Refocusing for 2020

Sometimes, I get wrapped up in sharing so much about my garden,  that I forget some of my other plans for this project.  Beautiful flowers and plants are just so dang distracting! I’ve shared a lot of my garden already, but I have more plans for the other side of my “Grow Your Roots” project, family history.

Last year was quite a reality check for the complexity of my project. There are so many factors that go into growing and writing about a heritage garden that it easily overwhelmed me. I also felt I spent so much time working on weeds, at my real life job, and strict genealogy, that I missed out on some of the more fun and probably more interesting aspects of this project (the  journey and experience).

I want to share the excitement of finding new information about my ancestors and finding their homesteads (or whatever is there now). I also want to embrace the travel aspect of it. While visiting my grand-father’s likely birth place was amazing, I missed the chance to experience more of the area and culture. While it is obviously different from the culture of 1915, spending time in the area can teach me about the landscape, people, and history of that place.

One of my core beliefs about history in general is that if you can find a way to personally connect to a historical figure, event, or place, history becomes much more important to you. While I have a degree in US History, I will admit much of it just went in one ear and out the other, aside for some cool bits of trivia. It wasn’t until I started researching my genealogy that history really became important to me.

Two examples of this are inspired by one ancestor. John Finley. Oh, is he a thorn in my side. But I have to give him credit for sparking my interest in the War of 1812 and the pioneer history of Illinois. I had really never given much thought to either topic, until researching him. Through that one ancestor so much history has come to life and I gained deeper appreciation for a state I previously only grumbled about.

So this year, in my quest to find ancestral homes and plants. I want to stop, take in everything about the place, and really dive into that moment and all the history that has lead up to it.

Plus,  tracking down the actual plants and flowers, is much more difficult than I originally expected.  Even if I don’t come home with a cool plant, an experience is worth it. And I can find an appropriate plant to honor my ancestors that will live in Zone 4!

A Look Back on 2019’s Big Garden Plans

Now that I am wiping away the failures of 2019 and looking towards the opportunities of 2020, I’m ready to start planning.

Do you remember my big plans for the garden last year? I wrote about them in 2019 Garden Plans. Here’s the list of plans and notes about what was accomplished:

  • Create a “holding bed” with good soil and good drainage while better permanent beds are made (this actually turned into my herb garden while my iris just hung out in buckets for while. oops)

     

  • Paint my existing shed, add better shelves inside (HURRAY! I DID THIS! And I organized it!)
  • Move plants from the “Big Bed” to holding bed, and dismantle “Big Bed” (We kept the Big Bed. I like it. It’s there. It would be a lot to move it. We did amend the soil though and I replanted my iris collection there)
  • Replace the Big Bed with space/pad for new shed (coming in 2020?) and two new 8×8 square beds flanking each side (Hahahaha. None of this happened, but I do have hopes for a new shed…some day)
  • Replace existing raised beds with better quality materials, refreshed soil, and good drainage (I did take out the beds, and removed a lot of the rubble at the bottom, but we never got around to rebuilding them)
  • Add two large 8×15 spaces with landscape timbers and mulch as pads for my grow bags (Nope. didn’t happen. I marked them out. Put landscape fabric down in one area. This is still on the list)
  • Add large row for cut flowers in front of the garden (HEY! I did this too. It definitely still needs some work…and to be widened a bit.)
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    Left to right: the new flower row, grow bags on weed barrier, dismantled raised beds, and the Big Bed before it’s makeover!

  • The most expensive but the most important addition will be the privacy fence. It will probably the big project of the year (We got an estimate which was so far out of our budget that we had to rethink the whole thing. I’m thinking hedges.)
  • Pour cement for new patio slab (this is all Todd) (The ground is sort of prepped, aka we have a huge section of cut out yard making walking out the back really interesting)
  • Extend and clean up the rock area along the backside of the house (I don’t even remember this plan. But we do still need to work on cleaning up this area)

What Now? I’m making a new list. For sure.

