Crystal Palace Blue Lobelia

Recommended: ‘Crystal Palace’ Blue Lobelia. I love this little annual flower. I had started growing it back around 1996 or ’97. At that time I used it as an edging to a flower bed and was very pleased with the deep electric blue effect of the tiny flowers on low cushions of foliage.

In a pot, they have a billowing effect and a fine, small-leafed texture that contrasts well/ complements plants with larger leaves. But I like to grow it out all by itself in several pots scattered around the yard in Summer, in places where they can be appreciated up close. Not a good plant for curbside or for being viewed at a distance; their form and color disappear in the landscape.

I am sowing some seeds of this right now, as the plants have become scarce in greenhouses lately. The seeds are as fine as dust and need to be sowed in groups of a few to each cell, on the surface of damp soil and lightly pressed in. If you accidentally drop too many into one section, the extra seedlings can be pricked out or replanted elsewhere after they germinate. No special care is required after they are up and growing.


This tone of blue dazzles all by itself, but mixing several cultivars of blue lobelia together in one larger pot or bed creates a lovely rich effect, particularly if you choose to mix it with some of the (really pretty!) sky blue tones available and perhaps one of the crisp white varieties to add a little sparkle here and there.

Nice flower, easy to grow out from seed and to care for, and one packet gets you hundreds of plants. Winner!

Seed starting. Booyah.

I love ‘wintersowing,’ in which seeds are sown in little mini-greenhouses and placed outside in Winter to sprout in their own time and do as they will over the cold months. This method has produced really sturdy Spring seedlings for me in the past, but last year it didn’t work out.

I planted a bunch of seeds outside in milk jug greenhouses in January that all germinated in an uncharacteristically mild February. Then they all got killed in an uncharacteristically bitter March. Other years it worked out fine but last year was annoying. So I’m starting some plants indoors again. Just things that are tricky to time with normal outdoor or Wintersowing. Artichokes, tomatoes, onions, and leeks. That’s it. Pretty much.

We’ll see.

Gardening addicts can’t ever be sure we’re done.

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Autumn, Pre-frost

It’s almost November, and no frost yet in my part of New England. This is pretty rare. I’ve already torn down the tomato vines and plopped them on the compost pile. Though they were covered with fruit, they got late blight and weren’t so appetizing.

I am taking down the garden in manageable stages, reinjuring my shoulder tendinitis a little each time. But it’s going to be gradual, anyway, as I planted lots of things in there  that will still grow and even improve through some frost.

So I’m just taking down the stuff that is about to get killed anyway, and I’m using them as topping on my perpetual mulched beds project. This mulching business has saved me from so much watering and weeding, I just can’t even.

I took down some of the nasturtium vines that grew up the fence and flowered all Summer. These got piled on top of the beds that I will garden first early next Spring. I selected these beds for mulch only (no cover crops) because they are on the side of the garden that gets a lot of sun in early Spring. This way I don’t have to wait until a cover crop dies in order to get in there and start planting. I can just make planting holes in the mulch.

tower and nasturtiums

The pole bean tower is in the background, with swiss chard on the right. That little 3’x3′ bed of beans gave me bags and bags to eat, freeze, and share. There’s still more coming!


I am sooooo sick of picking these.

The nasturtiums really prospered and gave me lots of organic matter for the price of a pack of seeds. And I don’t think I’ll have to replant them next year. Their seeds litter the ground like gravel, inside and outside the garden.


In other parts of the garden I planted rye, and I still have one last rotty bale of horse hay out of the 25 or so that I got from a horse lady for free. That hay has been a blessing to my garden for two years. Sad to be done with it all, but I’m going to try to use cover crops and as many autumn leaves and my own garden trimmings to keep the beds covered as I can.

The big Lutz beets are still there, too. No telling if they’re woody or not, but I’m just going to make kvass out of them anyway, instead of baking them. I have a younger second crop right now that is making lovely small beets for tender eating. All of these will get pulled up and stored on the porch to save them from the freeze, whenever it comes.



I think I have about twenty of these things. That’s a lot of kvass.

See the perlite in the soil? I dumped my old potting soil on the ground last year. I won’t be doing THAT again! This bed turned out okay, but another one nearby got lots and lots of that old peat and perlite mix, and was nearly useless for veggies, seeming to actually parch the topsoil. It’s strange, because it works so great in pots. But unless you’re using it to loosen the ground for a new lawn, I would advise against mixing peat in your soil. YMMV.

Walking around in there this morning, I discovered an unexpected treat from an old mixed lettuce bed that I ignored and let go to seed; a single gorgeous new romaine.


Aw yeah. Come to mama.

Carin’s horseradish got chewed to lace by a late attack of cabbage worms but we had such a splendid growing season overall, I bet there’s some nice roots forming in there anyway. These plants live in a raised-bed jail that I made out of garden timbers, or else they’d be invading the rest of the garden. After a few wicked frosts ripen them, I’ll be tearing into them looking for fatties to grate up into sauce.


