A Lackluster Spring

(To those who follow my blog,  I apologize for being away for so long. Late summer, fall and winter was a time of some health issues that took my focus from writing. But I’m thankful for those who still view the site (100 or more views a day) and I’m back!)

This has been a terrible year for spring flowers.

In December we had temperatures in the 70’s and this caused the lilacs to start to bud. But the cold of January brought an end to the budding and the lilacs this year are a bust.

March was a warm month and all of the shrubs and bulbs started to grow. It looked like it was going to be a great season of early blooms but then came April with nighttime temperatures in the lower 20’s. Anything that had started to blossom was damaged and only the toughest of the daffodils survived the cold. The magnolia bush had started to bloom but the cold destroyed them.

peonyThe plant that I find the most interesting throughout this weird weather is the tree peony. By late March the plant was filled with leaves and buds. When the freezing nights of April came, I thought the plant would never recover but it did. A few of the buds opened but all of the rest of them just stayed there in a state of suspended animation.

It’s now the middle of May and the peony is green, bushy and heathy and still covered with buds that have yet to open. Recently I pulled a few of the buds off and cut them in half to see what was going on.

IMG_2222When cut open, I could see the stamens (male reproductive organs) and the pistil (female reproductive organ) of the peony but instead of being firm and health, they were soft and damaged. It’s clear that the cold weather injured these parts of the flower. Since the development of the flower depends on plant growth regulators that are produced by these organs, their impairment meant that flowering wasn’t going to happen. A few buds escaped the damage but most weren’t so lucky.

Yes, this spring was a bust. The weird weather caused all sorts of chaos for the flowering shrubs and bulbs. Flowers are one of the most fragile parts of a plant and this year was too much for them. The good news is that the plants are all fine and will live on to reproduce again another year. I have hope of seeing lilacs, magnolia, tree peonies and spring bulbs all flowering again – next year.

My Little Lettuce Chuppah

I’ve always grown lettuce but for me, it’s been a spring crop. I never tried growing it in the summer or attempted to keep a constant supply of lettuce coming from the garden.

But this year, I decided to try a serious lettuce growing program.

To start, I knew that I needed a mixture of seeds, some that are better in the spring, others for the summer and still others for the fall. On my own, it would have taken a lot of time and effort to search through all of the lettuce varieties and determine which ones to grow. Fortunately, Johnny’s Seeds has developed a head lettuce planting program that lists the best varieties for each season.

I also knew that I needed a location to grow the lettuce that would be easy to control, water and monitor. So I made a 4’x4′ raised bed and divided it into 9 squares. That’s a little larger than the square foot gardening technique, but I liked that it would give the plants a little more room to grow.

IMG_9811I also wanted to provide some shade to the plants. Since I had already put stakes at each corner and wrapped the bed with chicken wire, I had the framework to attach some cloth to the top of the bed. I stretched wire to each diagonal post to make an “X” across the top of the bed. Then I put a piece of floating row cover over the top and attached it to the posts. The end result looked like a little chuppah (!), but it would give the plants some shade while still allowing me to access the bed for watering, weeding and harvesting.

I chose four different kinds of lettuce from Johnny’s program for the summer growing season. I figured that two summer crisps (Muir and Cherokee), a butterhead (Adriana) and a romaine (Costal Star) would give me a good mixture of plants to see which grew the best in the lettuce chuppah. Since lettuce can have thermal dormancy (seeds don’t germinate at high temperatures), I didn’t direct seed the lettuce; instead, I started seeds inside in Jiffy-7s.

Lettuce Bed with Knife Ready for Harvesting!

Lettuce Bed with Knife Ready for Harvesting!

I’ve been starting seeds every 2 weeks and planting four plants to a square in the raised bed. So far, it’s working well. This has been a wet and somewhat cool summer so the plants haven’t been stressed by heat or drought. I’ve started to harvest some of the first plantings and the lettuce is good.

Will this success continue? Time will tell. Warmer days are ahead and we’ll see if the plants bolt or turning bitter. Also, in August I’ll stop starting seeds of the summer varieties and switch to a couple fall varieties of lettuce.

If this experiment continues to work, that little 4’x4′ bed with its chuppah covering might just be the way to keep a steady supply of lettuce coming in from the garden. I could start in the spring and keep planting through early fall using the nine squares to grow lettuce all season long.

Flowers from the Mid-July Garden

‘Tis the season for a lot of the flower garden to be in full bloom.

Some of the best blooms are on the daylilies. This year, with lots of moisture and not too hot temperatures, has led to one of the best daylily displays in a long time.

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Another plant that’s looking especially good this year is the rudbeckia or black eyed susan. This little patch of flowers has been self-seeding for over a decade and they’re back again this year.

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And here are some of the other flowers that caught my eye:

Marigold

Marigold

Hibiscus (Rose of Sharon)

Hibiscus (Rose of Sharon)

Dahlia (Grown from Seed)

Dahlia (Grown from Seed)

Agastache

Agastache

Cosmos

Cosmos

 

Want Bees? Grow Lavender!

Everyone understands the importance of having pollinators in the garden. If you’re growing fruit trees, squash, cucumbers and other crops, you need insects to pollinate the flowers so that the fruit can set.

lav1I’ve never been very intentional about attracting pollinators to the garden. They always just seem to be there. But I’ve always noticed what plants seem to attract these insects. One of the best plants for bringing bees the to garden seems to be lavender.

