Weather can always be a bit of a challenge when it comes to gardening. Wisconsin weather has been too cold, too wet, and now too hot this year! Maybe we just can’t be satisfied. The first or second week in May is usually when I plant most of the seeds and the more delicate plants like tomatoes and peppers. This year it was almost two weeks later before the ground was warm enough.
One cool night weather precaution that has worked well for me over the years is a simple individual “greenhouse” made from a milk jug. I just cut the bottom out and put one over each of the tomato and pepper plant. Once the danger of frost has passed the milk jug can be removed.
Cut Bottom Out of Milk Jug
Milk Jug Protecting Tomato Plant
This year I am experimenting with keeping a milk jug on one of my Pablano pepper plants until it outgrows it. I am hoping that by creating a mini greenhouse will help it to grow faster and produce more in our cooler climate.
Praises for Raised Beds
As I have mentioned before, I use raised beds for most of my garden. There are several advantages to the raised beds:
No need to till.
This allows me to plant while others are waiting for the soil to dry.
No compaction to the soil from walking or tilling.
This is better for plant growth and makes it easier to pull out weeds.
Soil warms earlier than the ground level.
This is especially helpful in our climate where we get late cool weather.
It is easier on the back for planting and weeding level.
I have a cement block raised bed that is great to sit on while planting and weeding.
Beds are easy to cover with netting or floating row cover.
In my beds I have iron rebar arched over the bed to attach row cover to so that I can extend the season.
While visiting in Alaska I noticed that a lot of the gardeners use a 1” PVC pipe in the same way.
Bird netting can also be attached to keep the birds from eating strawberries.
Straw or hay mulch makes weeding the beds much easier.
Make sure to use straw or hay that has not been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides.
If you have a bagger on your law mower the grass clippings make an excellent alternative mulch.
What’s Growing in My Garden?
Over time there are varieties of vegetables that I prefer over others. I would love to hear if you have some that work great for you, and that you would recommend.
Here are some of my favorites:
I prefer bush beans because the varieties I use are not as stringy as pole.
I used to grow Royal Burgundy Bush Beans. They are easier to see when picking them because they are purple. The kids love the fact that they turn from purple to green when cooked. A little magic in the garden!
My new favorite is Jade II, they do not get stringy— even when I don’t pick them as early as I should!
I plant a first crop, then after 2 or 3 heavy pickings I pull them out and replant for a second crop by fall.
I love Heirloom Brandywine, they have a super flavor. The only drawback I have found is that they do not seem to be as heavy of a producer as some of the hybrids.
Extra bonus is that you can save the seeds from year to year.
Wisconsin 55 is my go to hybrid for general canning and fresh eating.
Roma is great for sauces. They are meaty and do not have as much juice so the sauce cooks down faster.
Many years ago, I was given a tomato that was grown from seeds from Mexico. I wish I knew the variety, but I is a nice cherry tomato that reseeds itself even here in Wisconsin.
There are so many heirloom varieties, I like try new ones each year. My next best favorite is just waiting for me to try it!
For slicing I really like the burpless varieties. Their skin is thinner than standard cucumbers. They also do not turn into small boats as quickly as the standard cucumbers do. Although, goats and sheep like the over the hill cucumbers when I have them.
We always make and can sweet pickles, for those I like one of the smaller varieties, such as County Fair, and pick them when they are just 1.5-2” long
Butternut is my favorite. It is small enough that with only a couple of squash lovers in my family it is not overwhelming, and has a wonderful buttery flavor.
My grandmother used to grow Gray Hubbard squash. They are too big for my family, but if you have a crew to feed give them a try!
Works great to use instead of pumpkin in pumpkin pies and bars, they make a much smoother filling.
I don’t have a favorite, usually just any zucchini variety seem to product an abundance.
Other Vegetables That I Plant
Hot Peppers—if you can grow Poblano peppers you should. We don’t have a warm enough growing season to get many here. I love them in tamales and to make homemade enchilada sauce that is sooo yummy.
Carrots—the fun colored ones are always a hit with kids.
Onions—I like Copra hybrid but have had limited success with growing them from seed, so I buy the plants.
Cantaloupe—I plant it, it grows, I get 2 fruits. I am eternally optimistic that some year I will have a bumper crop, which would be anything more than two.
Lettuce and Spinach
Radishes- I grow both red and icicle varieties.
Herbs, For a Flavorful Life
Cilantro—You either love it or hate it, and we love it. I use it in salsa, fish tacos, soups and lots of other dishes.
Sage– Home grown sage for Thanksgiving stuffing is a must. I dry it for later use and it is usually a perennial in our area.
Dill—Don’t forget to dry some of the dill leaves for dill weed. It is great in potato soup.
Basil–Great dried, frozen and fresh for soups, pizza, and many more dishes.
Strawberries are coming along well in the new strawberry bed. I am hoping that this time I can get a good bed going! Maybe next year we will have strawberries. This bed only has one layer of bricks to keep it closer to the ground for more ground warmth in the winter.
A Little Beauty too!
The intoxicating scent of lilacs perfume the air. It is such a fleeting event, but so worth it. I step outside at night and the fragrance is amazing . There are few plants that require so little and give so much. Years ago I started planting lilacs along our driveway and near the house. Once they are planted there is not too much more they need. As they age it is a good idea to remove some of the older branches, after bloom, to encourage young growth that will provide more blooms. If you have space to add a lilac bush you will not be disappointed. Next up will be the peonies, snowball bush and iris.
Whether it is flowers or vegetables that are your passion, I hope you are playing in the dirt this spring! I would love to hear what you are growing.