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Gardening Edibles on my Ping-Pong Table

Canna sprouts on my ping-pong table

I harvested roots from last year’s cannas and found many new “buds” on them. I broke apart the roots so that each section had at least one bud, and started all of them in containers in January. I started two roots in this container, and both have pushed up healthy leaves… they’ll look great in the garden in late May.

This time of year, if you’re at all interested in my gardening activities, the most appropriate question to ask is, “What’s up on your ping-pong table?” So far, I’ve only a few things going on there, but over the next two weeks, my ping-pong table will hold fully 75% of my gardening projects for 2017.

My earliest ping-pong table project was to start canna lilies from roots I harvested at the end of last season. One variety I grew last year took a very long time to flower, so I planted roots this year in January and they’ve gotten an appropriately slow start. I’ve heard cannas that spend too long in a container before getting planted in the garden tend to fall over. That would slow them down. So, I’m keeping the plants in low light and hoping they don’t grow too tall before temperatures rise in May.

I’ll be starting a second variety of cannas soon as well as some elephant ears. These will mostly go into our “Hawaiian corner” which will be in its third year this season. When the cannas and elephant ears mature in late summer, the Hawaiian corner becomes a dramatic focal point in the yard.

I started three other ping-pong table projects in February:

A sprout from grocery store ginger roots

I’ve never had trouble starting ginger plants from roots I bought in a grocery story. This one sprouted about a week ago more than a month after I planted it on my ping-pong table.

1. I planted several pots with ginger roots I bought at a grocery store. These languished for weeks under lights on the ping-pong table before I decided the basement wasn’t warm enough for them. I moved three of the pots into our living room, and in the past week sprouts have appeared in all three. With a single ginger plant I started in November from last year’s harvest, and the three new planters, I expect to harvest more ginger in the fall than we’re likely to eat in a year.

2. I planted two shallow trays with onion seeds. Generally, I start onions from sets that I plant directly in the garden. This year I found seeds in a department store for onion varieties requiring 170 days to maturity. That’s a crazy amount of garden time for home gardens in central PA; a responsible garden center in Pennsylvania wouldn’t stock seeds that require such a long season… it means planting before last frost in spring and hoping not to get shut down by early frost in autumn. Challenge accepted! My onion sprouts look great and I’d like to get them into the garden soon. They’ll go in my community garden plot, so I have to wait until the county finishes prepping.

Onion seedlings on my ping-pong table

A crazy buyer for a big-box store stocked seeds for onions that mature in 170 days! Those would be perfect for home gardens in Texas, and likely to cause the average Pennsylvania gardener aggravation. Being bull-headed, I decided to give them a shot. These sprouts are more than a month old and could probably handle whatever cold is still to come this spring… but they won’t get outdoors until my community garden plot is open. I’m ready, but I’ve no control over when the county lets me start gardening there.

3. I found a frisky sweet potato in the larder and decided to turn it into a slip nursery. There are more than 12 sprouts growing strong. In a few weeks, I’ll pluck them from the sweet potato and root them in water so they’re ready to plant out in late May or early June.

At the beginning of April, my attention to the ping-pong table intensified. I planted two containers with seeds from last year’s sweet pepper harvest: 25 orange bell pepper seeds in one planter, and 25 sweet Italian pepper seeds in a second planter. No sprouts yet, but they’re likely to pop in the next seven days. By then, I’ll have planted up about 14 varieties of tomato seeds and, perhaps, some lettuce and cucumbers.

But spring is finally feeling spring-like, so within a few days I hope to plant peas and lettuce in the garden. It all feels a bit daunting, but exhilarating at the same time.

Putting the ping-pong table to work in late winter and early spring has become a ritual I anticipate and enjoy. It teases me into the gardening season much as an hors d’oeuvre whets my appetite for a fine meal.

Starting sweet potato slips

Growers or distributors sometimes treat sweet potatoes with chemicals that suppress new growth so you may not be able to start slips from grocery store sweet potatoes. I suspect I bought this sweet potato from a local farmer at the market in December. The sweet potato was anxious to sprout, and it may provide more than a dozen slips for my garden. In a few weeks, I’ll pluck the sprouts from the tuber and set them in very moist soil so they develop roots. In late May I’ll transfer the slips to my garden and hope to harvest before burrowing rodents eat my crop.

Cheap planters for sweet pepper seeds

Two one-gallon milk jugs with the top halves cut off serve as planters for my sweet pepper seeds. I planted 25 seeds in each container. In early June, the roots of the plants should be intertwined throughout the soil. I’ll cut or tear the seedlings away from each other and plant them in the garden. Usually, they recover from “transplant shock” in six to ten days and deliver a decent crop starting in late August.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Gardening Edibles on my Ping-Pong Table

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First Crocus (and more) of Spring

First crocus of spring 2017

The annual first crocus photo of the year. Crocus blossoms kicked off a week in February with temperatures as high as 70 degrees. Historically, there has been much snow in February.

No, it’s not spring (well… it wasn’t spring when I wrote this. With luck I’ll finish posting it today on the first day of spring). In fact, we never have to wait till spring for the season’s first flowers to appear. However, in central Pennsylvania, it’s very uncommon to have flowers in our gardens mid-winter, and that’s what we had.

On Monday, February 20 – the last day of mid-winter – I captured my first crocus photo of the year. We were into a serious warm spell; the coldest day that week was spring-like, and one day – Friday – was hot enough for shorts and a tee shirt.

Here, just two weeks later (OK… it’s a month later), I’m posting my first crocus of the year photo along with a few other shots from the garden on February 20th. Things were moving along too quickly too early, but a mighty cold snap shut it down in March. Last night (guessing that would have been March 5th) the temperature dropped to nine degrees Fahrenheit and all those perennials thinking they had a head start were very confused.

Photos tell the story of February 20.

Candytuft buds mid-winter 2017

A few feet from the crocus blossoms, a candytuft plant sported bunches of buds emerging at the ends of leafy stems.

Terminal buds on rose bushes mid-winter 2017

Well sheltered from wind, but in a heavily-shaded planting bed, a young rose bush got pruned by a garden-loving varmint. Fresh, pink terminal buds seemed ready to pop on the last day of mid-winter.

Sundrop plants mid-winter 2017

I didn’t know sundrops are “evergreen.” The purple and green variegation attracted me to the plants, so it’s great to see they’ll provide groundcover year-round. From about five plants I set last spring, I counted nine on February 20. It seems likely other new growth hasn’t yet pushed above the surface.

Horseradish mid-winter 2017

While horseradish leaves die back in late autumn or early winter, new sprouts develop through winter. On February 20, young leaves had started to unfurl. This is one of the most indestructible plants in my garden.

Rhubarb mid-winter 2017

Rhubarb is very hardy. In 2015, young sprouts appeared as cold killed back mature stalks and leaves. Those sprouts remained red and firm all winter and were among the first things to grow in 2016. Here’s a young sprout on February 20, 2017. I love how crinkled and tiny the leaf is, belying how smooth and enormous it will be when it grows up in March and April.

Cardoon in a low hoop tunnel mid-winter 2017

Here’s an unexpected success: This is a Cardoon plant in its third year in my garden. Cardoon withstands temperatures in the high 20s, but it isn’t hardy in zone 6. So… in late autumn, I built a knee-high hoop tunnel over the plant. I peeled back the plastic on February 20, and things looked really good. In fact, it seems new leaves grew since I erected the tunnel. When cold returned in early March, I replaced the plastic. Given the weather forecasts, it seems the plastic will need to remain until April.

Edible Honeysuckle mid-winter 2017

Several years ago, Proven Winners gave me two edible honeysuckle plants to try. These are crazy hardy plants; the only shrubs obviously leafing up in mid-winter. Those look like flower buds to me… perhaps this will be the year the plants start producing fruit.

Hellebore buds mid-winter 2017

Nearly matching strides with the crocuses, my hellebores were pushing out plump buds on February 20. By the end of the week, many of the buds had opened, but when cold hit in March, blossoms closed and everything shriveled into a heap. This isn’t a bad thing! As days warm, the shriveled plants draw in moisture and plump up as if nothing had interrupted their growth.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – First Crocus (and more) of Spring

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Sunflowers in Winter

Sunflowers in bloom

A farmer’s field of sunflowers in bloom in 2015. This is one of three fields the farmer uses for sunflowers, planting only one field each year.

If you like to take photographs—and, I think, particularly if you think of yourself as a photographer—you might find it difficult simply to drive past a field of sunflowers. I’ve seen dozens of gorgeous photographs taken by other photographers of these magnificent fields. What’s more, I’ve stopped two or three times a year for, perhaps, seven years to try to capture the quintessential sunflower field photograph.

