25 August 2009

Bashful Sunflowers

It's time to report on this year's trial of dwarf sunflowers. Late in the spring, the rushing around left no time to order the dwarf sunflower seeds online, so a packet of Burpee's Sunflower Incredible (Helianthus annuus ) was picked up at the local Target.

This year, the results were not pleasing. Although the flowers were consistent and attractive, all the flower heads faced east, probably since the sun came up there, but never turned in other directions. This meant the flower heads were never visible from the street in the display garden. Not much to display here.

Second, the heights were all over the place, with some being 18-inches high (50 cm), and a plant immediately next to it 4-feet (1.2 m). Third and most disappointing, the flower heads do not stand up straight very long. After only a few days, they began to droop and in less than a week, all faced the ground like unhappy bashful children. Now, no one can enjoy them.

These would not be recommended in the future. In fact, this variety is not listed on Burpee's web site, although it was sold in stores. A listing of the dwarf sunflowers I have grown, in my preferential order:

    1. Sunny Smile - best for appearance
    2. Sunburst Lemon Aura
    3. Sunpspot - best for bird seed
    4. Incredible

For The Record:
  • Loose, well-drained soil
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of organic fertilizer before budding

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: nicotiana, cosmos, canna, castor, basil, cleome, zinnia, spiderwort
  • Harvested: 4 peppers, countless tomatoes, 1 cucumber

15 August 2009

August 2009 Bloom Day

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

Blooming in addition to the photos:
Nasturtium, Nicotiana, Alyssum, Cosmos, Snapdragon, Canna, Spiderwort, Castor, Basil

Mexican ZinniaDwarf Sunflower Incredible

Cleome Lavender SparklerZinnia Violet Queen

12 August 2009

My Lettuce Has A Bouffant

Three ladies are standing taller at the corner of the front display garden. Three lettuce plants no larger than a finger nail were picked up at the spring Plant Swap Brunch and left in the spray paint can cap they came in for weeks. They were eventually planted in the front display garden, and after some time they began to grow. They were eaten for a week, then became excessively strong and bitter tasting.

The leaves were very attractive in appearance, and fit right in with their other leafy neighbors. Not liking to rip out growing plants, these lettuce ladies were left to grow bitter and grow old gracefully. Today, they are about 3-feet (1 m) high, and are beginning to wear flowers in their hair in the golden years.

They have healthy green leaves down to the ground (no exposed legs), no pests, and strong stems that can teach some younger plants how to stand up straight. They also add some vertical emphasis to the garden. Maybe we should leave other vegetable plants to grow on past their initial harvest, allowing them a new career in their later lives.

For The Record:
  • Medium soil with mulch
  • Full sun, average water
  • No fertilizer

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: Cosmos, zinnia, nicotiana, sunflower, nasturtium, spiderwort, coreopsis
  • Harvested 6 tomatoes

08 August 2009

History of New York Hops

Brewing beer requires ingredients such as hops, malt, and barley. Most all hops used in beer making in the early United States were grown around the Cooperstown New York region until the 1900's. While visiting my old hometown this summer, I ventured to nearby Cooperstown, where I haven't been in decades. I was surprised to learn that there were two breweries in the area, so of course we had to stop in.

While at the Cooperstown Brewing Company and Ommegang Brewery, I learned of the area's great history and tradition of growing hops. Growing up in Johnson City, a mere one hour away, I never knew this. A little research online after arriving back in Virginia yielded some interesting facts and history about my home state's hop-growing industry.

I want to highlight some points from an interesting article The Past, Present, and Yes Future of the Hops Industry written by Richard Vang in 1996 for Upstate Alive magazine:
  • By the civil war, 90% of hops grown in the United States were from New York.
  • The decline of hops growing was due to high price fluctuations due to wild swings in supply and demand, competition from growers in the west, mold, hops aphids, and Prohibition
  • Hops grow up poles like vines and must be trained when young
  • Breweries and dairy farms in the area are creating a sustainable, symbiotic relationship for feed and fertilzer
  • The Belgian brewery mentioned in the article is already up and running (Ommegang), producing award-winning beers, and cannot keep up with demand.
As far as the brewery tours and tastings went, my taste buds preferred Cooperstown Brewing's "Pride of Milford" (which doesn't fit into any beer category.) However, the tasting in Ommegang, which brews award-winning Belgian beer, came with crackers, chocolate, and beer cheeses, and was in a very pleasant room with old-world charm.
(I did not take the hops photos - I don't have hops in my garden.)

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: Cosmos, cleome, zinnia, nicotiana, nasturtium, sunflowers, snapdragon
  • Harvested 10 tomatoes

02 August 2009

Growing Dark Chocolate

They really do smell like chocolate - dark unsweetened baker's chocolate. The first chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus) was purchased in the fall over a year ago and planted in the rear garden as bare root. It grew, died back for the winter, and was never seen again.

Undaunted, another plant was purchased from Wayside Gardens this spring. It came as a dried out twig in a small pot. After a few weeks on the window sill, it began showing green shoots. Planted in the rear garden again, it is now producing a few flowers. The first was cut and brought indoors to appreciate the rich velvety maroon color and unique aroma. The first good news is that the cut flower lasted over a week.

The plant has a few more blooms now, but by no means are they numerous. It is very tipsy since it lacks strong upright stems. The blooms are about 1-inch (2 cm) across, and the plant is about 10-inches (25 cm) high. A friend of a friend gave up trying to grow this plant in the area after lousy results. I don't know what her problems were, but I observe some yellow spots beginning to appear on leaves, similar to those common to roses and tomatoes in this area. Also, the 'bush' cucumbers are trying to crawl up the plant and need to be disciplined. Just to be safe, a move to a more protected location with more sun will be considered in the fall.

For The Record:
  • Medium soil
  • Mostly full sun, some shade
  • No fertilizer

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: Cosmos, zinnia, nicotiana, nasturtium, cleome, sunflower
  • Harvested first tomatoes, cucumbers