Friday, February 14, 2014

Starting This Year's Flower Seeds

About a third of my flower seeds were sown recently.  I have a lot to learn when I comes to growing ornamental plants so I'm sure this year will involve a lot of trial and error.  Most of the flowers I've chosen so far for our cottage garden are perennials.  However, I'm also growing a few annuals like zinnias, Hungarian bread poppies and lobelias.  (Window boxes filled with cascading lobelias are among my favorite gardening things.)

For the most part, my seeds are germinating very well (in some cases too well). I have an awful tendency to sow my cells way too densely.  This weekend, I will have a fair amount of thinning and pricking to do.  One issue I'm facing is that I don't have nearly enough pots to grow these seedlings on, which is why I'll be spending much of this weekend making newspaper pots.  Another is that I'll be running out of shelf space by this time next month, which is about when I'll be starting the bulk of my vegetable seeds.  As a result, my goal will be to move these plants over to one of my raised beds covered with agribon and greenhouse plastic and pray that we don't get an arctic blast from mid-March to May.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Citrus Tree Update - Mandarin Orange Blooms

Back in December, my satsuma mandarin orange tree bloomed heavily for the first time.  It's had quite the recovery since last winter when, by early spring, the branches were stripped bare of all leaves.  In fact, all of my citrus trees were in pretty rough shape.  I knew I was doing something wrong since they were receiving an adequate amount of light at our old place.  I had kept them in a conservatory that received light throughout most of the day. 

The inside of our current house, on the other hand, receives little to no direct sunlight because of the tall oaks and maples that surround our property.  Admittedly, I wasn't very optimistic about their chances when I brought them inside to overwinter last November.  To my surprise, they have tolerated being indoors fairly well thus far.  Aside from odd leaf that drops, all three trees appear to be healthy, which is surprising considering none of them have received any direct sunlight during the past 2 1/2 months.  Instead, we have two skylights that provide our dining area (where they are) with a fair amount of indirect light. Two of my trees also have persistent scale issues, but nothing too major.  At the moment, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that by the time spring roles around, they will still have most of their leaves. 

About the flowers themselves, I have to say that they are fairly typical of citrus blossoms in appearance.  However, the fragrance is unbelievable and much stronger than that of my meyer lemon tree.  For three solid weeks, we were treated to the heady jasmine-like perfume of these flowers.  The scent is so amazing that it would be well worth it to grow these trees for the flowers alone.

 While about 90% of the young fruit dropped shortly after the petals did (which is absolutely normal for citrus trees), a few have hung on and are getting larger everyday.  I figure I have about eight viable fruit at this point.  Even if I only got one ripe orange this year, this would make me very happy.  It would be a nice change from the ripe yet sour mandarinquats and meyer lemons I've grown thus far.

And here is a picture of my very healthy looking mandarinquat tree, which is looking more like a bush these days.  It has several fruits on it as well.  Recently, I've started giving both trees a very diluted liquid feeding every other week or so.  I'm hoping this subtle feed will aid in fruit growth, but not so much that it stresses the tree.  I've deduced that over-fertilization was my major problem last year.  Going forward, I don't plan on feeding my trees at all beyond mid-summer.

My meyer lemon tree is also doing pretty well, but unfortunately, I didn't get any viable fruit from the mass of blooms produced last fall.  I'm expecting it to bloom again this spring so I still have hope that we'll get a few ripe lemons by the year's end. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Turn on the Lights - Starting Artichoke Plants from Seed

This past weekend, I assembled my seed starting shelves in our heated barn/garage.  It's been almost two years since these lights were last turned on.  It have to admit, it seemed somewhat of a milestone - a reminder that we have now settled in our long-term home.  The space can use some sprucing up, but all in all, I'm happy with it.  The heat fan on the upper left-hand corner of this photo keeps the room at a consistent 60 degree F (balmy by New England standards) and the air circulating (an absolute necessity when starting seeds indoors).  There is also a sink on the opposite side of the room, which makes watering and cleaning rather convenient. 

The barn has to be my favorite space on our property.  On the second floor is a fully renovated loft space with a vaulted ceiling, wide pine floors, nice bathroom, kitchenette and gas fireplace/stove.  Our guests seem to love it, and to be honest, I wish we could spend more time there.  I'll have to post some pictures soon. 

Like in years past, my artichokes are the first plants to make it to the shelves.  I have nine this year, which is probably more than I need.  I'd like to exercise some restraint and let a few buds mature into flowers this year, which can make for a rather dramatic sight in the vegetable garden.

Artichoke seeds can be rather temperamental to germinate.  I like to soak them in water overnight and then sprout them in between damp sheets of paper towel within a ziplock bag.  I've always had great results starting them this way and germination this time around was about 90%. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Flowers for Our Future Cottage Garden

I've been gardening now for at least five years and up until this point, it's been mainly vegetables, fruits and other edibles plants.  Lately, however, I've been finding myself preoccupied with the other end of the gardening spectrum - mainly flowers and other ornamentals.  I'm a huge fan of British gardening expert, Carol Klein, and loved her BBC series, Life in a Cottage Garden.  When we moved into our new home, I knew I that wanted to design and plant a cottage garden of my own. 

During the past several months, I've been thinking about what sort of flowers I'd want to grow in my cottage garden.  Not surprisingly I'm opting for mostly perennials of varying shades, colors, scent, textures, heights and growing requirements.  I'd also like to throw in a few vegetable plants within my ornamental beds for, shall we say, some added 'whimsy'.  In any case, here a list of flowering plants (mostly perennials) that I'll be starting from seed this spring. 