Welp, that’s pretty much it. Summer stuff is done, and in about a month it will be time to go out there and pluck the last goodness out of the place before the ground closes. Turnips, beets, carrots, chard. Maybe some brussels sprouts, but they will stand through most of the Winter and don’t need to be brought in.

Like the beets, the big pot of daikon radishes can stay outside until a bad freeze, but then will be brought into the enclosed cold porch, along with all my potted artichokes and perennials that I’m saving for a new front yard flower bed next Spring. It’s a cozy feeling, having a little larder of good eating right at hand, when it’s snowing outside.

Spring bed prep for no-till garden

So last Fall I sowed a few beds with winter rye and mulched others just with rotten hay. The mulched beds remained in good condition over Winter. Just a quick layer of last Fall’s saved leaf compost, and I have started planting my early Spring crops in them. Peas, shallots, mustard, bok choi, that sort of thing. Frost-tolerant. The average last frost is about May 15th in my region.

Where my cold frame stood over the Winter, the mustards survived and are making big leaves for sandwiches right now. I can expect them to bolt soon, however. Bok choi died. The lettuces I sowed did not do well, only a few came up. But one cold frame resident did very well. A small patch of Claytonia. It is a cold-loving annual salad green with a thick, tender-crunchy leaf and a mild lettuce-y flavor. It is strictly a Winter/Spring item and will be rotated out when the heat hits.


Quite succulent. You just grab a handful and twist. Eat the little flowers, too. It’s all good. Especially at the end of Winter when you’re craving those fresh garden greens!

After cutting, the rye grass covered beds will need time to mellow and will be reserved for things planted around Memorial Day or later.

We cut down the rye grass yesterday and I started piling on rotted hay. We are having about 14 hours of daylight now in the season, so the rye is not supposed to resprout after cutting. We’ll see. This is part of the back bed which has been struggling with fertility issues.

cut rye

My hay is REALLY rotting away now. One of the bales was basically humus in the middle. I need to start piling it really high on all the beds and also store some of the drier bales someplace where they won’t get wet anymore.

I’m interested in seeing how long it really takes for these rye beds to be good for planting in. Rye residue is supposed to have an allelopathic effect on subsequent crops planted too soon. However, the best potatoes I’ve ever grown have been started on freshly turned rye sod. Like, I chopped the rye down, turned over the rye sod, and immediately put seed potatoes under the sod clumps. Always an excellent crop this way.

Anyway. Keep you posted.

Forcing Tulip Bulbs on Accident

So, I bought a couple big bags of short single early tulip bulbs last fall, for forcing and giving away as blooming gifts in Winter. I stored them in the crisper drawer of my fridge to help give them their chill requirement in advance.

But when I was supposed to take them out, pot them up and give them away as holiday gifts, I totally spaced, forgot about them.

When I finally remembered, they had long yellow growth spikes coming out the tops. I took them out of the fridge a coupletree weeks ago and tucked them into a giant outdoor pot that was still full of old potting soil from last year. It was actually my old daikon radish pot from last Fall.

The tulips grew quickly, and when I looked outside the first ones up were blooming this morning.


Such a welcome sight. Did not expect this to work. They had zero roots when I smooshed them into the pot, which was still a little frozen in the middle. I have no idea if they ever grew roots or if this growth is all just from stored bulb energy.

Of course, that’s just one variety. If I recall correctly there were three different colors in there. But the only ones up so far are the nearly wild species bulbs. Hm.

Tempted to dig around in the pot to see what’s going on. But there’s not always sense in destroying a thing just to see how it works. I might be able to find out just by googling.

Vegetable Seed Soaking/ Presprouting

The seeds of some common garden vegetables are known to be difficult to germinate. They frequently fail completely, or take so long to emerge that the crop is a useless waste of space.

Many of these items are in the Umbelliferae family, such as carrots, parsley, fennel, and celery/ celeriac.

Others are commonly among the Chenopods: Chard*, beets*, and spinach.

Pre-sprouting these seeds in water saves a lot of time and effort, as well as space in the garden.

A few days before their normal outdoor sowing date, soak the seeds overnight in a jar of water. The next day, drain the water, and place the seeds on a damp paper towel. Roll it up, place in a plastic bag, and let the damp roll sit for a few days at room temperature. Check the seeds twice a day.

As soon as you see any signs of life on half the seeds, such as tiny rootlets, sow the bitty plants into their row in the garden as you would normally have done seeds. If it’s too early for them to go outside, sow them into flats or sixpacks.


*Chard and beets sprout from hard fruit cases containing three seeds each. Ordinarily you would pinch out two seedlings from each trio after germination, leaving the third to grow on. By pre-sprouting, quite often you are able to separate the seedlings from the case and get many more beets/ chard out of one sowing.

Fall Goodies, Winter Prep

Butternuts, Delicata, and Tromboncino squashes are ripened and have been curing in the bay window sunlight for a couple weeks now. Having them there, just that abundance in eyeshot, is such a good satisfying feeling, it’s hard to describe.

