My New Favorite Rose…because

Climbing rose “Polka”

I can hear you…and you’re absolutely right! Every time a new rose opens for the first time, it’s instantly declared “My New Favorite Rose”…until the next one opens, but this time it’s true! I’ve been wanting a climbing rose for the trellis over the south bench (that my dad built for me decades ago, and that I STILL haven’t repainted this summer!) since the potager was built. Finally I found one called “Polka” from High Country Roses and planted it this spring. This week, the first bloom opened, a perfect “tea rose” type bud that opened slowly over 3 days. The soft apricot color is perfect. The size is wonderful. I can’t wait to see it fully grown up the trellis and hopefully arching over the top, filled with luscious blooms.

“Polka” rose fully open

Today, it is fully opened. So ruffly and full in that blowsy, opulent “old rose” style, nearly 5″ across and absolutely perfect, with a light rose scent. So, until a new contender comes along (or “Pumpkin Patch” proves to be a more abundant bloomer) it IS my favorite rose.

Now, here’s the puzzlement…I’ve been observing all my roses this entire season. Some of them, like “Polka,” “Bliss,” and “Pearlie Mae” have been entirely ignored by the Japanese beetles, while only a few feet away, the “Crazy Love” and “Adobe Sunset” blooms are devoured immediately, sometimes while still in a tight bud. I adore “Crazy Love” but every day I find 4-6 beetles in each flower. It seems to be a beetle magnet.

It can’t be location, because they are in close proximity. They are all in a similar color range…soft oranges and apricots, although “Bliss” is more yellow than apricot. That leaves scent, and maybe my nose is too old to detect a difference. I know it’s definitely scent that lures hundreds of beetles to my yellow bucket trap, so that’s probably the reason. Or, maybe it’s flavor? Maybe “Crazy Love” is the banana split, the fresh apple pie of roses? Things like this intrigue me.

Do you find Japanese beetles on all of your roses? Do they seem to prefer some over others? Do you have any that they ignore? There could be a whole new marketing tool here waiting to be discovered! I know that if I decide to add more roses, I’ll definitely add more of those that the beetles ignore, rather than those they love!

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Losing the battle.

Winter Squash “Orange Magic”

After the peas came out, Bed 2c was blessed with 2 “Orange Magic” winter squash plants that were started from seed a few days earlier. In the summer heat, both quickly grew large, gorgeous leaves and shortly thereafter these big, beautiful blooms appeared. Unlike some varieties, “Orange Magic” seems to set fruit with its very first blooms, rather than producing a lot of useless male blossoms first. (I say “useless” but they do make a tasty lunch when breaded and lightly fried! or used with ricotta and sage to stuff fresh ravioli!)

Abundant fruit set

Quickly the vines climbed and wove through the pea fence, setting a lot of fruit as it grew. That’s another thing I like about “Orange Magic.” It’s not stingy, and one vine will produce lots of gorgeous deep orange (my favorite color!) 2-3 lb. fruit in about 80-85 days. In addition, it was the winner of my unofficial Squash Comparison tasting back in 2018, with its smooth grained, sweet, nutty flavor.

Just look at all those flowers and beautiful baby squash! and ignore those wilting leaves….????

And then the bubble burst, and I recalled why I didn’t plant “Orange Magic” last year. I love it, my guests loved it…and the squash borers love it as well! If I had reviewed my notes, it was clearly stated. If I had read my notes, I would have been vigilant from the very outset, and armed with my trusty syringe and Bt, I might have nipped their attack at the beginning. As it was, I entered the battle late, maybe too late. The first day, I injected Bt just above where the frass indicated entry and activity, and made another injection about 3″ above that sight. I hoped that would do the trick and the borer would perish.

Next, I gave the plant a good watering and covered the base with moist soil, hoping it would develop more roots along the main stem above the damaged area and recover. Looking back, maybe that was wishful thinking.

Two more injections further up followed later that week, and then even later I decided emergency surgery was required, so I hosed off all the dirt piled at the base, sterilized a sharp knife and opened up the stem at the frass area. I could have taken photos of the two fat, happy white borers with light brown heads removed, but I didn’t. Bt has to be eaten by the borers in order to be lethal, and apparently they didn’t eat any although they appeared to be surrounded by the liquid! Guess they didn’t drink either. I carefully checked for other frass areas, but didn’t find any. The moist soil was replaced around the base.

Sadly, I think the battle is lost!

Don’t be confused…this is the same squash plant, but the photo was taken from the opposite side, so now it’s on the right rather than the left. Obviously, I lost the first battle of the Borer War, but so far (knock wood) I’m holding my own in plant #2, and being very vigilant inspecting plants #3 and #4, which were planted a week later than those in these photos. Today, I will conduct a post mortem on the deceased. I want to know more about how the stems and leaves are constructed internally, and to see if there were more borers further up the stalk. It will be an educational session, I hope, and I will take notes…which should be helpful next year…if I remember to read them!

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The Bulb Order is Away!

The potager exterior border last spring.

Last spring seems so far away, when our hopes that the virus would fade away in a few weeks felt possible. The earth was filled with energy and bird song, and seeds were pressed into the soil with visions of the crops that are in fact being harvested today. Every new flower that burst forth was greeted with excitement, notes and photos were taken and for some reason, the 2020 Spring seemed more colorful, more special, more precious than many in the past.

The bulb catalogs arrived weeks ago, and at first were put aside. How can I spend money on bulbs when people are hungry, or losing their jobs? Why should I plant all those bulbs when only I will see them (Yes, I have the “it’s going to be a long time before this is over, …if ever” view)? And then I thought, if everyone thinks as I do then all the bulb farmers will go under. I’m sure lots of the big institutions, cities, private and public gardens will not have the funding for their normal orders, since they had so little income this year, and corporations will not have their normal profits to contribute to good causes. Additionally, many individual gardeners may be forced, or choose to cut back on expenses. I thought back to all the small bulb farmers I saw in Holland, and some I’ve visited here in the States. They need support, too, just like all the other small businesses. And, I’m getting old. I may not be able to plant a lot of fall bulbs someday, so while I can still do it, I think I really want to! So, the catalogs were pulled from the stack and studied.

For years, crocus “Cream Beauty” has been the first of the bulbs to bloom here. I do love them, but I want more purple and white in the gardens, so the first item on the order were these early species crocus, a blend called “Vernal Jewels.” They’ll just go here and there in places where they will be noticed early on, but not in the Front Island where the squirrels dwell and forage!

Next were “Blue Magic” muscari. Yes, I know many people consider them almost a weed, but I’ve had some for years in the Blue Garden, and they’ve barely spread. There’s some pale blue “Valerie Finnis” in the potager’s exterior border, but a brighter blue and more of it is needed, so hopefully “Blue Magic” will do the trick.

Nothing unusual, but I love this bright, bright blue!
Tang Dynasty tulips from ColorBlends

Overall, I was very happy with last year’s tulip selections. You can revisit that post here. However, I’ve made a few changes based on my notes and photo reviews. First of all, the tulip order is about the same as last year: “Tang Dynasty,” a blend of white, yellow and orange tulips bloomed early in the Deck Garden, which I pass every day on my way to the potager. They lasted a long time, except I needed more.

“Cretaceous” tulip was a favorite!

However, the peony-flowered tulip above was part of a blend called “Threedom” and I wasn’t thrilled with the other two members of the group, so this year “Cretaceous” was ordered separately, and lots more of them. They’ll go in the potager’s exterior border and the Front Garden.

Tulip “Prince Armin”

Tulip “King’s Orange” was dropped this year, only because it is really similar to “Temple’s Favorite” and I wanted something a bit lighter in color, which “Prince Armin” will provide. I love it’s vertical striping and big flowers. And, this interesting bi-color “Orange Marmalade” was added to provide more bloom in mid-to-late May. I had a similar one a few year’s ago called “The Artist,” and one clump of those still come back in the Front Garden. Hopefully, these will as well.

Tulip “Orange Marmalade”

A few years ago, I planted a very few T. praestans “Shogun.” If you look at the very top photo of this post you’ll see a couple, but here’s a better, closer image.

Tulip “Shogun”

I really liked their smaller stature, and that they seem to return year after year, so lots more will be added this fall, in an effort to reduce the number of bulbs required each year. Some of these will go in the Addition Garden, and some in the Deck Garden edges. The short but showy double apricot “Foxy Foxtrot, the bright orange “Temple’s Favorite,” the late-blooming tall “Dordogne, and the tiny “Bright Gem” for the potager’s main path edges round out the tulip order and will go approximately where they were lat year. 700 tulips in all. In the off chance there are tulips left (since I’ve added more perennials and shrubs in the past year) leftovers can go in the Cutting Garden. I always think I’ll cut tulips for the house, but never do because they look so pretty in the beds!

My notes show that there was a glaring gap after the tulips were finished. To help provide more interest then, three alliums will be planted. The first is “White Giant” and all 10 will go in the Front Island to add some drama. They grow 3-4′ tall, with 6-8″ white globes. There will still be late daffodils, so it should be stunning.

Allium “White Giant”

Next, for the potager interior border are these pretty blue alliums.

Allium caesium

They are only 10-16″ tall, but with 4″ globes they should be outstanding and provide lots of interest until the other plants already there show color. And, lastly is “Purple Sensation.” That’s 45 allium bulbs.

Allium “Purple Sensation”

I’m giving alliums another try in the potager’s interior border. The first and only time I planted them there, most rotted over the winter. However, I’ve been working on the drainage problems, so I’ll give a few a try there, but most will go in the Front Garden, and maybe a few in the potager’s exterior border. This should help fill the gap, and also add more purple to compliment all the orange and yellow hues.

There are no daffodils on this year’s order. Actually, I need to dig and divide some of the older clumps, and several new, beautiful daffodils were added to the gardens last year that really extended their season. Instead, I’m thinking ahead to this winter, long before the spring bulbs will appear. I fear there will be little in the way of Christmas celebrations, and I suspect the winter doldrums will be worse than usual, so I’ve decided to plant some cheer indoors! First to be planted will be “Wedding Dance” white amaryllis.

Hopefully these will be timed right to bloom just after the “holidays.”

I’ve ordered three, and will start one to hopefully bloom in late December. I’m not even sure I’ll decorate much for Christmas…we’ll see how things go…but a bloom this pretty ought to help lift my spirits. The bright red ones I’ve had for years will be planted as well, but a bit earlier. Then after the whites and reds are finished,

Amaryllis “Terra Cotta Star”

this beauty will be the star that my hopes are pinned upon during the bleak month of January, into February if all goes as planned. They will be joined by part of the 25 fragrant, soft orange

Hyacinth “Gypsy Queen”

which I’ve grown before outdoors, but never forced indoors. I think 15 will be planted outside along the back sidewalk, and the other 10 will be forced, 2 or 3 at a time, to brighten my worktable. By then, seed starting in the basement will be garnering my attention and the winter aconites and crocus just might be pushing up!

So that’s how I’m hoping to battle the winter “Covid Fatigue”. Have you ordered bulbs?

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Today’s harvest

Lots of blessings here!

August is the bountiful month, when the harvest journal entries for each day nearly fill a page. The colors of produce always amaze me. Just pulling all the baskets together is a feast for the eyes. Purple beans, glossy scarlet and golden tomatoes, cream netted melons, soft green cabbage, dark green cucumbers and spikey onion tops. And after I took this photo, I realized I’d forgotten the honeydew melon and blackberries that had already gone to the refrigerator!

August is the month that I always feel there needs to be more meals per day, because I want to make so many things, but we could never eat it all. I still haven’t made gazpacho, or pesto or peas with mint, or new potatoes with chive-cheese sauce. The eggplants are ready to pick, and Dragon Tongue beans will be picked this week. I want to roast some beets and make French carrots. A vegetable lasagne has been on the list for weeks, as well as spinach quiche, but there is always something that “needs to be used first.” It’s a good problem to have, and I’m definitely not complaining, nor do we really need to eat more!

The melons have been amazing, and shared with many friends and neighbors, as well as tomatoes, peppers, cukes, beans and cabbages. In exchange we received some delicious sweet corn from our neighbors on the corner, a jar of homemade vegetable marinara sauce, cherry cobbler, and some fresh eggs from others. A good trade for all.

“Wando” peas and parsnips

August is also the month when fall crops are sown. Bed 1a has “Wando” peas (a heat tolerant variety) emerging and parsnips that will overwinter. When the peas come out, spinach will be planted and this bed will get the poly tunnel for the winter. On the right side, some old kale seed was planted, but apparently it was too old, so it will get another try with another variety. The rutabaga seeding in Bed 5d has not gone well either. They emerged very erratically and were immediately attacked by flea beetles and various other bugs and disappeared. I’ll give those another try, seeding a little thicker and giving them a row cover (even though I hate the appearance of those in my garden, I guess I hate the bugs more…and besides only I will see it if I don’t include it in a photo!)

August is also the month for elderberries, and although not as bountiful as some years due to our very late frost in May, there is plenty to make elderberry jelly (as if I need more jars of that) and immune system building elderberry syrup (there’s still 9 quarts on the shelf!) Maybe I’ll make a batch of gummies, or

Elderberry Chicken

I developed this recipe back when Elder was the Herb of the Year and put it in my fourth book, “Herbal Blessings.” It’s fast and easy, and delicious!

In a 3-4 c. microwavable container, combine 1/2 c. orange juice, 2 T. dried elderberries (or 4 T. fresh) and microwave for 2 min. Allow to sit in the microwave to keep warm until needed.

Meanwhile, finely grind 1 tsp. dried elderberries (if not available, omit) and mix with 1/4c. all purpose flour, a generous dash of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Reserve 1 T. of this mixture. Place the rest in a flat pan or plastic bag to coat 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs that have been rolled or pounded to and even 1/2″ thickness.

Microwave the orange juice mixture an additional minute. Keep in microwave.

In a large skillet, over medium high heat, heat 2 T. oil to frying temperature. Place floured thighs in skillet and brown on both sides. While chicken cooks, add to orange juice mixture 2 T. elderberry jelly (if not available use apple jelly) and 2 T. honey. Microwave for 2 minutes.

Mix reserved 1 T. flour mixture with 3 T. elderberry wine (or red wine, or chicken broth, or water as a last resort) and whisk until smooth. Stir into orange juice mixture and microwave for 2 min. Stir. Microwave another 2 min.

Remove thighs to serving dish. Garnish with orange slices and pour a little of the sauce over the top. Place remaining sauce in a small pitcher or creamer and serve. 4-6 servings.

And, I think I need to make Elderberry-Peach cobbler, too! Have a great week, and enjoy the garden’s bounty. Too soon, frost will end our fun!

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Six on Saturday: Aug 8

The Sidewalk planter

For this SOS in early August, six things outside the potager that are pleasing. When isolation began, I worried that since I couldn’t get out to buy plants for the planters that are on my deck and rails they would be lacking in interest and color. Instead, I just used plants that I’d started from seed and was already planning to use in the gardens, along with a couple of cannas that had wintered over in the basement, and a struggling lime sweet potato vine that had wintered in a windowsill upstairs. The vine looked pretty sad, but yielded a few cuttings that took off quickly. The one above sits on an upturned pot on the sidewalk at the entrance to the deck.

Deck pot and rail planter.

The “Golden Jubilee” agastache returned, having survived outdoors in its pot. It is a magnet for butterflies and bumblebees. The snapdragons and marigolds were excess from the potager’s exterior border. The “Twinny Peach” snapdragons have been lovely all season, but the last bout of heat caused them to take a rest. Now that we’ve had a bit of rain and ten degrees cooler, they are beginning a comeback! The rail planter got a piece of the agastache from the pot, along with some sweet alyssum leftover from the Fairy Slope plantings. I love walking out on the deck and inhaling its perfume.

My favorite sunflower this season!

Often, volunteer plants are ruthlessly weeded out in order to “stick to the plan” but this year, most were left. This lovely sunflower came up outside the potager’s fence. I love the rusty color better than all of the sunflowers I actually planted!

Hibiscus Blue River II

I grew this variety of perennial hibiscus in the Moonlight Garden at the herb farm for decades. It’s dinner plate sized blooms never fail to make me smile, and you should see them in a full moon! I should have moved it from the farm when I sold, but I didn’t and it took me 2 years to finally find a replacement, during a Garden Writer’s field trip. There’s a tomato plant on the other side of the fence behind it, and I think the hibiscus appreciates the extra watering it gets as a result.

Zinnia “Queen Lime Orange”

These zinnias were planted late, after the daffodil foliage had browned and been removed, but they are certainly making up for lost time. I love the color, and the butterflies adore zinnias of all types. I’m glad I have these, because the rabbits ate all that were planted in the Cutting Garden.

Zinnia “Profusion Double Salmon”

These low-growing zinnias (8-10″) grow along the sidewalk in the Front Garden, and have just been a blanket of color since mid-May. Normally, they are self-cleaning (meaning the finished flowers are usually covered over by new flowers, so they don’t show and therefore don’t require deadheading) but I need to do some clipping of browned flowers caused by my sprinkler getting stuck and not rotating. By the time I noticed it wasn’t moving, a streak of poor zinnias had been drowned but I think they are recovering and will look fine once I clip off the dead flowers.

That’s Six on Saturday for this week from central Indiana. If you’d like to see other gardeners’ picks just go to The Propagator who hosts this interesting meme. Better yet, pick six things that make you happy, or provoke thought from your own gardens and join in! Be safe, be happy, stay busy…and wear your mask!

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July: Monthly Review

East half of potager at July’s end

Another month has passed, as quickly as the prior ones during this gardening season. It’s apparent that the greens of spring have been toned with touches of browns and yellow, as the heat and dryness of July took it’s toll. However, it was a good month overall in the gardens because the potager’s impact in the kitchen skyrocketed with lots of new crops for the menu. It’s also a busy time, because the early crops begin coming out, and new plants and seeds go in, and harvesting takes more time. In the photo above, you can see winter squash “Orange Magic” beginning to fill the trellis that once held peas. You can’t really see it, but the wire fence sections that earlier protected the strawberry beds are now cages for the tall “Country Taste” tomatoes. Sadly, the nasturtiums surrounding those tomatoes have decided to take a sabbatical due to the heat, but after this photo was taken, I gave them a clip and a good watering with diluted fertilizer, so they will be filled with flowers again once the weather cools a bit. In the background, the melon vines are climbing to the top of the trellises. The first Melon was later this year, a “Minnesota Midget” of course, picked July 28th. It was a combination of my fault seeding late, and then the weather, but now they are coming on fast and furious. Fortunately, there’s no trouble finding them new homes, unlike the zucchini.

part of potager’s west half…

The triangle beds around the metal bee skep have had a bit of redo, as the violas breathed their last in the heat, and were replaced by small “Spicy Globe” basils. The calendulas were given a hard cut-back, so they will return later on as well. All of the tomato plants are just loaded with fruit, which is a nice contrast to early on last year. There’s already been lots of picking, with the promise of a bountiful August.

grape tomato “Juliet”

“Juliet” was one of the first “from seed” grape tomatoes. Personally, I would call it a mini “Roma” because they are large for a “grape” tomato, generally around 2″ plus long and a good 1-1 1/2″ across. But, D likes them, so I grow them in abundance. I prefer the “Sun Sugar.”

The Cutting Garden is getting crowded!

Despite the efforts of the bunnies, the Cutting Garden is filled with color. The yarrows and larkspur are nearly finished, but the celosias and zinnias are going strong, and the gomphrena and asters are pretty. I still haven’t had to cut any flowers from the official CG, because the wind keeps providing me with material.

The backside of the Front Island.

See those downed rudbeckia? They became a bouquet as soon as I saw them lying on the ground. This has been happening a lot in various exposed spots, with a variety of flowers. Do notice the “Gold Wizard” coleus, which was grown from seed to brighten up the Front Island. Next year I’ll start them a bit earlier, but I’ve been very happy with them, especially in light shade. July was also “Daylily Month.” As you can see, the daylilies are nearly finished, but they filled July with color and were a delight.

July is Blackberry Month as well!

The netting was put on the blackberries just in time, and although there aren’t buckets of berries, there are boxes, which is fine with me. Blackberry scones and roast pork with blackberry-sage sauce have been on the menu, and I think a crumble is next.

A new rose in the Deck Garden.

The roses really did well in July, although all was not “roses and cake” because July was also Japanese beetle month and tomato hornworm month and flea beetle month and squash borer month…..

For the numbers: Total harvest for July 2020 was 192.75 lbs. That’s better than incredibly wet 2019, but less than 2017 and 2018 because the weighty tomatoes and melons are coming in later than in those years. Every year is a bit different, but I’m pleased with this month’s harvest for it’s variety and quality.

The number of varieties planted in the potager rose from 82 to 109, with the bulk of the “fall” crops now in the ground. As the peas, shallots, garlic and onions came out lots of new crops could go in, which helps keep gardening interesting.

Preserving: In my stated goal of lessening the glut and using more produce from the potager fresh, I’m only preserving the items we need, rather than frantically filling all my jars with things that already fill the pantry and freezer shelves. I want to use up the past two year’s preserving, so this month only sauerkraut and dill pickles were preserved.

So that was July…record heat and dryness, but overall still good, which was a huge blessing, because with the virus continuing to spread rather than diminish, all the problems world-wide politically and economic, and all fun events cancelled, the was peace and happiness to be found in the potager.

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Feeling the change

South end Potager’s interior border

The air feels different. Mornings begin as misty, impressionist paintings with a layer of fog over the neighboring cornfield, and the sun seems to be in no hurry to make an appearance. But slowly, it emerges bringing intense heat and turning the dew into humidity that soaks T-shirts and hat bands. Oh wait, that’s me doing the soaking. Yes, it’s hot. The plants feel it, too, that change in the air. The sunflowers that were so exuberant early in the month are hanging their petal-less heads, too weary to follow the sun any longer. Many leaves that were pristine green are now flecked with brown spots. Today, I’ll pull out the nippers and cut the sunflowers, laying them against a bare spot on the back berry fence, where the goldfinches can still find and enjoy their seeds. If it’s not adding to the beauty, it’s adding to the ugly, so out it comes. That will also give the peppers and roses more breathing room, and in this heat, even the plants appreciate some social distancing.

The sweet peas have been a fragrant delight!

Having never been successful before growing sweet peas, I was under the impression that like garden peas, they were a cool weather crop, so their continued blooms perfuming and decorating the potager during this heat have been a surprise. I expected them to be done mid-June, but they are still flowering. However, they are feeling the change in the air as well, evidenced by shorter stems and a stronger sense to procreate. I’ve found that a daily inspection is required because seed pods appear overnight. I’d like to keep them going a while longer before I allow some to set and ripen seed, so I’m snipping off faded flowers for a couple more weeks.

Butternut climbing an old ladder.

Before the cauliflower that was in this bed was harvested, one plant in the center was pulled and a baby butternut squash plant was inserted. By the time the rest of the cauliflower had all come out, the squash was getting larger and beginning to sprawl. Fortunately, an old ladder from the pole barn volunteered to serve, and the squash is merrily climbing twine to the top. Now I can plant lettuces around the edges. Notice the black web flat leaning against one of the triangle beds? The violas that were there finally succumbed to the heat, so they were removed and “Petra” purple basil plants and “Spicy Globe” basil took their places. Basil doesn’t mind the heat as long as it gets plenty of water, and now that the Japanese beetle population has dwindled (if I had a penny for every beetle I’ve drowned, I could play the market…or buy LOTS of seeds!) they should settle in happily. Since the basils were in a crowded flat on the “waiting bench” the web flat will provide a little protection from full sun and wind for a few days, until they adjust.

Browning lawns…even the grass is tired.

The daylilies’ demise always marks the beginning of the end to me. The gardens that were so brilliant in spring, so cheerful in early summer, are now more somber and softer. The perennials that provided an ever-changing picture are nearly all finished, and it’s up to the annuals to continue to provide any color. You may recall that last year, I purchased some “late” daylilies from a grower who lives here in Indiana, but further north, asking for her last daylilies to bloom in an attempt to lenghten my daylily season. Duh! Where was my brain? I should have found a grower south of me instead. My new daylilies are all blooming with my “old” last daylilies, of course, since her gardens are a week or two later than mine. Oh well, I like them even though they aren’t lengthening my season at all. Live and learn.

The Front Garden, late July

The Front Garden looks a bit weary, too, now that most of the coneflowers, daylilies and rudbeckia are finished. It’s a bit greener, because it gets watered more often than the other gardens, but my plan to get soaker hoses installed went awry with lots of other plans with isolation, and the result is that now I will have to attempt to remove the rust build-up on the windows and brick, or learn to live with it (doubtful…) A couple of the mums have returned from last fall’s plantings, but they are small. I’m not feeling an urge to venture out shopping for fall color. I think I’ll just live with what I’ve got, and maybe even plant out more of the annuals still on the “waiting bench.” Or, maybe stick in a squash plant or two, or some purple cabbages? Why not? No one will see it, but me….and maybe YOU!

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Lettuce Save Seed!

The pretty, but tiny flowers of lettuce.

I’ve been reading so many posts about saving seeds, and so many of them have mis-information that must be confusing to new gardeners especially. Admittedly, I don’t save many seeds now, but back in my homesteading days I did. It was much easier because I could put different crops in different fields, with little worry about cross-pollination of related plants. Now that there is only my little potager, the options are fewer and a bit more difficult. One crop I choose to save each year is the “Red Deer Tongue Lettuce,” given to me by a customer during my Farm Market Days (so we’re talking over 30 years ago.) That’s it in the photo above. Even the seed pods are a dark, dark purple. It’s a fast-growing, reliable lettuce and I love the color contrast it provides in the decorative early spring beds of the potager, and also in early salads as well.

In order to keep the seed “true” I must be sure that NO other lettuce is flowering at the same time as the “Red Deer Tongue. ” If other varieties begin to bolt, they are harvested immediately (before they flower!) so there can be no cross-pollination by the bees or other pollinators.

If you look carefully at the photo, between the lowest two flowers down an inch or so, you will see a tiny white “puff” like a miniature dandelion flower ready to be wished upon. Once you spot that one, you will likely see others. Those seed pods are ready to be harvested. I pick a dry, sunny day and simply pinch the pod off and drop it in an envelope, rubbing the pod a bit between my fingers as I go to open them so the seeds can spread apart in the envelope. That’s it! Of course, a label stating the variety and year harvested is essential.

I don’t need all the seed produced, so I pick some off and sprinkle them here and there in the potager’s interior border, or sometimes I package some in small coin envelopes over the winter for our garden club seed exchange. And since lettuce seed is a favorite food of the goldfinches, I let them help themselves, too.

As soon as the “Red Deer Tongue” is safely harvested, the bolted plants can be pulled, or left for the birds and the “Black Seeded Simpson” can be allowed to flower, so the same procedure can be followed again.

Because I grow so many varieties of vegetables, I don’t even try to save seed for anything else. The timing to prevent cross-pollination would make my eyes cross. I don’t have the 1,000 yards between types of peppers, squash, or tomatoes, etc. to prevent it (and that sometimes isn’t enough!) from happening. Luckily, I have no neighbors who garden much because insects will travel from yard to yard. In a more crowded environment, like apartments or suburbs, even if one grew only 1 type of tomato, the possibility that a neighbor is growing a different type is very likely. And because I’m trying to produce as much as possible, removing flowers to prevent cross-pollination would also reduce harvests. .

I am making a few changes in the way I garden. I’ve been through the “Golly, I want to grow everything!” stage. I’m moving toward fewer varieties of some things, choosing the ones that produce most and grow best in my location. Next year, I’m only growing “Green Arrow” peas as a spring/summer crop, so I can save seed from those, and only “Wando” peas as an autumn crop, so that will work, too. Only “French Breakfast” radishes will be planted, so those seeds can be saved, too, and they are both easily done.

But, I love growing squashes (both winter & summer), little pumpkins, many kinds of melons, and cucumbers and those all flower at the same time and can cross so there’s no chance of saving those seeds and getting the crop I want. Same with peppers and tomatoes, because I like different kinds for different uses. My space and effort is too precious for me to plant seeds only to get a lot of “mystery” squash that may or may not taste good or store well, or baskets of peppers that are too hot for me to use as I want. Some crops like carrots, beets, and chard must stay in the ground for two growing seasons to produce a crop of seeds and that messes with my crop rotation plan.

All in all, I’ll happily pay the professional seed companies to do it for me in most cases. I think in the long run, (because if properly stored a packet of seed can provide a crop for two, three, or sometimes even four years at the rate I plant…think eggplant, for instance, or the fact that I only plant 4-6 of each type of tomato, squash, or pepper, etc.) purchasing quality seeds actually saves money!

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Shade jobs

The Lavandins are in full bloom!

It’s hot! Even for me, so I’ve resorted to looking for jobs that can be done in the shade in mid-afternoon. The lavandins are blooming, and there was a sack of leftover ribbon from wand-making classes we used to hold on Lavender Days at my herb farm. So, armed with scissors and a stool, I ventured onto the “more than warm” stones of the Lavender Slope to do some harvesting.

Lavandins are a cross, L. x intermedia. The most widely-known one is probably “Grosso.” They have much longer stems than L. angustifolia (generally known as English lavender) and bloom slightly later. Their chemical make-up is also different, not as sweet or soothing, but still a very pleasant “lavender” scent over-all. My favorite for making really big, long wands was “Super,” but unfortunately I didn’t have any plants to bring home when we wold the farm. But, I do have “Abrialli” and “Grosso” so there was plenty of material to work with. Taking my small harvest to the shade of the Lady Cottage, I began folding stems and weaving the first wand. It took a while to remember how to do it, after all it’s been five years. The second one went a little faster, but I was already getting a bit fidgety. Sitting still is not one of my talents. To make it more challenging and interesting, I used two colors of ribbon on wand #3, and it also helped use up short lengths of ribbon so I could toss some empty bolts.

Four wands…my output for the 2020 season!

By wand #4, I’d decided that my need for a shade job was not THAT crucial. I was definitely recalling why I let my two more talented employees make all the wands we sold at the shop and on-line. They loved doing it; I didn’t. I called them and invited them to come pick all they wanted, along with the ribbon bag. One came yet that afternoon and sheared several plants! I retreated to the shade of the Cottage…and braided onions! Not as lovely a fragrance by any measure, but also not nearly as demanding in terms of concentration or patience, and a much speedier reward.

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Six on Saturday: July 18, 2020

How can it be Saturday again…already? It’s been another hot, humid, sometimes windy week. The daylilies are coming and going at rapid rate, the crops that like hot weather are coming along as long as they get water, and I’m beginning to search for any job that includes shade! Here’s my SOS, with some heat-lovers and maybe they will seem a bit unrelated, but they are yet another of my “firsts” traditions.

The first cucumbers of the year!
  1. The top variety is “Parisian,” first chosen because it was appropriate for a French potager, but continually grown because it is prolific, mild and tender. It’s an heirloom, so not spineless, but a quick rub with a towel removes the spines. “Parisian” is picked often at pinkie-finger size to make traditional French cornichons. The lower one is a pickler, “Calypso” which I grow for making sweet pickles. I’ve tried many other picklers, but “Calypso” wins over and over again, and it grows a smaller vine which fits my pea fencing perfectly.
The first of the tomatoes!

2. These are “Juliet,” a red grape-type tomato that produces like gangbusters on 6′ tall plants. The orange cherry-type are “Sun Sugar,” which were the first to ripen. There will be full-size tomatoes this coming week!

Pepper in a new color!

3. “Green Apple” Pepper is a newcomer to the potager, but it will be on the list again. I love the color, and the light, fruity flavor. It’s a full-sized “bell” pepper, and looks like it will be a good producer judging from the number of flowers and fruit set on young plants.

A basket of parsley!

4. It’s times like this that I wished I’d planted flat-leaf parsley instead of “Triple Curled” but I’m a sucker for that frilly, dark green in the potager and as a garnish. And yes, it takes an entire basket.

Scallions…well, almost…

5. Leftover “Candy” onion plants that never got planted and were still in a four-pack made a fine substitution. I just used the green leaves and the necks.

A handful of spearmint.

6. The spearmint has spread through the drainage hole in it’s pot on one side of the Lady Cottage and has filled the entire area under the bench on the other side of the door! Definitely time to harvest some (and to make some juleps…somehow I missed Derby Day!) Can you guess what I made? Bonus photo!

Tabouli! Always a must as soon as the first cucumbers and tomatoes come to the kitchen!

That’s my Six on Saturday! To find out what other gardeners are doing, growing, and making just visit The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

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