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?

Blooming Heirlooms: The Long Wait

It was June, 2017 when Todd and I went to Omaha to collect my grandmother’s flowers. This will be the first year any of them bloom. Collecting family heirlooms of the blooming variety can be frustrating. Of the many plants we collected, I would say maybe 1/3 survived to this point. Granted, I am still novice at this but we lost the lilacs, roses, and most of the peonies. The iris survived despite two winters of sitting under water and ice for several weeks at a time. There is also one chunk of peony that has refused to give up, batch of daylilies, and, one or two bits of hosta survive too!

 

This year, the iris have budded up! I have been watching as the neighbor kids hit balls into our yard. One definitely hit a bloom-stalk, but fortunately it didn’t break. Heavy storms were called for last night, so I clipped one boom stalk and brought it in. This morning, as I sit here typing this, I am looking at a big, white bloom on my Grandma Pete’s iris. It’s the first time since I was too little to care that I’ve seen them bloom.

That can be the daunting reality of collecting heritage plants. Sometimes, there is only once chance to collect and from that moment on, you are the keeper of that family heirloom. Unlike stashing photos away in climate-controlled closet, plants have a lot more environmental stress. The transplant can be stressful alone, aside from whatever weather mother nature wants to throw at you. Waiting for years for blooms can be tiring too. It is not an endeavor for anyone with little patience, that’s for sure!

As I sit here, overjoyed to see this one bloom, I think about how happy I will be to finally share some of my blooming heirlooms with family. All the time waiting and stressing about the plant, I’ve thought about how I want to share a pieces of it with all my family! I have some pretty cute ideas…but we will see how it turns out. That’s a plan for later this summer.

Thanks for the iris, Grandma!

Grandma Pete in 3322 Garden

Great Grandma’s Lilies of the Valley

If I remember correctly, the first time I thought or learned about heirloom flowers in my family, was when my mom told me her lilies-of-the-valley were originally from her grandmother’s house.  I have yet to figure out if they came from my Great Grandma Hanson or Great Grandma Petersen, but they grew at my Grandma Pete’s for years and I think several family members have splits from them. These will forever hold a special place with me as the first “blooming heirloom” passed along to me.

Many see these tiny white bells as an invasive, little weed. It creeps through fence lines and continues to pop up each spring despite all efforts to eradicate it.  Personally, I love them (they smell so good and are so pretty). Our house is no exception to the invaders. When we moved in, the entire back fence line had them growing, and there is a large patch along the back of the house too. I just mow them down after blooming.

When my mom gave me a clump of my great-grandmother’s Lilies-of-the-Valley from her yard, I had to figure out how I would keep them separate from the current patches. At the time, I worked for a garden center and had the chance to take home a large ceramic pot that had broken into a few pieces. I glued it back together and buried it about half way into one of my existing flower beds. So far, the pot has never heaved from the ground and the lilies haven’t spread from it. I will probably need to split them out more often to keep them healthy.

Each Spring they are sweet reminder of the generations of gardeners before me. I’m also a huge fan of partially buried pot! It gives a little bit of extra interest!

 

The Potato Ditch Iris

A couple of years ago, Todd and I had the chance to dig up potatoes at the farm next door to where I board my horse. The farm decided not to dig the potatoes on that parcel because there was too much debris in the field.  As it turns out, that particular part of the field used to have a house on it.

It was a blast. Not only did we dig up several buckets of red potatoes, we found all sorts of bits of the life that had been lived there before.  There was a lot of glass, pieces of dishes, door knobs, and I even found a little glass bottle intact.

I also found a big clump of iris growing in the ditch next to the field right next to where we parked our car. They had been mowed down and driven over during the growing and harvest season, but I dug up a bunch anyway. I labeled them “Potato Ditch Iris.”

It was already well into October, but I stuck them in the ground anyway. I guess the house had been torn down many years ago. I wondered how long it had been there. I started searching for any available plat maps online, and sure enough, I did find proof that there had been a house their for many years. I have overlaid a 1949 county plat with today’s satellite image. The red circle indicates the structure that used to stand there. It matches the area where we dug our potatoes!

1949 Overlay Potato Field

I’m not sure whether these iris ever grew around that house or if they were just wanderers that ended up next to that particular field. But they gave me a spark of interest to see what the field had been before it was a potato field (not that it takes much for me to start investigating for old maps).

I did get a bloom or two last year, they are nothing special in the department of exciting iris, but they are definitely historic. What I love most is the experience of discovering the flowers, and collecting the stories that go along with the place.

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