30 April 2009

Ask yourself two questions

If you want to grow tomatoes, first you have to ask yourself two questions:

1. What kind of space & time do you have?

It goes without saying you must have a sunny spot. Is this spot small or large? Tomatoes come in two types.

Determinate: Have a fixed size they won't grow beyond, and bear their fruit in a short time span.

Indeterminate: Will grow and grow unchecked unless you intervene, and bear their fruit in stages.

Determinates are best for small spaces, for when you don't have time to prune and manage, while indeterminates are great for large spaces where they can grow as they please (or, as you please if you have the time to direct them).

2. What are you going to do with the tomatoes?

Tomatoes also come in different varieties. Do you want to recreate grandma's sauce from the Old Country? Buy a "saucing" tomato. Do you like thick slices on your summertime BBQ burgers? Buy a "slicing" tomato. And so on.

As always, if you have any questions, ask your local nursery employee. They can point you to varieties that are best for your needs and best for your local weather. For example, here in Portland, varieties that fruit early and can tolerate cooler, wetter weather (such as the prolific Siberian choices) are popular.

29 April 2009

I'm a tomato!

Love this t-shirt! Don't love tomatoes, not so much, no. Don't really even like them. But I'm from The South, and growing tomatoes is just what you do.

Besides, my friends love them and I will cook with them or make salsa, so it all works out.

I won't share all my tomato lore in this post, only just to say that it's time to choose my starts. And my favorite local nursery is ready to help me out with a perfectly timed event.

Thursday, April 30, 5:00-7:00pm
Garden Fever, 3433 NE 24th

Refreshments and prizes from 750 KXL Radio. Choose from organic tomato and vegetable starts (it's time for peppers too!). I'll be there!
Join us for an evening of gardening fun with refreshments & prizes from 750 KXL Radio
Choose from a full selection of organically & sustainably grown tomato & vegetable starts.
Join us for an evening

28 April 2009

Before & After - Weeding

This is the Southeast corner of the backyard, hosting a lilac tree and an assortment of hostas, astilbes, and hellebore, and plenty of blank spots for weeds to multiply. Filling those blanks spots is a task I will tackle this year. But first I have to weed, weed, weed.

Before the application of gardenbooty.

After the application of gardenbooty.

27 April 2009

Before & After - Sunshine on apple trees

Who doesn't like a make-over? Here's the first of what will become a regular feature: Before & After.

Before the sunshine.

April 18

After the sunshine, 6 days later.

April 24

26 April 2009

Tasks - 4/26/09


* Went to Garden Fever. Bought a few fill-in plants and a pair of cotton gloves.

* Killed and dug up one "granddaddy" blackberry root at the base of the house in my soon-to-be potting area. This is likely the root of the vine that grows out of the siding. Roughly 4 or 5 left to be dug out.

* Weeded from the lilac to the Cafe Ole roses. Moved a plant (not sure what it is? smells like a lemon sage, serrated leaves like a French lavender) to the green bed.

* Discovered some kind of winged mite on the Cafe Ole roses and blasted them with water. Will keep an eye on them.

* Discovered new shoots at the base of the dead, seemingly dead eucalyptus in the backyard. Hunh.

* Went out after dark to look for caterpillars, thought I saw their signature damage in the beds today. Found 4, as opposed to the usual 40 during a plague.


One way to expand your garden on the cheap is to share and trade plants with friends and neighbors. Many plants spread and unless you have infinite room with perfect conditions, you'll have extra plants on your hands anyway.

Hostas are such a plant. Unless split vigorously, they will multiply in on themselves in an ultimately harmful way.

When the nubs first appear in March or April, you can divide the mass into smaller clumps and replant elsewhere. They survive the division very well.


The ones that can't be used in blank spots in my garden go into pots to share with my friends.

25 April 2009

Tasks - 4/25/09


* Thinned 2/3 of the arugula.

* Weeded geranium bed. Moved the border to accommodate changed plants -- including what looks like a volunteer columbine?

* Split hostas and moved around the geranium, lilac, and ash beds. Put spare hostas (7 in all) in pots to share with friends.

* Moved a white hellbore and a fern around in the geranium and ash beds. Never moved a hellebore before; fingers crossed.

