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