August 27, 2015

GROW YOUR OWN HEART-SHAPED 'LOVE' CUCUMBERS

Grow your own heart-shaped cucumbers
Cuteness from the garden. Who wouldn't  love these heart cucumbers from their own garden?

What more can I say about these fun and cute cucumber molds from Japan that I haven't said already, except that - yes, my past posts on these molds when I first saw them in Japan 5 years ago have been kind of insanely popular on Pinterest and in social media. More than 2 million hits a year. An image from Japan of these molds is still my most re-pinned image on Pinterest. There is no denying that there are lots of home gardener and mommy bloggers who adore these molds. I just wonder who has actually tried them. It's time to find out how they work.

OK, I did it. We are not really fans of the heart-shaped cucumber, but somehow, I had to try it!

Now, I've finally grown my own, to see how they work, and to get nicer photos for myself. Be prepared however, as these molds are costly and hard to find. I don't need more comments about how expensive they are, since I know that they are ridiculously expensive - but, it you have kids, or if you have a lot of disposable income, then why not order a few? (at nearly $80 per mold, you may only want one!).

The amazing thing about these heart and star shaped cucumbers, are the molds themselves. Difficult to find and ridiculously expensive if ordered from Japan ( the ones that cost nearly $80 US each) are nice, but the same ones are now found on a few other sites such as this one, for as low as $26. I can't recommend any source, so you will have to take your chances. New designs are coming into the marketplace however, so you may just want to try one of those.

In fact,  Burpee's now carries them on their website, but I have not tried them yet. They even carry some designed especially for tomatoes. At only $14.99, the price feels more affordable for the home gardener. These look as if they are manufactured by a different company, but I would imagine that they work just as well. I might try those next year.

Japanese heart-shaped cucumber molds are small, so be sure to use a variety of cucumber that will actually fit into the mold. I suggest a greenhouse European seedless type, but I used a common Marketmore 70, it still worked, but they were shorter in length.

I will say that my friend Jess ordered mine from Japan in an effort to try to convince me that I had to manufacture and make my own to sell here in the States. But I fought back saying something like 'Shark Tank would kick us off of the show, telling us that the real money would be in licensing the molds, or licensing the brand out to growers, but not selling them. I mean, it's not as if every household in North America would need one, but a couple of good greenhouse cucumber growers might need a few hundred for a novelty item.

These molds, imported from Japan are strong, yet small. It takes some care to properly use them, but now, there are other molds on the market which are less costly, and more manageable.

I've had my two for a few years now, and since I mostly grow pickling cucumbers (Kirby types), I tried last year, but they really didn't work that well with these fatter cucumbers.  This year, I am growing a few seedless and Marketmore-type cucumbers - not ideal for these, as really, they are designed for the long, greenhouse-type of cucumbers, but the mold still worked.

As the cucumber grows, it fills the mold. One needs to pay careful attention, so that it does grow too large or rot. This may only take a couple of days.

After a thunderstorm this past Monday, I placed the two plastic plated around a tiny cucumber I found in the garden (the cuke needs to be very small, to fit between the two plates. So  1/4 inch  diameter baby cuke it just about the right size. Anything bigger, and parts of the mold will touch.

Ideally, one would use burpless, seedless or greenhouse European-type cucumbers, but even this Marketmore 70 fits the mold. These large types will just not extend very long, so expect shorter cucumbers.

In August, cucumbers grow ridiculously fast, so I knew that in just a couple of days I would have my first hear shaped fruit, as long as it didn't mold or rot in the hot sun. Clearly, these molds are designed for tiny, Japanese gardens on balconies or for use in poly tunnels, and not for big, New England backyard gardens. Today, I checked early in the morning, only 2 days later, and the tube mold was full. I didn't want to risk the cucumber rotting so I picked it.


My cucumbers were smaller than if they didn't have molds, but this was just a fun experiment. They don't don't look like much when unmolded after a few days, but once sliced, the magic happens.


It looked odd, and it was terribly short (about 3 inches long, but size isn't everything). The magic happens when you cut the cucumber, which I was more than anxious to do. I rushed into the house, found a paring knife and some iceberg lettuce to prop a quick photoshoot with. No time for fancy greens, but I did have lots of baby tomatoes ( an orange variety from Johnny's called Clementine, which are shaped exactly like Clementine oranges, and, they are orange!).

A cute, heart shaped cucumber to delight kids, hubbies or the family.

