A-Z Gardening in Zone 3-4

For the organic gardner struggling in the short season climate


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.


Freezing and canning your garden produce

Linda and I have been very busy these past few weeks harvesting and processing our garden bounty.  So far we have frozen numerous pints and quarts of peas, green and yellow string beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and water bath canned 7 quarts of tomatoes.  We harvested and dried our garlic and soon we will be pulling up our onions and drying them and storing both in our cool dark basements.

The peas finished producing in the middle of July.  The string beans have stopped producing enough to freeze, but we can still find enough to have with a meal or eat raw.  Broccoli has just about stopped producing and the cauliflower may have enough for one more round of freezing.  The tomatoes have been producing for a few weeks now.  Last week we had enough to can 14 quarts and after a look in the greenhouse this morning we have another batch to do this week.  So far we have 21 quarts of tomatoes.

The Stripped German tomatoes have been producing very large tomatoes.  Yesterday I harvested about 15 huge tomatoes, they have been producing steadily for weeks now but yesterday’s haul was the most at one time.  We are giving away and eating as many as we can because you cannot water bath can Stripped German tomatoes safely because they do not have a high enough acid content.  Linda and I have been stuffing ourselves with bacon and tomato sandwiches, our favorite way to eat them.  It really is a shame that you can’t keep tomatoes like apples so you can enjoy them over a longer period of time.

The new fiberglass roof on the greenhouse has made a big difference in the amount and size of peppers and tomatoes we have grown this year.  The old fiberglass roof had darkened due to the fiberglass fibers being exposed to the elements because of erosion of the protective layer and mold discoloring it.

Soon we will be freezing corn and digging up our potatoes for storage in the root cellar and the last crop to be harvested will be winter squash and pumpkins, which we store in our cool basements.

This year we have very few apples and blueberries, probably due to a very warm spell in April that started the trees and bushes blooming followed by a very cold spell.  Cool and rainy weather keep the bees from pollinating the them.  There might be a shortage of honey bees but I have noticed a big increase in the  number of bumble bees in my apple trees and blueberries this spring.

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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.

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Peas, Please

Since the jute string is hard to see, I have drawn a line underneath the string to make it easier to find.

I know that it’s a little late in the season to be talking about peas. It occured to me that maybe someone else might like to know about some of the pea culture ideas we have put into practice here in our garden. Since I’m a tall person and getting on in years I don’t like to bend down to do anything. That’s why I weed sitting on a step 2 garden scoot and sew peas onto a chicken wire fence.

Peas need to be planted as early in the spring as possible. We usually try to plant them on Good Friday. This year Good Friday was so early, March 21st, that the garden was still covered with snow so we had to wait until the ground thawed out to plant them. Peas like it cool and if it gets too hot for too long they will just turn yellow, stop producing and die.

There are three kinds of peas, snap or edible podded, snow or sugar peas and shelling. Snap or edible podded peas look like shelling peas when they are ripe, they are round and look full of peas. Snow peas are flat and should be picked then they are small to medium size and very flat. With both snow and sugar snap peas you eat the pod and all. Before cooking or eating raw it is a good idea to pull off the string, just grasp the stem end and pull down and it should come off easily. Shelling peas need to be removed from their pods before eating or processing. Shelling and snap or edible podded peas come in many varieties and are either short or tall. I prefer the tall variety because I don’t like to bend over to pick them, tall peas also don’t get dirty laying in the dirt.

We sew both the short and tall varieties of peas onto 48 inch high, 1 inch grid chicken wire fences when the peas begin to flower. We do this because when the pods mature the tendrils are not strong enough to hold the peas onto the fence because of the weight of the pods. We use a dowel with a rounded head and drill a hole large enough to thread jute twine through it. Jute twine last only one season which makes clean up easy next spring. I takes two people to sew the peas onto the fence, one on either side to pass the needle, the dowel, back and forth through the fence to secure the pea plants. The best and fastest way to do this is to sew one side then the other, skipping over some of the peas and picking them up on the next pass.

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Squash, Anyone?

There are two kinds of squash, summer and winter. Of the summer squashes there are basically three types, yellow, patty pan and zucchini or green. There are many many kinds of winter squash. We grow carnival, butternut, sweet meat, red kuri, gourds, field and pie pumpkin. In zone 3-4 they need to be started in pots in early May. We plant 5 seeds to a pot and plant the contents of the pot as a hill in the garden. We start ours in the greenhouse, we put the pots in between the rows of cucumbers that we planted directly into the greenhouse soil in early May.

Then we plant them in the garden in black plastic in early June. The black plastic keeps the soil warm and moist, as the squash needs to mature fast in a short season climate. You cannot grow squash in the greenhouse because the leaves become moldy. Cucumbers become moldy after a while also, however, they produce fruit fast and so you will still get a good crop. Mold on the cucumbers has never been a problem.

You cannot grow watermelon, or cantaloupe in zone 3-4, even in the greenhouse, unless you live in a river valley or near a large lake, believe me we gave it a good try. Growing cantaloupe and watermelon in the greenhouse results in the leaves getting moldy .

