Riddle me this

I spent last Sunday cleaning up the yard and the first thing I did was to riddle my compost.

No, I did not stand in front of the bin and challenge my compost to a series of brain teasers.

A riddle is a garden sieve. I think it’s a British term? Feel free to use it next time you’re talking gardening with William and Kate (ahem. Catherine)! It can be used to sift foreign or unwanted objects like barbie shoes and army men that were buried in your garden by children of past owners (maybe that’s a topic for another post?  Weird things you’ve found in the dirt?) OR it can be used to sift through your compost bin to quickly separate the compost from the not-yet-composted (apparently we eat a LOT of avocados, as evidenced by the numerous pits).

riddled compost

I made mine out of an old tray.  I removed the bottom, then stapled chicken wire to it.  The tray I used had handles on the side, making it perfect for shaking from side to side to sift out all the sticks and other bits.  You could also easily make one from an old wooden frame.  Or I guess you could just buy one here (lazy!) (kidding!).





Riddling is totally not necessary but I often find myself with a compost bin that’s 80% composted, and it’s a nice way to get the good stuff out and make room for additional compost fodder.

Hello! Novice Gardener here!

I’ve tried a lot of tactics to entertain my 2 cats. Fish tanks full of fish, pet mice, bubbling water dispensers, robot laser toys, a mechanized cat “teaser”, catnip cigars, and a tabletop garden in my apartment.

While the cats are riveted to the “mouse TV”, honestly, I admit to a sense of unease. It’s not that I fear for the 3 mouse-sister’s safety, as they live in a very sturdy home. It’s more that I can’t determine whether the cats are getting some healthy stimulation, or if I’m just torturing everyone involved.

Back to the tabletop garden. Besides the mice, the garden seems to be the best outdoor element that I can import for them. Bibi, my ridiculously charming & tiny calico cat, looks like a sillier version of a jungle cat pushing her way through foliage, as she stalks her favorite munching mini-tree.

Unfortunately though, I have a black thumb of death with it comes to houseplants. The tabletop garden is a collection of plants in vessels, all in various stages of decrepitude. Or, if I’ve been to Bachmann’s recently, there’s the glorious lushness of the new additions, hiding those that are struggling.

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Lupine sprouts!

Prairie lupine sprouts

Prairie lupine sprouts: A touch of spring on a cloudy Minnesota day.

As a Taurus, I have learn to have low expectations for April and May. It could be 70 degrees of sunshine and puffy white clouds, or 40 degrees of grey, snow-rain. (My husband and I are Twins season ticket holders. I wussed out of Wednesday’s game because of the wet and cold.)

If our Minnesota weather won’t let me dig in the yard, I’ve got plenty of seedlings to fuss over in the basement. A month ago, I planted these lupine seeds with very low expectations (Did I mention that the seeds were from 2008?). Now I have a dozen cute little sprouts — What a delightful surprise!

I have a favorite

I feel a little bad about it, but I do have a favorite flower. Please don’t tell the others: I dote on them, too. I am so happy that the lilium genus is so easy to grow, their elegance springing up year after year in their many guises. Bloodwort is one of the first to show up for the spring party. Nubs of leaves pushing up like burly shoulders through the cool soil. They’re grey, tinged with a dirty pink; the delicate, flawless white flowers that follow shine among the leaves left from the autumn. The insides of foxgloves are secretive, full of hidden folds and structures whose function is known only to the bees.

Lilium 'Courier' shines with elegance

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Hooray for early bulbs

At this time in the gardening year, I’m feeling a little pleased with myself. I’ve planned ahead and have stuff blooming.  If you are bitten hard by the gardening bug, eventually you take on the fun challenge of stretching the bloom season. To get the earliest start, that means discovering the world of spring bulbs and flowers. Nearly everyone knows about daffodils and tulips, but there are lots of things that bloom earlier. Some are little perennial wildflowers such as bloodwort and Pasqueflowers.  If you really want tons of color, go for the wee bulbs: crocus, snowdrops, iris reticulata, muscari, scilla. Planted in the right spot, snowdrops are the earliest to show. In a good year, the crocus bloom in late March. In fair years, they’re around by April 10th. We won’t talk about the bad years.

