Monday, September 21, 2015


Dahlia blooms are one of my favorite flowers.  They are so exquisite and beautiful.  They brighten up the garden throughout the season and come in so many diverse colors and petal varieties.  There are single petaled types and those with dense mounds of petals.Colors are vary from stunning to subtle and soft.
Taken from Rodale's Organic Gardening Encyclopedia p. 172

Dahlia sizes are as variable as petal variety.  There are dinner plate size flowers or small one to two inch diameter flowers. They can be used in containers, borders, or as a focus in a cottage garden flower beds.  They are also beautiful inter-planted in the vegetable garden among broccoli, cauliflower, and celery. They are my favorite cut flower to bring indoors singly or in a bouquet.

Grown from seed.

Dahlia's inter-planted among broccoli and cauliflower.

  Dahlia sizes are as variable as petal variety.  There are dinner plate size flowers or small one to two inch diameter flowers. They can be use in containers, borders, or as a focus in a cottage garden flower bed.  They are also beautiful inter-planted in the vegetable garden among broccoli, cauliflower, and celery.

Grown from a tuberous root Thomas Edison cultivar.
Growing Description:

Dahlias can grow from 1-6' tall depending on the variety.  They spread 1-3' wide and have thick stems with lush green foliage.  They are hardy in zones 8-10 but where the soil freezes the tubers must be lifted before the ground freezes or else the tubers will freeze.

Dahlias are grown from tuberous roots.  Tuberous roots are swollen fleshy roots.  They have a pointed bud on top and roots that sprout from the bottom.  

Optical Illusion a tu-toned dahlia
Lifting Dahlia Tubers:
They are hardy in zones 8-10 but where the soil freezes the tubers must be lifted before the ground freezes.  After frost blackens the plants, cut them back to a few inches above the ground and lift the clumps with the soil intact out of the ground.  Lay them on their side until the soil dries.  At this point they can be stored at 45-50 degrees with the soil still intact or remove the soil and place them in peat moss.  Be sure to label the cultivars.  Occasionally sprinkle with water so tuberous roots do not dry out.   You can divide the clumps in spring just be sure that each planting includes a pinkish "eye."  (Rodale's Organic Gardening Encyclopedia)
How To Grow:

You can purchase dahlia roots from various seed catalogs.  They come in plastic bags surrounded by peat moss.  They must be planted after all danger of frost is gone.

Prepare the soil first.  They need full sun and soil with abundant organic matter.  Put a handful of bone meal into the planting hole and along with compost.  Mix with existing soil.  Set the tuberous roots 3"-6" below the surface.  Do not cover completely with soil.  Gradually fill in the hole as they grow, similar to potatoes.  Drive a sturdy stake 6" from the tubers if you have tall cultivars before they begin to grow.  If you wait to put your stakes in after they have grown you may injury the tuberous roots.  

Mulch around plants.  Dahlias need frequent watering and enjoy frequent applications of fish emulsion fertilizer.


Encouraging Flowering & Large Flowers:
If you want to encourage branching and more flower production, then when the plants are 6-8" tall pinch out the center.  You can repeat this after another 6" of growth appears.  

To encourage large flowers you can pinch off the side buds so the energy is directed to the center bud.  Do this when the buds are small around the size of a pea.  Or leave all buds on and you will have smaller but more flowers.  
Vancouver a cactus cultivar.

Growing From Seed:

This year I grew some dahlias from seed and they are gorgeous.  I inter-planted them among broccoli and celery in the vegetable garden. 

Certain cultivars of dahlias flower and bloom well if grown from seed.  You can purchase seed for double dahlias which have 2-3" flowers.  Single dahlias are a smaller plant and look beautiful as borders and in containers.  The larger dahlias need to be grown from tuberous roots. Below are all dahlias grown from seed.

You can store the roots from those you grow from seed as well.  Start them indoors in late winter and then transplant out after a frost.  They will give you late summer and early fall blooms.

Dahlias in a old wash tub.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Ripening Green Tomatoes Indoors

As mornings get chillier and the days get shorter, the demise of the summer garden is inevitable. As you harvest and prepare root crops, fruits, and winter squash for winter storage don't give up on the tomato.  The first frost does not need to end your tomato season!  Mature green tomatoes can be ripened indoors.

Some basic knowledge of you planting zone is helpful.  Do you know your average first frost day? The average first frost date is the average date at which a light freeze may occur.  There is a 50% chance it will occur before the date or after the date.  

Light Freeze:  29-32 degrees, tender plants killed

Moderate Freeze:  24-28,  widely destructive to most plants

Hard Freeze:  24 and colder with heavy damage

Look up your average spring and fall frost dates here:

 In New Harmony the average first frost is October 9th.  So when October comes you need to watch the weather to be prepared to bring in mature green tomatoes before a freeze.  As daytime temperatures fall below 60 degrees, tomatoes are less likely to ripen on the vine. You can pick green tomatoes at this point and bring them indoors to ripen and remove your tomato plants from the garden or late until a frost is predicted.

Picking Green Tomatoes

The best tomatoes for ripening indoors come from young plants still in their prime not older worn out plants that have been bearing all season.

Most gardeners have volunteer tomato plants that spring up in random places in the garden which are perfect for produce green tomatoes late in the season.  

Before a frost gather your mature green tomatoes.  Do not bother with the small whitish colored tomatoes, they will not ripen.  Pick only the mature green or riper tomatoes.  A mature green tomato is well developed, shiny, and medium or deep green.  Pick without stems. (Root Cellaring)

Most importantly pick before frost because frost damage can prevent proper ripening.  Interestingly, tomatoes that have some color are less sensitive to low temperatures.

Bring the tomatoes inside and sort them. Separate riper ones from green tomatoes.  

Keep some out to ripen right away.  Green tomatoes ripen quickly at room temperatures.  Spread them out single layer out of direct light in a room with temperature between 60-70 degrees.  A mature green tomato will ripen at room temperature in about 2 weeks.  If the tomatoes are already starting turning then they will ripen faster.

You can wrap them individually in paper, place them in a box in the pantry,  or keep them in a drawer to protect them from direct light.

To keep the rest to ripen later, store at temperatures of  55- 60 degrees to keep them on hold.  Bring a few fruits at a time into warmer room temperatures to gradually ripen and enjoy throughout the fall. (Root Cellaring)

As tomatoes ripen they produce a gas called ethylene.  Bananas and apples also produce this gas. This gas actually promotes ripening.  

To quicken the ripening process you can place a few tomatoes in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana with green still on the tips.  

Another way to save some of those tomatoes for later in the season is to pull up the whole vine and hang it in a garage or shed.  The remaining leaves and stem will continue to nourish the fruit.  Be sure to hang where there is good air circulation and do not pull them up wet or they may just rot.

A great resource for preserving your harvest into winter is found in the book Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel. 

Hopefully you will be able to continue enjoying garden fresh tomatoes an extra 4-6 weeks after a frost.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Spicy Peaches

The end of the summer means peach days!  Not only are peaches delicious fresh eating but the are, in my opinion, one of the best canned products.

This is my families favorite canned peach recipe.  It comes from Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications Canning.

The following recipe does 7 to 8 quart jars.

10 1/2 /cups of water
4 1/2 cups of sugar
24 whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
16-20 lbs of ripe peaches

For the syrup:
In a heavy pot combine the water, sugar, cloves, and cinnamon sticks.  Bring to boil stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Keep hot while you prepare the peaches.

Peel peaches, cut in half, and cut into slices.  To prevent oxidation, slice peaches in a pre-treatment dip of a lemon juice and water or ascorbic acid treatment.

Rinse peaches and put in hot sterile jars, the dishwasher is great for keeping jars hot.  Remove cinnamon sticks and cloves.  Ladle hot syrup of peaches.  Remove air bubbles. Leave a 1/2 inch headspace.  Wipe rims and adjust lids.

Process in a boiling water canner for 25 minutes.  Adjust for altitude if necessary.  Here in New Harmony at 5000 feet you need to add 10 minutes to the processing time.

When the processing time is complete, turn off heat and remove canner lid.  Allow to sit for 15- 20 minutes before removing the jars from the canner.  This prevents any liquid from seeping out.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Cucumbers: So Many Flowers; So Few Fruits!

Understanding flowers and  bees may answer your questions about why so many flowers and so little fruit  are setting on your cucumber, melon, or squash plants. Squash, melons, and cucumber belong to the family of cucurbits and they have a unique flowering method. Melons, cucumbers and squash are monoecious meaning they produce both male and female flowers on the same plant.

Male flowers are produced before female flower.  So that could be one reason you have no fruit. Early in the season female flowers may not have developed yet. 

 For fruit to set, pollen from male flowers must be transferred to the female flower.  This is done by bees whether native or honeybees.  If no bees are present there will be no fruit.  If few bees are present and pollination is poor, the result will be few and misshapen fruits.  Drought stress can also cause misshapen fruit if bees are plentiful.  

Male & Female Flowers

So how do you tell a male flower from a female flower?  This is easiest to do in squash.  All female flowers have a miniture fruit at the base of the flower.  

 The stigma of the female flower of a squash.

 The flowers of this particular pumpkin are very large so it is easy to see the bulge or ovary of the female flower.  

Male flowers have straight stems with no bulge at the base.

A male squash flower with the stamin that produce pollen in the center. Bees are busy at work in this flower.  The pollen will stick to the bees and transfer the pollen to a female flower.

Notice that the stem at the base of a male flower is straight with no bugle or fruit shaped ovary.  Male flowers are viable for only one day.

After a day the flower shrivels up and dies.  Each day new male flowers open. 

In cucumbers and melons, male flowers have very short stems and grow in clusters of  3-5 flowers. There will be an abundance of male flowers and very few female.

 Another male flower

Notice at the base of each male flower is a straight stem.

Female flowers grow individually on longer stems with an ovary that resembles a miniature cucumber at the base. They are hard to find because the male flowers out number them.

 I had to hunt to find this female cucumber flower.

 A pollinated female flower of an Armenian cucumber.

An immature pickling cucumber.  You can see the shriveled flower at the end.

Hand Pollinating

If bees are not present or too few in number, then hand pollinating is an option.  Pollen is yellow and produced in the center of the male flower.  Use an small paintbrush to transfer the pollen to the stigma of the female flower or tear off the petals of the male flower and roll it in the center of the femal flower. 

 Gather the pollen from several different male flowers. Use only freshly opened flowers. This occurs in the morning.

Hand pollinating cucumbers can be tedious.  It is often difficult to find female flowers.  
If you provide a water source, lots of nectar producing flowers that attract pollinators, and have healthy cucumber plants you are less likely to have pollination issues.

Reasons for Poor Pollination

The fact that the individual flowers of cucrubits remain open only for a single day means they must be pollinated that day or the flowers drop from the vine.  If the weather is not favorable for bees then  flowers that open that day will not be pollinated and set fruit. 

Bees  are hard workers but do take off windy, rainy, or sometimes overcast, cool days.  They prefer bright sunny days to do their work.

Many seeds are produced inside a cucumber, squash, and melon.  Amazingly each pollen grain is responsible the development of a single seed.  Numerous bees visit each flower to accomplish that task. Providing an environment attractive to both honeybees and native bees is helpful.

 Avoid chemical pesticides and if using an organic spray do so in the evening after pollinators are finished with their work

Healthy cucurbit plants are essential to set fruit.  Powdery mildew, leaf spot etc can be prevented by trellising vines off the ground to allow for good air circulation.

Mulching around cucumbers and regular adequate watering are also essential.

Armenian and Summer Dance are my favorite varieties for slicing cucumbers.  Most pickling cucumber varieties seem to do well.