Friday, December 21, 2007

And to all a good night!!!

While visions of sugar plums may not be dancing in your head, for who among us really know what the heck sugar plums are, hopefully you are ready for the holidays and looking forward to being with family and friends as we are.

This past year John and I relied on our years of experience to launch our new venture. However, we have also drawn from the knowledge of others in the nursery business we are fortunate to know. These folks helped lead us in the right direction, avoiding pitfalls that may have slowed our progress.

One such person was Eric of Blue Mountain Nursery, a wholesale perennial grower John has known for over 20 years. John and I were going to build a make shift cold frame for our potted peony plants until Eric told John about an insulation blanket he has used successfully for years. Eric stated if he had known about it sooner he never would have built greenhouses for winter cover.
The 12'x300' roll of fabric arrived and believe me we made an amusing sight as the two of us rolled it out on our driveway in order to cut off a 90' length. Then came the task of moving this huge piece of cloth to the field. Drawing on the memory of wallpapering with my daughter-in-law, I suggested her method of folding (thanks, Mel!) and it worked like a charm. Just in time too, as you can see winter has arrived and snow is lightly falling as I write.

Our plants are nestled all snug in their beds and we wish you and yours happy gardening in 2008!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Wreath Time

After spending a wonderful Thanksgiving with our West Coast family, it is again time for us to turn our attention toward Christmas.

Upon our return, we were greeted by our first snow of the season which put a few of our outdoor perennial chores on hold until some better weather returns(we hope!). So in the meantime, John has busied himself with something he has always enjoyed-making wreaths, swags, etc. for us and our family. Using a metal wreath ring, he wires a mix of greens, mostly from our own plants, makes a red velvet bow, slaps it on, then turns the wreath over to me to finish up.

John made one while we were in Washington for me to decorate with our granddaughter. Having learned his lesson from years ago when he made one for our sons to decorate, he only brought pine cones and glass balls as decorations. Our sons had access to all the Christmas decorations when we had the garden center and believe me EVERYTHING ended up on their wreaths including plastic poinsettias, Santas, candy canes, multi-colored glass balls of all sizes, etc. Such a hodge-podge and the boys loved it, but John not so much. Quite frankly he was embarrassed for anyone to find out that the wreath had been made at our garden center, for as their proud mother I insisted on hanging their handiwork on our front door. John prefers tasteful and understated as opposed to, well, gaudy.

In any case, our granddaughter has a very good eye for design and decorated a wreath that made her Pop proud, but there's no telling what she would have created if she had had the materials that had been made available to her dad and uncle!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Little Red Wagon

While John was going through the mail, his eyes suddenly lit up like a child discovering the Sears Christmas toy catalog. “Look at this and it’s on sale too!”

Now tell me-who could resist. Every little boy and, let’s not be sexist, every little girl always want their own little red wagons and now John was again that little boy.

So off he went to purchase his “little red wagon”. He returned an hour or so later from Tractor Supply Company with not one but two assembly not included wagons, or to be precise Gorilla Heavy Duty Utility Cart with storage tray with 1,200 lb. load capacity, 13 in. pneumatic tires, 24 in. x 48 in. steel mesh deck, and folding steel mesh sides. It seems the item on sale was too small and at $40 more a piece John felt the larger carts were still a bargain compared to those he used to buy for the garden center.

He set to work putting the carts together until he got to the part that actually required tools. Anyone who knows us well realizes we are not tool friendly folk. Our good friend, John O. who meticulously cares for his tools would be horrified at the disarray in which we store ours. After about a half hour of searching the barn, basement and junk drawer, we came up with the proper tools and the carts were assembled. They have certainly eased the work of moving dozens of potted iris and peony plants for my 61 year old bones. Hey, I’m proud of my age! Every gray hair and wrinkle has been well-earned and worn with pride. I must say the wagons are great, maneuver easily, both on the driveway and in the field, and are quite sturdy. Might come in handy for some of you other country people who have to cart around gardening and animal supplies. I also look forward to giving future rides to our grandkids. They will love them.