Crocus--best planted by the hundreds

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Down the garden path

I don’t remember ever not gardening. As a kid, my summer reading pleasure was interrupted by having to weed the large vegetable garden kept by my mother. Taking a break meant pulling a carrot, getting it a rough approximation of clean by wiping it on my shorts and crunching away, still smelling of earthworms and so intensely sweet. Around the age of ten, I decided to work in the little flower garden set in the middle of the lawn, surround by rocks from the fields. Every spring, I’d pick out snapdragons, zinnias and pansies and tend to them till about mid-July, when I’d tire of weeding and watering and let the whole thing go. Now as a grown-up gardener, I know that practically every one stops gardening in July. You harvest the garlic, make sure the tomatoes are staked and just let things grow.

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Bringing garden scents indoors

lilac candle

Scents of the garden

Confession: I don’t like tomatoes.

And yet, I grow them every year because I can’t get enough of the smell of those tomato plants. Nearly every day I take a moment to bury my head in the plant and just breathe. I always marvel that you don’t see shelves of tomato-scented products in the drugstore.

I figured it has something to do with certain scents just not translating to a packaged form. For example, I love the smell of fresh roses but hate anything rose-scented.

Today I browsed the candle aisle at Target, hoping for something that would bring a little spring scent into our home and came across a “tomato blossom” candle. And then a little online digging turned up this cologne, and a number of other candle options.

Ultimately, I decided to go with the “fresh lilac” candle, as it evoked a feeling that spring might just arrive one of these days. (I hope!)

What do you do to bring spring and summer scents indoors? And, are there scents that just don’t translate to an indoor scent for you and are better left in the garden?

Brugmansia watch, mid-March

Overwinter Brugmansia

Overwintering brugmansia

This is a beautiful plant, no?

Okay, maybe not.  But it will be!

This is a 3 year old Brugmansia, also known as an Angel’s Trumpet. It may not look like much now, but in just a few months this will be a spectacular 8+ foot tall plant with beautiful, pendulous trumpet flowers.

Each fall, we chop it down to roughly 18″ stalks and haul it down to the basement.  No easy feat, as you can imagine this sucker is HEAVY. Last year’s casualty was a sore back and a few nasty bruises.

To overwinter this plant, we put it in a cool dark place and let it go dormant by only watering about once a month. Once this plant gets back into the sunlight with regular watering, it bounces right back to life.

(bike tires not necessary for successful overwintering)

In addition to this monster plant, we have about 4-5 other plans that spend the winter in our basement. They usually look like they’re on the verge of death by the time spring comes but we haven’t lost one yet.

Anyone got any experience or advice on overwintering plants?

So THAT’S where I put those species tulips…

Species tulip bulbs

Force starting species tulip bulbs: A futile effort?

Last fall, I fell in love with species tulips and bought four bags of bulbs. Apparently, I only planted two bags — and hid the rest on top of bookcase.

I found the remaining bulbs Sunday afternoon. Some were dried out husks. Some had sad little yellow sprouts awkwardly outstretched towards the track lighting.

With 6-12 inches of snow on the garden, what is a girl to do? Bust out some old pots and have a planting party.

Will these bulbs grow and eventually bloom? I have my doubts, but I’ll keep you posted!

March Madness begins

Prairie Lupine

Cold treating prairie lupine seeds

In our home, March Madness has nothing to do with hoops, balls, pep bands, or face paint. It’s not a competition with between Big Ten rivals or small southern baptist schools. It’s a battle between northern gardeners and our short growing season. The cheating isn’t on the court or in the classroom, but in our basements and backrooms, under the quiet hum of grow lights.

One thing we gardeners and b-ball players have in common? We’re all trying to beat the clock, to savor sweet victory against unspeakable odds.

It begins with a bag of potting soil, a few seed packets, and a bad case of spring fever. If I succeed, I start the growing season with healthy seedlings — and the hope of an early heirloom tomato, a rare prairie flower in bloom, or some serious bragging rights. If I fail, it all ends with an unceremonious walk of shame to the compost pile. Broken dreams decaying with forgotten take-out dinners and freezer burned bread.

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