Visiting the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh

After a long bout of being stuck at home with sick kids, Jonah and I finally got a chance to go out on a date on Thursday! We visited the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh. This garden is one of my favorites! There’s such a wide variety of things to see there. They have SO MANY different garden zones:

  • Rooftop Terrace
  • Asian Valley
  • Butterfly Garden
  • Color Trial Garden (for testing new annuals and tender perennials)
  • Elms
  • Roses
  • Geophytes (bulbs/corms/tubers/rhizomes)
  • Japanese Garden (My FAVORITE!)
  • White Garden
  • Lath House (shade garden)
  • Mixed border
  • Model Gardens
  • Paradise Garden
  • Perennial Border
  • Scree Garden
  • Southall Memorial Garden
  • Winter Garden
  • Xeric Garden

Check out some of the photos below for a virtual tour (hover over the photos for descriptions)! I highly recommend a stop if you’re in the Raleigh area. Since they are affiliated with NC State University, they always have fun programs, classes, and educational opportunities going on for all ages. Jonah and I joked that there must be a rule that academic lectures must include a pun… our favorite from their list this month was “Plant Parenthood: From Planting to Pest Management” (insert groan/eye roll here). You can see a full list of upcoming events on their site. I hope you’ll pay them a visit when you’re in town!  

 

Leave a comment

Seed Starting 2022

As I write this, I’m sitting on my couch, surrounded by seeds, garden books, a vomit-inducing amount of kids toys, while watching “Gardener’s World” on Amazon Prime. 

Hi from the wasteland!

Can I just say the Brits really know their gardening? Monty Don is my garden hero, and if you haven’t read his book, “The Complete Gardener“, you should. It’s chock full of great gardening info and beautiful pictures – pretty much his gift to all mankind.

The King himself, Sir Monty Don.

Why isn’t it spring yet???

This is the time of year for daydreaming, planning, and watching/reading all about gardening. It’s also the time of year for starting your first seeds! 

I’ve got the bug, so I rearranged all my seed packets and started my first four seeds – Chinese String Eggplant. Here are the steps for starting your seeds indoors:

Determine if you ACTUALLY need to start your seeds indoors. 

    • Rule of thumb is to start brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts) and anything in the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers) indoors. Why?
      • 1) brassicas are frost hardy, but they’ll bolt once it warms up, so you want to give them a head start indoors to optimize your short growing window before the heat gets here
      • 2) nightshades are slow to grow and they’re frost tender. If you wait until after the last frost to sow outdoors, they’ll do just fine, but you won’t get a harvest until much later
    • You can check this nifty list for more recommendations on what should be direct sown vs. started indoors.

Sort your seeds by sowing date and mark your calendar.

  • First, know your last frost date. Here in Zone 7B, it’s April 15th. You can do a quick google search for this by your zip code.
    • Look at seed packets for sowing dates (i.e. 8 weeks before last frost). Do a google search to determine what date that equates to in your zone. Then mark your calendar and sort your seeds accordingly!

Google tells me that 12 weeks before April 15th is January 21st. Because I **cannot** count. Also, tea boxes make great seed packet storage.

Make your seed-starting mix.

    • I use coconut coir with perlite mixed in. Nothing scientific here, just make it so that there are some specks of the perlite in there. The coir holds moisture and the perlite prevents compaction and keeps everything light and fluffy.
    • Pro tip: get your coconut coir in small bricks. Chiseling into a rock hard, 10 lb slab is NOT fun.
    • NOTE: You don’t need compost or anything with nutrition in it yet… seeds have enough energy in them to carry them along until they start making true leaves. Once you see true leaves, you can add a little dusting of compost on top.

One pound block of coconut coir, rehydrated + itty bitty bit of perlite + old nursery pot (scrubbed clean)

      • Mix it real good
    • Get your seed starting mix damp like a wet sponge, fill up a container that has drainage (old nursery pots, yogurt cups with holes in the bottom, etc), put your seeds on top, and dust with more of your mix. Since you’ve pre-dampened the mix, you don’t need to water.

Itty bitty eggplant seeds

Here are the seeds.

Rather than poking the seeds down into the mix, lightly dust some mix over top.

Label and Put your plants in a clear bin (AKA mini greenhouse).