So now John and I have matching red wagons which I don’t mind at all, unlike the matching yellow and blue rain jackets we were forced to buy in the Everglades a few years ago and I was mortified to wear, thinking couples who wear matching outfits look goofy (no offense to those of you who enjoy dressing that way!).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Reblooming and Remarrying

John and I arrived home from Cyprus, a lovely island in the Mediterranean, a few days ago where we attended the second wedding of our son, Jeremy and his wife, Christina. Her parents still live in Cyprus, which was the reason for a second ceremony, not a second wife!

Sightseeing in Cyprus certainly put in perspective the history of our humble Hunterdon home. We are no longer impressed by the fact that the original portion of our house is 175-200 years old after standing in the remains of houses dating to 5 AD! What an experience and one which we hope to repeat in the future.
Davey Jones

And speaking of repeating, it was a pleasant surprise for us to see a number of our bearded iris varieties reblooming when we came back home since we had divided them this summer. Davey Jones, an intermediate variety, has been going like gangbusters with multiple blooms in rich color.
Autumn Circus

Here and there among the tall bearded we have seen white Immortality blooms and now realize why Autumn Circus was so
named. When they flowered in the spring, the lavender and white blossoms weren't colors one associates with fall, but their lively blossoms in mid-October bring to mind big top fun. Perky little Baby Blessed, a dwarf variety, appeared in both the bed and in our driveway garden. We anxiously await the flowering of Harvest of Memories which are well-budded.
Baby Blessed

Next year should provide much more color in the fall as the display beds we planted come into bloom and add to the more common chrysanthemum, aster, and dahlia blossoms we have year after year. Feed back from any of you who purchased rebloomers from us in the spring would be greatly appreciated so we can continue to provide the most reliable possible.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hole Digger Discusses Spuria Iris

OK, so I'm told I have to contribute to this blog. I'm told everyone has to. Forget the fact that I am cheap labor. I do most of the digging, planting, potting, spraying, etc. I must admit the wife helps but not with the heavy stuff.

I'm told by the "think tank" that I could write something while I'm on break. Break, what break? So pay no attention to the sentence structure or spelling.

If I could do that I wouldn't be a hole digger!

Today we just received our last shipment of iris from the west coast. Hundreds of Siberian iris and one really different one, Iris Monnieri. It is in the spuria iris family. First described in 1808, it was found growing in Versailles where it was called Iris of Rhodes.

Spuria iris are some of the tallest of iris, up to 4 1/2' originating in the Mediterranean. They are grown in England and California, but rarely seen in New Jersey (yes, they can grow here.) The flower is large and is similar to the Dutch iris but bigger and is a very long lasting cut flower. The plant does well for years and years without dividing.

The work never ends...

John "Hole Digger" Gulish

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Small Business Seminar

Greetings from the west coast. Jeremy the marketing director and English major has been eliciting all of us to add contributions to the blog. The real triumph will be when Dad embraces the blog and begins adding planting and growing tips. Of course he may be too important and use Jeremy as his ghost writer, all of the presidential candidates do it, why not him?

I am in Washington state and am a little removed from the physical location of the farm, however I am keeping involved in the business development partly as an interested family member and partly as a real life application of what I am learning in my current MBA program.

With introductions complete, let me get to the heart of my post. I attended a free seminar geared toward small business owners in Washington state this weekend. The Small Business Administration and IRS were there in force with tips as well as a multitude of marketing, IT and consulting firms with advice for the small business owner.

I brought three main point away from the seminar along with numerous ideas to improve the farm and the business with it.

1. Develop a business plan-the business plan is a great management tool to identify company strengths and weaknesses. It help devise ways to address the weaknesses, helps determine your market audience and how to reach them. It also forces a business owner to take a long term financial view of the business.

2. Find out your market niche. Basically what makes your business different than the multitude of other businesses out there. Why are you special. At Pittsgrove we are the only retail peony grower we could find in NJ and we are only aware of a few retail iris farms. Our goal is to make a trip to Pittsgrove Farms an experience unlike any other iris farm in the area through beautiful grounds and unique plant offerings. We believe there is a market for this type of gardening experience in NJ and eastern PA. This is where we need to solicit information from the local gardening community, what are we lacking in NJ and PA. What do you as the gardener want to see and experience at a garden? We are listening and open to a variety of ideas.

3. There is a lot of free and low price help available to the small business owner. The SBA offers free confidential one-on-one counseling to the small business owner. They also have free online tutorials and training and low cost seminars on a multitude of topics. Definitely a great resource to improve operations.

