Container Gardening 101: Size Matters!

Gardening, whether in ground or in containers, outdoors or indoors, requires four things to maintain healthy plants: growing medium, light, water, and nutrients. As long as you have those things, you’re on your way to being a gardener!

If you have space constraints, or you’re moving at some point and don’t want to walk away from your work, or if you don’t have an outdoor area with growing medium, or if you want to grow indoors, container gardening might be just the perfect thing for you. I choose to grow primarily in containers because I move every few years and like to take my plants with me. Some people garden with containers in water, which is generally called hydroponics. Others, like me, focus on containers filled with soil, because I primarily grow plants that naturally grow in soil and I think they deserve that natural medium. This is the style of container gardening on which this series will focus.

Perhaps the first thing to consider with container gardening is how much soil you’ll need and what size container is best. For a plant which is currently smaller but will grow larger, start with a smaller container and increase as necessary.

This plant is a young (1st year) blackberry plant that I started from a root cutting off a larger shrub. It is, consequently, in a smaller container than its parent plant (3 years old).

There they are next to each other. If you give a smaller plant a larger container straight off, its roots will never reach the water that will pond in the soil at the bottom of the pot. This can cause all sorts of problems from rot to bad fungus to insect infestation. As your plant grows, increase its pot size once a year or when you see the ends of the roots peaking through the drain holes. Repot to a container roughly a half size bigger than the current container, or no more than twice as big. You want enough room and fresh soil for the roots to spread and delve, but not too much room that you’ll have lingering water.

Hike Like a Girl: Part Six: Bring a MAP!

Disclaimer: This article will give you a general explanation of why you should bring a map and how to read it. This is NOT a cartography or navigation primer and I am NOT an expert in those subjects.

Okay! Even if you plan to bring your smartphone to take pictures with or to have that security blanket weight in your pocket, be mindful that you are NOT guaranteed cell service on any trail. Connectivity has improved more and more lately, and will likely continue to do so, but no amount of Google can beat the real deal of having a current map to look at and guide you. For trip planning purposes and preparedness on the trail, I highly recommend getting a topographical map. This kind of map has billions of squiggly lines on it that show elevation changes. This information is critical when you are planning your trip.

For example, let’s look at some images of National Geographic’s topographical map for the Mount Rogers Recreational Area.

If this isn’t confusing to you right off the bat, then why the hell are you reading this series of blog posts. If this is confusing, then hurray, you’re in the right place! The trails are marked with dotted lines, and the major ones are highlighted in yellow. Boundaries are highlighted in green. And those light tan/green/gray curvy lines throughout? Those are the elevation lines. The elevation change between each line is 50ft. The further apart the lines are, the more gradual the elevation change.

This bit? A walk in the park.

THIS bit? Absolute murder. Probably a cliff.

Get it? When you’re planning your hike, take these lines VERY seriously. Sure, you can do 10 miles in a day of gentle elevation changes, no problem. But 10 miles which includes more strenuous ups and downs and steep switchbacks? You’re gonna regret that one in the morning. And remember, when you’ve stopped for the day and made your camp, streams and water sources are generally down a slope of some kind. Plan for a little more exercise even after you’ve put down your pack!

And one more word of warning: yes, the Appalachian Trail (or AT, indicated in the white diamond on that second close-up image) is considered to be a maintained trail. That DOES NOT necessarily mean it’s easy. It likes to follow the ridge lines, and when there isn’t a ridge line it has to go down and back up to find the next one. Sometimes spur trails are kinder.

For a really great resource on navigating with a map, click this link here!

How to make a Moss Garden: 3 Easy Steps!

Mooooooossssssssssssss……..

Just the word builds mystery and fantasy in our minds. An ancient German forest blanketed in thick, dark green moss and black-barked trees. A tumbling of boulders, capped with orange-and-silver mosses, scattered like dominoes throughout a cheerily trickling mountain stream. A winding forest path carpeted with soft, vibrant moss leading off into the fog.

MOSS!

Well I can’t promise any of the above, but who knows, if you work hard enough and keep planting a few trees every year, you can achieve anything!

But this is how to achieve a moss garden. Let’s start…small! (Like moss! Come on, it was clever.)

Step One: Acquire MOSS!