I haven’t gotten close. Turns out, I’m not all that skilled a photographer. Still, I’ve nabbed a few decent photos of sunflower fields, and I’ll continue to stop and shoot whenever the opportunity arises.

Just three days ago I had such an opportunity. Never mind it’s mid-winter in central Pennsylvania. I took a side road to the grocery store, turned onto a side road of the side road to photograph a stately oak tree in a farmer’s field, and unexpectedly came upon a field of sunflowers.

In the spirit of raising spirits (seems to be a thing this time of year), I decided to photograph the sunflowers and share them on my blog. Mid-winter sunflowers can be quite striking. I hope you agree. So nice that only six weeks remain until spring.

Sunflowers in winter

A field of sunflowers in winter isn’t particularly eye-catching. I was surprised to see the farmer hadn’t harvested the seed heads from this field; there were plenty there for song birds. I captured many photos and left longing just a bit more for spring.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Sunflowers in Winter

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Bloom Day at Chanticleer Garden

Tennis court at Chanticleer

There once was a tennis court in the yard, but no longer. The space holds a garden whose mix of plants can all at once look unkempt and breathtaking. Looking back on this Bloom Day along what might have been a walking path, there was a dramatic swath of Asiatic and day lilies aglow with noontime sunlight.

On Garden Bloggers Bloom Day this month, I visited Chanticleer Garden with my wife. I captured many photos, but none specifically with Bloom Day in mind. Still, several are appropriate, and I offer them here by way of participation in the Bloom Day tradition.

I first visited Chanticleer last year and was completely smitten. A family from Philadelphia had established the property as a summer home and had eventually settled there. The original house still stands surrounded with ornamental plantings. Caretakers have developed themed gardens throughout the property and a variety of benches and chairs invite visitors to relax and blend in.

Part of the fun of Chanticleer is that people who design and manage the gardens also design and create furniture and other appointments you encounter throughout. There are beautiful wooden benches, chairs, and tables; stone chairs; and metalwork that are both decorative and functional. You’re welcome to carry in a picnic and eat at one of the picnic tables or, on Friday evenings, choose a place on the lawn for a relaxing dinner.

Rather than tell you all about Chanticleer, I encourage you to go there. I love the gardens and offer a few more observations in comments about the photos in this Bloom Day collection.

Blooming Hydrangea

One hydrangea flower cluster popped out at me along a border. I remember seeing other hydrangeas, but this is the only one I photographed. Even in my own yard where I tend to examine progress daily, I don’t remember seeing hydrangea flowers all at once in so many phases of opening.

Accessible garden path at Chanticleer

When I visited Chanticleer last year, it was with the Garden Writers Association on invitation to see a new feature that, unfortunately, wasn’t quite ready for visitors. This is a wheelchair-accessible path that changes a rather steep plunge from the back yard of the main house down to several other themed gardens into a gently-sloping walkway. The new path, now open, is attractive in its own right and leads you past several eye-catching plantings.

Accessible garden path planting at Chanticleer

Looking back at the new wheelchair accessible path from a lower section of it: there’s a lot to consider.

Tiny water lily blossom at Chanticleer

Gardeners at Chanticleer use birdbaths or similar containers to create decorative displays where plants might not otherwise grow. In an area they call the Pond Garden, there’s a short, overgrown path that leads to a locked shed. At the trail’s end, a planter holds tiny water lilies several of which were in bloom during our visit. This is a macro photo—that blossom is about the size of a dandelion bloom. You can see the edge of the planter in the top-left of the photo.

Water lily blossom at Chanticleer

One of the ponds in the Pond Garden had quite a collection of water lilies.

Hillside meadow at Chanticleer

Overlooking the Pond Garden, the hillside is home to a meadow of native flowering plants. A path winds up the hill through the meadow, kept masterfully so you almost have to wonder: is it really a path?

Gravel Garden at Chanticleer

For the dozens of public gardens I’ve visited, and many more private gardens, Chanticleer’s Gravel Garden is my favorite. A stone stairway blends so well with the flora it challenges your sensibilities: should you walk here? Do. Slowly.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Bloom Day at Chanticleer Garden

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Early Summer in my Small Kitchen Garden

Black raspberries

My big garden project last spring included installing a bed of black raspberry plants. Rabbits ate about 1/3 of the plants last autumn—but just what was above ground. The roots are strong and new canes have emerged. Unfortunately, black raspberries produce fruit on canes that emerged in the previous season, so I won’t get a huge harvest this year. On the other hand, the harvest has begun! Immediately after capturing this photo, I ate the two darkest berries you see in it.

