Category Archives: garden

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Seed starting in newspaper pots

I started starting my seeds in my newspaper pots today. I’d say I’m maybe a few weeks late, but since I don’t plan to transplant anything until the middle to end of May, I’ll be ok.

First, a bit on what to start your seeds in. I’ve had good luck with Miracle Gro potting soil with Moisture Control. It is available at my local stores and it really wicks the moisture up to the plants. Since I am going to be bottom watering, that is important.

I had some left over from last year, so the first thing I had to do was moisten it up. It was bone dry, and some of it was in chunks.
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It is surprising how much water it will soak up and still not be sopping wet. I simply transferred to my biggest pot and added water. Using my sauerkraut technique (squeeze the heck out of it), I got the water to incorporate into the dry material and eventually got it to clump up when I squeezed it, but not be soupy. This is the consistency I like.
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I like to plant into pots big enough that I won’t have to transplant them. I don’t have time to fuss with it, so I just figure that I will transplant them into the ground before they get root bound. To make my holding trays, I take a pizza box and reinforce it with duct tape as necessary.
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I then slip it into a large garbage bag. The point of this is that the cardboard will not get wet, so make sure the garbage bag doesn’t have any holes. Also, it needs to be large enough to cover the entire pizza box, including up the sides. “Watering from the bottom” means that you will eventually fill the plastic covered pizza box with water and let the newspaper and potting mix bring the water up to the roots of the plant, so it must be able to hold water and it needs to go all the way up the side of the box so it won’t spill over. One of the garbage bags tonight was big enough for the whole box to fit in, but the other one wasn’t, so I cut it so that the box wasn’t inside the plastic, but the plastic instead was just on top of it. It’ll work fine.

Then, fill the pots with the damp soil and pack down slightly. I fill all of them first, and then worry about what I am going to plant in each of them. I was able to fit 6 in each column, and I got 12 across, so this one pizza box holds 72 pots. They will help hold each other up, and the funny thing is, that when I just put the empty pots in, I could only got 5 across, but when I got the soil packed in and I was able to push them up against each other, I was able to get 6.
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I then started to plant. Cabbage and broccoli were first up. They should have been started earlier, but no use crying over that. I planted 18 broccoli plants, and 36 cabbages, 18 from Gurney’s and 18 from Jackie Clay. I put two seeds in each pot, and when they get going for a few weeks or so, I will see which one is growing best in each pot, and carefully cut the other one away. That way, each pot will only have one plant to support.

The last thing I planted in this flat is some Jimson Weed (some? Ha. 18 of them). This is a flower that my husband’s Grandma has in her yard, and it is just beautiful and so fragrant. The flowers bloom towards evening, so it is perfect for me. I don’t go out in the yard before work or church, and Saturdays are a big house chore day for me, so I don’t ever get out to the garden until afternoon/evening time. They have large, showy, white, tube like flowers and a lot of dark green foliage. The plants themselves get very large. Grandma C gave me some of the seeds last year from her plant, and so I’ve been holding on to them since then. I didn’t know how many will actually germinate, so I planted 2 or 3 per pot. This plant is said to thrive in dry conditions, so how perfect is that in this dry, droughty season? This is a picture from a few years ago in her yard. The picture quality is awful, but I hope you can tell how large and showy the flowers are!
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So, why am I planting flowers? It’s vegetable planting time, yo. Well, because. My best friend has the most awesome yard I’ve seen. She gardens for vegetables, has started an orchard behind her house, and the front of her house keeps getting deeper and deeper flower beds. I bet she has a 6 foot deep bed of flowers in front of the house, and it just looks so great! She buys bulbs and flowers when they are spent and at a deep discount, plants them, and they come up the next year, and every year after. She gets delayed beauty, but for cheap. I saw it a few years ago, and I’ll admit. I was jealous. But then I decided, hey, why be jealous, be inspired instead! So, since then, I’ve started thinking about adding flowers to my yard.

I started out by putting newspaper down on the grass on the north side of our house, wetting it down, and then putting deep straw on top of that. I did that a year and a half ago in the fall, and I just let it go over the winter. Then, last spring, I dug in it, and it was very loose soil and almost all of the grass and weeds were gone. Grandma C brought over some bulbs for some early small white flowers, and we planted those last year, and I got some geraniums from work last year in a hanging pot. I split those up, got 3 plants out of the it, and planted those as well. I was planning on starting more flowers, but I just never got around to it. I tried planting the Jimson Weed out there, but I didn’t get any to come up. I think it was too dry to germinate, and I do awful watering when they are seeds. I then added more newspapers and more straw and left it for the rest of the year, until now. Now, it is basically bare ground, but on the north side of the house so it isn’t baked and cracked like the rest of the ground is. Covering it again is on the list.

So that was some long winded background to the question of why am I starting flowers now when the vegetables need to get in. The answer is, if I don’t start them now, I might not ever get them started. I plan on starting some flowers in each flat I start, just to make sure that I don’t wait until everything else is done, because by then, I might be too busy and put it off too long.

I ran out of potting soil before I got the second flat filled. This pizza box only holds 5 in each column, and I ran out right when I finished the 8th row, a little over half way to filling this flat. I planted 15 Kale, 15 Celery (both from Gurney’s) and the rest in daisies. As an aside: Holy moley, celery seed is small. I basically dusted those in: took a pinch, sprinkled it over each pot, and then kind of poked them into the soil. I’ve never planted celery before, so we’ll see if they take.

I only have one heating pad, so I just put it under the first flat, and once those have germinated and are poking up, I’ll shift it so that I am heating another section of the boxes. I got this from Gurney’s a few years ago.
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Finally, last thing I do is put plastic wrap over the top of the flats. The seeds need to be damp, but not soaking, so I won’t water any more until they have poked up over the soil. I put plastic over the top so that the moisture won’t evaporate, put it on the heating pad, and let them be.
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Now, I just need to get more potting soil, and spend some more time making pots. I’ve got okra, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers to start for sure, more flowers, and if I have time/space, I’ll put in some cucumbers, and both winter and summer squashes. Might as well start everything now, before the hubbub of late May gets here.

I don’t need to set up my lights just yet. The seeds need to sprout and get 1/2″ or so tall before they need any lights. DH is telling me he is going to weld up some light holders for me, and we’ll see how that goes. I might have to apply some interesting engineering to the problem if he doesn’t get it done. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention and all that.

Making newspaper seed pots

Seed orders are in (at least the first two rounds), which means, it is about seed starting time. I like to start in the middle of March, which means a few weeks to get things prepared. The seeds have yet to be delivered, but hey, let’s get started on the pots anyway.

I have tried different ways to start seeds. I have bought peat pots, little circles of peat that go into styrofoam, which then the styrofoam floats so the peat doesn’t get waterlogged, dixie cups, etc. All of these have the problem of: you have to buy them. They are also a little hard to get the correct water amount to the plants. I want to be able to water from the bottom and let the wicking action of the soil bring water up to the roots while they are inside. The newspaper gets soaked this way, but it is strong enough to hold on for the 6-8 weeks I need them too. I also don’t want to disturb any roots when I plant them, so I don’t want to have to take them out of the pot they were growing in. And, they cannot be root bound.

The answer: newspaper seed pots. Water from the bottom and you can control how wet the soil gets. Plant them out (after hardening off) without doing anything other than tearing any newspaper off that reaches above the soil line so it doesn’t wick moisture away into the atmosphere, and tear off the small bottom circle of newspaper at the bottom. No roots are disturbed this way. And, the roots will grow through the newspaper when in the ground and the newspaper will disintegrate by the end of the growing season. (We just pulled some spent tomato plants from the garden last week, and there was no trace of newspaper around the roots. My brother commented on how mom’s tomato plants didn’t have nice, big, expansive roots like mine did. She bought hers from the store, and they were in peat pots.) These are large enough for my purposes that I don’t usually have to transplant to bigger pots later on, either.

Also: you don’t have to buy a tool to make the seed pots. I’ve found a way to use newspaper and regular tape left over from wrapping Christmas presents.

First, the newspaper. Black and white, color, it doesn’t matter. All the ink is safe to use. I had a pile of the smaller newspapers around, but fortuitously, the smaller ones are exactly half the size of the regular sized ones, so one more cut on the regularly sized ones will get you down to the smaller size, and you can follow along from there.

I use clear scotch tape. It disintegrates in the ground with no trace.

Then, all you need is a form. I use a soy sauce bottle. It seems to be the perfect size. And scissors.
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One thing to remember: this is not fine furniture. You are creating pots to hold dirt and will be gone in 6 months, never to be seen again. Don’t get too hung up on what they look like. If they can hold dirt and can stand up with a little help with their friends, they are fine.

I will be putting these in a pizza box inserted inside a plastic garbage sack. I’m just making the pots now, but that is where they will eventually end up, so they might as well go in there.

So you take your newspaper and fold it in half. Hey look, that’s my cousin on the front page!
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Make sure the edges line up.
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Cut down the fold:
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Fold in half the other direction and cut down the fold. You should have sizes about like this:
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I use two sheets at a time. When you get done cutting, half of them will have two sheets still connected by a fold, and half of them will be completely cut apart. Use the folded ones as is, and use two of them if they are cut apart completely.

Grab your soy sauce bottle and wrap the newspaper around it. It is up to you to decide how tall to make it, but you need to be able to completely fold and close off the bottom, so take that into account. This “Good Housekeeping” icon makes a good measuring line. For the folded ones, I put the folded side on the measuring line. The free ones, it doesn’t matter. Put one piece of tape on this seam.
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Turn the bottle upside down and rest it on the table. We are going to fold the bottom. Find the seam, and push the seam across the bottom of the bottle.
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On the right side of that fold, push in again across the bottom of the bottle.
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Then, on the left side of the original fold, push in again across the bottom of the bottle:
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One more fold.
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And then, one piece of tape secures this. I fold it specifically this way so the tape both holds the fold down and tapes together the seam on the side.
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Slide it off the bottle, and you are ready for your next one. I did all these (64 of them) in about 45 minutes last night, watching TV with DH. And now they are just waiting to be filled with potting soil and planted.
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Don’t forget to wash your hands!
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Beginning of the fall garden

I’m finally putting my money where my mouth is and sticking seeds in the ground for a fall harvest. I am late, oh so late. We had a few weeks in there with temperatures in upper 90′s and lower 100′s and I just didn’t feel like going out there and baking. Oh yeah, and Boobock couldn’t come out in that heat either. Yeah, let’s go with that.

So now that is has cooled off significantly, and I finally got the potatoes dug, I could start today. I tilled where the potatoes were, and got started.

I started at the north part of this section, as it is under the canopy of the weird tree growing beside the garden. I put some of the more heat sensitive plants there, so maybe I can get them to produce instead of bolt. I usually take my handy three prong rake thing and level out a wide row about 3ish feet wide.
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Here is the entire row, smoothed out. Boobock is showing off the eggplant he pilfered.
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I then started planting. First was spinach. I am using seed left over from spring and previous years, so some of the quantities are pretty low. I also have a hard time getting things to germinate because of the heat and lack of rain, so I am doubling up on the seed amount I plant and will thin later. So, this small area is all the spinach. I made a rule this year that when you are done planting some particular kind of seed in the garden, I have to mulch it right away. This makes planting go much much slower, but at least the mulching is done and I can remember where I planted the seeds and not have to wait until they come up before I can mulch.
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Next was pak choi. I am running the rows north/south because of the small amount of seed I am using. If I had enough to run an entire row, I would go east/west, but because I am putting 4 different types of plants here in this one row, grouping them together makes more sense.
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Finally, kohlrabi and then broccoli. All mulched up and ready to go. We watered this part of the garden when we were done, trying to not blow the seed out of the rows when we did it. Boobock did some of it, so I am not sure how successful we were with regards to that.
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I am mulching with wheat straw from 2 or 3 year old 1200 or so pound round bales. DH brought me in a new one early this spring, and I have been slowly pecking away at it. I use the 3 pronged rake to scrape it off the bale and into my handy dandy cart, and then cart it to where it needs to go. This thing is ancient, and we found it in the yard of our farm after we took it over. The wheels are out of balance, the center of gravity is a little off, and the rubber on the tires is hard and cracked and some of it is missing. But it works oh so well. I can’t just use a pitchfork because the straw is deteriorated pretty bad (the previous bale more so than this one.)…and DH has the pitchfork at the farm. So I make due, and it works.
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Boobock loves to climb and jump, so he thought it was the best thing when I let him climb up this bale. He slid down once, then climbed again and said he was going to jump. I told him to stop…but I was too late. He jumped, landed on his feet, but his momentum carried him forward and he ended up landing on his stomach, arms akimbo and with a hard plunk. He looks up at me and says “See!” and then “Whah!!!!”. Delayed reaction, dude. He was fine. And now knows not to jump from the top of a big round bale.
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Digging potatoes