Lots of fun building a new business at least while I am not relying on it for a paycheck it is lots of fun. I understand, it's a bit more stressful once you need that paycheck.

Cinema Botanica (the Cinematic Trailer)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Green Thumb Up For The Farm in Green Village

So following my baptism this Saturday (yes, 28 years late but better late than never) my father and I took a little trip over to The Farm at Green Village. For those of you that don't know, which I imagine is most, Green Village is a tiny little town outside Madison. It is tucked away in countryside that is speckled with multi-million dollar estates.

First off, considering that my father owned a garden center for most of his life, he has the right to be a tough critic. That said, he/we had very few bad things to say about the garden center. You could tell it was early September as the garden center was in a bit of a wind down cycle but nonetheless still had a great variety of plants.

One thing you can appreciate about garden centers in extremely affluent areas in that they have plants that you are rarely ever going to find for sale. Huge pots of elephant ears, rosemary, papyrus and three-foot-tall begonias that aren't going to winter over outside in Zone 6. Fortunately the garden center sells to a clientelle that either has atriums to house these plants for winter or frankly don't mind spending a few hundred dollars to enjoy their plants until winter.

That being said, nothing was cheap at the garden center but I suppose there isn't any need to be - Home Depot and Wal-mart aren't losing any business here. I think the $13,000 fountain and Japanese maples that cost more than my car make their target market tastefully obvious.

One of the biggest compliments to "The Farm" was that we were asked two times within 20 minutes if we needed help. But most impressive was that each salesperson smiled, nodded and simply said, "let me know if you need any help." This to me was the thing they did better than anything else. Unfortunately, I usually find customer service either non-existant or set on making the hard sell.

My father said it simply, "I really have nothing bad to say..."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It Could Be Worse

After a splendid meal under the stars cooked by Jeremy, he convinced me that since this is supposed to be a "family" blog someone other than he should contribute to the writing. So here it goes!

In his previous post Jeremy told of how you don't mess with Mother Nature and our pictures proved how nasty she can sometimes be. Although I lamented the damage done to our vegetable plants and our iris divisions, nothing was harmed that couldn't be remedied. The folks at the Rutgers Snyder Research Farm a mile from here had to cancel their 17th Annual Tomato Tasting set for today after losing about 80% of their crop in the storm. All of you know that Jersey tomatoes reign supreme especially over the hard, mealy poor excuses you get at your local supermarket (vine ripe my eye!). The over 1,000 expected visitors, including yours truly, were sorely disappointed as we all salivated at the thought of tasting over 80 varieties of Jersey's finest.

Just as the Snyder Farm seeks to introduce the public to the unusual in a standard product, we are trying to do the same with our iris, peonies, and day lilies---growing common plants in unusual varieties and rainbow of colors.

We're in the process of planting peonies for the spring in standard and dwarf varieties that won't be found elsewhere except by mail order. The day lilies are already taken care of until spring and after the rest of our iris and peonies are planted within the next few weeks, we can sit back and continue to enjoy our "retirement". That is until Jeremy or Garrett give their parents another assignment!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Growing quicker than we could have imagined

It has been awhile since our last entry but that's because we have been busy. While I was away on business in Dallas John and Cheryl (mom and dad) have been very busy playing in the dirt.

It has been less than a year and things now are starting to feel like they are getting into full swing. The delivery today brought us up to more than 83 varieties of tall bearded iris. The tall bearded are beautiful and are staples to any iris growing operation but we have been focusing on less common varieties like intermediate, dwarf bearded, Japanese, Louisiana and Siberian. From what we can tell there are very few growers in NJ or in the tri-state area for that matter that are growing iris and the ones that are only grow a handful of varieties.

At the same time, we are in the development stage of our Web site. Our Web developer and friend Shawn Murphy showed me his initial design and from what I have seen so far, I am sure it is going to look great. You can see samples of his work at his self-entitled Web site. If anyone has any concepts, ideas, or samples of other Web sites that they have seen that they like, please let us know.

We are compiling some great images for the site. My mom has taken some great shots that I hope you enjoy.

P.S. - Following our I.T. session today my Mom is set to blog. Her insightful entries coming soon.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Mother Nature Always Wins

Fortunately no one was home when the storm hit. In New Jersey, we always think we are safe from just about every kind of natural disaster - no earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, mud slides but every once in a while even we can't escape Mother Nature's wrath.

I guess we aren't the only ones getting the strange weather considering that just two weeks ago tornadoes hit Brooklyn. It took us awhile but finally we have pictures from Friday's hail storm.

I've been wondering, how fast does a piece of ice have to be traveling to put a hole completely through a barely ripe pepper. I've been tempted to take a pepper out of my fridge and start throwing things at it except for 1) I am smart enough to know I have bad aim and I can't throw more than 45 mph and 2) I am pretty sure Christina (my wife) will start to really worry if I am crazy. Seriously, the pepper in the bottom corner of the picture isn't more than four or five inches long and it has a golf ball-sized hole through it - how does that happen?

The power of Mother Nature is pretty unbelievable until you see it firsthand. I remember a few years ago when I was working as a reporter at the Hunterdon County Democrat, my very sceptical assignment editor sent me to check out a guy who swore his property got hit by a tornado. We both rolled our eyes and off I went to what I thought would be a fruitless drive through Clinton Twp.

When I got to the house there must have been a dozen trees laying on the ground. Each tree had trunks that were at least 2-3 ft. around. Some were snapped like match sticks, others were uprooted. It looked like Paul Bunyan had just walked through the backyard in a really bad mood. The storm touched down in a roughly 20 ft. track and then disappeared. The neighbors' properties were untouched and no one else around the country reported anything strange.

The whole things reminds me of the pictures you see of straw stuck in the side of trees during huge tornadoes. Even though the hail storm seems incredible strangers things happen - and apparently happen often (they even have a hotline to report objects that have been carried long distances - not kidding).

Damage report: we won't get to enjoy that many more peppers or tomatoes, we won't get to see our beautiful water lotus bloom this year, the irises will need to be cut back but considering everything, it really isn't a big deal. We were upset to hear our neighbor's who have a hundred acre farm had much more severe damage; they lost almost all their vegetables, watermelon, and orchard crops. Below are some more pictures.

Poor Irises Need a Haircut

Oh No Tomatoes

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Tight Knit Garden

Before starting this blog I read a lot of gardening blogs. It doesn't take long to see that it is a small, tight-knit community of garden-loving bloggers. The Vermont Gardener blog led me to find a cool site that can help you find gardening blogs near you.

I submitted the Plant Dirt blog to be added but I'm not sure we will make the list considering that we are such a new site but regardless it is a great resource for garden enthusiasts.

Jeremy Gulish

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dividing and Conquering in the Garden

I thought it would be good to follow the peony articles with one on another of our favorite plants - the iris. The Mail Tribune in Oregon, a state that is home to many very large iris growing operations, includes an article by columnist Stan Mapolski about dividing irises. Splitting irises isn't brain surgery but there are a few things you should know.

When left too long rhizomes can become very tight to a point where it is almost impossible to separate single rhizomes. After digging up the plant it helps to wash the plant off by either spraying with a hose of dunking in a large bucket. Despite what they say in the article, this helps to better identify root divisions and also makes for a cleaner plant if you are planning to ship or give to a friend.

It often works best to start around the perimeter of the plant and removing the looser roots exterior roots. When moving toward the center the roots can become very tight. Though not ideal, when the rhizomes are too tight to separate with your hands, using a sharp knife or small hacksaw can help break apart the roots. We try to incorporate at least three fans in every division. Once divided it is important to cut the leaves to make sure the plant maintains its energy as it recovers from any damage caused during the division.

Some good additional advice is in the article below. Make sure if you are planning to divide to get to it soon because plants will need time to take root before it gets cold. It will be winter before we know it!

Enjoy the heat while we got it!


Divide and conquer for a more vigorous crop of irises
To keep your plants healthy, split and reset them to relieve overcrowding every few years
July 26, 2007
Stan Mapolski, aka The Rogue Gardener

Friday, August 17, 2007

Peonies in the News

Shortly after starting the Pittsgrove Farms' Plant Dirt blog we added the "News Tracker" at the bottom of the page tagged with some of our favorite topics. Not long after it was added a couple of Peony stories came up. It is great to see such interest in one of our favorite plants. We think both articles are a good read for those new to growing Peonies. The first article was from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Ask Marianne column. It asks a common question that we hear a lot, "why aren't my peonies blooming well?"

