Poppies, Potatoes and Protecting Squash by Patty G. Leander

Patty-Leander-Spring-Garden

I sure don’t need a calendar, computer or even a meteorologist to tell me it’s spring. Anytime I am outdoors I can see it, hear it, feel it and smell it. Not to mention the chirp of crickets in the house!

There is so much happening in the vegetable garden this time of year that it is hard to narrow it down to just one topic but here are three that are currently at the top of my list.

POPPIES: Jay has written about poppies before (http://masterofhort.com/2012/11/remembering-our-veterans-with-poppies/) but they are so lovely in spring they deserve another mention, especially since this is when we gather seeds for sowing next year. Poppies start to look a little ratty if left long enough to reseed themselves but a few seedpods will give you hundreds, if not thousands, of seed for sowing and sharing, so it’s not necessary to let ALL your blooms go to seed. Choose a few for saving and let the seedpods dry on the plant, long enough so you can hear the seeds rattle. Carefully snip off the seedpods (keep them upright so the seeds don’t scatter to the ground, unless that’s where you want them), remove the seeds and store them in a cool, dry location. Sow seeds in the fall for a spectacular spring display in 2017.

Patty-Leander-Poppies

Save seeds from spring poppy blooms to plant in the fall.

POTATOES: Potatoes are growing everywhere in my garden – under mulch, under hay, in cages and tucked in between other plants. My garden is big but it’s not big enough to grow bushels of potatoes and still have room for other favorite vegetables so I usually grow a few reliable favorites, like Yukon Gold and Red La Soda, along with a few less common selections. This year I have planted 8 varieties: Red La Soda, Austrian Crescent, Red Thumb, Russian Banana, Purple Majesty, Purple Viking, Russet Nugget and Lemhi Russet.

Patty-Leander-Potatoes

Potatoes go in where carrots came out, flanked by celery and tomatoes (left); on the right a fingerling variety grows under straw in a cylinder lined with fine mesh screen.

It sounds like a lot but I only purchase a pound of each variety since I am growing them more for fun and discovery than to fill a larder. I usually order my seed potatoes in December or January from Potato Garden in Colorado; they are one of the few places that will ship potatoes at the time we need to plant them here in Central Texas, which is mid-February. And they have an amazing selection of potatoes and growing information on their website (www.potatogarden.com).

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-2

More potatoes tucked inside an A-frame constructed for pole beans and sugar snap peas (I wouldn’t recommend this unless you are petite in stature and into lots of bending, crouching and squatting – hey, this is how I get my exercise!). You can see their rapid growth from April 6 (left) to April 22 (right). As soon as the sugar snap peas on the right are done producing they will be removed to provide easier access to the potatoes.

Most of my potatoes were planted on February 26th, a little later than I would have liked, but the potatoes seem to be making up for lost time. Potatoes like people weather – mild days, cool nights, not too wet and not too dry – and so far Mother Nature has obliged.

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-3

From left to right: Purple Majesty, Russet Nugget and Red Thumb on 4-10-16

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-4

Growing by leaps and bounds: Russet Nugget (center) catches up to Purple Majesty and Red Thumb by 4-22-16

Growing potatoes means lots of surprises since you don’t get to see what is going on below ground. As the season progresses it’s hard for me to resist the temptation to dig around the base of the plants feeling for swollen tubers. Last week, much to my surprise and delight, I harvested 3 pounds of new potatoes from a planting of sorry looking Red La Sodas left over from my fall harvest.

Red-La-Soda-Seed-Potato

They may not look like much but these Red La Sodas had plenty of life yet to give

If you are growing potatoes be sure to keep the base of the plants mounded with soil, mulch or hay as they grow – it’s ok to bury some leaves in the process. The goal is to keep the tubers covered so they are not exposed to the greening effects of sunlight. And if you decide to start digging around to harvest some baby spuds remember that they do not store as well as mature tubers so eat and enjoy!

