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.

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.

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.

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.

Hearsay – Pruning Tomatoes


Don’t go crazy.

That’s about the only real tomato pruning advice you should take from me.

This article really breaks it down.  This one keeps it short, focusing on pruning suckers.

The more you look into it, the more you realize there are two types of tomato growers: Those who prune and those who don’t.  That’s until you start looking into whether to stake, cage or trellis your tomatoes, then you realize tomato growers fall into cults.

Last year I grew two Jet Star and one Early Girl, sticking with the most consistent advice gleaned informally by polling friends: Wait until the first blossoms then cut any branches below those.  I left all the suckers that grew above the first blossoming branches.

Those three plants bore delicious fruit until October.  The fruit was a bit small but plentiful.  This year I’ll have twice as many plants in only slightly more space.  I plan on pruning more suckers to promote air flow and ease crowding between the heirlooms.

I have one tomato way ahead of the game here in DC (Zone 7a).  My Floridian mother-in-law sent us home with an extra Celebrity tomato in early March.  This is a determinate hybrid so I will not be pruning suckers, but I clipped the lowest branches when I first transplanted.  This let me plant it deep in the pot and bury the stem (both to grow more roots and allow the plant to fit within the cold frame for another month).

The upper branches carried blooms when I transplanted the Celebrity into its final pot a month later.  I pruned the lowest branches once again to bury the stem a few more inches.  That will be it for this plant, all the suckers will stay.

The photos, while for a determinate tomato that you shouldn’t prune, illustrate how to prune the lowest branches of any tomato if you plan to do so.

You know what’s awesome?  I didn’t realize that gift Celebrity tomato was a determinate until looking it up for this post.

It’s a bonus plant.  I have four other varieties started from seed and am giving away extras to friends.  The pictures look good.

Thankfully I didn’t go crazy pruning suckers.

Grow It – Urbanites Make Perfect Herbanites


It’s garden center time, farmer’s market time, spring time – are you growing herbs yet?

“Herbs are easy” reaches mantra status as new gardeners ask gardening friends what they should grow.

Herbs are easy for us city folks because they don’t require a trip to the burbs to get started. Every retailer remotely qualified to sell them has displays at the entrance: hardware stores, grocery stores, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, farmer’s markets, and of course, actual garden centers and home improvement stores. You can get a few herbs, a container(s) for them and a small bag of potting mix and lug it home on your bike, the bus or your feet. No car required. (If garden centers aren’t your thing, Target has everything you need except the herbs.)

Instead of my own Top 10 Herb List, see Apartment Therapy’s 10 Best & Easiest to Grow Herbs, I really can’t improve upon theirs.

Instead, here’s my

Why Herbs are Awesome for Every Gardener List:

1. They’re Cheap: Herb seedlings cost about the same as a plastic pack of cut culinary herbs at the grocery store. Even after you buy a container and potting soil, they pay for themselves quickly.

2. Pests Don’t Bother: Herbs are not indestructible but they just don’t attract as many destructive insects as vegetables.

3. Compact: Common culinary herbs do well both in containers and in the ground. For tiny city yards or two-person balconies, you can trim them to fit your space as they grow.

4. They Love Company: Most herbs grow great in containers with buddies. Check companion planting lists to see which herbs do well paired with other herbs, flowers and vegetables.

5. Easy to Preserve: Freeze them, dry them, put them in oil, mix with butter, make herb vinegars – no special equipment required.

6. Easy to Give: Friends sending me home with baggies of fresh-cut herbs is the number one reason I now grow them. So fresh! So awesome!

7. You’ll Cook Tastier Food: Want to turn scrambled eggs into amazing eggs? Chop a few basil leaves and add with garlic to the hot pan before pouring in your scrambled eggs. Turn grilled cheese into grilled fantastic by laying a few rosemary leaves under the bread in the skillet. Fancy. Easy. Fast.

8. High in Vitamins: Add a few flat leaf parsley leaves and chives to your sandwich and you just ate Vitamin C!

9. There’s Nothing to Rot on the Vine: When veggies are ready to harvest it’s go time.  That’s great, but it’s summer! You have beaches to hit, BBQs to attend, roof decks to drink on, trips to take and music festivals to recover from!  Set your herbs up with a little self-waterer and go enjoy summer!  Once established, they’re ready to harvest when you need them, not when they say so.

10. You’ll Want More: Herbs are the gateway drug to gardening.

Speaking of drugs, here’s a very short intro to herb healing properties.

If you’ve had your herbs for a few years and think perhaps they need a little attention this spring, The Herb Guide rounds up a few common herb maintenance items.

My herb box begs for a division session. It works out, I want to give a friend an herb box. Once divided and on their feet again, she’ll have what I have, only at her place.

You should have herbs at your place.

Seedlings – Get in the Ground!


Miss B’s and Mr. O’s beans look great and look huge in their Ben and Jerry’s pints because they’re beans.

Mr. O is out of town but they left a shiny new toddler wheelbarrow in the backyard to share.  What better inaugural run than filling it with dirt to transplant a pair of beans!