Got home from work at a decent time (after an hour commute and only having to stop for gas) and went to pick up Boobock. We got home, changed and immediately went out to set the chickens free. We keep the chickens locked up during the day, but in the evening, we let them out. They have learned that when we open the gate and start clapping at them, they can run out and over to the apple tree…which has fallen over, but still produces good fruit. There are a lot of branches on the ground, so it is hard to mow under and hard to chase chickens out from under, but they go in there and clean up the fallen ones for me and help control the apple worms. Last year, almost every apple had a worm in it, and then I got chickens. One rooster and one chicken escaped and I could not keep them in, so when the garden was done for the winter, I just let them stay out. They spent most of their time under the apple tree or in the garage, and they really cleaned up under the tree. This year, we had significantly less trouble with the worms. (I know it’s a baby moth. Still annoying.) I have been letting the chickens out when I am outside so I can herd them away from the garden, but now they pretty much stay under the tree, so I am getting more adventurous and letting them out earlier and earlier. There is nothing funnier than watching a little 3 year old boy with his “running shoes” on chasing after chickens, scattering them every which way, him wheeling around and running just as fast as his little legs can carry him, and getting the chickens to where they need to go. He feels so accomplished.

After herding the chickens, it was on to potato digging time.

This is only my third year of planting potatoes. I tried them in tires one year, and got nothing. I think that it was too hot in the black tires and I didn’t water them enough. I didn’t get one potato out of that experiment. Last year I had them in the part of the garden where I have trouble with bermuda grass, and my water hose was just not quite long enough, so again, watering didn’t occur like it needed to. I also think I put too much dirt on them when I hilled them up. I basically killed them with dirt. I didn’t know I was only supposed to hill it up 1/3 of the way…I went way way way higher. I got like 3 potatoes. It was pitiful.

So this year, I didn’t have high hopes. I only bought 2 pounds of seed potatoes from the local nursery, and I had some on my counter that sprouted, and so I thought, why not? And cut them up and planted those as well. I put them in two rows in a newish part of the garden that hasn’t been amended as heavily as other parts, but I was able to water more evenly.

The tops had died back maybe a month ago, but I had just let them stay in the dirt. They were beside the beets and onions, and so that part of the garden didn’t need watering any more, so I just left them. But I am ready to put in my fall seeds, so I knew I would be planting in that area and watering, so I needed to pull them.

With my trusty, though flighty, help Boobock, I started digging. I actually used a hoe and a three pronged rake instead of a potato fork. I would dig/scrape the soil and he was poised over the trench, yelling “I see one” every time we found one. He would pick it up and try to toss it in the bucket. Until he was intentionally missing and there were potatoes everywhere. Oh well, they are easy enough to pick up. The soil was pretty hard and clay like, and the drought has done a number on it. Some of it came away in large hard chunks…but there were potatoes in there!
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I hilled up a few of the potatoes with dirt, but that didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I used straw on the rest, and I think that the straw did a better job. I definitely saw a difference where the straw was. The ground was very hard under the potatoes, but I had a lot of them right on top of the ground under the first layer of straw.
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We ended up with about 15 pounds of potatoes.
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10 1/2 pounds were blemish free, and 4 1/2 pounds had a cut mark or bug bite. I put the blemish free ones in the garage to dry out a bit and let the skins toughen up, and we have the 4 1/2 pounds in the house. I washed 2 of them, and sliced them up. We grilled tonight, so we put olive oil down on some aluminum foil, then potatoes, a little Tony Chachere (a very excellent Cajun spice) and some butter, and put it on the grill.

Due to my Whole 30 diet, I couldn’t eat them (sad panda). I had one bite and it tasted amazing, but then stuck to my approved food. The rest of the potatoes better wait to spoil for a few weeks at least so I can have some…

I don’t know if it is worth it to try to can them up or not. I’ve never canned them before, as my first 2 years yielded 3 potatoes total. I think we will get through them before they start to go bad, but I might try it anyway.

Oh yeah. The chickens started coming in by themselves, and Boobock chased them round and round and round, and the all eventually found their way back inside the coop. He then filled their water, drenching himself in the process, of course. I hauled more straw in for them and shut them up for the night.

A productive evening after a full day’s work and hour commute, I would say!

Garden update July 2014

Ok, is it really an update if you have never seen my garden before? Let’s call it a Garden Introduction.

