Hundreds and Thousands and Millions of Sprouts

Well, not quite that many, but dozens, anyway.

We have a big rectangular garden bed with rounded ends, built up with a brick wall to make it level on a slight incline, that’s perfect for veggies. We call it the oval garden, which isn’t quite satisfactory, since it’s not oval, but of course neither is it rectangular. Anyway. This garden was planted with scattered dahlias when we moved in last spring, and there were maybe half a dozen tulips at the far end. I shifted the dahlias when they started to sprout late in the spring, interfering with my rows of peas. They were shrimpy and insignificant. I doubted they’d survive. However, they not only survived, they thrived, producing vividly colored flowers until frost killed them off in the fall. I loved them — but there were far too many of them for the veggie patch. So I determined to shift them, and the tulips.

Obviously this should have been done in the fall, as soon as the foliage died off. But the ground froze before I got to them…and then the holidays were all-consuming…and I just didn’t get to it. So last week I decided to tackle the job at last, hoping I wasn’t too late.

Three tulip sprouts had popped up already. Not too bad, I thought. There were only about half a dozen last year. A little digging, and I’ll have them all out in no time. Ha. Hahaha. Little did I know that tulips multiply! There were DOZENS of the things lurking under the soil, all with yellow-green baby sprouts. I dug…and dug…and dug. Forkful after forkful of bulbs, from barely visible babies to great big fat ones. I filled half of our little red wagon with them. Here are a few pictures of the process: [I have placed pictures here six times now. Each time, in the previewed or published post, they appear at the top of the page instead. I give up. They look prettier there, anyway. Maybe tomorrow it will reset and they’ll remember where they’re supposed to be.]

I replanted as many as I could that afternoon before dark, burying them under trees and in beds all along our winding driveway. I have no idea if this was the correct solution, but since they’d already sprouted underground, putting them back into the ground seemed logical. Then I gave two dozen more to a friend. And then I spent an hour or so the next day planting even more of the things, with Niko’s help. So. Very. Many. (Yes, he’s wearing shorts. And orange-on-orange. How could I deny his need to be a pumpkin that day?)

While I was planting out the tulips, I got distracted by weeds. My ADHD took over, and before I knew it I’d weeded a whole bed while the last six bulbs waited to be planted. And then I was distracted from my distraction by these lovely blooms that my weeding uncovered:

And by these shoots — young rhubarb! Exciting!

Baby rhubarb in January, thriving under leaf mulch and burlap.
Baby rhubarb in January, thriving under leaf mulch and burlap.

Then I tackled the dahlias. These should be easy, I thought. They were so small last spring. Easy peasy. WRONG. They multiply, too! The tubers were monstrous, many-bulbed things, with each bulging root system easily eight inches across. I got as much dirt off as possible, and lay them on paper in a big feed bucket the size of a small pond. (Seriously, you could feed a whole herd of horses from that thing.) I’ll divide and plant those monsters when the frost danger is past…and no doubt I’ll have some to give away, too.

One final tidbit: Sofia sound asleep after an exhausting afternoon of riding on my back while I dug things up and buried other things.

Sound asleep. Relaxing on Mom's back is exhausting!
Sound asleep. Relaxing on Mom’s back is exhausting!

Next project: a long raised bed of overcrowded gladioli to dig up, divide, replant, and (of course) share with friends. Should be easy, right?


Sautéed Wild Mustard Greens with Dock, Garlic and Onions

I’m going to have to keep my eyes open for some of these. I bet they grow around here!

Little Fall Creek

We gather wild greens from the field daily, and mustard is currently the  star attraction– buds as broccoli, flowers and young greens in salads, and cooked older leaves. I think these hold up even better, in flavor and texture, to sauteing than does spinach. We often mix with dock leaves for a bright lemony accent.

Mustard greens are easy to prepare, incredibly healthful, and delicious. They are a wonderful side to all sorts of meat, fish, polenta, or grain. We enjoyed them last night with fried pork chops and sweet potatoes.

Sautéed Wild Mustard Greens with Dock, Garlic and Onions

The dash of hot sauce adds no heat to speak of– only a bit of vinegar and spark of extra flavor. Serves 3-4.

2 T butter

1 white onion, chopped medium

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

3 large handfuls of large mustard leaves, stems trimmed…

View original post 145 more words

Saving Seeds

This article on saving seeds caught my eye. I like the idea of that level of self-sufficiency. I like thinking about the plants in my garden, and the food we eat, coming entirely from our own plants, with no in-between seed purchases. Something to think about.

