Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Myth of the "Green Thumb"

I get so frustrated when I talk to people about plants and they tell me they "Can't grow anything", or they "Don't have a green thumb". No such thing as a 'green thumb', the best ones are permanently stained, rough and calloused. If I get a further chance to talk to those people, I tell them they they have to kill things to learn how to grow them - and believe me I have killed off just about every living plant variety I've ever grown in some way or another.

People expect plants to be at their best at all times - well, people aren't, so why should the plants be? Often in a commercial greenhouse you don't see the back room or the dump pile where all the sick and dead bodies go. Most commercial growers worth their salt will realize when a plant is 'beyond the pale' and give it the heave-ho. Most "gardeners" I know will nurse along sickly things in their garden, hoping for them to burst forth with life and bloom again. I remember Dad - the gardener I modeled myself on - would babysit small sticks of shrubs hoping for a renewal. Sometimes it worked, most of the time the shrubs would just peter out and die for one reason or another.

Sickly plants attract insects, in general, healthy plants don't. It just seems to be the way of nature to put the limping plants out of their misery. So the key to a green thumb is to get plants that are healthy and growing well in the first place, not the cast offs at the end of the season. Unless you have a specific reason for populating your yard with the cheap, cast-offs, I'd recommend getting the good stuff.

However to have a green thumb - one must know what the "good stuff" is. Sometimes commercial growers - I've found, especially of perennials - will 'push' plants real hard to put on lots of foliage and bloom. What you wind up with is a babied plant in a different mix from your soil that will go home with you, suffer less than consummate care from you and collapse in your garden. Good, green-thumbed gardeners know that one should buy perennials when they are green as they will multiply much more rapidly in the garden. When perennials are in bloom and bud, they are thinking about making flowers and seeds and not very interested in making a home anywhere other than the rich potting mix that they've been in.

Water can be the key to a green thumb. Figure out whether you are a generous waterer or a spare waterer before you invest in houseplants. You can select a peace lily if you tend to drown things or a mother in law's tongue if you forget for weeks. In turn, a greenthumber knows his or her soil type and knows if it is heavy and wet or dry and sandy and ideally selects plants that are adapted to that particular soil. I once offed an entire small orchard by planting trees low in a heavy clay soil. Every one of them sat too wet and died. Lost all my money - they wouldn't be replaced because I had made the mistake and they didn't die until a year later. I have planted many orchard trees since - some flourished, some didn't. Have one spot in my yard I tried for years to get a plum tree to take...never did, so I gave up on a plum for that area and cut the other pollinator plum down as it wasn't bearing any fruit. I also just sacrificed a pretty apricot that had been with me maybe 15 years - no fruit, it doesn't earn a space in my garden.

Right Plant, Right Place is often the key to a green-thumb. In the garden, select plants that are adapted there. Just because rhododrendrons are beautiful in New England, doesn't mean they'll grow well at your humble estate. Even if the climate seems right - we go back to soil - is it a high pH or a low pH? You really need to know this stuff to become a green-thumber.

There's lots you need to know to help plants grow and thrive. Much of it, I think, used to be intuitive and we learned it at our mother or father's knee. Now as people become so removed from the natural landscape, they frustrate so easily if they kill a couple of plants. Green-thumbers always learn from their mistakes. I killed an orchid so quickly in the house I am in right now, I am leery of growing orchids. My brother seems to have a natural affinity for the couple of orchids he cares for and, without much input from him, bloom readily year after year. His orchids could be cleaner, free of debris, and fertilized, but he waves me off as I tend to the other houseplants. He will pass by a drooped out peace lily without batting an eye or picking up a watering can - but he seems to have a knack for them and has learned about the few plants he does grow.

So the next time you see me and if you tell me you"don't have a green thumb"...I will tell you to go out and kill some plants, then learn from your mistakes. If you are too lazy to do that - well - that's just it isn't it?Some people have no interest in the critters that make it possible for humans to be on this planet. So for those of you in the various stages of a black or brown thumb - go pick up a new plant and observe it carefully, "google" it even, and you'll increase your knowledge and range of those plants you have a "green thumb" for.
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Joining Tootsie Time for her "Fertilizer Friday" roundup - check out her group of garden bloggers from around the world.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

January Picture Tour

The weather turned brutal this last week. Socked in on Sunday with 12-15" of snow, then Tuesday we fell victim to the "polar vortex" and had temperatures of -18F. My greenhouse fell way below freezing - to 22-25F and some plants suffered or bit the bullet. The Oakland County Greenhouses stayed warm and toasty this year and some folks are harvesting tomatoes and cucumbers. So, to balance it out, we lived through it, and today was a balmy 40+.