In January of this year, I learned I had pancreatic cancer. The tumor was removable, and I had an operation called a Whipple. A surgeon cut out the tumor, part of my pancreas, and my gall bladder, and re-routed my digestive tract, introducing challenges to eating.

With help from my wife, my kids, and friends, I’ve continued to garden, and things are in pretty good shape. However, just over three weeks ago I learned that my cancer has returned and spread. It’s incurable and I’m on a chemotherapy regimen I hope will buy enough time for our medical complex to come up with an effective way to keep the cancer in check—or maybe even cure it.

In the meantime, I’m gardening. Where many activities challenge my stamina or my ability to focus or both, when I’m in the garden I tend to keep working even if it means collapsing on the soil for a break or crawling from place-to-place to reduce the number of transitions from up to down and back.

I’ve chosen photos that show what’s up in my garden as summer gets started—nothing from the community garden; these are all growing at the Cityslipper Ranch. Captions fill in details. I hope your garden is doing well. I’m excited for what’s growing here, and I’d love to hear about what’s growing in your garden. Please leave a comment with details if you’re so inclined. Thanks for visiting!

First blueberry harvest of 2016

We have at least nine blueberry plants in our yard, and they’ve been beat up by rodents every winter for years. I finally got adequate protection around them, and this year the plants show promise of developing into actual blueberry bushes. At best, we’ll score a few hundred berries; these are the first. I was chewing on them seconds after I snapped the photo: so sweet and delicious.

Cinquefoil blossom

At some garden center last summer I found a potted cinquefoil in the “oops, we forgot to water it” bin. I think I paid a dollar and I set the plant in a decorative bed next to raspberries I’d planted with my wife in mind (she loves raspberries on her morning cereal). I had no idea cinquefoil produces blooms—though why wouldn’t it? The plant shows vitality, and the first blossom it produced is gorgeous.

First raspberries of 2016

Those raspberries I planted for my wife? Here are the first to ripen… but Stacy beware! It’s not icing on that raspberry. A bird managed a direct hit. The raspberry plants are growing strong, and next year’s harvest should be impressive. This year’s should be about right for many weeks of cereal bowl berries and they’ve started ripening at the right time: Stacy has been traveling in the Philippines for three weeks and arrives home this weekend.

Fig trees regrowing from roots

This is the third season for my fig trees. Their first winter was amazingly cold and I hadn’t gotten the trees under cover before they froze back to the soil line. They rebounded last year and tried to make figs—which all froze before they were ripe enough to harvest. This winter, I got the plants under cover early but made a silly mistake: The tent I made to prevent freezing also kept moisture from reaching the soil. My fig trees dried out… but not as badly as they’d frozen two winters ago. They’re putting out a lot of new growth, some of it from last year’s growth more than a foot above the soil line. I doubt there will be figs to harvest this season, but perhaps with one more winter under cover (and properly watered), these fig trees will have a fighting chance to produce fruit.

Young fredonia grapes

Two summers ago, I found a beat down Fredonia grape plant priced very low at a local garden center. I failed to plant the vine, and it languished through winter and looked dead when the snow melted. Last year, near the first day of summer, I noticed growth on that beleaguered grape vine. I planted it at the end of my black raspberry bed and it grew strong. This spring, it erupted with new growth and it holds many small bunches of young grapes. If things go well, there may be a few pounds of Concord-like grapes to harvest in September. This spring, my wife and I planted four additional grape vines next to the black raspberries: Riesling, Zinfandel, Pinot Gris, and Cabernet Sauvignon, all grafted onto American grape root stock. Perhaps by summer’s end I’ll have erected a trellis to hold the vines as they mature in future seasons.

Wando peas

My wife prepared the soil, and I planted three 13 foot long double-rows of peas at the beginning of April. My wife erected the trellises with some difficulty and it’s hard to tell whether the trellises are holding up the pea plants or the pea plants are holding up the trellises. More troubling: a rabbit came and went as it pleased and ate at least half a row of pea plants before I repaired the fence enough to slow it down (it has since given birth to three rabbit puppies inside the well-fenced planting bed… go figure). Despite the problems, the pea plants are at full height—they’ve grown three feet above the tops of the four-foot-tall trellises and fallen back—and they’re producing well. I made a vat of new potatoes and peas a few days ago and we’ve eaten through it, and I froze about 3 quarts of peas yesterday. Tomorrow I expect to harvest about a half gallon of pea pods which should be enough to make another vat of new potatoes and peas. (Here’s how I make this iconic Pennsylvania Dutch delicacy: New Potatoes and Peas)

French Gold Filet Pole beans from Renee's Garden

I planted climbing beans two weekends ago, and many have sprouted. I’ll fill the empty places with more seeds this weekend. “Pole Filet Beans French Gold” from Renee’s Garden, are my favorite of all bean varieties—a tender, tasty wax bean that you don’t have to bend over to harvest.

Sundrop blossom

I told the story of my dad’s sundrops in a post titled A Patch of Sundrops. I’d collected several plants from his garden and left them in a bucket for more than TWO MONTHS! Finally, I planted them three weeks ago—a day or two after my wife left on her Philippines trip. The plants showed no sign of transplant shock and have already flowered… the photo shows the first blossom about four days ago. I trust rhizomes are already spreading underground and there will be a dense patch of these pretty yellow flowers under the apple trees within two years.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Early Summer in my Small Kitchen Garden

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Bloom Day in April, 2016

Hellebore

The first blossom in my garden this year was a hellebore. Of four varieties, one was in bloom in December and held its blossoms through January. The hellebore in this photo opened as the crocuses faded in March and has turned from nearly white to this green-pink look over the course of six weeks.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day celebrates flowers. The brainchild of Carol Michel, this blogging event has gone on since February of 2007 more than a year before I started blogging.

The idea of Bloom Day is for bloggers to share photos of what’s abloom in their gardens. Discounting weed flowers, there’s less happening in my garden than is typical for April. Extreme cold after flowering started reduced bunches of blooms to florist rejects.

Feeling particularly abused by a cold virus on top of my chemotherapy (which riles up the post-Whipple intestinal tract), I managed to drag myself around the yard and capture a few decent photos. Not much to offer, but it’s a start.

Candytuft

A new plant in our garden in 2015, candytuft surprised us when it was one of the earliest bloomers this spring. It continues to produce new buds and blossoms and may still be in bloom when nearby dianthus and foxgloves start their flower shows.

Snowdrops

Another early bloomer, blue snowdrops are nearly done. These got into the garden 2 years ago when I spotted some growing out of a dirt heap someone had moved from their yard to a public walkway. I was able to dig up one bulb which I set along the east side of the house. In two seasons, it has multiplied into, perhaps, 8 plants, so I’ve great hope it will spread widely through the planting bed in another six-to-ten years.

Primrose

The primroses have been in bloom for about three weeks. These have been in the garden for several years, and showed promise of spreading aggressively. However, as much as the plants seem to expand during the summer, by spring they look no bigger than on the day I planted them.

Viola

I set several violas in a new planting bed in late summer. Thankfully, they had time to get settled and they surprised me with an early display this spring. I love the golden glow at the center of the blossoms and would love to see the planting bed develop a carpet of these striking flowers.

Daffodil

Daffodils got beat up this year; they had just put up flower stalks when the temperature plunged from about 60F degrees down to 22F degrees. A few nights of punishing cold made many of the flowers droop—or simply fall over. A few stragglers have bloomed since the cold spell ended, but they’re disappointing compared to daffodils in more forgiving years.

Hyacinth

Hyacinths have suffered along with the daffodils. Cold made the flowers droop. Even without that, the spikes are generally “loose” with fewer flowers and wide gaps between them.

Peach blossoms

I’m so glad to be able to show a food photo on April’s Bloom Day. The peach trees have been in bloom for a few days, though many blossoms look abused and many others haven’t yet opened. With luck, enough buds were tight during the cold snap that they’ll still be able to produce fruit.

Cranberry blossoms

A surprise entry for 2016: cranberry blossoms! I received four cranberry plants in the mail and am nursing them along on the dining room table until the temperature rises a bit. Had the plants arrived dormant, I’d already have planted them in the garden. Unfortunately, they arrived awake and ready for action, and I don’t want to chance freezing the new growth by setting them out too early.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Bloom Day in April, 2016

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