Sunday, September 21, 2014

Seed Collection Continuing

There hasn't been terribly much to write about for the last few weeks.  The gardens are looking great, and I discontinued feeding two weeks ago.  They can glide through the remainder of the season on what remains.  So far, the season is certain to continue into early October and there's no frost in the forecast.  It's actually been exceptionally warm and dry for September.

Most of the seed collection is complete for the year.  A few plants won't be collected as they reseed themselves so easily they don't need to be (Cleome are almost in this range), or the seeds don't breed true (hybrid zinnia and dahlia).  I order those every year, although I do remove and store dahlia tubers for plants that have performed particularly well.

The varieties I collected are listed below.

Ageratum:  Many people report that this plant doesn't work well for them, but it volunteers easily in my gardens and gets absolutely huge (for a dwarf plant).  This is the first year I tried to save seed for sprouting, so we'll see how that goes.

Celosia:  Descendants of China Red that crossed with my off the shelf red, orange, and gold varieties. I tend to choose the ones that show the characteristics closest to the original China Red, but yellow, orange, and red still volunteer in the garden so the mix stays variable.

Cleome:  While the parents were Sparkler Rose, the granddaughters are firmly split into pink, a pink-purple, and purple, or the normal cleome colors.  I've collected seeds from the darkest of the purple plants to try to bias the selection in that direction a bit.

Easter Eggplant:  So far this one isn't quite done, but I tend not to finish until October here anyway to give the eggplants time to mature on the vine.

Marigold, orange:  Amazingly, these breed very true even with yellow marigolds very close to them. A rare surprise in the color mix certainly isn't a problem.

Marigold, variegated:  These have single to semi-double blossoms, streaked with color.  The daughters are usually a surprise and can show primarily reds, yellows, or even bands of color.

Marigold, yellow:  While these cross with the orange and sometimes produce a surprise, it's amazing how often they breed true (probably 95%).  I always have spares, so a few orange ones in the mix with the yellow flat isn't a problem, and they're always blooming by the time they're ready to go out in spring.

Melampodium:  Also called star daisy (they aren't daisies), these plants reseed themselves freely in most Pennsylvania gardens.  Two or three of the plants in the gardens were volunteers, the rest were grown.  One hundred percent of my mother's plants are volunteers.  Over the years, these seem to be getting a bit larger and a touch more gold than yellow, but I don't mind.  The great-granddaughters of these plants are prettier than the originals.

Salvia splendens:  A nice red saliva, the great-granddaughters of the set I used to have.  They're tending taller over time, with a larger blossom and better, truer reds.  As the generations move on, more are volunteering in the gardens than used to.

Salvia farinacea, Rhea:  Still small and purplish-blue, these have become a staple in the garden. They're petite and very pretty, all season bloomers, and even volunteer fairly freely in the garden.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Rain, Finally. Maybe.

Typical for summer, we just had a two week dry period.  Lawns around me are going into dormancy and those that are avoiding it are either being irrigated or are more fescue.

My back neighbor has responded by watering twice a day--exactly the wrong response as this encourages lawn diseases, intensifies any diseases you have, and results in very short roots on your lawn.  Additionally, it costs a fortune in terms of water.

I irrigated once during this period, just a few days ago.  Even so, the lawn is dry and we do need rain. There's a 75% chance of it tomorrow, and 90% on Wednesday, and we may get up to two inches.

So from drought to deluge.  I'll take it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Early August Images

The lawn is probably at its low point for the year, while the gardens are at their high point.  So far, the gardening season has been a little touch and go due to the weather and the rabbit invasion in May and June, but it recovered nicely from both.

First, the standard lawn shot.  You can see some shock on the grass if you look close, and rain isn't expected until Wednesday (and then not terribly much).  This week marks the third time this year I've watered.

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The general garden shot, taken from the side this time.  Yes, it's busy.  I like it that way, as do the bees and hummingbirds.

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This is an orange zinnia that happens to have lots of friends.  Out of focus in the background you can just barely see the yellow carpet (Profusion) zinnia, and some blue salvia.

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There's a ton of very happy Harlequin dahlia in the garden this year.  Harlequin grow 12 to 16 inches tall (mine tend toward 16 inches or a bit taller as I feed well), flower heavily from early summer to frost, and like any dahlia can be lifted and saved for the following year if you wish to do so.  Second year tubers tend to outperform first year plants.

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Cutting dahlia are always nice!  This is a Sky Angel dahlia that grows about four feet tall, and produces copious lavender blossoms on very long stems.  Cutting these dahlia results in even more blooms produced.  I picked this up very cheaply at Home Depot some years ago, and store the tuber over the winter in a paper bag.

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Since the cannas gave up, I planted Blue Boy, Sun Lady, and Color Spectacle dahlia.  The Blue Boy are starting to blossom, and this first flower is just opening.  The color is inaccurate, however, as in person it's almost a perfect violet, but a bit less saturated than the full color.  The open bloom (which I'll photograph), will be about four to five inches across.

Like the Sky Angel, this is an excellent cutting dahlia that can be purchased at Home Depot in late spring.

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Last but sure not least are the Easter Eggplant this year!  The first image is of the plants in pots, the second is of the developing eggs close up.  You'll note I do need to de-shag the plants a little bit and remove the yellowing older leaves.  As the season rolls on, more leaves will yellow, exposing the eggs when I remove them.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Happy Solar Autumn!

Technically, August 5th marked the first day of solar fall (or solar autumn), but I missed that.

Solar Autumn is the twelve week period of the year when the day length (in the northern hemisphere) decreases the fastest.  Between now and November 5th, the Sun's declination (a measure of how far north or south it is of the celestial equator) will change from +16° to -16°, or moving roughly 32 degrees (I rounded the numbers).  Since between June 21st and December 21st, the total change is only 47°, you can see why this period is the fastest change.

Your day length will vary by where you are on the globe.  Mine changes from today's 14 hours (and a bit) to 8 hours and 20 minutes on November 5th.

Depressing as it might be, the upside is that summer certainly isn't over yet!  We still have more than two months of gardening time left, although the last few weeks of that are touch and go.  Lawn season continues for another three months.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rabbit Protection Working

The Tabasco sauce recipe I started using at the end of June is working perfectly.  I have no additional rabbit damage a month later, and the damaged plants have regrown beautifully.

Rabbit populations seem to have fallen a bit, possibly as they spread out for food sources now that my garden is no longer palatable.

I did observe one rabbit this morning try to nibble on the zinnia.  He or she spit out the leaf immediately and left for the neighbor's clover!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Late July Photos

The general lawn photo first.  This part of the lawn isn't particularly dry, although we could certainly use some rain at this point.  Fortunately, it's supposed to rain tomorrow and Monday.

As always, click on the image to embiggen.

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I photographed the front garden in perfect morning sun last time.  This time, it's later in the afternoon so the light is glaring off the leaves and flowers a bit.  Still, you can see the development it's gone through in a few weeks.

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The back gardens are finally improving now that I've successfully repelled the rabbits from the zinnia. This is taken from near the walkway, which is being slightly overgrown by a rather happy Harlequin dahlia.

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From further around the back of the garden you do start to see where the rabbits were feeding. These plants have essentially only had decent growth for the last three weeks, but they're quickly catching up to where they should be.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

July Photos

July Fourth is traditional for lawn and garden photos, but I was at a picnic that ran until well after dark.  The fifth of July will simply have to do this year.

Here's the standard lawn photo.  You can see some slight burning where the late June dry spell took a slight toll on it.  Color and quality are fair this year. As always, click to embiggen.

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This is a wide shot of the back garden, showing off the lawn as much as the gardens.

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Here's the general garden shot across the back gardens.  Garden development has been so-so overall, but now that the rabbits have been repelled things should improve very quickly.

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I have extremely happy dahlia this year as they don't mind (and in fact like) hot and humid weather with little rain. This is a Harlequin dahlia that I grew from seed, technically a dwarf decorative dahlia but it looks like a collarette dahlia to me.

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Two more dahlia for your viewing pleasure. These are also Harlequin.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How To Repel Rabbits

Yes, I finally have a series of things that works to repel rabbits even under extremely high population pressure!  I've used this successfully on my zinnia, gladioli, and sunflower.

First, I found that just the tiniest sprinkle of blood meal around the plants helped considerably. Damage from that alone was reduced by a solid 90%.  I spread it slightly wide into the surrounding areas to make sure the rabbits scented the blood before they entered the garden.  The three pound bag I purchased for $7.50 should last around 3-4 years when used to protect 150 plants.

The second part of the solution was a slight modification of a recipe I found online:

In a 1 gallon sprayer, mix:

0.5 Tbsp Tabasco sauce, any brand but the hotter the better
0.5 tsp dish soap, any brand
0.25 tsp Elmer's glue (optional, to help the Tabasco stick)

You may scale the recipe any way you like; I make this 16 ounces at a time to fit into my small spray bottle.

Spray the plants moderately the first time, a gallon should be good for around 1,000 small plants, 16 ounces covers 150 small plants.  Respray moderately if it rains, as soon as possible after the rainfall.

Even if it doesn't rain, spray lightly each successive day for a week to keep the scent and flavor fresh and very hot.  16 ounces will lightly spray about 300 small plants.

After that, the rabbits have probably learned to leave your garden alone, but if you notice further damage respray the plants as necessary.

Do not spray vegetables that will be harvested shortly.  Although harmless, the flavor of the Tabasco sauce will be apparent on your veggies.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Tabasco Sauce to Repel Rabbits

I tried the Tabasco sauce recipe from 2 posts below and so good!

I gave the plants a fairly heavy application (a quart over all the zinnia that remain) yesterday.  As of this morning, there's no additional damage.  I then sprayed lightly today, and will continue to do so for at least a week (spraying heavily if we get rain or I water).

Sunday, June 29, 2014

June Lawn and Garden Photos

It's been way too long since I've posted photos, although so far the year has been poor to fair at best. The weather has been hot and flips randomly between soaking wet and very dry and, if you've kept up with my blog so far, the rabbits this year are voracious and very numerous.

I was up working very early this morning, so I managed to get photos of the front lawn and gardens fairly early and with the sun at a good angle.

First, the front lawn photo.  There's a slightly burned area where I'm standing that doesn't appear in the shot.  As always, click to embiggen.

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This is the front garden, which is suffering less from the rabbit damage since I cut back the rhododendron. You can see a damaged section of lawn to the middle left, and this is post-mowing so the dry lawn shows more.  Again, click on the image to make it larger.

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Blood Meal to Repel Rabbits

My zinnia are under so much pressure from the rabbit population that some of them are down to sticks.  Those are probably going to die, but there's hope for those that still have leaves.

Most years, just black pepper works.  This year, very little seems to be working.

I just applied 20 pounds per thousand of Milorganite as it does, temporarily, help.  I also applied about 1 ounce per square yard of blood meal, which supposedly helps repel rabbits as well.

One other thing I've seen suggested is spray with diluted Tabasco sauce.  One ounce per gallon should be sufficient, spray lightly, and repeat after rainfall.  I'll pick up some generic Tabasco today and try it out.

I'll take photos later today, but I plan on skipping the denuded areas of the garden.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Rose Pride on Zinnia

I sprayed the maturing zinnia with Rose Pride fungicide today.  This serves two purposes.

Rose Pride (Triforine) is both a contact and systemic fungicide that helps control powdery mildew. PM can be a major issue on Magellan zinnia, and this will keep it at bay through early August at least. As a general rule, PM becomes an issue on zinnia later in the season when they've grown into each other and when they're nearing the end of their growth periods, but Rose Pride can be reapplied every 7 to 10 days if needed.