I sliced through the middle of the cuke, and surprisingly, it was indeed heart-shaped. Yay! Cucumbers for breakfast, before I rushed off to work.

Today, commercial growers are using these. This Canadian grower is marketing them under the Picky Gardener label.



Low cost alternative molds are also being sold. These were found on the Burpee's site, and they even had tomato molds.

August 26, 2015

GARDEN CUTTINGS FOR WINTER WINDOWSILLS

Late summer is the best time to take cuttings from your favorite herbs, annuals and tender garden plants to bring indoors.

In a time when old-timey tasks are becoming main-stream and hip- you know, like sharing starter sourdough yeasts, encouraging natural cultures in pickles, yogurt and Kimchi, or saving heirloom seeds which is nearly as popular today as beards are - maybe it's time to get back into the habit of propagating ones own tender plants instead of buying them every spring? OK, I'll admit it first - I'm just as guilty of taking the easy-route - buying new abutilons, brugmansias and salvias at the garden center each and every spring spring. Coleus, fuchsia, cuphea - at a couple of dollars each, where is the harm in letting them freeze?

My collection of old-fashioned double rosebud pelargoniums need to be propagated often, to reduce any effects of virus which can affect older plants. I plan to keep my specimens pinched well, rather than training them into standards this time.  Using  only the strongest shoots to root, these from the bottom, are as thick as my finger.


There was a time when even I would have had to drive out to a specialty greenhouse like Logee's Greenhouses in Connecticut to buy unusual tender plants for the garden, but today, the trend is hot, and even my supermarket had brugmansia and salvia plants this year, but at a cost. Some unusual varieties remain more difficult to find, but that fact aside, imagine the cost savings with the many plants you can start by rooting your own from cuttings?

Pelargonium (geranium) cuttings will root easily in most any soil, even a glass of water, but they prefer sharp drainage and some organic material. Old books encourage a clay, sandy soil - weak in nutrients, but I've found that although they bloom best when grown lean, some balanced nutrition aids in the plant producing strong foliage.

Once a popular, if not necessary garden chore -  the idea of snipping off cuttings of various garden plants to keep through the winter has its merits, even today.  Not all homes can offer the perfect climate for wintering over summer garden plants, but if one has a cool window, sunporch, unused bedroom or of course, a greenhouse, keeping cutting of your favorite tender garden plants through the winter make good, smart sense.

If you are a plant collector, there are even more reasons why you may want to propagate a plant. I do it as an insurance policy, for keeping three or four cuttings of a hard-to-find, expensive or even rare plant ensures that if one dies (or if the greenhouse freezes) the one kept indoors or on a windowsill will perpetuate the collection. While cuttings of other plants that might be impossible to find every year at a garden center, or which sell out fast makes just plain good, economical sense.

Then, of course, there is the share-ability-factor. Rooted cuttings of your favorite plants could make a unique and cherished gift at the Holidays - imagine a set of rooted herb cuttings for a topiary enthusiast or for the foodie in your office?

Herb cuttings, especially those from woody herbs such as rosemary and scented geranium, only do well if you can offer them a cool, if not cold, sunny window in the winter.

Some plants do make good houseplants as well. Rooted cuttings of abutilons and many succulents do perfectly well on the winter windowsill. Geraniums (pelargoniums) often do better indoors in the winter than they do in the summer, blooming endlessly until spring if kept in the sunniest window that you have.

Herb cuttinsg will root best if placed into sharp sand and perlite, in a 50/50 rooting mix. The addition of a rooting hormone is beneficial, especially with woodier stems. One wants to encourage many roots, not just a few.

Since I have a greenhouse, the idea of propagating my own plants is even more practical. Many tender plants winter over so easily in cooler conditions, if not under cold glass (abutilons, cuphea, fuchsia) at least they will in a cool cellar window or a garage window.  Yes, gardening chores are often the last thing one wants to think about in August, but just go back a few months and think about what you dished out for that awesome, tall salvia or brugmansia. At $7.00 or more per pot, those cuttings you are going to take the weekend will really add up.

Unusual  pelargoniums, geraniums, cuphea ignea, even brugmansia, fuchsia and abutilon cuttings from last weekend's harvest in the garden. I want to be stocked up this coming year.

Old-timey gardening magazines and books - especially here in the US promoted taking cuttings of garden plants for indoor pots around late summer. Garden writers and early gardening rock starts such as Thalassa Cruso promoted the task on her popular Public Television program (or in her many books) during the 1960's and '70's house plant craze era. Ruth Stout even wrote about propagating garden plants as house plants in her books on organic gardening, in the same era, Crockett's Victory Garden in the 70's and 80's, and even older garden writers for Horticulture Magazine annually wrote romantically about this common autumnal task which most every gardener practiced. As a kid, I would follow my parents around the garden (maybe starting in 1968?) and would practice roots all sorts of annuals and plants from the summer beds, just to bring indoors.

Last year my fuchsia collection produced loads of cuttings, which allowed me to carry on many of my favorites throughout the winter.

Maybe it was because plants were less disposable back in then? In the twentieth century, and certainly before that, one kept heirloom plants and handed them down if they were houseplants. Garden plants had to be propagated if one wanted to keep tender annual or tropical plants, since they were extremely scarce, often traveling to North America by ship, or simple just never propagated by the few greenhouses who grew and sold plants.

There is one trick which does seem to work well with pelargoniums or geraniums. That is to snap off any flowering buds in late summer once you see them, and keep the plants pinched to encourage branching. By the time winter rolls around, your plant will be so anxious to bloom, that you won't be able to stop it.

I should add that not all garden plants are easy to winter over. Most annuals, even those written about in nineteenth century gardening books which certainly do well under glass in cold greenhouses such as antirrhinum (snapdragons), marigolds and fuchsias will just sulk and be insect traps if grown indoors under modern conditions. My mom was famous for keeping rooted cuttings of impatiens and wax begonias indoors every winter, I think they were more about feeding whiteflies, aphids and spidermites.

There is nothing like a lemon-scented geranium when it is also in full bloom, in March.
 CAUTION:
It is your responsibility to check if the plant you are propagating is labeled as 'PPAF', or if it has a ®.
Contrary to popular belief, taking cuttings from any plant labeled as 'PPAF' or if is is registered is illegal, even if you are a home gardener (PPAF stands for 'Plant Patent Applied For'). I know this seems silly but look at it from the plant breeders perspective. Plant breeders are essentially inventors, and many dedicate their entire lives to breeding new, and better plants. I have a good friend who is an independent plant breeder (believe me, I don't know of any who are rich, if anything, it's the contrary). He explained to me that registering a plant to be 'PPAF' costs him aroung $1200 per plant, and he only gets to see a few dollars of that coming back when  nursery sells his plant. So, as an inventor myself, I get it.

Surely we will all still snip a cutting or two, probably without even knowing it - but I try to follow the law as best I can. For this reason, I won't take a cutting of a my Brugmansia 'Snow Bank', since Terra Nova nurseries owns the rights to propagate it.  I have thought about writing them to see if I could take one cutting, since the plant I received seems to have some problems, as if it was micro-propagated and it is almost cresting with small shoots. I would love to know if I could take one cutting from the base of the plant, and destroy to mother plant.  But I imagine that such questions to Terra Nova would be silly, and yes - I could just take a cutting an no one would know the better. But I would love to know what they would say to me if I followed the proper protocol? Laugh if you will, but the US patent law is law. Besides, I just wouldn't feel 'right'. This may be my 'squidgy reasoning', I know, but in the end, it is up to us plant folk to enforce these rules. You can identify trademarked cultivars as they will have a ™ or a circle R ®, or have a 'PPAF' number.

We should all work together to support plant breeders so that they can to continue to breed stronger, better and more resistant plants that are interesting (think:Proven Winners, Terra Nova, etc). I'm not getting all righteous on you, but really - plant breeding is invention, and invention is a business and an art which we all should respect.

Beyond all that, I do suggest trying a few of your favorites garden plants to keep through the winter. Geraniums are easy, but rosemary - not so much. I only have luck wintering over herbs in the cold greenhouse, but if you are daring and pay attention to what they need, you can find success even with the persnickety rosemary - I have a friend in a penthouse in New York City who keeps an entire collection of herbs, some even trained as elegant topiary trees (the artist Abbie Zabar). She excels particularly rosemary, and if she can do it, surely you could as well! Just remember, cool conditions, moist air, and brilliant winter sunshine. If not? Then stick to geraniums, at least they will bloom like crazy. Remember, dare I say it -- winter is only a few months away for many of us!

August 20, 2015

DAHLIAS, ZINNIAS AND TRAINING JAPANESE EXHIBITION CHRYSANTHEMUMS

My zinnia trials are starting - remember when I said that I was going to try and raise most every cut flower variety that I could get my hands on last spring? Again, what was I thinking? Still, they are nice, right? Here is a mixed bunch of old fashioned candy cane types, and new-fashioned scabies flowered types.



Do you remember when you were a kid and you parents would say things like "where has the summer gone?" and you thought "it was soooooooolong!", that they must be old and crazy? Well, if you're anything like me, you're old and crazy. Here we are in the third week of August (I know, right?) and I don't know about you, but my garden is officially insane with color and veggies. More tomatoes than I know what to do with (not a bad thing), pickling duke that now are just allowed to turn yellow and become healthy dog toys, and jalapeno's in such quantities that I really am wondering what I was thinking when I planted so many!

Lydia and Weasley take advantage of a dog's day afternoon. Just too hot to do anything - no wait, is that a squirrel?

Fancy exhibition Japanese chrysanthemums being trained - no moved to larger pots. Smaller than they should be, they will just bud later - as I am skipping their last pinch. These are the shortest ones, but I do have some taller ones.

I have a little too much going on in the garden and greenhouse, so instead of boring you all with lots of separate posts, here is some 'this and that' of what's been happening around the garden this week. Remember my mad rush to find Japanese and exhibition chrysanthemum cuttings a month or so ago? There was this chat that a major magazine wanted to come and do a story on them, since I've raised them in the past, but they are so hard to find now (only about 5 of us have any in collections in the US) that I had to reach out via social media to find cuttings.

Doodles watches on as I re-pot a cutting of a giant spider mum from Japan. I have decided if the magazine backs out of this photoshoot, I will just have a big Japanese Chrsanthemum party in November, and celebrate these amazing plants in a 'semi-private exhibition right here in my own greenhouse - why not?

Even though it was too late to properly start and train a proper collection, thanks to Kings Mums, the New York Botanical Garden and Smith College, I've been able to get my hands on a generous collection, of which are currently being rushed along with lots of fertilizer and coaxing, so that they can catch up to where they should be before the days become too short (day-length sensitive, remember).

After pinching, the plants are tied to a tall bamboo stake, fertilized and watered in well.


In the garden, the plants will stay until frost threatens them (usually just before they bloom in October) when they will be moved into the greenhouse for blossoming and display. These are nothing like garden mums at all, since they are not hardy.

I had to order stakes and pots, as well as sterile soil, if I was ever going to make this mad rush to push along this mum collection work. These are thinner canes than I would typically use in the garden but they are perfect for these mums.

I got mine from A.M. Leonard & Co. They have most every size.

The taller mums start to look nice with some careful tieing. Surely, the Japanese do a better job, but I still try to take my time and make every knot look neat.

Around the garden, there are still other chores to do, such as mid-summer pruning on the apples, and a good trim to the boxwood hedges.

Fennel pollen needs to be collected for adding to goat cheese balls in the winter (yum) 

The species cyclamen collection needed to be re-potted, or potted up while they are still dormant - I expect these younger tubers to start growing in a few weeks as the nights start to get cooler. Most of these are from my friend John Lonsdale.


The Asarina purpusii 'Victoria Falls'  is looking quite nice.I can appreciate its small size, a nice, tidy limber for a 11 inch pot.. Who would ever have thunk that those tiny seeds from Chiltern Seeds would produce this?
And yes….dahlias!

Lots and lots of dahlias, even though some broke in a hail storm earlier this week, I am pretty please with the selection I have this year. And yes, those on the ends are Cafe au Lait.

Weasley is starting to look like Fozzie Bear. No more shows for him, now that he is retired. He'll just have to be happy as the number 2 Irish Terrier in the country!

























August 17, 2015

CLUCK! - THE HIP URBAN FARM SUPPLY STORE THAT EVERYONE IN PROVIDENCE IS TALKING ABOUT



Cluck!, an urban farm store located in Providence, Rhode Island offers most everything a rooftop or backyard 'farmer' would ever need. Remember, there are no big farm stores near most major cities - and for those who don't have trucks or cars, having a place like this blocks away, opens up a new market.


Just right up the street from my office is this neat, little converted gas station that I really wanted to check out - I mean, as someone who has raised poultry and gardened in a relatively suburban setting for practically my entire life, I was curious. Throw in the fact that I am a design geek as well, and it was probably surprising that I had never visited Cluck! before. I don't know where all of this 'urban'farming' thing will end up, but I have nothing but support for anyone who tries to change how we get our food today, and if they can figure out how to do it in a well crafted way, even better.

Cluck below, for more!

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