Saturday, September 24, 2016

Success! After two years without hatching any monarch caterpillars in our garden, we finally had a good crop. I noticed our perennial swamp !milkweed was defoliated and I hoped it was because caterpillars were eating it. And sure enough, I saw half a dozen in one section of our pollinator garden.

I didn't check all the wild milkweed we have growing in the back corner of the yard. Hopefully,there are some more on that. I know our customers are very concerned about the fate of the monarchs and butterflies in general. For  two years, we have sold every monarch host plant we grew. People are definitely trying to make a difference, an I'm optimistic it will help.

Now that the season is coming to a close, our annual hyacinth bean vine is finally starting to look good. It just sat through much of the summer's heat and dryness. Now that it's cooling down and we got some rain, it has perked up. For awhile, I didn't think it would get any beans.  I can tell it's very late, since it has both flowers and beans at the same time. Like other beans, let the pods dry on the plant, before you harvest them for seeds for next year.

I'm wrapping up my harvesting and cleaning up the gardens. One task is to cut off the spent blossoms of garlic chives before they go to seed.

The summer blooming white flowers are very popular with pollinators and are edible. The seed heads start green, like the photo, and the seeds ripen to black. If not removed before they ripen, they will seed everywhere! It reminds me of people's complaints about lemon balm. Although a vigorous plant, lemon balm's tendency to spread is caused by the large amount of seeds it produces and broadcasts. Garlic chives is just as bad. So off with their heads!

Overall, I can't complain about the harvest this year. Some things were very productive, others not. John commented on how nice the snapdragons look as they start to rebloom. But the little gem marigolds, which usually look so nice in the fall, never took off this year. I cut back calendula, in hopes that it will bloom some more. It was not as productive as it generally is.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

I had a good crop of swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on our remaining potted parsley plants. I watched as they munched their way through the foliage, and when it was all gone, I put the rue plants on the same flat and the caterpillars moved over and resumed feeding. Other plants in the same family, like fennel and dill are also host for swallowtail caterpillars. They will become yellow and black tiger or black swallowtail butterflies. Most caterpillars leave the host plant to form their chrysalis, often attaching to a branch or wooden form of some kind.

I was talking to a friend the other day and she said their sweet autumn clematis was in bud. Ours is in full bloom on the ends of the pergola. It always reminds !e of a fragrant white cloud when it blooms. Being native, it is exceedingly hardy. Although the flowers are smaller than many clematis varieties, it blooms in such profusion, as to produce a stunning show.  And the aroma is divine!

As I go through the gardens cutting back and cleaning up, I'm beginning to remove some annuals that have suffered with our hot, dry summer. It's early for me to do this, but things that looking poorly will not recover at this point. Some things are just plain late this season. Several customers talked to me about their hyacinth bean vines doing poorly. Mine has really just started to grow well in the last few weeks. It's flowering now, so if any beans develop, it will be a small number.

More plants I like:

Attar of rose geranium - My favorite rose geranium for scent. It's a lovely floral fragrance produced by its oil which is used in perfumery. Like other rose geraniums, it has clusters of small, pink flowers. It is wider than tall, and really behaves like a ground cover on the garden, although the plant is not winter hardy.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

It seems like we're having an improvement in the butterfly population this year. I'm definitely seeing more species of butterflies and an increase in the overall number compared to last year. Most of them are smaller types - darkwings, skippers and fritillaries, sulphers and whites. Right now, they're are happy with the flowers on hyssop, savory, catmint and lavender.

I've seen one monarch. I'm not sure if it's the only one, or if I'm seeing different ones each time. I hope there are several around. Milkweeds are the host plant for monarch caterpillars. In addition to common milkweed, there's perennial swamp milkweed with pink flowers and non-hardy scarlet milkweed with showy yellow to red-orange flowers. These are also nectar sources for the adult butterflies.

My topiary program went very well. I demonstrated techniques for both a standard or tree form and for a wreath form. Everyone seemed enthusiastic about trying one on their own. I always tell people that making a topiary isn't difficult, but you  must be patient, because it takes time for them to size up. And maintenance is easy. Just give them a haircut when they look shaggy.

If you're harvesting herbs in your garden, we're approaching the time when you want to stop large harvests from woody stemmed plants like sage, thyme and savory. You can certainly continue to clip for use in cooking, but I stop large harvests (up to one third of the plant) around Labor Day. These plants hold their foliage over the winter with the foliage providing protection for the crown of the plant, so you wan to let the bulk of it remain on the plant as it goes into winter.

One exception I make is for rosemary. Mine remains outside for the winter, so I never know if it will survive or not. I just cut it back as often as I wish and if it doesn't survive, I'll replant next spring.

