Daffodils For Beauty & Income

One of our first harbingers of spring out here in the West: the green, fresh leaves of daffodils, popping up from the cold soil. A late blizzard doesn’t faze them at all — they just lean over protectively, then push up again through the melting snow.

Technically, they’re known as Narcissus — a hardy perennial grown from a fleshy bulb that’s cold-hardy, and grows in a wide variety of environments. (Provided they get some chilly weather, that is — daffodils need colder temperatures during their resting season.) They also go by other names, including “narcissus” and “jonquils.”

Daffodils

Daffodils range from early to late, and come in a bonanza of sizes and colors, ranging from tiny yellow “fairy” daffs to huge “King Alfred” types. Most are yellow, white or some combination of those colors. (Orange, too.)  Less common are colors ranging from apricot to nearly red, as well as lavender.

Daffodils

Growing Daffodils

Daffodils are easy to grow. Look for plump, healthy-looking bulbs, and plant them at least 2-4 weeks before your last freeze. (They can be forced, after a suitable cooling period, indoors, as well. Plant the bulbs outside after they’ve bloomed, and the plants will grow again next year.) 

They’re most reasonably-priced in large bags of 20, 30 or 50 — for a natural look, throw a handful of bulbs in the air, then plant them where they land in your flowerbed. Since their leaves and blooms are finished by the time other plants start their major growth, daffodils are perfect for filling in around established perennials, as well as groups of annuals. Some people like to plant them in lawns and around trees and bushes, for the same reason.

Unlike tulips, which sustained Dutch populations during WWII, daffodils aren’t edible. That makes them an excellent choice if your backyard has visiting deer.  (Note: friends with woodsy backyards have said that their deer do eat the daffs, on occasion. Maybe it depends on the type, or what else is available.) Our free-range chickens don’t seem to value them, either.

What’s especially nice: daffodils can also grow your income! The poet husband-and-wife combo, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, sold many bunches of daffodils in springtime, cut from the hundreds that bordered their Devon, England property. A crisp bunch of daffodils, rubber-banded for ease, makes a cheerful bouquet, and sells for $3-5 each. (They also make nice presents.)

Daffodils

Plan now to look for bulbs, when they become available. As they grow, the daffodil bulbs will continue to form new bulblets…which form new plants next season. They’re perfect for naturalizing, and mix well with other spring bulbs, like hyacinth (shown below), grape hyacinth and tulips.

While you’re admiring this season’s daffodils, keep their cheerful blossoms in mind for your garden next year.

Daffodils

Small Fruit Trees May Help With the Food Bill

fruit treesFor my birthday this year, my daughter bought me two adorable little fruit trees. Though the fruit sounds strange, Limequat and Calamondin orange tree (“has a similar flavor to a lime or lemon”) there are cherry, apple, lemon, lime, miniature almond and peach trees available online.

The trees I have come from Duarte Nursery in California but my daughter bought them from our local Lowe’s. Their website has a list of distributors. Check out other growers online like Bay Laurel Nursery and Dave Wilson Nurseries.

 Various Fruit Trees

“A cocktail fruit tree is created by taking multiple scion buds of either different varieties or species of fruit (still must be within the same family) and grafting them onto a rootstock. This will not affect the specific type of the desired fruit (scion), because the genetics of the scion and the rootstock were not mixed even though they are now one tree,” as stated on the Duarte Nursery website.

Saving Money On Food

When I was little, we lived in the suburbs and had a garden that I hated weeding. Now, I live in an apartment and try to grow what I can to help us eat. Most of my experiments have failed miserably (only two peas in one pod) but I will not give up. These little trees give me incentive. Any help I can get to save money on our food bill! I am also a fervent seed gatherer so I am very happy to find I’m not the only one. I found Seed Savers Exchange, which is a company after my own heart. They have been collecting seeds since 1975, are FDA approved and located in Deborah, Iowa.

This wonderful company has made it their goal to save the heirloom specimens found through our country’s history. They have found seeds from family farms as far back as the 19th century. Without their work, many plants would be extinct. Looking through their catalog, I have found they have small houseplants that produce vegetables, peppers, tomatoes, root vegetables, berries and beans. Pretty soon, I’m going to have a green house set up in my apartment. With this help, I just may have something to put on the table!

When Life Gives You Poop….Plant a Garden

plant a gardenWe all have to deal with difficult items now and then. Nasty things — like leftover fish bones, crabshells or spoiled eggs. Dear things — like a favorite pair of shoes, too stained and tattered to wear anymore. Or the body of your beloved pet. Smelly things — like spoiled cheese, chicken manure (We’ve got plenty of that nowadays), and those nasty socks with big, unrepairable holes in the toes. Make those things go away — plant ‘em.

A good-sized hole can hold any amount of vegetable scraps and old bones. Dig it deep — then plant squash or zucchini seeds on top, for a good source of nitrogen as the garbage decays. (I still remember reading somewhere that the “grandest grapevine in Britain” grew where a number of horses were buried some time before.) Native Americans often buried a fish in each hill of squash and corn, for better yields; in fact, this method kept the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest alive and flourishing. Also works for planters and deck pots.

