Category Archives: Annuals

Unfulfilled Promises

If you ever have bought a flower or tried to start one from seed you know they are a fragile lot. Flaky, persnickety, obstinate or maybe just they like to mock us supposedly “superior” beings. Above you see the best of the process when I was operating my own greenhouse business called The Potter’s Dream. But unseen is the thousands, yes I typed that correctly, thousands of failed plants.

This post is under construction almost ten full seasons past my greenhouse time. My failed experiments are far fewer, but just as frustrating. As I was out taking my miniature Sheltie for a walk this week I thought about this post and collecting the photographs to support it. When you establish the theme or parameters it is amazing how quickly potential photos come to mind.

017

This is a geranium in distress. I am not knowledgeable enough to tell you exactly what the issue is. I just will try to fertilize and overcome the yellowing. If all else fails I will lift this sickly plant and replace it with another.

018

In my time as a greenhouse owner I sold thousands of wave petunias. They are so hardy and easy to grow it is a challenge to kill one, but this little guy defied the odds. Again this is one that will be lifted and replaced.

013

It is a little difficult to make out this photo, but you should see a full stand of lettuce. All I can figure is our lettuce seed is bad. This is the second year I have not been able to achieve sufficient germination of lettuce. We even tried it in the raised bed this time.

049

After a few years of unfulfilling experiences with tulips and daffodils bought at the big box stores we ordered some bulbs from an actual bulb seller through Amazon. Our daffodils came up early due to the warm winter and were gorgeous ahead of time. Our tulips came up on schedule and all bloomed beautifully except for the one picture which was broken when I accidentally stepped on it when trying to mulch around the bed.

084

085

027

These are the old tulips and daffodils that produce greenery only. It is disappointing after a long winter with no color to see this greenery emerge, but never achieve any kind of blooming. I have consulted with another experienced grower and have a plant o try to rectify the non-blooming habits.

014

015

These two photos should be flats full of tomato seedlings. I will tell you that in the days since I took the top phot I have seen about a dozen seedlings emerge. Being April 17 however, they are seriously delayed. I wanted them to be the size they are now at least a month ago!

019

This photo shows a failed cucumber seedling attempt. Actually about five days earlier this [pot was full of about two dozen nice looking seedlings. Then the weather changed and we decided to not take chances, but move the most tender of plants inside for three days. The cucumbers did not adapt well and now we have only three or four living seedlings. Thankfully it does not take long to germinate cucumbers, so I will try again soon.

That is my unfulfilled promise candidates for now. I am sure more will find their way to my lens soon!

 

End of Month View – March 2017

 

Some months ago I found this monthly invitational hosted by The Patient Gardener and it is a monthly chance to show off your garden. Unfortunately my garden is only worthy of show for about 6-7 months each year. Happily this is the beginning of that stretch, so I have pictures to share. YAY!!!! You do not know how much my mood lifts when I begin to see flowers blooming.

When I last posted we had just finished a new bulb bed flanking our 12 x 16 greenhouse. Due to the warmer than usual weather this “winter” (I am bracketing it in quotes because I cannot in good conscience call what we experienced a full-fledged winter), our Daffodils made an unexpected show of blooms in late February.

001

004

In this same planting we included some new tulip bulbs that are holding close to their expected bloom time in April. I am not sure if they will still have color by the end of April to include with the April EOMV, but I may just include a photo so you can see our success.

Things are hopping in the greenhouse now. We have geraniums in our window boxes, having purchased them so we can “push” them toward an early May deployment just in time for our son’s graduation/22nd birthday celebration. The weather may not be amenable to leaving them out full time on May 7th, but we at least hope to have them in place on that day. Trust me, the combination of greenhouse and the feeding regimen we have honed over 15 years will make the final product in May look amazing.

036

It is veggie seeding time as well. We have tomatoes seeded as well as cukes and zucchini. These are ear-marked for a new raised bed yet to be built, but guaranteed to provide critter proof growing conditions. Unless the maddening creatures have been doing pole vault training in Salt Lake City, Utah that is!

Another new addition to our gardening facilities is a 32 foot raised bed to try to allow us to grow bush beans. At one time we were able to enjoy enough beans to can 150 quarts for use throughout the year. Of course at that time we had a beagle mix named Louie who feasted on groundhogs and rabbits. Lately the only creatures getting fat on our beans have been the rodents. This year we hope to end that trend.

022

Up front we have creeping phlox blooming, although only one color.

005

Due to some sagging on our deck we are having to do some repair construction, so the long standing rails that support two Clematis have been removed. While it will not hurt the Clematis, the tendrils will likely seek something on the ground to attach to and may be a pain to re-train after we are done.