Also be on the lookout for a new crop of reseeded cilantro. If you grew it this spring, and it flowered and went to seed when it got hot, it will often come back from seed that dropped at this time of year, as it begins to cool off. Remember, if you want things to reseed, you must allow flowers to die on the stalk. These will turn into seed heads. Shake the dry seeds onto the ground for reseeding.

Think about fall planting of perennials as temperatures cool down and rainfall increases. Fall planting allows for root systems to develop before winter sets in. Check out our remaining supply of half-price perennial herbs and flowering ornamentals.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

It's been quite a season for us  in terms of wildlife sightings. First, two turtles on one day and now, a snake. We see garter snakes infrequently and usually out on the wild, overgrown back corner of the property . Once, we even saw a group of newly hatched baby garter snakes there. This time, it was right in the middle of the garden.

We were cutting back plants in the long side border. Some of the later blooming lavenders needed the spent flowers removed. When I approached  the area, I saw some of the middle part of a snake entwined in the plant. He was sunning himself and although we couldn't see either the head or tail, he was about two inches wide. Based on that, John guessed he was between two and three feet long. We gave him a wide berth and did not trim off the flowers. He hung around awhile, but eventually slithered away and the spent flowers got trimmed.

The gardens perked up with the recent rain and slightly cooler temperatures. So I'm continuing to harvest herbs for drying and flowers for the shop. This is also the time of year I make dried wreaths and arrangements for the shop. It gives me a chance to work inside on hot days.

And believe it or not, I'm starting work on my plant orders for next spring! I have to order early to insure getting specific choices and it doesn't always work. Crop failure are two words  you don't like to hear in the plant business.

Also in August, I'm presenting a program on herbal topiaries for a west shore herb group. Topiaries always attract people's attention in the greenhouse. I guess it's the idea of a miniature tree that is so interesting. Also have a mother's group coming to the farm to learn about harvesting and preserving herbs.

The plant sale continues and all small plants, except bay, are half off. Late in the season is an excellent time to plant perennials so the roots have time to get established before winter sets in. We
are out of a number of varieties, but still have a good selection of perennial herbs and ornamentals.

More plants I like:

Verbena is an annual that has always reseeded in my garden, even after a severe winter. Flowers sit atop wiry stems about three feet tall. Although tall, they are a "see through" plant and can be planted in the front of a bed without blocking the view of plants behind them. Pretty pink-purple flat headed blooms attract butterflies and go throughout the summer.

Plumbago is a spreading perennial that is covered with blue, actually blue, flowers nearly all summer. Flowers described as blue are often really purple. One year, I went searching for truly blue flowers and found plumbago. Flowers are small, but prolific and a beautiful azure shade. Plumbago spreads easily, but is not invasive. It takes minimum care, but is late to emerge in the spring.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

John and I have adopted a dog day's schedule. We get up early, (early for John anyway) work outside  in the morning and stay in the air conditioning in the afternoon. The heat is stressful on the plants, too. If you're watering, do it early in the morning or in the evening, so the plants get the most benefit. Drought tolerant herbs like lavender, sage, thyme and rosemary need little supplemental water unless they were just planted. Concentrate on herbs like basil and mint, flowering ornamentals and vegetables which require more moisture.

I'm still harvesting for drying. We had a bumper crop of chamomile flowers this year. Chamomile is a relaxing tea, very popular as a bedtime drink. With herbs, generally the leaf has more flavor and fragrance than the flowers. Lavender and chamomile are two exceptions, and the flowers are used for tea and culinary purposes.

I'm also harvesting mints and culinary herbs like oregano, marjoram, thyme, anise hyssop and scented geraniums.I dry on large screened racks in a base John made. With the humid weather, it's hard to get them completely dry on the racks, so I finish them off in the dehydrator. Herbs must be completely dry before they are stored, so mold does not develop.

More plants I like: get

Baptisia or false indigo is a native perennial that develops into a large, shrub like plant between three and four feet tall and bushy,so give it room to grow. Blooming in early spring, with blue pea-like flowers and followed by interesting blue seedpods which I use in arrangements.

Nicotiana or flowering tobacco is an annual that reseeds readily. It has white, tubular flowers that are fragrant at night, so it's wonderful for a seating area where you relax in the evening. Night bloomers do so to attract pollinators, generally moths.

Coconut scented geranium has a trailing habit, which is unusual among scented geraniums . The flowers are purple and tiny, but the fragrance is definitely coconut. It's the only scented geranium that reseeds itself in my garden.