Here are few extra pictures from the 2019 season including our house’s new paint!:

Falling off the Map

Hello? So much for my posting goals of 2019. What happened? Well, I never did hear back from the current owners of the Hall Homestead (or if they emailed me it was lost in the infinite, junk mail folder). We had a huge storm in July that dropped branches over most of our yard, including my iris bed. The bed was mostly cleared out except for some special iris I didn’t want out of the ground for long. The tree, of course, fell right over that section. Thankfully, everything made it and by the end of the summer I had over 20 wheel barrows full of sandy soil added to the notoriously winter-flood prone bed. All the iris were replanted by the end of August. Hopefully, they’ll make it. This turned out to be the BIG project of the year. 

My grow-bags were, once again, a success. This year in general wasn’t the greatest garden year. Lots of rain and cool weather kept most of my veggies from producing at the top of their game. It also kept my motivation at bay. It seemed every day I had off was raining. My flowers did pretty well though, as well as the new space created this spring.

The summer and fall turned out much different than I expected. I ended up putting in many more hours at work than originally planned (I work in soul-sucking retail). In January, I hope things slow down, so I have a chance to reevaluate what was accomplished in 2019, what was successful, and what I want to attempt next.

I already have big plans for 2020, of course. 2019 was overall, more successful than 2018. Moving forward, no matter how slow, is all that matters. Did I accomplish everything I planned? Not even 10%. My goal for 2020? I hope to accomplish 15% of my plans. Small steps.

I do have many ideas and plans. I hope some of them come to fruition. I also hope I can keep motivation to share the journey!

Good Bye, 2019. Hello, 2020.

Grow Bags, Again!

Last year, I grew my tomatoes and peppers in two different types of grow bags. The tomatoes were grown in 5 gallon felt bags, and the peppers in 5 gallon plastic grow bags. It was a huge success. Below is a couple of picture of my set up…

I used Pro-Mix All-Purpose Mix as my main planting medium. You can buy it in 2 cubic foot compressed bales that expand to around 4 cubic feet. It was the first year I tried the mix after spending some time trying to find an economical, but good quality potting mix for my containers. Previously, I used Ferti-lome and Black Gold Organic, both of which I love, but didn’t want to use for this project. I’ve started using Pro-Mix for everything I pot! For each bale of Pro-Mix, I added 1-2 bags of .75 cubic foot composted cow manure. I did add some granulated slow feed fertilizer, but I can’t remember what I used! This year, I used Jobe’s Vegetable and Tomato Food. I planted up my seedlings with all of the tomatoes in the felt bags, and most of the peppers in the plastic grow bags. I set them out in the lawn where I liked them and drove my stakes into the ground next to the tomatoes that would need it. I also topped my bags off with a layer of mulch (just leftover clearance stuff I had around).

While I did need to water more often, I had no blight and no weeds. All of my tomatoes produced well and the peppers did especially well. We have a short growing season and some times cooler temps, I think the addition of the black containers helped add some heat to the soil.  I fertilized with a water soluble fertilizer once a week. I’m not too picky about fertilizer. I’ve tried everything from expensive organic varieties to just Schultz. I’ve had good luck with all of them. Eventually, I hope to settle on Espoma or AlgoPlus. Espoma is easier to find and typically my go-to choice for any fertilizer I use, but AlgoPlus makes an amazing product too!

Here are links to what I used to grow my tomatoes and peppers last year and again this year. The grow bags specific grow bag are unavailable, but there are plenty of other sellers, just check reviews!:

I planted out much later this year because of our unseasonably cold spring. I like to push it and plant out Mother’s Day weekend, this year it wasn’t until Memorial Day weekend. Things are looking good though! This year I put down weed barrier so I don’t have to try to mow around the bags. Eventually we will put a border and some mulch down. I haven’t set stakes yet either, I will when I need to. My current water soluble fertilizer is Schultz Tomato…it was on sale.  Here’s how things are looking today:

 

What to Read: Some of My Favorite Garden Books

I have been pretty lucky to score a number of great gardening books from local books sales and Goodwill. I also have a nice long list of books on my Amazon Wish List (especially more related to historical gardens). Some I pickup just by chance, others I find out about through magazines, blogs, and from suggestions of friends! I am always excited to hear about a great garden book, especially if it involves history, iris, or is just really well written.

