Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dahlias at the Market: Season's in Full Swing

Sandy Webster starts a new bouquet at the Olympia
Farmers Market.
Beautiful flowers, incredible splashes of color: that's the formula for the beautiful Lynch Creek Farm dahlia booth at the Olympia Farmers Market.

The fresh-cut dahlias at the market come straight from the dahlia fields at the Farm. Dahlia bouquets made up in vivid colors with elegant additions of sunflowers, salal leaves, beargrass strands, and statice ask nothing more than to go straight into a vase at home. Prefer to make up your own bouquet? You can mix and match five-stem bunches or single stems; the possibilities are endless. You can even make up a wedding bouquet with dahlias!

Lynch Creek Farm goes back a long way at the market: back more than 30 years, in fact, to the time when Farm owner Andy Hunter was a grade-school kid. His parents, Len and Colleen, decided that raising vegetables and flowers and selling them was a good job for three lively boys.

Andy Hunter, Lynch Creek Farm owner, starts off
the cut flower season at the market.
All through his school years and college years, Andy spent summers and holidays working on the farm. And after a brief post-university venture into the corporate restaurant world, Andy decided that he'd rather grow things.

He's grown a substantial business. Dahlias, gorgeous as they are, make up just part of the picture that is Lynch Creek Farm today. This fall, as soon as this season's dahlia tubers are dug and stored for the winter, the crew at Lynch Creek Farm will roll into action, making and shipping beautifully crafted holiday wreaths, swags, garland and centerpieces. Like Lynch Creek's dahlia tubers, the wreaths and greenery from the Farm go nationwide.

And the wreaths and greens will go on sale at the Olympia Farmers' Market too. Look for them in the same south-wall location as Lynch Creek Farm's dahlia tubers and those beautiful bouquets of fresh-cut dahlia blooms.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dahlias Growing Strong at Lynch Creek Farm

Dahlia plants are up and flourishing at Lynch Creek Farm.
Photo by Evé Munguia.
It's an interesting dahlia-growing season in South Puget Sound this year.

Lynch Creek Farm's dahlia tubers went in right on time (right on time for a cool spring, that is) in late May, and a month later, the plants are up and growing.

The sturdy and lush, shouldering up in their tidy rows, benefiting from moderate temperatures and frequent showers and lots of attention from the crew.

A few of the dahlias at the Farm are showing
off with early blooms. Photo by Evé.
Given their planting date, the gang at Lynch Creek would expect the earliest blooms to open about a month from now, early in the fourth week of July. Strangely enough, on some of the dahlia varieties growing at the Farm, the first blooms have already appeared. That's something of an anomaly.

Ordinarily, dahlia flower buds don't form until the plants are well formed and approaching their normal height. But this  year, some buds are opening on plants a foot or so high.

Maybe it's the moon, or some combination of temperature and light. Whatever the case, the plants are looking great and flourishing. And this little late-June preview of the blooming season, while it's strange, is a delightful harbinger of beautiful dahlia flowers to come.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Of dahlias, snails, slugs and eggshells

Snails think dahlias make a lovely lunch.
     Once again, with newly planted dahlias just up or due to emerge from the ground, it's time to find ways to combat those kings of the dahlia pests, hungry slugs and snails.
     With a reservoir nearby and ivy all along one property border, our garden's a sitting duck for these wretched mollusks. Last year, I had good luck planting my dahlias in pots and topping them up with a good, thick layer of coarsely crushed eggshells.

     Sad to say, a gardening buddy took note and, as I do, saved eggshells all winter to protect his garden against snails and slugs. He set out a nice row of cabbages and covered the ground around it with a hefty layer of eggshells. The next morning, he went out to gaze proudly at his garden and found that all but three of his cabbages had been reduced to stubs.

Eggshell topping kept this pot of dahlias slug-free.
     The problem, he realized, was that he'd prepared the ground for planting with a nice compost mulch. The slugs had probably been snoozing in the mulch, just waiting for him to infuse the area with breakfast.

     The job when you're growing dahlias,  then, is to try to make sure that your composted soil and mulch are slug-free at planting time: no easy task, since even if you eliminate any slugs from the composter, there's a likelihood that there can be eggs that will hatch later and produce tiny, but voracious, junior slugs and snails.

     One inventive gardener we know puts tubs of his compost into the barbecue and heats them to kill any lurking slugs, snails or eggs. It works well, but don't try using the oven; the smell is appalling. (My mother once tried that to sterilize potting soil for her petunias.) It's also pretty labor-intensive for a large garden area.  Your best bet is to plant in rich soil but wait to add mulch until your dahlia plants have gained at least half their height and their stems have begun to harden off. Avoid over-watering. And a barrier of eggshells around your dahlias, and especially between their bed and any ground covers or other haven for slugs and snails will help too.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

At the Market and Online too: Clock is Running for Choosing Dahlia Tubers

Andy beams from a stall full of tubers on a market day.
    Lynch Creek Farm's booth at the Olympia Farmers Market is still chock-full of fat, healthy dahlia tubers just waiting to go into the ground. The warehouse at the Farm is still replete with tubers to grow beautiful dahlias in a wide range of colors and types.

   But the clock is running. Planting time is looming for the gang at the farm, and tubers of some varieties are running low. For the best selection, now is the time to make your choices and order your dahlia tubers online or, if you're in Western Washington, to stop by the public market at the north end of Capital Way in downtown Olympia.

   The Olympia Farmers Market is a fragrant, colorful array of wonderful, fresh produce: fresh greens and salad mixes, the season's first Washington asparagus, root vegetables and fruit delight the senses. Dairy products include farm-fresh milk and artisan cheeses; baked goods include bread, savories and sweets. Fresh, pastured meats, smoked meats, shellfish and seafood are all available. Adding savor are an array of locally-made sauces and salsas.

Nathanael helps customers choose just the right tubers
at the farmers' market in Olympia.
   Cut flowers lend color to the scene (fabulous tulips are in right now). If you garden, you'll find — in addition to Lynch Creek's great dahlia tubers — bedding plants, vegetable starts, perennials, and shrubs and fruit trees.  Creative vendors offer soaps and lotions, jewelry, wooden items and arts and crafts of all sorts.

    Live music and international foods, with a covered area for enjoying them, add to the ambience. It's the kind of friendly space where conversations spring up among folks waiting to be served at the various booths. And speaking of conversations, you'll find more than fine dahlia tubers in the Lynch Creek Farm stall.  Ryan, Evé and Nathanael can offer advice about choosing and growing dahlias so your tubers will thrive in your garden.

   Buying online? Send the farm your questions. Andy and the staff are happy to help their customers  grow the loveliest dahlias possible. But get on with it! It's time to plant!



Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lynch Creek Dahlias HQ Goes Green

Evé and Nathanael show off the old ballasts
Lynch Creek has replaced with energy-efficient ones.
The days are brighter at Lynch Creek Farm's headquarters, where the crew is busy shipping out spring orders of dahlia tubers in anticipation of flower-y gardens across the country this summer.

But the lengthening of spring days isn't all that's brightening the workplace at Dahlia Tuber Central. Even before the dahlia plants emerge from the fields at the Farm, Lynch Creek's gone green: a lighting refit in conjunction with the local public utility, Mason County PUD 3.  New high-performance, energy-efficient lighting is in place in storage, workspace and office areas of the Farm's facility at the Port of Shelton.

The better lighting, notes Lynch Creek owner Andy Hunter, is better and more energy-efficient in the storage area where the Farm's dahlia tubers spend the winter, and in the work area where the delicate operation of separating new tubers from the summer's root mass is performed.

Evé Munguia, who prepares the individual tubers for storage and ultimately for market, says good lighting is essential for ensuring that every tuber has an eye, and helps assure better quality control in winter storage so the tubers emerge in the best possible condition in the spring.

Evé notes that good lighting is essential to
effective dividing of dahlia tubers.
Benefiting from the refit are work, shipping and storage areas for the Farm's other business, holiday wreaths, greens and centerpieces. New lighting is also in place in the administrative area where orders are received and processed. As Lynch Creek Farm's power use becomes more efficient, the Farm's customers benefit from that efficiency with savings as well.

Electric lighting, according to PUD 3 of Mason County, accounts for almost 40 percent of the energy consumed in U.S. commercial buildings each year. Changing to T8 fluorescent lighting can reduce energy consumption by up to 50 percent, and the utility provided cost-effective incentives for making the change.

The utility says that T8 lighting is better and safer. As a family-style operation, a safe workplace is important to Lynch Creek Farm — just as important as great wreaths and beautiful, beautiful dahlias.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Don't Waste those Weeds - Eat Them!

Dandelion leaves are at their best just
before the plant blooms.
   Well, maybe not all of them.  But lots of the weeds that invade your dahlia garden might just as well invade your salad bowl or your soup pot.

   Consider the dandelion, that bane of every lawn and garden across the country. In the spring, in a well-fertilized flower bed, dandelions produce bright green, deeply toothed leaves that add a zesty tang to green salads. (You can use the petals, too; just don't include the sepals, which are a bit tough and bitter for most palates.)

Garden cress is a fast-growing,
fast-seeding invader with a lovely
peppery flavor.
   After the dandelions have bloomed for a while, their leaves toughen and exude a white sap when cut. At that point, they're more bitter, but they still add lots of nutrients and flavor to soups. We like to use them, along with green-onion tops or chives, sage, rosemary, and thyme, to stuffing for poultry, or simply fill the cavity in a roasting chicken with them.  And of course, dandelion blossoms make a simply splendid wine.

   One note of warning: don't use dandelions from your lawn in cookery unless your lawn-tending practices are strictly organic. Systemic pesticides, even if the dandelions survive, aren't good for your own insides. But the dandelions that invade the beds you've prepared for your dahlia tubers — those are the ones to devour!

Garden cress makes a perfect garnish
for any cream soup, hot or cold.
   Another spring garden invader is garden cress, a round mound of bright green compound leaves with a central flower stem that goes from blossom to ripe seed faster than it seems possible. In a well-fertilized garden, such as you've likely prepared for growing beautiful dahlias, these produce beautiful, thriving rosettes of leaves with a spicy zing like that of watercress or pricey arugula. They make another fine addition to salads and a great garnish for soups or casseroles.

   Later in the season, the crew at Lynch Creek Farm will find another invader in the fields: lambs-quarter. That succulent herb also has its culinary uses; we'll be back with photos and a recipe when it starts to appear.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Evé is man-of-all-trades at Lynch Creek Farm

Evé recently worked on energy-efficient
re-lighting at Lynch Creek Farm's facility.
There's not much that Evé Munguia hasn't done around Lynch Creek Farm.

One of the Farm staff whose work encompasses both Lynch Creek Wreaths and Lynch Creek Dahlias, Everardo (Evé) Munguia may find himself shifting from overseeing crews digging dahlias in the field one day to organizing shipping arrangements for the impending wreath season the next.

This spring, he's working for the first time at the Olympia Farmers' Market, selling tubers and advising less experienced dahlia growers on how to get the best results in their flower gardens. "That's the last piece toward being able to consider myself an all-year employee," he said. "It's the only thing I'd never done before."

Evé was born and raised in Shelton, where he graduated from Shelton High School. He attended South Puget Sound Community College for a year and the University of Fairbanks in Alaska for a year. He worked for a time for Denali National Park Aeromark Concessions, and did internships with park rangers. "I love Alaska," he says, "but money got hard up there, and my family was here. So I came back to Shelton."

Evé had worked seasonally for Lynch Creek, and on his return, he got the opportunity to join the Lynch Creek Farm staff year-round. Early in the spring, he's involved in stock control with the dahlias, pulling inventory to fill dahlia-tuber orders and shipping the tubers, sounding the alarm if inventory on any variety gets too low to maintain growing stock, choosing what's still plentiful for dahlia overstock sales.

Dividing dahlia tubers demands careful
attention and all of Evé's expertise.
In the late spring and summer, he works intensively at the planting, weeding and cultivating of the dahlia plants, as well as working on plans for the autumn's wreath season with Andy, Nathanael and Patty. In late summer, he'll be working with the cut flowers for market and wedding sales, and in the fall, he'll be digging dahlias, dividing and storing tubers, and finishing up the dahlia season just in time for the tumult of the Christmas wreaths and evergreens to take over.

"The best thing about working here," he said recently, "is how close we are with everybody. It's a friendly environment. Andy does a great job of keeping everybody happy, and making a good working environment for the employees. I love being part of something that has potential and is growing."

Outside of work hours, Evé coaches youth soccer teams for Shelton's city league. He started working out with 15-year-old boys, initially as a translator, but jumping into coaching when the team coaches needed an extra  hand. "I coached that first team until they were 19. Now I'm coaching a U-11 girls' team. I'll probably keep that team until they graduate."

He has learned, Evé says, that the challenge of coaching is learning leadership. Starting out with boys who weren't that much younger than himself, he said, meant that they tended to see him as a teammate. To exert leadership, he had to try hard to gain their respect. "The main thing I realized I had to do was know what I was doing, have an organized practice, keep teaching them something different, showing them how they can do things better and exceed themselves with different drills and discipline."

Once his teams began succeeding, he said, they wanted to go on winning and wanted to do better. The parents could see their progress, and that helped too, he added with a smile.

The same leadership principles, he said, apply to the workplace. "It's important to me to excel at knowing what we're doing, knowing the products, knowing the processes," he said. "People tend to follow people who know what's going on."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lynch Creek Dahlias Go to the Market

An Olympia Farmers Market customer
chooses dahlia tubers.
Spring is a busy time at Lynch Creek Farm.  Not only is the staff busy filling and shipping dahlia tubers nationwide, but April marks the opening of the Olympia Farmers Market.  Lynch Creek is in its third decade as a mainstay of the market. In April and May, the farm's colorful booth at the market features ranks of dahlia tubers, beautifully displayed.

The Olympia Farmers Market is located at the north end of Capital Way between Percival Landing and Swantown. All kinds of wonderful fresh produce, meats, seafood, garden starts, baked goods, sauces, honey, shrubs, fruit trees and perennials, dairy products, and handcrafted items like soaps, wooden ware, woven towels, jewelry and paper are available Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Andy checks the stocks of dahlia tubers at
the farmers' market as planting season arrives.
When Lynch Creek Farm owner Andy Hunter and his brothers were just youngsters, their dad kept them out of trouble by planting a huge garden. Soon they were marketing their fresh veggies and flowers at the Olympia market, and Lynch Creek has been a presence at the market ever since.

Fresh-picked dahlias from Lynch Creek
 add brilliant color to the market.
Lynch Creek Farm's booth at the market will have fine dahlia tubers for sale through the end of May. The staff will offer not only healthy dahlia tubers but advice on choosing varieties, soil preparation and planting, and dahlia maintenance.

The farm gang will be back at the market with stunning displays of fresh-picked dahlia bouquets and other farm-fresh flowers from late July until the first frost.

And when the dahlia season's over, they'll be back at the market with their magnificent holiday wreaths and swags until the end of the market season at Christmas.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Are Dahlias Masculine? The Farm Gang Says Yes

Dahlias are a guy's kind of flower, according to the gang at Lynch Creek Farm.

That leads us directly to the first in a set of weekly polls on the Farm's Facebook page, which asks this question: Which dinnerplate dahlia do you think our owner, Andy Hunter, called "the most masculine dahlia of all?"

Editorial comment: of COURSE if we're talking most masculine dahlia, it would HAVE to be a dinnerplate dahlia, wouldn't it?  Seriously, though. Dahlias do have masculine appeal. Think about it: the guru of all dahlia-growers, Bill McClaren, who wrote the Encyclopedia of Dahlias, is a guy. The entire executive board of the American Dahlia Society consists of guys.

Dahlia "Alfred C."
Dahlia "Bodacious"
Dahlia "Spartacus"

Candidates in the current poll are Spartacus, Bodacious and Alfred C. No, we don't know the answer, nor do we know why dahlias with names like Drummer Boy and Wildman didn't make the cut for the masculinity competition. But nobody asked us.

Check out Lynch Creek Dahlias on Facebook for the next poll (someone at the Farm is threatening to post one every Monday) and the results. 

Oh, yeah, and if you "like" the Farm on Facebook, you'll be in line for a drawing for free dahlia tubers!


UPDATE: Andy's "most masculine dahlia you can grow" recommendation was Spartacus. But Facebook fans outvoted him: they chose Bodacious, four-to-one.  Sorry, Andy!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Overstock Sales Starting at Lynch Creek Now

If you garden, you know how unpredictable productivity can be.  Some things flourish more than others. Dig your dahlias, for instance, and you'll find that while some varieties didn't produce an extraordinary number of tubers, others went wild and developed exuberant root clusters with a dozen or more new tubers. Another year, it might be an entirely different variety that excels in productivity.

That's the case at Lynch Creek Farm, too, so the folks at the farm sometimes find themselves with more tubers of some varieties than they anticipated.  That means there's an overabundance of dahlia tubers of beautiful varieties — happy, healthy tubers that need good homes.

Danjo Doc
The good news is that there's savings for you gardeners involved with this whole process. Starting now, the Farm is offering the Deal of the Week: five or six varieties on sale at half price. That's right, 50 percent off on new orders of selected dahlias.  You can check in to the  Web site weekly, or you can get regular notifications if you "like" Lynch Creek Farm on Facebook.

The current offering, for instance, includes six stunning, top-selling dahlias: Danjo Doc and Cornel, two luscious dark red dahlias (Doc's a formal decorative dahlia and Cornel's a ball dahlia, just a little deeper and rounder in form; both have great substance and produce flowers like mad); Amorous, a variegated formal decorative with strong stems and intriguing color variations; brilliant Bodacious, a 10-inch "dinner plate" dahlia in bright red with yellow-orange tips; White Nettie, a miniature ball dahlia with abundant upward-facing blooms; and Ryan C., a burgundy-and-white formal decorative that's a real show-stopper.

Ryan C.
White Nettie
Watch for those weekly offerings as the season progresses, while you're enjoying the seasonal changes and the move toward springtime, longer days, and planting time. Remember that these half-price tubers are premium tubers and great for gardening on a budget. And as the season progresses, stay tuned to this blog for more happenings at Lynch Creek Farm.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Flowers or tubers: Yes, you CAN eat your dahlias!

Dahlias decorate a wedding cake.
Photo by Cooper Studios in Shelton, Washington.
Early botanists who regarded dahlias as vegetables weren't as far off base as it might seem to gardeners today, who value the plants for gorgeous dahlia flowers.

Historians say the ancient Aztecs used dahlia flowers to treat epilepsy, and manuscripts found in Mexico also recorded other medicinal uses for the plant: a preparation of dahlia stems was used to treat urinary-tract disorders, for instance. King Philip of Spain's botanist, Francisco Hernandez, sent to Mexico in the 1570s, recorded medicinal uses for the dahlia as well as its floral properties.

The dahlia tuber was a source
of healing for early Aztecs.
The tuber, he wrote, "alleviates stomach pain, dissipates blowing, draws forth urine, invokes perspiration, drives out coldness, strengthens the stomach weak because of the cold, turns aside cholic, opens what has been blocked, and when moved to the swellings, disperses them."

Observers of medical research report that long before insulin was discovered for treating diabetic patients, a particular type of sugar was processed from dahlia tubers, and used for such treatment. Today, medical research and studies have focused on the use of chemicals present in dahlias for liver and kidney issues.

Petals and a full cactus dahlia blossom top and surround this
elegant wedding cake. Cooper Studios photo.
While the dahlia tuber has fallen from favor as a vegetable, edible dahlia flowers are now finding favor among chefs and caterers, particularly caterers of summer weddings. Dahlia flowers are used to enhance the flavor and visual appeal of foods from salads to desserts, from appetizer trays to wedding cakes and punches.

The sharp, spicy tang of petals punches up the flavor of lettuces in a salad, and the whole flowers, whose substantial texture means they last well and whose wide range of colors lends itself to table decor, are often used to float in beverages and to decorate cakes.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Collection of Strange Dahlia Facts

Shiloh McCabe grows dahlias
like this in Anchorage, Alaska.
Dahlias are among the most popular of garden flowers, and among the most beautiful. (Just look at Lynch Creek Farm's website for evidence of that.)  Almost everyone knows about dahlias, so having at hand a collection of odd and esoteric information about these treasures of the garden can reward you with the reputation of a great conversationalist.

Or an oddball, but we'll go for the former.  Here, then, are some swell conversation-starters:
Sonja Benson shares big
bouquets of her dahlias
with Fairbanks friends.

While dahlias were first found growing wild in Mexico, they are in fact plants that like temperate climates. In fact, dahlias will grow well as far north as inland Alaska. Last year, Shiloh McCabe shared photos of her luscious dahlias grown in Anchorage, Alaska, and 370 miles farther north, Sonja Benson and her fellow dahlia lovers grow beautiful dahlias in Fairbanks, not all that far from the Arctic Circle.

The several species of dahlias, classified as the genus Dahlia, are members of the family Asteraceae in the order Asterales. That's not hard to imagine, since they have a somewhat similar construction. But the order Asterales is part of the class Magnoliopsida, of the division Magnoliophyta. Magnolias? Nah. Magnolias are eventually classified in the same division and class, but at that level the terms just refer to flowering plants.

Yes, dahlia tubers are edible; one of
the first botanists to study
dahlias regarded them as veggies.
Want something a little less cerebral than plant classification? Consider the fact that the Swedish biologist Andreas Dahl, after whom the plant was named, regarded the dahlia as a vegetable rather than a flower to be grown for its beautiful dahlia blossoms. Yes, the tubers are more or less edible, and indigenous peoples of the Americas are said to have used dahlias for medicinal purposes, but once growers discovered the ease with which they could develop varieties of dahlias with stunning blooms, dahlias moved from the kitchen garden to the herbaceous borders of Europe's gardens.
Early dahlias discovered in
Mexico probably looked a bit
like this single, "Baby Red."

Here are some more quirky bits about the history of dahlias: the first European to discover dahlias was a Spaniard, Francisco Hernandez, who was sent by King Philip in 1570 to study the plants of his new-world colony. In 1789, the director of the botanical garden in Mexico City sent dahlias to the Royal Gardens of Madrid, in Spain. It was a staff member there, Antonio Jose Cavarilles, who grew several species of the new plant and named the genus for the Swedish botanist, Dahl. And just to make the international history of the plant more complicated, the first person said to have brought dahlias to England from Spain was named Lady Holland.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dahlias Will Ship in Time for Planting

Formal decorative dahlia "Audrey Grace," a great
cut flower as well as a fine border addition.
It's hard to wait.

A balmy day in late February can truly feel like spring, and in some parts of the country spring flowers are already in bloom.

No matter where we are, when the sun comes out we're inclined to think it's time to get into the garden, and if we have ordered dahlias from Lynch Creek Farm, we'd like to get our hands on those dahlia tubers. But it may not be time.

The gang at Lynch Creek knows when it's the right time to plant dahlias in various parts of the country, and before long the first dahlias will go out to the mildest growing zones in the country.  As for the rest of us, we just have to go on being patient.

This dahlia fancier chooses "Chimacum Katie."
This kind of prudent approach to shipping dahlia tubers makes good sense.  While our dahlia tubers are in transit, they're subject to the vagaries of the weather, and in much of the country, it's still winter.  Even in mild Western Washington, there's snow and freezing in the forecast this week.  At Lynch Creek Farm headquarters, dahlia tubers are snuggled down in safe conditions.

For many of us, it won't be the right time to plant our dahlia tubers until April or even May.  And so we just have to wait. But we can go to Lynch Creek's website abloom with lovely dahlias.

By the way, if you haven't ordered your dahlia tubers for 2012 yet, time's a-wasting. For the best selection, start now!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Just Getting into Gardening? Grow Some Dahlias!

For a minimal outlay, you can buy enough
dahlia tubers for a glorious garden display.
Newcomers to gardening, rejoice!

There's a flower that's easy to grow, tolerant of a wide range of soils, and affordable in profusion.

And it will produce spectacular blooms in late summer, when many garden flowers have finished blooming or lost their luster.

Dahlias are easy to grow. Anyone can grow dahlias. They don't require pruning or spraying or disbudding. All but the largest-flowered dahlias grow happily without staking. They're relatively disease-resistant, and they don't require quantities of water.

Yes, those are orange dahlias featured
on the cover of this book on what may be
England's most famous garden.
If you've ever gone out in the morning to pick roses only to find that deer have beat you to them, you'll be glad to know that deer aren't fond of dahlias. With careful winter storage, they'll provide flowers year after year for decades.

Dahlias are cost-effective.  A single tuber ($3.50 to $8 in most cases) will not only produce a good-sized plant that will produce quantities of flowers for two months or more, but that tuber will produce a root cluster that can be divided into up to a dozen tubers for the next growing season. You can find beautiful dahlia collections to fill a whole flower bed at substantial savings.

And once you've acquired dahlias, if you care for your tubers over the winter, you'll have flowers for years to come at no additional cost.

Dahlias are magnificent choices for beautiful
wedding flowers.
Dahlias are spectacular in landscaping and produce magnificent cut flowers. Their color range is almost unlimited, ranging from cool pastels to fiery intensity. They are stunning choices as wedding flowers for summer and early-autumn ceremonies and receptions.

Dahlias are a feature of many acclaimed public gardens in Great Britain and Europe, where they provide color in mixed borders. Here in the U.S., they are a staple of home gardens as well as in public gardens like Dahlia Hill in Michigan which showcases this wonderful, hardy garden flower.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Can't Wait to Start Dahlia Season? Check Your Soil

Light, loamy, well-drained soil is the ideal medium for
raising beautiful, healthy dahlias.
Once seed catalogues start arriving and a few sunny days set the birds to singing, it's hard to acknowledge that it will still be a matter of weeks (if you're lucky and live in warm climes) or months (if you're in snow country) before you can start planting dahlias for summer blooms.

But once you've visited Lynch Creek Farm's web site and chosen the dahlias you want to plant, there are things you can do soon to prepare your garden for growing beautiful dahlias. As soon as the soil is thawed enough for you to get a sample of it, you can take it to your local Cooperative Extension office and get it tested for pH. The pH scale is a system of measuring how acidic or basic a material is. It ranges from 0 to 14; a perfectly neutral substance, such as pure water, is 7 on the pH scale. Numbers under 7 are acidic; above 7, they're basic, also referred to as alkaline. Dahlias prefer a slightly acidic soil that measures 6.2 to 6.5 on the pH scale.

To increase the acidity of your soil, if it measures higher than 6.5 pH, you can add aluminum sulfate or iron sulfate to the soil, or you can add a four-inch layer of sphagnum peat moss, available at garden centers, to the soil and till or spade it in to a depth of six inches. This will increase the soil acidity for several years, and also make the soil lighter. Adding sulfur to the soil also helps make it more acid, but it takes sulfur at least a year to affect the soil's pH level.

Dahlias prefer a slightly acidic soil ranging from
6.2 to 6.5 pH for the best foliage and blooms.
If your soil is too acid, you can add ground limestone or hydrated lime. The latter works faster but it's easy to overdo it. Wood ash will also raise the soil's pH. If your soil is acid, it's likely that you have evergreen trees; keeping the ground free of needles will keep the soil from increasing in acidity.

Keep in mind that changing a soil's pH is a slow process and one that must be repeated frequently. The good news is that dahlias are quite tolerant and will grow in a wide range of soils; the pH factor is only one aspect of your soil. Perhaps more important is the type of soil you have.

The folks at Cooperative Extension, who represent your state's land-grant university and usually work with counties or parishes within the state, can also advise you about your soil type. Dahlias prefer a light sandy soil. To make your dahlia tubers happy when you plant them, use amendments such as compost, peat moss, well-aged manure and sand to help lighten heavy soils. If it's still too cold or wet to work your soil, you can at least locate sources for soil enhancers, and go back to dreaming dahlias.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It's Time for a Winter Check on Your Dahlia Tubers

A healthy dahlia tuber, undivided,
after several months of storage
Your dahlia tubers, carefully dug and probably divided last fall after blooming splendidly in your gardens last summer, are enjoying their long winter's nap.

There's a host of such dahlia bulbs (sometimes referred to as dahlia roots, and correctly, dahlia tubers) at rest in the warehouse at Lynch Creek Farm. Right now, they're being sorted, checked over, and identified for packaging to await the shipping season. Things aren't altogether quiet in the dahlia department at the farm.

Ryan LeDoux packages dahlia
tubers in anticipation of the
coming shipping season.
But at home this time of year, it's easy to forget about your dahlia tubers. How long since you've checked up on them?  Made sure conditions are right for them? Storage temperatures should range between 40° and 50° Fahrenheit (4° to 10° Celsius). Humidity should be about 90 percent.

It's essential that you inspect your tubers regularly to be certain they are weathering their winter storage well. If you haven't looked at them for a month or two, check up on them now.
A swallowtail butterfly enjoys
a formal decorative dahlia at
Lynch Creek Farm.

If the tubers have begun to shrivel, mist them with a fine spray of clean water or immerse them in a bucket of cool water for a few hours. Make sure they are completely dry outside before returning them to the storage medium you're using. Then occasionally mist the area lightly to increase the humidity.

If, on the other hand, the tubers are limp or show signs of mold or rot, isolate them. Get rid of any that are soft; if there's only a small suspicious area, cut it away and keep the tuber isolated from the other, healthy ones. Decrease the temperature and humidity of your storage area. It may be necessary to use a pot of dessicant to reduce the humidity. If the area is too warm you may need to remove the tubers to a cooler area.

The whole point of taking care now is to have beautiful dahlias this summer. Want more flowers? Go to the Lynch Creek Farm website for a look at the beautiful options on sale now for shipping later when the weather's right. Want a chance at free dahlias? Visit the farm's Facebook page and "like" Lynch Creek Farm.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

It's Still Winter, But Spring and Dahlias Will Come

Ice-coated limbs eventually
overloaded and broke
in the ice storm.
Winter hit the Pacific Northwest particularly hard in January. Western Washington, whose winters are usually mild, got slammed with floods, then heavy snow, then the first ice storm in 15 years.

Rose hips shiver in ice
while the farm's dahlia
tubers snuggle indoors.

Ice storms are rare in Lynch Creek Farm's part of the world, and this one arrived on the heels of a heavy snowfall: one to two feet of snow (also rare here). The ice rain lasted for two days. Tree limbs and whole trees toppled under the weight of the accumulated ice and snow.

Naturally, the broken limbs and fallen trees took power lines out left and right. Some South Puget Sound residents and businesses were without power for as much as a week. But Lynch Creek Farm's dahlia tuber storage wasn't seriously affected; the power wasn't out long. And since the ice storm came on a warming trend, the farm's dahlia tubers rested secure, insulated by cedar chips and peat moss.

Weeks of glorious color lie ahead
when dahlias bloom this summer.
Although Punxsatawney Phil spotted his shadow last week, and there are weeks more of winter to get through, it's time to start looking forward to spring, to the planting of dahlia bulbs (actually, dahlia tubers) and the glorious array of summer dahlia flowers they'll produce.

If the days are still a little long and dark, you can think spring by checking out Lynch Creek's displays of great dahlias — dinner-plate dahlias to little pompons, spiky cactus dahlias to tidy mignon singles — and reserve your first choices now.