Look, I know, I know. But it’s easy! I bet there’s some growing in your yard, or on the sidewalk, or on your foundation, or in your favorite park, etc, etc. Moss is EVERYWHERE! That’s part of why we love it! Just go find some moss, and gently work underneath its edge until you can pry it free of its resting place. Be nice! Moss doesn’t have roots, but it does have clinging-bits, and you don’t want to break these if you can help it. That hurts!

Also, be mindful that you don’t take all the moss from one colony. Take some, and leave most to re-populate. After all, even the tiniest of moss supports an even tinier ecosystem!

Step Two: Choose your container and layer it!

Various websites I looked at recommend a terra cota or clay container. I chose some larger, shallow plastic drip trays that I had lying around. You do you. Just make sure it’s a shallow, wide container. It doesn’t necessarily need drain holes, because moss doesn’t need to be soaked.

For your bottom layer you want something that’s going to prevent the top layer from holding too much moisture. Otherwise the moss rots. You don’t want rot, you want moss. Various websites I looked at recommend gravel or, like, tiny rocks. I didn’t have that on hand, but I DID have akadama on hand from my bonsai pursuits, so I used that. You do you. Just keep that soil layer off the bottom of the container.

For your top layer you can do some soil! It’s nice, plants like it.

Step Three: Lay down your kidnapped moss!

Yep, that’s really it. Moss doesn’t have a proper root system. It feeds by photosynthesis and by drawing nutrients from the air and the water, which it just….absorbs. Moss, man. You’ve got soil because it holds some water. There ya go. Kinda press it in gently, with the brown bit down and the green bits up. Mist with water!

Step Four: Enjoy your Moss Garden!

Isn’t it great?! Your kidnapped moss will fluff back up as it hydrates and adapts to its new surroundings. And eventually it’ll propagate by spores and fill out the container! Delightful.

Spring 2022 Author Appearances!

Come see me and purchase my books and/or get them signed this Spring season at the following events:

Marscon 2022. Williamsburg, VA. March 18-20

I’ll be there on the Saturday, March 19, only! Be sure to come by the HCS Publishing booth to get a copy of my books or a copy of the other AMAZING books released by our publishing house. CLICK HERE for more info on the event!

Bacon’s Castle Village Faire. Surry, VA. April 30

The TAPS ghost hunters did an investigation here! If nothing else, come visit the Castle and learn about its history. It’s a really cool place where I’ve done several photo shoots for my dog, Riley. I’ll be at this event in 18th century garb (as befitting the Castle’s history and my books “Hollow Thunder” and “The Loyalty of Dew”) selling and signing all 4 of my books. My father will also be here selling his handmade wooden boxes! (Listed as Lagerstein’s Lumber.) CLICK HERE for more info on the event!

Manassas Viking Festival. Manassas, VA. May 14

IT’S BACK!!!! Come celebrate the TRIUMPHANT return of the Manassas Viking festival! I’ll be there in Viking-era garb (appropriate for CERTAIN EVENTS in my novella “First Watch”) selling and signing my books, and my father will also be there selling his handmade wooden boxes! It’s like I drag him along or something. CLICK HERE for more info on the event!

CES Jr: Before the Freeze

So, yes, this year is CES Jr’s fourth winter, I think. Something like that. I potted her up this past season so she’s got plenty of space for roots and insulating soil. And yes, last winter I kept her in the garage. And this winter I figured she’d probably grown enough to be okay outdoors.

And then I got scared. Tonight’s forecasted low in my area is 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and where CES Jr currently sits is shaded by the house for most of the warming afternoon sunlight time. This means it will probably get cooler there than the forecasted low, and let’s be honest how accurate are those ever, really. So I figured there will probably be some frost around or on her in the morning. But I still wanted to keep her outdoors this winter. Sooooo…….

I put a translucent plastic bag over her, container and all. In theory this should provide a greenhouse-like effect. And then, because maybe I was panicking a little, this happened.

This container holds the bonus blackberry plant that split from the larger shrub’s rootmass when I potted up all of my berries last week. I also grow blueberries and blackberries, you know. But that’s a different story. Check out my Instagram page if you want to see more about that. https://www.instagram.com/nicolerordway/?hl=en

Anyhow, I also covered up the wee bonus blackberry. You’ll notice it’s next to, but not in, my cold frame. This is because the container area I had set aside within for this winter is already full to capacity. I wanted to grow plenty of kale. Looks like, in exchange, I might have compromised some tiny plants in containers. But hopefully it’ll survive. Blackberries are notoriously good at surviving.

