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!

CES Jr Fall 2021 Update

So you know the repotting was a success. And if you don’t, there’s a post a month or so ago about that; scroll for it!

So you know my CES Jr (or Camellia effing sinensis II) had tons of flower buds on it.

But you haven’t seen the results yet! And they’re delightful, wondrous results of big, clunky, nonscented, messy flowers that are truly beautiful to me.

They look like sunny-side-up eggs!

Don’t Forget the BEES!

Are you exploring home gardening during this COVID-19 situation? Don’t forget to plant for pollinators! This little list has helped make sure bees come to my yard first every year.
IMG_20200331_191027

These plants are an excellent starting point, but make sure to drop in some native flowering plants as well. While any gardener will be happy to see pollinators of any sort, you can actually help out these little critters that are trying to help you!

Plant milkweed and parsley for monarch and swallowtail butterflies; anise hyssop for the wee honeybees; coneflowers will bring ALLL the pollinators to your yard; and goldenrod finishes the year out to prepare bees for overwintering.

CES Jr Summer Update!

For those of you that are enjoying the garden updates, this one’s for you!

CES Jr (Camellia effing sinensis junior, for folks new to the story) approves of her treatment this year. You’ll remember that last winter I brought her in to the garage for the cold nights, to avoid the frost damage that killed my original CES. This spring/summer I have mostly left her alone in her pot on the sunny backyard stoop, with the exception of practically daily waterings because HOLY SHIT Virginia Beach doesn’t know what RAIN is. So THAT’s been fun.

The other day (read: last week-ish, or could be a few weeks ago, my internal calendar is so utterly fucked right now) my fiance noticed there were new baby leaves on CES Jr. THAT, dear readers, besides the fact that she FLOWERED in spring, assures me that this one is maybeprobablyhopefully gonna make it.

Here’s a photo for you non-believers:CESjr I didn’t say it was a GOOD photo. However, it shows you the new baby leaves, PLUS a veritable shit ton of buds for another round of delightfully fluffy floweres! Flowerers! FLOWERS! (There is wine involved in this post.)

SO, ZONE 8, make note! You want to overwinter CES (or “tea plant”) in your attached garage. The frost here is sneaky and it will dive in without warning, and we all know DAMN WELL you can’t trust the weather.com temperature predictions. However, if you overwinter appropriately, CES will manage all sorts of new growth.

Our next step with this particular plant is to murder and pull out the useless, thorny, wasp-harboring rose bushes just visible at the top of the picture, and plant CES Jr in their place. I am marginally concerned about this process because did-I-mention-the-THORNS, and also because the last time I had Miss Utility out they indicated some fucking yellow flags just next to the roses, which means gas line. Sooooo I’m going to get them to come again before we go digging, because NOBODY wants that update.

This won’t be til Fall though, probably October or November at the earliest. Check back!

Tea Growing: Chapter 3: Winter

(This is part of a series of posts. For a preparatory class, check out the post “Tea Growing: Intro Post.” This particular post was written in January 2019.)

Winter, already? You might be asking. But I started writing this manuscript in November, and it’s January now, and you too might have started to get into gardening in fall without realizing you were going to be REALLY BORED during the next few months.

You’ll want to go ahead and put plants to the ground because GARDENING. Don’t do it.

Trust me: they’ll die, and you’ll have wasted money and time on plants that were destined to die.

But what can I do while my green thumb is so itchy, you ask? PLAN FOR SPRING! For instance, this winter I have identified the plants I want to grow next year, and I’ve planned out what containers they’ll go in or what areas of the garden they’ll go in. I’ve also bought some seed packets, because I’m impatient like that. The biggest thing about winter gardening is to practice patience and to plan.

Next year I plan to get a greenhouse set up in time to overwinter plants. Because I hate being patient and not growing anything during the Danger of Frost season.

So: in spring I will sow lavender, chamomile, peppermint, and lemon balm. I chose these herbs because they are the stars of my favorite tea blends, with medicinal properties that I want to explore. Coupled with my existing raspberry, CES Jr and rosemary plants, these should be a good exploration into the tea-growing world.

I have also purchased a second packet of lavender seeds, these a different variety from the one I’ll grow for tea. This second variety is going to be my exploration into growing A FIELD OF LAVENDER. It’ll start as a row, at the side of the front yard. Looking out my window over a glorious field of lavender has been a recent obsession of mine, and if I can make a row work what, I ask you, what more can I do?!

I was also gifted a highbush blueberry plant this Yule, and have put it in the ground because its tag said it would be fine. There should be plenty of time before a hard ground frost (weeks at least, if we even get one in Zone 8 this year) for its roots to acclimate and recover from the stress of shipping and planting. I mention this plant because it is now my fifth blueberry plant (yay!) and because I needed to amend the soil before planting it. THIS IS IMPORTANT. If your tag, website, guide, whatever says your plant needs a certain pH or peat moss in the hole or WHATEVER, DO IT. Don’t think it’ll just be fine in normal soil. It might, but it probably won’t.

