Catrina's Garden

A place for gardeners, foodies and garden inspired artists.

Month: March 2016

Salsa Gardening – Before the Thaw

Child with tomatoGetting the family involved in gardening is a popular quest. The challenge is how to get the kids interested. Have you ever thought about planting a SALSA GARDEN?! Although your children may not love tomatoes and peppers (and onions, garlic and herbs) individually – once they realize when you put them all together it makes salsa – their interest will peak! Growing the ingredients to make this delicious dip will be rewarding whether you have little hands helping or not. Imagine the delight of your friends at a picnic gathering when you tell them your salsa was not only made from scratch, but you even grew the vegetables! How “green” of you!

Seed packets 2This fun project lasts all year, from planting to eating! So let’s get started–in our northern Wisconsin climate, your tomato and pepper seedlings should be planted now, indoors! You could have actually started the peppers a while back because they don’t outgrow their pots as fast as tomatoes.

Let’s talk tomatoes today. The best tomatoes for Salsa are paste types. Everyone is familiar with the old standard–the Roma–but there are dozens of heirloom paste tomatoes available. Great varieties to Tomato (10)1Corno-De-Toro-Pepper-225x300look for are: Amish paste, Opalka, Long Tom, Principal Borghese, San Marzano, Oxheart or Bull’s Heart (a really large paste tomato). Gildo Pietroboni is a little hard to find but this Italian paste is twice as big as a Roma and well worth the search when it comes to flavor. Add some fun to your tomato quest by making your salsa different colors with: orange, yellow or black Oxheart; Black Prince; Yellow, Green or Cream Sausage; Speckled Roman; Orange Banana or White Wonder tomatoes.

Next, the peppers; some great pepper varieties for a milder salsa are any of the Marconi’s, Hungarian Wax peppers, Poblano’s, Bermuda’s, or Ortega’s. You can get the crunch and look of a Jalapeño without the heat if you use Fooled You Jalapeño’s.  If you like it hot(!), consider using Cayenne’s, Tabasco’s, Serrano’s or the hottest…Habanera’s. Many of the ornamental pepper varieties that have variegated leaves like Fish, Trifetti, Masquerade and Black Pearl are also quite hot.

Now, the growing! Growing your seedlings is easy, really! The key is to start with the right ingredients.

  • Clean your potsUse jiffy mix or another super lightweight soil especially designed for seed starting. This will help prevent your seedlings from rotting; otherwise known as “damping off”. You can also use one of the prepackaged seed starting kits.
  • Start small. It’s easy to end up with way too many plants. But if you do, just share the extras with your family, friends or neighbors!
  • Very important. Clean your pots if you are reusing them. Seedlings are very susceptible to damping off, which is a fungal disease that causes them to simply rot and fall over. This is how I do mine, but you can wash them by hand if you wish.
  • Sprout seeds with bottom heatMost important, the seeds; needless to say, I LOVE SEEDS, they have such potential. Don’t you just marvel in how a huge plant can spring from this small piece of life?
  • Use bottom heat to get the seeds to sprout. Any warm place like the top of the refrigerator or an old-fashioned radiator will do. I use the bathroom floor as I have heated tile. My hubby wanted to know why I need the heating cables under the sink.
  • Water from the bottom too. Place water in the bottom tray, not on top of the soil.
  • Spring Seedlings1Move the seedlings to a bright window or under artificial lights as soon as they sprout (shop lights work well but lower the lights so they are just a few inches from the plants).
  • Thin the seedlings so they’re not crowded as they grow and move them to a bigger pot when they start to get big. Be ruthless; I know it’s hard. No one wants to kill their babies. Give some to your friends if you can’t do it.
  • Every time you transplant tomatoes plant them deep so only the top of the plant is sticking out of the soil. They’ll develop roots all along the stem and become strong. 7. Don’t plant your plants outside until it’s good and warm–but gradually set them outside to get them used to the outdoor weather. Bring them in on cold nights. Pepper plants are more susceptible to cold weather.

If you don’t want to take care of seedlings all winter never fear! It’s okay to purchase your seedlings. Be sure to check back and see what other ingredients you will need for your salsa garden!

Blaukraut (German Red Cabbage)

(adapted from “my family”)
This was one of the vegetables that I actually liked as a kid. My grandma made it so when I started gardening “Red Acre” was one of the first things I grew.

Here’s the original recipe and you can see how I updated it below.