Did some harvesting at the Oakland County Greenhouse and transplanted and cleaned in mine. Have some chemical damage on a few plants at OC but that's my fault for failing to read the directions on the insecticidal soap label. Today I've got a picture tour for you of the two greenhouses, here goes:

AJ and I have been going to market on Saturdays at The Old Winery Farmers Market in Farmington and did quite well this week. I gave AJ two tables for produce and he did a great job setting it up and selling it. Lots of color and variety this week and hoping to have more next Saturday.

My little cyclamen plugs that were kind of a surprise in November are rooted in and starting to pop. They'll be doing their thing just in time for Valentine's Day. They're minis and in 3" pots. Am selling them for $3 each.


Beautiful bright reds.

Also have a few silver-leaved
cyclamen in pinks from last year that are blooming like gangbusters.

My Meyer Lemon is thinking about blooming, it's been lost in thought quite a long time now...

Have a bunch of herbs in my greenhouse and have been using a bit in the kitchen. They are in 3" and 4" pots, peppermint, thyme, rosemary and sage. The sage froze solid and the top leaves have gone limp. Don't know if it will perk up again or if I just have to wait for them to regrow.




The citronella scented geranium is pouting as it froze too and I had to cut it back severely today. Hoping with a bit of TLC and fertilizer it will push new, branchy growth so I can take cuttings in time for spring sales.

Meanwhile in the Oakland County Greenhouse, where I have the two community garden plots, the lime basil is finally big enough to take a harvest. Quite slow, this variety had a definite citrusy smell and has stayed little. I will be sowing large-leaved basil in some of the bare spots in this plot.

Yes, I KNOW that you should thin seedlings and I did not do that with these carrots. Today I just pulled up handfuls, some with baby carrots to feed to horse, Skipper.

Here's a longshot of bed #1. Have sown beans again on the stakes and have a lovely crop of beet greens in the center. All green, no beet. Hmmm. Don't know what the deal is.

Love Rainbow Chard, looks so great in a salad or just as an ornamental garden green.

More of the golden-stemmed chard.

Longshot of the baby greens growing up in bed #2.

Spinach Bloomsdale. I like this variety for it's vigor, but I don't know if it's the nutrients or what, but it seems to really curl downwards. It has been hit by aphids, but luckily they are becoming scarce at this point.

See the white spots. Chemical damage from too much insecticidal soap.

Here's the culprit. Quart bottle from the dollar store and I overdid the rate of the concentrate. Have thinned it since the damage showed up.

Baby Romaine 'Freckles' in the foreground and a Buttercrunch Bibb in the background.
Freckles has a really pretty maroon-speckled leaf.

Lettuce, some sad dill and spinach. The beds are 6x10', hard to reach in the center, but you sure can get a lot of production out of them.

Nasturtium 'Empress of India' - can't wait to see what color the blooms are. Supposed to be a red-orange. Really pretty leaves and quite different in form from the other greens. Spicy leaves are a great addition to salads or pesto.
Joining bloggers Tootsie Time for her roundup of gardens throughout the world and Carol of May Drams Garden for her Bloom Day . That's the tour for this warm day in January. Keep warm out there!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Flowers So Precious

This time of year, when the snow is piled high around us, I long to see some flower color and form. It's not even February and I'm getting tired of the white, grays and browns around me.

The Amaryllis so far have been a bust. I do have one that's starting to sprout on the kitchen table. We'll see what it does. These are last year's bulbs and I couldn't find any pots I had to put them into a larger-sized container, so they got popped into a similar-sized pot. I don't know if they have enough room to grow roots and be the beauties they were last year.

Didn't order paperwhites and bulbs for forcing - just didn't have the scratch when the time came to get them. Besides, I don't have the requirements, like a dedicated refrigerator, for forced bulbs and didn't have the patience to mess with them.

There is one plant I have great luck with as it likes to grow cool, so I've got a crop of miniatures in the greenhouse right now. Sorry for the wash-out from the flash, but these are my pretty pink cyclamen. If you look very hard you can see a bit of red in the background as well. The pinks are last year's crop, still loaded with upswept blooms. For a bright spot on a cold, January night, cyclamen really do the trick.

The greenhouse has been closed over the New Year's holiday and the aphids have exploded the last time I was there on Sunday. They are so hard to control unless you spray the insecticidal soap almost daily. The new seeds of the various greens are emerging, though and since I ripped it all out due to the aphids, I'll have to sow more arugula.

