Saturday, August 31, 2013

Rhapsody in Orange

Two weeks ago I cut a bunch of flower heads from my Phantom hydrangea and wired them to an 18" wreath frame. Then I realized that I should have removed the leaves and dried the flowers before assembling the wreath. Crap. So, I did some research (Hello, Internet!) and decided to try quick-drying the whole wreath in a closet with DampRid hangers. Ta-daa! Success. Check this shit out.

Those ivory, green, pale pink and rusty orange colors are the original summer colors of the flowers. They faded very little in the drying process. The leaves dried nicely, too. The rust color is from sunburn, but I like it. I think it works well against the terra cotta of the door. Meanwhile, the Phantom has flowered so prolifically that you wouldn't even know I'd removed some of the blooms.

In other news, the carving pumpkins are coloring up from yellow to orange and they have just begun to develop ribbing. They're not huge, but they are big enough to make into jack-o-lanterns. I'm so pleased that these two have made it this far. That's one for Flan and one for her man. We just love Halloween, and pumpkin carving is an important part of our traditional family festivities. Of course, if I don't get enough "meat" for baked goods out of the small sugar pumpkins, these two will end up being roasted and pureed instead! We can always buy pumpkins to carve, but homegrown pumpkins are so much better for eating than store-bought.

P.S. The powdery mildew was slowed to a crawl by my timely and thorough application of neem oil. I plan to administer a follow-up dose late this evening when there's no chance of leaf burn. Big thanks to the Green Light Company for this excellent product. None of my pumpkins were harmed. I'm gonna put that experience in the win column, especially since all the neighbors' pumpkin plants look worse off than mine. Sometimes it just feels good to see some evidence that your efforts are paying off.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Plant of Many Little Golden Fish

My goldfish plant has finally flowered!

This Nematanthus gregarius started out several years ago as a cutting only a few inches long. (Thanks, Mom!) The cutting was easily rooted in a glass of water and eventually transplanted into this hanging water hyacinth basket. It seems to enjoy its location over the kitchen sink. It gets all the light this east-facing window can offer. I water it regularly and it gets some humidity. Over the years it has grown plenty of glossy green foliage that trails over the edge of the basket (and into my face while I'm washing dishes), but it has never flowered for me. Not once.

So, what did I do differently to suddenly end up with all of these amusing goldfish-shaped blooms? All I know is, I've watered it deeply a few times this summer and I vaguely remember offering it a little fertilizer once. That's all that's changed. I guess the poor thing had been feeling neglected and just wanted a long drink and some food! Silly me. Now I know. I think our relationship will improve from here.

*GASP!* Gimme a drink!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The August Urn O' Green & Magenta

My First Serious Crack at Planting a Container

"Serious Crack" sounds like an oxymoron ... Anyway, this is written out as steps, but it's not exactly a how-to. It's really more of a here's-what-I-did. Skip down to the bottom of the post for a list of the plants that went into this container planting.

Step 1: Make your husband chase you around your local garden center with a cart full of plants, potting soil and an urn planter. This step will take a good hour or so and should involve lots of oohing-and-aahing to your husband, hemming-and-hawing to yourself, and back-and-forthing around the store with husband and cart in tow.

Step 2: Fork over lots of money for said goods (definitely enlisting the aid of Hubby's military discount and your birthday money from your grandmother).

Step 3: Thank Hubby profusely for his invaluable help and "patience," then pile everything into the car and when you get home drag it all back out again yourself. You don't want to push the poor man too far.

Step 4: The next day, don't get up at 5 AM, because that's just silly. Instead, wait 'til 6 and then take your sweet, sweet time drinking your coffee and reading your gardening magazines in the comfy chair with your huge, cuddly cat. Then cook up some bacon and eggs while you complain to yourself about how chilly it is in the house this morning.

Step 5: Now that it's around 8 AM and the sun is starting to cook your house, it must be the perfect time to do some manual labor while standing between the house and the sun. Let's get sweaty!

Step 6: Drill a drainage hole in the bottom of the urn. Good on you for remembering to do this step before filling up the container with stuff!

Step 7: Dump some rocks into the bottom of the (lightweight resin) urn to add weight for stability, to help with drainage, and to fill in some extra space that would otherwise be a waste of potting soil.

Step 8: Fill the urn two-thirds full with potting soil, plus lots of perlite because good drainage is important.

Step 9: Dump about 2 tablespoons of water crystals in there, 'cause it's flippin' hot this summer and you don't want to be out there watering this thing twice a day. Plus: over-watering protection! Speaking of watering, now you need to do so. Water the mixture thoroughly and watch the crystals expand! Wheee!

Step 10: Dear lord, are we at ten steps already? So that you can arrange and rearrange them until you're satisfied with the configuration, stick your new plants into the urn while they're still in their plastic nursery pots. Then surprise yourself by having arranged everything perfectly the first time. Photograph the arrangement from several angles and pat yourself on the back for being such a brilliant artist. You weren't really surprised, were you? Nah, I didn't think so.

Step 11: Take everything back out again. Well, just the plants. Not the soil and other stuff. Duh.

Step 12: Carry this message to other addicts ... Wait, no. Just ignore the step numbers.

Step 13: Starting with the tallest plant for the center of the arrangement, remove that sucker from its pot and loosen the rootball yadda yadda yadda. PUT IT IN THE URN.

Step 14: Here's where it gets tricky ...  PUT THE REST OF THE PLANTS IN THE URN, TOO.

Step 15: You get the idea. Really, the most difficult part is jamming that many plants into a 20" pot. I mean, you really have to jam them in there! ... But then it looks fabulous.

Step 16: WATER. Water until a big ol' puddle forms under the urn.

Step 17: Dust the dirt from the foliage and wipe down the urn. Set that mother out in the sunshine with the less sun-tolerant plants facing roughly northeast. Admire. Take more photographs of your fantastic creation. It really was worth it. You are done.

Step 18: ... Nah, you're not done. Pretty soon the mum and the coreopsis will pop open with lots more flowers and you'll totally need to take pictures of that, right? Plus, this big ol' thing is gonna need some more water in a day or so. Then there's deadheading and pruning to keep everything nice-looking and within bounds. Then, eventually the perennials will fade and you'll need to decide what to do with them. No, you're not done yet. You'll never really be done. And that's okay, 'cause that's just gardening for you.

What's in The August Urn O' Green & Magenta?

By gosh, I'll tell you.

Purple Fountain Grass
Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'
White-Flowering Heather
Calluna vulgaris
Magenta-Flowering Hardy Mum
Chrysanthemum morifolium
Coral Bells
Heuchera 'Melting Fire'
Coreopsis hybrid Big Bang™ 'Mercury Rising'
Burgundy Periwinkle
Vinca minor 'Atropurpurea'
Dragon's Blood Stonecrop
Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood'

... Butterflies included!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Know Your Enemy


Not so swell news from the pumpkin patch: a sudden and extremely unwelcome case of POWDERY MILDEW! It just showed up this morning, suggesting that it may actually be sentient and have a sense of irony. This is unwell news. Hell news. Makes me want to yell news. Time to quell this evil spell or bid my plants farewell news. I will be spraying the tops and undersides of the leaves with neem oil this evening. I've read mixed reviews about using a diluted milk spray instead, but I'm more comfortable with neem. If you have experience using milk to control powdery mildew on pumpkins, please share. I'm all ears and eager to learn.



Meanwhile, I finally bothered to identify those pale greenish-yellow ladybug-like insects that have been hanging out in the pumpkin flowers. Actually, I didn't even bother to do any active identifying. I was just reading a gardening tips book from my mother and happened to come across an illustration of a bug that looked awfully familiar: CUCUMBER BEETLE. Unfortunately, it's not a good bug to have in the garden. I'm a little surprised, since all I've ever seen of them suggests that they are incredibly lazy and just like to sit around inside of large flowers all day. In reality, this is not so. Apparently, when I am not looking they actually eat said flowers. They eat the flowers and the leaves and their evil baby larvae tunnel through young plant roots. Destruction everywhere.

I couldn't get ahold of this spotted cucumber beetle to squish it because this
honey bee was so dedicated to her work that she wouldn't let me into the flower!

So, I will be hand-picking these spotty little monsters in the mornings (something I should have been doing for the past several weeks!) and continuing to research more widely effective ways to insure their demise.

An Ounce of Prevention

In yesterday's post I showed you my two ripe Small Sugar Pumpkins and shared my hesitance to pick them. This morning's appearance of the dreaded PM was all it took to make up my mind. With sharp pruning shears I snipped those two darlings from their vines and then I disinfected my shears with rubbing alcohol. Since there were no other viable fruits left on one of the vines, I pulled up the whole plant and immediately threw it in the garbage can. Powdery mildew spores are carried on the wind and I have no intention of idly allowing this fungus to spread around my garden or my neighborhood, especially since I am not the only person growing pumpkins on this block.

Lessons Learned

I love Internet forums and gardening publications and tips from friends and family, but I definitely learn a lot of things the hard way, by making my own mistakes. I have had very unpleasant personal experiences with powdery mildew on roses and honeysuckle. There's a different powdery mildew for each type of plant that it infects, but every version of PM sucks giant, hairy monkey balls. On the bright side, because I have learned from experience how to recognize the fungus, I am ready to deal with it at first onset. Additionally positive is the fact that this current situation is helping to prepare me for next year, when I fully intend to put that ounce of prevention to good use and stop PM infections (and those stupid cucumber beetles) before they start.

The Triumph of Productivity

Here sits the beginning of my very first pumpkin harvest! I've decided to let them cure in the sun before digging in and dishing out their pulpy goodness. Supposedly the curing process can further increase sugar content. So, why not?

Freshly cut Small Sugar Pumpkins, their stems a-bleedin' all over the place.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Swell News From The Pumpkin Patch

Look at that goofy cat. It looks like he's wearing a pumpkin leaf
mask over his eyes. Now no one will know his true identity!
The vines gone wild continued to ambitiously set several fruit within inches of one another, but ultimately could not support so many pumpkins. I pinched off the aborted fruits and tried to help the vines focus their energy on fruit production by pruning and burying the ends of the vines. This method seems to have paid off; the remaining fruits appear healthy and are expanding quickly. I now have a small number of steadily swelling yellow globes visible from my living room window. These plants must be of the Big Max or the Jack O' Lantern variety. I'll probably use them for carving, though I am curious about the difference in flavor between these and the Small Sugar Pumpkins.

Speaking of Small Sugar Pumpkins, here they are, all colored up and ready for harvesting! I did the fingernail test and my nail did not break the skin of either of these fruits, so I think that they can now be cut from the vine and set in the sun to cure. Or, since I intend to use their insides for food and their outsides for compost, I think I can skip the curing step entirely. I don't want to make pumpkin pie for another month or two, so I guess it's about time to bust out the blender and do the ol' puree-and-freeze. I'm just so nervous about cutting these little beauties from their vines. They aren't as big as they're supposed to be, but that's probably because I made a lot of lazy beginner mistakes with these plants. Leaving them on the vine won't make them grow any bigger. From everything that I've read, pumpkins are done when they're done. I just hope I'll have enough for a pie. Wish me luck!

Oh, Garden Gods, please grant me enough tasty pumpkin flesh for just one decent pie!