A-Z Gardening in Zone 3-4

For the organic gardner struggling in the short season climate

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Ordering seeds, It’s A Joint Adventure

Here we are, Linda on the left and Tania on the right, getting ready to order our seeds for the coming gardening season. We get together in January to order seeds so we can get an early start on the growing season. Linda starts her petunia seeds in February and I start our tomatoes, peppers and impatience on the front porch in early March.

It used to be that you could order all the seeds you needed from one catalog, however, these days you need to go through many more. This year we had to go through 14 catalogs in order to find the variety of seeds we wanted to plant. We selected the catalogs that had the most seed varieties in the same catalog and we still had to use 4 different catalogs.  This year we found seeds for a pie pumpkin in, Johnny’s Select Seeds, and Jung Quality Seeds . Jung Quality Seeds  and R.H. Shumway’s, were the only catalogs of the 14 that had mangel seeds. Mangles are very large beets that are very good for eating and also for storing in a root cellar over the winter. Farmers, my late husband included, also use them for winter cattle feed.

When ordering seed for the short season climate you need to check the number of days to harvest so that you can select the variety that will ripen the earliest.

Following is a list of seed catalogs,The Maine Potat0 Lady, Farmer Seed and Nursery, Fedco Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, stokeseeds, Pinetree Garden Seeds, Burpee gardening, seeds, Plants, supplies, Gurnery’s, Seeds Of Change Certified Organic, Territorial Seed Co., The Cook’s Garden, Vermont Bean Seed Co., Totally Tomatoe’s, Park Seed Co., Henery Field’s Seed and Nursery Co. StarkBros trees and nursery, Michigan Bulb Company.

If you order from one catalog you will get on a mailing list and will start receiving more catalogs, that’s how we managed to have so many different catalogs.

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When starting a garden, especially a vegetable garden, you need to make sure that nearby trees do not pose a shade threat. Before starting on your garden plot you need to know where the sun shines.  It is very important to watch where the sun shines at various times during the day to make sure that your garden will receive full sun all day. When planting trees around your yard you need to remember that many years down the road those trees my impact your gardens by shading them.

The past few years my cauliflower and broccoli did not produce large heads like they used to and my butternut squash were small and there were not many of them. One day I was looking around my garden and realized that several trees had grown to a very large size were shading my vegetable garden. It was then I realized that shade was my problem,. That summer two trees that were about 60 feet tall and almost as wide were taken down and used for fire wood and chipped for mulch. We planted these trees over forty years ago, I hated to see them go but my garden is a priority. The next growing season my vegetables were again large and beautiful and abundant.

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cucumber netting

netting for cucumbers to climb up on

cucumbers growing on netting

cucumbers growing on netting

cucumbers on vines

cucumbers on vines

We grow cucumbers in our greenhouse because the season is so short here. In May, after we hang  netting that has large spaces in it from the roof of the greenhouse, we plant our seeds in the soil of the greenhouse floor.  Then we put black plastic between the rows to keep the weeds down and to heat up the soil. Yes, we have weeds, they blow in the open windows and doors and we bring them in on our feef and clothes.  After that, we sprinkle Concern, ( diatomaceous earth, organic crawling insect killer), over the seeds before they come up.

You should be able to order Concern, at gardening stores or gardening catalogs. See the post (: https://51chevy.wordpress.com/2008/01/22/catalogs-that-…nhouse-growing/ ) If you still can’t find it click this site http://www.victorpest.com/search?page=1&search=concern.  Concern kills crawling insects like slugs and pill bugs that eat plant shoots and young plants.  It can be used in the garden, on house plants, or in the greenhouse.

I recently learned that Concern, cannot be shipped to all states, however, another product called Safer, diatomaecous earth can. Go to http://www.saferbrand.com/store/insect-control/51702  to order on line.

There are two different kins of  diatomaceous earth, one is used to filter swimming pools.  This type should not be used as it is dangerous to breath it in because it can cause lung damage.  The variety used for gardens is a much finer powder and does not pose a health hazard.

As the cucumbers grow up the netting you must weave the vines in and out of the netting spaces.  This is necessary in order for the vine to support the weight of the cucumbers as they grow.

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Deer, Oh Dear

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Deer, the gardeners nemesis.  It’s not easy doing battle with Bambi, it takes an arsenal of products to keep them at bay.  I’ve tried motion detection devices, dogs,  animal blood products, garlic, Irish spring soap placed in old socks and hung from my apple trees and fences. They are always testing your defences to see if they can find a weak spot to exploit.

The ultimate defence is a well-trained, unleashed dog that stays out at night during the spring, summer and fall. Unfortunately, a dog can only be used by gardeners living in rural areas or who have invisible fencing.

