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.


Spring Planted Bulbs, Shrubs and Trees

garedning-a-z-058 crocus-1 We are all familiar with the bulbs that come up in the spring, like daffodils and crocus, that have to be planted in the fall in order to have blooms in the spring.  There are bulbs and other plants that can be planted in the spring that will bloom in the summer such as lilies, dahlias, Host, astilbe and many many other flowering plants.

Spring is the best time to plant fruit trees, shrubs, berry bushes, strawberries and landscape plants because you find out almost immediately whether or not they have survived or need to be replaced.

Here is a list of catalogs that sell spring planted bulbs, flowers, shrubs and trees.

Michigan Bulb Co. McClure & Zimmerman High Country Gardens, Select Seeds K.Van Bourgondien & sons, inc. whole sale catalog,   Van BourgondienFarmer Seed and Nursery Stark Bro’s.

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Impatiences need to be started in early March, right after the tomatoes and peppers. A sunny front or back porch or germination stand is a good place to start seeds that need an really early start.

This germination stand has two 25 watt bulbs for heat under the shelves and two florescent bulbs on the top of the shelf for light. Linda’s husband Tim built it for her when she started gardening. When we started gardening together, it was moved to my house because It is my job to start our seeds.

After the tomatoes and peppers are off the germination stand the Impatiences go on. It can take up to 3 weeks for impatiences to come up. They don’t like heat under them and need light to germinate. The seeds should be only very slightly covered with sifted potting soil or seed starting potting mix. Seed starting potting mix is a very light potting soil and is available from Miracle-grow. I keep them under fluorescent lights. The lights are turned off at night to simulate a normal day. I have had really good results using this method. The plants are then put on the front porch until the end of May. After the last frost the flats are put out on the old stone sink, where they will be planted, to grow and harden off for a few weeks.

I plant the same variety every year, Busy Lizzie, blue pearl. It’s a great cool color for the stone sink planter on the north side of the greenhouse which is also a south west direction by the back porch. When you come out of the house on a hot summer day the first thing you see are the lilac blue Impatience or the pink and white bleeding heart that grows beside the planter.


The Greenhouse

Tomato and pepper seedlings on shelf in greenhouse.

Potting bench in greenhouse.

West view of greenhouse.

South west view of greenhouse.

South east view of greenhouse.

West view of greenhouse.

South facing view of greenhouse.

These are pictures of the greenhouse in spring. Our greenhouse is really a garden under glass as we plant tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers into the ground rather than on benches like traditional greenhouses. MY late husband John built a smaller version of the existing greenhouse about 35 years ago when we realized that the season was too short for tomatoes to ripen. It wasn’t long before the greenhouse grew to it’s present size. Last summer we had to put on a new roof and rebuild the supporting structure, so now the greenhouse should last another 35 years.

We plant the tomatoes and peppers in tomato cages. The cages keep the fruit off the ground and make it easier to harvest. It’s a lot of work to set up the cages and drip line but it’s well worth it.

All our tender seedlings go into the greenhouse until they can be planted outside in the garden or in the greenhouse. Depending on the season, we can keep the tomatoes and peppers going until Thanksgiving. The cucumbers usually don’t keep growing that long. They tend to get mildewed and then we have to pull them out.

We grow the cucumbers on strips old blasting nets John brought home from work, he worked in construction. John and I were into conservation long before Al Gore was in diapers. Nothing goes to waist around here and everything is recycled over and over again. It either gets fed to an animal, put in the compost bin, or a good use is found for it. The greenhouse itself was built out of old storm windows John found at the dump or on the curb. (See a more recent post, “Planting In The Greenhouse, on page 1.

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It’s Official!

Tim bringing back the tiller from a spring tune up at his house.

Spring has arrived in zone 3-4, the tree frogs have started peeping. I really enjoy laying in bed at night listening to the peepers, it’s music to my ears. This is my favorite time of year. I know that spring has arrived and that soon we will be planting the garden. We may still have at least two more snow events before May. On occasion we have had significant snow in May. I’ve gone to bed when the temperature was in the 50’s and woke up to 6″ of snow on the ground on May 16 th. We had to jump out of bed and run outside to shake the snow off the fruit trees in order to keep the damage to a minimum. Snow in May usually melts by the afternoon although I remember one time it staying on the ground for about 2 days.

Linda came over on April 7 th and we planted the peas and lettuce in the garden. We usually plant peas on Good Friday, however, this Good Friday was on March 21st, and the garden was covered with ice and snow. We also started our herbs, leeks and bunching onions. We will transplant the leeks and bunching onions when they get big enough. They are frost hardy so it doesn’t matter when you transplant them into the garden. The herbs were put on the germination stand until they come up and then will go on the front porch until they can go into the greenhouse.