1 medium head red cabbage, shredded
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup red wine
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup water
Kosher Salt and Pepper


Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the 1/3 cup of red wine. Add 1/2 of the shredded cabbage, 1/2 of the apple, 1 bouillon cube, 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, 1/2 cup of water, season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Repeat the layer adding the other half of the ingredients in the same fashion.
Give a quick stir, cover and simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes or until the cabbage is soft. At this point stir, taste for seasonings and adjust if a little more salt and pepper is needed.

For each cabbage used I increased the wine to 1/2 cup, and used a whole onion instead of a half. I caramelized it instead of cooking to translucent. I also used 2 apples instead of one and added a can of mandarin oranges and their juice. If you can find the natural kind they are the best. I used more vinegar than called for and instead of apple cider vinegar I used white wine vinegar in which I had steeped osmin basil for about a month. I love this stuff. I didn’t add any extra water because of the extra wine and the orange juice. Lastly I substituted a little less than 1/4 cup of agave nectar for the sugar.

Served with a pork chop and some parsley buttered noodles…comfort food.

Caring for Daylilies

Daylily Bright Sunset (4)1Now you have a gorgeous array of daylilies.  All colors sizes and forms, with eyes and ruffles. So how do you care for these beauties?

The good news is…it’s easy! Daylilies don’t require a lot of attention. Much of the care that is described here is optional. They will do just fine if you don’t do it.


This is the Latin name for Daylily. It is from the Greek: HEMÉRA (day) KÁLLOS (beauty).

Daylily Christmas Ribbon1Planting

The first step is to get them planted correctly in a good spot. If you missed it check out this article about how to plant your new daylilies.


Your daylilies actually can go for a period of time between watering. They will flower better and have less dried up foliage around the base with regular watering but will most often do fine with less. There are most likely other plants in your garden that need more water than the daylilies, so use them as an indicator of when watering is needed. Of course, if they are freshly planted you will want to water them more often. It is better to give them a soaking so that the moisture penetrates at least 10 inches into the soil, than to water a little bit every day. Of course you will not be able to help it if you are lucky enough to have rain, but overhead watering can cause spots on any flowers that are open and sometimes even the next day’s blooms. You could prevent this by using soaker hoses. Ideally they would get watered if there is not an inch of rainfall in a week.

Daylily Helen Shooter and marguaites1Fertilizing

Daylilies grow in a wide range of soils and conditions. Fertilization practices differ widely from gardener to gardener.  Certainly you will get better bloom if your soil is more fertile but truly, daylilies are amazing in nearly any soil. If you like to use fertilizer please follow the instructions on the label. Too much fertilizer will grow lots of leaves and fewer flowers. Daylilies do fine with a wide range of soil pH. I recommend a soil test before adding anything that would change the pH like lime or sulfur.  If you garden organically, like us, you will find that almost any soil can be improved with a little compost. I work some in when I plant and use as a top dressing. Leave it a little away from the crowns to prevent too much moisture from collecting there. If would be great to do it every year but in reality if you don’t get to it you will be fine. We get through all of our beds about every other year.

Daylily Little Bumble Bee 2Mulching

Mulching is not essential but it does help the soil to retain moisture and help to keep the weeds down. I recommend organic mulch like wood chips, shredded leaves or clean straw, which will break down in time essentially becoming compost and contributing to the fertility of the soil. If using wood chips let them age a bit before spreading.  Fresh green chips can actually rob some nutrients from your plants as they decompose. This really only happens in the top inch of the soil so big established plants won’t mind, but seedlings or small plants may. Mulches that are not recommended include dyed wood chips (unnecessary chemicals) and plastic mulch. Please don’t use plastic sheet for mulch. Landscape fabric is okay but I still don’t recommend it. Here’s why:

  • Less water will get to your plants; especially with plastic but even with landscape fabric they get less.
  • Your soil gets hotter. Think of what happens with your black car or if using clear it can have a greenhouse effect. Plastic is used to kill weeds. Why would you do this to your nice plants?
  • The weeds will eventually come through…believe me they will, and then you will have to rip out your work and start over. This is even worse if you put rocks on the top. Think of the time you will have to spend picking out the rocks by hand when your fabric is shredding.
  • It kills worms, or at least makes them go away.
  • When you pull it up you will see that your soil is dead. All microorganisms and organic matter is gone.
  • Your plants are not going to stay exactly as they are when you plant them. They are going to grow and the little hole that you cut is going to strangle them. They are going to end up trying to grow under the plastic and get suffocated or they will spread out on top where there isn’t any soil for them.
  • You may want to move them around.