Bury your beloved friend in the herb or flower garden. They’ll enrich the soil, and you’ll have a healthy, nourished plant to keep their memory evergreen. (Buck, our 14-year-old Weimaraner, rests under a thicket of sage — because he was a “sage” dog. Goonie, his companion for more than a decade, literally “brings up daisies” nearby. Somehow these silly puns are just as comforting as the memory of the animals we loved so much.)

Any kind of natural material decays and adds humus to the soil. Try lining your next raised garden bed with old newspapers, towels or t-shirts — then pile the soil on top. Keeps weeds at bay longer. Or put a sock or dishtowel in the planter first: the potting soil won’t leach out as you water the plants.

Composting is good. (A helpful guide is here.) So is manure. One warning note, though: if you use manure, spread it a few weeks before you plant — or keep it well away from the seedlings. Fresh manure can ‘burn’ new plants if it comes in contact with them.

It can only do you — and your garden — a world of good.

Divide and Conquer

flowers…Plantwise, that is.

In many parts of the country, perennials are just beginning to show their green, leafy heads. Lilies; herbs like thyme and sage; daisies; lambs ears, snow in summer or dusty miller (that fuzzy green/gray fill-in stuff);  iris…even rosebushes are just starting to grow. Now is the perfect time to divide them, and get double the plants for this growing season!

Divide And Conquer

It’s not difficult. Get a good sharp-edged trowel or shovel ready, along with a bucket or pan to put your plants in. (A pocketknife can also help.) Dig around the edge of the clump you plan to divide until it’s loosened and can be lifted out of the ground.

Find the center of the plant, then use your sharp edge to make a quick, clean cut. (Banging the plant a little, if it has a clump of roots, like iris or daylilies, also encourages the roots to separate.) Pull or cut the plant apart into 2-4 sections; plant one back in the original hole. (Add a little fertilizer or compost. Soothing words also help.) Your ‘new’ plants are now ready for their new home.  (Warning note: it’s said that iris will not bloom that season if you disturb their roots early. I’ve done it – and seen plenty of iris. But if you’re not sure, wait to separate them until after they’re done flowering. Better yet, try it both ways, and see what you prefer.)

Bulb plants, like daffodils, tulips, hyacinths (especially grape hyacinths) have often produced additional bulbs — they can be dug up and separated after the plants have bloomed. (Make a note on the calendar about June 1.) Add a little bonemeal and fertilizer in the planting hole to give them a boost.

Take Cuttings

Another way to ‘make more:’ take cuttings of your favorite plants. Roses, lavender and other woody-stemmed plants do well with this method. Take a clean twig with at least one set of leaves on it, dip in rooting hormone powder, then gently push into a pot of soil or sand. Pull a plastic bag over, to keep the cutting moist. Check occasionally and water as needed. Some cuttings won’t root. (I’ve had about 33% success.) But the ones that do will start putting out new growth. Set them out (with fertilizer, naturally) past frost, when the ground is warm.

Some plants, like geraniums and petunias, will root if you place the cuttings in a jar of water. In a few weeks, when the roots form, plant them in an enriched mixture of potting soil and fertilizer. Put out after the frost date. (I’ve literally filled a long stone planter this way, beginning with a hanging planter of geraniums a friend was going to throw out.)

Then sit back and enjoy your newly-expanded garden.

Indoor Gardening

indoor gardening

indoor gardeningGardening can be done anywhere. You can pick up a ‘green’ light at the local hardware store and set up an area for yourself somewhere in the home. It’s not really conducive to growing traditionally huge plants like cucumbers, tomatoes, and squash, but there are several advantages to growing your own microgreens, mushrooms, and herbs by indoor gardening.

All you really need is some water, some reasonably nutritious soil, some seeds, and good light. Mother Nature takes care of the rest – the plants themselves know how to grow. All of these things, when combined, yield a whole lot more in food for less than you’d pay for fruits, vegetables, and herbs at the supermarket. That, and the fun of getting to play in dirt is quite compelling. Here are a few staples of indoor gardening.

Indoor Gardening Plants

Herbs

Here at Penny Thots, there was an article about how your seasoning mixes are wasting you money, and that’s definitely true. You don’t get to control what goes into the herbs and spice packs, nor do you get to control the added fillers. Growing your own herbs is a time investment – one that all you have to do is watch them grow.

Basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, and tarragon are all excellent herbs for growing indoors. These herbs want to live, and so they’ll work very hard to make sure that happens. Drying your herbs doesn’t take that much effort, either; you can do it in the oven or naturally by setting them in the sun. Either way, for the price of some seeds and a little setup, you can start a great indoor garden in your apartment or other small living space.

Microgreens and Mushrooms

Every week, I spend about $3 on mushrooms. I am madly in love with most mushrooms, as they are so versatile and have an amazing array of varieties. There’s nothing that makes a hamburger sing so well as having a side of succulent buttered mushrooms on the side. These can be grown at home with minimum investment.

You see, growing things with small root systems is the name of the game when gardening indoors. For both microgreens and mushrooms, you need a light source and a paste of seeds and nutrients spread over a cooking tray. That’s pretty much it. I mean – it’s not that hard – look at chia pets!

Final Thots

The secret to indoor gardening is leaving things alone. Once you give the plants a little water, a little sun, and some nutrients, you’re good to go. For a small investment of time and under $50, you can have enough greens, mushrooms, and herbs to last you all year round. Good luck, and happy gardening!