Black Friday Weekend Seed Sale – Pinetree Garden Seeds

The only Black Friday shopping I do every year is online from the couch, with Pinetree Garden Seeds. Everything on the site is 15% off from today on 11/27, through Monday 11/30. Use code BLACKFRI15 at checkout (note if you want to use Paypal, click on the regular “Checkout” button, enter the code and then choose Paypal – don’t click on the Paypal link on the main order screen).

Every item is eligible for the discount, including seeds, plants (they will ship in the spring), books, gardening supplies, and even craft supplies – soap making supplies, cosmetics making supplies, and even some knitting gear.

I’ve pretty much already decided what will go in next year’s garden, so putting together the seed order was pretty easy. I did swap a couple of varieties, but kept mostly to plan.  I still have a ton of seeds from last year’s massive Black Friday seed order, so I just replenished a few that I was running low on, plus a couple of impulse buys (of course)  –

pinetree 1

And then I realized a few hours later that I’d forgotten to order potatoes, so… I went back and did a second order. Also remembered I needed some more plant labels, and I discovered some cosmetics items that have been hard to find at other places – small quantities of charcoal (going to try to make my own natural mascara), beet root (for tinted lip balm) and a single mascara tube (most places only sell big quantities) –

pinetree 2

So, the seeds for spring are ordered, and I got a great deal on a few other items too. Supporting a family owned business is my kind of Black Friday shopping!

Fall Flowers

I really like mums in the fall – we even had some at our wedding years and years ago. So I picked up some in a burnt orange color for the front two porches this year –



I really had to search at the store to find ones that didn’t have completely spent blooms already; seems like everything came on extra early this year. I was able to find four in the same color that were still in bud though, so I think these should start to open up in the next few days. I also got a much smaller one in a burgundy color, and planted it in a milk glass planter to go on our dining table for a little color, but of course I forgot to photograph it, and I’m too lazy to go do it now. So you get to see two out of three. And you’ll notice in the top picture I’ve got two more plants to take care of – those are yarrow, that I scored on clearance for just $2.50 each. I just love yarrow, so that was quite a happy score. The plan for those is to rip out the purple gladiola (that I don’t care for because it’s in shade and blooms very late, and also is so tall it gets top heavy and just flops over) in the planting beds in front of the porch. So maybe I’ll take care of those tomorrow… or next weekend at the latest!

Advance Planning in the Garden

Is it too early to start planning next year’s garden, when this summer’s has just started to produce? Maybe practically speaking, but the problem with garden planning in the middle of winter is two fold – first, all of the realities of how the garden works and what you do with it are often forgotten, and second, your imagination quite easily runs away with itself.

For example, this was supposed to be this year’s plan –


We didn’t even build beds in this configuration since we had to relocate the orchard. And there’s a lot of great stuff in here, but not in the quantities that reflect what we’ll actually eat. We want more tomatoes, way less big onions, and we don’t need to grow zucchini – we can buy the handful we want at the farmer’s market. Ditto on the watermelons and leeks. And where are the potatoes? Relegated in the “plan” to some mythical other spot in the yard, and of course they never ended up getting planted.

So, in the thick of this growing season, I’m planning ahead for the next to try to learn from those mistakes. This is what we’ll plan to grow next season (each square represents a square foot) –


From left to right – Rutgers tomatoes, Gold Nugget tomatoes, Early jalapenos, Spacemaster cucumbers (2 per square), Small Sugar pumpkin, Mini Jack Baby pumpkin, Evergreen Bunching onions (36 per square), Lacinato kale, Tom Thumb lettuce (4 per square), and an entire bed of Yukon Gold potatoes. The Spacemaster cucumbers are a bush varietal so they should not need trellising and the pumpkins will be trained up a shared A-frame trellis. The onions, kale and lettuce will all be succession planted to spread out the harvest through the season.

We’ll also continue growing herbs in pots on the deck – thyme, rosemary, parsley, peppermint, and sage. I’d also like to add in oregano and lavender. And of course we have the orchard – the apples, persimmons, hazelnuts and blueberries. And we’ll try a few pots of strawberries too. I also haven’t given up on raspberries – we’ll plant some new canes and try them again, but next year we’ll buy them locally.

Anything else we want or need we can get at the farmer’s market, so I think it’s a good mix. The stuff we use the most and eat the most of might not be the unusual and exciting, but it’ll be incredibly useful to have all of that at our fingertips. So now that’s out the way, maybe I’ll go less overboard ordering seeds in December!

Garden Progress

It’s been a weird season for the garden – we’ve had a lot of rain this year, at weird times. Just coordinating time to work out there and get everything in between the day job and the weather was difficult. But things are beginning to come along nicely, if we did lose a few things along the way. We got the raspberry canes into the back planting bed behind the garage way too late. They’ve never really fully colored up and sprouted new growth, so I’m counting that as a total loss. Same thing for the strawberries. And we never did plant the potato patch, and we only ended up doing a third of the seeds we bought last winter.

But that’s okay – it’s our first year in the house, so there will be more seasons, god willing, in which to get things “right”. Plus, I keep reminding myself that we had to spend significant time and effort actually creating the infrastructure of our vegetable gardens, and we won’t need to reinvent the wheel on that next year. So we can plan, and dive right into the planting.

Quite a few things have worked out though. The orchard hedgerow is growing nicely, and we haven’t have lost any trees, despite some skepticism that the persimmons were essentially dead by the time we planted them. They have all branches and leafed out and seem to be doing well. The blueberry bushes are growing nicely, but they’re crowed in between huge daylilies and the sandbox – we just had to get them in somewhere before they shared the same fate as the raspberries. They will need to be relocated at some point. In the vegetable patch, we have green tomatoes and peppers starting to fruit. The cabbage is tiny and doesn’t seem to want to grow, but we do have some Jacob’s Cattle beans. I’m actually conflicted about the beans – I’ve read and heard that they more you pick, the more they produce, but I was hoping to let them dry on the plant so I could harvest dried beans. So further research needs to occur on that one.

We also have cucumbers, squash, watermelon and pumpkins. They’re all growing decently (though not wildly) except for the pumpkins, which apparently have a growth rate that is slower than pouring molasses. So we’ll see if those amount to anything at all before the season is out.

The real rock stars of this year’s garden are the herb pots on the deck – they are all growing prolifically. I love to go out there and run my hands through them and inhale their amazing scents. The trick will be, as it always is, keeping them alive when we bring them indoors in a few months to overwinter.

So things are growing, but I do need to do a soil test. I have the kit just sitting in a kitchen drawer, which isn’t much helping us understand what our garden needs. We’ve done one application of fertilizer spikes and one of compost tea this season, which seemed to provide the proper encouragement. Our compost pile is still in it’s infancy, and we’ve made some mistakes with it (like tossing in a bunch of evergreen shrub clippings) so we need to get it sorted through and fixed up. We did purchase a compost starter mix to jump start things, but first we have to pull out of all of the verboten things, and I must admit it’s a task I’ve been seriously procrastinating on. But we do need to take care of it, especially as the goal next year is try not purchase any supplemental garden amendments that we can produce ourselves, compost being one.

And we have a day lily problem. They are everywhere on our property. Don’t get me wrong, they’re pretty and I like them alright, but they just get huge and are currently in prime real estate where I’d prefer to have edibles. The blueberry situation is the major case in point. But I think I have a solution for this brewing in my mind. Eventually in the front yard we’d like to have a picket fence, set back from the sidewalk by a foot or two so we can have planting beds on both the inside and the outside of the fence. On the outside, I absolutely want to plant a mixture of things, like snapdragons and spring bulbs. But on the inside – what about moving all of the day lilies? We’ve got more than enough to divide them up and almost do the entire perimeter of the front yard. Then we can still enjoy them, and it would also cut back on the amount of grass we have to tend to in the front, while still leaving a large area for Little Man to play in. And then that frees up the back planting bed near the sandbox and garage to give the blueberries proper room, and put in a proper strawberry bed next season. It may just work.

Gardening, In Between Rain Storms

It’s really starting to feel like we have a monsoon season  now in northern Illinois; it rains nearly every day. The day started cloudy and overcast, so much so that I packed our rain jackets and umbrella in the wagon for our weekly walk over to the farmer’s market. Today was the first day that the abundance of early summer made itself known. Prior to today, the farmer’s market has mostly been scallions, spinach, overwintered potatoes and onions, and vegetable starts. Today – every kind of green you could want, fresh herbs, leeks, young onions, rhubarb and tons of other things I can hardly remember. It was a good market day – we came home with cider, kale, scallions, bread, a parsley plant and two basil plants.

After we came home for the afternoon, the clouds cleared and the sun actually came out, so we seized the opportunity to get out into the garden and attend to the plants. The third raised bed we finally topped up with soil, so we today we planted out cabbage, squash, watermelons, and two varieties of pumpkins. The tomatoes, pepper and beans we already planted are also doing well. And we planted the parsley and basil in a planter up on the deck.

And it’s a good thing we did – the rain is back in full force. As I type, I hear the pitter-patter of a steady rainfall, punctuated periodically by terrific crashes of thunder. But at least now this means that tomorrow I won’t have to water!

Proof of Life – Garden Edition

We’ve been doing stuff! Got the orchard planted, at long last –


It doesn’t look like much at the moment, because those are bare root trees, and they’ve been beheaded to about knee height, per the aggressive pruning techniques I’m following from Grow A Little Fruit Tree. On the far left are two American persimmons, then a trio of apple trees – Golden Delicious, Fuji and Gala – and then a pair of hazelnuts. These trees will be only about my height-ish – around six feet – at maturity. Just right for our small backyard, and the amount of fruit and nuts we’re looking to harvest.

We also got our trio of raised beds for the vegetables in –


We obviously need to get some more soil before we can plant anything. That’s 20 bags worth, and we figure we’ll need another 20 to fill them up! Each bed is a few inches shy of being six feet long by three feet wide. They’re made from cedar fencing, and we got the idea from a post at Preparedness Mama on building raised beds on the cheap. Each one cost around $15 to build, so we made a trio for under $50. And they’re just shy of six feet because we’re OCD and cut the tapered dog-ear edge off the top of the pickets. Would’ve annoyed us to no end! They look great and a super cedar, and the cedar is sure to last for awhile. We’re really pleased with how these turned out.

And last but not least, husband built a covered compost bin, from his own design –


So, we’ve been busy outside. You’ll notice we still don’t have the privacy fencing up in the yard – the blue and white garage and the wire fencing both belong to our neighbors. Eventually we’ll get a six foot privacy fence back there to screen the view and provide protection from critters – we already know we’ve got rabbits, squirrels and even opossums living nearby!

And also outdoors, we’re trying to identify our big trees – we’ve got five maples of varying types and either something like an ash or walnut. Naturally I’m hoping for walnut. And I’m hoping that we’ve got a couple of sugar maples, because I’d love to try my hand at making maple syrup – it takes 40 gallons to make a single gallon of finished syrup, so with five trees and a good sap run for a week I could do it! Still need to definitively ID those trees so we know what we’ve got though.

Indoors, a little progress. We bought a pull out trash can/recycling sorter to retrofit into one our kitchen cabinets, and it’s been a lifesaver. So much easier to recycle religiously without having to haul the recycling out to the garage. So between having a recycling bin right instead and our covered compost pail for food scraps, our goal is to have next to nothing get thrown into the actual trash. We also decided to do shiplap paneling in our living room. This is the inspiration photo we’re shooting for (though we sadly do not have vaulted ceilings) –

white room

That photo is from a feature on Country Living. Seriously love that magazine – so many great design ideas, that are actually accessible. And I love the blue tones an the mixed woodwork as well, so we’re using the whole style as a guide. We were able to pick up the shiplap at a good price so we have it all stacked in the garage and ready to go. Still need to get the trim down, true up a few dips in the walls, and work up the nerve to install several hundred dollars worth of wood on the walls without screwing it up… but progress is just around the corner.

I also caved and bought two crappy particle board bookcases to get the stupid books of the floor. They’re already half busted because they’re total crap, but they beat stacks of cardboard boxes and we can make do with them while we scour antique malls and tag sales and the like for the real deal replacements.

So, that’s most of it for now!

Digging In

So, we have been doing things. Notably, trying to keep seven fruit and nut trees alive in our basement for longer than most orchards recommend, because the weather has been random and weird and not at all conducive to digging holes and actually planting trees.

And then there was the matter of the utilities. I spent the winter months dreaming and scheming about the best placement of all of the various edibles on our property, and had earmarked a spot on the northern edge of our property in the front yard as being the best spot for an orchard hedgerow. Great sun, solved an aesthetic problem (the not-so-lovely view of our neighbor’s driveway) and had an absence of existing planting beds, so could use a little  something.

Well as it turns out, there’s a reason the previous owner didn’t plant anything there – it’s where all of the utilities, including electricity, cable, and gas – come into the property. Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

The next suitable spot is in the backyard, along the western edge of the property. Only problem is, there was a trio of  young lilacs already in residence. But a door never closes without a window opening, and as it turns out this new problem is actually the solution to a few issues. Number one, I hate shrubs, and the entire front of the house is swathed in bushes. Number two, half of said bushes are dead. Not precisely an elegant landscaping situation. So, slowly but surely, out come the shrubs, and in go the new – in this case, lilacs.

Here’s the before with some of the offending shrubs –


The sentinels are out of control… when we moved in six months ago (has it been six months!?) husband gave them a buzz cut and trimmed them down quite a bit, but at that point it became apparent that despite the lush greenery in this photo, they were actually quite unhealthy. And anyway, my hatred for them was cemented from the first. So out they must go. So the lilacs have found a home flanking the big window –


Now granted – you might be thinking it looks worse at the moment and is not much of an improvement. And yeah – I can see that. I kind of feel the same way – they’ve not got any new growth on them yet (I mean, it is only mid-April in Northern Illinois…) but they have leaf buds on them, so I have hope that they will take to their new location. And obviously all the mulch has been pulled out of this bed for this little transplant operation, so that adds to the sparse look. Ultimately the big hedge will come out and something else (still TBD) will go in. And I’d love to install a window box planter on this window, and we definitely need to do something about the faux shutters on the house… it’s amazing how one little change opens up a black hole into the five billion other things you want to/should do. Crazy! But aside from that, I’m hoping the lilacs take to their new location, because the prospect of the lovely smell of lilacs wafting into the open windows on the springtime breeze is a wonderful thought indeed.

Oh yeah – and now we need to dig seven holes in the newly opened space in the backyard and get the orchard planted!