Dolly Sickles is an experienced gardener who’s been cultivating her green thumb for the last twenty-five years. She’s an avid practitioner of practical gardening learned through trial and error, and best practices gleaned from folks she meets in the community. She started writing about gardening in 2003 with a weekly column in The Apex Herald called The Optimistic Gardener, which ran until 2007. Her blog, Gardening Gloves, ran on WRAL.com from 2007 - 2009. Now that she's got time to focus on gardening again, she's restarting The Optimistic Gardener with The Chatham News & Record. She lives in Chatham County with her family, where she's also a novelist and an adjunct instructor in CCCC’s Creative Writing Program.
Welcome, Honeybees … bringers of spring and bountiful fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
Today, my husband introduced two new sets of bees to the meadow hives – one Italian and one Russian. Queens Isabella and Natasha. The honeybees are already scouting the field, checking out our peach, plum, fig, and apple trees. They’ve done fly-by’s to my chickens and are giving our beagle the side-eye. They’re synchronizing GPS’s and already bringing in pollen. #squad
Everything seems to be in order and we’re excited for the forthcoming growing season. Shout out to James Fogleman at Silk Hope Bees for the packages. Let the 2021 Victory Garden season commence!
PS. Two of Queen Isabella’s henchmen stung the mister, so it looks like we’ve got a protection racket happening downfield. lol
Poor Narcissus, the handsome fella doomed by the avenging goddess Nemesis to fall in love with the water nymph Echo, who could only repeat the words of others. The early-Spring flower is said to have sprung from where he died by the riverbank–it’s fabled to have been the last flower Persephone picked before being swiped by Hades. It’s also the scene of Sigourney Weaver’s final battle with in Alien.
I love a good story, particularly when it carries over to my other favorite pastime, gardening. The narcissus is a great example, in mythology and gardening and art, of the concept of vanitas … the idea that every living thing must come to an end. Like Narcissus’ young life, narcissus flowers have a very short blooming period. Narcissus is one of dozens of varieties of daffodils, all of which are pretty easy to grow.
According to the American Daffodil Society, “plant the bulbs when grounds have cooled, in some climates September and for warmer climates in November.” They need well-drained soil in a sunny spot, and will grow well in hilly landscapes. Plant them at least a foot deep, and make sure they have plenty of water the year you plant them. They acclimate pretty quickly and will multiply on their own. I’ve had some bulbs bloom five or six years in a row, and them some that never bloom more than one season. Crucial to the survival of bulbs, in my experience and by growing tip, “do not cut the foliage until it begins to yellow (usually late May or June).”
Keep in mind that daffodils, like many other bulbs, are great flowers to share with family and friends. They’re perfect spring companion plants for things like roses, hellebore, peonies, hyacinth, and astilbe. They’re the flower for the month of March, and since my son‘s birthday falls in March, we have them all over the yard.
It’s cold outside, y’all, like really cold. So it’s no surprise that a couple of our houseplants are hosting a couple tiny terrors. Nothing bad or swarmy, just irritating little gnats. Mr. Sickles did a little research and came up with Safer Brand Houseplant Sticky Stakes. And they work! I put them in a couple plants on February 6, and by February 24 we had a little gnat graveyard. I like these because they’re quick, clean, and chemical-free. Can you hear my evil laugh?
In this week’s Optimistic Gardener, I’m signing off for the 2020 Victory Garden season and sharing tips for getting your fall and winter garden prepped. We cover annuals, perennials, bulbs, trees and shrubs, vegetables, herbs, mulch, grass, and houseplants. Shazam! It’s a lot.
Because the article was lengthy, I didn’t include any links for more information–so here you go.
We were in London in February, getting home about two weeks before the world shut down for COVID-19, and discovered Fortnum & Mason. We’re not typically souvenir kind of people, but I bought tea and biscuits for everyone in our family. Because the Queen. But I’m on their mailing list now because when it’s safe to travel again, I’d like to go back to England. Today’s newsletter introduces readers to the honeybee hives at Picadilly, on the roof of the F&M building. It made me think of Mr. Sickles and his honeybees, across the pond here in North Carolina.
Over the weekend we finished spreading our first truckload of shredded hardwood mulch from Country Farm & Home. We’ve joined the ranks of so many gardeners I interviewed this summer who were fans. My husband is a fan of their beekeeping and chicken sections, and we bought some really healthy fruit trees a couple weeks ago. This mulch validates our decision to shift gears to a local garden shop. But back to the spreading … I think we’ll need at least two more loads to cover all of our garden beds. Cross your fingers that we won’t need four (my back will thank you)!
Yesterday I harvested our first batch of arugula microgreens. They are D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S. But they are a pain in the ass to harvest. Tiny trims with sharp harvest scissors, just a couple shoots at a time. I have a new-found respect for microgreen farmers, and could totally get behind the microgreen union raising the prices for these tasty superfoods. The process made me happy that our family are subsistence farmers and the community-at-large isn’t relying on me for microgreens. But like I said: tasty. I can feel their superpowers surging through me now. So thank a farmer, and find a microgreen farmer in your community to support. You’ll both be happy.
Last week I caught up with Tenita Solanto, Navy veteran, farmer, and all around badass. She owns Green Panda Farms in Siler City, where she and her wife live, and is a fount of knowledge on a gigantic subject: microgreens.
According to the NIH’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, “As the World’s population grows at an unprecedented rate, food systems must be revised to provide adequate nutrition while minimizing environmental impacts.” It goes on to state that “in the US, food production utilizes 50% of land and is responsible for 80% of total freshwater consumption.” Smart farming is the way to go, and microgreens are a smart solution.
You can read about Tenita’s journey from technology and electronics to farming in this week’s Chatham News & Record. She’s been and done a lot of things on her life’s journey, but she says with great humor, “I consider where I am now a success. Maybe not a financial success, but me as a person and how much more growth and development I’ve had, and my connection with the community.”
But I wanted to give a little more background on microgreens here.
Runner’s World has this easy explanation: microgreens are vegetables and herbs that haven’t yet matured—the middle ground between sprouts and baby greens. “Tiny as they are, these young plants deliver intense flavors, vibrant colors, and unique textures.”
If you’re going to try and grow your own microgreens, consider this list from Healthline, listing the most popular varieties of microgreens are produced using seeds from the following plant families:
Brassicaceae family: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radish and arugula
Asteraceae family: Lettuce, endive, chicory and radicchio
Apiaceae family: Dill, carrot, fennel and celery
Amaryllidaceae family: Garlic, onion, leek
Amaranthaceae family: Amaranth, quinoa swiss chard, beet and spinach
Cucurbitaceae family: Melon, cucumber and squash
Tenita told me that if I wanted to grow them at home, I just needed good soil, with densely sprinkled seeds on top (in a single layer), and a little water. I planted a patch of arugula yesterday, so I’ll let you know how it goes. If you like more formal instructions, check out: