The Best Parts of the Garden (So Far)

One of the best parts of the garden is the snacking. I learned this last year, and made sure to have lots of snackable plants in my garden this year.

I had hoped that the berries would be highest on my list this year, but most of the raspberry and strawberry plants I bought have died, and the strawberries that survived (Albion) are honestly not that tasty. They’re not bad, just not amazing. The older raspberry bushes should start ripening in the next week or so, so I’ll get to start picking on those soon. In the meantime….

We have peas! I’ve been snacking on the Magnolia Blossom peas (Baker Creek) for about a month now. They were the only pea I got into the dirt this spring, and this variety turned out to actually be very vigorous. The peas are very sweet, with a slight, almost musty aftertaste that ‘s not actually unpleasant. And they are crisp and full of water and are just generally refreshing.

I also got a chance to harvest my first shelling peas (Green Arrow, from Sustainable Seeds). Though these should technically be harvested as a bunch of shelled for dinner, they were also vey tasty. Despite planting about ten plants, I’m not sure that I’ll get to harvest enough for an actual recipe. So, fresh eating it is!

The other best part of the garden, in my experience, is just sitting and enjoying it. I haven’t had a chance to do much of that yet this year due to our blazing hot weather, but last night and this morning it was finally cool enough to do so. A warm night, a cool breeze, and plenty of green and growing things all around. Happiness. ❤

Garden Update, 6/14/21

The heat wave has finally broken, and I can finally wander around my garden without getting sweaty and sunburned in the first five minutes. Yay!

So I was able to take a leisurely walk around my garden this evening, and survey the damage:

All the Joan J raspberry bushes, gone. Heat plus some unknown bug did them in. My Anne Yellow raspberries are growing well, but then again, so were my Joan J raspberries until something unknown made all the new leaves wither and die. So we’ll see. Luckily, the old native raspberries are having a stellar year and I know that at least those won’t succumb to the usual pest or disease pressure in the area.

Apple trees are thriving–my Haralson actually has two apples on it! I know the trees are very young still, but I figure growing two apples isn’t going to hurt the tree too bad.

My lilacs are thriving; one (Royalty, a pink lilac) is actually blooming and has a nice, sweet scent. My Night-Blooming jasmine bushes are loving the heat and are happily growing, They aren’t taking off as fast as I had expected, though, so I may not see any flowers until next year. Hydrangeas–my smallest one (Zinfin Doll, iirc) is not doing well and has lost most of its leaves. It’s had plenty of water, and I can’t see any specific pest damage, so I’m not sure what’s going on. The two larger hydrangeas (Limelight Prime, I think) are doing so well that I actually had to prune them a bit to get them back in shape. So, no idea what’s going on with the smaller one. Maybe it just was the heat.

The Moon Garden is thriving–all flowers are now blooming except for the white dahlias and while mini-gladiolii. I’m not expecting the dahlia to bloom until late July, but they all look well on their way. The three Fleurel dahlias are some of the few who avoided getting a bunch of pest damage yet.

The tomatoes are also thriving. My current count is three Paul Robesons (purple slicer) plants; one White Tomesol (white slicer); one very small Carbon (purple slicer); one Terracotta (orange slicer); one large and thriving Barry’s Crazy Cherry (yellow cherry); and one medium-sized Sun Gold (yellow cherry). I have them mostly trimmed down to one stalk, though somehow one of the Paul Robesons ended up with three main stalks and has already produced four baby tomatoes. Looks to be a good tomato season this year!

My peppers are all also thriving. My decorative peppers (Aurora and Black Pearl) and almost at their full height, and Aurora has put out a ton of cute little purple peppers. My Pasilla Bajio is also almost at full height and has put out a ton of flowers. The bell peppers are proceeding apace and I expect them to start flowering this week. The only peppers i have that are dragging their feet are the Biquinho Yellow peppers from Baker Creek. These germinated well but have taken forever to get to any size–even the largest one is less than a foot tall at this point. I ended up planting the two smaller ones directly in my raised bed (the rest are in plastic pots), in the hopes that that will help them take of. Who knows. I had really hoped to have a large harvest of the Biquinho peppers b/c I hear they are very tasty pickled.

My tomatillos (Grande Verde and Purple) are zooming along–all of the plants are already 3′ tall and are just now really putting out branches and flowers. I can’t believe one of my seed packets said they’ve only get 2′ tall.

The dahlias are struggling. Many (the ones that didn’t get tossed already, that is) are being eaten alive by some kind of bug–possibly a flea beetle. I’m applying diatomaceous earth on them plus my hollyhocks, poppies, and eggplants, and it seems to help, but I need to reapply it every few days. The white dahlias in the Moon Garden and the few dahlias I have potted out front of the house have avoided much damage, but with the rest, it’s an ongoing battle. I’m not sure at this point how many will survive to bloom this summer! The good news is that I contacted Longfield Gardens (which is where two of my diseased bulbs had come from), and they issued me an immediate refund, which will help pay for the new dahlia bulbs I ordered for Swan Island dahlias.

The potatoes are extremely happy, though they get attacked by flea beetles occasionally as well. They seem to be doing equally well in my raised beds as in my grow bags. My garlic is coming along, slowly but surely. My onions are all starting to flop over, through I know they are not at the right size yet. At least their tops are still green and firm; maybe they’ll keep growing. I’ve pinched the scapes from all of my garlic, which should help them bulk up–they’re still looking pretty skinny and I’m not sure they’ve started dividing into cloves yet. The leeks–I think I have three successions of them growing at the moment–are all looking good, and I’ve been able to harvest and use some of the Dixondale ones I planted back in March.

Brassicas. Ah, Brassicas. Last year my entire garden was nothing but brassicas (and a few tomatoes) and I spent the entire summer fighting with cabbage worms. I had no idea what I was doing so I spent a good ten minutes in the morning, each morning, manually picked off the matte green worms. This year, too, I brought a knife to a gun fight, and my cabbages are getting decimated–this time by flea beetles (or something similar). I kind of put them in just to see what would happen, though, as I was too late to get a real Spring garden growing anyway. I figured none of my brassicas would grow anyway. Much to my surprise, the Napa cabbage took off right away and I could have gotten a nice harvest, were it not for the beetles. Come fall, however, I will have a Plan and will put them all in the same bed and cover it with insect netting. Good to know that I can successfully grow Napa cabbage, though–I hadn’t tried growing it last year. (Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and bok choy, yes; cabbage, no.)

Peas. Peas are growing well! My Magnolia Blossom snap pea, my Purple Royalty snap pea, and my Green Arrow are all thriving, despite the heat! I’m so excited. I’ve already had some fo the Magnolia peas, and they were very tasty. Next to harvest will be the Green Arrow shelling peas, the the purple snap peas. I’ve got another batch of the purple snap peas locked and loaded, and will probably put them in this week.

My melons and squashes are all happily germinating and growing–the honeydew melon-types especially. Here’s hoping I actually get some to harvest this year! And that the trellis I ordered arrives in time, because the melons are already starting to take over the cucumber trellises.

Finally, the rest of my flowers. I ended up pulling all of the ranunculus; they took forever to sprout initially, then only grew about 4″ high, and never showed any signs of putting up a flower talk, so out they went. I’ve already ordered next year’s corms, so I should be able to get the kind of early start that all of the flower farmers I watch on YouTube have. My poppies, by and large, have not fared too well, though one of my Amazing Gray poppies and one of my Falling in Love poppies are absolutely thriving. (All I want is at least one of each flower variety to thrive, so I can decide if I like it enough to grow it next year.) Sunflowers are just getting started, unfortunately, because several rounds of seedlings and seeds have been eaten by the local chipmunks. The violas and pansies will make it onto my “to grow” list next year, because I’ve found that they are just so delicate and precious, and much smaller and daintier than anything I’ve seen at the local nurseries. They are really quite cute. Same goes for the Snow White Malva and Crystal Palace lobelia–both of which were a pain to grow as seedlings but ended up being very delicate, refined-looking filler flowers.

As for calendulas, I haven’t found one that I really like yet. My zinnias are just bow blooming, so it’s too early to tell. I’ve found that I really like the Black Velvet and Tip Top Alaskan Salmon nasturtiums; the rest, though successful, were just eh. My sweet peas still haven’t bloomed; they may not do so this year as it’s already pretty late into their season. The hedge roses have settled in nicely, though despite being named “Double Knock-Out red” roses, they’re really a magenta pink. Which is fine; I didn’t care that much about the color.

That about wraps up my garden update. More photos to come!

The Drought (Heat Wave, June 2021)

Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but here in the upper Midwest we’ve been experiencing some crazy heat. This, following an exceedingly dry spring (and now summer), has put us in a drought. And my plants are not happy.

We’ve been experiencing at least 90F highs since June 5. I had about four days between having to shelter my pepper plants in the house overnight due to frost warnings before the high temperatures kicking in. Spring? What Spring??

After a week of these high temps, I kind of gave up. I’d been watering my garden every night and checking each and every plant several times a day, every day, and even so I lost a bunch of them. I lost 4 out of 5 of my expensive Joan J thornless raspberries. All of their new growth had started to go brown, for some reason, right before the heat wave anyway, and when the heat wave hit, they went down like a house of cards. Even the largest one finally gave up the ghost today, apparently. Also, half of my strawberries have died–for the most part these are the ones from disreputable sellers that I would have been surprised if they had survived and produced fruit anyway, but still. And my sweet peas–out of season at this point, true, but still–need constant watering or they turn into prematurely dried sweet peas. At this point, my attitude is: If you’re not strong enough to survive this, then I don’t need you in my garden, no matter how valuable of a plant you are. Suck it up, buttercup.

My plants are also getting heavily hit by some kind of black speck that just looks like dirt got splashed up on the plant’s leaves, but is in fact some kind of nasty bug that is killing many of my plants. It appears to like my dahlias and poppies best, for some reason. And my cabbages! I expected the cabbages to be attacked by the cabbage worms, sure, but these tiny black bugs are even worse. An entire beautiful Napa cabbage plant turned to lace overnight. Cabbage worms, even at their worst, can’t do that. So I’m spraying BT and dusting with diatomaceous earth pretty much every day. My understanding is that this hot dry weather is perfect for these bugs, so until we get out of this drought, this is the situation we’re in. If nothing else, cabbage grows really quickly and I can try again in the fall.

Some good news?

As long as I keep on top of the watering, my potatoes are extremely happy. I’ve never grown potatoes, but they are big and lush and energetic despite the heat. My tomatoes are also coming along quite happily, and my squash seeds are germinating and sprouting really fast. Also, when they are not getting eaten alive, my dahlias are also loving this hot weather. And the rest of the strawberries–those strong enough to survive–are thriving and putting out a ton of fruit. I have my first home-grown strawberry (Albion, from Johnny’s) a week ago! It was tasty, but not mind-blowing. What was mind-blowing was tasting my first home-grown snap pea about two weeks ago (Magnolia Blossom Sugar Snap, Baker Creek); the flavor was amazingly sweet and complex.

Surprisingly, my snap peas and my lettuces are still growing apace. No issues there. I think it helps that I’m primarily growing Salanova lettuce varieties from Johnny’s, which have some kind of heat resistance. My peas in the Greenstalk are producing steadily and have huge vines. The ones in raised beds and containers (planted about a month or so later) are growing and starting to produce, but the vines maybe a bit shorter than they should be. As this is the first year that I’ve ever had any success with peas, I have no idea.

Also thriving are the old raspberry bushes in the yard. I had dug out most of them because they were old and worn out, and the bed was infested with a ton of large elm and maple saplings. (We have a huge problem with random tree saplings popping in our garden and lawn–anybody else have this issue?) But some raspberry canes on the far end of the bed did survive, and they are producing heavily this year. Also, my next-door neighbor’s out-of-control raspberry bushes jut through our fence and, this year, all of those errant canes are heavily laden with raspberries 🙂

I’ve had other setbacks– my mini butternut squash (Honey Nut, Botanical Interests) took 11 days to germinate; it was so slow that I ended up going online and bought a different type from a different seed store and started again (Butterscotch, bred by Johnny’s). Of course by the time the new seeds arrived, the old ones had finally sprouted. I also found out that the type of tulsi basil I had been attempting to grow (just called “tulsi basil”) was not the type I was looking for–the type I was growing turned out to be almost scentless, whereas the type I’m looking for should have a really strong spicy smell to it. So I had to track that variety down (called “Kapoor Tulsi” from Johnny’s; MI Gardener also apparently has it but they were sold out), buy the seeds, and start over my tulsi basil from scratch this month. I also accidentally topped off my only Dad’s Sunset tomato plant the day after I finally tossed the rest of my back-up tomato seedlings. Sigh. Maybe I’ll try it again next year.

And finally , if you’ve read recent posts, I also had to toss a bunch of my dahlias for crown gall (or suspicion of having crow gall). I ended up digging out every single one of my dahlias just to make sure they didn’t have gall. A few I gave only cursory inspections of–if they had come from a small, independent grower who hand-picked each tuber, for example–but the rest were given a through examination. From that, I ended up throwing out another five tubers, and if they had arrived in bunches of 2 or three , those tubers as well. And, due to the heat, even the ones that didn’t have gall didn’t have a chance to regrow their roots before the heat kicked in, so… probably ⅔ of my dahlias, gone. I(Later that same day, though, that I got an email for a last chance sale on dahlias at Swan Island dahlias, so I ended up picking up a few more. Though their tubers are expensive, at least I know Swan Island rigorously inspects each their tubers. (the tuber’s name is stamped on the bulb itself).