* Weeded lilac bed. The lilac is beginning to bloom!

24 April 2009

Day Off - Tasks - 4/24/09

Took today off work:

* Finished weeding green bed.

* In snap pea bed, planted delphinium Black Knight.

* In herb bed, planted geum Mango Lassi to replace geum that died.

* Planted purple pansy in pot with sweetpeas on front porch steps.

* Weeded bed under ash & split two of its hostas.

* Began weeding bed that occupies area along South fence from the "artistic" twig pile to the lilac. Let's call this the geranium bed.

23 April 2009

Sale at the Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden

Portland's Japanese Garden is hosting its annual plant sale this weekend. More than 25 local nurseries will be selling an outstanding selection of conifers, peonies, orchids, camellias, hydrangea, bamboo, bonsai, Japanese maples, azaleas, rhododendrons, and more.

Japanese Garden Plant Sale
Saturday, April 25, 10:00am-3:00pm

20 April 2009

Tasks - 4/20/09


* Went to the hardware store for brackets to lash boards together for new kiwi bed.

* Finished setting up watering hoses.

* Applied one gallon of compost tea + one gallon water to the sidewalk strip, as a way to replenish nutrients without trouble of replacing soil.

* Declared an end to slug & caterpillar watch season (barring some unforeseen weather, pfft, that never happens).

Keeping the Kitties Out

Doing my best to stave off becoming "that crazy cat lady", I nonetheless very much enjoy how all the neighbor cats play in my yard. Sinclair terrorizes Boo, who likes to sniff dandelions. The tabby sisters leap into the air, climbing trees and fences, chasing dragonflies and birds. Luna stalks at night. And many others. It's a treat to watch them cavort.

Except. Sigh. They poop. And they dig up plants to do it. And it stinks.

They target loose soil, areas that are unplanted and recently turned, or, worse, areas that are newly planted. They can destroy hours of work in a moment. Once a new plant is big enough, then they tend to leave it alone. The trick is protecting something new until it's grown.


Raised beds can be covered with screen mesh or other material that lets in light & water while blocking kitty paws & butt. Direct in the ground, though... that's hard. Cages can be expensive, especially in a yard my size (100x50).

I've found a cheap, effective method of creating a barrier around new plants (see foto above). Bamboo skewers! A large pack -- usually found in the BBQ section of any grocery store for about $2-3 -- lasts me a couple of years.

Space them close together around the plant. Re-use until they break down; then toss 'em in the compost.

19 April 2009

Tasks - 4/18-19/09

This weekend:

* Thinned 1/3 arugula

* Removed items and spent tulips from cut flower raised bed and used good dirt for other projects (planning to move this bed).

* Planted columnar apple trees

* Moved bay tree into a large pot near basement door stairs.

* Planted fig tree in front yard where bay had been. Fig should grow no more than 10 ft. tall and so will not conflict with newly strung electric wire.

* Thinned sugar snap peas and added more dirt to support their bases.

* Assessed herb bed. Removed plants that died in snowpocalypse (sad, some I've had for many years, from my small garden at the old apartment): silver thyme, geum, rosemary. Planted sweetpeas against fence.

* Turned cover crop into soil in old tomato raised bed. This is now the cut flower bed. Added a conical tomato cage, but will use for flowered vines. Planted sweetpeas on cage.

* Planted sweetpeas in blueberry bed so that bees will be attracted when pollination necessary.

* Planted sweetpeas on the dry compost bin and the large cold compost bin - an attempt to pretty things up.

* Planted sweetpeas by front porch stairs, one in a pot and one near the handrail.

* Moved stored items away from the back side of herb bed. Began building a bed there. Lacking a critical piece of hardware to lash boards together, just went ahead with the soil building and will finish the boards later. Planted Japanese kiwi in bed. It is a self-pollinating variety.

* Began cleaning overgrown area under bathroom window. Planning to use this as a "potting shed" area.

* Weeded pink jasmine semi-circle bed in front of the house. Discovered a wee black mondo that must have rooted somehow off the pot I stored there (the one I bought at the Chinese Garden Sale) for a few weeks.

* Began cleaning overgrown "green" bed -- this is a new bed began last year. Most of the flowers are green. Will get re-done in some way this year.

