November 30, 2013


Black Heirloom Corn, or Green Aztec corn might be worth saving for planting next year, but I needed to make sure that the seed was bone dry - 2 hours in a 110 degree oven did the trick. I only save a couple of vegetables from seed, opting to focus my seed saving on other plants in the garden which cannot be found elsewhere.

As the Holiday season sweeps in, and we are bombarded with Black Friday and "Week of Black Friday' deals for everything ranging from automobiles to underwear, so too come the seed catalogs. Like most everything else, they too seem to arrive earlier and earlier each year. My personal rule? I try to save them until the week after Christmas, resisting any temptation to peek at what All America Winners made the cover, or what amazing 'new' heirloom tomato is suddenly the 'it' tomato of the year. Aside from Pelargoniums, geraniums and a few seeds which much be sown before the New Year, I too stay away from any seed sites until the last week of December. I've noticed  an abundance of blog posts and Google+ groups talking about seed saving, and like many gardening tasks, there are as many false truths being passed around, far too many to comment on here. Instead of stepping upon my soapbox, I am just going to share with you what I bother to save, when it comes to seed in my garden, and, a few secret sources for seed really worth seeking out, and bothering to save.

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November 23, 2013

Some Farm-to-Table Thanksgiving Prep

Our heritage-breed turkeys this year can breath a sigh of relief, as they have been officially pardoned ( by me).

Don't worry, I am not going to show any photos of slaughtered turkeys as I did last year, in fact, I don't think that we'll even be killing any turkeys this year due to time, and well, the fact that the entire turkey-slaughter process ended up being a significant weekend-long event last year. I think I am OK with a nice store bought turkey this year. It won't taste like that years delicious turkey feast, but I can use this time to prepare something different - say, like fresh ground corn meal from our own heirloom green Aztec corn.  This post will focus on more of the gardens harvest - particularly, that task of making home made cornbread for stuffing, and continuing to prep the pie squashes for pies later in the week. And, of course, some puppy shots plus a surprise addition to the poultry house, at the end of the post.

I have never raised dry field corn before this summer, but I think it will become an annual crop. Even though we don't have a large garden anymore, a few hundred square feet dedicated to field corn will provide enough corn for at least ten pans of corn bread - and believe me, if you have never tasted freshly ground corn meal made from a nice, flavorful, richly scented heirloom corn variety - you are missing one of the true gifts from a garden.
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November 17, 2013


It seems everywhere we look today, there are amaryllis. On those hip lifestyle blogs "white Amaryllis for Christmas", on Pinterest ( you know, "how to grow an amaryllis in a jar"), every single retail store has them merchandised in handy kits on endcaps, even your local hardware store carries these easy-to-grow and showy giants. "They're just McMansion housewife flowers" one of my younger, and most cynical  graphic designers called them, this past weekend.  Ugh. Probably because they can look as tasteless as a tacky Holiday sweater to some who cannot associate memories or nostalgia with them, but the amaryllis has much more to offer than mere holly berry red and snowman white seasonal metaphors worthy of a Restoration Hardware catalog cover.

The genus is broad and the newest hybrids, exotic spider flowered 'cybister' types, dwarf miniatures and curious rare species can be so incredibly interesting, that getting bored is hardly an option. For me, who comes from a time when there was only 5 forms available, todays wide selection can only mean that the amaryllis is becoming more and more interesting each and every year. After all, amaryllis really deliver on all fronts, except perhaps fragrance. It really all comes down to finding the best varieties, and growing them in the best manner. So I will share my amaryllis secrets ( and even a few personal gripes) with you.
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November 11, 2013


Once as common as ferns in a Victorian Fernery, the Florist Gloxinia and Cape Primrose, (Streptocarpus)
they fell out of fashion in the late 20th C. But thanks to Russian, Ukrainian and Polish hybridizers,
new and incredibly complex selections are arriving on our shores. 

 Remember this two years from now. I was the first to tell you that the Gloxinia is back. It's big, awesome and nothing at all like the old Gloxinia of 1960. But really? Gloxinias from the land of Kielbasa, Pierogi and Vodka? Oh yeah baby.....Read on. This is big news for us plant geeks.

