

While I am disappointed that so many of the plants are not zone appropriate, I have to say Gurney's customer service was as good as I have found it to be any time I have had a problem.

Did you order a Garden Grab Bag?  What did you get?

Happy Gardening! :)

Reduce Your Garden's Water Needs

My third guest post for Tip Junkie comes out today.  :D  I've had garden watering on my mind and now you are seeing the results.  ;)  Earlier this week I posted some Garden Watering Basics and Mulching Basics are coming soon.  Today, in my guest post for Tip Junkie, I'm sharing several ways to reduce your garden water consumption.  You can also view my previous Tip Junkie guest posts on growing Garden Strawberries and a Salsa Garden.

Welcome to visitors from Tip Junkie.  Feel free to explore and ask lots of questions and I'll do my best to answer them.  Also check out my Facebook page for more fun and interactions.

Happy Gardening!  :)

Is it too late to plant a garden this year?

On Tuesday I was listening to my great friend Sheila, from FM Cheapskate, share about frugal living on a local radio station.  There was a question on how to get a deal on produce and along with other suggestions, she suggested one might plant a garden.  (What a GREAT idea! (wink! wink!) :D)  Discussion followed as to whether it was too late to plant a garden yet this year and what one could plant.  That got me thinking, how would I answer those questions... so here I go.

Is it too late to plant a garden yet this year?  
Short answer...
Absolutely NOT!  In fact, I was out in the mist and rain planting seeds just yesterday. :)

Long answer...
I went to my trusty NDSU extension website and pulled up their "Average Last Date of Spring Frost & First Fall Frost in North Dakota" page to figure out how many days we could expect yet in our season locally.  On average, Fargo's first fall frost (32F night time temp) is September 26 and hard frost (28F) on Oct 2.  After counting out the days, we have approximately 100 days of growing season left this year.  Remember, these are average dates, so frost could be earlier or later, but it's a great place to start working from.  Also, if you are willing to be vigilant about covering your garden, you may be able to extend that an extra week or two, but many of the warm season crops (like tomatoes & peppers) will stop flowering & producing fruit as the day time temps drop as well.

For those of you not local, contact your local county extension to find how long your growing season is.  Then you can also sit down with a calendar and count out the days remaining in your growing season.  For a generic frame of reference, Fargo is in the hardiness zone 4.

What can one plant yet this year?
The place to start with this question is to write out a list of what produce your family eats or might like to try and then look at the back of seed packets.  The back of each packet will list 'Days to Maturity' along with other planting information.  There are lots of plants that have been bred for short growing seasons and will list 80 days or less.  These are the seeds that you will want to look for.  For some veggies, like tomatoes and peppers, our full growing season is not long enough to get much, if any, harvest and those plants need to be started inside during late winter (see this guide for when to start seeds indoors) or purchased from a local garden center.  If you are interested in growing these plants you can get great deals on them right now as the garden centers are clearancing them, but check their 'days to maturity' as well and select those that look as sturdy and healthy as possible.  Many times end of the season plants produce great, but know that they are often pot bound and stressed and may not survive.

What if you do not have a backyard garden, is there still time?
(This wasn't one of the questions, but I'm sure some of you may be asking it.)
Yes!  You could dig up a spot this weekend and plant if you have the time and energy, but you can also plant a few things in flower beds or in pots.  Carrots, leaf lettuce or herbs strategically planted are just a couple of ideas for planting right into flower beds or containers without making them look like veggie gardens if you don't want to.  I frequently link to creative and frugal planter ideas on my facebook page, so be sure to check The Full Circle Gardener facebook page as well.

If you have an specific questions or ideas for short season planting, leave a comment or send me an email.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Happy Gardening! :D

Plant of the Week: Oregano

Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
As I shared last week in my post on chives, I'm really wanting to put my fresh herb garden to use this summer so I'm focusing another common backyard herb, oregano, this week.

Believe it or not, oregano is a member of the mint family! It is also close cousin to marjoram, another common kitchen herb.  Oregano is native to the temperate climates of Europe, but can be grown as an annual in colder regions.  I planted oregano six years ago in my herb garden and it comes back year after year no matter how cold we get.  It has even seeded itself into my lawn and survived multiple winters so I'd say it can handle the cold pretty well!

The National Gardening Association suggests that you be sure you purchase Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum) rather than Common Oregano (Origanum vulgare) when planting for culinary use because common oregano lacks flavor.  Oregano easily establishes from seed and should be planted in full sun.  They have a pretty lavender flower that is enjoyed by all kinds of pollinators, but I would suggest removing the flowers before seeds set to avoid unwanted spread.

This flavorful herb is often used in many ethnic cuisines, but I'm most familiar with its use in Italian, Latin American and Southwestern dishes.  (It is an important ingredient in my canned salsa recipe that I will be putting to use again this fall!)  The leaves are most flavorful right before flower, but can be harvested at any time for fresh use.

One final note, oregano has some antimicrobial properties but they have not been scientifically validated according Wikipedia.  Maybe that's why my homemade spaghetti sauce seems to have a never ending life in my refrigerator! ;) Gather some fresh oregano and enjoy some spaghetti, pizza or salsa in your home this week.

