July 28, 2014

MY TROY BILT SUPER BRONCO ROTOTILLER REVIEW & AWESOME GIVEAWAY



It's that time of the summer again folks - when the back-to school ads are starting to appear on TV, and when it's time to start thinking about the fall vegetable garden. As many of you know, I am on of the Saturday6 Troy Bilt team, so full-disclosure here - this is a review AND a giveaway. That's right, I may be given this awesome Super Bronco Rototiller to play with, but leave a message, 'Like' me on my Facebook page or share this on Pinterest, Google+ or Twitter, and leave a note on what you did at the end of this post, and you will be automatically entered in this epic giveaway. Just about the best one I have ever done. The giveaway ends this Sunday night at 11:00 PM Eastern Time, and I will announce the winner Monday morning. The fine folks at Troy Bilt will then send you one of these amazing, strong tillers.



But more about that, here - because I won't let them get off so easily - this was a tiller that I really put through a torture test extraordinaire ( they may never let me test on again!), as New England soil is rocky, hard and rocky. Did I mention rocky? Sure, I have a few dents, even a flat tire( really! Although it's fixed, a rock just got jammed in between the rubber wheel and the rim, and the air squished out. A quick pump, and it was fine - no puncture - hey - they are real tires!



THE SCENE OF THE CRIME - THE SIDE GARDEN ON THE WEST SIDE OF THE GREENHOUSE

FIRST, IT HAS TAKEN THREE WEEKS FOR US TO REMOVE THE TREES INCLUDING A 35 FOOT TALL YELLOW MAGNOLIA AND A LARGE WITCH HAZEL THAT I LOVED, BUT HAD TO GO.

This part of our garden was pretty useless. Only weeds and invasive plants, and the dogs have pounded the soil into a dead pan playground. It will now be a new vegetable garden. Joe challenged me to see if it could chew up the running, invasive bamboo, plus a bed full of sting vines like bittersweet and wisteria ( I know, we were crazy!). The tiller did much better than I thought it would, but after about ten minutes the vines were just too much, and they wrapped around the tines. We had to cut them out carefully, which was tedious. Surely, one would not do this anyway - but I wanted to push it.


WITH THE LARGER TREES REMOVED, YOU CAN SEE HOW HARD THE SOIL IS. IF THIS ISN'T A TORTURE TEST, I DON'T KNOW WHAT WILL BE. THIS IS WHAT A ROTOTILLER IS BEST FOR - ESTABLISHING A NEW GARDEN FROM ROCK-HARD SOIL. THEY ARE NOT GOOD FOR RAISED BEDS, OR WELL CONDITIONED SOIL.

video


This was an extreme test which few tillers could handle - I'm serious, I was not easy on this machine at all. I just basically started it, and let it roll on raw, unprepped ground - as I wanted to see what would happen, as surely there are people out there who might do this. Just dig into some sod with a rototiller, when starting a garden ( I would remove the sod first, if this wasn't a test). Our hard-soiled mess of a yard was not match, and this tiller went on and on, stopping only once to refuel. I was able to transform this under-used area into a large bed of soft soil ready to plant. 

Unlike other brands, the tines on this machine turned in an opposite direction, back towards me, so there was no jumping or jerking around. They just all moved so smoothly, strong and tireless. The only thing that really made the tiller stop, were rocks. Not surprising, most people would check for rocks first, and then tell - after all, they are rocks! Still, as rocks if large enough jammed in the tines, no damage was done, but the machine would stall. Once the rock was removed, I could restart the machine with one pull. Amazing. This is no week machine! It's up for serious work. I only wish that I had a 200 yard long veg garden where I could use it every week between rows.


AFTER TILLING THE FIRST TIME, I REALIZED THAT I HAD TO PULL OUT MORE WEEDS WITH A RAKE, BUT I WANTED TO GIVE THIS TILLER A REAL CHALLENGE, SO NOT SOIL PREP, WEEDING OR REMOVING OF SOD - REALLY! I KNOW, I WAS BRUTAL ( SORRY TROY BILT!), BUT YOUR MACHINE KEPT ON GOING. THE ONLY THING THAT STOPPED IT WAS WHEN JOE SAID - TAKE IT THROUGH THE BAMBOO. DON'T DO THAT.



