Fall Gardening – Converted Cold Frame Pulls Double Duty for Seedlings


Fall gardening, for me this year, means keeping it easy.

Mostly because the squirrels and sun aren’t on our side come late September.  I’ve started cabbages and kale and lovingly transplanted them to well-prepared containers up and down our stairs in autumns past, only to have squirrels dig them up daily until the sun lost itself behind the neighbor’s house.

Never again.

This year I have my magical cold frame I converted to a squirrel-free grow box – I simply swapped out the glass lid for a hardware-cloth (wire mesh) lid.  Anything I plant outside of this box will be on a whim and left to its own devices on the squirrel front.

Inside the box, we took our freshly emptied summer pots, seeds leftover from spring, and planted mesclun mix, turnips, radishes and a few onion seeds.

With heavy rains forecast for the following few days, the kiddo and I dragged out an old shower curtain, tucked it under the lid’s edges, and weighed it down with scrap wood for good measure.  These rains would be remnants of Hurricane Isaac, and all summer has been either no rain or crazy-windy-big-storm rain, so might as well add the wood.

The kiddo, B, who had methodically pinched the tiny seeds from my palm and less methodically sewed them, was very into storm proofing the cold frame. She’s three now and loves a good project, especially a short one she can get her helping little hands on.

The next day we got nearly 4 inches of rain in two hours.

I didn’t touch anything for two more days.

Today, SEEDLINGS!!!  Tiny sprouts!!!  No washout from the rain!  Not wanting to further starve them for light, we set the scrap wood cover aside but kept the shower curtain.  The weatherman says we’re still at risk for all-or-nothing rain the next few days.

Let’s see if we can squeeze a few beet, spinach and kale seeds into the squirrel-free, rain-shuttered box in a few days.

Herbs – Cut the Cough with Horehound

A rodent pruned my horehound a few weeks ago and now I have two nice stems.


It caught my eye at the end of the DC State Fair Seedling Swap, during the free-for-all where you grab what you want after completing the organized rounds of selecting seedlings.

Horehound.  It sounded old.

Whatever it was, it was a tiny bumpy-leafed plant growing in an even tinier plastic seedling starter cell.  Three sat there.  I swiped two, selected more plants, then let the toddler make her own selection (she had already endured her version of eternity during the swap and the exciting grabfest caught her interest).

She immediately grabbed a horehound.

The itty bitty pot fit perfectly in her clutch as she carried it to our bag, she wanted to get it in there to “protect it” as I said for the others.  She said horehound with heft and a smile.

A month later, I’ve finally gotten around to looking up horehound.  It turns out horehound has been a cough remedy for thousands of years and is still a common ingredient in cough medicine.

Sustainable Urban Living  has a horehound page that jives nicely with my recently discovered favorite herb book.  It even includes the horehound candy drops recipe and an easy cough syrup recipe.

If making candy or syrup exceeds your domestic ambitions, The Complete Book of Herbs (the above mentioned favorite), instructs:

At the first sign of a cold: finely chop nine small horehound leaves, mix with 1 tablespoon honey and eat slowly to ease sore throat or cough.  Repeat several times if necessary.

Easy, breezy – bye bye coughy sneezy!

Whether the toddler grabbed the horehound because it was the smallest thing there, loved the name or just copied me, I love that we are growing cough medicine on the back steps.

L - R: Ararat, Valentino and Napoliano basil getting potted up

Herbs – Building a Basil Library



Basil, basil and more basil.

The Complete Book of Herbs, by Lesley Bremness, notes you should “pound with oil or tear with fingers rather than chop” this native of Africa and Asia when used in the kitchen.  I note growing tomatoes mandates growing basil – your summer will never lack a side dish or garden-fresh hors d’oeuvre.

Last summer I grew Genovese, Thai and African Blue basil.

This year I can’t stop myself.  From various plant sales and farmers markets, I have potted so far:

Red Rubin

Dark Opal





I sowed seeds in two tomato pots and have tiny starts:

Sweet Genovese


In my seed packet pox, woefully waiting for me to sow again (original batch lost to cut worms and damping off):

Salad Leaf


Genovese (more)

According to Wikipedia’s list of basil cultivars, I am well on my way to having way more basil than someone with a modest city yard should have.

I am so excited.  Neal collects records, I collect basil.


