Gardening 101

Ask Hillary #1- Is it too late to start a garden?

Hello friends!

In the days since I’ve started this blog, I’ve received plenty of texts from friends and family asking questions about gardening. They’ve ranged from “WHAT THE HECK IS THIS?!” to “Is it dead? I think it’s dead.” to “How. Just…how?”

But a text from a friend yesterday, suggesting that I start an “Ask Hillary” column made me realize that if one person is asking questions about their garden, plenty of other people probably have the same questions! And so today begins Ask Hillary here at HomegrownHillary. Here’s today’s two part question from Kelsey:

My neighbor is really into gardening and she puts me to shame! (But also really motivates me!) I have a teeny tiny raised bed that I grew in last year but only cleaned up this year and just let whatever sprung up stay. But my neighbor encouraged me to still make use of it…. So my question for you: a) what can I still plant that’s not too late for the season? and b) suggestions on where to get good hardy seedlings without spending too much $? 

Great question, Kelsey! Lucky for you, the answer is A LOT!

Theres a term in the gardening world called “succession planting.” This means there’s a window of time in which you can plant a species, and if you plant a few seeds each week for successive weeks in that window, you can spread out your harvest. The alternative, which a lot of people mistake as the only way, is to plant all your, say, beans at the same time, and then have beans coming out of your ears by the middle of July.

You’ll be happy to know that there are still MANY plants that have their windows open for planting. You may not have planted things at the beginning of that window, but you can still get plenty of food! In fact, if you are careful, you can plant new seeds/seedlings from now until the first week of September and harvest the whole time! Here are some handy charts, courtesy of the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension:

To break this down, let’s look at the bottom chart with “carrots” at the top. There are two bold, vertical lines marked with a zero. These are the two benchmarks of the growing season, your frost dates (which I’ve talked about here if you need a refresher).

The little oval shape indicates when you can plant that as a seed, the little picture of a plant indicates if/when you need to plant your transplant (seedlings) outside, and the picture of a basket indicates when you can harvest. So with carrots, you can start planting seeds directly outside starting three weeks before your last spring frost and continue planting until 11 weeks before the first fall frost. Around this part of the country, our last spring frost date is about May 11th and the first fall frost is about October 1st. Currently, we’re on the six week mark after the last spring frost.

If the chart is making your eyes a little buggy, here’s a list of all the plants you can still grow at some point this year (but check the chart to see if you can plant them now or if you should wait a while longer and plant them for a fall harvest):

  • carrots
  • bush beans
  • cucumber
  • leaf lettuce
  • radishes
  • spinach
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • beets
  • peas
  • summer squash

As to the second part of your question, where to buy good seedlings on the cheap, you’ve got a couple options. Your first option (and by far the cheapest) is to find a friend who got overexcited about buying plants and didn’t have enough room for all their seedlings. Offer some help weeding their veggie beds and they might call it even. 🙂

Realistically, you’ll likely have the best luck at a local nursery, farm, or farmer’s market. These guys know their stuff, grow veggies for a living, and likely live and give back to your community. Anything in the agriculture business is lots of work for little profit and requires lots of overhead, so if you can, find a company that’s been in the business a long time. It’s likely because they are really good at what they do, and their seedlings will start growing in your garden the first time you plant them. This is unlike other companies *cough* Walmart *cough* where I’ve found the seedlings are weak and die easily.

I’m not saying buying plants from big box stores will make you want to take bad, melancholic stock photos with their dead, plant corpses…
…but I’m not saying you won’t either.

Another route is to find seed or plant swaps. In this instance, you’re not as guaranteed to get quality plants, but they’ll definitely be cheap! I’m a member of several gardening groups on Facebook and see these types of swaps advertised regularly. Gardeners tend to be a very generous bunch too, so even if you’re not finding any swaps, you could start your own! I’m sure someone would love to take your iris bulbs, leftover pea seeds, or the onion set you bought by mistake in exchange for some of their plants.

Also, it’s too late now, but keep an eye out in the month of May for local plant sales (especially those put on by master gardener organizations) as these are also great places to get excellent seedlings.

Finally, if buying a six pack of cucumber seedlings at the local nursery isn’t in the budget, you can always focus on buying a whole pack of seeds and getting a lot more bang for your late-season buck. And realistically, when you look at the above charts and see what you can still plant this year, most of the veggies aren’t planted as transplants, but seeds!

So there you go! Ask Hillary #1 over and done. I hope that answered your questions, Kelsey!

What questions do YOU still have about gardening? You never know, it might show up as its own Ask Hillary someday!

State of the Garden Address

State of the Garden Address: 5/31/19

What a dreary, rainy week it’s been! Luckily, the sun poked out from behind the clouds long enough this morning for me to snap a few pictures and give you all a State of the Garden Address (the first since there was snow on the ground!)

As a refresher, here were my goals for this summer’s growing season. I’ve already knocked a few off my list!

  1. Balance gardening with the rest of life
  2. Pick mostly easy, low-maintenance seeds and seedlings
  3. Buy seeds and seedlings
  4. Put in two more raised beds
  5. Plant my seed garlic and potatoes
  6. Put in a picket fence and plant flowers along it
  7. Get some raspberry canes established.
  8. Finally, plant my wedding flowers.
potted thyme and mint
As you will notice, both the thyme and mint have been sentenced to a life in pot prison. This is because I don’t particularly feel like them turning into rampant weeds next year. I suggest the same if you have either of these two and don’t want to constantly prune it back!

Two weeks ago, my local county extension office had our Master Gardener Plant Sale. Is there a more glorious day of the gardening year? Hundreds of plants were for sale, all cheap, in great conditions, and from local gardens. And 100% of the proceeds go to support the non-profit work the office does! The thyme above, along with most of the other things I planted in the last week or two, came from that sale. (The chocolate mint came from a local guy.)

I’ve achieved #2, pick mostly easy, low-maintenance seeds and seedlings, thanks to that word “mostly” I threw in there. Through the plant sale, farmer’s market, and FedCo Seeds, I’m all set! All told, I’m growing the following vegetables/edibles this year:

  • onions
  • thyme
  • chocolate mint
  • orange bell peppers (4x)
  • green pepper
  • Tomatoes, Amish paste variety
  • Cherry tomatoes, sungold variety
  • garlic
  • Potatoes, kennebec (or maybe Katahdin) variety
  • Carrots, scarlet Nantes variety
  • Shell beans, Taylor Dwarf variety
  • Raspberries, everbearing
  • Snow peas
  • chives

In addition, I’ve got the following flowers to incorporate into my different flowerbeds:

  • peony (no idea what kind. It’ll be a surprise!)
  • Bearded Iris (violet)
  • Solomon’s seal
  • Hydrangea
  • Sedum
the allium family- chives, onions, and garlic
The Allium section of one of my vegetable plots. From left to right: big chive plant just starting to flower, a row and a half of onions (I don’t know what variety, as I accidentally lost the little popsicle stick with that info. Can I blame Mom brain?), and four rows of late-planted garlic.
Also, do I need to weed my edges or what?

In addition to the plants I introduced to my yard, I’ve had two noteworthy volunteers:

wild strawberries

Finding those toothed leaves in sets of three with the little white flowers made me jump for joy, originally. Now, I’m not sure if I’ve got the coveted WILD strawberry, which is the most delicious berry in the world, or if I have his WOODLAND strawberry cousin, which is not delicious at all, even if its not poisonous. Time will tell!

Lily of the Valley, or Our Lady's Tears

Anyone recognize these lovely ladies? Lily of the Valley, also known as Our Lady’s Tears, jumped the fence over the winter, and now both my neighbor and I have some growing in our yards! This completes half of goal #8, plant my wedding flowers. Hopefully, I’ll have a blog post for you next week about getting some lilacs started, and then I can cross that one off, too.

The last thing I’d like to mention is goal #7, get some raspberry canes established. Though I wouldn’t say they’re established yet, I do have raspberries planted! I happened upon two buckets of everbearing raspberry shoots at the plant sale and immediately jumped on them. I separated the mass of growth into individual shoots, lined them up in a trench filled with finished compost, and said a prayer.

Hopefully, these primocanes (first year growth) will establish themselves this summer, maybe give us a few berries this fall, and be ready for a hearty harvest come next summer!

everbearing strawberries
I’ve definitely got to mulch the area around these guys. I don’t want the weeds overtaking them!