So, I will admit that I am already a Troy Bilt fan, we now have three tillers in the barn, but the other two are twenty years old. Heavy, strong, repairable, which tiller geeks love ( they even have a website just for themselves where they trade tips and parts) so this tells me that these machines are beasts, long lived and built to last. When the Tory Bilt team asked me what I wanted, I told them that what I really needed was a good, yet not massive rototiller, as I had plans on making a new garden where one had once existed 60 years ago, but  never told them that it was was now overgrown with 30 foot trees, grass and dense clay soil underneath that was rock hard, and full of rocks. You know, New England stone walls, and all.




Look, I have to be honest - if something really bad happened, I would really have to tell you - but just check out the these images. The Troy Bilt Super Bronco started on the first start every time ( even after being left out in the rain one night!), it chomped through dense, rock-hard soil that had so many rocks in it, that they caused the machine to stall ( a safety feature - but one rock did bend the metal guard that wraps over the tines - just a few  scratches that's all, but it just kept going and going. I love Troy Bilt tillers almost as much as my parents did. And I still have their tillers! So come on folks - enter now to win this great tool! Remember, join my Facebook Page, or become a follower on this blog ( the little pictures on the right), or just leave a nice note with your name. I will use the randomizer site to select a winner Sunday Night at 11:00 PM EST. For delivery, you must reside in the continental USA and you can only enter once. Good luck!



July 27, 2014

MY 2014 GARDEN PROJECTS - THE MID-SEASON CHECK-IN AND REVIEW

Many folks asked me about how my 'special projects' were progressing, at the Sakonnet Symposium this past weekend - so here is an update.



After such a hectic week (Work, three days at Comicon in San Diego, and then my presentation at the Sakonnet Symposium in Rhode Island) I am so happy to have a quiet day back in the garden. Well, maybe not THAT quiet, as we have already had three thunderstorms today, and the dogs are being incredible barky ( Lydia and Daphne are in 'season', and the two boys are well....being boys). Let me just say that the garden is a nice escape - even in the dense humidity, hail and tropical downpours.



My Dahlia cut-flower project is progressing, as this seems to be the perfect year for Dahlias. Lots of rain here in New England, and with the start of some hot and humid weather, they are really taking off, even though it has been cooler than average, especially in the evenings. 


Before you write me and ask how my projects are progressing ( yeah, a couple of you have! And you know who your are - Glen)  I am making some progress on most of my 2014 'special projects'.

For those of you who are new to my blog, these projects are a self-inflicted duty I assign myself every year. In mid-winter, it seems like I might be getting lazy, so instead of making to-do lists, I like to challenge myself with a few, intensely focused special projects - they might be an analysis of a certain genus, - a trial perhaps, where I collect and grow as many species, or named selections that I can, - let's say all English Sweet Peas, French melons, Belgian Endive, or Shirley Poppy varieties. It's a great way for me to stay fresh and, well, growing with plants.

This year, I took on a few too many projects which is typical 'Matt behavior', I didn't want to disappoint you. so naturally, a couple fell off of the list - mainly, the Hollyhock trial and my new alpine scree garden ( although, I may still plant one in the fall - but I am thinking of something more elaborate if I can get it completed - a new raised-bed alpine house for Saxifrages).

The only other project not yet started is pickling, and Kimchi - but that will be starting soon. It's just too early in the season.  Here is my mid-season check-in ( just in case you think I am slacking off, of becoming lazy!).



'Cornell', a nice red cut flower dahlia with long stems for vases, and a tight flower.


CUT FLOWER DAHLIA TRIALS
Inspired by Floret Farm ( don't you love their site? Oh my gosh - it is just about perfect!), I decided in February to order as many Dahlia varieties that I could that match the cut flower varieties that Floret Farm grows. Of course, they are in Washington State, and I am in Massachusetts, so varieties will grow differently, still, my early results look promising. I think that I really like these smaller flowered, mid sized Dahlias with longer stems (I never really looked at the Swan Island Dahlia's catalog so closely before, yet they clearly identify which Dahlias have the longest stems, and which ones are best for flower farms. Stay tuned, but I really like where my dahlias are going this summer. 



