Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hearty cheers for today, and yesterday, and the day before that....

Thou shalt not plant so much lettuce this year...

I returned late last night from a terrific visit to the Green Bay Botanic Garden. I was a guest lecturer for their Spring Thaw Symposium on Saturday and it was a very lovely event, full of passionate gardeners and plenty of folks chomping at the bit to get out and get dirty. It's always nice to meet people who are interested in learning more about organic practices and who know how to ask all the right questions!

I was also quite pleased to finally hear fellow lecturer and sustainable-living expert Lisa Kivirist. She and her husband, John Ivanko, own Inn Serendipity, an eco-friendly B&B an hour south of Madison, Wisconsin. She was an exceptional speaker with so much creative energy and so many positive vibes to share. If you want to learn more about them, check out their website: And if you need a good reason to vacation in Wisconsin, you just found it. (Not to mention the fact that the Green Bay Botanic Garden is beautiful, educational and only a short drive from the airport. Plus, there's the cheese...)

So, I too was inspired by the event, having heard lectures about heritage perennials and catching slides displaying new trends and products from a local Green Bay nursery called Mayflower. Which, of course, led me to the garden shortly after the radio show this morning. Thankfully, my son was more than happy to oblige, playing with his dinosaurs in the dirt for nearly two hours while I worked. I managed to clean out the strawberry bed, pulling out dead leaves and removing a bit of invading ground ivy. Then we went into the vegetable garden (which is his favorite place to be). I spread some small piles of mushroom soil that was dumped in the fall, then turned over the soil in one of the beds and raked it smooth. I was hearing Jeff Lowenfels in my head while I was digging (he's the author of the ground-breaking book Teaming With Microbes and an advocate of no-till gardening). He was saying something like, "Have you lost your mind? Did you gain nothing from my book? You are destroying earthworm burrows and wreaking havoc on that precious soil food web as I speak!". I felt guilty as I was digging; and that's a very new feeling for me. I intend to leave a few beds unturned this spring as I do believe the science is indeed telling us that no-till is best, but the winter rye cover crop was thick and I couldn't bring myself to sow tiny baby lettuce and radish seeds without creating a nice bed for them first. I'm taking it a step at a time until I can break myself of old habits and perfect my own personal no-till methods. The beds with tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, cukes and melons will definitely remain undisturbed and will be piled high with new compost from my bin; then, after planting, they will be mulched well. One step at a time, right? Forgive me Jeff!

Into that soft soil I planted 'French Breakfast' and 'Easter Egg' radishes, 'Merlot', 'Red Oaky Splash' and 'French Butterhead' lettuces, 'Chioggia' beets, and 'Osaka Purple' mustard greens. Then I sowed a few handfuls of sugar snap peas. Since I never managed to tie them to the fence last year and they flopped all over the place, I decided to plant the seeds around some old metal pepper cages for support. We'll see how that goes. It's likely that they will need further support, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it!

The daffodils are up, though none of the buds have opened yet. A few of the crocus I planted in my 'lawn meadow' are up and sunning themselves as we speak. In the front garden, I'm seeing a few hyacinth starting to peek out of the soil and I tucked in a few pink pansies late last week. Our three fish, Goldie, Genevieve and Bob, have survived the winter in our little pond and are happily swimming around between the water iris and algae (that's a project for another day). And, one last sure sign of spring, the grill was fired up the night before I departed for Green Bay. Free range chicken kabobs were on the menu. Isn't spring grand?


june said...

That book/author you mention about the no-till method sounds really interesting. Did you just start using the no-till method or have you been using it for awhile now?

I've been a follower of John Jeavon's methods for a few years now and he definitely encourages the least in the first couple of years when your soil isn't very good.

I've always leaned away from machine tillers, but it would be interesting to learn more about not tilling or turning soil at all.

jessica said...

This will be my first year of no-till (or as close as I can get!) in my veggie garden. I really recommend Jeff's book, the science is just mind-boggling and so very interesting.

I too shy away from mechanized tilling. We did it when we had the farm because we were turning several acres. The neighbor tractor plowed, then my husband roto-tilled to finish the beds. But now that we are much smaller, there is no way I'm going to use a stinky, gas guzzlin', worm chopping roto-tiller. The few areas I turn over, will be by hand.
Happy Gardening!

C.H. said...

Hi Jessica,
I came across this herb/plant in Taiwan recently...the picture can be seen from the url below.
The leaf has a pleasant scent, and it is used to make a herbal drink. I also found it used as a garnish in a dish at a restaurant nearby.

I shall be grateful if you can help identify this flower/herb, please let me know also where I can buy the seeds.

Thank you in advance.

CH Lee or

Anonymous said...

It is a marigold of some type - probably a signet. Maybe 'Lemon Gem'. Just 'google' it and see if you think it's a match. You should be able to get them through Select Seeds or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.