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Becca Miller

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since Feb 04, 2021
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Northeastern US, USDA Zone 5b
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Recent posts by Becca Miller

As a lifelong gardener, newer gardeners often ask me for advice. One thing I hear a lot from inexperienced growers is that they are “not good” at it, have a black thumb, etc. I’m not sure where this comes from, but many of them seem to think that more experience growers never make mistakes, kill plants, etc. If I got discouraged or gave up every time I made a mistake or killed a plant, I would have stopped gardening years ago!

So I thought it would be nice to share some of our gardening fails that led to success. This could be fairly obvious things like killing plants due to overwatering and then learning from that mistake how to provide the right amount of water. It would also be neat to read about mistakes that had unintended consequences that did not live up to what you were expecting but did yield something useful/beautiful/etc.

One of my failures was trying to grow luffas to maturity during two different growing seasons and being completely unsuccessful – they did not get mature enough to be used for scrubbing before frost hit (and because I was waiting to see if they would mature, I missed the fresh eating stage). In 2020, I attempted to grow luffas for the third time and finally made it work! I knew luffas needed a long growing season so for all of my attempts I started them indoors. From my two failed attempts I learned that I needed to start them earlier AND pot them up inside before finally planting them out after frost. This year I did that and, despite getting them in the ground late (due to gardening in a new place and having to do a lot of work to get beds prepped for growing), they produced several mature luffas!

They are a bit less tough and fibrous than commercial luffas but work fine for most uses. A couple things I’ll be changing this year is either using a potting media with more compost when I pot them up or fertilizing them more after they’ve been potted up, getting them in the ground earlier, and moving them to a spot where they get even more sun. There are also some aspects that worked fine but I’ll probably continue to experiment with to see what gives the best results. I think I’ll grow some on a trellis and let some spread out on the ground again as both seemed to do fine (though if you care about the luffas being straight, trellising is the way to go). I know trellising saves space but it seems like ones on the ground might get more sun. I also want to play around a bit more with methods of processing them. I harvested some once they had started to turn or turned completely brown on the vine and peeled them immediately, some I harvested at the brown stage and let sit in the sun or a covered spot to dry out, and some I left on the vine until well after freeze and snow.

Looking forward to hearing your failures/successes!

Mike Haasl wrote:I think that will be in Dimensional Lumber Woodworking



Ah, I hadn't considered the building of the container as part of the task. I currently have my worms in a single level plastic bin but maybe I'll add making a multi-level wooden worm bin to my list of projects. They sure look nicer and could be built to fit in my space better.

It does seem to me that there are (at least) two separate skills here and that once someone either builds (or otherwise obtains) the container to keep the worms in, they also need to source and properly assemble the worms, bedding, grit, water, and food scraps. Then there is the ongoing maintenance of the bin and keeping the worms alive and fed. Maybe the basic assembly could be Sand level and then for a higher level badge there could be something like harvest x amount of vermicompost from your worm bin? Not sure if that's too long term of a project.
3 months ago
pea
I imagine glass could be allowed as well, as long as it had drainage holes.
3 months ago
pea
I see a couple of the BBs involve using vermicompost; perhaps it would be worth adding making a vermicompost bin as a separate BB (maybe under the choose 5 section)? Unless that's being saved for a higher level badge, but it seems on a similar level as the other Sand BBs.
3 months ago
pea
I guess the question is why do you want to expand to other yards if you haven't yet maxed out the capacity of your own? As MK asks, does it provide something your yard does not? Or perhaps are you just interested in turning other folks on to gardening? From my experience being involved with community gardens, many people do not follow through on maintaining growing space that isn't right in front of them (even if they have paid for the growing space and it's only a couple blocks away!) so personally I think it's preferable to fully develop or max out my own growing space before expanding out. This relates to the permaculture concept of zones and utilizing zones appropriately based on how close they are to your home and how often they will realistically get your attention.

Obviously soil testing for nutrients would be helpful for determining how much and what types of inputs are needed in yards you are considering growing in. In my view, it would be even more important to test for lead since it's such a common contaminant in urban soils, and to follow best practices for reducing exposure to and uptake of lead (such as using raised beds, adding organic matter, modifying pH, only growing fruiting crops, not working with/inhaling dry soil, washing hands and crops thoroughly, etc.).

If it's more a matter of turning other people on to gardening, my experience is that giving away easy to grow perennials like raspberries, lemon balm, mint, hops, yarrow, daylilies, echinacea, etc. and giving advice on how to grow them is the best approach. Some people will do nothing with them while others will get into it and want to expand from there - and then maybe they'd be better candidates for doing some collaborative growing with.
4 months ago
There are already some great replies here but thought I'd chime in with a few other suggestions since I'm in a similar region. A few other fruit trees that grow well here include paw paws, Asian pears, and serviceberries. Not sure if you're exclusively looking for tree suggestions but elderberries, Nanking cherries, and currants (though these are not allowed in many areas due to being a vector for white pine blister rust, so be sure to check local regs and/or stick with the rust resistant varieties) are quite productive here too. We also have success with hazelberts (if you can beat the squirrels to 'em), butternuts, and black walnuts if you're interested in nuts. The folks I know who grow figs around here (Chicago Hardy or Brown Turkish) generally either protect them in winter (wrapping them and/or having them in high tunnels) or have them in pots and bring them inside, though I'm thinking of trying some out in a sheltered, south facing spot to see if they can overwinter on their own. This year I grew maypop (Passiflora incarnata) from seed and the plant did set fruit but the squirrels ate them all long before they matured so not clear whether they would have matured before frost. I'm hopeful they will overwinter here but not certain - that species is sometimes listed as hardy to zone 6 and sometimes to zone 5 - but if they do and I can protect them from the squirrels next year then perhaps I could get mature fruit. IMO, they are worth growing even without fruit for their incredible, tropical-looking and -smelling flowers and the medicinal foliage. There are some varieties of prickly pear hardy here too but they can be hard to find. I know Edible Acres was selling some several years ago but I don't believe they have in recent years, at least not online.

For sourcing, I second the recommendations for St Lawrence Nurseries and Fedco (they have separate catalogs for seeds, potatoes/onions/exotics, and trees/other perennial planting stock). The maypop seed came from Experimental Farm Network, which has some other great stuff too but only some of it will be hardy here since their seed growers I believe are spread throughout the Northeast and Midatlantic regions. They have a couple of varieties of prickly pear seeds which are from further south so might or might not work in zone 5. For regionally adapted seeds, I'm a fan of Fruition Seeds and Hudson Valley Seed Company, though I don't believe either carry any perennial fruit seeds/planting stock. I did get saffron crocus tubers from Fruition though!

This is my first post, so I hope something in it was useful!
4 months ago