The second article from the Asbury Park Press also touches upon why your peonies won't bloom and gives a nice overview about growing peonies. Unfortunately there is no mention of New Jersey growers but hopefully we can help change that next year.

Jeremy Gulish

Ask Marianne: Too much mulch can stifle a peony's abundant bloom


Q: For the past eight years, my peonies were full of blooms. This summer, there was exactly one bloom. What happened?
-- M.B., Anchorage

M.B.: This is usually my favorite question to answer. That's because the cure for peonies that stop blooming usually is so simple. Just scrape away any mulch covering the crown of the plants. Peonies don't bloom when they are planted too deeply. In your case, perhaps a harsh winter in Alaska had something to do with the lack of buds, and removing all mulch from peonies in an extreme climate could be a chilling experience. Wait until early spring, when the ground is no longer frozen, then remove added mulch from around your peonies to encourage more blooms.

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 08/16/07


Before this area became so densely populated, it was not unusual to see peonies blooming in May at long-deserted farmhouses. These plants live for many years, with the clumps getting larger and more beautiful over time. When I left my Sea Girt garden, mine were about 35 years old and just gorgeous.

These old-fashioned flowers are planted from September to first frost, so start shopping now. It is more satisfactory to plant roots of herbaceous (a nonwoody plant) peonies in the fall than container-grown plants in May. Look for clumps with multiple eyes (growing points). Even large clumps may not flower their first season.

There are scores of species and cultivars available, ranging from single to fully double (petals), and in colors of white, pink, red, purple and blends. You can find pictures online by searching "peony" and, of course, in mail-order catalogs. Tree peonies do well here, too, but be prepared to pay a good deal more for a good specimen. There also are smaller growing herbaceous plants for the rock garden that grow to only 15 to 20 inches.

Among the newer varieties, look for those awarded the gold medal of the American Peony Society. Old varieties are still good, with Festiva Maxima going strong after decades — a fluffy white double flower with splashes of red on some of the petals and the fragrance of a rose.

The foremost American hybridizer, Roy G. Klehm, has given us scores of the newer beauties.Peonies were cultivated in the Orient many years before they were introduced to Western gardeners.

Choose a site in full sun with well-rained soil. Adjust the pH to about 6.5 and mix compost to about a foot deep. Set the plants at least 3 feet apart. When planting, it is critical that the eyes be no deeper than 2 inches or the plants won't flower. Make the planting holes wide enough to accommodate the roots without crowding. Fill the hole, tamp tightly and water thoroughly. Use a loose mulch for the winter, removing it in spring to allow new growth to come to the surface.

Expect bloom in mid- to late May, depending upon the species and variety. When petals drop, remove the seed heads. This is the time to fertilize. Use a product such as 5-10-10. A single light application is all that is needed. Take care not to overfertilize with nitrogen, the first number in the fertilizer formula of NPK.

In wet springs, the plants may become infected with botrytis that can make new shoots wilt and buds to turn black when they are the size of peas. The fungus easily is controlled with a fungicide listed for its control. If not sure, call your county Rutgers Cooperative Extension office in Freehold Township or Toms River.

Tree peonies are shipped in the fall in containers and should be planted as soon as received. If the soil is well tilled with supplemental compost or other humusy material and enriched with a slow-release phosphorus (the second letter P in the formula) it will not need supplemental fertilizer for several years. Mulching is recommended.

Whatever type of peony you plant, keep it well away from trees and shrubs with competing roots.

Most quality nurseries will ship 2-year-old field-grown roots. Don't settle for less. One company, Terre Ceia Farms in Pantego, N.C., grows peonies for the cut-flower market as well as bulb and root retail sales and sells 10-year-old clumps for $40.

Pictures from the Farm

The Plant Dirt blog was created to address the questions we hear from our customers throughout the year at Pittsgrove Farms. At the Farm we specialize in irises, peonies, daylilies and various varieties of perennials and water plants. We hope to share our knowledge and love of gardening and hope our readers will do the same. We greatly welcome reader comments and questions.

Below are some pictures from the farm so you can know a little more about us.

Happy Gardening!

Jeremy Gulish