My Dinner Plate Dahlias

This year I’m trying to reign-in my Dahlia obsession. I always have this fantasy of  rows upon rows of dahlias. But space is a hot commodity for me on my little farm, so let’s just assume that I’ll be planting less than I had on my crazy-awesome dahlia wishlist, but more than CJ thought we needed.

Supposedly this little negotiation is called “Comprise”.

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I try to get my tubers in the ground by mi-May (which is creeping up on me). When planting dahlia tubers be careful. They’re fragile. Which really isn’t my strong suit. I think my fine motor skills may have been lost somewhere in the gene pool.

My Tip for Fantastically HUGE Dahlias: I toss a handful of Bonemeal in the hole at plantins. Bonemeal encourages strong root growth (important for heavily flowering plants like roses and other bulbs) and encourages blooming.

Which HEL-LO?! Is what I’m trying to do!

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A side note on Bonemeal: it  has more phosphorous than other fertilizers which is beneficial for dahlias. Most have equal or varying amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. With too much nitrogen plants will focus their growth on leaves, not flowers (which is bad). And potassium helps with the reproduction aspect, which is a non-issue with dahlias as they are grown by splitting their tubers when they are dormant.

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There are a many different types of dahlias, butty favorites are the Dinner Plates.

Because they are the best. I may be a bit biased, but I don’t think so.

It’s just that their blooms are so dang big! Their flowers are between 8 and 12 inches ACROSS!  I love seeing clients or  friends’ faces when I bring them a bunch, especially if they haven’t seen them before it’s almost as if they aren’t real.

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Another great dahlia growing tip: Cut back the main, center stem to the ground when its approximately 12″ tall.

I know it hurts. You don’t believe me. You may even think I’ve lost my mind!

But it works!

By cutting back the center leader by several inches all the energy gets redirected back into the plant and does so many good things. It makes the plant happier in general, but the stems elongate (good for market and wedding work), the plant is sturdier and bushier, and it promotes bud development. Which is what I want! So I cut it back.

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Be ruthless! Cut all your dahlias back. HARD. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

If you think I’m lying, try it on just one of your dahlias and you will be converted to this practice for life!

For more on dahlias and the organic kitchen garden, check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!

Warmly,
Kelly
By |April 3rd, 2017|Bungalow Potager, Growing & Gardening, My Life As A Gardener|

Tomatoes, Who is Not Growing These?

Yesterday I spent the morning seeding tomatoes (they take a while to get started) and as I was gearing up for the season I thought about who wasn’t seeding them … I mean isn’t everyone?

I’m all about supporting your local nursery, but when they’re so easy and cheap to start and all you need is time and patience, why not? You’ll get much better selection with seed, and then you can swap with friends! 

So here are my Top 10 Tomato Growing Tips to get you excited!

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Tomato Growing Tip #1: Pick tomato varieties that you will use and are best for your zone. Besides trial and error, which while important and educational, is time consuming. You’ll get much better information about which varieties are good for what, grow well and taste good when talking with friends and neighbors (even your local agricultural extension).

Some varieties preform better than others in specific climates. There are even disease-resistance varieties available. So save yourself some time and ask around.

Tomato Growing Tip #2: Compost and feed your soil, don’t over think it! Get that nutrition in the soil BEFORE you plant your tomato seeds/seedlings. So many people I know add compost and fertilizer after they plant, but starting with a rich, compost soil first is much more beneficial.

Humus, present in healthy, rich soil provides all the potassium (K) your tomatoes need to develop strong roots and stems. And your compost contributes all the phosphorous (P) you need to flowers and fruits. So when you feed your soil a ‘balanced’ fertilizer you are adding more potassium and phosphorous to an already hefty supply. Then adding the extra nitrogen (N), which of course makes your tomato plant look green and lush, results in more foliage and less tomatoes.

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Tomato Growing Tip #3: Plant in a sunny spot. And by sunny I mean about 10 hours. The more sun the better. And if you can find a spot that has lots of air circulation that is even better. Not only will your tomatoes grow bigger with more sun, but the air movement keeps disease and pests away.