Wicked Good Bison Stew in a Crock Pot

…with sweet potatoes, carrots, and other stuff!

So I’ve made this about five or six times now and everybody seems to get all jealous when I post about it on Facebook and Instagram that I figured I’d write up a post. This isn’t so much a recipe as a rambling post about how to make a freaking great bison stew in a crock pot. On to the goods!

That’s your supply list! Got it? Good!

Step One: Bison! Normally I get a pound of bison sirloin or such but Whole Foods had “bison for stew meat” available and I hadn’t seen that before so I tried it out. I’m not really pleased. It’s nice that it’s already cut up and all, but the pieces are tiny. I typically cut mine into 1-inch-ish slices/cubes/rectangles/shapes/polygons. These are sliced much smaller. But they WERE cheaper, so hey, trade off. For the seasoning, you steal your friend’s amazing meat seasoning recipe. At least, I did. And it’s hers, so I’m not sharing. Get your own secret seasoning recipe.

Step Two: Onions! I used the last of our onion harvest from our garden. Aren’t they CUTE?! Chop ’em however you like and toss ’em in on top of the meat.

Step Three: Sweet Potatoes! I peel them because otherwise the skins can get a little chewy in the slow cooker. Leave yours on if you want. No rules with sweet potatoes. I cut these into 1-inch-ish pieces.

Step Four: Carrots! Sometimes I get a bunch of the full-size carrots with the greens on. Sometimes I get a baggie of baby carrots. It’s all determined by how lazy I’m feeling. This round I was feeling lazy. Whatever size carrots you get, cut ’em into little rounds and toss ’em in. (See that leftover seasoning in the background? Yeah you do.)

Check occasionally for a cute supervisor nearby. Treat the supervisor, preferably with a piece of carrot. Supervisors love carrots.
Remember that leftover seasoning? Once you’ve got all the main ingredients in, scatter that stuff over it. Why not?!

Step Five: Tomato Liquids! Sometimes I remember to get a can of stewed tomatoes. Sometimes I do not remember to get a can of stewed tomatoes and I used a can of tomato sauce instead. It’s delicious either way!

Step Six: Other Liquids! I fill it up with various broths, wine, and water. Our favorite is the veggie broth but you do you, man! You do you. You’ll need about 5 cups of “other liquids,” if you have the same size crock pot as me.

Pour it in until everything is covered in liquid!!

Step Seven: Cook it! 8 hours on low does the job. Lid it and leave it.

Step Eight: Enjoy your delicious bison stew!

Redbuds, Seeds, and Propagating: FIVE EASY STEPS

For an even quicker look, here’s a shout out to the website that taught me all about propagating redbud trees by seed: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/newsletters/hortupdate/2010/jun/tree_seeds.html

I’ve noticed several people on a Facebook group I’m part of –

Ugh, this is like those recipe pages where people write a freaking novel about why they made the dish they made before they paste the recipe card square and fuck off. So I’m just gonna get to the point…WITH PICTURES!

Step ONE: collect pods! Collect the pods in autumn when they turn brown and crispy. I always collect what I can from my height and leave the rest for the critters. After all, one of the many great things about redbuds is that they feed our wild seed-eaters in the winter when other food is scarce. This technique is called responsible foraging!

Step TWO: Pop the seeds out of the pods! Sometimes you’ll be lucky and there will be a couple of seeds in a pod. Sometimes there won’t be a single fucking one! But that’s nature for you.

Step THREE: scarify the seeds! Scarifying the seeds allows moisture to enter the thick husk and hydrate the seed meat itself. You can do this after the cold period (called stratifying, more info to come) with a knife by nicking the husk gently, or with sandpaper by scraping the husk gently. OR, if you’re A PYRO LIKE ME, you can dump the seeds in just-boiling water for about a minute BEFORE the cold period (“stratifying“). I prefer this method because there is heat involved and, as mentioned, I’m a bit of a pyro, AND ALSO BECAUSE this allows you to immediately determine which seeds are viable and which ones aren’t. Seeds that FLOAT are not viable and aren’t worth your time nurturing. Seeds that SINK are viable and should germinate. After a minute in the recently-boiling water I scoop the non-viable seeds out with a spoon and drain the water from the rest in a fine colander.

(PS, I always thought colander had two L’s, but Spellcheck just informed me it sure fucking doesn’t, so we’ve both learned something today.)

Step FOUR: stratify the seeds! Get a plastic baggie or other airtight container. Dump the seeds in the baggie. Dampen your fingers under the faucet and flick a sprinkle or so of water in the baggie. Seal that fucker and toss it in your fridge and FORGET ABOUT IT until you need that sausage that you’ve been saving for a stew. Check to make sure there’s a smidgen of moisture in the baggie, and if there isn’t then repeat the bit with the fingers and the faucet, and FORGET ABOUT IT AGAIN. See, redbud seeds need a period roughly 3 months long of cold temperature (NOT FREEZING, we’re talking fridge temps not freezer temps) to properly germinate.


4A: KEY NOTES ABOUT THE BAGGIE: So listen, don’t be an idiot like me the first time I did this. Grab a Sharpie or other permanent soft-tipped marker and notate the date that you fridged the seeds and the species of tree they are on your baggie. This way you won’t come across a long-forgotten baggie in the back of your fridge years from now and wonder what the fuck these seeds are. Maybe they’ll still germinate. If they’re like my pumpkin seeds that I did this to, maybe they will. But maybe they won’t. Practice good propagation and label your baggies. Luckily redbud seeds are pretty unique-looking.

Step FIVE: sow your seeds! When the last frost has passed and your seeds have been in the fridge for at least 3 months (90 days minimum, don’t fuck around with this part), sow your seeds in individual containers of soil. You can also sow them straight into the ground, but in my zone (8A) we sometimes get a random frost that forgot it was supposed to be springtime. Having my treelings in containers enables me to bring them indoors if I need to protect them from a random frost. A cautionary note with REDBUDS: These trees develop a long taproot pretty quickly, so if you sow them in containers plan to start them in a 1 gallon size and pot up within the first growing season. I don’t have a picture for this step because I didn’t take any last year and obviously I can’t sow my seeds yet as it’s Nov 29 and they’re stratifying right now. But I trust my dear readers of horticulture and propagation tips can imagine what seeds in containers of soil look like.

And that’s it! I promise! Follow these steps and in the spring you’ll have oodles of redbud treelings in pots! For really realz! And if this somehow doesn’t work for you, please comment below so we can figure it out together.

Fall Garden

A quick word: I’m in plant hardiness zone 8A. If you’re in a colder climate, this post may not apply to you. If you’re in a warmer climate, this post probably does. If you have no clue what zone you’re in, the USDA provides a nice chart! Check it out at https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/
But here’s also a screen print I grabbed on 11/4/21. Those are minimum winter lows on that chart that you’re looking at.

In and around my zone we have a longer growing season. This means I can sow cole crops in the fall like brassicas (broccoli, kale, cauliflower family) with little worry about them surviving the winter. Last year I tried this theory out with kale and it worked WONDERFULLY. After a little frost baby kale leaves are actually sweet! Summer gardening is nice and all, but you have to contend with insects and diseases. In the spring, fall and winter these concerns are limited. I’ve become quite a fan of leaving the summer for the development of squashes and root vegetables, and doing most of my “at-risk” gardening in the fall, spring or winter.

Right now, for example, my blueberry plants are changing into their autumn foliage in a magnificent blaze of color across the garden.

My kale is a successful experiment this year. I say that because last year (2020) I bought a seed packet for 2020 use. I sowed about half of it and refrigerated the rest. This year I sowed the rest of the 2020 seeds and they are coming in quite nicely.

I pruned my container-grown mint pretty heavily this past summer (2021, like probably late September) and it LOVED the abuse and has come around hard for a second round. Fucking mint, y’all. Beat it up, IT LIKES IT.

And the bell peppers. These guys did HORRIBLY in the summer and went to mold, weirdly enough. But this fall? Right now on November 4? FRUITS!!!!

They’re actually going red faster than they did during the summer months. I surmise that bell pepper plants prefer cooler temps in the 60 degree range for ripening. Further experimenting shall be performed next spring! I plan to start these early next year, like late January indoors for seed germination. I’ll transplant outdoors after the last frost and see how they do. I suspect they don’t like our warmer summer here in Zone 8A but will enjoy the transition seasons.

What’s your garden look like right now? Share in the comments below!