Don’t take bean growing advice from me, I tried growing them in the fall of 2010 to pathetic results.  No matter, it’s spring 2012 now.

B was seriously into getting the first bean into the ground, telling it to do so as I separated the pair and eagerly digging a hole for it.  As for transplanting the other into our repaired pot, once she helped fill it with dirt, she was out of there.

She had bigger plans for the wagon.


Kids – Growing to Eat


I posted the pic our two year old eating chives on tumblr yesterday.

The Greedy Gardener summed up in a comment my entire philosophy on the importance of providing real food to our children:

I think the best way to encourage kids to eat veg is to grow it at home – it becomes part of every day life rather than a penance rewarded by cake

I was scarred for life when Bunny (our child’s nickname, one of many) was a few months old and we stayed with friends who had two daughters, about ages 4 and 6.  If it didn’t come in a package or look like white pasta, they wouldn’t eat it.  Period.

So much packaged food is something to eat, but it isn’t food.

Children 100 years ago didn’t survive on squeezable fruit sauce and puffed toddler snacks.  They ate food that was cooked and prepared in a kitchen.

Children of developing countries don’t have Go-Gurt.

Toddlers in India eat – wait for it – Indian food. 

Spices and all.

Street food in Rio de Janeiro (and everywhere else we went in Brazil) is real food – kids have cups of fruit, pastries filled with meat and cheese, sticks of roasted cheese…

Not everyone can grow vegetables for their kids or manage a garden – the reality is people work multiple jobs, don’t have the know how to get started, don’t have the hours in the day to get it going or the space for a few containers.  But the importance of farmer’s markets and access to real grocery stores (produce at Wal-Mart and Target matters, regardless of the farming practices) is so fundamental.

Smart phones are bringing the internet into households that never before had it (to both low income and rural communities).  Buying fresh vegetables, looking up how to cook them and serving them with meals is a vital part of raising healthy kids.  Even if only a few times a week, it matters.  Adding them to a frozen pizza before cooking it is legitimate.

I’m preaching to the audience if you’re reading this.  But realize your influence as gardeners.  You can grow a child’s love of herbs, fruits and vegetables:

- Invite a busy neighbor and their child over to pick a few strawberries.

- Let your nieces and nephews smell all your garden herbs and choose a few for dinner.  Better yet, make grilled cheese sandwiches in a skillet with the herbs.

- Help the Sunday School teacher do a few lessons on sowing seeds and reaping the rewards (radishes are fast and fun – you can scare up something to grow them in and you can tote back and forth to church for a month).

- Bring bunches of mint to the BBQ and let the kids munch on it and add it to their lemonade.

- Ask your own kids how you should share your garden.

Last spring, Bunny wasn’t quite 2 and I called her over to the chives.  “You can eat these, would you like a taste?”  She opened her mouth.  I gave her a piece and she cried.  I gave her a cracker, told her “It’s ok” and that they taste better when added to other foods.

This spring she has been really into smelling everything, especially the rosemary (which I constantly cook with).  When we got to the chives, she said they smelled like onions and that she wanted to “taste it.”  Her eyes got wide and she said “Those good, mom!”

Now she picks them at will, bringing me a few to eat as we get ready to garden.

What’s Growing – A Few Chilly Days til May


DC spring decided to switch gears to cold rain with May a week away.

One last hurrah from the Winter that Never Was.

Checking on the plants in the cold drizzle showed just how far the garden has come since setting the first seed pots in the cold frame two months ago.  April weather dipped cooler more often than March and the seedlings have gone through growth spurts between holding steady.  The cold frame is protective but only gets a few hours of good sun thanks to the rowhouse canyon of our backyard.  Each day their sun time increases thanks to the earth tilting in our favor as spring heads towards summer.  Things are growing, albeit a little slowly.

I’m wildly satisfied.

The Update

1.  Turnips!  The top: March 21st, four days after sowing.  Bottom: April 23rd.  I need to thin them out.

2.  Parsnips!  The right: Radishes alongside the parsnips last week.  Left: Radishes thinned to let the parsnips grow.  Originally sown March 17th.

3.  Beets!  The top: Sown March 17th.  Bottom left: The few that sprouted looking noble last week.  Bottom right: Either heavy rains or a bird flatted two, April 23rd.  Sadly, I need to thin the few that are growing.

4.  The Camilla!  Top: The last bloom hanging on five weeks after the first opened.  Bottom: Those that let go below it, April 23rd.

5.  Zinnias and Marigolds!  Top row: Transplanting them from their egg carton seed pots, around April 4th.  Bottom: They were the first to get kicked out of the cold frame a few weeks ago.  Short, but growing, April 23rd.

6.  Chives blooming!  This herb box welcomes its fifth season with the same chives, thyme (also blooming) and golden sage (not pictured).  I should replant the box but don’t want to touch it (other than my usual fertilizing and mulching), the inhabitants seem happy as is.  It survived Snowmageddon and Snoverkill in 2010.