This is also relevant because some plants like to be mulched overwinter, some don’t care, some want pruning in fall, some like to be hacked down in the spring. The down-seasons are a great time to study up on your plants and learn what kind of maintenance they’ll need or what you can start doing to your soil NOW to make your plants super happy in spring.

Tea Growing: Chapter 2: Raspberry

(This is part of a series of posts. For the first one see Tea Growing: Intro Post.)

CHAPTER TWO: Red Raspberry, Queen of Blood

In the summer of 2018 I purchased a bundle of five red raspberry plants. I happily planted them in a wet, low area of my back yard, on the far end from the blackberry and blueberry shrubs. And there, O reader, I completely forgot about them for about a month.

You’ve done it too! Work gets busy, life gets hectic, and the yard maybe gets a little overgrown. Maybe you’re preoccupied by how terribly your acorn squash plant experiment is growing. Maybe the other berry plants are doing so well you forget to check on the new kids. Maybe it rains so much you don’t want to wade through the little stream running across your patio. Maybe it’s so damn hot and humid you don’t even want to touch the knob of the back door.

AND MAYBE THEY WERE FINE WITH THAT.

I can’t wax affectionate enough about these hardy little shits.

While mowing down the literally 15-inch tall grass I’d been cited by the city over, I rediscovered these wee canes. What had been bare sticks were laden with cute green leaves, and what had been five plants were now sixteen flourishing canes. Pretty good for some year-one plants that had been dirted and forgotted! I cleared the soil around them, dropped some fertilizer and soil acidifier down, and applied a completely useless layer of mulch. Well, not completely useless, I suppose. It did prevent my dog from eating the fertilizer.

Apparently, I purchased an “everbearing” variety of red raspberry, which I have since learned produces fruit in the summer and in the fall. And that is the last time I’m typing “red raspberry.” The only real raspberries are red. Get over yourself, fruit community.

So my year-one plants produced a delightful summer crop, right around the same time as the blackberries. And I thought that was impressive enough, because I didn’t know “everbearing” raspberries existed and I wasn’t expecting fruit until 2019.

I’m writing this particular sentence on November 8, 2018: THEY STILL HAVEN’T STOPPED PRODUCING FRUIT.

These hardy little shits are going bonkers. Either they love the day-long sun they get, or maybe it’s the fertilizer and the acidic, wet soil, or maybe they’re so relieved to be clear of weeds and bugs they just want to thank me over and over with one to five ripe berries almost every morning. Whatever has them so happy, I hope it never stops. But this blog isn’t meant to be about my fucking fruit plants. This book is about growing tea!

I’ve developed a penchant for drinking raspberry leaf tea during my menstrual cycle. YOU WERE WARNED WITH THE TITLE OF THIS CHAPTER THAT THERE WOULD BE BLOOD. Didn’t take the hint? Well, there it is in the open now. I’m a woman. Women bleed for a few days right around once a month or so, generally speaking. The theory claims that raspberry leaf tea helps with cramps and other fun (not) symptoms of the menstrual cycle, and whether that’s scientifically a thing or not I have personally found it to be true. So I drink the leaf for a few days every month.

I didn’t quite make the connection that I had my own raspberry leaf tea sources in my backyard until my recently-spayed female Rottweiler started trying to eat the leaves off the plants. And then it hit me. I could harvest leaves off those plants myself, dry them, store them and use them to make raspberry leaf tea!

Everything I have read states that raspberry leaves should be harvested in the spring or summer, in the early morning to mid-morning hours when everything is dew-covered and green and perky. So, naturally, I made my first leaf harvest in November around 2 pm in the afternoon. I like to test the tried and true. Spoilers: usually they’re tried and true for a reason.

PRO TIP: When you harvest leaves for tea (especially raspberry leaves) you’ll want to gather a LOT more than you think you’ll need. This is because tea leaves are dried before being used in making tea. And whenever you remove water from the structure of a thing that normally holds water, the thing shrinks. Leaves shrink when they dry. They shrink a lot.

Tea Growing: Chapter 1: CES Jr

(This is part of a series. For the first post, refer to Tea Growing: Intro Post. This particular segment was written in November-ish 2018.)

 

CHAPTER ONE: The Legacy of Camellia effing sinensis

We’re starting with the ineffable, the immortal, the sublime Camellia effing sinensis (actual Latin name, feel free to look it up) because that’s where I started with this whole endeavor. I had this great, glowing idea that I could grow my own “tea plant” to fruition, harvest its leaves whenever I wanted, and make delicious green tea any time the whim struck me.

I know, hilarious, right?

