Vermont Garden Journal

Opiola Jerzy (Poland) / Wikimedia Commons

I'm a bit of a fruit freak. While others travel to exotic climes to enjoy the scenery, beaches and culture, I'm always looking for the fresh food markets to taste durians, dragon fruit and cherimoyas. While these sound exotic, we actually can grow some cool, unusual fruits in our climate too. One of my latest discovering is the honeyberry.

Dave Spindle / Flickr

This common perennial flower is of two minds. One version is tall and tidy with beautiful white, blue or pink flowers. Another is a low growing, native ground cover with blue, rose or white flowers that actually can become a weed. The common name speedwell, literally means to thrive. We mostly know this perennial as Veronica.

billnoll / iStock

If you thought potatoes were just those boring spuds found in bags in the grocery store, think again. Potatoes have a rich history and continue to be at the forefront of controversy around the world. This common global food has been the center of mass migrations of people and lawsuits challenging multi-national corporations. Not bad for an Andean spud.

The Fern Lover's Companion / Flickr

This plant is millions of years old, predating dinosaurs. It's name means feathers because it has divided and delicate leaves. Historically people has believed this plant can provide good luck, protect you from lightning and give you magical qualities such as invisibility. What common plant is this? It's the fern.

kgtoh / iStock

One cold morning at breakfast, I was swatting small, black flies from my potted amaryllis and thinking, insects are opportunists. Even in winter, these bugs find a way to survive.

romrodinka / istock

Green shakes have gone viral. A few years back people would raise their eyebrows at the idea of drinking a kale or spinach shake for breakfast. Now, everyone is touting the benefits of green smoothies. It's become a gourmet trend. And why not? I find I have more energy starting the day with a green shake and it's a quick way to get some nutritious greens and fruits into my body.

professorphotoshop / istock

As I munch away at the last of our stored winter squash and potatoes, my attention moves towards the spring. Now is the time to assess your veggie seed stock and plan on what to grow for 2015. Here’s what I'll be trying.

hotblack / morguefile

The fungus is among us, and it tastes good! That's what you might be saying when you start growing mushrooms indoors in your home. Foraging for wild mushrooms is fun, especially if you go with an experienced veteran who can distinguish good from potentially bad fungi. You can also  cultivate mushrooms in your garden and yard, but you have to wait months for fruit. To get a quick fix of the taste of wild mushrooms without all that hunting and waiting, grow them from kits indoors.

sideshowmom / Morguefile

The seed catalogs are here. This year I started perusing them first looking for new annual flower varieties. I like annuals in our cold climate. They often can be purchased in bloom in garden centers, and with little care, continuously flower until frost. Here are a few that stood out on my first pass through.

Melodi2 / Morguefile

Happy New Year. One of my favorite January activities is to read a few gardening books for inspiration and education. Here are this winter's selections.

kconnors / Morguefile

I've talked before about the air cleaning benefits of houseplants. Well, houseplants can help us in many more ways, especially in the dead of winter. Researchers for years have verified what many of use already feel about plants. Having plants in the home and workplace reduces blood pressure, raises attentiveness and well-being, reduces anxiety and increases productivity. But for black thumbs in the audience having houseplants that die can just contribute to plant guilt. Here's a solution, grow hard to kill houseplants.

ArielleJay / Morguefile

In the 1800's a London physician called Nathaniel Ward wanted to watch an insect chrysalis transform into a butterfly. He placed it, with some soil, in a glass jar and sealed it shut. To his amazement, but not only did he see the butterfly form, but he also saw ferns and grasses growing in the bottom of the jar. The plants continue to grow in the sealed jar for 4 years without additions of water. It was the first modern terrarium.

muvuka / Morguefile

This time of year, everyone is in a gift buying frenzy. Gardeners tend to be down-to-earth and are as happy with a bag of compost as a designer handbag. But there are still worthwhile gifts to consider for your favorite gardener.

hotblack / Morguefile

There's something special about stomping through the snow on a cold winter morning to pick out a holiday tree. Although I grew up with the classic plastic tree, as an adult I love the feel and smell of a good balsam tree.

Here's how to select the best tree. First, decide on the type of evergreen. Balsam has a great fragrance. Blue spruce has stiff needles, but can drop needles in a warm room. Scotch pine has stiff branches and needles that stay on the tree even when dry. White pine has soft, long needles and weak branches that can support only small ornaments.

Peggy Greb / Public Domain

Charles Warner once said, “Lettuce is like conversation: it must be fresh and crisp, and so sparkling that you scarcely notice the bitter in it.” After our recent cold snaps, finding crisp, fresh and sparkling lettuce in your garden may be impossible. Unless you have a greenhouse or a hoop house system, you're probably relegated to buying your greens.

Suezoo / Morguefile

I was at a friend's house recently when he received a package in the mail marked “live animals”. Curious I asked what live animal was being shipped to Vermont in November, he replied “worms”. Yes, he and his wife are setting up a worm composting bin. 

Vermicomposting is a great way to decompose veggie and fruit scraps in winter. While we can keep adding kitchen scraps to a frozen compost pile, the worms will work 24/7 under your kitchen sink or in your basement turning banana peels, broccoli trimmings and coffee grounds into compost in about 3 months. Here's how to get started.

Yaarche / Morguefile

With the darker days of November upon us, this gardener's attention turns to indoor houseplants. One of the hottest trends in gardening is growing succulents. Succulents have thick leaves, stems or roots for water storage. There is a wide variety of succulents to grow and most are virtually indestructible! But don't get confused. While all cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti. True cactus have what's called an areole. It looks like a patch of cotton from which spines, flowers, and roots grow. While succulents may have spines, they don't have aeroles.

Al Behrman / AP

With the cold weather finally upon, most garden plants have gone dormant for the season. But don't get too comfortable in front of the wood stove yet. There are still a few chores to do and the most important is to protect your trees and shrubs.

Toby Talbot / AP

Now that the fall leaf color show is done, there's a lotta leaves dropped on lawns, gardens and yards. But instead of seeing them as a nuisance, look at them as an opportunity. Fallen leaves can be used as a fertilizer, protective cover and an herbicide. Here's how.

Betsy Blaney / AP

This time of year it's easy to pull out the remaining veggies, cut back your perennial flowers, clean out containers, clap your hands and say, “That's it, I'm done”! But wait. There are some other fall chores to do that will make life a lot easier come spring.

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