Travels – Photosafari in Florida Garden


My birthday: The toddler and I boarded a plane for a long weekend down to Neal’s parents’ house in Atlantic Beach, Florida.  We stayed over Mother’s Day weekend while Neal worked in DC.

Her gardens awe visitors.  Neal says his mother’s garden at his childhood Atlanta home inspired the same lush and peaceful embrace, everything existed together as though it always was.  I better understood patina my first visit to their Florida home a few years ago, everything outside settled into place and welcomed its fate, wearing with time and showing the elements.

The plants and fixtures grow into one another creating a continuous scene with nothing stopping the show.  Blooms call you over, scented flowers lead you further, the Loquat canopy draws you around the corner and, wherever you are, you love it.

People pay money to go to places like this.

I grew up in Florida, about two hours southwest of Neal’s folks’ address.  The smells, sounds, humidity, birds, lizards, bugs, thunderstorms, sandspurs and landscape are all familiar.  The most welcoming sight is seeing how these two non-natives have adapted to it all.

Cage vs. Stake: Third year of tying cages to the outside of our stair railing

Potting – Pepper and Tomato Frenzie

Pots!  Get the pots!  Need more potting soil!

That about sums up the last week.

Some of the tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings finally started taking off.  Plus, I am about to take off for a long weekend, so I sorted what to keep and give away, and got to potting.

The Jimmy Nardello’s Italian pepper, Celebrity tomato, Garden Peach and Eva Purple Ball tomatoes were the first chosen and potted.  The rest of the week blurred by with Flower Mart, The DC State Fair seedling swap, more potting and more planting.

Companion planting scratches that itch to magically make containers produce more with less fuss.  I am obsessing over borage this year but have never grown it.  It deters tomato hornworms and is a best friend to nearly everything, so I stuck a borage seedling in with each big pot I planted this week.  This may have been wishful thinking since they grow 2 – 3 feet tall.

I mixed and matched other tomato companions: marigolds, basil, carrots and chard.

I heard from Midwest gardeners on through to the East Coast and South saying they were slammed busy between rains this week.  I think we were all on twitter during the rain and outside when it wasn’t.

What did you plant this week?

Update – Scalions from Salvaged Kitchen Onions


A month ago I planted two sprouted pantry onions in a pot and sewed a little spinach alongside.

Today I fulfilled my intent and cut the greens of one to use as scallions.  I cut a single shoot this morning for sandwiches.  They taste wonderful – stronger and a little tougher than spring onions but delicious.

My inclination is to quick-pickle nearly anything small I want to keep longer than a few days.  This evening I flat-topped the rest of that salvaged onion, thinly sliced the greens, placed them in a little jar with rice vinegar and a pinch of salt.

The tangy onion-y joy sat for about an hour while I made dinner.  We spooned a little on our burgers – delightful.

These vinegared onion greens will perfectly garnish soup, salad, sandwiches, sausage, scrambled eggs, hors d’oeuvres, burgers – you get the idea.

Pretty exciting for onions salvaged from the brink.

After a slight assist they release easily

Herbs – Divide and Conquer

WARNING: This is not a how to.  This is a what I did.

I have never before divided old plants.  My timidness on the practice explains why my herb box has gone five years without splitting up the overgrown chives and thyme.

For real advice on dividing plants, start with Fine Gardening’s 10 Tips for Dividing Perennial Plants.  If you’re looking to create more plants from cuttings, see Gayla Trail’s guest post on Apartment Therapy.

I read a few google results on dividing thyme and chives and went for it.  I also divided my old Golden sage but, it turns out, that was probably a waste of time.  I didn’t even take pictures since it just felt wrong how I cut it in half.  The leaves were tiny and bland last summer, about a year after I should have replaced it.  I have a robust Berggarten sage starting its second season and can live without the spent Golden.

Really, I should pull out the divided Golden sage to allow more room for the two flagrant cat-lady additions: pineapple sage and lemon thyme!  (Though, my impulse-buy pineapple sage might get too large for my herb box, it would be lovely to see it bloom just outside our screen door.)

I created the new (second) herb box for a friend, she’ll receive it in a few weeks once I’m sure the inhabitants recovered from surgery.

If these herbs survive my dividing, I will have conquered one more proper maintenance item.