Happy Herb Gardening! :)

Garden Watering Basics

After planting, my attention turns to making sure my new plants get everything they need to produce an abundant harvest for me.  Since I have already made sure there is adequate nutrients in the soil by adding composted manure this spring, I am now focusing on making sure the plants have the water they need.

A garden needs about 1 inch of water per week to keep the plants healthy and to produce an abundant harvest (maybe 2 inches during peak production depending on what you have planted).  In my area, typically we do not need to water every week.  During dry spells, I will want to water once a week so that the soil is wet 6-12 inches deep after that watering.  This encourages the plant roots to reach deep and helps the plant to tolerate short dry spells. 

I conserve my watering investment by mulching both my veggie garden and flower beds.  I mulch with lawn clippings from our yard in the garden and wood chips in the flower beds.  Mulch insulates the soil from the ever-blowing North Dakota wind and summer sun, and can provide more organic matter for the soil as it breaks down.  As a secondary benefit, mulch helps reduce weeds as well. (YEAH!)

Next time I will share with you some mulching options and things to consider as you choose the mulch that is right for your yard.

Happy Gardening! :)

Other Post in this Series:
Garden Watering Basics
Mulching Basics
Capturing Rainwater for Drier Days
Thinking Through Making Your Own Rain Barrel


My Garden Needs Attention!

Sorry Gardening Friends!  My family and I had a great weekend tent camping, but didn't get back until after 11pm last night.  As a result I may not get my planned post done today.  I will try but I'll have it tomorrow if it doesn't happen today! :{

Garden Strawberries

My second guest post for Tip Junkie comes out today.  :D  Look for my post about Garden Strawberries and my previous post on growing a Salsa Garden.

Welcome to visitors from Tip Junkie.  Feel free to explore and ask lots of questions and I'll do my best to answer them.  Also check out my Facebook page for more fun and interactions. 

Happy Gardening!  :)

Catapillars, Butterflies and the Cycle of Life

Painted Lady Caterpillars
A couple of weeks ago in the HSV Garden Challenge Linkup #3, I shared that we were studying life cycles and were observing 5 Painted Lady caterpillars in hopes of watching their transformation into butterflies.

Last Monday we returned from the long weekend to find two of the five already in chrysalises.   Over the next couple of days they all formed cocoons.  (Unfortunately I do not have pictures of this stage because I got distracted by our Memorial Day storm and its resulting cleanup.) The kids have been fascinated with the process and we have kept the caterpillars and then chyrslises in their room so they can keep an eye on them.
Our first Painted Lady to emerge (bottom) was 'sick'.

Last night as we were getting ready for bed, my eldest came running out of the room all excited because he could see wings!  Sure enough, the first butterfly had emerged.  It's wings were twisted and funny looking but we went to bed knowing they needed time to straighten out and harden.  This morning they were still not straight and it was time for me to do some research.  We found out that it only takes 1 - 2 hrs for the wings to harden and so our butterfly is never going to have healthy wings and be able to survive.  Tortuous news to my eldest.  :(  About 5 minutes and some Mom comforting later we went back to look at our sick butterfly only to find 2 butteries! 
A 10-15 minute old healthy Painted Lady butterfly!

Joy and sorrow intermingled, but it was a good lesson on the full cycle of life and that in nature those who are sick often do not survive.  It is a hard lesson to learn but I was glad to be there to comfort and that God blessed us with the perfectly timed arrival of the second healthy butterfly to lighten the sorrow.  (As I wrote this post a 3rd butterfly emerged.  What an exciting day!

I hope next week that we will be able to report the release of 4 healthy butterflies and to spend some time looking at what to plant in our yards to attract butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Happy Gardening (and Learning). :}

Plant of the Week: Chives

Common Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum)

One of my favorite backyard herbs is chives.  I love to chop them up and put them on potatoes with a little sour cream, but I don't have any recipes that use chives. I am not very good at using fresh herbs in my kitchen in general.  That is something I'm hoping to get better at this summer. :)

Chives are part of the Allium family which makes them a close relative to the onion.  Along with their use in the kitchen, they are often used as a companion plant to deter unwanted insects in the garden.  They come in two 'flavors'; the traditional (common) onion-like, and garlic (aka Chinese chive).

The common chive produces a smaller umbel (umbrella shape) of purple/white flowers in late May or early June while the garlic chive displays a larger umbel of white flowers in the fall.  Both will easily self-seed.  It is in your best interest to clip off the flowers before they set seed or you will be weeding out chive seedlings in the spring.  (Trust me, I've been there!)  They also duplicate from the root and after a couple of years you will want to split your clump.  A great use for that extra clump is to transplant all or some of it into a pot in the fall and keep it inside for kitchen use over the winter, or pass it on to a friend.

Chives are very easy to start from seed or transplanted after splitting an established clump.  Plant in a full or mostly sunny location.  They require little water to survive once established and are not fussy about the soil either.  They are a great starter plant for someone new to gardening or who doesn't have a 'green thumb'. ;)

I plant my chives in bottomless pots set into the ground to give them some containment.  This helps me set limits to how big I let the clumps get before I split them & know what I should weed out when I don't get the flowers clipped off before they set seed.