This easy to grow perennial is a bee magnet. When the lavender is blooming, one plant can easily be swarming with over a dozen bees. The lavender plant that’s in bloom right now is especially attractive to bumblebees. While a nearby russian sage has honey bees flying around its blooms, the lavender has nothing but bumblebees visiting its flowers.

Lone Bee the Found the Borage!

Lone Bee the Found the Borage!

I also have a volunteer borage plant growing near the lavender. Borage is supposed to be a great plant for attracting bees but when there’s lavender nearby, the bees ignore the borage and head straight to the lavender!

Growing lavender is easy. While starting it from seed can be a challenge due to slow and sporadic germination, if you start with a small plant from a nursery, it’s hard to go wrong. Lavender likes full sun but doesn’t need a lot of fertilizer. It’s ignored by rabbits (yeah!) and the only thing it can’t tolerate is heavy, wet soil. If you want more plants, you can take cuttings and root them easily. And when the plant starts to bloom, you can cut some of the flowers and dry them for potpuorri or to use as dried flowers.

lav5After seeing how well the lavender has grown and how the rabbits leave it alone, I’ve planted a small bed of lavender near the front door. The location is warm and sunny and the plants should make an easy to maintain “hedge” that will draw in the bees.

I’m also thinking about taking some cuttings, rooting them and planting them in the vegetable garden. It certainly can’t hurt to have a few more bees working in the garden.

So if you want bees, try some lavender – it’s sure to bring them into your yard.

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Multigreen Lettuce – A Name I’ll Remember

I’ve been growing lettuce for decades and I’ve tried more varieties of this vegetable than I can even remember. I’ve grown all kinds of lettuce: butterhead, summer crisp, leaf, romaine, and head. They’ve all been fine and have grown well, but none of the varieties was so amazing that I remembered its name.

Multigreen Lettuce

Multigreen Lettuce

That is until I grew Multigreen lettuce.

I don’t even know why I decided to purchase this lettuce from Jung’s Seeds, but I’m glad I did. Multigreen is a type of lettuce similar to the Salanova® varieties sold from Johnny’s Seeds and the Tanimura & Antle artisan lettuce that you find in four-packs at the grocery store. Here’s how the Jung website describes it: Harvest uniform leaves every time. Not a leaf lettuce, not a head lettuce, but a unique type that develops uniform, finely serrated leaves of shiny dark green with crisp  texture and mild, sweet flavor. One snap at the base of the plant yields identical leaves that have an excellent shelf life.

Multigreen Lettuce Cut in Half

Multigreen Lettuce Cut in Half

In the garden, Multigreen looks a lot like frisee endive. I’ve been harvesting them while they’re still young but if you let them mature, the plants will be much more rounded. But the truly surprising part is how uniform the leaves are and how easily they can be removed from the core. You can pull a number of leaves off the side of a harvested plant or cut out the core and have a large pile of perfect lettuce. I also like how the leaves are dark green at the tip and then become more blanched until they’re almost white at the core. In addition, they’re very easy to clean.

Multigreen Lettuce Leaves

Multigreen Lettuce Leaves

This kind of lettuce isn’t readily available for the home gardener. It appears to be marketed more to commercial growers for use in salad mixes. Given the ease of harvest and the yield from each plant, I can understand why it would be appealing to growers.

But having found Multigreen, I want to try some of the other similar kinds of lettuce. Johnny’s offers Salanova® Foundation varieties in green and red (similar to Multigreen) as well as Salanova® Premier, a lettuce like Multigreen but with more rounded leaves in green and red.

I’ll keep trying different lettuces but for now, Multigreen and Salanova® are two varieties whose names I’ll remember. Multigreen has certainly earned a spot in the garden rotation and I think Salanova® will as well.

Photo Odds and Ends

I spent a little time yesterday taking a few pictures. Here are the stories behind them.

Achimene

Achimene

I’ve written a number of posts about achimenes. This year I had so many rhizomes that I tried planting some of them outside in a shady area. I have to say that I’m shocked at how healthy the plants look. They aren’t blooming yet but they’re the fullest, greenest and best-looking achimenes I’ve ever grown!

Outdoor Achimene

Outdoor Achimene

This year I had to cut down one of the asian pears because the rabbits had girdled it a few years ago and the tree finally died. I didn’t expect the other tree to have any fruit since asian pears aren’t supposed to be self-pollinating. Well, this picture shows that something pollinated it!IMG_9591

I’ve never had much of a problem with potato beetles. I know some gardens are decimated by them, but I had to hunt to find one to photograph. They’re kind of cool looking beetles. (Obviously my opinion will change if I get an infestation!)

Potato Beetle

Potato Beetle

Potato Beetle

Potato Beetle

The final pictures show some of the flowers in the garden.

Zinnia

Zinnia

Zinnia

Zinnia

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Hibiscus Close Up

Hibiscus Close Up

Vegetable Garden – Off and Running

After a lot of fits and starts, the vegetable garden finally seems to be hitting its stride. Thanks to the warm weather and a lot of rain, everything is growing well. There doesn’t appear to be any major insect damage or disease, so for the time being, all is well. This week, besides lettuce, I should be harvesting some peas and summer squash.

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Broccoli

Broccoli

Potatoes

Potatoes

Summer Squash

Summer Squash

Peas

Peas

Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Peppers

Peppers

Collards, Kale and Lettuce

Collards, Kale and Lettuce