Friday, August 28, 2015

Floral Friday: Pollinator Edition


This week the garden was full of pollinators, specifically bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The hummingbird in the above video is one of three that have been visiting my feeder and my flowers in the front garden. They seem to especially like the cigar plant and blue salvia this year. (To read more about what plants hummingbirds are attracted to, click here.)

This week the second monarch butterfly of the season arrived, dining mainly on the giant Joe pye weed along the driveway.

I was especially excited to see it, because last year I didn't have one monarch butterfly visit the garden at all! This is the second to arrive in the garden so far this year. I spotted the first one about two weeks ago.

From my Instagram account.
The last of my black swallowtail butterflies emerged from his chrysalis on Wednesday. It is likely that even if I find more caterpillars, they will not turn into butterflies until the spring. That's because autumn is quickly approaching. (If that's the case, the aquarium tank that I used to hold chrysalis will be moved to the garage for overwintering so they don't emerge too soon.)

A tiger swallowtail butterfly was also visiting the garden the same day as the monarch. Despite some worn wings, it still fluttered beautifully around the garden.

From my Instagram account.
And as usual, the bees were busy as more flowers on the Joe pye weed opened this week.

What is blooming in your garden this week? To view last week's Floral Friday, click here. To follow Frau Zinnie on Facebook, click here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

'Queen's Garden' Offers Visual Retreat


Video Review

The Queen's Garden
Produced by Oxford Scientific Films and PBS

The hour-long tour of the Queen of England's garden at Buckingham Palace offers footage not available to the general public. The film covers all four seasons in the 39-acre garden located in the middle of London. Time lapse photography shows the progression of blooms while thermal imaging and motion-sensitive cameras capture moments from the various wildlife that call the garden home.

Sharing some fun anecdotes along the way - such as how the teenage Princess Elizabeth fell into the lake after trying to spy on wildlife - the film also highlights numerous ways of how the garden is cared for without pesticides. For example, the gardening crew uses drums of water infused with garlic to get rid of aphids on roses. The gardens are cared for with "green methods" when possible, with limited chemical fertilizers. Compost heaps are utilized to create healthy soil for the garden. Bee hives are set up on the island in the middle of the lake to pollinate the flowers and produce honey for the queen. There's even footage of royal garden parties sprinkled throughout the film.

Not surprisingly, the imagery throughout the film is beautiful. I borrowed this DVD from the library and I'm happy I did. In the heat of late summer, my garden is looking a bit worse for the wear, so it was nice to view a pampered, well-tended garden for a change.

The Queen's Garden is available on DVD from PBS for $19.99.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Floral Friday: Instagram Fun

This week's Floral Friday highlights photos taken during the week with my iPhone and shared via Instagram. I'm so happy that the iPhone takes such nice photos - it takes the pressure off always having my camera gear with me. (Sometimes I find that I take photos with my Canon and then whip out my iPhone to capture it that way as well.)

The garden is looking a little shaggy at the moment, since its mostly in between bloom cycles. There are still flowers blooming, but overall, I need to be more methodical about pulling weeds and deadheading spent flowers. In the past I've entered August and experienced "the slump." A gardening friend who owns a nearby garden center once told me, "You're not alone - everyone is miserable in August." Maybe it's the heat. Or perhaps it's trying to hold on tightly to the fleeing summer days. But this year, I didn't experience the August slump until now. Today I even thought it might be nice to have fall weather and blooms, which if I admitted that a month ago would have been blasphemy. 

But despite all the "problems" I see in my garden, there are still flowers clamoring for bees and attention.

"Party Crasher" from the Patio Party Hibiscus collection, loves the summer heat.

I should have started this sooner, but the morning glories are beginning to
bloom along their string supports on the shed. I'm definitely doing this again
next year. Maybe I'll throw some black eye Susan vine in the mix as well.

This is a hibiscus I wintered over and had to nurse back to health this summer.
It's finally blooming again.

Cafe au Lait dahlia is just stunning. I need to grow more of these next year!

This is Grandpa Ott's morning glory. I planted it once - and now it reseeds
with abandon. Sometimes morning glories get a bad rap for their "enthusiastic"
tendencies, but if they go somewhere I don't want them to be,
they are easy to remove.

The bees love the tall Joe pye weed growing out front.
This plant is taller than me!

More morning glory goodness.

The second wave of fall-blooming anemones is beginning in the front garden.
This one is called "Bressingham Glow."

Coleus has definitely won me over in the last few years.
This one is "Fairway Rose" grown from seed.
Again, I need to start these earlier next year!

I am ever the optimist deep down - I sowed these zinnia seedlings in late
July/early August after I harvested my garlic from this raised bed.
I'm hoping they bloom in time before frost.
What's growing in your garden this week?

To view last week's Floral Friday, click here.
To follow Frau Zinnie on Facebook for all garden-related posts, click here.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Floral Friday: Mid-Month Blooms

The long days of summer are already starting to shorten, and I try not to focus on how the sun sets before 8 p.m. now. After a busy July with graduate school work, the weeds multiplied in the garden. Now I try to keep up with deadheading flowers and plucking weeds as the month marches along. (How is tomorrow Aug. 15 already?) I keep trying to tackle a little every day, with the goal of it being reigned back into shape by the end of the month.

But, here is what is blooming now:

Even though this dahlia is missing petals, I still like how it is framed by the light.

The perennial hibiscus are starting to bloom.

Goldie tomatoes that are just about ripe.

The anemones play well with black eye Susans.

While daylilies ruled the July garden, phlox rules the August garden.

This petunia is holding up very well - I'll have to try and save the seed.

A beautiful combination forming with petunias and sedum.

The pears are causing the branches to bend on the pear trees. I love this photo because
it is reminiscent of how my grandfather's garden used to look when his Bartlett pears
grew too heavy for his tree. Besides that stake, I have bungee cords holding branches up.

Sown late but still pretty: borage.

The zinnias are finally starting to bloom.

Another perennial hibiscus in the front garden.

Joe pye weed attracts all sorts of bees to its tall flowers.
What's growing and blooming in your garden this week? To see which garden is being featured in the #GrowNow2015 tour, click here to visit More Than Oregano's blog.

Are you on Facebook? You can follow daily updates on Frau Zinnie's page here. To see the last Floral Friday featured, click here.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Review: Berry Bounty Can be Yours for the Picking

Courtesy Timber Press.

Book Review 

Homegrown Berries: Successfully Grow Your Own Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, and More
A Timber Press Growing Guide | Revised and Expanded by Terri Dunn Chace

There's nothing that reminds me of my childhood summers more than the taste of warm raspberries off the vine. I would pick endless cups filled to the brim with them at my grandfather's house. But trying to grow my own isn't as simple as it sounds, which is why I've found "Homegrown Berries" to be indispensable reading during this year's growing season.

Some of the advice offered is practical, such as matching the site location to the berry as opposed to trying to grow a plant in an unsuitable location. (For example, putting blueberries in damp ground - which they like - as opposed to very dry.) More specific details - for example, how to trellis raspberries and black raspberries or tips for renovating June-bearing strawberries - can be found in the book as well.

I like how the sides of the book are color-coded so you can flip through and easily find a particular berry section. (Red for strawberries, blue for blueberries, purple for raspberries and blackberries and green for specialty berries.) Each section goes into detail how to grow each specific berry, even recommending several varieties. I especially enjoyed the specialty berry section, a content area I feel is often overlooked. (I discovered helpful tips when looking up elderberries, a berry that's new to my garden, after learning about the ideal planting site for the bush.) Gooseberries, currants and elderberries are mainly discussed in this section, but there is some space dedicated to cranberries and jostaberries, for example, as well.

"Homegrown Berries" gives the gardener confidence to establish their own berry patch, which will not only provide delicious temptations in the future, but will save money as well.

"Homegrown Berries" retails for $19.95 and is published by Timber Press.
The publisher supplied me with a courtesy copy of the book.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Jams, Pastries are Great Ways to Use Shiro Plums

26 pounds of Shiro plums!
It's been a little plum crazy in our home the last few weeks.

That's because this year, our Shiro plum tree produced 26 pounds of edible fruit!

This has been the best year for the tree so far since I've had it in my garden (I planted it in 2012 as a pollinator for Satsuma, which hasn't been nearly as prolific). I did lose some plums to garden critters such as birds and squirrels and some fruit split due to the very dry spring and then sudden heavy rain in early July, but overall, I have more fruit than I know what to do with.

The fruit can be picked when it's firm and still a little green. It's ripe when it turns a bright yellow. (Read more here.) There's only so many fresh plums I can eat, so instead of them going to waste, I've been making jam and pastries from the fruit. (They've also been given away to neighbors as I run into them. "Hi! How are you? Here are some plums.")

I've learned a lot since I first made Shiro plum jam two years ago. The original recipe I used did not call for pectin or an additional acid. When I first made it, I had doubled the recipe (from 3 pounds to 6 pounds) and I feel that I did not cook it long enough, which is why it turned out to be a runny plum sauce instead.

This year, I decided to experiment with a different recipe. I borrowed many books from the library, and I've been happiest so far with "Put 'em up! Fruit: A Preserving Guide and Cookbook" by Sherri Brooks Vinton (2013). I think the key that I learned through my readings was to boil the shiro plums with the water first for about 20 minutes. This helps the skin break down. This was a step I didn't do in the past, and while it makes the process longer, I feel that it is worth the extra time.

Today I made my third batch of plum jam using Vinton's classic plum jam recipe, which yields between eight and nine jelly jars when complete (depending on how ripe the plums are). I start out with more plums then Vinton calls for, but after they are depitted and chopped, I end up with the right amount. I have a ceramic cooktop stove that I prepare my jam on, so for me it takes about two hours to get to the dark amber bubbling jam that I like (Vinton's book says it will take 20-30 minutes). The jam gets close to 220 F when I pull it to do the wrinkle test and the sheeting test. Once I fill my jars, I leave about 1/4 inch headroom from the top. I then use the hot water method to process my jars for 10 minutes and wait for them to seal.

Shiro plum jam ready for processing.
Any jam that doesn't seal after processing is placed in the fridge and eaten
within two weeks. I love the amber color that the jam becomes when cooking.

Shiro plum pastries, hot from the oven.
In addition to Shiro plum jam, I've been making a puff pastry with the plums as well with a recipe I found via Serious Eats. I skipped the making the puff pastry dough step and took a frozen puff pastry sheet and divided it into three. I used more plums then the recipe called for, since my plums appear to be smaller. I baked mine for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees F, or until it looks "golden brown delicious." I bet it would be great warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

An optional step is garnishing it when it cools, which is a step I did often when I worked in the bakery. One way is with a powdered sugar glaze (just mix powdered sugar with water until it comes together - you don't want it to be too runny) or dust it with powdered sugar using a sifter. The Shiro plums seemed to get a little more tart when cooking, so adding a little sugar or glaze after baking might help with this!

I'll be trying a shiro plum pie this week, too! We'll see how it comes out!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Gardener's August Calendar

Summer blooms in the garden.
August goes by quickly in the garden, filled with hot temperatures and the steady advancement toward shorter days. Let's keep the tasks short and sweet.

The garden usually needs help this month with water, so keep an eye on plants. The best time to water is in the morning. Also, be sure to deadhead flowers regularly to keep plants looking their best.

Vegetable Beds
Use any empty space in the veggie garden beds to sow carrot, beet, lettuce, radish, spinach and pea seeds now for a fall crop. I'm going to plant some in my cold frame, too, so I can extend the crops when the days get colder. As vegetable areas are harvested - and if you do not plan on sowing a fall crop (gasp!) - start sowing cover crops to help condition the soil this fall and over the winter.

Hydrangea Care
Prune hydrangeas now - such as Endless Summer varieties - for flowers next summer. There is a short three-week window to do this in August; after that, the plants will put their energy into creating flower buds for next year. Read more here.

Divide and Trim Irises
This can be started in July and continued throughout this month in the Northeast. Irises should be divided every three to five years, or when clumps start to lack flowers. There's a helpful article on dividing and transplanting rhizome iris here. In addition, start trimming back irises to the "stubs" (except for rebloomers) which can prevent iris borers from ruining plants. This is not only a fall chore that you are getting a jump on, but it removes the site where the iris borer moth wants to lay its eggs.

Keep shaking Japanese beetles into cups of soapy water to get rid of them. The best time to do this is in the morning or early evening hours, when they are not as active. Have you applied neem oil to your perennial hibiscus? I forgot to this year and the hibiscus sawfly is having a field day eating the leaves.

Now is the time to figure out where you want to plant bulbs for spring blooms. Look at your garden photos from this past spring (really, how was that only four months ago!) to see where you need pops of color.

Remember to get outside and enjoy the flowers! Summer is fleeting - onward!

These chores are based on my garden located in Zone 6b.