If you have a great recipe or use for chives, I would love to hear about it!  I'm in the mood for some garden adventure, but especially ones that I can take into the kitchen. :D

Happy Gardening! :)

Dandelions Everywhere: Experiment's Tentative Results

Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

I have dandelions everywhere in my yard and this spring I started looking for a non-chemical control method that would be family friendly in hopes of ending the invasion.  I ended up using chemical on my front lawn and set up an experiment in my back lawn to try one common and one not-so-common weed control method.

I set up five plots in my yard.  One was a control and the other four I used hot water, boiling water, pull only or boiling water and pulling in combination to see if I could come up with an effective non-chemical control method.

Two weeks ago I pulled dandelions and boiled water all day.  Honestly, I almost gave up on the project shortly after I started it, but decided I would get some valuable information if I followed through with it (besides what would I tell you! Thanks for keeping me accountable!)  Now I have some tentative results to share with you.

Tentative Results:

Hot Water:  I abandoned this application before I started it.  I decided that while I expect the top to be killed, that there was no way that it would kill enough root to kill the whole plant and therefore was a waste of my time and energy.

Boiling Water
Boiling water:  I brought a large pot of water up to a rolling boil and then immediately carried it out and poured it onto the plants.  The plants turned a 'cooked vegetable' green and then a sickly brown/green.  After a week I noticed brown spots in my lawn.  I am still waiting to see if the dandelions will return from the root, but the boiling water definitely killed the grass and everything around it.

Pull Only
Pulling Only:  I used the dandelion puller that my husband had bought me a couple of years ago.  This tool is most effective when the soil is moist.  I have a pile of pulled dandelions from this and it's adjoining plot.  I am still waiting to see how much return I get from roots.

Pull and Boiling Water
Pull and Boiling Water:  I used my dandelion puller when the soil was moist and then brought water to a rolling and immediately poured it into the holes left by the dandelion puller.  Again about a week later, I noticed brown spots in the lawn where I'd pour the water.  I still killed the grass but I don't think it is quite as bad as just pouring boiling water onto the plant.  I am still waiting to see if I killed the dandelion roots as well... here's to hoping!

I will keep you updated on my final results, but I have come to two conclusions already.

1) If you do not want to kill all of the vegetation around the dandelion boiling water is not a good choice, but it is a good killer if you are looking to kill weeds in driveway or sidewalk cracks.  I plan to replace the use of Round-up with this application in many places.

2) All applications are too labor intensive and time consuming for an overwhelming 'infestation' of dandelions.  Unfortunately, I will be using chemical to get an upper hand on the dandelions before next winter.  Depending on the final results of this experiment I will use one or more of these methods for spot control following years.  No more neglecting the few in my yard!

Happy Gardening (and Experimenting)! :)

Other posts in this series can be found here:

Dandelions Everywhere!

Dandelions Everywhere and I'm Experimenting...

Dandelions Everywhere: Experiment's Tentative Results

Dandelions Everywhere: The Experiment One Year Later

Weekend Project: Deck Removal

Our deck had reached the end of it's life and so this weekend we tore it out.  It took all day Saturday and a little clean up on Sunday, but it's gone.  The patio dropped 3 inches right at the house at some point in it's life and so the next project will be to remove the cement patio that was under it.

What did you do this weekend?

When Nature Comes to Play... Havoc

My garden right after planting.
Monday (May 30, 2011) night a storm system that stretched from Nebraska to Canada made it's way through my neck of the woods.  The notorious North Dakota wind turned into a freight train, the rain pounded, sirens went off, power was lost and my family headed to our basement for shelter for the night.

The morning light brought me out to survey the damage.  (See these and more photos on The Full Circle Gardener Facebook page.)  I found a large branch of our willow tree laying on the ground and my new greenhouse lodged in the back fence.  I was thankful to find basically no damage to my greenhouse, but a mess of dirt and plants were plastered to the walls.  That about brought me to tears. :(  Thankfully, the garden did well.  I had to re-set up the structures, but plants were not damaged.

I spent several hours Wednesday cleaning out the greenhouse and figuring out what I could salvage.  I lost all of my poor peppers that I had started months ago.  Thankfully most of the plants were small and supple enough to possibly survive the tumbling, so I planted what I could and will wait and see what survives.  There are a few I am passing on to a couple of friends to try their luck and the rest will go into my compost bin.

I have discovered that every year there is unexpected garden 'adventures' and things never go exactly as I want, but at the end of the season I am a little wiser, thankful for a harvest and ready to try again next season! :}  Remember storms and critters and bug and all sorts of things will take the opportunity to throw you curve balls, just take it as a life and garden lesson and see what you can do next year to be more prepared. 

Have you had a sever storm that caused you problems this season?  critters?  bugs? or...?  How did your plants fair?  What did you learn and how are you adapting?

Happy Gardening (even in storm cleanup)!