Saints Preserve Us!

After all the anticipation, after the long time between holidays, March 17th has finally arrived. This is the feast day of the Patron Saint of gardeners. We as gardeners love the color green, to me it represents abundant plant life and vitality.

The reason why this day has been made a Saint’s day for gardeners was lost centuries ago. The most common explanation is that in Europe, where this tradition began, March 17th historically has had good weather. So many people sowed the first seeds of the season into their gardens. Here in Southern Michigan mid-March is early even for cold tolerant crops. By the way, green beer is a modern invention and really has nothing to do with this Saint.

Born in 626 AD, in Belgium, Saint Gertrude of Nivelles was a devout Christian even at an early age. At ten years of age she refused to marry a nobleman and devoted her life to her religion. When she was only twenty years old she became Abbottess of her monastery in Nivellis. She lived to be only 33 years old, probably due to overwork exacerbated by her austere living conditions.

Saint Gertrude is also patroness of travelers, she was known all over the continent for her hospitality to travelers. She gave especially generous assistance to Irish missionaries who often traveled through the area. She was friends with Saints Follian and Ultran and helped them establish a monastery at Fosse. Curiously, Saint Gertrude’s sister, Begga, was also canonized a Saint, her feast day being December 17.

Saint Gertrude’s popularity grew during the middle ages and she was particularly beloved in Belgium, Germany and Poland. In addition to gardeners and travelers, she eventually became patroness to herbalists and people who love cats. Often her name was invoked against mice or other rodents whenever an infestation was discovered.

Many times, pictures of Saints have no identifing name on them because artists would use symbols to identify their subjects. If you see an old statue or painting of a woman, standing in a garden, carrying a staff with a mouse crawling up, that’s Saint Gertrude!

So… Happy Saint Gertrude’s Day!

Bob

Ye shall not possess any beast my dear sisters, save only a cat.

Saint Gertrude

70 degrees, Bees and Lettuce

Did you get a chance to go outside today?  I did. 

 

The snow was melting rapidly this morning as the temperature began to rise up to 70 degrees.  It was a great opportunity to check out how things fared over the winter.

 

My first stop was the bee hives.  All 8 hives had made it through the winter.  I always expect one or two of the colonies to not survive the winter, so this was a pleasant discovery.  The bees were joyfully taking their first spring flight in the 70 degree air and basking in the sun on the side of the hive boxes.

 

My next stop was the vegetable garden, as regular readers of this blog know, we have around 125 raised beds.  Most of the beds were still frozen, some had snow-melt water on the surface because the soil had not completely thawed.

 

One bed, much to my delight, still had growing spinach!  Every spinach plant in that bed was alive and making new growth.  What makes this all the more surprising is the fact that this bed was not mulched or covered in any way!  Of course I just had to taste some, so I picked a few leaves… they were delicious…and super-sweet.  I mean almost sugary!  Apparently, the spinach plants, as a winter survival tactic, had increased the amount of sugars and other nutrients in their leaves and crowns.  This kept the individual plant cells from forming ice crystals and bursting their cell walls.  These will make the most nutricious salad of the season.

 

Last fall we had covered 4 beds with home-made plastic “mini-greenhouses”.  These, of course, were the warmest of the garden beds.  I stuck my soil thermometer in several spots to depth of 5 or 6 inches and found that the soil temperatures ranged from a high of 44 degrees F near the center of the bed to a low of 32 degrees at the corners.  Actually, the corners were still frozen at a depth of 3 or 4 inches.

 

Hey, 44 degrees is good enough for me! 🙂  I cleared out a few frozen bib lettuce plants leftover from last fall, raked the surface level and sowed new lettuce seeds. Lettuce is a cool weather plant and is able to germinate fairly well when soil temperatures are in the 40’s.  Since this particular bed will be protected by the bed cover,  the planting will have a good chance of producing a successfull early lettuce crop.  If not, I’m only out the cost of a few seeds.