Here’s a few of what’s currently on my bookshelf:

  1. Epic Tomatoesby Craig LeHoullier: Reason to love it? If you have ever tried and loved a Cherokee Purple Tomato, you better be thanking Craig. The book highlights some great tomato varieties, troubleshooting, and was my inspiration for trying grow bags. I’ve followed Craig’s tips on growing tomatoes in containers and I’m hooked!
  2. Founding Gardeners, by Anderea Wulf: This was the first book I read of hers and I can’t wait to read more. It’s an interesting and engaging look at some of our founding fathers’ obsessions with horticulture. I most loved references to era contemporary books and the amazing Bartram’s Garden.
  3. Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener, by Joseph Tyconievich: I am all about historic plants, but the idea of creating my own cultivar to pass down is pretty exciting. All these heritage flowers we collect started somewhere. Being a ‘blooming heirloom has to start somewhere, why not with you or me? This book inspired me to try ‘selecting’ pansies…um…it didn’t work out. I do still have a dream to create my own iris or tomato. This is the book I’ll be using for guidance.
  4. The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives, by Stephen Buchmann: A great quick reference for all the cultural history and significance of flowers. It touches everything from prehistory, pollinators, fads across the world, and cultural practices that use flowers.

  5. A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts, by Kelly Norris: I feel like this is a must have book for any Midwest iris gardener. Kelly is based out of Des Moines, Iowa which means he has first hand knowledge of the wackiness that is Midwest weather. His love of iris began with his grandmother’s garden, and he’s an experienced and active iris breeder. Best bit of the book? The TENACIOUS tip to go ahead and dump a little straight bleach on iris rhizomes showing signs of rot. I credit this tip, and the tenacity to do it, for saving many of my iris this past spring.

  6. Plants with Style, by Kelly Norris: If you live in the Midwest and are looking for some fresh perennial ideas, this book is great. I happened to get at Goodwill for $4 and enjoyed the suggestions.
  7. Projects for Small Gardens: 56 Projects With Step-by-step Instruction,  by Richard Bird and George Carter: I picked up a slightly older, spiral-bound version of the one in the link, at Goodwill for a couple of dollars. It is awesome. There are specific plans for a lot of cool containers, fences, and raised beds. There are even suggestions on what to plant. I haven’t had a chance to build anything yet, but I do have at least 3 projects picked out!

  8. The Well-Designed Mixed Garden, by Tracy Disabato-Aust: I have a couple of her books, but what I like about this one are the illustrations and plant lists. She provides some great plant descriptions, including a lot hardy down to zone 3 (so important Northern gardeners, like myself). Lots of plans to take into consideration too.
  9. The Big Book of Garden Design, by Time Life Books: a little older, but worth it. Principles of garden design and different styles are presented, then tons of different layouts. There are a few that don’t work for my zone, but plenty of alternative planting options are given. A great source for landscaping ideas.
  10. Wildflowers of Wisconsin, by Stan Tekiela: I like to take country drives to look for patches of flowers left over from old homesteads, and to admire gorgeous gardens in general. I also love seeing the wildflowers. It helps being able to look them up to see if they may be something leftover from settlement or wild! Plus, I’m just a flower nut, so I like to know what I’m seeing.

I would love to read up more on historic gardening and design! One thing I find really interesting is the hunt for books that are relevant to my zone. I live in Zone 4B and sometimes the choices are slim or redundant. I love reading up about pioneers of the past and those pioneering our plant future too! What’s on your bookshelf?