Just read the Organic Gardening magazines list of things to do in January for zone 6 and they say it is time to sow those long-germinating and teeny seeds. I can't believe it is time already. I have to get a propane heater for the big greenhouse so I can get started with seeding. I probably have over 200 varieties of flowers, herbs and veggies that I want to start!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Merry Christmas

The holiday season can stir up old memories and feelings of loss this time of year. The cold sinks in around us and it becomes hard to go out and enjoy nature. I hope those of you who read this can cherish your old childhood memories of the holidays and remember those who have gone with a fondness that sometimes only comes with the passing of time.

My family has shrunk to a few - just my brother and the three fur 'children'. But family can be extended to more than just blood relatives. Many people come to the realization that those they are not related to often love them more than their given family.

May all of you find the love in your heart with the spirit of the prophet Jesus and the mystical St. Nicholas, for giving to all those that you are close to. Random kindness to a stranger is always appreciated as well.

A Merry Christmas from Sage Advice Nursery.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Greens

Haven't posted in a while and you can see why...Nothing much happening at the nursery, we're snowed in. It got sooo cold for a spell, the big greenhouse at Vicki's went down to 10F. There was no way I could heat it with the little space heater and Vicki's goofy electrical system, so I shut it down. The only casualties will be the gerberas and the brugmansias I carefully tended from seed - just no room for either in the little greenhouse. So live and learn. Think I will try and invest in a vent-free propane heater for the bigger greenhouse - that should put out enough BTUs to heat the space.

Rain and freezing rain predicted for the next several days. Hoping the nursery stock doesn't thaw out - that's what takes its toll - repeated freezing and thawing. Not much I can do, but stand by and watch.

Meanwhile, the Oakland County Greenhouse beds are doing remarkably well. We've had a bit of trouble with aphids and my strategy is once a plant gets 'em - out it goes. I found from last year that it just doesn't pay to spray to get rid of them as their numbers explode so rapidly. Pulled all the kale and braising greens, plus the radishes as they were growing slowly and were heavily infested. Today the arugula crop hit the compost pile. I'll try for another batch of it come January. The greenhouse managers did spray neem oil this week in an attempt to get a handle on the buggers but they really can goof up a greenhouse.

Have been scouting my greenhouse to see if my plants are clean - so far, so good. Potted up windowsill herbs today - peppermint, rosemary and sage. Already have thyme, parsley and catnip in the greenhouse, but due to the cold, light levels and the fact that I haven't fertilized - the plants are sitting still. Maybe since Saturday is solstice we'll get some more daylight in the coming weeks and growth will resume again.

Hope you are surviving and even thriving this busy holiday season. May you have a peaceful Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

Nasturtium 'Alaska' bloom

Bed #1, the pole beans were removed after this pic was taken

Pretty colors of baby greens in bed #2

Just starting to harvest this bed, new seedlings in the dark soil

Pretty spinach crop - trying to keep it aphid free

Bull's Blood Beet greens - deep red

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

In the Dark

It was dark at 4:30 today and out of a gray sky fell a fine drizzle. Not weather conducive to working outside in the nursery, although I have to get out there and move and cut back plants.The dark days before winter solstice are upon us.

Have been working on two websites for two farmers markets. Am bartering website and publicity work for booth space. One market - The Old Winery Farmers Market - is going on now through April every Saturday. I'm selling produce, jams, baked goods, sprouting seeds and I hope to get some spices and teas bagged up for the weekend. The craziest thing I had last week were giant 3' long aloe leaves and I cooked up a couple of samples. I poached the aloe gel cubes in honey with a bit of lime and I must say they were quite good. The other market is the Garden Gate Market at Goldner Walsh nursery in Pontiac. This one is a brand new market starting in spring of 2014 where I'll also be selling produce. Since the market is at a nursery I can't sell the live plants.

The plants have taken a back seat of late. Ordered some herb liners to pot up as windowsill plants and I have a few things I am growing in the greenhouses. Kind of in a transition season. I hate to have heat on in the big greenhouse as there is so little in there, so I have to start filling it up. Will be starting another batch of edible greens in there ASAP.

The plants do very little growing this time of year. Reading up on winter growing, the authors have said that once daylight hours go below ten per day, the plants just kind of sit still. Many varieties of cold weather greens can tolerate the temperatures but don't have enough light to put on much growth. In the community greenhouse, plants are doing well as they were September and October sown but last year the greenhouse growth slowed to a crawl until February. The surprise crop for me are the green beans, long and ready to harvest right now.

The holiday season is here and I am gearing up to do baskets for friends and neighbors. Thank goodness for the dollar store and their myriad tins, baskets and bins. Packed right and with a few strategic bows, I should be able to make some nice gifts. Made a pineapple-ginger jam today, but that is destined for market.

I hope you are adjusting to these dark days as I am and that the holiday spirit is catching up to you. Not just that "gotta buy it now" attitude but one of peace and compassion for one's fellow travelers through life. May your days be merry and bright.