Read it here: All About Buying, Starting, and Saving Vegetable Garden SeedsIMG_1947.JPG

(Image from

Elusive Hummingbird

Hummingbirds, I thought, hibernated. Or migrated. Or something. I’ve never put much thought into what I thought they did, but I’ve certainly never seen them in winter. When my family lived in northern British Columbia, we had the beautiful Rufous hummingbirds at our feeder, zipping around like little red and green living jewels on a perpetual caffeine high. They stayed all summer and then disappeared. [NOTE: If anyone read this when it posted itself yesterday after I explicitly instructed it to publish itself this morning, you’ll notice that I have now corrected my mistake regarding which hummingbird is common in British Columbia. Thank you to my mother for noticing.]

The hummingbirds we have here in Oregon are not as brilliant in plumage as the Rufous, but they’re still charming. My best guess, looking through sites like Beauty of Birds AvianWeb, is that either ours are the Broad-Tailed hummingbird, or I’ve been seeing female or immature Rufous hummingbirds. Anyway, since they are also tiny, high-energy birds, I’ve assumed they must have similar behavior. Gobble nectar all summer, vanish mysteriously once the weather turns cold. When our feeder froze solid in November, I figured the cold plus the lack of food would prompt our own hummingbirds to hibernate. Or migrate. Or whatever.

I kept thinking that until I read a blog post by Garden Fairy Farm, “Feeding Hummingbirds During the Winter.” Wait. What? We have to feed them in the winter? Turns out, hummingbirds are migratory birds. They don’t hibernate. But some of them inexplicably hang around their favorite spots instead of migrating. Oh dear… this could explain why my feeder has been looking emptier and emptier, until there’s now only a tiny bit of red liquid in the very bottom. The hummingbirds are still here! Or maybe just one, or… Who knows? The point is, with few insects for food this time of year (yes, they’re carnivorous — another surprise fact I turned up in a flurry of research after reading Garden Fairy Farm’s post), they actually need the food I’m providing. Apparently they can survive, if necessary, on the wells of sap that sapsuckers store up (another fascinating fact), but their chances of survival will increase if they’re given an additional food source like a hanging feeder.

My poor hummingbird! I feel like a terrible bird parent. Time to fill the feeder. Maybe they’ll reward me by letting me witness their presence this time around.


This last summer and fall, Aaron started experimenting with home brewing. He created a cherry wheat Hefeweizen that’s better than anything similar I’ve had yet, using cherries from our tree. He made an apple and a pear ale that both turned out to be very high in alcohol and low in carbonation, more like a wine than an ale, but are delicious despite being not what we expected. And he’s made three batches of root beer.

I didn’t know this before Aaron got interested in brewing, but the distinctive flavor in root beer is wintergreen leaf. When we learned this, we went out and got a couple of different traditionally-brewed root beers and sipped slowly, exploring the flavors — and yes, you really can taste it. However, when Aaron collected ingredients for his first batch of root beer, the brewing supply store didn’t have wintergreen leaf. They did have spearmint. He couldn’t remember for sure which leaf he was supposed to get, saw the spearmint, and decided it must be the right thing. The result was oddly delicious. Not really root beer, but an earthy, slightly herbal, dark-colored brew. It was REALLY GOOD. The brewing supply store still didn’t have wintergreen the second or third times he wanted to make root beer, so he just used spearmint again, knowing it would turn out to be good (though not exactly what one might expect from something called root beer).

Meanwhile, I was learning about wintergreen, trying to find a reliable source so we could try a batch of more traditionally flavored root beer. You can order dried leaves through Amazon, as well as seeds. I thought planting our own might be a good idea. They’re pretty plants, with shiny evergreen leaves and pretty white flowers in spring. The flowers give way to white berries later in summer, and then the berries ripen to bright red in the winter. Planting the seeds can be a bit tricky, as wintergreen is a cool-weather plant. You have to refrigerate the seeds before germinating them, and then you have to sprout them in a wet paper towel before planting. (I got my information at Heirloom Organics and Mother Earth Living.) It sounded a bit daunting, but I was prepared to try.

And then, sometime before Christmas, we were strolling through the little floral and garden section of a nearby New Season’s Market (a charming grocery store chain that originated in the Portland area), and saw… wintergreen! They were attractive little plants in terra cotta pots, and the plant marker confirmed what I’d read: they’re good ground cover, prefer acidic soil, like to be in partly shaded places. Aha! So much easier than planting from seed!