Daylily LIttle Rusty (2)1Controlling Weeds

We all know that weeding is a part of gardening. Weeds can rob water and nutrients from the good guys. For sure get them before they go to seed, and be diligent about perennial weeds or they can take over. Let’s face it, weeds aren’t as pretty as no weeds but it is really a matter of how fastidious you are, how much time you have and how many plants you have.  A few weeds aren’t going to kill a daylily. Mulching will decrease the amount of hoeing and hand removal that you will need to do.

Grooming and Sanitation

Keeping your garden neat and tidy really goes hand in hand with weeding, and has the same real life constraints on it. You’re daylilies will likely do fine if you don’t do it. If you are having problems with insect pests or disease, removing dead foliage and debris from around the crown can help combat these problems. But when it comes down to it, really, it’s a matter of making them look their best. So, this being said I usually tell people that if it doesn’t look good, remove it.

  • Remove any foliage from last year in spring.
  • Remove any foliage that is turning brown, or is damaged throughout the growing season. This can be done as infrequently or as often as you like to keep your plants looking nice.
  • Though it is not a problem to miss a day or too, deadheading has become a ritual for me. It gives you a chance to go around each day and see what’s blooming. I usually do my photography at this time too. It’s a relaxing thing to do with a cup o’ java.
  • If you hybridize, of course you will need to leave the pollinated, hopefully marked, blooms on until a seed pod forms.
  • After all of the buds on a given scape have bloomed you can cut the scape off to a few inches above the soil. This may help your plant send up another scape and re-bloom. You will of course want to leave the scape if it has a pod on it and you want to try starting daylilies from seed.

Daylily Wilson's Spider1Dividing

There are sources that give you specific recommendations on when to divide you plants. About every 5 years is what I often hear. There are thousands of daylily cultivars out there and each one will perform differently in different gardens and different geographic areas. What I will say is that if your plant is preforming well then you can leave it and your clumps will become impressive. If it is not flowering as well as it used to, or you want to give some to a friend, then consider dividing or moving it. Each fan can become a new plant but I like to leave 6 fans on the mother plant and have each division be at least 3 fans. Unless it is huge I recommend digging up the entire plant and then replanting the parent. Some recommend cutting with a spade or knife, but you will lose a lot more of the plant this way. No matter what you do you will lose a few roots, and maybe a fan or two. If you chop off the top part of the fan replant the crown anyway and it will likely grow next year. As you start to remove the soil you will notice that you can begin to tease or pry the fans apart, breaking a few roots that join them. Leave the fans that you plan to plant together attached if you can. If they separate it’s not a big deal though. Remove the dead foliage and debris from around the crown and especially if you plan to move them to a different garden rinse them. This will prevent moving any weeds or insects hiding in the soil and in that stuff around the base.

Now sit back and enjoy the show.

To see all of the daylilies offered by Catrina’s garden click here.

Click here to learn how to plant your daylilies.

Planting Your New Daylilies

Daylily Bama Bound1Daylilies are the ideal plant to purchase bare root. They are tough, and the way the root system develops will help them travel well. The thick swellings are actually tuberous roots. They store energy for the plant and help them if they are out of the ground or living in a pot for a while.

Here at Catrina’s garden we do not store your daylilies over the winter.  They are kept in the ground until spring when we dig them the day before we ship them. After digging them we clean, trim and label them, then we let them dry for a few hours before they are packed. All of these steps are important.

Daylily Bright Sunset (5)1All soil is cleaned from your daylilies. Although daylilies (especially those grown in the north) don’t have many disease or insect problems; removing the soil prevents nearly any chance of moving soil insects and weeds from one area of the country to another.

So why do we cut them back? Even though daylilies are really tough, all plants are shocked when transplanted and will need to go through a recovery period. Cutting them back has 4 purposes. It allows us to fit more plants in the box. It makes it easier for us to see the crowns when dividing. Most important is that it is better for the plant. There will be less foliage that the plant needs to support while recovering, and lastly there is less water lost from the plant when there is less foliage. When you plant your new plant it is normal for the outer leaves to dry up and turn brown and you will notice new green foliage coming from the center of the crown.

Daylily Indian Giver1Your plants are dried before they are packaged so that they will not rot or grow any mold while they are in the box. They are labeled for obvious reasons…so that you know which is which, since you can’t tell them apart otherwise…until they bloom.

The most important thing when receiving your plants is to plant them as soon as possible. You may want to start finding a spot for them and getting the soil prepared when you hear from us that they are being shipped.