Turns out, Camellia effing sinensis doesn’t winter well in Zone 8. Again, you need to Know Your Fucking Grow Zone. Well, let me correct myself. Camellia effing sinensis supposedly winters FINE in Zone 8: it just needs a blanket of snow to cover its pretty green head before the first frost.

You’re right, that’s sarcasm.

I killed my first Camellia effing sinensis plant because I, stupidly, thought it would be just fine out on my stoop, in a big heavy pot, in the thick of winter. Admittedly, usually in Zone 8 we don’t get a ton of snow. We also usually don’t get a ton of frost. I thought if it was close to the building, protected by the overhang of the gutter, it’d be fine.

It wasn’t.

The leaves browned (First Clue!) immediately after the first frost iced the tops of the grass and I still thought it could make it. I’d just treat it like any of my other potted trees/shrubs and it’d make it. It’d toughen up.

It didn’t.

Winter settled in with a couple inches of the white stuff, then spring came with the thaw, and my first Camellia (R. I. P.) sinensis lost its leaves and withered. Tragic, to be sure. Perhaps not the best plant choice for Zone 8. Any rational gardener would turn in her trowel and have a look at something else.

I bought a second one.

Camellia effing sinensis junior (I’ll refer to her as CES Jr from now on) arrived in the summer of 2018. I transferred her to a pot that I can actually lift, which will be important come winter when I plan to relocate plant and pot into my house-attached garage. Ah, learning! As if to encourage me, CES Jr bloomed in the fall of 2018, producing a lovely display of fragrant white marshmallowy flowers with a whole thicket of yellow things in their middles. Already CES Jr is promising to be a healthier plant than her damn predecessor, and we’ll have to just see how she does.

I do have plans, O reader! Don’t dismiss me as a novice who has no desire to learn; that learning process is the meat of the story I’m telling here, you know. For the winter of 2018 she will be tucked away in the garage, which should retain enough ambient heat from the attached house so as to not freeze CES Jr but should also expose her to the lowered temperatures of Zone 8 winter. Then, in spring 2019 I plan to let her continue growing in her pot. Perhaps winter 2019 will be spent again in the garage, unless she grows enough roots to be transplanted in the fall. Once she’s in the ground (2019 or 2020) I’ll use some landscaping type fabric to cover her BEFORE the first frost arrives. Apparently, this is how they are maintained when grown in snow-prone areas, so it should be overkill for Zone 8. Time will tell, and later chapters will continue the Saga of Camellia effing sinensis junior.

That is, if she survives her first winter.

Tea Growing: Intro Post

This series is intended as a journal of my adventures with growing plants for use in tea. You may or may not remember from an earlier post that I’d intended to write a book about such. Well, it’s a blog series now. I feel as though this format may be more fun and engaging. #ScreamingIntoTheVoid

This series may or may not contain strong language; at this time, I haven’t decided as to whether I’ll censor myself. I am not an expert on plants or tea or nutrition, but rather a novice gardener (probably much like yourself, if the intended audience is reading this) that reckoned I’d like to grow things that I can consume. We’ll talk about tea and some of the things you can grow to use in its making. Maybe we’ll talk about vegetables, like kale (which is the only thing I can properly grow in my piss ass soil) and also kale (which incidentally does very well in containers). We sure won’t talk about straw bales, and why they might sound like a great idea for gardening and certainly look cool on Instagram but (spoilers) can really be a pain to maintain when done WRONG.

Shoot, maybe we’ll talk about straw bales one day. Maybe.

But for now we’re talking about plants which can be grown and used in the making of tea. We’re doing that because I am currently wading into such a world, and I’d like to share my adventure with you (lovely reader) as I struggle through the self-learning that the stubborn, yet persistent, gardener must experience. I encourage you to also experience the failures which I am sure to impart to you within these posts, in that you may also experience the successes as well.

The structure of this story will be that of a chap book, but not one in which the chapter tells the whole story. Rather, I wish to share with you my adventure as it happens. Headings will reference the plant in question, so if you want to skip around and follow each plant in its specific journey you can do that. If you want to stay hard and true on the linear, you can do that too. There are no rules here, unlike in gardening, where there are definitely some gods damned rules.

 

RULE ONE: “Know your fucking Growing Zone”

Well, I guess I’ve decided not to censor myself. Really the first chapter in any gardening book should contain a guide on how to find your growing zone and what that means. This is critical knowledge to having a good time growing plants outside. If you’re here to read about maintaining an indoor herb garden, you can fuck off. Plants are meant to be grown outside. They love it. In fact, it’s where they thrive naturally. No kidding!

Besides, there are plenty of existing books and blogs that discuss the steps of lying to plants about their surroundings (ie, growing them indoors.) Below is a picture that will help you to identify your Growing Zone/Plant Hardiness Zone. Comment with your zone! SHOUT OUT TO MY SPROUTS IN ZONE 8 WOT WOT!

Image result for usda growing zones united states

I fondly copied and pasted this from the USDA’s own website at: https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/