GREENHOUSE TOMATOES


Yes, I am actually using the greenhouse for something you can eat! My melon project was so successful a few years back, that this year I thought that I might try either cucumbers or tomatoes. Greenhouse tomato varieties are different than garden varieties, but I chose one that can be grown under glass or outside - Sakura F1, and organic variety that produces long trusses of large cherry-type fruit. I had visions of early tomatoes - maybe even by June. They variety I chose is from Johnny's Selected Seeds, and it produces trusses of tomatoes - I figured, might as well go all fancy. I planted them in one of my aluminum bulb plunge beds, which are near the front of the greenhouse, and usually filled with sand for the summer, where the winter-blooming bulbs rest, but with a bag of Pro-Mix mixed in, I think the soil ended up being just about perfect for greenhouse tomatoes.


Sakura F1, an organic greenhouse cherry tomato from Johnny's Selected Seeds is producing lots of trusses in the greenhouse this summer.


I started my tomatoes a little late - I mean, if you consider April 20 late. Basically, it's when I start my outdoor tomatoes, so I sort-of knew that I would not get super-early tomatoes, but I did hold some hopes that I would have tomatoes by the Fourth of July. I could have picked my first red-ripe tomato in late June, but since I planted these truss varieties, I didn't want to ruin the beauty of the truss, so I had to wait much longer for the entire truss to ripen. All seemed to be going fine, until I returned home from a business trip last week and Joe, who thought that he was helping me, picked a bowl of tomatoes, which came from each of the trusses, leaving about half of the trusses still intact. I only freaked out a little, as it was nice to have some early tomatoes, and when I went outside to look, he had still left some trusses intact. All for you, my friends -- you deserved to have full-tomato trusses --  all ripe and red - so here they are! Now, I can go pick the rest. I predict that my garden tomatoes outside, need at least two more weeks to start coming in.


Commonly known as 'Nipple Fruit' or 'Titty Fruit' (really), Solanum mammosum is actually an eggplant.
SOLANUM MAMMOSUM

Yes, I did it. I am growing the famed 'Nipple Fruit' - Solanum mammosum. An auspicious Chinese ornamental with bright-orange, nipple-like fruit. Silly crop? I suppose - but come on -- Titty Fruit? Who wouldn't want these in their garden? I never imagined that they would grow this big ( don't say it), but they are huge! Still, no sign of flowers yet, but the plants are large, and still growing fast. I planted them in my 'sweet spot' - the moist, rich  and warm soil in the area in front of the greenhouse, where I usually plant my most heat-loving tropicals like banana, canna and alocasia. This eggplant relative should look spectacular by late September, if we don't get an early frost.


My Tuberose crop is growing, ( and yeah, so is the crab grass), but I am not all that confidant that they will make it once again. Tuberoses have been challenging, but I blame it on poor stock.  Sourcing blooming-sized roots was difficult again, and I didn't get them into the garden until early June. I could only find small clumps via mail order. They are a late flower, so I still have nearly two months before they should form spikes, so I sit ....and wait....and weed, with crossed fingers.


The first installation of my Lithops collection. The genus just seemed like the perfect one for me to exercise my need for a collection of like-plants where one can observe and appreciate all of the differences. Tiny, collectable, with a few hundred species available - they are perfect. Let's first see if they germinate, as I should have sown them in the spring.

A COLLECTION OF LITHOPS

OK - Stop it. I know what you are going to say. "I don't know how you.....". Maybe I need to seek 'help', but it's true -  I am moving forward with my collection of every species I can get my hand on of Lithops.  Justm 'because'. The first 56 species arrived this week, but I shant bore you with how small the seeds are, or how I had to order new black pots, and new black labels, and how I had to order 63 more species this morning from South Africa (Silverhill Seeds), nor how I sat on a plane coming back from San Diego with my Brother P-touch typing in some of the longest botanical Latin names ever seen. The poor man next to me must have thought that I was crazy (don't say it!). Hey - someone has to grow all of the Lithops.


Oca!  It seems like everyone is grow this Andean tuber this summer, as I have seen it in at least three gardens. Again, a little late in planting it, I did start it early in the greenhouse, but I had to wait until I had more space - what was I thinking? Clearly I need more land!

OCA - OXALIS TUBEROSA

My Oca or Oxalis tuberosa planting is growing nicely. It too will be a late crop, but if frost holds off until mid October, I may be OK. The tubers were planted in a new section of the garden, which used to be lawn, so the soil is rich but not overly enhanced, as it is still clay-like. I am guessing that this is what this Oxalis which is so trendy right now, will like. Flowers will be arriving soon, and I can't wait for those, as you know that I already have a collection of tuberous oxalis -just not the edible ones. This ancient starchy tuber from the Andes will be a new vegetable on our table this winter.