Daylily Jo Barbre (2)1In choosing their new home there are four things to be considered

  • Daylilies do best in full sun. They will not likely die if you plant them in the shade, but they will not bloom well. Please plant them where they get at least 6 hours of sun for best blooming. You could consider planting your dark purple or red varieties in partial shade. They can get spots from too much sun especially if they are wet. Some think a little morning shade allows them to dry off the dew before the sun hits them and some think afternoon shade keeps them out at the hottest part of the day.
  • Soil Type – Daylilies will truly grow in almost any type of soil. They will flower better in a rich fertile soil. Adding some compost will help a clay soil more become more friable and will help sandy soil increase water retention.
  • Poor drainage will only be a problem if it is severe. You don’t want your daylilies standing in water, they could rot. If you have really heavy clay or are in a low area consider a raised bed.
  • Space – Give them a little space. If they are too close to trees, shrubs, weeds or other daylilies they could be robbed of water and nutrients. You don’t want to plant different varieties too close together as they will get big and grow together and you could lose track of which variety is which or a more vigorous variety could “take over” a weaker one. Do feel free to interplant with other perennials. I recommend planting them at least 18 inches apart, or a little wider.

Daylily Little Missy (4)1When preparing the spots for your daylilies work the soil down at least a foot to loosen it up. Your hole should be bigger than the root mass if possible.

Because your plants have been dried and have spent some time in a dark box you may want to put them in a bucket of water for a few hours before planting them. Some people don’t agree with this. If your plants don’t look dry at all this may not be necessary. The big thing here is not to leave them in the water too long…over night at the longest. Leaving them in water longer than this could lead to rot. If you can’t get them planted right away bury the roots in a bucket of damp sand or plant them temporarily in a pot or close together in the ground. Please keep them watered.

Daylily Little Rusty and Ice carnival1Some people like to add a weak solution of fertilizer to the water. This could help but be sure that it is not too strong or it could burn them. We don’t use fertilizer because we garden organically. When I purchase my own daylilies I put a small shovel full of compost in the water to make a compost tea. If they don’t look dry it is perfectly fine to plant immediately and water well.

Water them well…ah yes; that is the key. Daylilies being the strong carefree plants that they are need little supplemental water in most areas, once established. They do however need frequent watering when they are first planted; especially if planted in the summer, or in hot, dry climates.

Daylily Siloam Doodlebug1So how exactly do you plant them?

  • Make a little mound in the center of your hole. This is because the daylily has a crown and roots that are fanned out around it. You want the roots to be draped down deeper than the crown and the crown should be sitting at the same height in the soil as it was previously.
  • You can see how deep to plant them because the part that was under the ground before will be white and the part that goes above the ground is green.
  • The crown should not be more than an inch below the surface.
  • Firm the soil around the roots to remove air pockets but you don’t have to pack it super tight.
  • The new plant should be the same height as the surrounding soil, but you can make a bit of a soil ring around it so that the water doesn’t run off.
  • Water well…oh yeah, we already said that.
  • Label your plant – Some people don’t care about the names of their plants, but even if you don’t, you may want to know what color it is. Just use the name. Even if you don’t care about it now you may find that you do in the future. Daylilies can lose much of their value if they are nameless. I have a few from when I first started gardening that are lovely but I can’t sell them because I don’t know their true identity.

Daylily wild ruffles (5)1Some things to remember:

  • Diploids including most spiders and miniature daylilies will have much smaller fans than tetraploids. This is normal. We always send at least 3 fans of daylilies that have small fans, many times more. For large tetraploid daylilies you will always get at least two large fans, many times three. Usually, the limiting factor will be the size of the box.
  • Daylilies that grow in the far north may be smaller in size than those grown in the south. Really; they will perform just as well if not better, especially for those of you that live in the north. They also have the benefit of not having troubles with rust. If you get a huge fan from Florida or Alabama you will notice that it will be smaller before too long when you plant them in the North.
  • Your new daylilies probably won’t bloom the first year. This is normal. Remember, they are recovering. Some people even cut the scapes off the first year to help the plant get a strong start. Scapes are the stalks that produce the flowers. I like to leave just one scape to make sure that I got the correct plant.
  • Please judge your new plants by the roots not the leaves.
    • Enjoy your new daylilies.

To see the daylilies offered by Catrina’s Garden click here.

Click here to see how to care for your established daylilies.