I had a very late start to my garden due to personal circumstances this spring, but we are really rolling now. First is a section of tomatoes, and a few eggplant, because some of the tomatoes I started died. DH (dear husband) wanted some eggplant, and I thought that all the ones I started indoors had died…they didn’t so we ended up with 6 eggplant, 3 in 2 different sections of the garden. Oops. Got to pick up some tahini and make some baba ganoush. (Or order it on Amazon…our little grocery stores don’t stock tahini.) We made 6 new tomato cages out of some wire mesh we had on hand this year, but got the rest of the mesh too late to put them around the other tomatoes. I’ve only so far got yellow tomatoes and a few grape tomatoes, but most of them are loaded with green fruit.
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Next to the tomatoes is two rows of cucumbers. I put two hog panels out and lean them towards each other so they are self supporting (I wire them together) and then plant one cucumber seed in each “hole”. The cucumbers grow up the panel and out on either side. I thought I had left enough room for this growth this year, but it looks like they need even more space next year. My brother is a fiend for my bread and butter pickles, so we will make a bunch to give him for Christmas. And my father in law put in a request for some bread and butter pickles today, as well. Looks like I’ll be canning this weekend!
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Next is the summer squash section. I’ve got 12 plants here (or more…I planted two seeds in each hole.) What was I thinking? Well, that’s why I had two zucchini recipes in my first three posts.
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Next is a row of okra and different types of green/wax beans, and some dill, cilantro and carrots. The okra package said to plant one seed every 2-3″ apart and then thin to 18″ apart! Wow, that’s a lot of wasted seed. I instead planted every 6″ or so. Once they came up and I was supposed to thin them, I just couldn’t kill all those little baby plants. So I dug about every other one up and transplanted them…and it worked! Okra is notorious for not transplanting well, but hey, I was going to kill them anyway. Might as well try. I think I only killed 1 or 2, and came up with a whole other row of okra.

I grew beans for the first time last year, and we just loved them. Couldn’t get enough. I only planted 1 row of wax beans last year, and decided this year to plant 6 rows of green and wax bush beans and more pole beans. This section only has the bush beans.

I have never before successfully got carrots to come up, but there are some growing now. I have also never tried dill or cilantro. The cilantro was a success, as I was able to come up with some good recipes, and of course guacamole, but I didn’t know what to do with the dill and it pretty much just grew and grew and I didn’t use any.
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The next section had the transplanted okra, peas, potatoes, onions, kohlrabi, beets and strawberries that escaped their earthbox-type containers. They are all done and this section is ready for me to till and put more stuff in it. I made the containers last year out of mineral feeders and they worked so long as I kept them watered, but with so much else going on in the garden, I let them dry out and they didn’t work so well this year. I had never grown beets before, and I found I really liked them. Definitely a repeat grower. The onions did well and I am now trying to figure out how to store them all.
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Next is broccoli, cabbage, and different kinds of peppers, along with the 3 eggplant that I grew from seed that I thought had died. I got the broccoli and cabbage in too late, and it is past time to pick the cabbage. I got no broccoli. It is just too hot. The corn is in its own little section beside the main garden. It isn’t tall and is tasseling. Hopefully we get corn this year without that awful fungus we’ve gotten the past 2 years.
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Next is sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash, pole beans and butternut squash. I grow the squashes and beans on more hog/cattle panels the same as the cucumbers.
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Finally, we put in a great big arch for some cucuzzi and oriental yard long beans. DH suggested we use some hog panels and pipe he had cut and welded to make corner posts for our fence, and so those suckers are 9′ high in the center. One panel was curved and one was straight, so the arch itself is a bit off kilter, but if these two plants actually fill it out, it will look awesome. Hopefully it will be filled in by the end of August, as we have a town festival across the street and I want to sell some vegetables during the day…that would be a great attention getter. I planted some toy choi on one side underneath and need to plant something else under the rest of it. To the north of the arch, I planted 6 Hopi Pale Gray Squash from Jackie Clay-Atkinson with Backwoods Home magazine. Only 2 survived, but I think it was because I let them get overcome with bindweed and didn’t water enough. The remaining two are growing strong. I bought 25 seeds from her, so if this doesn’t work this year, I can always try again next year.

I got the cucuzzi from http://www.livereadynow.com. She had offered 6 seeds and requested a few dollars for shipping, but I offered 6 of the Hopi Pale Gray Squash in return and she was happy with that trade. I planted 3, lost 1 in the yard (seriously…that’s what happens when you try to plant things after dark with a flashlight), and kept 2 for next year in case I was too late this year to get one to mature to keep seeds out of.
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Welcome to my garden!