Red-La-Soda-New-Potatoes

Surprise and delight: a little bit of careful digging yielded three pounds of new potatoes eight weeks after planting Red La Sodas left over from my fall harvest

SQUASH: Squash vine borer is a perennial problem for many gardeners but there is a new product to help battle this annoying pest. It is called Micromesh, and after using it the last couple of years I find that I like it better than floating row cover. It is available through the Territorial Seed catalog (www.territorialseed.com) and I have also seen it at The Natural Gardener in Austin. If you have seen this product at other Texas nurseries please share in the comments below.

Micromesh-Squash-Vine-Borer

Micromesh: a new product to battle squash vine borer

Micromesh is a fine mesh netting used to keep bugs off of plants. It still allows water and light to pass but it is more see-thru than standard row cover and provides better ventilation, an important factor as the warm season progresses. I cover my squash plants as soon as they emerge and don’t uncover until I see female flowers. You can recognize a female flower because it has a small, immature fruit attached at the base of the petals. Once the flower gets pollinated the baby squash starts to develop, but if no pollination takes place the flower and the fruit shrivel and fall off. If you choose to keep your squash covered after female flowers appear you will have to perform the role of pollinator. Jay covered the how-tos in a previous post: http://masterofhort.com/2013/01/hand-pollinating-squash/.

Patty-Leander-Squash

All types of squash produce both male and female flowers on the same plant; the male flowers generally appear first, followed by female flowers which have a tiny, immature fruit at their base

Hope you are having an awesome spring season in your vegetable garden! People pests (mosquitoes-grrrr),  plant pests, diseases and heat are lurking and soon enough will make their presence known, but for now we can give thanks for the rain, revel in the mild temperatures and watch in amazement as a seed becomes a plant and a plant becomes a harvest.

Tip of the Week – Week 19 in the Zone 9 Garden

Yesterday I heard a meteorologist say that we have a two thirds greater chance of having a cooler and wetter summer than normal.  While that is great news it is still Texas and it is still going to get HOT out there.  I bring this up because even though May is the beginning of harvest time, it is also the first month where high temps begin to be a problem.  Each year I pay hundreds of dollars to have pre-cancerous spots burned off and I always manage to dehydrate myself.  Patty Leander has a great article full of tips that will help you stay cool and safe in the garden this year.  Click here to read her tips.

blog6 Vegetables

While there is still time to plant lima (butter) beans, southern peas, gourds, winter squash and sweet potatoes, May is really the beginning of harvest time.

I am excited to say that we will soon be harvesting artichokes for the first time.  We will also start picking green beans soon.  If you don’t already have green beans you will in the next week or so.  Your green beans should produce until temps start to stay in the 90s.  Harvest often for best yields.  Summer squash should soon be on your plate as well.  Again, pick it early and pick often.

In my opinion, the big harvests of the month are potatoes and onions.  My potatoes still have a couple of weeks to go but my onion tops are beginning to fall over.  My onions have been in the ground since December and I am ready to get them up.  Not only do I need the space for my purple hulls, I truly love onions.   If you have a large harvest, be sure to cure, or dry them before you store them.  Patty and I both have articles on how to properly harvest and care for your bulbs.  Check them both out.

Patty’s article – Harvesting and Curing Onions

My article:  How to Harvest and Cure Onions

poppies-potager Ornamentals

Last week I wrote about how much joy I get from my daylilies.  While that is true, they are not the only thing blooming right now.  All of my salvias have started blooming.  I also have datura, dianthus, crinums, yarrow and petunias that are in full bloom.  All of these flowers are filling my yard with bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Keep flowering plants well watered to extend bloom time.  Also dead head often to encourage re-bloom.

If you grew poppies this spring, they should just about be ready for you to harvest the seeds.  I collect my poppy seeds each year.  Because of this I have been able to spread them all over my property.  Read more about collecting your own poppy seeds by clicking this link: Remembering our Veterans with Poppies.

I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

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Remembering our Veterans with Poppies

Happy Election Day!  As you watch the results of tonight’s election unfold, take a minute or two to remember all of those amongst us who have worn our nation’s uniforms.  These men and women serve (or served) honorably regardless of who was in the whitehouse.  Take time to say “Thanks” to those whose sacrifice gave you the opportunity and ability to live and vote in the land of the free.  May God bless these men and women and may he continue to bless the the United States of America!

Air Intelligence Agency Logo

***This is a slighly modified re-post of an article I did in May.

I am very proud to be a veteran of the United States Air Force (Air Intelligence Agency).  The Air Force paid for my education and taught me the skills that I still use to make a living today.  It also taught me that duty, honor and country are a whole lot more than just three words.  In short, the military is largely responsible for turning me into the man I am today.

In addition to shaping my character, the Air Force let me see the world.  I literally went around the world in my ten years of service.  I saw wonderful and amazing things and I met incredible people.  But of all the things I saw, the thing I most remember and treasure is the November I spent in London.

What we call Veteran’s Day, the British call Remembrance Day.  When it comes to appreciating and celebrating their veterans, the British beat us hands down.  Veteran’s Day is huge to them because war is so personal for them.  Not only did they sacrifice their loved ones to the cause, the world wars literally destroyed their country.  Because of this, each November, the British host a series of events that elegantly and appropriately recognize the service of those that were willing to give the last full measure to the defense of freedom.
 

Crosses with poppies on “graves” in front of Westminster Abbey. Their is a grave on the lawn for every unit that served in the defense of Britian in the two world wars. Photo from http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-photo/elyssa_and_dave/europe2006/1163362140/img_3306.jpg/tpod.html

One thing that stuck with me while attending the various Remembrance Day celebrations were the poppies.  They were everywhere.  On lapels, in wreaths and on tiny crosses that were placed on “graves” outside Westminster Abbey that represented the dead from every military unit (including foreign) that served in the defense of Britain.  The poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance Day for several reasons.  However, most agree that the poppy was selected primarily because of a poem written by Lt Col John McCrae.  Colonel McCrae was a Canadian doctor that wrote “In Flanders Fields” after losing his close friend and student during the Battle of the Ypres Salient in Belgian Flanders.  His poem is a poignant reminder of the pain and sacrifice that man brings on himself each and every time he takes up arms against his brother.  In case you have never seen it before, here is his beautiful work:

Growing Poppies

 

This poppy is very similar to those that grow in Flander’s Fields. I took this picture in front of Texas Specialty Cut Flowers big blu barn

Even though I love growing all of my plants, none of them fill me with so much emotion as do my poppies.  Each Spring they remind me of the millions of soldiers, seaman and airmen that have died in defense of their countries.  They also take me back to a magical few weeks spent in London with my British cousins.   The poppies I grow are deep red singles with black throats and bright yellow centers.  However, if red or single is not your style, I promise there is a color and style out there for you.  Poppies are like roses; they come in every color but blue.

Here is a shot of the bright red variety I grow. Thanks to Carol Ann Sayles of Boggy Creek Farms for sharing them with me

Poppies are so easy to grow.  If you don’t have any, simply order or buy seeds from your favorite source.  They are so adaptable that even if you order from a reseller on the East coast, there is very good chance they will do well for you in Texas.  However, in my opinion, the best way to get your poppies is from a local gardener.  I got the poppies featured here from Carol Ann Sayles at Boggy Creek Farms in Austin.   I also have some red doubles from my buddy Greg Grant.  Since poppies are such great reseeders, everyone that grows them always has plenty of seeds to share. 

A lovely double pink variety grown by my friend and MOH contributor Patty Leander

Since poppies reseed so freely, once you get them established you will always have them.  For best results, plant your poppy seeds in Septmeber, October or early November.  Since poppy seeds are tiny, I put them out in a broadcast manner.  Instead of trying to plant in rows I simply scatter them in the area that I want them in.  Before I scatter them, I run a rake over the area I am going to place them.  Then, once the seeds are down, I run the rake the other way.  Then I water in and wait.  If you want poppies next spring, you need to get them in the ground soon.

My poppies start to bloom in early March and they continue blooming well into April.  By mid-April the flowers have gone and the “heads” that are filled with all of those tiny little seeds are beginning to dry.  The heads that are left after the flower fades are actually what’s left of the plant’s pistil.  As the pistil dries, little holes open up around the top where the stamen were once attached.  These little holes turn each head into a little “salt shaker” that dispenses the seeds whenever the wind blows or the plant falls over.

A great shot of dry poppy head. Notice the little holes in the top that allow the plant to “shake” its seeds all over your garden

If you want to gather and save seeds, simply cut these heads as soon as the holes open.  Shake the seeds into a bag and store for later use.  I have been doing this for several years and I have now been able to spread poppies all over my property.

 While many flowers are used as symbols for something, poppies represent the things I value most; sacrifice and service.  Poppies are easy, reliable, carefree and oh so beautiful.  Plant some now and you will be rewarded with a spring time show of beautiful flowers for years to come!

All of these seeds came from this head

Growing Poppies

(WARNING!  An extremely long and nostalgic post lies ahead.  If you don’t want to hear why poppies, and the British, really matter to this veteran then skip ahead to the growing section)

Air Intelligence Agency Logo

I am very proud to be a veteran of the United States Air Force (Air Intelligence Agency).  The Air Force paid for my education and taught me the skills that I still use to make a living today.  It also taught me that duty, honor and country are a whole lot more than just three words.  In short, the military is largely responsible for turning me into the man I am today.

In addition to shaping my character, the Air Force let me see the world.  I literally went around the world in my ten years of service.  I saw wonderful and amazing things and I met incredible people.  But of all the things I saw, the thing I most remember and treasure is the November I spent in London.

What we call Veteran’s Day, the British call Remembrance Day.  When it comes to appreciating and celebrating their veterans, the British beat us hands down.  Veteran’s Day is huge to them.  I realize this is because war is so personal for them.  Not only did they sacrifice their loved ones to the cause, the world wars literally destroyed their country.  Because of this, each November, the British host a series of events that elegantly and appropriately recognize the service of those that were willing to give the last full measure to the defense of freedom

 

Crosses with poppies on "graves" in front of Westminster Abbey. There is a grave on the lawn for every unit that served in the defense of Britian in the two world wars. Photo from http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-photo/elyssa_and_dave/europe2006/1163362140/img_3306.jpg/tpod.html

One thing that stuck with me while attending the various Remembrance Day celebrations were the poppies.  They were everywhere.  On lapels, in wreaths and on tiny crosses that were placed on “graves” outside Westminster Abbey that represented the dead from every military unit (including foreign) that served in the defense of Britain.  The poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance Day for several reasons.  However, most agree the poppy was selected primarily because of a poem written by Lt Col John McCrae.  Colonel McCrae was a Canadian doctor that wrote “In Flanders Fields” after losing his close friend and student during the Battle of the Ypres Salient in Belgian Flanders.  His poem is a poignant reminder that even though war is slaughter and sacrifice the healing begins when the gunfire ends.  In case you have never seen it before, here is this beautiful work:

Growing Poppies

 

This lovely poppy is very similar to those that grow in Flanders Fields. I took this shot in front of Texas Specialty Cut Flowers big blue barn in Blanco

Even though I love growing all of my plants, none of them fill me with so much emotion as do my poppies.  Each Spring they remind me of the millions of soldiers, seaman and airmen that have died in defense of their countries.  They also take me back to a magical few weeks spent in London with my British cousins.   The poppies I grow are deep red singles with black throats and bright yellow centers.  However, if red or single is not your style, I promise there is a color and style out there for you.  Poppies are like roses; they come in every color but blue.

Here is a shot of the bright red variety I grow. Thanks to Carol Ann Sayles of Boggy Creek Farms for sharing them with me

Poppies are so easy to grow.  If you don’t have any, simply order or buy seeds from your favorite source.  They are so adaptable that even if you order from a reseller on the East coast, there is very good chance they will do well for you in Texas.  However, in my opinion, the best way to get your poppies is from a local gardener.  I got my poppies from Carol Ann Sayles at Boggy Creek Farms in Austin.   Since poppies are such great reseeders, everyone that grows them always has plenty of seeds to share.  If you live in Texas, now is the time to stop and mooch those seeds from your poppy growing friends.

A lovely double pink variety grown by Patty Leander

Since poppies reseed so freely, once you get them established you will always have them.  Poppy seeds are tiny.  Because of this, I put them out in a broadcast manner.  Instead of trying to plant in rows I simply scatter them in the area that I want them in.  Before I scatter them, I run a rake over the area I am going to place them.  Then, once the seeds are down, I run the rake the other way.  Then I water in and wait.  If you want poppies next spring, you need to plant them anytime between now and October.

My poppies start to bloom in early March and they continue blooming well into April.  By mid April the flowers have gone and the “heads” that are filled with all of those tiny little seeds are beginning to dry.  The heads that are left after the flower fades are actually what’s left of the plant’s pistil.  As the pistil dries, little holes open up around the top where the stamen were once attached.  These little holes turn each head into a little “salt shaker” that dispenses the seeds whenever the wind blows or the plant falls over.

A great shot of dry poppy head. Notice the little holes in the top that allow the plant to "shake" its seeds all over your garden

If you want to gather and save seeds, simply cut these heads as soon as the holes open.  Shake the seeds into a bag and store for later use.  I have been doing this for several years and I have now been able to spread poppies all over my property.

All of these seeds came from this head

While many flowers are used as symbols for something, poppies represent the things I value most; sacrifice and service.  Poppies are easy, reliable, carefree and oh so beautiful.  Plant some now and you will be rewarded with a spring time show of beautiful flowers for years to come!

Winter Chores in the Potager

The potager in January

The weather has been so nice this holiday season that my wife and I decided to do some much needed maintenance in potager.  The Cypress vine that brought us so much joy in the summer had to come down.  The same plant that had covered our fence and trellis in beautiful red flowers and drawn so many hummingbirds and butterflies into our lives was now just an eyesore.  So, with pruners in hand, my wife and I cut, chopped and pulled down all remnants of the vine.  It came down very easy, but it covered us in tons of tiny black seeds.  You know what that means.  More Cypress vine than I will know what to do with in this spring!  

Carrots and lettuce from the potager

Once the fence and trellis were clear it was time to move inside the potager.  First, we harvested.  We pulled carrots, turnips, spinach and butter crunch lettuce. In addition to the lettuce, spinach, carrots and turnips, I have Egyptian Walking Onions, shallots, 10/15 onions, collards, chard, lemon grass, rosemary and purple cabbage.  Man do I love winter in the South!  Where else can you have so many vegetables thriving in the garden in January.

One of the trellises that we built to support the peas

After the harvest we got back to work.  We took the pruners to our lemon grass, uchuva and salvia.  Then we built four, three-legged trellises out of cedar limbs.  We anchored these in the middle of the four odd-shaped beds in the center of the potager.  After they were secured, we planted Little Marvel Peas at their base.  According to my Aunt Sara, peas are best planted either the last week of the year or the first.  We will see.  I have tried to grow them before and they just didn’t pan out for me.  I really hope they do well this year.  I have worked really hard at improving my soil this past year and my wife and I worked very hard on the little trellises. I can just see them covered in pea vines in early March.  Once the peas were planted, we finished up by planting some French breakfast radishes and some Chioggia beets that I got from rareseeds.com

The central bed in the potager. It is full of carrots, poppies and byzantine gladiolus.

While we are talking about the potager, let’s not forget all of the flowers that I have planted in it.  Right now, my red poppies are up and my Byzantine Glads are beginning to make a show.  The foxgloves and Hollyhocks look terrific.  A mermaid rose that I found while riding my bike two years ago has finally taken hold and is beginning to send out canes all along the south fence.  I am going to plant a row of red sweet peas along this fence in hopes that the mixture of red flowers with the white  roses will be stunning.  I also have lots of strawflower, statice and salvias that seem to be thriving.  Check back in the spring to see what will hopefully be my best pictures ever!