Surprise strawberry harvest

The best kinds of strawberries are those you don’t have to put any effort into.

strawberry harvest

I love growing small fruits, but strawberries need a lot of space to run. I added “build a strawberry tower and cover” to the ever-lengthening to-do list, but it’s not happening this year.

Strawberries should be replaced every few years, as they lose their vigor over time. I have a few very old plants growing in pots and here and there around the garden–some fragments uprooted by squirrels, probably, and moved to slightly odd places. I gave them no attention this year. But one container rewarded me anyway. Here’s my small harvest from this morning; just enough to add to some yogurt for breakfast.

Happy Saturday.


Garden project for a wet winter day: Desktop moss garden

I’ve always loved moss. Nothing else has such lush texture and color yet requires so little in the way of care. And since February’s damp gray misery persists, I decided to bring some nature indoors.

moss garden materials assembled

I assembled my materials:

  • an old bread loaf pan that has seen better days
  • a drill to make a drainage hole in the pan
  • soil
  • moss (some tufts harvested from my garden, and some which grew in place of my spinach).
  • a plant misting bottle.

drilling a hole in the panWhile mosses require a damp environment to grow, I’m hesitant to try growing it in a container without a drainage hole. I want moss, not mold. So I began by drilling a hole in the pan. Most regular wood bits will also drill metal and plastic. I can’t tell the size of the bit; the marking has worn off.

Incidentally, if you let go of the pan as you drill, you immediately acquire an unwieldy metal propeller. It’s better to do this when no one is around to be injured.

spinning panThe hole is drilled, but it’s a bit rough. I took it out to the shed to find a file to smooth it down.

hole in loaf panI had planned to use potting soil, similar to what had grown the moss in the first place. But on my walk to the shed, I observed more moss growing on my shady, damp clay ground. And I thought, why not give it what it likes?

wet acid clayThis is my naturally-existing backyard soil substrate. Its pH typically ranges somewhere around 4.5 to 4.8, so I don’t expect to need to “improve” the soil here with yogurt, buttermilk, or any other acidic additive typically recommended for starting moss.  The clay is quite dense, and when smoothed out, it might be mistaken (from a certain distance) for peanut butter gelato.

not gelatoI want the final product to look a bit like a loaf of moss, so this isn’t enough soil. I mixed in some discarded potting soil to build up the level.

small loaf of dirt

It was already adequately wet, so I simply mounded it into a hilled loaf shape and compressed it well.

accidental mossThis is the moss that grew where my dead spinach seeds did not. After 3 months, it is well established and peels off in a thin sheet.

thin sheet of mossWhat does it take to plant moss? Simply pat it firmly into place, and mist.

moss garden planted

Mosses are ancient, nonvascular plants. They photosynthesize and take in water and nutrients through their leaves, but reproduce by spores. Rhizoids, not roots, anchor mosses to their growing substrate.

There are three kinds of moss planted here, two of which I harvested from my garden. I don’t know the identities of any of them, but I’ll try to find out. I will keep the moss moist with a daily misting. Normally I’d consider a daily task like misting a tedious chore, but I’ll keep the pan and the mister on my desk and will give it a simple spray each morning as I begin work. Over the next 3 months, it should establish itself and begin to spread. I’ll share photos as it comes along.

Salad bowl garden

I’m fortunate to live in an area where it doesn’t get terribly cold during the winter–or at least, it doesn’t stay cold for very long. Four-season gardening is possible here without the aid of a greenhouse (although who would say no to a greenhouse?), although I find it does help to have row covers or a cold frame.

I built my cold frame out of cast-off parts from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and in a future post I’ll show you how I did it. But for now, I’ll show you what’s going into my cold frame these days: salad bowl gardens.

A salad bowl garden, as one might suspect, is simply a large container potted up with a variety of edibles, most especially greens, that one might find in a salad. The one I’ve just planted up is comprised of ‘Red Sails’ lettuce and directly-seeded arugula.

How to Create a Salad Bowl Garden

Any garden container or other food-safe container can be used for planting; I have seen these gardens cleverly planted in old colanders (no need to punch drainage holes).

  1. If your container has one large drainage hole, cover the hole with a bit of a broken pot, a bit of gravel, or a folded paper coffee filter. The idea is to keep the soil from washing out of the bottom. If you’re using a colander or something similar, with many small holes, you don’t need to bother covering them. If your container doesn’t have a hole, drill one, but be sure to use a drill bit that matches the material your container is made of.
  2. Fill the container two-thirds full with a mixture of potting soil and compost.
  3. Blend in some organic slow-release fertilizer to nourish whatever you are planting. Greens, like lettuce, spinach, kale, or chard, need plenty of nitrogen to fuel leafy growth. Look for a fertilizer with with a relatively high first number, such as 12-0-0 (blood meal), to provide sufficient nitrogen. In my 12-inch clay pot, I mixed in about 1 tablespoon (1 Tbsp.) of blood meal.
  4. Remove your transplants and arrange them in your container. If you are pulling seedlings out of a flat, like those pictured below, pull the plants gently by their seed leaves (the first set of leaves to appear). Never handle seedlings by their stems, which are fragile and will bruise or break easily. red sails lettuce transplants
  5. Fill the container the rest of the way up with compost, firming gently around the transplants.
  6. 'Red Sails' lettuce planted up

    Lettuce seedlings, just tucked in. Arugula seeds are in the center.

  7. Water thoroughly, until water drains out of the drainage hole.
  8. Mulch if desired.
  9. Depending on the amount of exposure to cold your seedlings/transplants have had, you may need to harden them off. Set the bowl outside in a sheltered spot for an hour, then bring it back inside. Each day, increase the amount of time the container spends outdoors. After about 10 days, you can put the salad bowl container in your cold frame or under horticultural fabric.
Salad bowl garden with light mulch

Salad bowl garden with light mulch. In my experience, arugula doesn’t have trouble finding its way to the light.

Growing garlic

In my household, we eat a lot of garlic.

Garlic is great for your health. It contains cancer-fighting chemicals, relaxes blood vessels, and increases blood flow. But an increasing amount of garlic in supermarkets comes from China, which produces 75% of the world’s supply of the pungent herb. Concern about levels and types of pesticides and soil contaminants found on food imports, both fresh and processed, is causing many people, including me, to look for safe and reliable sources of food. So I am starting to grow my own.My garlic shipment has arrived!

I was late in placing my order this year so I didn’t get the specific variety I wanted, but I think the organic ‘Red Toch’ softneck garlic I got from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Mineral, VA will be more than satisfactory.

Red Toch softneck organic garlic bulbs and planting instructions

I was really pleased with the bulbs when they arrived: They were heavy and solid, with no mushy or moldy cloves. I’ll be ordering from them again.

I’m mixing up my vegetable and herb plantings this year, starting some in containers and mixing some in with ornamentals in established beds. In fact, I got a few of these cloves into the new rose bed last week, just before the temperature plunged.

container-readyBut now I’m ready to start my containers. I started with a clean, frost-proof pot, to which I added a mixture of potting compost, perlite, and sand, about three-quarters of the way to the top.

Homemade compost (left) and worm castings (right).

Homemade compost (left) and worm castings (right).

To that, I mixed in a tiny bit of lime per the planting instructions, as well as a quart of worm castings and some additional homemade compost.

garlic cloves planted in containerI planted the individual cloves about six inches apart, with skins attached. The skins help protect the cloves from rotting in the ground. Some of these cloves are planted a bit too close to the side of the pot; if I can get out to the shed and find more containers of a suitable size, I’ll transplant a few of these before they put on much growth. Finally, I topped off the container with an inch and a half of the compost and castings mix.


Keeping the garlic watered is essential during the growth period. It’s been dry lately, so I’m hand-watering the containers and topping them off with a mulch of shredded leaves and bark to the rim of the container, to conserve the moisture we do get.

And now I wait. Between now and spring, I’ll be reading up on harvesting and curing. This sowing won’t be anywhere near enough to get us through the year, but I’ve got to start somewhere. Even after 20 years of gardening, I’m still finding that patience is a difficult concept for me to learn.