So that’s what I’m up to recently. Phew! Please, I’d love to hear what kinds of plants, fruits, and veggies you all are growing. Let me know in the little box below!


Lasagna Gardening

Hooray! We’ve made it, ladies and gentlemen. The last frost date of spring has passed here in my corner of zone 5b, and the season has officially begun!

Today, I’d like to show you my preferred method of putting in new garden beds. Lasagna gardening, also known as sheet mulching in the permaculture world, is a technique of layering ingredients on top of each other like a lasagna to form a rich, nutrient-filled soil that will nurture your plants for years to come. I put in a bed this past week* and took some pictures along the way to show you all the steps.

This is the bed I put in last fall. If you want to plant root crops, make sure you give a sheet-mulched bed plenty of time to break down beforehand! The beds I show you how to put in during this post will not be mature enough to handle root crops this season.

To start, carefully pick your location. This bed should be a place that you’ll nurture year after year, so put some thought into where you’re putting it. Mine is going right next to its twin which I put in last fall, as will the subsequent beds I plan on putting in this year. You don’t need to worry about killing whatever’s growing there now; that’ll be taken care of in step two.

Next, mow the lawn/weeds on your chosen plot so they’re as short as possible. Then, water the ground you’ve chosen your bed to be on (or wait for the day after a soaking rain like I did). Both of these steps will help prep the ground for decomposers, which you’ll need to help break down all the materials you’re about to pile up.

After mowing and watering, you’ll lay down a layer of weed barrier directly on top of the ground and/or lawn. I’m using a combination of cardboard and multiple layers of non-glossy newspaper pages. I’ve been collecting these materials all winter for this very purpose, and they did not disappoint! Make sure when you’re putting down your weed barrier you don’t leave any gaps or holes in your barrier, as that will give the weeds (including unwanted grasses) a chance to break through the barrier and take over your bed. As you can see in the picture, there are a couple small holes visible around the edges when I took this picture, but I patched them up before I went on to step three.

weed block barrier in sheet mulched garden bed
This bed is 3′ x 7′. The other one above it is more like 5′ x 8′.

Step three involves using any number of materials to add organic matter to create a beautiful soil structure in your garden bed. Organic matter comes in three forms, as my mentor would say: living, dead, and very dead. Living organic matter includes roots and microbes. Dead organic matter is anything that’s recently died, but still recognizable in its previous form. This can include things like manure, leaf litter, and kitchen scraps. Finally, ‘very dead’ materials are things like fully decomposed compost or manure, where the contents are unrecognizable when compared to their original form.

partially finished compost in sheet mulching garden bed
My first layer: partially finished compost from my backyard pile. If you look closely, you can see half rotted banana peels, egg shells, and pine cones.

You’ll want to use a combination of these three types of organic matter to build up your new garden bed. When I attended a lecture on permaculture in 2016, our speaker, a woman from the Portland Maine Permaculture club shared with us her founders ‘fantasy’ sheet mulch recipe: a layer of seaweed (hey, it’s plentiful and free here in Maine!), followed by layers of rotted manure, fresh grass clippings, and leaf mould. Someday, I’ll try out her method, but this week I had to work with what I had.

The best thing about sheet mulching is that you can use or collect whatever materials you have on-hand for free! Use the same “what not to add” list from my post on composting, or else you might get unwanted weeds, toxins, or vermin in your bed. Aside from that, your only limit is your imagination. I used fresh grass clippings, leaf litter, and a generous layer of totally finished compost from last fall. By the end, the pile was a rich black color and about five inches thick.

So that’s my method of putting in new beds! Questions? Comments? Let’s start a conversation!

*I put in the bed while wearing my newborn daughter. Thanks for your patience during my two month long blog maternity leave!

Gardening 101 · Winter Prep

How to Start Composting

There are so many things to think about when getting started in the garden. I’ve already talked about picking your plants and observing your site in order to select your location, but another crucial thing even the beginning gardener needs to think about is the health of the soil.

There’s a reason compost is also known as “black gold” to gardeners.