 

The seed I used was a mixture called “All Star Gourmet” from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  This mix contains 4 different green leaf lettuce varieties and 4 red leaf.

 

If all goes according to plan we will be harvesting our first outdoor lettuce in a few weeks. 

 

And so, another season begins…

 

Bob

 

 

Phyllis, Don’t Toss Out That Amaryllis !

We are well into the Amaryllis bloom season at this point in time. Some of our Amaryllis bulbs began blooming between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have had continuous blossoms since then and the last of our Amaryllis are beginning to bloom right now. It won’t be long until they are completely done.

So, now what? What do you do with an Amyrillis once it’s done blooming?

There is no state law requiring you to keep it. Many people simply toss them out once they’re finished. However, if you follow just a few simple steps, your Amaryllis can be coaxed into blooming again next year. A lot of the bulbs we gave away during the Christmas season are now being returned to us for re-blooming.

The first step is to cut off the flower stalk after the flowers have withered. Then just simpley treat the remaining plant just like a houseplant. Keep the soil somewhat moist and fertilize it once a month with soluble house plant fertilizer. The main idea is to keep it growing, the more vigorous the growth, the more spectacular the subsequent flowering.

Over Memorial Day weekend, (mark it on your calender) set the plant outside in a brightly lit spot. Dappled shade will do nicely. Don’t let it get sunburned 8). You can leave it right in its pot if you like and re-pot every three years or so. Or you can do as we do and plant the bulb into a garden bed. Keep up the fertilizing and watering regimen.

Some time around Labor Day, your Amaryllis will start to turn yellow. This is normal. The yellowing is an indication the the plant wants to rest and go into a dormant period. Stop watering it at that point and let the leaves die back. Cut the withered leaves to about an inch above the bulb in the neck region.

The dormant bulb needs to be placed in a dry area (no water at all) for about 8-10 weeks. Be sure they don’t freeze.

Sometime around Thanksgiving you can wake up your Amaryllis bulb by placing them into a bright spot and giving it some water. It will re-sprout its leaves and bloom again.

With all that being said, I have seen Amaryllis re-bloom again without all of these steps being adheared to exactly. I have found that as long as the bulb has made some growth (or at least has not lost size) it will more than likely blossom again.

So Phyllis, why not keep that Amaryllis? It really will make a nice houseplant.

Bob

On the Science Of Gardening

Yesterday afternoon, while working in the greenhouse, I was listening to one of my favorite radio programs; “Science Friday” on National Public Radio. Each week, for two hours, the host Ira Flatow and his guests discuss current scientific developments. The second hour on Friday was devoted to gardening. Gardening actually does involve a large amount of science, for example, the absorption of minerals, the creation of sugar during photosynthesis and the exchange of minerals and sugars during the growing processes.

Ira’s guests on the gardening segment were: Tanya Denkela author of The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food and David Ellis, Director of Communications for the American Horticultural Society and editor of ” American Gardener Magazine”. They were later joined by writer and radio producer Dan Charles author of Lords of the Harvest, a book detailing the development of the first generation of genetically engineered crops.

A lot of ground was covered in this segment, it hardly felt like an hour had gone by. You certainly don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy this program as Ira makes sure the information is presented in a way we all can understand.

I’m hoping Ira Flatow will present more programs on gardening from the scientific viewpoint. For me, it was a nice change of pace from all of the lighter gardening programs we hear on the radio. If you missed Friday’s program, it will be available via podcast.

I listen to “Science Friday” Fridays from 2-4 pm on WUOM 91.7 FM public radio from the University of Michigan.

Butterfly’s Favorite

Today, the first of the Butterfly Weed seeds we sowed last week sprouted. This event was the culmination of a five week process that was needed in order for them to germinate.

Asclepias tuberosa gets the name Butterfly Weed from the fact that butterflies love these plants as much as people do. Monarch butterflies often visit this plant because it is in the milkweed family.
This hardy perennial produces dense clusters of blossoms ranging in color from yellow to orange to red that appear in June and July. They make a good cut flower.

As you might have guessed, there is a down-side to growing these garden favorites; that being the five week process I mentioned earlier.

It all starts with a four week process know as “stratification”. It is during this period we try to mimick winter and the early spring snow melt which is needed before the seed is able to geminate. This happens fairly often in the plant world and is needed by many hardy perennials.

We start out by placing the seed between two sheets of wet paper towels. The paper toweling gets placed into a Zip-Loc bag, then the whole thing goes into the crisper of the refrigerator. There the seeds are fooled into thinking the winter is ending and the warm spring will soon be here.

Last week, after four weeks, the seeds were removed from the crisper. We sowed the seeds on the surface of our planting mix without covering them because, in addtion to stratification, they also need sunlight to sprout. So, now, they have the 70 degree warmth they need to begin growing in the greenhouse.

Not all seed catalogs or nurseries for that matter offer Asclepias seed or plants. It may be due to the difficulty in the germination process. There is still time to order seeds if you want to try growing them yourself. We got ours from Stokes Seeds . Park’s Seeds offer them as well.

By starting the seeds this early we can be sure they will blossom this season instead of having to wait until next year. The seedlings will be planted in the garden in May along with the rest of our flowers.

Bob

Kitty Greens

From what I gather, cats require a certain amount of “green food” in their diet to keep their digestive tract on track and their general health…umm…healthy.

Because our cat, Friskie, prefers to stay in the house most of the time, Judy suggested a while back that we grow some “greens” for her ( the cat I mean, Judy already gets lettuce from the greenhouse ).

So, several days ago I liberated one of our used greenhouse flats from the recycling pile and sowed a crop of “cat grass”.

I decided to use some left over grass seed we had saved from last year. I just filled the flat with our regular starting mix then, in half of the flat I planted a fescue variety and on the other, a bent-grass variety.

Now, about a week and a half later, the grass is about 2-3 inches high. It is very soft and tender and does look good enough to eat, especially the bent-grass. This afternoon, when we brought the flat into the house, it took Friskie all of 2 minutes to find that lucsious tray of “kitty salad” and start chowing down on it.

We plan to just leave it in the house in an out of the way spot so she can have some whenever she wants… her own fresh salad bar!!

Now, where did I put that bottle of Neuman’s Own……?

Bob

2008 Perennial of the Year

It’s taken me this long to consistently write “2007” on my checks and now we have to be concerned about 2008 ! 🙂 A person has to keep up with the latest gardening news or it will pass you by. A good place to do that, my fellow gardeners, is right here on All Things Green.

The Perennial Plant Association has announced their annual 😉 “Perennial Plant of the Year” for 2008. It is…drum roll please…. Geranium ‘ Rozanne ‘.

This wonderful plant grows in a mound shape about 2 feet high and has lavender-blue flowers that are relatively large for a Geranium. It is hardy in our area and should make a fine addition to anyone’s landscape.

I have always loved the blue-flowered Geranium varieties but am often a little disappointed about their short blossoming period . ‘Rozanne’ , however, begins blooming in June and keeps right on blooming until September, making it one of the longer blooming Geranium out there. It prefers well drained soil and full sun but will adapt to partial shade.

Keep in mind that ‘Rozanne’ is a true Geranium ( sometimes called “Cranesbill” ) and should not be confused with Pelargonium, the annual that most folks call “geranium”.

Now, before you even ask, the 2007 ” Perennial of the Year ” is a catmint ( Nepita ) called ‘Walker’s Low’….but that’s old news ;).

Bob

Growing Easter Lilies is Cool!

In one of my first posts on this blog, I mentioned something about growing Easter Lilies. At this point in time, we have about 200 Easter Lilies in the greenhouse.

As you are aware Easter Sunday occures differently on the calender every year. Some years we have an early Easter, some years a late Easter. The challenge in growing Easter Lilies is to get them to bloom on, or a day or two before Easter Sunday.

The last three weeks in the greenhouse have been pretty uncomfortable. Because the Lilies were ahead of schedule, the heat had to be turned down to 50 degrees ( plus or minus a couple of degrees ) to slow down their development. This is our seventh year of growing Easter Lilies and it is the first time I had to take such drastic measures.

On those clear sunny days we had recently, the solar gain would start to build and the temperature inside the greenhouse would rise above the prescibed levels. That caused our automatic vents to open and a blast of cold winter air would come rushing in. Anyone working inside transplanting seedlings or working on seed orders, would have to brace themselves against the cold. This opening and closing of the vents went on all day until sundown when the solar heat was no longer a factor and the temperatures stabilized.

We wore our winter coats for 3 weeks inside the greenhouse… until today. I took some measurements, made some quick calculations and decided that it was time to resume the normal Easter Lily growing temperature of 63 degrees. We were finally able to shed our coats. There was still some opening and closing of the vents but since the growing temperature was 13 degrees higher, they didn’t have to open up nearly so often.

At this point in their development our Easter Lillies range from 12 to14 inches in height. I’ll keep you posted on their progress as we make our way through Lent and on to Easter.

In the meantime Mardi Gras is on its way…laissez les bon ton roulette!!

Bob

Prognostication

I’m going to go out on a little bit of a limb here and predict the new big hit in tomatoes for this year and next. Everyone is aware of the delicious ‘Red Grape’ tomatoes that are now available everywhere, but it wasn’t that long ago when they were a relatively rare item.

A new variety is being made available to large vegetable growers as well as home gardeners, it is called ‘Tomatoberry’. It has been a featured item in the “American Vegetable Growers News”, a trade journal for farmers, among other places.

Every year many new varieties are released but few make the grade to stay around for more than a season or two, and fewer still obtain such wide acceptance as ‘Red Grape’ tomatoes.

‘Tomatoberry’ is touted to be high yeiding and have a beautiful deep red color. Its most unique characteristic however, is its strawberry shaped fruit. The flavor is of a sweet tomato and has a firm chewy texture.

This variety sounds like a winner to me. We will have to see how they perform in the garden before we can pass final judgment. The seed is available exclusively through Johnny’s Selected Seeds. We have already ordered our ‘Tomatoberry’ seeds and will be giving them a fair trial this season.

Predicting a fine gardening season for all,

Bob

Something tasty

Today is Valentine’s Day of course, and because of that, Google had a Valentine image on its seach engine site. It was a chocolate fondue covered strawberry as the second “g” in its name…very clever. One problem, Google was spelled wrong! 🙂

Before I even saw the strawberry on that page, I intended to write a little about one of my favorite plants today, the Alpine Strawberry.

What I like about this plant so much is the fact that it bears its fruit all summer long. The berries are very small, just a little bigger than our wild strawberries. However, they have an intense flavor, more tart and flavorful than a standard strawberry. You don’t get a big “crop” from these plants, only a handful to eat as you are working out in the garden.

One thing I find curious about these small tasty treats is that the birds don’t eat them. I don’t know if it is because there is so much more for them to eat during the summer, or if it is something else.

We like to plant these along pathways where people walk. The low growing plant makes a nice edge to a path and they don’t send out runners like regular strawberries, so they stay put where you plant them. They also winter very well without mulching… we have some coming up in the same spot that we planted seven years ago.

They are easy and inexpensive to obtain. You can grow them from seed, just start them like a tomato or any other plant indoors. This differs from regular strawberries which are generally started in the garden from plants that were dug up by a plant supplier.

‘Alexandria’ is the variety we grow. They are available from Johnny’s Seeds in Maine. This variety often will produce fruit by late summer of its first season, then all season long after that.

Now get on over to LunaPierCook blog and see if Dave has written anything about chocolate fondue and strawberries for Valentine’s Day ! 😉

Bob