Container Gardening – Squash?

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A friend suggested that I try growing squash in a large planter. She told me to look for a “bush” variety. I wasn’t able to find that type of seeds anywhere here, so she mailed a few seeds to me from her own plants from last summer.

I planted three seeds. They all germinated and the plants seem to have plenty of room. Per my friend’s advice, I mixed used coffee grounds and crushed eggshells into the potting soil before planting the seeds. I added more coffee grounds to all my plants a couple of days ago when the plant looked like this:

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Today, I have actual squash blossoms!

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Used coffee grounds are a WONDERFUL fertilizer. But look up the plant before you add coffee grounds to the soil, because they aren’t appropriate fertilizer for all plants.

I don’t know the name of this squash variety, just that it’s a variety that grows up into a bush instead of running in vines on the ground. It won’t reach its full height in this container, but if you have to container garden and you really want squash, you can have it!

Late summer gardening

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It’s not really “late” summer in North Carolina. As the saying goes, we have four seasons: Almost summer, summer, still summer, and Christmas. Which means that, where I live, I can safely keep herbs and vegetables on the sunny side of the porch until mid-October.

My basil is fabulous as always, and I planted enough this year that I think the dried and crushed leaves will last until next “almost summer.” I bought two large tomato plants from Walmart months ago (NEVER AGAIN) and they looked healthy and had flowers and small green tomatoes on them . . . but once I got them home and the tomatoes started turning red, the leaves turned yellow, got brown spots, and dried up. A friend of mine identified the problem as leaf spot disease. I cut off all the dead  and dying foliage and set them around the side of the house to deal with later. A few weeks later I looked at them and they were putting out new growth and flowers! I pruned them again and watered them. Now they seem to have gone dormant. Go figure.

I bought tomato and basil “grow kits” from Family Dollar and they really took off. I had so many tomato seedlings in one little pot that I split them between three planters and gave the other pot to my neighbor. The seedlings have tripled in size in the two weeks since I planted them in big planters.

The friend who identified the tomato disease mailed a few bush-variety squash seeds to me. I planted three. They all germinated and look sturdy and healthy.

I’ve never planted squash in containers before. I decided to try more herbs and vegetables than flowers this year, so I chose something that looked fairly easy: pole beans. One pot looks to be on the verge of doing something. The plants in the other pot are a pallid yellow and are struggled. I ran a screwdriver up all the drainage holes in the pot, put the pot on a plant stand, mixed up a big bowl of potting soil, coffee grounds, and crushed eggshells (per my friend who has 12 foot sunflowers) and added the mixture to the pot. The soil was too low in that pot and most of my other vegetable pots. What I did today was add the potting soil/coffee grounds/eggshells to pots that were low on dirt, rearrange vegetable containers to maximize their sun exposure, and then snip yellow leaves and deadhead wildflowers. Container gardening won’t save you from weeds and grass. I did quite a bit of weeding today.

It rained hard two days ago, and it’s been “cool” (under 90F) since, so I watered some plants and gave the rest of them a splash of water on the leaves after the sun set.

My next gardening project is moving irises, very, very old irises that aren’t getting sun and rain because of a massive old maple and overgrown hedges. I’m not looking forward to it, but it has to be done. The soil in that flowerbed is exhausted. The worst outcome is what’s inevitable if we don’t try to move them.

Otherwise, my moonflowers are blooming, and the forget-me-nots and marigolds are starting to. I’ve learned a lot about gardening this year, plants for containers other than tomatoes, treating plant diseases, and what to do with the shady side of your yard.

–RobinIMG_0155IMG_0158IMG_0159IMG_0160

Photography Around the Yard

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2016 september tomato

Porch vegetable and herb garden. I planted a very mushy tomato in the spring and got several seedlings. When they were several inches tall, I gave half of them to my neighbor and separated the other half into two big planters, each planter big enough to hold an entire large bag of potting soil. I ended up with two adult plants. It took until August for them to reach their full height of over three feet and start putting out flowers. Now, in September, I have my first tomato. Luckily, North Carolina “enjoys” warm weather until the end of October.

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Another moonflower bloomed late this afternoon. This one is growing from a planter on the porch, on a yarn “trellis.” You can see the wrinkles in the petals from the folds of the bud.

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Scientific name polypores, common name shelf fungi. Sometimes referred to as “seashell fungi.” They grow on tree trunks and branches. This is a fallen branch from a dead dogwood tree. Eventually, if left untouched, the fungi may petrify. I have a petrified shelf fungus from a birch tree stump on Long Island. However, the extreme differences in temperature and humidity between Long Island and North Carolina may result in these fungi dying and rotting. I’m going to try removing one intact to see if it will dry out in the house.

More bird and garden pics

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This juvenile cardinal is in the most embarrassing phase of moulting! I thought it was a female, but the new feathers are so bright red that it seems to be a male. If you look closely, you can see the black starting to fade from his beak.

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At last, a healthy sunflower.

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This moonflower opened in just 30 minutes. I actually saw it start to unfold.

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Bzzzy

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Tomorrow night is supposed to be our last hard freeze (high 20s) and I’ve already been working on my container garden. The wildflowers from last year are coming back in their containers because I left them out all winter. They’ll need a layer of new potting soil, and LOTS of water when the heat finally settles in, and that’s about it. I was very pleased with my two lavender plants. They made it through the winter. A couple of months ago I cut off all the dead stuff and now they’re really filling out with greenery. I repotted them into planters twice as big as the old ones. The lavender and the red amaranth–which I thought was cockscomb– were the favorites of the insects last year.

All my pots have small clumps of some little tiny pink and yellow wildflowers that have always grown in the flower bed, so I’m leaving them along and just pulling out the tiny maple trees and the grass that grows from birdseed. (BTW, you can fill in the bare spots in your yard with daily applications of bird seed. They never eat it all. But you have to mow it twice as often as regular grass.)

I already have two basil plants producing; one is from a cutting that I overwintered inside and one is a new plant that I just bought. Fresh basil is great. Drying basil is super easy. Just put the leaves in a small paper bag, fold the top down tightly, and keep the bag in a dry cabinet, pantry, or even your bedroom closet.

I had three onions that sprouted so I thought “why not?” and stuck them in a pot. I did that with the top of a bell pepper last year and got about 20 pepper plants. I had so many I had to give my neighbor half, and they kept producing well into the fall.

I’ll buy two cherry tomato plants again this year when I find some that already have fruit AND THAT AREN’T PRE-TREATED WITH PESTICIDES. If you put plants that come with pesticide from the store into your organic garden, you may as well just trash the whole thing. A few of the big box stores have stopped using bee-killing pesticides on their plants. You can also visit local farmstands that sell plants, but ask about pesticides before you buy. Don’t assume that just because they come from a local farm they haven’t been dosed with chemicals. Since I container garden because my yard is red clay and full of old tree roots, I only buy cherry tomatoes. They also kept bearing fruit into the fall. One of the good things about container gardening is that you can move your vegetables and herbs onto a covered porch or patio at night to avoid frost.

Easy flowers to grow from seed: marigolds, sweetpeas, sunflowers (the easiest of all and you don’t need fancy seeds from a packet, just the seeds in your birdseed) and moonflowers. Moths are pollinators too, so a well-rounded pollinator garden should include night-blooming flowers.

Marigolds just need potting soil, frequent watering, morning and afternoon sun, and large pots. They’ll quickly outgrow small pots and start drooping.

Sweetpeas are best planted in the ground and given something to climb–your porch banister will suffice–but they also do well and look and smell fantastic in hanging planters.

Sunflowers grow quite tall in pots, and they don’t need big, deep pots. Last year I did buy a packet of fancy mixed sunflower seeds and put three at a time to a pot. They grew to at least four feet tall. Sunflowers will face the rising sun. Keep that in mind when placing their pots.

Moonflowers are also very easy to grow and don’t require deep planters. They just need something to climb. If you don’t provide something, they’ll climb your sunflowers. Plant multiple seeds (they’re big) so you’ll have lots of glowing white plants after sunset. IMPORTANT: MOONFLOWER SEEDS CAN BE TOXIC. Keep them out of reach of children and pets. Watch for the seed pods to appear in early fall. When they dry out, you can extract the seeds.

This link, courtesy of @SonnyBeez on Twitter, is great because you just enter your zip code and learn the primary pollinators in your area, their favorite plants, and a lot of other information about organic gardening to feed pollinators, beautify your yard, and feed your family, or at least give you some cooking herbs and tomatoes and peppers for your salads and omelets.

The best water for your plants is rainwater. If you get a hard rainstorm in the summer you might want to try collecting rainwater for your garden, but you’ll have to use it within two days or you’ll be breeding mosquitoes.

Watering plants in containers on your apartment patio? If you don’t have/can’t use a garden hose, buy a plastic watering can. Plants do best when they get an approximation of rain water on their leaves as well as at the roots. I put my houseplants in the sink and use the sink sprayer to water them.

I buy American Seed brand seeds in boxes and packets at Dollar General. They’re organic. I’ve had mixed success with them. I haven’t had any luck with the impatiens and shade wildflower mix, but the partial to full sun mix boxes and the packets of sunflowers, moonflowers, sweatpeas, and marigolds have been marvelous.

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