The second best defence is a motion detection device that makes noise  and has a flashing light.  The problem with them is that they can be expensive and can only protect 15- 30 feet of circumference, can be difficult to mount and move around.  Check out the Yard Control, electronic fence and the Yard Gard electronic pest repeller. I kept a black bear from returning to my chicken coop with it one these devices last  spring. There is also a water spraying device that you can hook up to a garden hose that will spray water and frighten animals away.  This seems to work best for a small garden.

Third is good old garlic, Deer can’t stand the smell of it.  You can make a liquid solution in a blender and spray your garden or plants that the deer are eating with it, however, you have to  spray after each rain.  We have three large garden  beds so that is not practical for us.  Instead, we plant garlic cloves among our seeds and vegetable plants and let them grow there all  season.  The following spring we dig up the garlic bulbs and replant them were needed. You can also get garlic clips from Gardener’s Supply Co.  They look like fat ball point pens with clips on them that you can clip on to tree branches, wire fence, and plants.  I use them and feel they are very effective.

The only way I could keep the deer from browsing on my newly planted apple trees was to build a fence around it using 52 inch high, 1 inch chicken wire and medal post with barbed wire all around the top.  You have to make sure you can open the enclosure so you can get in to prune and take care of your tree.  If you want to fence in larger areas, you will have to use 7 foot high deer fencing.  Deer fence is not always successful and can be very expensive.

I was not impressed with animal blood.  It’s messy to mix and has to be sprayed again after every rain.  I have some animal blood left over and I’m going to spread it dry around the outside of the garden to see if it keeps the deer away.

Irish Spring bar soap cut into quarters and put into old socks and hung from trees in order to keep the deer from browsing on them worked OK. You need to hang them close together, they detract from the trees appearance  and cause the limbs to bend and get in the way when mowing the grass.  Shaved into small pieces and spread around the garden didn’t seem to work for me at all.  Some gardeners swear by it though.

This spring I’m going to give coyote urine a try on the blueberry patch. I’ll let you know how it does.  It can also be hung from trees to keep deer away from your fruit trees.

For catalogs that sell deer deterrents see the post Catalogs That Sell What You Need To Work Your Garden And Keep Your Greenhouse Growing. Gardeners Supply Co. and Gardens Alive, each have a large selection of deer and other animal deterrents.

To keep deer at bay you really need to use as many different types of deterrents at the same time as you can.  If you find any really good ways to keep deer away please let me know.



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Drying Garlic                                                                         Planting garlic

There are many types of soft neck and hard neck garlic and they also have different flavors. You can order garlic cloves from seed catalogs.  ( see the post “Ordering Seeds It’s A Joint Adventure,”) never use the garlic you get in grocery stores.  Just like every thing else garlic is rated for different climate zones.  Only order garlic cloves rated for zone 3-4.  It seem that the only garlic that is rated for zone 3-4  are the hard neck types.

Garlic can be planted anytime between late August and October.  After you harvest your garlic you can set some aside to plant.   It usually takes about a year for garlic to mature into large bulbs, so plant accordingly. Before planting you must separate the cloves from the bulbs. Break the paper between cloves with a knife if you have to and then separate the cloves from the bulb.  They should be planted about 4 inches apart. (see above picture) After  planting the cloves will start to grow, sending up green shoots almost immediately.  They will stay green all winter even under the snow but will stop growing when the ground freezes.

Next summer they will produce flower spikes called scapes,  you must remove them before they flower.  Go along the row and grab them by the stalk and tug, they will come right out.  Scapes can be used raw in salads or cooked with swiss chard for example.
As soon as the tops start to turn brown they should be dug up and processed for drying.  If you wait to long the bulbs will split and they will not keep as long.  We usually wash the bulbs, with stalks still attached, then we cut off the stalks with pruning shears to about 1 to 2 inches above the bulb.  Then they are set out to dry in our greenhouse or in some warm dry place, like a sunny porch.  They should dry for a week or two. (see above picture) After drying garlic should be stored in a cool dark place, I keep mine at the top of the stairs to my cellar.  I have a real cellar with a dirt floor.  Yours would probably keep well in a cool dark closet in your basement.  I hang the bulbs in orange bags.  I save the net bags oranges come in during the winter and use them to store garlic.  They will keep a long time but won’t last until next summer.

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The Backyard Chicken Flock

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Having a flock of chickens and gardening go hand in hand.  The chickens not only eat a lot of garden and kitchen scraps and provide manure for the garden and they also lay eggs.  Chickens you raise yourself will provide you and your friends and neighbors with wholesome and delicious eggs.  Because they eat bugs, worms, grass and scraps from the garden and kitchen their egg yolks have a dark orange color and are higher in nutrients than eggs you get from the store , they taste different too.

Chickens  need to have water and  laying mash available at all times and need to be fed scratch grain and oyster shells daily.  I usually give them one grain scoop of scratch grain with some oyster shells added to it a day. The oyster shells help keep their egg shells strong. Most feed companies have organic chicken feed.