007

Two others already trained on trellises are also beginning to emerge from dormancy. Hopefully in 5-6 weeks they will share their gorgeous blooms.

Lastly I went out to cut off all the spent daffodils in our new bulb garden to find several tulips beginning to show color. I hadn’t noticed them due to the large number of taller daffodils that were shielding them for view. I look forward to the multiple colors of these spring beauties set to peak just around Easter.

010

If you want to check out more End of Moth View posts click here: EOMV

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Can I Start Vegetables for My Garden?

 

GH2006

As you can see in the bottom right hand corner of the photo this was of my greenhouse operation that I called Potter’s Dream Greenhouses in May of 2006. By this time 11 years ago, meaning May 9th, I had seeded a few thousand vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, melons and more. You learn very quickly if you want to succeed in the greenhouse business you have to provide the right plant in the desired state of development in the proper time frame.

100_0314

100_0315

If you are seeding vegetables for your own enjoyment your schedule can be a little more loose. I have seeded tomatoes in the end of February or maybe a couple of weeks later during my greenhouse career, because I wanted bigger plants by the time the early birds came looking in mid-April when 70 degree days were the norm in the mountains of Virginia. Of course that did not mean we would not get frost up and through mid-May. In fact, during my first growing season in 2002 a late frost actually benefitted me as most of the known growers were sold out of plants following a third week of May freeze killed a lot of previously purchased plants.

This year we waited until the third week of March to seed our tomatoes. Part of this was just not getting to the task due to some other projects, such as cleaning out the greenhouse for the first time in way to long. So you can see the fruits of our efforts I will share some pics.

011

012

013

We decided to plant our tomatoes differently this year. Rather than seed then transplant into single cell trays we are just going to grow them all in one mass plant and separate to bigger containers when the time is right. Here you can see the trays we utilized in planting.

010

Yes, that is a tree branch in the middle of the left tray, which is actually separating the types of seeds. We chose three varieties originally, Roma, Beefsteak and an heirloom variety called Red-X. Since then I rounded up three more, Better Boy, Celebrity and a Yellow & Red Stripe shared with my father by a friend. I tried something different with these three varieties, adding about a dozen seeds to the bottom of a disposable plastic cup and then adding an ounce or two of water to see if I could accelerate the sprouting process. I will let you know if this works.

We also seeded cucumbers and zucchini on the same day. Tell me what you think about my high tech labeling system.

009

The main thing to consider when trying to nail down the date for starting vegetables is to know a few of things:

  1. What is the average germination time of my seeds?
  2. Can I provide a sheltered environment so they have the best germinating situation?
  3. Once germinated how long until I can transplant?
  4. How long from transplant until I can plant outside (i.e. when is the frost/freeze danger over)?

Seeding your own plants can be fun as well as rewarding, you just have to understand all the components to successful seeding. Good luck as you take on this task!

 

 

End of Month View – Oct 2016

Some months ago I found this monthly invitational hosted by The Patient Gardener and it is a monthly chance to show off your garden. Unfortunately my garden is only worthy of show for about 6-7 months each year. The last time I coordinated my blogging activites to coincide and shoot off an entry was at the end of May, so I missed much of the peak flowering I enjoyed this season. But I do have some last gasps going on that I wanted to share with you on this last day of October, when the witches, ghouls and goblins stir about.

Our window boxes are something that get a lot of work in our garden plan. When I posted my EoMV for May they held Geraniums, Wave Petunias and some vining plants. Now they are hosting the peak of our Fall Mum display.

I also shared photos of my Dahlia patch and new raised bed for tomatoes. Living near the Appalachian Mountains we have already had a couple of frosty mornings and the first big one took out both the flowers and the still living and producing tomato vines.

008

 

Near my wife’s hair salon we have a retaining wall that in May had some Pansies and Gerber Daisies thriving. As you know, neither of these respond well as the heat rises and this summer we set a local record for consecutive 90 degree days. We stuck some wave petunias in during this time, but now the Gerber Daisies have come back to prominence as they respond to our cooler days and nights.

In the same area we have three fall mums that are planted in pots to add more fall color to the area. By the time I took these pictures all of them were near or just past the peak of their color. Before too long there won’t be so much of a color variety here.

There is a new addition to our landscape plan, a mass planting of spring bulbs. We had discussed this for a while and finally decided to take the plunge. We chose a spot to the right of our 12 x 16 greenhouse that is in full view from the driveway of the hair salon. We ordered 100 tulips and 50 daffodils from Amazon, took the Kubota and tiller and went to work.