We have few annuals left, except for a new crop of basil and dill. We still have a good selection of perennials and they are buy two, get one free, mix and match. Our hours continue to be Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm. And of course, the herb shop- with many herbal products is open in addition to the greenhouse.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Summer weather has definitely arrived. I must say, I'm not a big fan of hot and humid weather, probably  because so much of our work is outside. So John and I have been working outside for a couple hours in the morning before we retreat to the air conditioning.

One of the big jobs we did was taking care of the lavender plants. We always wait until the bees are done working  the flowers. Pollinators need all the help they can get and they certainly enjoy the blooms on lavender. They wait until the individual florets open before they go after the nectar. When they're done, we trim.

John cut off the spent flower stalks. Since perennial lavender is coming back from the root, seed production isn't necessary. Instead, the plant can put its energy into foliage growth. I did the trimming and shaping. After flowering  is the best time to shape the plant. Without trimming, plants can get sprawling and misshapen. I did not get a chance to trim all the lavenders in the spring, so some really needed a trim. They look much better now. One or two had to be cut back really hard. There is still plenty of time for them to push out new foliage so I'm hoping they recover. If not, they'll be replaced next year.

A customer asked me recently if she could still plant perennials.  You can plant them through mid to late September. As long as they have adequate time to get settled and established before the cold weather sets in, they'll be fine. They must be kept well watered for the first 10-14 days until they take hold. And it would be better to plant them in the evening when the temperatures are slightly cooler.

I've also started some topiaries. People are always fascinated by them. I guess it's the idea of a miniature tree that's intriguing. I use green myrtle and upright rosemary for the standards or tree forms and creeping rosemary for the wreath forms. They aren't difficult to do, but they do require patience. They size up rapidly in the greenhouse - it probably takes twice as long for them to grow as big at home. Maintenance is just a matter of regular trimming.

Our plant sale continues. Perennials will be reduced again next week and we still have a good selection. We're open five days a week- Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm. Stop by and check out the plants and also all the herbal products in our shop.

More plants I like:
Lime basil - It's basil with a citrus twist. Very good with chicken and fish. I love it on chicken salad. Also great with SW recipes. I use it in a black bean salad with corn and tomatoes. A little bit in a green salad is also nice.

Profusion zinnias - I always tell people these give you the most bang for your buck. About 15 inches tall in the ground, and covered with flowers from mid-summer till frost. And no mildew like some of the taller varieties. Apricot, orange, yellow, pink and white varieties. Also do well in containers.

Lungwort or pulmonaria- A wonderful part-shade plant. Blooms early in the spring with plentiful blue flowers. The attractive silvery green foliage lightens up shady areas throughout the rest of the season.

Monday, June 27, 2016

I had an interesting study in contrasts recently. Two customers came to the farm the same day. The first was a woman from Masonic Village. We get quite a few customers from Masonic. We chatted and I was shocked to learn she was 90 years old. Believe me, she looked at least a decade younger.

She talked about taking an art class at the Village. I asked if it was something she had done previously, and she said no, it was something new she decided to try. She was very enthusiastic about her new endeavor and I commented that you're never to old to learn.

Later that day, a nice young couple stopped by. They bought a few plants to make tea. She was very enthusiastic about making her own herbal tea, so I gave her a handout and we discussed the basics of making tea from herbs. I found it so interesting and really inspiring that no matter what your age, you can always learn something new if you have curiosity and the desire to learn. It encourages me to keep studying herbs and plants. I like the late Bertha Reppert's quote when someone asked her if she was an herbalist. She replied, "I am a student of herbs."

The other day, I was again asked why an annual vine wasn't growing. It was described as just "sitting there". Annual vines like hyacinth bean and moonflower are very slow starters. It takes them awhile to get established. They like a lot of water in the beginning - I water mine daily early on. Once the hot summer temperatures arrive, they take off. You can see the growth from one day to the next. So just patient. They are worth the wait.

Annual herbs should be established and you can begin harvesting them. Only remove about one third early on. When they have sized up, you can remove up to one half.

Our plant sale is ongoing. Annuals are half off and perennials are buy three, get one free - mix and match. We still have a good selection so think about filling in a spot in your garden or trying a new variety.

Plants I like:

     Reblooming perennials like Jupiter's beard or salvia "Blue Cloud". After blooming early in the season, cut them back hard and they will reward you with a second bloom later in the season.

     Late season bloomers like pineapple or Mexican bush sage. They flower late summer up till frost when not a lot is going on in the garden. Anemone is a late season bloomer for shade. It adds color in summer and fall, unlike most shade plants which flower in the spring.

    Basil- it's what summer smells like!