But, man. This heat can stop ANY TIME now.

Moon Garden Update 6/2/21

The moon garden is progressing well.

The Moon Garden, as of 6/2/21

(Not show in the picture is the night-blooming jasmine in the urn on the right-hand side of the screen. Mulch to be added soon, I promise!)

So far, everything is growing well, and a few things have finally even started blooming. I ended up adding in a few more Fleurel dahlias to the mix; I think it will really help bulk up the garden. As it’s a 3′ tall dinner-plate dahlia, we may end up with more packed in to this space than it can handle–who knows? I also ended up adding two of the African Blue-Eyed daisies, as they had survived much better than I had expected, and a few more Abyssinian Gladiolus. I also added two more moonflower sprouts, as they seem to be slow in taking off. Now that I’m thinking about it, I do have a small white bleeding heart growing next to my compost bin that I could probably add as well–but there is a massive red bleeding heart plant right next to the Moon Garden (literally overshadowing it, until it died back this week) so I’m not sure it’s a great idea to put to such aggressively spreading plants so near each other.

The Snow White Malva (Pinetree Seeds) is blooming, and though the plant is a lot shorter and less bushy than I envisioned, it’s still very charming. The African daisy (Baker Creek) is also very charming, and again smaller than I had pictured. It looks like it will be very prolific, at least. Both of which I grew from seed this year for the first time–but honestly, seed packets can be pretty inaccurate sometimes. The dwarf cosmos and snapdragons were from the local nursery and were already in full bloom–the cosmos are fine with just a few dead-headings, but the snaps look to be burning themselves out pretty quickly.

I know the dahlias won’t be flowering until the end of July, probably, and the Moonflower seedlings seem to be on that same track as well. The chamomiles I added near the fence are also being slow to grow! I had no idea chamomile flowers took so long to grow from seed. The Abyssian glads are very thin with small flowers, so hopefully they should start sprout and bloom by the end of the month. The Night-Blooming Jasmine is also putting all of its effort into growing tall currently, before it’ll even think about putting out flowers. Gardening really is an exercise in patience.

Dahlia Problems: Crown Gall

So this is my first year trying to grow dahlias. (Before this season, I’m not sure I had ever even heard of a dahlia, to be honest.) But I jumped in with both feet this year and have 19 different varieties growing from tuber, with another four varieties from seed. But while was recovering form knee surgery this spring I had a lot of time to research all things dahlias.

One of the things I came across was crown gall. One of my favorite YouTubers, Nicole from Flower Hill Farm, had an absolutely horrible season this past year with her dahlias–they were really short (around a foot tall, when they should have been 3′ at least) and produced few blooms. It turned out when she dug them up that a lot of them had crown gall.

What is crown gall? Well, it’s a pretty gross-looking disease that affects not just dahlia tubers, but fruit trees, roses, and poplar trees, as well as many others. Essentially it’s a cancer–it causes a tumor to grow on the roots or trunk of plants and causes the plant cells to replicate endlessly. This is both ugly and can be dangerous to the health of the plant.

Crown gall on an apple tree trunk

If the plant is big and old enough, this is just an annoyance, but if the plant is small or young, it can kill the plant. It’s caused by a bacteria that is highly contagious and can live in the soil for years. Apparently the only cure is a biological control bacteria called “Agrobacterium radiobacter K-84″; which, for whatever reason, isn’t available at your local garden center. So if you find a plant that has it, you’re pretty much stuck.

And the problem with growing things from tubers is that the tubers can often arrive already infected, and you’d never know.

I’ve come across three instances of it in the past few weeks. My first experience with it was a tuber I received maybe two weeks ago, from Breck’s. It was the “Emperor” dahlia, a pretty dark-puple velvety dahlias. When the order arrived, I found two tuber clumps–one of which had normal-looking eyes on it, and one of which didn’t. I wish I had thought to take a picture of it, but I was paranoid and threw it out immediately. (Update: I did take pictures!)

Crown gall on my Emperor dahlia tuber clump

Nicole from FHF says that it looks like cauliflower, and I can see why. See all those light-colored bumps at the top of the tuber clump? These, if there were only, say, one or two of them present, would be considered “eyes” and be a thing of happiness, as it would indicate that the tuber was viable. In this case, however, the presence of five or more “eyes” in pretty much the exact same spot means that the tuber is infected with crown gall and needs to be tossed.

So with the Breck’s dahlia, I could tell from the get-go that the tuber had gall. The second tuber clump, packed in the same bag with dry peat moss as the first tuber, did not show any signs of gall. I’ve since potted it up, and the two viable eyes from that clump are now sprouting–but there are only two eyes sprouting, not ten. I’m assuming that it also has gall, but I’m potting it up in a separate container just in case. If it has gall, the growth of the flower should be slow and stunted, so we’ll see.

The second tuber I found that had gall was “Pacific Time”, one of my Walmart purchases. (Walmart’s dahlias are supplied by Van Zyverden.) This tuber passed muster when I inspected it initially, and when I sprouted it it only had one or two sprouts, as per many of my dahlias. However, when I went to go plant it into the garden bed, I accidentally broke off the sprout while I was getting it out of the temporary pot. Which was weird, because sprouts tend to be pretty hardy, from what I can tell. So when I went to go inspect the damage, I found the sprout that had popped off had five other mini-sprouts connected to it, just under the soil line. The tuber itself also had several more mini-sprouts trying to grow, right from that same spot. Thus, my diagnosis of crown gall. So out went all of the Pacific Time tubers as well. (It’s kind of an ugly dahlia, really; I’m not too beaten up about it.)

The third instance was tonight–again while I was trying to plant dahlias into my garden bed. The culprit this time was “Great Silence”, from Longfield Gardens. (As I ordered most of my dahlias from Longfield, this freaked me out a bit and now I’m tempted to go dig up all of my tubers because clearly this disease could be anywhere.)

Crown gall on my Great Silence tuber

Again, the sprout itself had at least four other sprouts attempting to shoot from that same exact spot on the tuber–and this tuber was just the eye/neck/body, rather than a whole clump of tubers. The only sprout I saw on the potted dahlia was one large one; I had no idea there were four more just under the surface.

I’m so glad I decided to pre-sprout all of my tubers! Apparently the disease doesn’t necessarily show on the dormant tuber. Luckily, I wasn’t too hung up on the Great Silence variety, either, so I’m not too sad to have to toss it. But I have to say, now I’m freaked out. Every dahlia I plant for the rest of this year will be checked, just in case. Yay for being a first time flower gardener 😛

Garden Update, 5/20/21: Overwhelmed by May

So the garden progresses. Ever feel like you are making progress, only to find that the space you cleared just makes room for everything else to move to the front? That’s how I feel with my garden at the moment.

Maybe this is the usual May overwhelm that many gardeners feel. As a new gardener, and one working under the constraints of both a pandemic and a surgery, I’ve felt particularly behind the ball. I made up for this with research and purchasing power. (I did my part for the economy, boy howdy.) But this research and purchasing power may have ended up working against me, as I have far too many plants and, due to my healing knee, no real way to make all of the physical changes in the garden that would be needed to plant them all. So. Into pots many of them go.

Granted, my plans for the garden this year were a lot. Upon review, I realized I couldn’t make all of the landscaping changes I wanted in one year, even if I was at full health. So I scaled that back. The rock garden overhaul will have to wait, as will the thinning of the overgrown iris and daffodil bulbs along the side of the house and the back alley. The evergreen bushes and overgrown lilac and magnolia trees in the front of the house will have to limp on for one more year without my help. And in the main flowerbed, all of the clumps of old lilies and Shasta daisies will get to enjoy one more season before I replace them with something prettier. (Or, if I get really energetic–or desperate for space for my dahlias–some may get up getting dug up later this summer.)

But I just don’t have the mental bandwidth right now, honestly. I’m already growing about 20 species or varieties that I’ve never grown (for example, I love apples, but I’ve never actually grown them), and keeping their growing needs and the details of how to counteract all of the things that could possibly go wrong ready to pull out of my head at the appropriate moment is keeping me pretty tired. Luckily, I could do my day job in my sleep at this point, so it doesn’t take much of my mental bandwidth, usually. And working from home, I have a lot more time to devote to the garden than I normally would. If/when we go back to the office full-time, though, I’ll be SOL. That’s probably part of what’s driving my anxious need to get everything squared away in the garden right now, actually–the pandemic is winding down (yay!) which means we’ll have to go back to the office soon (boo!)

My two new 3’x8.5′ raised beds are built and filled with soil–mostly a mixture of peat moss, top soil, and manure, with some lime, worm castings, and insoluble fertilizer mixed in, a la Gary from The Rusted Garden. I would not have been able to do this without the help of my father, who ended up doing most of the heavy lifting. (As a trade-off, I fix his computer, on pretty much a monthly basis.) The beds themselves are cheap metal raised beds that I picked up on Amazon back in January. Both raised beds have wooden trellises supported by t-posts, and they are already almost full.

As of now, almost of my tomatoes are out; I had started my Sungold cherry tomatoes too soon and as a result, by the time the weather was warm enough to put them out, despite my best efforts they were 2′ tall, leggy and weak. I now have two-week old seedlings going and I’m sure they will catch up with the rest of the tomatoes soon enough. I picked up a few brassicas as the local nursery–brussels and a red cabbage–as I wanted to give them another go but had no desire to start any more seeds. They ended up in the ends of the beds. This week, we had a day of rain followed by what was predicted to be 6 days of 80s weather, so I sowed my cukes directly into the bed, and added more carrots, because why not? I also had some melon seedlings ready, so they went in as well. And since I have a metric ton of dahlia tubers–most of which are now sprouting–I added an HS Date and a Great Silence went into the melon/cuke bed as well. I figured it would make the bed look pretty 🙂 In the other bed, the tomatoes are surrounded by calendulas and ranunculus corms, which will hopefully draw pollinators.

Eggplants are in fabric pots, and the tomatillos are in large plastic pots, as I recently found out that, despite what the seed packet says, they usually grow rather bigger than 3′ and spread more than tomatoes do. (From what I’ve seen, they look a right mess and I don’t want them anywhere near my raised beds.) I also picked up some seed potatoes, and also planted some from my kitchen that had started to sprout. And I’ve potted up some of the dahlias and ranunculus together; hopefully, even if they don’t bloom at the same time, the pots will always have at least something blooming in them. Tomorrow, I will finish potting up my peppers–why waste trellis space if I don’t have to?–and do some general clean-up. Planting and potting up is a messy business. And, finally, I need to figure out what to do with all my extra seedlings. I’ve already passed on as many as I can to friends and family, but as I was a paranoid grower, II planted a ton and therefore have a bunch left over. Ah, well. At least we have good weather finally, and soon–soon!–my garden will be fully planted, and I can move on to simply managing adult plants, without having to also worry about constantly sowing and caring for baby ones, too. Sounds like paradise to me!

Garden Update, 5/9/21: Trees

So my Japanese Maple arrived Friday, somewhat unexpectedly. All of my tree babies have now come home to roost! I received the maple from Nature Hills, which is a big online live plant store, and also one I as a bit concerned about, as their delivery time frame was “Spring”, no matter how many times I emailed them for updates. Still, the tree did arrive in good shape–4.5′ tall or so, with many branches and leaves–and it did arrive in, well, Spring. Currently I have it in a tall fabric pot where the moon garden will be, though long-term it’ll be in the lawn next to to Moon Garden.

The apple trees in the yard are also coming along nicely. They all have started budding–even my branchless Charlie Brown reject from Home Depot has miraculously started budding. The HoneyCrisp in particular is looking quite healthy.

I also have a Dwarf Mulberry I bought as a seedling from Baker Creek last year. It grew well and survived the winter–as far as I can tell. It hasn’t started budding, but I found last year that Mulberries LOVE the heat. And the branches are still flexible, so hopefully it will rebound come summer. I have a Russian Hardy pomegrante tree which I also got last year as a seedling, but it was attacked by the cat multiple times. Still, it’s survived this long, hopefully it will put on some height this year!

Dwarf Mulberry, with three strawberries planted at its base. Russian Hardy Pomegrante in the background.

The 30-year-old Bartlett Pear tree as are chugging right along. They just finished blooming in April and are now putting on leaves. I should trim the tops, but we’ll see how it goes. (They had a huge harvest least year, and I hear pear trees only put out a big harvest every three years, so pruning it is pretty low on my to-do list currently.)

Two Bartlett Pear trees

Garden Update, 5/9/21: Tomatoes

Tomatoes. Tomatoes are my bane.

We’re past the last average frost date, which my local weatherman says is 4/30/21, but despite most days being above 40, we’ve had a few nights that are flirting with frost. This week alone we’ve had (or will have) two nights near 34F. Augh! I’ve had to bring in my nasturtiums and tomatoes that I’ve been hardening off. The calendulas and zinnias would have liked to have gone inside as well, but they are already scattered throughout the garden, as well as the basils. Luckily I have plenty of back-ups of the basils and zinnias and calendulas are not hard to grow from seed outside.

My tomatoes, however, are another story. (Sigh. Tomatoes.) I can’t even eat fresh tomatoes due to acid reflux issues (cooked tomatoes are easier on my stomach) but I’m determine to grow tomatoes, as they are easy to grow in my climate and I want to be able to put up some sauce for winter. I’ve also got tomatillos growing, but they won’t be put outside until June at the earliest.

Today I went to check in my greenhouse downstairs, and found that the pots are drying out almost every day and many of my tomatoes are 8″ or taller–way too big for their 2″ pots. They are fine standing upright when smooshed in with 20 other plants but when I take one out of the tray to check on it, the stems, though thick, are a bit limp. As the weatherman is not recommending any planting until next week, I decided that I’ll go ahead and up-pop the tomatoes into much larger pots now.

I have several sowings of 9 different varieties b/c some seedings either were burned from over-fertilizing or were eaten by my cat, or whatever, and at this point I’ve lost track of how many of which variety I have, so I just keep sowing back-ups. Today I’ve brought up most of my oldest seedlings, which are the ones that need to be up-potted. The tomato bed is almost ready for them, and should be completely ready come this weekend. It’s built and 75% filled with soil–as it is 3×9′ long, that’s a lot of soil. Once I get them up-potted, I can harden them off; then, some this weekend, I should finally be able to put them into the bed. What a relief!

These are the varieties I’m planting this year:

Tomato, Barry’s Crazy CherryBaker Creek
Tomato, Bonnie’s BestMI Gardener
Tomato, CarbonBaker Creek
Tomato, Dad’s SunsetBaker Creek
Tomato, Paul RobesonBaker Creek
Tomato, Sun Gold Pole Cherry Botanical Interests
Tomato, Thornburn’s TerracottaBaker Creek
Tomato, White Tomesol Baker Creek

The white tomato was a freebie from Baker Creek; if it grows, great; if not, oh well. It’s mainly a novelty. The two large orange slicers (Thornburn’s and Sunset) were from a list I read on a blog somewhere, and as I’ve never grown orange tomatoes, I thought I’d give it a try. The purple slicers (Paul Robeson, Carbon) are supposedly the best tasting tomatoes, and they are my main plan for making sauce. (I tried San Marzanos last year; in my opinion the flavor does not make up for the fact that they are small and it takes a ton of prep work to make a good amount of sauce.) Bonnie’s Best is also supposedly a good sauce tomato. The cherry tomatoes (Barry’s, Sun Gold) are both yellow cherry tomatoes that are supposedly very tasty. I’ll mainly give these away to friends and family.

Garden Planning: The Moon Garden

So this week I had good news and bad news. The good news is that the weather is continuing to not dip below 47F for the foreseeable future (usually our last frost date is 4/30). Another bit of good news is that I was able to find many cheap annuals at the local independent garden center. The bad news being that I have to yet again scale back my plans for renovating the garden due to my physical limitations. Currently I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck pretty much any day that I do any gardening, so…. it’s going to be a very long, slow rehaul this summer. (Who knew that simply bending down to weed and moving bags of soil could be so tiring??)

The ideal Moon Garden

Anywho, I have been able to slowly clear out a space in the back yard flower garden for my Moon Garden. This will be an all-white garden with a few plants that only bloom at night. It will be against the fence where the neighbor’s very tall fence ends and my way-too-short fence begins. I picked up a cute 6′ trellis to add to help add height and more privacy.

The plants I had originally planned for this area were the Moonflower vine (obviously); Fleurel dahlia (large white dinner-plate dahlia); white Malva; White Swan Echinacea; and some Acidanthera Murielae (“Abyssinian Gladiolus”)–all grown by me from seed or bulb. I’ve also added to this list some Roman Chamomile, mainly as a filler. The chamomile seedlings are coming right along; the echinacea seeds were extremely slow to germinate and as a result may not even bloom this year. The Abyssinian glads have also been very slow to sprout. 😦 Luckily, yesterday I was able to pick up a good array of annuals from the garden center, all already in full bloom: a couple of four-packs of while dwarf gladiolus, some white single-bloom border dahlias; and white cosmos. I also have a few ranunculus from a mix that might turn out to be white; they’ll get added if there’s room. I may even add one of my night-blooming jasmines, though it will have to stay potted as it is not at all hardy to my area.

Before I realized that I could get so many white annuals locally, I also ordered a few more seeds; Marshmallow from Baker’s Creek (all proceeds going to help India in their current Covid crisis), and some Indian Peace Pipe Nicotiana seeds from Botanical Interests. Now I just need to sow them when they arrive, and sow a few back-up moonflowers (my cat and the sun ruined a few already), and I think I should be good to go. I also have about six mature white Shasta daisies further up in the garden; unfortunately they are not close enough to the moon garden area and I’ll have to transplant one or two over, maybe using them to mark the borders. And once I get everything set up, I’ll likely add some kind of solar “fairy lights” to brighten things up.

Finally! A plan comes together. 🙂 Slowly but surely.

Too Many DAHLIAS, 4/27/21

Currently, in my house, I have 18 varieties of dahlia bulbs and four dahlia seed mixes. And I still have five (edit: six varieties) varieties that haven’t even arrived yet! I blame this on a number of things. My recent knee surgery required me to stay off my feet for six weeks, and I ended up getting hooked and watching too many flower farming videos as a result. Also, Floret Flowers’ new Dahlia book came out this spring. Finally, lo and behold, Walmart has $5 dahlias! And many are worth buying.

Why dahlias, you ask? Well, they look about a luxe and dramatic as a flower can possibly be. Plus, there’s the fact that, should you take care of your tubers, they will multiply and you will never need to buy them again. (You could even sell or give away your extras!)

Here are a few of the dahlia pictures that lured me in:

I’ve had many tubers sitting in my basement greenhouse, waiting to see if they would sprout. Most did. However, space in my greenhouse is very limited, what with the tomatoes and peppers getting way too big and taking up most of the space, so today I finally decided just to pot up those tubers that clearly showed eyes but weren’t producing large sprouts. Here is the list of tubers that got potted up today:

Dahlia, Crème de CassisVan Zyverden (Walmart)1 bulb
Dahlia, Cafe Au LaitSkyfall Flowers6 bulbs
Dahlia, FleurelLongfield Gardens3 bulbs
Dahlia, Great SilenceLongfield Gardens1 bulb
Dahlia, Karma ChocTerrain2 bulbs
Dahlia, MottoVan Zyverden (Walmart)2 bulbs
Dahlia, Noordwijks GlorieLongfield Gardens2 bulbs
Dahlia, Pacific TimeVan Zyverden (Walmart)2 bulbs
Dahlia, Electric FlashVan Zyverden (Walmart)2 bulbs
Dahlia, Kelvin FloodlightVan Zyverden (Walmart)2 bulbs
Dahlia, ZingaroVan Zyverden (Walmart)2 bulbs

Each of these tubers should guarantee me a flower, as each had visible, sprouting eyes. So, 25 guaranteed dahlias this year, assuming no pest or disease damage.

For the Cafe au Lait dahlia, while I did end up purchasing bulbs for this from two companies (I wasn’t sure the first dahlia bulb I received would survive), most of these bulbs came from me manually dividing up tuber clumps. Also, Cafe au Lait appears to be an especially prolific variety, which is awesome as it is widely considered one of the most desirable dahlia varieties.

Also, despite having no luck whatsoever in potting up dahlia cuttings up to this point, I wanted to try it again. I went back to the source (Swan Island Dahlias, http://www.dahlias.com) and rewatched their cuttings video. They use a specific rooting gel and fertilizer for their cuttings, neither of which I had been using. In theory, you could simply take a cutting from any dahlia tuber and stick it in moist potting soil and it would root naturally. I’ve not had any luck with this approach, even when using the cheaper but still highly recommended rooting powder. I used the gel on today’s batch, and tomorrow I’ll add the fertilizer; here’s hoping it works this time.

This week’s dahlia cuttings:

Dahlia, HS DateLongfield Gardens5 cuttings
Dahlia, Café au LaitLongfield Gardens1 cutting
Dahlia, Crème de CassisVan Zyverden (Walmart)3 cuttings
Dahlia, Great SilenceLongfield Gardens1 cutting
Dahlia, Melody PinkLongfield Gardens2 cuttings

Another lure of the dahlias are the seeds. Due to dahlia genetics, only clones made from the original tubers will produce the exact variety of dahlia that is anticipated. Seeds are a crapshoot, and could exhibit a wide variety of dahlia characteristics. The downside is that dahlia seeds tend to produce smaller blooms and more single blooms as compared to the lavish ones produced by the cultivated cloned tubers. The cool side effect of the dahlia genetics, however, is that every dahlia produced by seed is unique, and if it turns out to be cool-looking or otherwise having unique or interesting properties, you can name it and start selling it. Currently there are 42 categories of dahlias and tens of thousands of specific hybrids, so finding a unique one is probably pretty hard.

As with most things in my garden this year, the dahlias are an experiment. Maybe I’ll love them; maybe I’ll find that they are not worth the hassle. (They are not hardy in my zone–they are only hardy is zones 8-10, if I remember correctly– and so they need to be dug up and stored over winter.) We’ll find out. Currently all I have are a bunch of potted-up tubers and some cuttings; but the potential for beauty contained in each is overwhelming. Maybe one of them will be that one flower that I can’t live without. Who knows?