Saturday, January 21, 2023

Looking Forward to Dahlias

 I've always like Dahlias.  It started with the little Figaro dahlias that are grown as annuals.  These grow quickly from seed but don't store real well (because they are small tubers) for the next season.  Thus it is easier to pick them up in six packs every year and start over.  When I began to think of Dahlias as a more long term investment, the natural choice was the dramatic dinner plate sized flowers.  I started with those back in 2018, just ordered a couple of mixed bags from various large scale flower catalogs.  I still have a few from that first, random selection, but, like a wine drinker, my tastes have evolved.

Noordwijks Glorie, Lady Darlene and Kelvin Floodlight

Over the past few years I've gotten better at caring for and storing Dahlias so I feel more confident in spending some money to develop my collection.  And while dahlia tubers can multiply out of control I have learned not to save everything just because I can.  I cull tubers quite cold heartedly to keep the number manageable both in storage and in replanting. 

I used to never bother to cut the blooms and bring them into the house.  I enjoyed them more outside in the landscape largely because I spend so much time out in the garden each day. Then I started cutting them before a change in the weather so the blooms wouldn't go to waste when I was not out in the garden as much and so large, wet blooms would not break down the plants.  Now I am learning to enjoy the cut flower goal, it has influenced my choice of varieties.

Kelvin Floodlight

Firstly, dinner plate sized flowers aren't easy to arrange.  They have, by necessity, much shorter, thicker stems.  And they tend to shoulder out the smaller flowers and overwhelm a bouquet.  They are still nice to bring in one at a time just to admire, but they don't play well with others.  For this reason I am more interested in the mid-sized blooms, as well as a wider variety of shapes and textures.  

Longfield Gardens example bouquet

Dahlias come in so many forms from tightly arranged ball shaped blooms to wide open blooms with a structure similar to water lilies.  Some are small with open centers.  Some are irregular or have rolled petals that look like a prickly cactus flower.  Growing a wide variety of bloom shapes and textures makes them more fun to arrange into a bouquet.  As well as more challenging.  I need to hone my flower arranging skills.

Gitt's Crazy

I also prefer varieties with blooms that have a lot of shading or which change in color as the bloom matures.  And I gravitate towards the bronze or copper color palette or the juxtaposition of pink with orange or yellow on the same petal.  With these things in mind, I am slowly revamping my dahlia collection.  These are some of the new varieties I have ordered for spring with those colors in mind.

Groovy, Mai Tai, Cornell Bronze
Crazy Legs, Iced Tea, Oh Honey

Additionally, I am replacing some colors with smaller blooms.  Instead of the giant Kelvin Floodlight I am trying a medium sized yellow called A-Peeling.  Last year I had a giant twelve inch white called Iceberg.  I saved the tuber but am trying a six inch white called Center Court.

A-Peeling and Center Court

Finally I am trying a few dramatic ones including a near black (which may turn out to be just dark red) called Lights Out.

Summer's End, Rawhide and Lights Out

Dahlia growers range from people who pick up a few tubers each spring at a big box store and grow them as annuals to people who cross them, save the seeds, name new varieties, and sell the extra tubers online.  I have seen storage setups from a box of unwashed tubers in the corner of a garage, to elaborate walls of shelving containing individually labeled tubers.  Even refrigerators to keep the right temperature and humidity for people without root cellars or unheated basements.  

There are people who struggle with soil conditions, diseases and support systems and people like me where they seem to be very little trouble at all.  I prepare my soil, and plant them carefully, then they require very little care other than deadheading until the day I begin to dig them up in the fall.  Last summer was the driest summer since I began gardening and I watered the dahlias a total of one time and that was only to finish emptying the water tank on the day we cleaned it.

If Dahlias are something you would like to try in your garden, keep in mind that they are addicting.  The Dahlia Growers Facebook page is full of very passionate people who plan their winter shopping around online sales which are announced ahead of time where popular varieties sell out in minutes.  Dahlias are an old favorite that are becoming newly popular with the thirtysomething crowd. They just have to have an example of all of the names they've seen online. I call it The Dahlia Wars. I think that takes some of the fun out of it.  Just buy a few and see how they do.  You can always buy new ones next year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Keep it Simple Stupid

 Is anyone else battling garden fantasia?  This is the time of year when garden plans get out of hand.  I have two more companies to order seed from in order to prepare for my carefully thought out Plan.  However, I get ideas.  Now that I have decided to confine the vegetables to half of the garden, and plant pollinator friendly annuals in some of the remaining beds, I am fighting delusions of grandeur.

The Plan is to plant one bed in Zinnias, one bed in Sunflowers, and one bed in Dill and Parsley for the caterpillars.  Then I decided I would also plant one in Cosmos.  Simple.  All of those things are easy and low maintenance.  As long as I set it up properly and make sure these tall flowers are supported, I should be able to direct sow them, monitor moisture and forget about it.  Simple.

Then I start thinking that maybe I could add some special Nicotiana or Stock.  Or Calendula.  And maybe use up some leftover Snapdragon seeds.  And I keep having to tell myself - No.  No.  Nonono.  If I do that, I am going to start running into different germination requirements, and prestarting indoors.  And that will complicate my life.  And that is contrary to the goal of The Plan.  There would be a lot of variation in plant height and support requirements.  The finished look could be somewhat messy. Before you know it, simple sow and walk away resulting in tall, billowy masses of flowers will be out the window.

Floret Flowers

I did allow myself to over order on Dahlia tubers.  I had already planned to spend more time fussing over Dahlias.  I ordered a dozen new varieties of those so I can sort of cull through what I am overwintering and remove some varieties that aren't doing it for me anymore.  And I indulged in different Zinnia seeds.  In the past I have grown a lot of State Fair mix and lots and lots of short Profusion.  But honestly - the gold color that comes in State Fair mix, is one of my least favorite annual flowers ever,  And there are usually a lot of them.

State Fair Mix

This is the selection of varieties I chose for Zinnias.  They all come from Eden Brothers, and the seed packets are already here.  So I am done with zinnia ordering.  Probably. 

And rather than spend a small fortune on a dozen different Sunflower packets, which I have done before,  I chose a simple mix, also from Eden Brothers.

My main seed order always comes from Johnny's Select Seeds.  I have a $50 order sitting in my shopping cart which covers restock on veggie seeds, and the Dill and Parsley and Nasturtiums and Cosmos.  But they don't have my Seychelles pole beans in stock yet.  And I don't want to pay double shipping.  And Johnny's doesn't do backorders.  So either I have to wait until the projected date in January.  Or I could order the Seychelles from Botanical Interests and find some other thingsIdidn'tknowIneeded to fill out the order.  But- No,  Nonono.  Be patient.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Christmas is Right Around the Corner

Christmas is right around the corner and I am as ready as I will ever be.  Christmas gets more simple as you get older.  Or at least it has for us.  The house is decorated, the cookies are baked, the cards are sent, the goodies are bought and plans are made.  Over the years my decorating has wound way down.   I used to swath the entire house in big lighted garlands and trees.  I fully intended to put up one or two trees this year, but when it came down to it, the desire for all of that creative effort just wasn't there.  Especially because they take up so much room.

When I picture Christmas, it is dark, and quiet.  
There is the lustre of candlelight, soft music and wine.
I love to look at a decorated tree and squint, making the edges soften and blur.  
This year, although we do not have a traditional tree, we still ended up with a lot of little views to gaze peacefully upon.

This ^ is my Christmas tree.
It has brown (yes brown) and cream glass ornaments on it.
Its tucked away in the bedroom.
And I love it.

It holds a lifetime collection of the exquisite Reed and Barton gold and silver plate carousel horse ornaments.  And it rotates.  Like a carousel.  

Also in the bedroom
When I started compiling photos of all of my decorations this year, I realized that there was quite a lot after all.  Every room got a subtle touch of Christmas.

The bathroom shelf

I was going to say that when I used to decorate, I felt that I had to redecorate the whole house right down to the art on the walls and the towel.  Then I realized that I still do that.  Perhaps not as thoroughly as I once did.

Vintage Baker's Chocolate ads.

I admit that I left the greenery on the kitchen plate rack from last Christmas.
I did take down the orange slices and candles from July thru November.

Decorations do not have to look like a Hallmark commercial to bring out your holiday spirit.  Anyone who does not see squash, nuts, crows, and rosehips as a seasonal theme is too far removed from nature.

I used to use garland and wreaths on the breakfront pie safe.
Now I just rearrange to bring the choir boys front and center and add a couple of candles.

Some of my arrangements are repeats from years past.
But, if I can't create some new arrangement, my spirit fades.
Thus, the lighted Christmas tree forest that sits above my laptop.

Its important to greet any guests with a little holiday welcome.

This year I bought a bubble light candolier for my Hoosier and I'm getting a big kick out of it.  Its very retro.  It also reminds me of the days when our family Christmas decorating consisted of merely a tree, and one or two other little decorations like a nativity or a candleabra in the window and a table centerpiece.

The shelf over the living room sofa was the first place that inspiration struck this year.  I had found one of these Teleflora centerpiece sleighs at at thrift store years ago for $2.  While not a perfect replica, as far as cheap decorations go, these little sleighs are quite outstanding in realism and workmanship.  They look very much like an authentic, Albany style cutter.  I have used it each year as a candy dish.

Back in mid-November, we again visited the same thrift store, and there was a second one!  For $10 this time, but still cheaper than I can find online.  I snapped it up and immediately knew that I wanted to use them on this narrow shelf.  That left me with some creative thinking to do.  I knew I needed a flat background to cover up the summery wallpaper border so I sat in the midst of all my collections and thought about what I had that would work...  printer's tray?  muffin tin? serving plate?

Then my Currier and Ives prints above my computer caught my eye and I remembered that I had one last frame that my grandfather made.  I just needed the right seasonal print to go in it.  Currier and Ives published many lovely winter scenes and of course the ever popular sleighing scenes that we see so often, like the Road in Winter or Trotting Cracks on the Ice.  There are thousands of calendar prints available on line and these frames were made specifically for the calendar prints that were so popular up into the 1970s.  This year I chose the seldom seen Trotters on the Snow, but I can change this each year and give it a little update.  Plus, if I want to leave this frame as the centerpiece for the shelf I have nearly unlimited seasonal options to change out the picture.

So, that's how Christmas is going here.  We, like much of the country, are expecting a blizzard this weekend.  Tomorrow is supposed to start out rainy and windy, then drop to -2F by supper time and start to snow.  Wind could be as strong as 65 mph and between that and the ice, then heavy snow, power outages are expected.  Not exactly what people want to hear coming into a Christmas weekend.  We will be laying low.  The tractor is fueled, and we have plenty of food and of course, a whole house generator.  If worse comes to worst, we will hunker down and eat cheese all weekend.

Have Yourselves a Merry Little Christmas

Friday, November 18, 2022

Snowvember The Sequel

Eight years ago today, Buffalo NY experienced the Snowvember snow storm.  Well, its deja vu all over again.  For the past few days, the weatherman has been forecasting feet of snow.  The Lake Effect machine has fired up and some people are waking up to two feet of snow.  And it has only just begun.  Everything started closing yesterday.  The travel bans are now in effect in several townships.  The NFL has moved the Sunday Bills/Browns game to Detroit.  Because both Orchard Park and Cleveland are socked in. 

But don't worry about us.  We are well south of the current weather pattern.  We got about 10 inches of snow yesterday as the winds blew from the northwest across Lake Erie but the winds have shifted and the wind is now running the length of the lake and aiming straight at the south towns of Buffalo.  The wind will turn again over night between Saturday and Sunday and Sunday we will be expecting more snow.  

In the mean time.  I've been thinking about next year's vegetable garden and it occurred to me that I am always looking for a good spot to plant dill and parsley to bring in more Swallowtail butterflies.  So one of the resting beds will be zinnias, one will be sunflowers and another will be dill and parsley to host the caterpillars.  I may even plant another bed in cosmos.  The great thing about sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos and dill is that they can be direct sown and then pretty much ignored for the whole season.  If you can ignore a mass of beautiful flowers.

Swallowtail caterpillar 2018

Black Swallowtail and Sunflowers 2018

So while it snows, I am shopping my usual seed suppliers for the prettiest collections of my favorite flowers.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Parsnips (and other food)

 Just look at these babies!

And last night I turned this...

Into single serving chicken pot pies with the extra filling put away in the freezer.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Annual Garden of Good and Evil Breakdown

Every year I look back and reflect on what I've learned about gardening.  The challenges I faced.  My successes.  My failures.  My ideas going forward.  2022 has been one of my best gardens ever.  And that's a satisfying feeling.  Things should improve a little every year.  Yes, new things will happen that we learn from but its nice to feel that you have a little more than the basics figured out.

This spring I started as always around March 15th with two week succession plantings of Penelope Peas along with the lettuce and carrots.  The one difference is that this year I planted my own pea seeds that I saved from last year's crop.  Penelope is an open pollinated variety.  The plants grew well and I had a good yield.  Not much to report there.  However, over the past few years I have noted that the April plantings do much better overall than the March plantings.  The early plantings sort of go into a holding pattern during weather shifts and the April ones catch up and you end up harvesting them all at once anyway.  Next year I am going to plant early and mid April.  As usual, I direct sowed lettuce seeds along each side and that did well, except for the row that was germinating just when a cold snap hit.  That one had to be reseeded and never really did as well as the others.

Penelope Peas and Lettuce

My carrots did very well this year.  I planted both Sugarsnax and Nantes Half Long.  Some were pelleted, some were bare seeds.  The pelleted is easier to work with initially, but the leftovers do not keep well for next year because the pellet hardens.  I planted them in containers with fresh potting mix and added bone meal for root growth.  I made sure to water them every day over the long dry summer.  Last year I tried them in grow bags and they did not do well.  The grow bags dry out too quickly.  I got a really nice harvest, and I have been pulling and using carrots since cole slaw season back in July.  I still have one later container to harvest.

This year I again planted both bush beans and pole beans.  While in 2020 the pole beans refused to grow, this time it was the Jade bush beans.  The pole beans did excellent.  I think I am done with bush beans.  The pole beans are just so much easier to harvest standing up rather than getting down on my knees.  I have many examples of awesome bush bean crops over the years, but this year was too frustrating.  I know I wasn't the only person in the country to struggle with bush beans.

This year I planted Monte Gusto Yellow Pole Beans, Fortex Pole Beans and Sychelles Pole Beans.  The Monte Gusto are an old favorite and produced like mad.  I love growing a yellow bean to contrast with the green on the plate.  The Fortex wasn't much to my liking.  My husband noticed the difference the first time I served them.  They don't have a lot of taste when young and then matured fast to a tougher, tasteless bean.  I know they get rave reviews (which was why I tried them) so the taste must just be my growing conditions.  The Seychelles were a very tasty and productive green bean.  Those will be my choice for a green variety going forward.  The beans had a few Japanese beetles on them, but not so many that I couldn't pick them off each day.  I treated that bed with Milky Spore in case any of them laid eggs in there.


This year I planted too many summer squash.  I do that now and then.  There is something just so satisfying with having a big jungle of squash plants, even if you produce way more squash than anyone could possibly use.  Chickens would have been helpful at this point.  I planted Cue Ball, Dunja and Clarimore.  The Cue Ball and Dunja are old standbys and performed well as expected.  The Clarimore was new for me.  It is the variety I will be growing again next year.  It is a light green squash with silvering on the leaves (which in my experience helps them resist mildew).  It produced heavily and resisted mildew.  All three varieties were heavy producers and very resistant.  I don't have anything negative to say about any of them.  But next year, I am only planting one plant.  Not three pairs.  The green leafed Cue Ball were the first to show signs of mildew.  I sprayed them all with SaferGro Mildew Cure at that point and that held it off for several more weeks.  I saw some cucumber beetles in the blossoms late in the season, but no squash vine borers this year.  The Honey Bees worked hard on these flowers which they have not for several years so its good to see them back.

I also way over planted on Cucumbers due to not having had enough last year.  I planted Cool Customer Pickling Cucumbers, Supremo Pickling Cucumbers, Bristol, Corinto, and Burpee's Salad Bush.  The Bristol is a repeat but the Corinto and Salad Bush were new.  They both produced very heavily and were beautiful plants.  Neither one of them can be considered "Burpless" and if you enjoy eating a whole lot of cucumbers, that is a factor that must be considered.  For that reason I will go back to the Bristol next year.  And I only need one row.   Not three rows plus backups.  I won't need to do pickles next year so I won't need to plant any picklers at all.  No pests on the cucumbers and they were well pollinated by the sweat bees.  Because of the volume of plants planted I was able to remove tired plants before they showed any sign of disease.

Cantaloupes were a particular success.  This year I chose Napoli and Hannah's Choice and both did very well.  I admit I fussed over them.  Cantaloupes are something that may or may not work in my area depending on the weather.  We got a hot dry summer so they did well.   They got enough heat during the day and I also kept them covered for added warmth most of the time and especially at night.  I watered them every day.

 It paid off.  I got about 14 large melons which was plenty for us, plus we were able to give some away to anyone who said "its been so long since I got a good cantaloupe."  These were good.  They smelled heavenly and they tasted even better.

Beautiful vines
My Sweet Corn had good success overall despite challenges.  The first planting went smoothly and had a really good yield of four dozen large ears.  The second bed had some germination problems making it late.  The ears were not as big, but it was still a success.  It would have been better if it were earlier and the ears had had the same hot weather during their growth period  Next year I will plant only one bed and maybe buy some from the farmstand as well.  The fun thing about the corn crop is that it is always loaded with ladybugs.  They're everywhere,  Of course now they're trying to get into the house for the winter....

Sweet Corn - Gotta Have It

Over the past few years I have experimented with the spacing and number of rows of the sweet corn.  I have never gotten more than three or four dozen from a bed no matter what I do with spacing, fertilizer, water or hand pollination.  So thirty three square feet can produce about four dozen ears.  For this reason, next year I am going to be sure to thin down to three rows of twenty plants.  Sixty plants.  We'll see if with the added space I can get closer to sixty ears.

I grew half of my usual amount of Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbages.  It all did well.  I'll plant the same next year but instead of starting from seeds, I'll buy transplants at the end of April.  This will shorten my gardening year by the whole month of March.  I grew Diplomat Broccoli, Flame Star Cauliflower, Golden Acre Cabbage and Violaceo de Verona Cabbage.  I probably won't plant Violaceo de Verona Cabbage again because I've decided I'm not a big fan of its crinkly texture.

The one thing that was different is that I had small black slugs in that bed.  This is not something I dealt with before. Some slugs - yes.  Scads of little black ones - no.  The leaf mulch didn't help matters because it made an excellent environment for the slugs.  Next year I will try mulching with regular compost to see if that suits better.  It might just be that bed because it was closest to the woods.  I'll be using a different bed next year too.

It was a standard year for tomatoes.  We avoided blight just about as long as anyone can expect to.  Next year I will continue in containers with whatever variety strikes my fancy next spring.  Always a yellow and a black variety, and I will also start my grandfather's seeds for my Dad.  I won't bother with patio tomatoes or cherries next year.  But I do like a month or so of tomato sandwiches.

Another particular stand out this year was the Havasu peppers.  They are a mildly hot sweet pepper and had a nice thick wall.  They were the perfect size and shape for dipping hummus which is my favorite way to eat fresh peppers.  I also grew Sweet Banana which did well but paled in comparison to my enjoyment of the Havasu.  

I grew four plants of each in one 10 gallon container and they grew as well as they possibly could.

Havasu Pepper Johnny's Seeds

My potatoes in grow bags did quite well.  I started robbing them in mid-July for the occasional potato salad or salt potatoes.  We still got a good harvest at the end.  I grew the white Satina and Red Maria.  Potatoes in grow bags are a big user of resources for me and they are not cost effective to buy seed potatoes each year.  Not only do they take a lot of potting mix and leaf mulch, but they have to be watered every, single day.  Also they do not keep more than a few months in storage.  Next year I will not be growing potatoes.

But I will grow sweet potatoes!  I have been growing Mahon Yam in grow bags for several years now and I think I've got it down pat.  I also grew them in the ground this year with good success.  Next year I will use the potato grow bags and soil for sweet potatoes instead.  They store very well for me and I can start my own slips in the spring making them a very cost effective crop.  We have been enjoying them both fried and baked.  Next I'm going to spring some mashed ones on my husband and see how that goes. 😏

And finally, I grew Parsips.  I haven't tried this for ages.  I'm getting a really nice harvest.  I like them mixed with carrots and roasted.  My husband doesn't like them at all.  Since he now eats steamed broccoli without complaint I won't be pressing the issue with the parsnips.  I'll share them with the neighbors instead.  And its about time to start digging horseradish too.

So that's the year in the vegetable garden.  It was not a good year for fruit.  My Surecrop Strawberry plants were on their third year and didn't seem to appreciate the leaf mulch I put on them last winter at all.  So I replaced the plants with Honeoye which have done very well for me in the past.  Those plants took off like mad and hopefully they will produce well next spring.

The Apple trees didn't blossom well this year.  I suspect that the week of single digit nights in the winter may have damaged the buds.  Also we did not have a cross pollinator because we lost the Macintosh tree to a windstorm in April.  Still, we got a few apples.  Not the bushel after bushel we got last year.  So we had a break from drying apples and making apple pies.  I still have pies in the freezer left from last year so all is well.  We will use those up this fall and hope for a better year next year.

The Pear tree produced six pears, which was twice as many as the year before.  It is still a baby tree and didn't put on a lot of new growth in this dry summer so its doing well at that rate.  The pears were small because of the drought.  I watered it once a week just to keep it going, but didn't want to interfere too much.  I'm hoping it will put on more new growth next year.

Everything is put to bed.  The food is stored.  The seeds are sorted.  Nothing to do for the next five months except plan for next year.