As our weather here in the northeast begins to turn truly wintry, with our first snow on radar arriving tomorrow morning, I can't help by think about old fashioned house plants, and for some reason I associate african violets and their relatives the Streptocarpus with winter indoor gardening. African Violets, Streptocarpus and perhaps Gloxinia, if I could find nice and interesting forms. Typically I would have grown Gloxinia as a summer crop, as my parents would - creating displays on our front porch plant stands that would last for a couple of months, but recently, these plants have disappeared in the trade. Only sometimes showing up as houseplants near the Holidays.

November 9, 2013


We may rarely associate of narcissus blooming in autumn, but in some parts of the world, they are a common site. Narcissus serotinus in just one of the autumnal species native to the Mediterranean area, it's a tiny, fragrant generally single blooming species which collectors treasure, often in the smallest of pots, where they seem to grow best.

One of these years, I am going to take the time to visit the narcissus growing parts of the Mediterranean, but not in the spring, when most narcissus, or what we might call daffodils, bloom, but instead, in the autumn, when some of the rarer, small species bloom.  I know, narcissus in the fall? Well, when you start thinking about it, there are some narcissus that bloom for us in the late autumn, such as the Tazetta type, what you might know as the Paperwhite narcissus. I keep two autumnal species in my collection, but in many ways, this tiny jewel is my favorite. It's blossom is barely the size of a dime.

Those who call the Mediterranean home, or who are natives to the area know the treasure that I am sharing with you today. You may know it as the wild bulb that lines the village roads in November by the thousands, the annual gem known as Narcissus de Tarda in Portugal, or Narciso de otoño in Spain or Nacissus autunnale if you are from southern Spain, but to those of us who collect rare or unusual bulbs, we know it as Narcissus serotinus - typically the first narcissus to bloom in our collections, if not one of the smallest.

November 3, 2013


Orchids at an orchid show

This weekend Joe and I attended the Massachusetts Orchid Society's annual orchid show, held at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Orchid Society, it's a popular show ( as orchid shows tend to be), and it is show that we have attended many times, even thought it falls just as we are trying to pack our own greenhouse for the winter ( or fixing glass which broke during a windstorm this week!), or when we are busiest with fall garden clean up like raking leaves. That said, there is ALWAYS time to go look at orchids, and to buy new ones. I mean, mini-complex Paph's - Where have you been all of my life? 

Even though it may seem that orchids are everywhere now, the real serious orchid grower remains a rare commodity, yet I warn you novices with your ice-cube orchids - before long, you will yern for something more, and you will move onto a dyed blue orchid - and then you might try just one cattleya, and before long, you are in rehab. Don't 'Do' Orchids.  They are addictive and hard to get off of. Don't say that I didn't warn you.

It has been said that the 'orchid collector' may be the most obsessed ( i.e. crazy, as in "they will kill someone for a rare orchid - read any book on orchid collecting and see!) of all enthusiasts, perhaps only to be outdone by dog-show people ( or is it the other way around?) Either way, we are doomed. I've been trying to stay away from anything orchid related for some time now, I ignore invitations to join local chapters of the AOS ( the American Orchid Society), if I accidentally click on a link to the AOS website, or to one of the hundreds of orchid grower sites that I have bookmarked for that day when I win Megabucks ( like Santa Barbara Orchid Estate), then I just as quickly hit the back space arrow. No orchids, not for me. Not yet. Must focus, must focus, must focus and resist.

Orchid Show Display
Many autumnal orchids are featured in group displays, such as this one, where growers assemble plants from their
collections which are in peak perfection, often featuring more of their most unusual species such as this
Pleurathalis species which displays it's tiny blossoms within its leaf. Not all orchids are showy, many are odd, and may seem very-un-orchid like at all, yet most orchids are not what you think.

I admit that I grow many, MANY plants, but orchids? As some of you know. I do grow a few orchids, mostly hardier forms dendrobiums, some of the cool growing Asian Cymbidiums and the Japanese forms of Neofinetia - those tiny, fragrant summer blooming orchids. I do show great restraint with orchids, often getting board with fancier forms, and I show signs of being tempted with all but the rarest forms of many species, yet luckily, I cannot legally obtain them nor afford them (yet).

And so it goes with orchids. The height of plant geekdom. Luckily, I cannot afford the warm, humid, water-filtered, air-misted closud forest stove which many of the finest species demand, so I am left with the odd balls. Those species that can handle the cooler, and more seasonal shifting temperatures of my greenhouse, - oh yeah, and those that can handle some negligence. I am not about to buyt a $700 water filter which most collectors have. ( true). That said, I am still a plant collector....and therefore, I lust.