Grow Great Basil

Basil is easy to grow. If you are growing plants to put outside in the garden, here in Wisconsin you will want to start about now late February or early March). It is one of the first things I start along with parsley, peppers, eggplant and some early flowers like pansies and snaps. Wait a little while for the tomatoes or they will get too big too fast. (This is a gallery. Click one of the pictures to open it and click in the grey area to close)

Some of these pictures came from here.

Most places that sell garden seeds will have some kind of basil. Usually it is “sweet basil” which is just plain old regular green basil. It’s good and is a good fast, grower but there are so many other kinds. We will discuss the different varieties in detail in another blog, but do try lettuce leaf. Its leaves are twice the size of sweet basil. Try one of the many types of Thai basil. The flavor is a little more pronounced and the stems are purple. “Purple you say”; yes, if you like that try one of the varieties with purple leaves. They are very pretty and you won’t notice spotting as much. They make beautiful pink infused vinegar. Other varieties to try include lemon, lime, or one of the miniature types. I recommend a soil less seed starting mix as basil can be susceptible to fungal diseases.

Clean your potsYou have some choices; the little expandable pellets, small pots with the soil less mix or, you can use a larger pot with a nice rich soil on the bottom and then a layer of the soil less mi on top. If you use small pots you will have to transplant them into bigger pots as they grow. Use a clean pot. I wash mine in the dish washer. Fungal diseases can live from year to year on your pots.

Basil seeds1If the seed is fresh I usually put about 3 seeds in each pot. Space them out a little if you can. Put in a few more if they are older. If your soil is dry spray it with a mist bottle before you start. Bottom watering works best for seeds and really young seedlings and pre-misting the soil helps draw the water up better from the bottom. Bottom watering prevents the seed from being washed away and protects fragile young seedlings. Basil seeds do like to be covered a little bit. Either sprinkle them with a little more soil or poke them down with a tooth pick or something.

Be sure to label your seedlings. I like to use pencil. It doesn’t fade as much as markers.

Sprout seeds with bottom heatBasil loves warmth and they don’t need light until they sprout. They do best if you cover them to keep the moisture in and then put them somewhere that they will get bottom heat. The sell matts especially for this but I find that the heated tile floor in the bathroom works great. The top of the frig or the heating coils that are used to melt snow from the roof are some other things that I have heard of.

The next step is important. Check them every day. Water as necessary, by filling the bottom tray. You want them to stay moist but not overly soggy. When you see green it is time to move them into the light.

Spring Seedlings1Then you just let them grow. They need as much light as possible. If they don’t get enough light they will get tall and skinny and will have week stems. Either keep them in the brightest window with direct sunlight or use artificial light. Again, they sell set shelves that are set up especially for growing seedlings. You can however set up a growing station anywhere that you can hang lights. There are special bulbs for growing plants. They do help I think, but I have had good luck with standard shop lights. When using this method the lights should be lowered and raised as the plants grow so that the light is 2 to 6 inches above the plants. Don’t leave the lights on 24/7 though, plants have adapted to that period of darkness called “night” and some even bloom and or develop according to how many hours of light they get. I use a timer that turns the lights on and off at 12 hour intervals.

Some of my seedlings go out into the greenhouse early so that they can start to get used to the temperature fluctuations in preparation for moving outside but not the basil. Keep growing it in a nice warm spot. You will need to harden it off eventually to go outside but don’t even think of putting basil out until it is nice and warm. It’s the last thing we pant outside.

As the seedlings grow use a fan to circulate the air around your plants. This makes them stronger and helps ward of growth of fungus.

One more thing that makes basil different than how I grow most of the rest of my seedlings, don’t thin it. Tomatoes, peppers, Cole seedlings; all of these I would select as they grow, and keep the strongest seedling. Not basil, you can leave a little clump of them.  Not tons of seedlings, but up to 5 in a pot and then later planted into the garden together is fine.  This gives you more stems to harvest from and makes your plant(s) appear lusher. Basil doesn’t have a very dense root system so it doesn’t mind, but do give it some extra compost or other fertilizer when you plant it as it likes a nice rich soil.

Tomatoes and basil1Plant them out when there is absolutely no chance of frost. Water your plants regularly and harvest frequently.  This helps them become bushier. When you harvest take the top few stem segments just above where two leaves are attached. When you do this to new stems will grow out of the leaf junctions. Don’t just pick the leaves.

Now I have to wait until harvest time to write about making pesto.

For some more interesting talk on basil read “All About Basil”.

For the History of Basil click here.

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