The smell and taste of Triforine are unpleasant, which will tend to repel the rabbits that are still making a terrible mess of my southwestern face.  This year, the number of rabbits is particularly high, and I frequently see four or five simultaneously in the yard.  I've found that Rose Pride helps deter rabbits for periods of three weeks or so, by which time they've either moved on to better food sources or the plants have matured enough that the rabbits are considerably less interested.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cannas Get Old

Canna bulbs can be lifted every fall just after frost and planted again in spring after proper storage.

Unfortunately, after many seasons and repeated tuber reduction back to the core plant to decrease the size, they do get old and cease blooming.  That was the state of affairs this year in the garden, where I planted 7 canna tubers and 3 have grown.  The ones that grew, grew poorly.

I've changed my habits a little bit and replaced them with three types of dahlia.  That bed now features Blue Boy, Sun Lady, and Color Spectacle dahlia, all of which grow 3 to 4 feet tall and feature flowers from 4" across to 10" across for the Color Spectacle.

Finding information on Sun Lady is difficult, but it's a decorative dahlia that grows 3 to 4 feet tall under normal circumstances, and features sunny golden blossoms that are around 4" wide.  Blue Boy is identical, except that the blossoms are purple-blue.

Color Spectacle features large, coral-orange blossoms with white tips in a semi-cactus style.  While blossoms can be ten inches across, I don't intend on removing the side blossoms so mine will be smaller (but also far more numerous).

Friday, June 13, 2014

Milorganite's Potassium and Operation

I've received two more Dear Reader questions!

Question:  does Milorganite really work?

Answer:  yes.  However, if you're used to the mode of operation of synthetic fertilizers, you may not think so at first.  It takes two to three weeks (in normal weather) to decay into the soil and begin to feed the plants, and the level of feeding it supplies is never as extreme as a synthetic.  Any growth spurt you get will be very minor, and mostly fueled by the small amount of free nitrogen in Milorganite.  Other fertilizers, like soybean meal, have no free nitrogen and won't set off any spurt of growth at all.

Most organic fertilizers have a slowly building positive effect over time as you use them.  The first year, the grass and gardens just look better.  That improves the second year.  And so on.  Eventually, growth is always at the optimal level for the time of year because food is always available when the plant wants it.  That takes some time, however.

Question:  Milorganite has no potassium, correct?

Answer:  incorrect, actually, but you can think of it as 0 if you want.  Milorganite is 5-2-0, which means that the potassium (the third number) doesn't consistently measure at 1% or greater. That doesn't mean zero potassium, merely that it's less than 1% of the mass.  If I remember correctly, Milorganite is just under 1%.

Whether you need potassium or not is something only a good soil test can tell you.  In my case, my soils have entirely sufficient levels and no more is required at the present moment.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Watering in Organics

Yet another Dear Reader question in a banner year for such things.  Keep them coming--I can get them from comments on articles, search terms used to find this blog, and direct e-mail for those of you who know me personally.

Question:  how much water does it take to water in organics?

Answer:  none.  Organics don't need watering in, but when using them in the gardens you may want to do so just to wash the bits and pieces off the flowers and leaves.

And yes, I know what you really mean.  Most organics will begin to activate when they're touching the soil and damp, so not much rain is required.  If they dry out, decay will stop (for the most part).

Continuously dampened organic material will decay into the soil the fastest.  Fortunately, a damp soil will dampen the material nightly and allow decay to continue.  Rainfall will wet it and accelerate decay.  Any watering you do will help, just like rainfall will.

Some of the best conditions I've seen for activating organic feedings are when the weather is overcast with occasional drizzle for several days.  Remaining constantly damp, the organics decay in very quickly.

Extended dry periods will stop organic decay, but the lawn and gardens won't be feeding heavily during a drought--if they're feeding at all.  Hold any additions until the weather changes as organic feedings could build up on the soil, leading to a rather aromatic decay when it finally does rain.