Summer squashes are at their best when cooked small, about 4 inches long, the blossoms can also be fried with batter. Some people prefer to eat squash when it is very large. As long as you can put your fingernail through the skin you don’t have to peel them. Large squash have very hard skins. Squash does not freeze well except when included in a dish like Italian zucchini. To make it I like to use very large zucchini with soft skins along with onions and tomatoes from my garden. You can make large quantities to freeze and it’s a very nice side dish in the winter. I have a friend that likes to keep large zucchini with hard skins in her cellar during the winter and puts the pulp in soup.

Squash attracts squash bugs which can be easily controlled by spraying with “Pyola” a natural insecticide you can get from Gardens Alive. We also grow a very large variety of marigold, called “Gold Coin.” It grows to 36 inches and is tall enough to reach over the squash leaves. You can get it from Jung Seed Co. Marigold is a good plant to use as an insect deterrent although, bees don’t seem to be bothered by it. The pictures above shows the marigold inter-planted with the squash plants.

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One Potato Two Potato

Linda brought in the last two buckets of potatoes, one for her one for me last week. We stored them in the root cellar last fall and have been enjoying them up to now. We planted our new crop last week in the garden. You can either buy potato sets or eyes from a catalog (see the post “Ordering Seeds It’s A Joint Adventure”) or get whole potatoes from a feed store or farm supply store.  I received a new catalog in the mail called  “The Maine Potato Lady,”  they feature many kinds of potatoes, garlic and other crops and items. We also sometimes use leftover potatoes that have sprouted. The problem with using sprouted potatoes is that they have been cross pollinated and you never know what you’ll get. You can plant red potatoes and get white when you dig them up.

If you buy sets or eyes from a catalog, they will be ready for planting and only need to be stored in a cool dark place until then. When you buy the whole potatoes you have to divide them into eyes before you can plant them. First store them in a cool dark place for a few weeks so that the eyes develop, so you can see where to make the divisions. On the day you plan to plant them, cut the potatoes into as many divisions, each with at least one eye, as you can, making sure you have enough of the potato flesh to feed the developing plant. Then set the cut up potatoes cut side up in the sun to cure, it should take about a hour. When cured, the surface will be dry to the touch and will look as if it had healed over.

We bought thirty lbs. of potatoes to plant this year, ten lbs. of red, ten lbs. of white and ten lbs. of Yukon Gold. An easy way to plant a lot of potatoes is to make a trench with a hoe and then lay the potatoes cut side down, eyes up, then cover with a hoe. You can also use a trowel and plant each one in a hole down the row.  Mulch them heavily.

The longer the potato plants stay green the larger the potatoes will be and you will also have more of them.  In late summer the potatoes will start to die back.  You can leave them in the soil for a few weeks after the die off but, they need to be dug up before the soil gets cold and wet.  Potatoes left in cold wet soil will rot faster and will have bands of brown coloring in them.

Try to dig them up on the morning of a sunny day.  Put tarps on the grass then put the potatoes on them.  Let the potatoes dry in the sun for a couple of hours, then store them in plastic buckets, wooden baskets or what ever you have and then store in a root cellar or in a dark, consistently cool cellar or basement.  The potatoes will not turn green when treated this way.


Planting In The Greenhouse

Over Memorial Day weekend Linda came over with her two daughters, Theresa and Elaine, and Elaine’s husband Dan, to plant tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse. It was a perfect day to work in the greenhouse, it was cloudy and cool. You don’t want to have to work in the greenhouse for very long on a sunny day. Linda had planted cucumber seeds in the greenhouse the week before. The cucumbers are just emerging now and will soon climb up on the netting we hung from the greenhouse roof. As the cucumbers grow, we thread them in and out of the netting so that the plants can get a good grip on the netting and won’t fall down due to the weight of the cucumber growing on them. We also put down black plastic mulch to keep the weeds down, yes we have weeds in the greenhouse, and to keep the moisture in the soil. In order to get a jump on the season we started our summer and winter squash in pots a few weeks ago. we keep the pots between the cucumber rows until we can safely put them outside in the garden.

We have been planting the tomatoes in red plastic mulch for many years now. The red-colored mulch actually reflects infrared light wavelength upward into your plants, stimulation more rapid growth and development, according to the US Dept. of Agriculture, which developed the red mulch. You can buy Red Tomato Mulch form Gardener’s Supply Company, A.M.Leonard’s Gardeners Edge and Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden.

Slugs and pill bugs are the two pests we have to deal with in our greenhouse. I put down diatomaceous earth and escar-Go and I also try to capture a big fat toad to put in the greenhouse for the season. Toads really enjoy the greenhouse once it gets growing good.

We haven’t had a problem with white flies for many years now. White flies live in greenhouse environments and to get them you have to bring them in from another greenhouse, at least here in the frozen north. The best way to get rid of them with Catch-It-Traps, you can get from Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden.

We use drip irrigation to water everything growing in the greenhouse in order to saves time and water. I have found that watering twice a week, on Wednesday and Sunday evening, for one hour works well for us. See a past post, “The Greenhouse“.

Peppers in the greenhouse

Cucumbers in the greenghouse