  • Keep the lid on to encourage germination. Most seeds don’t  need light until after they’ve germinated, so as long as it’s relatively warm, you’re good for now.

The Germination Station

Check your seeds for germination. 

  • Once they’ve germinated, take them out of the bin and give them lots of good, strong light (grow light or shop light with broad spectrum output). Water them as needed (bottom watering – submerging the container in a tray of water- is best to prevent fungal problems)

January brings a lot of cold and icky-ness, but I hope this has brought you a little ray of sunshine. Spring will be here soon!

Leave a comment

Tips on Planting Fruit Bushes & Notes on Leaf Hoarding

FRUIT!!!!!

My idea for adding fruit to our garden has come to fruition! Since my last post, the Jubilee Garden has grown by 144 square feet for a 4 ft x 36 ft blackberry and blueberry bed! There are 4 Osage Blackberries and one each of these blueberry varieties: Blueberry Buckle (a self-pollinating, dwarf hybrid), and Brightwell and Powder Blue (rabbiteye types that need another variety to cross-pollinate and produce fruit – does best in the south). This is my pipe dream of what I’ll be snacking on in about a year and a half…

Vaccinium Ashei Brightwell Rabbiteye Blueberry | SiteOne

Here are some things to consider if you’re planning on adding fruit to your landscape!

  1. Choose Fruits that are Suitable for Your Climate
    1. I love raspberries, but they don’t do well in NC. Blackberries do better, and I happen to like them, too.
    2. A garden retailer at my local farmer’s market told me that for my area, Apples and Peaches should be left to the professionals because we don’t get enough chill hours for most apple varieties here (do better in the NC mountains) and peaches have A LOT of problems that need to be heavily managed to yield a good crop (spraying). She probably shouldn’t have told me that, because now I sort of consider that a challenge (I’ll show you, farmers market lady!), but I’m going to prioritize the easier fruits over these.
    3. I’d love a grapevine, but bunch grapes require a lot of work, while muscadines are native to this area and basically don’t need any help.
  2. Pick the Best Varieties
    1. NC State has done all the hard work and figured out what works best and what’s most disease- and pest-resistant. If you’re going to go to all the trouble of planting, hedge your bets and listen to the experts! 
  3. Research the Best Time of Year to Plant
    1. Usually it’s fall/spring, but check your state’s cooperative extension website to see what they recommend for your area. Here in NC, either one works, but preference is usually for fall plantings for perennials and trees since our winters are mild. In areas with harsh winters (lots of sub-freezing temps), it may be better to wait until spring so the plants have a better chance of surviving.
  4. Consider Your Soil
    1. Blueberries need acidic soil, other fruits prefer neutral. You might need a soil test (link to my county’s testing site) to determine what you’re starting off with. I’ve never done a soil test, but I’ll probably do one this year because I learned it COSTS A MEASLEY $4 (I mean c’mon, so cheap!). AND if you do it during the growing season (April-Nov) it’s FREE!
    2. Free? free? free? free? - Nemo Seagulls | Meme Generator

      YUPPPP

  5. Determine the Right Planting Location
    1. Most fruits want full sun (6-8 hrs+ unfiltered light). LET THE SUNSHINE IN! They also need water, especially in the first year to get their roots established.
  6. Resist the Temptation
    1. The first year or two, you probably want to pick off any flowers you see on your plants, thus eliminating any fruit from being produced. This forces the plant to focus on root and vegetative growth. Sacrifice now means bigger, healthier plants and larger harvests later! I hate this so much, though! 
Cry Sad GIF - Cry Sad Meme - Discover & Share GIFs

My feelings about not eating fruit the first year after planting…

ALL THE LEAVES

Now a note on leaf hoarding. Initially, I started digging out a bed, but realized quickly that was a HORRIBLE idea. It’s labor intensive, time consuming, and completely unnecessary. Enter: SHEET MULCHING.

What is it? Essentially, you lay down something biodegradable to smother your grass and any weeds (I chose cardboard) and HEAP on the mulch (like 8+ inches worth).

