The Myth of the Green Thumb

Playing in the dirt.

Brown fingers = Green thumbs

“I have a brown thumb, I can’t grow anything.”

Or worse,

“I have 2 black thumbs, I kill every plant I touch.”

Sometimes I’ll joke that I kill houseplants, that I am only good at growing outdoors. Truth be told, when I lived in a house with a huge bay window that faced southeast, I was really good at growing plants indoors. Really, really good.

The difference, of course, was the environment.

So why do some people just seem to have a knack for growing plants? Personally, I think most of it is learned.

My Mother used to be an excellent grower of African Violets, a rather temperamental plant that many give up on. “The secrets,” she said, “are to water from below, never move them, and only give them 1/4 turn each week so they grow evenly.”

Was it a knack, or did she learn what it took?

Consider growing plants compared to playing music (our other favorite hobby):

Music is basically math. Anyone can learn math, though some might think they are bad at it; anyone can learn to play music. True, to be outstanding, you need to feel it as well; to relax, and allow yourself to be drawn in.

Growing plants is botany, everyday science. Anyone can learn science, but to be good at growing plants you have to get into it. Like my Mom and her African Violets, she kept at it until she learned what they wanted, what it took to do it well. In order for them to grow healthy and flower, they needed her to relax.

Henry Ford made the famous statement “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are probably right.”

So if you know someone who thinks they have a brown thumb, pass this on:

Relax. Let yourself be drawn in.

Don’t be afraid to learn by experience, which will include failures. These are precious lessons never forgotten.

Most importantly, think positively; the plants will respond.

You just might surprise yourself and find you have that ‘knack’ after all; it was inside you all the time.

Origin of the expression Green Thumb.


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Confession #401 What? No More Garden Center?

planters for growing corn

So over the weekend Mandolin and I were out running a few errands; post office, grocery store, etc.

When we pulled in to the Home Depot parking lot, he said “I’ll just be a minute, really, I just need a piece of hardware. You can wait in the car if you want. I’ll leave the heater on.”

“No that’s okay, I think I’ll see if their garden center is open yet.”

“I don’t think it is, really,” he said. “In fact, I think I read in the paper this morning that they are closing it down. Yep, closing it down for good. Yep, that’s it. They are never, ever going to sell anything that is even remotely related to gardening here. Not ever again. Never. So, you may as well wait in the car.”

Now I admit I didn’t really need the two planters pictured above, though they will certainly be used.

Sometimes though, you just have to stand your ground.

Or, well, stand your soil; as the case may be.

Categories: Jonesen', Keeping up with the Joneses



The Never Ending Garden


Growing lemons in the north.

Gardening doesn’t end just because the weather turns cold, it just changes. You needn’t suffer withdrawal, you only need to think outside the raised bed.

1. Grow food from scraps even indoors. Our take on it.

2. Set up a seed starting system, even a small one. Here’s a link to keeping it on the cheap. Just remember you need warmth and a light source.

3. Grow food indoors during the winter. Here’s a few to try.

4. Start a garden scrapbook, if you haven’t already. It is a fun way to look back and to plan for your next garden, as well helping you to stay organized.

5. Extend your growing season outside. Of course, we recommend the Jones’ Garden System.

There are many other ways to get your gardening fix throughout the year. You can become a member of an online social media gardening group, read great gardening books, watch videos and podcasts, and so on. Just in the past few days we have started more seeds, transplanted one plant, and discussed and decided then ordered the onion varieties for spring. We’ll be looking at potatoes next, and then on to flowers and more edibles.

So you see, gardening never really ends when it gets cold outside, it just changes direction.

Categories: Jonesen', Keeping up with the Joneses


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9 Lessons Learned in the 2014 Garden

free range chickens

There are always lessons learned in a garden, even by the more experienced growers. Here are a few we experienced last season:

1. Birds eat seeds. Chickens are birds. Don’t let the chickens free range where you just planted seeds, especially sunflower seeds, without protecting the bed.

2. There is such a thing as too much heat. Yep, southerners know this, but it isn’t something we in the north have a lot of experience with. Until we get a greenhouse.

3. Keep the cole crops away from fruit. Not just strawberries, apparently they don’t like grapes either. Though the broccoli raab didn’t seem to have an issue.

4. Plant more broccoli raab, less peas, more potatoes, less corn and more grains.

5. Speaking of grains, start the seeds indoors. See #1.

6. For us, not growing green beans was a good decision.

7. Three dozen tomato plants is just about right for two people who love to cook.

8. Plant even more flowers, it really did a lot to attract pollinators to the garden.

And most importantly:

9. Let your significant other help. Even if they don’t do things the way you would, it is still better to garden together. And just maybe, you won’t have to learn to play golf.

Categories: Jonesen', Keeping up with the Joneses


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Confession #27 The Christmas Tree Killer

indoor trees

A Forever Christmas Tree

It was two Christmases ago that we decided to pare back the decorations in the house. With that in mind, we also thought it would be great to have a forever Christmas tree, rather than buying a fresh one each year.

Not wanting a fake tree, we decided to pick up a little Norfolk Island Pine tree instead. They are great for growing indoors. We found a nice selection at a local big box store early in December, all sparkly and ready for decorating. They were small but we knew it would not take long until we had a nice size tree that we would never need to replace.

Or so we thought.

The poor thing barely made it through Christmas, let alone the new year. Mandolin suggested we buy a fake tree on sale, but I refused to give up so easily.

And so I doomed myself to repeat killing a tree the following year. This second one held on a wee bit longer. I repotted it and fed it, but it was obvious by Christmas day it was not long for this world.

Admittedly I am not great with houseplants, but I can keep them alive longer than just a few weeks.

We stopped in the same store yesterday, and as we happened by the tree display I commented “Should we buy another tree to kill?”

Just as Mandolin opened his mouth to respond, a woman standing nearby said “I’ve had one of those in my house for years. It’s huge.”

Now I never miss an opportunity to talk about my favorite subject and to learn more about growing anything. Mandolin wandered off and the woman and I discussed what she did vs. what I did. We examined the trees that were there and it turns out some of them were not sparkly at all. “Oh mine didn’t have anything sprayed on it,” she said. “Mine was more like this one.”

And she pointed to an untreated tree with obvious signs of new growth. You could see the difference in the health of the trees. The sparkly ones already looked like they were soon to be goners, the untreated trees were greener and had a lot of new growth.

“Oh, look at this,” the woman said, “This has three trunks, just like mine.”

That was the clincher right there. Maybe it wasn’t me after all. Maybe the sparkly stuff killed those trees.

I thanked her for her help, picked up the tree she had pointed to, and set about trying to find my husband.

“I knew you would be buying a tree,” he said, “After I heard what that woman told you about hers.”

“It’s a matter of gardener’s honor,” I answered.

Categories: Jonesen', Keeping up with the Joneses



Gardening and the Internet

Another spaghetti squash and even more beans.

It was easier to learn to grow food in the days before there was so much information available at your fingertips.

You could read a book or magazine, or ask a neighbor. The backs of seed packets and seed catalogs held the information that was easiest to access.

Now all you have to do is type a word and a world of information, both correct and not, is right there for you to sort through. And it can be mind boggling.

There is so much information that a lot of people have turned to social media for help. Again, there is good information and there is bad, though well-intended.

Did you see the one about how to tell the male sweet peppers from the female? Seriously.

So what’s a gardener to do?

First, find a source you can trust. Since you are here, we hope you consider us one. We turn to Mother Earth News and a few e-quaintances we have been reading for a while. We also read the .edu sites, though we know their info is primarily for farmers.

Personally, we avoid E-How, and Yahoo Answers.
These venues allow anyone to submit, right or wrong. Sure there is some great info there, but we have also seen completely wrong information on all 3 sites.

If you can, ask a neighbor. The local farmers’ market can be a great source of information, and it is local practices that were successful in your area.

Above all, learn by doing. Have fun, experiment, keep it simple or complicated based on which you enjoy the most.

Don’t be afraid, don’t hold off planting something just because you might make a mistake.

Well, unless it is horseradish. ;-)
Garden on!

Categories: Gardening People, Places & Things, Jonesen', Keeping up with the Joneses



(Please Don’t) Eat (This) Tomato

Pompeii tomato

It is estimated that men hear as little as two words for every five a woman speaks.

Some women might suggest it is actually less than that.

And I know some men who might say “What? Did you say something?”

So it really came as no surprise last week when this scenario took place:

Mandolin: “That’s a nice looking tomato in that basket.”
Me: “Yes, it is the best of that variety that I grew. Please don’t eat it.”

Mandolin: “Don’t eat it? But it’s the best looking tomato in the basket.”
Me: “Yeah I know, I want to save the seeds from it. It was probably a twin tomato, but since it was the best one, I want the seeds. So, please don’t eat it. You can have any of the other tomatoes, just not this one.”

Mandolin: “Really? But that is such a nice looking tomato.”
Me: “Yes, it is. Here, I’ll move it to the side so you don’t forget.”

So the next day, when I came home from work, the tomato was gone. I knew what had happened.

When he returned from work I asked “Did you have a tomato today?”

“Yes,” he said, “that really nice looking one from the basket.”
“Was it good?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, that was a really good tomato.”

When I reminded him that it was the one I wanted the seeds from, he apologized.
Then jokingly added “But you kept saying ‘Eat tomato. Eat tomato.’”

Smart aleck!

After almost 40 years together, I should have known better.
Say less, leave notes.

Categories: Jonesen', Keeping up with the Joneses



4 Levels of Snow Through the Eyes of a Gardener

snow storms to gardeners

The first and the last storms are the best storms.

What does snow mean to a gardener?
Well here in the mountains of northeast Pa., we are all quite familiar with snowstorms. Our first snow could come as early as the end of September, but more likely in October; and we have seen snow as late as mid-May.

Here our weather people refer to snow levels by some cute names:

1. A Dusting

This refers to a snowfall less than 3″ deep. The first one always looks nice, but other than that they are nothing to be concerned about.

2. A Nuisance

Snow accumulations of 3-6″ are not much more than a bother. It means you might need a broom to sweep a little path to the garden and wipe off your cold frames. You’ll still easily be able to harvest some mache and kale, and depending on the temperatures, possibly carrots as well.

3. Plow-able Snow

Once you hit 6″ and up to a foot, you are reminded of why your garden gate opens out rather than in. You’re going to need a snow shovel and maybe even a small snow blower to get into the garden. And don’t forget a path to the greenhouse, all that snow will be keeping it nice and insulated. If this is a spring snow, it’s a good sign you can start some seedlings.

4. Nor’easter AKA French Toast

When this is predicted all the locals, most of whom have all wheel drive and a plow on their vehicle, head out to the grocery stores and beverage centers; even though they really don’t need a thing. It is something of a social event.

It is tradition to buy milk, bread and eggs, hence the nickname. The truth of the matter is though that many have their own laying chickens, bake bread from scratch, and have well stocked larders.

These are the snowstorms when you can tell who is a gardener without looking at their land.

They’re just standing around in the produce section chatting with neighbors, and holding almost empty baskets.

They are the people obviously least concerned about the weather, because for the most part, it won’t affect them.

They’ll just hunker down in front of the fireplace, crack open a new jar of pickles, and peruse the latest seed catalogs.

Truth be told, gardeners are really just setting back and waiting while nature protects their bulbs, overwinters what needs the cold, and waters the garden.

And what a secure feeling it is.

Categories: Jonesen'



23 Things to Love About Growing Edibles

growing edibles

Future jelly, syrup or salad dressing.

Gardening and particularly growing edibles means many things to each individual, but there are also a lot of things we enjoy in common.

Perhaps you will find yourself here:

1. When the sunlight falls upon the water coming from the hose, and it makes a rainbow.
2. The smell of soil and the way it feels in your hands.
3. Seeing a seed sprout, and knowing what is to come.
4. Not having to read a food label.

growing onions

A year’s worth of onions.

5. Freedom from dependency on others for food.
6. The excitement of each new growing season.
7. The way the failures make the successes all the sweeter.
8. Grazing.

growing edibles

Thinning greens makes for lunch.

9. Finding new things to grow.
10. Getting unexpectedly hit by the sprinkler. A wee bit shocking, yes; but still fun on a hot day.
11. Filling the larder shelves.
12. Tomatoes. Jus’ sayin’.
13. The critters, all of them, both helpful and harmful.
14. Getting to know which veggie is which.
15. The ‘Do-over’ each year.
16. The Winter Withdrawal and planning time.
17. Botany. The Mad Scientist. The Muwahahaha! moments.
18. Seeing how different foods grow; like kohlrabi and walking onions.
19. The camaraderie with other food growers, sharing knowledge and info.

growing potatoes

Spuds for two.

20. Knowing exactly where your food came from and how long it took to get to your table.
21. Saving seeds for the future garden.
22. The stillness and meditative aspect of gardening.
23. Being in touch with and a part of life itself.

Categories: Jonesen'



Possibly the Hardest Part of Gardening

At some point every spring, the hardest part of gardening arrives; resisting the urge to over plant.
Once everything is in, what is there to do?

Intercropping basil and tomatoes.

There is already basil in with the tomatoes.

gardening in zone 5 - 6

There are beans coming up in the corn bed.

Intercropping beans, squash and corn.

Even this corn bed is slated to have additional beans and some squash.

growing vegetables vertically

Even though there is room being conserved by growing vertically, it still is never enough.
So the only thing left to do now is wait.

intercropping vegetables

Oooh, except maybe there is a wee bit of space there, just enough for another squash mound.

And after that we will wait patiently, really.
Or, at least try to.

Categories: Jonesen', Keeping up with the Joneses



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