So we’ve had two little wintergreen plants sitting on our porch for a month and a half, waiting for me to decide where to put them. Finally, yesterday, I decided I needed to take care of them before they became hopelessly root bound. I did one more spurt of research and discovered the key: they need sun in morning and shade in the afternoon, and they need to be kept moist when they’re young. Right away I knew where they needed to go.

There’s a vine maple at the end of our larger pond that is perfectly positioned so the rising sun shines at its base. That spot gets light all morning until the sun is high, when the dense leaves of the little maple provide shade. The garden is set up with a sprinkler system, so it’s easy to keep the ground moist, and that area also gets watered when I water the vegetable garden. Perfect.

Yesterday afternoon, I went out with kids and puppy in tow and did some preliminary weed-pulling, then plopped the plants into the ground. With any luck, within a year or two they’ll spread and multiply to the point that we’ll be able to harvest some leaves now and then. Meanwhile, they’ll become more and more decorative as they grow, which is a nice side benefit.

Garden Planning

On Friday, Aaron said to me, “We should start planning what we want to plant this year.” And I said, “Oh, right, I meant to make something for that!” Because, as I so often do, I had had a brilliant idea for garden planning, but then I’d forgotten my brilliant idea. (Have I mentioned that a common characteristic of people with ADHD is forgetfulness?) Aaron’s comment jogged my memory just in time.

My brilliant plan had originally been to create a spreadsheet that listed the plants we already have, plus those we want to plant, with their key data: when to plant, what type of soil, best light, when to expect blossoms or fruit. I even thought of adding more details for flowers: average plant height, flower color, foliage color, and so on, for visual planning. In a spreadsheet, I thought, I could then easily organize by, for example, planting time, and voila! My spreadsheet would become a planting calendar. Or I could choose to order it by soil type to help me decide where to plant, and so on.

As I so often do when considering my brilliant ideas, I quickly realized that this one might be a tiny bit beyond my reach, at least this year, because a) I’m not really that great at creating spreadsheets, and b) this would be incredibly time-consuming. However, several years of teaching has made me REALLY great at designing charts and worksheets, and it occurred to me that if I made a printable chart with space for the same data, I could use it as a planning worksheet right now, and save the filled-in sheet for later…just in case I someday want to create a more complex data entry system for keeping track of plants in our garden.

I ended up making three sheets: one each for flowers, herbs, and vegetables. I may later make one for fruit too, but since we’re not planning on putting in any new fruit this year, that can wait. Each sheet starts with a place to jot down the following climate data: Sunset Climate ZoneUSDA Hardiness Zones (I found that link and information at The National Gardening Association); and the average time of the first and last frosts as well as last year’s first frost and this year’s last frost (you can find this information at Old Farmer’s Almanac and Dave’s Garden, among other places). I included a spot for both the Sunset Climate Zone and the USDA Hardiness Zone because they both provide advantages when planning what to plant. The USDA Hardiness Zone is used most often on plant labels and seed packages, but  it’s not nearly as useful in Western North America as it is in the East. That’s because it only accounts for average winter temperature, not for rainfall or snow. In the western half of the continent, both of those factors heavily impact what types of plants grow best, and both are highly variable over here even when winter temperature averages are similar. The Sunset Climate Zone system does take this into account… but since most plant distributors use USDA data, you have to do a bit more work to discover what plants grow best in each Sunset zone.

Then I added a table with the following headings: When to Plant, Best Soil, Light, Plant With…, Avoid Planting With…, Germination, and Bloom (or Harvest) Time. I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. I’m leaving it out on the desk so I can quickly jot down plants that I think of, and later I can research to find information about planting, which I can then record as I have time. This is making me so excited! I can hardly wait to get started with planting!

If you click on the title above each chart image, you should get a PDF that opens in a new screen. That way, you can print these charts for your own use. Happy gardening!

Vegetable Planning                                  Flower Planning                               Herb Planning


Today I stopped at Fred Meyer on the way home from dropping off Niko at preschool, and on the way in I passed by a big display of spring flowers: pansies and primroses for $1.50 each, and cyclamens for about $3. I’m planning to start pansies from seed this year, and I want to do more research before trying a cyclamen, but I couldn’t resist the primroses. Since the display was outside, they should be hardy enough to do fine transplanted outside…I hope…and the ground is just a bit damp, with a light misty rain off and on today, so it seemed like perfect timing.

We already have a few primroses in some shady parts of our garden, but they have tiny flowers nestled deep into leaves and aren’t very showy, though they’re pretty up close. The ones I got today were English primroses, with large, bright flowers on longer stems.

I let Niko come outside after lunch, before his nap (because it would be getting too dark after his nap), and he was so excited to help me plant. He found a miniature trowel and dug holes enthusiastically. He was very serious, too, about his job of choosing which flowers to put where. And now we have six primroses distributed strategically around the garden in spots that are sunny now, but will be shaded in hotter weather by leafy shrubs. They add an attractive, bright pop of color against the rich browns and greens of the winter garden.





Happy Garlic

When I planted my garlic back in October, everything I read said it should be ready to harvest in December or January. I was doubtful. I’ve always lived in places where the garden was covered in at least two feet of snow in December; the idea of harvesting in winter is as fantastic to me as the thought of meeting a unicorn in a forest. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say, so I planted on faith and more or less forgot about them.

Planting garlic in October.
Planting garlic in October.

Yesterday I went out with both kids and the puppy to do some playing and weeding, and was delighted to notice that the tops of the garlic are dying off. This means, or so I’ve read, that the bulbs are mature. Now I’m supposed to stop watering them so they can dry out a bit before digging them up.

Garlic tops are dying off. Almost ready to harvest!
Garlic tops are dying off. Almost ready to harvest!

Wait… Stop watering? I live in Oregon. Winter is when we get rain. Plenty of rain. Rain every week. How do I stop watering? I’m actually asking for an answer, if anyone reading this has one. Currently, my tentative plan is to construct a little clear-plastic tent over them, so they can get sun but not water. Is that crazy? Do other people do that? Or do most people just dig them up when the tops finish dying off, and not worry about drying the ground?

In other gardening news: The garden is continuing to slowly wake up. Today I found that the fennel I planted last spring, which died off in the fall, has sent up a fluffy green plume. The mint, which grows in a vigorous, untidy bed near the garden shed, has started putting up delicate baby shoots. And the azalea behind the house has put out new leaves and, possibly, tiny flower buds. I also found some adorably chubby little rosette-shaped sprouts of a plant I never managed to identify last summer, but which put out large, flat-topped, pink flower heads. The flower heads were shaped like Queen Anne’s Lace, but the rest of the plant was completely different.

The kids were thrilled to have more time than usual outside. Niko went straight to his new tire swing, which kept him happy while I collected garden tools, and then he alternately ran back and forth across the yard with Cody and helped me pull weeds. Meanwhile, Sofia roamed the yard with not a single qualm at being so far from me — I kept having to go bring her back as she wandered away. I had put a baby leash on her, but she was too unsteady on her feet to use it to guide her as we walked, and it was far too short to use as a tether. So she just wandered while I kept an eye on her between weed pulls. Uproot — see Sofie peering into the wheelbarrow. Toss a weed into the wheelbarrow — she’s exploring the thyme. Next weed — Sofie’s discovered the blue gazing ball pedestal. She was happy as a clam, playing by herself.

Have I mentioned how much I love living and gardening here?

Frost Flowers

Yesterday I went for a bright, cold walk with Niko, Sofia, and the puppy, Cody. Usually I carry Sofia in my Ergo carrier, but this time I thought I’d save my back and push her in our big rough-terrain stroller. I’m glad I did, because it turns out I can see a lot more when she’s not strapped to my chest.

We walked across our big lawn, past the row of cypresses, down the hill to the little creek that runs across the bottom of our property in the winter. Cody promptly made a dash for the creek; Niko tried to ford the creek, too, at its widest part, but I threatened him with immediate return to the house if he fell into the creek, and he prudently took the bridge instead. (Later he found a stone ford that I’d been hoping he wouldn’t notice, and I relented and let him cross there. What’s the point of a creek if you can’t at least cross it?)

I was about to follow him when I noticed something odd. A patch of ground near the creek was covered with curving, shining ice crystals pushing up out of the ground. I’d never seen anything like it. I snapped a couple of photos and kept walking — and kept finding more. At first I wondered if the patches of ice were the tops of a mole’s sleeping chamber, but there were just too many of them. It turns out they’re something called crystallofolia, which translates as frost leaves — commonly called frost flowers. When certain plants freeze in previously unfrozen ground, the water inside the stems comes fountaining out in the form of ice crystals. They can get a lot more complex than the ones I saw, but mine were still pretty amazing.

Just for good measure, here are a few pictures of our walk: