Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lynch Creek Dahlia Tubers Due Online August 1

Natalie & dahliaAs you read this, the dahlia growers at Lynch Creek Farm are making their summer estimate of how many healthy dahlia tubers will be available for sale during the coming season.

And on August 1, the Farm will open its site for dahlia tuber sales. The dahlia tubers, of course, are still in the ground, beneath exuberant plants whose luxuriant growth in this cool summer will translate to nutrient-packed tubers for the following season.

Lynch Creek staffer Arturo, who keeps the fields healthy and weed-free, checks the status of dahlia Mingus Toni.
The in-the-field counts will indicate how many of each variety of dahlia the Farm is likely to have, with delivery to take place next spring to the various growing regions at prime planting time.
What these early sales offer is the opportunity to reserve your favorite tubers (or to peruse the catalogues and decide what might be your next new favorite), and then make sure it's not going to be sold out during the peak sale season in the late winter and early spring.

Tracey and yellow dahlia
While you're at it, you might check out Lynch Creek Dahlias' Facebook page. You can find out about special deals and benefits, "like" the page for a chance at discounts, and look at some drop-dead gorgous dahlia photos.

And stay tuned: shortly, we'll announce the date when those of you in Western Washington can find beautiful bouquets of Lynch Creek dahlias at the Olympia Farmers Market.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brown-Thumb Report: Dahlia's BLOOMING!

Baby Red 1I'm pleased to report that my dahlia is blooming.

Compared to all the Lynch Creek Farm customers whose lovely dahlias are blooming, or working up to it, in great numbers, I realize "my dahlia" sounds incredibly puny. But for years after we moved to our current residence, I planted dahlia tubers only to have them gnawed off within days of emerging. Beer traps, copper strips, salt lines, diatomaceous earth, covered caches of slug pellets: nothing worked. I stopped trying, realizing that I was just wasting great dahlia tubers.

Baby Red2
So this is big, for me. For the first time in 17 summers at our current residence, a dahlia has survived to bloom. So far, the dreaded incursions of hordes of giant slugs and snails have been kept at bay.

My dahlia, a mignon single called Baby Red, is described as neat and compact in its growing habit. A dwarf variety, these dahlia flowers nevertheless make a great splash in the garden, according to Lynch Creek's online catalog. My Baby Red is making a great splash in its pot on the doorstep. It's next to a trio of Bishop's Children, seedlings of Bishop of Llandaff (these guys don't count because I bought started tubers) and the Baby Red is far brighter than the taller Bishop's brats. Baby Red's clear green foliage is a nice contrast to the zonal geraniums and the purply leaves of the Bishop's Children.

Yes, it's in a pot. Last year, customer Kristen Haskell commented that growing dahlias in pots eliminates much of the slug and snail problem. While I've lost potted flowers to slugs and snails -- they not only climb our two-foot-high raised beds, they climb the stone fence, the wooden fence and the walls of the house. I have to admit to stashing a few pellets of slug bait on the moist, shaded steps at the base of the pots.

Baby Red, Day 5
And yes, when the tuber was newly planted, I squeezed a circle of that really horrifying Deadline inside the rim of the pot. It smelled so deadly it scared the socks off me, but I guess it scared the slugs too.

Now the soil surface in the pot is covered with eggshells, another reader recommendation for keeping the molluscs at bay. We'll see how that works. The dahlia had a few aphids on two leaves, but a good rinse with the hose was all it took to dispel that menace.

While dwarf dahlias aren't grown for use as cut flowers, Andy says he cut some Baby Reds at the farm for his mother, Colleen, to use in wedding flowers last weekend, and they looked stunning. I'm timing this first bloom for on-the-plant survival, but the next bloom will go into a bud vase to see how it holds up as a cut flower. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Georgia Grower Has First-Year Success

Miss DelilahLast October, The Reverend Albert Daviou and his wife, Pat, visited the Cotswolds in England. They found dahlias blooming in the borders of public gardens there, and Pat fell in love with the dahlia flowers.

Albert says he's been growing roses for years, but Pat wanted dahlias. "When we returned," he said, "I serendipitously found Lynch Creek Farm and ordered the Premier Cutflower Collection."

Pat and Albert Daviou
The soil where the Davious live, in Dahlonega in the North Georgia mountains (and shouldn't everyone in a town called Dahlonega grow dahlias?) is primarily clay, so he had some work to do in preparing the ground for his dahlia tubers.

"I prepared the red clay beds by tilling and adding compost, seasoned wood-chip mulch, and perhaps some top soil," he recalls. "I waited until around April 20 or so when they arrived and planted the tubers per the instructions. I did put some cottonseed meal around them," he noted. "When it rained on the wheelbarrow it was in, it made the meal too hot and damaged two of the plants, but they are okay.

Davious' garden
"The key to success, however," Daviou observes, "is in the eye." And while the eye of the dahlia tuber is essential, the eye of the grower is a significant part of the process. "Every day, several times a day, I would (and still do) walk through the beds looking for signs of beauty. Then—voila!—first the green, and then she appears."

Three of Albert Daviou's first tubers didn't appear, however. "When I wrote to Andy that three did not emerge, he, understanding sacramental surplus, replaced them with 15 more." (Editor's note: Episcopal clergy use phrases like "sacramental surplus" sometimes. Seeing the sacramental nature of things like dahlias is a gift they share like a bouquet.)

Davious' dahlias
The resulting quantities of plants in his newly dahlia-filled garden "irritate some of my neighbors who believe in the world there can be too much beauty; this gives me added delight," he comments.

Growing dahlias, Daviou says, is "an exercise of patience and love. The flowers make their way to the altar of Saint Elizabeth's Church, and from there to the home of someone in need or the desk of the receptionist at Community Helping Place.

"We love them," Daviou concludes, "and are grateful to Lynch Creek Farms for providing a beautiful, high quality product, support, and the best customer service I have ever experienced." At Lynch Creek Farm, the staff is grateful that Daviou shared photos of his dahlias and garden, as well as sharing his dahlias with his congregation and the wider community in Dahlonega.

Raz Ma TazRipplesWorton's Blue Streak or Thomas Edison?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dahlia Pests: Readers Talk about Slugs and Snails

Brown garden snail
Dahlias are up and flourishing, and most of them are now past the major danger of annihilation by slugs and/or snails. However, those disgusting mollusks can still do significant damage to the foliage and even the blooms on our beautiful dahlias.

We've had some interesting comments on our February slug-and-snail posts from blog-readers, but comments are often easy to overlook or to miss altogether if they came in after you'd read the blog entry. So we'll take a look now at some of those suggestions.

European red slug
An anonymous reader wrote, "I use egg shells. Crumble them and sprinkle them around your plants. They are good for the soil also. If you don't use enough eggs, ask your friends to save theirs for you." A coffee can, suggested Anonymous, makes a good receptacle to leave with your eggshell-saving friends "but don't forget to pick them up often."

SAM71 asked if this method was really effective, noting that in the slugs in her Anchorage garden are "deadly." Elsewhere, I saw a comment from a gardener accusing her slugs of eating the eggshells.

Snail in calla lily
I tried the eggshell thing last week in my vegetable garden, putting coarsely crumbled shells around the new basil plants I'd set out. I was tempted to add some other slug-preventative (e.g. murderous substance) but I want to keep my veggie plot organic, so I decided to see how effective the eggshells were. So far, so good, although I think some of the teeny-tiny gray slugs found their way through; I should make sure there aren't any gaps. Next up on my the eggshell-application program are my precious dahlias.

Red slug on lettuce
Last week, RFM added a comment to the slug-blog. "Diatomaceous earth-- really powdered skeletons of something or other -- works for me." (I've used diatomaceous earth on my gooseberries to thwart sawfly larvae, and it's worked fine until the rain washes it away. If RFM reads this, I'd like to hear how it's applied: the ground around the dahlias, or on the leaves?)

RFM added, "I have NEVER EVER had any luck with the beer method. My slugs are obviously non-drinkers.

"I also go out with my flashlight and my plastic bag glove, and hand pick the little varmints," RFM continued. "Then I throw them into what my sons call "The Ring of Death" -- a circle of salt which means they will die, any way they sally forth. I am SO not into animal cruelty but I see no reason slugs should exist (same for ticks) so I put aside my morals in their case."

Amen to that, fellow protector of dahlias! And the same goes for snails.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Bud - And Some Bugs - on my Dahlia!

Baby Red budMy thriving little Baby Red dahlia has a bud.

Those who have followed this blog know I've lost dahlia after dahlia to the slugs and snails who rule our garden like a mollusk Gestapo, and that I've felt so hopeless about my prospects as a model dahlia gardener that I limited my dahlia-growing to a single Lynch Creek Farm tuber, a mignon single, in a pot. (I have to admit that I also have three bishop-family seedling dahlias in another pot, but I bought them sprouted, so they don't count.)

Having isolated my dahlia from the flower beds and armed the pot with every slug repellent available, I've got a perfectly respectable, healthy little first-year plant. It's the first dahlia that's survived in the 16 years I've gardened at our present home, where I tend to operate on the Darwin principle and everything else that's growing there is largely slug-and-snail-resistant.

Aphid damage on dahlia leaf
Jubilant though I am over the achievement of a bud on my dahlia, and figure I can look forward to a late summer display of dahlia flowers, I have to admit that all is not perfect in my pot-Garden of Eden. My dahlia has a few tiny chew marks, evidence of aphids. So it's soapsuds time: a little dish detergent in water and a sprayer. I may be over-reacting; probably, at this level of impact, simple hosing with water would be effective. But with all my eggs in one basket, I'm overprotective.

I'd like to add some ladybugs to my arsenal, but the last time I bought a flock of ladybugs to cope with aphids on my roses, they sleepily arranged themselves on the roses, got their bearings, and flew next door. My neighbor was delighted with all the ladybugs that appeared in her garden.

Back to aphids: those tiny soft-bodied fliers, are sucking insects (functionally as well as descriptively) that prey especially on the tender greenery of new growth. This is one reason that Andy and the crew at Lynch Creek Farm (whose dahlias are thriving, by the way) advise against heavy fertilizing of dahlias during their growing season.

It's important to deal with aphids as soon as you see evidence of their presence. Besides the cosmetic impact of little chew marks, or little bugs, on the foliage and blossoms, there's the fact that aphids are a major vector in the transmission of viruses.

And while you can get rid of aphids, you can't get rid of viruses. So if you see aphids on your dahlias, get on their case.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Think Ahead to Bouquets of Dahlias

Shirley Beelik's red bouquet
You've planted your dahlia tubers, you've weeded your dahlia garden, and now you're looking forward to the rewards. With dahlias in bloom or just about to bloom, it's time to think about how to make the most of your dahlia flowers when you bring them indoors.

Whether you're going to float one of your show-off dinner-plate dahlias in a console bowl, make a nosegay of miniature dahlias, or create a stunning dinner-table or cathedral-style arrangement, the first steps—cutting your dahlias and conditioning them—are important.

One of our dahlia-growing friends, Shirley Beélik of Shelton, cuts dahlias every week to share with the congregation at Saint David's Church, and her bouquets last like anything because they're well conditioned. (So, we might add, are the dahlia bouquets Lynch Creek Farm sells at the Olympia Farmers Market.) Shirley's bouquets are featured in this posting, and we're sure you'll see more in posts to come.

Lynch Creek Farm buckets of dahlias
Arranging dahlias, like arranging most garden flowers, requires some planning ahead, because your beautiful dahlias will stay lovely longer if they're conditioned overnight before you make your bouquets. Small dahlias are easier to arrange in bouquets than larger ones. You'll need sharp shears, a bucket, and if you choose to use it, a flower flower food. A mister or spray bottle with a fine-spray setting will be useful, too.

Cutting dahlias is best done early in the morning or in the evening. Fill your bucket with lukewarm water. Be sure your scissors or secateurs are sharp; crushing the fibers of the stems will make it hard for the dahlias to take up water. Choose flowers that are fully open or close to it, with firm, well-filled centers; dahlia buds rarely open after they're cut. Make your cut just above a set of leaf nodes and side buds to encourage reblooming on the plant, but try to have as much length of stem as you can for ease in arranging.

Shirley Beélik's blue arrangement
Recut the dahlia stems under water, either in the garden or immediately after taking them indoors. This keeps the dahlia from having its stem flat against the bottom of the container and ensures that it will absorb all the water it needs. Dahlias are hollow-stemmed and many of the varieties exude a sap which tends to harden on the cut tissue. If you see a whitish or milky sap coming from the stem ends as you cut them, try searing the ends of the stems with a lighter or candle. This will also enable them to take up water better.

Stand the dahlias in deep, lukewarm water in a cool dark place overnight or for eight hours before arranging them. If you wish, use a preservative or "flower food" solution. It's counterintuitive to use warm water on flowers; we think of cool as refreshing. But the plants are growing in warm conditions, and cold water (or hot water, for that matter) will shock their systems.

Shirley Beélik's church bouquet
When arranging dahlias, strip off all the leaves that will be below the water line in your vase. In water, the leaves will begin to decay, and the bacterial growth will migrate to the stems, causing them to lose their water-bearing quality. You can arrange dahlias in florists' foam, but they won't last nearly as well as they will in a vase full of water. You can mix dahlias with other flowers, often with stunning effect, but they'll last longer in their own company—something to do with the different bacteria on different plants.

To keep your dahlia arrangement looking its best, mist it daily. Spray sparingly with a fine spray, but do not allow the flowers to become wet. Display it in a cool place away from strong light, drafts, and ethylene sources (a window over a busy street with auto exhaust, for instance, or bowls of ripening fruit), and appliances like televisions whose heat, though slight, can dry the bouquet. Recut stems daily, and change the water/preservative solution at least every three days. This way you'll be able to enjoy your dahlias–and share the delight–for the longest possible time.