The Blend

Long ago, I attended a master gardener training on container gardening. My big takeaway from that was the idea of soil mixes. I was amazed to learn that many people don’t just use the soil as-is from the bag that they pick up at the garden center. 

The recipe that I learned is:

  • ⅓ potting soil
  • ⅓ peat moss
  • ⅓ pumice

My friend and fellow gardener is the one who I think started calling it “the blend” and the name stuck. Sounds like coffee and I can ALWAYS get behind that!

For a long time, I stuck to the recipe because I thought, “Who am I to mess with a master gardener’s recipe?”

After living in several different regions of the country with varying access to ingredients, I have modified this a bit. Pumice has been impossible for me to find outside of Arizona. There are potential sustainability issues with using peat moss. And that proportion isn’t a hard and fast rule. I’ve learned that it largely depends on the quality and type of potting soil that you start out with. Also, different plants–indoor vs. outdoor and cactus vs. tomato plants–have different needs.

Also, Google soil recipes and explore the wonderful world of gardening. There are so many soil mix recipes on the Internet; I’ve tried several, and a few were a complete failure for me. 

So I hereby give you permission to experiment. Use this recipe as a guide rather than a hard and fast rule. Explore other mixes or go by feel and texture. Observe your plants and ask yourself, “Are they doing well? How’s the drainage?” If you see issues with plant growth or waterlogged soil, you can adjust the recipe. I have been known to re-pot a plant to amend the proportions of soil, peat, and perlite. 

Now my recipe is probably more like this:

  • ½ potting soil
  • ¼-⅓ peat moss or coconut coir
  • ¼ perlite

This year I purchased some compressed blocks of coconut coir that were fantastic–and I bought a few that were less so. Same goes for potting soil–I have had some bad blends that I thought needed more work than they were worth.

For my vegetable container gardening this year, I added compost to the mix or used a compost-amended potting soil that I LOVED. I wish I had purchased 10 bags of that stuff. So far my plants are doing well, and all the tomatoes and peppers are setting fruit. The eggplants haven’t yet decided if they are going to play. (Pacific Northwest Gardening is an adventure. Especially compared to other places I have gardened, June and July were downright cold.)

My go-to potting soil is Kellogg Garden Organics Raised Bed & Potting Mix. I don’t like it on its own, but when it’s part of the blend, it feels perfect to me. 

I buy huge bags of perlite from Home Depot or a local garden supply center that I like that has perlite in sizes that I didn’t know existed before I walked through their doors. Wow.

I do add a cactus soil to the blend when I am potting cactus and succulents. I don’t know if it’s essential to do this–maybe adding more perlite would be sufficient, but I tend to rely on the bagged cactus mixes as an ingredient and that works reliably. 

A note about perlite: You absolutely don’t want to breathe in perlite dust. Wear a mask, or better yet, wet it down completely before handling it. I spray it down in the bag or as I am pouring it into my soil can. (I used a large lidded trash can with wheels for my blend.)

If you used compressed coconut coir, put it in a wheelbarrow or a trash can to soak it and give it time to expand. Give yourself time to soak it, tease it apart, soak it some more and repeat until it expands to its full size. (A coir brick the size of a large paver will expand to about two cubic feet.) It’s an easy and satisfying task to tend to while you are doing other things.

Experiment with your soil mix so that it suits your plants and your growing environment. 

Keep going and keep growing!

Share your garden

Gardener’s Supply, an online gardening supply company based in Vermont, has launched a Garden to Give initiative to encourage gardeners to grow food for local food banks by planting Giving Gardens.They teamed up with High Mowing Organic Seeds to provide seeds to 500 gardeners to plant a Giving Garden. If you are anything like me, you probably have seeds and produce to share. 

Intrigued, I wanted to see if our local Thurston County Food Bank accepts garden-grown produce and was excited to see that they do! Check out the Grower’s Guide for instructions on how to participate and what crops are needed. As of the date of this post, these were the top needed items:

  • Beets
  • Bell peppers
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Cherries
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Garlic
  • Hardy greens (kale, collards, etc)
  • Onions (all kinds)
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Pears
  • Peppers
  • Plums
  • Radishes
  • Rutabagas
  • Tomatoes

The food bank also has a gleaning volunteer program that organizes work parties to harvest surplus produce from local farms. Gleaning refers to harvesting leftover or sometimes unused food crops.

Keep growing and share your gardening love.


Today’s weather: It was a beautiful sunny day today in the South Sound with highs in the low 50s. I did a lot of yard work today, doing cleanup, digging holes and planting my native plants from the TCD Native Plant Sale.

Special shoutout to my mom today: Happy Birthday!

Go Native

It’s that time! The Thurston Conservation District native plant sale is Saturday, March 3! There will be vendor booths and activities for kids. And the Master Gardeners will be there!

The 2018 sale will be held 10 am to 3 pm at the Thurston Conservation District offices located at 2918 Ferguson St SW Tumwater, 98512.

The sale will also feature a few workshops:

  • 11 am: Gardening With Mushrooms –  Fungi Perfecti, Loni Jean Ronnebaum
    This presentation will feature information on low tech mushroom cultivation for home and garden, people, and the planet.
  • Noon: Best Practices for a Healthy LawnThurston CD, Nicole Warren
    Gear up for summer lawn parties! Are you frustrated by weeds and moss in your lawn? Come learn about appropriate fertilizer application, protecting water quality, and tips for a beautiful lawn.
  • 1 pm: MycoremediationFungi Perfecti, Tristan Woodsmith
    A brief overview of our research on the use of fungi for filtration of water (mycofiltration), the breakdown of toxic wastes (mycoremediation), empowering ecoforestry strategies (mycoforestry) and helping to influence and control pest insect populations (mycopesticides). Tristan will also discuss our current bee research with WSU.
  • 2 pm: Soil Testing for a Productive GardenThurston CD, Nicole Warren
    Is your garden not producing as much as you want it to? Seems lackluster? Are you amending your soils without testing them? Come learn why your soil’s nutrients affect plant growth, what you can and can’t change, and how to make those changes. Details of Thurston CD’s soil testing program will be shared as well.

The annual sale allows gardeners to pre-order plants so watch for that annually in January. I preordered a bunch of plants and picked them up today. Guess what I will be doing this weekend!

One of my goals in my yard is to remove invasive plants, like the Himalayan Blackberry, and focus on planting native plants.

Because I have a wooded yard with lots of plant material, I decided to order some marker flags from Amazon to mark the location of the new plants so it will be easier to keep an eye on them and enlist my better half’s help in watering them if needed.  There’s always some mortality when planting bare root plants and plugs so go easy on yourself if you decide to buy plants this way. The TCD provides good planting and care instructions. It feels like a little more work — with more uncertainty — but it can be easier to establish plants this way because they are growing in place.

You had me at “plant sale.” <3

Keep growing!



Seed shopping

My Uprising Seeds catalog came in the mail yesterday. I didn’t know it was possible to be in love with a seed catalog — until now. Uprising Seeds is locally owned and operated in nearby Bellingham, Washington. One of the things that I don’t think I fully appreciated until I became dependent on open source software is the importance of open source anything, and that includes seeds. Open pollinated seeds contribute to plant diversity by encouraging seed saving and sharing. I never get tired of hearing the backstory on a seed’s origin. In the U.S. where most of us shop at grocery stores, it’s easy to believe that what’s in the grocery store is it, when in fact there is an unbelievable array of vegetables and fruits from all over the world. A lot of what is grown for the mass market is grown because it keeps well, ships easily, produces standard-sized fruit, etc. — not because it’s necessarily the best-tasting variety.

I already knew that I was missing out if I was only eating (or trying to grow) the standard American cucumber. But I didn’t know about Le Puy lentils. Then I read the entry for the Le Puy lentils in the Uprising Seed Catalog.

It is indeed true that these were not grown in Le Puy en Velay, France where they have been grown for over 2,000 years. They were grown here people, which means you too can grow them! (You cannot hear this but I am shouting with excitement!)  Sown a bit earlier in the Spring and harvested several weeks earlier than our earliest dry bean, these began as an experiment and ended as an incredibly beautiful seed crop. A seed crop we are having a hard time not eating because we grew lentils!! Low growing (to perhaps 1’) slender plants with seed pods encasing 1-2 beans. Speckled blue/green little lentils which readily soak up all matter of deliciousness you may throw at them. Rich, nutty, and eminently satisfying.”