The cucumbers have long since come down, and their patch of dirt oversown with Winter Rye. The tomatoes lingered on but were finally done in (mostly) last night with a sharp frost. I’ll be taking them down tomorrow and doing some gleaning. Still some salad toms alive in there, I saw today. So, maybe one more week of fresh garden tomatoes in my meals, until next year.

Fortunately, back in late July and early August, I sowed some Fall crops that do not care about frost. Like bok choi and Japanese turnips and golden ball turnips. The bok choi are actually getting a little long in the tooth, while the turnips are just starting to size up. I’m craving greens, so these don’t have long to live. Mwaaa ha ha aaa.


Then there are these lovelies.


On the left, an immature brussels sprouts seedling. On the right, a red Japanese mustard. The mustards will be picked all Fall to be used mainly as a spicy wrapper for meat. They taste a lot like horseradish. The mustards will eventually be winter-killed. Except for the ones in the cold frame, which haven’t been touched yet (and won’t be until later in Winter when the garden is barren).

The brussels sprouts seedlings- I planted a dozen or so of them throughout the garden- will sit there all Winter long, looking miserable. Then in early Spring, when nothing else is happening in the garden, they will grow a massive trunk and begin pumping out hundreds of delicious tender flower shoots. I normally do this same process with hardy kale plants, but last Spring discovered by accident that brussels sprouts (planted ‘too late’ in the prior Summer) make even more delicious flower shoots than kale does.

Spring is nice, but it’s downright wonderful when you plan ahead to have extra-nice things then. Otherwise it’s barely worth the effort to live through the motherfucking Winter. If we  can be honest, here. Not that I’m living through Winter just for gourmet vegetables. But just that it adds to the whole Spring thing that gets our rocks off every year.

The potted Daikon radish were a stumble-y learning process. After heavily thinning a forest of seedlings a couple of times, I got the total number of plants down to five evenly spaced nice specimens in one pot about 20 inches wide by 24 inches deep.

The potted daikons did much better than the ones sown in the garden proper. They grew fast and plowed through the enriched potting soil, and are rising up out of it like radish towers. The ones planted in the regular garden are looking like they’re having trouble making a decent root in that heavy clay. So from now on, my Daikon go in pots, or maybe very tall raised beds filled with looser media than my native soil.

Daikon Radish in a pot

Straw has been shoved into this pot about five inches deep to insulate the crowns from any real bad freezes.

I have picked two 2″ x 12″ Daikons in the past week. They were the smaller ones. The three that remain are thicker at the head and still enlarging. I’d like to see how big they get! I filled the top of the pot with hay to help keep the exposed radish heads out of the drying wind.

Since they’re not truly winter hardy, I’ll drag this pot up onto the enclosed unheated porch when it gets really cold out, just to keep them in good pickable shape longer. A root cellar is really the more ideal environment for this sort of thing, but I don’t have a root cellar. I have a porch.

The porch is not ideal, but it’s what I’ve got.

The porch is already housing artichokes, lavenders, and potted strawberries. Some are parked in this cheap plastic four-shelf greenhouse thing. I took the top shelf out because the artichoke seedlings are very tall. Hope they make it through the Winter. Never tried to overwinter them this way before but have a good feeling about it.


Found it hard to say goodbye to these tall, bright Dahlias that sweet Nancy gave me. So they got rescued too.


They look nice on the porch and I’m not ready to see them get killed by the cold just yet. There’s a rosemary and some other things on the porch too. More pots will be dragged in as the weather changes. Parsley. Cannas. Onions. By midwinter there’s quite a menagerie out there.

When Spring comes, I happily evict everybody. But right now, this is cozy.

Hugelkultur Pumpkin Mound

So I’ve got a big front yard area with some young-ish woods.  I want to push the woodline back a bit and get some utility out of the area, but it’s pretty far from my well.  So, to kill many bird with one stone, I built a hugelkultur mound.  First, I chopped down all the small trees and made a big pile, then mostly buried them under about 3 tons of pasture soil we’d had hilled up by a Bobcat, rich in manure and composted hay.

After that, I planted – overplanted, really – 180 jarrahdale pumpkin seeds in the mound and watered them in for a week or so with hand-carried water from the well.


After that, I scythed the weeds around the mound a couple of times, but I mostly left it alone.  After a few months of neglect, it looked like this:


From the south:


Even had one vine grow up the oak tree (fruit fell when it got too heavy, survived the fall!):


Today, just before harvest, it looks like this:


Typical ripe fruit:


I’m a short-fingered vulgarian, but here’s a size reference (wrist to middle fingertip: 7″):


Now, I probably could have done a lot better on numbers if I’d made a series of smaller mounds and spread them out a bit, but I’m calling this a success.  I’ve got about 2 dozen full-size, ripe fruit out there with almost no work after the 30 hours or so of building the mound.

Update on Daikon Radish in Big Pot

One: Daikon in pot growing much much faster than the ones in the ground.

Two: The thinnings (just the green tops), when simmered in a little water with garlic and butter for about half an hour, are still as tough as a boiled catcher’s mitt.

Forget about it. If knotted together, they would make an excellent twine.

Wait for the roots to grow in Fall.