The daffodils are peeking up out of the ground and the crocus are blooming. Thank goodness for crocus, it’s so nice to have such bright and deep colors when everything is so drab. Last fall I planted 80 crocus in my front yard flower bed, it’s 5’x10′. That bed also has daffodils and is planted with annuals in June for summer color.

It’s also time to prune the apple trees, blueberry bushes and ornamentals. From here on out, life gets very busy.



Petunia seedlings planted Feb. 19th, shown as of April 25th.

One of my many favorite flowers is the petunia. It might be because my mom always had a few out front of our house when I was growing up, but it might just be that they are beautiful. You can use them to make a mass of one color or like me you might like a multicolored mix to tantalize you into thinking all summer, “which one do I like best?”

Last year I made the mistake of growing a large, tall Zinnia in my front bed. I love zinnias but the height of the variety I grew competed with the shrubs and ornamental tree that are also in that bed and helped me to realize the garden would look better with something lower and fuller. Petunias to the rescue.

I like to start my own from seed, just because. I planted them in flats on 2/19/08. They like a warm soil to germinate and probably wished by house was warmer, but in spite of everything they are up and doing well. Just imagine their beauty ( and the hummingbirds love them too). I’ll keep you posted on their progress.


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The bird of paradise house plant


Rare twin bird of paradise

rare twin blossom emerging from first blossom

The first picture shows the bloom for 2008, the next two pictures the bloom for 2009.  The twin blossom was produced in 2010 along with four other flowers. This bird of paradise plant resides in my friend Linda’s dinning room. It’s a division from my bird of paradise plant, affectionately called, “the bird”.

In the  fall of 2007, I decided to divide it when it grew much too big for it’s pot. I wasn’t sure if I could divide it or not, however, since I had previously cut back the fleshy root on numerous occasions in order to give it a little more room in it’s pot, I felt it would survive the surgery.

I used a very large butcher knife, I’m sure a pruning saw would also do a good job, to cut it in half. It wasn’t easy because the plant is basically a group of plants that grow very close together and it has a very dense fleshy root. I made three divisions, because while I was potting them up, two plants fell off of one of the divisions. I gave that plant to one of Linda’s friends. I potted the two largest birds in a 14″ diameter by 12″ high pot. I use potting soil that had fertilizer in it mixed with some of my garden soil.

Linda’s bird sent up a flower spike at Thanksgiving of 2008,  and it started blooming at Christmas. Right now the flower spike has three blossoms on it and there are more to come. Since then her bird has sent up 2 more flower spikes in January 2009, one bloomed on Easter Sunday, March 23 that year, the other one never bloomed it just turned brown and dried up.  My bird usually sends up a flower spike in March, probably because it lives on my front porch. The porch has an east, south exposure and it is heated by keeping the door to the laundry room open at all times. Even in -30 degrees it never gets any colder than 50 degrees at night and on a day with full sun will easily get to 70 degrees in winter. The difference between Linda’s more constant and even temperature and the wide swing and cooler temperature of my porch probably explains the difference in bloom time. Some seed catalogs say that the bird will flower when it gets 9 leaves. What they don’t tell you is that it never gets 9 leaves until it is at least 10 years old. The older leaves just dry up and turn brown. Linda’s success in getting her bird to bloom so well is probably due to the fact that she keeps it moist and in a more constant temperature.

My bird finally sent up three flower spikes in January, 2010.  Today is March 17 and the spikes are getting ready to bloom and the spikes are beginning to turn downward and change to an orange color.  It takes months for them to bloom, however, the blossoms last for a very long time and are well worth the wait.  I believe my bird started to bloom because I started to keep it moist, not wet, like Linda does.  To think I missed out on having more blooming because I did not give it enough water is really sad.

In late June I put the bird outside to enjoy the summer sun and rain. I bring it back in when frost threatens.

This house plant is not for those who want fast results. I started my plant approximately 35 years ago and it has had four blooming periods, sending out flower spikes for a number of years in a row; followed by long stretches of not blooming.

Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Co., has plants of the orange, deep blue dwarf variety only. I probably bought my bird from Gurney’s. When I received it in the mail it was about 3″ high and had 3 or 4 leaves. The growing directions at that time were that the plant liked to be dry between watering, and that is how I have always treated it. Now Gurney’s says that the plant likes moist soil and indirect light. My bird is thriving on tender loving neglect.

For those of you who like to keep tropical plants as house plants, Logee’s Tropical Plants has a catalog with a very nice selection including the lobster plant, a relative of the bird of paradise.