Monthly Archives: March 2013

Welcome, Spring!

I have been on vacation this week, so my message is simple: Welcome, Spring! Glad to have you back.

The gate to our beautiful garden in Washington!

The gate to our beautiful garden in Washington!

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Field Trip

A few months ago, my husband Mike and I were traveling to Bend, Oregon, so I could give a reading at their beautiful public library. I was looking forward to seeing old friends, walking among Ponderosa pines, and going to Big R.

What—the local ranch supply store? Yep. No trip to Eastern Oregon is complete without it.


Where I grew up, in Minnesota, it was Mills Fleet Farm. Pretty similar, but with less ranching and more ice fishing. But either way—where else can you get work gloves of any description, fencing, live rabbits, and a meat bandsaw in one trip?

Man-sized safe? Check.

Man-sized safe? Check

Country-themed home décor? Of course.

Country-themed home décor? Of course

Pink camo jackets and country-themed lingerie? Natch.

Pink camo jackets and country-themed lingerie? Natch

Chainsaws and accessories? Even a video showing a lumberjack competition!

Chainsaws and accessories? Even a video showing a lumberjack competition!

In an earlier post about raising rural children, I used a few photos from the toy section. The children’s weaponry is all practically minded—hunting rifles and six-shooters. No flamethrowers or grenade-launchers. There is a bit more diversity in the real-gun section, but it’s still mostly oriented toward hunting. I would say the “adult” gun section, but country kids typically learn to shoot a gun before they’re ten …

The horse section is also spectacular. Bridles and ropes of every color. Mineral licks. Y mucho mas.

Toys for pastured horses.

Toys for pastured horses

Bling is the thing for today's horsewoman

Bling is the thing for today’s horsewoman


If you want a crash-course in rural life, walk the aisles of one of these stores. You might even pick up some new garden boots, like I did.

No, not these!

No, not these!

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Spring Planting

Spring! Depending on where you live, March might be time to plant tomatoes and cantaloupes (Southern states) or to cry into your seed catalogs as yet another snowstorm rolls through (Northern states). It’s by no means balmy in the Pacific Northwest, but nice enough to plant heartier things like brassicas and greens. And so I did.

As many of you know, my husband and I are currently in what I like to call “exile”—in a rental home in the city, trying to regroup for our next strike into the country. There are no vegetable garden beds on this property, so I am making do by sneaking in a few things along the flowered fence line. My motivation when picking things to plant is: What can I grow in not-perfect conditions that is expensive to buy in the store? Lettuce, dill, arugula (rocket), parsley and basil.

Parsley seeds need to soak for 24 hours; dill doesn’t transplant well so it will go straight into the ground. The rest go in pots.

Soaking parsley seeds in wet paper towels

Soaking parsley seeds in wet paper towels

You do not need to buy fancy seed-starter kits to get some plants going. Whatever you use just needs to be sturdy and to drain. I have seen people twist newspaper into little cups but have never tried it for fear that, once they’re wet, they will fall apart. (Plus, where does one get newspaper anymore? Ha.) Instead, I took a few empty yogurt and sour cream containers and punched holes in the bottom with a box-cutter—et voilá!

Cutting drain-holes

Cutting drain-holes

If possible, use starter mix; to save money I just bought regular planting soil. The reason for starter mix is it’s sifted to keep big chunks of vermiculite and organic matter out. A pea-sized hunk of bark wouldn’t bother a grown plant but it could stop completely the development of a tender seedling. So I go through and pick out the biggest chunks.


Clearing growth-hazards

Getting starts moisture is tricky; you can’t just dump a stream of water on them or you’ll uncover the seeds or knock the seedlings over. The best is to use a spray bottle (preferably a bottle that has held drinking water). Lacking a spray bottle, I held my fingers over a glass and forced the water to drip out slowly. Until the seedlings have roots there is no need to water the entire pot of soil; just the top inch is fine.

Some of you experienced gardeners may be saying: Basil? In March? Indeed, basil is a very tender plant that doesn’t take kindly to anything under 65 degrees. Never fear; I’m going to keep those pots inside—probably for three months!

Before ....

Before ….



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“Bones” Video

As some of you know, my husband Mike Midlo is a storyteller disguised as a musician. His latest project, MidLo, received a grant from Portland’s Regional Arts & Culture Council and was released on March 5. As he did with his previous recording, Pancake Breakfast, Mike asked me to make a video for one of the songs. I made a stop-motion animation short for PB’s “Powerhouse Road” and assumed I would do the same for this video.

But, one afternoon in late September last year, he and I were driving home from a reading I did in Ashland, Oregon. Cruising up I-5, I gazed out the passenger window, enjoying how our shadow bounced along the side of the road. Suddenly, I realized I was watching a short film. The only camera I had was in my phone, so I decided to go for it.

The video is unadulterated—it runs straight through. The timing is uncanny in places. Enjoy my small contribution to Mike’s beautiful lament of our move away from the country, “Bones.”

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Seed Catalogs A-Go-Go

They start showing up right after the solstice. Taunting me with full-color photos of prize tomatoes; fantastic dahlias; and firm, bulbous garlic heads. I’m talking about seed catalogs—every gardener’s weakness.

There are dozens of seed companies in the United States. Some focus on vegetables, some specialize in flower bulbs, some offer bare-root trees and bushes. Some just grow mushrooms, some just garlic! Below is as comprehensive list as I could muster.

I tend to buy from the companies that have their test gardens in my same region and growing zone. That way, if something works well in their garden it should also work well in mine! I usually order from Territorial Seed Company, and when I was in the Gorge I also liked Irish Eyes, based in Ellensburg, Washington—their climate was closer to mine than temperate Roseburg, Oregon.

The internet is full of videos that show you how to plant starts, space your plants out, and anything else having to do with gardening. There are also a number of garden-planning software packages appearing. I rely on gardening to keep me away from my computer, so I will never use anything but a pencil and sheet of graph paper to plan my garden beds. But some people find it helpful to be reminded when to plant what and so on. And having a computerized record does make it easier to track plantings and yields from year to year.

I would be remiss to talk about gardening without putting in a plug for saving seeds. You can use them the following year, or trade some with a friend for seeds you don’t have. This only works with “heirloom” varieties, i.e. plants that aren’t hybrids. Hybrids are crosses of two different types of plant to emphasize one or more traits over others (big fruits; sturdy stalks, etc.). They are great, but the seeds their fruits produce will not grow another hybrid plant. So, you have to keep buying more seeds.

Some large corporations have taken this marketing basis one step further and try to prosecute farmers who save their seed from a “trademarked” crop, or even who are affected by cross-pollination they don’t want! This mostly affects commodity farmers of corn, soybeans and rapeseed (canola), not food farmers.

Those interested in heirloom seed-saving and -trading should check out the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa, Native Seeds/SEARCH in Arizona, Conserving Arkansas’ Agricultural Heritage, Organic Seed Alliance in Washington, International Seed Saving Institute in Arizona, Hudson Valley Seed Library in New York, and the National Gardening Association.

Many nurseries and gardening companies sell tools and resources as well as seeds—if you don’t see Get Your Pitchfork On! in your favorite catalog or store, please ask them to carry it.

Garden Seed Companies by State


The Tasteful Garden

Universal Seed & Supply


Denali Seed Company


Aravaipa Heirlooms

D.P. Seeds

Terroir Seeds


Food Bank of North Central Arkansas


Bountiful Gardens

Gary Ibsen’s TomatoFest

Evergreen Seeds

Kitazawa Seed Company

Mountain Valley Growers 

Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply

Renee’s Garden

Seeds of Change


Arkansas Valley Seed

Botanical Interests

Potato Garden


John Scheeper’s Kitchen Seeds

New England See Company

White Flower Farm


Delaware Seed & Garden


Eden Organic Nursery Services

Florida Backyard Vegetable Gardener

The Pepper Gal

Tomato Growers Supply Company


Adams-Briscoe Seed Company

Eden Brothers



Seeds Hawai`i


Burgess Seed & Plant Company


The Chile Woman

Garden Harvest Supply

Gurney’s Seed & Nursery

Nature’s Crossroads


Earl May Nursery & Garden Center

Sand Hill Preservation Center


El Dorado Heirloom Seeds

Skyfire Garden Seeds



Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center


South Louisiana Seed Company



Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Pinetree Garden Seeds


Reimer Seeds


Organica Seed


Annie’s Heirloom Seeds

Marianna’s Heirlooms

Nature and Nurture Seeds

Siegers Seed Company


Albert Lea Seed

Prairie Moon Nursery


Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Heirloom Acres Seeds

Stark Brothers


Fisher’s Seeds

New Hampshire

Valentine & Sons Seed Company

New Mexico

High Country Gardens

Plants of the Southwest

New York

Harris Seeds

Miller Nurseries

Stokes Seeds

North Carolina

Clifton Seed Company

Sow True Seed

North Dakota

Agassiz Seed & Supply


Baker’s Acres Greenhouse

Ohio Heirloom Seeds


Clear Creek Seeds


Nichols Garden Nursery

Silver Falls Seed Company

Siskiyou Seeds

Territorial Seed Company

Victory Seed Company

Wild Garden Seed


Amishland Heirloom Seed

D. Landreth Seed Company

Heirloom Seeds

Rohrer Seeds

W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

South Carolina

Park Seed Company

Penny’s Tomatoes

Pepper Joe

Seeds for the South

South Carolina Crop Improvement Assoc.

Twilley Seed


New Hope Seed Company


The Herb Cottage


Anderson’s Seed & Garden

Generic Seeds

Hometown Seeds


High Mowing Organic Seeds

Vermont Bean Seed Company


Southern Exposure Seed Exchange


Backyard Heirloom Seeds & Herbs

Filaree Garlic Farm

Good Seed Company

Irish Eyes Garden Seeds

Osborne Seed Company

Uprising Seeds


J.W. Jung Seed Company

R.H. Shumway

Totally Tomatoes


Wind River Seed

Here’s a few more, for mushrooms:

Back to the Roots, California

Gourmet Mushroom Products, California

Mushroom Adventures, California

Southeast Mushroom, Florida

Fungi Perfecti, Washington

And for garlic:

Garlic World, California

Charlie’s Gourmet Garlic, Ohio

Hood River Garlic, Oregon

Green Mountain Garlic, Vermont

Mushroom kits and garlic bulbs are offered by many of the seed companies as well. If you have others to recommend, please share them in the comments section. Happy Gardening!

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