7.  Mesclun!  Sown March 31st, pictured April 23rd.  Tiny salads at our first 2012 BBQ this Sunday!

8.  Bush Beans!  Top row: Planted by and for toddlers, April 5th.  Mid row: They sprouted(!) April 17th.  Bottom: Thriving, April 23rd.

9.  Wine-Box-O-Root-Veggies!  Top row: Prep, sow, grow (radishes a few days past April 5th sowing).  Mid row:  A few tiny beets on the left, carrots on the right and radishes all over, April 23rd.  Bottom: Carrots in front of radishes, April 23rd.

10.  Onions!  Top: Reclaiming pantry onions for their greens, April 11th.  Bottom: The stalks look great and spinach seeds sprouted alongside, April 23rd.  I’ll harvest the tops as scallions this weekend, they should regrow.

11.  Potatoes!  Left side: Planting a sprouted potato so the foliage will hang off our stair rail (just for looks), April 11th.  Right side: It’s growing, April 23rd.  I do this every year.  The pot is too small and it’s never as lush as the ornamental sweet potatoes, but it grows.  To really grow potatoes, you do it differently.

12.  Fresh seedlings!  Left: Balsam, 10 days after sowing.  Right: Borrage, 10 days after sowing.

13.  Freshly sown!  Trying to slip under the wire with this cold snap: onions, spinach and mesclun, sown April 22nd.

14.  Tomatoes!  I have yet to count how many tomato seedlings we have, same principle as counting chickens before they hatch.  I kicked a few out of the cold frame April 20th and two days later the 48-hr cold rain came.  I huddled them behind the covered bike to protect them from the 40 mph predicted wind gusts, picture April 23rd.

What’s not growing?  Basil.  After fighting off cutworms, they died after transplanting.  They were tiny and I think succumbed to damping off.  I’ll try again in a week or so.  I’ll also direct sow a few in the big tomato pots when the tomatoes are ready for final transplanting.

Not bad.

Not bad, at all.

DIY for Earth Day – More Pot Repair with Gorilla Glue

Earth Day celebrates what you can do daily to help the environment.  Repairing items instead of throwing them away runs deep in our family.

You don’t always need tools to make repairs.  I have an arsenal of adhesives around the house and at our DC record store, Som Records, but I’ve found Gorilla Glue works particularly well for repairing terra cotta (clay) pots.

I posted about pot repair a month ago but this is so easy (and replacing pots adds up), here’s yet more incentive to repair your own.

This is a two-for-one.  We found a large pot left for trash on the curb with a big crack down its center.  The pot was still in one piece but would break if filled with soil.  This is where Super Glue just won’t work.  Super Glue (or Krazy Glue, etc) won’t fill gaps between two pieces but Gorilla Glue expands as it dries, making it perfect for this job.

The medium-sized pot is ours.  I left it out over winter and it cracked from the few freezes we had.  It’s cracked down the side and the bottom is completely separated.

The previous post gives detailed notes on using Gorilla Glue, but the captions here should guide your way.

Note:  I am a known over-gluer.  I overkill it with the glue just to make super sure it all holds.  You don’t have to use this much glue, the bottle directions warn to use sparingly.

Disclaimer:  I am not affiliated with Gorilla Glue, but we do share some love on twitter and follow each other.

DIY – Wine Crate Mini Garden


Danvers Carrots!  Hollow Crown Parsnips!  Early Wonder Beets!  Cherry Belle Radishes!

I intended to drive all over town and collect a carload of wine crates from all the liquor stores and ring the back yard with awesome wooden wine crates lush with all manner of herbs and vegetables.

So far I have one.

And it’s the one wine crate our neighbors gave me when I told them I was going to collect a carload of wine crates for the garden.

Apartment Therapy discusses waterproofing the wine crate for longevity but I skipped it.

Reasons I Skipped Waterproofing:

1.  I didn’t want to spend any money this week.

2.  Waterproofing is a hassle.

3.  I’m growing root vegetables and am going to gamble with whatever chemicals are already in the wine crate wood and not add to the chemical mix by waterproofing it.

Whether you waterproof or not, you do need to drill holes for drainage.  I evenly spaced a bunch of holes and called it good.

I can’t find the magazine I read a few months ago that touted growing root vegetables in containers, but I did find this guy through Life on the Balcony having a blast growing carrots.  His advice is better than anything I can offer since this is my first year seriously planting root vegetables.  I remember the magazine recommending adding a little sand to the potting mix but, after further reading tonight (after having planted the carrots and other seeds), that was probably not helpful.  I think they’ll be fine.

Our wine box is almost a foot deep – I can’t wait to pull out happy radishes, beets, parsnips and carrots!

Harvest – Radishettes!


Look at these delightful tiny radishes!

They aren’t really even radishes yet, we planted them only three weeks ago.  Eleven days ago they were well on their way to radishdom.  Today it seemed we should thin a few.

The toddler helped me choose the which needed more space and – pop! – we ate these tender little radishettes with our dinner!

Eating greens and all, Bunny looked at me and said, “Mom, I wanna eat more radishes.”

Super yay.