Tomato Growing Tip #4: Plant your seedlings deep. Whether you grow your seedlings from seed or purchase them at your local nursery, dig a hole deep enough so that the stem is buried up to the top 2 leaves (after removing the lower leaves).

Your plants will develop more roots this way. And more roots means a healthier stem, and a healthier stem means a healthier plant, and a healthier plant makes more tomatoes. Boom!

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Tomato Growing Tip #5: Mulch. So simple. Mulch your tomato plants. Use straw, pine needles, leaves, grass, seaweed, whatever! But mulch not only breaks down into yummy things for the soil, but it also keeps the roots cool, prevents weeds, and helps the soil keep its moisture. Which is especially important once the heat and dryness of summer arrive.

Tomato Growing Tip #6: Use Seaweed as a mulch. Your tomatoes will get some supplemental potassium (think stronger and quicker root development), and as the mulch breaks down it integrates into your soil, making it richer.

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Tomato Growing Tip #7: Grow your plants vertically. Keeping the stems and leaves off the soil helps keep pests and disease at bay. It also lets in lots of light to all sides of the plant, helping it grow stronger and healthier. I like to use the basketweave trellis technique (please ignore the pink twine … I ran out of the regular jute stuff and that was all I could find in a “trellising emergency”)  This complements the bright and airy spot in tip #3.

Tomato Growing Tip #8: Pluck the first flowers off your plant. This stops the plant from making its first tomatoes. Hence, sending its energy back into growing more stems, leaves and new flowers for new tomatoes. Most experienced tomato gardeners do this, and it is for a reason! Some are even more hardcore and pinch out all the flowers until the plant is a foot tall. I haven’t been that brave yet … but it is some good food for thought.

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Tomato Growing Tip #9: Pinch off suckers and non-fruiting branches. These divert your plants energy to places that lead nowhere. Instead by pruning these branches out your tomato plant can focus its energy on making bigger, tastier tomatoes!

Tomato Growing Tip #10: Water long and good. You don’t have to water everyday (except, maybe at the height of summer, in which you probably need to water more frequently) when your plant is growing. It is better to soak it once a week at the plant base. And avoid getting the leaves wet, that could cause some leaf scorch or lead to disease.

And plant, plant, plant! Plant a second (or third if you live in warmer climates) succession of tomatoes in 2-3 weeks of each other. This spreads out your harvests and increases your tomato yield. Which means more tomatoes, which is always a good thing.

For more on growing tomatoes, other vegetables and the organic kitchen garden, check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!

Compost, the Black Gold

Every gardener’s compost pile aspires to the almighty ‘black gold’. Full or nutrients and beneficial microorganisms, it feeds your vegetables, herbs and flowers so much better than any fertilizer can and the best part of it is, it’s FREE!

The hardest aspect of composting for me is the patience. I have none.

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It takes at least 6 months to turn your garden’s leavings from garbage into gourmet food.

You can make compost in a pile in the corner of your yard or homemade bin. If you are using wood, just be sure that is it not pressure-treated. You don’t want those nasty chemicals leaching out into your compost and then into your food. There are a number of materials that can be used to make great compost, including: plastic, wire, wood, pallets or fencing.

The key to happy, healthy compost is heat and the right amount of brown and green material. 100908_4354

Heat is generated by keeping your piles to a manageable size (3’x 3’x 3′) and turning it weekly. The ingredients are the other half.

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Shredded newspaper, pine needles, dried leaves and cardboard are all good sources of carbon (or brown) materials, while vegetable scraps, grass clippings and other green things are good nitrogen sources. The rule of thumb is for every one bucket of nitrogen, use two of carbon.

Since carbon materials can be in short supply in the growing season I’ll bag up a bunch of leaves in the fall and store them in the shed for use in the summer.

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Once your pile smells nice and woodsy, it’s time to spread it out in the garden. And don’t be stingy! Use a good 3-4 inches and your garden with thank you.

For more on composting and the organic kitchen garden, be sure to check out my new book, The Backyard Gardener!