I have had a flock of chickens since 1968, they came with the farm.  I keep a small flock ranging from between 13 and 20 birds.  I prefer Rhode Island reds and Buff  Orphington breeds.  Rhode Island roosters are the very gentle and will not fly at you or attack you when you go into the chicken yard to collect eggs.  Buff Orphington’s are the best mothers although Rhode Island reds are very good mothers too.

When we first started keeping chickens we didn’t pay much attention to the breed of rooster.  We learned early on that some breeds are very aggressive and protective of their hens.  They can be very dangerous especially to children as they will fly at you with feet forward at your face and can cause serious injury.  We have had a number of roosters, until we discovered the qualities of the Rhode Island Red,  that we had to take a good sized stick with us to fight off the rooster while collecting eggs.  One time my late husband hit the rooster so hard that he thought he killed it.  It laid there for a while, than got up.  We dispatched that rooster soon after as he had become much too dangerous to have around.

You do not have to have a rooster with your hens for them to lay well.  You only need one if you want to raise your own chicks.  One rooster for up to thirty hens is enough, more that one and they will fight and disrupt egg laying. I raised my own chicks for many years.  To raise chicks you put five to nine eggs, it has to be an uneven number, one for her to put under her breast,  under a broody hen. It takes twenty one day for chicks to start to hatch.  The last few years I have been buying chicks and putting them under broody hens to care for them.  You’ll know when a hen gets broody, that’s when she wants to raise chicks, when she refuses to get off the nest.  A hen will sit on a nest for months some times.  The only way you can break up a set, ( a broody hen) is to move her to another location.  A hen will stop laying eggs when she has been broody for a while.

Broody hens will accept chicks that they did not hatch as long as they have been sitting on false eggs.  When the chicks arrive at the Post Office, see picture above, I put them in a cardboard box with a 25 watt light bulb for heat and some chick starter food and water until it gets dark.   Then I remove the false eggs and put the chicks under her. When she hears the chicks peeping she will start to make low clucking sounds to them.  You can raise chicks without a hen in an incubator.  If you already have hens it’s much easier this way and they will be able to eat grass and bugs at an earlier age.

It’s good to keep a flock of hens going by starting your own eggs or buying chicks every year or so.  The life span of a chicken is about five years although I have had some that lived longer.  Hens that are three years old or older will not lay eggs every day.  The older they are the fewer eggs they will lay a week.  That’s why it’s a good idea to raise your on chicks at least once a year in order to keep the flock young.  You always have replacement hens and a new rooster when you need them.  Extra hens and roosters can be sold or if you are disposed, you can eat them.  For me it’s too much work to prepare them for cooking and because they are free range they tend to be  tough.

Free range means not in a cage, they don’t have to be let loose all over the place.  I have my hens fenced in a very large yard.  I used to let them range free in the spring and fall, however, the first thing they would head for were my flower gardens.  After a few years of trying unsuccessfully to keep them from digging up my flowers, I penned them in.  Now everyone is happy.


Old Timey Planting Guides


In years gone by people planted their crops according to the cycle of the moon, sun and other visual signs. Here are a few of the signs they observed when planting.

Corn and Beans.

Plant corn and beans when elm leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear, when oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, when apple blossoms begin to fall, or when dogwoods are in full bloom.

Lettuce, spinach and cole crops.

Plant lettuce, spinach seeds in the garden and  broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, pac choi, Chinese cabbage etc. seedlings  in the garden, when the lilacs show their first leaves or when daffodils begin to bloom.  See also post,  “Of Cabbages and Kings”.

Tomatoes, early corn, peppers.

Plant tomatoes and peppers plants and early corn, when dogwoods are in peak bloom or when day lilies start to bloom.  See also post, “Tomatoes and Peppers”, on page 2.

Cucumbers and squash.

Plant cucumbers and squash seedlings when lilac flowers fade. See also post, “Squash Anyone?”.


Plant potatoes when the first dandelion blooms. See also post, “One potato, Two Potato”.

Beets and carrots.

Plant beets and carrots when dandelions are blooming.


Plant peas when the forsythia blooms, when daffodils begin to bloom or on Good Friday.  See also post, “Peas Please”.

This information gleaned from “The Old Farmers Almanac” and the University of Wisconsin Extension.

Beware,  sudden prolonged warmer than usual weather may cause apples, other fruits and plants to soften early so that they will blossom and then get caught by a frost, which could cause the above signs to be off by a few weeks or more.   Such a hot spell forced my apples and blueberries to bloom too soon last year and they produced little if  any fruit.

A truism in zone 3-4 is never plant your tomatoes or other tender crops before  May 30th, no matter how warm it has been.  More that a few neighbors have not heeded this warning and have lost their tomatoes and tender plants and had to start over again.