I was going to start this paragraph by saying one of my favorite plants has reached the end of its months long bloom cycle, but I am not sure I can limit myself to one or two favorites. Regardless the Blackberry Lily is now showing part of the reason for its name. After the blooms fade there is a seed pod that develops and eventually the pod opens to reveal what you see in the picture, a cluster of blackberry looking seeds. I took a handful of these this spring and dug into the composted mulch below my three plants from 2015 and tried to grow more. As you can see in the picture this was a rousing success. Now I need to separate these and find other places to plant.

In preparation for next year I have collected three dump trailers of wood chips to use as mulch. You cannot beat free and to top that I am giving my neighbor who has a lawn service another alternative location to drop off the chips and save a trip to the landfill and potential fees for disposal. I will let this “cook” through the winter and turn it once or twice with my Kubota to make sure most of the weed seeds are killed.

011.jpg

I love Clematis plants as well and I’ll bet there is not that many of you that have been able to enjoy your second bloom of Clematis on November 1st. This year I can as one of my Clematis still sports a few blooms. This guy is over ten years old and seems to be quite hardy.

010.jpg

This last picture shows where the garden was for this year. I am finally pretty much in agreement that we need to only try raised beds from now on. We just cannot get ahead of the varmints that want to feast on our plants and all the fences and devices in our arsenal just do not get the job done.

007.jpg

 

 

End of Month View – May 2016

This is part of a monthly opportunity to take photos reflecting the progress of your gardening adventures over the past thirty or thirty-one days depending on the length of the month. Depending on your climate this may be quite a bit of growth or none at all. For me it is at the cusp of summer and a lot of growth is happening. So sit back, relax and let me show you what we are enjoying these days. Oh and this is hosted by Helen Johnstone at The Patient Gardener.

In my climate zone the middle of May is the time we can finally put our annuals outside without fear of frost damage. I had to hold off an extra few days this time around as May 10th is usually the bench mark, but we had frost early on the morning of the 13th, meaning it was the 17th before I finally felt free to move things outdoors.

036

Above you see another window box outside the window of my wife’s hair salon on an eastern facing window where the Gerbers will not have to endure full sun conditions. There is also some trailing Verbena to help fill out the box.

 

014

Here is two large clumps of Wild Geranium and a smaller one of a different variety on the back side of the pansies that line the retaining wall outside the hair salon. Although you cannot see it, their are seed pods developing now.

013

This is a new type of Dianthus (perennial variety) we added this year. It is just beginning to bloom.

012

Our Dahlias are slow to emerge, but are beginning to show themselves. We love to cut these and make fresh arrangements throughout the late summer blooming period.

011

This is our first time trying a raised bed for anything. After having such terrible fortune with tomatoes succumbing to blight we wanted to give this a shot.

rue, but due to the nature of the trip, flying 1,300 miles to Be 009

The sporadic moisture throughout April and May have caused everything to grow sluggishly. We finally replanted beans after waiting as long as we felt we could for the first seeds to sprout.

The bed on the left was re-mulched and has many blooms that will come either late in June or early in July. The bed on the right has mainly hostas, with a new butterfly bush in the rear that may take a while to be seen.

rue, but due to the nature of the trip, flying 1,300 miles to Be 006

If you zoom in on this picture you will notice the freshly planted Gerber Daisies. Usually when the heat comes the pansies die back, but we worked really hard to get this new variety of Wave Pansies established and they continue to thrive.

sign pansies

This is another place we worked really hard to get the Wave Pansies established, planting them last fall. Usually by now we have Geraniums in place, but the pansies still are hanging tough.

rue, but due to the nature of the trip, flying 1,300 miles to Be 002

This is a long term project, a flower bed on a steep bank I don’t want to have to struggle to keep mowed. Right now it has Wild Geraniums, Japanese Iris, Gazanias, Cosmos and a few Wave Pansies. I hope by the next EOMV it will show much more color.

Tell me what you think fellow EOMV contributors!

 

We Love Windowboxes

 

One of the ways we like to enjoy our flowers is by inserting them in some large window boxes that are mounted on the west side of our home. We have a brick ranch house, which means the western facing sun heats up the brick during the day and they will radiate heat even after the sun goes down. Usually the boxes do really well as long as you keep them watered regularly.

Usually we have geraniums, wave petunias and another type of trailing flower combined to fill out these larger containers. The issue we run into in most cases is that the plants get rootbound and begin to look tired and less vibrant by the end of July. I want this year to take the plants out during the first weeks of July and cut off much of the root system to try to invigorate the whole window box.

yr2ger.JPG

At first we began with second year geraniums we had pulled out of the window boxes and hung up downstairs in the basement where they could overwinter successfully. To look at these now you would be amazed at how quickly and beautifully they have grown, but in the first weeks they did not seem so robust, causing us to change plans and insert new geraniums we purchased from our favorite local greenhouse.

Normally we will pull these window boxes out after the tenth of May and put them in place, but on May 13 th we had a cold night and frost, which would have severely damaged and possibly killed the plants if exposed. We patiently waited a few more days and finally got our chance on May 17th to get these in place. This was too close for comfort as we were readying for a four child graduation party and this detail was expected to be done long before this date.

027.jpg

But, not to be outdone the second year geraniums had caught up and had their own coming out day.

028.jpg

We also have another window box that is mounted outside the window of my wife’s hair salon. This window box holds Gerber Daisies and trailing Verbena.

036.jpg

The window boxes give us another way to enjoy our plants and are always a highlight of our planting experience.

Can I Make My Own Mulch?

Yes you can!  This time of year is when the kooks come out. You know the ones I mean, the amateur or season gardeners that come out to take advantage of the Spring Black Friday sales at places like Home Depot and Lowes where they run the great deals on the bags of mulch. Something like 4 for $10 or maybe even 5 for $10.

So why do I call these fine bargain hunting folks kooks? It is not their frugal nature that my son despises. It is the customers that come in and want a pallet load of the bagged medium stuffed in their subcompact car. All the young men and women at Home Depot, Lowes and the rest would prefer you get your mulch loaded on the pallet into your truck or on your trailer.

mulch2

We are blessed to have a neighbor with a lawn care business who also does tree work. Five or so years ago he purchased an industrial size chipper and began chipping the brush created from trimming or removing trees.

If you have been here before you know my past includes a stint as a greenhouse owner and the experience of growing annuals and perennials for nearly three decades. This equates to having lots of flower beds. One of the bad things about lots of flower beds is that they are a great place for weeds to grow. Circling back to my neighbor and his chipper, the result of the chipping is a low cost alternative to the Home Depot bagged mulch scenario. My neighbor brings the chips and dumps them on my property as well, so there is no transport cost.

025

As a deterrent to weeds and also to retain moisture for the plants we take the wood chips and use them as mulch. So there is your answer to the question. The chips are a low-cost alternative to mulch. If you aren’t blessed to have a neighbor who can provide your supply  you can contact one of the tree trimming services as they do the very same thing with their brush.

044

This 23 HP Kubota tractor is one of the most versatile tools for our 3+ acre property.

The purchase of a Kubota subcompact tractor four years ago with a front bucket makes the entire process much easier on the back. Within a very few minutes I can move significant quantities of this great mulch source to where I need it. I used to either go to a business that made their own mulch or buy the bags. Then it was a matter of shoveling it out of the truck or hefting the heavy bags.

012

Interestingly the day I drafted this post I was driving and got behind this car with the tell-all bumper sticker.

So I should be through with this post, right? Well, I am if you are not interested in the rest of the story as the great Paul Harvey used to say. There is a side benefit to mulch and the natural process of it breaking down, which is making your own compost. If you came for a highly scientific explanation I am sorry to disappoint you, but my method is more of a case of letting science and nature take its course. I learned early in my gardening experience that organic matter will break down over time. Green will turn to brown as the nitrogen escapes and brown to black with time. Such is the nature of mulch.

How do I make the compost? Well, as I stated before you really can’t, but nature can and will even if you would prefer it did not. You see the decomposition is aided by the elements of nature, sun, wind, rain, snow and human traffic across the mulch in the beds.

We are in the midst of redoing some of our beds where a few years of mulch application has developed into a rich mix of natural almost potting soil. It is like consistency of dirt atop our heavy duty, professional grade landscape fabric left over from my greenhouse business days.

One of the new pivots we have chosen to make this year is to move our tomatoes and perhaps another vegetable or two out of the garden into raised beds. My plan is to repurpose the rich soil we are shoveling out of our beds to fill the raised bed containers. We will need a significant amount of something to fill the raised beds. My thought is to put mulch in the bottom of the raised bed to take care of some of the bulk needed, since it will eventually break down anyway and then put the richer mix on the top where the plants will draw the nutrients.

009

This is not something I have done before, so I cannot declare 100% that it will work, but the science seems sound. However, I can provide an anecdotal piece of evidence however. Last summer I took some seeds from a blackberry lily that were still left from the previous growing season and buried them in a portion of this decomposed mulch. They germinated within a reasonable short period of time..

Frugalness should not be a virtue people turn into derision. We are supposed to become smarter and wiser as we age, and I claim that as what this is. I invite you to come back as I chronicle the success or failure of this idea.