Gardening Tips

Lessons Learned from a Newbie Tennessean

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Written by Michelle Lewis, Master Gardener

As we near the end of the year, I’ve been pondering what we’ve learned from gardening this year. Now, keep in mind, our perspective might be different than those who grew up here. My husband and I moved from California 2 years ago.

  • Clean up those garden beds in the Fall. Bugs hide in fall foliage which can mean more bugs in the Spring.
  • Using newspaper to line a garden or walkway before mulching in the Spring makes a great weed barrier that deters weeds for the whole season. I couldn’t believe how lining the walkway around our herb garden made it virtually weed free! I can count on one hand how many weeds I pulled up in there! I spent so much time weeding the year before.
  • Take advantage of re-seeding varieties of flowers and veggies. This year, we moved our Zinnia spent blooms to the perimeter of our fence-line. In the Spring, there will be a beautiful wall of flowers! I love how our compost pile was a great cultivator for tomatoes. Our volunteer tomatoes were better than some of the ones we planted.
  • So many things can be started from seeds. Timing is everything. Know your zone and when to start those seeds. It saves so much money and you have the satisfaction of growing it yourself!
  • Raised beds have less disease and insect problems than from the ground. You can really control the soil and compost mix to get the right mix of healthy soil.
  • Some things do not start well from seeds. Rosemary, Lavender and Stevia in particular. It’s apparently very hard to grow lavender here. It’s not dry enough. Though I was able to grow one Rosemary plant from seed, the other 19 I planted did not come up at all. Arp is the hardiest variety of Rosemary for this zone. Stevia is better grown from a plant purchased from the nursery. My nursery plants did extremely well in a full-sun location.
  • We discovered a great heirloom tomato, Black Krim. It’s a lovely tomato with deep shades of green and red. The taste in my opinion is how a tomato should taste. It’s not too sweet. The plant produces nice-sized tomatoes.
  • Grow the things you use close to the house. I hear this often, but I was reminded this year how lazy I am when it comes to picking produce. My herb garden was so conveniently located, that all I had to do was go outside the gate and I had access to the herbs and tomatoes. We are expanding that garden next year because of this. Growing things like herbs, tomatoes and peppers are things we use often. Besides, they are also so beautiful and give us so much enjoyment.
  • Saving seeds is not that hard. It’s easy to save cilantro seeds. Let them go to seed. Wait till they dry up a little, then cut them and let them dry more. Bag up the seeds for future use. Cilantro grows best in a full sun location. Saving tomato seeds is easy. Remove the seeds and their gel. Put in a small bowl, add a cup of water and cover with a piece of Serrane wrap. Wait 3-4 days and you will see that the gel will disappear leaving only the seeds. Strain and let them fully dry on a paper towel. Store in a sealed container or bag.
  • Grow what does well here. While this sounds like a no-brainer, I’ve found that there are some plants that are more trouble than they’re worth. I love plants that are trouble-free. Most herbs do not have insect problems. When plants flourish, spread out and multiply, there are less weeds. Tarragon and Lavender do not do well here, but other herbs flourish in our climate. Zinnias were my favorite flowers this year! 1o plants gave me a whole section of flowers all season. Hollyhocks, while they were not totally insect free produced well, looked relatively nice and re-seeded themselves.
  • Our main practice has been to avoid insecticides. As long as we incorporate compost and do a crop rotation, we haven’t had to go to these extremes. Well-maintained soil has been the key to healthy plants for us.
  • Watering only the plant has reduced a lot of our weeds. When we watered with a sprinkler, we had tons of weeds! Our main goal for next Spring is to install drip irrigation which will further the reduction of weeds.

This is the season to dream and plan for the Spring garden. May your garden dreams be big and beautiful and may it become all that you dream!

Protecting the Little Ones

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Photos and article by Kay Kress

As a retired teacher I still love to take care of the little ones and watch them grow. These days most of my little ones are plants. My tomatoes have survived the cold weather and actually thrived with the help of “Wall O Water“. You can purchase them from most seed catalogs. Just fill the cells with water and place around the plant in the daytime. The water retains the heat of the day. Plants can survive even down to 10 degrees F. Some retailers call them, “Kozy Koats”. They are reusable.

My radishes have done well in their mini greenhouses; raised beds covered with fabric supported with PVC pipe. I also have lettuces, arugula, onions, cabbage, broccoli, and beets in these beds.