In my case, I chose leaves because they’re plentiful AND FREE (can you see a theme here?). AND at this time of year, my wonderful neighbors have handily raked and packaged them for yard waste pickup – saving me labor and dolla dolla bills, ya’ll. So, yes, I creepily took rescued bags of leaves from my neighbors and family (most of the time, I asked first ;)). I definitely got some weird looks from people walking in the neighborhood as I fished leaves out of yard waste bins and hauled bags of leaves into the back of my SUV (sort of like a yard-waste hobo).

Leaves are worth their weight in gold as compost fodder and mulch. DO NOT LET THEM LEAF (ha!) your property! In fact, we got rid of your yard waste altogether and have never been happier!

Precious rescued cargo from my neighbor Brittany! Thanks girl!

For the new bed, you could use compost, leaf mold (composted leaves), or wood chips. Just don’t use something gross that could leach chemicals into your soil (dyed mulch, shredded rubber mulch). You could even build your beds using Hugelkultur (mounding sticks and other yard debris as the base of your bed as filler, leaving them to decompose over time… you’d still want to add some sort of finer mulch over top). 

Ideally, prepping beds should be done before planting, BUTTTTTTTTTTTTT…I was in a hurry, so I made do.

First, I figured out my spacing based on the mature size of the plants. It looks sparse now, but there’s room for them to grow. I can also plant annuals in the beds (flowers or veggies) these first few years to fill in the gaps.

Here are the steps for planting a new small fruits bed (if you haven’t prepped the bed in advance):

Measure how far you want your bed from existing plantings

Use stakes and string to define the bed area

Place plants with their full-grown size in mind

Dig holes 2x as wide and just as deep as the root ball of your bush. Plant away!

Check out that beautiful blueberry! And the great photography skills (sorry for the finger in the image!)

If planting in spring, you can add soil amendments if needed (acidifier for blueberries, for example). If your climate allows for fall or winter planting, don’t add anything that would spur new growth or bring the plant out of dormancy (fertilizer) until springtime.

add cardboard and your mulch of choice around the plantings

Here’s the final product!

Happy planting!

Leave a comment

What do you do with an Idea?

What do you do with an idea?

That’s the question one of the children’s books on our kids’ bookshelf poses. It’s a cute book with an adorable little egg-like protagonist. Well, if you’re an antsy gardener just coming off a gardening hiatus and you’ve literally planted every single square inch of your garden with fall seeds and perennials, you build stuff. Lots of stuff.

This past week I decided I needed to tinker in the garden. And I may or may not have constructed not one, but two massive bamboo lattice trellises. And forced my poor husband to build me two composting bays out of reclaimed pallets. 

Did I say reclaimed? It’s a funny word. Yes, I claimed them, salvaged them, which included me creepily cruising behind a shopping center, trying to awkwardly lift a few VERY heavy pallets. I’ve got the bruises and scrapes to prove it. Here are some fun facts I learned in the process:

  • Fun fact #1: a Toyota Highlander CANNOT fit more than one pallet in the trunk with the middle row of seats still up.
  • Fun fact #2: the Toyota Highlander has an alarm bell THAT WILL NOT TURN OFF unless every single door (including the back hatch) is securely shut.
  • Fun fact #3: carting around a screaming infant and a curious toddler while procuring said pallet is about as fun as gouging your eyes out with a spoon.

Take my word for it, leave the kids at home with your poor husband, remove the car seats, lay those seats down, and DRIVE like Sandra Bullock in Speed to your nearest strip mall during that crucial overlapping nap window.

Speed (1994) | BFI

I also “reclaimed” some invasive bamboo from our neighborhood common areas for the trellises. With just a pruning saw and some zip ties, I made these babies:

Jonah, looking like the world’s saddest husband as I inform him we are expanding the garden into freshly re-seeded lawn area. Sorry I’m not sorry.

Impressive right? Well, I didn’t start this blog to lie to you good people of the internet. No, no. Here’s the mess that sat in our garage for 3 days while I “worked on it”. 

Day 1 Progress: I cut some bamboo and “reclaimed” pallets, then I threw them haphazardly into the garage.

Day 2 Progress: Look! I started laying out bamboo canes and I zip tied a few together. I’ve also expertly blocked the door into the house so you have to hopscotch your way in and out. Amazingly, no one tripped and died.

Day 3 Progress: SQUIRREL! Er, tree frog! I got a little distracted by this cute little buddy.

