Thursday, July 21, 2011

Off with their Heads

I generally don't support decapitation.

A few years ago, I read a phenomenal biography of Marie Antoinette.  It is called Marie Antoinette and is written by Antonia Fraser.  It is totally worth your time and provides a first hand look into the lives of the  bougie few who got to spend their tony days dancing through worlds of gardens, marble palaces, gold, gowns and gilt while every one else (those who financed this extravagance with their taxes) simply fought for enough calories to make it through the day.  If you ever see me in person, ask me to tell you about my visit to Versailles.  It's a sad/awkward story that took place in Marie Antoinette's bedroom (and other rooms in the palace) but is totally NSFW or this blog!

Anyway.  I bring up Marie Antoinette because I don't feel she should have been decapitated.  She wasn't as terrible as history paints her and most scholars don't really believe she ever said, "Let them eat cake."   She was a young woman used as a pawn to advance the interests of others and was denied any degree of autonomy.  She was dedicated to her family, devoted to her husband and raised serious dough for the charitable causes of her day.  The "Reign of Terror" that took Marie's head, her husband's head and the heads of thousands others was just as tyrannical and unjust as the power is unseated.

I thought of Marie Antoinette today because I needed to do a lot of decapitating.

I would have turned from a tiny bud into a 12-inch wide flower.
Instead, my head was cut off.
Every dahlia grower knows that he must *pinch off* the growing tip of his dahlia plant.  By clipping the tip, you cut off the head where blooms will blossom.  You must do this with dahlias!


Cutting the first head off your dahlia will prompt the plant to panic and go into overdrive, producing other branches from which more blooms will flow.  By losing it's head, it fears it won't be able to pollinate, set seed and produce the next generation of itself.  Every plant's aim is obviously the continuation of its species.

Pinching the head ultimately leads to a stronger, healthier Dahlia plant that yields tons more flowers.

That said, it is never fun.  Especially when what you clipped includes a baby Dahlia bud.

Hopefully, September will bring vast numbers of blooms from dahlias that lost their initial head.

At that point, we will host a Harvest Dinner and toast to Marie and the first flush of dahlia blooms cut down in their tracks!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lift Off!

This morning I awoke with a start upon realizing that I would not be able to visit the farm for the next two weeks!  Between work and an upcoming trip, my dahlias would be left to fend for themselves over the next 14 days.  Intent on making sure they had all things necessary during my absence, I trucked on down for a few hours work.

Let me set this scene.  The heat index surged to 105 degrees.  The sun wasn't just out, it was white-hot.  Within 5 minutes of walking the rows, I'd become a sopping hot-mess of perspiration.  Afraid I'd pass out from heat-stroke only to be found during the autumn corn harvest, I doubled down and started weeding those dahlias with the vigor of a Super-Market Sweep Champion (you know you watch it).  To get a better grip on the quack grass that is yet again my bane, I got down on all fours to increase my leverage against a weed whose tap roots appear to tickle southern China.  Did I mention that Matt's brother Josh very kindly dumped a very large amount of (organic) manure on the garden?  Well, he did. (Thank you!)  This means that I am crawling though a fertile mix of mud-manure, sweating like a hooker in the Pope's presence, pulling furiously at weeds that were multiplying ever other minute.
Kiowa did not come help today.  He stayed in bed with the air on.  This is a photo from last week.  His favorite thing is rolling in the grass and listening to Lady Gaga, while watching his dads garden and drink Cosmos out of plastic cups.
And, then, on the radio?  An advertisement for a burger joint in northern Iowa.

Covered in more than mud, smelling worse than I care to admit, I looked up at the hot, white sky and thought to myself:  How did I get here?

I smiled and got back to weeding.

Lots of things make crawling around in mud/manure/sweat 14.2 miles from Iowa more than worth it on a hot July day.  

This happy, healthy dahlia is but one.
My September blooms are gonna rock your world!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tardy to the Party

The dahlias are in the ground!
On one of my first dates with Matt, he mentioned how farming is in large part a gamble.  Every year you lay it all out on the table - seed, man-hours, machinery, opportunity cost - and hope for a near perfect hand to make the whole thing work.  Organic farms have an even trickier row to hoe.

I thought he was being dramatic (or trying to impress me.)  What is so hard about sprouting a seed?  Or a million of them?  Put it in the ground.  Wait for rain and sun.  Harvest in fall.  Maybe join a bowling league.  Nature has designed this keystone of life to be fool-proof.

I was dead wrong in that naive assessment.

My garden patch rocked last year (beginner's luck) and was such a proud accomplishment (especially for a late-to-life-gardening-convert.)  Blooms galore!  Anxious to make the sophomore album even hotter than the debut, I couldn't wait to get back into the dirt (okay, soil, not dirt!)

Well.  Wait I did.  And wait more.

The rain, cold, fist-shakingly-long winter kept the soil too cold for my dahlia tubers and too wet for any meaningful ground prep (thanks a million to Matt's brother Josh for taking time from his real farming to disc, till and smooth over the best looking garden anywhere!)  The result of this chilly fluke of nature?  I was a full month behind my planting schedule!

Kiowa and Dahlia.  Best friends.
But...Keep Calm and Carry On is in vogue once more for a good reason.

The garden is planted and my babes are in the race.  Hopefully (as nature tends to do) those little tubers will fight past their late start and grow doubly as fast, stepping-quick to grow into the fiercest bloom anywhere come mid-August.

Until then my flower-istas, solidarity as we work with nature to coax her best traits forward!

p.s. I'll be a more responsible blogger this summer and provide timelier updates on how my garden grows!

p.p.s.  The photo is of my dahlias planted.  With cultivars loving named things like Sugartown Sunrise,  Spartacus, Ivory Palaces and Sierra Glow, you betcha that I gotta keep 'em all straight with bamboo markers and name-tags!

p.p.p.s.  Yes.  I did say Tardy to the Party.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!

Remember those little green sprouts I posted photos of a few months back?  They are coming into their own and  are ready for their close-up.  

The amazing thing about dahlias is their cut-and-come-again disposition.  Should you find yourself near a dahlia plant and a flower is approaching bloom, by all means cut the flower off!  (Promptly stick it in a vase  of 1 part 7Up and 3 parts water and a splash of bleach).

Like twenty-somethings with access to too much rum amid lush greens and French colonial architecture, dahlias want nothing but to reproduce.  And reproduce like mad.  They reproduce (or at least set seed) when a bug, bee or the wind pollinate the flowers.  If you cut the flower from the plant before it has chance to set seed, the plant panics and sends forth even more flowers.  If you continue to cut its flowers, it will continue to send more blooms forward in hopes that one of those gorgeous blooms will get lucky at the hands of a bee, pollinate and make seeds.  The dahlia will bloom until frost if well taken care of.  

If you worry about depriving the world of new dahlias by continually cutting its blooms, don't worry.  Nature has a back up plan:  the dahlia's tuber!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Any given spring morning...

6:00am - What do I feed my dahlias today?  When do they need to be pinched?  How much water do sunflowers drink in a week?  What is an F1 hybrid?  Who is pH?  Why do you apply lime?  What is green manure and why will I love it? What is atrazine (and why should you avoid it?)  What is deep ripping...discing...tilling...sewing seed?  Does that sound dirty to anyone else? Will they grow?  Will they look like me? How do I make this work with the day job (which I very much enjoy)?  Is garlic the only way to fight off Japanese beetles?  Does tomato blight bother zinnias?  Where is my coffee?  Why does Kiowa insist on peeing at 4 am and sleeping until noon?   There has got to be a saint to whom this protestant can pray!

6:01 - Take a breath.  Go outside.  Look to what the garden offers today.

Nature, and her flowers (a faithful iris budding in the photo), know what they are doing.  Treat them with a bit of reverence, step back, add water when necessary and watch them do their trick.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why grow?

There are an infinite number of reasons to get outside, sink your hands into soil, say hello to the worms and wind, trees, birds and sun and put a seed or three into the earth.

This photo - with its clouds and possibility - is but one of those reasons.

While not related to growing flowers, this quote from Marilynne Robinson's novel "Housekeeping" reminds me of spring and its promise of life....

"Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it. God Himself was pulled after us into the vortex we made when we fell, or so the story goes. And while He was on earth He mended families. He gave Lazarus back to his mother, and to the centurion he gave his daughter again. He even restored the severed ear of the soldier who came to arrest him -- a fact that allows us to hope the resurrection will reflect a considerable attention to detail. Yet this was no more than tinkering.

Being man He felt the pull of death, and being God He must h
ave wondered more than we do what it would be like. He is known to have walked upon water, but He was not born to drown.

And when He did die it was sad -- such a young man, so full of promise, and His mother wept and His friends could not believe the loss, and the story spread everywhere and the mourning would not be comforted, until He was so sharply lacked and so powerfully remembered that his friends felt Him beside them as they walked along the road, and saw someone cooking fish on the shore and knew it to be Him, and sat down to supper with Him, all wounded as He was.

There is so little to remember of anyone -- an anecdote, a conversation at table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Flat Stanley Visits the Farm

Over the weekend, Flat Stanley arrived for a visit.  My niece Riley sent him along with a very sweet letter.  She asked that Matt and I give Flat Stanley a tour of the farm.  Since there are no flowers growing yet (it is still early spring after all!), Flat Stanley got the next best thing: COW KISSES!!!  Matt took this great photo while I was at work.  We will send it along with a few other photos for posting on Riley's First-Grade Classroom's Bulletin Board!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Small Farming at Pitt

I did my undergrad at Pitt.  I loved it.  It's a wonderful school in a very cool American city.  While in the 60's and 70's, it may have had its problems with factory pollution, today's Pittsburgh is a charming city comprised of dozens of small and unique neighborhoods each marked by its own architecture, personality and history.  The city is full of green spaces.  Needless to say, I was not suprised to read this article about the University of Pittsburgh's new program designed to encourage Pitt students and PA entrepreneurs to consider the business opportunities found in small-farms.  Ann Dugan, the driving force behind Pitt's Agricultural Entrepreneurship Program is a great champion of helping small, medium and family businesses grow to their fullest potential.  (I was lucky enough to intern in her office during college).  Enjoy the article.  I know it makes me proud to hail from Pitt!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sethica Turns One!

I nearly forgot to mention that not too long ago, this very beautiful girl turned one year old! I love to point out that this young lady is the proud owner of a "hay belly". What is a hay-belly you ask? It's the bovine equivalent of a beer-belly. Rather than having enjoyed too many good pilsners, she has enjoyed too much good hay!

Begin the Begin

Over the weekend, this little guy broke through the soil. In the last three days, he has more than tripled in size. Just this morning, a sibling of his also decided to pop his head up. It is hard to believe that these tiny shoots (with a lotta luck and a lotta sweat) will give rise to some of the most beautiful blossoms on the market. Summer can't get here fast enough!

Welcome to the world, Dahlias!

More about Dahlias