Growing Solutions: Pollinator Gardens

 Use the hashtag #feedmorebees to have your favorite pollinator friendly plants added to our guide!

Use the hashtag #feedmorebees to have your favorite pollinator friendly plants added to our guide!

While local legislation and advocacy groups are leading the fight against fungicides and pesticides that cause massive honey bee die offs, your garden or homestead can also be apart of the solution in a big way. The fact is, while more people are turning to beekeeping as apart of the solution, the honeybee is running out of dependable sources of food. When nectar in the field becomes scarce, the worker bees drag the drones out of the hive and do not let them return, causing them to starve to death.

We can help. Plant any of the following flowers this year to feed more bees. These flowers are all suited for zones 1-5. If you are buying plants make sure they aren't just labeled pollinator friendly, but most importantly that they are sold at a 
neonicotinoids-free garden center. For more information on our world's disappearing honeybee, check out this TED talk by local hero to us Dr. Marla Spivak.

Don't be a jerk. 
Help save the honeyBees.
 #feedmorebees

Tennessee Purple Coneflower + Pincushion flower + Pincushion flower + Yarrow

Prickly Poppy + Rosemary + Thyme + Mint

Sweet alyssum + Sunflowers + Bee Balm (Lemon) + Crocus  

 

 

Thank you to our friends at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds for the flower photos and for their commitment to providing rare non-GMO heirloom seeds. They make planting Pollinator Gardens easy by selling pollinator seed collections. Give 'em a look-see! 


 

Seed Starting Part 3: Transplanting Seedlings

SEEDLINGS
Ok, let's be real here. 
You read our article, you meant to plant your own seeds but life happened and seed-starting didn't. Or maybe you started the seeds but they didn't make it, despite your best efforts.  Even I suffered a few casualties this year, including these coveted Icelandic Poppies.  Rest in peace poppies. I'm here to say, guilt not! 

Get over yourself and just go buy some of your favorite veggies, herbs and flowers and join us for some planting! It's not cheating, we all do it. 

  These instructions can be applied to planting store bought plants or transplanting the seeds you started weeks ago.

These instructions can be applied to planting store bought plants or transplanting the seeds you started weeks ago.

SUPPLIES
Shovel
Measuring tool
Stakes and string (optional)
Watering can
Compost
Seedlings

GARDEN DESIGN & LAYOUT

If you haven't already, it helps to sketch your garden before planting. This will give you a general feel for what you have room for and how your garden will look. If this is your first time planting a garden, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by this step.  You might think you have "no idea what you're doing," but trust me, you know more than you think you do.  If you've planted a garden in the past, don't forget about rotation.  If you've been growing the same things in your garden, in the same place year after year it's time to change it up.  As different plants take and release different things into the soil, it's important to rotate your vegetables around the garden.  You can really geek out more on crop rotation here!  And of course, don't forget to include space for pathways in your garden as you'll need room to harvest your amazing veggies!

 

TIMING
Many seedlings should not be planted out before the last frost date has passed.  In Zone 4, the average last frost date is May 15th, but wouldn't ya know it, we saw frost warnings all over the state last weekend!  It really does pay to be patient.  Once your seedlings have been sufficiently 'hardened off' (see step 7) and the danger of frost has passed, your baby seedlings are finally ready to go in the ground!  If you're purchasing plants from a garden center and they are outside, it's safe to say they have been hardened off and are ready to plant, but it never hurts to ask.
 

PREPARING THE AREA
If you haven't cleared your garden from last year, remove large plant material from the roots and compost them (except any tomato plants that have been infected by blight, they will infect the compost and should always be removed immediately in the fall).  Any smaller weeds can be pulled or dug up and worked into the soil as this green material serves to add organic matter.  If you have a small area, you can "turn over" the soil with a shovel.  This simply means to dig in your shovel and turn the soil over bit by bit until the entire area has been loosened.  This aerates the soil, mixes nutrients in, and allows new plant roots to take hold.

TO COMPOST OR NOT TO COMPOST?
Adding compost to your garden is not required, but is highly recommended as it helps build up the health of your soil and will benefit your plants in the long run.  Many back yard city plots have terrible soil quality, just ask my friend Chanda!  My backyard soil has taken 12 years to build up to nice loamy garden soil, so don't expect this to happen overnight.  But, adding the right things to your soil now will give you better results this season, guaranteed!  I'm not talking about adding black dirt here--I'm talking compost, compost (broken down organic matter which adds all kinds of yummy microbes to improve your soil quality).  Compost not only adds "food" for your plants, but also improves water retention and drainage.  You can add your own compost if you have it or purchase bag or bulk compost. Once the area has been cleared, the soil turned and amended, you can rake it smooth and prepare for planting!  Yay!

