Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Garden Journal 7/28/09:
Growing and Loving Surprise Lilies (aka Naked Ladies, Magic Lilies, Spider Lilies, and at Least Nine Other Names)

This old time favorite flower requires virtually no care (more photos here).

Realization of the Day:
It's hard to imagine a more beautiful flower that is so easy to grow.

That is actually what the informative site Floridata says about surprise lilies, which pretty much sums them up for me. But if you'd like to know a little more about these robust and vigorous (and so pretty!) plants, here's some information.

Surprise Lilies go by many other names, including Naked Lady (because the trumpet shaped flowers bloom atop 2-foot tall naked stems), Nekkid Lady, Magic Lily (because the flowers seem to pop out of the ground like magic), Spider Lily, Mystery Lily, Resurrection Lily, Hardy Amaryllis, Guernsey Lily, Autumn Lycoris, Hurricane Lady, Pink Lady, and Pink Flamingo Flowers.

Since this is my tenth summer on the farm and I'm still surprised each year when our one clump of them pops up next to the front yard fence, I always think of them surprise lilies. And what a nice surprise they are.

A member of the amaryllis family, surprise lilies have been cultivated for centuries in their native Japan. They were first introduced to American gardeners around 1880, and the most well known variety here—which is what I have—is the pink surprise lily, Lycoris squamigera.

The daffodil-like leaves emerge in late winter or early spring and then wither and die away. The plants go dormant (and need no water) until the flowers emerge in mid-summer (hence the 'surprise'), which allows them to survive prolonged periods of summer drought.

These leaves are actually other plants which conveniently cover the nakedness.

I've always been partial to plants that will 'persist for years once established.' Surprise lilies are hardy to USDA Zones 5-10 and require virtually no care. I remember the first time I saw them blooming in long rows along an old highway in Sonoma County, California. They do well in full sun, part shade, and even heavy shade and will thrive in both sandy and heavy clay soils.

The blooms are long lasting and make good cut flowers. The plants are mildly toxic, which may be part of the reason they're touted as deer resistant, though when Cary was a baby she made a beeline straight for the blooms and survived just fine. Other than her, I've never noticed any pests or insects bothering my plants.

Surprise lilies produce large bulbs (about 2 inches across) that multiply quickly and can be divided every 3 to 5 years. Buy bulbs in spring and fall or beg some from a friend's garden. I've never divided mine, but I probably should try it, especially since I wouldn't mind expanding my little patch.

Dig up the bulbs in spring—when it's easy to see the yellowing leaves—or after the blooms fade in August or September. Plant your bulbs in clusters as soon as possible after digging them up, 1 to 7 inches deep (the colder your climate, the deeper you'll want to plant) anywhere you'd like a showy summer display. If you don't mind a few wilting leaves, you can even plant them under the sod in your lawn, mowing around the stalks when they bloom.

Your surprise lilies may not flower for the first two years, and depending on weather conditions, they may not flower every subsequent year (which means a 'surprise' for you when they do). One source I found said the closer you plant the bulbs, the sooner they'll bloom, which may be why they make good potted plants.

Do you have surprise lilies in your garden? Any growing tips, info to add, or other nicknames to share?

Previously posted surprise lily photos:
8/4/05: Surprise Lilies Are Also Known as Naked Ladies
Surprise Lilies Attacked!
Surprise! Cary Didn't Eat All the Lilies
7/28/09: There Are Naked Ladies in My Front Yard!

Information sources: Floridata, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Wisconsin Master Gardener Program.

©, the flowering foodie farm blog where we're thankful for the previous gardener here whose meager plantings of various hardy bulbs decades ago (like the irises and those beloved daffodils that just keep spreading) are still providing so much beauty and joy.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Garden Journal 7/24/09: How To Beat the Summer Heat

You Simply Sleep Through It

Realization of the Day:
At least somebody's getting some use out of my potting bench this time of year.

I hope you have a very relaxing weekend!

© Copyright 2009, the siesta taking foodie farm blog where the one advantage to living in an area that's constantly being deforested is that you can often buy rough cut lumber from local sawmills for a ridiculously low price—but after several years it starts to reach warp factor six. I don't consider this a problem—more like an excuse to build a whole new potting shed where I'll be able to not only do my dirty work but display some of my vintage garden treasures (photos of them hopefully up soon) as well. If nothing else, it's something to dream about during those siestas.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Garden Journal 7/21/09: Mixed Emotions
(and Growing Lemon Cucumbers from Seed)

Happy Dog and Sad Lemon Cucumber Plants

Realization of the Day:
The August mindset I've had since mid-June is going to have me very disappointed—and very hungry—once August actually arrives.

I don't know about you, but usually by the time August rolls around, my main concern in the garden is to simply keep whatever is still out there alive. It's too late to plant any of the poor spring seedlings that might be still hanging around, too hot to start fall crops yet, and pulling weeds in the ridiculous heat and humidity borders on insane. Watering is the main priority.

But if your August weather arrives a month and a half early, things can get really screwed up. Just before our heat wave struck, I put 15 heirloom tomato seedlings into a dandy new, sheep manure-filled plot I'd created especially for them. And after eight of them fried and died within days, transplanting any more of the several dozen other seedlings that still needed to go into the ground seemed like a waste of time and sweat.

I also neglected to direct seed all the warm weather veggies I never got around to starting in containers, like summer squash, winter squash, cantaloupe, and cucumbers. Just totally spaced them out. Obviously I was suffering from heat-induced brain damage, although, in my defense, we were also in the middle of putting up hay, a grueling task that takes priority over everything. (It also happened to be our worst haying season ever, as far as things going wrong were concerned, but with 744 bales of hay now neatly stacked in the barn for next winter, we've almost forgotten all the frustration and pain.)

I'm going to have to do without homegrown squash and melons this year (thank goodness for Amish garden overflow), but things are looking up in the cucumber department. I discovered these volunteer lemon cucumber vines while ruthlessly tearing out a depressing raised bed of disappointing broccoli, insect-ravaged beets, and amazingly healthy weeds.

I've been doing really well implementing my new gardening rule, and at first I was tempted to yank these sad little plants—complete with sad looking little stunted cucumbers—out. Then I remembered my otherwise cucumberless state and decided that with some sunlight and sheep manure, they might begin to flourish. If not, out they'll go.

I first came across lemon cucumbers at the Santa Rosa, California farmers' market almost 20 years ago, and I've been in love with them ever since. I asked the same question about them that everybody asks, Do they taste like lemons? No, they look like lemons. They taste like cucumbers, mild yet wonderfully flavorful. They also do really well for me here in Missouri and love to volunteer.

The Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog (from whom I've purchased lemon cucumber seeds) says this of lemon cucumbers:

Originated in 1894. The 3-inch fruits are round, pale yellow in color, with a white flesh that is easily digested and never bitter. Yields are most abundant [this is an understatement]. Also called crystal apple, the plant is drought resistant.

And the Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog says:

Small, rounded, pale yellow cucumbers. Pick at 1½—2½" diameter. This versatile cucumber is sweet and flavorful, and doesn't have much of the chemical that makes other cucumbers bitter and hard to digest. Though it's often served raw, it's also a good pickling cucumber. Specialty market salad item. NOTE: Very late to begin bearing.

Baby lemon cucumbers start out nearly white and turn progressively yellower. Pick them when they're still light yellow, like these. To save seeds from your best specimens, leave them on the vine until the fruits mature—they'll be big with dark orange skin.

I usually eat my lemon cucumbers raw (you can use them in place of regular cucumbers in nearly any recipe), but I'm thinking they would make really good refrigerator pickles. Hopefully I'll harvest enough this year to make some.

And since lemon cucumbers only take 65 days to mature, I figure I'll go ahead and sow some seeds next to these plants. The August harvest is going to be pretty sparse, but we just might make up for it in September.

Ways I like to eat lemon cucumbers:
—Sliced and dipped into Herbed Yogurt Cheese
—In the Easiest Greek Salad Ever
—Tucked into Homemade Pitas with onions, tomatoes, & ground lamb
—With Grilled Lamb Burgers with Garlic and Feta on Rosemary Focaccia
—Alongside Greek Style Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb with Oregano & Lemon
—Blended up in a refreshing batch of Gazpacho (cold vegetable soup)

Are you a lemon cucumber lover? Got any growing tips, stories, or favorite ways to enjoy them?

© Copyright 2009, the self-seeding foodie farm blog where thankfully the temperatures have finally dropped (to below normal even!) and a big, beautiful storm has spent the day showering us with a couple inches of very much appreciated rain. Everything (and everybody) is perking up—and I've actually been getting stuff planted!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Garden Journal 7/11/09:
Clearing Out & Giving Up (In a Good Way)

It's into the Compost Bin for these Tomato Plants (minus the containers of course)

Realization of the Day:
I've been on a cleaning and decluttering rampage lately, and my latest target is the garden.

The depths of the chest freezers (buried homemade basil pesto from 2002, vacuum sealed green beans from 2003), the refrigerator crisper drawers (what is that in there?), the musty tubs of forgotten clothes (shirts that have always been uncomfortable, sailing shorts Joe hasn't worn since he left Florida 20 years ago), the dusty piles of three-year-old yet still unread magazines, the dozens of saved jam jars I'm never going to use—nothing is safe from my much needed wrath. I'm even working on organizing my cramped and collectible-filled little studio office.

As for the garden—in all of its unplanted, heat stroked, and insect-ravaged weediness—I have a new rule I've started implementing with a gloved iron fist:

If looking at it only depresses/frustrates/irritates you, then it's time to rip it up or toss it out.

The pathetic tomato plants in the photo above are in the compost pile, along with some other seedlings that I know will never grow well even if I do get them into the ground soon. The decision was made easier once something (I think an elusive tomato hornworm) ate them down to practically nothing.

In this 4'x8' raised bed are my second (very late) broccoli planting (seeds started in containers), four rows of Maxibel and Masai haricots verts bush beans, a few dozen kohlrabi plants, a volunteer dill plant, and weeds. The first harvest of beans is over (I picked about 2 pounds), and I've finally come to realize that whatever matures after that initial crop is usually disappointing, especially in July and August. So out they go. It feels so liberating!

The Di Cicco broccoli plants—a new to me Italian variety that's supposed to produce an abundance of small to medium heads—offered up a few florets but already seem to have petered out. Joe suggested I leave them in the ground in case they took off and started producing again once it cooled down. Sorry, new rule in effect. I am leaving the first planting—which did slightly better—in the ground for now (except for the scrawniest plants I already gave to the chickens), but I have a feeling they won't be there long.

I couldn't get myself to yank out the kohlrabi just yet, even though only three of the plants have put on bulbs (which might be enough for a small batch of my beloved kohlrabi purée), and the others aren't likely to in this heat. Same story, different season, though this time I started my seeds in containers and transplanted them into the garden rather than direct seeding, making sure to plant them a little deeper in the ground than they were in the pot, as per instructions from my gardening guru girlfriend (and kick-ass kohlrabi grower) Cynthia at Love Apple Farm.

Unfortunately I think it may have simply been too hot for the bulbs to form. I still haven't given up on kohlrabi completely (I love that purée too much). I'm thinking I might try starting seeds for a fall crop, but not until it cools down for good.

I'm not sure why I decided to tackle this bed clearing project in the middle of a 90 something degree day, especially since I'd already spent a good half hour out there weeding other beds (and cleaning out the fridge is a much cooler job), but it really only took about 20 minutes, provided me with a huge green lunch for our foodie chickens (you can read more about what else they eat in the comments section of this post), and looks so much better.

For a lifelong packrat who lives on a farm that's miles away from everything, doesn't have garbage pickup, and always seems to need something two days after finally tossing it out, this is definite progress—and it feels great.

Are you good at giving up and weeding out all the useless and/or depressing stuff from your garden?

© Copyright 2009, the still pretty cluttered foodie farm blog where it would be a lot easier to keep all the flat surfaces clear and everything neat and orderly if we didn't have so many interests and hobbies (not to mention a passion for books)—but where would be the joy in that?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Garden Journal 7/10/09: Designer Pollinators

Is This a Best Dressed Bug or What?

Realization of the Day:
It's Fashion Week in the garden.

I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for cool looking insects, especially if they aren't decimating any of my plants—and sometimes even when they are. Since these little beauties so far appear content to spend their time pollinating the showy display of leek blossoms (which is a whole other very disappointing story I'll hopefully get around to writing about one of these days), I'm content to simply gaze at them in open admiration.

I remember seeing some of these winged insects last year for the first time (lots of new and bizarre—and sometimes very unwelcome—things have been happening during our past two wetter-than-usual springs), and I don't recall them doing any noticeable damage.

That pattern reminds me of vintage fabric or wallpaper. And check out those subtly coordinated legs.

Then there's that underbelly! It's like a suit and matching jacket. So chic. The star of Fashion Week is definitely Mother Nature.

Anybody else into cute bugs—or know what kind this one is?

I'm slightly obsessed with pollinators in general (adorable or not):
Look What Landed At My Feet
Butterfly Conference
My Good Deed For The Day
Farms Depend On Pollinators
You Can't Have Too Many Pollinators Around
Butterflies & Sheep & I Love Spiderwort
Butterfly Paradise
Obsessed With Bunnies & Butterflies
The Stuff Of Life
Butterfly Bonanza
Butterfly Photos Are Better Than Nothing
Joint Pollination Task Force
Welcoming Autumn with Open Arms
The Squash Blossom Butterfly
Fortunately All Flowers Look Perfect to Pollinators
Luna Moth Love (and an amazing butterfly book)
Abuzz with Activity
Winged Spectacular
Flash of Butterfly Brilliance
6/10/09: A Lovely Luna Moth

© Copyright 2009, the unfashionista foodie farm blog where my usual outfit of choice is overalls, a ratty shirt, and workboots. Thankfully the other creatures around here make up for my serious lack of style.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Garden Journal 7/4/09: Fireworks in the Front Yard

Or Maybe It's Just a Fiery Burst of Beautiful Color—But Definitely a Celebration Nonetheless

Here's hoping you had a glorious Fourth of July!

Did you do anything in the garden over the holiday weekend? Or, more importantly, did you eat anything from the garden? I harvested the garlic (and about 40 pounds of weeds) earlier today, tried to make it rain by continuing to water the garden as a few drops started to fall (didn't work), and then enjoyed a fabulous dinner of grilled pork ribs smothered in homemade bbq sauce (from the locally raised hog we had butchered last year) with a side of freshly dug new red potatoes that were simply boiled up and tossed with lots of salt and butter. Insanely good.

© Copyright 2009, the happy we're done with haying this year foodie farm blog where the difference between regular old tuna salad and the best tuna you've ever eaten can be nothing more than a handful of homegrown chopped purple onion and fresh chives—and if you're eating at 10pm after having spent all day bringing in and
stacking 300 bales of hay, it tastes all that much better. Hooray for edible gardens—and being done with haying!