Now I have to grow lentils! I have no idea what that entails. And threshing? Never done it–it sounds painful doesn’t it? But I am going to use my grit and give it a try.

I am also going to try watermelon this year. Again, their ode to seeded watermelon made me question why seedless watermelon is so popular. Are watermelon seeds really that much of an inconvenience? Have we lost all sense of fun? So I am going to grow seeded watermelon, spit my seeds and revel in it. You should, too.

Uprising Seeds is online but there’s nothing better than the feel of a seed catalog in your hands.

Ready, set, grow! Spring is coming!


Today’s weather: Rain, rain and more rain. When you have to change your clothes after a dog walk, that’s when you know it’s really coming down. About 44°F at 6 p.m.

The Masters

Gardening icons

Get to know your local Master Gardeners

The Thurston County Extension Service is one of the hundreds of county extension services in the United States that are provided by each state’s land-grant colleges or universities. The original land grants were established by the Morrill Act, named for US Representative Justin Smith Morrill who proposed the act. The act was proposed to make higher education available to the industrial classes and it opened the doors to college for many Americans.

The Morrill Act sought to provide a college education “without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

Additional land-grants were added via amendment in 1994. In Washington, the land-grant colleges are Washington State University and Northwest Indian College.

The Smith–Lever Act of 1914 added federal funding of cooperative extension, with the land-grant universities serving as agents in virtually every county in the United States. Today, the mission of cooperative extensions is to “advance agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities.” Cooperative extensions use a research-based approach to improve health and well being.

When it comes to being a gardener, there are many resources provided by cooperative extension offices. This is a great way to get information on proven methods for your area. As is true in many counties across the U.S., Thurston County offers a Master Gardener training program. Master Gardeners go through an intensive training program to learn about the best gardening practices for the country where they live. Once upon a time, I went through the training in another county and the main thing I learned is that you very often have to unlearn what you have learned when you move to a new place. What worked in one place may not help you in another.

After the training, Master Gardeners commit to ongoing volunteer work to train and advise the public on best practices, garden and pest troubleshooting, and they help maintain demonstration gardens.

Demonstration gardens provide great plant and layout ideas for novice and experienced gardeners alike.

In Thurston County, there are three demonstration gardens:

  1. Dirt Works Demonstration and Composting Garden in Yauger Park
    Located in West Olympia near Capital Mall.
    Open Tuesdays,  9 am- 1 pm, April–October and on select Saturdays. Check the website for details.
  2. Closed Loop Park Demonstration Garden at the Waste and Recovery Center
    Hours:  Closed Loop Park is open the same hours as the Waste and Recovery Center. Visit  for hours. When available, Master Gardeners staff the garden April-October, Fridays and Saturdays, 9 am to noon.
  3. Olympia Farmers Market Garden. Located on the east end of the Farmer’s Market in downtown Olympia.
    Hours: The garden is open from dawn until dusk, year-round. When available WSU Master Gardeners and/or Thurston County Master Recycler Composters staff the garden during the days and times the Market is open April-October, Thursday through Sunday 10 am – 3 pm.

WSU Extension also provides an online library on many topics including gardening. For example, see this PDF download on bumble bees in the home garden. Yay, pollinators! There’s a lot to learn at the extension site and it’s a great way to get specific gardening questions answered.

And, if you have a composting question, you can call the “Rot line”: 360-867-2163 or email

Happy gardening, composting and learning!


Today’s weather: It was another build the ark day. Temps in the low 40s each time I looked.

Burn Baby Burn

Compost Bins

So. Much. Yard. Debris. I have seen several of my neighbors with fires and wondered: Is a permit needed to burn yard waste? The answer is yes if you live in unincorporated areas of Thurston County AND you have a permit.

Meet ORCAA. ORCAA is The Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) is a local government agency charged with regulatory and enforcement authority for air quality issues in Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston counties. You can fill out the permit online. Permits are free and are valid October 1 through July 14. A new permit must be obtained each year after Oct. 1. There’s a no-burn rule in effect July 15 through September 30.

ORCAA does encourage residents to find other ways to dispose of yard waste including the following ideas from their website:


  • Curb-side pickup service for yard waste material exists throughout most of Thurston County. Contact Thurston County Solid Waste.
  • Composting turns your yard waste into a great soil additive, at NO COST.
  • Chipping woody materials create an effective ground cover that blocks weed growth and improves drainage.
  • Dropping off yard waste at composting facilities and transfer stations is easy and cost-effective.


I am not a big fan of burning everything–I just feel like a pollution creator when I do. So, I look for alternatives when I can. I have been using curbside pickup (which actually means something a little different where I live, it means dragging my bin a quarter mile to the end of my street). But still, it is pretty convenient in the grand scheme of things. I get a pretty large bin and it’s picked up every two weeks.

This year, I am going to do more composting. I have a big yard and while the barrel helps, it’s not really enough. I already compost all of my kitchen waste and grass clippings. It’s time to add leaves, small branches and the millions of Douglas Fir pinecones to the mix.

In the recent windstorm, a couple of large branches came down so we are going to drop off a load at the Waste and Recovery Center–they also do composting in addition to recycling. One stop reduce, reuse and recycling!

When I am feeling low …

Lenten Rose

Just whisper, “Let’s go to the garden center.”

I confess, any garden center, any time of year is a pick me up. Even January in Olympia. We went to Lowe’s to pick up some clearcoat for the new Little Free Library. So, OF COURSE, I went to the garden center even though it looked abandoned from the parking lot.

I was not disappointed.

True, not much in the way of plants outside but I picked up a couple of clematis for an arbor out front. I need something that the deer might ignore. Last year’s effort barely got off the ground. 🙁 I was also pleasantly surprised by the air plant selection. They had quite a few types and different containers. Air plants are often misunderstood plants. Air plants or Tillandsias are actually a hugely varied genus from the Bromeliaceae family (yep, related to pineapples) with well over 500 species. Some are epiphytes, meaning they attach themselves to other plants. Some are aerophytes, with no roots. While air plants don’t need soil, they do need water. I soak my air plants in warmish water every 1-2 weeks and then let dry upside down. Tillandsias are not parasitic in that they don’t feed off the host plant, instead, they rely on other plants for structure and support. This opens up air plant display to all kinds of things. I purchased a 3-D metal ampersand with three air plants tucked in it plus an extra little guy for good luck.

Also in the houseplants, I picked up a very nice looking peace lily (Spathiphyllum). Peace lilies are easy plants to grow as long as you lay off the water. Seriously. Overwatering will kill these plants. They are actually drought tolerant and some people wait until they start to droop as a signal to water them. (Apparently this doesn’t have adverse effects and it’s preferable to overwatering.) As with most plants, if the soil seems damp, don’t water regardless of your watering schedule.

I also picked up a hellebore, commonly known as a Lenten rose. I recently became acquainted with this plant perusing my garden magazines because it blooms in winter. IT BLOOMS IN WINTER. It’s a pretty gray time to be a gardener so we need any pick-me-up we can get. In Olympia, that means Kale and hellebores!

Lowe’s is located at 230 Martin Way East, Olympia, WA 98516. Phone: (360) 486-0856

Hours: 6 am – 9 pm, Monday-Saturday and 8 am – 8 pm on Sunday. (It’s always a good idea to call around holidays to confirm hours.)

So, when you are feeling low, head to Lowe’s and hang out with the plants for a while. See you at the Garden Center!


Today’s weather: It was another “build the ark” day. May have seen a little blue in the sky–maybe. About 47 degrees at 5 pm.

Going native

Backyard trees.

Going native in the garden is a good idea for multiple reasons. First, native plants are better suited to your growing environment. They grow well in the soil, temperatures, and rainfall that you have. Second, some native plants out-compete invasive species. Invasive species can create a dangerous monoculture of undesirable plants that damage the ecosystem in multiple ways (erosion, outcompeting important plants, attracting pests, increasing fire risk, clogging waterways and more). Third, native plants support the ecosystem and help your part of it remain in balance with the surrounding areas. This can be especially important if you live in an area adjacent to forests or other naturalized areas. Non-native plants, even if they aren’t invasive can jump the perimeter of your property.

Sound complicated? It’s not really and there’s a great organization that helps landowners in Thurston County. The Thurston Conservation District promotes non-regulatory and voluntary stewardship, a fancy way of saying that they help people do the right thing on their property. The Thurston Conservation District has been around since 1947. A conservation district is a legal subdivision of state government that administers programs to conserve natural resources. These conservation districts exist in almost every county in the United States. Their services are free and they are committed to meeting the needs of local land-users for the conservation of soil, water and related resources.

To aid in conservations efforts, the Thurston Conservation District holds an Annual Native Plant Festival & Sale the first weekend of March each year. The 2018 sale will be Saturday, March 3  from 10 am – 3 pm. This is a great opportunity to purchase low-cost native plants for your yard.

You can also pre-order plants online until January 31 and pick them up the day of the sale.

Learn more about the Thurston Conservation District and the goals of the TCD in their strategic plan. It has some pretty interesting data if you want to learn more about Olympia and land use over time.

Top 10 Most Wanted Noxious Weeds in Thurston CountyIt’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the list of plants that are considered noxious weeds in Thurston County. If you have any of these on your property, I urge you to remove them and replant with native plants. We are doing battle with the dreaded blackberry in our yard. I think we can get the rest of it out this year.

Love your town.


Today’s weather: Drizzly and a little gloomy but warmer with temps in the mid-50s. The rain backed off long enough for me to help fill potholes on our gravel street and I was able to clearcoat the little library and its post AND I filled our green barrel with all of the little branches that came down in the wind over the last several days.

Jake’s Robust Bell

Jake's Bell

I mentioned in another post that I have a pepper plant named after me. Several years ago, I planted a pepper plant that yielded very sweet peppers. My friend Darrel is a master propagator so I gave him some seed I’d collected. And when I say seed, I actually mean two seeds. Honestly, it was a last-minute inspiration to keep the line going when I realized that he had the skills and I did not. I remember he looked at the seeds cupped in his hand and said, “No pressure.”

If you have ever started plants from seed, you know that 100% germination is unlikely. But Darrel has mad skills and an enviable light table for seed germination. This year marks the seventh generation of Jake’s Robust bell pepper. I hope that it will make its debut in my Olympia garden this spring after being carefully germinated on my less impressive but still enviable light table. Since Darrel gardens in Phoenix, he’s ahead of me on the seed starting and transplanting schedule and his peppers are setting fruit. That’s his photo.Yep, in January. Gotta love Phoenix. I hope to have a similar photo around June.

Follow the garden on Instagram: @letskeepgrowing

Spring is coming!


Today’s weather: it feels cold again today. It was in the upper 30s on the first dog walk. It rained a bit this morning but it looks like it will just be cloudy for the rest of the day. It was nice enough to hang out in the yard for a bit today.

Spring is coming!


My copy of the Maritime Northwest Garden Guide arrived today. This is the go-to guide for planning your garden in Olympia and other nearby locales. You can order a copy from Seattle Tilth for $22.00 including postage and it may be the best $22 that you spend on the garden.

January is planning time for gardeners. This is when you get out your seed catalogs, draw a diagram of your garden and make your plans. I like the Maritime Northwest Garden Guide because it has a month by month calendar of things to do, things to plan inside and out, garden chores and more. It also has a very useful and easy to understand crop rotation guide. Finally! I can see clearly what I need to do.

In my yard, I contend with some hungry critters: slugs, rabbits and deer. My garden area is thankfully fenced off so it’s just me and the slugs. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I don’t kill slugs. My husband loves them, I think they are his totem animal. And I have to say that I think they are pretty darn cool. I have no problem relocating them and I don’t mind doing the copper collars around my plants along with other methods to discourage them from eating certain plants. However, I don’t mind if they eat dog poop. They are a fairly good clean-up crew. So we coexist. I might get grumpy later but for now, it’s Kumbaya.

When I moved in, I had a couple of large piles of miscellaneous bricks and granite pieces. Last fall, I put them together to build additional raised beds. Next step is to fill them with garden soil and get ready for planting. I also have a small light stand for seed starting. I just need to order seeds and get to work!

What are you planting this year?


Today’s weather: It was raining cats and dogs today. Not really that cold, but rain, rain and more rain. This is the type of weather where my dogs take one look outside and say, “No thank you, I don’t really need to go.” And the FitBit steps suffer. <sigh> Luckily, they are not all like this. It was a good day to think about my springtime garden.