Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Project: Cold Frame

Late last Fall my husband, ever thoughtfully thinking of me, chanced upon some discarded windows on the side of the road. He picked them up knowing that I have been kicking the idea around of constructing some sort of cold frame – and that's exactly what we used them for.


Although we started this project early in the Spring, we didn't finish until well into the growing season but it made me reconsider hinging the windows onto the frame so that I could still use the frame as a planting bed during the height of summer.

We built a simple frame out of 2x6 pine. The base is 6" high and the top is 12" high. The sides are a 2x6 cut on a diagonal. To build the frame we referred to a wonderful article in Fine Gardening on how to construct a cold frame (see video link here). We did not spend much. This cold frame is an experiment for me, much like all gardening in my view. I think you can read and learn from other sources, maybe even mimic them exactly, but it will be your experience and experimentation that will ultimately teach you the "zen of gardening."


Making sure the windows fit the base.

During the summer I grew peppers in this windowless frame. Now that fall has arrived and the peppers are done, the windows top the frame. Even during cloudy days they steam. I hope to learn when to vent this cold frame instinctually, but automatic solar venting devices might prove to be a better option. I figure if I "take" to cold climate gardening I may invest a little more into my next cold frame which will be higher allowing for taller plants.


I planted a variety of greens including spinach, swiss chard, broccoli rabe, curly and lacinato kale on October 18th. I thought I might have been too late in my planting but all six rows have already sprouted!


I planted greens that I felt could grow in much colder weather but it will be interesting to see the actual results of this experiment – of course, I'll keep you "posted." Over the Winter I will also be studying Eliot Coleman's The Winter Harvest Handbook in depth. If you are not familiar with Eliot Coleman, he is an expert in year-round cold climate gardening. He resides in Maine!

So, while the leaves are turning and continuing to fall, I'm looking forward to some green!

Wild Grapes

Come Spring I hope to start seeds in this cold frame but that's another experiment for another day.

Monday, October 22, 2012

October Observations: Transition to Frostism

This month I have been busy bringing in the potted plants, transplanting, cleaning up the Potager, bringing in anything that will not withstand freezing temperatures ... it's ongoing.

It took me a week to bring in all my potted plants. Years past I have overwintered most of my potted plants in the cellar but I am striving to achieve plant combinations that will make decent houseplants through the winter and then simply be moved outdoors to voila, become decorative summer containers. I have achieved this with a couple of my potted plants so far and have had great success with begonias. Succulents are also proving promising. I love the mossy patina on this pot that I have had for years. I hope the moss adjusts to the indoors. I could mist it now and then.


This begonia is finding new life in a terrarium on my plant shelf. (For the history of the plant shelf from a previous post, click here.) I am attempting to root ferns and a few other things this way.


My plant shelf has received a few upgrades like these beautiful bell jars.


While planting some peony tubers I acquired from our local garden club (doubting they will make it but then the garden always surprises), I stumbled upon these Milkweed Bugs. They are most likely laying eggs in these pods for their nymphs to eat. I have faith there will be plenty for all of us; bug, plant, and gardener. These are large Milkweed Bugs, Oncopeltus fasciatus. Not to be confused with a record number of Box Elder Bugs this year in our area which lack the triangular orange patches on the forewing.

We were frosted October 13th, the same exact day we received our first frost last year according to my calendar.


After frost is when I usually plant my garlic. These are my biggest and best cloves from this year's harvest. Into the ground they went on October 14th.



I completely worked through Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day which is something I rarely miss. I am currently enjoying the blooms of Calendula, Obedient Plant, Chocolate Joe Pye, Cimicifuga, and Honeysuckle. Here in the Northeast the Fall foliage outdoes the blooms at this time of year. We've had another surprisingly beautiful Autumn.





The year-round outdoor containers get a little makeover before being remodeled with Winter evergreens.


Exciting new bird sightings in the garden during this October's migration. Though not a new sighting, it was a thrill to witness a small flock of Golden Crowned Kinglets fly back and forth through my garden, among the Bird & Butterfly Garden, and between two opposite neighboring Maples just before dusk. Just last Sunday I made my pilgrimage to the Potager for some greens and interrupted a first time sighting of a Tufted Titmouse at the feeder. I save the best new sighting for last — Evening Grosbeaks! I have not seen these beautiful birds since I lived in Maine. I felt very honored that they would drop in to my small village garden to dine on black oil sunflowers seeds. They are still visiting and I will try to enjoy each moment that they are here.

So begins my transition to "frostism" where the garden tones down its palette to a variation of tan, beige, gold, orange, copper, cinnamon, and brown all frosted with white. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Eight, Nine, Ten Picks for Diana!

I am really trying to join Diana of Elephant's Eye in choosing twelve months of my favorite garden plants. Since when does a month go by so fast? Not just one, but three and here it is Fall already. I expect our first frost any night. I think my garden shines in Fall and it is one of my favorite times to be in it. It could be that I have some excellent Fall plants that glow in the cooler days, dewy mornings and chilly nights. So, it would be some of these plants that I would choose for the following months.

August — Joe Pye Weeds. Nothing attracts butterflies and other pollinators like the Joe Pye. They are bold, tall, stately and beautiful in the garden. My Eupatorium Gateway looms over an impressive 6'. Its nodding billow of pink blooms are 8-10" across, maybe even larger! In August, it is its showiest but its spent blooms, turning a rustic brown, last well into fall. Eupatorium Rugosum or Chocolate Joe Pye blooms later in September, even into October. Its white heads of flowers light up against its dark, chocolatey foliage.

Joe Pye Gateway

Eupatorium Rugosum Chocolate

September — Rudbeckias. My favorites: Rudbeckia Laciniata or Green Cutleaf Coneflower, Rudbeckia Maxima or Giant Coneflower, and of course the staple of all Northeastern Fall gardens, Rudbeckia Hirta or Black-eyed Susans. I may also have Rudbeckia Triloba or Brown-eyed Susan, that popped up from some wildflower seed. I have to take a closer look to distinguish between the two. Either way, a drift of Susans is always the grand finale of Summer. Cutleaf Coneflowers are also big and bold in the garden. Their masses of smaller yellow sunflower-like blooms dance above their almost tropical-looking leaves. Birds and bees love them. I have several plants of Rudbeckia Maxima along the Nice Driveway which is drier. They are still establishing themselves, and have even reseeded in a few spots. I love their tall candle-like cones even after the yellow petals of their blooms have dropped off and their banana-like leaves in blue shades. I catch Chickadees and Gold Finches enjoying their seed.

 A drift of Black-eyed Susans with Joe-Pye in the Bird & Butterfly Garden

Rudbeckia Laciniata

Rudbeckia Laciniata

Rudbeckia Maxima

Rudbeckia Maxima

October — Asters. I admit, my garden needs more Asters! I wish the garden centers around here would sell/push Asters in the Fall instead of just Mums. I don't buy Mums anymore because most of them aren't truly hardy here and I hate to just throw them away come December. I have a few Asters at home in my garden: Woods Pink Aster Dumosus, Jim Crockett, and October Skies. October Skies is newly planted and is still establishing. Jim Crockett seems to bloom earlier than most. Woods Pink is now covered in blooms.

Woods Pink, Aster Dumosus

An Aster we came upon in a recent hike.
Possibly Aster drummondii (Drummond's Aster) or Aster saggitifolius (Arrow-leaved Aster).

Here is a list of my former picks for Diana. Only two more months to go ... I am sure they will go quickly.

January: Sunflowers
February: Wild Roses
March: Lady's Mantle
April: Poppies
May: Iris
June: Alliums
July: Bee Balm


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