Lima Beans were not on the list, but I added them, along with a collection of standard fuchsias. I've never grown Lima's before, as they are a true, southern crop, but I started them early in the greenhouse, and they have quickly covered this bean structure, and are blooming. I am hopeful.


Aaron Bertelsen, the Vegetable Gardener from Great Dixter spoke with me this weekend along with Margaret Roach, at the Sakonnet Symposium, in lovely Little Compton, Rhode Island. The three of us were hosted by Mikel Folcarelli and John Gwynne who not only planned the annual event, but who hosted a special garden tour afterwards. I will share more about this year's seminar and the Sakonnet Garden tour my next post, as this one is getting long already.

The driveway outside of John Gwynne's and Mikel Folcarelli's fantastic secret garden presents a humble facade, that doesnt' even hint of what lies within the walled garden. Just wait until you see it. This is truly a Rhode Island gem.

The farm table lunch at this weekend's Sakonnet Symposium 'The art of Vegetable Gardening'. I was so surprised to meet so many blog followers, new and old, as well as some notable gardeners from the North East. Really, with a corn field to the left, a quaint New England church to the right, and the Atlantic Ocean all around us, this 'Farm Coast' event was something not to miss on a this mid-summer, July weekend.

July 21, 2014

THE ORIENPETS - SUMMER'S BIGGEST BLOCKBUSTER COMING TO A GARDEN NEAR YOU

They are the gamechangers of the lily world - new interspecific hybrids are changing how we all think about lilies.
So get this.  This a busy week for me. I am putting the final touches on my presentation at next Saturday's Sakonett Symposium in Little Compton, Rhode Island, (come, if you can!), but first I am off to Comicon in San Diego (for my day job, a bit of research and mingling with the Bronies, a corporate website launch, and some worky stuff, and then back just in time to the East Coast late Friday night to speak at the Sakonnet Garden Symposium on Saturday morning, along with Margaret Roach and Aaron Bertlesen, the head gardener for the veg garden at Great Dixter (what company, right?). I'm kind-of freaked out, but all things considered, it should be great. 

Orientpet lilies are definitely changing the lily game - even this older cross in our gold and blue garden, the variety 'Conca d' Or', which just gets bigger and bigger each year, with more buds. This year, one of them has 25 buds.


But this weekend's lily show? I HAVE to share the photos with you! Spectacular. That's all I can say about this show, held at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA and sponsored by the New England Lily Society. At first, I was more interested in finishing my presentation than journeying over to the botanic garden on Saturday, but Joe dragged me out for a few hours, and I was so happy that he did - the show was so much better than shows in the past few years, and at first, I wondered why. Were the lilies just all later this year? Did the lily beetle suddenly disappear? I think I know the answer ( please correct me if someone out there knows why!), but I think that it's because of the new Orienpets.

read on for more:

July 12, 2014

25 OF MY FAVORITE CONTAINER GARDEN IDEAS

These lilies reminded me that sometimes, we forget that bulbs can do well in pots - particularly lilies (um...Easter lilies grow in pots, right?) which inspired me to write a pot about some container ideas. It was surprisingly easy to come up with 25 - maybe I should have done 50 ideas?



Last weekend, I spotted this black plastic rain barrel at Home Depot - so for $19.99 I had an instant pond. With a little duck weed and water hyacinth, the feature provided me with some dimension and reflection where before, just a few pots sat in a rather boring arrangement. Now, I added more containers around the tub and suddenly, I have a new garden where the magnolia tree once stood.



1. Use upside-down clay pots to elevate potted plants when you display pots in a group - plants just look better when you create height in a container garden. 2. Add a water feature – even if it is a small one. A large bowl or even better, a tub of water amongst your containers will add reflection and interest ( try adding some aquatic plants to it too!). 3. Paint your stakes using a dip method or with stripes created with masking tape. A bright, coral and light blue colored tip might help you avoid poking your eye while weeding. 4. Here is a care-tip that even I sometimes fail with -water each container well - then water them again - Don't believe me? Water well, and then gently remove the pot and see how far down you actually soaked the rootball…..I go at least 3 times, then check for dryness by removing rootball – you’d be surprised how long you have to water a potted plant before the water soaks all the way through.


Read on for more:

July 7, 2014

GREY POPPIES, CLEVER STAKING TRICKS & CONFUSING BLACK SWALLOWTAILS



It's during these long days in Early July, just after the summer solstice, when many garden plants suddenly take off - and if one isn't prudent with staking and tieing, a plant with tender stems can quickly bend and snap in a gusty thunderstorm. I pride myself about my staking technique, a skill I was once horrible at, until one summer while working in high school at a private estate as a gardener - where the head gardener spent way too much time with me, teaching me the proper way to wrap a dahlia stem with soft twine ( around the stem, and then around the stake first, and then finishing off with a figure eight pattern - all loose enough to expand as the stem does, throughout the summer, but tight enough to hold the stalk steady). 


Shirley Poppies this year, focus on grey and white blends. I planted 'Angel', a pure white selection, and 'Pastel Shades', with loads of lilac-grey - a special color that is rare in the floral world.


Each plant requires a different technique, ranging from a delicate construction for the annual Shirley Poppies, whose wiry stems require a network of soft twine and bamboo, woven delicately through the fuzzy, thin and fleshy leaves, to the seemingly sturdy Dahlias that, with stems as fleshy and crisp as a stalk of celery, which can snap as easily as, well, a stalk of celery. Dahlias require strong stakes, 2 x 2 wood posts are best, or 1.5 inch bamboo will do the trick, and they are best if left at 6 feet tall, for in a few weeks, with the onset of hot and humid weather, a Dahlia will explode into growth, and will hide a 5-6 foot stake in no time.


Shirley Poppies, or annual Papaver rhoeas  will need staking, but individual stakes are both impractical and ugly, so I like to create a structure - fence-like, with bamboo canes, which I keep at full length, because I don't think that it looks all that bad. Sometimes, it's OK to see the structure, and with something like cut flower annual poppies, why not let the staking show proudly. I then weave twine in and out, creating a web that will hold the delicate stems.



Standard heirloom rose-flowered geraniums require strong, yet thin bamboo canes. I use raffia to tie the stems here, directly to the stake, which must be re-tied every few weeks to prevent scaring. This 19th Century method makes an ordinary geranium quite special.

Amaranth ( you know, the kind with long, red tassels known as 'Love Lies Bleeding' can be challenging to grow, with its insanely tiny seed, and utter hatred for any root disturbance, when raised well, it still will look like nothing other than a weed in the garden until hot weather arrives (around the fourth of July here). It's time to stake - but carefully, as these robust plants will form stems that can reach 2 inches in width.

'Titty Fruit' (um....yeah, that's what it's called - Google it) is an ornamental eggplant grown for it's golden yellow fruit, but the plant needs strong stakes. For now, I use thin bamboo canes, that will be hidden when the plant reaches its mature height of 30 inches.

I was delighted to see a Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) Spice Bush Swallowtail - Papilio troilus (thanks to a reader -Mike Huben -who corrected me!) The only problem? This is one of those species that just doesn't sit still for a photo, unlike it's relative the Yellow Swallowtail ( or Black Swallowtail, for that matter).  This one is visiting a Nepeta  subsessilis- I observed it only visiting this one species, yet none of the others nearby ( yet the hummingbirds prefer the N. siberica, and not this one). I wonder why? Surely, they know something that I don't.




With all of the lilies blooming, most of the Asiatics  like these don't require stakes, but the Chinese Trumpet lilies do.



July 1, 2014

GOING FOR THE GOLD (AND THE BLUE)

This year, even the containers on the deck and around our outside sitting area are planted with blue and gold annuals. Sure, I mixed in a little apricot, and some plants leaning towards the orange tints, but it all works.

Color theme gardens really are not my thing - well, let me rephrase that, I love color, and I love gardens that respect color theory, but keeping a garden with a limited color palette feels or too restricting. But A few years back, I decided to design my perennial border - (actually, a circle with quadrants enclosed by boxwood) with a more refined palette - generally in the range of yellow and blue. Of course, in horticultural terms, 'blue' includes violet, and I stretch the yellow description to include bits of orange yellow, gold and apricot. Oh, and I'm not that perfect - later in the season there are all sorts of colors that appear.

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