Agastache - Sunset Hyssop
Allium - Nodding Onion
Aubrieta - Whitewell Gem
Catmint - Blue Heaven
Coreopsis - Double Sunburst
Columbine - McKana Giants
Cottage Pinks - Rainbow Loveliness
Chrysanthemum - Robinson Red
Creeping Thyme
Delphinium - Pacific Giant
Echinacea - Purple Coneflower
Forget-Me-Not - Victoria Blue(short-lived perennial)
Grass - Northern Sea Oats
Jupiter's beard - Centurion Shield
Lakspur (annual)
Lavender - English
Lavender - French Perfume
Lobelia  - Cascade of Color (annual)
Lupine - Russell Blend
Nicotiana - Indian Peace Pipe
Penstemon - Rocky Mountain Blue
Poppy - Hungarian Blue (annual)
Poppy - Oriental Blend
Poppy- Oriental Red
Rudbeckia - Autumn Gloriosa Blend
Rudbeckia - Black-Eyed Susan
Scabiosa (Pincushion Flower) - Isaac House Blend
Viola - Johnny-Jump-Up
Zinnia - Lilliput, Mixed Colors (annual)

In addition to these, I'm growing a few other flowers from seed I collected locally or received from friends, including baptisia, bleeding hearts, Shasta daisy and Montauk daisy (from seeds I collected at nearby Minot Beach).  When I visited the gardens at Colonial Williamburg two years ago, I came across the most amazing planting of baptisia that had to have been at least six feet tall and ten feet wide.  It was enough to leave a lasting impression in me. 

While the vegetable gardener in me loves to bask in the sun, embracing ornamental plants will also allow me to focus more attention on the (often neglected) shadier parts of our property - something we seem to have in abundance here.  What I used to look upon as wasted space now conjures up images of a future woodland garden planted with snowdrops, hellebore, bleeding hearts and primrose.

I used to compare vegetable gardeners and flower gardeners to gays and lesbians - we belong to the same community, but at the end of the day, we're attracted to different things.  Now I'm not so sure.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Coming Out of Hiberation - 2014 Seed Starting Schedule

I guess you can say I've been hibernating for the past month.  Aside from assembling my seed orders and putting together my spring sowing schedule, it's been pretty quiet on the gardening front.  Then again, there's not much you can do with a foot of snow on the ground and sub-freezing temperatures.  

Now that February is here, however, things are sure to pick up rather quickly.  Aside from the odd veg or flower, all of my seeds are now in.  I purchased the bulk of my seeds (Renee's Garden and Botanical Interests) from a local gardening center and placed orders with Johnny Selected Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange.  I'm expecting this gardening year to be a rather challenging one for me.  I have many gardening projects planned - including building new vegetable raised beds, cutting down several old neglected trees, planting a dozen fruit trees,  installing new garden paths and patios, and establishing several perennial flower beds.  That being said, I haven't been this excited in a long time.

Here is my tentative vegetable seed-starting schedule for 2014. As you can see, I'm starting most of my seeds indoors.

2014 Spring Seed Starting Schedule
Frost Free Date (50% chance) – May 1st

                                                Indoor Starting            Set Out                        Direct Sow
Artichoke                                1/18                                5/3
Beans                                                                                                                  5/17 or 24
Beans – Fava                                                                                                      3/22
Beans – Runner                      4/26                                5/17                              5/17 or 24
Beets                                                                                                                   4/12, 5/3
Broccoli                                  3/8                                  4/19
Cabbage                                  3/15, 4/5                        4/19, 5/10                                   
Carrots                                                                                                                4/12, 7/26
Cauliflower                             3/15                               4/19
Celery                                      2/22                               4/19
Claytonia                                 7/19                               8/23
Corn                                         4/26                              5/17
Cucumber                                4/26, 5/17                     5/17, 6/7
Fennel                                      3/8                                4/12                               4/12
Kale                                         3/8                                4/19
Leeks                                       3/1                                5/17
Melons                                     4/26                              5/17
Parsnips                                                                                                               4/12
Peas                                                                                                                     3/22
Peppers                                    3/15                              5/17
Scallions                                  2/8                                4/5
Squash                                     4/26, 5/17                     5/17, 6/7
Strawberries                            2/22
Tomatoes                                 3/22 or 29                     5/17
Tomatillos                               3/22 or 29                     5/17

Spring Greens

Lettuce                                    2/15, successive            3/15 (under hoop)
Mizuna                                    2/15, successive            3/15 (under hoop)
Pac Choi – Shanghai               2/15, successive            3/15 (under hoop)
Pac Choi – Win-Win               2/15, successive            3/15 (under hoop)
Spinach                                                                                                              3/22 (under hoop)
Tatsoi                                       2/15, successive           3/15 (under hoop)
Turnips – Hakurei                                                                                              3/22 (under hoop)


Basil                                        3/22                               5/3
Chives                                     2/8                                 4/5
Cilantro                                                                                                              4/12 (pots), successive
Cumin                                     3/29                               5/10 or 17
Dill                                                                                                                     3/22
Fennel                                     3/8                                 4/19                              4/19
Lovage                                    3/8                                 4/12
Oregano                                  3/8                                 4/12
Parsley                                    3/8                                 4/12
Sage                                        3/8                                 4/12
Thai Basil                               3/22                               5/3

In addition to this, I have lots of flower seeds to sow.  I haven't done a variety count, but at this point, I'm guessing that it's probably twice the number I've grown in years past.  Soon, I'll post the entire list.