Ermagherd! It’s Kermit IRL!

Then I started getting ideas. And you should know by now that those are dangerous. Here are the conversations between Jonah and I the past week:

Me: “Hey Jonah, look at these AMAZING new trellises I BUILT. WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS! What if we put the trellis on the deck? We could create our own living shade/privacy wall! It would be amazing!”

Jonah: “Remember two years ago when you tried to trellis squash plants to the deck? And they got super tangled and half of them rotted?”

Me: “Okay, true. But we could put planters on the deck this time and just trellis up something light weight like beans or peas. Or a fruit! Oh a fruiting/flowering thing!”

Jonah: “Okay…..”

Me: “I can see you don’t like this idea at all. So how about this… we could put them out near our garden boxes!”

Jonah: “Didn’t you just have me buy electrical conduit to make arches BETWEEN the boxes? Isn’t that kind of a lot going on for one box? Plus, these bamboo structures would be really top-heavy the way you have them oriented.”

Me: [increasingly exasperated because gosh darnit THESE TRELLISES ARE GOING SOMEWHERE!] OKAY. Here’s what we’ll do. We’re going to ADD A STRIP to the garden. I’m going to plant something vine-y on them, TBD. But there will likely be new blueberry bushes involved in this plan. Did I mention I GOT ALL OF THIS FO’ FREE WITH MY AMAZING FRUGAL SKILLS???? (including new blueberry cuttings from a neighbor that are currently rooting out?)

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED????

Are You Not Entertained? | UMKC Roo News

Blueberry roots – booyah!

No, no he was not. But by hook or by crook, this is happening.

In all seriousness, Jonah has been very supportive and is the tether that keeps me from sailing away into the sky like a sad balloon lost at some kid’s 5th birthday party. I mean just look at the blood, sweat, and tears he was willing to shed on my behalf to help make my composting dreams come true:

My husband, about to win some sort of badge of honor for doing this for me. Check out instructions from one of my favorite YouTubers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW_DVNUt7ms

So what do you do with an idea? You dream some dreams, get creative, and make it happen! More updates on the expansion to come!

 

Leave a comment

That time I straight up broke my shovel…

I broke a shovel today! I don’t know whether to be angry or somewhat proud of myself for exerting that much force.

RIP shovel!

Im Not Even Mad GIFs | Tenor

I’ve been doing battle with some horrible holly bushes next to our house for the past year. Actually, scratch that, since we moved here. The people who lived in this house before us made some very interesting gardening choices. And by interesting, I mean ridiculous. Like planting a fig tree six feet from the house (it touches the house and has to be pruned every single year), a giant crape myrtle 5 feet from the house (same problem), filling a bed with pebbles WITHOUT lining it with weed blocking fabric first (weed city), and most insanely of all, planting approximately a dozen holly bushes around the house, pretty much right on top of each other.

A well manicured holly is fine, and the berries are great for the birds in wintertime, but seriously these people must have been blissfully ignorant of the plant tags when they planted everything. Like didn’t care about plant spacing AT ALL. I could go on and on about the weirdness around here, but I’ll save you the headache. Let’s just leave it at I’ve been re-designing and correcting their poor choices since Jonah and I got married and I moved in.

This spring (because pregnancy hormones are real), I finally had it with the hollies and decided that I needed to renovate the garden bed next to our garage door since it’s pretty visible from the street. After hacking them to the ground as an attempt to kill them earlier this year, yesterday I started the undertaking of removing the root balls to really put the nail in the coffin.

HOLY COW. Talk about physical labor! The first root ball was maybe 30ish pounds and took me about an hour to get out. The second one ended up being 60 pounds (easily), and even with the help of an awesome new tool I tried – a mattock – I still broke our shovel.

Mattock – part axe, part digger, part awesome.

Needless to say, I was seriously channeling my inner Rosie the Riveter (and I will also be taking some ibuprofen soon):

Massive holly root balls – gnarly!

Rosie the Riveter We Can Do it Poster

The new plan for that bed will be a purple butterfly bush in the center (I had one pop up in our backyard that I’m going to transplant), some coral-hued mums in a semi-circle in front of the butterfly bush, and some pansies (also corals/reds) and dusty millers in front of that. I hope to get that done tomorrow and will post pictures once it’s done!

Little butterfly bush I’m going to transplant (on the right)

 

Craters left behind by the massive root balls

Leave a comment

Back in the Saddle Again

Well, well, well! The Jubilee garden is back in full swing! 

After a much needed hiatus from the garden (in which the garden STEADILY continued to provide fruit, veggies, and flowers I did not plant), I’m back to it. This week, I sowed seeds for my fall/spring garden. Here in NC, most of our fall plantings do decently over winter. 

I find the fall garden to be simpler than a summer garden. There are fewer things to grow, so I can really focus on just a few types of crops that I really enjoy. There also seems to be less planning (or at least I’m treating it that way!). I know this garden isn’t going to be meeting all my family’s produce needs over the winter (because I’m not a homesteader or living off the grid), so there’s a lot less pressure to make it work. My attitude is, if it grows, awesome! If it fails, there’s always Harris Teeter.

First off, I have to give credit to my mini- gardener of a daughter who helped me with this garden plan earlier in the week (see below). Don’t you just love it!? Her explanation was that the green blocks are green beans, orange are pumpkins, red are tomatoes, and blue are blueberry bushes. Oh, and there’s a tree and some cat toys in there for good measure.

My daughter's garden plan

Can I stress again how important it is to make a plan? And also to be ready to adjust that plan once you’re outside in your space? Here’s why:

This was my original, completely organized idea of what I was going to plant and where:

fall plantings draft

ANNNNNDDDD then I got outside and random volunteer plants were already growing in some of the spaces (like Strawberry Spinach, which I think we’ll eat), so I made some notes on post-its, like this:

So here’s what ended up happening for real:

Fall plantings revised

Orange items are plantings I had to change because:

  1. I ran out of fava beans,
  2. I realized garlic was a poor choice for around the center trellis since I plan to plant peas or beans on it in the spring and alliums like garlic don’t tango with legumes
  3. Strawberry spinach self-sowed in my last bed and I’m not about to pull up a free spinach plant – we eat spinach salads almost every single week!

Dont Get Crazy Bon Qui Qui GIF - Dont Get Crazy Crazy Bon Qui Qui GIFs

It’s good to be flexible in the garden! 

Now, what I’m sure you’re really here to see are all my happy seedlings and garden pictures. Happy to oblige. Until next time… happy gardening!

Fava beans going in! Also, dandelion diggers are THE BEST seed planting tool. 

So, so good to be back as master of my domain!

This is why you have to be ready to adjust your life plans (and plants!). Originally planned to plant mostly brassicas in here, but strawberry spinach plants are doing their thang. Who am I to interfere?

See all those green specks? Um yeah. I’m pretty sure those are ALL strawberry spinach babies. They’re multiplying like rabbits!

Baby greens popping up already!

I bought the marigolds, but everything else in this picture came up on their own. Go Jubilee Garden, go!

Butterfly bushes are doing AWESOME this year.

Free plants! Volunteer butterfly bush. So stoked to transplant this little fella soon!

Hey there little Asters!

Might be a bit hard to see, but those little seedlings along the grass line are cilantro seedlings! They self sowed!

We threw out our black oil sunflower seeds from our bird feeder due to the mystery illness wreaking havoc on birds. Guess what? Those seeds were VI-A-BLE! Also, hey there little coneflower volunteer!

Fig clones! I shall call them… mini-tree!

Verne Troyer's tragic death underlines the harm Mini-Me caused people with dwarfism | Verne Troyer | The GuardianYou’re welcome for the Austin Powers throw back ;).

These fig saplings are getting so big!

 

Leave a comment

Evening Bug Walk

This evening, I took a walk around the garden to see what was happening, and I found lots of cool bugs. Here are a few pictures. Enjoy!

Strawberry Spinach

Strawberry Spinach

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

Mating Japanese Beetles and Ants

Mating Japanese Beetles and Ants. You can almost see my reflection in the iridescence of the Japanese Beetles head!

Ants "farming" honeydew (excrement) from Leaf Hopper nymphs on a sunflower leaf

Ants “farming” honeydew (aka excrement) from Leaf Hopper nymphs on a sunflower leaf

Japanese Beetle on a Sunflower

Japanese Beetle on a Sunflower

A spider's dinner

A spider’s dinner

Cabbage white caterpillar

Cabbage white caterpillar

Cabbage white caterpillars eating broccoli leaves

Cabbage white caterpillars eating broccoli leaves

Strawberry spinach blooms

Strawberry spinach blooms

Swallowtail caterpillar on Bronze Fennel

Swallowtail caterpillar on Bronze Fennel

Leave a comment

23 Heads of Garlic

23 Heads of Garlic

Fall plantings for the win! This week, I harvested 23 heads of garlic from our herb garden. All of these came from individual cloves of grocery store garlic that I planted last fall. They’re finally ready – YES!!!

Since this was my first time growing garlic, I had to do some reading online about how to go about harvesting. Here are a few things I didn’t know until now that I thought might be helpful to you as well:

  1. Wait for the foliage to die back a bit before harvesting your garlic. The majority of the leaves should be be yellowish and bending over (similar to when your flower bulbs die back after flowering… garlic is a bulb after all!)
  2. Dig them out with a trowel – don’t pull them by their stems!
  3. Do NOT wash them after you pull them out of the ground. Just shake off as much dirt as you can.
  4. Let them cure in a dark, dry place for 3-4 weeks before use. I used an old window screen in our garage (vampires beware!).
  5. After curing, you can braid them together real fancy-like or just store them as they are in a cool, dark place. 
  6. Go make some garlic bread!

I’ll definitely be planting garlic again this fall! What a huge success they were this year!

 

Leave a comment

Lessons Learned So Far from the Jubilee Garden (+ Pictures!)

So far, the Jubilee garden has been going well! 

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned this growing season:

  1. I really miss the joy of planting and seeing things sprout and grow.  So much so, that I found myself at our local nursery this week buying herbs and marigolds to fill the pots on our deck. Just the deck. Yep! At least that’s how I’m justifying it to myself.
  2. I should have gone hardcore on the regenerative pruning. The bushes out front could have been cut WAY closer to the ground to promote new growth. Now I have weird sticks with spiky new growth on them. Check out the pictures below to see what I mean. I was so nervous about the possibility of killing the shrubs that I chickened out. I might try to correct this later in the season as the new growth fills in.
  3. I was pleasantly surprised by our beet harvest this year! Nice, big beets (golden and maybe detroit dark red or bulls blood – can’t remember which ones I planted). I love roasted beets – they’re sweet like candy. Will definitely be planting more of these in the future.
  4. I planted WAY too many brassicas last fall. The flowers were beautiful when they bolted this spring, but we just don’t eat enough broccoli, cauliflower, or brussels sprouts to justify how much I planted. We got exactly zero cabbages out of the many I planted. 
  5. Fennel is a magnet for swallowtail caterpillars – keep this around if you like pollinators.
  6. Radish seed pods are edible and add a nice crunch to salads.
  7. Why did I plant rutabaga? Who even eats rutabaga? Did I think I would suddenly have an affinity for them if I grew them?
  8. Fava beans are where it’s at. You get a huge bang for your buck when you plant these – huge beans with plentiful pods if you keep picking them. Definitely be sure to stake them/support them, though, or you’ll end up with a floppy mess like mine.
  9. Accept the generosity of fellow gardeners. I’ve already received amazing garden goodies from thoughtful friends and neighbors who knew I was taking a break this season. Thank you Alyson & Natalie!
  10. Volunteer plants are still coming up! I’ve found surprise potatoes, strawberry spinach, sunflowers, and swiss chard. Can’t wait to see what else pops up!
  11. Some of my garden experiments look like they’re paying off – some of the fig and lavender cuttings are viable!

Overall, I’m still thankful that I’m taking a break from my typical garden schedule this year. I get to see my little pole beans (the girls) growing and I love that so much is continuing on its own without my intervention. 

Here are some of the latest garden photos – enjoy!

 

RutabagaRadish seed pods - they're edible!Beets about to flowerUFO - haven't identified this moth yetBeet harvestGolden beetSliced beets ready for roastingOur local greenhouseEmpress Wu hostas (giant!) and a surprise sunflowerMore pruning resultsPruning resultsHerb haul + marigolds

 

Coming up:

Sunday: Knit Together – Psalm 139

Leave a comment