*If you want to start your own compost pile, tune in here for upcoming articles on how to start composting your kitchen and garden waste!  

 I usually add compost before turning the soil over, but you can also add it on top of your existing soil and rake it in (as pictured).

I usually add compost before turning the soil over, but you can also add it on top of your existing soil and rake it in (as pictured).

SPACING & DEPTH

Decide what you have room for by determining which plants need the most space and which plants require :staking, trellises or cages.

This is where a measuring tape or tool comes in handy.  I have this handy stick that has been pre-marked with various spacing requirements (6", 12", 18", 24"...).  Once you have a general idea of what you are going to plant, and where they will go, bring your seedlings over to the area and assess the space in person.  

Each seed packet should give you spacing and depth requirements.  For example, tomatoes like 24-36" of growing space and need to be caged or staked.  Peppers are more upright and only need 12-18".  While broccoli and brussels sprouts require more like 18"-24".  Melons, pumpkins, and squash are sprawlers, so they will need lots of real estate, up to 3-6 feet!  Make sure you reference your seed packet (or good ol' Google) to find out about varieties that you are growing.  

Before digging your holes, lay out the seedlings, starting with one crop.  If you plan to use rows, two stakes with a string in between can serve as a nice straight line, or you can eye ball it.  With your seedlings, lay out and measure between plants, stand back and assess.  If you need to adjust them slightly do so but don't skimp on spacing.  Remember they may seem small now, but they have 3 months of intense growth ahead!  Many plants need room for air circulation and for light to reach the lower leaves, not to mention room to maneuver in for weeding and harvesting.

DIGGING IN
With adequate spacing and a pleasing layout, you can now dig your seedlings in. Move the seedlings off to the side and dig a hole twice the size of your seedling, usually this is one nice shovel full.  This is a good rule of thumb, but please reference your specific varieties for depth requirements. I prefer a spade to a hand shovel, but use whatever feels comfortable. I usually back fill the hole with loosened soil.  If you haven't yet, pinch off any extra sprouts, leaving only the healthiest one.  Very gently work the seedling out of it's container, never pull it by the stem as it can pull out without it's root ball intact. You can gently pinch the bottom of the pot, if its flexible, or tip it on its side and work the entire root ball out.  If you are planting in peat (fiber pots) I still recommend removing the seedling before planting.  

Once the seedling is out of the pot, gently loosen the root ball, breaking up any that are extremely "root bound."  Seedlings that are very leggy can be planted slightly deeper to leave a shorter exposed stem, in fact, tomatoes like to be planted very deep and grow roots along any portion of the buried stem.

 

WATERING IN
I learned this "watering in" technique from some wonderful farmers I worked with a dozen or so years ago and it works beautifully.  Place the seedling in the hole and gently fill the hole half way with water, allowing it to soak the seedling and soil completely.  Then, fill in the hole around the seedling with soil, breaking up any large clumps.  Press the soil down gently around the stem.  Water generously the first few days after planting, and during dry spells.  

*Tip:  Any leaves planted under ground will become roots, so it's ok to plant them down a ways on the stem.]

Ok, there you have it folks, almost everything you need to know about planting your garden.  As always, we are here for YOU! Send us a note and we will try and answer any of your planting questions or share in your success!  Tag us in your garden pics this weekend or use the hashtag #tootieanddotes and we might just send you a Tootie & Dotes market tote. Good luck we hope this is your best year yet! 

Tootie & Dotes Garden Planner!

Claire and I are so proud to introduce our first ever Tootie & Dotes Garden Planner, complete with illustrations by Ashley Mary along with all of our favorite growing tools and tips. This book is a real labor of love that was spawned over a year ago with the desire to give our readers something they can take with them into the garden, either for the journal and record keeping or as your very own Tootie & Dotes gardening pep talk - we believe in you! Grow something, anything.. do it for the bees and our pollinator friends or do it to feed someone you love. Getting your hands dirty has never been this easy or adorable! Thank Yous all around to everyone that helped out on this project, we can't wait to see copies out in your gardens and to hear what you think of it!

The Forest Floor: Spring Foraging 101

Early spring time is our absolute favorite time of the year to use any excuse to explore what winter has been hiding from us over the last several months. 

As the spring foraging season starts to makes its way up toward the midwest, all kinds of edible magic can be found off the beaten path tucked gently into the forest floor. Many a foodie's obsession, we enjoy not just eating foraged foods, but often the hunt more than the spoils. 

We've highlighted a couple of our favorite spring foraging treasures with tips we've learned over the years. It's important to know that any forager must pick these goods only on public land (check local restrictions) or from a friend's private property. Don't say I didn't warn you. Happy hunting!
 

RAMPS

 Ramps can be identified by 2-3 thin smooth leafs and a burgundy stem.

Ramps can be identified by 2-3 thin smooth leafs and a burgundy stem.

WHEN TO LOOK 
Now (Aprilish) new leaves will emerge from the perennial bulbs around the same time tree buds are really starting to emerge and green up. 

WHERE TO LOOK
They can be found in cool, shady areas with damp, rich soil high in organic matter. They like sandy, wet soils, so a good place to look for them is on slopes with pines, near streams and creeks.

BEST PRACTICES
This part is very important. The whole magic in foraging is the return of plants or mushrooms year after year. Sustainable foraging practices are critical to allowing these critters to return next year and to spread. Leave isolated bunches alone, and take only around 20% of larger patches you find in the ground, leaving the rest for next year. Pack a knife with you because you will want to limit the amount of bulb and roots your remove, cutting just below the soil surface leaving half of the bulb and roots intact.  

 

FIDDLEHEAD FERNS

WHEN TO LOOK
Anytime between May and June in the Northern part of the country

WHERE TO LOOK
Like Morels and Ramps, Fiddleheads or baby ferns can be found off the beaten path in wild wet areas on the edges of rivers, stream banks and swampy areas. They are bright green and can easily be seen amidst the dark soil, twigs, and leaves from which they emerge. They should be found in clumps of about about six. Pick the tender tight little rolls as soon as they are an inch or two above the ground. 

BEST PRACTICES
All ferns have fiddleheads at some point, some more edible than others. Ostrich ferns are the most safe for cooking. Ostrich fern fiddleheads, which are about an inch in diameter, can be identified by the brown papery scale-like covering on the uncoiled fern, as well as the smooth fern stem, and the deep ”U”-shaped groove on the inside of the fern stem. Please make sure and leave at least a few unpicked fiddleheads to avoid devastating and killing the fern completely. 

 

 

MOREL MUSHROOMS

 Pick only the common (yellow or grey) or black Morel. Do plenty of research before you head out so you can be confident you are eating the non-toxic variety. 

Pick only the common (yellow or grey) or black Morel. Do plenty of research before you head out so you can be confident you are eating the non-toxic variety. 

WHEN TO LOOK
This can totally depend on the type of spring you are having and varies geographically. Once the first dandelions start to spread and the lilacs are in bloom you have about a three week window to start foraging. Keep in mind the crop is moving up from the South so as of April 27th southern Minnesota has started picking.

WHERE TO LOOK
First off most hunters guard their hunting spots with their lives. Any serious hunter would never even hint at their hunting locations. (real talk, my uncle Pete claims to have a cave somewhere on his corn field where he collects several pounds each year, have I ever seen this cave? Hell no. A corn field with a Cave?) 

Second off, if you find a good score chances are the mushrooms will return to that same spot each year, veteran foragers will say to collect your shrooms in a mesh bag or basket to allow these spores to drop and spread as you forage. 

Friends will likely find one or two randoms in their backyard, sure. But the best places to look are wild areas, creek or river banks but not areas that have been flooded. Morels have a symbiotic relationship with trees and in many areas that relationship seems to be the strongest with dead Elms. This is Morel hunter nerd for: look for dead Elms and a Morel or two should be near by. 

This is about as much as we can say about the subject before we get angry letters from our husband + the morel hunting community. Do you really need any more excuses to get out and go for a hike (adorable basket in hand)? 

BEST PRACTICES
Picking wild mushrooms requires a good deal of caution, because even a small nibble of the wrong mushroom can be lethal. Check local restrictions on foraging in public parks and wild areas.

LET'S TALK ABOUT TICKS
Foraging season for the above happens to also be the beginning of Tick season. If you have an irrational fear of Ticks (maybe like us) we suggest the following.

  • Wear tall rubber boots with knee high socks.
  • Wear tight thicker pants/leggings to prevent the critters from crawling up your legs. The little devils usually live on the forest floor and make their way up via a pant leg.
  • Dryer sheets, yes toss a few dryer sheets into your boots. 
  • Soothe irrational undiscovered tick fears by taking a hot warm bath and washing your hair when you get home. (really can't most irrational fears be soothed by a little bath salt and hot water?) 
 

Speaking Tomato: What Your Plant is Trying to Tell You

It's around August each year that our tomato plants start developing all kinds of interesting looking spots and defects. 

Use our diagram to identify what your plant is trying to tell you about its current state. We explain solutions and tips to solve these common Tomato Plant problems.

In many instances, if your plant is to far gone pull the plant but DO NOT compost, you could be spreading the disease to your compost bin, no bueno. With that said, many of these issues can be avoided next year by rotating your plants locations, mulching thoroughly and avoiding overhead water (keep those leafs dry!). 

 Illustration by  Ashley Barlow Art.

Illustration by Ashley Barlow Art.

VIRUSES
Do you have a sad tiny plant that isn't producing much fruit and has misshapen odd leafs unlike any of your other tomato plants? There are more than 20 common viruses that can impact your plants health and harvest. The sad fact is you should really pull and destroy these plants immediately to prevent the virus from spreading. Chin up, there's always next year!
 

LEAF WILT
Avoid over-watering tomato plants; just because a plant is wilted doesn't mean it needs more water. Check the soil; if the soil is dry (does not stick to your finger) then water your plant concentrating the water at the base of the plant, not overhead. 

 

PESTS (Caterpillars + Whitefly + Greenflly + Blackflly + Slugs)
Inspect your plant's leafs every few days for holes, bumps or bugs. Plant spearmint (in pots to prevent spreading), clover or daisies in proximity to your tomato plants to attract paper wasps, a natural predator of the horned caterpillar that rarely have stingers (next year to do list, check!). Feel free to manually remove pests at the end of a rough day with a big squish between your fingers (hey it's also organic). If you think you have slugs apply a thin layer of Diatomaceos Earth dust around the base of each tomato plant. An insecticidal soap picked up at your neighborhood garden center (we like Eggplant Urban Farm Supply) will also help fend off pests. 

 

RED SPIDER MITES
Look for thin spiderwebs all over the plant or for the spider and eggs themselves on the underside of the leafs. Spray plants with a fine mist of water, twice daily, as the spider mite can only thrive in hot dry conditions. An insecticidal soap picked up at your neighborhood garden center (we like Eggplant Urban Farm Supply) will also help but should be sprayed every week.


GREENBACK
You may start spotting the green unripened areas around the stem of the plant. Because this problem is caused by high heat and too much sun you really can only prevent this from happening by providing some shade for the plant (eg. a trellis, other taller plants or trees, we like giant sun flowers). Tomatoes with greenback are still edible, just cut the green sections off or allow them to ripen more in doors in a brown paper bag for a day or two.

 

SUN SCORCH
This will first begin to appear as a white or yellow spotted area on the upper side of tomato that faces the sun. It's not really dangerous to the plant but long bouts of high heat can cause the fruit to blister then you might get fungal problems. Cages can help and a little extra nitrogen in the soil but rethink next year's planting spot. Give the plants a little shade provided by a fence or taller plants. If you know your growing space is susceptible to Sun Scorch plant tomato varieties that naturally have larger heavier foliage


TOMATO BLIGHT
Early tomato blight forms spots on the leaves, which then turn yellow and die. The spots may start out small and shrunken and as they get bigger they get longer. Spots which are on the stem near the ground can cause the stem to shrink.
Avoid overhead watering (do we sound like a broken record yet?) by watering at the base of the plant. Water your plants only in the mornings to give the leafs time to dry out. If you see anything that even remotely looks like blight, begin a spraying program of alternating organic copper spray, and Serenade biological fungicide, both of which are safe to use on edibles. If you have Late Blight (blue gray spots on the leafs and fruit that are turning brown) pull the effected plant immediately.
Real talk, I plant a few extra plants (spaced far apart to prevent overcrowding but also to prevent problems from spreading)  and if any of my plants show any sign of blight I pull the plant. The earlier the better to prevent it from spreading to other healthier plants. 


BLOSSEM END ROT
If you've spotted a dark, rotting spot on the bottom of your tomatoes the soil pH should be 6.5 to 6.8 to free more calcium in the soil chemistry. Test results will indicate the amount of lime to add. Even better, lime also contains calcium. Work the lime into the top 12 inches of soil. Use a lime labeled “fast-acting,” which is better than ground limestone unless you have weeks to wait for the lime to react in the soil. If the pH is already correct, the soil test will recommend a different calcium source, such as gypsum.  Also, add crumbled egg shells to your compost or bury them in your garden over time to help maintain the calcium levels. 


FRUIT SPLITTING
This is almost unavoidable during the end of a growing season, unless you are in a green house. Water regularly and fertilize the soil often to keep the plant happy and the soil around it healthy. We like Dr.Earth on our tomatoes. 


 

Afraid to Ask? Annuals vs. Perennials

Annuals have one growing season and need to be replanted each spring. They include most vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes, and flowers like Marigolds or Sunflowers.

Perennials are permanent residents in your garden and will return year after year.
Some examples include Asparagus and Strawberries. Plan ahead, because many perennials will spread year after year, but will also take a few years to establish roots and produce fruit.