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Cheating Your Zone

March 31st, 2011

It’s always sad when you find a plant you want to grow but it’s not hardy to your Northern climate (I’m sure it’s equally frustrating for you Southern gardeners who can’t grow plants that need chill hours). There are ways that you can cheat an extra zone or two with a few techniques like planting on a south facing slope, covering with mulch and protecting plants with styrofoam cones, or burlap. Another great way is to surround plants with rocks. The rocks will absorb heat from the sun and then radiate that heat to keep the plant warmer. It creates a microclimate that helps plants survive in a climate a little out of their zone.

I have this beautiful Mediterranean Pink Heather growing on my front hillside. It’s technically not hardy in my zone 5 as it’s a zone 6-7. I have a few that hrive on my front hillside which faces south and that are surrounded by very large rocks. I never really thought about this until I planted a few in the back garden which are struggling. Then I realized that they aren’t on a south facing slope and they’re not surrounded by large rocks, I’ll have to move a few that survived. One year I had a black eyed Susan vine survive in my front flowerbed, most likely because of the heavy layer of mulch and it was under a rock because these are a zone 10-11.

Do you ever cheat the seasons with rocks, south facing slopes, mulch, or other forms of protection?

Cold Frame or Cat Sauna?

March 30th, 2011

A few years ago Mr Chiots and I built a cold frame for the garden. It’s really nice, but it doesn’t face south, so it doesn’t get as much sun as it should. But shade loving crops like lettuces overwinter well in it. I also use it for overwintering cuttings and plants I’m trying to propagate. This winter it housed some boxwood cuttings along with some lettuce and spinach.

My cold frame has a very convenient automatic cold frame hinge that opens when it’s warm to keep it from overheating. This is a great feature, I’d highly recommend getting one if you have a cold frame. I like that I don’t have to worry about monitoring the temperature, which is especially nice when I’m not home on a warm day!

I noticed yesterday when I went out that Miss Mama was sleeping in the cold frame. I guess when the lid pops open she heads in there to take a nap. I got a good chuckle out of that, it’s like her own little spa in there. I bet it feels really nice on these cold 30 degree days to sit inside a sunny 75 degree humid cold frame!

Do you have a cold frame, does is have an auto hinge? Do your outdoor animals bring you comic relief?

Looks Like We Don’t Have To Worry About Vampires

March 29th, 2011

The garlic that I planted last fall is looking great this spring. I’m interested to see how the different varieties grow and the difference between the ones that were soaked previous to planting and the ones that weren’t. I love doing experiments to see if all those extra tips are really worth the time and effort.

Yesterday afternoon I gave the garlic and shallots beds a watering with some Neptune’s Harvest (which I purchase by the 5 gallon bucket) to give them a nice boost of nutrients for spring growth. I find that this product works wonders for growing healthy plants, especially for those of us with really lean soil.

Next week I’ll be scraping back the mulch and adding some bone meal to the top of the soil then reapplying the mulch. I’ll apply more bone meal in early May, this will help the garlic develop larger bulbs since mine tend to be on the small side they need a good amount of phosphorus. One thing I love about growing garlic in the garden is the flavor, it’s so much better than the storebought bulbs. I also love the variety that you can grow. Mr Chiots and I eat a lot of garlic as we love the flavor and the health benefits it provides. (for all varieties I’m growing and planting info read this post). It looks like we’ll be vampire free for another year thanks to the lovely garlic that overwintered so well!

Are a lover of fresh garlic? Do you grow any in your garden?

Every Little Bit Helps

March 28th, 2011

It’s that time of the year again when the watering cans come out. We typically get enough rain to keep all the in ground beds nicely watered in the spring, but the cold frame and the raised beds that are covered with plastic need to be watered occasionally. Whenever I rinse lettuce or vegetables I do it in a big bowl. Then I dump the water into a watering can I keep by the back door (sometimes the water goes right on one of the hydrangeas by the front porch). There’s always a little bit of soil in the water and I don’t want that to go down the drain.

Soil is our most valuable natural resource without it we couldn’t survive. I don’t want to waste a bit of it, even that teaspoon or two that’s on the vegetables when I bring them inside. I’m hoping to someday set up an outdoor sink that drains into a flowerbed, that way I can rinse all my homegrown veggies right outside. Until then, I’ll keep a watering can by the back door.

Do you save any gray water for your garden?

Quote of the Day: Saint Ignatius

March 27th, 2011

There is nothing simpler, nor more beautiful, than a kitchen garden. It is not enough to cultivate vegetables with care. You have the duty to arrange them according to their colors, and to frame them with flowers, so they appear like a well laid table.”

St. Ignatius (found in Creative Vegetable Gardening)

I have always found traditional rowed vegetable gardens to be quite lovely. There’s just something about those neat straight rows, as if all the vegetables are soldiers in uniform lining up. Spending some of my childhood in rural Ohio, this is the kind of vegetable garden I was exposed to (and the kind we cultivated in our back yard). In these kinds of gardens, the main focus is food production. Little thought is given to the beauty of the plants. That’s what makes these gardens so lovely, they’re utilitarian, yet there’s something so wonderfully beautiful about the orderliness of them.

As I started adding more and more vegetables to my garden I started reading a lot of books about traditional cottage vegetable gardens and European potagers. In these types of gardens often form and beauty were the main goal and vegetables were used to achieve this goal. Now that I have a nice space to put in a large edible garden, I’m trying to decide what kind of garden I’m going to grow. While I love the traditional rural rowed garden, I’m leaning toward a more formal potager with espaliered fruit trees, beech and hawthorne hedges and hopefully a greenhouse. I’m going to dedicate a portion of it as a Winter Potager to bring beauty and vegetables during the cold winter months. This also helps with garden planning, I won’t have to worry as much about when summer crops are harvested, I’ll have dedicated space for winter. That also means that the other other areas can be planted in cover crops for overwintering to help improve the soil.
Potager Inspiration
Here’s the photo that I’m going to draw inspiration from for my new garden design. Of course there’s still lots of work to do since the lot is covered in saplings and a few large trees, but hopefully in 5 years my garden will be this lovely. If you want to see a larger size of the image above: click on the image to go to my Flickr.

What kind of vegetable garden do you have? What kind do you dream of having?

Books I’m referencing for design ideas and for incorporating permaculture elements in my garden:
Gaia’s Garden, Second Edition: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture
Cottage Garden (DK Living)
Creative Vegetable Gardening
Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager Handbook
Smith & Hawken Garden Structures
The Wild Garden: Expanded Edition
Fences and Hedges: And Other Garden Dividers (Step-By-Step Project Workbook)


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.