The soil is what feeds your plant! Without healthy, nutrient-rich soil, your plants will be scraggly and bear weak fruit, if they grow at all. If you want big, juicy tomatoes and crunchy carrots, you need to make sure you’re taking care of the soil. While you can do this by adding chemical fertilizer to poor soil every year, it’s far more important to work towards creating rich, healthy soil that will repay you for years to come. Finished compost is one of the best materials to add to your garden to make this a reality, and best of all, you can make your own for FREE!

I’ve composted on-and-off for the past four years. Sometimes I’ve paid a local company to do all the dirty work for me, sometimes I’ve done it all myself, and some years it was something in between. Here’s what I’ve learned from both ends of the compost heap:

Select location

Plenty of people will try to sell you a fancy, hand-cranked tumbler to put your compost in. They’ll promise beautiful compost in half the time, and even say it’s odor-free! (Of course, the tumblers themselves aren’t free.)

Sure, if you live in a fancy neighborhood where the mere sight of decomposing materials might be offensive to the hoity-toity next door, or if your yard is overrun with vermin like the Disney movie Ratatouille, maybe you do need a compost tumbler. For the rest of us though, a regular compost heap will do just fine.

You’ll want to locate it somewhere close enough to your garden that you can access it with relative ease and close enough to your kitchen that you’ll be motivated to add kitchen scraps to it. However, you’ll want to have it far enough away so on those days you don’t properly balance the moisture or your “browns” and “greens” (more on this in a second) and your pile might have a slight odor, you won’t be disturbed. As a bonus, you might place it somewhere sunny, for added heat to aid in the decomposing process. A prime location might be behind a shed or garage, against a fence, or on the edge of a tree line.

Collect Scraps

In our house, we usually do this by keeping an empty coffee can on the counter, but I’ve seen a variety of jars, tubs, and other containers do the job. The most important thing is to pick something with a lid that seals smells in and fruit flies out as much as possible. In addition to that, you don’t want it to be an eyesore on your kitchen counter, where you’ll need to leave it if you want to remember to use it.

Pictured: future compost in the form of a banana peel, onion peel, and wilted flowers from my baby shower.

Once your kitchen-sized container is full, you can go ahead and either dump it directly on your pile (as we do in the summertime) or use an intermediate step and fill up a larger bucket to reduce your trips to the pile. This is what we do in the winter when we don’t want to trek out through the snow piles every week.

Our five-gallon Home Depot bucket takes about a month for us to fill with kitchen scraps.

You should also feel free to collect other organic material to your pile that you have lying around your property: leaves, grass clippings, certain kinds of animal droppings, and other plant material.

Feed your pile

Here’s where it gets tricky.

You don’t want to just pile up random kitchen scraps and anything you find in your yard in a giant heap and expect that will turn into compost! Sure, given enough time almost anything will break down, but there are some things that take WAY too long to decompose, and some things might leave dangerous bacteria in your pile.

Here are the rules for how to feed your pile GOOD food:

These things NEVER go in your pile: cat, dog, or human waste, diseased plant material (not like a piece of bread that started molding, but like a tomato plant that caught the blight), fats and oils, dairy, meat (including bones), plant material like grass clippings that have been treated with pesticides or herbicides, and weeds or hay that might contain active seeds.

Cat/dog/human waste, diseased plant material, and materials treated with pesticides or herbicides are no good because they might introduce harmful bacteria or chemicals to your pile that could harm the plants you try to feed the finished compost to. We don’t want that!

Fats, oils, dairy, and meat are bad for the average pile because they take a while to breakdown and can attract critters like raccoons or worse to your pile.

Finally, weeds and hay should only be added to piles that get REALLY big and hot, because that will be the only way to kill off the seeds they carry. If you add them to your average pile, you might just be creating compost filled with weed seeds that create more problems than solutions for your garden down the road.

Here’s my pile, which lives behind the garage. It’s amazing how THIS (uh-gly) stuff turns into gorgeous, fragrant compost with just a little time and care.

These things go in your pile, but in proportion: “greens” (nitrogen-rich materials) and “browns” (carbon-rich materials). Every compost pile needs LOTS more carbon than nitrogen, though. If you can remember to always add a handful or two of “browns” every time you add a bit of “greens,” you should be fine.

Don’t be fooled with those color names, though- not all nitrogen rich materials are green, nor are carbon rich materials always brown. Some of your most common “greens” are fresh, wet materials, usually lawn clippings and kitchen scraps. “Browns” are often dry discards like shredded paper, wood shavings, cardboard, and dried leaves.

These things need to be incorporated into every pile: water and air! A pile that’s too dry won’t decompose at all, and a pile that’s too wet will start to stink like a landfill. Aim for a pile that’s moist, and amend with a sprinkle from the garden hose or the addition of dry leaves if it leans too far in one direction or the other.

As for air, this is what those fancy compost tumblers can actually be pretty good at. You should turn your pile once a season, and if it’s getting really big, it might be a good idea to stab it with a pitchfork a few times in between turnings, just to make sure the inner layers aren’t getting too dense and compact, which can stall or stop our friendly aerobic bacteria from decomposing efficiently. Airflow is why you don’t just throw everything in a sealed box; keeping the sides slatted (as I plan on doing this year with wooden pallets) or surrounded with chicken wire to contain your pile is fine, but don’t cut off the air circulation!

In conclusion, I know it can sound like a lot of work to start up and maintain your compost pile, but never fear! Once you start, composting will become such a habit that you’ll forget you ever had trouble! Keep a checklist (like the one above) near your kitchen bucket to remind you of the rules until you get the hang of it, make sure to add plenty of “browns” every time you add some “greens,” and water your pile when it gets dry. If you can do that, you’ll have a gorgeous pile of “black gold” to add free nutrients to feed your plants. What could be better than that?

Are you attempting a compost pile for the first time this year? Congrats! Let me know any questions you have in comments!

Gardening 101 · State of the Garden Address · Winter Prep

Garden Resolutions 2019

Hello blog readers!

No, I’m sorry to say, it’s still not planting season yet. At least, not here in Maine. (Is it planting season where you live yet? If so, I am so jealous.) But that doesn’t mean I can’t be thinking ahead!

I’m dubbing today the inaugural “State of the Garden” address. One of my big goals for starting this blog is to not only share what I’ve learned, but also help me observe and learn more from my own garden. After all, I’ve got experience and that Master Gardener certification, but I’m by no means an actual botanist or a “Better Homes and Garden” model. I figured something like this was the best way to keep me accountable.

Of course, when my garden currently looks like this…


…the first State of the Garden address will have to just be my list of goals for the year.

So here we go! My gardening hopes and dreams for 2019:

Balance gardening with the rest of life
If you don’t know me in real life, you might not be aware that I’m currently nine months pregnant with my first child. All signs point to life dramatically changing once a little one enters the world, so I’m not delusional enough to think I’ll be able to keep up with a gardening load like I’ve had in previous years, and certainly not the more adventurous ideas I had in mind when my husband and I bought our new house about a year ago (which, to be fair, were ridiculous. Who has time to plant an entire food forest in a single season?)

Pick mostly easy, low-maintenance seeds and seedlings
I just posted last week about how to pick which plants work best in your garden. This year, the most important thing for me to keep in mind when deciding is how much time I’ll have to care for them with a newborn on my hands. So I’m thinking beans, onions, peas, lettuce, and carrots for this year, since those can mostly take care of themselves.

Buy seeds and seedlings!
The first step to having a garden is getting seeds! I first shop from my stash of seeds that I’ve preserved from last year (many of which are gifts or were otherwise free), but if I need to buy new ones, I like to order from Johnny’s or FedCo. I’ll also patronize the Saturday farmer’s market downtown or the Master Gardener’s plant sale fundraiser for seedlings and transplant sets. I like knowing the seeds I buy come locally, from good stock, and at least from somewhat ethical business practices. I can’t say the same for the seeds they sell on those end caps at Walmart.

I won’t be starting these peppers or tomatoes from seed this year, and they’re from 2017. But the packets are so pretty!

Put in two more raised beds
As I think I’ve mentioned, a friend generously gave me a dump truck of fully finished compost as a house warming present to help get my gardening kick-started last year. I was able to put one bed in with the help of my husband last summer, but awful morning sickness kept me from doing the rest. I’d love to put in at least two more raised beds using the same sheet mulching technique. (I’ll be covering that in a future blog post. It’s easily the best way to set up a new bed without messing with the current soil in your garden!)

Plant my seed garlic and potatoes
Last season, I made sure to harvest all my garlic and keep the biggest bulbs to plant this coming season. Of course, in the midst of all the holy crap we’re having a baby hoopla, I forgot that garlic needs to be planted in the FALL. That means that when I get my garlic in as early as possible this spring (which you can do) that it unfortunately won’t grow as nice and big as if I’d planted it in October. I can still get some nice green shoots, scapes, and hopefully bulbs, though. I’ll keep you updated!

Check out these monster bulbs!

I also kept a few potatoes from last year’s harvest that I intend to use for seed this year. At this point, I’m about 75% sure they’re the Katahdin variety as opposed to the Kennebec, but one more growing season would help me determine officially. I’ve been keeping and storing seed from this stock for the past five years, and I just never wrote down what seed I originally bought. Good thing I won’t make that mistake again (she says, almost entirely sure that even with the help of a blog, she’ll forget something crucial this year, too).

Put in a picket fence and plant flowers along it
I’ve definitely gone a bit nuts dreaming about this idea. There’s not much curb appeal at our house, and I’ve got big plans for a picket fence along the front sidewalk with a small flower garden bordering that. I can just see the clematis climbing up an archway, peonies blooming along the side, and little bursts of yarrow filling out the mix. I plan on visiting my gardening guru grandmother soon and picking her brain about specific species and varieties, and I’ll be sure to bring her wisdom here to share!

Get some raspberry canes established.
I’ve tried growing raspberries once before on a rental property with a former roommate, but they really didn’t turn out that well. I’ve learned from my mistakes though, and plan to give them plenty of room to spread out, good, well-drained soil full of nutrients, and some sort of trellis system to keep them from falling over. Hopefully we’ll have fresh-picked berries by next summer!

Finally, plant my wedding flowers.
Last May, I walked down the aisle holding a bouquet of lilacs and lily of the valley, my two favorite flowers which just happened to be blooming in my parent’s neighborhood the week I got married.

Since I have access to transplants/cuttings of both, I’m going to try propagating some and resettling them somewhere on my new property so I can always be reminded of that day.

After having just done that exercise, I highly recommend writing out your own list of goals for your garden this year. Seriously, grab a piece of paper right now and just scribble down some thoughts. Not only will it help keep you organized, but MAN! It has it gotten me way more enthusiastic than I was before.

Let me know what wild and crazy gardening hopes you have for this year! We can all get excited for spring together. 🙂

Gardening 101 · Winter Prep

What should I plant in my garden?

Moving along with my series on “things to do during the winter months before we can actually get in the garden,” everyone’s favorite part of garden prep:


We’re talking plant selection today! Get out your seed catalogues, my friends. Or, if you currently have none, what are you waiting for?

Or you can just order seeds online. While it’s certainly more environmentally friendly, I can’t help myself with the rustic FedCo catalogues!

While it’s always tempting to just browse through the catalogs or websites and order a packet of whatever’s brightest- or most delicious-looking, your wallet will thank you if you think a little farther in advance. Here’s what you should consider before clicking ‘checkout.’

What do you have time to grow?

Every plant has its own internal calendar and is fully mature at different times. To find out if you have enough time to grow the plant in question, find out how many days it takes to mature. Then, check out when your zone’s first and last frost dates are, and when the seed needs to be in the ground by. This is important because frost can damage plants and fruit/vegetables. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has an excellent web tool for finding your town’s frost dates. You can also check out the official USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map as a reference.

Confused? Here’s an example:

Say you want to plant bush-style green beans. You know your area’s last spring frost date is May 11th and the first fall frost date is October 1st, giving you a 142 day growing season. The packet of bean seeds you got said they need to be planted “after all danger of frost has past,” so that means May 11th (or a little later, if you’re watching the weather that week. Frost dates are an average after all, and have some possibility of slight error!) The packet also says they’ll take 60 days til full maturity. This is perfect! You can start planting after the frost date, and have delicious beans a little after the 4th of July.

Another fine alternative to shopping the catalogues or online seed warehouse is going to your local, old-timey hardware and scooping a few ounces of bean seeds from a giant whiskey barrel. I always leave feeling like Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Some plants require more time than your area can give, however. For example, living in Maine like I do means I can’t just plant tropical plant seeds in the ground after the frost date and expect to get any kind of quality harvest. They need too much warm weather time to germinate, mature, and produce fruit. If I REALLY wanted to, however, I might be able to plant them indoors under grow lights and transplant the little seedlings, or plant them in a greenhouse and let them grow happily in there year round.

What do you have time to care for?

Some plants are just attention hogs. This might be because they’re prone to labor-intensive pest control, they don’t compete well with weeds and need you to fight all their battles for them, or they might need constant watering adjustments. If you aren’t ready to treat your growing shoots like newborn babies, you can either plant them anyways and just settle for a mediocre harvest (or none at all) OR you can stick to easy plants.

In my experience, the plants that will grow right along without caring two whits what you do are:

  • Oregano (honestly, this one grows so well for me I’ve decided to never plant it outside of a container again. It just spreads so much!)
  • Carrots
  • Snow peas
  • Pole beans
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes
Such good growers.

What will you actually eat?

There’s no point in buying the gorgeous striped-zucchini variety if you can’t stand eating zucchini (ESPECIALLY zucchini, because one plant will give you approximately one billion pounds of the vegetable). I make sure whatever I’m putting in the ground will also go over well on the dinner table. The only exception to this rule is if it’s something everyone else seems to like plenty, like tomatoes, which the local food pantry will be happy to take. (Come back next week when I talk more about Plant a row for the hungry/Harvest for Hungry gardens.)

2016, year of “HOLY CRAP WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH ALL THESE PEPPERS AND TOMATOES.” (Answer: make a lot of sauce.)

This extends to types of plants, as well. With tomatoes, for example, neither my husband nor I really like to eat raw tomatoes, but we use pizza and pasta sauce fairly often. For that reason, I tend to grow paste-variety tomatoes instead of the big, chunky beefsteak ones you find showcased in the grocery store, because I’ll turn paste tomatoes into sauce and can it for later. Consider all the possible uses you’ll have for the plant when selecting your seeds!

What is your planting site suited for?

I already covered this one pretty thoroughly here, but do make sure your potential plot has all the light, water, and soil specifications you need!

Is this plant going to benefit your local ecosystem?

Finally, I added this one at the end to remind us all that whatever we plant in our backyards and gardens isn’t just there for us. It’s for the friends we feed around our table, the neighbors who get to see a little splash of beauty as they walk or drive by our garden, and it can also be for the birds and bees who live in the spaces around us.

The most obvious way to protect your local ecosystem is to not plant anything that would poison any friendly bugs, animals, or human friends who happen to wander through. (Ask me about that one time I had to call poison control because I planted something poisonous in my garden because it was from Harry Potter and my arm went numb. Fun day.)

Aside from that, think about growing plants that are historically from your area. These “native” plants will typically have better-than-average ability to repel common local pests, withstand local temperature ranges, and typical water availability. This all means less work for you! Not only that, but native plants will provide a food source and habitat for native animals (especially if we’re talking larger plants like trees and bushes) and also for smaller creatures, like pollinators. Let’s keep those busy bees, butterflies, and other beneficial creepy-crawlies happy!

The gigantic silver maple in my backyard, home to birds, bugs, and several families of squirrels (including the one my brother-in-law aptly named Mr. Fatty).

So there we have it! What plants are you dying to try this year? Let me know in comments!


Any Questions?

Hey all!

Just a quick update today. Here in southern Maine, we have a conference for all the Master Gardeners once a year we call “Digging Deeper.” It’s coming up this Saturday, March 9th, and if you’re in the area I believe there are still tickets available to purchase for non-Master Gardeners. For those who can’t come, I figured I would preview the topics and could both A) report out and B) bring your questions with me! Here are the three presenters and their topics:

  • Lucinda Brockway- Best Lessons from English Garden Design and Discovery
  • Helene Lewand of Black Rock Farm in Kennebunkport- A Year in the Life of a Gardener/Landscaper
  • Fellow Master Gardener, Garrett Bent- Intensive Organic Production of Vegetables for a Farm-to-Table Restaurant.

I’m personally very excited for the second two since I tend to favor vegetable gardening over flower gardening or straight design work, but I’m sure all three will be informative and engaging, as they’ve always been.

Let me know in comments if you have any questions, and I’ll bring them up to the speakers!

13 days til spring!!

The seedlings my students started last year. Look at these little guys, reaching for the sun!