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Friday Favorite: Brussels Sprouts

December 9th, 2016

I’ve been trying to grow brussels sprouts for year, they always seem to get eaten by something. This year, I planted them in the front corner of the main edible garden by Tara (our Anatolian Shepherd garden and livestock protector). That seems to have done the trick and my sprouts finally reached maturity.
Brussels sprouts are a favorite vegetable in the winter months and we are happy to have a very large harvest of them to enjoy for the next month or two.
This year I grew two different varieties of sprouts, ‘Diablo’ from Johnny’s Seeds and ‘Long Island Improved’ from Baker Creek. Both varieties did well, the ‘Diablo’ produced taller stalks with larger sprouts, but the sprouts weren’t as tight at the others. I will continue to grow a few varieties, next year I’d like to add a purple for a little variety. Stay tuned, next week I’ll share a favorite recipe for sprouts.

Do you like Brussels Sprouts?

Overwintering Dahlias in Zone 5

November 30th, 2016

Dahlias are lovely, but they are higher maintenance than other things in our cold climate here in Maine. The tubers need to be dug in the fall and overwintered in cold storage. Fortunately they’re fairly forgiving, and with any luck, you’ll increase the number of tubers you have each year. Most dahlias are only hardy to zone 8, so you can overwinter then in the ground if you live in zone 8 or higher.
In the fall, after your first killing frost, cut the foliage to between 2-4 inches above the ground. Shake soil off tubers gently, I like to let them dry for a week or so in the basement before doing this. Inspect tubers removing any soft or rotten sections.
Once the tubers have dried sufficiently, pack them in a loose material.  I was thinking about using peat, then I remembered that I have an endless supply of white cedar shavings. The material just needs to be loose and dry, you don’t want moisture in this instance.
Move the tubers to a well-ventilated, frost-free spot, you’re looking for something 40-45 degrees. If you don’t have a spot that remains at this temperature, you can use a spot that gets between 35-50. In the spring, pull out your tubers and inspect them, separate into tubers to plant and replant.

Do you dig dahlias or any other plant in the spring?

Harvesting Belgian Endive Roots

November 22nd, 2016

I’ve been waiting for the weather to turn cold so I could harvest my Belgian endive roots. These are ‘Totem’ variety, the seeds were sourced from Johnny’s Seeds. I’ve tried growing endive roots for forcing for many years and something has always eaten the tops, or the seed was washed away in a spring rainstorm, or something else happened to them. That never stopped my from sowing seed every year, hoping I’d end up with large roots to force chicons for winter eating. The cold weather finally hit and the leaves wilted a bit in the cold.
I became interested in doing this after reading Eliot Coleman’s book Four Season Harvest. He has a nice section on how to grow them and what to do with them in order to force them. Johnny’s also has a nice resource page on their website (which is not available right now because of their redesign, I’ll try to remember to post a link to it later). It’s pretty simple to force chicons. The first step is to cut the leaves off the plants leaving about an inch or two of stem, you want to be careful not to cut too close to the root so you don’t damage the crown. The chickens were super happy to gobble up all those leaves.
Then carefully dig the roots, they’re like parsnips or large carrots. You only need 6-8 inches of root, they’re much longer than that but can be quite difficult to dig up in their entirety. Some of my snapped neatly right at the perfect length when I was digging them.
There are several methods for treating the roots, I decided to follow the methods recommended by Johnny’s. I layered the roots into baskets, covered them with damp burlap, and put them in a cold room of my garage. They’ll stay there for 3 weeks or so, then I’ll start planting them in buckets of soilless potting mix.
When I want to start growing chicons, I’ll put the buckets on my seedling heating mat the basement. The top of the bucket will be covered with a black plastic pot in order to ensure darkness. They like warm soil and cool air temperatures for producing chicons. I figured the heating mat would warm the soil in the buckets but the ambient air in the basement is the perfect temperature for them. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of my efforts. Here’s hoping I’m eating chicons in January!

Have you grown any new and interesting veg this year?

Friday Favorite: Kenilworth Ivy

November 18th, 2016

Kenilworth Ivy (Cymbalaria muralis) is one of my favorite little creeping plants. The first time I saw it was years ago on my first visit to Longwood Gardens. I didn’t know the name of it at the time, but discovered it a few years later. In my Ohio garden, it was growing in the rock walls and I loved it.
I purchased a plant a few years ago, but it didn’t survive that winter, most likely because I planted it in the garden. When Mr Chiots and I visited the Hagley Museum last fall, I collected a few seeds from one the plants growing on an old stone building. I started them in a pot when I got home and this spring I had a few nice plants to add to the rock walls in front of the house.
They grew beautifully this summer and creeped through the rocks. I’m hoping they help stabilize the soil in the beds behind the rock walls, the soil has a tendency to get washed out leaving the walls less than secure and full of holes.
kennilworth-ivy-1Now that these little plants are thriving in a rock well, they should survive the winter because of the extra heat from the rocks. Just in case they don’t, I have two small pots of ivy in my indoor garden. If the plants in the rock walls don’t survive this winter, I’ll simply grow a flat or two of plugs every year to plant in spring.

Do you have a favorite creeping plant?

Propagating Hydrangeas Easily

November 16th, 2016

One of my fall chores is to lay down a few branches on various hydrangeas to get them ready for propagation next year. This chore can be done most of the year, but I never seem to remember to do it until fall. It’s super easy, choose a long, flexible branch, strip off a few sets of leaves in the middle of the branch, bend the branch to the ground and bury those stripped leaf nodes an inch or so below the soil surface, put a rock or brick over the branch to keep it from popping out of the soil.
I like using bricks for this because it’s a good visual reminder of what I’m doing.
In mid-summer next year, dig up your new hydrangea and move to a new location, or let it grow in place to expand your current hydrangea to a larger size. This is pretty much a foolproof way of propagating hydrangeas. The nice thing is that you never have starts to look after or monitor, the plant does its thing while you go about your gardening chores.

What plants are you propagating this season?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but just recently moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine.