22 October 2016

Into The Pot

Today was cold and windy -- more normal for autumn than the summer weather we enjoyed during the week. This was a perfect day for staying indoors and cooking, and minestrone soup was on the menu. Out of the freezer and into the pot went a bag of green string beans from my summer garden.

After harvesting green beans, they were washed and sent whole into the freezer. It was an experiment to determine if they could be successfully frozen and later used as an ingredient in soups. For today's minestrone, a bag of beans was steamed to thaw it but beans were not cooked. They kept their shape after being cut, and best of all, they were tasty -- great as a soup ingredient.

The carrots for the soup were pulled from the garden a few minutes before going into the pot. Carrots never grew well in my clay soil despite testing several types. Sand added to the soil didn't seem to help. Organic material eventually did (along with the previously added sand) and as long as carrots are planted in that same hospitable spot each year, they do well. I think the carrot shape represents the growing season like rings in a tree -- wet and pleasant at the spring, dry, wet and normal, hot, then recently unusually warm. Remaining carrots stay in the ground until they are used.

As noted in the previous post, they were diced, blanched in boiling water for up to two minutes, cooled in ice water, then frozen. They appear to have lost their firmness going into the freezer, but they may be fine as a soup ingredient.

10 October 2016

Baseball Bats for the Playoffs

Baseball season starts as our Washington Nationals try to avoid being eliminated in the first round for a third time. This year, I offer late baseball bats in the form of zucchini, or vice versa, at the same time the series begin.

To avoid the dreaded squash vine borer this year, seeds were planted around the Fourth of July, believing there was a good chance to miss the egg-laying time of the pests. Most of the plants turned out good, but one got bit. I cut the plant off from the infected stem and planted it by mounding soil and keeping it moist. Happily, it worked, and the plant set roots and continued to grow.

The zucchini was late however. As usual, the fruit would set on a Monday, and by picking time on Friday, I had zucchini-sauras. For that minestrone soup-making in cold winters, I read that freezing zucchini is possible. To keep it from from turning into a mush in my freezer, I need to first cut into its final sizes and shapes, and blanch before freezing.

For The Record:
  • Average moist soil
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • Squash vine borer summer, and powdery mildew in fall

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: mexican zinnia, zinnia, marigold, acidantra
  • Harvested: 2 zucchini, 1 pepper, 2 cukes

30 September 2016

Google Deleted My Favorite Blogs

Apologies to anyone who was used to seeing their blog on my sidebar to the right. Google (who else?) deleted them sometime in the last two weeks. I don't know if it was an accident or if Google updated something and they disappeared in the update. Some of the sidebar lists remain, but the first four lists of the blogs I read are now gone. Maybe it is now time to switch to Wordpress?

9 October 2016
The lists magically came back this week. I am glad I do not need to rebuild them.

11 September 2016

Red Eyes This Year

I am finding it more difficult to write for my blog. There is a backlog of photos sitting on my computer waiting to be posted once the stories are written. Another online gardening project is taking my time - our Master Gardener web site. I am webmaster for this new project (we see as a new service to the community) that launched last May 2015. It is updated every month, and in addition to producing the layout, graphics, etc. I occasionally dabble with a little writing.

But this post is about the red eyes. Last year, I wrote about the rudbeckia Irish Eyes [posted 2015.06.01] with the green centers that did not stay green as time went on. I also wrote that the eyes did not glow red, but that statement was made too soon.

The Irish Eyes reseeded themselves and this spring, I expected to be singing 'Oh Danny Boy' in a field of Irish babies. Instead I got Rosemary's Babies. A few of the blooms did have green eyes, but most of the eyes were curiously red. These were not a fiery chili pepper red, but more like a Carol Burnett red.

Apparently Irish Eyes, a cultivar like many of the green-eyed rudbeckia, had this unusual red-centered rudbeckia as a parent. The centers are more of a round iridescent red globe that gradually goes black as the bloom matures and the center opens.

A few of the new plants sported some darker rings on the petals near the centers, and thinner petals. I still like the variety produced, and hope they come back in future years as these have done - with red, green, and black eyes.

For The Record:
  • Average soil with organic amendments over time
  • Full sun
  • Little fertilizer
  • Decent drainage
  • A few mites in the spring, otherwise pest free

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: mexican zinnia, cosmos, rudbeckia, marigold, zinnia, datura
  • Harvested: 1 pepper, 2 zucchini, 3 tomatoes (it been a bad year for them), numerous peperoncinis

15 August 2016

August 2016 Bloom Day

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day
What's blooming in the garden on the 15th of the month

Not missing in action, but just missing these past few months. I will write more about that in future weeks. After 101 degrees (38 degrees C) yesterday and not much rain, the garden is not looking as tended as it should.

The chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata) is blooming the first year I planted it from seed. Note to self: do not plant sweet basil around the chocolate flower again. Chocolate and basil do not mix.

For good scents, two moonflowers (datura) were planted along the front walk from the driveway. That makes four with the two that volunteered from last year's plant. They make a nice low hedge after they get growing. Just stay in bounds, please.

On the topic of hedges, let the cosmos form a hedge every year from last year's fallen seed. The red color and thick green foliage is hedge-like, but at this time of year my cosomos hedge begins its decline.

Speaking of reseeding, I let a few self-sowing cleome seedlings sprout in the spring, and rip out the rest as weeds. These were the fortunate ones. Oriole zinnias in the foreground, and green nicotiana in the back.

Daylilies are done for the year, but wait! Sandy of Sandy's Plants nursery was giving out free plants when she spoke to our Master Gardener group early spring. This unknown hemerocallis bloomed in June and (I thought) was done for the season like the others. It is popping out again in the heat of August. What a trooper.

Dwarf sunflowers one one of my specialties. This knee-high cultivar is one of the leftover seeds from last year.

As an experiment this year, I saved seed from the the dwarfs that bloomed last year. This variety is supposedly not hybridized. Well, the blooms look the same, but they are about 12-24 inches higher (30-60 cm) than last year's. Can't take a sunflower photo withour a bee getting in.

For other garden bloggers bloom day photos, check out our host at blog May Dreams Gardens

09 July 2016

A Tale of Two Poppies

Pink Bombast Rose double-flowered peony poppies are very prolific. Every year these annual opium poppies come back, with some seeds sprouting in new locations: across the garden, across the sidewalk (across the universe?) This is important later in the story.

They do not like the 'instant hot' of our Virginia spring weather. Saving these seeds is a must for all the gardening friends that crave something different, beautiful, and easy. Seeds originally came from Johnson City, NY, growing in our back yard when our family moved while I was in the second grade. They survive zone 5 winters there and heartily return each year.

Lavender Lauren's Grape poppy seeds were picked up about four years ago at the annual local seed exchange i attend. I had seen them growing here and there, and thought they would be a great companion to the Bombast Rose. Lauren's Grape looks like a normal poppy with its single flower, central seed pod ringed by stamens, and dark band. They look like the perennial red poppies that I easily kill.

I noticed that both poppies are named papaver somniferum. The somniferum part is Latin for "sleep-inducing," named no doubt due to the opium. The pinks are kept in the front garden north, and the grapes were first sown in the side yard. The grapes did not do well on the north side of a fence and in soil that was (is) still-improving. Saved seeds were sown in the front garden south the following year.

The grapes bloom before the pinks, but there is a some overlap in bloom time. So, then along came this tiny little bee -- I had never seen bees on the poppies until then. Across the sidewalk from the pink bed, a magenta poppy appeared last spring; neither lavender nor pink, neither double-flowered nor single. Could this be the result of the matchmaker cupid bee? For 25 years here, the pink poppies have remained faithful, but now?

This year, a magenta, half-double-flowered poppy reappeared in the same place -- where I do not plant poppies. I saved the star-crossed, illegitimate seeds for next year.

For The Record:
  • Rich soil with good drainage
  • Full sun
  • Little or no fertilizer
  • No serious pests/disease
  • Poor showing in hot weather

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, rudbeckia, echinacea, datura, marigold, zinnia, late daylily, daisy, cleome
  • Harvested: several onions, green beans

27 June 2016

Getting Stoked

These beauties started out as seeds. They were picked up at the annual seed exchange in February 2015. I had heard of Stokesia (Stokesia laevis) before, but only vaguely remembered that it was a perennial, and that I would not mind having it.

Seeds were started last spring, and then seedlings went into the garden. I picked out a nice spot that was full of sun and good soil. The good soil part is a relative term -- relative to the soil around the property.

They grew beautiful full leaves and no flowers. This year, they sprung to life. Excitement built as the first buds started to emerge a few months ago. Then more excitement as stems branched out with even more buds. Were they blue? Were they pink? Where they bi-color? Who knew? Maybe they were not stokesia. After all, I have picked up bulbs labeled 'dwarf orange gladiolus' to find they were purple upon blooming. And, I planted a few things that never germinated, like Scabiosa, the same year.

The photos show the show at the beginning. This proud dad of a new perennial was very happy. They make good indoor cut flowers -- until all those strand-like petals decide to drop off. They close up at night and only fully open in direct sun. Clouds also tend to close them a little.

The 2-inch (5 cm), larger-than-expected flowers are a blueish purple that fade lighter as they age. The biggest issue I have is that they flopped over. The five plants relied upon each other to prop themselves up, but with a little wind, they now all fell over.

Stokesia or Stokes Aster, is a member of the daisy / aster family, and is native to the southeastern United States. There! I planted another native without knowing it was a native. It prefers wet or soggy areas, and is evergreen in some southern areas, but likes heat, and thus is considered drought tolerant. It was named after English botanist Jonathan Stokes. Shouldn't we have native plants named after native Americans?

For The Record:
  • Well-drained loose fertile soil
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer in autumn
  • No serious pests/disease
  • Tends to fall over upon blooming

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, phlox, rudbeckia, echinacea, liatris, marigold, Russian sage, daylilies
  • Harvested: cilantro, dill, onions

11 June 2016

Rocky Mountain Blue

The penstemon is finally coming around this spring, although not as much as I would like. Penstemon Rocky Mountain (Penstemon strictus), emphatically came out with an intense blue flower stalk on one of the plants in early May.

My penstemon, native to poor western soils, was started from seed obtained at last year's seed exchange. A few seeds produced five healthy seedlings. They were planted last spring in the front near the house where sun is plentiful, and near the driveway pavement where soil is warm in summer and consequently dries out fast. Perfect for them, I thought.

One solitary stalk from one plant shot out of the central plant, producing this cluster of blue blooms. Several protrusions on the other four plants looked like they would join the party, but they were just teasing me. Nothing materialized from them. But, oh! that one with its color.

Reading up a bit more, I learned that fertilizing is unnecessary and just produces leaves. Their location has good soil; maybe too good. I don't recall fertilizing them, but did not give them a poor gravel soil, either. One more summer, and I anticipate some excitement next year. I wonder if Rocky Mountain penstemon would make a good addition to my hell strip?

For The Record:
  • Mulched soil with no amendments or fertilizer
  • Full sun
  • No serious pests/disease

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: poppies, rudbeckia, stokesia, nicotiana, phlox, hostas, daylilies, coreopsis, lavender
  • Harvested: peas, cilantro,