* Un-rolled new 100ft hoses in the sun to loosen up the rubber. With 80 degree predicted this week and so many new plants in the ground, I will probably have to water at least once this week!

* Shopped at Garden Fever, dodging the n00bs who want to grow their own food now, like Michelle Obama. "Uh, excuse me, where can I buy the 'organic garden'?"

18 April 2009

Ginger Rogers

"Anything Fred Astaire could do, Ginger Rogers did backwards and in high heels."

So the saying goes. I got a tremendous amount of work (cumulative task list posted tomorrow) done today, but at a price. I've given myself what I call a "lady" injury.

As in, I was doing what ladies shouldn't do -- namely carry something far too heavy for far too long to prove how strong and independent I am. Now it hurts, and I will stubbornly aggravate it while I manically gardenbooty the remainder of the weekend. Did the same damn thing two years. Guess I never learn.

I learned today. Just because I can do pretty much anything a man can do doesn't mean I should.

My strong male friends can expect requests for help from now on. Don't worry. I'll bribe generously in order to preserve my immense pride.

17 April 2009

Tasks - 4/17/09

"I'm just going to do a couple of things before dinner..... (4 hours later) .... did I eat? What day is it?"


* Inaugurated the backyard firepit, Xmas tree hissing at its final humiliation. Wooga drinking tea, feet up, after these tasks and thinking about tomorrow's.

* Tidied the woodpile - as a Southerner, I approach this task with some trepidation, though in Portland we only find harmless spiders and worms in the crevices of the woodpile.

* Renewed slug pellets around still vulnerable plants.

* Inventoried hostas since they're now poking a bit out of the ground - holy hostas clavata! Last year's split was not enough. Not at all. Anybody want any hostas?

* Finished weeding fence strip.

* Weeded the old tomato bed, will be a cut flower bed or potage this year.

* Weeded crocosmia bed.

16 April 2009

Ly-lack, Ly-lock

I say ly-lack. I say Portland is the best place to live if you love lilacs because it's so close to the best place to find lilacs.

Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens
115 S. Pekin Road, Woodland, WA

The four-acre garden hosts a festival and plant sale every year when the lilacs are at their peek, which is April 18 - May 10 this year.

foto, lilac

In 2004 I bought this Michel Buchner lilac at the festival. It's a lovely bluish lavender with a strong fragrance. Kept in a pot for years, it was planted in the backyard last year and is already showing lots of buds.

Perhaps it needs a friend? See the website for more information.

15 April 2009

Tasks - 4/15/09


* Filled melon bed with dirt & covered with black plastic. See: Yummy Summertime

* Began weeding pink jasmine bed in front yard.

* Began weeding area in front of porch (very overgrown, didn't plant or mulch last year).

* Continued hacking away at driveway overgrowth

Yummy Summertime

If I want to eat melons in the Summer, it begins now. I built a small bed in the front yard, over a patch of dead grass, with full sun.

First, the bed is filled part way with poor, rocky soil left over from my neighbors' fence project, which gives the bed good drainage (and gets the unsightly soil pile out of my backyard).

Then a mixture of good soil and compost goes on top.

I don't trust the weather to warm the soil up fast enough for melon seeds, so I'll jack the temp with some warming black plastic. Once the soil warms - 2-10 days - I'll plant the seeds of Muskmelon Cantaloupe "Earlichamp".


14 April 2009

Tasks - 4/14/09


* Finished weeding the lavender walk - the first pass, anyway. Probably will have to weed again at least once.

* Began weeding an area new to my yard this year. I'll call it the "fence strip" - a long, mostly narrow strip of poor quality dirt between my neighbors' new fence and an old concrete driveway on my property, in the back yard. This first year I'll work on improving soil quality and plant some easy annuals like sweetpeas & sunflowers. In the one wider portion, I will plant two columnar apples.

13 April 2009

Tasks - 4/13/09


* Continued weeding the lavender walk. Discovered one of the lavenders I thought dead, is not. Cool.

* Sowed 3/3 of the arugula plantings. See: A-wooga-la!

* Built a small frame for a bed in the front yard. This will host melons, and maybe some squash later.

* Shook my head at the damn grass. Why, why, why must it grow?

Tubers, oh my!

I am officially an old lady: I am going to a dahlia tuber sale and auction, in a church. Yes, "and auction". I imagine myself elbowing some other old lady, vying for the Dinnerplate Princess Di Dahlia or some such. Maybe I'll pull her flowered hat down over her face while frantically waving my numbered card in the air. Mine! Mine! Mine!

The sale is Tuesday, April 14 6:30pm, sponsored by the Portland Dahlia Society, at the Rose City Park United Methodist Church, 5830 NE Alameda St.

11 April 2009

That plastic thingie

On a recent walk, JWD asked, "What are those plastic thingies around the bottom of trees?" Nearly all the trees on the sidewalk strip of next door's condoplex have them.

foto, tree

I speculated wildly in my best authoritative librarian voice, which seemed to satisfy his curiosity. But mine was piqued, so later I turned to a favorite garden guide: The Truth About Garden Remedies** by Jeff Gillman.

Gillman's book is an encyclopedic examination of home remedies for the garden. You'll learn the history, theory, and practice of each remedy, along with Gillman's report on his own experiments to test the remedy. Myth Busters for your yard.

Turns out my fancy guesswork about the plastic thingies -- a "tree wrap" -- was darn close (protection against pests, lawn equipment, frost cracks). Gillman's conclusion is that they are largely unecessary, especially in Portland's climate, and that the plastic ones can do far more harm than good.

** Book featured for purchase : see bottom of page

10 April 2009


foto, greens

I've experimented with various cold weather greens and had the most success with arugula. Reliable and versatile, it tastes good too!

foto, greens

My seed choice is "Garden Rocket Italian Wild Arugula" from Nichols Garden Nursery. In the Spring, I stagger planting in three stages, while in the Fall I plant all the seeds in the spent, bare herb bed.

The difference is that in Spring I'm trying to keep the greens cool (so they don't bolt, ie flower and become inedible) and the best spot, which happens to be by the kitchen door (bonus!), requires pots. I stagger as another way to deal with possible bolting, but also so I have a steady supply.

In the Fall, the herb bed is cooling anyway and gets more light, which is needed then. And I don't worry about the supply so much because the greens grow more slowly. Any leftovers that somehow survive winter are either munched early the next Spring (with a slightly woody flavor) or tilled into the soil.

The first foto above is the pot that was planted March 3. It needs thinning soon. Harvest in maybe another 3 weeks? Depends on the weather. No problem, there's still some in the herb bed from last Fall. Yum.

06 April 2009

Tasks - 4/06/09


* Continued weeding the lavender walk. Tedious, slow work pulling up the laurel seedlings.

foto, seedlings

* Finished part of the garden area in the basement, and converted to-do list to a tasks bulletin board. (Still need to finish organizing tools, etc.)

foto, desk

Weekend events

Gardening season is in full swing, so you have a choice between a gazillion events this weekend. If you're ambitious you might be able to do more than one -- but, then, when will you garden?


Learn about worm composting (especially useful if you produce more kitchen scraps than yard debris) at this workshop hosted by Pistils Nursery. Even if you do have compost piles in your yard, more worms can come in handy to jumpstart a pile or provide extra fertilizer for a project.

The workshop is Saturday, April 11, 1:30-3:00. $10 Follow the registration instructions on their website.

Hardy Plant Sale

The Hardy Plant Society of Oregon is a volunteer, nonprofit group devoted to the promotion of hardy herbaceous perennials. Put that on a t-shirt.

They have a huge sale! They offer a lot of good advice! The sale runs Saturday and Sunday, April 11-12 at the Expo Center. See the website for more information.

05 April 2009

Tasks - 4/4-5/09

This weekend:

* Mixed 1 bag of aged mushroom compost with three times as much of my own compost.

* Applied compost mix to beds: blueberries, white hellebore, herb, pea.

* In the pea bed, planted a "Sweet Grapes" penstemon and a "Lemore" goldenrod.

* Weeded beds: sidewalk strip, garage strip, cut flower bed.

* Began weeding beds: lavender walk, green flower bed.

* In the garage strip, planted a Russian sage (moved from the cut flower bed) and a "Lemore" goldenrod.

* Re-built crabapple's berm on sidewalk strip.

* Accidentally opened another leaf bag, which disintegrated, so moved leaves to new dry/cold bin.